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I am Louise O'Driscoll, founder of Natural Balance. I am a Certified Eating Psychology Coach, helping people find their way to a healthy and happy relationship with food and body.

By louiseodriscoll, Feb 10 2015 05:16PM

I should probably warn you all that this blog post runs a risk of turning into a bit of a rant. As a health coach I am generally keen on emphasising the fact that there is no single perfect diet for everyone and I typically help clients find a good balance in life between eating well most of the time without creating a sense of deprivation by banning certain foods. My interpretation of eating well is generally choosing real, nutrient dense food - this way works best for most of us. There are of course, certain things I would prefer people avoid most of the time and one of the main targets here is (unsurprisingly), sugar. A client I saw last week brought with her the packaging from a protein bar that she had chosen to snack on instead of a chocolate bar, believing that it was the healthier choice. I read the ingredients with a raised eyebrow. The first was soy protein isolate, the following six were all sugar with different names. The ingredient following those composed 2% of the snack, meaning that the ‘healthy’ protein bar was around 40% sugar. The thing that irritated me about the information on such packaging is that it can be so confusing, even if you are fairly well educated about nutrition, it can be hard to fathom exactly what it is you are consuming.

There are over 55 different ingredients used by food manufacturers that are all in fact sugar - some are recognisable, they have sugar in their name or are substances we know to be sweet, such as caramel, but there are others that aren’t so well known. Familiarising yourself with the less obvious ones can help you identify what to avoid…

- be alert to any mention of ‘syrup

- of ingredients ending in ‘ose’ or ‘ol

- those with ‘malt’ or ‘syrup or ‘juice’ in their name

What I would really love to see is food manufacturers forced to clearly show on labels the amount of sugar that has been added to products, so that consumers can more easily identify what it is they are actually buying. As things stand, it can be guesswork at best and for most of us avoiding packaged food entirely is unrealistic, which makes it hard to always be sure if we really are making better choices. Wishful thinking perhaps…

By louiseodriscoll, Feb 5 2015 04:12PM

I am slightly obsessed with this unusual and delicious soup from the Hemsley sisters ('The Art of Eating Well') at the moment. The ingredients encompass a fantastic range health benefits, with broccoli providing a hit of antioxidants and folates and ginger with its incredible anti-inflammatory properties. Cayenne has been shown to relax the walls of our blood vessels, improving circulation and lowering the pressure within it and the white beans add a great source of low GI carbohydrate to keep us feeling satisfied and energised without the need for bread (although I admit I love this for lunch with a slice of sourdough with avocado and chilli). Serve the soup with a drizzle of flaxseed oil and toasted seeds to boost your Omega 3 levels.

I have slightly reduced the quantity of ginger here, the original recipe calls for 160g which even for a committed ginger fan like me, is a bit much, but play around with the quantities to suit your own taste.

Ingredients (use organic/natural ingredients where possible)

Serves 6 people

600g broccoli, chop up the stalks and roughly chop the heads

2 large onions, roughly chopped

5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon of coconut oil

120g of fresh ginger, roughly chopped (you can add more at the blending stage if you like)

2 limes, juiced

1 small pinch of cayenne pepper

1 litre of home-made stock or water

2-3 tablespoons of Tamari or 2-3 large pinches of sea salt

1 large pinch of black pepper

4 large handfuls of coriander, roughly chopped or torn

1 x 400g can (230g drained) of white beans (cannellini, haricot, butter) - ideally soak and boil your own

Cold pressed flax oil or Omega oil (keep it in fridge)

1 large handful of toasted nuts or seeds


1. In a large saucepan gently fry the onions, garlic, ginger and cayenne pepper in the coconut oil for 5 minutes.

2. Add the broccoli stalks and 3/4 of the stock (add more stock later to get the perfect consistency).

3. Bring to the boil then cover and simmer on a medium heat for 8 minutes.

4. Next add the broccoli heads, the beans and the coriander.

5. After 5 minutes, use a knife to pierce the broccoli. If tender then turn the heat off and allow to cool slightly before you start blending. If you want to keep some whole broccoli florets for serving on top of your soup, remove them now.

6. Add the fresh lime juice, the Tamari/sea salt, pepper and blend. Taste and check for seasoning.

7. Serve immediately with a scatter of toasted nuts or seeds and a drizzle of flax oil. Add more cayenne, if you dare!

By louiseodriscoll, Feb 4 2015 03:10PM

I saw a yoga quote recently that read 'If you want to fly, give up everything that weighs you down' - it resonated with me because it ties in with an aspect of Dynamic Eating Psychology that I often work with - the fact that our state of mind has a powerful impact on our metabolisms and our weight. Unhappiness, anxiety and stress can leave us feeling sluggish, downtrodden and overwhelmed, which in our body translates to high levels of cortisol, exhaustion and depression, all of which impact negatively on our health and weight.

So in contrast to all the New Year resolutions that focus solely on releasing physical weight through restrictive diets and punishing exercise, I'd like to suggest an alternative approach, to think about how you can lighten up in other areas. If life is feeling a little overwhelming and your stress levels are high, these simple steps could make a huge difference to your state of mind, with a knock on effect on your physical wellbeing.

Have a clear out of junk in your home. Its amazing how much being in a disorganised environment can make our head feel crowded and slightly out of control too. If this seems like an insurmountable task, start small

- sort a single drawer of clothes in your bedroom into those you should keep, throw or give to charity;

- go through a single shelf in your kitchen cupboard and ditch anything out of date;

- clear out your handbag/work bag and think about keeping only the real essentials in there;

- clear your email inbox of old messages and unsubscribe from at least 10 marketing emails that regularly clog it up - I did this recently every day for a week and now feel much less deluged. There are also services such as 'unrollme' that you can use to collate all marketing emails into a single message for you to make your online life even less cluttered;

Relax and watch a funny film or TV programme, laughter is good medicine! I'd recommend something like Dodgeball or Zoolander (in fact most Ben Stiller films) for utterly ridiculous, guaranteed to make you laugh scenes, they are about as light as it gets!

Take a walk in nature. When we spend all our time indoors away from the horrible weather, we often don't realise how oppresive ceilings can become. Fresh air and sky can release the pressure.

Play with some children, be as silly as you can. The simple way they look at life and the funny things they say can provide perspective sometimes. Failing that, borrow a friendly dog (if you don't already have one) to hang out with for an afternoon.

Take a class or do something that is new to you or one that you find fun - something like zumba or trampolining, karaoke, or a dance or singing class, anything that helps you let go of your inhibitions a little is a great release.

Think about how each of the people in your life affect your mood and energy. Do they bring you down or raise your spirits and enthusiasm? Minimise your time with the former as much as you can and choose to be around the latter whenever possible.

Consider the food you eat the same way. We can be drawn, particularly when it is cold and dark, to stodgy comfort food, but be aware of how foods such as starchy carbs can leave you feeling. Without setting any rules, experiment with meals with perhaps less meat and more veg. Swap carbs such as pasta and mashed potato for lentils, cauliflower, beans or chickpeas - these can form the basis of warm, comforting dishes such as soups, dahls or casseroles, without the soporific effect that so often follows a dish of white carbs.

Regularly take time off from all screens, perhaps one whole afternoon on a weekend, or after 7.30pm every evening. We can easily underestimate the level of stress created by being constantly updated and in touch with the online community, whether work emails or facebook. Let it go, connect with someone face to face, read a (real) book, play a board game, walk in nature, meditate, take a bath, whatever...just as long as you disconnect from electronic media (and persuade the rest of your family to do the same!)

By louiseodriscoll, Jan 30 2015 02:17PM

Apologies for my absence, we had Christmas away (a planned break) and returned to find we had been burgled, it has taken this long for my computer to be replaced and enable me to blog!

As requested on facebook, here is my granola recipe (known as 'binola' in our house as that is what my daughter, who is obsessed with it, called it when she was 3). I have to warn you, it has crack like qualities, the theory of saving money on buying it pre-made is blown out of the water when you have to make a huge batch twice a week. But at least you have the comfort of knowing exactly what great stuff (and the exact amount of sugar) has gone into it and your house will smell lovely as it bakes! It is fantastic for breakfast with milk or yoghurt or as a snack on its own.

You can play with this recipe as you like, using buckwheat flakes instead of oats, adding citrus zest to the dry mix, use raw honey in place of maple syrup or reducing it for a less sweet mix, leaving out the coconut, adding sour cherries or cacao nibs instead of raisins are just a few ideas.


350g jumbo porridge oats

150g of raw nuts that you like - leave some whole and roughly chop others

150g pumpkin/sunflower seeds or a 'healthy seed' mix

2tbsp chia seeds

50g of dessicated coconut or coconut flakes

1 tbsp of cinnamon

A pinch of salt

50ml of coconut oil (melted)

150ml maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 beaten egg white

A few handfuls (as you like) of mixed raisins/dried fruit

Preheat oven to 150degC and line 2 (lipped) baking sheets with parchment.

Put oats, nuts, seeds, coconut, cinammon and salt in a bowl and mix.

Combine the coconut oil, syrup, 30ml water, whisked egg white and vanilla, if using. Pour over the oats etc and mix thoroughly.

Spread the mixture on baking sheets and bake for 50 mins, rotating the trays halfway through. Once golden all over, remove from the oven and leave to cool completely and crisp up. Then mix through raisins/dried fruit and store in an airtight container.

By louiseodriscoll, Dec 9 2014 04:51PM

This week's change is to do with how we look at bodies. It was prompted by the publication of a series of un-photoshopped pictures of Lara Stone, a year after giving birth to her child.

The coverage of this intrigued me, she has been called 'brave' and even 'heroic' for releasing the photos and is quoted talking about how she has dealt with her concerns about 'arm flab'. Well, I don't know about you, but I see no arm flab on those pictures! Sure she doesn't look quite like she does on those Calvin Klein ads, but she probably never did, thanks to photoshop! But, whether pre or post baby, she has a beautiful body (and a badly fitting bra but we'll brush over that).

What fascinated me was my own approach to the pictures. Because of the 'brave', 'post-baby', 'un photoshopped' build up, when I clicked on the link I was actively looking for 'imperfections', for fat, cellulite, wrinkles or stretch marks. This is not the way I am accustomed to observing images of faces and bodies that are sold to us as beautiful, whereby I note the flat tummies, pert bottoms and taut thighs and compare them oh so favourably to my own body. And I felt slightly guilty, like I was being mean. It also dawned on me that the way I was looking at Lara was much more akin to how I instinctively look at myself in the mirror. I know too, that I am not the only woman to always home in on the reflection of the bits of my body I hate the other words, to be mean to myself. It reminded me of a quote - 'if we talked to our friends the way we talk to our bodies, we'd have no friends left'!

I have done lots of work in trying to change this and this week it is my suggestion for you. Instead of looking for the flaws in the mirror, look for the beautiful; instead of being mean, be kind. Soft skin, gorgeous eyes, great boobs (yes, that'll be you Lara), perfect toes, a curvy waist, shiny hair....find your best assets rather than cursing the parts you don't believe measure up. This is a habit that can feel uncomfortable at first, because to find the things we like we first have to look - really look - at our bodies in a way we typically avoid if we have a less than great body image. Sometimes you have to start with a neutral observation, because a positive one can feel so unnatural. So if necessary, start with that, just facts, but definitely no criticisms. Then find things to like gradually, the more you just observe, the less imperfect they will seem. It can be a transformative process when it comes to body image and self esteem and confidence.

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