Understanding The Importance of Eating Habits and How It Played a Role in My Self-Image.

Understanding The Importance of Eating Habits and How It Played a Role in My Self-Image.

We are molded by our experiences and how we are conditioned as children.

Disclaimer: This experience is my own and may not be true for all children/people who are naturally slim or children who were force-fed.

Growing up, my parents ensured that me and my siblings knew how fortunate we were to have food in our bellies, clothing on our back and shelter over our heads.

We learned early on to be grateful for what we had. These values are still a huge part of my life today.

However, my parents’ and other adults concern of how slim we were only grew as time passed.

As a result, our food portions grew also.

As a kid, I struggled to sit and finish my meals. All I wanted to do was play games with my siblings or read or draw or ANYTHING ELSE besides eat.

Between the ages of 6-11, I remember running around and being reminded to “finish your food!!” at every single meal. Even when we were tired and feeling full.

There are a few key emotions I want to address with what is called “psychological blackmail“.

  • Shame: “Look how much bigger your brother/sister/friend is!”
  • Guilt: “So many people are starving in the world! You need to eat!”
  • Fear: “If you don’t finish your food, there will be something to cry about.”

We’d often have to be “force fed” to finish every bite. Even if we fell asleep, we’d slowly be fed until the bowl was empty or my parents couldn’t wake us up!

Although it didn’t seem major, those years resulted in being conditioned to eat large portions of food.

My friends in high school were often shocked and it became a running joke. Growing up, I didn’t see the effect it had until later.

That’s what I’ve been doing?

It wasn’t until I left high school and moved out of home that I realised my habit.

Even today, people would ask, “Where does all that food go?”.

My response is usually along the lines of “I don’t know, it’s just in my genes”. That’s followed by, “You’re so lucky!” or “I just look at a cookie and I gain 2kgs!”.

In my early twenties, I started seeing a guy (now my boyfriend) and he was the opposite when it came to food portions.

He appreciated good food and loved a home-cooked meal but he would not eat anywhere near the same amount as I would.

At first it was funny but as time went on, I realised that these kind of portions were doing more harm to my body than good.

In saying that, we both addressed habits that needed attention: my portions were ridiculous and my guilt of not finishing my food even more so. And Luke’s habit of only eating once or twice a day maximum could not fuel his body for the long hours he worked.

When I realised this habit, I began making a conscious decision to change. I encouraged my boyfriend to try his best to eat 3 meals a day around his night-shift schedule.

How I unlearned these habits.

1. I began eating to satisfaction and practiced mindfulness.

I enjoyed all my favourite foods, but no longer felt the urge to stack my plate.

Being mindful really helped during this ‘transition’. I listened to my body and my tastebuds.

Meals did not need to be a one-person competition of how much I could fit into my digestive system.

It became an act of self-care: feed my body well, and express gratitude throughout the process of cooking, plating and serving.

This has become one of the ways I show people I love them. Cooking can be a labour of love!

2. I trained my mind to let comments slide like water off a swan’s back.

People noticed this change in habit. I’d receive comments like “Oh, you’re not hungry anymore? There are seconds and thirds!” or “You need to eat more! Look at you!” or “I wish I could eat my fave foods and still be as small as you!”.

Now, I was actively changing my perspective each time someone made a comment.

I knew they were just curious or concerned and what people said were usually from a place of love.

During this time, between ages 20-23, I started loving my body instead of ignoring it.

Yes, I loved to dress up and find clothes that fit perfectly but that was a distraction to actually taking the time to APPRECIATE this body that people called “too skinny” or “so boney”.

This was also the time I realised how different bodies, shapes and sizes DESERVED love and appreciation.

Why?

Just because!

No matter what people said, I was going to love my body for all it’s strength, skinniness and stature!

3. Thought patterns: My body may be skinny but it is also strong.

Instead of feeling insecure about me being “too skinny”, I started focusing on strength. Slowly – but surely! – I began working out.

At first, it was just walking around the block. For about a year or so, me and my boyfriend would go for walks around the neighbourhood after work or after dinner.

We got to spend quality time but we also got some light cardio in for the week!

Mentally, I started feeling more confident and comfortable in my own skin.

I practiced positive self-talk and body image weekly.

I reminded myself that my legs have taken me through endless hours of work.

My arms have comforted my loved ones.

My eyes have seen so many kind and inspiring people.

Continuing on!

The journey to shifting my mindset felt like an uphill battle. It was difficult to find the balance.

Some days I couldn’t stomach enough food and other days I could snack constantly.

Some days I hated everything I wore and had that classic problem of “I have nothing to wear!”

In reality, I had loads to wear but I did not have the confidence or positive body image to match.

Through the years of being told my body wasn’t good enough or ‘not the norm’ whether it was from:

  • Concern: “Do your parents feed you?” (Yes, an extended family member asked me this in private.)
  • Envy: “Ugh, I wish my body was like yours!” (From a complete stranger in a fitting room.)
  • Curiosity: “How do you stay so slim?” (From work colleagues to family friends.)

Years of comments like these eventually wear a person down.

Regardless, I did not give up on this self-project because I knew that this would prove to be beneficial not just mentally, but emotionally and physically.

I hope these ‘unlearning’ lessons gave you an insight that it is possible to change thought patterns concerning food and self-image.

Today, I enjoy food and everything that comes with it! From the flavours around the world to the comfort it brings when cooking and sharing it with loved ones.

Love the body you’re in. Regardless of what people say. If you are healthy and happy, you’re doing amazing and I see you!

What are habits that you need to “unlearn”? What is the first step that you can take today?

5 Ways to Calm Your Mind

5 Ways to Calm Your Mind

One in five (20%) Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental illness in any year. Almost half (45%) Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2009). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 4326.0, 2007. ABS: Canberra.

Over the years, I have compiled a short list of things that helped when I experienced depressive and anxious symptoms including stress, irritation, hopelessness or deep sadness. Finding ways to manage these symptoms made a world of difference in my life.

Remember, what may work for me may not work for you. Be patient through the process and don’t give up hope!

1. Mindfulness and body awareness.

Sometimes it can be difficult to calm ourselves down when our emotions overwhelm us.

Being mindful throughout your day can help, like noticing how sitting in a chair is supporting your body, or how laying in bed restores your energy – thoughts like this can lead to a calmer mindset. This can also encourage thoughts of gratitude and positivity.

Deep breathing – as simple as it sounds – helps us connect to our body. The main goal with breathing and exercise, is to get us out of our minds and into the PRESENT MOMENT.

Whenever an overwhelming feeling rises, take a few moments. Breathe deeply. Inhale in, slow exhale out. Scream into a pillow if it helps!

NOTE: Using a “mantra” can be useful to remind yourself to stay positive.

Things I say to remind myself:

“I acknowledge my pain but I will not stay in it.”

“I’m safe in this place.”

“Anger is a normal emotion.”

Take some deep breaths, acknowledge the emotion that rises and let it go.

2. Exercise.

Even 10 minutes each day can be beneficial. We hear it over and over how exercise helps — that’s because it really does.

  • Promotes the release of feel-good chemicals in your brain, like endorphins and serotonin.
  • Gives you a sense of accomplishment as your fitness improves and you start achieving your goals.
  • Exercise is usually a shared activity with others so you get the added benefits of social connection.
  • Sharper memory and thinking. The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp for tasks at hand. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline.

When I struggled with depression and anxiety, yoga and walking really helped to connect my mind to my body.

On YouTube, I frequently watch Yoga with Adriene. She has a calming voice, is humorous and a great teacher of patience/respect towards our bodies.

I always try to encourage my boyfriend to go on walks with me also – having a walking buddy is nice! Even if you go with a friend, this can foster social connection which is a basic human need.

More recently, I’ve started working out at home. I purchased a Home Workout Guide from Madalin Giorgetta to help my confidence while building strength.

Watching YouTube follow-alongs of 10 minute workouts can be a great way to get motivated!

Exercise in general encourages me to stay active and push through any lurking negative feelings or mindsets.

3. Listen to podcasts or guided meditation.

Here are a few of my favourites:

  • Ancient Wisdom Today on Spotify – the guy’s voice is really calming. He has a lot of encouraging words.
  • Guided meditation: Michael Seeley’s channel on YouTube is great for guided meditation.
  • Impact Theory. Watching interviews with leading experts in all things mindset, business and general well-being.
  • Infinite Waters. “Diving deep” into consciousness, raising self-esteem and confidence.

Listening to what other people have overcome in their struggle, can be really uplifting.

Similarly, watching or reading about how people changed their mindset, manage mental illness and find love in the darkest of times can encourage you to keep swimming.

There were moments in my life where I felt like I shouldn’t be here on this Earth but forcing myself to watch positive, encouraging and strength-inducing videos helped me “get out of quick-sand”, so to speak.

Whenever I feel myself sinking, I have a common action plan:

  • Talk to my boyfriend about it.
  • Schedule friendship dates, outings and catch ups.
  • Make sure to vent on my private blog.
  • Schedule an appointment with my psychologist.
  • Watch motivational videos and listen to big-idea podcasts.

This doesn’t always happen in that particular order, but these are my personal tried-and-tested options to get out of a negative mindset.

These days, I would say the most difficult times have passed, but I still refer to my personal action plan whenever I start to notice that dark familiar feeling.

4. Spend time with loved ones.

When we’re feeling irritable, it can be difficult to be social. In small doses though, loving company and light-hearted conversations can really help in uplifting our mood.

In the last few years I’ve become really honest with friends/family/boyfriend about my mental health.

If you feel comfortable to do so, share your struggles. This can unload some of the weight and help you feel calmer in your mind and body.

I’ve told my boyfriend how important it is that he is more encouraging when I feel really anxious or deeply sad and that has helped me feel loved and grounded.

It is okay to ask for help and to tell our loved ones what we need when times get rough.

It is all too common that we feel guilty or ashamed, but there’s no need to — you’re not doing anything wrong by reaching out or being honest with how you feel.

If you don’t feel comfortable or safe to talk to anyone around you, find online communities, mental health pages or speak to a counsellor or psychologist that you can trust.

5. Express your emotions.

What I’ve learned in school about emotion, is that we all need some form of expression or else normal things like anger and sadness can overwhelm us.

Whether it’s through writing, exercise, typing it out in a private blog or having a friend listen, these are good forms of expression.

During high school, I was grounded a lot and my only form of expression was to draw. All the pain, frustration and isolation I felt was put onto paper. Whenever I had the chance, I’d also write it out or type it up on a private blog.

Are there activities you naturally gravitate towards? Skate boarding, dancing, drawing, painting, restoring furniture, DIY projects, cooking, writing, photography?

Whatever it may be, find a way to get the emotion/frustration/joy from your mind out into the world in a creative and healthy way.

Bottling it up can make things worse so it is always better to find a way to let it out – trust me when I say this.

What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation. – Glenn Close.

If you or someone you care about is struggling, please refer to the list below for immediate help and/or advice.

If it is an emergency, please dial 000.

  • lifeline.org.au 13 11 14 – crisis support, suicide prevention
  • healthengine – Find a psychologist in Australia
  • healthengine – Find a counsellor in Australia
  • blueknot helpline 1300 657 380 – complex trauma
  • beyondblue.org.au 1300 22 4636 – depression/anxiety awareness
  • kidshelpline.com.au 1800 55 1800 – private, confidential counselling
  • qlife.org.au 1800 184 527 – LGBTI support site
  • vvcs.gov.au 1800 011 046 – veteran, war-related support
  • ReachOut – youth mental health and community forums

Image by Sven.

4 Things to Consider When Looking for a Counsellor.

4 Things to Consider When Looking for a Counsellor.

Before I started my journey, I didn’t know where to begin. I only knew that I needed help. In this post, I’ll be listing several things to consider when looking for a counsellor. In case you or someone you love is seeking guidance, I hope this post will help.

Please note that when I mention counsellor, I’m referring to both a clinical psychologist and a diploma-certified counsellor in Australia.

1. Qualifications.

In my experience, knowing that the professional you’re going to be seeing has the qualifications to practice is a high priority.

Check their LinkedIn profile or even their business website if they have one. It could help with nerves once you know where the counsellor got their accreditation and organisations they’ve practiced at over the years.

You may be able to find client reviews too, which can be really helpful.

Websites and profiles can also clarify a list of industries and expertise the counsellor is passionate about including: working in hospitals, in a clinic helping people with eating disorders or in private-practice helping clients overcome depression, manage PTSD, family counselling and so forth.

Does their qualification and experience line up with what you’ve been struggling with? Do you think they could help you manage what you’re going through? If yes, that’s great! If you’re unsure, you can send an enquiry, call them or keep looking for other counsellors in the area.

2. Fees & affordability

Our mental health is important of course, but so is affordability.

Let’s not pretend this isn’t a topic to discuss. When I was looking for a professional to see, no one would mention or bring up the cost. At the time, I don’t think people around me knew or considered it to be a hindering factor.

Sometimes the counsellor’s website will have a fee section. In the instances where there is no mention, don’t be afraid to reach out either through email or phone to enquire. I know, enquiring can be daunting, but if you don’t ask, you will never know!

You may be able to find ball-park figures in Australian-based forums or on government/health/psychological websites.

Can appointments be factored in your budget? If not, are there ways to strategically shift your finances to put your mental health first and not break the bank? Would the Medicare rebate assist you at all?

I am a huge believer of compromise and doing my best to make the “impossible” work. So yes, I am biased in this way of thinking, but I do believe in the human ability to balance responsibilities for a healthier, happier life!

Once you have found a counsellor that is within your budget, you can look at other factors like where they’re located to prepare for a consultation.

3. Accessibility.

Is there a car park? Is the distance a hindering factor for your budget? Do they have wheelchair access? Can you take public transport if you don’t have a car? Is getting to-and-from the practice safe and sustainable long-term if sessions continued? Another thing to think about, is when their next available session is – if it is in 2 weeks, would that be viable? If it is in 3 months, will you need to consider other options before then?

Take all of these questions into consideration. If you have any other queries and can’t find the answer online, give the practice a call, send a text message (if their mobile number is provided) or email the counsellor directly for clarification.

Now that you know the counsellor, what their fees are and where they’re located, it’s time to attend your first consult!

4. Are you comfortable?

Now that you have made a decision to attend a consultation, are you comfortable sitting in the room? Do you feel heard? How does the dynamic make you feel when you talk?

Note: A 21 year old female was having her first consult with a male psychologist. During the consult, she explained how childhood abuse from her father affected her in adulthood. The psychologist listened and enquired whether him being a male psychologist might hinder progress and perhaps cause discomfort (considering the therapist-client relationship).

It is the responsibility of a mental health professional to have the best interests in mind for each person.

It is also important for us to be mindful of our own role in noticing how we feel during and after a counselling session and take action if things aren’t working.

Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.

Albus Dumbledore

A lot of people tend to talk about how important looking after our mental-health is, but not many people talk about the small steps it takes before you begin healing.

Here is a list of organisations that are here to help you:

  • healthengine – Find a psychologist in Australia
  • healthengine – Find a counsellor in Australia
  • blueknot helpline 1300 657 380 – complex trauma
  • beyondblue.org.au 1300 22 4636 – depression/anxiety awareness
  • kidshelpline.com.au 1800 55 1800 – private, confidential counselling
  • lifeline.org.au 13 11 14 – crisis support, suicide prevention
  • qlife.org.au 1800 184 527 – LGBTI support site
  • vvcs.gov.au 1800 011 046 – veteran, war-related support
  • ReachOut – youth mental health and community forums

If you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to visit the above organisations, email me or leave a comment below!

Image by Joshua Ness.

4 Ways To De-stress When Change Occurs.

4 Ways To De-stress When Change Occurs.

Life is a mixed bag. You never know what may happen next, no matter how much you plan ahead. I’ve never hated change, but I still struggle on occasion when something unexpected happens. I become irritable, moody and have unreasonable requests or expectations.

However, over the last 5 years, I’ve spent a lot of time learning and using self-help strategies and techniques. These days, people around me (including strangers) would comment on my calm nature, vibe or energy. Of course, we all experience stress when big changes occur. However, it is possible to manage our reaction to stressful changes with these 4 tips!

1. Read self-help books.

If you enjoy reading, I suggest using that time to dive in to the self-help section! Find a title that stands out to you, ask for recommendations from friends or Google what books have been popular and the most helpful.

A book I would recommend is “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. This book is basically about four principles that could be immediately applied to your life. Having these in mind have been good reminders to keep me grounded, no matter what change occurs.

An alternative to books is to listen to podcasts or watch YouTube videos.

If you know someone personally who has gone through minor or major life changes, reach out to them and ask what helped them most!

Calming techniques are not one size fits all, it takes time and patience to find what will work for us.

2. Schedule the time to de-stress.

De-stressing allows us to be present. Since stress and change are inevitable occurrences, it’s best to find ways to alleviate stress that works for us. Finding techniques to manage fluctuating emotions can help keep us calm in our mind and body. What helps you de-stress when an unexpected change happens? Even those of us with introverted personality-types (like me) still need community-support to get through tough times.

Examples:

  • Talk to someone. Whether it’s online counselling, face-to-face talk therapy or catching up with a friend, reach out. Having someone listen can lighten the heaviness. Even if it’s just a little bit. It’s still worth it.
  • Be productive. I don’t mean be swamped with work and never feel your feelings. I mean use the time you have to write, build or invent something. This can give us a sense of purpose when things feel chaotic during life changes.
  • Get out of the house. Sometimes we don’t feel like doing anything when we’re overwhelmed with life changes. That’s when I try to fight it. Yes, there are definitely days/a week or so where I will “hibernate” and process my emotions alone. After that time, I push myself to see people, do activities or I ask my boyfriend to come with me for a drive around the neighbourhood.

Find what works for you. These strategies may vary depending on the circumstance, financial ability or simply the way you approach change. That is A-okay.

3. Be patient with yourself and others.

So, you’ve heard the news. The unexpected change is here. What else is there to do? Practice patience. Take it one day at a time. Sometimes it’s all we can do not to break down. And sometimes the break down comes anyway – no matter how hard we try. That’s more than okay – it’s absolutely normal! We all respond to stress differently.

You may find your emotions fluctuate. You’ll have good days and bad days. Or maybe you’ll be easily irritated. That’s okay. When unexpected changes or tragedies occur, we are not in our prime mindset to manage emotions steadily. Be patient with yourself and others.

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

If there’s something you don’t understand, ask questions. If someone sounds angry, wait until there’s a free moment and ask to clarify. If it is time to apologise, then apologise. Also remember, other people may not react the way you ‘predict’ or ‘want’. So be open, be patient and communicate clearly to avoid any misunderstandings.

With a good set of de-stressing techniques, actively building our resilience and having a support-group around us, it is possible to adapt to change. Getting lost in a book full of advice, scheduling time to de-stress and having a proactive attitude can help immensely whenever life throws a curve ball at us.

Take a slow, deep breath.

Know that you are loved.

Know that you can get through this.

My Journey on Discovering Self-worth.

My Journey on Discovering Self-worth.

The first layer: illness.

As a child, I knew I was loved. I knew there were people around me who (mostly) loved to fuss over me, brush my hair, make sure my seat belt was on and made sure I had a hot milo for supper before bed (thanks grandma!).

Being born premature, my early childhood consisted of multiple hospital visits. Doctors and nurses would check if I was growing normally, if my lungs were functioning well (being diagnosed with asthma) and if I was learning at a similar rate to other children my age.

I was in and out of hospital a lot due to severe asthma attacks and on two separate occasions, I was treated for pneumonia.

All of that coupled with having a fast metabolism, the food I ate burned quicker than my parents could feed me so I was a skinny kid.

A family friend was over one night, chatting with my parents. He must’ve thought I was too young to understand him so he asked in a casual tone, “Is she sick?”. His head jerked slightly to imply me standing behind him.

Fear set in quickly.

I ran down the hall into my parents’ bedroom.

The feeling of shame welled-up inside.

I cried silently. I was confused. He just asked a simple question. So why did it hurt me so much?

As I said, I knew there were people who loved me, but that night was a turning point in how I saw myself. I began to wonder if I was actually sick.

I wondered if there was something wrong with me.

The second layer: obedience & perfection.

Before I started primary school, I learned about obedience like most children do. If you behaved well, there was a reward. If you misbehaved it meant consequences. For me and my siblings, consequences often meant physical punishment. Being obedient was the name of the game and being fearful was a by-product of ‘playing’.

Throughout primary school and high school, I would fail or end up with sub-par results when my school report came. I excelled in English and Art but everything else was a struggle.

When I’d ask for help at home, it was met with the common response:

“You don’t know anything! How could you not know this yet?!”

That familiar feeling of shame welled-up inside.

I stopped asking for help.

At 15, I got my first job. Little did I know, asking for help would be a hard lesson to learn.

The third layer: religion & fear.

Throughout my childhood and adolescence, church was a family ritual most Sundays. We’d sit quietly in the pews, listening to bible readings and the priest summarising a life lesson. As a kid, I spent my time looking at the colourful stained windows. How did they paint so high up?

Sometimes, the children were ushered into the back room that had thick windows. I learned there that children were to be seen but not heard. Church was a sacred place and all sacred places required respect.

As I got older, I learned about how humans were worthless sinners because of the fall of Adam and Eve. Yet, our value was restored by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Only Christians had this amazing Saviour.

When I came of age, youth group felt like an oasis in a world of darkness.

I understood that I was worth it because God saw something in me. A loving, kind and just God had a perfect plan for me.

I was saved and this meant freedom for my soul. I knew if I turned away from God, I would be apart from Him for eternity which I didn’t want. The more I learned about eternal suffering, the more scared I became of the afterlife.

It was a good thing to be “God-fearing”.

Because of Him, I had a family. Because of Him, I had strengths and these were a Gift. Because of Him, I could heal when I was hurt. Because of Him, I could forgive because He first forgave my sins.

Years later, my perspective would change from “freedom in religion” to “freedom away from religion”.

Breaking Down The Layers.

Growing up with these layers of self-worth from such a young age would be a challenge through childhood, adolescence and in my adult life.

As a kid, I tried to run away with my brother. We travelled 2 minutes from home and had to be picked up. As a teenager, I struggled to abide by the curfew rules and would come home late. I didn’t trust any adults, not even the school counsellor who tried to help me. I tried to run away from home for the second time. I stopped attending youth group. I stopped listening to sermon videos and reading my bible and ultimately, I left the religion I grew up believing in.

My only comfort besides the friendships I forged, was being creative. I could draw and write for hours on end. I vented my frustrations, questions and motivations.

By the age of 17, my rebellious streak calmed.

At 18, I moved out of home. I started meeting new friends who were kind, confident, care-free and out-spoken. They were beautiful people! Some of them did not have rooted beliefs in religion. How could they be so confident without the guarantee of a Saviour? By the age of 19, I realised that was the life I wanted for myself.

I stripped my life of unneeded baggage emotionally and physically.

I started seeing a counsellor. I had to face the past abuse, exercised control throughout my life and the belief of worthlessness. I now saw my passion for perfection as a strength. Even if I make mistakes, I will always strive for excellence. It doesn’t mean I’m “dumb” or that I “don’t know anything” – it means I am persistent and resilient. I learned how to reframe my mindset.

I began a decluttering journey, getting rid of unusable items. I realised I held onto all my belongings out of comfort and as a distraction to facing the pain I felt within. For a period of time in my life, I felt empty. Instead of becoming self-aware, I kept things I didn’t need to fill the ‘void’. Letting go of my hoarding habit was such a cathartic process.

The more I healed my emotional wounds, the more I realised:

My self-worth was up to me to decide.

No matter what others did or said.

As each year passed, I continued to break down these layers of self-worth that I’d taken on. It is still a work in progress, but a path I am so glad I walked down years ago.

Remember, your worth is not reliant on any thing, person or being.

You are worthy, just because.