Updated: Apr 21
Each spring, as we celebrate Women’s History Month, Montana Woman Magazine honors influential women of the past, present, and future. As a health and fitness columnist for the magazine, I am called to highlight women who are transforming our wellness landscape. This year, I am excited to turn the spotlight to women’s health advocate Courtney Townley, founder of Grace & Grit, LLC. Grace & Grit is based out of Missoula, Montana, but Courtney’s voice reaches women nationwide through her podcast (https://graceandgrit.com/podcast) and her mission to “mend the fabric of the female health story.”
I am excited to spotlight Courtney for our 2021 issue because she embodies a new kind of health coaching that will carry us as we move further into the decade. She is passionate about a multi-dimensional approach to health and fitness and integrates clean eating, functional movement, and stress management.
Courtney began working in the fitness industry over two decades ago when she transitioned from the professional dance world. A self-proclaimed “mover, a shaker, and a healthy people maker,” Courtney now carries certifications in personal training, health coaching, life coaching, and nutrition coaching. I am a huge fan of Courtney and her sensible approach to sustainable lifestyle choices and share a similar mission of helping women unlock their full potential to lead an extraordinary life.
Here is our December interview:
Mindy: I have been watching you build your health-minded community for women. Your Facebook group, Women of Grace & Grit, has grown to 1.4K followers! I remember a photoshoot in the early days of Grace & Grit when you were wearing this beautiful emerald green ball gown walking through this dirty construction zone, which was such a perfect embodiment of Grace & Grit. Can you tell me why you chose that name for your business?
Courtney: I came into the movement world as a dancer, so it was all very grace-oriented. In my 30s, I got into heavy weight training and a more evolved, gritty side of movement. I think movement has both a grace and a grit component, but it is also such a great metaphor for how I help women because when you are trying to improve your life on any level, you need both grace and grit. There tends to be these two extremes (one which says you need to love yourself and that is all you need, the other which says you need to push hard and apply a ton of grit). I believe that self-discipline (i.e., grit) is born out of self-love, and I help women find the sweet spot between the two.
Mindy: What I love about your coaching method is that it addresses all the dimensions of health, including hormonal health and stress management. I heard you say on one of your podcasts that you are not interested in helping women pursue physical health at the expense of mental health.
Courtney: Health is very multi-dimensional. Yes, there is a physical health component, which includes blood profiles, hormonal panels, and all those things. But then you have emotional and mental health, relationship health, spiritual health, and environmental health. What one woman needs to focus on (which area she needs to recalibrate in) is unique to her. But what our culture has taught women is that if they want to improve their health, they need to focus intensely on physical health, and I think that is a huge mistake. Because, how can a woman really improve her physical health if she isn’t mentally in a good place, or if she is in a really toxic relationship, or she hates her career? We can’t dismiss those other arenas of health. Just focusing on building muscle mass or losing weight with no regard to the other areas of a women’s life is such a detriment to women.
Mindy: I think we share similar beliefs on this, but I want to give you a chance to say it in your words: which is more important, sleep or exercise?
Courtney: I teach that there are five main elements to taking good care of your chemistry: sleep, eating a diet made up of real food, staying hydrated, moving your body, and managing your mindset. What comes first in all of that is sleep; because when you are sleep deprived, you will not have motivation to do any of the other things. Not to mention that health is fortified during sleep. Your muscle tissue repairs after strength building during sleep. Your brain caches out, your hormones settle down, your immune system is fortified when you sleep. Shorting yourself on sleep is one of the unhealthiest things you can do.
Mindy: For women who feel they are ready to start looking at the fat loss component of health, can you tell me more about the fat loss triad I have heard you speak about?
Courtney: I think it’s really important for people to understand that weight loss is not the same thing as fat loss. You can lose weight that is valuable muscle tissue if you are not doing it properly. Extreme diets and quick fixes are not the solution for sustainable change. Diet culture tells us to lower our calories and increase our exercise, and that is hugely problematic for a woman whose system is already overly stressed. So, the fat loss triad is to first focus on mental health and the reasons for pursuing fat loss. Next, we focus on hormonal health because if your hormones are out of whack, no matter what you do with exercise and nutrition, your body won’t receive the message properly. Only after mental and hormonal health are addressed can we start to look at calorie-cutting and more aggressive exercise.
Mindy: I’m 42 years old, so just heading into perimenopause. What recommendations do you have for women in my age group about hormonal health?
Courtney: As we enter perimenopause and menopause, you are losing progesterone and estrogen. As those hormones decline, your body is not as good as it once was at managing elevated cortisol (the stress hormone). Stress comes in many forms, not just mental stress. There is also nutritional stress, sleep deprivation, too much or too little exercise, drinking alcohol, and dehydration. I teach women to take stock of all the stressors in their life and help them identify where they need to start cleaning up the most. They may need to clean up in several areas, but we can’t change everything overnight because that is not how behavior change works, so we have to decide where to start first.
Mindy: I named my aerial studio in Kalispell “Levitation Nation” not only because we lift our bodies into the air during our acrobatic movement practice, but also because we help women elevate health and fitness. If you could give just one recommendation to women looking to elevate their health and fitness, what would it be?
Courtney: 110% it would be to learn how to manage your thoughts and your emotions because it is the reason that you do anything. Thoughts are what creates your emotional landscape, and our emotional landscape is what either inspires action or inaction. If you have control over your thoughts and emotions, you can create anything you want for your life. I feel like my whole career, 20 years in the wellness industry, has led me to being able to say that will total conviction. Because, I just taught people how to move for years, and then I got really heavily involved in nutrition and taught protocols to promote fat loss, which worked… until it didn’t. I have realized that none of it really matters if a woman doesn’t have the skills to manage her thoughts and emotions.
Grace & Grit Podcast: https://graceandgrit.com/podcast
Grace & Grit Blog: https://graceandgrit.com/blog
Article by Mindy Cochran. Mindy is a columnist for "Montana Woman Magazine." Her column "The Real Levitation Experience" shares expertise for elevating health & wellness that she has acquired through her certifications as a personal trainer, nutrition coach, and life coach. Mindy is also founder of Kalispell’s Levitation Nation Aerial Studio, where the catchphrase “fitness is fun” is embodied alongside a culture of movement & women empowerment. For more about Mindy, visit: https://www.levitationnation.org/mindy.