Spotlight on Exercise, Part 3: Creating An Exercise Habit

Spotlight on Exercise, Part 3: Creating an exercise habit

Please do take a look at Part 1, The health benefits of exercise & Part 2, The potential risks of over-exercising of this series before reading the following. It will help to give some more perspective and context.

Moving our body throughout the day, regularly getting out of breath and incorporating some strength and resistance training into our week are all fantastic ways to maintain health and prevent future disease. However, increasing this to multiple hours of strenuous exercise on a regular basis does not necessarily magnify these benefits. More is not always better.

If you are suffering from any condition that may affect your ability to safely exercise, do seek the advice of your GP before attempting any of the advice discussed. As always, what is written here is no substitute for individual medical, fitness or lifestyle advice.

Here are some ideas and tips that may help you to find your ‘happy medium’ of exercise intensity and frequency.

Whilst I don’t purport to have all the answers (who does?! I am not a fitness professional and am still on my own fitness journey), these are some of the things that help Richard’s and my own clients:

  • Have at least one complete rest day every week, but also give yourself the permission to take a longer break if you feel you need too.
  • Try not to be too rigid with your training programme, and work on both emotional and mental flexibility with your plan. Remember the importance of the whole tripod of exercise, diet and rest. You need all three to be equally balanced.
  • Become aware of the messages your body uses to let you know if you are pushing yourself a little too much. Listen to them and adapt what you are doing accordingly. What works best for you will be constantly changing and evolving over time.
  • If you are suffering with stress or anxiety and feel overwhelmed by exercise instead of relieved, some periods of hyper-relaxation can be really helpful. Try guided meditations, breathing exercises, yoga, or other mindfulness-based activities. Even having a long, hot bath or just sitting in nature for 10 minutes can be so beneficial.
  • Make time for energy-boosting situations; spend time with friends and family, watch a comedy, go to the cinema. Remember that being healthy certainly isn’t all about training and nutrition plans.
  • Think outside of the box. Movement doesn’t have to mean formal exercise – walking the dogs, doing chores around the house, even going shopping (!), gardening, walking a few stops instead of sitting on the bus or tube can all contribute.
  • If you sit at a desk all day, consider switching from a normal desk chair to more active sitting (there are all sorts of options available online), or a standing desk. Things like moving your bin away from arms reach, always making your coffee on another floor and moving your printer to the opposite side of the room will prompt you to stand up more frequently throughout the day – small movements which really add up over the course of a year.
  • Give yourself enough time to adequately recuperate after illness or injury – your body needs rest to heal and build muscle.
  • Sleep is essential – the amount required varies from person to person, but in general, you need to get enough sleep to feel generally alert and wakeful for the duration of the day
  • Mix up your training to avoid over-stressing particular muscles and joints, but also to stop it getting boring or too repetitive
  • Be aware that other life stressors can add to the stress of physical training. Don’t be afraid to ease off training a bit during those periods. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is just to have a week or two off.
  • Eat to fuel your body properly – and that doesn’t just mean getting enough calories, carbohydrates or protein, but also making sure that you are getting all the essential micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids) too.
  • Consider working with a fitness professional to help you plan an appropriately staged and periodised training programme, if you are a high performance athlete or enjoy training for a significant number of hours per week. Try using the FITT principles to guide your training plan; Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type.
  • Likewise, consider working alongside a functional physiotherapist to help prevent injury as well as treat it – particularly if you are more of a ‘weekend warrior’.

. . . . . . .

Handy resources:

For more information on recommendations for exercise, do take a look at the NHS choices website:

nhs.uk/physical-activity-guidelines-for-adults

For some simple, 10-minute workouts you can do at home:

nhs.uk/Livewell/loseweight

Advice on exercising in pregnancy:

nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby


Spotlight on Exercise, Part 1: The health benefits of exercise

Spotlight on Exercise, Part 1: The health benefits of exercise

What part should exercise play?

It’s hard to argue with the fact that regular movement is good for our health. As well as playing an important role in helping to prevent heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, some cancers and musculoskeletal problems, exercise can also boost our mood and cognitive function (NICE, 2014) (Kramer and Erickson, 2007). Plus for many people, it can also be a source of great enjoyment, a bit of headspace, a way to unwind and de-stress or an excuse to catch up with mates.

I do also know that this isn’t the case for everyone and many dread doing exercise. Personally, I have to force myself to do it and many of my clients feel the same way. So seeking out ways to enjoy it are key. For me this is being outdoors, with my dogs or with friends rather than being in a gym or class, but each to their own.

I am not a fitness professional. However, I do understand the importance of movement for a healthy mind and body. This 3-part series has been written in collaboration with Richard Hannam, an experienced health and wellbeing physiologist and personal trainer, who has kindly shared his wealth of expertise and knowledge throughout this feature. If you are suffering from any condition that may affect your ability to safely exercise, do seek the advice of your GP before attempting any of the advice discussed. As always, what is written here is no substitute for individual medical, fitness or lifestyle advice.

Whether you love it or hate it, exercise is important, but it is easy to get confused about what we are aiming for and why we are doing it. Social media can make it seem a very off putting and daunting task (only for those with perfect bodies!) and fitness websites can sometimes make it seem that unless you are training everyday, top-to-toe clad in tight fitting Lycra, then it’s not for you. And don’t get me started on how tight and uncomfortable most exercise clothing is, seemingly made for those who are slim and fit and not for those with “normal” bodies. Almost everyone I know and work with wants realistic and enjoyable ways to exercise that isn’t going to cost them a fortune and make them feel bad about themselves.

So I thought I would start by sharing what the UK general recommendations for exercise are, and hopefully show that it isn’t as difficult to achieve / scary / unrealistic as we might think. And, happily, there is no need to join an expensive gym, spend hours lifting weights, or bedeck yourself with fancy fitness gear to achieve these suggestions.

The current UK movement recommendations for healthy adults are as follows (NICE, 2013)

  • Try to be active in some way daily – anything is better than nothing. Even if that’s just 5 minutes a day to start with.
  • Over a week, this could add up to at least 150 minutes of moderate activity (you can choose how you divide those minutes up)
  • Or, comparable benefits can be achieved through at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity spread across the week
  • Or a combination of the two.
  • Try to incorporate some resistance (muscle strength) and balance training twice a week – this is important for bone health and health preservation (such as pilates, yoga and body weight exercises).
  • Everyday movement (walking up stairs, walking to the shops, doing the housework, pottering around etc.) is just as important as formalised ‘exercise’.
  • Many workplaces are now starting to offer the option of standing desks to help minimise the amount of time you spend sitting, or if this isn’t an option, I have found that putting a Sissel SitFit on my desk chair has made a big difference to back aches and pains, and I also find that I just move about a lot more whilst I am working away – I honestly love it (and it’s a bit less cumbersome than an exercise ball).

How to get the right intensity

Working to a ‘perceived intensity’ helps you tailor the activity you are doing to your current level of fitness. Richard uses this simple guide with his clients, called the ‘sing’ test:

Moderate intensity:
Faster breathing, increased heart rate and feeling warmer. In other words, you could still talk, but you couldn’t sing whilst you are moving.

Vigorous intensity:
Hard breathing, rapid heart rate and shortness of breath. In other words, you can neither talk nor sing whilst you are moving.

This is how it could look in real life:

Monday:  Rest day – just pottering about at home or work
Tuesday:  Walk to work and home again (60 minutes moderate cardio)
Wednesday:  Pilates class (strength & balance training)
Thursday:  Spinning, dance or circuits class (45 minutes vigorous cardio)
Friday:  Quick body weight workout at home (strength & balance training)
Saturday:  Bike ride and play in park with kids (60 minutes moderate cardio)
Sunday:  Gardening or general housework (30 minutes moderate cardio)

Exercise doesn’t always need to mean pounding the treadmill hard, or sweating it out in class. Sometimes it can just mean gentle movement therapy. Find a green space and walk around it, do some gentle stretches, swim in the sea, play with your children, potter about the garden. It is all valuable and valid movement”

Handy resources:

For more information on recommendations for exercise, do take a look at the NHS choices website:

nhs.uk/physical-activity-guidelines-for-adults

For some simple, 10-minute workouts you can do at home:

nhs.uk/Livewell/loseweight

Advice on exercising in pregnancy:

nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby

. . . . . . .

References:

Kramer, A. and Erickson, K. (2007). Capitalizing on cortical plasticity: influence of physical activity on cognition and brain function. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11(8), pp.342-348.

NICE (2014). Physical activity: exercise referral schemes | Guidance and guidelines | NICE. [online] Nice.org.uk. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph54/chapter/what-is-this-guideline-about#benefits-of-physical-activity [Accessed 9 Jun. 2017].


Gut Health, Part 2: Probiotics and Prebiotics in gut health

Gut Health, Part 2:  Probiotics & Prebiotics in Gut Health

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are “live micro-organisms, which when consumed in adequate amounts, confer a health effect on the host”. Use of probiotic foods is an ancient tradition – even as far back as the time of Genghis Khan, fermented milk was being drunk as an elixir of strength and health.

In the second part of this gut health series, we are going to look at the role of probiotics and prebiotics in gut health – possibly one of the most exciting new topics to emerge in nutrition in the last few years. If you missed Part 1: The basics of gut health  take a look at it first to give you a little more background.

Most often, probiotic foods or supplements contain strains of either Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium bacteria, usually from fermented dairy products. However, before starting to act, they have to survive the hazardous journey to reach our gut:

  1. They need to first get through manufacturing, transportation and storage processes, to reach our fridge or kitchen cupboards alive and in good condition.
  2. Then they must make it through the acidic environment of our stomach (designed precisely to kill off any wayward bacteria) and through the swamp of potent digestive juices and enzymes secreted by the gallbladder and pancreas.
  3. Finally, if they succeed in reaching their destination, the large bowel, they then actually need do some good for the host rather than just going along for a free ride, or even possibly doing some untoward harm.

Because of these difficulties with getting the right probiotics to the right place, it is important to point out that the benefits which are seen in clinical trials may not all be possible to achieve with the yoghurts, tablets or other supplements available over-the-counter.

Despite all these challenges, however, good quality strains of probiotics have been associated with beneficial effects in some disease processes, such as reducing antibiotic-associated diarrhoea.  Researchers are also examining a huge range of other conditions that may benefit from probiotics (Tuohy et al., 2003) (NHS Choices, 2015). Further research is very much ongoing.

Limitations

Most of the clinical research that has been carried out on prebiotics has been in unwell populations, and even then they are not yet in widespread use. We do not yet know much about the impact that taking probiotics might have in generally healthy people (Puupponen-Pimia et al., 2002). Anecdotally, I have found them to be of tremendous benefit for myself and some of my clients. However, anecdote is not a strong form of evidence, and I am always cautious about recommending any supplements on this sort of platform, so please do speak to your doctor or an appropriately qualified nutrition professional prior to commencing any supplements.

Furthermore, probiotics, even as tablets, are also still regarded as foods. Therefore they do not have to undergo the same rigorous testing as medicines do, so it is difficult to know if they actually contain the bacteria they claim, alive, in an adequate dose, and are able to give you a tangible benefit (NHS choices, 2015). The European Food Safety Authority has even gone so far as to ban the probiotic food industry from certain advertising claims, such as that they ‘boost the immune system’, because there is insufficient evidence to back such claims up at the moment. A healthy dose of skepticism is often helpful in nutritional science!

As Dr Alessio Fasano so neatly puts it, we can compare our current knowledge of the microbiota to our knowledge of space. We know the universe exists (our microbiota), and we are getting to grips with the fact the Milky Way is there (the major strains of bacteria), but we are far off knowing where London is! In other words, there is a lot of detail still to understand before we are able to fully utilize probiotics for health.

What about prebiotics – are they the same thing?

No. Prebiotics are a class of nutrients called ‘oligosaccharides’ (a type of fibre) which pass through the upper portion of the gut undigested, to feed and stimulate the growth of microbes further down. I think about it as nectar for gut bugs!

Types of prebiotic that are thought to influence the microbiota include (Tuohy et al., 2003);)

  • Inulin & Fructooligosaccharides – found in foods such as Jerusalem artichoke, asparagus, leeks, green bananas, chicory and onions (Sabater-Molina et al., 2009)
  • Lactulose
  • Galactooligosaccharides – found naturally in breast milk to help feed the microbiota of new born babies.

In general, a dose of more than 20g a day of all of these combined, may lead to unwanted side effects such as flatulence and bloating (Tuohy et al., 2003). I would therefore suggest it is a sensible idea to always ‘start low and go slow’ when introducing these to your diet.

As an added benefit, when our gut microbes break down these prebiotic fibres, especially inulin, they release a compound called butyric acid (Scott et al., 2013). This may be particularly important in gut health, as not only is it thought to be anti-inflammatory, but it also helps build up the gut defence barrier and decreases oxidative stress. Plus it might even help to signal to our brain that we are full and satisfied at the end of a meal (Hamer et al., 2007).

My pragmatic approach, if you are generally well, and would like to boost your probiotic and prebiotic intake, is to use foods first as much as possible.

In part 3 of this series,10 Ways to Help Support Gut Health, we will explore lots of practical ideas on how to do this.

SHOP THE EDIT

Gut | Giulia Enders

SHOP

The Joy of Healthy Eating | Amelia Freer

SHOP

Eat Yourself Happy | Dr Megan Rossi

SHOP

Be Good To Your Gut | Eve Kalinik

SHOP

Smoky Pink Kraut | Eaten Alive

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Organic Kefir | BioKef

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Please note, this website uses some carefully selected affiliate links. If you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep all of our online content free for everyone to access. Thank you.

Please note: This article is for information only and in no way replaces medical or personal nutrition advice. You should always speak to your healthcare provider in the first instance if you have any concerns whatsoever about your digestive or gut health. Please do not disregard or delay treatment based on anything you read on this website. I am not a doctor, nor am I your Nutritional Therapist. The information I share is very general and may not be relevant or appropriate for you as an individual.

References & Bibliography:

Hamer, H.M., Jonkers, D., Venema, K., Vanhoutvin, S., Troost, F.J. and Brummer, R.. (2007) ‘Review article: The role of butyrate on colonic function’, Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 27(2), pp. 104–119. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2036.2007.03562.x.

NHS Choices (2015) Probiotics – NHS choices. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/probiotics/Pages/Introduction.aspx (Accessed: 11 December 2015).

Puupponen-Pimiä, R., Aura, A.., Oksman-Caldentey, K.., Myllärinen, P., Saarela, M., Mattila-Sandholm, T. and Poutanen, K. (2002) ‘Development of functional ingredients for gut health’, Trends in Food Science & Technology, 13(1), pp. 3–11. doi: 10.1016/s0924-2244(02)00020-1.

Sabater-Molina, M., Larqué, E., Torrella, F. and Zamora, S. (2009) ‘Dietary fructooligosaccharides and potential benefits on health’, Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry, 65(3), pp. 315–328. doi: 10.1007/bf03180584.

Scott, K.P., Martin, J.C., Duncan, S.H. and Flint, H.J. (2013) ‘Prebiotic stimulation of human colonic butyrate-producing bacteria and bifidobacteria, in vitro’, FEMS Microbiology Ecology, 87(1), pp. 30–40. doi: 10.1111/1574-6941.12186.

Tuohy, K.M., Probert, H.M., Smejkal, C.W. and Gibson, G.R. (2003) ‘Using probiotics and prebiotics to improve gut health’, Drug Discovery Today, 8(15), pp. 692–700. doi: 10.1016/s1359-6446(03)02746-6.

Photos by Darryl Leja


Gut Health, Part 1: The Basics of Gut Health

Gut Health, Part 1: The Basics of Gut Health

In the Autumn of 2020, I asked my lovely newsletter subscribers what they would like to see more of from me in the future. The overwhelming response was ‘gut health’.

So, in response I have given this gut health mini-series (originally written a few years ago) a real overhaul, updated it to meet my current practice and philosophy, and linked in all sorts of useful and relevant articles to expand on various topics. I’ve also added some of my favourite products and gut health books at the end of each section, in case you’d like a few of my personal recommendations.  I hope you find it helpful.

What do we mean by the ‘gut’?

The gut is a collection of organs, running from the mouth to the bowels, with help from the stomach, liver, pancreas and gallbladder along the way. All of these structures work together to extract the greatest amount of nutrition from whatever we choose to eat.

Alongside our digestive organs, we increasingly understand the powerful impact that our gut microbiota has on health. The microbiota consists of trillions of microbes (bacteria, yeast, funghi and viruses), which live inside our bowels, interacting not only with the food we eat, but also with each other and with us. Each microbiota is unique to each person.

When in harmonious balance, these microbes helpfully aid our digestion, make vitamins and other nutrients, break down dietary toxins, strengthen the body’s internal barrier against the contents of gut, prevent overgrowth of bacteria which can make us unwell, and can even influence our immune system and mood (Butel, 2014). But when out of balance, these microbes may also have the potential to negatively impact our health, too. I therefore now see the ‘gut’ not only as an organ system, but as an ecosystem too.

All sorts of factors may affect the composition and function of our microbiota, and therefore our gut health, including:

Hippocrates reportedly said that ‘all disease starts in the gut’. Clearly this isn’t true all of the time (take genetic disorders, for example), but a significant proportion of chronic diseases may indeed be linked to gut health. It has just taken medical science a few thousand years to catch up!

What is a healthy gut?

There is actually no specific definition of what makes a ‘healthy’ gut, because that depends so much on the individual.

But in general, I personally would consider a healthy gut to:

  1. Be free from persistent digestive symptoms (such as bloating, abdominal pain or disrupted bowel habits). We all get the odd mild symptom from time to time though, but when things change, are persistent, or show any worrying signs (see below) this should be flagged to your healthcare provider promptly.
  2. Eliminate regular, formed (but easily passed) stools*
  3. Allow complete digestion and absorption of nutrition. The average time for the entire process of digestion / absorption is 24 hours, although this does vary a lot between individuals.

* This little step, which wraps around your loo, helps your body adopt a physiological squatting position when opening your bowels which some people find beneficial with constipation.

What is an unhealthy gut?

There are certain unhealthy gut symptoms that are known as ‘red flags’. These are important warning signs that should be discussed with a doctor as soon as possible. Although some of them may represent a harmless condition that will settle itself, it is important if you have any of these symptoms to seek a medical opinion promptly.

These signs may include (note that this is absolutely not an exhaustive list – please speak to your GP if you have any concerns whatsoever about your gut health);

  • A sudden, persistent change your bowel habits
  • Any bleeding, or black, tarry stools
  • Persistent bloating
  • Increasing heartburn, indigestion or stomach pains
  • Abdominal pain
  • Losing weight unintentionally
  • Any difficulty or pain on swallowing

Within the scope of my nutritional practice, I would also look at all sorts of other symptoms (even if they are not necessarily directly related to the gut), such as skin, mood, energy, weight and more. There’s an old phrase in Nutritional Therapy that states ‘what happens in the gut doesn’t stay in the gut’, and so I do look beyond just digestive symptoms when talking with my clients.

How might gut health affect weight?

We know that our gut needs to be functioning effectively to be able to digest and absorb the nutrition that we are eating. If this function becomes impaired, it could potentially lead to both weight loss, and perhaps even weight gain.

Perhaps the most important question to ask is firstly whether there could be an underlying medical problem that is driving poor digestion? The best way to work out if this is a possibility is to speak to your doctor or other healthcare provider. Problems with maldigestion or malabsorption may lead to an unintended decrease in weight (although not always).

Once any medical concerns have been ruled out (if necessary), the next step would be a more comprehensive look at overall digestion, and to see whether there are any signs and symptoms gut inflammation or irritation. This is often highly variable between people, so again, I would suggest that you find a well-qualified Nutritional Therapist, Dietitian or Registered Nutritionist (see FAQs for more info) to help. There simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to gut health, so this individualised support is very important.

There is also a lot of interest at the moment around the potential role of the gut microbiota in the development of obesity, and obesity-related diseases. Lots of this revolves around how certain microbes may potentially alter appetite, metabolic function and energy absorption by the body.

Unfortunately, we do not know enough about this topic yet to know which types of microbe could potentially help us to lose weight (or indeed, help us to gain weight). However, there are some promising studies emerging and research is certainly ongoing (Abenavoli et al.l, 2019, Kadooka et al., 2010)

Please click the links below for further related information;

Gut Health Part 2: Probiotics & Prebiotics in Gut Health

Gut Health Part 3: Ways to Support Gut Health

Eat More Fibre

SHOP THE EDIT

Gut | Giulia Enders

SHOP

The Joy of Healthy Eating | Amelia Freer

SHOP

Eat Yourself Happy | Dr Megan Rossi

SHOP

Be Good To Your Gut | Eve Kalinik

SHOP

The Mind-Gut Connection | Emeran Mayer

SHOP

Step Stool

SHOP

Please note, this website uses some carefully selected affiliate links. If you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep all of our online content free for everyone to access. Thank you.

Please note: This article is for information only and in no way replaces medical or personal nutrition advice. You should always speak to your healthcare provider in the first instance if you have any concerns whatsoever about your digestive or gut health. Please do not disregard or delay treatment based on anything you read on this website. I am not a doctor, nor am I your Nutritional Therapist. The information I share is very general and may not be relevant or appropriate for you as an individual.

References

Kadooka, Y., Sato, M., Imaizumi, K., Ogawa, A., Ikuyama, K., Akai, Y., Okano, M., Kagoshima, M. and Tsuchida, T. (2010) ‘Regulation of abdominal adiposity by probiotics (Lactobacillus gasseri SBT2055) in adults with obese tendencies in a randomized controlled trial’, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 64(6), pp. 636–643. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2010.19.

Krajmalnik-Brown, R., Ilhan, Z.., Kang, D.. and DiBaise, J.K. (2012) ‘Effects of gut microbes on nutrient absorption and energy regulation’, Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 27(2), pp. 201–214. doi: 10.1177/0884533611436116.

Abenavoli, L.; Scarpellini, E.; Colica, C.; Boccuto, L.; Salehi, B.; Sharifi-Rad, J; Aiello, V.; Romano, B.; De Lorenzo, A.; Izzo, A.A.; Capasso,R. Gut Microbiota and Obesity: A Role for Probiotics. Nutrients 2019, 11, 2690.

Credit – top image:  Darryl Leya, National Institutes of Health (NIH)


What's Your Body Image?

what’s your body image?

With today’s cultural and technological appetites, especially for social media, we have laid sadly ourselves bare to the constant bombardment of staged and altered images of perceived beauty. For many, the relentless nature of it has become an assault on our rational minds. Selling the idea of physical perfection is now a multi billion-pound, 24/7 business.

 


We no longer serve as mere observers, we are now also participants, creating our own content or seeing ourselves recorded in the videos and photographs of others – it has become increasingly difficult to remain visually anonymous. It can feel as if the scrutiny and pressure is all-pervading; instead of relaxing and being present in the moment, we are worrying instead about how we look, how we will be recorded, and how many social media hits we’ll receive. These worries may be justified: many people now rely financially and professionally on their ability to promote an inspirational lifestyle (even traditional occupations command a headshot or visual representation) and the added pressure of a thousand anonymous eyes can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Away from our digital footprint, we are also open to the scrutiny of others ‘in the flesh’ so to speak – people we meet during our day, each of whom presents an opportunity for our natural curiosity of comparison to rear itself. “Does so-and-so look slimmer than me? Younger? How about their hair – is it better than mine? Oh, I wish I had their shoes…”. Much of this internal dialogue is so automatic that we are often barely conscious we are even doing it. And yet we may have been thinking that way for so many years that it has now become a deeply inherent daily habit.

Turning our attention inwards, the mirror is yet another cue for our automatic chatter to rev up uncontrollably. But, notably, have you ever taken a moment to pay attention to what it is you are actually saying to yourself? One day, write down these internal thoughts and statements, as once seen objectively in black and white, many people are taken aback by how unkind and derogatory they can be to themselves. Would you talk to friends like that? No! Furthermore, let me pose one further question: does it work? Do the constant negative comparisons, unpleasant comments to your reflection and the feelings of self-doubt empower you to lead a healthier, happier life? Again, no. I thought not!

So let’s explore the idea of body image a little deeper. With better, greater insightful understanding, can we afford ourselves a more positive, contented, kinder view of our incredible selves (for we are all incredible in different ways!)?

What is Body Image?

Body image is a subjective picture of one’s own physical appearance established both by self-observation (how we inherently feel about ourselves) and by noting the reactions of others (be that personal and/or cultural). It is a self imposed verdict of our own aesthetic born from past and present experiences, perceptions and beliefs – but, thankfully for those with a negative body image, it carries huge and positive scope for change.

How do you move towards a more positive body image?

If you feel your negative body image is significantly and detrimentally impacting your life, it may be sensible to seek out help. There is nothing at all to be ashamed of in recognising that your negative internal dialogue may be affecting your happiness, relationships and daily activities.  An element of support to break the cycle of negative thought would be a good thing, not only for you but also for those around you.

Blog Post: What’s Your Body Image?

What does a positive body image look and feel like?

I can hazard a guess that many of you understand what a poor body image feels like. But what about the flip-side?

Well, firstly, it is an honest, clear and true perception of your shape, without skewed perception or lens of negativity. Contrary to often popular belief, having a positive body image is neither a sign of arrogance, nor ignorance (of the things that we can do to keep ourselves healthy and optimally nourished – I say this as the media is too often scathing of women that defy the need to conform to what many regard as ideal body shape).

Next is a true appreciation of your natural body shape and a deeply held understanding that physical appearance is in no way a reflection of character, personality or value as a person. Sadly, this belief can be a hard one to shake. We are repeatedly conditioned by marketing and advertising to believe that skinnier, younger, wealthier, blonder etc. means better in some way. This message feels particularly strongly pushed toward women. But of course it is not true. When we actually stop to think about it, we all know this logically – there will be hundreds of people you look up to and feel inspired by, whose bodies do not conform to the marketer’s vision of what is ‘right’.

Outward appearance is only one minute part of what makes up a person’s contribution to this world, yet we often seem to be giving it the biggest chunk of our mental energy. Perhaps a little more balance, a little more focus on the other attributes we aspire to, may be a useful starting point. What would your chosen attributes be? How could you give them more of your conscious space?

Asking yourself these questions can be a truly beneficial exercise, which may then lead to healthy lifestyle changes started with all of the right motivations. All too often it is about shape or weight and not, as it should be, focused on the celebration of having a happy, healthy, well cared for body and soul. We are better placed to seek out healthy changes started with all of the right motivations. After all, it is far easier and more pleasurable to maintain new habits if started with a true desire to nurture optimal health than it is to maintain habits that are for the sole purpose of running away from self loathing. Losing weight is never the key to happiness or fulfilment. But promoting your thoughts into a more positive place, daring to show yourself some support and affection, and making changes because you genuinely feel that your mind and body deserve to be nourished wonderfully well – now, that may well be the magic bullet that you’ve been searching for. The foundation for all lasting physical change starts with psychological change.

Finally, a positive body image is one in which you feel comfortable, confident and grateful for your body. Out-loud gratitude can be a brilliant way to instantly disarm the perpetual cycle of negative, internal dialogue. Why not try, quite literally, to thank your body for legs that can walk, kidneys that don’t need dialysis, and eyes that can see vivid sunsets? It is, obviously, a slightly trite exercise and you may well be suffering from a body that doesn’t work as well as you’d like, but by focussing on the good things and remembering that not everyone is lucky enough to share them, you’ll seek out a new perspective that you may have struggled to find beforehand.


“and i said to my body. softly. ‘i want to be your friend.’ it took a long breath. and replied, ‘i have been waiting my whole life for this.’ ” – Nayyirah Waheed

Here are suggestions of other tips and tricks to think about:

Here are suggestions of other tips and tricks to think about:

1. Reduce the opportunity for comparison. Do you really need to check social media multiple times a day? Or continually compare yourself to contemporaries? It may help to temporarily suspend social media accounts to afford yourself space to invest in your body confidence.

2. Be kinder to yourself! If that sounds an impossible task, make it more achievable by being kinder at specific points in the day. For example, when getting dressed each morning, be more conscious of your internal dialogue and the moment you hear a negative thought, consciously say (in your head or out loud) “Be kinder!”. Practice this increasingly throughout your day and, soon enough, new connections will be made in your brain that break old, negative habits in place of new, positive ones.

3. Consider meditation. There is now a plethora of apps and programmes that offer beginner guides to meditation, some needing just a few moments a day to follow. Many focus on acceptance, compassion and gratitude, and these can be incredibly beneficial in allowing yourself the time and space to develop a more positive body image.

4. Explore mindful self-compassion. Unlike many self-esteem based exercises, mindful self-compassion avoids any external comparisons. It aims to teach you how to better manage feelings of inadequacy by learning how to respond with heightened kindness and understanding. It’s the practice of repeatedly evoking good-will toward ourselves especially when we’re suffering. There are books, online articles and courses around the UK which offer assistance with developing this powerful skill.

5. Write to yourself from the perspective of a wonderful, wise sage. Seek out a quiet, private moment and write a letter to yourself with the sentiments of someone who knows your innermost thoughts and anxieties and is present purely to be kind, reassuring and supportive. Imagine it was sent from a best friend or cherished relative. Use your imagination and don’t hold back because no one else need ever read it.

6. Make a list of all the wonderful things you feel nourished by – be that physical, emotional or spiritual. Grab some blank paper and your favourite pen and jot down the times when you feel especially nourished, loved and cared for. Be as specific as you can. Whenever you feel negative thoughts creeping back, refer back to this list to reinforce the feelings of love and completeness.

If you are struggling, try breaking it down into the following headings:

• Physical nourishment, for example: Walking on the beach with the wind in your hair; picking berries on a sunny afternoon; drinking iced mineral water to quench a real thirst.
• Emotional nourishment, for example: Watching a comedy that makes you laugh out loud; listening to much loved music; sharing old and happy memories.
• Spiritual nourishment, for example: 10 minutes of guided meditation; a peaceful walk alone in the woods with no distractions; taking a moment to just be still and listen to the birds.
• Social nourishment, for example: Cooking and sharing Sunday lunch with best friends; spending an evening with cherished friends; weekends away with family.
• Intellectual nourishment, for example: reading an interesting new book; taking a one-off evening class in something creative like pottery or floristry; attending a thought-provoking lecture.

7. Rewrite your story. We tell ourselves multiple stories about who we are and what we are capable of achieving. All too often these stories only serve to limit us: ‘I am too unfit to exercise. I will make a fool of myself’; or, ‘I will never lose weight. I am too busy and it’s never worked before. I don’t want to feel a failure again’. The good news is that once you have identified the counter-intuitive sentiments of your own dialogue, you can consciously start to re-write it: ‘My body is adaptable. If I take things slowly I will be able to work towards that 5K run’; or, ‘Everybody has the potential to lose weight. I will make gradual lifestyle tweaks, maybe just one a week, so that positive change is more achievable’.

Try answering the following questions:

• What are the limiting stories or beliefs you tell yourself?
• With no restrictions, how would you re-write those stories?
• What one small thing could you do today, if you were that person you want to become?

Body image is an intensely personal, intimate topic. If you are someone who experiences negative body image, I do hope this article resonates with you – in whole or in parts. The good news is that there are simple and achievable things you can do to help lift yourself out of the vicious cycle of negativity. Finding what works for you can not only lead to a happier, healthier perception of our uniquely wonderful bodies, but also potentially a happier, health life all around.