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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, 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, Oct 27 2014 09:00AM

The first 'change one thing' blog post suggested bringing more mindfulness to the process of eating. This week's is an extension of mindfulness when it comes to food and it focuses on the quality of what we eat.

Much is known about the benefits of a Mediterranean diet - the fact that these Europeans regularly enjoy such foods as cheese, bread, wine and chocolate yet stay slim and much less affected by heart disease and diabetes than other Western populations seems to contradict everything we have been told for years about how bad they are for us. Many aspects of the diet have been analysed to identify precisely what it is that brings such a result. The abundance of vegetables, of fish, olive oil and possibly the red wine...these no doubt play a large role. Another key part, for me, is the way people in more Southern areas of Europe always sit down together for meals, it is a ritualistic, celebratory custom to stop and take time to eat together, to relax and chat and appreciate good food, which is treated with great respect. All this is beneficial to levels of pleasure, satiety, efficient digestion and metabolism, as discussed in my previous 'change one thing' post on mindfulness. There is also another piece of the jigsaw though - quality. The food eaten in the Meditteranean is usually locally produced, in season and very fresh. Meals are made from scratch with delicious ingredients and care. And this is where we can look to make healthy changes in our way of eating.

This week, bring your attention to the quality of the food you eat, with the goal of always trying to choose the best you can get or afford. Is the fruit and veg you buy in season? How far has it travelled? What kind of life did the animal whose meat you are eating have? How processed is the food? Is it possible to choose an organic version? What ingredients are in it, are there preservatives and flavourings that you don't recognise as 'real' things you might have in your kitchen? How was the cake you eat made, in a factory, or with natural ingredients by hand? Even amongst the most 'unhealthy' foods there will be different levels of quality to choose from. If food budget is a concern, maybe rather than eating average quality meat or fish 4 times a week, make it twice with the best available and have two great vegetarian meals instead?

When we choose the best quality food we can, we gain multiple benefits. The obvious one, the food selected is likely to be the most nutrient dense version, so more benefits for your health. Also, it will probably taste better, so you gain more pleasure and satisfaction, typically resulting in less of an urge to overeat or to eat again soon afterwards. Finally, there is a huge psychological benefit; by selecting the best quality food you can, you are physically demonstrating your respect and care for yourself. An act that, repeated over time, can help convince your brain of how valuable your body (and soul) is, should it need it. This is a much healthier way of treating your body than depriving it of certain foods on the basis of calories, carbs or fat content, or punishing it with poor imitations of real food, such as low-fat or sugar free versions. It is an approach that, in conjunction with mindful eating, has a much better long term chance of being sustained so that our bodies can find their healthy, happy weight and state of wellbeing.

So this week, try and bring more awareness to the idea of quality when buying and cooking food. Try making one meal that you regularly prepare, but using the very best quality ingredients possible. Eat it mindfully, like the meal last week, without distractions and see what, if any difference it makes to your taste, enjoyment and satiety.

By louiseodriscoll, Jun 18 2014 10:34AM

Last week I blogged about intuitive eating. That is how I would like everybody to eat, no rules or restrictions on anything, but from a standing start, I get that people want some help with knowing what to choose as the best thing for their health. Its particularly hard when we eat a diet high in sugar, starchy carbs and processed food as, make no mistake, these foods have the power to mess with our heads and get us to believe that our body actually wants them! So we have to make some effort to get away from them in order to really get to the bottom of what our bodies truly crave.

So what constitutes a healthy diet? It's not surprising that many of us feel confused and frustrated by all the conflicting advice that exists on the subject of nutrition. Fasting, Paleo, low carb, low-fat, low sugar, no dairy, no meat, no caffeine....the contradictory theories and 'good' or 'bad' foods are never ending. It doesn't need to be so complicated though. Here are my guidelines - note the use of the term guidelines, I don't like 'rules' when it comes to food! - for making changes that are practical and sustainable and should make you feel so much more relaxed and healthy.

- make real food your staple diet. If it came from a tree, field or farm then it's probably good. If it has been in a factory, avoid.

- minimise sugar. We are built to love the taste of sweet food. We are not built to process the super-concentrated levels of sugar in the juices, cereals, sauces, snacks and sweets that surround us all the time. Do your body a favour and phase them out, along with any artificial sweeteners.

- get the best quality food you can find and afford, whatever it is you are eating. The fresher and more local and seasonal the veg, the better. Same for meat, the closer the animal's natural life has been to what it would be if it were wild, the better it will taste and the more it will do for your body.

- slow down when it comes to mealtime. The process of digestion and metabolism begins in your head and is optimised by relaxation. Contemplate your meal before you begin to eat, take a few breaths to relax, then eat slowly and enjoy the food. Take time away from work or the TV and pay attention. Really taste every mouthful and when you feel satisfied, stop. Be aware of how you feel after the meal...energised, bloated, sluggish for example? What about during the next 12-48 hours? Any digestive problems, skin reactions or a quick return to hunger? Take note of how different foods make you feel so that you learn what works and what doesn't.

- prioritise vegetables (lots), quality protein (a portion should be the size of a palm or two, depending on your size and activity levels) and good fat at every meal. These will give your body all that it needs to feel satisfied, repair and regenerate itself and keep you alert and energetic. Good things to choose include all kinds of veg (especially the dark green and leafy kind), meat, fish, eggs, tofu, tempeh, full fat dairy products, raw nuts, avocados, nut butter, cold pressed oils and seeds.

- Choose carbohydrates according to the first guideline, so beans, lentils, sweet potatoes, chickpeas and quinoa rather than pasta, mass produced bread and white rice. Make your portions fairly small, again a palm sized serving should be plenty.

- experiment with different foods. For example, ditch caffeine, dairy or wheat for a week or two and note how you feel. Then reintroduce it to see what happens. Often we live with low level health complaints that we don't realise are symptoms of food intolerances, this can enable you to identify them and choose your food accordingly.

- try and eat according to our bio-circadian rhythm, a meal upon waking, another between 12-1.30pm and then dinner in the early evening. Aim to stop eating at least three hours before bedtime. This timing of meals will work with our natural rise and fall in metabolic rate.

- remember to get Vitamin P - PLEASURE. Along with laughter, touch, sex and creative expression and enjoyment, eating is an important part of the pleasure we get from life, but we often forget about this in our efforts to get slim or be healthy. If you apply the guidelines above most of the time, you should be enjoying delicious and nutrient dense food every day, but if you choose to eat a less healthy meal or snack occasionally, it will be fine, that's the difference between guidelines and rules, be a grown up and apply responsibly!

By louiseodriscoll, Jun 12 2014 01:54PM

I realised recently that I refer to intuitive eating so often in conversation about what I do, yet take it for granted that the people I am speaking to understand what I mean by that. Intuitive Eating is what I aim to get all my clients to adopt. Here is a detailed explanation of it all, from

Intuitive eating is an approach that teaches you how to create a healthy relationship with your food, mind, and body--where you ultimately become the expert of your own body. You learn how to distinguish between physical and emotional feelings, and gain a sense of body wisdom. It's also a process of making peace with food---so that you no longer have constant "food worry" thoughts. It's knowing that your health and your worth as a person do not change, because you ate a food that you had labeled as "bad" or "fattening”. 

The underlying premise of Intuitive Eating is that you will learn to respond to your inner body cues, because you were born with all the wisdom you need for eating intuitively. On the surface, this may sound simplistic, but it is rather complex. This inner wisdom is often clouded by years of dieting and food myths that abound in the culture. For example, “Eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full” may sound like basic common sense, but when you have a history of chronic dieting or of following rigid “healthy” rules about eating, it can be quite difficult. To be able to ultimately return to your inborn Intuitive Eater, a number of things need to be in place—most importantly, the ability to trust yourself!

Here is a summary of the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating.With these principles comes a world of satisfying eating and a sense of freedom that can be exhilarating!

Intuitive Eating Principles

1. Reject the Diet Mentality. Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all of the weight. If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating.

2. Honor Your Hunger. Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for re-building trust with yourself and food.

3. Make Peace with Food. Call a truce, stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can't or shouldn't have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing. When you finally “give-in” to your forbidden food, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in Last Supper overeating, and overwhelming guilt.

4. Challenge the Food Police. Scream a loud "NO" to thoughts in your head that declare you're "good" for eating under 1000 calories or "bad" because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The Food Police monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created . The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loud speaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the Food Police away is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating.

5. Respect Your Fullness. Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you're comfortably full. Pause in the middle of a meal or food and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what is your current fullness level?

6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor. The Japanese have the wisdom to promote pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living In our fury to be thin and healthy, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence--the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting and conducive, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes much less food to decide you've had "enough".

7. Honour Your Feelings Without Using Food. Find ways to comfort , nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won't fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you into a food hangover. But food won't solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger will only make you feel worse in the long run. You'll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion, as well as the discomfort of overeating.

8. Respect Your Body. Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally as futile (and uncomfortable) to have the same expectation with body size. But mostly, respect your body, so you can feel better about who you are. It's hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical about your body shape.

9. Exercise--Feel the Difference. Forget militant exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel from working out, such as energized, it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning walk or hitting the snooze alarm. If when you wake up, your only goal is to lose weight, it's usually not a motivating factor in that moment of time.

10. Honor Your Health--Gentle Nutrition. Make food choices that honor your health and tastebuds while making you feel well. Remember that you don't have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It's what you eat consistently over time that matters, progress not perfection is what counts.

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By louiseodriscoll, Jun 1 2014 04:47PM

The history books show that we have been enjoying caffeine since the 15th century and probably never more so than today, with a coffee shop on every corner and a huge range of energy drinks containing high doses of the stuff, our love affair seems to be unending. Yet still the scientists can't seem to give us a definite answer on whether it is definitely good or bad for us. Here I attempt to weigh up the pros and cons....

The Science Bit

Our bodies naturally produce a compound called adenosine, levels of which rise in our bodies as the day progresses and gradually slow our central nervous systems down, ready for rest and sleep at bedtime. When caffeine is ingested, it impersonates the adenosine but effectively boots it out of the way, stopping it doing its job and keeping the central nervous system running at speed. This explains the 'jolt' some people experience when they have a caffeine hit.

Like other powerful substances such as sugar (and at the more extreme end of the scale, cocaine and heroin), caffeine prompts the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates the pleasure centres in our brains. It also slows down the reabsorption of the dopamine and for some people, this is what makes caffeine addictive.

Benefits of caffeine

Studies have shown that there is a long list of impressive potential health benefits we can gain from caffeine

- it can improve concentration

- it can increase physical performance during exercise

- it can boost metabolism

- it provides a dose of antioxidants

- it can boost mood

There is good evidence to show that caffeine can reduce the likelihood of suffering

- cirrhosis of the liver

- gallstones

- Type 2 diabetes

- Alzheimer's disease

- liver cancer

- Parkinson's disease

Negative effects of caffeine

- caffeine exaggerates the stress response

- it leads to an increase in blood sugar and in blood pressure

- it can also lead to decreased bone density

- it can be addictive

For some people caffeine also causes

- chronic fatigue

- digestive problems

- anxiety

- sleep disturbance

- heart palpitations

- depression and irritability

- cravings for certain foods

As with lots of foods, different people react differently to caffeine. For my money, if caffeine is causing any of the problems above then it's likely to be cancelling out the possible benefits in the first list. The negative impact that chronic stress, poor sleep, anxiety and depression in particular can have on health should not be underestimated. My advice to anyone who regularly has caffeine, suffers from any of the second list above and wonders if there may be a connection, is to gradually cut their caffeine intake down to nil (halve it every three days until you can drop the last one or two drinks). Stay off it for a couple of weeks  and monitor how you feel - then have a coffee and see what your body tells you. That is the best answer you will get!

If your body responds happily to it, the optimum dose of caffeine to get the health benefits appears to be 3-5 cups a day. I'd try and keep these to the first half of the day to avoid any impact on sleep, and make it good quality coffee, rather than energy drinks or colas that invariably contain high doses of sugar or artificial sweeteners along with the caffeine.

If you want a healthy alternative to coffee, try choosing green tea, it gives a gentle caffeine buzz, but carries huge health benefits in terms of antioxidants and an apparent thermogenic (metabolic boosting) effect. To be the subject of another blog post!

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