Being healthy means so much more than completing a record number of Workout Wednesdays or perfectly following the rainbow food guide to nutrition. One of the main things we’ve learned from the body-positive movement is that overall health is about your bod AND your mind. Since building your self-confidence and developing a positive mindset are essential when it comes to learning how to be your healthiest self, we talked with Danika Brysha, a curvy model and founder of Model Meals, a healthy food delivery service. Read on to learn how Danika stopped punishing herself with crash diets and tons of cardio and discovered her genuine love for exercise and healthy food.

Finding the Right Reasons to Work out

Not in the mood for a sweat sesh? We totally get it. In fact, thinking about a stuffy gym, treadmill or StairMaster can seem like the epitome of torture — especially after a super long day. Danika explains why she used to dread exercise too, confessing, “I actually used to view exercise as something that I had to do strictly for weight loss and to burn calories. Because of this, I’d obsessively count calories while on a diet, and then I’d go to the gym to miserably spend hours on cardio machines trying to burn what I ate.” She elaborates, “That’s why I dreaded it so much — and why it was so hard to summon willpower to get to the gym.”

While being active daily is great for you and can be helpful for gals who need to drop some weight for health reasons, Danika cautions that working out for the wrong reasons (and to the extreme) can take a major toll on your bod and overall well-being. “I ended up stressing my body out by going to extremes with exercise and food. I’d run a half marathon once a year instead of focusing on more consistent and self-loving exercises, like daily walks or yoga. I really thought exercise was all about getting my body to look a certain way. I honestly had no idea that there was more to it.”

The Mental Shift That Changed Everything

Since living at the gym or being consumed by calorie-counting is clearly no way to live a healthy (or fun!) life, we asked Danika why she was inspired to make a change and how she adjusted her mindset to stick with it. She credits following the Whole30 eating plan with transforming the way she looks at food, which in turn, helps her see exercise in a whole new light. “With Whole 30, I definitely stopped obsessing over how MUCH I was eating and started learning about the quality of food choices I was making instead. When I saw how good my body was naturally meant to feel, I got hooked on wellness.”

“It also *finally* occurred to me that there were ways to exercise that weren’t totally miserable,” she confesses. Gushing about things she loves to do that double as a workout, like yoga, pilates, Bar Method, walking and hiking, Danika shares, “Just like what I’d learned with food, I saw that this was about SO much more than the appearance of my physical body.” While she started Whole30 as another attempt to drop weight, she came out with a huge sense of self-awareness, clarity and energy. Eating well and working out to feel better (not look better) became her ultra-powerful personal motivator.

Keeping it Up

“Exercise is something I love to do now!” Danika says about her current mindset. “I used to think exercise was only what you do in the gym, but now I give myself credit for the healthy movement I do in all aspects of my life. I used to do a lot of strength training but have taken a bit of time away from that as I work on relieving my system of stress. If I need sleep more than I need exercise one day, I’ll choose that. Sometimes the healthiest choice is to sit on the couch with a friend in deep conversation. I’ve learned that yoga clears my mind and centers me.”

When it comes to food, Danika says she sees it as fuel. “My quality of life is equal to the quality of fuel that I give myself to run on. If I eat junk, I feel like junk. Good fuel powers my workout, and if you put junk in your body you will feel like junk. Without the proper fuel, exercise becomes much harder. I finally see health in a MUCH more holistic way.”

Turning Her New Passion Into a Biz

Super passionate about her new lifestyle, Danika founded Model Meals, a healthy food delivery service in Southern California. She calls it her dream job, as it helps people in ways that she used to struggle. “We source ingredients in the most sustainable and responsible way we know how to do, and I love knowing that we’re helping fuel people in a way that’ll heal their body and mind and help them thrive!” She says she thinks about food as a medicine, because eating well really makes people feel SO much better.

Just as awesome? “I never feel like I’m working with Model Meals,” Danika swears to us. “My teammates are truly my best friends and there’s nowhere I’d rather be than our kitchen. We have so much fun and we put so much love into the food we serve. A startup business is exciting every single day. We’re constantly cracking codes and finding ways to grow and do things better. I truly love everything about Model Meals because I know I’m achieving my goal of creating a happier, healthier life experience for others.” Um, yep. We’re officially obsessed with this inspiring #girlboss.

How do you view food and exercise? Tell us your story or share tips with us on Twitter @BritandCo!

(Feature photo via @danikabrysha)