Sep. 8. 2017
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped® and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

Setting boundaries and saying “no” to obligations, opportunities, and tasks can be good for your health.

Balance. Balance is a word that gets used a lot, especially in health and wellness and most often it’s describing a way of eating, but what about balancing your well-being? Your mental and emotional health? That’s the balance I want to shine some light on today, as a coach and as someone who also juggles a lot with a growing company, here’s what balance looks like for me. It’s disorganized, can be disappointing, can feel like failure, can feel like walking through mud – but also can feel like I’m on top of the world, things are in flow, I have space between action and between my day, I’m proactive, not reactive and only say yes to things that are meaningful on a soul-level versus “on paper”. This is my balance.

I’ve shared thoughts over the years about establishing a balance and part of that balance is taking time for yourself, respecting your boundaries with work, with life, and listening in to what you need the most. Whether you’re committed to running a business, putting your energy into your career, devoted to your kids and family, going to school, a busy bee in general, or literally doing all of the above; sometimes it becomes easy to over-commit to work, social lives, or just extra favours leaving us feeling completely drained. This can not only be unhealthy physically but will also take a toll on us mentally and emotionally.

I know for me, burnout is a real thing I experienced at the start of Nutrition Stripped when it turned into a full-on company versus just a hobby blog – I openly talk about in podcast (check those out here), and how I overcame that. But what about strategies on how to avoid getting to that point altogether? Setting boundaries in my life were crucial to feel more balanced and enjoy what matters most at the end of the day – happiness and health! Hence why I’m super passionate about this topic with clients, friends, and family. Without setting boundaries, you might produce lower quality work, may take a toll on your relationships, and can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Here are some of my tips to help you start the process of building up healthy boundaries that help you establish that balance you need to live whole and feel amazing!

If it’s not a bold yes, then it’s a no.

Saying no can be challenging if you’re not used to flexing that muscle – the self-care muscle, the muscle that requires continual work, practice, and rest to rebuild. If you’re presented with an opportunity, does it light you up? What is the aftertaste you experience after thinking about doing said opportunity or task? If it’s anything but joy, happiness, fun, or positively then it’s probably something you should say no to. Side note, we all do tasks at work we don’t “love” doing all the time, that’s not what this is about, it’s about honoring yourself with opportunities that either contribute to your health and wellness and saying no to the ones that take away from it to balance your overall well-being. I used to feel like I had to justify or give an excuse any time I didn’t have time or energy to accept invitations. However, once I started to be more honest with my friends–and myself–about needing time for myself and just not being able to do everything that I was invited to, I started to feel a lot less overwhelmed! It’s ok to say “That sounds like so much fun, but I need to catch up on some rest and regroup tonight” to a friend–they will probably be more understanding than you think and can learn from your example if they need help drawing boundaries too!

Be Honest When You Feel “Off”

Raise your hand if a go-to phrase of yours is “I’m fine.” when asked how you are – even though you’re not feeling “fine”? Maybe you just don’t know what else to say, or you don’t want to bother someone with your challenges, or you just don’t know how to identify what you’re feeling. I have some clients who use this all the time until I peel back the layers and get to the real issue or challenge. Say it and call it out as you feeling “off” or what I call out of sync. When I’m overwhelmed with work or stressed I often default to feeling out of sync, which means I’m not myself 100%. If you’re in tune with yourself and you feel it’s a fleeting emotion, then ride it out, otherwise, love yourself enough to reach out and find a safe space to say it to a friend, family, community, etc. Until you lean into that feeling of “off or out of sync”, you can’t really figure out what boundaries may be missing and where to draw them next time.


With social media and technology at our fingertips, it can be really challenging to get away from the infinite voices on the internet. Technology isn’t going anywhere, nor are the growing social media outlets and everyone having a voice to share. As hard as it may be, we need to draw boundaries with the time on technology and more importantly how we let it impact us. There was a recent study on young teens and their subjective well-being compared to which social media channel they were on the most – they found that YouTube users had more positive experiences and Instagram was the worst for their overall well-being (self-esteem, comparison, FOMO, etc. and what I see as a dietitian is body image issues). I invite you to a challenge after reading this, go through your social media accounts and unplug from media outlets that don’t serve you any longer or don’t make you feel healthier, happier or have a sense of community. Ask yourself how some social media or technologies leave you feeling – do you feel drained, do you feel energized, inspired, or do you feel like you’re coming from a place of lack and comparison?

There are lots of apps that can lock you out of your phone and help you set little timers to start that “unplugging” process.  I also highly recommend alarm clocks–that way you’re not tempted to look at your phone first thing in the morning.


This supports the notion of “if it’s not a bold yes then it’s a no”, but prioritize incoming opportunities, engagements, or work and compare them to your north star or your compass as one of my clients says. Make a compass of what drives you in life – is it your family, career, friends, community, etc. I’m sure it’s a combination of all of these things, but what is the highest priority? Start by identifying those and it’ll be easier to set boundaries and tools to measure up the new incoming opportunity, does it reflect your compass and priorities or does it take you off your path completely? How will it make you feel if you do that opportunity instead of your priority? What will have to shift and what is the true cost? If you’re a business owner, I’m not talking about money costs, I’m talking about how much does it cost for your time and energy, your health, your well-being? That’s priceless and can’t be negotiated.

You’re Doing Enough

This one is for everyone, but especially the overachievers of the NS fam. I get it, we all have things to do all the time, and it can seem never-ending, but do you honor yourself and congratulate your goals or your accomplishments when you’ve achieved them or when you’ve made a dent? If you don’t and let these cascade into more tasks after another, you can create a slippery slope that can lead you to overwork or an over-committing cycle. As the NS company grows, there’s always something I could be doing and 2 years ago I didn’t stop until I slept (I also had burnout that same year), but it takes serious practice to take a step back, and be realistic about we the small team here at NS can accomplish in a day and have the energy to give to other parts of our lives we love and appreciate! I invite you this week to ask yourself at the end of the day how productive you feel, what would’ve made you feel more productive, and reflect on your actions throughout the day in order to come to a resounding, I did enough. I always say, if you tried your best, you did enough and that’s good enough!

Getting in the habit of prioritizing what really needs to be done and what the reality of your timelines are will help you better balance work with down time. Team NS uses these productivity planners to stay prioritized and I love them outside of work too!


Stay Grounded

I feel like a broken record about morning routines, but I swear by them and swear this technique and tool has been integral in my health and happiness – and even when I’m not happy or going through a stressful time, I can at least stay grounded, clear, and focused. Do the things that make you feel good, grounded, and actions that make you feel like you’ve fully shown up for yourself. For example, meditate, mantras, journaling, talking with a loved one, going on a long walk, making tea, reading a book, etc. Make whatever these actions are for you, a routine that you consistently do to stay centered and stay true to yourself. Only then can you easily assess whether an opportunity or engagement is taking you closer to your health and your overall goals or further away from it. Show up fully for yourself so you can show up for others.

What about you? As I was writing this, I was hoping that I’d get your feedback and hear how you deal with setting boundaries, what works for you and what doesn’t work. I hope that your words (or mine) can help give you a little light – don’t say it for me or share your story for me, share it with the community who might need to hear it right now. 

Sending you lots of love and light!

xx McKel