How to Make Positive Health Changes

Guest Blog by Joyce Reed, Health Coach & Doctor

Health Coach and Medical Doctor Joyce Reed shares her inspiring story and health coaching tips on how to make positive health changes to improve wellbeing.

I worked in the NHS

CNM’s ethos and mission to bring naturopathy into the mainstream of healthcare resonates deeply with my own life experience and journey through health. I worked in the NHS for 12 years as a hospital doctor and had to leave due to ill health driven by burnout.  I walked the walk of “physician heal thy self” and realised that if we are to save our health service, naturopathic lifestyle approaches to health must take centre stage in primary health care.

I transformed my own health from poor to fantastic by applying small lifestyle changes and one by one, my underlying symptoms and medical diagnosis dropped away – I now feel healthier than I have in 20 years! As a trained medical doctor, I can reassure you that natural lifestyle approaches work. They can take time to implement but they will preserve your health and wellbeing for the rest of your life. If you invest time and energy into your health and wellbeing, you’ll have better relationships with family, friends and colleagues too.

So, why not take the first steps today towards better health by implementing some of my favourite health coaching tips and tricks.

Self compassion: why it’s important

There is one practice that all my clients have benefitted from and that is self-compassion.  The route to long-lasting lifestyle changes for greater vitality and wellbeing starts with permission to self-care. The practical way in which to give this permission to yourself is to practice self-compassion daily in any way that suits your personality. There are many ways you can spend time with yourself and practice a bit of self-kindness, but first and foremost, it takes spending a little time each day getting to know “you” once more.

Device-free time spent walking, journaling and breathing are examples of ways you can spend at least 15 minutes being with yourself, connecting with the essence of what makes you who you are. To boost this practice further, add in the 3 components of self-compassion below. There is an abundance of research that supports the efficacy of daily self-compassion practice and how it improves physical and emotional health.

The 3 components of self-compassion:

  1. Acknowledge any suffering in your life right now and spend time accepting that these episodes in life are hard. Feel them unconditionally.
  2. Shift the focus, and acknowledge that this is a shared human experience – you are not alone, everyone suffers.
  3. Give yourself the kindness in that moment that a good friend would give you, and do something nourishing for yourself. This can as small as the warmth of your own hand on your heart or giving yourself permission to take a break in your working day. Something which supports you in that moment to realise that everything will be ok.

How to curb cravings

Have you ever wondered why you simply can’t cut out junk food because your cravings are so strong? Are you stuck in the cycle of unattainable dieting?

Sugar and processed carbohydrates drive cravings because they create erratic blood sugar control and drive a dopamine hit every time you consume them. So, if you’re consuming these foods, it is virtually impossible to resist the cravings because these processes will always drive you back for more. Not only that, sugar and processed carbs provide zero nutrition for your gut microbiome (the good bacteria living in your gut).  If you can cultivate these bacteria by eating natural, whole foods then the cravings will naturally reduce because the bacteria communicate with your brain via the gut brain axis, making it easier to resist these types of processed foods. Getting over the first hurdle of cutting them out completely is the hardest part. It gets easier once your gut flora has rejuvenated because decision making around food gets easier and easier.

My top tip: Change your mindset

If you find decision making around food a real struggle, be honest with yourself about it and seek help if needed.

Be compassionate and honest with yourself – this is key and can go a long way to help with emotional eating and cravings. Tell yourself daily that this “food” is actually not food and you would like to be more kind to yourself by only eating nourishing food. If this is too hard to do or a trigger for you, then be honest and seek help. Be kind to yourself around food as eating is such a joyful social human experience.

Having a total cupboard clear out and going junk food free for a month can be transformational – it stops cravings and changes how you perceive the taste of food.  Once you have stopped eating junk food, decision making becomes much easier because you can taste the natural sweetness in food, and also recognise that your body feels better eating natural whole foods. The dopamine and craving pathways are interrupted, and the gut microbiome helps by further reducing cravings for junk food. You may even find that you crave vegetables or lemons! This has happened to me and to my clients so it can happen to you too.

I also find that it helps my clients to remember that the processed food industry has a vested interest in you having cravings for the foods they make a profit from. These foods are designed to be unrealistically “tasty” to drive sales and profits. Contemplate regularly how much better it is to take charge of your own decision making, and not be controlled by the food industry.

Movement is medicine

Whole body movement is what we are designed to do. Movement is medicine because it is a truly anti-inflammatory experience for our metabolism. The more moving we do, the more energy we have because it boosts the number and function of mitochondria in our muscles – they are the cellular power houses which make energy. Movement is good for our mental health, emotional resilience, and our physical body. So, why are so many of us not accessing the medicinal qualities that movement affords? The biggest barrier I see to movement in the people I work with is fear. Fear of starting, fear of pain and lack of enjoyment, fear of the cost and time that exercising seems to take, fear of being judged by others for the wrong kit or getting it wrong.

My top tip: Move more and exercise less

Take exercise breaks in your working day – try a standing desk or an under desk mini-bike.  Dance in your kitchen whilst you are cooking! Try anything and see what makes you feel good. Short bursts of movement peppered throughout your day is much more functional than forcing yourself to the gym if it’s not your thing.

In our image-driven, perfectionistic society we are sometimes paralysed by the fear of failure, which I believe underpins all the aforementioned fears that people have about moving their bodies more.  If we simply shift our focus from exercising to moving more, we are more likely to choose movement that we love and therefore are more likely to do more of it.

Spend a moment right now connecting with a deeply held childhood memory of the joy of movement. Sit with that memory and feel it as if you were in that moment again. Call to consciousness what type of movement could give you that same feeling in your current life circumstances. Choose something that brings you this kind of childhood joy and give it a try. Experiment and see if this improves your motivation to move more. Accountability helps too. Make an agreement with a close friend, colleague, or spouse to support each other to move more, and have fun at the same time!

Making lifestyle changes is worth it

Investing time and energy into self-care and lifestyle change is always worth it, but it can be very hard to know where to start. Overwhelm and conflicting media messages about health can make it extremely hard to take that first step. If you feel like this then reach out for support. Try one of CNM’s short courses or consider studying for the Health Coach diploma course where you can learn how to improve your health and make long-lasting, positive changes in your life.

If this blog has resonated with you, please do seek help by finding a practitioner who can assist you or try my favourite new app Finch for self-care support. Taking the first step is always the hardest, but once you are on the road to better health, tiny steps taken daily can make a huge difference to your wellbeing.

If you’d like to read more about any of the topics I’ve covered, here are some useful resources to start you off.  Look after yourself more by starting today – you are worth it!

CNM’s Health Coach Diploma

Why has nobody told me this before? By Dr Julie Smith

The Four Pillar Plan, 2017 by Dr Ranjan Chatterjee

Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers, 2013 by Dr David Perlmutter