Mind Chatter and the Mindfulness Revolution (Mark)

The vast majority of most people’s thinking is automated, repetitive and unconscious; it’s pure mental static in the background of our lives and serves no positive purpose. It’s the voice in the head. It’s Mind Chatter which leads inevitably to anxiety.

The Voice has, for almost everybody, developed a life of its own and we are at its mercy 18+ hours a day. Most of us live our lives in our head; we are literally possessed by the Voice, which, because the Unconscious is so conditioned by experiences and programmes from the past, means that we have to re-enact our past again and again.

But most of us don’t know that we have become the Voice; if we did realise, we would no longer be possessed. You are only” possessed by the devil” for example, when you mistake the possessing entity for who you really are.

For thousands of years mankind has been increasingly possessed by the Mind, failing to understand that the Voice is not us…it’s not who we are…it’s a random group of negative thinking patterns going round and round on autopilot. So by unconsciously listening and obeying the Voice, we have moved away from real ourselves. With the increasing speed of change and mental stimulation of modern life, the Voice has got more demanding, producing more anxiety.

So if we have moved away from our true selves, we can’t relax or feel comfortable in any situation or with any person…including our real selves! The Voice is always trying to get us somewhere…but it seems to be a journey without a destination.

The real problem is that the Unconscious Mind does not know the difference between reality and something you are imagining. Whilst that sounds most bizarre, the Conscious Mind knows perfectly well the difference: the Unconscious merely works on a different plane.

The body has its own intelligence: we don’t have to run our body. The Unconscious Mind reacts to what the Mind is saying; your emotions therefore are the body’s reaction to your Mind. This unconscious intelligence governs your reactions to the environment around you and so produces instinctive reactions to perceived threats. These instinctive responses are animal-like, primordial forms of emotion. In the face of danger, for example walking out in front of a car, our heart beats faster, our muscles contract and breathing speeds up to prepare us to fight or flee; this is primordial fear. Equally, if we are cornered (psychologically as well as physically), we have a massive flood of energy give us strength we didn’t know we had (mothers have been observed lifting up cars to get their babies from underneath); this is primordial anger.

The instinctive responses seem like emotions, but they are not in the proper sense of the word. The difference is that an instinctive response is a reaction to an external situation. An emotion is the body’s response to a thought. The body reacts as though the thought were reality, so that a fearful thoughts means “I’m in danger” and it responds accordingly, even if you’re lying comfortably in bed. But because the thought is fiction, the energy has no outlet; we can’t fight it or run away. Part of the energy goes back into the Mind amplifying the anxious thoughts and the rest stays within the body unused, causing the fight or flight hormones to build up and become toxic, negatively affecting physical health.

The consequence of this is profound: many people in the current economic climate have a series of variations on the following theme: “What happens if I lose my job? What happens if I can’t pay the bills? What happens if I can’t pay the mortgage? What happens if I lose my house? This is of course your imagination working overtime in negative mode. But your Unconscious doesn’t know the difference between reality and your imaginings. It hears: “Oh my God, I’ve lost my job. I can’t pay the bills. I can’t pay my mortgage. I’ve lost my house”

The Unconscious is the part of the Mind that activates the Fight or Flight mechanism. The Unconscious then releases a burst of adrenalin, cortisol and noradrenal (which in excess amounts are literally poisons) to force us to get ourselves out of danger in a split second (e.g. by jumping back on the pavement to avoid the car).

The problem today is that the Fight or Flight mechanism for most of us is now triggered by what have become “every day worries”. Unlike in cave times when our life was genuinely in danger every day (for example coming across a sabre toothed tiger) and we could use up the adrenalin, cortisol and noradrenalin by fighting or running away, the “life threats” we come across today can’t be fought or run away from. This leaves us with too much of the now poisonous hormones in the system and in therefore in a constant state of anxiety.

Today thoughts that trigger emotional responses in our bodies are coming in so thick and fast, that before we can even think to voice the concerns, the body has already responded with an emotion, which has turned into a reaction. Those thoughts don’t have time to be verbalised and analysed and remain locked in the Mind as Limiting Beliefs.

Limiting Beliefs  usually start from past experiences or childhood programming. So for example in a family where the basic relationships (parents and siblings) were distant and unsupportive, an inevitable Limiting Belief becomes:  I can’t trust anyone”. Similar common Limiting Beliefs are: “I’m useless, worthless and hopeless. I’m ugly and fat, so nobody loves me. I don’t deserve to be happy.” Limiting Beliefs create emotions in our bodies which in turn generate negative mind activity and instant fight or flight reactions. This is how we create our reality. Our reality becomes based on imagination (usually negative) and by relating entirely to the Voice inside the head,  we are prevented from being ourselves and get locked into a permanent state of anxiety.

In The Power of Now, Eckart Tolle (a personal hero of mine…although he would hate to be described that way) observes that after 2 ducks get into a fight, they will separate and float off in opposite directions. Then each duck will flap its wings vigorously a few times, thus releasing the surplus energy that built up during the fight. Then they float off peacefully, as though nothing had happened. If the duck had a human mind it would keep the fight alive by thinking and making up stories: “I don’t believe what he just did. He came to within 5 inches of me. He thinks he owns this pond. He has no consideration for my personal space. I’ll never trust him again.  I’m not going to stand for this. I’ll teach him a lesson he won’t forget.” And on it goes, the mind thinking and talking about it for days or even months. As far as the body is concerned the fight is still continuing and the energy it generates in response to all of those thoughts is emotion, which in turn generates more thinking. Most humans live like this all the time. No situation or event is ever really finished. We are a species that has lost its way; we need a Mindfulness Revolution to regain control of our Minds.

So how do we do with this?

In fact, simply becoming aware of how the Mind works and how we create our reality, gives us the chance to consciously listen into and discount the negative messages from the Voice. There are strategies and exercises that can be learnt to do this; however, they tend to take a time and a lot of willpower.

The simple answer is Neural Recoding ©; see http://winningminds.co.uk/how-to-make-permanent-changes/what-is-neural-recoding/ This neuroscience process takes away negative emotional programming and gives the client the internal strength to go and change their lives.

Once that is done, the next step is to relearn our sense of self, become very comfortable with that person and have the confidence to act accordingly. Since positive emotions have the opposite effect of poisonous negative emotions on our body, we then need to learn how to bring the deep inner states of love, peace and joy into our lives, to boost our immune system and heal our body.

Simply “Be You, Be Happy”!

These steps are covered in our unique Liberate Your Life © workshops; see http://winningminds.co.uk/personal-workshops/liberate-your-life-in-1-dayguaranteed-2/

For more information, please ring Natasha on 0800 083 0143 for a free 15minute consultation or visit our website for further details: www.winningminds.co.uk

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February 26, 2011

Great Quote!

“In this regard, cultivating mindfulness is not unlike the process of eating.  It would be absurd to propose that someone else eat for you.  And when you go to a restaurant you don’t eat the menu, mistaking it for the meal, nor are you nourished by listening to the waiter describe the food.  You have to actually eat the food for it to nourish you.  In the same way you have to actually practise mindfulness in order to reap its benefits and come to understand why it is so valuable”

Letting Everything Become Your Teacher
100 Lessons in Mindfulness by Jon Kabat Zinn

It’s only us that can change our lives: nobody can do it for us!

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May 25, 2010

Ditch the Diet (Natasha)

Oh, you wonderful Daily Mail Online readers, you have done it again! I never cease to be amazed by the level of anger and self-righteousness you display, or your willingness to exhibit opinions on topics upon which you clearly have little to no expertise.

Who are these people who become so enraged by other people’s perceived lack of healthy lifestyle/fatness? Every health related headline in the DM might as well read ‘how this person’s laziness/greed is consuming YOUR hard earned money in NHS tax funding. Let’s drive them out of the country with sticks!’.

This week’s particular little nugget of wisdom comes from Lizzie in London who, in response to a story of how hypnotherapy helped one lady go from a size 24 to a size 14, says:

‘The hard work in excercising [sic] and eating well is down to her own will power and sheer perseverance.
Hypnotherapy is not a magic bullet to slimming and weight loss There is still hard work involved!’

First of all, Lizzie, please learn to spell, lest I chase your presumably slender yet woefully uneducated self out of the country (using sticks).

Secondly, as Mark Newey, certified hypnotherapist and catalyst for countless successful weight loss endeavors points out, this thing we refer to as ‘willpower’ is actually our conscious mind, which is a measly 9% of our overall brain mass.

If we indulge in a particular behaviour for a sustained period of time, be it a positive activity (exercising, driving) or a negative one (smoking, overeating) it is adopted by the much larger unconscious brain as behavioural programming, thus freeing up the conscious to think about other stuff (like the yummy bloke we happen to be dating and what happened on Eastenders last night and why you never see a baby pigeon….ok perhaps that’s just me).

Ever read to the bottom of a page and realised you weren’t paying attention and can’t remember what it said? That’s your unconscious mind saying ‘aaaah, I know how to read. I’ve read stuff before! Let me take over this activity’. Your conscious mind wanders and before you know it you’re chastising yourself for not paying attention and having to repeat the entire reading process.

Now, say you make a decision that you would like to change a particular behavioural programme. What’s essentially happening is that 9% of your mind is taking on the might of 91%, attempting to affect change when the massive and powerful unconscious is willing you to continue acting as you have always done. And then we wonder why ‘diets’ don’t work in 90% of cases.

Hypnotherapy is merely a way of bypassing the conscious mind and accessing the unconscious to make permanent and fast changes. It can break long-standing behavioural patterns and wipe the slate clean. Mark tells his weight loss clients ‘now I want you to go away and not give a damn about what you eat’. They stare at him in disbelief, not quite able to comprehend the idea that, after all these years of desperately trying in vain to restrict themselves, they can now eat absolutely anything they want.

The key factor, however, is that because their attitudes towards food, their bodies and themselves have been changed in the unconscious, they will naturally make healthier choices, selecting foods according to what will nourish them, rather than those which will satisfy their emotional cravings.

Which leads me neatly onto my next point. People do not overeat because they are greedy, or lazy or selfish or even because they have an insatiable apatite. Generally, people overeat because it brings them an instantaneous (if very short lived) feeling of pleasure. Comfort eating is merely another crutch, allowing us to feel that we are effectively coping with feelings of loneliness, stress or anxiety. Of course, all it really serves to do is distract us from those feelings (and add an expanding waistline onto our lists of worries).

Guess what other change can be quickly and permanently made in the unconscious? Yes, dear Blog Groupies, we’re back onto my favourite subject – banishing feelings of low self esteem.

And that is why I’m very sorry to have to report that Lizzie in London is wrong.

To find out more about the Winning Minds weight loss programme go to http://winningminds.co.uk/therapies/weight-management/.

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May 21, 2010

Ilonna Burton -v- Phillip Schofield – The Anorexia Debate (Natasha)

Blog fans will know I am not adverse to expressing a potentially controversial opinion – I’ve been known to incur the wrath of the established medical profession on many occasion and “steady on, Tash” must rank up there amongst my friends’ most frequently repeated phrases. Freedom of speech is one of the main reasons I’m so very glad I was fortunate enough to have made my debut into this mental thing we call the World in Essex, England, where you can rant ‘til your hearts’ content without fear of imprisonment/death and I like to exercise that particular human right whenever possible.

I hope that the above demonstrates how genuine I am when I say I am absolutely divided in the Ilona Burton – v – Phillip Schofield (Nikki Grahame) debate as it rages on, fueled by the two penneths of the general populous and our nation’s favourite silver fox’s vehement tweets. Hard as it may be to conceive of, I have chosen to sit on the fence on this one.

For those of you unfamiliar with the entire debacle, here’s a summary:

Nikki Grahame has written a book about her anorexia battle, went on GMTV to promote it and was asked by host Phillip Schofield about the “tricks” she used to resist recovery, which she duly described in some detail. B-eat ambassador and recovering anorexic Ilona Burton then blogged furiously, claiming that Nikki and GMTV were irresponsible to broadcast what was essentially a Guide to Staying Sick.

Que unfathomable mayhem as Nikki Grahame fans, Ilona supporters and the hefty might of the GMTV watching public engaged in a war of words. Nikki was described as “marmite”, Ilona was described as “ignorant” and there were a few choice words of an unrepeatable nature thrown in the direction of Phillip Schofield, too. Phillip and Ilona went head-to-head in Tweetland – throwing balls of indignation like cannon fire into cyber space.

Naturally, as someone who works with the media, having had personal (and rather extensive) experience of an eating disorder and also heavily involved with Body Gossip (for which Nikki Grahame is, it has to be said, an excellent ambassador) I couldn’t resist sticking my oar in.

So, the first point I’d like to make abundantly clear is that I cannot bring myself to blame Nikki Grahame for any of this. She has been incredibly brave in admitting she has anorexia (which many similarly slender celebrities will not, and simply put down to yoga and eating sushi or some such bollocks) and the proceeds from her book are going to B-eat, so she clearly has honourable intentions.

Having said that, I can understand totally why Ilona was angered by the episode. It’s a classic dilemma which I have encountered with the media on several occasions. Fortunately, I have been lucky enough to have been taken into the bosom of Cosmopolitan Magazine, the fantastically empathetic and responsible journalist Ken Goodwin at ITV West and the regional BBC radio stations, all of whom have heeded my insistence that, whilst I am prepared to speak candidly about my eating disorder, I will not divulge specifics concerning weight or tips on how to excel at bulimia. Ultimately, the message should be positive.

In fact, just last week I took my Body Confidence Campaign to a school in Hertfordshire and was asked my a student what ‘diet’ I had gone on in my teens to drop such a significant amount of weight that my terror at regaining led me to bulimia and I made a point of refusing to tell her, and to explain why I was refusing to tell her.

However, scandal sells, and people are interested in two things: celebrities and extremes. At this moment in time I am neither. I was extremely bulimic, not that you would have been able to tell unless you were specifically seeking out the swollen glands, red raw knuckles, constant flu-like symptoms or mood swings which characterize the disease. And therein lies my point. The idea that an encyclopedic list of all the methods one can employ to fool doctors into believing you are recovering is in any way “raising awareness” for non eating disorder sufferers in utterly specious. Secretive habits surrounding eating disorders are exactly that: Secret. If they can be concealed from a doctor, your average GMTV viewer won’t have much better luck detecting them.

Having now fully recovered and being a healthy weight, I would be extremely taken aback if GMTV invited me onto their sofa to discuss my experiences, or indeed my ongoing campaign to prevent young people from following the same path as me. I’m simply not shocking enough in my current happy, fleshy, bosomy, feisty form. We do not see enough genuinely recovered people in the public eye and the message we are sending to current sufferers as a result is “this will haunt you forever”. Which is almost as soul-destroying as the fundamental message “there’s no point in trying to get better”. That, however, is hardly Nikki Grahame’s fault. My hat goes off to our Nikki for making the best she can of the circumstances she find herself in.

Eating disorders are consuming the lives people in the UK at a terrifying rate. Like anything dangerous, there is a responsibility to report it responsibly. Whilst I applaud GMTV for giving the issue air time, I do agree with Ilona that the interview could have had a detrimental affect on current sufferers. Would a self-harmer have been asked to explain exactly the ways and means they inflicted pain on themselves and how they concealed their cuts and bruises?

I want to open this one up to the floor, because it’s a debate which interests me immeasurably. Are you Team Ilona or Team Schophey?

So there you have it! I do believe that might have been my least rant-fuelled blog of all time. Could it be that the passing of my 29th birthday last month marked my passage into well reasoned and mature adulthood? Probably not. I’m sure something will inspire me onto my soapbox in the forthcoming weeks so stayed tuned!

To read my recent report for Flavour Magazine on Body Image, Eating Disorders and the Media, click http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/54bf6b67#/54bf6b67/10

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May 16, 2010

Viva La Revolucion (Mark)

The Right Brain Revolution

The human brain has 2 hemispheres (right and left) which process the information coming in from the world around us quite differently. The Left Brain (or hemisphere) is logical, rational, analytical and focuses on details; whereas the Right Brain (hemisphere) is creative, intuitive, picks out patterns, deals with more emotional thinking and sees the bigger picture. The different processing approaches from the hemispheres give us a balanced picture. However, some of us are more Right Brain inclined than others and vice versa.

As we have evolved as a species, we have developed 3 brains: pre-frontal cortex thinking, rational), mammalian (emotions) and reptilian or limbic brain (all bodily functions, including “fight or flight mechanism”). The human brain is unique amongst animals (with one exception: dolphins) in that the size of the pre-frontal cortex (the thinking, rational, analysing part of our brain) is vastly bigger in ratio of size to the other 2 brains.

History has seen huge cultural swings over the centuries from Left Brain Dominance to Right Brain Dominance and back.  The Renaissance stands out in history as a Right Brain period. But clearly we have been in a Left Brain Dominance period of history for the last 2 centuries, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution; the last 50 years however have been extremely Left Brain.

This period has brought huge rewards in terms of technological advance: the internet, satellites, mobile phones, desktop computers, just to name a few. However, these advances have also had calamitous consequences, which have made the world an increasingly insecure place: environmental destruction and climate change, as well as relatively small and unstable countries gaining sufficient nuclear weapon capability to destroy the world. It is possible that both of these could totally destroy our way of life and indeed the very planet, within the next 50 years.

Just as bad is the effect this Left Brain dominance has had on society and culture. We are now bombarded with exponentially increasing amounts of information every day: we get more information now in 1 day than our grandparents got in 1 year! In fact, scientists now reckon than the increase in speed of information growth is now outpacing the brain’s ability to cope with the increase!

The technological advances have enabled us to increase our wealth dramatically in this period: indeed we are now 30% wealthier than we were 10 years ago. However, “we” is not the global population: another catastrophic consequence of the technical advances in the West is the massive poverty gap: 1.7 billion people are in absolute poverty, earning less than $1 per day.

Finally, we in the West have not escaped completely unscathed: the increase in the incidence of mental health issues (depression, stress, anxiety, Eating Disorders) has roughly matched the increase in wealth. So the wealthier we’ve got, the more depressed we’ve got! In addition, we have far higher levels of crime than we did 50 years ago.

So we’re actually in a bit of a mess! And if you look at the Western lifestyle, it’s not surprising.

We are clearly Left Brain dominated; everybody’s analysing like mad…constant Mind Chatter. The Left Brain has to measure everything: science requires empirical proof…or it doesn’t exist or doesn’t work! How do we measure success in our lives?

The answer is money, trappings and stuff! We must have the big house, shinier car, newest technology TV etc. Our whole lives are driven by the need to earn more money and to “consume”. We need celebrity looks, the latest fashion, the latest make-up to change us to what society says we should be; we’re walking away from being ourselves and walking into to stress, anxiety and unhappiness.

The pressure to be the best, to earn more money and be someone else means we can’t relax, can’t be creative, can’t run our relationships happily. We need a Right Brain Revolution.

If we can just be ourselves and be happy with who we are, then we can focus more on the things that matter to us: our relationships, our relaxation, our free time, our home. It’s that simple.

Viva La Revolución!

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May 14, 2010

Just Tax the Stupid People! (Natasha)

So even in the midst of all this election madness, the brains responsible for implementing health policy have managed to make another spectacular gaff. It’s amazing they found the time, really – I’d be impressed if I wasn’t so full of abject despair.

The latest bright idea is to tax ‘bad’ foods, in the hope that the higher cost will see a decline in Britain’s much maligned obese population.

Upon closer inspection, the proposed foods for increased taxation include crème fresh, lurpak butter, full fat milk, strong cheddar and luxury biscuits. With the exception of the biscuits, all of these foods have significant nutritional value, providing essential protein and calcium – With full fat milk being just about the most nutritional thing you can consume (and, incidentally, a popular choice for a quick injection of (what’s the opposite of empty? Meaningful?) meaningful calories amongst recovering anorexics). Butter has long since been proved to be much better for you than margarine, which is chock-full of toxins and other nasties – with butter generally being a lot more natural and wholesome. And show me someone who consumes crème fresh on a daily basis and I’ll show you someone who can afford the added tax.

Of course, I’m not advocating a diet consisting solely of high-fat dairy produce, merely pointing out that these can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. As my friend Michelle, a registered nutritionist, points out “variety is the cornerstone of good nutrition”.

So it’s all the luxury biscuit’s fault! Of course! Why haven’t I noticed all the obese people frantically cramming in mouthfuls of luxury biscuits in the World? Bad, bad luxury biscuit!

In all seriousness, I don’t think we can justifiably place the blame for rising obesity levels on the luxury biscuit alone, so all we are left with are a lot of luxury biscuit consumers, ex anorexics and people with common sense who are (understandably) more than a little hacked off.

As Michelle goes on to stress:

“It’s annoying how this is being framed as an ‘obesity’ issue. It’s actually a heart disease issue, which can be tied more directly to saturated fat consumption. And there’s no proof that a lower-fat diet will help people lose weight in the long-run, so the ‘obesity’ link is specious”.

What this essentially boils down to, once again, is the powers-that-be making a profit from our vices. Vices which we are positively encouraged to adopt by their self-righteous, condescending, whiney and generally irritating attitude in the first place.

Forbidden things are ‘cool’. Look at smoking. The incessant anti-smoking advertising, vile pictures on the packets depicting unsightly diseases and public place ban has done little to quell their consumption in anyone I know. In fact, it almost makes me want to take up smoking in an act of protest.

The attitude being generated is “tee hee, look at me, I’m exercising my freedom by jeopardizing my health. That’ll show those smothersome bore-bags in government”. It might be bonkers, but emotions often are.

The general public are left in a situation where they are perpetually ricocheting between the binge-eating (which is now associated with pleasurable emotions of rebellion and ‘treating’ oneself) and ‘starting their diets on Monday’ (which of course the wealth of resources, DVDs, books and ‘diet’ foods will be more than happy to enable us to do). Low fat ‘diet’ foods, incidentally, are usually crammed to the rafters with sugar (and I don’t notice high-sugar foods being taxed, which is yet further evidence that the whole concept owes more to a concern for consumerism than for the health of the populous).

The answer is a combination of educating the public about the genuine nutritional value of foods (relatively easy) and increasing their self-esteem so that health becomes, crucially, more important than thinness (mammoth task, which projects like Evolve, Body Gossip and the Winning Minds Body Confidence Programme are toiling constantly to bring to fruition). In the meantime, as my Mum would say, ‘use your noddle’.

On that note, I’d like to quote Absolutely Fabulous’ Edwina and propose a ‘Stupidity Tax’ – to be imposed upon all people who genuinely believe Kate Moss is healthier than Crystal Renn.

To hear more maniacal ranting from me on this thorny issue, go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p007q1m0/Mid_morning_on_BBC_Essex_Coalition_government_latest_with_Etholle_George_sitting_in_for_Dave_Monk_12_05_2010/

and approx 2 hours 15.

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April 13, 2010

At Last Some Common Sense, Courtesy of CNN (Natasha)

Regular readers of my blogs will have noted frequently my frustration and despair and the utterly ridiculous, BMI-based diagnosis criteria for eating disorders in this country. Anorexics who have lost half their body weight in less than six months have been casually dismissed, whilst bulimics who are a ‘normal’ weight (whatever this might turn out to actually mean) are frequently told that they do not ‘qualify’ as having an eating disorder (as if it’s some sort of severity competition. “Congratulations! You’re nearly dead!”).

We’ve created a situation where only those prepared to defy everything their warped mental state is compelling them to do and give a candid account of their most secret behaviour, or, of course, those who reach the ‘magic’ weight of 5 stone are being treated. At an Amazonian 5 ft 11, my lowest ever weight as an anorexic during my teens was just under 8 stone (that was around the point when my lips and finger tips were constantly white/blue even indoors and my eyes were closing of their own accord) and as a bulimic it was 10 stone (around the point that my uni friends started taking me to one side and asking me if I had a life threatening illness). At neither of these points was I deemed to have an unhealthy BMI. The most perfunctory visual assessment would have concluded without doubt that there was something very wrong and yet my eating disorder continued to ravage my body unchecked, until several years later, when I finally began to get proactive about helping myself.

Official statistics show that around 30% of people will make a full recovery from an ED. The figure could and should be a great deal higher and it’s merely a question of catching them earlier, before the sufferer is so utterly embroiled in their issue they have literally lost the will to be live. What defines an eating disorder is mindset and behaviour and the apparent symptoms on the physical body are almost incidental. We know, for example, that one does not have to physically faint in the street from exhaustion, rupture one’s esophagus or cease menstruating in order to do considerable damage to one’s long term health and put oneself under significant psychological strain.

People with EDs tend to have fleeting pockets of time during their illness when they decide they want help. It doesn’t take much for this brief flash of inspiration to be altogether eclipsed by the omnipresent voice of their condition, which tells them their friends, their family, their doctors don’t understand and are just jealous anyway, at which point they’ll shrink back into their self-carved prison, in preparation for yet more weeks, months and years of torture. If we can grab people when they make their first foray into recovery and find a way to assess their condition with a little bit of common sense, we can save a lot of heartache, both for the sufferer and for their families.

I therefore breathed an audible sigh of relief when I read a paper published yesterday by CNN entitled “Anorexia and Bulimia definitions hinder treatment”. At last some common sense is being applied. Below are the edited highlights:

Some insurance companies will only cover treatment for eating disorders if the patient meets all of the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a guidebook for diagnosing mental illnesses, doctors say. Patients who don’t match all the symptoms, which include severe weight loss, are labeled “eating disorder not otherwise specified” (EDNOS) and sometimes don’t qualify for the level of care they need……..

……A new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found more than 60 percent of patients with EDNOS met medical criteria for hospitalization and were, on average, sicker than patients diagnosed with full-blown bulimia…….

……EDNOS originally came about as a way of classifying people with dangerous eating behaviors and thoughts who didn’t fully meet criteria for anorexia or bulimia, said Peebles……..

…….But that means this single category can apply to an obese person who binges but doesn’t purge, a severely underweight person who almost meets anorexia criteria but continues to menstruate, and a normal-weight individual who purges but doesn’t binge, Keel said. For example, a person who regularly vomits after eating small amounts of food would fall under EDNOS, not bulimia……..

…….”Some patients who are normal weight or even overweight are still very medically scary,” Peebles said. “They are probably, I would expect, the highest risk to get missed in the community by either their physicians or their parents.”…….

…….”We’re seeing patients younger and younger, patients as young as 5,” Peebles said. “Certainly 7 to 12 years of age, that’s not uncommon to see anymore.” “

What kind of society believes it is in any way acceptable for EDs to be prevalent amongst 7 to 12 year olds? For the past twenty years, we have buried our heads in the sand, blaming the individual’s circumstances for what was deemed to be their private mental condition. Meanwhile as many as 1.2 million people in the UK continue to suffer (and that is, of course, 1.2 million diagnosed under the current, woefully inadequate diagnostic criteria, the actual figure is likely to be as high as twice that many) whilst we comfort ourselves with the notion that they must all have suffered significant trauma at the hands of someone who wasn’t us.

Is it a coincidence that the steep incline in EDs has mirrored the meteorological rise in celebrity worship culture, in the increasing availability of plastic surgery, the constant nagging temptation towards X factor style overnight fame and fortune which means that every young man or woman is now judged almost solely on aesthetics? We all condemn ourselves and others to suffer and we all have the responsibility for change. Take the first step today and go to www.bodygossip.org.

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April 8, 2010

Spring is Here (and We’ve Got it Twisted) (Natasha)

Ah, sunshine. I had almost forgotten what it felt like to have it’s soul-lightening warmth beating down on my (immensely grateful and vampirically pale) skin. I’m also, as I type, being terrorized by my first irritating wasp of the season. Yes, folks, it’s that time of year again. The Easter break, during which it is decreed by God Himself that we should spend, as a nation, a minimum of 48 hours sitting on our collective arses eating snacks shaped like baby wildlife (I can’t find the bit in the Bible where it actually says this but I’m sure it must be in there somewhere) is officially over and it’s time to repent our sugary sins.

The multi-billion pound “health” (please note inverted commas have been used for a reason) and fitness industry has two times of year when it uses all its marketing resources to shock and shame us into investing in their products and services. The first is post-Christmas. Every TV screen, billboard and magazine ad has been screaming at us to consume vast quantities of luxury food for months (the build-up now starts in August) and then, suddenly we are expected to snap into a disciplined and unsustainable routine of detox and cardio the moment the clock strikes midnight on December 31st. By January 5th, naturally, that’s all completely forgotten and we’re gorging on cut-price mince pies to compensate for the trauma of returning to our work routines after 2 weeks of lay-ins and watching re-runs of Only Fools and Horses all day.

Then, of course, come March (usually, although this year is not providing much empirical evidence for my musings) the sun makes it’s appearance and the marketing powers that be leap on the opportunity to exacerbate our natural “impending summer/flesh on show” fears. “Get Your Perfect Bikini Body in Six Weeks!” is actually code for “You Only Have Six Weeks until You’ll be Virtually Naked and Judged by Strangers!”

As I remarked to a Christian friend of mine the other day, I’m not sure that this perpetual and ever-momentum-gaining cycle of bingeing and deprivation in recognition of his birth/death is exactly what Jesus had in mind for the entire Western World. She told me to shut my heathen cake-hole, so probably the less said about that the better.

What is, however, abundantly clear (and considerably less controversial) is that we have our priorities twisted. Mark Newey (you’ll know him Winning Minds’ brilliant therapist, I know his as ‘BossMan’) has helped hundreds of clients shed unwanted pounds over the years, by enabling them to stop focusing on what they eat. It might sound insane to say to someone with an overdeveloped fondness for food “now go away and eat whatever you want” but it works.

Diets are doomed to failure – Our minds naturally draw us towards whatever we think about most and we’re rebellious creatures, who tend to think most about the things we’re not allowed. Don’t think of a pink elephant. Don’t eat cheese. It’s all the same principle. Every time you fail to lose weight, or lose it and then become so crazed with starvation you cave in and gorge on cream cakes, having done irreversible damage to your metabolism, and pile it all back on again, this damages your self esteem. Dieting ultimately makes us feel rubbish about ourselves. And when you don’t value yourself, you could look like Angelina Jolie and still be dissatisfied with what you see in the mirror.

The key to long-term health and real beauty (I’m talking head-turning, birds fly into lampposts as persons of the opposite (or same, depending on preference) sex swoon in your path and make declarations of undying devotion beauty) is High Self Esteem. I know I harp on about it, but self-esteem can never be over valued. When we respect every aspect of ourselves, including our bodies, we naturally want to take care of ourselves.

The prevailing attitudes in our culture have created the illusion of an “all our nothing at all” mentality. We’re either glutinous sloths who eat nothing but KFC and drive ten meters to the corner shop or we’re maniacal health nuts who subside only on items purchased from Holland and Barratt and visit the gym on a daily basis. Of course, this doesn’t reflect reality. Contrary to what we might have been led to believe, (Daily Mail readers of a sensitive disposition might want to look away now) it is possible to be fat and healthy, just as it is possible to be fat and beautiful.

If you chose to lose weight, for acceptable reasons (not so that bloke down the Dog and Duck will fancy you, or because you want to emulate some plastic princess from the pages of Heat Magazine), then the simplest, fastest way to do it, is to love yourself just the way you are. Self esteem comes first and then weight loss, if viable and necessary, will naturally follow. Most of us have it entirely the wrong way round. Women everywhere are procrastinating, refraining from partaking in activities they enjoy, going for that promotion or on that date, for the sake of some (usually imagined) physical imperfection. “When I’m skinny/toned/whatever” they think “then I’ll get on with my life”. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

That’s why I’m so proud to be an in-house journalist for Evolve Magazine, aimed at women size 14 and over. Evolve are hosting a Full Figured Funk workshop on 22nd May in Central London (because “you’re never too chunky to get funky”), self esteem workshops in association with Winning Minds this summer and are currently recruiting a bevy of plus-size beauties for their modeling agency. Email me at if you want further info about any of the above and in the meantime remember the Evolve motto: Be proud, be you!

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March 15, 2010

Monday Morning Rant (Natasha)

I had what can only be described as a magnificent Sunday yesterday. It started with three sausages and finished watching Eddie Izzard: Marathon Man on TV with an almost unbearably cute puppy fast-asleep on my right leg. In between my Mum and I drank copious amounts of Chablis and put the world to rights.

Yes, sometimes I eat sausages and drink alcohol. Shocking I know. However yesterday was Mother’s Day and if you can’t get squiffy with your Mum and eat anything she proffers in your direction on Mothering Sunday then just when can you? However, 6 days out of 7 I’m happily munching on at least 5 fruit and veg’s per day and walking absolutely everywhere.

As such, despite being a size 16 and, I have no doubt, technically “obese” according to the evil BMI charts of wrongness (not that I would ever submit myself to be judged by such criteria), I can confidently assert that I’m a better role model for young women than any of Girls Aloud. This opinion was backed up today by the Daily Mail Online, who seem to have momentarily (and rather refreshingly) spared us all their usual penchant for unforgiving body fascism and deigned to concede that, just perhaps, Nadine Coyle and Cheryl Cole might be a tad too thin (although I did notice they couldn’t resist mentioning the “obesity crisis” once. Old habits die hard).

I need to clarify my stance – Since during my recent visit to a high school in Walsall, I stated that I did not particularly think Cheryl Cole was anything to aspire to and was greeted by gasps of disbelief and 16 year old girls frantically fanning themselves and swooning with shock left, right and centre (almost. Although, interestingly, at the University everyone agreed with me so I suppose CC worship might just be a fleeting right-of-passage style phase all young women are currently destined to go through). To be absolutely clear: I do not hate Cheryl Cole. I don’t hate any of Girls Aloud band members, particularly (I reserve that strength of emotion for people who deserve something more than my nonchalance). What I object to are the unseen external forces they have clearly been subjected to which have forced them to conform to the “never too rich or skinny” prototype. I hate what they represent. They are, without a shadow of a doubt bad role models, but this isn’t necessarily their fault.

Liz Jones, the Mail Online journo was absolutely right when she said “alongside No. 1 singles and sell-out concerts comes responsibility” however, it’s the industry generally which needs to acknowledge that responsibility not these poor, shrinking, malnourished girls who are merely pawns in a much larger, more sinister machine.

Furthermore, pointing the finger at any celebrity and accusing them of perpetuating anorexia is not only reductive, it’s willfully missing the point – We cannot keep placing sticking plasters over something which is a much wider issue in a society which has its priorities all wrong. After all, if we didn’t heap such utterly disproportionate amounts of adulation, wealth and fame on people whose talents are limited to miming and being a human coat hanger, then would it really matter how thin they were?

In my capacity as a Body Confidence campaigner working with young people, I’ve noticed that girls want to be thin, not because they equate thinness with beauty, but because they see it as a fast track to all the success, wealth and love that they crave. In a climate where many of them come from broken homes and even more are destined to be unemployed, even if they do achieve the qualifications which they are told are the be-all-and-end-all, who can blame them for searching for a more instantly gratuitous track to everything they have been missing?

Performers usually crave fame because they are emotionally unstable to begin with, for whatever reason – It might be a cliché but it’s also usually true. Most creative people will admit that their talent was born out of some sort of personal tragedy, usually in their childhood, which left them feeling undervalued – “Applause fills the hole in my soul” as Krusty the Clown said on The Simpsons. People who feel invisible, insecure, unappreciated and unlovable also tend to be prime candidates for eating disorders. The two things go hand in hand. Rather than berating celebrities for something which is their natural tendency why don’t we 1) give them the help they need and 2) stop looking to them for diet and lifestyle tips? After all, they are singers, models, WAGs and IT girls, not nutrition, style or fitness experts. When we relegate our entertainers to the correct pecking order, in the scheme of life (i.e. below, rather than above, Nobel peace prize winners, scientists, philosophers, scholars, soldiers, nurses and…well, everyone, really), young people will stop trying to emulate them. Simples.

To read the Daily Mail article click: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1257927/Girls-Aloud-Britains-successful-girl-band–suddenly-skinniest-too.html#ixzz0iEzCXk7t

On the delightful, sun-filled train journey to the picturesque little village which is home to my parents, I saw a woman who absolutely fascinated me.

She must have been in her 70s, with a wizened little face and an extremely frail frame, although she was nicely dressed in a waist cinching number and court shoes. Either her hairdresser was a magician, or she was wearing a wig – A voluminous, shiny affair, with a high crown and cascading ringlets in various colours falling to just below her shoulders. Think Dot Cotton with Dolly Parton’s barnet. Luckily, I was wearing sunglasses, which allowed me to feed my fascination by staring at her like David Attenborough observing a beetle for the best part of the 15 minute journey.

I guessed that she had been very attractive back in her heyday and that she had learned the art of makeup artistry in the 1960s, failing to adapt it since. I watched as she applied a heavy, very pale foundation, several layers of black and grey eye-shadow and heavy handedly began lining her lips with a neural shade. The result was horrific, in a kind of can’t-tear-my-eyes-away type way. This, I thought to myself, is what happens when women refuse to acknowledge the ageing process.

The prevailing social attitude of “youth = beauty” is symptomatic of exactly the same phenomenon which encourages young women so starve themselves right back to child-like proportions. Projects like Body Gossip are working to introduce more diversity into the beauty spectrum – but that isn’t limited to body shapes, it also extends to races and ages we aren’t used to seeing in the public eye. That’s why my delight at the above Daily Mail article was somewhat tarnished when I subsequently clicked on this one:


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March 12, 2010

Brumantics – Adventures in the West Midlands (Natasha)

This month, my quest to mould the young minds of Britain took me to the West Midlands, home of Jasper Carrot and Kerrang Radio and where Mark studied for one of his 4 squillion qualifications.

My experience of Birmingham up until that point had been limited to two distinct and different situations – Seeing the grim edifices of grey buildings speeding by as a passenger in my mother’s car on my way to Aberystwyth University (with all my worldly possessions in the boot) and partying with my friend, let’s call her Melissa (a glamour model who often wears outfits which appear to be made entirely of cling-film). I’d experienced Birmingham as a city which looks bleak on the surface, but whose façade hides a thriving, thrusting culture of night life – gigs, clubs, after-clubs, after-the-after clubs – Melissa and I had been known to perplex her then-boyfriend by staying out in Brum for the best part of 60 hours (I suspect the cling-film mini-dresses played some role in the various invitations to underground establishments).

In short, I had no idea what West Midland inhabitants under the age of 18 who were awake during the day and slept at night would be like, but on Wednesday 9th March I took the campaign to a local secondary school and found out. Turns out, they’re pretty much like all the other students I’ve encountered on my UK tour – Bright, sweet, but lacking in self esteem.

The more of the country’s young people I encounter, the more I realise I am right when I assert that lack of body confidence is a country-wide phenomenon. A fundamental lack of confidence which manifests itself in negative body image does not discriminate by location, class, race or gender. When I see what Mark would call “the light bulbs going off” i.e. my audience relating to what I am saying about how we all feel as though we aren’t good enough most of the time, half of me is relieved and the other is full of dismay on their behalf – I’m yet to meet a young person who is nonchalant about their body.

On Thursday I was lucky enough to visit Birmingham University and meet the fantastically beautiful, personable and dynamic Women’s Officer, Esther Akinnuwah, who had invited me there. Call me easily impressed, but I loved the Brum Uni S.U. From the outside it has an archaic kind of grandeur, but there’s a bit in the centre which reminds me of the inside of a space shuttle (not that I’ve ever been in one, you understand) and is a hive of activity, housing a little shop and a Subway (place where they make sandwiches as opposed to underground train system – Now that would be impressive).

Everyone has a “mental age” and I’m pretty sure that I stopped maturing emotionally at University. I haven’t really changed essentially since then, other than my penchant for drinking wine that costs more than £2 a bottle (not much more, mind) and the fact that I’ll no longer subject my mini-skirt clad bare legs to temperatures below 20 degrees c (how we ever walked along the seafront clad in the skimpiest of garb battling gale force winds and torrential rain, midwinter, and simultaneously managing to eat a kebab I shall never know). There is something tangible in the air at Universities – It’s an enthusiasm, a thirst for knowledge (not just academic knowledge, but just for knowing stuff about people, about life) – It’s full of people who haven’t yet had all their spirit squished out of them by the realities of adult life. I bloody love it.

I realised on the train coming home why they call it “luggage” – It’s indicative of all the energy you’re going to expend having to “lug” it around. The noise I made when my bottom finally hit my familiar sofa back home was undeniably sexual (a bit like when Monica takes “the” agonizingly painful boots off in Friends). Again, I’m cream crackered but, again, it was well worth the trip.

Thanks, Brum, for having me.

Also this week: The Herts & Essex Observer were kind enough to print a piece on my recent trip to Bishop’s Stortford High (accompanied by a photo of me doing something a little peculiar with my right hand – It’s a sort of Sybil Fawlty saying “oooh I know” style gesture), Body Gossip launched an official web page for the education campaign (hurrah! Go to www.bodygossip.org/schools) and an article I wrote in January for Hub Magazine hit the shelves. To see the online version, go to http://www.hubmagazine-sw.co.uk/src/HUB_Spring_2010.html and cyber-flick to page 10.

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