Reclaim your diet

IMG_1918Nutrition advice should empower us –
but does it?

As a nutritional therapist I offer dietary advice to clients with the intension that it will allow them to take control of their health. The information is meant as a guide, which individuals can experiment with to see if it is right for them. This means they have to listen to the feedback of their body. In doing so they can observe whether or not they feel better when they eat differently. This might include being aware of any changes to their energy, digestion, menstrual cycle, mood or skin.

Lets look at an example. Last week a patient came to see me for a follow-up appointment. She originally consulted me because she had been suffering from bloating, abdominal cramps and diarrhea on and off for the past year. In her first session we discussed her diet, which was generally good, and alongside other changes I advised that she experimented with being gluten-free. For many people a period without gluten can be hugely beneficial for digestive health and symptoms rapidly improve. However, when this lady came for her follow-up appointment she reported that going gluten-free had made no difference to her symptoms.

It is hugely important as a therapist to listen and respond to each person’s individual experiences. Diet advice that is right for one person is not necessarily right for the next, even if they present with the same symptoms. Therefore after listening to my patient’s observations I advised her to re-introduce gluten back into her diet. A gluten-free diet was clearly not improving her symptoms, so I had no reason to advise her to continue. Instead I ordered her a comprehensive stool analysis so that we could identify other underlying causes for her symptoms.

The test results showed that her digestive enzymes were low, as well as her beneficial bacteria. When we corrected this through diet and supplements her bloating, cramps and diarrhea disappeared. It took one month on a targeted protocol for her symptoms to completely clear up. This feedback from her body was proof that the protocol was working and her system was coming back into balance. She felt empowered that the diet changes she had made were right for her because her health had improved and she felt fantastic.

The problem with nutrition information is that if we follow it blindly and don’t also listen to the feedback of our body it disempowers us. We give our power away to someone else to tell us what to eat. In doing so we disconnect from our innate wisdom, we can become unnecessarily fearful about eating certain food groups, and worse still create new health problems. Nobody else knows your body better than you do and it is constantly communicating. If you honour it and listen within you will know whether or not specific dietary advice is right for you.

Your diet does not need a name or a label. It only needs to nourish you. And your dietary needs are as unique as you are. So if you have given your power away by always eating what other people think you should eat, now is the time to reclaim your diet. A nourishing diet is one that makes you feel radiant, is joyful and flexible. It allows you to respond to the needs of your body, which are constantly changing. So turn your attention inwards and listen to what your body is asking for. This is the compassionate approach and it is empowering.

The divine yoga of childbirth

miles and me cragside copyThis time last year I gave birth to my son. I was in labour, but it was so much more than just ‘labouring’. Of course it was a day of hard work, in fact it was the biggest test of physical endurance I have ever experienced, but what about my mind and spirit?

My experience of childbirth felt like a new level of yoga. I felt connected to my body, my breath and the universal life force flowing through me in a way that I had never encountered. I was literally being opened-up to experience something so much greater than myself.

Practicing yoga before and during childbirth has a myriad of benefits. Yoga asana teach us to how to connect to our body and this is essential in labour. The body knows exactly what to do, so the more we can tune into its innate wisdom the more we can trust and let go. We can listen to what position we need to be in and how to move in a way that will ease contractions.

The power of the breath can also be revealed. Specific breathing practices help to release the pelvic floor and work with the downward energy flow. Staying with the breath guides our attention, relieves pain and keeps us centred between and during contractions. This also allows us to birth with the breath, rather than pushing, which is far gentler.

Labour further offers us a gateway into a deeply meditative state. Our attention can turn inwards to a new level as every part of our being is focused on the act of birth. This meditative awareness allows us to listen to what our body needs, so that we can respond, as well as find complete calm between contractions. The beauty of contractions is they are a series of extraordinary sensations, but each one comes out of and returns to stillness.

The use of mantra is another profoundly helpful practice. Releasing the jaw with mantra helps to release the pelvic floor and sound is an incredible pain relief. Choosing deep resonant tones such as ‘ma, om, ou and ah’ all have a lower vibration that help to take our energy and attention down to the pelvis.

With the inner stillness that comes from these techniques we are then able to connect to the divine life force that is flowing through us with each contraction. We can feel connected to creation, to our baby and to every aspect of our being. We can experience the still awareness and dynamic sacred energy behind life. This is the divine yoga, the play of Siva and Shakti.

Childbirth is always a sacred time of transformation, but for many women it is also a time of fear, grief and disempowerment. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Practicing yoga in pregnancy helps you to tune into your body, prepare your body and to trust your body, so that you have the confidence that you can give birth. Given the right environment it can be a natural and deeply spiritual experience.

The art of letting go

pomegranate-1307089_960_720As my son begins to wean himself off breast milk I am reminded of the importance of letting go. He is entering into a new phase of development and his dietary requirements are changing as his independence grows. I have a strong instinct to nourish him, but must tread the line of nurturing and letting go so that he can flourish.

This balance of nurturing and letting go is true throughout our life. We see it everywhere in nature at times of transition. At the end of pregnancy we let go in order to give birth, at the end of the monthly cycle we let go for menses, as fruit ripens the tree lets go so that it can fall and in autumn the land lets go for crops to be harvested. There is a constant cycle of nurturing and building and then letting go.

The more we can tune into this cycle the more we can also respond to our own changing needs. There are times in our life when we may need to eat certain foods to support our health for example, but then we need to let go and respond to what our body needs as our requirements change. If we fail to respond and continue to eat the same foods day after day then we limit our own potential to grow.

I often see this in my clinical practice where patients hold onto a particular diet and are not able to let it go when it is no longer serving them. This creates new imbalances and a state of contraction, rather than flow and growth.

If we turn to nature and the innate cycles within it we can strengthen our awareness of the art of letting go. So now, as I turn to my heart and start to let go of breastfeeding, I am off for a walk in the countryside.

Do we mistake comfort food for happiness?

choose happinessOur food choices and our emotions are incredibly linked. We often eat not because we are hungry but because of how we feel – we are bored, stressed or feeling down. These emotions can trigger us to eat certain foods to alleviate these feelings. They are our ‘comfort foods’. They help to soothe our discomfort.

I’m sure we can all think of times when we’ve reached for comfort food. It tends not to be a calling for a plate of greens, but is typically food that’s high in sugar or carbohydrates such as chocolate, ice cream or a bowl of pasta.

From my clinical observations these foods are some of the most difficult for us to stop eating, and I think this is for a number of reasons. There are biochemical reasons why we might crave them, as well as emotional triggers that we are aware of, but I believe there are also subconscious reasons at play. I believe that all too often we mistake comfort for happiness.

A couple of weeks ago I was in town and came across this advertisement ‘Choose happiness, choose your coca cola’. I felt a rather visceral reaction to what I read. Surely we are not all so devoid of happiness that we believe we can find it in a can of coca cola, or indeed any other food or drink?

Advertising like this is all around us and most of it we are unaware of, at least on the conscious level. However, how much are we absorbing subconsciously and believing that by choosing coca cola, chocolate, ice cream or any other comfort food that we are choosing happiness?

Foods that we eat as a comfort to soothe or suppress an emotion tend to create a greater degree of dis-harmony in our body. They do not address our underlying emotional needs. Comfort is not the same as happiness. Instead when we choose food consistently for comfort it can lead to unhappiness as we are not respecting our body and not giving it what we know deep inside that it needs.

So if you have a weakness for a particular comfort food, why not ask yourself before you next reach for it ‘am I choosing comfort or happiness’ and see what answer you find. Will the food make you feel any happier in the long run?

The Intuitive Detox

SmoothiesIt’s almost that time of year again when the indulgence of Christmas is over and the search for the latest detox begins. It is a search for a list of foods to eat and foods to avoid. A search for the ultimate superfood and best cleansing supplements. But do we really need to be told what to eat if we want to have a New Year cleanse?

I believe that detoxing is an extremely powerful tool for good health and for years I have written articles giving detox advice. I have provided clients with recommendations on how to detox, on what to eat and what to do. But this year I find myself feeling resistant to giving any advice on the topic.

Why? Because we all know intuitively what foods we personally need to have a break from to support our health. This is our detox. With so much nutrition information available today we are constantly searching outside ourselves for answers and advice. We want to be told what to do and how to eat. But we already know what we should be eating, we just need to tune-in to the wisdom of our body.

This is a much more compassionate way to health. Instead of imposing a set of rules and regulations on the body we listen to what the body needs in order to be healthy. Only you know what your Achilles’ heel is when it comes to food and what the most helpful change would be. Maybe you have a soft spot for sugar, alcohol or coffee. Or maybe you know that bread is making you bloated. You know what you should stop eating for January if you want to cleanse.

When we listen to how food makes us feel we experience direct communication from our body. It tells us what is nourishing us and what is causing imbalances. We then know exactly what the best detox is for us individually today. And it may be different from the detox we needed last year or what we will need next year. This intuitive detox allows our food choices to unfold from within and it lets go any sense of denial and deprivation. It is empowering and it is kind.

So rather than search for a list of foods that you need to give-up in the New Year, I invite you to take five minutes to sit in silence and quietly ask yourself what foods are causing imbalances in your body today? What foods is your body asking you to have a break from? Write down what answers you get and repeat the practice as the 1st January approaches. When you next eat that particular food, observe how it feels in your body – both minutes and hours after you have eaten it. You will begin to notice how your body is constantly but subtly communicating with you.

Let’s make 2017 a year for combining expert opinions with our own inner wisdom. It is time to embrace intuitive, compassionate eating and to let go of fear and rule-based nutrition.

A Christmas cake conundrum

Do we need to eat Christmas confectionery to feel part of the festive celebration?

In the supermarket last weekend Christmas was everywhere. The mince pies, cakes and chocolate snowmen were beautifully displayed and alluring. I wanted to feel festive and to laden my trolley with Christmas treats. But, by the time I got to the checkout my only token of Christmas was a bag of satsumas and some walnuts. I felt torn. Part of me wanted to buy-in to Christmas like the other shoppers, but I also knew that I didn’t want to eat what was on offer. I liked the idea of sweet treats, the associations, the tradition, but I didn’t actually want to eat them.

Making food choices is complex. We have so many associations and emotions linked to food, which are both conscious and subconscious. How often do we eat something because we like the idea of it? Or because it reminds us of a particular occasion? Even when we don’t actually want the food?

What about eating a particular food because everyone else is? After all food unites us. Throughout history food has been used to bring people together and is shared at times of celebrations. Today, however, so many of us have different dietary requirements that we often don’t all share the same meal. We have different options that are dairy-free, gluten-free, raw, to name just a few. But how does this make us feel? If sharing the same food unites us, then does eating different food isolates us?

That was certainly my experience at the supermarket. I felt different for not buying and sharing the mince pies and chocolate snowmen, and I wanted to feel united and to join the festive spirit.

So how are we to feel united through food again when we have so many different requirements? I don’t believe we need to eat foods that we don’t want to eat, but we do need to have alternatives. When we follow a different diet or lifestyle we need to be the ones that extend ourselves and unite with others. We have a responsibility to share what we have learnt and to make food that we can eat and share with others. Even if friends and guests don’t have specific dietary requirements, the chances are that they will love trying something new and won’t even know that it is ‘free-from’ (unless you tell them). Sharing alternative foods helps to open us to new ideas, different flavours and a new way of eating, and most importantly we can be united through food again and all feel part of the same celebration.

So, here is my contribution, which I think is a fantastic alternative to a classic mince-pie and what is even better is it doesn’t contain raisins…so my husband will eat them too!

Goji berry and almond mince-pie cookies

Goji berry & almond christmas cookiesFor the base
2 cups of almonds
Coconut oil and maple syrup (or honey)

For the fruit mix
1 orange, chopped
1 apple, chopped
12 dates, chopped
½ cup of goji berries
1 tbsp of coconut oil
½ tsp cinnamon powder
½ tsp ginger powder

• Place the almonds in a coffee grinder or blender and process until fine
• Melt a couple of spoons of coconut oil and maple syrup and mix into the almonds until you have a dough-like consistency
• Place the fruit mix ingredients in a food processor and process until you have a soft puree
• Take a pinch of the almond dough and make into a ball and press flat
• Put a spoonful of the fruit mixture onto each circle of dough and decorate with any remaining goji berries
• Place in the fridge to chill and set
• Delicious served on their own or with a little Coyo coconut yoghurt. Enjoy!

Why losing weight does not make us feel light

As winter draws in and with it the dark nights, it is a wonderful time of year to celebrate light. We suddenly become so much more thankful for the sun and the daylight hours it brings, as well as the light we can bring into our homes. It is the season for candles, fires and fairy lights. And this week is also the start of Diwali – the Hindu festival of light.

Diwali is a celebration of goodness over evil, or light over dark, and that has got me thinking about the symbolism of light and its many different meanings. By definition light is an agent that makes things visible; it is a source of illumination. But we can also ‘see the light’ in spiritual enlightenment or ‘shed light’ on a problem. Light is seen as goodness, ascension and moral elevation. It is something to aspire to and hold in high esteem.

And then there is the light that means something weighs very little. This is the light that we aspire to when we want to lose weight. We want to feel physically light rather than heavy. And it strikes me that maybe we hold weight loss in high esteem because we associate it with the light of illumination, of goodness and moral elevation. But when we lose weight do we really feel elevated and full of goodness? Many diets are sold on exactly that notion that losing weight will make us feel good. That the more weight we lose, the better we will feel. We buy into the concept that when we lose weight we will feel happier and love ourselves more. But does it really work like that?

No. In the short-term achieving a new weight can certainly give us a small boost because we have ‘achieved’ what we had set out to do, but this is only ever short-lived. It is short lived because it hasn’t made us fundamentally any happier. And I believe our fixation of finding happiness outside ourselves can never leave us feeling truly content. Here the fixation is on our outer appearance, on how fat or thin we perceive ourselves to be, but when we reach our desired weight we seek to change something else.

I believe that so many people want to lose weight and feel light in their physical body because as a society we have become hugely disconnected to our inner light. This is our divine essence, which is always present and self-luminous. This disconnection has lead to the fixation on our outer appearance and the craving to feel physically light. But what we are all really seeking is to feel our true nature, our inner light, which can only ever be found within us.

 

Lakshmi Invocation & Meditation

lakshmi

As the festival of lights begins this week let’s turn our attention inwards and connect to our inner radiance. There are many ways that this can be done, but for me I shall be turning to goddess Lakshmi and invoking her golden energy. She is one of the most sacred goddesses and her presence is always felt when you call for her. You can invoke her by repeating om shrim lakshmyai namaha nine times, whilst having the feeling of dropping the mantra into your heart. Or you can simply chant her bija mantra shrim in the same way. Then imagine her golden presence in front of you and imagine her energy pouring into your heart on the inhalation and flowing throughout your body of the exhalation.

Try committing to this practice for ten minutes every day for the next week and observe your connection to your inner light. It is a powerful practice when done regularly and leads to a strong sense of inner abundance that is not depended on external factors or appearances. This is the true meaning of feeling light.