Diet dogma, food and morality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Celebrating “Clean Monday” in Greece

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How visualisation can help you become the person you want to be

How often have you found yourself reacting in the same old habitual ways to certain situations? Maybe it’s reacting negatively towards a particular person, feeling shy or anxious in certain situations, or repeatedly falling off the wagon with healthy behaviours as soon as a stressor hits. So much of our behaviour is habitual meaning that we do it without even thinking. We start to actually identify with feelings and behaviours as if they are our identity making it very difficult to change. But what if that wasn’t the case? What if you had the option to act consciously and choose how you want to show up each day?

I’ve heard many times how visualisation can help to do exactly that, change your mindset so that you can step out of your comfort zone and grow into the person you want to be. I never really paid it much attention until recently. However, recently I had an interview for a position that I really had set my heart on and after reading again about the power of visualisation I decided to give it a go. I’ve always struggled with confidence speaking in front of people, and this was an interview where I had to give a 15 minute presentation in front of a panel of 5 followed by a question and answer session. Naturally my inner critic was going wild with what ifs…

“What if you stumble on your words?”
“What if you go bright red in the face?”
“What if your mind goes totally blank?”

Photo by energepic.com on Pexels.com

These were all based on memories of past experiences of presenting or public speaking where I’ve done exactly that. Blushed like a tomato, panicked and totally forgotten everything I wanted to say – eek! When I projected forward how I thought the interview would go, these were the memories I had to help me out with visualising how the interview would go. This has happened before too when I’ve had to speak publicly. I’d be nervous and running through all my past “failures” at speaking in front of people and of course when the moment arrived the same thing would happen again, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is something we all do, as humans we hate uncertainty and we try to predict situations based on information we already have. Sometimes this can be helpful but often it can keep us feeling stuck in a rut and unable to reach our potential. But this time I was determined that it would be different. I’d had enough of feeling terrified at the thought of speaking in front of people and I wanted to create a new possibility. Since starting to teach yoga and make Youtube videos, I’ve already proved to myself that I can get out of my comfort zone and do things I am afraid of so why should this situation be any different?

I decided that for a few days leading up to the interview I would practice a guided visualisation where I imagined myself presenting confidently, impressing the panel and answering all of their questions with ease. I allowed myself to be aware of all of the judgements and criticisms that were present in my mind but chose not to dwell on them and to focus on creating new, positive beliefs about my abilities. As I always say, it’s important to also feel the emotions when practicing meditation or any mindset work and so I really let myself feel that happy, confident, excited version of myself in my mind. If you’re interested in the guided meditation I used, you can listen to it here.

As it wasn’t “real”, the visualisation gave me the opportunity to dream up an entirely new Amy, totally separate from the shy, anxious version I had become so attached to. I did this every morning, first thing for five days leading up to the interview and let me tell you, it worked wonders! I’m not saying that I arrived at the presentation with no fear or doubt but I felt so much better than I ever have in these kind of situations before. I presented confidently (even though I was shaking with nerves), I said everything I wanted to and answered all of the questions without freaking out too much. Definitely a win in my books. It’s out of my hands now whether I get the position or not but I feel good knowing that I showed up as my best self and gave it my all.

The best thing is that now I have a stored memory of this confident version of myself who can present well. Next time I need to do something like this and I rack my mind for past experiences, amongst the embarrassing memories I will also have this one to lean on and give me hope that I can do it. And the more memories like this I can build, the stronger this new, more confident Amy will become and over time it will become my new identity. So if any of you out there are struggling with confidence or with changing your behaviours, maybe give visualization a chance. You only need to commit around 15-20 minutes a day and it really can change your life. Of course, visualization alone won’t change anything in your life but what it can do is give you the motivation and sense of personal power so that you take actions that do create change.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article, if you did please like and share with anyone who it might help. Comment below your thoughts and experiences and follow my blog for more posts on health, nutrition, yoga and creating positive change in your life!

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Over to you…

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

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

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

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

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

Be healthy to LIVE rather than live to be HEALTHY

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you…

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

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same coastline, a much sunnier day..

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

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

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

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

Over to you…

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

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again!

Other posts you might like

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

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

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

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

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

How to tame your inner critic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you…

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

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again!

Other posts you might like

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to start a meditation practice

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

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

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

Over to you…

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

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again!

Other posts you might like

power of the mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you…

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

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again!

Other posts you might like