The importance of radical self-care

At the start of May this year, I attended the Bodykind Festival in Totnes, a two-day event dedicated to the revolutionary act of showing kindness to our own bodies in order to change the world.

Something that struck me throughout a day of talks, workshops and panels was the sheer number of people discussing how much work they have put into treating their bodies kindly. After endless years of dieting and self-loathing, doing so does not necessarily come naturally to many.

But the people at the event were setting out on a mission to develop a positive relationship with, and be kinder to, their bodies. While such a shift may undoubtedly change an individual’s life for the better, it also has wider societal implications too because self-care is not all about bath bombs and pedicures. In fact, it includes a whole range of activities and practices, which, importantly, look different for everyone.

Sadly, self-care has to date been co-opted by commercial organisations as yet another way to sell us stuff. The promotion of self-care often focuses on appearance-related products and services, such as face masks and pedicures. But in order to go deeper than that and actually take care of our bodies effectively, regardless of how they look and how we feel about them, something more is required.

In my work, I prefer to use the term ‘radical self-care’, which usually involves practices that cannot be purchased in a shop or day spa. Instead the focus is on making daily life more manageable and enjoyable, which entails taking decisions to support yourself in the best possible way.

Small changes can be made across all areas of life to make things easier. The sum of these small shifts can lead to an altogether less stressful life as well as the capacity to better support others. We have all heard the clichéd advice to put on your own oxygen mask before you assist others, but it really is essential.


Aligning with your own needs

It is also important that self-care does not become just something else you can fail at – as with dieting or any of the other myriad things we ‘should’ do. Step one of radical self-care is about being gentle with yourself. There will be days where you are unable to take care of yourself as well as you would like, and reminding yourself that this is okay too is vital.

When I start to become self-critical, I like to ask myself whether I would talk to my children or a close friend in that way. The answer is always ‘absolutely not’ and it helps me to shift my inner talk to become more positive and compassionate.

Another issue I have with the mainstream self-care industry is that it requires a certain amount of privilege in order to engage in it. Beauty products, treatments and outings are costly, which means that those who are often most in need of self-care are excluded.

While it is still a privilege to have the time and energy to engage in radical self-care, it is much more accessible. Taking just a couple of minutes out of your day to breathe or move your body in a way that feels good can work wonders.

Other radical self-care activities I engage in regularly include ensuring I eat regular meals that my body actually wants rather than skipping them or eating something I dislike because it is quick; lighting a candle and drinking a cup of tea alone; and taking time to read or journal before bed or first thing in the morning.

But much more radical than any of these is the fact I check-in with myself regularly to ensure that what I am doing feels aligned with my needs.


Changing yourself – and the world

In the past, I have found people-pleasing all too easy a pastime – and definitely to my own detriment. Setting clear boundaries around what I do and do not want to do, as well as removing myself from toxic relationships, have helped me make huge improvements to my quality of life. If I do not spend my time doing things against my will just to avoid upsetting others, I find I conserve so much more energy, which enables me to do the things that actually bring me joy.

Of course, as a mum it is not always possible to focus on my own needs. But I am open and honest with my children when I require a quiet morning at home or when I cannot play with them because I have to make sure I have eaten something (to avoid my hangry tendencies).

To some, this may sound selfish, but not only is it important to take care of myself in order to be the best parent I can, it is also about modelling radical self-care to my children too. At the ages of three and seven, they are already aware of the importance of listening to their bodies and setting boundaries around what does and does not feel good to them. I hope this awareness will stand them in good stead to help them avoid the pitfalls of things, such as diet culture, that I unwittingly fell into.

So can radical self-care change the world? I mentioned at the beginning that this approach has wider societal implications, and they have become glaringly obvious during my own endeavours in this area. Just as I am able to be a better parent when I show myself compassion, I also have a huge amount of extra energy to plough into my activism and coaching practice. The energy I would have spent on hating my body, or perhaps feeling exhausted by a lack of boundaries, can instead be spent productively on working for actual social change.

For many – myself included – it is one hell of a journey to get to a place where we have positive or even neutral feelings about our bodies. But it is worth every single struggle to arrive at a space where we can contribute to something bigger than ourselves – and feel nurtured in the process.

The power of EFT and Matrix Reimprinting: Working with your ECHO

I spent five intense, incredible days in Brighton recently completing a number of practitioner courses with Karl Dawson, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) Master and founder of Matrix Reimprinting. Here is an overview of some of the things I learned:

What is EFT?

EFT, which is also known as tapping, was first introduced to the public by Gary Craig in 1995. Craig found that tapping on the body’s meridian points with your fingertips released trauma and improved both mental and physical symptoms.

After sharing his knowledge, often for free, at large conferences and recorded training sessions, EFT spread around the world and is becoming increasingly popular as a tool in the rapidly-growing field of ‘energy psychology’. This term is used to describe the coming together of ancient Eastern wisdom with modern-day psychology and neurology. Often described as acupuncture without the needles, EFT can be useful for all kinds of issues, including anxiety, depression, phobias, and addictions.

Moreover, with scientists such as Bruce Lipton giving such ideas more credibility by demonstrating the link between emotional disharmony and physical dis-ease, EFT is now being used to deal with chronic illness more and more – and often with fascinating results. The publication of more than 55 peer-reviewed studies demonstrating the efficacy of tapping and other energy psychology approaches also means that its use is only expected to grow.

Dawson says: “In essence, with tapping, we verbally and energetically tune in to an issue – emotional, physical, mental or spiritual – and tap on several different acupoints on the body whilst repeating a reminder phrase about the issue. This then reduces the fight or flight signal from the brain and results in emotional and cognitive shifts.”

The beauty of EFT is that it can achieve powerful results in a shorter timeframe than many conventional talking therapies. What clients might spend months or even years talking about may be solved in a limited number of EFT sessions. Some issues take longer as a result of deep trauma or the persistent nature of core beliefs, but this is where ‘matrix reimprinting’ really comes into its own.

How matrix reimprinting builds on EFT

While EFT can bring down the intensity of feeling surrounding particular issues, matrix reimprinting goes further by helping to create a harmonious picture around an event. Doing so raises an individual’s vibration and, according to Dawson, “floods your system with positive energy and beliefs every time you pull it up”.

These events could be either small or large traumas. But the idea is that, whether you experienced a natural disaster or were on the receiving end of a seemingly insignificant comment as a child, you will have formed a belief about yourself or the world that will continue to affect you until you find a resolution. Matrix enables you to do so without being re-traumatised, which can happen with some other therapeutic approaches.

Using EFT as the cornerstone, matrix reimprinting enables clients to work with their younger selves or ECHOs (Energetic Conscious Holograms). In other modalities, the ECHO is referred to as the inner child.

Many believe that, in the case of trauma, part of us splits off to protect ourself, while another part relives the event repeatedly as though it had never ended. It is this reliving of trauma that matrix can bring to an end, both because we stay separate from our younger selves during the session and because the memory is completed, allowing us to move forward.

To demonstrate how this approach works, I will share an example. For as long as Olivia could remember, she had experienced low self-worth and a negative body image. As a result, she had tried various therapies to little avail.

During a session, her therapist used EFT to tune into her body’s discomfort and asked her subconscious to take her back to a time when she had previously experienced the same feeling. A memory came up of when she was 20 and had been stood up on a date.

When asked for an earlier experience of the feeling, she was able to connect with a memory of when she was 13 and had been bullied during a physical education class because her classmates considered her “overweight”. She was next taken back to the age of six when one of her parents had shouted at her, telling her not to eat another biscuit or she would be “as big as a bus.”

Working with your ECHO

By going back to that earliest memory and working with her ECHO, she was able to calm her younger self down and query what beliefs she had formed about herself that day. The ECHO told her that she felt unloveable and unattractive. Looking at the other memories in the same stream, she noticed how her later experiences had further compounded these beliefs.

Having identified the beliefs that little Olivia had formed, she was then invited to bring in anyone, or anything, who had helped support her. She talked about her granny, who reminded her that she was enough just the way she was, and her pet hamster who she felt loved her unconditionally.

She also told her ECHO that the way her parent had reacted that day was linked to their own issues rather than to Olivia herself. Once this picture was as positive as she could make it, Olivia was guided through the reimprinting process and asked to revisit the memory daily over the coming weeks to assist in re-wiring her brain. The aim was to cement her new beliefs of being loveable and of her body being good enough just as it was.

While these are likely to be deeply ingrained beliefs that would require more than one session in order to work through other reinforcing memories, the resolution and shift in perspective afforded to Olivia were still invaluable.

Hopefully it is clear that this approach is not about pretending a memory never happened. Instead it is simply about changing the meaning that is attributed to it, allowing us to change how we engage with the world moving forward.

I, for one, was certainly struck by the transformation experienced by both myself and my peers in only 30 to 60 minutes, a situation that makes the possibilities of matrix reimprinting potentially truly endless.

If you would like to find out more about the approach, Dawson has written a book entitled ‘Transform your Beliefs, Transform your Life’, which is available from both Hay House and Amazon.

How Intuitive Eating can help us reconnect to our bodies

So you have made the decision that there is more to life than dieting. But the mixed messages emanating from today’s diet culture are likely to have left you in a quandary over which foods you should actually eat.

For years, you have been told to avoid entire food groups, not to eat after 6pm, or to fast for two days a week. It is impossible to remember a time when your supermarket trolley was not piled high with zero-calorie noodles, meal-replacement bars or cottage cheese.

But what do you really want to eat? What makes your body feel good? By this, I do not mean what makes your body slim. Or what satisfies your hunger with the minimum possible amount of calories.

No, what I am asking about is what food would you like to eat right here and right now if there were no limits. If no foods were designated as either good or bad, what would you choose?

Writing this, I find myself fancying a wild mushroom and parmesan risotto with crunchy garlic bread, a crisp side salad and, seeing as the weather is now feeling suitably autumnal, a delicious plum crumble with custard to follow. Be patient though as there is a point to all of this – it is about exploring the antithesis of dieting.

You may remember a time as a child that involved eating when you were hungry and stopping when you were full. While you may not have been in charge of the food that was available at that point, you may have had a strong understanding of what your body enjoyed – and at times, certain foods may have seemed more appealing than others.

If you are anything like the millions of dieters around the world, it is likely you will have become disconnected from this profoundly important way of nourishing your body. It may have been a result of encouragement from others to finish everything on your plate when you were a child or to have a drink to fill you up when you felt hungry. But whatever the source, such suggestions inevitably lead us to question our body’s instinctive knowledge.

As a result, many in the anti-diet movement are now support a return to eating mindfully or what Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch call ‘intuitive eating’.

The key principles of intuitive eating are to honour your body’s hunger and fullness, being sure to eat foods that bring you enjoyment while at the same time leaving the negative messages behind. Intuitive eaters might consider whether their bodies are in need of something salty or sweet, crunchy or soft, warm or cold, spicy or mild.

Of course, it is not always possible to eat exactly what we want as there are often time, financial or other constraints. But by returning to this way of eating, you do feel an immense sense of freedom from dieting.

Permission to eat

One of the concerns that people often raise about this approach is the safety of giving ourselves permission to eat whatever we fancy. “Wouldn’t we just live on pizza or ice cream?” they ask.

Founders of the Health at Every Size (HAES) movement, Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramore discuss just this subject in their book ‘Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight’. They say: “The idea that you can stop watching your calories and eat what you want, when you want, is so contrary to current ideas that it evokes tremendous fear.”

But one of their studies confirmed that: “Once participants realized they could eat whatever they wanted and were supported in choosing foods they fancied, and in letting food serve many roles, food stopped holding as much power over them.”

Think about it: If you truly knew that you would be able to eat more of a particular food whenever you felt like it, without guilt or judgment, would you still spend so much time thinking about whether to eat it or not?

But it is worth noting that many people experience what anti-diet registered dietician and certified intuitive eating counsellor Christy Harrison calls the “honeymoon phase”. At this stage, they often feel “out of control” or as though they “can’t get enough” of food.

Moreover, exploring their new-found, unconditional permission to eat can last for months or years, particularly for those who have been dieting for a long time. It may feel like a pendulum swinging between eating a great deal and restricting your input again, but this situation will settle down in time, as I have experienced myself.

With regard to the issue of physical health, I do not tend to discuss it much in my work as I believe every body is worthy of respect, regardless of their state of health. But a recent HAES study showed clearly that after two years, those who lived by HAES principles, which include intuitive eating and movement, were markedly healthier, both mentally and physically, than those who continued to diet.

The report stated: “The HAES group sustained improvements in blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein), and depression, among many other health parameters. The typical-diet group, on the other hand, showed initial improvements in all of those parameters (and weight loss), but returned to their starting point within a year. The HAES group improved their self-esteem and reported feeling much better about themselves at the program’s end, whilst the dieters’ self-esteem plummeted.”

Due to its considerable benefits, intuitive eating is unsurprisingly becoming better known as the body- and fat-positive communities spread the word. I really hope it is only a matter of time before more people begin to question the compounded misery that dieting brings, which includes everything from food restriction to binging and the inevitable process of weight cycling (gaining and losing the same weight many times).

The fact that someone felt the need to coin the phrase ‘intuitive eating’ makes it clear just how disconnected many of us have become from our own bodies. But only when we stop relying on diet companies and the media to tell us what to eat and start listening to our own bodies instead will we truly experience life beyond dieting.

Moving beyond the New Year, New You culture

You may be starting to feel the strain of the ‘New Year, New You’ nonsense that is flying around at the moment. It seems that every time we turn on the TV, log onto Facebook or walk down the street, we are hit with ways in which we need to change ourselves to become better, worthier or more attractive.

Influencers of all stripes tell us that in order to make 2019 the best year ever, we need to make drastic changes and embrace diets, gym membership and the like. It is as though when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, we suddenly became broken somehow.

But I cannot recall anyone I know who has ever managed to turn their body-related New Year’s resolutions into lasting change. At some point, people always seem to ‘fall off the wagon’ and start the self-flagellation routine.

This is the second year that I have no intention whatsoever of changing my body in order to achieve the things I want to though. Instead of trying to use New Year’s resolutions to fix whatever is supposedly wrong with me, I have developed goals that I am keen to achieve.

These goals are things that, in the past, I would never have considered possible until I inhabited a thinner, more conventionally attractive body. But coaching has taught me that I am already good enough to work towards whatever it is I want to do.

A wonderful friend introduced me to ‘The Language of Letting Go’ by Melodie Beattie. In it, she shares a year’s worth of beautiful daily meditations that are aimed particularly at people who are experiencing co-dependent relationships.

New Year meditation

But regardless of whether you feel this situation applies to you or not, it should be possible to learn something from her work. This is part of her meditation for 1 January, and you might find it beneficial to take some time to reflect on the questions she raises:

“What would you like to have happen in your life this year? What would you like to do, to accomplish? What good would you like to attract into your life? What particular areas of growth would you like to have happen to you? What blocks, or character defects, would you like to have removed?

“What would you like to attain? Little things and big things? Where would you like to go? What would you like to have happen in friendship and love? What would you like to have happen in your family life? 

“Remember, we aren’t controlling others with our goals – we are trying to give direction to our life. 

“What problems would you like to see solved? What decisions would you like to make? What would you like to happen in your career? What would you like to see happen inside and around you?”

Once you have had a chance to reflect on some of these issues, ask yourself what it is you notice coming up for you? Is it the kinds of things you expected? Are they any different to previous years?

Being free to be me

When I personally undertook this exercise, I was struck by the absence of judgment that I placed on my body. Instead, I was able to genuinely think about what I wanted for myself, and my life, over the coming year.

I believe it is only when we can let go of the infectious expectation that we dislike our bodies that we are able to truly see what it is we would like to achieve. As women, we are taught from birth that our worth is inextricably linked to our physical form. Realising that this is not the case has been the most empowering thing I have ever done – and I would invite you to embark upon a quest to do the same.

To get started, here are some things you might like to try to survive the ‘New Year New You’ propaganda:

  • Have a social media clear-out: If you follow people who make you feel bad about yourself in any way, whether intentionally or unintentionally, get rid of them. Fill your newsfeeds with people and bodies of all kinds. It sounds simple but the more you expose yourself to the diversity of the human race, the more chance you have of resisting the ideals sold to us. For tips on some positive individuals you might like to follow, please visit my website;

  • Set healthy boundaries: If your workplace or social circle is full of diet talk, it is easy to get sucked in. Try telling people that you will not be dieting this year and you would appreciate them saving their weight-loss related conversations for someone else. If they are not able to respect this, you may wish to reconsider the time you spend with them, if at all possible;

  • Surround yourself with like-minded communities: People often find a sense of community at slimming clubs that they may not find elsewhere and, in some areas, there are few anti-diet alternatives. But it does not need to be the case if you create your own community. Whether it consists of a regular meet-up with other anti-diet friends, an anti-diet book club or an online group, they can all be invaluable in avoiding diet culture.

But whatever goals you decide to set for yourself this year, the most important thing to remember is that you deserve to achieve them – and that I believe in you.

If you’re local to Saffron Walden, Essex, why don’t you come along and check out The Body Liberation Collective. Our inaugural meeting will be taking place on Thursday 24th January 2019. For more details, visit Meetup.com

Transformational Coaching: Finding the answers within

There is a lot of confusion out there as to what transformational coaching is and what a coach actually does. While undergoing my training, for instance, some people thought I was working towards being a sports instructor (although anyone who knows me well will know that sport is really not my forte), while other others believed I was qualifying to be an agony aunt.

But seeing as life coaching only really started as a profession in the 1980s as a follow-on from sports and business coaching, this situation is perhaps unsurprising – despite the fact that since then, it has grown into a multi-million pound industry, with around 100,000 life coaches working worldwide.

That it is an unregulated profession also means there are lots of variations on how people practise. But, according to the Animas Centre for Coaching, which is where I undertook my training, the core aim is to enable “a person, group or team to move from where they are to where they want to be, through a process of exploration and action”.

Transformational coaching helps people to identify “where they are now, what the real challenges are that need to be faced, and what mental hurdles need to be overcome. Finally, it creates clear-sighted decisions, specific plans, and committed action. All of this is achieved through a process of focused questioning, objective feedback, and powerful techniques.”

But just to be clear about it, coaching is not counselling nor is it mentoring, therapy or consultancy. It is predominantly focused on the future and can, but is not necessarily always, goal-oriented, for example, helping an individual to achieve a promotion or increase their self-esteem.

Another important thing to note about this approach is that it is non-advisory – clients are helped to find their own answers that lie within, supported in a safe, non-judgmental space by their coach.

How it works

Some coaches specialise in particular fields like executive, youth or group coaching and sometimes focus on specific niche areas such as working with mothers who are keen to rediscover themselves after having children or people who want to change careers or transition from one life stage to the next. For others, it is the way they deliver their sessions that is unique – for example, one of my trainers does so in a VW camper van, while another coach I know takes his clients for walks in nature. In other words, there will always be someone somewhere to suit your needs.

Luckily if face-to-face meetings are not possible, many coaches also offer sessions over the telephone or via Skype. A block of six to 10 sessions is usually recommended as this period allows enough time for progress to be made. These sessions may take place weekly, fortnightly or even monthly, depending on what clients want to achieve or the timeframe in which they would like to achieve it.

During the session, clients will be asked to discuss the issue they would like to tackle and a process of exploration gets underway. A simple but highly effective tool here is reflecting back to people what it is they have said using their own words. This gives them time to process what they have said and often leads to deeper levels of realisation.

In my own experience, coaching can be an almost meditative process in which you are deeply connected to yourself in a way that simply is not usual in everyday life. Things frequently emerge that you were not expecting or had not thought previously thought about.

After such sessions, I am often blown away by the sheer amount of internal knowledge I have and the answers that lie within. Knowing that these ‘lightbulb moments’ are based on my own work is incredibly empowering and provides me with agency over the action I choose moving forward.

Each new session also offers the opportunity to check on the progress that has been made towards your chosen goal – or not as the case may be. Sometimes the goal may actually change several times during the course of the journey, but this flexibility to adapt to new realisations or experiences makes the coaching process exceptionally agile.

The right chemistry

To anyone curious to give it a try, I would say “go for it!” but always ensure you do some research beforehand to find the right coach for you. Most will offer a free ‘chemistry call’, in which you provide an overview of what you would like to focus on and the coach explains how they work.

As such, I would recommend speaking to a couple of people in order to get a feel for what they offer and what particular style might suit you. Some coaches may not possess any qualifications and, although they may be good at what they do, they might combine their practice with other areas such as mentoring, consultancy or whatever.

While this is not a problem in and of itself if it works for you, it is important for both parties to be clear about expectations in order to build the necessary rapport to enable the true magic of transformational coaching to work.

As to how I first got into coaching myself, I came across it when a fellow home-educating mum was looking for clients to practice on. At that stage, I had little idea myself what coaching was or what we would be doing, but I decided to give it a go and try something new anyway.

Little did I know that the experience would be a life-changing one – both as a client and as someone embarking on the journey of becoming a coach herself. I initially started small, talking to my coach about a new business I was in the middle of setting up. For various reasons, I was experiencing blocks. But within a single session, we had a breakthrough and I was able to come up with a plan for the way forward.

Seeing how effective coaching could be, I was intrigued to use the technique on other areas of my life, including family relationships, my own self-worth and an ongoing battle with disordered eating and body image. It was in this last area where change took place in more ways than I could have imagined – and I have never looked back since.

Five of the weirdest things dieting made me do...

**Trigger warning: Disordered eating, weight loss, diet culture**

As I move closer to eating intuitively and actually liking my body, it’s easy to forget just how much of my energy dieting and hating my body used to take up. I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while and it’s felt a bit scary but I’m going to do it anyway. So, here are five of the weirdest things dieting made me do:

  1. Reading menus: That’s right, I used to spend hours of my time reading restaurant menus – usually in the early hours of the morning when I was hungry or beating myself up for the food I’d eaten the day before and would most definitely avoid tomorrow.  It didn’t matter whether they were local or on the other side of the world, those menus were a lifeline to me in place of eating actual food.

  2. Discounting slim friends: Having been bullied about my weight and body since my first year of primary school, I was highly suspicious of slim, conventionally attractive people. If a slim person showed an interest in befriending me, I always suspected an ulterior motive. Sadly, holding these beliefs caused me to miss out on a lot of friendships but thankfully no more!

  3. The joy of a vomiting & diarrhoea bug: For anyone who has suffered the misery of V&D bugs, I’m aware this sounds strange but stick with me. The immense joy I felt weighing myself after spending 24 hours with my head stuck down the toilet was unbeatable. I felt like I’d usurped the power of the diet gods and made it to weight loss heaven. Of course, this feeling never lasted long and I’d soon be hoping for the next bug.

  4. Avoiding people I’d not seen since I gained weight: I’ve never been the most extroverted person but I avoided gatherings like the plague when I’d gained weight since I’d last seen a particular person/group of friends. I imagine people found me incredibly flaky as I would cancel A LOT but I was terrified people would notice my larger body and comment, either to my face or afterwards. Conversely, on two occasions when I’d lost a lot of weight, I was the life and soul of the party, wanting everyone to see the “new, improved me”. This was incredibly short-lived and always led to more embarrassment when I had to meet those same people again.

  5. Clothing restrictions: I cannot possibly list all of the strict clothing rules I have imposed upon myself over the years. Some examples were: never wear trousers, always wear trousers, everything must be black – always, colour is your worst enemy, horizontal stripes are your worst enemy, never short sleeves – always long, you must wear leggings even in the middle of a heatwave, skinny jeans are not for you, any kind of swimwear is worse than certain death, high street shops do not want customers like you in their stores… I could go on but I’m sure you get the gist. And fuck Trinny and Susannah and their clothing rules!

Writing this has made me realise that there are so many more weird behaviours I developed during two decades of disordered eating. I’m sure I could blog endlessly about them but even more striking is the shocking fatphobia I internalised over many years of exposure to diet culture. Had fatphobia not been an issue for me, I could have visited those restaurants and eaten the food on those menus without guilt or shame, been friends with slim people without feeling suspicious, dreaded a v&d bug like everyone else, seen my friends/family whenever I wanted without worrying what they’d be thinking of me and worn whatever the hell I liked. That’s a fuck load of wasted time and energy. Just as well I’m doing all those things now then!