How I finally let go of dietary rules and let myself eat more food

One of the hardest things for me in my recovery from disordered eating and Hypothalamic Amenorrhea was finally being able to let go of control around food. I went from restricting the amount of calories I ate and recording every bite in a calorie tracking app to various phases of restrictive diets including dairy-free, gluten-free, paleo and finally all varieties of veganism. Whole foods, high-carb, low-fat, raw foods you name it, I tried it. I was addicted to manipulating my diet in some way or another but now, 3 years later I can honestly say that I eat whatever I like and however much I like. And the ability to not overthink food and trust in my bodies’ signals is one of the most beautiful things about being recovered.

Now as a nutritionist and health coach, I support women through this process of escaping dietary prison to find food freedom, true health and a regular menstrual cycle. With so much information available online and in books, I find that most women know exactly what they need to do but the problem is actually doing it. What seems so simple (eating more food and resting) becomes extremely difficult when we factor in all of the emotional ties and conditioned beliefs around food and body image. We have been brainwashed to believe that we aren’t good enough if we don’t look a certain way and that certain foods are bad for us or even toxic. I found this to be especially prevalent in the raw vegan community where everything is considered toxic, even cooked food.

When I first realised how important it was for me to recover my menstrual cycle and the damage I could have caused to my body through 8 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, the first hurdle I had to jump was allowing myself to eat more food. I was so used to dieting and living life with this restrictive mindset that to suddenly jump to eating 2500 calories a day (the minimum recommended for recovery) seemed nearly impossible. One thing that terrified me was this idea of losing control. During this time of restrictive eating, I experienced a lot of binge eating episodes where I would accidently eat more than I intended to or something “unhealthy” and this would trigger a huge overeating spree where I would eat everything in sight. I felt like I had to control every bite or my appetite would over take me.

However, at some point I realised that the more I tried to restrict my food, the stronger the urge to binge became. When I purposely ate less food after a big binge episode, it would only make it more likely to happen again a few days later. Over a period of a few months, I started to entertain the idea that maybe if I just ate more food on a regular basis, the binge eating would stop. I think I even did a calculation of the average number of calories I ate in a week , taking into account days of restriction and binges (see the graph below for a visual!) and I realised that actually I would probably be much happier and my body would be more stable if I just ate that amount consistently each day. I also finally accepted this idea that food is fuel and that our bodies need a certain amount of energy each day just to function and keep all our systems going, even if we are completely sedentary.

And it worked, this was the first step towards letting go of control. That said, I still had a long way to go! Even though I was eating more food and feeling healthier, I was still consciously controlling the amount I ate and the idea of stopping tracking my food or increasing my calorie intake made me extremely anxious. I still avoided certain foods that I believed were unhealthy like bread, dairy and processed foods. Then a funny thing happened. I discovered the idea of a vegan diet, first through watching documentaries about the environmental impact of animal agriculture and then through the world of Vegan YouTube which was booming at that time. Back in 2015, everyone in this community was promoting the idea that you can “eat as much as you want, as long as it is plant-based” and stay slim and healthy. I was so desperate to be free of this restrictive mindset, but I still was so attached to maintaining a low body weight that I fell straight for it.

This led to a weird couple of years where on one hand I felt extremely free and I allowed myself to eat more food than I ever had, without tracking. However this control that I had around food hadn’t disappeared, it had only shifted to another form. I no longer checked the calories for every food I ate, but I would rarely eat anything that wasn’t vegan or a whole-food e.g. fruit, vegetables, starches, nuts and seeds. I did get my period back during this time because I was finally providing my body with enough fuel, but I still suffered with signs of hormonal imbalance and other chronic health issues like insomnia and fatigue. Because I had allowed myself to be brainwashed by the idea that a vegan diet cures everything I thought that I needed to be more strict with my diet if I wanted to heal. Actually it was an illusion of freedom and abundance that took me a while to identify and break free from.

Don’t get me wrong, the foods I ate when I was vegan were very healthy but as PART of a balanced diet, not the whole diet!

So fast forward 3 years, I started to realise that some health problems I was trying to heal from via my vegan diet could actually be a result of this very diet which was really quite restrictive. I also started to experience new health issues out of nowhere which I couldn’t explain like dry skin, hair loss and constipation. I never considered that it could be the vegan diet but once I started to research online, I discovered a whole community of people talking about how their vegan diet had impacted their health in a negative way. I read stories of people who had done a complete U-turn and adopted a high-fat, animal-based keto or even carnivore diet and were claiming to have healed their chronic health issues. I could have fallen down this rabbit too but luckily, this really opened my eyes to the real situation, that humans can survive on many different diets and that we thrive on a variety of foods.

I had believed for years that animal products caused all sorts of health issues and here were people healing using these exact foods. Same with calorie restriction, for years I had thought this was the healthy thing to do until I found out about the impact of dieting on our hormones and our overall health. Finally, I started to open my mind and see that when it comes to nutrition and I discovered that there is so much conflicting information out there and you can find research to back up any claim that you want. The online health and wellness sphere is a minefield and it is almost random which hole you fall down. The problem with social media is that once you fall down a hole and adopt a certain mindset, you only see information which supports these views. If you want to question your beliefs you really have to make the effort to seek out new information because everything that is fed to you is more of the same.

(Side note – I recommend the documentary The Social Dilemma if you are interested in learning more about how social media sells our attention as it’s main product!)

Luckily, this was also the time that I decided to go back to university and study for a Masters’ degree in nutrition because I knew I wanted to help women heal their hormones using food. This gave me a much better understanding of human nutrition and metabolism and an understanding of the damage that extreme or restrictive diets in any form can do to the body. During my years of study, I adopted a much more balanced diet. I reintroduced animal-based foods and processed foods in moderation. I completely let go of all my conditioned beliefs around food and stared to understand both the health and environmental benefits of eating more seasonal and traditional foods. It’s funny because my diet is definitely much less like the typical “healthy diet” now and yet I am healthier than ever. I feel like we are given the false idea that we are either following the typical SAD junk-food diet or that we are on some super restrictive clean diet when in reality there is a huge grey areas between those extremes where, I believe, true health can be found.

Now I eat ice-cream and crisps but also salads, fruits and organic meat. I realised that foods are not inherently good or bad, they just has more or less energy and nutrients. Even processed foods with additives are fine in moderation our body can handle them and, despite what healers in the detox world say, they do not build up in our tissues and need to be purged by colonics and fruit fasting. Sure, if you only eat processed foods and don’t provide your body with enough nutrients, it will be overloaded. Plus, such cleansing practices have been used by ancient cultures on an annual basis for example but you only need to look at long-term detox practitioners to see that this restriction and stress actually ages the body causing premature skin damage and thin, poor quality hair, never mind the likely damage to internal organs. Perhaps it is vain, but seeing this reality really helped me to let go of some of my lingering fears around certain foods.

Some examples of foods that I had written off as unhealthy which are actually very nourishing for the body and soul!

I think to finally let go of dietary rules and surrender to the unexplored territory that is your natural appetite, a key thing is to really explore this idea of control. Why do you need it and what does it really mean to be in control? My idea of control has shifted dramatically over the last few years. I used to feel in control when I ate clean and resisted my hunger. I now see control as taking my health into my own hands and making decisions based on what works for my unique body, rather than listening to the advice of others who claim to have found the holy grail in terms of food and lifestyle. It also helps to consider your idea of health and what it means to be healthy. For me health is a feeling, having energy, a strong and fertile body and feeling free to live my life and have fun. No restrictive diet ever gave me health in these terms but I never considered that at the time.

This post is perhaps a bit long and jumbled but I think it is really important to talk about this subject and I wanted to write without editing. I speak to clients and female friends and so many have been indoctrinated into some dietary cult or another. Whether it is an attachment to the low-fat, low-calorie diet and the idea of being skinny or whether it is an obsession with clean eating and having a cupboard full of supplements at home, it’s so unnatural and is so far away from true health. Breaking free of whatever dietary rules and restrictions you have become attached to is a personal journey and a decision that only you can take but I hope that my story at least helps you to see that there is another way to find health and it is one that can include chocolate!

Over to you…

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!

Other posts you might like

International Yoga Day: 10 things I learned in 10 years of yoga

Yesterday marked the annual International Yoga Day as named by the UN in 2015 to celebrate the many benefits of this ancient Indian practice. This year the theme was “Yoga for Wellness” which is especially appropriate for 2021 as we are approaching two years of a global health crisis. COVID19 has affected us all, whether we caught the virus or not we have seen the impacts of the pandemic on our physical and mental health. Being stuck at home for months at a time, spending more time in front of our devices and out of our usual routine has meant for many a loss of physical fitness and vitality. The anxiety caused by the virus and the endless stream of fear-inducing news stories has affected many people’s sleep, eating habits and lead to increased use of alcohol, tobacco and other substances. Adding to this the emotional stress of the loss of loved ones or livelihoods, we have a perfect recipe for poor mental health and wellbeing.

Throughout all of this upheaval, the practice of yoga has kept me going and helped me to stay grounded and feeling fairly well, considering the circumstances. Practice of yoga asana (postures) helps to keep our bodies strong and flexible and can be practiced easily at home so it has been a lifeline during the lockdowns when gyms were closed and outdoor activities limited. The pranayama (breathwork) and meditation aspects of yoga help us to regulate our nervous system, calm the stress response and enable us to relax and sleep well even during times of stress. I really believe that a solid yoga practice is one of the best things we can do for our overall health and wellbeing. Personally, I am so grateful for the practice of yoga and it has helped me so much to develop into the person I am today. In this article, I want to share 10 benefits I have experienced through practicing yoga over the last 10 years.

1. Body acceptance

I am including this one first as it really has been the most impactful on my life! When I was younger I struggled with constant self-criticism, hating my body and punishing behaviours such as over-exercising and disordered eating in an effort to try and look the way I thought I needed to in order to be accepted and loved. I originally started to practice yoga as a way to rehabilitate my body and heal from injuries but it ended up becoming much more than that. Yoga is so much more than a workout and through the practice I ended up developing an acceptance and appreciation for my body that I never thought was possible. It helped me to stop focusing so much on the external appearance on my body and instead learn to feel myself from the inside out and develop an energy and confidence that I now see is way more important than the size of my thighs or the number on the scale. Of course I still have days when I feel down about myself or compare myself to others, as everyone does, but it no longer controls my life and when these types of thoughts and feelings arise I know how to move past them.

2. Building strength

When I tell people my main physical activity is yoga, I often get the response that “I like yoga but it isn’t intense enough for me”. This makes me laugh because when practiced with intention, yoga asana can be one of the most intense physical experiences there is. With every yoga posture, you aim for full body awareness and engage every single cell. Even Tadasana (mountain pose), one of the foundations of a beginners’ yoga practice, an be extremely challenging when you really focus on perfect alignment and engaging all of the small muscles that keep you standing tall with a good posture. Other standing postures such as the Virabhadrasana (warrior pose) series, Surya Namaskar (sun salutations) and arm balances like Bakasana (crow pose) help to develop strong muscle tone in the legs, core and upper body. Modern yoga comes in many different flavours from the more fiery and intense Astanga practice to total relaxation and bliss of Yin. I like to incorporate many different styles of yoga into my routine and through the practice I have developed a strong and agile body that helps me to make the most of life.

3. Cultivating flexibility

One of the first things most people associate with yoga is flexibility. It is definitely true that yoga practice helps to open up your body and create a sense of lightness and freedom in your physical vessel. I actually don’t consider myself very physically flexible considering the number of years I have practiced yoga. This is comparing myself to others though and compared to myself before I started to practice yoga, I have come a long way. I was very sporty as a kid and I developed quite a rigid, inflexible body. Now I can touch my toes and I am pretty mobile but I am nowhere near the splits and many other advanced poses are still just a dream for me at this point. But one thing that yoga has really helped me to cultivate is mental flexibility and the ability to let go and go with the flow of life. I remember being so rigid when I was younger, completely attached to my habits, routines and my conditioned beliefs. Over these last 10 years, yoga has helps me to loosen my grip on life and be more accepting of the natural ebbs and flows and the uncertainty that is the only certain thing we have. In particular, pranayama and meditation have been the tools that helped me to release tension and tightness in my mental and emotional bodies and create this feeling of flexibility beyond the physical.

4. Finding balance

With the modern society we live in and the fast-paced, stimulating, information heavy lifestyles we lead, it can be so easy to get carried away and burn ourselves out. Perhaps we are prone to over-working, over-exercising, over-eating, over-consuming… Whatever it is yoga can help us to find that point of balance where we are not doing too much or too little, but always “playing the edge”. Through tuning into my physical sensations and becoming aware of my inner world, I was able to stop damaging my health and happiness with destructive behaviours and create a lifestyle that was truly condusive to wellness. For me that looked like exercising at a lower intensity and taking more rest days, syncing with my menstrual cycles, allowing myself breaks from work and realising that I can’t do it all and letting go of rigid dietary rules and allowing myself food freedom. It might seem strange that yoga could lead to all of these seemingly unrelated changes but I really do believe that practice yoga starts a domino effect in your life. Once you start to become more self-aware and you engage with the intelligence within, you see clearly what is working and where things could be improved. Plus, you cultivate more energy through the practice which you can then direct towards making positive changes in your life and in the world.

5. Overcoming perfectionism

Learning to let go of perfectionism has been a key part of my journey with yoga. There is something to be said about aiming for perfectionism in yoga, particularly if you follow the thought school of B.K.S. Iyengar who is known for his focus on detail, precision and alignment in the postures. However, I think developing a healthy relationship with perfection is very important and something that yoga has helped me significantly with. There is nothing wrong with having lofty goals, in fact this can help to motivate us and challenge us to grow. But we shouldn’t let our perfect vision create dissatisfaction with where we are right now or lead to beating ourselves up for not being good enough. It is the same thing when it comes to comparison with others. It isn’t inherently bad to admire others or use their achievements for inspiration but it should be exactly that, a spring board for our own success and a way to open up our minds to greater possibilities. There have been times in my yoga practice when I believed I should be more advanced, but these days I accept my current limitations and I know that overcoming them is a matter of personal choice and priorities. I am not a full-time yogi, I have many other interests and commitments and my level of practice reflects that, which is fine

6. Developing compassion

One of the skills I have learned through practicing yoga is compassion, both for myself and for others. Through practicing yoga asana, you really see yourself and your physical vulnerabilities laid out on the table. Even the strongest, fittest person can have their ego cut down by simple yoga postures when you realise just how much tension and emotional stress is stored in the body. Yoga teaches us to be firm yet gentle with ourselves, to push ourselves when we need it but also to create a nurturing and supportive environment for growth and healing. Yoga also helps us to connect to something larger and feel like a part of nature as a whole. Through practicing with many different teachers and leading my own classes, I also realised just how alike we are as humans, even if we seem different on the surface. We share so many fears, insecurities, thoughts and emotional patterns and knowing this allows us to have more compassion for others and the struggles they are going through. Connecting with other yogis in the two teacher trainings I have been through was an amazing experience as everyone was so open and available to connect on an emotional level. I am forever grateful to these groups as they helped me to feel loved and supported through some very difficult times in my life.

7. Facing fears and embracing discomfort

Our bodies and minds both have habitual patterns and set ways of being that it can be very difficult to break. A big part of advancing in your yoga practice is learning to face the fears and overcome resistance that arises when you step out of your comfort zone. Whether this is surrendering into a deeper backbend or forward fold or letting go of the resistance towards inversions and balances, yoga helps us to locate our edges and push through those boundaries. When we find what we think is our limit and we are able to push ourselves that tiny bit further (with integrity and compassion of course) we discover new territory and expand our capacities which is a thrilling experience. My yoga practice has helped me to see the areas I hold myself back and where I resist feeling certain sensations and emotions. I always say to my students that learning to embrace discomfort and avoid bracing yourself against it is one of the important lessons that yoga can teach us. Not just on a physical level but this can help us mentally to deal with challenging situations and feelings without hardening and building a protective armor around ourselves which might reduce pain but also blocks out joy and connection.

8. Letting go

This one goes along with developing flexibility, but a huge benefit I have receive through my yoga practice is learning to let go. Letting go of the stress that builds up throughout the day, letting go of unhelpful thoughts, beliefs and conditioning, letting go of harmful habits and behaviours, letting go of past hurts and regrets.. a mindful, intentional yoga yoga practice can help with all of these and create a clean slate on all layers of your being. Not that this happens every time, I have to say. Sometimes a yoga practice highlights all of your pain points and for whatever reason you aren’t ready to move past them. Howver anyone who practices yoga regularly will understand that squeaky, shiny state of consciousness you experience after a focused asana practice and deeply relaxing Savasana. I find that yoga has allowed me to develop the ability to see when I am holding onto things past the point of usefulness (which yes I still do often) and use my breath and other yogic techniques to let them go. Without this ability, we can easily remain stuck in negative mindsets and moods for longer than necessary or hold onto outdated beliefs that no longer serve us.

9. Learning to relax

It should be the easiest thing in the world but somehow, we humans find relaxation so difficult! Perhaps it is the stress of living in society with all of it’s distractions and expectations but often it can be so hard to switch off, to stop doing and just be. Yoga, in particular Yin yoga and Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep) has really shown me the importance of and the path to true rest and relaxation. I have always been an active and busy person and prone to burn-out as I get so passionate with everything that I am involved in and end up doing too much. Even this year with the pandemic and becoming unemployed I feel like I haven’t stopped and I am rarely bored. Carving out time for a regular yoga and conscious relaxation practice has been one of the best decisions I ever made. Sometimes I even write it on my to do list so that I don’t skip it, it’s that important. Relaxation allows our bodies and nervous system to rest and recover physically, it stills our minds so that we can think more clearly and creatively and it allows us to get better sleep so that we can recharge our batteries for the next day. Although it might seem like doing nothing, relaxation is an art and a skill that we need to work on to truly reap all of its

10. Following my heart

Last but not least, my yoga practice has helped to me connect with my intuition and realise that sometimes the right thing to do is to follow your heart. Since starting my yoga practice, I have made some big decisions with regards to where I live, the work that I do and the relationships I have in my life. I am a rational and logical person (for those of you who don’t know me well I actually have a degree in Chemical Engineering) so I always take my time with decisions and think things through, but there are times when you have to listen to your heart and make choices that might seem irrational to others but feel true for you. It can be so easy to keep plodding along the same path all of your life because it is what is expected of you or because you don’t know what is to be found off the beaten path, but sometimes there can be very beautiful things waiting! The appreciation for life I discovered through practicing yoga and the connection with my inner wisdom and deeper emotions where the reason that I left my engineering job and moved into environmental-protection and health related work, the reason that I moved to Greece and the reason I no longer chase relationships where I feel unappreciated and question myself.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this post in celebration of International Yoga Day! Let me know in the comments below if you have experience these benefits or others from practicing yoga. Like this post and follow my blog for more content on yoga, nutrition and healthy living in Greece.

If you want to learn more about Yoga for Women you can check out my others posts here and you can also find my current class schedule here. Currently I am only teaching one online class a week but I will be updating the schedule in September and (hopefully) starting a face to face class here for any of you in Athens! I also offer online private and small group classes at a very reasonable price, just reach out by email if you are interested and I can put together a package that meets your needs.

Other posts you might like

When low calorie density diets don’t work

Back in January I shared a post about how eating more lower calorie density foods can help you to lose weight. In many cases this can be a very useful strategy as consuming more low calorie high volume plant-based foods can be an easy way to reduce your calorie intake and lose weight without feeling deprived. However, as always, health advice is very individual and what works for one person’s goals will not necessarily work for another. Today I want to share my perspective on when a low calorie density diet is not appropriate and may actually be the cause of unexplained health problems. If you have been following a low calorie density diet and are not feeling your best then keep reading!

Something I have learned over the last 5 years is just how important metabolic rate is for our overall health and sense of wellbeing. Think of your metabolism as being the furnace that keeps you going and fuels all of your bodies functions. If that furnace is burning low you are going to feel that through low energy and fatigue and may experience other signs of a low metabolic rate such as low body temperature, constipation, insomnia, dry skin and hair and hormonal issues. On the other hand, when the furnace is running hot you are more likely to have good energy levels and digestion, sleep soundly and have well functioning hormones and healthy skin, hair and nails.

Metabolic rate is also important in maintaining a healthy body weight as a low metabolic rate means we are using energy more efficiently and are more likely to store calories as body fat than “waste” them on other bodily functions and generating excess heat. We are often told that if we are overweight we need to eat less and exercise more and in some cases this is true, as the society we live in pushes us towards more sedentary lives and over eating on processed foods. Although sometimes the problem is not a lack of exercise or eating too many calories but an issue of low metabolic rate. If you are exercising a few times a week and eating 1200, 1400 or even 1600 calories a day and still not losing weight then potentially it’s not forcing yourself to eat less and move more you need to focus on but rather healing and supporting your metabolism.

The problem with a low calorie density diet is that you can be unintentionally (or intentionally) providing your body with less calories than it needs over a long period of time and triggering your body to reduce your metabolic rate. This is the same thing as entering “starvation mode” which is not an urban myth but actually a very real phenomenon. Eating a diet made up of predominently water and fibre rich fruits, vegetables, legumes and starches may seem like a healthy way to eat but if you are not consuming enough energy to support a healthy metabolic rate you are unlikely to feel well. Because of the high volume of these foods, it is very easy to under eat whilst truly honouring your hunger and fullness signals and feeling like you are eating a lot of food. Trust me I have been there! And the worst thing is, I didn’t realise that it was my healthy diet making me feel that way.

Left… stuck in a low metabolic state, confused and exhausted
Right… on the road to recovery, feeling more energised and happy

There is nothing wrong with eating these kinds of foods, but also adding in high calorie density, metabolism supporting foods to your diet and eating enough calories can go a long way in resolving systemic health issues. I have been following the work of researchers such as Broda Barnes and Ray Peat who really focused in on the symptoms of a slow metabolism and how rehabilitative nutrition can help to restore metabolic health and create robust, healthy individuals. For a long time I thought that eating the healthiest diet possible and avoiding certain unhealthy foods was the way to restore balance and create a healing environment in the body, but over the years I have come to realise that if there is not enough energy available, the body simply cannot heal.

A couple of quick ways you can check your metabolic rate at home:

  • Check your armpit temperature first thing in the morning. Do this every day for a week (preferably the week after your period for women) and if it is consistently below 36.6°C (97.8°F) you may be experiencing a lower metabolic state
  • Check your resting pulse rate. If it is consistently below 70BPM, it’s a sign your metabolism may not be functioning optimally. Even though we are told that a low pulse rate is healthy and a sign of fitness, this is not always the case.

If both of the above tests show a lowered metabolic rate and especially if you are experiencing any of the symptoms of a low metabolic rate described above, then a low calorie density diet is unlikely to be appropriate and maybe it’s time to reconsider and try something new. If you are following this approach, loving it and feeling energetic and healthy then keep doing what your doing. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find what works for you and remember, be healthy to live, don’t live to be healthy!

Over to you…

If you found this post interesting, like and follow along with my blog for more real health and nutrition adive. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. 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.

Other posts you might like

Why we should NOT use BMI to diagnose eating disorders

Today’s post is a bit different from my usual content but I saw a story on BBC news yesterday which really stirred up emotion in me and inspired me to write. It was a young woman sharing her experience with disordered eating and being told by doctors that her BMI “wasn’t low enough to be anorexic” when she went to seek help. Here is the short video clip:

For those of you who haven’t read my previous posts about my struggles with disordered eating, I had an undiagnosed eating disorder throughout my teens and early twenties and lost my period for nearly 10 years due to being underweight for my body type. During this time I too was told by doctors that I was healthy because my weight was within the normal range and was led down the road of more and more tests to figure out why I wasn’t menstruating. This definitely prevented me from getting the help I needed and delayed my recovery by several years as I was able to keep kidding myself that I was healthy and continue with my unhealthy behaviours around food and exercise.

I still have anger inside me towards the medical system for failing to help me and I think it’s so important to share stories like these in the hope that they can help someone else who might be going through something similar. Disordered eating is something that so many women go through at some point during their life and often it is brushed under the carpet because obsession over our bodies, chronic dieting and exercising to lose weight is seen as just part of being a woman in today’s world. Using the BMI scale as a measure of disordered eating is so outdated and only continues this issue. Women and girls, like me in the past, who do become aware that perhaps they have a problem around food are often made to believe we “aren’t sick enough” to seek or receive support.

The BMI scale was developed around 200 years ago by a mathematician as a quick way of determining whether an individual is at a healthy weight for their height. It is usually seen as a chart of height vs. weight like the one below with marked ranges for underweight, normal weight, overweight and obese. However, it was never intended to be used as a formal diagnosis of health. It wasn’t developed by doctors but for some reason it has been adopted by the medical system and is still used, often without question, to this day.

According to most doctors, a BMI within the range 18.5-25 is considered “normal” but there are several major problems with using the BMI scale. The main one I want to highlight is that it doesn’t take into account the percentage of lean mass which consists of bones, organs and muscle tissue. So someone with a larger bone structure or more muscle mass can quite easily be considered overweight or even obese. Think football players or figure skaters who are often lean but extremely athletic and muscular, according to the the BMI scale many would probably need to lose weight to be considered healthy.. really?! How can a basic mathematical formula know what it healthy for your body type. All it is is statistics. On average, humans have less than 2 arms but does that mean that the typical human has less than 2 arms? Of course not!

What is healthy for our bodies depends on so many factors, including our genetics, the environment we are currently living in and what stressors we have in our lives. At certain times it’s healthier for us to hold more fat and at others it might be more advantageous to be leaner. Our bodies are smarter than we give them credit for. I look at photos of myself at my lowest weight when I was around a BMI of 18.5 and I wonder how any doctor could have thought I looked healthy. I was 20 years old but I looked like a child. There was nothing womanly or fertile about how my body looked at that time. I had hardly a scrap fat on my body, no breasts at all without a padded bra and my knees stood out a mile on my stick legs.

Of course, I didn’t look like the completely skeletal anorexic figures that you see, but I was clearly not at a healthy weight for my frame. It’s obvious to me now why I didn’t have my period. As women we need fat on our bodies to support a healthy pregnancy and to nourish a growing baby. I definitely was not eating enough to support my activity level and I was restricting food groups and specific “unhealthy” foods. I had a high level of cognitive dietary restraint meaning that I thought a lot about food and I was constantly controlling and denying my cravings. My body was sending me all the signals that it wanted to be at a higher weight, I would have crazy binge eating episodes because my body was starving for calories but I saw this as a lack of motivation or as emotional eating. I wasn’t underweight for my height so I didn’t see the problem.

This is the issue with the BMI scale, it lumps everyone in the same category and doesn’t account well enough for our bio-individuality or our bodies’ natural intelligence. Personally, I had to workout excessively and restrict my diet in order to maintain this weight which should have been a major red flag that it wasn’t my natural set point. Perhaps another woman could maintain this same weight naturally with little effort and could be healthy but that is not how my body was designed to be. But because I was so attached to the BMI scale and trusted doctors when they told me I was healthy, I carried on this delusion for too long. I’m sure there are so many other women (and men) stuck in this same false narrative, believing that their behaviours around food are healthy when in reality it is causing more harm than good.

When it comes to eating disorder diagnosis, I think using the BMI scale can be extremely dangerous. Especially today as the trend online is not just to be skinny but also to be fit and lean. There must be so many girls and women out there who are suffering in order to achieve a “perfect body” either by being overly rigid and restrictive around food or by over-exercising but they are at a normal BMI so they must be healthy, right? Wrong. Eating disorders are about so much more than physical appearance, they are mental disorders. Diagnosis should be based on thought patterns and behaviours and not on weight alone. If someone is focused on food to the point it is affecting their life, if they are afraid of certain foods or obsessed with losing weight, it doesn’t matter what BMI they are, they deserve help.

I understand that the NHS has limited resources and that they have to prioritise those who are at the highest risk. Being dangerously underweight can cause so much damage to the body and of course these people need to be under medical care, but for those who fall into the grey area of not being sick enough to receive support this can be a real problem. Disordered eating develops over time and generally the earlier it is diagnosed, the easier it is to recover. Eating disorder thoughts are like a fungus that enters your brain, sets down roots and spreads a network across your psyche. Rooting out all of the false beliefs, stories around food and your body and replacing them with healthy, helpful thoughts takes a lot of time and effort.

Putting off treatment because your weight isn’t low enough yet means falling further down a slippery slope and it can become harder if not impossible to achieve a full recovery. Eating disorders are already such a secretive disorder, drenched in shame and denial. Even when part of your mind realises there is a problem and wants to seek help, the disordered part wants things to stay as they are and will hold tightly onto any excuse to stay stuck. A healthy BMI is exactly that, a lifeline of denial for the eating disorder voice. I still have to deal with these thoughts today, even though I can recognise them and not act on them. I think this is partly because of my disordered eating being hidden and allowed free reign of my sub-conscious mind for so long.

I do believe that full physical and mental recovery is possible but it’s much more likely when these things are caught early and don’t go as deep. I definitely consider myself fully recovered now and have for many years but I don’t think that quiet voice will ever completely go away. As a nutritionist and yoga teacher, healthy and wellness is still a big part of my life but I am fully aware that I have to stay vigilant as it can be a fine line between looking after your health and obsessing over your health. It’s not like recovering from alcohol or drugs where you can completely abstain, you can’t recover from obsession with healthy eating by avoiding healthy foods.. that’s a recipe for disaster! However, my motto now is be healthy to live, don’t live to be healthy. Eat vegetables but also eat chocolate cake. Move your body but know when to rest. It might be cliche but balance is the way!

Over to you

Please like and share this post and help to spread awareness of this issue. Follow my blog for more posts on balanced health, yoga and nutrition for healthy hormones.

If you feel like you or someone you know is suffering with disordered eating, please please reach out for support. Don’t let having a healthy BMI get in the way of getting the help you need.

YOU DESERVE TO HAVE A HEALTHY, ACCEPTING RELATIONSHIP TO FOOD AND YOUR BODY NO MATTER WHAT!

BEAT: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/support-services/helplines

NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/eating-disorders/

Other posts you might like

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.

  • If like this post, hit the like button and follow my blog for regular posts on health, nutrition and yoga. And please share with anyone you think might be interested.
  • 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.

Other posts you might like

hypothalamic amenorrhea

Real health #20 Why your period is so important for your health

It’s been a while since I talked about my favourite topic.. the menstrual cycle aka your period. Specifically why your period is important for your overall health and the problems associated with not having a regular menstrual cycle. Any guys out there, maybe this isn’t the article for you but feel free to read on and you could just learn something to help the ladies in your life!

We usually think of our menstrual cycle as two phases: bleeding and not bleeding. In reality it is a menstrual cycle with levels of several reproductive hormones shifting throughout the month. The amount of these hormones your body produces is sensitive to stress, including both physical stress from under-eating and over-exercising and mental and emotional stress. When you lose your period because something is off in your lifestyle is it called Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA). I wrote all about this in a previous post so you can check that out if you are interested in learning more. But here I want to focus on the problems that come with not having your period.

The problems with not having a period

The most obvious reason to have a regular, healthy period is of course your fertility. The whole point of your menstrual cycle is to prepare your body for pregnancy and allow you to have a baby. If you don’t have your period, it’s very unlikely you are going to be able to get pregnant. But what if you have decided you don’t want children or you’ve already had children? It’s still important for you to have your period too! I spent many years believing it was “fine” that I didn’t have my period and it was actually pretty convenient to be honest, not to have to buy tampons, worry about getting pregnant or have my period ruining my plans but once I found out what it means to not have a period and how unhealthy it is for your body I was shocked and I wished I’d been told sooner.

One of the key hormones that drives your menstrual cycle is estrogen. Apart from it’s role in your menstrual cycle, did you know that estrogen also helps to build your bones? When women enter the menopause and stop producing estrogen they start to lose bone mineral density and are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis or brittle bones. Not having a regular period is a sign that your hormone balance is off and estrogen levels could be low. Girls who don’t have their period due to hypothalamic amenorrhea during their teenage years are at risk of developing early onset osteopenia which can lead to osteoporosis if not treated. This might not mean much when you are young but trust me, you want to make sure you are building strong bones while you can! And don’t forget that your if your bones are losing minerals then it’s highly likely that your teeth are suffering too putting you at increased risk of cavities and teeth sensitivity. Who thought that periods and teeth were related??

Another surprising link is between hypothalamic amenorrhea and heart disease. Estrogen has an anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory effect in the body and also acts as a vasodilator meaning it causes your blood vessels to expand and low levels of estrogen have been linked with an increased risk of developing heart disease. Even though most of the research is in post-menopausal women, there have also been studies linking low estrogen levels in younger women with build up of plaque in the arteries and increased risk of heart disease in later life. And yes this is even for those who exercise! You might think you are being super healthy and boosting your cardio-vascular system but if you are exercising excessively and you have lost your period then you are undoing all of that hard work. Another thing I wish I’d known about sooner..

Other problems with hypothalamic amenorrhea

Not only does hypothalamic amenorrhea put you at risk for issues later in life, it can also cause problems in the here and now. Low estrogen can also be the explanation for fatigue, headaches, low sex drive, vaginal dryness, anxiety, depression and insomnia just to name a few. And as well as your reproductive hormones, not having your period could be a sign that other things are off in your body. We often think of our body systems acting in isolation but in reality, all of these things are connected and if one falls down it can have a domino effect throughout your body.

Often women with hypothalamic amenorrhea have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol which also has been associated with bone loss as well as anxiety, insomnia and lower thyroid hormones. In hypothalamic amenorrhea, your metabolism is suppressed which could explain symptoms of hypo-thyroidism such as feeling cold all of the time, hair loss and low energy levels. Many women who develop hypothalamic amenorrhea due to restricting their food intake also experience digestive problems like bloating, stomach pain, constipation and food intolerances. If you don’t have your period and you feel like you are constantly struggling with digestive issues, then maybe the two could be related.

What should you do if you’ve lost your period?

So if you have made it to the end of this post, well done and I hope I didn’t scare you too much. If this is you, don’t worry, now you know you can do something about it! First you can read my blog posts about hypothalamic amenorrhea, how to recover and my recovery story. I’d also recommend buying the book No Period Now What by Nicola Rinaldi if you want an in depth explanation of all things hypothalamic amenorrhea related. If you need that final push to commit to getting your period back, definitely buy her book. If you think you have hypothalamic amenorrhea, visit your GP to get your hormone levels checked and Nicola also offers blood test results analysis through her website if you’re unsure. Three steps you can take right now:

  1. Eat more food and let go of any dietary rules and restrictions
  2. Take a break from intense exercise for at least a month
  3. Reduce the stress in your life and add more stress relieving activities

Easier said than done I know, but I believe in you! It’s never too late to recover your period and undo at least some of the damage to your body from hypothalamic amenorrhea. Recovery is challenging but so worth it.

References

Emma O’Donnell, Jack M. Goodman, Paula J. Harvey, Cardiovascular Consequences of Ovarian Disruption: A Focus on Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea in Physically Active Women, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 96, Issue 12, 1 December 2011, Pages 3638–3648, https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2011-1223

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article on why it’s important to have your period and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences, I’d love to hear from you.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • 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.

Other posts you might like

Shufelt, C. L., Torbati, T., & Dutra, E. (2017). Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and the Long-Term Health Consequences. Seminars in reproductive medicine35(3), 256–262. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0037-1603581

the problem with fitspo

Real health #16 The problem with fitspo and fitness influencers

I actually wrote this post about 5 years ago for my first ever blog site! This was before fitness influencers were a huge thing, or at least they weren’t really on my radar, but I think it is more relevant than ever today. I’ve updated it a little but the core message is still the same. Enjoy!

This morning a friend posted this image on Facebook..

fitspo

I know she had the best intentions behind the post but it really got me thinking about the “fitspo” trend, fitness influencers and their effects on viewers’ body image.  The Urban Dictionary definition of the word fitspo is:

“Images of active, strong, and fit women that promote proper exercise and diet. May also include images healthy foods. Much like thinspo (images of dangerously thin women used by people with eating disorders to motivate) but healthier.”

From the definition it sounds like a great thing. Replacing the horrible trend of “thinspo” and encouraging women to be healthy and active.. both of those things get a great big TICK from me. However, what can’t be escaped is the fact that images like this still encourage women to focus on their body shape and size. They still provide a body ideal, a goal for women to aim for. They still encourage women to base their self-worth on their appearance and attach morality to food and exercise. And this results in the same feelings of unworthiness and disappointment for those women who don’t follow the rules and don’t look like the picture-perfect Instagram fitness models.

The image above does an amazing job at showing us that the number on the scale is, well only that really. A number. The point here is that body weight and BMI are pretty meaningless and bodies of the same weight can have completely different body shape and composition. That’s all well and good, but what does the image imply? That we should be focusing on getting lean and toned instead of skinny? That it’s much better to be heavier and look like the photo on the right? Yes it may be successful in shifting the focus away from the scale and obsessing over how much you weigh but to what… the way your body looks in the mirror or a photo?

Lots of women (myself in the past included) have fallen into the trap of shifting their health and fitness goals from trying to weigh as little as possible to eating clean and looking lean and muscular. Maybe it’s getting abs or building a booty. But what the fitspo images like the one above don’t show is how the woman is feeling in each photo and what her life really looks like. What kind of behaviours is she engaging in to maintain her body? What is her overall health like? How are her relationships and social life? Is she following her passions or is she spending every waking minute obsessing over eating healthy food, exercising and comparing her body to others online?

There could be a whole range of things going on behind the scenes. We often assume that just because someone looks “normal” that they are not suffering and this is not always the case. Disordered eating can take on so many shapes and sizes. Bulimia and exercise bulimia, orthorexia, food fears, laxative abuse, binge eating, compulsive exercise. All of these can often go unnoticed as people can maintain a normal BMI and not end up looking like the skeletal eating disorder stereotype. I am not saying by any means that the girl in the photos is suffering from any of these issues but what I am trying to say is not to take photos like this at face value. Images mean nothing unless we know the full story behind them.

For me personally, looking extremely lean and fit came at a great cost. I did all of the healthy things. I worked out daily. I ate clean. I drank plenty of water. But I didn’t feel good and I didn’t know why. I wasn’t healthy. My periods were totally absent. I started to wake up in the early hours of the morning for no reason. I felt fatigued all of the time and had to rely on more and more caffeine to get through the day. I know not everybody will have the same experience but I am sure I am not the only one. It took a lot of effort to unlearn all of the so-called healthy habits I had developed and get back to focusing on feeling good. Finally after going back to university to study public health nutrition, diving into my yoga practice and becoming a qualified teacher I found a balance where I could feel good and maintain a slim, healthy body without taking it to the extreme or letting it take over my life.

For those of us in the health and fitness world, food and exercise and shaping our body can easily become the focus of our life. Yes it is fun to experiment with food and of course moving your body feels great. But it doesn’t have to be your sole purpose. It is very easy to get caught up in the social media bubble and forget that there is an outside world. Real life connections and meaningful relationships where you can be yourself can do so much more for your health and wellbeing than following some online fitness guru and feeling connected to others by the restraints of whatever lifestyle they preach. My point in this article is to let you know that you don’t need to idolize anyone and your body is perfect whether you feel more like the “before” photo or the “after”. Remember to focus on the things that keep you feeling happy and healthy above all!

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article from 5 years ago Amy. I would say my opinions haven’t changed much since then. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on fitspo and fitness influencers, do you find watching them uplifting and motivating or does it make you feel bad about yourself and like you need to change?

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January series, like this post, check out the recommended posts below and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on your 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.

Other posts you might like

heart opening yoga - wild thing

Yoga and body image / Yoga for women

I’m really enjoying teaching my online Yoga for Women classes on Sunday evenings, it’s a really cosy way to end the weekend and to connect with other women whilst we are in lockdown here in Greece. If you’re interested in joining the class contact me and I will send you the joining details. This week the class theme was about how yoga can help to develop a healthy body image. Especially nowadays with social media, so many of us have a distorted view of our bodies and waste our precious energy critisising ourselves for the way we look. We hold ourselves to such high standards, often comparing ourselves to images we see in the media which have been carefully crafted and edited to the point where even the person in the photo doesn’t look like that in real life (if you don’t believe me try following Beauty.False on Instagram!).

In my experience, yoga can be an amazing tool in our self-care kit on our journey to overcoming body shame and developing a healthier relationship with the way that we look. Yoga is one of the things that helped me the most in recovering from disordered eating and developing self-acceptance and a more positive body image. However there are also some pitfalls along the yoga path that can make us feel worse about ourselves. In this article I want to share 5 ways yoga can help to improve your body image and 5 body image traps to avoid.

How can yoga help with body image?

  1. Yoga teaches us to be still and to turn our attention inwards. Even if it is only for the short time of the practice, we can shut out the outside world and let our true inner voice become louder. This means tuning out the external voices of societies’ beauty standards, other peoples opinions of us and our own interpretation of how we should be and instead letting the inner knowing that we are fine just as we are come through.

  2. Yoga is a great way to get your body moving and improve your strength and flexibility. Heart opening postures such as back bends and cleansing twists can really help to get energy moving through your body making you feel more alive and good in your body. Standing postures help to improve your posture so you can stand tall and confident and feel good about yourself as you move through your day.

  3. Unlike other types of exercise, yoga is not focused on weight loss or burning calories but on uniting movement and breath to create a more calm, positive mindset and a strong, agile body. During my eating disorder recovery, switching out my gym and running sessions for walking and yoga did wonders to change my relationship to exercise. I started to move my body in a way that felt good, pay attention to how I felt and rest when I felt tired instead of pushing through in an attempt to achieve “results”.

  4. Practice of yoga asana (postures) gets us very acquainted with our bodies in all sorts of weird positions! We are forced to look at our belly rolls in forward folds, our thighs in downward dog, our double chin in shoulder stand.. any part that we might feel shame about we are going to come up close and personal with through yoga. And that’s a good thing! Yoga helps us to become used to seeing our bodies and to normalise the things we might not like and cultivate acceptance over time.

  5. Yoga is a personal journey. Yoga encourages not to compare our progress to others but to arrive on the mat each practice ready to try again and observe what our body can do on that day. We realise over time that nothing is constant and progress is not linear. Our bodies change from day to day depending on what is going on in our lives, how much stress we feel, how much sleep we got and also the with the seasons. We learn to accept these fluctuations and even come to love watching things unfold.

5 body image traps in yoga

  1. Beating ourselves up or negative self-talk. As I said, yoga helps us to turn inwards and let our inner voice become louder. But what happens when your mind is ruled by your inner critic? Sometimes we can let this critical voice seep into our practice and tell us we are not good enough, we are weak or our bodies aren’t flexible enough instead of just accepting what is and feeling grateful for the progress we are making. If you catch yourself spiraling down into self-criticism, pause for a moment to ask yourself why things should be different.

  2. Comparison with others. Although yoga encourage us to focus on our own practice, it can be tempting to compare our bodies or progress in yoga with others around us. This is the worst possible thing we can do when we are trying to develop a healthy body image, especially if those others are people we see online and not in real life. I have definitely fallen into this trap, comparing myself to other yoga teachers online and feeling shame for not being as flexible or as beautiful as them, as if this made me any less of a teacher. Simply not true! A home practice can be a great way to explore yoga without the temptation to compare with others around you. There are plenty of diverse teachers offering free online classes that you can try out.

  3. The perfectionist mind-set. If we have a tendency towards perfectionism we can also bring this attitude into our practice having very high expectations of our selves and holding ourselves to extreme standards. Whether that is how our bodies look or being able to achieve the perfect yoga pose, perfectionism harms us more than helping us. It can cause us to injure ourselves because we are being driven by an external ideal rather than focusing on what’s going on inside. I encourage you to let go of the idea of creating a shape with your body and instead focus on lines of energy and sensations within your body.

  4. Feeling shame about our bodies. Again this is the other side of the coin of becoming aware of our bodies, we can also become more aware of the things we don’t like about our bodies. If we are not careful we can bring our body shame onto the mat and instead of accepting what we see we can magnify the things we don’t like and start to pick ourselves apart. If you catch yourself doing this during your practice, take a big deep breath in and as you exhale imagine you are breathing out the toxic belief that is making you feel something about your body is wrong.

  5. Pushing ourselves too hard. There are many different types of yoga, from relaxing yin and restorative practices to more intense ashtanga and vinyasa practice. For anyone with a history of excessive exercise or body image worries, it can be tempting to use the more active, physically challenging practices as a way to continue to try to lose weight or change your body. If you fall into this trap, work on expanding your mind by bringing more pranayama and meditation into your practice as well as challenging your body through asana practice. Set the intention of awareness with every practice and listen to your energy levels and emotions

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article on yoga and body image, please share with anyone else who this could help!

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more on yoga and holistic health. My next post will be a short yoga sequence you can practice at home to help boost your confidence and improve your body image.
  • If you are interested in joining my yoga class or you are looking for a nutritionist and health coach, contact me and we can work together to help you achieve your health goals!

Other posts you might like

cycling exercise during period recovery

Can exercise stop your period coming back? 5 ways exercise can slow recovery

A common question from women trying to recover from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is “can I exercise while trying to get my period back?”. I wrote about my tips for exercising during HA recovery but if you are thinking about taking a break and need some motivation, here are 5 ways exercise can work against your recovery.

1.Exercise burns calories which could otherwise be directed towards healing and repair of damage caused by dieting. The point of eating a lot more food during recovery is to flood the body with energy and nutrients to use for healing and repair. Exercise burns up some of these precious resources which will only prolong the healing process. Often women find it hard to meet the minimum recommended calorie intake for recovery and if you choose to exercise you should eat even more to compensate which can be a challenge.

2. Many women use exercise as a way to compensate for “over-eating” and it can be temping to start to move more when we allow ourselves to eat in abundance. We don’t want to exchange one control mechanism for another, we want to be completely free of all restrictions and compensations around food. We want to get to a place where we let go of any toxic beliefs around exercise and let go of guilt for resting. Exercising to make up for eating more is just another form of disordered eating behaviour.

3. Intense exercise is perceived as a stress by our hypothalamus, the brain master control centre. This means it can continue to feel it is unsafe to reproduce and not send the signal to restart our cycles. Although exercise is a good way to relieve mental stress, it is a physical stress on the body as it depletes glycogen reserves, increases the heart rate and damages muscle tissue. Exercise is healthy for a healthy body but if you don’t have your period you are not healthy right now and rest and recuperation will be your medicine.

4. For many women with HA, exercise has long been used as a way to manipulate their body and separating exercise from weight loss is difficult. We want to get to the point were we can exercise for fun and well being, regardless of the impact that it has on our physical appearance. If we continue to exercise during recovery, we might not do some of the mental work that is needed to fully break free of the weight loss mindset. It’s likely that you need to gain weight if you have lost your period and exercising could make this more difficult.

5. Exercise can be used as an appetite suppressant or a distraction from hunger. Exercise puts our nervous system in “fight or flight” mode when our body is stimulated and running on adrenaline which decreases hunger. You might find that you are more hungry on rest days because your body has calmed down and this is exactly what we want for healing. If you are hungry on a physical or mental level you should eat. Don’t fall into the trap of being “too busy to eat” as this will only delay your recovery.

Once you have recovered your period and have accepted your healed body, you might want to start exercising again from a much better headspace but at least it will be a conscious choice rather than because you feel you have to control your body in some way.

Over to you…

I hope this article gave you something to think about! It’s a personal choice whether you decide to stop exercising all together during your recovery. Women have recovered successfully from HA whilst still exercising but it is my opinion that we recover faster and more completely if we give our bodies chance to rest and fully repair.

  • Let me know in the comments, how do you feel about taking a break from exercise? Does it feel scary or a relief? For those in recovery, are you still exercising or taking a break?
  • If you are looking for support, guidance and accountability on your period recovery journey, please contact me for further information on the health coaching packages I offer. Together we will set you up with a plan to get your hormones balanced and you feeing your best mentally and physically.

Other posts you might like

Why am I so interested in hormones? Part 3 – recovery, relapse, repeat

Continuing from my last post.. I started working with an online coach to heal my PCOS. Through working with her I started to uncover all sorts of ideas around my relationship to food and exercise and how it had impacted my body. Even though I was still very restrictive in my food choices I was eating a lot more and really cut down on my exercise routine. Over time, I started to doubt my diagnosis. I didn’t have any of the symptoms of high “male hormones” and just didn’t seem to fit the profile for PCOS. Eventually, I had the confidence to go and see another doctor and ask for further tests. I had some blood tests which confirmed my testosterone levels were normal and a second ultrasound scan which showed my ovaries were totally normal too. So I was “undiagnosed” from PCOS!

But I still didn’t have a period..

I continued researching trying to figure out what was going on and eventually I came across something called Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA). This is basically the loss of menstrual cycle due to physical or emotional stress. Finally something that seemed to make sense! It pointed at 4 basic causes:

  1. Under-eating
  2. Over- exercising
  3. Maintaining a low body weight
  4. Stress/anxiety

Over the next few months I found various people speaking about this online who I can’t thank enough for opening up this world to me. Especially Nicola Rinaldi and This Girl Audra whose books No Period Now What and Get Your Period Handbook really helped me to figure out a path out of this mess i’d got myself into. And this is where my relationship with my hormones started to shift from one of fear, panic and confusion to a softer, kinder understanding. I finally accepted that I needed a complete lifestyle overhaul if I wanted to heal and that my idea of healthy was totally warped and influenced by the diet and fitness industry.

I took an “all in” approach to healing my hormones where for a few months I did zero exercise, ate as much as I wanted (which was a lot!) and tried to reduce stress as much as possible. And in March 2016, at age 23, I finally got my period back. It wasn’t an easy journey, I had to gain weight which was something that terrified me and I had to totally rewire my brain and tackle disordered eating thoughts that had become so automatic that I didn’t even notice them anymore and just thought they were part of me. I had many fear foods and food rules to overcome and constantly doubted that what I was doing.

But I continued and since then I have been so aware of my cycle and grateful each month that I get my period. I was so amazed by the female body that I continued to read and learn about how to maintain balance and work with my hormonal cycle. I read Woman Code by Alicia Vritti and Wild Power by Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Wurlizter and these became my handbooks for life. I started to experiment with cycle tracking and cycle syncing and I have been doing this now for a couple of years. I am still learning but honestly I am completely fascinated and in awe by the magic of our hormones. I realised just how powerful they are in affecting the way we feel and show up in the world and the importance of working with our cyclic rhythm rather than against it.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing, I have relapsed several times in the last 3 years. Stressful periods at work and in life have triggered my “eating disorder brain” and resulted in me restricting food groups, creating food rules, tracking my calories and falling back into obsessive exercise in an attempt to change my body. These things help me feel in control and give me something to focus on when life gets too much to handle. But now I have my period as my “fifth vital sign” and any time it goes awry I know I need to re-evaluate and get myself back on track. I think it is something that I will always have to be mindful of, like many others who have struggled with disordered eating. However, I will never go back to the destructive habits that used to be my life.

During this time cycle tracking and syncing has been a key spiritual practice for me, helping me to learn more about my self and get closer to nature. I am still working on putting things I am learning into practice, especially as cycle syncing is not easy in the world we live in. But I keep going and I am excited to share my experiences on this blog. I hope this answers the question of why I am so interested in hormones, after the last 10 years I feel like its impossible for me not to be!