Category Archives: Dietitian Advice

Why Weight Watchers for Teenagers is not a good plan.

On the surface this may seem like a good idea. We know the UK population is getting larger and we need multiple ways to help teach people about how to eat for their health… is a diet really the best way? Almost everything in me shouted out “NO” when I read about WW opening it’s doors to teenagers. Part of that may be because I work with lots of teenagers with eating disorders/disordered eating and I know that many of them have gotten to the stage where they need specialist support because of “dieting gone too far”. They started on a diet to lose a little weight and then either liked the knowledge of being lighter, maybe they were complimented or felt they looked better so they lost a bit more and then even more until it spiralled out of control. 

Diet that are focused on weight loss and controlled your food intake via calories do not work for the majority of people longterm. They instead set you up for yet more dieting or for a lifetime of being confined to the same dietplan. Do we want these teenagers to be controlling their intake all the time or bouncing from one diet to the next whilst their weight increases? Or should we instead move away from the focus on weight and to a focus on health related behaviours instead? 

Running Feet

We know that weight can increase the risks of certain chronic disease and that weight loss helps reduce these. However, this does not mean that you cannot be healthy at a larger size or that you are healthier because you are slimmer. Your size does not define your health.

I would love to see an approach where we counter the negative diet messages with positive changes to make for overall health. Encouraging teenagers to eat more plant based foods, to be active daily in fun ways and to choose wholegrain lower sugar options could make a difference without the intense focus on dieting. Education around hunger is something I try to do with anyone I work with at any age – for example, what is it, what does it feel like and when to respond to it. It needs to be about equipping and empowering the person.

Looking at the bigger picture is also key and something that a diet alone will not do. For example:

Why is the person overweight? Are they overeating for a reason or is it that the whole family is overweight?

What is happening in family and social circumstances?

What is their weight history?

How are they coping with life right now? Stress, anxiety, loneliness, tiredness and low mood are all factors that can affect weight and it may be that the weight gain is a symptom rather than a cause.

I do not have the answers but I do know that encouraging teens to diet is not it.

You can see my quote in the Daily Telegraph for this topic. 



Teaching intuitive eating in family life

It seems a lot of you out there are interested in teaching your children about intuitive eating. Which is absolutely amazing! I’m over the moon. Absolutely loving the little experiments people are doing at home too. 

After a few comments and questions about the last blog post I thought I’d do a post on how we talk about nutrition at home. Again this is not a perfect method and I don’t know it all but I am seeing the benefits in my children. 

For example this week at lunch my boy aged 4

“Mummy why are we having grapes for lunch”

Me: “Because Miss E wanted them” (she is a grape-a-holic, though she hasn’t tried wine yet!). 

J-boy: “We had grapes yesterday and the day before”

Me: “I know, is there a problem with that?”

J-boy: “Well we shouldn’t just eat the same foods we should have different colours and types”. 

Me: in a flabbergasted tone “Ummmm yes exactly” 

Is it just me who is amazed when their children actually listen and take on board what you say?

So here we go, how we chat about nutrition at home:

Take the relaxed road. Several people asked me how can I be sure the kids won’t over eat the food like sweets and biscuits? I guess I can’t ever be sure, but I also cannot be in control of their food intake for ever. I want them to listen to their inner signals and to have a good grasp of nutrition. The more I trust them and let go, the more they surprise me.  So we talk about how sugary foods are absolutely delicious and all foods are great to eat but too many lollipops, cakes, biscuits, dried fruit can lead to tooth decay and tummy ache. On those occasions when the children do over-eat sweeter foods it is a great chance to talk about how that feels.  

A recent example being Eton Mess, my girl had a serving, then came back to ask me if she could have more. I suggested she think about her tummy and decide herself. After another serving she felt a bit sickly and later on reflected on this being due to the sweet, creamy dessert.

Now if I had told her not to have another serving she would have just felt a bit disgruntled, whereas now she understands more about listening to her body. 

Fullness and Hunger Cues. We talk about how it feels to be full and hungry. In the words of my children:

Fullness = my tummy has had enough, it feels uncomfortable, my mouth has eaten enough, I’m not empty. Hungry = rumbles and my tummy aches. Sometimes when I’m hungry I don’t have my energy.

Miss K has always been good at stopping when she is full. the J-boy is another kettle of fish. He will happily keep munching on foods such as biscuits unless you remind him to tune into his tummy. Distraction for him is a biggie. Yesterday in the car he had been given a pack of biscuits, he asked how many to have and I asked him to ask his tummy and see after 1 if he should have another or keep it for later. He happily munched his way through 2 and stopped. Now I’m pretty sure it would have been 3 or 4 biscuits if he had been watching TV whilst snacking or distracted.


Nutrition Facts. Now I’m not organised enough to sit down with them and give planned nutrition lessons, I find relaxed or undercover stealth like approach works best.  So don’t feel you need to become a teacher to teach nutrition. When we eat a meal we tend to have a few facts about the food we are eating and talk about the meal. It could be where the meat comes from, how something is grown, the colours on the plate or why something is good for your body. My kids love a handy fact and they will then repeat things back at a later meal. This can prove amusing when someone else is eating a food that they know about.

Your language matters. How you talk about food is so important. Labelling foods as good/bad, healthy/unhealthy, treats or special foods put those foods up on a pedestal. If there are foods that you disapprove of your children will soon pick up on it. I feel like it is a daily occurance that I am having to challenge my own thinking on this and change my words/tone. It seems I am not alone, phew.

Eat using the Senses. Talk about how food tastes, smells and the texture. This can help them to zone in on what they are eating and to not eat it without noticing. One way we have done this recently is to talk about taste buds, where they are in the mouth and what you are tasting when you eat certain foods. My boy enjoys the noises that foods make and how they feel when he eats them with his fingers. Yes it may be not be good table manners but it is a way to get him to connect with his food and think about what he is eating. Later in life people spend lots of time getting back to mindful eating… our children can teach us alot about enjoying our food.

I’d love to know your thoughts. How do you talk about food at home? 







Food trends 2018 I’d be pleased to see.

January always brings the weird, the wonderful and the wahey of food. I’ve highlighted a few trends that I predict are on the rise for 2018 and ones that I would be happy to see more of. You can check out my 2017 trends post here and see how I did! 

Plant Power

I think we’ve all seen the rise of the vegan diet with veganuary in full swing. Whilst being vegan is perfectly great way to live life and eat I don’t think it is something to take lightly or do for a month. Being a vegan is a lifestyle choice and not a fad. Rant over. I do think that eating more plants and less meat will be high on the 2018 agenda which is fabulous. Foods like tofu, tempeh and quinoa are growing in popularity as are meat free days. Check out Meatfreemonday for great recipes and inspiration.

Sustainable eating

This ties in with eating a plants based diet but goes further. Consumers are becoming more conscious and choosy about where their food comes from. Choosing foods that are not just heathy but are obtained in a way that does not damage the ecosystem or deplete a food source is important and coming higher up the agenda for people.

Fermented foods, probiotics and gut health

The chatter on these has been increasing in 2017 with people starting to think and talk about making them at home. As research on the microbiome grows this is a natural area to grow alongside it. Gut health and how your feed those bacteria is likely to become popular. Personally I love this idea and it’s certainly something I will be getting on board with. Making your own kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, live yoghurt , sourdough are all things you can make yourself.
Less diets more body signals. This could just be the circle I am in or my own hopefulness but could 2018 be the rise of intuitive eating? Listening to the bodies hunger and fullness signals, guilt free eating and take the labels of good and bad away from food. It’s a journey and no quick fix but boy it would be fabulous to see and I think it’s on the way up.

Recycling food

Using up leftovers can seem hard work to some and second nature to others. Chefs are coming on the scene who are pushing this as a trend. Not only will it reduce food waste but also your food bill. A great place to go for inspiration on how to use your leftovers is Love Food Hate Waste.



Raising Intuitive Eaters

Being a dietitian is the easy part. Being a mum, now that’s a much harder job. Currently I have 3 children, Miss K aged 7, J-boy aged 4 and Miss E, 18 months. Teaching them how to eat a balanced intake, how to listen to their hunger and fullness signals and helping each child on their journey with this in different ways is hard. I find myself having to change my language, change my mindset and be flexible a lot. My children do not eat like I do. They are their own individuals and have their own signals to listen and respond to. Too often I try to parent their eating and actually I’m not in their bodies. They are.

Here are some of the mistakes I’ve made along the way. A dietitan who makes mistakes, with her own kids, ummmm yes. All the time. I’m sharing these so hopefully it will help someone else and to show that we all make mistakes.

  1. Don’t be the Food Police.  This is all too easy a trap to fall into.  Oh so easy. As a parent boundaries are important and you don’t want your child to be eating all the biscuits all day, everyday. I’ve certainly had a child who will ask for a biscuit continually until they get one. No matter how often you offer another snack it just comes back to that biscuit. For ages I would say No to the biscuit, I’ve had a lot of biscuit tantrums. It’s now with great relief I can say I now say yes to the biscuit in the context of a balanced snack. After pre/school snacks are often a biscuit with apple and crackers, or toast with peanut butter and something from the sweet tin.
  2. Keep the sweetie tin open.  Ours used to be on the top shelf of the cupboard. Visible but out of reach. However all this actually did was make the sweetie tin special and lusted after which is the opposite of what I was trying to achieve. When you restrict a food it can make it more desirable, we want the things we cannot have. It also sets those foods apart from the rest, but why are sweets anymore special than say an apple? So the sweet tin is now lower down and we have sweets at the end of a meal or as part of a snack. I talk about having less of the sweet foods so we don’t get tummy ache and to keep our teeth healthy in the same way we talk about this with dried fruit. 
  3. No foods are less healthy. Much like I would not recommend you call foods good or bad, try not to call some foods healthy and some less healthy. Why? Well it is often the way nutrition and healthy eating is taught in school but it actually doesn’t make sense. What makes a food bad? Thinking about foods as good/bad or healthy/less healthy can lead to guilt when you eat them. In actual fact it is not a problem to eat any food as long as you are enjoying it and eating it guilt free. We focus on all foods being good foods, it is just some you eat less of as they make you feel sick or damage your teeth. I encourage the children to think about how their tummies feel when they are eating and to stop when they have had enough as there will be another day to finish it. If my children choose to overeat sweeter foods it can be quite useful, as later we can reflect on why they feel a bit queasy! This happened recently after too much Eton Mess, resulting in a mess on the floor. 
  4. Eat your vegetables but don’t force them to. Oh boy, this is one I struggle with. I want my children to eat their veggies so much. Yet the more I push this, the less likely they are to enjoy them and just eat them under pressure. This could then lead to them not liking veggies at all. I had a boy who was not into his veg at all, but by keeping things pressure free, ignoring him and just putting the veg on his plate each day he eventually just started to eat it. Role modeling is so important here, showing how much you like vegetables and talking about why they are needed by the body can have more impact than you expect. 
  5. Pudding is not on a pedestal. It is so easy to use pudding as a way to encourage your children to eat their main course. I know, as I’ve done it. Guilty. By using pudding as the carrot, it makes it seem like the prize and if we are saying all foods are equal then the pudding is the same as the main course. Tricky hey. So let your children leave some of their main course if they want to. Perhaps talk to them about how full they are feeling. If they are really full then they may not have any space for pudding anyway! It makes for an interesting conversation at the table. We sometimes rank our fullness from 1-5. It you are at 5 then you don’t need pudding. 

Some examples from my family in the past couple of weeks:

We bought some large cookies, I gave the older 2 kids free range to eat as much as they wanted and to stop when they had enough. I fully expected my boy to eat the whole thing and yet he only ate half and handed it back. I don’t think he would have done this if we hadn’t have chatted about fullness beforehand.

When visiting Santa they were given sweets/chocolate and again I suggested they ate what they wanted and then stopped and kept the rest for another day. What fascinated me with this was the constant chatter about “hmmm I think I will have one more and then that it enough for my tummy” and the lovely sharing that went on.

I’m certainly still on the journey with intuitive eating and I have a feeling I will be for many years. However it is a journey I am enjoying and such a priviledge to be able to encourage and watch my children as they do this too. They often teach me more than I teach them.

Dear new food brands, please be responsible.

We are living in a time of innovation in food. There has been a literal explosion of new products using a range of different ingredients, with new techniques and with all kinds of claims.

Now I totally love trying new foods and am always on the look out for brands and products that I can recommend. When companies approach me and ask me to try something or review it my answer is usually yes. Going to a food show is always a time of huge excitement, it’s like Christmas and Easter all at once. What new goodies will I find? What novel products will there be to taste?

Food Matters Live is one of those events that fuses seminars on the evidence base with talks on food manufacture and then has a huge arena for brands to showcase their products. It can be a great place to network, get your brand in front of people who purchase, recommend and know about foods and a place to learn.

As a dietitian I am literally learning everyday. Nutrition is an evolving science, we have new studies being conducted everyday. we are very much still finding new nutrients and discovering the effects of nutrients. It is an exciting time and I am always grateful to those who continue to bring us new, high quality research. I’m also grateful to those who continue to think of new ways to add foods to a product or come up with new food ideas. We need this. However there is a way to do it.

The food exhibition at Food Matters Live caused my dietitian soul to cry out. It left me with a sour taste and very skeptical, which for me is not the norm. Talk to my husband and he will tell you I’m a very positive, upbeat person who dreams big.

I met some fabulous people and brands.

I got to taste some delicious new products.

I tasted some foods I’ve wanted to try for a while.

I definitely discovered some new things to recommend.

So why so sad?

There was a sea of health claims being made that I just couldn’t see were true, proven or even allowed. Some of the products were frankly laughable. The science did not stack up. In fact at the show I bumped into a lady from trading standards who was blown away by the number of claims that needed to be looked into. The whole thing has led to quite a debate chat on twitter in the nutrition community. Registered nutritionists and dietitians being united in their views on how unhelpful and wrong it is to be advertising products with claims such as “boosts metabolism” and “calming” “anti-inflammatory” or “makes you feel energised”. I don’t think that all these brands are trying to dupe us or to lie, I just think they are confused about the science. That could totally be me being naive of course! Also, I don’t want to single these out by any means but what I do want to point out is:

  1. In order to make a health claim a nutrient needs to have the science to back it up and health claim has to be EFSA approved.

2.  There needs to be enough of a nutrient in a product for it to have an effect. Sometimes there is some science but the amount of the nutrient needed is just not palatable to have in a single serving.

3. By making wild claims a product may look good but consumers are becoming savvy and some will definitely start avoiding these types of food items.

4. What is the science? Is it good quality or a one off study on 10 people?

5. If you  are a brand and have used a different technique or added extras to a food product then be prepared to explain why. I chatted to multiple food brands who couldn’t tell me the role of an ingredient or how a product had been made.

6. Is there a need for your product or for the claim you are making? High protein water for example, why is that needed?

If you are a food brand or new starter to the market and you want your product/brand to be credible then it is not just a case of having a few studies to back it up. Ideally you want an approved health claim. If that isn’t possible then are still ways to word things. Working with a registered nutritionist or dietitian to get the wording, science and understanding of right is so important. We want to have the right messages going out into the public domain so that great brands flourish and the consumer knows they can trust labelling and advertising. Isn’t it better to make less claims and have a trusted product? Yes working with someone like myself will cost you some pennies, but in the long run you will end up with a much better product.

The goal of recovery is not about weight.  

I’m constantly on a journey with my clinical practice and dietetic thinking. One of the keys to a good health professional (or any professional) in my mind is one who constantly evaluates their practice, the evidence, the new trends and uses this to shape how they work and think.  

I started work as an eating disorder dietitian in 2007. On my first day I was handed a box file that contained a few black and white print outs of out of date dietary information and told those were all the resources. There had been no dietitian for 5 years. I built up the resources, my knowledge and educates the team as well as myself. As a lone dietitian on a psychology based team it was at times very tough but it was the making of me and I loved it. When I left that job I had experience of helping run a day care programme, groupwork, meal support, out patients, inpatients and I had gained a whole new language. I am so thankful for those years. 

Now as someone who works in the private eating disorder field I am constantly working to better the support I offer. Not so that I am better, but because I want to do myself out of a job. I want to see my patients recover, I want them to have a good relationship with food, I want them to no longer need my support. 

We live in a weight focused culture. I personally struggle with this. I would love to not weigh anyone who comes to clinic, yet most of the time I have to. Working with people who are very low weight it would be negligent of me to not know what their weight is doing. It has to be a focus, but I don’t want it to be the primary and only focus.  So we get it out of the way, debrief and then move onto other areas. Weight is never an easy topic and is certainly not foolproof. The simple idea of eating so much leading to so much weight gain every week just isn’t that simple  in the community. There are so many factors than can complicate the picture. Activity levels, mental energy used in work/study, looking after children, anxiety etc… So focusing on the weight alone can make it slow, hard and distressing. 

Instead of a weight focus only, I like to work with people looking at their relationship with food. We may look at the their food beliefs, busting any incorrect ones. Ideas such as carbohydrates are fattening or I shouldn’t eat fat are common ones. It doesn’t always work but I try to stay away from calories and strict meal plans and instead focus on eating regularly and including a good balance of foods at meals.  No food is off limits, no food is good or bad. Switching the focus from weight to health has always been one of my aims. Instead of what foods you need to gain weight I look at why food groups are good for your health and how restriction is unhealthy and can cause physical harm. Finding out what foods people have been avoiding and why, is always a good place to start.

 As people make progress it can be so liberating to weigh less often and incorporate more freedom into the meal plan. Learning to listen to those signals of hunger and fullness can be very scary and overwhelming at first but it opens up a whole new future and a way of eating that will see you through life, with no need to restrict, binge or diet every again. Let’s make that the goal. 

Guilt free eating?

This week I spoke to a new client. A lady who has previously had an eating disorder and now has recovered to a healthy weight but has some left over eating traits and food beliefs. She was very relieved and refreshed to hear my viewpoint of:

“All foods can be included in your diet, there are no Good and Bad foods, instead focus on enjoying your food, listening to your body, trusting your body and eating without guilt.”

It got us talking about why there is guilt associated with food. Such a huge and emotive topic.

We all know that food is something our body needs, without it we cannot live, too little food and we lose weight, not eating a balanced diet means our body does not function correctly and can be physically unwell. So where does the guilt come from?

From an early age we learn that some foods are not as good for our bodies. This is often taught in a very black and white manner, labelling foods as good or bad. Now I would agree that something high in calories, fat and sugar, like a slice of chocolate fudge cake, is not something we should be eating daily. However it isn’t a bad food… on the contrary it is delicious and can bring a lot of pleasure. 

Eating for pleasure is important. Lots of our experiences are associated with food. If we only ate for  our physical need think of all that we would missed out on. For example the pleasure of an ice-cream on a hot day or cake at a birthday. These experiences feed our soul, they are part of our social life and our emotional well being too. Food is more than just nutrition.

When we label a food as good or bad it affects the way we think and feel about it. So by labelling that slice of cake as “bad food” we feel we are being naughty/bad when we eat it. It can lead to anxiety before eating, judgement, criticism and then guilt afterwards. Our food rules therefore hold a lot of power and influence.

Having just worked with a TV production company on a food show, this topic also came up when they wanted to label a group of foods as good/bad. This instantly brought a red warning flag up in my mind. It became a great opportunity to talk about some other ways we could soften the language used and how powerful our words can be. This is definitely a journey I am on with my language both at home and as part of my work.

It is time to change the way we categorise foods. Instead of good and bad can we not see all foods as back on the menu, just some more occasionally than others? This is not an easy, overnight change but one that requires practise, patience and plenty of self compassion. The first step is to identity how you see foods, then try to catch those moments when you pass a judgment on a food or on your eating. Can you step in and reframe it. Instead of “I shouldn’t have eaten that ice-cream, now I feel guilty, it is bad for me” Rephrase it as “That ice-cream was really delicious and brought me a lot of pleasure”. Let’s bring all foods back onto the menu and start working towards loving our foods and ourselves.

Beef and Red Pepper Noodle Soup.

Red meat is often seen as something to cut down on, but these messages are actually leading to an epidemic of iron deficiency, confusion over how much to eat and how often to eat it.  New research has shown that 51% of people did not know how much red meat you  can safely eat and 85% of people are likely to underestimate the amount of red meat that can be consumed.(1)

This “eat less red meat” message is leading to some of our population not eating enough iron rich foods. 27% of women aged 19-64yrs and 48% of girls aged 11-18yrs are not meeting their iron needs.(2) Why is this a concern? Lack of iron can result in symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, heart palpitations and pallor. It can be quite debilitating for some people. Red meat is also a fabulous source of protein, providing the body with all the amino acids that it needs. Other notable nutrients include the B vitamin complex including B12, zinc, selenium and phosphorus.

What is a portion?

A portion of red meat is 70g of cooked meat. This quite simply is a palm sized portion. I love using hands as a way of measure portions as our hands grow with us, so a child’s portion of red meat is their palm size.

For example (adults portion sizes):

  • A palm size chop or steak 
  • 3 slices of back bacon 
  • 5 or 6 cubes of meat in casserole
  • 6 thin slices of beef, pork or ham 
  • 1 and a half standard sausages 
  • 4 to 5 meat balls

How often can I eat red meat?

If you are sticking to the portion guide above then 70g of red meat can be eaten 5 times a week. This includes red meat at breakfast, lunch and dinner, but it shows how red meat really isn’t something to be avoiding. The Meat Advisory Panel are running a “5 A WEEK” campaign and I think this is a really invaluable and important message to be highlighting.

So to get on board with the campaign here is a super tasty recipe that makes a wonderful lunch time soup:

If you would like to make this recipe at home (and I highly recommend it) then here are the step by step instructions:

Marianade 450g beef strips in 2 tsp chinese 5 spice, 1 tbsp soy sauce and 1 chilli
Place 2 pints of beef stock in a pan, add 2 cm grated ginger, 2 garlic cloves  and simmer for 5 mins.  Then add 7oz of chopped greens and simmer 1-2 mins.
Add the beef, 1 sliced red pepper and175g  noodles in, simmer for 3 minutes. Stir through some spring onions and coriander and serve.

Beef and Red Pepper Noodle Soup
Serves 4
A quick and delicious spicy beef noodle soup that is perfect for a lunch or light supper.
Write a review
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
10 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
10 min
394 calories
38 g
123 g
8 g
41 g
3 g
265 g
221 g
2 g
0 g
4 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
Amount Per Serving
Calories 394
Calories from Fat 70
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 8g
Saturated Fat 3g
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 3g
Cholesterol 123mg
Sodium 221mg
Total Carbohydrates 38g
Dietary Fiber 4g
Sugars 2g
Protein 41g
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
  1. 450g/1lb lean beef stir-fry strips
  2. 10ml/2tsp Chinese five-spice powder
  3. 15-30ml/1-2tbsp soy sauce
  4. 15ml/1tbsp prepared chilli or Schezuan sauce
  5. 1.2L/2pint good, hot beef or vegetable stock
  6. 2.5cm/1inch piece fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  7. 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  8. 175g/6oz fresh or dried fine egg/rice noodles
  9. 200g/7oz pak choi or green cabbage, shredded
  10. 1 small red pepper, cored, deseeded and finely sliced
  11. Small bunch spring onions, finely chopped
  12. Large bunch freshly chopped coriander
  1. In a medium bowl dust the stir-fry strips in the Chinese five-spice powder. Add the soy sauce and chilli or schezuan sauce. Cover and set aside.
  2. In a large pan add the stock, ginger and garlic. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the noodles and pak choi or cabbage. Simmer for a further 1-2 minutes. Add the beef with the marinade mixture and the red pepper. Simmer for a further 2-3 minutes or until the noodles are tender. Remove from the heat, season if required and stir through half the spring onions and coriander.
  4. Divide the broth between four bowls and garnish with the remaining, spring onions and coriander.
Dietitian UK
To find out more about the “5 A WEEK” Campaign you can pop to Simply Beef and Lamb on Facebook or to Love Pork.  Twitter: @lovepork.UK @simplybeefandlamb.








What makes it easier to recover from an eating disorder?

“Recovery is like riding a wild stallion. It is unpredictable, you will likely fall off many times. You will go through emotions ranging from fear to excitement, feeling out of control at times and clinging on to anything you can. Keep getting back on the horse, keep holding tight, sit up tall and go with the ride.”

There are many times in my working life that I just wish I had a magic wand to make recovery easier. The fact is, recovery is hard, damn hard and it takes a lot of guts, determination and hard work to even make a start on it. Once you start it can feel like it just gets harder at points, so you really need to plan and have support in place to help guide you and keep you going. Here are some things that can help the ride.

Have a social support structure in place

Deciding to make changes to your eating may sound simple, but once you plan it and then actually have to put it into place, it really gets harder. Having people around you who you are accountable to, people who will sit with you in the hard moments, challenge you to keep going and celebrate with you too. True friends and family who love you for you but want to see you healed up and able to live life to the full.

Have professional support

Yes you can do it on your own. However an eating disorder is an isolating illness, it can be a long and lonely path. So having a professional or a team of professionals who you trust is a good idea. People you can get the right information from and trust it, people who will challenge your thoughts, assumptions and beliefs and believe that you can do this. 

Being in the right place at the right point 

There is a cycle of change that I often use with people to talk through how you need to be in the right mindset and the right point of your life to begin recovery. This is especially key if you are in the community, recovering at home. In a eating disorders unit things are a little different and you have more support and encouragement. Take a look at the  phases below and see if you can identify where you are. Recovery can be a cyclical process where you move forward 5 spaces and then back 2 spaces, but do not give up, this is normal. 

Stages of ED recovery 

  1. I don’t think I have a problem
  2. I might have a problem but I’m ignoring it or I don’t care
  3. I don’t know how to change but I  want to
  4. I tried to change but it didn’t work
  5. I can stop some of the behaviours but not all of them
  6. I can stop the behaviours but not the thoughts
  7. I can be free from my eatind disorder some, but not all the time
  8. I am free from behaviours and thoughts = recovered

Have goals in mind

You need something to aim for. Why do you want to get better? What will life be like when you are free from your eating disorder? What do you want to do with your life that you cannot currently do. I recommend writing out or creating a vision board showing where you want to get to. Write out your dreams and dream big. Then use this as a motivational tool, put it up where you can see it. 

Surround yourself with the positive things

Part of recovery is about changing your mindset and the way you view life. It can be so easy to see the negatives about your life and yourself, then use food as a way to help with this. Or to get drawn into the negatives about weight gain. I challenge you to instead see the positives. Why is weight gain good? What does it mean for your body and your life? Grab hold of those negatives and turn them upside down. Having motivational phrases and images around you can be really helpful on those days that thinking is too tricky.

Go do it. I believe you can.



The golden toolbox of recovery

What’s in your toolbox?! I was recently at a meeting and friend turned to me and said “I have a strange picture that I’ve seen, it’s you with a golden toolbox. It’s like you have everything you need in that toolbox to deal with life”.

This spoke volumes to me as a person and as a health care professional. Having worked in a team which was predominantly psychological I was immersed in the language of the therapists and the word toolbox often came up. I sat in on plenty of group therapy sessions and got to experience a whole range of different therapies.  Also, in our team meetings we used these skills on ourselves as part of the debrief process. It showed me how important it is to look after not just your patients, but yourself. If you have a life with some stress in it (let’s face it that is probably everyone) then you need to have some skills to hand that help you deal with that stress. Stress and anxiety can be a huge factor in an eating disorder, in mental health conditions and also to physical digestive issues such as IBS. When you have a stressful event how do you respond? What does it trigger in you? When you know how you respond you can start to work on a more effective and helpful mechanism. 

 I will never forget my interview for my eating disorder post. I was asked such an eclectic mix of questions that I had no idea how I had done on leaving the room. When I received the call to say I had the job, I asked why I was chosen. The response “we could see you are robust and able to cope with the strains of this work”.  In the eating disorder field this robustness is certainly needed. I continually need to keep on top of my own anxiety and practise what I preach. 

I want to  highlight some skills or tools that we all, health professionals, patients, people, could include in our golden toolbox. Tools you can use regularly for moments of anxiety, tools you can pull out for those emergency moments.

I remember being on a train that got stuck in a tunnel and suddenly feeling trapped and my anxiety levels rising. It was not an experience I was prepared for and suddenly I knew I needed to use one of my tools. At that point visualisation of a calm beach with lapping waves and some square breathing helped immensley. I know if I had not practised these skills  previously, I wouldn’t have been able to use them there and then. So practise really is the key. 

Here are some of my favourite toolbox tools that I use myself and recommend. 

Journaling –

I’m a seasoned journalling fan. This is something I have always done since my teenage years, I now have a lot of full notebooks with a collection of my teen angst, my working life, my spiritual life and my family life in them. Looking back it shows me how I have evolved and where my stress triggers are. I can see the patterns that I fall into and work on improving my reactions. I dig out my journal when I have a moment I need to work through, when my mind feels cluttered or when something erupts! I also love to journal the good and positive, so any life events or just when I get the urge.

If you are on a recovery journey then I recommend that you journal daily  or at least 4 times a week. It needs to become a discipline and a part of your coping mechanism. A good way to start is to write down 3 things that went no so well in your day and how you could have dealt with these better. Then always finish on a positive, so 3 things that have gone well or that you coped with well. You can also take a single scenario and write out alternative endings. Using an eating disorder example: You had an argument with a friend, this increased your stress and you responded by missing your snack. Thinking through why this was not a useful response – restriction of food does not help your emotional well being, it is a quite fix but not a long term cure. Now you have missed out on some nutrition for the day and your body is hungry. Your body needs regular food right now as you work towards recovery. So take a think through how you could have responded instead…. maybe you could have gone for a walk, taken a bath or done some mindfulness to help you reduce your anxiety after the argument instead of turning to food.

Mindfulness and Breathing –

Such a buzz word at the moment, but this is not a fad. I’ve been using mindfulness with eating disorder clients for over 10 years and I’m sure it has been used for far, far longer than this. Just 10 minutes before a meal or after a meal can make a huge difference. It is all about calming your thoughts and body. I personally love just deep breathing, there are so many variations on this so try a few out. For me, the breathing  is something that spills over from Pilates practise and so I get a double benefit from Pilates of exercise and mindfulness. There are some great free resources to help here. 

Exercise –

This is something to decide upon according to your recovery stage. Exercise can be amazing as a mood booster and a de-stresser. However if you are working on weight gain then it will also have an affect on this. If your BMI is less than 17.5 then you will want to modify your exercise so that it is physically safe. 

Distraction – 

I often suggest that people put together a list of distraction techniques that they can use. For example, after a meal,  or when a the urge to binge strikes, at times when anxiety levels are rising it can be useful to have an activity planned. Things like craft, having a friend to call, painting your nails, reading a book, cleaning out a cupboard – something that immerses your mind and changes your thoughts. Puzzles, crosswords, knitting, collage are all great things to have on your list.

Positive thoughts –

Those anxious, negative thoughts are something that we all get. It is how we deal with them that is key. I love the thought of noticing the thought, and finding the opposite reaction. So turn that negative into a positive. If you practise this regularly it can turn into a habit that you hardly notice you are doing. I’m now working on this one with my children too, teaching then that there is always a positive side to things. It is a great skill to learn at a young age but one that you can learn at any age.

I’d love to know what tools you find useful.