Not only are we in the middle of a global health pandemic but we are seeing the physical health issues matched by the scale of the increase in mental health issues too.
So firstly I want to let you know I get it.
This makes perfect sense. The first thing I want to do is to acknowledge this is real, and justified in the current circumstances and if this is you, you are not alone by a long, long way.
Many of us are concerned over the future. Some of us have partners out of work, businesses threatened, children at home again while we juggle our own commitments, elderly parents who are at risk, maybe lonely and isolated and all manner of other knock on effects of Covid-19.
Not only that but in the UK we have the impending changes which accompany Brexit bringing more uncertainty, and with each day, the environment becomes far more of a pressing issue. Those of us both with children and without fear for the future of our planet with real reason to do so.
These are problems we face whether men or women but as a woman I do want to acknowledge that it often falls to us to deal with in laws, our own parents, and our children as the key carer and the overload I am seeing through my conversations with working mums right now is overwhelming in many cases.
The world can seem a frightening place right now and more than a little out of control.
When we as humans, feel out of control, due to this bigger picture we feel anxiety, stress and fear which we are seeing everywhere at the moment.
However, there are steps we can take to manage our own mental wellbeing and start to feel more empowered to deal with what is going on around us.
This starts with focusing on the difference between what we can control, what we can influence and what is just an area of concern. When we turn our attention to the areas we can exert power over in our lives, then we start to regain some control and our mental wellbeing improves.
Control the priorities right now
The above illustrate my point. If we spend our lives reacting to situations, people, and that which we cannot influence, psychologically this is disempowering and damaging to our mental wellbeing.
I have looked at many of these example models and see ‘Health’ inside the circle of influence when in fact, mostly, this is within our control. Certainly, there are ways to protect ourselves, build up our immunity and resilience, and support both our physical and mental health.
What is more, lifestyle disease is dependent on the choices we make and genetic exceptions to this are few. Without doubt the thing that has the greatest bearing on our long term health and wellbeing is Food.
Imagine a tree. The roots are where it all happens and damaged roots means a tree that pretty soon will wilt, and show signs of ill health. We are exactly the same. But our ‘roots’ are found in our gut which is responsible not only for providing us with our immunity but also for our mental wellbeing.
When we become overwhelmed during times like these and our focus becomes blurred, eating becomes functional and very often the last priority.
We eat quickly between meetings on zoom, or miss meals all together and end up eating the wrong snacks instead when we have 5 minutes.
We eat out of packets instead of preparing meals from scratch from fresh ingredients
We eat of packets because we don’t prioritise the time to do a mid week top up on the fresh stuff our bodies crave to be well
We perhaps drink more and look forward to an earlier glass of wine to relieve stress when in actual fact, the physical effects of wine actually exacerbate it, hinder your sleep quality, interfere with your gut health and therefore your anxiety and resilience
We tend to get take aways far more. Food full of empty calories, the wrong fats and high in sugar and salt and very often yeast too which has a negative effect on the gut biome and kills of our biota which is supporting our immunity.
We eat fast food at home; the likes of white pasta which converts to sugars and provides us with very little in the way of good nourishment.
We rely too much on caffeine
We increase our sugar intake ; both added and free sugars which is detrimental to our gut, our health and the key cause of lifestyle disease
Food should be our number one priority right now for so many reasons but not least because our relationship with food is personal. We become every mouthful that we eat – after all our cells as they renew can only be made from what we decide each day, each meal, each snack.
When we eat therefore, we are either eating foods that nurture and support our gut biome – those billions of different varieties of organisms that live in our gut, or we are consuming foods that deplete it.
What we should be trying to create in our gut is this perfect eco system which connects to the communication routes around our body, including the brain via the Vagus nerve. In this system, we are able to produce the right chemical reactions to support the overall wellbeing of our bodies.
For example, over 90% of our serotonin, that feel good chemical, is manufactured in the gut. But it needs the right conditions to be able to do so. We need our bodies to be firing on all cylinders for it to be able to do so and we need our bodies to be in balance.
We also require a vast amount and array of fibre to enable our guts to function properly and convert to short chain fatty acids. We need the phytochemicals and the anti oxidants from foods to protect us and build resilience. We need the vitamins and minerals from real foods to support so many other bodily functions, to provide us with the energy and also calming influences that they can bring.
So what can you be doing right now to ensure that your gut is looking after both your immunity and your mental health?
Make half of what you eat each day fresh vegetables or fruit; you should be eating 10 or so portions a day ( prioritise the veggies over the fruit as you want to minimise the sugars)
Ensure you are eating a huge diversity of plants and vegetables. Yes we need the amount of fibre but there are so many different varieties, each plant bringing it’s own biome which adds something else to our gut health, so make a list each day of the varieties you have consumed. The higher the better and aim for around 30 if you can.
Limit your intake of sugar and be aware of what products it has been added in to along with yeast which can lead to Candida and other conditions which detract from a healthy gut
Cut down or out alcohol. You may feel you need this right now as a crutch but please believe me when I say it will only be exacerbating your anxiety and stress and feelings of low mood in the long term. In fact all the stimulants I have mentioned will offer you a short term high but then drop you until you take the next hit.
Fill the void with large glasses of water, reward yourself with mint, ice, fruit, herbs in your soft drinks and understand what effects each mouthful has on your body.
Eat foods out of packets – cook from fresh and integrate colour for the antioxidants to build immunity
Choose foods to nurture your gut like fermented foods; kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, kefir, and kimchi
Take a spoonful of apple cider vinegar every day
Boost your immunity through adaptogens and eat plenty of ginger, turmeric, maybe Maca, even ginseng perhaps
Look to natural health support like wonderful Manuka honey with the highest UMF value you can get hold of
Think about boosting your gut health by taking a good probiotic – and of course eating the prebiotic foods I mention above.
Fast on the heels of what we eat, how we sleep and exercise are also high on the priority list as a triangle of support for our mental wellbeing.
The chemicals released from one, impact the other and form a triangle of support for our health. But we do know exercise releases feel good endorphins, and a good night’s sleep and healthy sleep routine means we are far more ready to face the challenges which life is hurling at us right now.
And most of all, remember you are not alone, and nothing stays the same.
The government has said it will ban junk food adverts before the 9pm watershed and launch a short consultation on whether that should be extended to a blanket ban on adverts for sweets and fast food online. Without question is should.
Meanwhile in companies that have been the most creative with Wellbeing and made a core foundational principle of the business, offering help and support in all areas of health, nutrition and fitness there have been astounding results. For example, e-commerce company Nextjump proved that there had been a fourfold increase in annual sales growth from 30% to 120% and the only variable involved was the difference in the investment in it’s people! This statistic is truly astounding and illustrates that the right Wellbeing Approach is not simply a tick box nice to have extra but is business driven and a company issue that directly affects and drives the bottom line.
I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue some four years ago. For me then, it is of utmost importance that I pace myself, take time out to recharge and most importantly of all, feed myself the right foods. Knowing this is the most important thing that I can do for both myself and my family, it is my priority. The one thing that I will not accept compromise on.
If the cleaning does notget done once in a while there are no consequences. If the children miss a football or dance session occasionally then so what. But if we do not fuel ourselves with replenishing, nourishing and nurturing foods, then we do bear the consequences. Feeding myself not only nutritious but also totally delicious food, is the highest form of self care – for myself and my children, knowing every cell of our bodies is renewed from every mouthful we eat.
So knowing the food we eat has the power to protect us from illness, disease, and promote longevity, it often interests me to look at the reasons people give for not eating more healthily. I examine each of the following in more detail in my book but they distil briefly to the following;
No time – I’m far too busy to cook from fresh each night; it’s just unrealistic
Too much conflicting information out there – I’ll stick to what I know
I never get ill! – I’ll be ok whatever I eat (I call this the Myth of Invincibility)
Too hard – I’m not very good at cooking and it doesn’t come easily
Fatalism – if I’m going to be ill there’s not much I can do about it anyway!
Not worthy – Unconscious or conscious view that I’m not worth looking after (often a protection mechanism)
If you are a mum reading this and recognising yourself in any of those scenarios, particularly the last point, then I would urge you to look afresh at your relationship with food.
I have no doubt that as a mum you are overstretched, a little frazzled to say the least and juggling your commitments like crazy while feeling the guilt that comes with the territory. I am sure you are always on the back foot and maybe dread the first question from the children as they step foot inside the door ‘What’s for dinner mum?’. You may also feel like you can never please anyone and that it is impossible to accommodate all the different dietary needs in your house. Perhaps you have built your eating habits around everything else instead of everything else around the priority of your nourishment. Maybe you find yourself giving into foods for children and you, just to placate them or for an ‘easy life’. But you can move from this place of overwhelm to confidence around healthy food, ensuring it underpins your own health, and then consequently that of your family.
Self love and self care are about you mum! You as a priority. Your health as priority. Your wellbeing. So build yourself a triangle of health, balancing your exercise, your sleep and most importantly, your nutrition. Count nutrients, never calories and treat food always as your number one reward, never denial for eating well is about self love of the highest order.
My mantra as a yogi is always ‘enough is good enough’.
Make it yours too. Please recognise long term change comes from gradual sustainable changes.
While I am always wanting everything now, and to be the best I can, at this point in my life I am trying to be kinder to myself. You should too.
Let things go.
Stop beating yourself up if something doesn’t go to plan.
Trust in the process of change; make a goal and know you will get to where you are going.
Be mindful of what you are eating.
Try to understand better what it’s doing for you.
You should be thinking ‘ME FIRST’ ALL THE TIME. I DESERVE THE BEST!’
May sugar be the sweetest killer? Sugar has now overtaken cigarettes as the biggest contributor to lifestyle disease. It is slipped into so many products as other names and ingredients that we rarely even recognise it is there or check the quantities. In fact sugary drinks alone cause 184,000 deaths a year according to a study and report conducted by Tufts University in Boston. 76% of those deaths occurred in low to middle income countries. We now know the situation in the UK has slightly improved when it comes to fizzy drinks, but what about all the numerous other hidden sugars?
This blog is written for me by my good friend and psychotherapist Dr Robert Owen, who managed and reversed his own diagnosis for Diabetes Type 2.
Confessions of a sugar junkie.
I am addicted to sugar and it could kill me. I suffer from type 2 diabetes which, if not managed, can result in complications like blindness, amputation, heart problems and death. In spite of this knowledge I sometimes sucome to sugar loaded fare. I belong to a large family and there are lots of birthday parties. It’s normally that ‘small’ slice of cake that tempts me even though I know so much about the danger. I can’t say I haven’t been warned many times – as far back as the 1960s a friend introduced me to Professor Yudkin’s book “Pure, white and deadly”. Yet, I still sometimes find the temptation too much to resist. So why do I give into temptation when cake is on offer?
I know I’m not alone. How did we become sugar junkies? Who are the pushers? And other vital questions.
It started innocently enough
Sugar has been grown and used in India since ancient times. The word sugar derives from the Sanskrit language. How it was originally used is unclear, but it was certainly used as medicine in the Ayurvedic tradition.
As sugar juice it was not plentiful or cheap, in most parts of the world in ancient times honey was used for sweetening. Therefore, sugar remained relatively unimportant in diets until the Indians discovered methods of turning sugarcane juice into granulated crystals which were easier to store and to transport. This was known as Khaṇḍa, which is the source of our word candy.
During their campaigns in the Holy Land, Crusaders came across traders with “sweet salt” and brought this granulated sugar back to Europe.
It was a luxury and therefore not available to the majority of the population in Europe until the 18th century, when it gradually became more widely available. By the 19th century it came to be considered a necessity by the better-off. A change in taste occurred and the demand for sugar as an essential food ingredient soared.
During the Napoleonic Wars, sugar-beet production increased in continental Europe because of the difficulty of importing sugar when shipping was subject to blockade. And by the late 19th century sugar beet was the main source of sugar in Europe.
Sugar was rationed during World War I and more extensively during World War II, so we managed to exist with very little of it for many years in the 20th Century. I remember the wonderful day in September 1953 when sweets ‘came off rations’ and we kids gorged ourselves sat on the lawn in our back garden. This could be when my addiction started.
How did I get hooked?
Homo Sapiens has been around for a million years and for most of the time have survived without non-naturally occurring sugars, so it’s not a necessity. Why do we love it? To answer this question, we need to consider the evolutionary reason for the desire for sweet foods. It’s because our hunter gatherer ancestors searched for sweet foods (those containing naturally occurring sugars) because they weren’t poisonous.
And why does sugar make us happy? We are told that ‘happiness’ is partly the result of a biochemical process which relies partly on the neurotransmitter serotonin. I know as a psychotherapist that deficiency in serotonin is associated with depression. If we eat lots of carbohydrates – especially sugar, we can increase serotonin synthesis giving us short term pleasure but like any drug the effect doesn’t last long, and we have to consume more. Who’s eaten a bar of milk chocolate or even a box at one go? Scientific studies are available that suggest that sugar may act in a drug-like way and creates addiction in human beings. It can function very much like an opiate.
Are we consuming more than we know? Who are the pushers?
Many people are trying to come off their sugar dependency, but it’s easy to underestimate how much we’re actually consuming. Most people don’t realise when they’re eating it. One of the reasons is that many foods contain hidden sugars, including some foods that you wouldn’t even think of as being sweet. And what is most disturbing is that even products marketed as “low-fat” or “light” often contain more sugar than the regular versions.
Added sugars aren’t a necessary nutrient in your diet. Although small amounts are fine, they can cause serious harm if eaten in large amounts on a regular basis.
The British Heart Foundation recommends that people over age 11 should limit their ‘free’ sugar intake to 30 gms per day, while 7-10-year olds 24 gms and 4-6-year olds 19gms. A teaspoon of sugar contains 4 grams. Even so some experts believe this recommendation is too generous.
The easiest way to avoid hidden sugar in your meals is to make them at home so you know exactly what’s in them.
Convenience food manufacturers add sugar in various guises see ‘Don’t kid yourself these are all sugars’.
What is the government doing about this health destroying addiction?
After concerns about the rising level of obesity, tooth decay and other issues, particularly amongst children in the UK , the Government in 2018 introduced a ‘sugar tax’ on sweetened drinks. Officially called the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL), the tax puts a charge of 24p on drinks containing 8g of sugar per 100ml and 18p a litre on those with 5-8g of sugar per 100ml, directly payable by producers to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
It aims to reduce sugar consumption by persuading producers to reformulate their high sugar brands and avoid paying the levy.If they don’t reformulate, it’s up to manufacturers to decide whether to pass the levy cost on to consumers.
It’s not the first attempt to reduce sugar in the UK. In 2017, Public Health England (PHE) called for a 20% cut in sugar content within food produce by 2020, with 5% being the target for the first year. However a new PHE report released in May 2018 found that food manufacturers and supermarkets have only managed to cut 2% of sugar content. So, I’m not holding my breath over whether this levy will have much of an effect.
HOW CAN WE GET CLEAN?
4 grams = 1 teaspoon of sugar
Here are some foods and drinks that contain much more sugar than you would think.
Yogurt can be a highly nutritious food. However, not all yogurt is the same
Like many other low-fat products, low-fat yogurts have sugar added to them to enhance flavour.
For example, 245 grams of low-fat yogurt can contain up to 47 grams of sugar, which is 12 teaspoons. This is more than the daily limit for men and women in just a pot of so-called “healthy” yogurt.
Furthermore, low-fat yoghurt doesn’t seem to have the same health benefits as full-fat yoghurt. It’s best to choose full-fat, natural or Greek yoghurt. Avoid yoghurt that has been sweetened with sugar.
Like whole fruit, fruit juice contains some vitamins and minerals.
However, despite seeming like a healthy choice, these vitamins and minerals come with a large dose of sugar and very little fibre.
It usually takes a lot of fruit to produce a single glass of fruit juice, so you get much more sugar in a glass of juice than you would get by eating whole fruit. This makes it easy to consume a large amount of sugar quickly. PRESS JUICES / CONCENTRATED dilution?
In fact, there can be just as much sugar in fruit juice as there is in a sugary drink like cola. The poor health outcomes that have been convincingly linked to sugary drinks may be linked to fruit juices too.
It’s best to choose whole fruit and minimize your intake of fruit juices.
Added sugars are often hidden in foods that we don’t even consider to be sweet, such as spaghetti sauce.
All tomato sauces will contain some natural sugar given that tomatoes are a fruit.
However, many spaghetti sauces have extra sugar added to them as well.
The best way to ensure you aren’t getting any unwanted sugar in your pasta sauce is to make your own.
However, if you need to buy ready-made spaghetti sauce, check the label and pick one that either doesn’t have sugar on the ingredients list or where it’s listed very close to the bottom. This indicates that it’s not a major ingredient.
Soup isn’t a food that you generally associate with sugar.
When it’s made with fresh whole ingredients, it’s a healthy choice and can be an effective way to increase your vegetable consumption without much effort.
The vegetables in soups have naturally occurring sugars, which are fine to eat given that they usually come in small amounts and with lots of other beneficial nutrients.
However, many commercially prepared soups have a lot of added ingredients, including sugar.
To check for added sugars in your soup, look at the ingredients list for things like sucrose barley malt, dextrose, maltose and other syrups.
The higher up on the list an ingredient is, the higher its content in the product. Watch out for when manufacturers list small amounts of different sugars, as that’s another sign the product could be high in total sugar.
All fruit contains natural sugars. However, some tinned fruit is peeled and preserved in sugary syrup. This processing strips the fruit of its fiber and adds a lot of unnecessary sugar to what should be a healthy snack.
The canning process can also destroy heat-sensitive vitamin C, although most other nutrients are well preserved.
Whole, fresh fruit is best. If you want to eat canned fruit, look for one that has been preserved in juice rather than syrup, which has a slightly lower sugar content.
Blending fruits with milk or yogurt in the morning to make yourself a smoothie can be a great way to start your day.
However, not all smoothies are healthy.
Many commercially produced smoothies come in large sizes and can be sweetened with things like fruit juice, ice cream or syrup, which increases their sugar content.
Some of them contain ridiculously high amounts of calories and sugar, containing over 96 grams, or 24 teaspoons of sugar in a single serving.
For a healthy smoothie, check the ingredients and make sure you watch your portion size.
Don’t kid yourself! Know what the labels mean – these are all sugars: Barley maltBeet sugarBrown sugarButtered sugarCane juice crystalsCane sugarCaster sugarCoconut sugarConfectioner’s (powdered) sugarCorn sweetenerCrystalline fructoseDate sugarDextran, malt powderEthyl maltolEvaporated cane juiceFruit juice concentrateGolden sugarInvert sugarMaltodextrinMaltoseMolassesMuscovado sugarOrganic raw sugarPanelaPalm sugarRapadura sugar
If you need to buy convenience food, make sure you read the label carefully to identify any hidden added sugars.
Ingredients are listed by weight, with the main ingredients listed first. This means that the more of something there is in a food, the higher up on the list it appears.
Food manufacturers get around this requirement. They make their products appear healthier, by use of smaller amounts of three or four different types of sugar in one product. These sugars then appear further down on the ingredients list, making a product look like it’s low in sugar when sugar is actually one of the main ingredients
Firstly, let us know:
What inspired you to enrol with The Coaching Academy?
What was/is your profession before becoming a coach?
CIPD qualified, a senior Learning and Development professional, a teacher and ‘informal’ coach for
many years on the subject of health, I saw the Introductory 2 days advertised and was drawn to find
out more. I had just left a multi award winning business I had started some years earlier and was
looking for something that fulfilled me on two levels; it had to fit in around my three teens, and it
had to be driven by passion around helping people to manage their health and wellness. The two
days were a revelation for many reasons. Never had I learned so much in 2 days and never had I
been so sure that something was so right for me. I became fully committed, inspired and motivated
to become the absolute best coach I could and signed up immediately.
Tell us about your journey as a TCA student:
What was the most rewarding part of your training/journey?
Two aspects of the course stood out for me.
Firstly I loved every second of the coaching itself. The buzz I got from this from day 1 has been
incredible. I would advise all trainees just to dive straight on in there. I was determined to finish the
course in as near to a year as possible and I think giving yourself a target really sets the pace and
motivation. Every client I had was a huge learning curve, one that I relished with an opportunity to
Secondly the training days. I have worked in and around L & D for most of my life and I have rarely
encountered such outstanding trainers. On day 1 of meeting Pam Lidford, I remember thanking her
after the event and saying ‘ I want to do what you do’. Now I have qualified I will be looking to see
more of them all on the NPD days.
How did you fit coach training into your busy life?
Like anything that should be a priority, I set aside so many hours a day and week to training and then
subdivided that up into coaching, paperwork, and training ( webinars, 1-1’s, group sessions). I’m a
busy single mum of three teens so I am in demand, but I red circled this time, and diarised this first,
building all else around it and letting my family and work colleagues know that I was doing this.
Where are you now? How are you using your coaching skills?
My coaching niche was easy for me. I’ve had over 25 years experience in health, wellness and
wellbeing, with my focus around food and nutrition. Although I had qualifications in nutrition I
hadn’t wanted to be a nutritionist. As a coach I feel I am perfectly placed to help people get to
where they want to be for long lasting sustainable change to last the rest of their lives – but what is
key is that they drive the journey and changes. This makes it work!
I have started building up my business to work with both mums and families who want to change
their relationship with food, both 1-1 and as part of a 12 week course I offer. I also work with
businesses to make Wellbeing a focus, giving talks and training.
I started a podcast ‘ Coaching Conversations’ with my colleague Julian Roberts whom I met on a
Coaching Academy Training Day for DISC, with the intention of raising the profile of ‘coaches with
integrity’, helping give a platform to some of the excellent coaches out there and helping those
seeking a coach the opportunity to hear what it is all really about. We are so fortunate to have had
Pam Lidford, Kris Robertson, and Ann Skidmore as guests. I have also become a Radio Presenter on
Wellbeing Radio to widen my reach and further help others mind body and soul. I’ve also written a
coaching manual following the GROW model for those wishing to work through the process of eating
better and taking a family along with you. It will be ready for launch in September.
What are your top tips for:
People who are looking to become qualified as a professional coach?
Find a course you can engage with and feel motivated by. Adult education puts you firmly in the
driver’s seat so you will need to self powered to see this through. Set a schedule and a timetable for
getting the qualification. Find someone you connect with on the same course and mentor one
another through the journey. I am very grateful to Elissa Benjamin for doing so with me. We will
remain mutual supporters and friends. Engage a coach if you can.
Those currently in training with TCA?
Set yourself a finishing date – begin with the end in mind!
Get yourself a buddy so you can push one another through. Co coach and set up at least one
call together a week to talk through progress and ensure you are moving forward. Go over
paperwork, tick off the process together, and ensure you are both moving forward.
Start coaching ASAP!. Just do it – the sooner you get going, the quicker you learn, the
quicker you qualify
Stay organised. Get a folder for all your paperwork both online and offline and ensure you
have all the submission sheets there. I set all this up initially which made it very simple for
me to come back and input my feedback on online training, my coaching sessions, my
assessments. Organisation is KEY so that as the months progress you stay on top of the
various bits and pieces.
Use your personal 1-1 coaching sessions with the CA experts well. They were so helpful to