Leadership: How To Magnify The Social Impact Of Your Message

start where you are weight loss before and after leadership shellijohnson.com

I believe in the importance of leadership as I’m a wellness entrepreneur, weight-loss expert and coach, author, and founder of Start Where You Are Weight Loss®.

At my heaviest, I weighed 304 pounds and wore a size 26. For over twenty years, I was a yo-yo dieter with two eating disorders, bulimia and compulsive overeating. I lost the weight naturally and now I weigh roughly 130 pounds and wear a size 2. I’ve kept the weight off for 9 years and counting. I’ve also been free of all eating disorders for over a decade.

My book, Start Where You Are Weight Loss®, details in easy-to-understand steps the process I went through to lose the weight and maintain that loss.

I am currently featured on the front page of the Half Their Size section on People.com. I was also featured on 3 separate covers of PEOPLE magazine’s Half Their Size in 2020. I’ve also been featured in PEOPLE TV, FOX TV, National Public Radio, The Charlotte Observer, among others.

1. Leadership means relating to people where they are

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was overweight starting at about 5 years old. I began dieting around age 10. By age 11, I was incredibly self-conscious about my body and ashamed of the way I looked. That’s also about when I turned on myself, pinching at the fat on my body and calling myself names in the mirror. By the time I was 13 years old, I ended up with two eating disorders, binge eating and bulimia*. By the time I was 16 years old, I weighed over 200 pounds.

*Binge eating is when you eat extremely large quantities of food in a short amount of time. Bulimia is when you binge eat then purge by either self-induced vomiting, excessive exercising, and/or misusing laxatives or diuretics.

Start Where You Are Weight Loss® Trust Your Body

Learn to lose weight naturally.

2. Leadership can be inspired by others

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

Really young, maybe five years old: The Rescuers. That’s the first book I remember reading over and over again. I’d get to the end, close the back cover, take a breath, then I’d crack open the front cover and start reading it again. That’s when I knew I loved stories and I started writing my own.

The Long Walk by Richard Bachman (a.k.a. Stephen King). I found that book underneath a bed in a cabin in Maine when I was twelve. I stayed up the whole night, reading in the top bunk with a flashlight until I finished the story. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a professional writer (especially a novelist) for a living so I started studying the craft of writing.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles. The first adult book I read more than once, doing the same thing I did when I was a kid—finishing it, taking a breath, then cracking open the front cover again. That book helped me realize what kind of stories I wanted to tell and I started writing historical fiction.

3. Leadership comes from lessons learned

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Well, it wasn’t funny nor even interesting per se. It was, however, one of the best lessons I ever got even though it made my life a lot more difficult at the time.

I got presented with an opportunity and needed to make a decision.

My intuition was saying this:

  • Don’t do this.
  • This is not a good idea.
  • This will get you further from where you want to be.

But my head was saying this:

  • It’ll be a good opportunity.
  • It could help you get other opportunities.
  • It’ll be okay.

The opportunity was shiny and promising. I truly wanted it to work out like I had envisioned it in my head. I did a list of pros and cons, writing down every pro I could think of no matter how tangentially related. I scribbled down a few cons. I did my best to convince myself it was a great idea. I got busy working toward that opportunity and did my best to drown out the hollering voice of my intuition. I was sure, totally sure, it was going to work out.

And so I ignored my intuition and listened to my head and plowed forward.

As you can imagine, it didn’t turn out well. It cost me time, money, energy, focus, and other resources. It turned out to be a huge mistake that took a toll on me mentally and emotionally too. It was a mistake that could’ve been avoided had I just listened to my intuition, which knew it was a bad idea from the get-go.

All that to say: trust your intuition every single time. Yes. Every. Single. Time. It will never steer you wrong.

4. Leadership makes an impact in people’s lives

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

Obesity is at epidemic levels worldwide according to the World Health Organization. Studies have shown that the vast majority of people who go on diets of any kind gain all the weight back within 5 years. Hope is also in short supply as studies have shown that more and more people have given up trying to lose weight at all.

But there absolutely is an answer that works.

For over 20 years, I was a yo-yo dieter, losing the weight only to gain it all back plus more. I tried everything to lose weight, no matter how detrimental it was to my health and well-being, but nothing ever worked long-term. At my heaviest, I weighed 304 pounds, had a Body Mass Index (BMI) of nearly 46 (which got me labeled as morbidly obese), and wore a size 26.

Finally one day, in exasperation, I wrote in my journal: if it’s not about food, then what is it?

That question started my final weight-loss journey. I did some deep introspection as to why I was using food in a way it was never intended to be used. That introspection—the answer to the question, if it’s not about food, then what is it?—eventually became a book I wrote called, Start Where You Are Weight Loss®.

I believe, from having lived it, that weight loss has very little to do with food choices and mostly to do with healing your mindset about food. Mindset is what my book aims to help you heal.

I lost the weight naturally without dieting, surgery, pills, disordered eating, expensive health products/interventions, or anything along those lines. I’ve kept it off for 9 years and counting.

I just listened to my body and let it be my guide, eating only when I was hungry then stopping when I was comfortably full. That’s how I started and that’s what I do today to maintain the weight loss. I don’t have any restrictions on food except if I’m allergic to it. I eat whatever I want without judgment. That’s what I needed to do to heal myself and my relationship with food.

Women have said that my approach to weight loss has: given them hope, helped them address and heal their relationship with food and with themselves, lose weight without dieting, given them faith they can reach their goals, helped them stop abusing themselves with food, set them free, among others.

My book teaches people how to have long-term weight loss so they can improve their health, live longer and more-fulfilling lives in a body that feels comfortable to them, and heal their relationship both with food and with themselves.

Get off the diet-go-round.

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5. Leadership teaches people how to overcome

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

Memoir sections comprise about 10% of the book. Here’s one of those sections because it illustrates quite clearly how people turn on themselves. Shaming yourself is absolutely one of the most damaging things you can do to yourself and also a major reason that people continue behaviors with food that don’t serve them in any way (like overeating, bingeing, purging, starving, etc.)

THE MIRROR ON the back of the bedroom door isn’t wide enough for me to see all of myself at once. Naked, I spin in a circle like the ballerina in a music box. I angle my body, frown at each sliver of reflection. A belly that pooches out. Thick thighs that rub together. I pinch my inner thigh so hard I wince. I frown. I slap my behind, watch it jiggle. I frown again. Red indents at the waistband of my underwear. I snap the elastic. I frown for a third time. Two stretch marks snake up along my hip. I pinch a roll of fat hard enough to leave red marks. I give another frown. Double chin. Round face with cheeks that make me think of the gerbil at school, the way it looks when it gets done hoarding its food. Sad eyes behind oversized glasses. I frown so hard that the muscles of my face hurt.

Out loud, I say: “Fat.”

Then I say,“Ugly.”

I twirl again, pinching here and there, frowning.

After I spin in a complete circle, meeting my eyes once again, I say, “You are fat and ugly.”

I say it over and over: fat, ugly, fat, ugly, fatuglyfatuglyfatuglyfatugly.

It’s the first time I turn on myself, chipping away at my own self-esteem.

I am eleven years old.

6. Leadership says yes to a calling

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

I was standing in front of the refrigerator one day, deciding whether or not I was going to binge. I had already lost 100 pounds. But I still had so far to go to reach my goal of wearing a size 6. I wanted to ease my frustration and shame over the fact that I wasn’t where I wanted to be right at that moment.

Then I got the call (as an insistent voice in my head) to write a book and teach others in easy-to-understand steps how they could eat what they want, lose weight, and keep it off. The book is called Start Where You Are Weight Loss® because I realized I needed to stop wishing I was somewhere in the past or in the future and instead to just start right where I was.

That idea has now grown from a book into a website (startwhereyouareweightloss.com), YouTube channel, coaching business, and I’m currently working on an online course.

7. Leadership helps lift others up

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

One of my clients told me that my book “literally changed her life.” She’d been yo-yo dieting* on-and-off and battling her weight for nearly 40 years. She told me that after reading Start Where You Are Weight Loss®, she was finally free from struggling with food and being obsessed with food for the first time in her life. She told me she now has hope for a better life for her future.

*Yo-yo dieting or weight cycling is when you lose the weight then gain it all back again, often gaining more weight than when you started.

Start Where You Are Weight Loss® Trust Your Body

Learn to lose weight naturally.

8. Leadership addresses the problems head-on

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

1. Stop calling obesity a disease.

I know many medical professionals and organizations have deemed obesity a disease. Having lived through morbid obesity (a BMI of 46), I don’t believe obesity is a disease at all; I believe it’s a choice. In order to overcome obesity, a person must acknowledge that it was his/her choices that got them to where they find themselves today.

Calling obesity a disease takes that personal responsibility away from people and instead puts the responsibility on the “disease” over which the person likely has no control. I can tell you, without a doubt, you have full control over what foods you choose to put in your body and how much and when.

2. Stop shaming people.

It doesn’t work as a motivational tool and, overall, it makes a person’s life worse. Shame will never motivate anyone. Shame is one of the most painful emotions there is, according to a psychologist friend of mine. Most people who have been shamed will do anything, including abuse food (overeating, bingeing, purging, starving, and the like) to make the shame stop as soon as possible.

3. Stop dieting, just stop.

I spent over 20 years on what I call the diet-go-round®, jumping from one diet to another, and never found one that worked long-term. Stop especially restrictive dieting, where you cut out foods or entire food groups. Dieting and especially restrictive dieting leads to obsessive thoughts about food and a damaged relationship with food. Dieting is also a major factor in the development of eating disorders.

9. Leadership guides others

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me leadership is serving people by showing them a way that works then helping them to make their own path.

I’m a big believer that in order to be successful at weight loss (and pretty much everything else too), you need to find what works for you and do that. I believe leaders should have that same approach: guiding people in a direction that will get them where they ultimately want to be but letting them have the freedom to decide the best way for them to get there.

Get off the diet-go-round.

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10. Leadership refuses to give up

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me about successful weight-loss when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Read them here or watch the video below.


11. Leadership moves through the fear

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

There are always going to be people who don’t like you no matter what you do. I once read that it’s something like 10% of people will dislike you. Do yourself a kindness and don’t make them your focus.

This quote is on my desk because every piece of writing I’ve ever produced has gotten criticized at some point. Many of those criticisms came from people who have no experience with writing a book. It takes a lot of courage to sit down for weeks or months or often years to finish a piece of work. It takes a tremendous amount of bravery to open yourself up and be vulnerable and share parts of yourself in that work And make no mistake, whenever you write anything, a piece of you goes into it. It takes the most daring of all to then publish that work and let others read what you’ve written.

Judgment is easy; understanding is harder.

The critics are the ones who judge, and they don’t count.

You, who are showing up and doing the work and honoring yourself in the process, are the only one who counts. Remember that when you decide whether the risk is worth taking to put yourself out in the world. It is worth it. You are worth it because you’re the one who counts.

12. Leadership comes from vulnerability

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Brené Brown.

I chose her because her work on shame and vulnerability resonates with me.

You can’t be a great leader unless you can open yourself up, risk letting others see the real you, and lead from a place of authenticity. Likewise, you can’t be true to yourself unless you use your own voice, risk following your true passions, and show up in the world as your real self. All of that takes vulnerability.

It’s been my experience that shame is what keeps people from being vulnerable. Shame is what says there is something wrong with you and you shouldn’t be who you are. And in that way, it’s shame that causes people to start hiding their true selves and creating a facade to keep themselves safe and moving through their lives as a figment of their imagination. Shame, I believe, is a major reason that people, myself once included, lead unfulfilling lives.

And Brené’s work shows people how to overcome shame, be vulnerable, and create the life they want for themselves.

Connect with me:

How can our readers further follow your work online?







This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

This interview first appeared in Authority Magazine and Thrive Global.


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Get off the diet-go-round. Get on with your life.®

Stop wishing, start doing.
Create your own weight loss before and after success story.

My weight loss transformation & how it can help you succeed at weight loss

You absolutely can break the diet cycle. I got free. Your life can be that way too.

I made my own path because I needed to get myself out of the crazy-making behavior I was having around food. I needed:

  • no more dieting.
  • no more restrictive eating.
  • no weighing and measuring food.
  • no off-limit foods.
  • no more judgment around food.
  • no more trying to figure out healthy eating or just what healthy foods to eat.
  • no more judging my self-worth based on the scale.
  • no more you’re-not-doing-it-perfectly diet rules that were only fueling my constant thinking about and obsession with food.

I needed to stop: searching for weight loss tips, wondering how to lose belly fat fast or how to lose weight fast, worrying about how to eat healthy or finding healthy snacks for weight loss, coming up with yet another healthy eating plan, trying to have quick weight loss, or forcing myself onto yet another weight loss diet. What I needed instead was to find, out of all the weight loss programs out there, the best weight loss program for me. Turns out, the best way to lose weight was to find out what works for me and do that.

  • I’ve lost 160+ pounds naturally by simply trusting myself and listening to my intuition (mindful eating and eating intuitively).
  • I have maintained that weight loss for 9 years and counting by trusting myself and listening to my intuition (mindful eating and intuitive eating).
  • I no longer have any eating disorders, including bulimia (bulimia nervosa) and binge eating disorder (compulsive overeating).
  • I no longer have a fear of food.

Just imagine what you could be doing with your life if you’d just commit to having your own before and after weight loss success story. You could be: following your own dreams and reaching your own goals, cultivating your own passions, and making both your inner and outer worlds a more blissful and peaceful place.

I got that for my life. I want it for yours. I will teach you how.


Start Where You Are Weight Loss Coaching

Start Where You Are
Weight Loss® Coaching

Personalized coaching

so you can eat what you want & lose weight.

Start Where You Are Weight Loss Books

Start Where You Are
Weight Loss® Books

A series of weight-loss books to help you

create a body & a life that you love.

Start Where You Are Weight Loss™ Online Course

Start Where You Are Weight Loss® Trust Your Body

Learn to lose weight naturally so you can create a body that feels comfortable to you.


Let today be the day you make peace with your body and with food.

For more information, check out the Start Where You Are Weight Loss® page.


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