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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- go through a single shelf in your kitchen cupboard and ditch anything out of date;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 13 2014 01:42PM

If you (or your kids) are the kind of people who can eat and drink what they like and stay slim and think that makes it ok to consume lots of sugar, this article should make you think again. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most common persistent (chronic) liver disorder in western countries such as the UK and most people have no symptoms. It can lead to an increased risk of heart disease and strokes and also cirrhosis of the liver. Until recently it was predominately a health issue affecting the over-50's but it is now recognised as the most common cause of liver disease in children in the UK.

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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