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.

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Keeping active in the Greek winter lockdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you…

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

  • 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.

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Real health #31 The importance of gratitude and celebration for your health

I wanted to choose the subject of gratitude for the final post in this series to say thank you to anyone who has stuck with me this whole month. I really had fun writing these posts, I hope you enjoyed them too and maybe learned something that will help you to improve your health. If you haven’t read the other posts you can find all 31 here and feel free to share with friends or family that you think could benefit. If you really absorb and implement all of these lessons you will be well on your way to becoming your own health coach! Now back to the topic of gratitude…

Gratitude is something that is talked about so much these days and rightly so. Being grateful for the things we have in our lives has been shown to improve both our physical, mental and emotional health. It is a real super power when it comes to improving your overall health and wellbeing. Gratitude helps to boost your happiness and also reduces feelings of frustration, anger and depression. When you feel better mentally, you are much more likely to make healthier choices like eating nutritious food, getting enough sleep and moving your body which can take your physical health to a whole new level. But how exactly do you practice gratitude?

I think of gratitude as a feeling state rather than an exercise that you do once a day. Sure, writing down 3 things you are grateful for each night can help you to reflect on the day and go to sleep with a more positive mindset. It is good to be grateful for every small thing in your life, especially at times like these when things feel so dark and uncertain. But I think to really soak up the benefits of gratitude you need to feel it in your entire body. Not only do you need to write the things down but you also need to really allow the emotion of gratitude to rise up and overwhelm you. When you really allow this feeling of gratitude and love to take over, it pushes out everything else and lifts your mood.


As I shared in my previous post, to change your habits you need to change your mind but when you are stuck in a negative mindset, sometimes it can be really hard to see a way out. Spending some time in a true state of gratitude can train your body to feel those positive emotions and make it easier to access them in your day to day life. Often we are limited by how we normally feel meaning that our typical mood affects the range of emotions we can access. For example, if you are in a bad mood and something positive happens, you might not get as excited as if you were already feeling happy and cheerful. We tend to resist feeling better for some reason and it can be really easy to get stuck in a downwards spiral, at least in my experience!

But the same thing works both ways. You can also set yourself for an upwards spiral by purposely spending some time feeling positive emotions each day. Yes it helps to practicing feeling good! I’m not talking about “toxic positivity” here where you pretend that your problems don’t exist. I’m fully aware we are in the middle of a pandemic and none of us should be expecting to feel amazing all day long. What I mean is there is benefit in acknowledging that life might be difficult right now but allowing yourself to squeeze the most joy out of the things that are going well in your life. Allowing ourselves to truly celebrate the wins, no matter how small, helps to keep our spirits strong and make it easier to deal with the struggles and things we are missing out on.

As for the actual practice of gratitude, I have tried following the advice of just writing down things I am grateful for and it just didn’t have the same effect for me. I have tried gratitude journals, writing post it notes to myself and countless other techniques. I would neatly write “I am grateful for my cat for making me smile”, “I am grateful for my lamp for creating beautiful light in my room” or “I am grateful for my books for letting me escape into my imagination”. But writing those things down felt more like a tick box exercise and I got bored pretty soon. I never kept it up for more than a few weeks and it felt like an extra thing on my to-do list that I had to do rather than something I looked forward to.

So what did I do? Of course I went to my favourite channel The Mindful Movement and found a gratitude meditation (I am always recommending them and they likely have no idea I exist!) . This was the game changer for me. Listening to the guided meditation below for cultivating an attitude of gratitude really helped me to truly focus my awareness and connect with the intense emotion of gratitude. I have actually cried a few times practicing this meditation! If I am feeling really down, I know I can always go back to this practice to lift me out of a hole. I usually come back to the same few things and people in my life that I am thankful for. I never try to mix it up and choose new things, I just go for the ones that feel the most meaningful and that works well for me. Let me know what you think if you try it out.

Now it’s time for me to take a break from writing and recharge my creative batteries… I’m not sure where I want to go next with my posts now this series is over but I do want to continue sharing regularly. You can expect all sorts of topics relating to nutrition, yoga and women’s health. I am also starting to record some yoga sequences for my own Youtube channel as well as my weekly live online classes. If you are interested in trying out yoga, especially if you are an absolute beginner to the practice, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Over to you…

I hope you found this article interesting and enjoyed the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences with practicing gratitude and whether it has improved your health.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health 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.

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Real health #30 Is obsessing over your health ruining your life?

We are nearly at the end of this Real Health January series and for this penultimate post I want to bring it back to where we started in post #1 What does it mean to be healthy?. Today’s topic might be another controversial one and also one that is close to my heart! I want to talk about how an obsession with health and wellness can ruin your life.

When it comes to health there are definitely two clear extremes. There of course are many people who could benefit from making lifestyle changes to improve their health and reduce their risk of disease. But there are also those on the opposite end of the spectrum who are so focused on being healthy that it actually starts to negatively impact their life. I am all about promoting balance and I really do think the meaning of true health is learning how to make healthy choices and look after your body without obsessing over it and letting it take over.

Be healthy to LIVE rather than live to be HEALTHY

When I was younger, I definitely fell into the trap of letting health take over my life. I was obsessed with clean eating and afraid to eat foods that were “bad for me” or would make me gain weight. I went to the gym religiously, sometimes exercising more than once a day and I was constantly thinking about how I could get in those extra active minutes. I would walk to the gym, do a zumba class followed by pilates and then walk home. All of this fuelled by soups, salads and low-fat ready meals. People thought I was crazy but in a good way and would praise me for my commitment and discipline. As I’ve shared before, all of this led to a lot of anxiety and totally messed up hormones.

Fast forward to my early twenties and the arrival of the wellness scene. At the time I was looking for a way to heal my body, get my period back and fix my relationship with food. I found the online vegan community where everyone seemed happy and healthy following a “whole foods plant-based” diet and I jumped right in. I was eating insane amounts of fruits and vegetables and all sorts of super food powers claiming to detoxify and cleanse my body. Thank god I let go of the crazy amounts of cardio I was doing but instead discovered weight lifting and still had this fixation on body control and fitness in the back of my mind. At the time I thought I was doing the right thing and it was almost like there was a moral value attached to this healthy lifestyle.

It alienated me from my friends and kept me focusing on health above all. I was probably pretty boring as that’s all I talked about for a while! And yes, I am aware this is a health blog and I am writing about wellness here every day. I really enjoy healthy living and sharing my knowledge and experience but the difference is it is no longer my life. My work, relationships and hobbies get much more of my attention these days. Yes I eat lots of fresh, nutritious food but I also eat cake and chocolate on the regular. I no longer buy superfoods just for the health benefits and focus on real, local foods instead. I like moving my body but I won’t push myself through HIIT routines that I hate and if I am tired or on my period I will take a break from exercise altogether without feeling guilty about it. And I feel so much healthier for it!

The one thing I am really happy about my venture into wellness obsession is that I also started practicing yoga and meditation at this time, habits that have stuck with me to this day and really changed my life. I think the question you have to ask yourself honestly when it comes to health choices is: “Will this thing make my life better or worse?”. If your diet consists mostly of pasta and takeaways, eating more fruit and vegetables will probably give you more energy and reduce your risk of disease. But if you are already eating salads and smoothies all day long, restricting yourself from having pizza with your friends once a week probably won’t do much for your health and might leave you feeling isolated and lonely. Are the benefits of a healthy diet worth it if all of your thoughts are consumed by what and when you will eat and you lose connection with your friends and family?

Same for exercise, there is no point following a strict workout regime if you hate it the whole time and feel exhausted and stressed. Chronic stress is terrible for your body and actually increases your risk of many diseases. If you find yourself saying no to social events just to go to the gym, all of your days revolve around your exercise schedule or if you find it hard to rest even when you are injured or tired, maybe it’s time to look at your relationship to exercise. No criticism here, I am saying this from experience. Like with everything it’s all about balance. We are sold this image of fitness as the ultimate ideal but is it really necessary to train like you’re going into the military or look like a fitness model in order to be healthy? I’d argue not.

You might be reading this and thinking it is unrealistic or extreme but orthorexia (obsession with healthy eating) and exercise addiction are real and genuinely impact the lives of many people. I want my contribution to the wellness industry to be a voice of reason and realism. I want to inspire you to make positive changes that help you to feel your best without all of the rules and rigidity. I want you to feel motivated and empowered by my posts and not like you have to go ahead and do all of these things otherwise you won’t be healthy. The most important thing is to stay aware of your body keep asking yourself how you feel. I recently posted a video on healing fatigue through yoga and self-awareness which is all about this if you’re interested. And stay tuned for the last post of the Real Health January series tomorrow!

Over to you…

I hope you found this article interesting and enjoyed the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences with health and wellness obsession.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same coastline, a much sunnier day..

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

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

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

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

Over to you…

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

  • 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 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

Real health #28 How self-criticism can destroy your health and what to do about it

We’ve all been there.. one day we are feeling strong and confident and the next it is like the rug has been pulled from underneath our feet. Your inner critic goes beserk, bringing up all the reasons why you should dislike yourself, bringing up past mistakes and failures and highlighting all of your “imperfections”. For women, we are especially vulnerable to this out of control inner critic during our pre-menstrual phase as our emotional sensitivity is heightened. Yesterday was day 29 of my cycle and my inner critic hit me hard. I had a total meltdown and felt awful about myself all morning. Luckily I’ve been through this many times before and now I have ways to deal with it which I want to share with you in this article.

This experience got me thinking about just how destructive excessive self-criticism can be for our health. Our thoughts generate emotions which are felt by all of the cells in our body. Berating ourselves causes distressing feelings of sadness, unworthiness, guilt or shame which all send out chemical stress signals throughout our bodies causing all sorts of mayhem. Those feelings then trigger more destructive thoughts and the cycle continues. It could be thoughts about the way you look, your knowledge and abilities or even about your personality. Whatever it is, the inner critic can be a real bully and if we don’t get it under control it can really affect our mental and physical health.

Chronic stress, like that caused by self-criticism, is one of the worse things for our health as it leaves us stuck in fight or flight mode, unable to fully relax and let go which is when true restoration and healing takes place. Imagine living with a real-life tyrant who was constantly following you round pointing out all of your flaws and errors. You’d want to escape from that situation pretty fast right? But so many of us let the judge inside our head take over and dominate our thoughts. Being trapped in this cycle of negative self-talk and the stressful emotions that follow can prevent us from healing and even cause more damage to our bodies.

Stress affects how we digest food and assimilate nutrients, our blood sugar and blood pressure management, our hormonal balance, the health of our immune system and our ability to sleep well. So if we want to be truly healthy we have to learn how to keep our inner critic in check.

How to tame your inner critic

I’m not a psychologist, but as someone who has struggled with self criticism for most of my life, I want to share the things that help me the most to pull myself out of the hole of self-destruction whenever I get sucked in. If you have been following this blog series, you will know that journaling is my number one tool in my self-care kit. Journaling can improve your health in so many ways by helping you to uncover thoughts and beliefs that are keeping you trapped. When it comes to overcoming self-criticism, two journaling techniques I like to use are “thought replacement” and “mind-mapping”.

Thought replacement is exactly what it says on the tin… replacing critical thoughts. For 24 hours, keep your journal with you and whenever you notice yourself having a self-critical thought, write it down leaving a few lines space underneath each entry. At the end of the day, sit down with your journal in a cosy space. Set the mood by lighting a candle or incense and playing some relaxing, uplifting music. Centre yourself by closing your eyes and taking a few long, deep slow breaths. Then open your journal and read what you have written. You might be shocked by how mean you have been to yourself! Next go through each critical thought one by one, cross it out and lovingly write a new thought underneath.

This could be the opposite of the critical thought, for example:

“I am lazy and stupid” could be replaced by “I am a smart and motivated person when I want to be”

Or it could be a way that this thing could benefit you, such as:

“I am too quiet and reserved, I wish I was more outgoing” could be replaced by “I am a naturally introverted person, I am thoughtful and I am a good listener”

This isn’t a magic trick, it doesn’t mean that all of your critical thoughts will go away over night. But it does help to give you a new perspective and to see things in a different light. You can repeat this whenever you feel like your inner critic is getting out of control and come back and read your thought replacements as much as you need to.

The second journalling technique that helps me to manage my inner critic is mind-mapping. Specifically mind-mapping about my identity. Start with a blank page in your journal and write your name in big letters or the phrase “WHO AM I?”. Then start to free-associate whatever comes to your mind about your personality, your values in life, things you are good at etc. You can write negative things on there too but make sure they are balanced by positive things that you do like about yourself. You aren’t trying to create a false, perfect image of yourself here but the aim is to be realistic and allow yourself to have a more holistic view of who you are.

No one is perfect and it’s ok to acknowledge the things that you don’t like or want to improve about yourself, that’s an important step to growing and developing as a person, but if you have been beating yourself up for a long time it’s time to change your program. If you get stuck you can ask your friends and family for their input. I also really love online personality tests and find them really helpful for this technique. The 16 personalities test is the most interesting and accurate one I have found. I’m not saying that an algorithm can say more about you than you know about yourself but it can provide you with some insight into your character based on your responses and help you to see what your strengths and weaknesses might be if you can’t see them for yourself.

I don’t know about you, but I find this kind of thing fascinating! I spent hours reading over the different personalities and doing the test with all of my family and friends. It was actually really helpful for me to read the profile of some of the people I looked up to and see their weaknesses as well as their strengths. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of thinking that one personality type is “better” and wishing that you were different but in reality we all have positives and negatives and have our own path to follow in life. Often when we feel bad about ourselves it’s because we are being inauthentic by trying to be something that we are not.

In the past I felt out of alignment when I worked in the chemical industry because I felt like I was going against my core values and morals. Taking a career turn to work in environmental protection felt much more like me and there was less tension inside of me. To feel happy I need to feel like I have a purpose and I am working towards a cause. I’ve been told in the past that I get “obsessed with things” which I thought was a negative thing but in reality I am just passionate about the things I care about and that interest me. And funnily enough, the advocate personality is also supposed to be well suited to writing and to careers in counselling and holistic health which explains why I am now being called to this work in helping others improve their health!

So if you feel called to, take the test and reflect on your results. Maybe it won’t resonate with you but there will be at least a few gems that you can take. Try out the thought replacement and mind-mapping techniques whenever you have some free time. Like I say, these techniques won’t transport you from hating yourself to loving yourself overnight but they will help you to take small steps along the road of self-acceptance and help you to develop an “inner cheerleader” that can stand up for you when your inner critic gets loud. I think changing your inner dialogue is one of the best things you can do for your health. So if you’re feeling stuck and like you aren’t progressing towards your health goals, despite having a healthy lifestyle, definitely spend some time becoming aware of how you speak to yourself and maybe try out these tips.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and your 16 personalities result if you take the test!

  • 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 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

Real health #26 Calorie density of foods and weight loss

It’s been a while since we focused on nutrition in this series! And that’s for a reason, health is about so much more than what you eat. And it’s pretty easy to search for healthy foods to eat these days but if it were so simple, why isn’t everyone eating a healthy balanced diet? Why are so many people struggling to maintain a healthy body that they feel good in? As a public health nutritionist, I am always on the lookout for new patterns in the world of health and nutrition and the “low calorie density” trend is another one that seems to be gaining popularity this year. But what exactly is calorie density and how can the calorie density of foods affect your weight loss attempts?

Calorie density is the amount of energy (calories) per unit of a food. This can be based on volume e.g. calories per cup or on weight e.g. calories per lb. The idea of a low calorie density diet for weight loss has been made famous by the book The Starch Solution by Dr John MacDougall and his suggestion is to consume low calorie desnity foods that have less than 700 calories per lb (around 154 calories per 100g) in order to lose weight easily and effortlessly without counting calories. Sound interesting? Wondering how this works?

I will start by saying that all foods are made up of macronutrients which have a different amount of energy per 100g:

Carbohydrates – starches and sugars (400 calories per 100g)
Proteins (400 calories per 100g)
Fat (900 calories per 100g)

Don’t worry! I know it looks like NO foods are under 154 calories per 100g but this is because there are two other components in foods that we need to take into account that don’t have any calories: water and fibre (actually fibre does have calories but we can’t absorb them so they pass through our bodies). Low calorie density foods such as fruits, vegetables, starches and legumes have more fibre and water which fill you up without providing calories. High calorie density foods usually have more fat or sugar and less water and fibre.

The premise is that the calorie density of foods affect how filling a meal is. To understand this we can look at a couple of examples. Firstly take a bar of chocolate that has around 200 calories. Chocolate is a high calorie density food which provides a lot of energy in a very small package. On the other hand, a huge salad with low calorie density vegetables such as lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and cucumber, could also provide 200 calories. Which is likely to be more filling? Probably the salad! But does this mean we should fill up on low calorie density foods and only eat salads and veggies to lose weight?

No, it’s a bit more complicated than that because in order to feel fully satiated by our meals we need to have two elements:

  1. Enough volume to stretch our stomach and we have eaten enough food (fullness)
  2. Enough calories and/or fat to release fullness hormones and signal to our brains to stop eating (satisfaction)

Going back to the example above, if you eat the huge salad you will likely feel full but not necessarily satisfied. I mean who wants to just eat watery raw salad for a meal?! That’s not very sustainable long term and is only going to lead you to overeat and binge once your body has had enough. On the other hand, if you go for the bar of chocolate, you might be satisfied but you are unlikely to feel full as it is so tiny. We need to create meals which provide both fullness and satisfaction so that we are truly satiated by our meals and not left dreaming about when we get to eat next.

One of the easiest ways to do this is by including a combination of food groups to provide a moderate calorie density at every meal. Low calorie density fruits and vegetables provide BULK, starches such as potatoes, beans and grains provide ENERGY to make you thrive and high calorie density fats and proteins such as nuts, seeds and dairy provide SATISFACTION and make your meals taste better. If you include all of these elements in the right proportions, you will be able to eat to complete satiation and not worry about counting calories ever again. Finding the combination of these food groups to meet your specific goals is what I help my health coaching clients do! The table below shows the approximate calorie density of typical foods.

FoodCalories per lbCalories per 100g
Vegetables60 – 19513 – 42
Fruit140 – 42031 – 93
Potatoes, Pasta, Rice, Barley, Yams, Corn, Hot Cereals320 – 63070 – 138
Non-fat dairy (milk, yoghurt)180 – 450 40 – 99
Beans, Peas, Lentils (cooked)310 – 78068 – 171
Seafood, lean poultry, lean red meat400 – 87088 – 191
Breads, Bagels, Fat-free Muffins, Dried Fruit920 – 1,360202 – 299
Sugars (i.e. sugar, honey, molasses, agave, corn syrup)1,200 – 1,800264 – 395
Dry Cereals, Baked Chips, Fat-free Crackers, Pretzels, Popcorn1,480 – 1,760325 – 387
Nuts and seeds2,400 –  3,200527 – 703
Oils4,000879

As a start, you can start to focus your diet on the first 5-6 rows of the table and especially include more fruits. vegetables and starches. So many people worry that “carbs make you fat” and are afraid to eat rice and potatoes but in reality these foods are very filling and satisfying and will give you the energy to live an active, healthy life! I want to keep it simple and not put too much attention on micro-nutrients in this article but you will notice that the foods towards the top of the table tend to be mostly whole foods which also provide a lot of vitamins and minerals to keep your body healthy. Eating plenty of these foods will help to you stay well and also to maintain your ideal body weight.

I’m not one for extremes and I definitely don’t think you should never include higher calorie density foods or more processed foods such as bread, pasta and sweets. I think they do have a place in a balanced healthy diet and it’s good for your mental health to eat fun foods and enjoy eating with friends and family. I’m all about focusing on what you do most of the time and including more low calorie density foods in your diet is definitely a great step towards improving your overall health and losing weight if that’s your goal.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article on how the calorie density of foods affects weight loss and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts or experiences if you have experimented with a low calorie density diet.

  • 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 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

Real health #25 How meditation can help you to change your mindset and your habits

We are long past the days where meditation is seen as something completely hippy or “out there”. Meditation and mindfulness are becoming every day terms understood and practiced by students, parents and business executives alike. We are starting to understand the impact of rushing through our lives in a half-conscious, distracted state is no good for our health and happiness and embracing meditation and mindfulness as tools to help us to become more present and aware. Yesterday I wrote about how to change your habits you first need to change your mind and today I want to explain how meditation can help you to create this mindset change.

Most of us spend our days operating from our conditioned mind. Our sub-conscious has a huge set of stored thoughts, beliefs, emotional responses and programmed actions that we play on repeat and these conditioned patterns define the way that we show up in the world and our identity. If we want to change our habits we have to consciously think different thoughts which enable us to feel differently create new pathways in the brain. But this can be hard to do when we are constantly bombarded with the familiar thoughts and feelings that tell us who we are. If we try to think differently, we will be greeted with a barrage of opposing thoughts and intense feelings because we have moved outside of our familiar comfort zone. This can make changing your thoughts very difficult!

How can meditation help you to get past this and change your mindset? Firstly, meditation helps you to become aware of your current habitual thought patterns. Yes all of those annoying intrusive thoughts when you are trying to meditate can actually be a good thing. Pay attention to them and you will see where your mind is probably wandering throughout the rest of your day too, without you even realising. Maybe you are distracted by things you should be doing instead or maybe you find yourself criticising yourself for not being able to empty your mind and meditate “properly”. Maybe your mind tells you that you can’t do it, you are uncomfortable or that you always fail. Whatever it is, take note! This is your first glance at your natural state of being from the point of view of an observer.

You can also use meditation as a way to practice disrupting these unhelpful thoughts and letting them go. When you aren’t paying attention, one thought can lead to another and before you know it you can spiral down the rabbit hole of negative thinking. Our thoughts affect the way we feel and those emotions then affect the way we think. We can easily become stuck in unhelpful loops of thoughts and emotions without noticing. Maybe you have a memory of being left out at school and the thought brings up emotions of sadness and loneliness. Those feelings then trigger other memories where you have felt alone and the feelings of isolation grow and become overwhelming. Over time of thinking these thoughts and feeling these feeling you can start to identify with the state of being as a lonely, unloveable person and this becomes your identity. Meditation offers you the opportunity to become aware of these patterns and break the chain.

When we have negative thoughts about ourselves, there is usually another voice present in our mind which knows better. For example, I’m sure many of you have experienced body image issues at some point in your life. That voice that tells you you are not beautiful enough or thin enough is probably loud at times but there is always that quiet voice underneath which says you are good enough as you are. Meditation slows down your thoughts and allows this alternative voice to have it’s say and become louder. In other words you are able to observe a thought and how it makes you feel then choose to think a different one. Of course you can do this through out your day but the focused attention state of meditation makes it much easier to observe your thoughts and engage your conscious mind.

How to start a meditation practice

There are many different meditation techniques but as usual I suggest to keep it simple if you are starting out. All you need is a quiet place, a comfortable place to sit and a timer. You can practice in your living room, on your bed, in your garden or out in nature. There are no rules, just find a place where you feel safe to relax.

  1. Set your timer for anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes (tip set it on vibrate or on quiet so you aren’t jolted out of your practice)
  2. Sit comfortably in a cross-legged position or sit on a chair with your feet planted on the ground
  3. Close your eyes and start to become aware of your body sensations, noticing areas of comfort or pain, tension or tightness, hot or cold and the contact points between your body and the surface beneath you
  4. Bring your attention to your breath. Notice the sensations associated with the inhale and exhale, the rhythm and depth of your breath, whether you feel it deep in your belly or high in your chest
  5. Hold your attention on your breath. You can count your breaths if it helps you to concentrate or continue to focus on the sensations
  6. As thoughts arise, notice the emotions they trigger. Note whether they are helpful, unhelpful or neutral and then let them go. If you find yourself distracted, at the point you realise, let the thoughts go without judgement
  7. Continue like this until your time ends and then slowly open your eyes and start to bring movement back into your body
  8. Try to keep this relaxed, focused awareness with you as you go on with your day

With practice, meditation can also help you to access your sub-conscious mind and change your beliefs. I especially like combining meditation with affirmations by starting with a full body and mind relaxation and then listening to repeated phrases that reflect the new way I want to think. I have recommended them before but my absolute favourite guided meditations for changing your mindset are from The Mindful Movement. They have so many free videos on Youtube on all sorts of topics from healing your physical and emotional body, improving self-confidence to releasing fear and worry and letting go of the past. The video below is a great one if you are embarking on a new healthy lifestyle and trying to change your habits. Listen to the meditation before bed a few times a week and watch your confidence and belief in your ability to succeed soar!

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts experiences with meditation, especially if it has improved your life and helped you to build healthier habits.

  • 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 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

power of the mind

Real health #24 To change your habits, first change your mind

Yesterday I shared about how taking consistent, simple actions can set you on the road to success when it comes to reaching your health goals. But we all know we are creatures of habit and often in the beginning behaviour change is hard! Our brains are designed in such a way that all of our past experiences shape who we are today. We wake up in the morning and after a split second all our familiar thoughts come flooding back. We realise who we are, where we are and our mind already has an idea of how the day will go. We get out of bed, have our familiar morning routine and get on with our day, mostly in autopilot.

This isn’t a bad thing, it’s actually our brains’ way of making things easier for us. It allows us to go about our day without thinking too much, following the familiar path that we have created through our habits. But what happens when you want to change those habits and your life? If you want to act differently, you have to start to think differently first. In order to start eating healthier you have to let go of the image of you as an unhealthy person who hates vegetables and start to see yourself as the type of person who loves to nourish their body with good food. To become someone who enjoys exercise and keeping fit, you have to stop telling yourself that you are lazy, unfit and that you hate exercise. Or if you need to gain weight for your health you need to let go of the image of yourself as the skinny one or the fit one and start to embrace a new version of yourself that is more relaxed and free around food and exercise.

In short you want to create a new identity for yourself that aligns with the positive changes you want to make. You want to see yourself as the type of person who just does these things without even thinking about it, even if you aren’t there right now. We are all chattering away to ourselves most of the day without even realising it and these thoughts create our identity. To change this idea of yourself, start to think about the type of thoughts that your ideal self would have, then start telling yourself those things! I don’t mean just thinking them half-heartedly and deep down thinking otherwise but really feel and believe this as a possible reality and take actions based on those thoughts and feelings. It might feel unnatural at first but over time the nerve patterns in your brain will be hard wired and the new thoughts will become your default.

Whether you think of this as affirmations or you focus on the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy theory that the way you think affects the way you feel and the way you feel affects your actions, it’s the same idea that your thoughts become your reality. I have seen this play out in my own life with one of the biggest health challenges I have had – overcoming insomnia. The hardest thing was that after months of struggling with sleep, my brain was programmed to expect that I would sleep badly and wake up during the night. I would go to bed telling myself “I’m going to have such a good sleep” or “tonight I will sleep like a baby” but my sub-conscious mind didn’t believe it. Deep down I believed that things would be the same as always and that is how the same pattern ended up playing out for years!

I would also wake up in the morning and the first thought I would have would be about the time and how much sleep I got. I was so focused on my sleep that I let the amount of sleep I got dictate my energy levels and mood. The interesting thing was that during a period of letting go of obsessing about my sleep, I realised that some days I slept well and still felt exhausted whereas other days I slept less and actually felt more energised. I started to tell myself that my sleep quality and my happiness were two seperate things. Once I let go of the expectation, this gave me permission to be happy even when I slept badly and I actually started to feel better (and over time sleep better too!). Implementing this fully is a work in progress for me but it was mind blowing. And the same thing can be applied to other changes you want to make in your life too.

If you already predict the outcome that you won’t like healthy food or that you will fail at exercise then this is most likely what you are going to see happen for you. Instead, try giving yourself the chance to explore and genuinely see how you feel. Let yourself imagine the possibility that you will enjoy these things and be successful! If you’re interested in learning more about how to change your mindset and build habits I definitely recommend reading Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Joe Dispenza and The Power of Habit by Charles DuHigg. If you are wondering HOW you can possibly change your thoughts and start to access your sub-conscious mind, stay tuned for tomorrow’s post where I will be sharing how meditation can help you to change your thoughts as well as how to start a meditation practice.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on changing your mindset to reach your health goals.

  • 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 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

Real health #23 Keep it simple to lose weight easily

Following on from yesterday’s post on perfectionism, today I wanted to talk about how simplicity can be the way to reach your health goals with minimal effort. I’m not telling you you can lose weight by sitting on the sofa eating cookies all day. But you don’t have to be following some elaborate diet and exercise plan either, unless you are training for a bikini competition or some other competitive sport. Most of us just want to feel healthier and happier in our bodies, quit the obsession with food and exercise and just live and enjoy our lives. Right?!

If you want to make things as easy as possible for yourself, focus on simplicity and habits. Choose simple actions that you can take consistently until they become habits. When you first start to make healthier choices, of course it’s going to be a challenge. You might have to learn new information about which types of foods to eat, how to move your body and how to tune into your body (for example through tracking and syncing with your menstrual cycle!). You probably have to change some of your existing habits, try new things and get out of your comfort zone. You have to constantly be self-aware and make decisions about which actions to take. There could even be some uncertainty holding you back and you might not fully trust the process, especially if you have tried hundreds of times in the past to lose weight and improve your health. All of this means that there is a lot of mental focus at the start and you need to put in effort to keep yourself on track.

But as time goes on, if you continue to take consistent action in the direction of your goals, those actions will start to become habits. You won’t have to make so many decisions, you won’t even think about them anymore. It will become automatic and easy. For example, when I started my “diet recovery” process many years ago, I wanted to change the habit of eating low-fat foods as my goal was to gain weight and get my period back. In the beginning, my habitual action was to choose the low-fat version of everything and so every time I went to purchase a low-fat food, I had to stop myself and choose to act differently. This was difficult for the first few weeks but after that, choosing the full-fat option became my new normal and I didn’t even think about it anymore. The same process works for any habit you want to change, whether it’s starting to eat breakfast in the morning, going for daily walks, eating vegetables with your dinner or meditating.

It’s much easier to build habits when the actions you take are simple. If you need to use fancy recipes, have access to gym equipment or follow some 20-step process it puts you at a greater risk of letting things slip and giving up when you feel tired or when things feel too difficult. If the actions are easy they can become automatic to the point where no matter what is going on in your life you still do them without thinking. You want your healthy choices to become the easy option. On that note, I will leave you with some suggestions on building simple habits which will help you to stay consistent and meet your health goals with less stress!

  1. Have a fixed shopping list prepared with healthy items that you eat every week. Especially staple foods like produce, grains and dairy products. You can always add extra things to the list that you don’t need every week and rotate the list every couple of months. This will make your shopping trips much faster too as you’ll know where the items are!

  2. Limit your meal choices and rotate. I usually suggest having 3 breakfast ideas, 5 lunch and dinner recipes but it depends whether you like more variety or you’re happy eating the same foods on repeat. Eating similar meals day to day takes away some of the decision fatigue of choosing what to eat.

  3. You can also use “component based” recipes like I recommend to my health coaching clients where the base recipe structure is fixed and you vary the different ingredients e.g. porridge with different fruits and spices, stews with different vegetables and beans. This gives you enough variety to not get bored without having to learn loads of new recipes.

  4. Add daily walks into your routine. Walking is an amazing exercise for your overall health and weight loss, don’t underestimate it! Walking gets you outside in the fresh air, get your body moving in a gentle way and helps you relax your mind and de-stress.

  5. Have options for when you don’t have time. Especially have some go to meals that take less than 15 minutes to prepare and some at home workouts you can do in under half an hour (including walking!). You can spend more time on the days you feel like it but having a minimum that feels easy to achieve makes it much more likely that you’ll follow through.

  6. Stack habits together to help you build multiple habits at once. For example, taking a vitamin D supplement with a glass of water first thing in the morning or focusing on mindfulness and meditation when you are walking

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on keeping it simple to reach your health goals.

  • 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 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