I had an experience this week which got me thinking about the importance of truly identifying with the change you want to make if you want to be successful in reaching your goals. For anyone who didn’t know, I am currently shifting away from one career path into making my nutrition and health coaching business full-time. It has been a three year process of completing all of my training, building my brand and my website and starting to take on clients. It’s not something that happens overnight and so right now I am in the awkward grey area where when someone asks me what I do, I’m not quite sure what to say.
Usually something along the lines of “well.. I am an Engineer working in environmental protection but I am also a qualified nutritionist and yoga teacher and I am trying to build my own business as a Women’s Wellness Coach” is what comes out of my mouth. Sounds confusing and wishy-washy right?! Recently I realised that this may be the truth but it is not the language of success which will get me to where I want to go. Words like BUT and TRYING TO are exactly the type of words which keep us stuck early in the change process, unable to move on to action and maintenance stages of change (see below).
The word BUT suggests ambivalence, that is simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings towards something. In my case, between wanting to succeed in becoming a full-time Women’s Wellness Coach and being afraid of leaving my old career behind and stepping into something new and completely unknown. Using the word BUT keeps us retuning back to the Contemplation stage of change. On the other hand, using the word TRYING TO highlights the common loop that many people get stuck in which is moving back and forward between Preparation and Action stages of change. This occurs when we are sure we want the change and have started to take action but we are lacking the self-confidence to really make the change last and keep falling back into old ways of thinking and behaving.
On top of that, my uncertain response to the question “what do you do?” is highlighting to others that I am not quite there yet and I am still attached to my previous identity. Recently I realised that if I want to build a successful, full-time business, I need to start identifying fully with my vision of being a full-time nutritionist and yoga teacher. When people ask me what I do, I need to say that I run my own business as a Women’s Wellness Coach And this is scary! Letting go of my former career and stepping into a completely new identity is pretty terrifying actually. Not only because of my own doubts, fears and insecurities but also because by creating a new identity you also have to deal with changes in how others respond to you.
In my case this is the difference between being viewed by others as an Engineer and as a Women’s Wellness Coach. On your health improvement journey, it could be the difference between being someone who likes to stay up all night partying and a person who likes to get up early and practice yoga in the morning. Or between always being the one to suggest ordering takeaway on a Friday night to cooking a healthy meal with your family at home. Whenever we make a big change we always have to process the changes in how we see ourselves as well as how others see us. This can be a tricky stage to move past but it in essential to fully identify with the vision of yourself as the person who you want to become and allow your own view of the world and others’ to adjust accordingly.
The thing is, often we make assumptions about how other people will view this change in us. Unless we ask them directly for their opinion it is our own opinion that is reflected back to us. We project our own thoughts and beliefs onto the other person. When I believe others will take me less seriously as a Women’s Wellness Coach than as an Engineer or that they will think I am less intelligent or scientifically-minded, that is me thinking that and not them. In truth, I don’t really know how others perceive this change and in reality, it doesn’t really matter. I am making this change for me because it aligns with my own core values and where I see myself thriving in a career that I love.
The same goes for changes that you wish to make for your health. You might believe that your friends will find you boring if you opt for an earlier night, or that your family won’t enjoy the food that you cook at home but perhaps this is not the truth. Maybe your friends are also waiting for the opportunity to live a more active lifestyle and your family much prefer the time spent cooking and eating together at home. But even if they don’t, it is not your responsibility to keep others happy and you should find the inner strength and belief in yourself to make the changes that are right for you and bring you more in line with your happiest, healthiest vision of yourself.
What does this look like in practice? The main thing is to watch your language and look out for words that suggest uncertainty or a lack of commitment:
I want to.. feel more energetic and healthy
I could.. start eating more fruits and vegetables
I might.. think about walking more often
I’m trying.. to go to bed before midnight
Instead, replace them with strong statements that identify with the change you wish to make:
I am.. feeling more energised and healthier each day
I do.. go for a walk every evening
I will.. eat fruit or vegetables with every meal this week
I like to.. go to bed earlier and get a good nights’ sleep
So next time someone asks me that dreaded question “what do you do?”, I will smile and say:
I am a nutritionist and yoga teacher and I run my own business as a Women’s Wellness Coach and I write a health blog at Moon Life Yoga. I like to help women let go of chronic dieting to find true health, vitalityand optimal fertility!
Sounds much better right? By aligning our thoughts and language with the identity we want to create for ourselves, we gain clarity and direction and are much more likely to remain committed to our goals, even during the challenging moments. Maybe take a moment to reflect on your own health or life goals and see where this idea of identifying with a change could apply and how you could change your language to better reflect the person you see yourself becoming.
Over to you…
Let me know your thoughts on this interesting topic! Please like and share this post to support my business and follow my blog for more useful posts on nutrition, yoga and holistic health.
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. My specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting but I also help anyone who is looking to improve their overall health and find the perfect balance for their body. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!
How many here have ever been on a diet to lose weight? Weight-watchers, Slimming World, low-calorie, low-carb or low-fat… how many have you tried??
In 2016, Huffington post shared an article claiming that 57% of British women had been on a diet to lose weight in the last 12 months and of those, two-thirds reporting being on a weight-loss diet most or all of the time. That’s pretty shocking! Dieting in the traditional sense is not easy. It takes effort to go against your bodies’ natural signals and purposely eat less food than it is asking for in order to lose weight. Yes you might lose weight but sustaining this tension between “want it” and “can’t have it” over a long period of time depletes your mental and emotional energy reserves, intensifying cravings and leaving you feeling drained and vulnerable to over-eating which undoes all of your hard work.
It’s no secret these days that diets don’t work but still many people continue to try for lack of a better option. I’m here to tell you that there is a better option! It’s called the Non-Dieting Approach to health coaching and it’s the method that I was taught to use with clients as a health coach. The Non-Dieting Approach is based on researched methods of health promotion including Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size® which encourage working with your body rather than against it in your pursuit of health.
So what exactly is the non-diet approach to health coaching and how does it compare to traditional dieting methods?
Traditional dieting methods
Main goal is weight loss, body shape change or size reduction.
Encourages you to adopt healthy lifestyle habits, regardless of weight, shape or size
Advises control of food quantities by weighing, measuring and counting portions
Teaches you to regulate eating based on internal signals of hunger and fullness (intuitive eating)
Often recommends using a food diary to count calories or macros with targets set based on goals
Recommends you use a food diary to understand eating behaviours or the effects of different foods or meals
Categorises foods as good or bad based on the rules of the specific diet
Removes all moral labels from food and teaches you to accept nourishment in all forms
Uses exercise (especially cardio) as a way to burn calories or fat and offset the food eaten
Supports you to find ways to move your body that bring you joy and build self-appreciation
Self-monitoring of progress is typically weighing, measuring or taking photos of your physique
Self-monitoring is based on behaviours and may include a journal of thoughts and feelings.
Often any weight lost is regained within a 5 year period after the diet
Does not always result in weight loss but lifestyle changes and health benefits can be sustained long term
Risks of increased body dissatisfaction, reactive binge eating, chronic or yo-yo dieting, further weight gain
Encourages positive self-image and body acceptance, boosts confidence, improves happiness and vitality
The Non-Diet Approach is exactly the method I used to recover from chronic dieting and find true health. Through this method I was able to get back my period after 8 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea caused by restrictive dieting and over-exercising, both of which I believed were healthy at the time. I was able to reintroduce foods I loved that I had been restricting for many years believing that they were bad and eating them even in moderation would make me unhealthy (and these were the same foods that I used to then go and binge eat in secret when I couldn’t hold myself any longer). I was also able to let go of my rigid exercise regime which was getting in the way of my social life and impacting my family relationships.
These days I have a very balanced approach to food. Unlike my expectation that lifting dietary restrictions would lead to a life long junk food and sweets binge, I found that actually I settled into a natural pretty healthy dietary pattern with plenty of treats sprinkled in without the guilt. After letting go of my gym obsession, I found more enjoyable ways to move my body which feel like a hobby rather than a chore or a punishment and I genuinely look forward to these activities! And what about my weight? I quickly settled into a natural set point weight for my body type and have remained there within a 5lb range for the last 5 years without any real effort other than maintaining the healthy lifestyle habits I built.
I want this type of health and wellness for you too! If you are sick and tired of restricting and punishing your body to lose weight and want to let go of dieting for good, I can help. We will work together to gain clarity on your vision of true health, develop goals and strategies to get there and I will offer you support and accountability in taking action. Breaking free of chronic dieting takes a 180 mindset shift and the unravelling of some deep held beliefs about what it means to be healthy but together we can get there!
If you are interested in learning more about health coaching with the Non-Diet Approach or want to apply for one of my coaching spots opening up this week, head over to the Contact page of my site or drop me an email at email@example.com.
I am not the type of nutritionist who believes there is such a thing as a one-size-fits-all diet. As I spoke about in my recent post, there are many factors which impact what and how much each person should eat to be healthy. That said, there are a few key principles to keep in mind to make sure your diet is healthy as possible. These tips are based on my learnings from Intuitive Eating principles, Health at Every Size and the Well Woman Coaching course from Well College Global. Enjoy!
All foods contain macronutrients that provide us with energy (carbohydrates and fats) and building blocks for repair (proteins). The diagram below shows examples of foods that typically contain these macronutrients. A balanced diet is one that includes all macronutrients in a proportion that suits the individual.
An imbalanced diet is one that overly restricts one or more food groups, for example very low-fat diets like the Pritikin or MacDougall diets or very low-carb diets such as the Atkins, keto or carnivore diets. The problem with imbalanced diets is that they put the body into an abnormal functioning or survival mode. Some doctors claim that this can have benefits for people suffering with specific, life-altering diseases. I am not here to dispute this claim, rather I believe that for the majority of people, a balanced diet which provides the body with all macro-nutrients and does not force the body into an extreme state is optimal for health.
The risk of low-fat diets include poor nutrient absorption and associated deficiencies, dry skin and hair and a weakened immune system. On the other hand, low-carb diets can cause weakness, fatigue, hair loss and chronic stress in the body. It is best to let go of dietary dogma and opt for a diet that includes a healthy amount of all three macro-nutrients. The exact ratios of each will depend on your personal physiology and lifestyle but my recommendation would be not to go below 20% fat, 20% protein or 40% carbohydrates. The NHS Eatwell Guide shows a balanced plate with examples of foods to eat from each group.
As well as macronutrients, foods also contain micronutrients that help to keep our bodies functioning optimally and prevent disease. The most well known are vitamins and minerals although other micronutrients such as polyphenols are now being discovered which have remarkable health-giving properties. Vitamins include B-vitamins which support healthy energy and metabolism, vitamin D which is needed for strong bones and teeth and vitamin A for healthy eyes and skin. Essential minerals include calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron.
Each food contains unique combinations of these different micronutrients and therefore eating a variety of foods helps us to improve our chances of getting everything we need. If we exclude whole food groups from the diet or limit our diet to just a few different foods, we may be putting ourselves at risk of nutrient deficiencies. Instead, consume a variety of food from different food groups e.g. fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, meat, fish, nuts and pulses on a daily and weekly basis, finding a balance that suits your taste and lifestyle.
Additionally, food can have harmful properties as well as beneficial ones. for example, tuna fish contains a healthy amount of protein and vitamin D but it also contains mecury, a toxic heavy metal which can build up in the blood stream if we consume tuna too frequently. That isn’t to say we should avoid eating tuna altogether, our bodies have built in detoxification pathways to deal with these things but it is better to consume a variety of foods to avoid over-consumption of toxins found in certain foods.
Whole foods is a word that has been circulating a lot in the nutrition world, especially in the last decade, but what exactly does it mean? Whole foods is a term that refers to foods in their whole and mostly unprocessed form. It doesn’t mean that everything should be eaten raw, exactly as it comes from nature, just that the food is kept in tact as much as possible to make it edible and palatable.
This could mean consuming fresh fruit or juice rather than artificial juice or fruit juice from concentrate, choosing whole wheat bread or pasta instead of refined white flour products or eating home cooked mashed or roasted potatoes over potato crisps or oven fries. When we eat a diet based on whole foods, we are ensuring that our diet is as nutrient dense as possible, i.e. our food gives us the most “bang for our buck”. A whole foods diet also minimises our consumption of artificial additives such as preservatives, flavours and colours which may not be optimal for our health.
Now, anyone who knows me or who has followed my blog for a while will know that I am not one for extremes or restrictive diets. I believe there is a place for all foods, including processed or artificial foods in a balanced diet, if they bring us joy and pleasure. But research shows that eating a diet based mostly on whole and unprocessed foods is more likely to lead to better short and long-term health outcomes. So go ahead and enjoy your treats now and again but be sure to have a solid foundation of nourishing whole foods to build upon.
Finally, a healthy diet is one that works for you. Not your friend or some random person you follow on the internet but you. We are all born into individual bodies with unique tastes and needs and whilst we know that eating a balanced diet with a variety of whole foods is optimal for health, within this there is still much scope for individualisation both in the amounts and types of foods that we eat. what works perfectly for one person may make another feel terrible.
Experiment with different foods and meals to find those which taste good, digest well and give you the most energy. Explore your local food culture and try out recipes with local and seasonal produce. Notice how you feel when you eat big meals vs. smaller meals with snacks between or if you practice intermittent fasting vs. eating whenever you are hungry. Don’t listen to strict rules and regulations when it comes to diet because there is better teacher than your own body.
Remember that your body is constantly changing as you move through life and that your diet can also change. Just like your friends diet may not work for you, the diet you followed in your 20s may no longer feel good once you reach your 40s. Allow eating to be a two-way communication between you and your body. This takes mindful awareness and repeated practice but it’s a skill that once you master it will serve you for a lifetime.
Over to you…
Let me know your thoughts on this interesting topic! Do you agree or disagree? Did I miss something? Please like and share this post to support my business and follow my blog for more useful posts on nutrition, yoga and holistic health.
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. My specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting but I also help anyone who is looking to improve their overall health and find the perfect balance for their body. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!
I just got back from a lovely trip on the Greek island of Kea, also known as Tzia. Kea Island is one of the closest islands to the mainland at just an hours’ boat ride away and is part of the Cycladic group of islands. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I have never been there before and it isn’t one of the more touristic islands, which is part of the reason we chose it. It is popular with the locals though who often visit for a weekend. My boyfriend who is Greek had never been there before though so it was a pot luck choice. We also brought two of our friends with us so we were hoping for the best. Thankfully it worked out well and we had a great time!
Each morning we (the ladies) practiced yoga on the shady terrace outside our apartment. With the hot weather and so much travelling over the summer, my usual yoga routine had become much more sporadic so it felt really good to get back into a regular practice again. The climate on Kea Island is also hot but compared to Athens it has a lot of wind and the breeze was so refreshing during the practice. We could just about see the sea in the distance from our practice spot and listen to the sound of nature as we relaxed in Savasana. I love practicing yoga in a studio but yoga outdoors in nature takes it to the next level.
Overall, the trip was the perfect mix of relaxation and activity with plenty of good food and beautiful scenery. Typically, the Cyclades are extremely dry islands with not much vegetation but Kea Island has abundant streams, forests and cultivated agricultural areas. Even the houses there are built in a local style using grey stone rather than the usual white Cycladic houses that you see. The beaches were stunning and there was a good mix of large sandy beaches and small pebbled coves. It had such a peaceful energy and it felt like we had our own paradise to explore.
Kea Island also has 12 hiking trails which take you through the countryside and down to secluded beaches. I didn’t know this before we arrived but fortunately we found this website with maps and descriptions of the different routes so we decided to try it out. I really enjoy being active on holiday and seeing as much as possible so I was very happy to explore the island. Especially with all of the delicious food we were eating (especially the ice cream!) it was also good to be able to move our bodies and get the energy flowing after lots of time relaxing at the beach.
We had chance to try out two of the hiking trails, the first was the Karthaia route from the village of Katomeria down to the ancient town of Kartheia and it’s beach. After a steep 3km decent down a path lined with fruit trees and fragrant herbs, we saw the ruins of the temple and amphitheater and cooled off in the clear waters of Kartheia beach before hiking back up to Katomeria to eat in a traditional tavern. We passed small farms with beautiful grazing animals and also the ancient water supply of Kartheia city, Vathypotamos spring. On the way back we saw the most stunning sunset with expansive orange and pink hues spreading across the sky.
The second hike began in the capital city of Kea Island, Ioulis and ended in Spathi beach which was our favourite beach of the whole trip. This was a 5km downhill route from the city to the spring of Rokomenos and then followed the creek of the river Flea, although it runs dry in the summer months. The route described it as being shaded by cypress trees which actually turned out only to be 1km of the route so we definitely sweated quite a bit but it was worth it. We passed through the valley and saw traditional local churches, watermills and cactus plantations. We had a bit of a disaster when we tried to pick a cactus as a souvenir and ended up with hands full of tiny little invisible spikes! We imagined that the farmer was watching from somewhere on the hill and laughing at our stupidity…
Again we had chance to cool off and swim in the sea at Spathi beach which is a sandy beach with clear shallow waters and very few waves. It was like swimming in a natural pool with the salty waters recharging our physical and emotional energies. We also had a go at playing the popular Greek beach sport of raquets which I haven’t quite got the hang of yet but I am determined to master it. It is a bit like tennis without the net, you play with heavy wooden raquets and the idea is that you are on a team and try to hit the ball as hard and fast as possible whilst keeping the ralley going. I definitely get more exercise just my running for the ball when I miss it and it gets pretty tiring with the sun and sun but it is a lot of fun!
We also visited several other beaches across the island including our local beach near to the town of Otzias and a beach in the north west of the island called Xyla beach. It was very remote and we had to pass through a pretty difficult dirt road to arrive at the beach but it was very beautiful with the peaceful sound of waves, crystal turquoise waters and soft sand. The problem was that we didn’t bring any food with us and there was nowhere nearby to buy anything so we couldn’t spend the whole day there and see the sunset. We also witnessed a crazy freak weather incident as a mini typhoon passed across the beach and nearly blew all of the umbrellas away. Luckily it passed quickly as if it had never been there at all but it was a very bizarre experience!
After all of these busy days, in the evening we wanted to relax and have a quiet dinner or a drink by the sea. We visited the port and the town of Otzias several times to enjoy a cocktail and chat until late into the evening. One night we visited the city of Ioulis and eat dinner in a terrace restaurant with very tasty food and a view of the city sprawling up the hillside. The other evenings we ate simple food in local taverns and also cooked Greek dishes at our apartment. After living in Greece nearly a year now, I know all of the basic dishes very well. I love the simple, plant-based style of the Mediterranean diet, especially the use of local and seasonal produce in nearly every place you eat.
Some of my favourite summer dishes are of the course the traditional Horiatiki Greek salad with tomatoes, cucumber, olives and feta, Fassolakia (greek beans cooked in olive oil and tomato sauce), roasted or pureed Melitazanes (aubergine or eggplant), Fava dip and Kolokithokeftedes and Tomatokeftedes (fried courgette or tomato balls). Then of course I like to taste fresh fish and seafood whenever we can find it as well as traditional meat dishes, usually with lamb, goat or pork as the landscape here is not well suited to grazing cows. You can almost always find decent quality but cheap, local wine too across Greece which goes really well with the fresh local dishes. And for breakfast there is always the delicious combination of yogurt and local honey served with seasonal fruits, especially figs and grapes at this time of year.
The whole time I was in Kea Island, I was imagining how wonderful it would be to arrange a hiking and yoga retreat there next summer. It really is a place where you can fully relax and let go of your worries, explore nature and experience some of the Greek culture and the island way of life. I imagine daily morning yoga and meditation classes, healthy breakfasts with a gorgeous view, hikes in the hills and diving into the crystal waters. I imagine watching the sun set each evening over the mountain or the sea with tasty food and good company. I really enjoyed this trip to Kea Island and I hope that next year I will be able to share it with others.
If you would be interested in joining me for a hiking and yoga retreat next June or September in Kea Island, Greece, please let me know in the comments below!
Over to you…
I hope you found this article interesting and it maybe inspires you to visit Greece or even travel to Kea Island. Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you. Like this post to support my business and follow along with my blog for more articles on nutrition, yoga and holistic health practices to support balanced hormones and overall better health.
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 nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and I am currently training as a women’s wellness coach with Well College Global.
My specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting but I also help anyone who is looking to improve their overall health and find the perfect balance for their body. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!
Health coaching is becoming more and more popular but what exactly is a health coach and how can a health coach help you to reach your goals? This year I have been training to be a women’s wellness coach and I have learned a lot about the health coaching practice and how to best support my clients. I am already a qualified nutritionist and yoga teacher but there is so much more to coaching and often it is misunderstood. In this post I want to share what I have learned through my training and through reflecting on my early health coaching experiences. I hope this will help anyone who has been considering hiring a health coach but is uncertain about the real purpose of a health coach and whether they can actually help to improve your health.
Knowledge and education
I am mentioning education first as it is usually what health coaches see as their main role. I know for myself, my first few health coaching clients I believed the same! I was so excited to share all of my knowledge and give my clients value for money by packing as much information into our sessions as possible but reflecting back now I would have done things differently. Whilst imparting knowledge and educating clients is an important part of health coaching, it is not the main purpose. Especially nowadays when there is so much freely available information online and we have access to scientific literature and endless informative books on health and wellness, a health coach needs to do more than just inform and educate clients. Yes we can share our expert knowledge and perhaps save time and effort for clients’ by streamlining this large amount of available and often conflicting information, especially in the nutrition world. However, the communication should be a two-way and collaborative exchange, rather than the typical one-directional authoritative approach from the coach to the client. As I always say, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to our health and so really understanding the client and their needs means that a health coach can offer tailored information and personalised advice.
Clarity and goal setting
One of the important roles of a health coach is to help their clients’ gain clarity on their desired health outcomes and setting meaningful goals. I wrote a post as part of my Real Health January series about setting SMART goals for your health and this is something that a coach can support clients in doing successfully. People seek out health coaching for many reasons and for the best results it is important to be clear on both the what and the why i.e. what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it. Yes you can do this alone but a health coach can offer a helpful mirror to reflect back your thoughts and gain clarity on exactly what it is that you want to improve about your health and your overall vision for a healthier and happier life. On any transformational journey it can be difficult to remain focused on the initial aim and become distracted by the smaller, action-related goals. A health coach can help clients to set realistic and achievable goals which are in line with your overall aim. For example, perhaps you want to lose weight to be able to play more with your children but if you decide to go about this by setting a goal to spend 10 hours a week in the gym and it takes up all of your free time. A health coach may reflect back to you that perhaps you have gone a little off track and help you to set a more appropriate goal.
Decision-making and action
As I mentioned earlier, these days most of us have access to information which, in theory, would help us to reach our health goals. A quick google search can offer you diet plans, workout routines, guided yoga and meditation classes for all sorts of health conditions and levels of fitness. Then why do so many people still struggle with their health? There is so much information available that many people get frozen at the stage of deciding on a plan of action. Often complexity gets in the way of action and a simple, straight-forward action plan is what is needed. A health coach can guide a client through this decision making process, not taking decisions for them but offering options and helping them to gain the self-awareness needed to decide on an appropriate action to work towards their goals. Another common problem is that people know the what but not the how. For example, in the UK we have a freely available Eatwell Guide which shows the recommended diet composition for optimal health but without knowing how to prepare meals using these ingredients or how to navigate the supermarket, this information often does not lead to action. Through discussing potential barriers to implementing change, a health coach help their clients to put in place strategies to overcome these barriers and continue to take action without feeling stuck and unable to move forward.
Encouragement and accountability
In my opinion, encouragement and accountability are two of the key reasons why hiring a health coach has a much better success rate than going solo. We often speak harshly towards ourselves and our inner-critic has a field day when we embark on a challenging journey such as trying to improve our health. A health coach offers an outsiders view of their clients’ actions and will understand their strengths and highlight their successes, even when the client cannot see it for themselves. A good health coach will improve a clients’ confidence and self-efficacy so that they believe they do have the skills and power to make change. On the other hand, a health coach is also there to help their clients stay on track with working towards their goals and to offer strategies to get back on track when they fall off the wagon. It is so easy for one small slip up to lead to giving up altogether but a coach can help to see the big picture that one mistake does not meal total failure and can offer a helpful reminder of the clients’ overall aim and their why to keep them moving forward. Health coaches also use strategies for accountability to help clients’ build positive habits which support better health to replace negative habits which result in poor health outcomes. Usually it is this initial phase of habit replacement which takes the most time and effort and having a coach to be accountable to on a daily basis really can improve your chances of success.
Role model and leadership
Finally, the role of a health coach in general, not only for their clients, is to demonstrate that a healthy lifestyle is possible and be a positive role model for anyone looking to improve their health. By this I do not mean that a health coach should have the perfect body, the perfect diet or the perfect exercise routine or that they should never drink alcohol, stay up late or get stressed and overwhelmed. Rather a health coach can show a realistic view of a healthy lifestyle which is achievable for everyone and show that you do not need to be perfect to be in good health but that a strong foundation of healthy habits can take you far. They can share their personal health challenges and how they overcame them to give motivation and empowerment to others to do the same. We are all humans often living in societies that do not support optimal health but health coaches can act as leaders to show that there is a way to support your health, even in a less than supportive environment. Visualisation is an excellent tool to support you in achieving your goals and having an effective role model can help clients’ to create a vision for their health and expand their beliefs of what is possible and achievable. Again, this is not to say that clients’ should compare themselves to their coach or idolise them as the perfect vision of health, but more that seeing others success can help you to create your own vision of health and start out on the path of working towards your goals.
Over to you…
These are my thoughts on the role of a health coach and how a health coach can help you to reach your goals. Let me know in the comments below what YOU think a health coach is and whether you think coaching is helpful in improving your health. As usual, please like and share this post to support my business and follow my blog for more useful posts on nutrition, yoga and holistic health.
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 nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and I am currently training as a women’s wellness coach with Well College Global. My specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting but I also help anyone who is looking to improve their overall health and find the perfect balance for their body. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!
The world of nutrition and diets can be a confusing place. There are so many different diets that claim to be the perfect diet for humans and the optimal way to eat. I remember once reading a quote, “If you are not confused about nutrition then you haven’t studied it enough” and I find this to be so true. If you have been in the world of health and wellness for a while, you will have seen many nutrition trends come and go and often competing with each other for attention. In the last ten years alone we have seen the rise of vegan and plant-based diets (high carb low fat), paleo, keto and carnivore diets (low carb high fat) as well as gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free diets..
I could go on but I’m sure you see my point. Each time a new nutrition paradigm is discovered there is a huge hype and a torrent of evidence to demonstrate that this is the perfect diet which will solve all of our health problems. Vegan nutritionists and doctors believe that animal products are the cause of all diseases of the modern world, including high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease and that eating a diet based on mostly plant-based foods will help us to live a long and healthy life. On the other hand, proponents of animal-based keto and paleo diets proclaim that sugar and carbohydrates are the devil and should be avoided at all costs. They believe that there are toxic compounds in plant-foods that wreak havoc on the body and that training your body to become a fat burning machine will help you to stay fit and lean and keep disease at bay.
Both sides have theoretical research, data and anecdotal evidence to support their ideas but how can this nutrition paradox exist? And what does this say about what is the perfect diet for humans? As I have said before, I believe that humans we are very adaptable creatures and we are able to survive in many different environments on a variety of diets. This is why we have been able to spread across the globe and build societies from the tropics to the snowy mountains of Siberia. When it comes to the perfect diet to thrive, I think this really comes down to the individual and the environment they live in. There are so many factors that affect what and how much you should eat to be healthy that it is truly impossible to state that one diet or specific way of eating is optimal for everyone, everywhere. Honestly, I think this idea is crazy!
According to Marc Davis in his book, Nourishing Wisdom, there are five key factors which can influence your dietary needs at any given time:
These things taken together account for changes in the quantities and types of foods that you need to eat at any time. For example, a male athlete living in California has very different dietary needs to a sedentary elder in Alaska or a pregnant working woman in London. There is no way that we can apply a one-size-fits-all diet to these cases. Perhaps these are extreme comparisons but even within the span of your own life there will be differences. Your activity and stress levels fluctuate as you move through your life and every year most locations in the world experience the natural shifts in weather and pace of life with the changing seasons. For women we also move through inner “seasons” each month following the hormonal rhythms of our menstrual cycle which changes our appetite and cravings as well as macro and micro-nutrient needs.
For many of us, trying to control our diets or our bodies is a natural response to the stresses of life. Change is always inevitable and often uncomfortable and we can turn to strict dietary rules or control of our bodies shape or size as a way to feel a sense of stability. Part of the holistic health journey is learning to accept and flow with these changes in our bodies and our diet rather that resist against them and create further stress and tension. When we learn to relax and listen to our bodies messages about what it needs at any given time, we take the pressure off ourselves and find that there is a natural intelligence that comes through. If we start a new exercise program, we may naturally feel hungrier and crave foods higher in protein. If we move house or change jobs, the stress may increase our appetite and cravings for sugar to calm the nervous system or on the contrary, shut down appetite all together. The body is always looking out for your and trying to do what it thinks is best for survival.
In my holistic health coaching practice, I have clients that come to me with a range of issues. Some want to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way, others have been through years of restrictive dieting and want to regain a monthly menstrual cycle or overcome symptoms of a low metabolism such as fatigue, low mood and other symptoms of hormonal balance. Some clients live very active lifestyles with work, family and regular exercise and others have lower energy requirements due to a slower paced lifestyle. Each case is different and the dietary suggestions I make depend on the individuals’ lifestyle, health data and history, current health status and their goals. This can involve changes in the recommendations for how much to eat, when to eat, which types of foods to consume and in what ratios. Working with clients over several sessions, we can tune into what works and what doesn’t and find what is the perfect diet for them.
As an example, a metabolically healthy person with a few extra lbs to lose can afford to increase the fruit and vegetable consumption and lower fat consumption to reduce the overall calorie density of their diet and help them to lose weight without feeling deprived. A low calorie density diet can be the perfect diet to lose weight for many people. However, someone who is metabolically compromised and suffering from digestive and hormonal issues due to not eating enough food or enough variety of food is likely to feel worse on a a low-calorie density diet and is more likely to need to eat less fibre and more calorically dense foods to support their body in healing and recovery. When it comes to plant-based foods, it is not as simple as more is better. If you are already consuming 8-10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, drinking 2L of water and wondering why you are still feeling rubbish then it is time to take a look and see what else needs to change.
I always recommend clients to keep a food diary, not to track calories or macro-nutrients but to see how their body responds to different foods and meals. A food diary is an amazing tool for anyone looking to improve their health and find the perfect diet as observing your bodies’ reactions can tell you a lot about your state of health and what you need to stay balanced. It is quite trendy nowadays to restrict foods such as gluten and dairy and to include “superfoods” like kale and spirulina but what if these foods don’t agree with you? Keeping a food diary can help you to understand the foods that digest well for you, keep you feeling full and energised for longer as well as any problem foods or combinations of foods that leave you feeling hungry an hour later or tired and sluggish for days. You might even find that certain foods work well in one situation and not in another, perhaps you can digest a particular meal but that same meal causes bloating and reflux if you eat in a stressful environment such as at your work desk.
I also encourage everyone to explore the local food culture in the area they live as traditional meals prepared with locally produced ingredients are more likely to support you in the environment you live in compared to copy paste recipes prepared by someone on the other side of the globe made with imported and mass-produced ingredients. Traditionally, people were more aware of the connection between us and our environment and more conscious of how different foods can be used to support us through environmental changes. Last year I moved from the UK to Greece and my diet completely changed. It was very disorientating but eating Greek cuisine daily and shopping for seasonal produce in the local market was very grounding and was a big wake up call for me to understand the importance of allowing changes in the diet and adapting to the climate that you live in.
I think this is one of the huge problems with the raw vegan movement. Yes it may work in certain locations where fresh, water-rich food is needed to keep your body cool and hydrated or perhaps for short periods of cleansing and detoxification for those with specific health conditions. But is a raw vegan diet is perfect for humans who live in colder climates or who are underweight and need to consume a higher amount of calories? I would argue not. Perhaps it is the perfect diet for a specific human in a specific life situation but no more than that. The same goes for the keto or carnivore diet. For someone who has deprived their body of nutrients present in animal products, maybe consuming large quantities of these foods can be therapeutic for a time to rebuild nutrient stores and rebalance their body but the problems arise when we hold on to these restrictive diets longer than necessary. Once our bodies start to react with cravings for foods outside of the diet, it is important to listen and not remain stuck in the idea that this is the perfect diet.
So where do you start with finding what is the perfect diet for you? I have lots of resources here on my website to help you assess your current state of health and find a nutrition path that works for you. If you need more tailored advice and a personalised holistic health and nutrition plan tailored to your current situation and your goals, you can reach out to me for support via my holistic health coaching program.
Over to you…
I hope you found this article interesting and it gives you “food for thought”. Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you. Like this post to support my business and follow along with my blog for more articles on nutrition, yoga and holistic health practices to support balanced hormones and overall better health.
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 chronic or restrictive dieting. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!
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.
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!
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
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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!
Ladies, ever wondered why it seems so much easier for your boyfriend or husband to stick to a diet or fitness plan and get results? Why some weeks you are full of energy and others you hardly want to drag yourself out of bed? How you can go 2 weeks eating healthily then all of sudden all you want is chocolate and ice cream? If you’ve found yourself questioning whether you just have less motivation or your body just doesn’t function as well then you’re not alone. The answer is simple and something that we live every single day, often without even being aware of it. Can you guess?
As women we are simply not the same from week to week. Our hormone levels are continuously shifting which has a huge impact on our energy levels, mood, cravings, sleep and so much more. This can make it hard for us to stick to a routine and often feel like a failure for being inconsistent. We can think of men as being like the sun and women more like the moon. The sun shines consistently day by day, sometimes there might be some clouds in the sky or even a huge storm that affects how brightly we see its rays but behind all of that it keeps on shining just the same. The moon however moves through it’s lunar cycle from the new or dark moon where the sky appears empty to the full moon where it shines big and bright.
The lunar cycle is such a good metaphor for our menstrual cycle. The new moon represents menstruation, the time of the month when we are much less energetic and physically need to rest. The full moon represents ovulation when our energy levels are at their peak and we are overflowing with creativity and physical energy. Don’t get me wrong though, just because the moon appears dark at the new moon, it doesn’t mean there is no light, the light is just on the other side so we don’t see it. This is the time when lots of inner work is being carried out including physical and mental healing and the seeds of inspiration for creative projects are being birthed.
Because for men, the hormonal shifts are much more subtle and occur mostly on a 24hr basis, they can more easily stick to a daily routine that works for them week in week out whereas us women have both our daily and monthly rhythms to take into account. Our bodies are also more sensitive to stress from working out or not eating enough food as they are constantly trying to maintain hormonal balance and fertility. We can choose to see this as a weakness or we can see it as a super power that we can work with. There are times of the month when our strength and stamina can feel unlimited and we can surprise ourselves with what we can achieve and there are other times when we can push ourselves through a grueling workout and actually cause ourselves more harm than good because our bodies have to rely on stress hormones and adrenal reserves to make it through.
Of course we all know this on some level but we often think of it as something we have to work against rather than work with. Often we feel like we are “normal” for a couple of weeks and then BAM our hormones come along to ruin everything and we fall off the wagon. But what if we became more aware of how our bodies change throughout the month and actually build this into our health and fitness plan? What a game changer that would be! No more beating yourself up because you got so hungry before your period that you ate a large bar of chocolate every day. No more dragging yourself through intense workouts on your bleeding says when your body is crying out for rest. Instead using self-awareness and self-compassion to create a health plan that truly works for you.
What could this cyclical approach to health and fitness look like? When it comes to nutrition, this would be truly trusting your body and allowing yourself to eat intuitively. This doesn’t mean allowing yourself to eat a large bar of chocolate every day because, “PMS”, but it does mean loosening up on the diet rules, understanding why those cravings might be there and making sure that you are well fed and nourished during the day. The quantities and types of foods you crave will likely change throughout your cycle and this is ok, in fact it is essential. Your metabolic rate and nutrient requirements shift with your hormones and so the foods that will support your body also change week to week. The simple overall guideline for a healthy diet of eating mostly whole, unprocessed foods applies throughout the cycle but the amount of energy, macro-nutrients and the ratio of raw vs. cooked foods can definitely change. It’s much better to tune into your body to find what works for you, but if you’re struggling with getting started I did write a series of posts on how to eat for each of the phases of your menstrual cycle.
With fitness and exercise, again it is very individual. Some women need to fully rest during their period otherwise they will feel like they are dragging throughout the month ahead. Others, me included, need a bit of easy movement to help manage painful cramps. I’m sure there are some women who can exercise intensely during their period without any issues but I think this is the exception rather than the rule. If you do workout during your period, ask yourself whether you are doing it because you feel like you should or whether it is what your body is genuinely asking for. In general, during your period and the few days before it’s a good idea to at least slow down, decrease the intensity of your workouts and create space for some more restorative activities like yoga, stretching and gentle walking to help your body recover and restore energy.
On the other hand, the rising energy and stamina in the couple of weeks after your period (the follicular and ovulatory phases) are a great time to really get out there and move your body. This is a good time for more intense cardio workouts as you can get all of the benefits of getting your heart rate up and sweating without feeling totally drained. Movement can also be a great way to boost your mood and reduce PMS symptoms as you approach your period, but our energy levels tend to start to drop off towards the end of the pre-menstrual phase so it’s good to be aware of this and be prepared to take it easier without feeling guilty for not performing at your best. In general it’s about understanding and accepting that as women we are not the same everyday and we can’t expect ourselves to show up, robot-like, in the same way every day. That is a recipe for disappointment, hormonal imbalance and burn out as I’ve learned the hard way!
Over to you
I hope you found this post interesting and it gives you a new perspective and understanding of why a traditional approach to health and fitness might not work perfectly for you as a woman. If you have any questions or want to share your experiences, let me know in the comments below! If you’re interested in health and wellness for women, follow along with my blog and please share with anyone else who might be interested. I’ll be making a post soon on my top book recommendations for learning more about synching with your menstrual cycle so watch out for that too.