Christmas is a time of year most people are crazily excited about… it often seems the only ones who aren’t are those with family difficulties and those who have suffered a loss. But there’s also a group that tries to stay unseen over Christmas and so gets overlooked:
While often forgotten, people with eating disorders, disordered eating and/or body image issues can really struggle at Christmas.
Food is pushed front and centre not just on December 25th, but in the month leading up to it – mince pies, chocolate and treats flood the office, mulled wine is everywhere, party invites and dinners and drinks keep coming… and then again afterwards right up until New Year. Not to mention all the chocolates that get gifted that lie around for ages into January and February…
And people talk NON STOP about how calories don’t count at Christmas, how they’ll ‘be good’ in January, how much turkey they plan to eat…
There’s so much loaded language around ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food (remember: no food is good or bad or intrinsically moral – there are foods that are more and less nutrient dense) and this dialogue is normally pretty constant. At Christmas it can go into overdrive.
If you suffer (or have previously suffered) with EDs, disordered eating or body image issues you will know what a toll Christmas can take on your mental health and how difficult it can be to not only have so much public focus on food, but constant commentary on what you eat (or choose not to eat):
“Go on, it’s Christmas!”
“Have another one, go onnnnn!”
“Don’t you like mince pies?”
“Calories don’t count at Christmas, you can burn it off in the new year!”
“You’re tiny, what are you talking about! Have some!”
“Please finish those off so that I don’t, I’m trying to be good.”
“Oh no, I’m being good now so I can go crazy on Christmas day!”
“Why aren’t you drinking?”
“If you’re not hungry, just have a piece of cake, it’s amazing!”
“It’s nice to see you finally eat something!”
“I’ve never seen you eat that much!”
The list goes on, and on. And what seems innocent on the surface can actually be at best, a bit stressful, and at worst, quite traumatic.
So this is a plea from someone who has been there, stressed, eaten and made her self sick at Christmas – please don’t say the above, or the below.
Please don’t comment on other peoples’ food choices.
Please don’t ask why someone isn’t drinking, or is eating that.
Please don’t comment on how much or little people are eating.
Not at home, not at the office, not to friends or family.
If you are concerned about someone, there’s a serious conversation to be had, but that is very different from “oh you shouldn’t be dieting over Christmas!” or “why aren’t you having any of this…?”
Those comments aren’t productive. They can trigger people, make them anxious and encourage damaging behavior, entrenching already-difficult beliefs and emotions about peoples’ relationships with food and their bodies.
For now, though, just be compassionate, and respect that food is personal. Don’t pile on pressure and stress by constantly referencing it – EDs and disordered eating aren’t always visible, and you never know who’s listening.
So you may have spotted the name change on insta, and now it’s finally surfaced on here (thanks Sarah for the suggestion for what to change it to!) Apologies while I still transition some of the historical links across (and some links between posts may now play up, so fingers crossed everything works asap!)
I’ve been wanting to update the name for a long time because while legallygymliving worked for me once upon a time, when fitness for me very much meant a gym-focus, and when my law studies and getting ready to start my training contract felt like one of the most important things, it made sense.
My account had other names before legallygymliving including xoxofitgossipgirl (LOL!) and started out as me documenting my health and fitness journey – mostly instagramming what I was eating (I now realise – too little, and too ‘clean’/obsessive – see this post An Apologyfor more about this journey) and my BBG Kayla Itsines workouts.
While social media has its negatives, for me, it has transformed my relationship with my body and food. I was lucky enough to come across positive figures who have helped me no end with my nutrition philosophy. Food has gone from being an enemy to something I’m fascinated by – how to get the maximum nutrition into my body with maximum enjoyment, and create nourishing recipes that taste great (no more low carb or low calorie obsessions!) Rhiannon Lambert’s philosophy of ‘nutrients not numbers’ is very much mine now and I’m happy to say I’m in the best place I’ve ever been in relation to food and body image. (Also – eat the rainbow and eat more plans!)
Social media also let me find new ways of moving – I now adore boxing and primal / animal flows and know that I don’t have to do what the gym fitstagrammers say I have to (ditch cardio and lift heavy – no thanks! Nothing wrong with this, but I’ve learned to move for joy first and foremost, health second, and aesthetics go waaaaay down that list).
So, as you can tell, I now don’t want a name that suggests the gym is the only way to move. I want something that reflects my much more balanced mindset. And part of that is dropping law from the name too. It’s now a job that I do, yes. It’s not part of my identity.
I’ve also been very open about my health struggles over the course of transitioning to a law career which really woke me up to how physical and mental health MUST COME FIRST. I’d never had physical stress symptoms before and to suddenly be getting chronic gastritis, stomach problems, migraines, tonsillitis and repeated panic attacks and a plummeting appetite (and at one point when my boyfriend had to go to New York for a week for work, my dad had to come up and look after me and help me make it in to work) shook me up. I was doing all the right things – healthy diet, healthy exercise regime, meditation, yoga… but still getting ill. And the lesson is just to listen to your mind and body, we’re all different, with different goals, priorities, ways of working etc. and you just need to look after yourself without reference to what other people think you should be doing.
So, what this rambling post is trying to say is – wooooo, I’ve changed my name, and hopefully it’s now more a positive reflection of how I feel about health, fitness, mental wellbeing, physicality, movement, nutrition… which is, basically, ye olde cliché balance.
Balance. Listening to your body. Nutrients not numbers. Moderation. Not counting calories/macros. Not obsessing. Moving for fun. Moving for joy. Moving for health. Different forms of training. No more joyless gym sessions (only fun ones!) and types of training that can be at home, outdoors, anywhere that suits you. Eating more plants, more variety and more colours. And taking care of mental and emotional health too. Looking after your relationships. Taking up non-health-and-fitness-related hobbies. Reading books. Learning. Exploring. Travelling…
So in this post I told you alllllll about how I had watched all these documentaries and for both environmental and ethical-animal-based reasons, I wanted to try being plant-based.
I committed not to the full vegan lifestyle, but to being as plant-based as possible.
It was amazing initially – read the original post for the energy and endurance boost I felt. Then I had a couple of odd symptoms (not the ones you’d expect funnily enough!) and then it was fine again.
I managed to last a couple of months, before landing back at officially flexitarian (eating some meat, some fish, some dairy but aiming to be as plant-based as possible – so I tend to have at least 2 vegan meals a day generally).
Why did I ‘stop’?
The blunt honest truth is I do still agree with the ethics and environmental arguments, but I had to stop for my mental health.
As an ex-ED sufferer, I was aware ‘restrictive’ ways of eating need to be handled with care. I really didn’t think I’d be affected. But I was. I started to get anxious, obsessively check labels, feel sick and jittery around meal times, and obsess about what I could and couldn’t eat. If I had to go out, I’d worry about if I’d be able to eat anything or not.
And while maybe it’s possible to work through these things, given my history, and my on-going story with depression, I decided I didn’t have to be perfect.
I can still aim to eat as little animal produce as possible. To choose clean, ethical beauty and makeup products as much as possible. To help promote healthy plant-based options. I’ve swapped my shakes to vegan protein, converted Boy to almond milk in his lattes, we’re making changes…
But I’m not perfect. I’m not fully vegan. And while I’m sorry I can’t be fully consistent with the fact that I think it’s ideal to be vegan, I feel the need to be selfish and take care of myself on this one.
I hope I’m not letting anyone down, but I wanted to tell it like it is!
Positive lasting effects
I now do eat pretty much 2 meals a day that are vegan now, we’ve made some permanent swaps, and I’m more aware than I ever was before of the impact of my lifestyle choices.
It also made me make WAY more effort with fruit and veg variation, and getting more colour in my diet definitely felt like it gave my skin, mental clarity and energy levels a boost.
I feel better educated about animal welfare than before, and so I am trying to make more conscious decisions. While I’m not perfect, I’m working to reduce my impact and avoid supporting animal products as much as possible.
I care more about the impact of my lifestyle in other areas and make more effort to reduce plastic and recycle too.
It’s taught me loaaaads of tasty brand new plant-based recipes, and learning about plant-based protein sources has been great nutrition knowledge.
So there have definitely been some positives!
As my nutritionist and the lovely human being Rhiannon Lambert says, we don’t have to label our food choices.
I firmly believe this. But if I had to technically put a label on it to sum it up for you, I guess you could call me flexitarian.
However, ultimately, you are unique and need to do what works for your mind, body, ethics, all that good stuff. So don’t stress! Let’s support each other in making incrementally better choices for the planet, but also support good physical and mental health in others, whatever that may look like, and try not to judge others’ diets.
What about you guys, how do you try to live consciously while balancing your own physical and mental health?
I’ve had a few people say to me recently that they’re not eating healthily because it’s cold. Now I totally get that the cold makes you crave hot, comforting recipes… but that doesn’t mean you can’t be healthy! Health isn’t an ice-cold salad and limp lettuce leaf.
Porridge is a super old-school breakfast that in recent years, thanks to instagram and health influencers, has made a comeback but in a variety of jazzier ways.
It’s my go-to every morning at my desk because it’s so quick… and if you’re having it regularly, it’s worth experimenting and messing around with different ingredients, as variety in your diet is good for your gut micro biome! So I’m going to share with you a few of my fave recipes that you can mix and match and play with.
I’ve kept them friendly to all diets – carnivore, omnivore, veggie and vegan – just check the labels of things like jam or pesto if you’re plant-based, naturally 🙂
NB: I make my porridge the Scottish way – oats and water. Feel free to substitute whatever plant milk or dairy you usually use.
Indulgent chocolate orange porridge
Approx 30g oats
Water (or your plant milk / dairy milk)
1 – 2 satsumas
1 pack of Pret a Manger dark chocolate sea-salt coated almonds
This is the simplest, and probably most indulgent of my regular porridge recipes. I love it for the occasional Friday morning treat.
I make my porridge literally by microwaving my oats with enough water to cover them for approx 2 minutes.
Then you literally stir in your dark chocolate coated almonds, peel your fruit and top with satsuma segments.
Banana & blueberry porridge
Approx 30g oats
Water (or your plant milk / dairy milk)
Sprinkling of chopped almonds
1 small – medium banana
Handful of blueberries
Optional teaspoon of desiccated coconut
Optional tablespoon of protein power (I’d pick a plant-based vanilla for this recipe like the one by MissFits nutrition)
Again, make your porridge oat base via your preferred method – 2 mins in the microwave or on the hob.
If you’re adding in the protein powder, I like to stir it in part way through. Chop your banana while it cooks, and then chuck on your toppings – banana, blueberries, nuts and coconut if you’re using it.
Green Machine Italiana savoury pesto porridge
I LOVE savoury porridge – it’s basically like a breakfast risotto, so if you’re hesitating I’d really encourage you not to knock it till you’ve tried it.
Approx 30g oats
Water (or your plant milk / dairy milk)
1 – 2 tsps green pesto
Chopped sundried tomato
Optional: 1/2 tsp spirulina
Optional: either finely chop 4-5 black olives, or add 20g cheese (be it dairy, plant based – but if vegan cheese go for one that melts!)
Make your oat base (see above) and while hot, stir in your pesto. If you’re using cheese, stir it in now too. Ditto the spirulina (this is just for extra greens more than anything!)
Top with your sundried tomato, almonds, olives (if using) and voila!
Chia, pear and cinnamon porridge
This one requires that you pre-grill your pear if you’re making it at work, just fyi…!
Approx 30g oats
Water (or your plant milk / dairy milk)
Grilled pear with a drizzle of maple syrup (or honey for non-vegans)
1-2 tsps chia seeds
Cinnamon to taste – probably 1/2 – 1 tsp
If you’re at home, grill your pear with a light drizzling of maple (you need to judge this by eye and personal preference as to how you like it. I only go for 8 mins or so).
You’re getting the hang of making porridge now, right? Do that. Stir in the cinnamon and chia seeds and leave to soak a moment.
And if you’re at work and you’ve pre-grilled the pear, you’ll want to pop it in the microwave for a few seconds until warm.
Top with a pinch more chia seeds and the rest of your pear. This is also really nice if you chuck a handful of raspberries on too.
Porridge a la Lemsip
Approx 30g oats
Water (or your plant milk / dairy milk – if you have a cold I’d recommend not having dairy as this creates mucus in the body)
1 – 3 tsp lemon juice (depending how sour you like to go!)
1 tsp honey (or maple for vegans)
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1-2 tsp desiccated coconut
Pinch of poppyseed to top
This is a nice comforting one if you have a cold. All you do is stir all the ingredients into your porridge. It’s not the prettiest, but it’s good. ❤
Let me know if you try any of these, or if you’d like more as I have a tonne of porridge recipes I use, derived from years of experimentation and my obsessing about reading about nutrition in recent years 🙂
I hear some of the meat-eaters sighing already – another person who has a fitness instagram jumping on the plant-based bandwagon.
I wanted to share with you my thinking behind going plant-based (& a disclaimer that while I strive to introduce as many plant-based, vegan foods and focuses into my daily routine, I’m still technically a vegetarian I guess), my motivation and what has ultimately influenced me, and a bit about my history with meat etc. before this just as background.
I am not sharing this to be preachy, or to copy all the #plantbased fitness influencers out there. And I am not sharing this as a spontaneous New Year’s resolution.
So let’s talk. First, winding back the clocks…
My diet background since my teens (eating disorders aside)
I actually spent 10 years as a pescatarian…
Pescatarians still eat dairy and fish, just not meat. I started this in Zambia when given some dodgy quality meat, and kept it up for a decade, plus or minus one slip with some chicken.
But I’d always reassure people it wasn’t for moral reasons, I just didn’t want meat.
But then I started eating meat again…
As I got into training (initially weightlifting, then boxing) more, I thought I needed more protein and got sucked into the chicken, broccoli, sweet potato bro-food thing, although I still wouldn’t eat lamb or pork or processed meat.
I did try a week vegan as an experiment because I saw so many people doing it, but I decided I’d miss cheese too much, and my motivation wasn’t really strong enough. Needless to say, it didn’t last.
My diet immediately before going plant-based
To be honest my diet over the last 6 months has been increasingly plant-based as I became more aware of micronutrients, phytochemicals and overall health via influencers like The Food Medic and my nutrionist Rhiannon Lambert, both of whom encourage lots of veggies and fruit, and healthy whole-foods, but equally don’t prescribe veganism or vegetarianism… I was eating probably about 20% plant-based, 60-70% vegetarian and 10-20% organic lean meats like chicken or seafood.
So I was phasing in more and more plant-focussed eating.
I haven’t touched dairy milk for like 6-7 years though – I woke up one day and just found it disgusting and didn’t want it anymore, so that’s an easy one for me.
Why did you make the jump to committing to being ‘plant-based’? Are you vegan, or vegetarian? What’s the difference?
Valid questions, all!
So plant-based is where you try to follow a diet that is powered by plants i.e. avoiding animal products.
Veganism is the all-encompassing lifestyle where you ONLY eat plant-based foods and do NOT eat any animal-derived products (e.g. honey, cheese, milk, eggs, meat, fish) and you don’t wear anything animal-derived (e.g. leather, fur), you only purchase products which are cruelty free and not tested on animals etc. etc. It touches every aspect of your life, and you avoid all animal-derived products.
Vegetarians don’t eat meat or fish, but do eat eggs and dairy.
Pescatarians don’t eat meat, but eat seafood, eggs and dairy.
I went plant-based ultimately for a combination of ethical and environmental reasons, some health factors, and therefore I aspire to be as vegan as possible.
However, I acknowledge that I may not be perfect – I do still own leather items, for example, or I may eat an egg from the chickens in my dad’s back garden every now and then, or have a little bit of non-vegan chocolate. I’m trying to cut this out as much as possible, I know the dairy and egg industries are very problematic, but I don’t want to lie and pretend I’m perfect or that the vegan transition is an easy one, and I know it would piss off a lot of very strongly devoted vegans for me to say I was vegan, if I was eating honey or whatever, which I may do…
I totally agree with veganism from an animal rights and environmental perspective though, hence why I want to do what I can.
Like Rhiannon Lambert, I don’t believe I need to label my diet per se, but I guess militant vegans would call me a vegetarian who tries not to touch animal products but occasionally has a bit of cheese. Vegan-curious. Whatever. I’m going with the aim to be plant-based as that seems to be socially-media-lly acceptable and offend the fewest people.
However, I always said I ‘admired’ vegans but couldn’t commit myself. I said I couldn’t cope without cheese. I called it ‘joyless’ food. I agreed with the arguments against animal cruelty but was still too scared to watch Cowspiracy. I tried to push it out of my mind. I also figured, well I buy free range eggs, that doesn’t hurt animals. Cows have to be milked… (I discovered I was wrong on both counts, as you’ll see in a sec).
Then Venetia’s episode of Talking Tastebuds with Lucy Watson got me thinking that I should own up to my choices and not shy away. I should fully educate myself and then if I could still stomach meat etc, so be it.
I watched the following documentaries over the course of two days:
What the Health* (*take this one with a pinch of salt, much seems accurate on deeper research but some isn’t – eggs are NOT as bad for you as cigarettes!)
Suffice it to say, animals, even allegedly ‘free range’ ones are not being treated well. Factory farming is a horrific industry – slaughterhouse conditions are shocking. Cows are kept perpetually pregnant to keep them producing milk. So many male chicks who aren’t layers are killed horrifically. Chickens are kept in horrific conditions to keep them artificially laying more and more eggs per year instead of just spring. This is just a sample as I’m not here to preach or shock, I just want to give a flavour of some of the things I either knew and ignored, or didn’t know at all… now I can’t ignore any of it.
For the planet…
Then there’s the environmental stuff – the vast quantities of land destroyed for meat farming, the water wastage, the CO2 footprint, the cow’s fart methane thing which is actually a huge problem, the oceans being destroyed because trawling for tuna kills hundreds of thousands of other sealife too including seahorses and other species.
Then there’s the health side. Hormones and antibiotics and unsanitary, shit filled conditions in slaughter houses. The fact that in the US, the dairy and meat industries lobby so hard they affect government health guidelines, and are the producers of fact sheets so even the Diabetes and Cancer bodies won’t openly admit how much processed meat and dairy can be bad for you.
Milk is baby cow growth fluid, full of hormones, to make a little calf get to the size of a big cow ASAP.
All of this stuff, that once I’d seen it, I couldn’t unsee.
For my mental health…
I read a couple of studies which implied a plant-based diet could help depression, which as many of you will know I’ve been in a 2 decade + battle with. I need to track down the actual journal articles to fully assess credibility, but feel it’s worth the experiment.
It just feels like the right thing to do, but in some circumstances there are reasons not to go vegan (especially if you’ve suffered from anorexia or overly-restrictive disordered eating – always consult a doctor and nutritionist).
The animal thing and the environment thing are pretty big for me. Blackfish is actually about killer whales at Seaworld, and when the baby was separated from its mother and she just floated shaking at the corner of a pool wailing in grief was just heart-breaking.
I guess I knew this all on some level before, but by distancing myself from it and not properly educating myself I could act like it was ok. But now, I don’t think momentary pleasure from eating something is worth all of that. It’s too sad. Not to mention not sustainable.
Q: How do you know if someone is vegan/plant-based? A: They’ll tell you!
I have fulfilled this already by posting in this much detail, but I wanted to explain my reasoning and make clear YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE VEGAN OR VEGETARIAN TO BE HEALTHY.
Up your plant-based eating as much as you can for health reasons but you don’t have to entirely quit meat and dairy and seafood. Those are things you can make decisions about based on ethics and sustainability – you do you.
I don’t wanna preach, but I do think the reasons are worth stating, and I feel like I do have a very little platform to do good things, so hopefully this resonates to some degree and encourages you to consume a little more consciously, even if it’s just #MeatFreeMonday!
Can you just make the switch quickly?
People do, I think, but I’ve gradually become more and more plant-based over the last few months anyway.
I’ve also read a lot of articles and watched a lot of youtube videos by people with tips for going vegan, and things they wish they’d known, so I think the best thing, personally, is to do it gradually, to let your body adjust to the increased fibre.
So how am I finding it… truthfully?
I’ve been doing this since before Christmas, so a couple of weeks now. Have I slipped and had a non-vegan product? Yes.
But I’ve stuck to my plant-based-vegetarian philosophy, focused on consuming fresh, whole foods and plant-based recipes. I found AMAZING vegan cheese (hey violife!) and vegan pizza (Waitrose and Pizza Express!) for when I need those things in my life… and all in all it’s going really well.
I have been feeling:
Endurance during workouts has improved
More connected to the planet and animals etc – sounds woo woo I know, but it’s soooo nice to not just be thinking about myself and trying to eat well in a way that is nourishing for the environment as well as me!
My body has…
Not really reacted to the change so far, because I guess I’d gradually been becoming more plant-based so I’ve not found any of the bloating/digestition issues a lot of people report*
I had a bit of blue cheese over xmas that DEFINITELY wasn’t vegan.
I also had a bit of non-vegan chocolate.
It’s a process! While some may disagree, as far as I’m concerned this is about a sustainable lifestyle change and REDUCING ANIMAL PRODUCTS as MUCH AS POSSIBLE for the LONG TERM, and so a few slips overall may happen but won’t throw me off the wagon!
Friends who react saying they don’t give a f*** about animals, and I’m ridiculous not to eat meat etc. etc. I don’t have any plans to preach or convert anyone, but I’d like my lifestyle choices to be MINE ❤
[*Post publication edit (3rd Jan 17:55): literally the before day this post was scheduled to go live, so yesterday, I started noticing afternoon headaches, which have continued today (the day of publication) – so like, maybe negative symptoms a couple of weeks into this? I’m also feeling very nauseaous. This MAY OR MAY NOT BE CONNTECTED to my diet change – I am diarising what I’m eating, and tracking it to test it. According to Google, these aren’t unusual things to experience while your body adjusts. Of greater concern to me was something happened last night that has never happened to me before except when I’ve had a severe fever – night sweats. So I need to monitor this, and check in with my doctor and nutritionist at the earliest opportunity. Remember there is no substitute for qualified advice!]
All of the things I’ve watched, been inspired by etc. in this decision are linked below and above throughout this post. Watch/read/listen for curiosity’s sake if nothing else – you don’t have to change how you eat at all, but being informed is always nice!
Make sure if you do this, you check in with professionals and ensure you’re looking at supplementation in the right way – protein believe it or not is super easy to get from plants (you just need to know your complete proteins from your non-completes, and how to combine different sources to get all the essential amino acids!) but Vitamin B12 and iodine are super important too.
So everyone loves a bit of Christmas, right? Mulled wine, fairy lights, chocolate everywhere, epic roast dinners… but it also is the time of year where you’re expected to see EVERYBODY before the New Year, party every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and then the day itself can be a political hotbed of family in-fighting!
Or may you have to do a lot of travelling. Or see relations you’re not hugely cool with. Or maybe you have eating issues, or social anxiety and the pressure is just too much.
I get it – our family is craaaaaaaay and this year we’ve opted to hole up at home in London, just me and the Boy and not do the big stressful family tour thing!
I also used to have an eating disorder as many of you know, and now I’m doing #100DaysSober I have had to turn down a LOT of alcohol at client drinks and office and general Christmas parties over this period.
Top tips for staying sane…!
Read on to discover my fave mental and physical wellbeing tips for the festive season, including mental health, food, fitness, alcohol, eating disorders, office parties, and family politics…
Just say ‘no’ to FOMO.
You don’t have to go to every party. Or if you do, you don’t have to stay until 2am. No-one has a gun to your head. Prioritise what YOU want. It’s hard at first, but when you get used to it, it’s empowering.
If you don’t want to go to something, apologise and suggest meeting up at a time more convenient for you (be it Jan, Feb, March, whatever!)
You can be polite and still take care of yourself. And remember: you are responsible for your actions, but not for anyone else’s reactions. That’s on them.
A therapist told me that once and it’s changed my life.
Make some time for you
Remember to schedule in some down time to treat yourself, be it some time to have a long bath, or lie-in, or read alone… whatever you need to re-charge so you don’t feel totally frazzled.
You do you, no explanation needed
If you don’t want to drink alcohol, or eat something, you don’t owe anyone an explanation. A smile and ‘no thank you, I’m fine,’ should suffice. If people push, you can firmly say you don’t want to talk about it.
If you’re hosting parties, take note:
Don’t ask people why they’re not drinking alcohol. It’s not your business.
Don’t ask people why they’re eating / not eating something, or make comments about them being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘treating themselves’ or ‘behaving’ or ‘staying on track’. It’s not your business, and if people do have eating disorders / disordered eating, this is supremely unhelpful.
Meditaaaaaaaate, meditate, meditate
It doesn’t have to be hippy-dippy. Even 5-10 minutes a day on an app like Calm, Headspace, Buddhify or Happy Not Perfect can help you reset, destress and relax. Breathing deeply taps into your parasympathetic nervous system (your ‘rest and digest’) system.
Take the pressure off
Remember, perfection is impossible. There’s no such thing as a perfect Christmas. People may not always get on 100% of the time. Things go wrong, turkeys burn, dogs eat the Christmas cake… c’est la vie.
Try to enjoy spending time with family, time off work, time eating amazing food, and stop expecting a chocolate box picture perfect Victorian Christmas with angels singing, family looking angelic and not annoying each other… don’t set impossible standards for it to live up to.
Christmas is a time to enjoy food. Enjoy it for what it is and don’t stress about weight. The trick is to try and eat when you’re hungry and not gorge when you’re full, or keep picking at quality street.
Savour your food. Focus on the smell, taste and texture. Have whatever you like – but just take it slow, chew it, enjoy it, and stop when you’re full – you can have more when you’re hungry again! This ‘naughty’ mentality means people binge because they feel Christmas is a free pass to be bad, but in reality there’s no good and bad – you just need to listen to your body and appetite, and not go overboard.
Over Christmas, yes there’ll be more off types of food you’d usually try to moderate better – chocolate and cake etc. That’s okay. Don’t sweat it. Just try to eat as mindfully as possible, and focus on getting those vitamins and minerals in as well – lots of veggies with that roast!
Alcohol… *mistletoe and wine*
If you drink alcohol, try to make sure you’re drinking mindfully and enjoying it, not downing the bottle…! And fundamentally, keep hydrating with water as much as possible.
Ideally I guess don’t drink, or limit it to very small amounts, as studies now show there’s technically no ‘safe’ amount of alcohol, but realistically people will drink, and life is for living and enjoying so just drink in moderation, stay hydrated and be safe!
Just remember, alcohol can make you more jittery and anxious, so consume with caution!
I’m not saying you need to rigorously gym over Christmas, but regular walking and a home workout or two (use this site, or apps like Sweat with Kayla, or free youtube videos!) can get rid of that stress and/or lethargy that can accompany the Christmas period. A crisp, Christmassy walk outside in the cold can really clear the head!
Movement is super important for stress, anxiety, depression and mood disorders as endorphins are nature’s happy pill!
Take a deep breath and walk away from family politics
Christmas gatherings aren’t the best place to thrash out serious issues*. Try to smile it out and not engage. Leave the room if you need to. If it’s normal family annoyances and feuds, breathe deeply, go and meditate or walk for a while and move on. You can argue later when you’re calmer, and not in front of all of your relations and likely to upset yourself and multiple others. (Unless it’s very serious: see below!)
*Obviously some things are intolerable, whatever the time of year. So equally take care of yourself, be safe, and you can and should just leave or walk away if something is dangerous or damaging. It’s okay to put yourself first.
Christmas should be a time to reflect on the year and all you’ve accomplished and everything amazing that’s happened, and to enjoy time with family and friends.
(I’m not religious so that’s it for me anyway! If you’re religious I guess it’s extra special!)
Be grateful – for family, friends, presents, food, a roof over your head, an income, a job, your body, the clothes on your back… when you’re truly feeling grateful it’s hard to be properly stressed, and there are people out there far worse off than us. Perspective is all it takes. There’s a lovely meditation called ‘The Universe’ on the app Buddhify, which helps put everything in perspective.
So those of you who orbit in the instagram fitness/nutrition universe along with me may have noted the recent controversy surrounding ‘The Carnivore Diet’.
Yup, that’s right, a diet advocating essentially only eating meat (and possibly eggs).
Now you don’t need to be a genius to work out that ANY DIET advocating extremes of ONLY EATING ONE THING or cutting out other major food groups is problematic.
The Nerdy Nutrition Science Bit – why eating only meat is ridiculous
Why? Because we humans need a variety of not only the major building blocks for our bodies, macronutrients – protein, healthy fats and carbs, but we also need the smaller stuff in smaller amounts, micronutrients – all the little vitamins, minerals, things like iron or selenium or Vitamin A etc (see books The Food Medic by Hazel Wallace, Jr Doctor or ReNourish by Rhiannon Lambert, nutritionist).
A picture of optimum health involves a balanced plate, as advocated by Harley Street Nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert – which means eating a rainbow, the easiest way of achieving your micronutrient goals – focus on different coloured fruits and veggies! – and a balance of the macronutrients – palm size of protein, thumb of healthy fat, firstful of carbs (ideally things like wholegrains – brown rice, quinoa etc).
The carnivore diet cannot provide you with these micronutrients, which include antioxidants and phytochemicals, the stuff in certain fruits and veggies which helps influence your epigenome to avoid cancer and other serious health issues.
The carnivore diet is also not providing people with complex carbohydrates, the main nutrient our brains use for energy, not to mention key to the production of seratonin (tryptophan can’t synthesize to make seratonin without carbs people!), often known as the happy hormone, and often considered to be lacking in people with depression.
The carnivore diet is also missing fibre, key for the internal digestive system and weight management, and a critical part of a healthy diet.
“Mrs X tried the carnivore diet and within weeks her cancer was cured!”
“I tried the carnivore diet and my psoriasis cleared right up – nothing worked for years before that!”
“I tried everything to lose weight but only the carnivore diet worked!”
So let’s look at anecdoctal evidence. Someone says something worked for them and people rush out and try it because we all want an easy mircale that provides perfect health – it’s too boring to acknowledge we have it well within our power to exercise, eat balanced meals and control lifestyle factors like stress and sleep!
Anecdotal evidence is an issue because:
They cannot positively know what caused the change without having tested it logically and systematically against everything else: this would mean only having one variable, for an experimental period of time, and keeping everything else EXACTLY THE SAME. Then doing the same to test other factors. To establish ONE THING as a root cause / cure, you need to eliminate the confusion of other factors. So if their sleep, stress, diet, job, commute, anything changed within that period, it has the potential to skew results. How do you KNOW the diet changed things? You can’t reliably separate it from other variables. You also ideally need a control group, and a group which has variables tested to see how patterns emerge, and whether correlations exist at all.
Even if you do test out variables as systematically as possible using the scientific method, you are a sample size of ONE. This is NOT ENOUGH to establish something as true for the rest of humanity. Sample size is key! 1,2,10, 20… they’re all pretty small groups when you think about it!
Additionally, we’re emotionally and cognitively biased towards people we know, so if our best friend says ‘OMG I tried this and it worked for me!’ we’re much more likely to not be questioning and critical and just take things as true, which is an issue!
On a slightly separate note, I find it so frustrating when people say they’ve tried ‘everything’ but just can’t lose weight – this usually means every fad diet, and therefore it’s no wonder! They’re not healthy, they’re not sustainable, they encourage deprivation-binge cycles and disordered approaches to eating, and typically once they’re over people return to their ‘old’ ways without ever wondering if their ‘old’ ways were this issue in the first place! Their version of trying everything doesn’t usually include the unsexy but simple and EFFECTIVE balanced eating, movement, and moderation with treats.
The final thing I wanted to touch on in this post is trolling. Rhiannon Lambert is a highly educated, highly qualified professional, and she came out on social media to denounce this diet (quite rightly!) because it’s making dangerous false promises, not to mention encouraging unhealthy eating habits.
The trolling she received was not ‘healthy debate’ or ‘offering an alternative perspective’. It was personal. It was vindictive. It was unnacceptable. I know that ‘keyboard warriors’ are supposedly emboldened by being hidden behind a screen to say things they’d never say to someone’s face, I know technology ‘de-personalises’ things – but that’s no excuse, not in a million years, to troll, attack, bully and dissect an individual, full stop.
Further, in this case Rhiannon was RIGHT and putting forward a highly qualified professional opinion (although note even people who are WRONG deserve to be treated with respect and dignity!) backed up by PLENTYYYYY of scientific evidence.
If you want to debate in a healthy way, don’t shout, don’t troll, don’t attack. Harness legitimate evidence (so in this Carnivore Diet situation, studies – although there aren’t any credible ones that support it, so you’ll have a hard time), reason logically and calmly, and while being adversarial is okay in THEORETICAL terms – argue with VIEWPOINTS, attack VIEWPOINTS, not people.
Plenty of other nutritionists have come out with exactly the same view, but Rhiannon’s public profile makes her a target for abuse and it’s totally unacceptable.
Are we done now…?
I hope this cleared up a few points on the Carnivore Diet, and why I 100% believe you shouldn’t be following ANY fad diets – as ever, I’m not a qualified nutritionist, but I take my views and everything I’ve written above from my nutritionist who is INSANELY qualified, from other nutritionists, from my personal studies and from scientific journals.
I hope this also highlights why you need to be smart about ‘anecdotal evidence’ and recognise it’s actually just a story and doesn’t prove anything!
And finally, it shouldn’t need to be said, but it seems that it really does in today’s day & age – trolling, bullying and harassing people is just not on kids.
Sending tonnes of love to you all, and to Rhiannon, and here’s hoping that we can share and spread POSITIVITY and arm ourselves with facts and information! Positing new ideas, theories, hypotheses is TOTALLY OKAY but before citing anything as true we need to DO THE RESEARCH!
Louise Thompson was initially best known for her role in pseudo-reality TV show, Made in Chelsea, but now arguably she’s equally well known for her abs so impressive you could grate cheese on them! The pocket rocket is also one of the founders of Pocket Sport, a luxe fitness clothing brand.
Louise never looked unhealthy but admits to having all kinds of issues, not least with her relationship with alcohol. Subjected to public scrutiny in the extreme, she ended up suffering with anxiety and having very poor self-image.
Her brand new book Live Well with Louise documents her journey, from struggling with body image and unhealthy habits to transforming her mindset, ditching the booze binges and loving workouts and healthy food.
It also contains recipes, and workout routines (approved by her PT boyfriend Ryan Libbey (also of MIC fame!), of course!)
So… what’s the low-down? Yet another unqualified celebrity book, or worth a read?
What could have been just another celebrity offering diet advice is actually a relatable, down-to-earth account of an unhealthy relationship with health, to a total transformation which yes, while it’s very aesthetic and ‘abs-y’ also conveys the important message that health, taking care of your body, good nutrition and MOVEMENT can be cool… and that binge-drinking and hangxiety are actually not all they’re cracked up to be.
While your average girl or guy can’t relate to being a celeb, I personally relate SO HARD to Louise’s use of alcohol for confidence, and going a bit too hard in my teens to early twenties.
Louise’s transformation from non-stop ‘ragers’ as she calls them where she’d drink so much she’d black out, to a healthier focus on fitness and health with the occassional social red wine with friends and family at dinner parties or with a cracking Sunday roast is something all of us who went to uni, damaged our livers and need a kick up the butt in terms of healthy living can relate and aspire to!
Here I was dubious – on opening the book I thought here we go, another book by a non-nutritionist purporting to give dietary advice… But she doesn’t! She openly states she’s not a nutritionist but openly shares what has worked for her. She goes by what I feel is a very simple and similar philosophy to my Harley Street Nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert. Louise advocates filling half your plate with veggies (rainbow, variety, you got this!), quarter with complex carbs (ideally without the beneficial fibre stripped out, so rather than white bread and rice go for wholegrains, legumes, brown rice, sweet potato…) and a quarter with lean protein.
YES PEOPLE, LOUISE THOMPSON EATS CARBS AND STILL HAS A STUNNING, LEAN PHYSIQUE. I am so happy to see celebrities endorsing healthy, balanced meals and helping combat the media myth that carbs are bad. (See my stance on carbsand why they’re essential here!)
Louise’s recipes are surprisingly varied, and there are tonnes of them!
It’s not a slim and flimsy book with a couple of dinner ideas – it’s jam-packed with tasty, balanced meals, and YES it includes desserts and dinner party appropriate dishes!
The recipes are easy to follow, and the photography is gorgeous.
I did feel this section could have been more extensive, but the circuits are decent with beginner, intermediate and advanced options, and approved by her PT boyf.
Louise breaks down each move for anyone who’s new to exercising, with clear photographs and descriptions of how to execute the movement, and tips for upping the intensity if it gets too easy.
All in all, while there aren’t loads of options, her 11 minute ab blast is great, and then she offers 3 circuits – easy, medium, and hard – which are enough to get you started, and you can always use her book as a base to create your own.
Best of all, they’re do-able from home, no gym or super-fancy equipment required!
Definitely worth it for Louise’s personal story, and the recipes… and I do love her ab routine, so I’d say it’s worth the (affordable and fairly small!) investment.
I don’t know about you, but I’m an obsessive reader. This applies to fiction for fun, but also non-fiction, articles, blogs…
If I want to learn about something, I trawl through EVERYTHING I can find on the topic. It’s a little bit weird and obsessive, actually…!
And this can be a really useful (if nerdy) habit, especially if you want to learn how to do or achieve something.
I think education and research is so important and it pays to be well informed! But if, for example, your wellness goals are as follows:
Get healthier by exercising 3 times a week and improving my body composition
Meditate or do yoga or something for stress relief.
They’re great goals to have! Doing some reading about nutrition is going to be key, and if you’re new to exercise, you’ll want ideas for what to do, how to train, how to do it safely… and if you want to reduce your stress levels but don’t know how, have always thought meditation and yoga were a bit woo woo until recently til they became in vogue, you’ll want to do some reading around that too… which type of meditation, how do I do it, how do I know if it’s helping, does it really work, where is my nearest yoga class…?
I’m not for a second advocating skipping your due diligence! But there does come a point where people fall into blackholes of reading about their goals instead of getting up off the sofa and doing it!
It’s almost like we think by READING about the best foods to eat, or the BEST ab exercises, that will give us the results.
Sadly, it won’t.
So as I say – be informed, please do! – but know when to stop.
Staring at articles about celebrity diets and training programmes and how to optimise your training and best butt exercises will not make your dream health (and bonus improved body!) goals any better.
Reading about relaxation, fancy breathing and meditation techniques, or fun buzzfeed things on ’10 things you’ll know if you’re a yogi…’ will not make you less stressed.
You need to do the work darlings.
I have fallen into this trap SO MANY TIMES! I spent money on more nutrition programmes and coaches, read EVERYTHING, stalked celebrity height and body weight stats and how they achieved their results, googled everything to do with nutrition and fitness… It wasn’t until I’d fully healed my eating disorders, seen a Harley Street nutritionist, spent some time in therapy and done a whole lot of soul-searching that I stopped obsessing and started focusing on what I was doing.
Stop worrying about the pros, about what is ‘optimal’. Chances are, you’re not an Olympic athlete.
Regular physical activity, and healthy balanced nutrition will get you where you need to be if your goal is fat loss, for example.
People read about bro splits vs full body days vs intermittent fasting… basically, it’s about finding what works for you, and even IF a study says something else is ‘optimal’ if it doesn’t suit you, you won’t stick at it, so it’s not really optimal for you is it?
I hope this makes sense – I just see so many people get either overwhelmed with information, or get sucked into this idea of perfection by reading everything under the sun rather than making small, sustainable changes.
PS. if your goals are fitness and health based, these are the essentials on this site to browse, and from there just get going!
I doubt there’s anyone out there who hasn’t experienced that 3pm ‘must have a snack’ feeling, or who has had [insert meal here] but then absolutely *must* have something sweet to finish the meal… you catch my drift!
What NOT to do
Now I am 100% not for crash diets and depriving yourself. You guys know what I’m about by now. But for optimum health (and the side-effect bonus you get with that – aesthetic goals!), you need to get back in touch with your body: more specifically, learn to better read your hunger signals.
I am not about tracking macros or calories (I get that some people, especially competitors, find this okay, but personally as an ex-ED sufferer, it’s not good for me, and also for many people I’d argue it takes the joy out of food – but you do you!)
I am not about prescribing set cookie-cutter advice, e.g. “everyone should intermittent fast!”, “everyone should go keto!”, “everyone should go paleo!”
Simply following the 80/20, or 90/10 % rule. The majority? Foods which are as WHOLE and natural as possible (i.e. not processed, in their natural form – this way their chemical compounds and nutritional value is optimal for utilisation by the body, in general terms), and for that other cheeky 20%-10%? Don’t worry, be happy. Have a little bit of what you fancy. My 10-20% tends to be pizza, champagne, and occassionally a chocolate brownie (maybe with some rum, salted caramel or hazelnut icecream involved!)
Learn the ideal portion sizes
Generally speaking, with a little give and take because, y’know… life (!), each of your 3 daily meals should consist of:
1 fistful of complex carbs (think grains – these are great! But white potato, sweet potato, brown rice are all absolutely fine!)
1 palm-size of lean protein (chicken, red meat [ideally only once a week!], tuna, prawns, cod, turkey, you name it!)
1 thumb size of healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts, fish oils like salmon)
This is your baseline. It’s not something to panic over, but it is a guideline that if you follow broadly, will help you ditch diets and embrace not only healthier living, but a better, more energised body (and over time, if you are carrying excess body fat, if you stick to this and move a moderate amount, you’ll lose weight in a healthy, sustainable way!)
What kind of hunger am I feeling? Is it in my stomach? That kind of growling, urgent, physical feeling, that’s a bodily sensation and not attached to the idea of a specific food? Then yes, I should probably eat something.
Am I craving something specific i.e. ‘ooh I really fancy a biscuit!’? Was I hungry before I saw that office email about cake in the kitchen? Am I assuming I’m hungry because it’s a particular time of day (e.g. 3pm, so therefore I just assume I’m having an afternoon slump despite the lack of any physical symptoms)? Is there ANY SENSATION AT ALL in my stomach? No? It sounds like this is mental or emotional hunger. I don’t really need to eat.
If you’re still not sure, ask yourself this:
Would I just as willingly eat an apple/some carrot sticks/ some celery?
If you’re physically hungry, these things will sound fine! If you’re emotionally hungry, chances are you only want a bit of cake, or something “nice”…
In these instances, I think it’s beneficial to avoid snacking. To be clear: there is NOTHING WRONG with eating when you’re TRULY HUNGRY. But one step to optimising our nutrition is avoiding those emotional hunger snacks which are usually sugar-laden-processed-not-that-great-for-us-pick-me-ups.
Is there an alternative to never eating when I’m emotionally hungry?
Of course! You can do whatever you want! Sometimes, if you really fancy it and someone’s brought a rainbow Hummingbird Cake into the office, as long as you don’t do it on a weekly basis, just eat it and enjoy! Life’s too short. This isn’t about a ‘punishing’ or restrictive regime. This is about sustainable solutions and tuning in with your body.
If you’re really struggling mentally and want to snack, replace it. Some great options are:
Carrot sticks and hummus
Celery and almond butter
2 ryvita with cream cheese & a handful of cherry tomatoes
A handful of nuts, a handful of sunflower/pumpkin seeds & a handful of blueberries sprinkled with cinnamon
A bio-live yoghurt with added raspberries, blueberries or goji berries
So you’re feeling emotionally hungry… how do you ‘overcome’ the craving?
I like to go through the questions above as a mental checklist. Be really honest with yourself. It’s totally okay if to begin with you struggle to recognise if it’s physical or emotional hungry – after years of eating disorders and alcohol binges it took me years to get back in touch with my body and properly re-set!
Think about the food you’re craving – cheesecake, or whatever it may be. Decide now if this is when you want to use your 20% treats. IT IS NO BAD THING IF YOU DO! THERE IS NO GUILT HERE! Just be honest with yourself if now is truly a mindful treat time, or if you’d rather have a glass of wine, or pizza, or brownie with friends at the weekend, or tomorrow on a solo lunch break with your favourite magazine when you can enjoy it.
If it’s mindful treat time, ENJOY IT. Eat it mindfully. Savour it. Don’t scarf it down at your desk and barely notice it!
However, if you decide this ISN’T one of those 20% treat times and you don’t actually need it… If you are truly hungry, try swapping it for one of the ideas above, or your own healthier upgrade. Imagine how you’ll feel after eating something that nourishes your body rather than spiking your blood sugar.
If it’s emotional hunger, sit with the feeling for a moment. Identify how you’re recognising it. Identify your reasons. Either say it aloud if you can, or if you share an office and don’t want to sound mad (!), write it down.
“I’m emotionally/mentally hungry because I’m bored”
“I’m emotionally/mentally hungry because I’m stressed”
“I’m emotionally/mentally hungry because I’ve gotten into the habit of always wanting chocolate with my coffee at 3pm”
“I’m emotionally/mentally hungry because someone just emailed that there’s birthday cake in the kitchen and now I just have to go and see what type it is…!”
“I’m emotionally/mentally hungry because I don’t want to be hungry later!” (my fave excuse!)
Once you’ve identified your why, sit with the feeling. Breathe deeply into your belly. Try and wait for the impulse to pass. (This gets easier and happens more quickly with time! I literally rarely have to exert willpower here now, it’s just a habit!)
If you’re still struggling, think about the healthy alternatives listed. Think about their positive impact on the body – maybe the antioxidants in the blueberries which help fight free radicals, reducing your likelihood of getting cancer. And think about how good they taste with cinnamon. Focus on how great healthy food can taste – and eat a half snack serving, as we’re trying to train ourselves out of eating for the sake of it, but it’s totally cool if the reflex takes a while to beat.
I hope some of these tips help you re-tune your brain into your body… we’ve been so conditioned by the media and our pesky emotions that often, especially in our culture, food becomes something we scoff mindlessly for the hell of it, and we’re usually not chowing down on kale…!
The key is to address our habits by recognising them, and what drives them, to ensure we don’t obssess and still treat ourselves (remember – 80/20 or 90/10%!) and to adapt accordingly.
No-one is perfect. Literally, nobody. But we can all feel our best if we take care of ourselves, and this is a maybe controversial tool, but a super helpful one to get to a point where we can eat what we want, when we want because we’re eating intuitively – in tune with our bodies’ actual needs, rather than steered by media messaging and emotional binge-prompts.
*As ever, the usual disclaimer applies – I’m not a nutritionist, please remember there’s no one-size-fits-all and consult a medical health professional and ACTUAL nutritionist for personalised, tailored advice. Do your own research, don’t mindlessly believe cowboys (or girls in my case haha!) on the internet – anyone with a computer can blither on about something… be safe and street-smart, and don’t trust stuff without question – even best-intentioned pieces (like this one!) can make mistakes. But I am essentially adapting advice I’ve received from my nutritionist, with my own spin on what works in my experience, and I am studying a Professional Diploma in Nutritional Therapy, so while I won’t become a nutritionist, I’ll have a qualification enabling me to better advise in a more official capacity.*