Inspiring lifestyles

Moving beyond the ‘New Year, New You’ culture

woman measuring her waist
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By Gemma Kennedy, transformational coach

You may be starting to feel the strain of the ‘New Year, New You’ nonsense that is flying around at the moment. It seems that every time we turn on the TV, log onto Facebook or walk down the street, we are hit with ways in which we need to change ourselves to become better, worthier or more attractive.

Influencers of all stripes tell us that in order to make 2019 the best year ever, we need to make drastic changes and embrace diets, gym membership and the like. It is as though when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, we suddenly became broken somehow.

But I cannot recall anyone I know who has ever managed to turn their body-related New Year’s resolutions into lasting change. At some point, people always seem to ‘fall off the wagon’ and start the self-flagellation routine.

This is the second year that I have no intention whatsoever of changing my body in order to achieve the things I want to though. Instead of trying to use New Year’s resolutions to fix whatever is supposedly wrong with me, I have developed goals that I am keen to achieve.

These goals are things that, in the past, I would never have considered possible until I inhabited a thinner, more conventionally attractive body. But coaching has taught me that I am already good enough to work towards whatever it is I want to do.

A wonderful friend introduced me to ‘The Language of Letting Go’ by Melodie Beattie. In it, she shares a year’s worth of beautiful daily meditations that are aimed particularly at people who are experiencing co-dependent relationships.

beautiful beauty blur close up
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New Year meditation

But regardless of whether you feel this situation applies to you or not, it should be possible to learn something from her work. This is part of her meditation for 1 January, and you might find it beneficial to take some time to reflect on the questions she raises:

“What would you like to have happen in your life this year? What would you like to do, to accomplish? What good would you like to attract into your life? What particular areas of growth would you like to have happen to you? What blocks, or character defects, would you like to have removed?

“What would you like to attain? Little things and big things? Where would you like to go? What would you like to have happen in friendship and love? What would you like to have happen in your family life?

“Remember, we aren’t controlling others with our goals – we are trying to give direction to our life.

“What problems would you like to see solved? What decisions would you like to make? What would you like to happen in your career? What would you like to see happen inside and around you?”

Once you have had a chance to reflect on some of these issues, ask yourself what it is you notice coming up for you? Is it the kinds of things you expected? Are they any different to previous years?

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Being free to be me

When I personally undertook this exercise, I was struck by the absence of judgment that I placed on my body. Instead, I was able to genuinely think about what I wanted for myself, and my life, over the coming year.

I believe it is only when we can let go of the infectious expectation that we dislike our bodies that we are able to truly see what it is we would like to achieve. As women, we are taught from birth that our worth is inextricably linked to our physical form. Realising that this is not the case has been the most empowering thing I have ever done – and I would invite you to embark upon a quest to do the same.

To get started, here are some things you might like to try to survive the ‘New Year, New You’ propaganda:

  • Have a social media clear-out: If you follow people who make you feel bad about yourself in any way, whether intentionally or unintentionally, get rid of them. Fill your newsfeeds with people and bodies of all kinds. It sounds simple but the more you expose yourself to the diversity of the human race, the more chance you have of resisting the ideals sold to us. For tips on some positive individuals you might like to follow, please visit my website;
  • Set healthy boundaries: If your workplace or social circle is full of diet talk, it is easy to get sucked in. Try telling people that you will not be dieting this year and you would appreciate them saving their weight-loss related conversations for someone else. If they are not able to respect this, you may wish to reconsider the time you spend with them, if at all possible;
  • Surround yourself with like-minded communities: People often find a sense of community at slimming clubs that they may not find elsewhere and, in some areas, there are few anti-diet alternatives. But it does not need to be the case if you create your own community. Whether it consists of a regular meet-up with other anti-diet friends, an anti-diet book club or an online group, they can all be invaluable in avoiding diet culture.

But whatever goals you decide to set for yourself this year, the most important thing to remember is that you deserve to achieve them – and that I believe in you.

Gemma Kennedy

Gem Kennedy is a Body Positive activist and transformational coach. Having started her first diet aged 10 and spent many years promising herself that this would be the year to lose weight and start living, a switch flicked in 2017 when she discovered the Body Positive and Fat Activist communities. After training as a transformational coach, she now specialises in coaching and mentoring clients both individually and in groups to help them shed the burden of today’s diet culture and feel confident enough to be in the world exactly as they are, right now.

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How ‘intuitive eating’ can help us reconnect to our bodies

Diet culture

By Gemma Kennedy, transformational coach.

So you have made the decision that there is more to life than dieting. But the mixed messages emanating from today’s diet culture are likely to have left you in a quandary over which foods you should actually eat.

For years, you have been told to avoid entire food groups, not to eat after 6pm, or to fast for two days a week. It is impossible to remember a time when your supermarket trolley was not piled high with zero-calorie noodles, meal-replacement bars or cottage cheese.

But what do you really want to eat? What makes your body feel good? By this, I do not mean what makes your body slim. Or what satisfies your hunger with the minimum possible amount of calories.

No, what I am asking about is what food would you like to eat right here and right now if there were no limits. If no foods were designated as either good or bad, what would you choose?

Writing this, I find myself fancying a wild mushroom and parmesan risotto with crunchy garlic bread, a crisp side salad and, seeing as the weather is now feeling suitably autumnal, a delicious plum crumble with custard to follow. Be patient though as there is a point to all of this – it is about exploring the antithesis of dieting.

You may remember a time as a child that involved eating when you were hungry and stopping when you were full. While you may not have been in charge of the food that was available at that point, you may have had a strong understanding of what your body enjoyed – and at times, certain foods may have seemed more appealing than others.

If you are anything like the millions of dieters around the world, it is likely you will have become disconnected from this profoundly important way of nourishing your body. It may have been a result of encouragement from others to finish everything on your plate when you were a child or to have a drink to fill you up when you felt hungry. But whatever the source, such suggestions inevitably lead us to question our body’s instinctive knowledge.

As a result, many in the anti-diet movement are now support a return to eating mindfully or what Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch call ‘intuitive eating’.

The key principles of intuitive eating are to honour your body’s hunger and fullness, being sure to eat foods that bring you enjoyment while at the same time leaving the negative messages behind. Intuitive eaters might consider whether their bodies are in need of something salty or sweet, crunchy or soft, warm or cold, spicy or mild.

Of course, it is not always possible to eat exactly what we want as there are often time, financial or other constraints. But by returning to this way of eating, you do feel an immense sense of freedom from dieting.

Happy eating

Permission to eat

One of the concerns that people often raise about this approach is the safety of giving ourselves permission to eat whatever we fancy. “Wouldn’t we just live on pizza or ice cream?” they ask.

Founders of the Health at Every Size (HAES) movement, Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramore discuss just this subject in their book ‘Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight’. They say: “The idea that you can stop watching your calories and eat what you want, when you want, is so contrary to current ideas that it evokes tremendous fear.”

But one of their studies confirmed that: “Once participants realized they could eat whatever they wanted and were supported in choosing foods they fancied, and in letting food serve many roles, food stopped holding as much power over them.”

Think about it: If you truly knew that you would be able to eat more of a particular food whenever you felt like it, without guilt or judgment, would you still spend so much time thinking about whether to eat it or not?

But it is worth noting that many people experience what anti-diet registered dietician and certified intuitive eating counsellor Christy Harrison calls the “honeymoon phase”. At this stage, they often feel “out of control” or as though they “can’t get enough” of food.

Moreover, exploring their new-found, unconditional permission to eat can last for months or years, particularly for those who have been dieting for a long time. It may feel like a pendulum swinging between eating a great deal and restricting your input again, but this situation will settle down in time, as I have experienced myself.

With regard to the issue of physical health, I do not tend to discuss it much in my work as I believe every body is worthy of respect, regardless of their state of health. But a recent HAES study showed clearly that after two years, those who lived by HAES principles, which include intuitive eating and movement, were markedly healthier, both mentally and physically, than those who continued to diet.

The report stated: “The HAES group sustained improvements in blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein), and depression, among many other health parameters. The typical-diet group, on the other hand, showed initial improvements in all of those parameters (and weight loss), but returned to their starting point within a year. The HAES group improved their self-esteem and reported feeling much better about themselves at the program’s end, whilst the dieters’ self-esteem plummeted.”

Due to its considerable benefits, intuitive eating is unsurprisingly becoming better known as the body- and fat-positive communities spread the word. I really hope it is only a matter of time before more people begin to question the compounded misery that dieting brings, which includes everything from food restriction to binging and the inevitable process of weight cycling (gaining and losing the same weight many times).

The fact that someone felt the need to coin the phrase ‘intuitive eating’ makes it clear just how disconnected many of us have become from our own bodies. But only when we stop relying on diet companies and the media to tell us what to eat and start listening to our own bodies instead will we truly experience life beyond dieting.

Gemma Kennedy

Gem Kennedy is a Body Positive activist and transformational coach. Having started her first diet aged 10 and spent many years promising herself that this would be the year to lose weight and start living, a switch flicked in 2017 when she discovered the Body Positive and Fat Activist communities. After training as a transformational coach, she now specialises in coaching and mentoring clients both individually and in groups to help them shed the burden of today’s diet culture and feel confident enough to be in the world exactly as they are, right now.

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Undoing the damage done by diet culture

Diet culture
Diet culture

By Gemma Kennedy, transformational coach.

After getting ‘beach body-ready’ for the summer, it is now time to start thinking about how best to fit into our Christmas party outfits – and maybe even how to build up a calorie deficit in the run-up, so we won’t “overdo” it during the festive period. Then, of course, in January, it will be time to shed all the weight we gained at Yuletide.

We will tell ourselves that this year will the one where we lose weight and get to do all of the things we have wanted to do for so long – to try a new hobby or wear a dress we bought ages ago that never quite fit. In fact, you could include any number of items on the list of things our bodies are perfectly capable of doing right now but we are discouraged from doing until our diet succeeds.

I cannot tell you how many times I have made these kinds of promises to myself, stuck in a continuous loop of saying that tomorrow will be better and, when it is not, promising myself that the next day will be the one when I finally crack it.

But around 18 months ago, I started working with a transformational coach to focus on various areas of my life, including work and family relationships. After only four sessions, I felt I had made huge progress, but there was still one area where I felt like a complete and utter failure. I was unable to understand how I could create such positive change in all areas of my life except this one. So I screwed up the courage to name my problem and, ultimately, it changed my life.

Since the age of 10, I had been encouraged to diet and utterly loathed my body. It governed everything I did. I experienced disordered eating, including both binge eating disorder and orthorexia, and have tried every diet you can imagine.

Almost every other adult woman in my life was also dieting off and on too, and yet I felt so alone and ashamed. The thought of being stuck in the cycle of binging and restriction for the rest of my life felt more depressing than I can express, but it was something I thought I would just have to get used to. I could not imagine ever being able to do the things I had always wanted to as my focus was constantly on the size/weight I would need to be before I could.

At that point, my coach asked if she could share some resources with me, which led me to do further research and discover the body positive movement and fat activism. Along with the realisation that I was not alone in this struggle, it also became apparent that it is no coincidence so many people spend their lives on the diet travellator.

Diet culture stems from a constant fat phobia that we are bombarded with from a young age. We are not born thinking that being fat is bad and thin is good, yet we are soon exposed to this idea in many forms.

Body Positive
Body Positive

The impact of society’s fat phobia

As fat activist and author Virgie Tovar points out: “We learnt these things through an ongoing cultural education”. She also notes that in some regions of the world, “women go to extreme lengths to be as fat as possible”.

But in Western culture, fat is assigned a negative image through advertising that depicts models with perfect (thin) bodies, TV programmes that only include a small range of ‘acceptable bodies’ and women’s magazines that tell us about the latest diet that we simply must try. The medical profession also does not help with its constant talk of the “obesity crisis”.

Even if we are able to avoid these influences, however, many of the people around us expend a great deal of energy on dieting, watching their weight, being on a health kick or any other number of euphemisms to drop the pounds.

Interestingly though, anti-diet dietitian Christy Harrison believes diet culture “promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years.”

In fact, for the majority of the population, the body shape they aspire to is actually unattainable. A former finance director of Weight Watchers admitted, for example, that a mere 16% of its customers achieve their goals long-term and the company is “successful because the other 84% have to come back and do it again. That’s where your business comes from”.

On the positive side though, there are things you can do. For instance, transformational coaching has been an invaluable tool in my journey towards radical self-love – and it is by no means over. It takes a long time to undo decades of self-loathing and of having such a negative body image, but the freedom I experience from not subjecting myself to the diet culture, and working with others to help them do the same, is liberating.

As you may have guessed, this is a subject I am incredibly passionate about. I spend much of my time trying to dismantle diet culture and encouraging a movement towards self-acceptance and radical self-love. If you are keen to find out more, here are some resources that you may find helpful:

Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe aka Bodyposipanda

Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor

Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jes Baker.

Gemma Kennedy

Gem Kennedy is a Body Positive activist and transformational coach. Having started her first diet aged 10 and spent many years promising herself that this would be the year to lose weight and start living, a switch flicked in 2017 when she discovered the Body Positive and Fat Activist communities. After training as a transformational coach, she now specialises in coaching and mentoring clients both individually and in groups to help them shed the burden of today’s diet culture and feel confident enough to be in the world exactly as they are, right now.

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Healing approaches

Transformational coaching: Finding the answers within

Life coaching motivation and self realization concept in blue
Personal transformation

By Gemma Kennedy, transformational coach.

There is a lot of confusion out there as to what transformational coaching is and what a coach actually does. While undergoing my training, for instance, some people thought I was working towards being a sports instructor (although anyone who knows me well will know that sport is really not my forte), while other others believed I was qualifying to be an agony aunt.

But seeing as ‘life coaching’ only really started as a profession in the 1980s as a follow-on from sports and business coaching, this situation is perhaps unsurprising – despite the fact that since then, it has grown into a multi-million pound industry, with around 100,000 life coaches working worldwide.

That it is an unregulated profession also means there are lots of variations on how people practise. But, according to the Animas Centre for Coaching, which is where I undertook my training, the core aim is to enable “a person, group or team to move from where they are to where they want to be, through a process of exploration and action”.

Transformational coaching helps people to identify “where they are now, what the real challenges are that need to be faced, and what mental hurdles need to be overcome. Finally, it creates clear-sighted decisions, specific plans, and committed action. All of this is achieved through a process of focused questioning, objective feedback, and powerful techniques.”

But just to be clear about it, coaching is not counselling nor is it mentoring, therapy or consultancy. It is predominantly focused on the future and can, but is not necessarily always, goal-oriented, for example, helping an individual to achieve a promotion or increase their self-esteem.

Another important thing to note about this approach is that it is non-advisory – clients are helped to find their own answers that lie within, supported in a safe, non-judgmental space by their coach.

Solution, life coaching concept - key on a natural green background
Finding the answers

How it works

Some coaches specialise in particular fields like executive, youth or group coaching and sometimes focus on specific niche areas such as working with mothers who are keen to rediscover themselves after having children or people who want to change careers or transition from one life stage to the next. For others, it is the way they deliver their sessions that is unique – for example, one of my trainers does so in a VW camper van, while another coach I know takes his clients for walks in nature. In other words, there will always be someone somewhere to suit your needs.

Luckily if face-to-face meetings are not possible, many coaches also offer sessions over the telephone or via Skype. A block of six to 10 sessions is usually recommended as this period allows enough time for progress to be made. These sessions may take place weekly, fortnightly or even monthly, depending on what clients want to achieve or the timeframe in which they would like to achieve it.

During the session, clients will be asked to discuss the issue they would like to tackle and a process of exploration gets underway. A simple but highly effective tool here is reflecting back to people what it is they have said using their own words. This gives them time to process what they have said and often leads to deeper levels of realisation.

In my own experience, coaching can be an almost meditative process in which you are deeply connected to yourself in a way that simply is not usual in everyday life. Things frequently emerge that you were not expecting or had not thought previously thought about.

After such sessions, I am often blown away by the sheer amount of internal knowledge I have and the answers that lie within. Knowing that these ‘lightbulb moments’ are based on my own work is incredibly empowering and provides me with agency over the action I choose moving forward.

Each new session also offers the opportunity to check on the progress that has been made towards your chosen goal – or not as the case may be. Sometimes the goal may actually change several times during the course of the journey, but this flexibility to adapt to new realisations or experiences makes the coaching process exceptionally agile.

Strength
Strength

The right chemistry

To anyone curious to give it a try, I would say “go for it!” but always ensure you do some research beforehand to find the right coach for you. Most will offer a free ‘chemistry call’, in which you provide an overview of what you would like to focus on and the coach explains how they work.

As such, I would recommend speaking to a couple of people in order to get a feel for what they offer and what particular style might suit you. Some coaches may not possess any qualifications and, although they may be good at what they do, they might combine their practice with other areas such as mentoring, consultancy or whatever.

While this is not a problem in and of itself if it works for you, it is important for both parties to be clear about expectations in order to build the necessary rapport to enable the true magic of transformational coaching to work.

As to how I first got into coaching myself, I came across it when a fellow home-educating mum was looking for clients to practice on. At that stage, I had little idea myself what coaching was or what we would be doing, but I decided to give it a go and try something new anyway.

Little did I know that the experience would be a life-changing one – both as a client and as someone embarking on the journey of becoming a coach herself. I initially started small, talking to my coach about a new business I was in the middle of setting up. For various reasons, I was experiencing blocks. But within a single session, we had a breakthrough and I was able to come up with a plan for the way forward.

Seeing how effective coaching could be, I was intrigued to use the technique on other areas of my life, including family relationships, my own self-worth and an ongoing battle with disordered eating and body image. It was in this last area where change took place in more ways than I could have imagined – and I have never looked back since.

Gemma Kennedy

Gem Kennedy is a Body Positive activist and transformational coach. Having started her first diet aged 10 and spent many years promising herself that this would be the year to lose weight and start living, a switch flicked in 2017 when she discovered the Body Positive and Fat Activist communities. After training as a transformational coach, she now specialises in coaching and mentoring clients both individually and in groups to help them shed the burden of today’s diet culture and feel confident enough to be in the world exactly as they are, right now.

 

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