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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, Sep 20 2014 11:54AM

The media has been touching recently, on the issue of 'fat shaming'. A recent study has shown that this technique, of pointing out or criticising overweight bodies, is apparently not a constructive way of helping people to become slimmer and is in fact more likely to have the opposite effect. My reaction to this 'news' was surprise that we needed a study to demonstrate that criticising, mocking or deriding people is not a particularly effective way of motivating them. Ever tried yelling at your children that they are useless and stupid because they can't read and found it an excellent way to persuade them to keep working at it? As a practical example of it having the opposite outcome from the intended one, how does anyone expect someone who is repeatedly mocked for their size to decide to go for a run, a swim or to the gym where they understandably imagine further humiliation and isolation awaits? Not many people have a level of confidence to enter a situation where that is anticipated, least of all those who are repeatedly given the message that they are somehow failing because their body doesn't fit what society has deemed the 'right' one.


Various excuses are offered up by 'fat shamers', mostly based on professed concern for health. The truth is, no one can look at another individual and know anything whatsoever about their health, nor about what possible medication they are on, what their life history is and why they may have gained weight. And when it comes to the 'cost of obesity related disease' to the NHS, there is indeed a huge cost, but blaming individuals is short-sighted and disingenuous. The 'obesity epidemic' is a societal and cultural issue that the majority of us are playing a part in, whatever our size.


All of the emphasis in the news coverage I have read on this topic has centered on why fat shaming usually leads to further weight gain, rather than loss. It deals with the impact on the individual being shamed. But this widespread abhorrence of fat has much further reaching effects than that. What I see is children growing up in a world where the worst possible thing you can be is fat. Where the 'right' shape to be is like the models and film stars and celebrities, with whose images we are bombarded every day. That the way to avoid the former and achieve the latter is to diet. It doesn't take a great leap of imagination to then understand why the number of children with eating disorders is on the rise. Nor too, given what the evidence shows about the result of years repeated dieting, why more and more children become overweight and unhappy adults. These children aren't born hating their bodies, we teach them to.


So how do we tackle this seemingly insurmountable issue of the obesity crisis? There are so many different factors at work, not least the abundance of poor quality food, high sugar foodstuffs, the diet industry and the media's promotion of the 'perfect body'. But I believe that parents can make a key difference - you may or may not be guilty of outright 'fat prejudice' but there are a myriad of ways in which so many of us, consciously or not, promote the idea that fat is bad, and that model like proportions should be aspired to. Self criticism, of the 'I feel so fat today', 'I shouldn't be eating this', 'I need to lose weight' type for a start. Consuming media of the sort that subjects celebrities bodies to detailed critique and analysis, as if they were nothing more than a collection of midriffs and thighs and skin with 'imperfections' that all of us have is another. Expressing admiration of slim figures, praising friends for their weight loss or self control and hard work to get it. And dieting yourself, restricting your food intake so as to get closer to the ideal...it is all absorbed by young minds and can develop into a preoccupation if not obsession for them, something that generally leads only to misery;


- misery of never achieving the ideal and battling with food and body for a lifetime, possibly yo yo dieting (which almost always leads to weight gain in the long term), possibly with eating disorders, whatever weight this results in;


- misery of giving up because it is just too hard and depressing, depriving yourself of food to try to fit a mould your body was never designed to fit and, insodoing, giving up on having any regard for health and good nutrition, because what is the point if it doesn't result in a slim body?;


- misery of actually getting the 'ideal' body and living in fear of losing it by gaining weight.


None of these are scenarios I think any of us would want our kids to end up in, two of them will often result in obesity and once that is established, it frequently ends up affecting entire families, however unintentionally - a cycle that is difficult to get out of.


So next time you pass comment on another person's body, fat or slim, catch yourself and think of the effect it is having on children around you. Try and focus on what amazing characteristics and qualities people have, on the incredible things bodies can do and how we can best look after them and nourish them. These are the messages that need to be passed on. Our kids will still have to contend with many other influences out there, but as parents we carry a great deal of power and hopefully, we can start to turn the tide a little. In future posts I hope to provide tips and resources to help with work on positive body image, our own and our children's.


By louiseodriscoll, Sep 3 2014 08:47PM

Apologies for my lengthy absence - I have been on holiday and due to technical issues, couldn't blog from the devices I had at my disposal! I had a great holiday, six weeks with my husband and children, enjoying the sunshine and each others' company (most of the time!)


The other thing I very much enjoyed was relaxing my usual exercise schedule and being less mindful with regard to food than I try to be in 'normal' life. I do this once or twice a year, usually at Christmas and the summer, and find it a different means of getting in touch with my body in a way. So I spent relaxing couple of weeks on the UK coast, and then two weeks in France, during which time I ate copious amounts of delicious baguette not an awful lot of vegetables and drank alcohol daily. It was lovely and I certainly believe my body benefits from such complete rest, but by the end of it I feel sluggish and flabby and definitely less strong and fit than before I went - and I am craving the food that I know makes me feel fresh and energised. It makes me remember what really works well and that too much beige food, however enjoyable to taste, really doesn't result in feeling fantastic.


A big breakthrough for me though, is not really minding about the changes in my body - typically after a holiday like this, I hate the way I feel and look, I am driven by the need to change it back to how it was before the holiday, but it seems, after years of gradually working towards it, I can observe the changes the holiday life has wrought in my body - the rounder curve of my tummy and hips, the squeeze of flesh at the side of my sports bra now I've put it back on after about a month - and think 'that's ok, I'm fine'. I know it will change when I get back to my usual routine, which I also enjoy - even though it can be a somewhat painful process on the exercise front! I am going to enjoy the process of feeling my fitness return, of the taste of great, nutrient dense food and also some chocolate along the way!


So my own continued work on body image is finally getting me where I want to be. Being fit and strong and able to do the physical things I want to is the most important thing to me now, not so much how I look, and that feels like a great place to be. I am back at the gym and have a renewed enthusiasm for eating the most nourishing and delicious food I can (watch out for some new recipes!). Life is a flow and our bodies follow that. Mindful eating is a practice, not a perfect and taking your eye off the ball for a while - whether as part of a holiday or because other things in life need prioritising more - isn't the end of the world, so if you have done this, try not to beat yourself up or hate your reflection - you really are fine just as you are. Love your body as it is, and now that the 'relaxed' period is over, focus on how you can best care for it with movement you enjoy and food that nourishes you best. Love it as it is and it will love you back!

By louiseodriscoll, Jul 25 2014 02:16PM

This article moved me to tears and deals with body image, something that I will be blogging about fairly regularly as it so often goes to the heart of Eating Psychology and mind-body nutrition. It comes from 'Dear Mum' a collection of letters from Australian sporting stars, musicians, models, cooks and authors revealing what they would like to say to their mothers before it’s too late, or would have said if only they’d had the chance'.





By louiseodriscoll, Jun 19 2014 11:14AM

Whenever you catch yourself worrying about what others are thinking about you, mentally don your mask and cape and remind yourself that it really doesn't matter....I'm thinking maybe not the pants and wellies, but that could be just me..whatever works for you!

By louiseodriscoll, Jun 16 2014 12:04PM

This article - 'Shredding The Superhero Body Myth' - caught my attention - with so much focus now being directed on male actors' physiques in the same way that is has, historically, been for women, this provides a reality check to remind us that nobody really looks like that, (at least not for more than a day or so at a time, its just too hard!) - even the stars themselves....







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