6 elements of holistic health coaching

As a Nutritionist, Yoga Teacher and Women’s Wellness Coach, I love to support women to improve their overall health and wellbeing! Wellness coaching incorporates more than just the usual diet and exercise program that we associate with health coaching, it is about building holistic health which will leave you feeling confident, energised and enthusiastic about life again. Holistic health coaching focuses on 6 main elements which I will explain in more detail in this post as well as how I work with clients who are looking to make improvements in this area of their health.

At the end of the article I will provide a Wellbeing Assessment questionnaire so that you can carry out your own holistic health assessment at home. This is the exact same health assessment that I use with my health coaching clients in our initial session to help us set direction for our work together.

Physical health

Even though, I fully believe that we are more than our bodies, our physical bodies are the way we experience life and therefore it is a foundation of holistic health coaching. This is not necessarily about being in a perfect state of physical health but it is important for us to maintain an adequate state of physical health to live the life we choose. Physical health includes:

  • Good functioning of our bodily systems
  • Healthy immune function and rapid healing
  • Normal metabolic markers such as blood sugar and blood pressure
  • Relatively free from disease and pain
  • Ability to participate in life including social and work activities

Some clients who want to improve their physical health are under the supervision of a doctor and need support and accountability from a health coach to help them stick to their health management plan, for example quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption or a lifestyle program to manage diabetes or high blood pressure. Other clients prefer to focus on the other elements of holistic health and as a result see improvements in their physical health markers. Either way we work with approach based goals, concentrating on building positive habits for physical health rather than outcome based goals which focus on the end result such as weight.

Sleep and energy

Anyone who has experienced poor sleep (calling all Mums out there!) or suffered with insomnia, will appreciate the importance of good sleep and energy levels. We need to sleep well in order to function at our best and enjoy life rather than feeling like we are constantly dragging ourselves through the day. For adults, sleep experts recommend anywhere from 7-9 hours sleep per night for optimum health and wellbeing. A holistic health assessment of sleep looks at both the amount of sleep that you are able to get as well as the quality of that sleep and the energy that you experience. For example, do you wake feeling refreshed and rested or do you start the day already feeling exhausted and wondering how you will make it through to the evening?

For clients who focus on improving sleep and energy levels, we work on creating space in your life for sleep and developing helpful routines to help you relax and wind down to ensure you get a good quality sleep. Often, we know what we need to do to improve our sleep but prioritising and staying accountable to these actions is the hard part, that is where a health coach comes in! I typically use a sleep journal with my clients to help them to identify patterns and factors which influence the amount of quality of sleep they are able to get. We also explore how you are using your energy throughout the day and identify “energy drains” in your life that might be zapping your life force and leaving you feeling fatigued and unmotivated.

Dietary habits

Nourishing your body with a wholesome and varied diet is one of the cornerstones of holistic health. We literally are what we eat as all of the substances we consume eventually become the building blocks for new cells as well as the energy that we use to create our personal reality. In my practice, I don’t focus on counting calories or macro-nutrients but rather on helping clients to develop a positive relationship with food and the ability to intuitively eat a balanced diet which is nourishing on both a physical and emotional level. I described in a recent post the key principles of a healthy diet which include: balance, variety, wholesomeness and individuality.

I work with clients looking to improve their dietary habits using a Non-Diet Approach (read my post on NDA here) which takes the focus away from dieting to lose weight or change your body towards an enjoyable and relaxed attitude towards nourishment. We work on tuning into internal cues of hunger and fullness, accepting all foods and the diversity of body shapes and sizes. Our work focuses on developing your intuition and self-confidence so that you can eat the foods that support your body whilst still enjoying all of the pleasures that food has to offer. This can look like diving into your history with dieting, unpacking your beliefs around food and nutrition, using a food diary to identify unhelpful eating patterns and creating a pathway to overcome them.

For all my clients, I hope for them to feel liberated and empowered around food, able to make food choices that work for their unique body and life situation. No more obsessing over every bite, weighing and tracking every mouthful or living in fear of food. Instead, pure pleasure and nourishment from food on a daily basis!

Movement and physical activity

Moving your body is of course an important part of a healthy lifestyle. We know from many years of research that physical activity helps to maintain our physical health, protect us from disease and maintain a sense of wellbeing. Unfortunately, for many people exercise has become either a chore to avoid or a way to punish our body for over eating or for not being the perfect shape or size that we have learned is appropriate for society.

For clients who feel that they would like to be more physically active and improve their level of fitness, we work together to dive into their belief and values around exercise and their physical body. I work with you to discover activities that bring pleasure and joy back to movement and help you to cultivate a sense of gratitude and appreciate for your body and everything it allows us to do. I help you to stay accountable to your goals and action plans around physical activity and together we identify potential barriers and road blocks to physical activity and develop solutions to make movement a more natural and habitual part of your life.

For those clients on the opposite end of the spectrum who exercise too much and are suffering the consequences such as fatigue or hormonal imbalances, we again dive deep into our beliefs around exercise and body image. We create a safe container for you to shift your attitudes towards your appearance and develop a positive self-image that allows you to shift your perspective of movement. I will help you to find the joy in moving your body once more and let go of all of the negative emotional baggage after years of over-exercise and punishing your body to find lightness and fun around movement again.

Stress management

Stress.. unfortunately in today’s world it is something that we all experience more than we would like. The simple fact is that the pace of modern life with all of it’s pressures and demands can leave us feeling overwhelmed, anxious and exhausted. Stress can be responsible for many of the health issues we experience from insomnia to high blood pressure. Cortisol, a major stress hormone, can affect all of our bodily symptoms wreaking havok on our digestion, metabolism and fertility. It can leave us feeling on edge, moody, tired and lacking spark. Holistic health coaching does not claim to get rid of stress, rather we look at your attitudes towards stress and coping mechanisms you have in place to deal with life’s stresses and prevent overwhelm and burnout.

Working with clients on stress management is extremely rewarding because with just a few simple tweaks to your lifestyle, you can often experience huge reductions in the amount of stress you feel day to day and the symptoms that can go along with that. I help clients to identify the different types of stressors in their life and the effects they are experiencing. We then work to find ways to either eliminate the stressor, change the situation or adapt to cope with the stress for things that cannot be changed. We create positive daily routines to help you feel more organised and in control as well as prioritising activities such as yoga and meditation which promote deep relaxation and restoration.

Life balance

The final element of holistic health coaching is your life balance, that is how you feel about your life and your place in the world. This element of holistic health focuses on you, how you feel about yourself, how you experience life and how you interact with others and the world around you. Life balance includes the often forgotten elements of wellbeing such as connection, compassion, wisdom and fulfilment. Sometimes we get so wrapped up with “fixing” ourselves or our problems that we forget life is to be lived and enjoyed and this can leave us feeling lost and at sea in life.

With clients for whom shifting life balance is key to improving their holistic health, we might look at strengthening your connection to your self, understanding who you are at your core and developing appreciation for your unique personality and skills. I help you to build your confidence so that you can show up as your best self and go for your goals. We also shine a light on your relationships with others and I encourage you to ensure that you have positive relationships in your life which support your wellbeing and personal development as well as healthy communication strategies to help you communicate your needs and boundaries in a positive way as well as be more accepting and understanding of others.

As a final note, I want to highlight that as all of the elements of holistic health overlap with each other, implementing positive habits and routines in one area will likely have a domino effect on the other areas of your holistic health and wellbeing. For example, making changes to your dietary habits, physical activity and stress management can also help to improve sleep and energy levels or adjusting your life balance can help to dramatically reduce your stress. We are moving away from this reductionist view of health as a set of behaviours or a particular appearance towards a new paradigm of holistic health as wellbeing and thriving!

Over to you…

If you would like to gain insight into your holistic health and identify areas you might like to improve on, download the free wellbeing assessment below from Well College Global which is the exact one I use with my 1-2-1 clients! Please like and share this post to support my business and follow my blog for more useful posts on nutrition, yoga and holistic health.

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on your holistic health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer. My specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting but I also help anyone who is looking to improve their overall health and find the perfect balance for their body. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

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Dieting vs. Non-diet approach to health coaching

How many here have ever been on a diet to lose weight? Weight-watchers, Slimming World, low-calorie, low-carb or low-fat… how many have you tried??

In 2016, Huffington post shared an article claiming that 57% of British women had been on a diet to lose weight in the last 12 months and of those, two-thirds reporting being on a weight-loss diet most or all of the time. That’s pretty shocking! Dieting in the traditional sense is not easy. It takes effort to go against your bodies’ natural signals and purposely eat less food than it is asking for in order to lose weight. Yes you might lose weight but sustaining this tension between “want it” and “can’t have it” over a long period of time depletes your mental and emotional energy reserves, intensifying cravings and leaving you feeling drained and vulnerable to over-eating which undoes all of your hard work.

It’s no secret these days that diets don’t work but still many people continue to try for lack of a better option. I’m here to tell you that there is a better option! It’s called the Non-Dieting Approach to health coaching and it’s the method that I was taught to use with clients as a health coach. The Non-Dieting Approach is based on researched methods of health promotion including Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size® which encourage working with your body rather than against it in your pursuit of health.

So what exactly is the non-diet approach to health coaching and how does it compare to traditional dieting methods?

Traditional dieting methodsNon-diet approach
Main goal is weight loss, body shape change or size reduction. Encourages you to adopt healthy lifestyle habits, regardless of weight, shape or size
Advises control of food quantities by weighing, measuring and counting portionsTeaches you to regulate eating based on internal signals of hunger and fullness (intuitive eating)
Often recommends using a food diary to count calories or macros with targets set based on goalsRecommends you use a food diary to understand eating behaviours or the effects of different foods or meals
Categorises foods as good or bad based on the rules of the specific dietRemoves all moral labels from food and teaches you to accept nourishment in all forms
Uses exercise (especially cardio) as a way to burn calories or fat and offset the food eatenSupports you to find ways to move your body that bring you joy and build self-appreciation
Self-monitoring of progress is typically weighing, measuring or taking photos of your physiqueSelf-monitoring is based on behaviours and may include a journal of thoughts and feelings.
Often any weight lost is regained within a 5 year period after the dietDoes not always result in weight loss but lifestyle changes and health benefits can be sustained long term
Risks of increased body dissatisfaction, reactive binge eating, chronic or yo-yo dieting, further weight gainEncourages positive self-image and body acceptance, boosts confidence, improves happiness and vitality

The Non-Diet Approach is exactly the method I used to recover from chronic dieting and find true health. Through this method I was able to get back my period after 8 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea caused by restrictive dieting and over-exercising, both of which I believed were healthy at the time. I was able to reintroduce foods I loved that I had been restricting for many years believing that they were bad and eating them even in moderation would make me unhealthy (and these were the same foods that I used to then go and binge eat in secret when I couldn’t hold myself any longer). I was also able to let go of my rigid exercise regime which was getting in the way of my social life and impacting my family relationships.

These days I have a very balanced approach to food. Unlike my expectation that lifting dietary restrictions would lead to a life long junk food and sweets binge, I found that actually I settled into a natural pretty healthy dietary pattern with plenty of treats sprinkled in without the guilt. After letting go of my gym obsession, I found more enjoyable ways to move my body which feel like a hobby rather than a chore or a punishment and I genuinely look forward to these activities! And what about my weight? I quickly settled into a natural set point weight for my body type and have remained there within a 5lb range for the last 5 years without any real effort other than maintaining the healthy lifestyle habits I built.

I want this type of health and wellness for you too! If you are sick and tired of restricting and punishing your body to lose weight and want to let go of dieting for good, I can help. We will work together to gain clarity on your vision of true health, develop goals and strategies to get there and I will offer you support and accountability in taking action. Breaking free of chronic dieting takes a 180 mindset shift and the unravelling of some deep held beliefs about what it means to be healthy but together we can get there!

If you are interested in learning more about health coaching with the Non-Diet Approach or want to apply for one of my coaching spots opening up this week, head over to the Contact page of my site or drop me an email at lovemoonlife.mail@gmail.com.

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Key principles of a healthy diet

I am not the type of nutritionist who believes there is such a thing as a one-size-fits-all diet. As I spoke about in my recent post, there are many factors which impact what and how much each person should eat to be healthy. That said, there are a few key principles to keep in mind to make sure your diet is healthy as possible. These tips are based on my learnings from Intuitive Eating principles, Health at Every Size and the Well Woman Coaching course from Well College Global. Enjoy!

Balance

All foods contain macronutrients that provide us with energy (carbohydrates and fats) and building blocks for repair (proteins). The diagram below shows examples of foods that typically contain these macronutrients. A balanced diet is one that includes all macronutrients in a proportion that suits the individual.

An imbalanced diet is one that overly restricts one or more food groups, for example very low-fat diets like the Pritikin or MacDougall diets or very low-carb diets such as the Atkins, keto or carnivore diets. The problem with imbalanced diets is that they put the body into an abnormal functioning or survival mode. Some doctors claim that this can have benefits for people suffering with specific, life-altering diseases. I am not here to dispute this claim, rather I believe that for the majority of people, a balanced diet which provides the body with all macro-nutrients and does not force the body into an extreme state is optimal for health.

The risk of low-fat diets include poor nutrient absorption and associated deficiencies, dry skin and hair and a weakened immune system. On the other hand, low-carb diets can cause weakness, fatigue, hair loss and chronic stress in the body. It is best to let go of dietary dogma and opt for a diet that includes a healthy amount of all three macro-nutrients. The exact ratios of each will depend on your personal physiology and lifestyle but my recommendation would be not to go below 20% fat, 20% protein or 40% carbohydrates. The NHS Eatwell Guide shows a balanced plate with examples of foods to eat from each group.

Variety

As well as macronutrients, foods also contain micronutrients that help to keep our bodies functioning optimally and prevent disease. The most well known are vitamins and minerals although other micronutrients such as polyphenols are now being discovered which have remarkable health-giving properties. Vitamins include B-vitamins which support healthy energy and metabolism, vitamin D which is needed for strong bones and teeth and vitamin A for healthy eyes and skin. Essential minerals include calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron.

Each food contains unique combinations of these different micronutrients and therefore eating a variety of foods helps us to improve our chances of getting everything we need. If we exclude whole food groups from the diet or limit our diet to just a few different foods, we may be putting ourselves at risk of nutrient deficiencies. Instead, consume a variety of food from different food groups e.g. fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, meat, fish, nuts and pulses on a daily and weekly basis, finding a balance that suits your taste and lifestyle.

Additionally, food can have harmful properties as well as beneficial ones. for example, tuna fish contains a healthy amount of protein and vitamin D but it also contains mecury, a toxic heavy metal which can build up in the blood stream if we consume tuna too frequently. That isn’t to say we should avoid eating tuna altogether, our bodies have built in detoxification pathways to deal with these things but it is better to consume a variety of foods to avoid over-consumption of toxins found in certain foods.

Whole foods

Whole foods is a word that has been circulating a lot in the nutrition world, especially in the last decade, but what exactly does it mean? Whole foods is a term that refers to foods in their whole and mostly unprocessed form. It doesn’t mean that everything should be eaten raw, exactly as it comes from nature, just that the food is kept in tact as much as possible to make it edible and palatable.

This could mean consuming fresh fruit or juice rather than artificial juice or fruit juice from concentrate, choosing whole wheat bread or pasta instead of refined white flour products or eating home cooked mashed or roasted potatoes over potato crisps or oven fries. When we eat a diet based on whole foods, we are ensuring that our diet is as nutrient dense as possible, i.e. our food gives us the most “bang for our buck”. A whole foods diet also minimises our consumption of artificial additives such as preservatives, flavours and colours which may not be optimal for our health.

Now, anyone who knows me or who has followed my blog for a while will know that I am not one for extremes or restrictive diets. I believe there is a place for all foods, including processed or artificial foods in a balanced diet, if they bring us joy and pleasure. But research shows that eating a diet based mostly on whole and unprocessed foods is more likely to lead to better short and long-term health outcomes. So go ahead and enjoy your treats now and again but be sure to have a solid foundation of nourishing whole foods to build upon.

Individuality

Finally, a healthy diet is one that works for you. Not your friend or some random person you follow on the internet but you. We are all born into individual bodies with unique tastes and needs and whilst we know that eating a balanced diet with a variety of whole foods is optimal for health, within this there is still much scope for individualisation both in the amounts and types of foods that we eat. what works perfectly for one person may make another feel terrible.

Experiment with different foods and meals to find those which taste good, digest well and give you the most energy. Explore your local food culture and try out recipes with local and seasonal produce. Notice how you feel when you eat big meals vs. smaller meals with snacks between or if you practice intermittent fasting vs. eating whenever you are hungry. Don’t listen to strict rules and regulations when it comes to diet because there is better teacher than your own body.

Remember that your body is constantly changing as you move through life and that your diet can also change. Just like your friends diet may not work for you, the diet you followed in your 20s may no longer feel good once you reach your 40s. Allow eating to be a two-way communication between you and your body. This takes mindful awareness and repeated practice but it’s a skill that once you master it will serve you for a lifetime.

Over to you…

Let me know your thoughts on this interesting topic! Do you agree or disagree? Did I miss something? Please like and share this post to support my business and follow my blog for more useful posts on nutrition, yoga and holistic health.

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. My specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting but I also help anyone who is looking to improve their overall health and find the perfect balance for their body. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

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What is health coaching? How a health coach can help you reach your goals

Health coaching is becoming more and more popular but what exactly is a health coach and how can a health coach help you to reach your goals? This year I have been training to be a women’s wellness coach and I have learned a lot about the health coaching practice and how to best support my clients. I am already a qualified nutritionist and yoga teacher but there is so much more to coaching and often it is misunderstood. In this post I want to share what I have learned through my training and through reflecting on my early health coaching experiences. I hope this will help anyone who has been considering hiring a health coach but is uncertain about the real purpose of a health coach and whether they can actually help to improve your health.

Knowledge and education

I am mentioning education first as it is usually what health coaches see as their main role. I know for myself, my first few health coaching clients I believed the same! I was so excited to share all of my knowledge and give my clients value for money by packing as much information into our sessions as possible but reflecting back now I would have done things differently. Whilst imparting knowledge and educating clients is an important part of health coaching, it is not the main purpose. Especially nowadays when there is so much freely available information online and we have access to scientific literature and endless informative books on health and wellness, a health coach needs to do more than just inform and educate clients. Yes we can share our expert knowledge and perhaps save time and effort for clients’ by streamlining this large amount of available and often conflicting information, especially in the nutrition world. However, the communication should be a two-way and collaborative exchange, rather than the typical one-directional authoritative approach from the coach to the client. As I always say, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to our health and so really understanding the client and their needs means that a health coach can offer tailored information and personalised advice.

Clarity and goal setting

One of the important roles of a health coach is to help their clients’ gain clarity on their desired health outcomes and setting meaningful goals. I wrote a post as part of my Real Health January series about setting SMART goals for your health and this is something that a coach can support clients in doing successfully. People seek out health coaching for many reasons and for the best results it is important to be clear on both the what and the why i.e. what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it. Yes you can do this alone but a health coach can offer a helpful mirror to reflect back your thoughts and gain clarity on exactly what it is that you want to improve about your health and your overall vision for a healthier and happier life. On any transformational journey it can be difficult to remain focused on the initial aim and become distracted by the smaller, action-related goals. A health coach can help clients to set realistic and achievable goals which are in line with your overall aim. For example, perhaps you want to lose weight to be able to play more with your children but if you decide to go about this by setting a goal to spend 10 hours a week in the gym and it takes up all of your free time. A health coach may reflect back to you that perhaps you have gone a little off track and help you to set a more appropriate goal.

Decision-making and action

As I mentioned earlier, these days most of us have access to information which, in theory, would help us to reach our health goals. A quick google search can offer you diet plans, workout routines, guided yoga and meditation classes for all sorts of health conditions and levels of fitness. Then why do so many people still struggle with their health? There is so much information available that many people get frozen at the stage of deciding on a plan of action. Often complexity gets in the way of action and a simple, straight-forward action plan is what is needed. A health coach can guide a client through this decision making process, not taking decisions for them but offering options and helping them to gain the self-awareness needed to decide on an appropriate action to work towards their goals. Another common problem is that people know the what but not the how. For example, in the UK we have a freely available Eatwell Guide which shows the recommended diet composition for optimal health but without knowing how to prepare meals using these ingredients or how to navigate the supermarket, this information often does not lead to action. Through discussing potential barriers to implementing change, a health coach help their clients to put in place strategies to overcome these barriers and continue to take action without feeling stuck and unable to move forward.

Encouragement and accountability

In my opinion, encouragement and accountability are two of the key reasons why hiring a health coach has a much better success rate than going solo. We often speak harshly towards ourselves and our inner-critic has a field day when we embark on a challenging journey such as trying to improve our health. A health coach offers an outsiders view of their clients’ actions and will understand their strengths and highlight their successes, even when the client cannot see it for themselves. A good health coach will improve a clients’ confidence and self-efficacy so that they believe they do have the skills and power to make change. On the other hand, a health coach is also there to help their clients stay on track with working towards their goals and to offer strategies to get back on track when they fall off the wagon. It is so easy for one small slip up to lead to giving up altogether but a coach can help to see the big picture that one mistake does not meal total failure and can offer a helpful reminder of the clients’ overall aim and their why to keep them moving forward. Health coaches also use strategies for accountability to help clients’ build positive habits which support better health to replace negative habits which result in poor health outcomes. Usually it is this initial phase of habit replacement which takes the most time and effort and having a coach to be accountable to on a daily basis really can improve your chances of success.

Role model and leadership

Finally, the role of a health coach in general, not only for their clients, is to demonstrate that a healthy lifestyle is possible and be a positive role model for anyone looking to improve their health. By this I do not mean that a health coach should have the perfect body, the perfect diet or the perfect exercise routine or that they should never drink alcohol, stay up late or get stressed and overwhelmed. Rather a health coach can show a realistic view of a healthy lifestyle which is achievable for everyone and show that you do not need to be perfect to be in good health but that a strong foundation of healthy habits can take you far. They can share their personal health challenges and how they overcame them to give motivation and empowerment to others to do the same. We are all humans often living in societies that do not support optimal health but health coaches can act as leaders to show that there is a way to support your health, even in a less than supportive environment. Visualisation is an excellent tool to support you in achieving your goals and having an effective role model can help clients’ to create a vision for their health and expand their beliefs of what is possible and achievable. Again, this is not to say that clients’ should compare themselves to their coach or idolise them as the perfect vision of health, but more that seeing others success can help you to create your own vision of health and start out on the path of working towards your goals.

Over to you…

These are my thoughts on the role of a health coach and how a health coach can help you to reach your goals. Let me know in the comments below what YOU think a health coach is and whether you think coaching is helpful in improving your health. As usual, please like and share this post to support my business and follow my blog for more useful posts on nutrition, yoga and holistic health.

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I am a qualified nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and I am currently training as a women’s wellness coach with Well College Global. My specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting but I also help anyone who is looking to improve their overall health and find the perfect balance for their body. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

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What is the perfect diet for humans?

The world of nutrition and diets can be a confusing place. There are so many different diets that claim to be the perfect diet for humans and the optimal way to eat. I remember once reading a quote, “If you are not confused about nutrition then you haven’t studied it enough” and I find this to be so true. If you have been in the world of health and wellness for a while, you will have seen many nutrition trends come and go and often competing with each other for attention. In the last ten years alone we have seen the rise of vegan and plant-based diets (high carb low fat), paleo, keto and carnivore diets (low carb high fat) as well as gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free diets..

I could go on but I’m sure you see my point. Each time a new nutrition paradigm is discovered there is a huge hype and a torrent of evidence to demonstrate that this is the perfect diet which will solve all of our health problems. Vegan nutritionists and doctors believe that animal products are the cause of all diseases of the modern world, including high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease and that eating a diet based on mostly plant-based foods will help us to live a long and healthy life. On the other hand, proponents of animal-based keto and paleo diets proclaim that sugar and carbohydrates are the devil and should be avoided at all costs. They believe that there are toxic compounds in plant-foods that wreak havoc on the body and that training your body to become a fat burning machine will help you to stay fit and lean and keep disease at bay.

Both sides have theoretical research, data and anecdotal evidence to support their ideas but how can this nutrition paradox exist? And what does this say about what is the perfect diet for humans? As I have said before, I believe that humans we are very adaptable creatures and we are able to survive in many different environments on a variety of diets. This is why we have been able to spread across the globe and build societies from the tropics to the snowy mountains of Siberia. When it comes to the perfect diet to thrive, I think this really comes down to the individual and the environment they live in. There are so many factors that affect what and how much you should eat to be healthy that it is truly impossible to state that one diet or specific way of eating is optimal for everyone, everywhere. Honestly, I think this idea is crazy!

According to Marc Davis in his book, Nourishing Wisdom, there are five key factors which can influence your dietary needs at any given time:

  1. Lifestyle
  2. Age
  3. Environment
  4. Season
  5. Health conditions

These things taken together account for changes in the quantities and types of foods that you need to eat at any time. For example, a male athlete living in California has very different dietary needs to a sedentary elder in Alaska or a pregnant working woman in London. There is no way that we can apply a one-size-fits-all diet to these cases. Perhaps these are extreme comparisons but even within the span of your own life there will be differences. Your activity and stress levels fluctuate as you move through your life and every year most locations in the world experience the natural shifts in weather and pace of life with the changing seasons. For women we also move through inner “seasons” each month following the hormonal rhythms of our menstrual cycle which changes our appetite and cravings as well as macro and micro-nutrient needs.

For many of us, trying to control our diets or our bodies is a natural response to the stresses of life. Change is always inevitable and often uncomfortable and we can turn to strict dietary rules or control of our bodies shape or size as a way to feel a sense of stability. Part of the holistic health journey is learning to accept and flow with these changes in our bodies and our diet rather that resist against them and create further stress and tension. When we learn to relax and listen to our bodies messages about what it needs at any given time, we take the pressure off ourselves and find that there is a natural intelligence that comes through. If we start a new exercise program, we may naturally feel hungrier and crave foods higher in protein. If we move house or change jobs, the stress may increase our appetite and cravings for sugar to calm the nervous system or on the contrary, shut down appetite all together. The body is always looking out for your and trying to do what it thinks is best for survival.

In my holistic health coaching practice, I have clients that come to me with a range of issues. Some want to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way, others have been through years of restrictive dieting and want to regain a monthly menstrual cycle or overcome symptoms of a low metabolism such as fatigue, low mood and other symptoms of hormonal balance. Some clients live very active lifestyles with work, family and regular exercise and others have lower energy requirements due to a slower paced lifestyle. Each case is different and the dietary suggestions I make depend on the individuals’ lifestyle, health data and history, current health status and their goals. This can involve changes in the recommendations for how much to eat, when to eat, which types of foods to consume and in what ratios. Working with clients over several sessions, we can tune into what works and what doesn’t and find what is the perfect diet for them.

As an example, a metabolically healthy person with a few extra lbs to lose can afford to increase the fruit and vegetable consumption and lower fat consumption to reduce the overall calorie density of their diet and help them to lose weight without feeling deprived. A low calorie density diet can be the perfect diet to lose weight for many people. However, someone who is metabolically compromised and suffering from digestive and hormonal issues due to not eating enough food or enough variety of food is likely to feel worse on a a low-calorie density diet and is more likely to need to eat less fibre and more calorically dense foods to support their body in healing and recovery. When it comes to plant-based foods, it is not as simple as more is better. If you are already consuming 8-10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, drinking 2L of water and wondering why you are still feeling rubbish then it is time to take a look and see what else needs to change.

I always recommend clients to keep a food diary, not to track calories or macro-nutrients but to see how their body responds to different foods and meals. A food diary is an amazing tool for anyone looking to improve their health and find the perfect diet as observing your bodies’ reactions can tell you a lot about your state of health and what you need to stay balanced. It is quite trendy nowadays to restrict foods such as gluten and dairy and to include “superfoods” like kale and spirulina but what if these foods don’t agree with you? Keeping a food diary can help you to understand the foods that digest well for you, keep you feeling full and energised for longer as well as any problem foods or combinations of foods that leave you feeling hungry an hour later or tired and sluggish for days. You might even find that certain foods work well in one situation and not in another, perhaps you can digest a particular meal but that same meal causes bloating and reflux if you eat in a stressful environment such as at your work desk.

I also encourage everyone to explore the local food culture in the area they live as traditional meals prepared with locally produced ingredients are more likely to support you in the environment you live in compared to copy paste recipes prepared by someone on the other side of the globe made with imported and mass-produced ingredients. Traditionally, people were more aware of the connection between us and our environment and more conscious of how different foods can be used to support us through environmental changes. Last year I moved from the UK to Greece and my diet completely changed. It was very disorientating but eating Greek cuisine daily and shopping for seasonal produce in the local market was very grounding and was a big wake up call for me to understand the importance of allowing changes in the diet and adapting to the climate that you live in.

I think this is one of the huge problems with the raw vegan movement. Yes it may work in certain locations where fresh, water-rich food is needed to keep your body cool and hydrated or perhaps for short periods of cleansing and detoxification for those with specific health conditions. But is a raw vegan diet is perfect for humans who live in colder climates or who are underweight and need to consume a higher amount of calories? I would argue not. Perhaps it is the perfect diet for a specific human in a specific life situation but no more than that. The same goes for the keto or carnivore diet. For someone who has deprived their body of nutrients present in animal products, maybe consuming large quantities of these foods can be therapeutic for a time to rebuild nutrient stores and rebalance their body but the problems arise when we hold on to these restrictive diets longer than necessary. Once our bodies start to react with cravings for foods outside of the diet, it is important to listen and not remain stuck in the idea that this is the perfect diet.

So where do you start with finding what is the perfect diet for you? I have lots of resources here on my website to help you assess your current state of health and find a nutrition path that works for you. If you need more tailored advice and a personalised holistic health and nutrition plan tailored to your current situation and your goals, you can reach out to me for support via my holistic health coaching program.

Over to you…

I hope you found this article interesting and it gives you “food for thought”. Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you. Like this post to support my business and follow along with my blog for more articles on nutrition, yoga and holistic health practices to support balanced hormones and overall better health.

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

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Bedtime snack ideas for better sleep

In my recent post top tips for better sleep, I mentioned that low blood sugar during the night can cause sleep disturbances, in particular waking up in the early hours of the morning and not being able to get back to sleep. This is because when blood glucose drops and liver glucose stores have been used up, it is the stress hormone cortisol which is produced to allow stored glucose to be released into the blood stream. When we are in a stressed state and more sensitive to cortisol, this extra dose can raise our levels to the point where we are awoken from sleep. Not only is this annoying and frustrating but a poor night of sleep can also can cause further blood sugar instability the following day leading to a vicious cycle and chronic insomnia.

Signs that blood sugar instability is affecting your sleep include waking up feeling “tired but wired”, waking up with a headache, experiencing heart palpitations or sweating during the night or consistently waking up between 2 and 4am or 8 hours after your last meal which is when your liver glucose stores typically run out. Of course, some of these symptoms can also be signs of other health conditions so it is always important to consult with your doctor and rule out other possibilities but if you are suffering with unexplained insomnia and some of these symptoms, blood sugar could be to blame. There are many reasons why this can happen including a restrictive or unbalanced diet, not eating enough to support your activity or stress levels or an irregular eating schedule, particularly skipping meals or intermittent fasting.

If you struggle with insomnia and sleep distrubances, eating a small, balanced snack before bed can be just the trick needed to improve your sleep quality and help you to sleep through the night. Just think about how we take care of children, often we will give them a small snack before bed to help them to relax and calm down so that they can sleep. For some reason we think this only applies to children and for ourselves we prefer to adopt strict rules such as no carbs after 4pm or no food or drink after 7pm in the hope that this will bring us better health and weight loss. Sometimes it is the things that go against conventional ideas that can really support our health. Especially if you are currently under stress or following a strict diet and exercise program and finding that you are having trouble sleeping, why not try simply adding a small bedtime snack to your routine and observe how you feel in your body.

So what are the best foods for a bedtime snack? There are two things to reconsider here:

  1. Digestibility
  2. Balanced macro nutrients

Firstly you want to make sure that your snack is not too heavy and contains foods that are easy on the digestive system. The last thing you want is to be going to bed with a full stomach after a heavy meat meal or difficult to digest foods such as raw vegetables. Only you know what works best for your digestive system but generally easy to digest carbohydrates such as cereals, milk, honey and fruit work well along with a small amount of fat and protein to support blood sugar balance. Fats and proteins slow down digestion whereas carbohydrates tend to be absorbed much more quickly. Therefore eating a snack containing a balance of carbohydrates, fat and protein should prevent a high blood sugar spike followed by a low blood sugar crash and provide a more stable and even energy source for your body as you sleep.

Some examples of bedtime snacks for better sleep include greek yoghurt with honey, 2 boiled eggs with a piece of fruit, a slice of wholegrain toast with cheese or hummus, a small handful of trail mix or hot porridge oats with a spoon of peanut butter. If you prefer not to eat solid food before bed, you can go for a sustaining drink instead such as milk with honey, homemade hot chocolate or chocolate milk, a protein shake made with berries, milk and a half scoop of protein powder or orange juice with added gelatin. These are just some suggestions but feel free to play around with different types and ratios of foods in your bedtime snack to see what supports you in getting your best sleep and feeling energised and refreshed the next day!

Over to you…

I hope you found this article interesting and feel inspired to give these tips a go. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences, I’d love to hear from you. Like this post to support my business and follow along with my blog for more post on nutrition, yoga and holistic health practices to support balanced hormones and overall better health.

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

Other posts you might like

Signs of holistic health for women (non weight related!)

For the last 5 years, I have been very focused on women’s health and in particular exploring the signs of good health which are not related to body shape and size. In the society that we live in, we are hyper focused on appearance and weight in particular. This leads many women to assume they are healthy just because they look like the typical fitness model or believe that they are unhealthy because they are carrying a few extra pounds. We mistake behaviors such as restricting our calories, eating clean or exercising a ton for true health which in reality comes in many forms. In this post I want to highlight some of the health indicators that I use for monitoring my own and my clients health. I have also included a health assessment form that you can download at the end of the article to understand where you currently are with your health and to track your progress if you are embarking on a journey to improve your health.

Energy

High energy levels or an aura of vitality is something we intuitively recognize in others and want for ourselves. Our energy and enthusiasm for life says a lot about our state of health. Unfortunately fatigue is something that many of us deal with at some point in life, whether we are going through a stressful period or our lifestyle isn’t exactly on point. When our energy levels are low, we feel tired and unmotivated for our work, social life and creative hobbies. On the other hand, when we eat well, get good sleep, spend time outdoors and move our bodies, we tend to feel more energised and radiate good health. Assessing your energy levels is an excellent way to understand whether your current health regime is working for you. If you are doing all of the “right” things yet still feeling tired, then perhaps it is a sign that something is not quite right for your individual situation.

Mood

Our mood says a lot about both our inner and outer world. When we are in a good state of health, we generally feel more relaxed and stable emotionally. That isn’t to say we don’t experience emotions which are the natural reaction to our life experiences, but when we are healthy they are much less extreme and easy to manage. Experiencing constant states of fear, depression or anxiety is a sign that something is not quite right with your lifestyle. Similarly, if you feel extremely sensitive or fly off the handle more easily than usual then perhaps your health is not as good as it could be. Perhaps this can be solved by simpler lifestyle changes such as eating a more nourishing diet, adopting a supportive exercise routine or getting better quality sleep. In other cases it is more complicated and could be related to wider aspect of health such as your family, work, self-worth and social life. Either way, a generally content mood and capacity to absorb daily stresses is a good sign of robust health.

Sleep

This is always an interesting point as in order to be healthy we need good sleep but equally, problems with our health can limit our ability to get a good night of rest. Chronic insomnia, unrelated to acute stressful events, is a major red flag that your health is suffering in some way. This is something that I personally suffered with for many years and I shared some of my tips for dealing with sleep disturbances in a previous post. Our quality of sleep can be impacted by many factors including our physical and mental stress levels, caffeine intake and also our diet as sleeping through the night requires good blood sugar regulation. It is very common for people on restrictive diets or who exercise excessively to experience sleep issues due to dysregulation of various hormonal pathways. Having a regular sleep schedule and getting adequate, restful sleep that your body needs is one of the best things you can do for your overall health.

Hair

Our hair is another one of the ways in which we can see our health history. We are all different in how our hair looks but whether is it naturally curly or straight, long or short, thick or thin we can still observe our hair quality to understand something about our health. If your hair appears to be thinning, becoming dry or brittle or is slower growing than usual, this good indicate an underlying health problem. If your hair is growing fast and looks healthy and strong this is one of the typical signs of good health! Our hair is also affected by many factors but most noteably diet and stress levels. Because it takes so long to grow, analyzing the mineral content of your hair can show nutrient deficiencies dating back years. It is common sense to associate hair loss with stressful periods of life but this can also be caused by physical stresses such as undereating or exercising excessively. For women, loss of hair around the hair line or unusual hair growth on the body can be a sign of hormone imbalance.

Skin

Along with our hair, our skin can be an excellent visual map of our internal health. Again, there are genetic factors at play when it comes to our skin and some people are more prone to skin issues than others. However, observing changes in your skin can be a good way to understand how your lifestyle is impacting your overall health. Sudden appearance of acne, rapid aging or unusual dryness or redness on the skin are all things to take note of. On the other hand, supple, moist, acne-free skin is one of the signs of good health that you want to focus on. If you suffer from acne, chinese face-mapping can indicate where in the body this imbalance could be stemming from. For example, acne around the chin and jawline tends to be related to hormone imbalance whereas acne on the forehead is more likely to represent digestive issues.

Digestion

Nowadays it is so normal to experience digestive issues and sensitivities that we rarely question it. Problems such as IBS, constipation and reflux are extremely common and sales of medications have sky-rocketed in recent years. It is almost trendy to exclude foods such as gluten and dairy and the amount of free-from products is growing exponentially. I used to believe that digestive issues were a sign that we need to eat a “cleaner diet” and avoid foods which cause us problems but my opinion on this topic has changed drastically over the last few years. Of course, in some cases people have genuine intolerances and allergies in which case yes, avoiding these foods is a good idea. But in most cases, what is really needed is support and strengthening the digestive system to increase the range of foods we are able to eat. When the digestive fire is strong, a healthy person can handle a wide variety of different foods, does not experience excessive bloating, gas or heart burn after a meal and goes to the toilet regularly.

Hormones

As a holistic health coach, this is something I focus on a lot with my female clients. Our menstrual cycle can be considered our 5th vital sign and having a regular, relatively symptom-free menstrual cycle with a consistent red colour and moderate flow as well as a healthy sex drive is ideal. Issues such as intense pre-menstrual syndrome, painful periods, PCOS, endometriosis, amenorrhea and infertility are all signs that something could be not quite right with your health. Our hormones affect all our bodily processes and imbalances can be linked to fatigue, skin issues, insomnia, and low libido, just to name a few. It also works in the opposite direction as our hormone balance can also be impacted by lifestyle factors such as diet, sleep and stress levels. Tracking your menstrual cycle is an excellent way to become aware of your natural rhythms and understand how your choices impact your hormones and therefore your overall health.

Creativity

This is another point mainly for the women and perhaps a controversial one. Our creative power is strongly linked to our feminine energy and a strong creative spirit can be a sign of good health and vitality. That isn’t to say you have to be a passionate musician or incredible artist but having the drive to create things, whether that is innovative solutions in your work, a tasty meal from scratch or expressing yourself through journal writing is a sign that energy is flowing freely in your body and that you are connected to your inner world. Feeling stagnant or blocked creatively is a common experience but rather than writing it off as that, it can be a chance to question and explore what is going on in your life and how you are feeling. One thing I observe is that in women who are trapped in the cycle of rigid dieting and exercise routines, is that their feminine energy is suppressed and this rigidity prevents the flow of their creative energy. Relaxing and surrendering more to the flow of life leads to an opening and blossoming which to me is a sign of a healthy woman.

So, if you are currently on a journey to improve your health, remember that this is about so much more than weight! It is possible to have a healthy lifestyle, thriving body and balanced hormones without dietary restriction and extremes or punishing exercise routines. If you have made positive changes to your lifestyle and you feel caught up in the weight-loss trap, come back to this list and see if your health is improving in other areas. As promised, here is a holistic health assessment that I use with my clients. You can use this assessment to determine your current health health status and set personal goals to improve your health!

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this post on the non-weight related signs of health. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and share with friends and family who may be interested. Like this post and follow my blog for more posts on nutrition and yoga for holistic health and balanced hormones!

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

Other posts you might like

Let it shine: Embracing inner summer aka the ovulatory phase

It’s been a while since I shared my experiences with menstrual cycle awareness practice and part of the reason is that it has become such a habit for me to live this way that I don’t consciously think about it as much as I used to. Menstrual cycle awareness is exactly that, living with a conscious awareness of your menstrual cycle. I’m not sure I really like the term but at least it does what it says on the tin. In their book Wild Power, Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Wurlizter use the term “Menstruality” which I also love as it brings in the elements of spirituality and mysticism which are directly tied to this practice.

Today I want to share about my experience with inner summer aka the ovulatory phase. Usually the second half of our cycle gets the most attention because PMS and difficult periods can be the most disruptive to our lives and therefore the luteal and menstrual phases are the ones we tend to focus on. Ovulation is usually forgotten about, until we decide we want to get pregnant and then it becomes the holy grail and something to be measured, analysed and hunted down. However, I think there is such a beauty in the ovulatory phase even for women like me who are not ready to have children yet, or those who have already passed this phase of life.

To begin with the science, ovulation is the process of releasing an egg from one of our ovaries. Ovulation itself can be considered as the main event of the menstrual cycle because if we do not ovulate, we do not menstruate. Yes, you can still experience a bleed during an an-ovulatory cycle but you will not be fertile and it is not considered to be a true period. To me, ovulation is the creative miracle of feminine energy and something to be celebrated. Ensuring healthy ovulation is an important part of my holistic health coaching practice as it brings so many benefits on all levels of our being: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

The ovulatory phase begins a few days before ovulation and lasts until a few days after. It can also be considered the “fertile window” for women practicing fertility awareness method as these are the days when we are most likely to get pregnant if we aren’t using contraception. At the beginning of the ovulatory phase, we are dominated by the hormone estrogen but we also experience spikes in Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Luteinising Hormone (LH) which cause a mature egg to be released. Progesterone levels remain low until after ovulation as this hormone is released from the ovary at the site the egg was released.

Image credit: Hello Clue app

For me ovulation brings with it this sense of expansion and super-human capacities. In a good month, I can feel energised and radiant and like I can handle anything life throws at me. There is this almost fizzing creative energy where I feel inspired and have many ideas for creative projects, my business and life in general. It’s also a time when I feel most social which as an introvert I embrace whole-heartedly. Often I find being around other people exhausting and I need time to recharge afterwards but around ovulation my social capacity increases a lot! I feel like I have more energy for my close relationships and a greater capacity to put myself out there in challenging social situations.

It’s also a time when I feel my most physically attractive and confident. At this time of my cycle I love wearing clothes which feel feminine and taking the time for self-care routines which make me feel beautiful like taking time to style my hair or painting my nails. At other times in my cycle my self-care is more focused on the emotional level like meditation, journalling and relaxation. During ovulation I feel more liberated and comfortable in my body but there is also this sense of magnetism which I think runs even deeper than the physical level. I think as women we just have this energy during ovulation that attracts others, whether that is sexual partners, friends, work connections or even children.

Before I started to practice menstrual cycle awareness, I did notice these subtle differences but I didn’t understand what I was experiencing. I distinctly remember one week feeling on top of the world and the next feeling it come crashing down around me. I would wonder what was going wrong and point the finger of blame towards others or towards my own body. In reality the shifts we experience are perfectly natural and more gradual like a tide moving in and out throughout each month, the waxing and waning of the moon or the changing of the seasons. When we have present awareness and consciously go with this flow rather than fighting against it, life can be a truly beautiful experience.

Although awareness is always the best place to start, actually making lifestyle changes can be tough. One of the ongoing problems I have with this phase of my cycle is that I think that I can do it all. I start multiple projects at once and then either don’t finish them or burn myself out trying to finish what I started. I struggle to decide how to spend my energy, whether to focus on work or play. I fill up my diary for the next few weeks without realising that once my inner autumn aka pre-menstrual phase arrives I am more likely to want to chill at home with a book or spend time writing rather than going out dancing or hosting workshops. This is why using a period tracker app or calendar can be a useful tool because it helps you to think ahead and plan accordingly!

I find that channeling the increased energy of the ovulation phase into one or a few projects is the best way to feel fulfilled rather than overwhelmed by the end of the cycle. It can be extremely satisfying to see a creative project or a specific task through from start to finish over the course of the month. If we germinate ideas and set goals after our period and focus our energy throughout the cycle, we really can achieve great things. Just like we have this sense of closure and preparation for hibernation at the end of summer, it brings us a sense of fulfillment to tie up lose ends as we approach our next bleed and we can surrender to relaxation knowing that we have put our creative energy to good use.

If you are interested in learning more about living in sync with your menstrual cycle, take a look at my other posts in the menstrual cycle awareness category and definitely consider reading the book Wild Power which I recommend to all of my female health coaching clients. Discovering and syncing with this inner rhythm has helped me so much to understand and connect with my body, my feminine energy and nature itself. It’s something that is rarely talked about and we are not taught in school but yet it is a current that runs under the river of our lives and affects everything we do. Living in a female body comes with many challenges but I would never change it for the world.

Over to you…

Do you currently track your menstrual cycle? What is your experience of ovulation aka inner summer? Is it a time you are consciously aware of or would like to be in the future? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Like this post and follow my blog for more posts on nutrition and yoga for healthy, balanced hormones!

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

Other posts you might like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you…

Please leave a comment below if you have any thoughts on this topic, I’d love to hear your opinions and have a discussion. If you found this article interesting, please like this post and follow my blog to be notified when I post something new.

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

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

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

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

1. Body acceptance

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

2. Building strength

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

3. Cultivating flexibility

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

4. Finding balance

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

5. Overcoming perfectionism

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

6. Developing compassion

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

7. Facing fears and embracing discomfort

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

8. Letting go

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

9. Learning to relax

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

10. Following my heart

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

Over to you…

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

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

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