Diet dogma, food and morality

This is a tricky subject but something that has been on my mind lately. As someone who has been in the health and wellness field for several years, I have seen this reoccurring pattern of almost a cult-like mentality around various diets. As a former vegan I have certainly fallen for this idea that there is “one diet to rule them all” and experienced this almost religious dedication to my diet dogma of choice. But this doesn’t only happen with veganism, I’ve also seen the same aggressive preaching, tunnel vision and exclusionary mentality amongst followers of the paleo, raw food, keto and carnivore diets as well as those who believe that gluten, dairy or sugar are the devil.

Why do we do this? Why does following particular way of eating give us this feeling of safety and superiority? Why do we cling onto the idea that a particular diet will save us, take away all of our suffering and lead us to an infinite nirvana of perfect health? I think advertising definitely plays a role as health, youth and beauty have become aspirational products that can be marketed and sold. This used to be a tactic adopted by food manufacturers to sell us products like diet coke and special k but now with social media, anyone can become a diet “guru” and make millions selling the new version of sermons and religious texts (aka recipe e-books and courses), sometimes without any qualifications to back up their claims, other than personal experience.

When we are struggling, either with a chronic health condition or with the belief that we aren’t good enough as we are and need to somehow improve ourselves, we become the perfect customer. These gurus become our idols and we are vulnerable to believing everything that we see and trusting what we are told. We see people sharing about how cutting out all carbs or adopting a raw vegan diet cured them of every symptom and disease and improved their life in every way and of course, we want a piece of that! But we always have to remember that we don’t see everything about people’s lives and especially when someone has a product to sell, they have an investment in promoting perfection and sweeping any issues under the rug.

We all know in theory that social media is a highlight reel and that people tend to share what is going well or their success stories in overcoming their problems, myself included! I’ve often shared stories of my past struggles and how I have managed to balance my hormones and fix my relationship to food and my body. I try to be transparent and also share the process when I am in the messy place of trying to figure something out but of course I don’t write about every single thing going on in my life. Partly because I don’t want to bore people but mostly because when you’re in the eye of the storm, you don’t have the clarity and understanding that comes with hindsight and enables you to write about your struggles. So I don’t believe that anyone does it on purpose but we all tend to show more of the positive and less of the negative aspects of ourselves. It’s human nature to want to show our best side but our shadows and struggles are what make us human.

There has been a trend over the last couple of years on social media, with vegan influencers coming out and sharing “why I’m no longer vegan” stories. Often these are people who spent years declaring to the world how good they felt, how energetic they were and how amazing their hair and skin had become on this diet, only to admit a few months later that they were struggling all along and didn’t feel able to talk about it because they felt trapped by the web they had weaved around themselves. Their online identity and professional reputation had become so tied up in their diet dogma that they found it so hard to change their diet for their health, never mind tell their audience that they were doing so. And the ones that did share this experience received so much backlash and abuse from the community for being selfish or hypocritical.

This public shaming behaviour was so shocking to me and made me realise just how far this moralising of food and diet <cult>ure has become. Food is no longer just fuel and nourishment for the body and soul but it is now a way for people to express their status as a good citizen. Yes it’s great that we are now becoming more aware of the ethical issues surrounding our food system, especially now the size of the global population is leaving our planet straining at the seams. Making more ethical choices is is a good thing and something I am totally on board with and often talk about on this blog. It’s amazing that companies are now looking at their supply chains, consumers are seeking out more sustainable, fair trade products and we want to see this trend continue. However, this is work in progress and all we can do is make the best choices where possible to meet our conflicting objectives.

A healthy diet isn’t always sustainable or ethical and a sustainable diet isn’t always healthy. And no food or diet is perfect. You eat meat and dairy and contribute to climate change and potentially animal cruelty and pollution. So you cut out animal products and instead end up eating vegan products that are shipped from all over the world, produced on farms that cause large scale eco system damage or exploit bonded labourers in developing countries. You try to eat all organic, local, plant-based food and end up with a myriad of health issues due to your overly restrictive diet. We all have a responsibility to make better choices where we can, even though with the way the food system operates right now some of this is out of our hands. But we certainly shouldn’t feel guilt or shame for our food choices when they are not perfect, or shame others who do not have access to or cannot afford to make these better choices, because let’s be honest, choosing high-quality, organic, local produce is often a privilege rather than the easy option.

Moving away from ethics and towards health and wellness, when it comes to the macro-nutrient wars of the HCLF (high carb low fat) vs. the LCFH (low carb high fat) communities, it just gets silly. Each camp has their own key pieces of research that they cite and doctors that they follow who claim that this way of eating is the perfect human diet. Each has their armies of followers with stories of healing and longevity who battle against each other in pointless debates and who circle in their own communities, brainwashing themselves and proving each other right. In reality how can we possibly know what the perfect human diet is? Humans developed all over the planet and survived on so many different diets: hunter gatherers, agricultural communities and now industrial societies like the ones most of us live in today. There is so much conflicting research out there that it’s possible to find evidence to back up almost any claim.

There is so much variety in our genetics, environment and physical health status that there’s no way there is one truth when it comes to food and diet. Plus, health is about so much more than what we eat. When we look at the blue zones (the places with the highest number of centenarians), they don’t all follow the same diet but one thing they have in common is their sense of community, slow pace of life and connection with the natural world. I think there comes a point when you have to accept that perfecting your diet can only get you so far and the simple act of trying can be a stress on the body that causes health issues to continue. It’s much better to eat food that makes you feel strong and energetic, keeps your metabolism functioning at it’s best but also brings you joy and connection with the community you live in than keeping yourself in an isolated bubble, trying to consume the optimal diet for humans.

I am saying this as much for my past self as I am for all of you out there. I have been through phases where I was so desperate to heal my body that I put all of my energy into eating what I believed was the best diet for my body as well as the planet and it only made things worse. Letting go of the diet dogma was what finally helped me to heal. Now I definitely make the effort to make ethical and healthy food choices. I buy from local markets when I can, experiment with growing my own food, eat lots of plant-based meals and choose organic, fair trade products where its available and affordable. But I’m refuse to obsess over it or feel anxious when I can’t make the ideal choice. I eat plenty of things that aren’t sustainable or health promoting just because they taste good. I also now eat animal products again as for me, veganism didn’t work out and I experienced health issues despite being very careful with my diet and supplementation (I’m sorry to any vegans reading this but this was my experience).

I would never recommend to a client that they should eat a certain way and exclude particular food groups or foods, unless they have their own ethical or medical reasons to do so. I am a strong believer in paying attention to your bodies’ response to certain foods and choosing a diet based on what makes you feel your best. One of the best ways to do this in my experience in using a food diary, not to restrict your intake but to record how you really feel, physically and mentally, after eating certain foods or meals. This way you are totally in control and rather than relying on external information, you can listen and respond to your own bodies’ signals which is what we are designed to do. And even when you do find something that works, remember that this can change! Our bodies are never stagnant, we are constantly aging and adapting to the changing seasons and environment so we can’t expect that what works for us today will work 10 or 20 years down the line.

Over to you

Anyway, that’s enough of me ranting for one day! Please leave a comment below if you have any thoughts on this topic, I’d love to hear your opinions and have a discussion. If you found this article interesting, please like this post and follow my blog to be notified when I post something new.

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I am a qualified Public Health Nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and my specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after restrictive dieting. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

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The travel curse strikes again (and a relaxing Easter break)

It’s been a while since my last post! It’s been a busy month as I had to come back to the UK before the end of the tax year and, as you can imagine, travelling during a pandemic is not the easiest task. I can understand why it has to be so complicated to put people off unnecessary travel and to keep us all safe but when you’re the one who has to travel it is frustrating and stressful to say the least. So I’ve been I’ve not had the motivation to write until now and today’s post is another fun story about the events of my life. I’ll be back to sharing health and wellness tips very soon but for now, enjoy the saga!

If you read my post about our journey from the UK to Greece with my pet cat Teddy, you’ll know I haven’t had the best luck with travel recently and the curse doesn’t seem to have lifted yet. This trip started out innocently enough with a cancelled flight that I was able to get a refund for and push my trip back another week. Even all of the extra paperwork and the cost of four COVID tests was just about bearable. When I finally arrived at Athens airport, I felt tired and anxious but also relieved that I was finally on my way. And then I found out that there was extreme bad weather in Munich where I was supposed to be taking a connecting flight on to Manchester.

Luckily the flight did go ahead and all seemed to be fine, until we tried to land at Munich airport. We felt the pilot dive down towards the runway and next thing it felt like we were going up again. The cloud was so thick we couldn’t see a thing and didn’t know which way was up. Next there was a huge CRASH and FLASH and the plane shook as if we had landed heavily, except we were still on the move. I looked over at the German businessman who was sat next to me and he laughed and shook his head: we just got hit by lightening! The pilot announced that we would be delayed because of the storm and that the airport staff needed to clear the runway of snow. Great.

We cruised around for 40 excruciating minutes before it was safe to land and the whole time my stomach was churning as I anxiously hoped my connecting flight would also be delayed due to the bad weather. I had visions of being stuck in Germany for months like the poor souls I’d seen on TV. Unfortunately luck was not on my side, I ended up missing the flight along with a Greek man who was on his way to visit his family in the UK. After nearly an hour of traipsing around the nearly empty airport with our luggage in tow, we were able to find Lufthansa service desk and were told we had been booked on to the first flight in the morning and we’d be spending the night in quarantine hotel. At least it was the Hilton so I couldn’t complain about that. I also can’t complain about the service of Lufthansa, they organised and paid for everything (even the extortionate prices of the hotel menu – 19 euro for a basic salad!) and the flight the next day went without a hiccup.

One thing I want to say is that even though we were forced to sit apart, wear de-humanizing masks and sanitise the life out of ourselves at every turn, I could still feel the humanity between all of the passengers and staff through the journey. People did still greet each other and not just in that awkward, fearful way I’ve experienced in the supermarket over the last 12 months. There was still a spirit of us all being in this together and respecting each others boundaries whilst still being warm and friendly. I think it’s important that we don’t start to see our fellow humans as the enemy throughout all of this but keep some perspective.

I already knew I had to self-isolate at home for ten days on arrival and I had booked my home test kits for day 2 and day 8 in advance. The ten days ended up being two weeks as my second test result was delayed and I couldn’t even go out for a walk until I had the result. Luckily I did receive it in time for Easter and I was even able to visit family and enjoy sitting out in the garden in the spring sunshine now that we’re allow to meet up outdoors. I realised just how much I missed them after all of these months apart. I went for a walk on the beach at Crosby with my brother and his dog and spent an afternoon strolling along the promenade at Southport with my Nan. Even though everything is still closed in the UK, it’s so good to have some signs of normality again and to be able to see loved ones face to face. And I was definitely happy to have a proper chocolate Easter egg this year!

I’m due to head back to Greece in two weeks time but so far I’ve had 4 cancelled flights and I’m still not sure whether my return flight will go ahead. This situation is the perfect opportunity to practice surrendering control as there’s just no way to predict what will happen next. Not accepting what is is a recipe for anxiety and frustration and in these circumstances there is nothing you can do except wait and see what life throws at you. I hope I’ll be back in Athens to celebrate Easter on 2nd May as it is the biggest holiday of the year but who knows. I’m missing my boyfriend and my cat and our garden in Athens. But for now I’m just happy that I am alive and well along with all of my family and loved ones.

I hope you enjoyed my bad luck story with a happy ending. Fingers crossed that I’m not posting a third installment in the travel curse series next month! I’m looking forward to sharing some healthy spring recipes once I am back in Greece and some outdoor yoga sessions now the weather is getting warmer. I hope you’re all keeping well and looking after yourselves as best as you can in this situation. If you’re feeling stuck, my top 3 tips for clearing the slate and boosting your energy are:

  1. Take a quick walk outside (even better if it’s in nature)
  2. Spend 10 minutes sitting in silence focusing on your breath
  3. Eat a juicy, colourful refreshing fruit bowl or salad

It’s the simple things that can make all the difference in the way we feel and how we show up in our lives 🙂

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Celebrating “Clean Monday” in Greece

Yesterday was a religious holiday here in Greece, the Eastern Christian festival of Καθαρά Δευτέρα (Kathara Deftera) aka “Clean Monday” or “Pure Monday”. Similar to the celebration of Ash Wednesday in the West, it’s the seventh Monday before Easter and the start of lent, a period of cleansing for the mind body and spirit. The 40+ days of lent includes religious fasting where it’s traditional to consume mainly plant-based foods, with no meat, eggs or dairy. Typically eating shellfish is still allowed during lent in most European countries, as well as fish on feasting days, hence the celebration of the first day with a big feast of seafood and vegetables. Here is our feast, curtesy of Yannis’ mum who is an amazing cook!

We had octopus, prawns, cuttlefish, scallops, fava beans, taramasalata and homemade lagana flat bread made with sesame seeds, another traditional food to eat on this day. In the past, women would make a huge loaf of lagana on Clean Monday, the only day of the year when this type of bread is baked, and eat a small piece each day of lent. My small contribution to the feast was the radish salad and fruit pie for dessert (it’s the thought that counts right?). After lunch we went for a walk to the local park to see another Clean Monday tradition: kite flying. The kites are a spiritual symbol of our soul ascending, trying to reach the divine during this religious period. It’s also really beautiful to see all the different colours and shapes. It was really nice to see all of the kids flying kites with their families. I’m glad to see that people still kept the tradition, despite the lockdown rules. We have to continue life somehow!

The day of Clean Monday also symbolises the start of “Clean Week” where it’s custom to clean house, literally and mentally. Traditionally, people would go to confession during this week to begin lent with a clean conscience and then throughout lent they would continue to focus on reflection and prayer. I did my own version of this at home through my journaling practice. It’s always good to offload some of those nagging worries, painful memories and hidden feelings either by speaking to a trusted person or writing it out onto the page. It leaves you feeling much lighter and clearer headed for sure. I think it’s a shame we have lost some of the benefits these religious habits bring to us. Instead of freeing ourselves from our past mistakes, we often hide them away to rot inside of us leading to low self-worth and annoying emotional triggers. Mental and emotional cleansing is an equally if not more important part of a healthy lifestyle as physical cleansing through eating well and moving your body.

Today, I’m getting started on the house cleaning part. Clean Monday is also sometimes seen as the first day of spring so it’s time for some spring cleaning! First, it’s time to organise my wardrobe and set aside anything that doesn’t fit either for charity or to sell on Ebay or Depop. I started buying and selling more clothes second hand over the last few years and it’s great. I used to struggle trying to find things in charity shops in the and while I did find a few bargains (like a ski coat for a fiver), I usually couldn’t find anything that I liked or that suited me. However, then I discovered the world of buying and selling second hand online and I have bought shoes, dresses, coats, you name it. All things that were in good condition but that the person didn’t want anymore. It’s a win win situation for everyone, you save money buying clothes, get money for things you no longer wear and contribute to reducing waste via the circular economy.

Next it’s time for a deep clean of our space, open all of the windows to let in some fresh air and sort out my book collection. Luckily we moved here in October and only brought the things we needed so I don’t have much clearing out to do but I’m sure I can find something! It’s been fun to learn about the different celebrations of the Greek culture these last few months, it’s just a shame that we have had to celebrate them all at home instead of having the full experience. Greece is such a festive and social country, it’s really bizarre to be locked up at home for so long. Normally for Clean Monday, the taverns and local parks would be packed out and there would be parades and parties in the streets the entire weekend before. I’m hoping that next year we will be able to experience all of the festivities for real but for now we are trying to make the most of things and keep our spirits up as best as we can.

Now I am trying to decide whether to keep the tradition of lent this year. I love plant-based food and I was previously vegan for nearly 3 years so I think it would be pretty easy for me, even though I don’t follow a vegan diet these days. Not only is plant-based eating a good way to cleanse your body and support your natural detoxification process, it’s also good for the planet as meat and dairy have a much larger environmental footprint compared to plant-based protein sources. I do feel like I need a bit of a reset after this winter season so maybe it could be a good idea even if it’s not for the full 40 days! Let me know if you’d be interested if I share my experience and some plant-based recipe ideas.

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Healthy living during lockdown: eating from the garden

I’ve not been as inspired to write lately. Life is pretty repetitive for everyone these days.. We are just trying to make the best of things and focus on keeping our spirits up. One of the things that has helped a lot is being outside in the garden. We’re really lucky to live in an area of Athens where most of the houses have gardens and we are making the most of it.

Like most people I’ve had way too much screen time during this lockdown. Even though I go for walks every day, read, practice yoga, play my guitar and other non-technology related things I still spend a lot of time working on my laptop or watching TV and I definitely notice the impacts on my health and wellbeing. After a long day in front of screens I feel more tired, my eyes feel fatigued and sometimes I get a headache. I notice my mind feels more scattered and find it more difficult to shift into relaxation mode in the evening. Making the effort to take breaks and spend more time outside during the day has helped a lot in recent weeks. It really improves my mood and my energy levels throughout the day. Even a 5 minute break every hour to get some fresh air and feel the sun on my skin helps to keep me feeling calmer and happier and sleep better at night.

Another thing that has been great is learning about seasonal eating and focusing on eating local, seasonal foods. Greece has so many fresh citrus fruits this time of year and we’ve enjoyed picking lemons, grapefruits, oranges and mandarins and figuring out what to do with them all. We’ve made litres of lemon juice to save for lemonade in the summer, lemon confit for cooking in savoury dishes, orange and lemon cakes, tarts and pies, mandarin liquor.. the list goes on!

Citrus fruits are so good for your health, especially in the winter months which is their peak growing season. The markets here are full of fresh citrus of all varieties at this time of year and they taste so sweet, not at all acidic like the ones you can buy at the supermarket out of season. Citrus fruits are an amazing natural source of vitamin C which supports your immune system and the natural detoxification processes in your liver. They also have many micro-nutrients such as anti-oxidants, flavanoids and polyphenols which help to protect your body from disease. More and more research is being published showing the amazing benefits of these little understood compounds. If you eat the whole fruit you also get a boost of fibre and water which help to keep your digestive system functioning optimally and a dose of natural sugars to satisfy your sweet tooth.

As well as making the most of the abundance of fruit, we’ve also had another go at growing our own veggies from scratch. I am really interested in the environmental impact of food systems and I think if you have the option, growing your own food can be an amazing way to eat in a more sustainable way. Our first attempt at growing our own veggies was last year in Nottingham. We bought a tiny raised bed (around 0.5x1m) and experimented planting radishes, garlic, lettuces, onions, cauliflower and potatoes. Let’s just say that some worked better than others but it was fun and we learnt a lot. We learnt that spacing of the plants is important! We thought that if we just throw the seeds down it would be survival of the fittest and the strongest would thrive but actually what happened is the plants ended up all competing with each other and none of them thrived.

Then the moment when you actually pick and eat what you have grown is worth all of the effort. Finally eating a salad made with home-grown lettuces and radishes was so satisfying! It feels so good to eat food that you have grown yourself. You really appreciate food when you understand the work that goes into growing it. You also start to see the differences between different plants, for example, I didn’t realise that each radish plant only grows a single radish so they actually need a lot of space and resources whereas with potatoes you get around 5 big ones and a few smaller ones from each plant. It makes you want to use all of the plant too as you don’t want to waste anything. We found out we could made pesto with radish leaves rather than throw them away which was really cool and a fun alternative to traditional pesto-pasta.

This year we stepped it up a notch and built an even bigger raised bed (around 1.5x3m). We ordered the wood online because all of the shops were closed so it was a bit of a challenge figuring out how the thing was supposed to fit together. After spending half a day arranging all of the pieces of wood and finally starting to build we found the tiny piece of paper with the instructions on it – oops. I can’t take the credit for the construction, my boyfriend built most of it but I helped where I could and did an excellent job of supervising and capturing photos. And it actually turned out pretty well! It needed a lot of soil though and luckily we found a local company who could deliver it in small bags as it’s really heavy. We planted radishes, garlic and lettuces again, carrots, onions and leeks plus some potatoes outside of the raised bed.

It’s been a few weeks since we planted the first seeds and we already have the first signs of life. The lettuces, leeks and carrots are starting to sprout and the garlics already have huge green stems. We had to move the lettuces into small pots as they were already over crowded. We should have done that in the first place really but sometimes it takes making the same mistake a few times to learn the lesson. Hopefully they will survive the move and we can move them back into the raised bed when they get bigger. We ended up transplanting some of the radishes outside of the raised bed too. We’re slowly taking over the rest of the garden but it’s not like a lawn can survive here anyway as it’s much too dry, so we might as well make the most of the space we have!

I hope you enjoyed this quick post sharing what we’ve been up to and how we are keeping ourselves entertained during this seemingly never ending lockdown. Let me know in the comments below if you’ve ever tried growing vegetables at home and if you have any tips, I could definitely use some. Or if you’ve taken up any new hobbies this year that are helping to bring some joy into your life. I am still busy applying for jobs and working on my upcoming project but I’m always looking for fun things to do outside of work. I am I’ll be back with more posts on health, nutrition and yoga over the next weeks so watch this space!

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Why and how I include treats as part of a healthy diet

The last couple of weeks we have had lots of celebrations! Valentines’ day, pancake day, my birthday and my boyfriends’ mums’ birthday all within the space of ten days. Considering the three of us have been in lockdown together for nearly four months now we are making the most of every opportunity to be festive. And with everywhere closed that has pretty much meant one thing.. FOOD. Here’s a sample of the tasty treats we have been making. We have crepes, carrot cake, kourou (Greek feta pastries) and lemon drizzle cake curtesy of the one and only Mary Berry. Yum!

I think it’s such a gift to be able to enjoy tasty foods and share the experience with loved ones. Food can be such a sensual experience and a way for us to connect with ourselves and other beings. As humans we are designed to enjoy food as it is essential for our survival and preparing and eating delicious food can be a ritual that brings us a lot of pleasure. Of course we can survive on simple foods and that is great too but there is something about biting into a delicious homemade cake or warm pastry that gives us such satisfaction. Cooking for or with our friends and family is often a way that we show our love and memorable mealtimes are moments that we remember many years later. Passing on recipes down generations is a way to keep cultural traditions going and remember generations before.

It’s such a shame to reduce food to only fuel. Especially now the world is closed it is even more important to take enjoyment from our food. And by that I don’t mean we should be eating emotionally and using food to numb out. Or that we should be indulging in artificial junk foods that harm our bodies. I mean that we should take the time to buy and prepare delicious, nourishing food for our bodies and souls. And that includes sweet and savoury treats! There is a huge difference between baking some cookies at home and eating a few round the table with loved ones vs. buying a packet of cheap biscuits from the supermarket and eating ten in one sitting whilst watching TV alone. One bring genuine pleasure and enjoyment and the other is just a mindless habit. I think that part of including treats in a healthy diet is really to take the time to eat them mindfully and savour every bite.

I remember the days when I used to be afraid of celebrations because I was so anxious around food. If I was invited to a party I’d be worried about what food would be there and if I’d be tempted to eat foods that were unhealthy or off my diet. I’d be so focused on food that I’d forget to enjoy myself or I’d get really drunk to make the food anxiety go away for a few hours and then not remember the party the next day. If I went to a restaurant I’d have to triple check the menu beforehand to make sure there was something I could eat otherwise I’d freak out at the table and not be able to decide at all or I’d end up over eating to the point of feeling sick and spend the next week trying to burn it all off. It sounds so crazy now I look back but I know this is a reality for many others too. It’s so freeing now to be able to eat whatever I want and know that it all fits within a healthy diet. I am allowed to enjoy food without feeling guilty about it.

But I’m still a nutritionist and I still want to remain fit and healthy so how do I balance the two? The key is that I base my diet on whole plant foods. This means that most of what I eat is unprocessed and comes from the earth. I’m not vegetarian (I was vegan for nearly 3 years but that’s a story for another day) but lots of my meals are plant-based and this makes up the foundation of my diet. I don’t restrict the amount of these foods that I eat and try to “save calories for later”, I just eat until I am satisfied at each meal and move on. I follow “balanced plate method” which is something I teach to my health coaching clients, a way to create filling, satisfying meals every time. I eat lots of fruits and vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds and on a day to day basis I try to keep processed foods to a minimum. When I want to eat a treat I just do it and because I’ve already met my needs for calories and nutrients I don’t have a need to go overboard.

I think an important thing to note here is that I also don’t allow myself to eat emotionally anymore. By that I mean that if I am feeling sad, stressed or angry, I focus on understanding and processing that emotion rather than stuffing it down with food. If I have a craving for a food I will ask myself first if it is because I am trying to avoid feeling a certain way. If it is then I will turn to other self-care tools rather than food which will help me to soothe myself and actually feel better rather than distracting myself and pushing the feeling down until later. But if the craving is not emotional but just a natural desire to eat something tasty for whatever reason then I’m ok with giving my body what it is asking for. I’ve learnt to trust my body around food and listen to it’s hunger and fullness cues and in return it has learnt to trust me and no longer sends out urges to eat insane amounts of food.

Something I realised is that the thing driving my fear of over eating was the fact that I was constantly hungry. I was always on a diet an maintaining a body weight that was below my body’s natural set point which meant that I was always fighting against my body’s hunger signals. When I did give in and eat what I was craving I wouldn’t be able to stop. I thought that this was just a normal part of being healthy and that giving in to it showed my lack of willpower. It was only after I went through a period of extreme binge eating, when I could no longer fight my hunger and decided to just surrender to it that I realised that this was genuinely my body telling me it needed more fuel. And once the hunger was satisfied and my body reached it’s set point weight the food obsession gradually went away.

Whatever we resist persists and I think that putting food into categories of good and bad only makes us go more crazy around the “bad” foods. As soon as I let myself eat whatever I wanted, the cravings went from mountains to molehills. After years of trying to figure out why my binge eating was happening, I was shocked! So now I am maintaining a healthy weight that my body likes, but not necessarily what my mind wants and I’ve learned to be ok with that. It’s so worth it to be a few lbs heavier and not have the constant fear of gaining weight. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be perfect to be healthy and that health is about way more than what you eat or how much exercise you do. Holistic health includes mental wellbeing and in my opinion, eating treats and not depriving myself means I feel so much better psychologically and emotionally. Living an overly controlled, restricted life is not fun and definitely does not lead to long term happiness. Balance is always the way!

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this post and it gives you the confidence to allow yourself treats as part of your healthy diet. Let me know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

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Keeping active in the Greek winter lockdown

One of the things I’ve committed to throughout this second lockdown to look after my health and wellbeing is keeping up with my daily walks. If any of you have been following my blog for a while you’ll know that walking is my number one recommendation to keep fit and healthy. Walking is such a good way to stay active without stressing out your body and it does wonders for your mental health too. Whenever I am feeling suffocated or anxious, I head out for a half an hour walk and listen to some music or an inspiring podcast and I feel so much better! Walking at a moderate pace gets your heart rate up enough to boost your circulation and burn fat without depleting your energy and leaving you exhausted. It’s the perfect exercise for beginners as it’s low impact and you don’t need any equipment. If you are looking to improve your fitness and don’t know where to begin, just start walking daily and take it from there.

I love walking outside in nature and being in Greece this winter, we really have really experienced the extremes that nature has to offer. Only last week we were walking along the coast in the south of Attica enjoying the 20°C sunshine and dipping our toes in the Mediterranean. A few days ago I was out and about when it started raining and blowing a gale. Then yesterday we had a real snow day and we were fully kitted out in our coats and boots to hike up the local hill. And I don’t just mean the kind of sleet that turns to mush as soon as it hits the floor, we’re talking 20cm of powdery white snow. It was like being a kid again waking up to this magical winter wonderland. I love it! We walked through the park and saw some pretty impressive snowmen plus all of the destruction where the heavy snow caused huge tree branches to come crashing down. All the cars were buried under a foot of snow and it was like the world came to a standstill. There was even that eerie silence you get during when the snow dampens out the white noise.

Apart from walking of course I have been keeping up with my yoga practice. Yet another thing that’s keeping me (relatively) sane and able to cope as we move into our fifth month of lockdown.. Yoga really is an amazing way to look after your health during these challenging times. You can read my post about the many physical and mental benefits of yoga and how to start a home practice here. I’ve practiced yoga for many years but once I started teaching regularly, I found that my personal practice took a back seat so this year I have really dedicated myself to a regular practice. It’s really easy to fall into the routine of doing similar routines and not progressing so I decided to try out some different styles from the slower paced, alignment focused hatha yoga that I teach. I’ve experimented with different online teachers and right now I am building my cardio fitness through faster vinyasa flows and my flexibility through deeper, yin practices. Combining different styles of yoga really gives you that all round fitness of strength, agility and flexibility as well as helping you to be more calm and connected to yourself and the world around you.

I’m also working on some more advanced poses like forearm stands and deeper backbends. I think it’s so important to keep challenging yourself and moving out of your comfort zone to improve your fitness and keep things interesting. But the most important thing for me these days is to have fun with it! Gone are the days when I push myself through exhausting high intensity intervals or long distance running for the “results”. If I feel like it I will do those things but I know that you don’t need to do that to be fit and healthy and pushing yourself too hard can cause more harm than good. I learned the hard way years ago that chronic over-exercising leads to your body fighting back with injuries, fatigue and extreme hunger. Not fun!

Nowadays I know it’s important to live an active life but I will never let exercise take over my life. This is something I recommend to all of my health coaching clients too. Keeping it simple with a workout routine that feels achievable and enjoyable is the best way to ensure you stick at it in the long term and don’t give up as soon as life gets in the way. What used to be considered “extreme” with fitness is now seen as normal. We are made to believe that we aren’t fit unless we are running marathons or squatting 100kg in the gym but in truth, our bodies weren’t designed for these unnatural movements or to be pushed to these extremes. Yes we can go for it if we want to challenge ourselves but it’s not necessary to be healthy. It’s much better to live an active life, focus on moving your body in an enjoyable way and keeping mobile and agile.

So, now that that rant is over.. some news! Apart from keeping physically active, I am also keeping mentally active with a big project I am working on to be launched on this site very soon. Hint – check out the new page on my site menu. This is something I’ve wanted to create for a long time and I finally have the time and the resources to do it so watch this space! I’m hoping that the project will be live in a couple of months time and I’ll be offering it at a great value for early birds. If you’re interested in learning more drop me an email at lovemoonlife.mail@gmail.com

Over to you…

I hope this post inspires you to keep active during the winter, where ever you are in the world. Let me know in the comments below what your favourite ways to keep fit at home during the winter/lockdown!

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How visualisation can help you become the person you want to be

How often have you found yourself reacting in the same old habitual ways to certain situations? Maybe it’s reacting negatively towards a particular person, feeling shy or anxious in certain situations, or repeatedly falling off the wagon with healthy behaviours as soon as a stressor hits. So much of our behaviour is habitual meaning that we do it without even thinking. We start to actually identify with feelings and behaviours as if they are our identity making it very difficult to change. But what if that wasn’t the case? What if you had the option to act consciously and choose how you want to show up each day?

I’ve heard many times how visualisation can help to do exactly that, change your mindset so that you can step out of your comfort zone and grow into the person you want to be. I never really paid it much attention until recently. However, recently I had an interview for a position that I really had set my heart on and after reading again about the power of visualisation I decided to give it a go. I’ve always struggled with confidence speaking in front of people, and this was an interview where I had to give a 15 minute presentation in front of a panel of 5 followed by a question and answer session. Naturally my inner critic was going wild with what ifs…

“What if you stumble on your words?”
“What if you go bright red in the face?”
“What if your mind goes totally blank?”

Photo by energepic.com on Pexels.com

These were all based on memories of past experiences of presenting or public speaking where I’ve done exactly that. Blushed like a tomato, panicked and totally forgotten everything I wanted to say – eek! When I projected forward how I thought the interview would go, these were the memories I had to help me out with visualising how the interview would go. This has happened before too when I’ve had to speak publicly. I’d be nervous and running through all my past “failures” at speaking in front of people and of course when the moment arrived the same thing would happen again, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is something we all do, as humans we hate uncertainty and we try to predict situations based on information we already have. Sometimes this can be helpful but often it can keep us feeling stuck in a rut and unable to reach our potential. But this time I was determined that it would be different. I’d had enough of feeling terrified at the thought of speaking in front of people and I wanted to create a new possibility. Since starting to teach yoga and make Youtube videos, I’ve already proved to myself that I can get out of my comfort zone and do things I am afraid of so why should this situation be any different?

I decided that for a few days leading up to the interview I would practice a guided visualisation where I imagined myself presenting confidently, impressing the panel and answering all of their questions with ease. I allowed myself to be aware of all of the judgements and criticisms that were present in my mind but chose not to dwell on them and to focus on creating new, positive beliefs about my abilities. As I always say, it’s important to also feel the emotions when practicing meditation or any mindset work and so I really let myself feel that happy, confident, excited version of myself in my mind. If you’re interested in the guided meditation I used, you can listen to it here.

As it wasn’t “real”, the visualisation gave me the opportunity to dream up an entirely new Amy, totally separate from the shy, anxious version I had become so attached to. I did this every morning, first thing for five days leading up to the interview and let me tell you, it worked wonders! I’m not saying that I arrived at the presentation with no fear or doubt but I felt so much better than I ever have in these kind of situations before. I presented confidently (even though I was shaking with nerves), I said everything I wanted to and answered all of the questions without freaking out too much. Definitely a win in my books. It’s out of my hands now whether I get the position or not but I feel good knowing that I showed up as my best self and gave it my all.

The best thing is that now I have a stored memory of this confident version of myself who can present well. Next time I need to do something like this and I rack my mind for past experiences, amongst the embarrassing memories I will also have this one to lean on and give me hope that I can do it. And the more memories like this I can build, the stronger this new, more confident Amy will become and over time it will become my new identity. So if any of you out there are struggling with confidence or with changing your behaviours, maybe give visualization a chance. You only need to commit around 15-20 minutes a day and it really can change your life. Of course, visualization alone won’t change anything in your life but what it can do is give you the motivation and sense of personal power so that you take actions that do create change.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article, if you did please like and share with anyone who it might help. Comment below your thoughts and experiences and follow my blog for more posts on health, nutrition, yoga and creating positive change in your life!

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Real health #29 The healing power of nature (plus our Greek lockdown adventures!)

We are heading into our 4th month of lockdown here in Athens and it’s getting pretty tough! Being forced to stay at home for so long has made me realise just how important nature is for our health and wellbeing. We go for walks around our local area every day but it’s just not the same as getting out “into the wild”. If we haven’t escaped the city for a week or so I start to feel suffocated and I crave fresh air and expansive landscapes. Being enclosed in a house, staring at a screen is definitely not how humans are designed to live and I’m sure we are going to start seeing the negative impacts of this type of lifestyle even more over the next few years.

But why is nature so good for our wellbeing? There have been many scientific studies proving that nature helps to reduces stress levels, calm anxiety and improve your mood. Fresh air in your lungs and sunlight on your skin can sometimes be just the medicine you need to recharge your energetic battery (plus the vitamin D boost of course!). I know whenever I leave my phone at home and head out for a hike or sit by the sea for a few hours I feel like a completely different person. There’s something about the natural beauty and slow pace of nature that makes me feel relaxed and at peace. My breathing becomes deeper and slower and the tension in my body melts away.

I become much more present and mindful of the world around me instead of being focused on my to-do list, the latest news alert or my own worries. When we leave technology and the constant influx of information behind, our minds are free to wander, daydream and process things on a deeper level. When I was writing my first research paper, my most creative times were when I was out walking by the river or at the local nature reserve. The beauty and mystery of nature is inspiring and helps you to see things from a new perspective when you feel stuck. Nature truly is healing on so many levels. I think it’s so important now more than ever to try and get out in nature as much as possible.

So I wanted to share some of the beautiful places I have been able to visit during this lockdown. Partly as a reminder to myself how good it makes me feel and to motivate me to get outside whenever I feel low. Also hopefully to inspire you to explore your local area and find some hidden gems too! Our lockdown rules say we have to stay within the region of Attica which is pretty annoying as I can’t wait to get out and explore the rest of Greece. Nonetheless I feel lucky to live in the area we do as it is pretty green compared to central Athens and we have access to the beach and the mountains within an hours drive. But where ever you live you can find your piece of nature whether it’s the local park or even your own garden.

The view of Athens from the top of the hill in our area..

And a couple of photos from our hike at Mount Parnitha in December..

Playing on the beach at Saronida on the South coast of Attica..

Same coastline, a much sunnier day..

And a couple of weeks later snow! (a hike isn’t complete without some the yoga poses)

Finally what would nature be without some cute lil’ animals?

And I can’t leave out my own crazy fur baby who is always keeping us smiling

It makes me happy looking back at the fun adventures we’ve had over the last few months, even if we are stuck at home 90% of the time. The only thing missing is family and friends to share it with which saddens me a lot. I think this lockdown is harder for everyone, partly because of the winter but also because it’s gone on so long now. I just can’t accept the idea of the “new normal”. But I am staying optimistic, hoping that this passes soon so we can all get back to enjoying our lives. And for now we will continue to make the most of things and escape to experience the healing powers of nature as much as we can!

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this more fun style of article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your favourite place in nature to escape to.

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how to have a healthy christmas - move your body

Staying healthy during the holidays / How to have a healthy Christmas

I want to start by saying this won’t be the typical health blog about how to restrict yourself and avoid temptation at Christmas. If you have been reading my posts for a while you will know I am all about seeing the big picture of health, listening to your body and building sustainable habits rather than extreme dieting and intense workout regimens! Nonetheless this is a post about how to stay healthy during the holidays and these are my top tips for how to have a healthy Christmas.

Relax and surrender

Whatever you do, now is not the time to be stressed about not meeting your health goals. If you are trying to lose weight or improve your fitness and you feel like the holidays are getting in the way, try not to stress as it will only slow down your progress. If you want to have a healthy Christmas, I suggest you focus on allowing your body and mind to truly relax. If you have time off work, use the time to have fun and do things that you enjoy. I know it’s tricky this year with not being able to see friends and family but there are lot’s of things you can do at home like watching cosy movies, starting creative projects or playing games with people you live with. Try to take your mind out of the information overload that is the internet and be present and mindful throughout your day. Let your thoughts slow down, your breathing become deep and the tension in your body melt away. A couple of weeks of true relaxation will help your body to recharge, your metabolism to restore itself and be ready to hit your health and fitness goals in the new year.

Enjoy your treats

Like I said, Christmas is really not the time to deprive yourself and stick 100% to your diet. Who wants to spend the holidays constantly restraining themselves and avoiding temptation? Who wants to be counting the calories in Grandma’s Christmas dinner or saying no to their piece of the Christmas pudding? Dietary restraint has been shown to lead to over eating later on so it is much better to have a yummy treat here and there and truly enjoy it. The days are short and the weather is cold and there’s nothing like a comforting hot chocolate and Christmas cookies to make you feel warm inside. BUT if you want to stay healthy during the holidays, I’d say really be mindful about the treats you are eating and go for quality over quantity. That doesn’t mean spending a fortune on expensive chocolates, but it is more about choosing treats which are made with real ingredients rather than cheap, mass produced boxes of biscuits that don’t even taste that great. Choose things that you genuinely enjoy and savour them when you eat them. And brownie points if you can make them your self!

Keep moving

This one is especially important this year as most of us are stuck inside unable to go out and socialise or travel. We are spending more and more time in front of our screens and this sedentary lifestyle is not the best from our health. If you want to stay healthy over Christmas, try to incorporate a bit of movement every day. It doesn’t have to be anything extreme but 60 minutes of low intensity exercise like walking or yoga or 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise like jogging, cycling or body weight exercises will help to keep your body mobile, release mood boosting hormones and help to keep your blood sugar stable. Establishing a good routine with moving your body now means you will have a solid fitness foundation to build on in the new year if that is your goal. Outdoor sports are the one thing we are allowed to do right now so take advantage of the opportunity to go on winter walks with people you live with or maybe try out an online fitness class if that’s not your cup of tea. Find a way to move your body that you genuinely enjoy and you’ll be well on your way to a healthy Christmas.

Enjoy seasonal fruits and veggies

Even those there are lots of produce that isn’t available over the winter, especially if you live in a colder climates like the UK where I am from, there are still plenty of seasonal fruits and veggies to enjoy over Christmas and into the New Year! Here in Greece we have lots of citrus fruits and pomegranates right now and in the market there are plenty of root veggies and dark leafy greens. Two things I haven’t seen yet which I’ll miss this year are brussels sprouts and parsnips! Wherever you live, Christmas is a great time to lookout for local and seasonal produce and experiment with new recipes like Deliciously Ella’s maple roasted sprouts or BBC good food clementine winter leaf salad. When we eat intuitively, we naturally crave fresh and earthy tastes to balance out the holiday treats so go for it and eat your 5 a day to stay healthy during the holidays.

Stay connected

Even though we might be stuck at home and not able to be out and about as usual this year, it’s so important to stay connected as best as you can. Whether that is through phone calls or video chat with friends and family, joining online groups and virtual meet ups or even by sending Christmas cards. It’s a tough time for many people, especially when we are forced to be alone and it’s so easy to isolate ourselves when we are struggling and feeling down. So don’t be afraid to reach out to loved ones to get support and to talk about how you are really feeling over Christmas. Staying connected is such an important part of staying healthy during the holidays so see if you can make it a priority to connect with others in whatever way feels best for you. Personally I am sad to not be able to make it home for Christmas for the first time in my life but we will be having our Christmas dinner tradition via Skype!

Over to you…

I hope this post helps you to have a healthy Christmas and enter the New Year feeling happy and refreshed. Let me know in the comments below if you have other top tips for staying healthy over the holidays!

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Travelling with a pet during COVID19

Wow what an intense month! We have finally arrived in Athens, Greece after an extremely stressful and emotional journey. We decided to move here from the UK back in September so it’s been a mad few weeks preparing for the move, packing up the house and organising our travel. I brought my cat Teddy too as there was no way I could leave him behind so I had to make sure he had all the right vaccinations and paperwork to travel too. I knew it would be a challenge but I wasn’t prepared for what was to come.

Our saga began on Thursday morning… the courier was coming any time between 7 and 10am so transport our stuff to Greece and I was up before 6am because I had too many things on my mind. I let Teddy outside and he came in about 15 minutes later crying and scratching at the door. I let him in and he ran straight under the bed to hide. I didn’t think anything of it because he was a bit anxious with all the activity in the house so I just put some food out for him and shut him in the bedroom whilst we loaded the van. After the courier had left, I managed to coax Teddy out from under the bed and realised he was limping and had a swollen jaw. I couldn’t believe he had got hurt the day before we we due to travel after 6 months of no issues at all!

He seemed pretty stressed and not himself so I called the vet who said to bring him in. I had already handed back my company car so I had to take him in a taxi. Thankfully everything was ok the vet told me had been in a cat fight and been bitten on the leg but he gave him some painkillers and antibiotics and said he was fine to travel. The rest of the day was pretty relaxed until 7pm when I was checking whether I should feed Teddy before the flight in the morning when I realised I had packed his pet passport and vaccine certificates in the boxes to Greece which he needed to fly. Only one word – NOOOOO. I was in such a panic as the vets was already closed and I didn’t think I would have time to organise it in the morning. Luckily, I called the vet just in case and he was still there and told me to come at 9am to pick up a new one. Although I would have to pay full price (even more than a human passport!) I didn’t care at that point.

So on Friday it was another early start and taxi to the vet but we managed to get it sorted and then our journey began. We set off at 10am and travelled to London St Pancras by train from Nottingham which was fine although a bit uncomfortable with the masks and everything. Teddy didn’t like the noise too much or being stuck in his carrier but he was ok and settled down. I used a Pet Remedy, a calming essential oil spray for animals, on his carrier and blankets and it seemed to help. Things were going well, until Yannis realised we hadn’t completed the Passenger Locator Form for COVID19 travel and that it had to be filled in the day before travel . He was stressed I was pretty calm because I was sure they would help us at the airport and it would be fine.

We changed to the underground to travel from St Pancras to Heathrow Airport. That was pretty nasty, it was more full than the train and some people weren’t even wearing masks. Teddy hated it and started shaking but I covered his carrier with a blanket and he calmed down. We made it to the airport around 1pm and grabbed some lunch before heading to the bag drop. Straight away we saw the sign “No QR code – No travel” and my heart sank. We couldn’t get the QR code without completing the Passenger Locator Form and the system wouldn’t let us do it because it was too late. We asked the attendant from Swissport if there was any way around it and she said no exceptions, you have to change your flight.

At that point I just collapsed and started crying, somehow having Teddy with us made it feel like even more of a big deal but also I was just emotional after all the stresses of the previous weeks. Luckily Yannis was there to support me and after a lot of argument with Swissport he managed to book onto 4.30pm flights the next day which cost us £500 as the flight was full. There was a 12pm flight too which would have cost £700! We were so frustrated at the system, especially because it was only Greece that had the day before rule and Aegean Air had only mentioned it in tiny small print at the bottom of the check in reminder email. There were two other groups in the queue behind us who had the same issue and the cashier told us at least 20 people per day were making the same mistake. This just made us even more angry!

We found a cheap pet-friendly hotel nearby with rooms available. It was a 5 minute journey and the taxi driver said it would cost £25 – insanity! We were in serious money saving mode now so we went there on the free airport bus instead. We spent the night in the hotel room, I went out and bought a chippy tea and some beers for us and some cat litter and used a cardboard box with a bin liner as a make shift litter tray for Teddy. He seemed ok just a bit confused but we were totally exhausted. Yannis checked our tickets and realised that Swissport hadn’t booked the luggage or Teddy onto the flight even though we asked three times and they assured they had. We called Aegean to fix it and they told us there was no space on the flight now but Yannis persuaded them to let us onto the earlier flight which had space at no extra cost.

So the next morning we arrived back at Heathrow for round two. When we went to the bag drop off and asked where the pet area was the attendants looked at each other confused and said they hadn’t been expecting an animal and that there was no space in the hold – WHAAAAT?! They said we could change our flights again or he could come in the cabin with us but they said his carrier was too big as I had bought him a bigger dog one so he would be more comfortable. That was the last straw, we were so annoyed and after more arguments we were adamant that we were taking Teddy on the plane and I would put his carrier on my lap. After all of that stress and money spent there was no way we weren’t flying to Greece that day.

The next challenge was getting through security. I have never travelled with a pet so I had no idea what to expect. We had to pass security ourselves then take Teddy to a search room and take him out of the carrier so it could be passed through the scanner. Yannis had to hold him for 5 minutes as the security officer said “whatever you do do not let him onto the floor”. Anyone who has met our cat will know he does not like being picked up and he will fight to the death so Yannis had to hold him Simba style while he was kicking and scratching and then had to get him back into the carrier after. Not an easy feat. After that he seemed really stressed and I felt so awful. We found a spot to sit in the waiting room and I sprayed more of the calming spray and played classical music on my phone next to his carrier. It might sound crazy but it did help!

Now for the final stressful part of the journey, actually getting on the plane. We had to take Teddy to the back of the plane during take off for safety reasons but then I could have him on my lap for the rest of the flight. He absolutely hated it. He was crying so loudly and trying to escape the carrier during take off and then he was shaking uncontrollably and panting for the rest of the 4 hour flight. I was so upset and scared he would have a heart attack or something, even though I know shaking is a natural reaction for animals who get scared. I was seriously doubting whether this was a good idea at this point, I had genuinely been optimistic that he might be a bit nervous but then would fall asleep once we were in the air. At least it was better than him being in the hold because I could talk to him and put my hand inside the carrier.

I will fast forward the flight as it was just me holding my breath hoping that Teddy would be ok. I couldn’t focus on my book or podcast I just sat there wishing for it to be over. Once we were on the other side, the wait for the luggage seemed to last forever but finally we were in a taxi on our way to Filothei. We got to the house and I let Teddy out of his carrier in the bedroom. He hid under the bed for 5 minutes but after that he recovered and was exploring the room as if nothing happened. He calmed down and ate some food and I could finally relax. We were both so knackered after the journey, we ate and went to bed around 10pm. I feel like I am still recovering but feeling much better now and Teddy is settling too although he is still not fully himself. I read that it can take up to a week and he has had quite the ordeal.

So now it’s time to relax and explore Athens. I can laugh now and the whole journey can become a distant bad memory. It was definitely worth it but I doubt I will ever travel with an animal again in my life – definitely do not recommend!