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How I overcame self-sabotage and shame – and how you can too

I’m delighted to bring you a guest blog from a very special lady called Jenny. She’s not a doctor, not a nutritional therapist, not an “expert”… but one of the wisest people I know.

Do you remember when you grazed your knee and your mum kissed it better and gave you a sweetie?  Or you had a day off school poorly? Then it was a lovely, warm meal made with love. A fight with your sibling? Maybe an ice cream. And so it progressed: discomfort equalled something tasty to take the pain away… and that something was always food.

As you grew older, Mum was replaced with your “other self” and its instinctive response to any stressful event – all reinforced by adverts and promotions in supermarkets. Boyfriend problems? A tub of ice cream and wine because “you deserve it”. Christmas? Oh, the stress! Just one more mince pie will help with that. And so it went on.

This was my life and it got worse. Any stress and I’d eat. Sadly, not fresh veg or anything healthy, but processed, carb-laden rubbish. Back then, I couldn’t stop at one biscuit: it had to be the packet. A slice of cake? Well, one more wouldn’t hurt – and it had to be a large one, too. One day I actually found myself lying to my husband, telling him I’d bought him a cake and that I hadn’t bought one for myself. How good was I? The reality being I had bought four cakes and eaten three of them before he got home. The shame increased and so I ate more to hide those feelings and to medicate myself in order to feel better. Only we know that it doesn’t work like that.

2016 was a bit of a watershed for me: three years earlier I had developed a heart condition, we had moved house to an area I didn’t know, I’d given up my career, my children had both left home and my elderly mum (for whom I had been a full-time carer) had died. Suddenly, my raison d’être had disappeared and I was left with not only a huge hole in my life but the realisation that, despite my age (I am 56), I didn’t know how to “do” self-care. I was overweight, unfit, running on adrenaline fumes, grieving for the losses in my life and unsure of what to do next.

I think the phrase is that I am “sick and tired of feeling sick and tired”. I had heard and read about functional medicine and, as a nurse myself, it resonated with me. I didn’t want more medication to treat normal human responses. I was put in touch with Suzy by a local functional medicine doctor who suggested she’d be able to help me make lifestyle changes.

Initially, I thought Suzy would make those changes for me. Wrong! I have learnt that those changes need to come from within and Suzy has been instrumental in helping me to tune into the innate wisdom we all have. I know now that the only person who can get me out of that rut is myself.

There are episodes in my life I would rather hide from than admit to anyone and to this day those feelings persist. But I am fighting back. It’s not easy, it’s not painless and, surprisingly, it’s not all about food. A part of it is about saying “it’s OK”. It really is OK to sit down, have a bath, go for a walk or do something nice for myself instead of binge eating in order to take the discomforts of life away.

Like many other women, for far too long my life has been led by other people’s needs. I had forgotten that unless the carer looks after herself, then those she cares for will lose out. The biggest revelation to me is that it’s OK to think about myself and I really don’t have to worry about other people all the time. If I want to dye my hair green or spend an afternoon in the sun, I can, and it’s OK too.

It’s a process and I’m still working on it, but at least I now know where I am going. I have clearer goals and the signposts to get there. I feel supported. Suzy has been a calm, cheerful influence in my life. She doesn’t get fazed if I cry and to someone grieving a loss, that has been very comforting. I am still very much a work in progress, but I am getting there. Formal before and after questionnaires show clear evidence that my health and wellbeing are improving*. I have lost five inches from my waist and I can recognise how much better I feel when I eat well.

No, I am not 100% perfect and yes, some days only that piece of chocolate will do and that’s OK, but after a while your taste buds do change and I promise you those chocolate bars are actually revolting. To remember that, I keep an empty chocolate wrapper on my desk to remind me of the day I ate it and regretted it for hours after.

Sweet, healthy treats do exist; a handful of berries and a few nuts might seem weird now, but in a few weeks are completely satisfying. You are not on your own. No, it is not shameful; the food industry is set up to encourage your addiction. Fizzy drinks don’t teach the world to sing and ice cream doesn’t improve your love life. Fight back. It is never too late. Get support and you can do it too.

*As part of her coaching programme, Jenny completed a functional medicine Medical Symptoms Questionnaire which measures a broad range of symptoms, covering everything from joint paint to anxiety. Her results dropped from 134 to 45 after six months (a decrease of 89 points – indicating a significant improvement in her symptoms.)

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