Kick-Ass Goal Setting for 2017

kick-ass-goal-setting-for-2017_standard

It’s a new year. And with this fresh new beginning comes the possibility of so much change. Of finally doing the things we’ve been meaning to do but haven’t quite done yet.

And so we make New Year’s Resolutions lists.

With things like: 

∇ Stop smoking

∇ Eat more healthy

∇ Lose 10 kilos

∇ Exercise more

And while they might feel good in the moment, these kind of goals are pretty useless. They just set us up for failure.

But it isn’t because we suck and have no willpower. It’s because we never really learn how to set goals effectively.

My training in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, the approach I use, has completely changed how I set and accomplish goals. This is not a magic formula of simply visualizing something and expecting it to manifest – it is a scientifically-based approach to values-driven goal-setting.

I like to think of it as also being a more compassionate approach to goal-setting because it actually sets us up for success.

To help you set kick-ass goals for this brand new year, I am sharing a downloadable PDF that you can get here.

And until the end of January, I am offering to read your filled out worksheets and provide feedback.

Here are some ways to make your 2017 goals more kick-ass:  

1. Make sure your goal is part of something bigger that really matters to you

These are your values, your WHY for wanting to achieve a goal. For example, with a goal like ‘eat healthier’, the WHY behind it might be self-care.

If you find yourself choosing out of FOG (Fear, obligation or guilt) and not because this is something that you want to move towards, you are not giving yourself the chance to succeed. You will simply end up sabotaging yourself because you are not following your heart. Guaranteed.

Read more about decisions made through FOG here:

2. Avoid dead man’s goals

These are goals a dead person would do better than you (like stop smoking, cut out sugar) and focus on what you want to do more of instead (breathe pure air, eat more healthy fats and protein).

3. Know that any change brings up discomfort – and be willing to make room for it

This is because our old-school, conservative mind will always resist any kind of newness – even something we rationally know is good for us.

Research shows that identifying the uncomfortable emotions, thoughts and sensations that show up when you try to implement a change and knowing that this is normal and part of the whole experience of making change can help us better deal with it.

Once you’ve identified these, you need to be really honest with yourself: How willing are you to face the discomfort that will inevitably show up when making this change? 

If you are not willing to, if the discomfort is greater than how important this goal is for you, that’s OK. But it does mean that it would be better to pick a different goal because discomfort is part of the whole experience, and cannot be avoided – even if we can learn to better handle the discomfort. If the discomfort is too great, then you will end up fighting an uphill battle with yourself, so make sure you have a goal that brings with it discomfort you can realistically deal with.

4. Break down the goal into the smallest, most tangible step possible.

A step that feels almost too easy is much more likely to lead to the next small step and to encourage us to keep moving towards what matters to us.

This seems counter-intuitive because we tend to be overly optimistic about how much willpower and motivation our Future Selves have! So really try to be realistic – how likely are you to take action towards this goal on a scale of 1-10? If less than 6, break it down even further.

A really tiny step for eating more healthy can look like: Add more vegetables to at least one meal per day. That’s it. It isn’t about overhauling your eating entirely straight away. Once this is mastered, you can then move on to the next tiny step and so on.

For exercising more, it might simply look like attending a zumba class once a week. That’s it. Just start really, really small.

4. To help you during difficult moments, think in advance about how you can cheer yourself on.

Why does it matters to you to do this, what it is in the service of? You can also write this down on a post-it somewhere you can see it or have it on your phone.

For example, with the eating more healthy example:

You deserve to feel your best in your body, to really take care of yourself. 

That’s it!

Make sure you get the FREE worksheet here and try as much as possible to view this as an experiment. If a goal doesn’t work out, that OK. The WHY is probably still true for you, so simply experiment with another goal that can help you move towards this.

And above all, be kind to yourself, always and whatever happens.

Staying True to Me During the Holidays

true-to-me-during-the-holdiays

Don’t move the way fear makes you move. Move the way love makes you move. – Osho

I am definitely writing this blog post mostly for myself!

I am currently visiting my family in Amman, Jordan and while I love being here and seeing my family, I also find it challenging. Challenging to stay true to myself while also getting along with everyone. It feels like a dance between being with others while also being with myself and staying true to what matters to me.

I’m sure I’m not the only one out there with this struggle so I wanted to share a simple approach for making choices when it comes to family – and really anything in life.

It’s very simple, yet not always easy to apply.

Here it is:

Keep FOG – FEAR, OBLIGATION and GUILT – out of decisions and relationships as much as possible

Because FOG is often what drives how we make decisions and interact when it comes to family.

We might choose to spend time with family because we’re afraid of disappointing people, because of a sense of obligation or because we will feel guilty if we don’t.

Yet FOG often leaves us feeling angry and resentful and doesn’t really serve anyone in the long-term. When we choose based on FOG, we don’t really want to be there and we often end up not really being present. It also creates relationships that are built on FOG, which feel heavy and really not much fun.

So how else can we choose? Another way, and the way that I want to live, is by choosing as much as possible based on what really matters to me.

This means moving towards what matters – my values – even when this is uncomfortable, even when there is a risk of disappointing others or having to face fears, or being uncomfortable.

Imagine that you are a boat – you can spend your life just moving away from stuff you want to avoid (FOG) without any clear direction of where you are actually going – or you can actively choose where you are headed, and weather the storms along the way.

Both involve discomfort – but with choices made out of FOG this looks more like resentment in the long-term and being untrue to ourselves, whereas choices made by heading towards what matters are more about the discomfort in the short-term of disappointing people while being true to ourselves.

So for example, I could choose NOT to spend Christmas with my family – and this might mean having an uncomfortable conversation with my mother and perhaps disappointing people, but if this means being true to myself and not making choices based on FOG, then I need to be willing to allow this discomfort to be there – to choose that it is worth having in the service of my values.

I could also reframe what I see as obligations as choices I am making. For example, I could actively choose to spend Christmas with my family because being with my family really matters to me and it becomes something I am moving towards.

I find that when I actively choose to do things (or not), rather than feeling like I have no choice, it makes all the difference in how I approach the situation, in the attitude that I bring and how present I am.

Research shows that our relationship to ourselves directly influences our relationships to others. So it is only when we are being true to ourselves and making choices that are aligned with our values, rather than reacting from FOG that we can be authentic and present with others.

And I can think of no better gift to give people than for us to show up as we are, having actively chosen to be there, FOG-free.

this-season-can-be-tough

When Gratitude is Unhelpful

gratitude

I know this probably isn’t very popular to say but I believe gratitude can be unhelpful. It can also be wonderful, and yes, I know about the research from Positive Psychology about the power of gratitude.

Gratitude definitely has its place.

Yet, I find that gratitude is often used as an avoidance technique.

As a way of not contacting difficult emotions, of not fully feeling the injustice of a situation, of trying to force ourselves to accept something that actually isn’t acceptable – or isn’t digested yet.

Almost like a pretty coat of paint used to hide something we find ugly.

And if we want to live from a place of integrity, where we have our own backs and are honest with ourselves, I believe we must first:

Allow ourselves to feel whatever we are feeling. And I really mean whatever is showing up for us. 

Because it is showing up for a reason. Our emotions don’t exist to torture us but to provide valuable information.

So can we be really honest with ourselves and become really curious about:

In this moment, what am I feeling?

What thoughts are showing up?

What sensations?

What does this tell me about my needs or desires?

Does it give me information about something that isn’t working for me? About what I care about in this situation?

Being able to stay with whatever is showing up instead of trying to smother it with a layer of unheartfelt gratitude is much healthier to our psychological well-being. 

Because as humans, we are meant to experience the full spectrum of human emotions.

And we can’t force gratitude. Because as soon as we tell ourselves or other people that we ‘should’ feel grateful, it becomes an obligation, a rigid rule – not a choice.

This can sound like:

Everything happens for a reason

At least you still have xxx

You should be grateful for everything you DO have

Don’t complain, just be grateful that xxx

Please don’t say these things – either to yourself or to another person. Rarely, if ever are such statements helpful for someone going through a dark time.

Because here’s the thing. It’s OK to feel whatever you are feeling – and chances are, if you are going through a dark time, it doesn’t start with gratitude.

It looks more like:

It really sucks that my marriage didn’t work – it isn’t fair that other people seem to make theirs work. Oh…and there is a lot of sadness behind that anger…and grief…and…

It is only when you can honestly work through the difficulty of a situation, that you can allow yourself to feel the anger, the rage, the injustice, sadness or whatever else you are feeling – that maybe, just maybe, later, when it feels in alignment and not like a pretty layer of paint we are trying to use over hurt and pain that is demanding to be felt – can gratitude step in and have a space.

Don’t force it. Don’t insult gratitude by using it as pretty paint. Give it it’s rightful place by allowing it to surface in its own time.

And instead, bring in self-compassion to help you be with what is asking to be met.

Be easy, take your time. You are coming home to yourself. – Nayyirah Waheed

The Gap: Where You Are vs Where You Want to Be

the-gap

There’s a gap. A gap between where you are right now and where you want to be.

This gap, you don’t want it there. You want to be on the other side. Or to not even notice it is there – to pretend that actually, things are fine! Just fine, over on this side of the gap.

Only they are not. Things might not be awful but they aren’t all fine, either. Because you want more. You want to be able to live more fully, to love more deeply, to really connect with people. You used to be someone with dreams. With interests. With ambitions. There was a time when everything felt possible.

Because if you are really honest with yourself, you know that this is not the life you want for yourself.

But this gap. This gap, it is painful.

This gap holds longing and helplessness and fear and thoughts of

Who do you think you are to even want this?

You don’t deserve this

You should just be grateful for what you already have

You can’t do this

You’re not good enough

And questions like:

What if it works?

and

What if it doesn’t?

You can’t seem to win with the gap.

And getting close to the gap is uncomfortable. It’s painful.

And so you live your life avoiding this gap. Numbing the pain of longing. Finding a little happiness in the every day.

Which is fine. 

Until it is not.

Until one day you realize: That gap, it’s crossable. 

That this pain that you’ve been avoiding for so long is not your enemy. And that you might even be able to use it as fuel to help you move towards what matters to you.

That you hurt because you care, and that if you didn’t care about doing this, it wouldn’t be so painful.

And all those horrible thoughts, you realize that they are just thoughts your mind comes up with to keep you in your comfort zone. That the mind’s primary job description is to keep you alive and safe, and any form of uncertainty or change is seen as dangerous.

And you realize that you can allow those thoughts and emotions to be there – that you can let them be and realize that:

Yes they are painful.

AND YET

They don’t have the power to stop you from moving towards what matters.

So the day arrives when you finally cross the gap. You reach the other side. And on this other side, you discover that life is different, yes. 

That you are different.

That there is still discomfort and pain. That life is less easy. It isn’t as comfortable.

And that this discomfort is different from the one of longing and regret and absence you felt on the other side. It is different from the pain of numbness, of nothingness.

This pain, it’s a pain of newness, of no guarantees, of badassery. It’s a pain that comes with excitement, with exhilaration, with meaning.

It’s a pain of being fully alive. Of vitality.

And you realize that it boiled down to this all along –

Not whether or not you were going to feel any pain.

Because that is never an option in this life.

No. The choice was always this:

Of choosing between:

The pain of longing, of absence, of trying to convince yourself that this gap doesn’t exist.

OR

The pain and risk that comes with doing what really matters to you and being fully alive.

The Secret to Letting Go

letting-go

“I think of the trees and how simply they let go, let fall the riches of a season, how without grief (it seems) they can let go and go deep into their roots for renewal and sleep…. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain, psychic pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.” – May Sarton

I went through a very difficult period a few years ago.

Well intentioned people around me would just tell me – you just need to let it go. Let it go!

This advice was useless to me.

I couldn’t let it go because letting go felt like giving up. It felt like telling myself it didn’t matter to me when it was all I could think of. The mere thought of letting go filled me with dread.

So I kept soldering on. I tried convincing myself that everything was OK. I tried positive thinking. I tried positive affirmations.

None of it worked. It only made me feel like a failure because there was a disconnect between what I felt and what I kept telling myself.
It was only when I allowed myself to feel sadness that I was able to let go of a situation that wasn’t working anyway and to start living in a much healthier way.

Sounds strange, right? Why would connecting to sadness actually help in letting go?

Because that is the role of sadness.

All emotions have a message they want to convey, a role they play in our internal village. 

The word emotions comes from the latin ‘movere’ or to move and that is what emotions want us to do – they want to move us to do something.

Sadness wants us to let go.

I see sadness is the street sweeper of our internal village. 

When sadness shows up, it helps us:

♥ To recognize that something is no longer needed or working for us

♥ It helps us release it

♥ And in doing so, it helps us make room for the new – to rejuvenate

Like the autumn trees letting go of dead leaves in order to rest in the winter and rejuvenate in the spring, we too are cyclical.

And when sadness shows up, it asks the question:

What no longer works for me and needs to be let go of? What needs to be rejuvenated? 

As Karla McLaren writes, “Sadness helps you slow down, feel your losses, and release that which needs to be released – to soften into the flow of life instead of holding yourself rigidly and pushing ever onward.” 

Every emotion shows up first as a physical sensation in our body.

We don’t just feel emotions as mental states but as body states first. And with sadness, when we allow it to be without resisting or fighting or numbing it – it helps us let go. Healthy sadness is a physical release, a relaxation, – and tears are also a way of letting go, of physically eliminating toxins and restoring flow.

Like the leaves of a tree, everything in life has its own time or cycle. 

What might have served at one point, worked well even, now no longer does. Sadness signals to us that it is time to let go.

Let go of things that aren’t working for us…

♥ like tension

♥ muscle tightness

But also 

♥ anxiety

♥ soldiering on behaviors

♥ thoughts, behaviors or beliefs that we are no longer working for us but that we are still holding on to

♥ a relationship or certain dynamics in a relationship

♥ a situation

Letting go restores flow. It allows us to make space for new ideas and needs and desires that are more connected to who we are right now – rather than holding on to outdated ideas or needs or beliefs or relationships.

So what happens in our village if we don’t feel sadness – if we try to not feel it or never allow ourselves to physically relax? Our village gets overrun with garbage. And who wants to live in a cluttered village that is overflowing with garbage? This can even lead to burn out or depression.

When you allow yourself to welcome your sadness instead of fighting it, trying to suppress it or distracting yourself from it, you allow it to sweep away what no longer works for you.

We think sadness wants to steal something from us or to hurt us and that we have to fight it or protect ourselves from it. Yet the willingness to feel sadness is the secret to being able to let go. And it is only when we let go that we can rejuvenate, that we can make room for new, vibrant, beautiful leaves – leaves that reflect who we are today.

So as much as possible, can you stay open to your sadness and simply notice:

What must be released?

+

What must be rejuvenated?

And next time you feel sadness instead of resisting it or trying not to feel it, see if you can breathe in deeply and let go of tension as you exhale. Let your body help you work with your sadness and notice how much more flowing and vital life becomes.

Allow your street sweeper to do their job.

In the hero stories, the call to go on a journey takes the form of a loss, an error, a wound, an unexplainable longing, or a sense of a mission. When any of these happens to us, we are being summoned to make a transition. It will always mean leaving something behind…The paradox here is that loss is a path to gain. – David Richo

Inspired by The Language of Emotions by Karla McLaren + Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Below are some photos of the recent yoga + psychology event in the park with Marisa of Wild.Happy.Heart.

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Why ‘Just Say No’ is Useless Advice for Boundary Setting

boundaries

I am sure you’ve heard this.

That boundaries are about ‘just saying no’. Sounds so simply, right? So what makes them so hard to put in place?

Why do we say yes when we don’t want to?

Why do we end up feeling taken advantage of or misunderstood?

Why is it so hard to actually communicate our needs?

Why does trying to please others often come at the expense of doing what’s best for us?

In a nutshell, here’s why:

Because we are human.

And as humans, we are hardwired for connection and attachment. We evolved in tribes and being part of the tribe – belonging – is still one of the most primordial needs for us.

For our brains, not being part of the tribe is dangerous. In the past, rejection meant certain death as we couldn’t survive alone in the savanna.

So we are very sensitive to potential rejection. It even lights up the same area in the brain as physical pain.

It makes sense, then, that setting boundaries, from our old-school brain’s perspective is risky business.

So we stay in enmeshed relationships. We allow people to park out in our internal village, even when this comes at a high cost.

Because it can seem less scary to have other people in our village, even if they are not doing us good, even if we end up resenting or hating them – than to risk being alone.

Unboundaried living makes sense from an evolutionary perspective.

It is understandable that we let people walk all over us. That we end up snarky and resentful or trying to be nice and people please.

Knowing this, when people tell you to ‘just say no’ to set a boundary, it doesn’t actually help.

BECAUSE WE KNOW THIS IS WHAT WE NEED TO DO.

And yet, even though it doesn’t feel natural, boundary setting is essential to modern life.

It means creating a safe container from which to create, thrive and love without losing ourselves in what others want or expect from us.

Boundaries are key for authenticity and healthy relationships.

So instead of ‘just saying no’ as boundary advice, this is what I think we need to consider: 

♥ First, we need to understand what we are responsible for / can control in a situation and what we can’t (hint: we can’t control other people’s actions or reactions).

♥ We need to know what we want to stand for in the situation, what our values are. And this can take time and thought to figure out and that’s OK.

♥ Then we need to know how to communicate this to others in an effective way.

♥ And we need to know how to make room for the discomfort that inevitably shows up because we are doing something that is counter-intuitive to how our brains evolved.

Boundary setting is not necessarily hard, but it does take practise and it is normal that it doesn’t come naturally for most of us.

We will explore all this in my upcoming boundaries workshop, so you will leave knowing how to set effective boundaries and can start moving from:

Being reactive + resentful

TO

Being proactive + assertive

Because it is only when we have a beautiful gate around our internal village that we can create the kind of village that we actually want to live in.

boundaries_Sept. 2016

 

A good friend of mine has a good friend, who I would not normally choose to be with.  Recently, during an evening at my friend’s house, her friend who I knew was going to be there so I was probably ‘ready’ for the usual inappropriate remarks, said something intrusive to me.  Instead of being surprised, I took a deep breath and very calmly told her that it was none of her business and please don’t ask me again.  Silence reigned!  Then all went back to normal.

 

Huge step for me out of my comfort zone to do something like so publicly (I had no problems with Boundaries in my work life yet have had difficulty in my private life).

 

Your workshop on Boundaries earlier this year has helped me to understand that Boundaries are necessary for being authentic. – Email from a participant in the April Boundaries workshop

Stressed? This Changed My Life

Hello Stress
Hello Stress.You and I are intimately acquainted. You were my constant companion during the 8 years I worked in the fast paced, crazy advertising/communication world. You are still my companion every time I do something new.

But now I know better. I know who you are, Stress. That the generic word we use to describe you doesn’t really say anything. That you are not an emotion.

I am not saying you don’t exist. Oh, I would never deny your existence!

But I understand now that there is always a good reason you show up. And that you have a message you are trying to convey. And that while you are not an emotion, you always have emotion(s) driving you.

So now, instead of saying, “I’m so stressed!!”, I ask myself: What is really going on? What emotions can I identify BEHIND the stress?

Being able to get specific about the emotions behind stress is removes some of the overwhelm. It helps me feel I am not fighting an invisible enemy.

Some of the emotions behind stress can be:

Are changes coming too quickly? —> Fear

Are you worried about how something will work or what people will think? —> Anxiety

Are your boundaries being threatened? —> Anger

Are you unsure of what to do next? —> Confusion / Overwhelm

Are you refusing to let go of something that no longer works for you? —> Sadness

Have you suffered an irretrievable loss? —> Grief

So perhaps, next time you feel ‘stressed’, instead of saying to yourself or others ‘I’m so stressed!!’ try to pinpoint the emotion behind the stress. What’s really going on? Research shows that simply labelling an emotion we are feeling, without ‘doing’ anything about it, can help defuse some of the power it has over us.

Source: Research on labelling emotions done by UCLA psychologist Matthew Lieberman

How Perfectionism Makes Sense

Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: “If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame. – Brené Brown

Imagine your internal world is like a village. This village is made up of ‘villagers': Your emotions, thoughts, desires, needs. This village makes you who you are.

Often these ‘villagers’ are born as a result of our upbringing, our experiences. Their job description is to keep the village safe, to protect it in whatever way they can – even when this ends up seeming like self-sabotage.

Perfectionist Villager often shows up as a way of helping us out when we are young.

Here are two possible scenarios:

Scenario 1
As a child, the better we were at something, the more praise we got from those around us. We were pushed to be high achievers and this is how worthiness was measured.

Perfectionist Villager showed up and tried to push us to be ‘perfect’, to always be striving and achieving – because in this scenario, achievement (perfection) = love.

This type of perfectionism is about achievement, constant striving, type A personalities.

Scenario 2
Another scenario might be having had a judging, harsh, critical, even abusive environment. In this scenario, Perfectionist Villager tried getting us to be perfect as a way of avoiding criticism as much as possible. In this scenario being perfect = avoiding pain.

This type of perfectionism is more about procrastination, paralysis, avoiding making decisions. It actually looks a lot less like what we would typically associate with perfectionism and more with ‘laziness’ – but as you can see, there is a good reason for this (as there is with everything we do).

In both cases, Perfectionist Villager is trying to do what they think is best for us in their own clumsy way. And at one point in our lives, it made sense.

Yet today, as an adult, Perfectionist Villager – despite his or her clumsy good intentions to motivate or protect us – is no longer serving us.

When we let Perfectionist Villager run the village, we don’t start projects or do things that matter to us because we might fail – leading to procrastination and paralysis.

When we let Perfectionist Villager run the village, we doubt ourselves, we play it safe rather than risk not being good enough at something.

Above all, when we let Perfectionist Villager run the village, the village is not a very cool place to be.

Because Perfectionist Villager operates from a place of fear and shame, telling us we can only be worthy once we are perfect. Yet how can we measure ourselves up against standards nobody can ever reach? Have you noticed that the flip side of striving for perfection is ‘never being enough’?

What would happen if we allowed our wise village chief to run our internal village instead? To make choices that would allow us to still achieve and strive for excellence – without the harshness and suffering that comes with Perfectionist Villager? What if we learned how to work with Perfectionistic Villager, so that he or she was no longer running the village?

If this topic speaks to you and you would like to get to know your Perfectionist Villager better + learn ways of taking back control of your village, join me on August 8 for a workshop in Geneva – find out more here!

perfectionism

Crafted with Love

I spent a week in June at the annual conference for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which took place in Seattle, Washington (USA) this year. It was an incredible opportunity to deepen my knowledge of ACT while meeting many super inspiring people.

My husband joined me after the conference and we travelled around the region, visiting Portland (Oregon), Olympic National Park, Vancouver Island and Vancouver in Canada, and stopping in a few places in between.

The landscapes were breathtaking – the vast wilderness of nature looked like something off an indie music album cover.

fir trees

And I loved the dynamic, creative energy of the Pacific West Coast as this region is called, especially the pride taken in making food and drinks that are ‘hand-crafted’ with love and a lot of attention to detail. Portland is even called ‘Beervana’ because of all the microbreweries there are! My husband took it as his mission to taste as many different beers as possible!

beer

We even did a coffee tour of Seattle independent coffee shops with a very coffee-passionate guide, learning about the various techniques for making coffee such as this drip coffee.

Ghost alley coffee

Inspired and moved by this, I started thinking: My work through Healthwise is also ‘hand-crafted’. This work truly matters to me and I put in a lot of love, care and attention to detail. Perhaps I could even say it is crafted with love?crafted with love

So I started thinking exactly what this looks like – and what matters to me most when ‘crafting’ individual sessions.

Here’s what I came up with:

♥ Providing a safe space in which my clients can step back and see things differently.

♥ Creating a judgement-free zone where my clients feel heard and supported, regardless of what they are going through.

♥ Helping my clients learn new ways of relating to their internal village of thoughts, feeling and sensations so they can drop the struggle with themselves. Much of the pain in life doesn’t have a ‘solution’ yet we can learn to relate to the pain differently.

♥ Creating a compassionate space where my clients also learn to bring themselves kindness, to better listen to their needs, to have their own back – whether or not they think they ‘deserve’ this.

♥ Helping my clients get unstuck and moving towards what matters to them. Because living with a genetic kidney disease myself, I realize that life is not unlimited, that we all have precious little time on this earth to do what matters to us, to be in the kind of relationships we truly desire, to live the life we really want to be living.

 I want to treat each session as if it were the last, to provide value in each session so that my clients leave with a small step to work towards or a new skill to practice.

Crafting with love is definitely something I want to keep being inspired by – isn’t it a beautiful way of approaching life and what we put out into the world?

Here are a few more photos:

IMG_5965stumpskayak

Hiba cafe

PS – If this inspires and you are interested in getting unstuck and moving towards what matters to you, please get in touch.

No-Label Diet

no label diet_bigI’ve been thinking a lot about the language we use when it comes to food and eating.

Words that describe food like:

Healthy, clean, guilty pleasure, good, bad, unhealthy.

I’ve used these words myself. A lot.

But here’s something I have been asking myself lately: How useful are these labels? 

Imagine a piece of paper. If healthy is written on one side, then unhealthy is on the other. If good is written on one side, then bad is on the other.

And inevitably, because this is LIFE and not some game where we can be perfect all the time, at some point, the paper flips.

So what happens when we tell ourselves ‘I’ve been good – I’ve eaten healthy all week’ ?

When the paper is on good and healthy, chances are, we tap ourselves on the back and proclaim that we are a good person…but then next time, we don’t eat as well, we become a bad person and the what-the-hell effect kicks in and instead of just one cookie, we eat 10.

And then there’s the license to sin effect:

When we have a rigid self-concept of I am good if I do this, our thinking becomes very black and white.

So even actions we think are good can actually end up backfiring. For example, thinking I was good – I had a salad for lunch – so I can eat whatever I want this afternoon.

So what if we go rid of the paper completely? What if we removed all the labels?

What if food was no longer…

Healthy, clean, guilty pleasure, good, bad, unhealthy

What if food was just food and we became just a person eating that food?

Not mindlessly eating whatever we want, of course.

Instead of labels that come from our very judge-y mind or from external experts, what if we trusted the part of us who is actually eating instead?

Because obvious as this may sound, our body, not our mind is the one eating.

So instead of judging food, can we look at it in terms of: How does eating this work for me?

By focusing on this question instead of the label we give food, we can then simply notice:


Did this food give me energy?

Does this food enable me to feel good in my body?

Does this food bring me pleasure?

I am calling this the No-Label Diet.

Are you up for the challenge?

For the next week, let go of all labels and notice instead what your body tells you.

Put on your curious scientist lab coat and simply notice as if you were eating this food for the first time, how it works for you.

You might notice that the food your mind was telling you was bad and off limit is OK in small quantities and that when you eat too much of it you feel sluggish. And because you want to feel energized, you decide to have it occasionally and to fully enjoy it instead of approaching it in a black & white way which doesn’t work anyway.

Of course, because our minds evolved to be very judge-y, they will keep labelling food – and that’s OK. Simply notice the judgement, allow it to hang out – and then focus your attention on your actual experience of the food – what your body tells you.

For me, making this simple distinction between judgements about food and how my body experiences it has been the most significant shift I have made in my eating. 

This is the way we step out of willpower and the constant struggle we are in with ourselves over food and start trusting something much more intuitive, much wiser – that is always there for us to access.

Don’t just trust what my mind is telling you. Try it out yourself and see what your experience says!

If you try this or have already experimented with this, I would love to hear from you!

No label diet give it a try

Intuitive Eating: My Latest Journey

intuitive eating_geneva
I have never had a stellar digestion. It was never awful and it was never super smooth either. I would often have cramps or bloating, usually in the evening.

In 2014, I spent six wonderful weeks in Dubai and this undercurrent of discomfort turned into a more constant companion. After six solid weeks eating away from home, everything seemed to cause me pain. And my skin, which has never been great either, suddenly felt like a battle field.

I knew I had to do something. My gut was clearly unhappy and my body was reacting to certain foods I was eating.

So I worked with a specialist who did a blood test which showed I was sensitive to gluten, dairy, soy and olives.

The solution? Take all these out and help my body to detox and heal itself through supplements.

So I did this. For nine months.

For nine months I was able to stick to this super strict diet and my digestion improved – with the help of probiotic food or supplements, I would even, very tentatively say it is now normal.

I’m not saying elimination diets are the solution for everyone. What I wanted to share was the effect this elimination diet had on my relationship to food.

Before studying nutrition, I didn’t have a very healthy relationship to food. I would swing from Boot Camp to Club Med mentality – severe restriction to out of control eating.

I then discovered Intuitive Eating and learned to listen to my body and give it what it wants to eat, to make nothing off limit, to eat mindfully. This greatly improved my relationship to food. And yet now, on this elimination diet, it felt like everything was off limit.

And guess what happens as soon as something is off limit? We become obsessed with it. And when it comes to food, in order to avoid eating something, we have to constantly be looking out for it. This is one of the reasons that diets don’t work.

Of course, I knew to expect this and from the beginning, I tried making sure I was in the right mindset. That I was doing this elimination diet for the right reason – out of love for myself, because I wanted to feel good in my body. I brought compassion to myself because it isn’t easy to exist in society on such a restricted diet.

And for the most part, during the 9 months of elimination diet, I was OK. I even created my simple meal planning online program, Healthy in a Hurry during this time because this was how I was eating most of the time.

I became ultra organized by always having something with me that I could eat, by bringing my own food when I was invited somewhere, by researching menus ahead of time and finding restaurants I could eat at. Instead of staying in hotels when we travelled, my husband and I staying at airbnb’s so I could make my own food. When we went to visit his family in Italy, I was armed with gluten-free pasta.

I became knowledgable about all the places in Geneva I could eat at – I shared my
favorite addresses in these articles. I even came up with my own, easy version of a latte because without dairy or soy, it’s virtually impossible to find one out of home.

And most importantly, I was really feeling the difference!

All this didn’t prepare me for the backlash I experienced when I started re-introducing all the foods that had been taken out after 9 months.

I felt out of control. There were foods I just couldn’t stop eating.

Mostly cheese. And butter. And bread. And a combination of both like fondue and pizza.

It was as if I had been holding a pendulum on one end – using a lot of control and deprivation – and when I let go, it swung to the other extreme.

I was surprised at how much my body felt out of control. And at the same time, I realized that this was also normal. I had been holding the pendulum so firmly and so long that this was my body’s normal reaction. After all, I could explain as much as possible how ‘we’ were doing this for the ‘right’ reasons, yet my body, like all bodies, has a will of its own. And the language it understands best is the language of wanting and not having.

And not having something -> scarcity -> it becomes more attractive -> we feel out of control when we can have it again.

My initial instinct was to grab the pendulum and try to take back control.

Yet I knew this would just lead to a struggle with food and my body.

So I let the pendulum simply be.

Again, I kept being kind to myself. Reminding myself that this was totally understandable. That it was OK. That my body could really have whatever it wanted. That nothing was off limit.

It was almost like I was telling my body: I know the last 9 months were really tough on us, and that you need to make up for lost time. I trust you’ll find more moderate ground in your own time.

Eventually, the pendulum started losing momentum. It started moving towards the middle. Cheese no longer felt like the holy grail. I could eat bread maybe once a week and not want more.

And now I feel my relationship with food has shifted.

Whereas before the elimination diet I would tell myself I could eat whatever I wanted, in my mind, I was still restricting certain foods. It was subtle though – almost as if I was convincing myself that I didn’t really want to eat bread because it wasn’t ‘healthy’. There wasn’t a complete allowance of everything, which is one of the principles behind Intuitive Eating, and in my opinion, the only way it can really work.

After the initial frenzy and my approach of total allowance, I noticed that all these previously ‘exciting’ foods no longer held the same appeal to me because I had fully allowed myself to eat them, while staying connected to my body, and how the food tasted and felt physically.

In fact, I would say that food in general now feels less exciting for me.

Not in the sense that I don’t care about what I eat (I do) – I just obsess about it less. My body trusts that there will always be more of the previously (even subtly) forbidden foods, so I can stop when I am satisfied. I no longer force myself to eat something ‘healthy’ that doesn’t light me up or stop myself from eating something less healthy that does.

I eat a little less ‘healthy’ than before, yet I feel my relationship to food is more healthy.

I wanted to share this experience because the only way not to be controlled by food or allow it to control us is to let go of the control / restriction pendulum. And I know this isn’t easy. That we must learn…

♥ To trust.

♥ To keep listening to the body even when it feels out of control.

♥ To truly allow all foods.

♥ To let go of the labels of ‘healthy’ ‘unhealthy’, ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and to really get curious instead about the actual experience of food. How does it feel in your body?

This is the only way the pendulum can find its way to the middle – meaning a healthy relationship to food, where we don’t feel we need to control or be controlled by food.

This afternoon, I found myself choosing a carrot while my husband ate an ice-cream. Not because it was the healthy choice. Not because ice-cream was forbidden (in fact, I had ice-cream yesterday). Simply because in that moment, my body preferred the crunch and freshness of the carrot. I’m not saying full allowance and Intuitive Eating means you will always choose a carrot over ice-cream.

It simply means giving yourself the freedom to choose what works best for you in that moment and being OK with whatever you choose.

Because really, it’s just food.

We don’t need to control it and it doesn’t need to control us. It doesn’t define our worth. And we can let go and allow our bodies to take over instead.

Why Boundaries Matter

“Boundaries is simply what’s OK and not OK.” – Brené Brown

Imagine that your internal world – your emotions, thoughts, desires, needs – is a village. This village makes you who you are. And in order for your village to thrive, it needs to feel safe and protected.

And it can only do that when it has a clear protection around it, one that defines what’s OK and not OK to enter your village.

Without a clear boundary, your village is always being invaded.

And this isn’t much fun.

Because it means we end up doing things we don’t want to do.

We feel that people are taking advantage of us.

We try to please everyone.

We have a hard time knowing who we are or what we want because we don’t know where our village ends and other people’s village starts. 

We end up in relationships that are enmeshed, where, as Harriet Lerner writes

We put our energy into taking responsibility for other people’s feelings, thoughts and behavior and hand over responsibility for our own.

And this often leads to resentment towards ourselves and others because we can’t say no or clearly state our needs. Or as Brené Brown explains:

We let people get away with things that are not okay. Then we just become more resentful and hateful.

And also, we can’t take care of our own village when we are too busy taking care of other people’s villages.

Learning to set a boundary does not mean you have a walled off village that isn’t able to interact with other villages.

It simply means creating a safe container from which to create, thrive and love without losing ourselves in what others want or expect from us.

According to boundaries expert Chad Buck, a clinical psychologist at Vanderbilt University, boundaries lead to:

♥ More self-awareness and self-care

♥ More assertiveness / confidence

♥ More trust in self and others

♥ More compassion towards self and others

♥ Healthier relationships

♥ Less likely to burn out / less stress

♥ Less anger / resentment

If you would like to find out how to start setting boundaries in your own life so you can have healthier relationships with yourself and others, join me for a workshop on Boundaries: The Key to Healthier Relationships with Yourself + Others.

This workshop is based mostly on Acceptance on Commitment Therapy (ACT), a mindfulness-based behavioral approach, as well as the work of Brené Brown, Harriet Lerner and Karla McLaren.

boundaries_final

 

Freedom Through the Body: Interview with Rita Rütsche

We tend to forget this, but the body is key when it comes to eating, and the way we listen and relate to our bodies can make all the difference when it comes to changing our eating habits.

This is an interview I did with Rita Rütsche, a practitioner with a unique approach to the body. I met Rita through her MLC group class (more on this below) and individual Grinberg sessions and found them both so helpful in allowing me to increase awareness of my body that I wanted to find out more about the way she approaches the body.

What exactly do you do? 

IMG_2223-225x300I teach people to become more aware of their bodies so they can change disturbing behaviour patterns in their lives. I help them become conscious of how they walk through life, and what made them into the person they are today.

Through this process, they become aware of conditioning and influences. They are then able to find the freedom to make choices that are more fitting to their qualities and potential, that come from their heart, rather than being driven by common beliefs and other people’s expectations.

This is important because we are constantly influenced by the beliefs of our parents, our surroundings, our teachers at school etc from the moment we are born. Even though their aim is to provide a frame to grow and evolve in, they also transmit their fears, pains and limiting beliefs about life and about ourselves.

So even though these sources of influence give us a sense of security because of their familiarity, they also create dissatisfaction, physical discomfort and erroneous choices in our lives.

To be more precise: We are less afraid when we know what is right and wrong. When we know what is expected. When we can simply do what is expected. One of the basic biological human needs to grow and evolve is the need to be loved and get attention. Children will do anything to get love and attention from their parents.

For example, if it is very important to my parents that I become a doctor or a banker, there is a good chance that I will try to satisfy their ideology and do my best to become what they approve of, despite the fact that I might feel that there is always something missing in my life or that I lose strength and joy. The same is true with parents who would like to have an actor or a musician in the family when we would actually prefer to work in an office or become an architect for example.

When people first come for an individual session I do an assessment through their feet called foot analysis, since behaviour patterns, all kinds of blockages and physical discomfort are visible on the feet.

What is the role of the body in all this?

The body is reality. It cannot lie.

It has specific requirements to be able to function like sleeping, eating, rest etc. If we do not respect the basic needs of the body, we become sick or unhappy.

So in this way, the body doesn’t care about belief systems. It doesn’t care if we are driving it to exhaustion because of a belief about the need to be successful. All it knows is that it is exhausted.

For example, on an emotional level, the body doesn’t care that I believe it isn’t safe to get angry because this is the message I got from my family. When anger shows up, it shows up in the body. We can try to suppress it or not feel it, but the effect will still be there, the body experiences it and will create tension. Chronic tension leads to a dysfunction in the body and becomes a breeding ground for sickness or conditions like backache, headaches, hernias, heartburn etc.

The shape of the body can be a reflection of something that is going on for us. For example, extra weight can be a shield when it is not safe to feel attractive or we want to avoid being hurt again in a relationship.

Is it easier to live according to our hearts rather than our conditioning? 

I don’t think it’s easier. It needs more courage, it takes more attention. A good dose of humor is helpful also since we take ourselves way too seriously when driven by our beliefs. Yet living according to our hearts leads to a more fulfilling, meaningful, happier life. We end up doing what’s most dear to us rather than what we’re supposed to do.

Could you share an example?

I had a client who came from a very close-knit family – to the point where it was seen as a betrayal for her to do things on her own. She felt guilty and anxious each time she had to leave for a business trip.

In the learning process through the body, she learned to manage her fears and guilt differently and gradually became free to choose who she wanted to spend time with, to do what she enjoyed on her own and also choose the times when she wanted to be with her family. Today, she knows how to tackle anxiety, has much more energy and joy in her life and has a real social life and friends.

She discovered through her body how much she had been ‘twisting’ herself into trying to fit the family rules and the cost on her life and sense of freedom.

Another example is a girl of 14 that had strong period pains and missed school 2 days every months. Through our bodywork she learned to work with physical pain and the fear of it and now gets her period without pain.

What is your biggest dream?

My biggest dream is to make people free and aware of their automatic behaviour patterns, their conditionings which act like computer programs they don’t even realise are running in the background and controlling their lives.

I wish to make people aware that they have the keys to their freedom and happiness inside them. The body is a precious tool in unfolding our potential and leading a fulfilled and happy life using all our qualities on a physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual level.

Who would you be without this conditioning? Who are you really?

What methods do you use?

Various methods have shaped my path; Yoga, The Grinberg Method, MLC (Méthode de Libération des Cuirasses), Hsin Tao, EFT etc. All these tools appear in my individual learning processes and workshops. There are many tools to awareness nowadays, the idea is to find a discipline and practical way to apply them in every day life since it takes practice.

Mark Twain said: “A habit cannot be tossed out the window; it must be coaxed down the stairs a step at a time.”

It takes courage to choose listening to your heart instead of “secure” patterns because this requires us to be attentive and alive. And life then is intense and wonderful.

Upcoming events:

Saturday 23 April Du mensonge à la réalité from 9:00 – 13:00, a workshop in French with various exercises to become aware of behaviour patterns that are limiting me in my life.

MLC (Méthode de Libération des Cuirasses) Class in English: Practical exercises to learn to relax and pay attention to the body and it’s limits.

Every Monday 18h45 regular MLC classes in French from 18h45 to 20h15

All courses take place at Place des Augustins, 1205 Geneva. Individual sessions, foot analysis in French or English or German take place at 15, rue des Voisins, 1205 Geneva every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

http://www.ritarutsche.net

7 Things We Don’t Learn About Emotions

Even though I have a Masters degree in Psychology, I never really studied emotions until recently, nor knew how to work with them in a way that worked FOR me rather than AGAINST me.Through both Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Karla McLaren’s work, I discovered a whole world inside of me, where turning towards emotions rather than trying to numb them or allow them to take over and explode all over the place, was possible.
The most exciting part of this different way of relating to emotions is how much more alive I feel, because emotions are meant to be felt (but not dwelled on endlessly), and also how much better I understand what I want and need. Emotions are like messengers, each with something specific to tell us, and learning to understand their language is truly life-changing.Here is a summary of seven things we don’t learn about emotions:

1. EMOTIONS SHOW UP IN THE BODY FIRST

Every emotion first shows up in the body as a physical change which is then interpreted as a ‘feeling’. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio calls emotions “mental experiences of body states”.

If you don’t have a body, you can’t have emotions (sorry, robots!).

If you have a body, you can’t not have emotions.

2. THE WORD ‘EMOTION’ COMES FROM THE LATIN ‘MOVERE’ – TO MOVE

Emotions are like signposts with a message about an action they want us to take. They are essential to survival, making decisions, learning – and pretty much everything in life.

Every emotion has a purpose, they don’t just show up randomly. For example, anger tells us our boundaries have been crossed and need to be repaired. Sadness tells us something is not working and needs to be released.

3. WE CAN TRY NOT FEELING CERTAIN ‘DIFFICULT’ EMOTIONS…

…but the cost of doing this is high because we cannot selectively numb emotions. When we try to numb uncomfortable emotions like anger or sadness, we end up numbing all emotions, including joy and happiness.

And we end up in a life that feels flat.

(and often seek stimulation through things like adrenaline activities or drugs or alcohol or sugar in an effort to feel alive)

4. SUPPRESSING EMOTIONS ALWAYS BACKFIRES…

…and then we go from numb to explosive. Which isn’t much fun. And has a high cost on our social relationships. And also takes a lot of energy out of us.

5. EMOTIONS ARE NOT OUR ENEMY

They are a part of us. And how can we ever win when we fight a part of ourselves?

Learning to listen to and feel emotions allows them to pass through more easily, instead of getting stuck and festering.

6. EMOTIONS ARE NOT OUR BOSS, EITHER

Yet just because we listening to them and allowing them to flow through instead of trying to numb or suppress them doesn’t mean they are our boss.

Learning to live with emotions means creating a pause between emotions showing up and choosing whether or not to take action.

7. THERE ARE NO ‘GOOD’ OR ‘BAD’ EMOTIONS

As humans, we are meant to experience the full spectrum of emotions – they all serve a purpose and can help us navigate life.

We are not meant to live in a constant state of happiness or bliss – to never feel anger or sadness. Not only is this not possible, our attempts at chasing happiness tend to make us more miserable than allowing ourselves to be human and experience ‘emodiversity’ or emotional diversity which has been linked to greater psychological health.

To be alive means to experience the full range of human emotions. Living with emotions in a way that is healthy means using them as valuable information for navigating life.

If you would like to find out more, join me on Tuesday 30 August in Geneva!

Emotions

Lots of Taste Quinoa Salad

Quinoa Salad_5 tastes

This is one of my favorite ways to create quick meals that also taste great: By combining the five tastes that are naturally present on our taste buds: Sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami.  I go into more detail on this in my online program Healthy in a Hurry but I wanted to share this Quinoa Salad because it is so simple and tasty at the same time!

Taking pleasure in what we eat is not a luxury – it is a necessity in order to feel satisfied by a meal. If a meal is bland, we will often eat more of it or need something sweet after a meal. I call this biological need for pleasure allowing our taste buds to have a party. And what better way for them to party than by combining a food from all five tastes in one dish?

This is what I have done in this dish, combining something sweet (chestnuts + raisins), salty (salt + capers), sour (apple cider vinegar), umami (olive oil, onion, dried tomatoes) and bitter (endives + ground cumin). You can always substitute any of these food with something else from the same taste profile. For example, if you don’t like chestnuts, you can leave them out and add more raisins. If you don’t like endives, you can use kale or arugula instead which are also bitter. And you can always adjust the proportions and seasonings to suit your taste, adding more or less sour for example, as taste is always individual.

This quantity makes about 6 servings, and you can leave it in the fridge for 2-3 days. If you are adding a leafy green, add it when serving rather than storing it with the other ingredients as it will wilt.

Ingredients

1 cup uncooked quinoa or millet or buckwheat

200g chestnuts (I buy them frozen)

2 leeks

1 endive

8 dried tomatoes (buy them without oil)

6 teaspoons capers

1 red onion

4 tablespoons raisins

2 tablespoons ground cumin

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

salt + pepper

Method

Cook the quinoa, ideally soaking it for about 12 hours beforehand. – find out how to cook quinoa here.

Chop the leeks all the ingredients and combine in a bowl – find out how to clean and chop leeks here.

Steam or boil the leeks and chestnuts for a few minutes so they are cooked but not mushy.

Chop the rest of the ingredients so that everything is about the same size. This will prevent any one taste from dominating and will allow all the tastes to harmoniously come together.

Prepare the dressing and mix with all the ingredients in a bowl.

Adjust taste and seasoning until you find the perfect combination for you.

Enjoy!

 

 

3 Ingredient Raw Chocolate

make your own raw chocolate

Making your own chocolate is a healthier and more delicious alternative to store-bought chocolate.

By using minimal heat to make the chocolate, you preserve all the nutrients found in raw cacao powder.  

Raw cacao has one of the highest antioxidant levels of any food and is also a good source of magnesium, iron, zinc and more. Cacao may also have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health and depression.

Oh, and in addition to being a much healthier option, this raw chocolate tastes AMAZING. Seriously, you won’t want to go back to store-bought chocolate after being able to make your own so quickly and easily!

And just to show you how easy it is, I made this short video of a basic chocolate recipe. Once you have created this base, you can customize it with any taste you want – or just eat it plain to get all the taste of the cacao.

Ingredients

120g cacao butter

70g raw cacao

6 tbsp coconut sugar, honey or maple syrup

a pinch of unrefined salt

Method

Melt the cacao butter in a double boiler until it melts. Water should be hot but not boiling. Cacao butter melts at about 32 degrees Celsius and nutrients are preserved up until 48 degrees Celsius. Chop the cacao butter into smaller pieces if you want it to melt faster.

Pour into a bowl and sift the cacao powder into the mixture.

Add the sweetener and stir until everything is incorporated.

Add the salt and any extra taste you are using and stir until the mixture is smooth.

Pour the mix into silicone moulds or anything made of paper – you can use cupcake papers as well. If you have a silicone cake pan, you can use that to create a chocolate bar.

Place the chocolate in the fridge for at least 10 minutes until it is set. The chocolates can then be removed from the forms and stored in a sealed container in the fridge.

Variations

You can add anything you want to your chocolate such as essential oils  like mint or lavender, lemon, lime or orange zest, rose water, nuts, coconut, grilled sesame seeds, goji berries or anything else you fancy.

Where to buy the ingredients

You can find cacao butter, raw cacao powder and coconut sugar in most organic stores.

I usually buy them online on www.iherb.com. You can use code WIV403 to get up to $10 off your first order.

I buy coconut sugar from Sagana, a Swiss-based company that works directly with farmers in the Philippines to provide a fair livelihood.

First Bite Experience + Sweet Potato Stir-Fry

sweet potato stir-fry

I want to share something really simple that just might transform your experience of your next meal.

I call it The First Bite Experience.

It’s that burst of taste and pleasure that comes across most strongly from the first bite of food but that we are often too distracted to truly notice.

And when we don’t really notice that first bite or any bite after it, our body doesn’t actually register that it has been fed, and starts asking for MORE food, or craves something sweet after the meal.

So one way to avoid overeating or cravings is to simply start by really being present for that first bite of food.

To really take the time to savour that first bite.

Here’s how:

Make sure you are sitting down. Close your eyes if you want. Put a mouthful of food in your mouth. Fully taste it. Do you like the taste? Do you enjoy the crunch or smoothness of the food? Can you taste all the ingredients in it? Try to give this first bite your full, undivided attention as if you were tasting this food for the first time. There is no right or wrong way to do this – simply pay attention.

You do not need to eat the whole meal like this – simply try to remember to bring your full attention to that crucial first bite. Even if you are eating with other people, you can still be attentive to the first bite you take – although you might not want to close your eyes for it!

I would love to hear your experience if you try it – please comment below!

And if you would like more simple, actionable steps to more mindful eating like this one, check out my online Mindful Eating Experiment!

Mindful Eating flyer

Sweet Potato Stir-Fry

This is the perfect recipe to try the First Bite Experience with because sweet potatoes, when you really taste them, have a very satisfying sweet taste. The combination of tastes and textures in this recipe is also incredibly interesting to the tastebuds, particularly due to the umami combo of garlic / onion / Feta / olives. If you lightly toast the pumpkin seeds, this also makes them more umami and lends a more enticing texture.

4 sweet potatoes – medium sized (about 500g)

1 tablespoons coconut oil

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 cloves minced garlic

2 onions or scallions, chopped

200g Feta cheese, diced AND/OR olives

About 2 tablespoons parsley or coriander, chopped

2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

Green vegetable of your choice – here I added some steamed broccoli as a side to make a more complete meal but you can also add a handful of spinach leaves or chopped kale at the end and simply stir through to wilt the leaves slightly.

Method

Preheat oven to 200°C. Place on a baking sheet in the oven and roast for 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the potato. You will know it’s done when a knife or fork can easily pierce the skin and the center is soft.

You can make more in quantity and leave them to cool, then wrap them in the baking sheet and put them in the fridge to use over up to 3 days.

Peel sweet potatoes and cut them into small cubes.

Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat and add the turmeric, garlic and onion.

Add the sweet potato and heat through for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly to coat the potatoes with the onion, garlic and turmeric. Add the Feta or olives and green leafy vegetable if you are using and stir until the mixture is heated through.

Turn off the heat and season with freshly ground pepper and a little salt. Add the parsley or coriander and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.

You can serve this dish immediately with the sweet potato still warm or you can serve it cold.  It works well for picnics in summer.

sweet potatoes round

An Intuitive Way of Moving: Interview with Alex Menin

A few weeks ago I participated in a class where I found myself doing movements that felt completely bizarre…and completely natural at the same time.

I loved that the 3 hour session was done barefoot and without machines. It was intense and challenging without feeling like I was pushing my body beyond its natural capacities. In fact, I discovered that my body was capable of movements I didn’t even know were possible! Hello crawling animal-like on hands and tip toes (apparently this is a more effective way of climbing up hills) or lifting 20 kilo bags (I, who have never lifted a weight in my life).

Like Intuitive Eating, MovNat or Natural Movement taps into the body’s natural wisdom and takes us back to a time when humans were moving in a way that was natural to the way our bodies were designed. We didn’t need fancy equipment or gyms – life itself was fitness. Isn’t the idea of replicating this in our modern life appealing?

Curious to know more and wanting to spread the word about this wonderful new form of exercise that just seems to make sense, I asked Alex Menin, Certified MovNat Trainer and Nutritional Therapy Consultant in Geneva, for more information.

image11. What exactly is MovNat?

It is a fitness and physical education system based on the full range of natural human movement skills. It was created by Erwan Le Corre and is based on the Methode Naturelle of Georges Hebert (beginning of the 20th century).

The movements are categorized in three domains and thirteen attitudes:

Locomotive skills: swimming, crawling, balancing, walking, running, jumping, climbing

Manipulative skills: lifting, carrying, throwing, catching

Combative skills: striking, grappling

The apparent simplicity of this categorization may be confusing – it was for me in the beginning. In reality, when these exercises are properly executed, and personalized progressions are followed, it is possible to allow an entry-level person to train in total security (read: injury free) and have fun in the process. And it can also be challenged for more experienced athletes.

2. How did you discover MovNat? What lights you up about it?

This is an interesting story, I’ll start from the beginning. Five years ago I was following the rules of the so called common wisdom, both in terms of nutrition and exercise: a calorie is a calorie, fats will make you fat, cholesterol is the enemy, you need to eat 6 times per day to keep the metabolic flame burning. And similarly: you must train with machines because they are designed to provide the optimal angle, you need to do plenty of cardio because it is good for you and you will eventually out burn dietary excesses. Despite the efforts to adhere to the program, the results were not there. So I started looking for valid alternatives with both nutrition and exercise.

I explored bodyweight training just to notice how out of shape I was. It made me realize: What is the point of lifting a quintal of iron if I can’t move myself unweighted with proper control? In short, I had been doing it wrong all this time. I did calisthenics for one year and that helped me step out of my comfort zone.

One day a friend with whom I talk a lot about fitness showed me some MovNat videos and said “Look at what these guys are doing, THAT is cool”. I had to agree – it was definitely cool although in the beginning I thought they were just a collection of gimmicks which do not really provide serious conditioning. I tried to replicate some of the exercises which looked extremely simple, and discovered they were not so easy to perform. I said to myself: I found it! And decided to get certified. It just happened overnight, like this. I fell in love with the discipline.

What lights me up about MovNat? I think it’s the most characteristic element of first and foremost honouring the foundations of movement in order to create a larger base onto which one can then build true physical competence. People lift impressive weights with poor technique – this cannot be right. The quasi-maniacal observance of proper form in MovNat is what assures constant progression – heavy weights eventually follow.

3. Who is it for? Who is it NOT for?

One of the principles is Universality. As long as one owns a human body, no matter how fit or unfit they are, they can do it.

MovNat is a great entry point for people who haven’t done any sport for years. By working on the foundations, it is possible to effectively undo the damage of a sedentary lifestyle and quickly progress by augmenting the volume, intensity and complexity of the exercises.

Very fit people or elite athletes can also greatly benefit from adding MovNat to their routine: it could be the missing stimulus to break a plateau and perform better.

4. How is it different from other forms of movement?

Well, to answer to this question I’d like to borrow a quote from a fellow coach: we all get excited when we go to the cinema to watch a movie in 3D, yet when we move we force ourselves into 2D movements. Exercise like the stationary bike, the rowing machine and even machines that are apparently more complex like the elliptical trainer may burn calories but is the movement genuine? Are they really challenging every possible shade of physical abilities that our wonderful bodies can express?

In MovNat,  we avoid isolation and we don’t allow machines to drive our movements. In the beginning it may be quite frustrating and feel like we were exercising harder before, but that isn’t true: Just because machines allow us to reach higher levels of volume or intensity, doesn’t mean we are exercising more or better. From this point of view, Movement Proficiency shares a lot with other disciplines that put the accent on complex and multi-articular movements and which fall into the category of Functional Training.

Another important element is Mindfulness. Movements are complex and although with constant practice we can automate them, a certain degree of awareness is always required. Another characteristic of MovNat, which is also another of its principles, is the concept of Environmentality: we value training outdoor whenever possible.

duckWalkOnRails

5. Can it only be done in the wild?

Thanks for asking – this is a common misconception and it is important to speak about it.

Moving naturally doesn’t mean that we can bring a bike to the forest and cycle while listening to music: this would still be a 2D movement. The key element of moving naturally is the human body, it is with us every moment and that is what we want to focus on.

Sure, we can train in the woods which definitely poses more challenges and that’s the reason why it should be done only once a certain level of movement proficiency had been acquired. Other nice and safer outdoor settings are a city park, a stadium, a playground, an urban environment, but one can also practice MovNat  in a gym, a yoga studio or why not in one’s living room: every morning I do a short session of mobility drills in my pyjama which helps me to wake-up.

In short, there is no need to run barefoot and shirtless under improbable weather conditions – you can do MovNat with a nice pair of shoes and a white t-shirt.

6. What does a typical session look like?

There are four phases that can be followed:

        1. Warm-up
        2. Emphases (practicing and refining techniques)
        3. Energy systems development
        4. Cool-down

Following these phases is not a strict rule. For example, on rest days I do 30 minutes of pure balancing drills and that don’t require warm-up or cool-down. This doesn’t employ much energy either, however the work done on the techniques is real and the benefits are felt the following day when I lift heavy things.

7. What results can be expected?

I can speak of my personal experience. At the risk of not being believed, I feel my joints are younger today at 42 than they were at 22. My greatest surprise was to see how the dynamic stretching drills improved my mobility. I am referring to true conditioning, not just Range of Motion.

Speaking about conditioning, strength, of course, is another benefit. When a trainee progresses in intensity and volume, more resources are requested from the body which will naturally respond by becoming stronger. However, the conditioning obtained is well balanced: since we are not working in isolation, every time we move we are adapting to the pace of our weakest link.

Agility, dexterity, stability, proprioception are also forms of conditioning and I like mentioning them together with strength. The weakest link is not necessarily a muscle, it may be a skill such as stability: It is important to exercise according to its progression and avoid poor movement patterns for the sake of lifting heavier weights.

MovNat trains real, practical movements that we find in life: lifting uneven and unwieldy objects with efficiency, balancing in non-optimal situations, climbing trees, etc. So an interesting side effect is that we start finding life physically easier!

MovNat also builds self-confidence. Some exercises are challenging from a mental point of view – for example long jumps over a moat, depth jumps from reasonable heights, etc. Another example is vaulting an obstacle – a lot of people are afraid of getting “hooked” by the obstacle with one foot and falling to the ground disgracefully.

We are brainwashed to expect the worst by signs telling us to hold the rail when climbing stairs and in the long run this makes us unaware of what we can achieve with our bodies and we feel insecure and weak. In reality, when the proper progression is respected and we train mindfully, incidents are very rare.

And since many readers might be waiting for this: What about weight loss? For sure! A physically proficient body is a harmonious and beautiful one.

8. How / where can people try it?

MovNat organises official 2-day workshops around the world which are held by Master Instructors.

Otherwise, there is a directory with the list of all MovNat Certified Trainers, you can easily locate one near to you. And the list is growing quickly.

As for me, I give one-on-one movement lessons and occasionally organise half-day workshops in the Geneva area. You can stay in touch through my Facebook page.

split jump

Waiting for Life to Begin

waiting for life
Sometimes, we wait to look or feel a certain way before allowing life to really begin.

I see this a lot with my weight loss clients.

When I lose weight I’ll put myself out there and finally live my dream.

When I lose weight, my life will be perfect.

If you are trying to lose weight, you might have a very precise idea of what your life will look like once you lose weight.

And what if you could already take steps towards the life you want to live once you lose weight – right now?

What if you already acted as if you were worthy of love and belonging – because you ARE – regardless of your size?

What if you worked on developing friendship and love today instead of waiting to look or feel a certain way?

What if instead of waiting for your life to begin once you’ve lost weight, you start making it happen, here and now?

Because acting as if you already were the person you want to be might just be the most effective way of getting there. 

PS – I share my own experience around this in this article.

This is my life, not a fairytale. I must go into the woods and I must meet the wolf or else my life will never begin. – Clarissa Pinkola Estes

My Top 5 Tips for Healthy Eating

5 tips for healthy eatingIt’s been almost 7 years now that I transformed my M&M’s-for-dinner ways into a much healthier way of living and eating.

The catalyst for this change was discovering I had a genetic kidney disease.

I found out about this completely by chance. I had been travelling for 6 months with my husband on a dream trip around the world when I started feeling really, really tired. Tired in a way where doing even the smallest thing seemed to take superhuman effort.

We were in China at the time and as soon as we reached Shanghai, I went to a clinic.

It turned out to be nothing more exotic than Mononucleosis but it was affecting my liver and spleen and I wasn’t having much fun anymore anyway so we cut our trip short by 2 weeks and went home to Geneva.

In Geneva, the doctors decided to re-do all the ultrasounds, and that is how, completely by chance, I was told I had hundreds of cysts on my kidneys. I barely knew what kidneys did in the body and had never heard of Polycystic Kidney Disease even though it usually runs in families.

The doctors told me to just relax and live a normal life because there wasn’t anything I could really do to prevent this disease from potentially turning into full-blown kidney failure anyway.

This didn’t make sense to me. I couldn’t grasp how doctors could tell me there was nothing I could do. Because when I was honest with myself and took a long, hard look at my life, I could see plenty of things I could be doing better.

Starting by not having M&M’s for dinner. By drinking more water instead of mostly sodas and coffees. By eating more vegetables. By educating myself on nutrition and actually discovering that I wasn’t eating enough HEALTHY fats. By experimenting with adding more protein to my diet as a way of curbing my sugar addiction.

And that is how I started making changes to my diet, and even ended up studying nutrition which had never interested me before (my initial degree is in Psychology).

In this blog post, I wanted to share what I have found to be the 5 most important steps to a healthier way of eating.

1. Find your motivating force

This is the first step to making any change. Our natural human tendency is to resist change because it implies the unknown so your motivating force is what will help pull you towards the outcome you want.

What matters to you about eating more healthy? If you were already eating healthy, what would you be DOING differently in your life? What impact would this have on your life?

Acroyoga In a strange way, I now consider myself lucky to have had such a strong motivation to change. Instead of just focusing on ‘not getting sick’ as a motivation, however, I now focus on wanting to fully enjoy my body and take care of it in the best way possible. This motivating force links to vitality and being able to get the most out of life. It goes beyond food and includes movement (like Acroyoga in this photo), self-care and emotional health – all of which are just as important as what we eat.

Linking your motivating force to an overarching goal or value for your life like self-care or vitality or living more fully can be a powerful motivation when change is hard – which it will be in the beginning – guaranteed.

Oh, and make sure your motivating force does not have a “SHOULD” in it. Because, really, there is no obligation to eat healthy. There is no food police. You are the only person here whose opinion matters and if this doesn’t matter enough to you right now, that’s OK. Be honest with yourself. Maybe it means being a lot less ambitious about what you are willing to do. Or maybe it’s about linking healthy eating to something that DOES matter to you like having the energy to play with your children.

2. Be realistic and start with really tiny steps

Which brings me to the next point. The biggest obstacle I see to making healthy change is actually being waaaay too ambitious. Like, expecting to overhaul your entire diet overnight or going from a pretty unhealthy way of eating to a 100% healthy way of eating.

Guess what? This never works in the long-term. Because guess what the only thing we hate more than other people telling us what to do? Telling ourselves what to do. When we use deprivation and excessive willpower, we simply end up rebelling against ourselves in the long-term.

So a better way to go about this is to start with really tiny steps. Decide to make one new healthy recipe per week. Try adding a vegetable-based smoothie to breakfast. Drink one more glass of water every day for a week and build up over the month. Make a batch of quinoa and try using it in different recipes across the week. Just decide on one small step that feels do-able and start there. Then, once this becomes a habit, add the next most do-able step and keep building on this.

When I first started out, I decided to simply add a vegetable juice every day for the 40 days of Lent. That was it: Nothing more! Yet what happened from there was that I naturally started craving more healthy food, and began experimenting with healthier options.

And even if you start with just tiny steps, could you do yourself a favor and let go of the idea that change is linear? Change looks more like this chart – so start to embrace the up’s and down’s as simply a part of the process!

Source: BuzzFeed Life

Source: BuzzFeed Life

3. Experiment!

You know what I find fascinating about nutrition? How unscientific it is. One minute fats are bad, the next they are good. One minute coconut oil is the devil, now it is a panacea.

This used to drive me crazy. Until I realized I had a very powerful tool on hand: Curiosity and the ability to experiment and listen to my body.

Because one of the reasons nutrition is so inconclusive is that no one diet works for everyone.

So instead of only listening to external experts, experiment! Call on your curiosity and try out different ways of eating to find what works best for your body.

Experiment with times of day where it feels better to have bigger or smaller meals. With whether you need a snack or not. With different types of foods and proportions of macronutrients (fat/protein/carbs). The Breakfast Experiment

You could also start by experimenting with different breakfasts – my free online Breakfast Experiment can help you do that.

When you take on this approach you realize that you are never actually eating badly – it’s all part of the experiment called life. Now when I eat something that didn’t work for my body, I don’t beat myself up about it. I simply notice with curiosity that actually, I am better off not eating chocolate so late at night or that having too many fries doesn’t work for my body.

4. Forget perfection

When I first started making healthy changes, I got a little carried away and tried to eat ‘perfectly’. I actually became borderline orthorexic at some point – and this didn’t really work because I would then end up completely losing control and swinging to the other extreme. I call this Boot Camp vs Club Med mentality and I wrote about it here.Bootcamp-or-Club-Med

I also realized that eating healthy food does not necessarily mean having a healthy RELATIONSHIP around food. In fact, I would often eat too much in quantity of healthy food because I was feeling frustrated and deprived. So when I eased up on this and started allowing myself to eat a little less healthy, I was actually able to develop a healthier relationship to food – one that includes the occasional fries or fondue or dessert which I fully enjoy.

Remember that this is not a crash diet. It is your life. And you need to be able to keep eating healthy, which you will only be able to do if you enjoy it. So allow yourself to eat healthy food AND less healthy food. It’s all about balance. And you might notice that when the unhealthy stuff is no longer forbidden and you start really listening to your body, the less healthy stuff loses some of its allure.

5. Rely on habits and organization rather than willpower

This is probably the most important thing I wish I had known starting out.

Healthy eating is more about being organized than a matter of willpower.

When you have a headstart ingredient like a batch of quinoa or pre-chopped vegetables or cooked lentils in your fridge that you can quickly transform into a meal, eating healthy becomes the obvious choice.

This was something I learned after some trial and error and thinking that I was simply lacking in willpower. I was working at a fast-paced job and would come home quite late and didn’t have the courage to start cooking from scratch despite my best intentions. So I started putting aside an hour on Sundays to prepare some headstart ingredients for the week. I would listen to TED talks or good music and turn it into an enjoyable moment.

I have to point out that I am not a naturally organized person, but I knew that this was the only way that I would end up not just making pasta or having a ‘picnic’ dinner instead of an actual meal.

This is still the way I cook now, where I try to have at least one headstart ingredient on hand, to always have the basics in my kitchen and meals that I have frozen in my freezer. This approach truly makes it possible to eat healthy, even during busier periods.

This is the reason I created my step-by-step approach for creative meal planning as a 7 week online course, Healthy in a Hurry: I wanted to make healthy meal preparation accessible and fun by building simple habits, step by step.

Every week for 7 weeks, a new lesson will be released where you will have access to 2-3 short videos + PDFs you can download with guidelines, tips and recipes that will help you make healthy meal planning a reality. Each week’s module also has a simple worksheet you can fill out to help you plan for the week. You will also have access to all the material even after the course is finished so you can come back to it anytime. 

And there’s a free 45 minute Skype call with me plus unlimited access for any questions because accountability is key and I am committed to your success. Find out more here!

I would love to hear from you – what have you found most helpful in eating more healthy?