Diet dogma, food and morality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you

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

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

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Why (and how) women should approach health and fitness differently to men

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?

IT’S

OUR

MENSTRUAL

CYCLE!

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Celebrating “Clean Monday” in Greece

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you…

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

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

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Keeping active in the Greek winter lockdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you…

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

  • 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!

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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!

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