#AppetiteAugustHT: reflections upon our relationship with food

The most important relationship you would ever have is with yourself. This relationship can be displayed in many ways – in your thoughts and words, and in your actions. Wellbeing is a complex term that can not be reduced to a tick box exercise. Moreover, every single one of us will have a different understanding of what wellbeing actually is and what it means to us. In August we are launching a new hashtag – #AppetiteAugustHT to start a conversation about our relationship with food and look at how we could embed healthy eating habits and attitudes. Appetite can be defined as ‘‘a natural desire to satisfy a bodily need, especially for food.’’ However, how often are we satisfying our mental need through food.

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My relationship with food hasn’t been straightforward.  During challenging times, I used food as a satisfying treat. Everything around me might have been falling apart, but the taste and smell of a coffee and walnut cake somehow made things seem much more manageable. Other times, when I was running low on energy, I would convince myself that eating a cake would give me the desired sugar high to cope successfully with daily tasks. On both occasions, I was eating to satisfy my emotional rather than my physical hunger. During some grey periods of my life, I would stop eating and develop an unhealthy relationship with sport as the physical exertion and exhaustion would stop me from overthinking as I would literally be too tired to think. At other times, when things got really tough, food was there to make me, without fail, feel nauseous and generally unwell. I experienced a complete loss of appetite—a common anxiety food trap. When I was invited to join a modelling academy, I had to drastically reduce my food intake and follow a ridiculously restricted diet plan in order to meet the expectations shamelessly imposed on us by society. For weeks I would survive on a diet plan given to me by one of the ‘dieticians’ working there that suggested that one egg, one sausage, a couple of pieces of fruit and a yoghurt washed down with water would help me achieve the desired modelling weight. This is the photo of me when I was about 18-19 after graduating from the academy.

August Maria

Instead of following a straight path of healthy eating choices, for years I fluctuated between overeating and not eating enough as a reaction to my circumstances, or more importantly, to my mental state at the time.  Was it self-harm? Yes, definitely. The truth is that when someone mentions self-harming, the immediate reaction is to assume that the person is referring to cutting. When I was depriving my body of food and working out to the extreme, I was self-harming. I was trying to gain control of one area of my life when I lost it somewhere else. When I was comfort eating, I was self-harming too. I was trying to silence the chaos in my head by distracting myself with treats. It is only when I embarked on my coaching journey that I started to notice how the positive changes in my mental attitude were having a lasting effect on the food choices I was making. I made a conscious decision to make friends with food and take control of 50,000 of my daily thoughts. The fact is that 95% of our thoughts are repeated daily, so there is no surprise that, soon enough, we start believing all the negative things we are saying to ourselves.

I was introduced to NLP for the first time at some stage in my coaching journey. NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming and reinforces the link between the mind (neuro) and language (linguistic) and how they affect our behaviour (programming).  Although I wasn’t convinced at first, the simplicity and effectiveness of some suggestions made during the course truly won me over. It is not about changing everything you are used to and feel comfortable with.  We can’t change in one day and imposing unreasonable expectations on ourselves plants doubt and fear in our minds and convinces us that we are nothing but miserable failures. It is about a gradual change—the aggregation of marginal gains. In this blog post, I would like to share three practical strategies that can help us on our journey to a healthier diet.

  1. Re-programme the way you think about food.

How do you think about food? Do you imagine how it tastes or smells? Or do you visualise how appetising it looks? The trick is to replace these unhelpful thoughts that make you want to eat with more helpful thoughts that will encourage you to care about your body. For example, try thinking about your stomach and its reaction to the food that you consume. What is this food doing to you? How would your stomach react to the food? Would you feel bloated?

 

  1. Pay attention to the eating process.

I found the TATE (Trigger/Action/Target/Exit) eating model helpful.

Trigger –  the positive trigger for food is hunger; feeling angry or anxious are negative triggers. Be aware of your hunger triggers.

Action – is what we do once the trigger is activated. Enjoying food; chewing it slowly or eating the food fast; eating while watching TV. We make the choice.

Target – this is a very important step. This is when we make the decision to stop or carry on eating. What is your target? To empty the plate, to feel full or just to stop feeling hungry? Don’t overlook the difference between feeling full and not feeling hungry.

Exit – so what do you do when you’ve finished your meal? Do you start searching for a dessert, do you sit around or do you move on to something else? Plan your exit wisely.

 

  1. Be aware of and create your own anchors.

Anchoring simply means pairing and anchors are the stimuli that provoke certain feelings, thoughts or emotions. For example, I associate the smell of fresh bread with my childhood. It brings back memories of my grandmother letting me eat warm bread straight from the oven; it reminds me of the feelings of pleasure and fullness I had once I had eaten the bread. There are many different anchors that can make us feel hungry or want to eat.  Anchoring is often used in advertising.  For example, fast food chains might link their food to celebrations, family time, fun and enjoyment. The good thing is that we can also set our own positive anchors. For example, we can visualise how we’d like to look, what clothes we’d like to wear and link these positive visualisations to healthy food.

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In August we encourage you to share your tips and stories that could help us nurture positive relationships with food as well as healthy recipes that could help us stick to a healthy diet throughout the year. Please use the #AppetiteAugustHT hashtag so we could collate all the information at the end of the month.

 

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#MindfulMayHT

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How did we reach the cusp of May already? Spring has most definitely sprung, despite last week’s wintry intrusion, the blossoms are out, the evenings are drawing out and the teaching profession finds itself in the midst of exam season. At this high water mark of the academic year it is important to keep ourselves grounded and healthy for ourselves and for our learners.

Today we launch #MindfulMayHT, our theme to accompany the #SayYes2Wellbeing campaign. Through the month we would encourage you to be mindful of yourself and for yourself, as you would be mindful of others and for others. Please share your thoughts, ideas, links and motivational quotes through this challenging but ultimately rewarding month.

The benefits of being mindful are many fold. In a role which by its very nature is pressured, stressful, increasingly target driven, it is easy to lose sight of our personal priorities and of those of our loved ones. Poor sleep patterns, irregular mealtimes, lack of exercise and failure to remain hydrated may all result from work-life imbalance. Being self-aware is a challenge and often we are more aware of the needs of others than we are of our personal needs.

Being Mindful of Ourselves

This is far from a comprehensive list but here are a few strategies that school staff can try for themselves.

  • Electronic shut down, digital detox, phone free Friday; call it what you will but devices do intrude on our lives and interactions with our peers in a face-to-face environment. Twitter won’t fall down without you!
  • Eat mindfully. Do you take the time to appreciate the flavours or textures of your food? If not, you may as well live on those gels the riders in the Tour de France consume. You may munch on a sandwich in your classroom while wading through marking. Even if you take just twenty minutes at lunch break, eating with your colleagues is a social interaction which can be good important for your wellbeing. Of course not everyone is comfortable in the staffroom situation, which we address in the section below.
  • Other eating habits to consider include alcohol free times, avoiding caffeine after a particular watershed, avoiding processed foods and of course remaining hydrated. We have also been looking at the health benefits of particular foods and would like to hear what you are trying this month or have adopted into your diet on a longer term basis. We have been particularly interested in the benefits of mint. mint-info
  • Have you considered meditation? There is a huge difference between ‘mindful meditation’  and full meditation. The first may take a few minutes and apps such as ‘Headspace’ and videos that can be found on YouTube support this, the latter would require an expert practitioner and a greater time commitment. However in our experience we have found positive impact from both.
  • Live for now! You are amazing, you are in the best and most rewarding profession that there is and what you do is for the good of others.mindful2

Being Mindful of Others

Particularly for School Leaders:

  • Trust your teachers. You employed them, so you know they will plan and deliver.
  • Don’t spring any surprises! Plenty of notice for all key events and deadlines is essential. Emergencies aside, nobody will appreciate ‘lastminute.com’ style leadership.
  • Be aware of who isn’t coming to the staffroom at lunch and breaks. They may be getting the job done, but there may be other reasons they aren’t joining their colleagues. Take the time to make sure they are doing alright. They may just be quiet; they may be managing their time; equally they may be masking something that may need some support, counselling or intervention.
  • Have a rule about emails that you model and set the example for. Have a cut off time, lets say 5pm, after which there is no expectation of emails being read or replied to and make sure this extends to weekends. You want your life; your staff want theirs.
  • Ultimately your staff need calm, safe and secure space to work. Your good intentions must be concrete not abstract.

For everyone:

  • Please appreciate boundaries. Don’t expect all of your colleagues to be the life and soul of the party. Respect their personal and professional privacy. It is ultimately up to the individual what they share about themselves in conversation.
  • Think about what you say before you say it. Appreciate the sensitivities of others. Some people can give as good as they get in staffroom banter, but others may feel uncomfortable.
  • Think before you post. Texts, emails and tweets composed in haste may upset of offend. ‘Send’ or ‘enter’ is a trigger without a withdrawal function.
  • Have you ever tried a random act of kindness? Do you make a pot of tea for your colleagues? Leave them a note to say ‘well done for….’? Leave an anonymous thoughtful gift in their pigeonhole or one their desk? Do you know the names of your colleagues’ children, what their partners do or ask after the health of their elderly parents? Small things: big difference. As that great philosopher says:mindful3

Please join us this month in #MindfulMayHT. Remember being mindful is about yourself and others. We look forward to you sharing what you are doing for yourself, for your colleagues and in your schools. Thank you.

Be mindful and help us all to #SayYes2Wellbeing.