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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 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- go through a single shelf in your kitchen cupboard and ditch anything out of date;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, Nov 10 2014 09:00AM

If you are a similar age to me you will probably remember adverts for cream cakes years ago, with the tagline 'naughty but nice'. The thought of this makes me cringe now - how on earth can a food be 'naughty'? How crazy! But as a result of our culture's fixation with dieting and healthy eating, most of us have perceptions of food falling into either the 'good' or 'bad' camp like this, and by association, we ourselves become 'good' or 'naughty' according to which type we choose to eat. This is a strange and scary amount of power to give to food - moral qualities! Of course no food is morally good or bad, how could it be? Nor is the person who eats certain foods morally superior or inferior to someone who eats differently. It's just food!

Whilst there is no question that some foods are nutritionally better for us than others, thinking of foods as good or bad leads to a thought process and relationship with food that can be damaging. I wrote in the 'change one thing' blog a few weeks back about relaxing when you eat, and how this is so beneficial when it comes to how our bodies digest and metabolise food. By mentally sticking a 'bad' or 'naughty' label on food you instantly create a sense of 'shouldn't' when you eat it, thereby putting your body in an anti-relaxation, mild stress response, which makes the food even less nutritionally valuable than it is in its basic state! It also sets up an idea that certain foods should be restricted and for many people this leads to a consistent willpower battle, invariably culminating in binges which are not only detrimental to health and weight but also our mental state. Typically a binge on 'bad' food is immediately followed by a sense of regret and self loathing which helps no one. Wouldn't it be better if we could all chill out a bit about food and when we really want a cream cake or burger, simply have one, enjoy it and move on? If you are someone who is on, or is constantly thinking they should be on a diet, or eating only certain foods, imagine how much headspace would be freed up if you could do this? No longer would you have to have the distraction of drawn out mental negotiation about it prior to consumption and the regret and vows to do better afterwards, imagine all the things that you could achieve!

Instead of 'shoulds' and 'shouldn'ts', how about thinking of food from the perspective of what you feel you need from it at any given moment. What are you craving and why? What will the food provide you with? Most of the time we hopefully want to nourish our bodies as best we can, with the most nutrient dense, high quality food we can get. A basic understanding of nutrition and what different foods do for our bodies will help us choose these. But occasionally, we want to nourish our soul too, with food that perhaps comforts us and reminds us of childhood, or gives us a sweet hit we feel in need of. This type of eating is as valid and valuable as any other, providing it is used in a relaxed and responsible way. When we tip over the edge into using food as our only source of comfort or pleasure, eating the nutritionally poor food on a more regular basis than nutrient dense, high quality foodstuff, then and only then does it become a 'bad' thing. Like wine, which can benefit our health but also damage it if we drink too much, the dose of any food makes the poison. If we are turning too often to food as comfort, we are likely to be lacking nourishment in the form of creativity, intellectual or physical stimulation, love and affection, or healthy self esteem and need to look at these areas of our lives. But - health conditions such as intolerances and allergies aside - there's no need to cut it out completely!

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 8 2014 09:02PM

Our lives today are typically hectic, especially so when we are parents. Routine and the endless To Do list take over and we dash from one chore to another, stress levels rising through the roof. Add in a tendency to use food as a comfort and distraction from it all - or indeed as something to be rushed or skipped and it often leads to a sense of dissatisfaction with our bodies and with life in general.

Taking time each day to try and identify the little things that bring us pleasure can make a huge difference though. It might resonate with some of you when I talk about people 'living in their heads' rather than also in their bodies - we so often disconnect from our physical side, particularly if we are keen to lose weight. But then we are only half living and any changes we wish to make to our bodies are immediately made more difficult.

One way to get back into our bodies is to bring more attention to physical pleasure every day. Here is my challenge for you all who feel a little disconnected from your bodies and maybe would like to change them somehow. For a week, keep a diary and note down all the pleasurable physical sensations you experience each day. Perhaps starting with how smooth your sheets feel when you wake in bed, or how good your shower feels, a cuddle with your kids, a kiss (or more!) from your partner, the sun on your face, the silky sweet sensation of a piece of chocolate melting in your mouth or the cosiness of a soft sweater. Just bringing your awareness to this part of our being, which can so easily be overlooked and forgotten in the day to day chaos, can improve our sense of wellbeing and set us on the road to making positive changes if they are needed.

By louiseodriscoll, Jun 23 2014 11:10AM

Some readers may follow my Instagram, Twitter or facebook feeds that regularly feature the themes of whatlightsyouup and whatmakesyouhappy, which follow from an earlier blog about how important it is for our health and wellbeing to identify and enjoy the big and small things in our lives that bring us happiness. It's a crucial element in the work I do when I coach people and one very important group of these sources of happiness can come under the heading of creativity. Immediately I can picture lots of readers now shaking their heads sadly, with 'I'm not at all creative' echoing in their heads...but trust me, everyone has something creative inside them and the wellbeing we can gain from exercising it can be huge. If you struggle with anxiety, depression, stress or emotional eating then finding your own particular form of creativity can be particularly beneficial. To quote the amazing Alice Walker...'Whenever you are creating beauty around you, you are restoring your own soul.'

Whether you are actually any good at whatever creative channel you enjoy doesn't really matter, what is important is that you enjoy it. What are you drawn towards? It could be singing, dancing, cake making, writing, knitting, origami, painting, creating a pinterest board, making up games with children, amateur dramatics, interior design..the list is long! People who participate in creative activities gain the following benefits

- a sense of balance and order, and also of control when elsewhere in life these may be lacking

- creative expression can turn a negative experience or emotion into something positive - think of the amazing paintings, poetry and music produced by broken hearted artists!

- creativity enhances a sense of integrity and personal growth, which contributes to improved self-esteem

- doing something creative can be a way of channelling emotions that we find difficult to process or express. For example, describing in writing what you are going through emotionally can be cathartic and the act of creativity distracts from the intensity of the feelings in the moment, giving them time to pass and be observed more calmly

- creativity can be a way of being mindful, non-defensive and observant, in a similar way to meditation, which is well known for its health benefits

- it is fun, and we can't ever have too much of that!

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