Category: What I’m Reading

What I’m Reading: Anxiety For Beginners

anxiety for beginnersIn my usual pre-flight mad dash through the airport, I did a sweep of WH Smith for my standard holiday pile of magazines (I find reading fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar so relaxing on holiday! I don’t really know why, though? ūü§Ē) and decided to pick up a couple of books as well.

I spotted this book, Anxiety for Beginners, mainly due to its Roy Lichtenstein cover image riff and although not light reading, thought it might be interesting to dive into this topic a bit more while I had some more headspace before my exam.

The author, Eleanor Morgan, has suffered from anxiety and depression since her late teens, culminating in several breakdowns and rounds of antidepressants. She decided to write the book as a way of educating herself and others about one of the fastest growing illnesses in the UK.

As a fellow anxiety sufferer, I read this book with a lot of interest, hoping to get more insight into how other people were handling the day to day management of the signs and symptoms of the disease. What really struck me was how common anxiety is, how many different ways it manifests itself and how it really cuts through all walks of life.

The author¬†told a fascinating story about re-connecting with the most popular girls in her school years later during the writing of this book. She discovered that what she had thought was her old friend’s ‘cool girl aloofness’ was really her way of trying to manage her anxiety in the best way possible¬†for her – holding everyone at a distance.¬†It made me realise how quick we are to judge others, without really knowing what’s going on in their lives. Personally, I know that I can appear withdrawn and a bit cold at times, especially when my anxiety is at its peak and social interaction with new people can all be a bit too much. ¬†A bit more compassion is needed all around, going back to the old adage: don’t judge a book by its cover.

Overall, I thought this book was a good overview into anxiety, with a lot of the author’s personal experiences interspersed throughout. What I found disappointing was how little she discussed the effects of the various food and drink we put into our bodies ¬†and how they can exacerbate and ameliorate anxiety symptoms. The author took a very medicalised viewpoint, emphasising the benefits of anti-depressants. Obviously, given my nutrition background, I would’ve like to see more discussion about tryptophan food and the effect they have on producing serotonin, as well as the role of gut bacteria in supporting serotonin production.

The root causes of anxiety and depression can be complex and vary per person, but it stands to reason that if you treat your body like a garbage dump, filling yourself with foods that aren’t nutritionally dense and cause blood sugar spikes, your anxiety can be worsened.

I’ve written a bit about the foods I eat to help manage my anxiety here.

What I’m Reading: Reverse The Signs of Ageing

dr nigma talib reverse the signs of ageing.JPG

Written by Dr Nigma Talib, a naturopathic doctor based in London and New York, Reverse The Signs of Ageing is absolutely PACKED with information. So much so, I decided to slow down to make sure I was really absorbing all of the information.

It’s so important to state that Dr Talib is very much pro-aging and thinks it’s a natural part of life that we need to embrace better. However, as the title of the book suggests, we needn’t let the signs of ageing overwhelm us.

And that is the premise of the book – how to identify the signs of ageing and how we can use food, supplements, skin care, lifestyle, exercise and stress management to stop / slow down these signs of ageing in their tracks.

Dr Talib talks through¬†a Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic technique called ‘face mapping’ to assess potential trouble spots in the face. The guiding principle of face mapping ¬†is that each part of the face is connected to a major organ. For example, spots on the chin in women can be a sign of hormonal imbalances in the reproductive system and dark circles under the eyes can indicate sluggish kidney function. This is so fascinating to me because it just shows how connected the whole body is and how important it is for mainstream and naturopathic practitioners to look at the whole person, not just the symptoms.

Reverse The Signs of Ageingtakes a completely holistic perspective and demonstrates that there really are no quick fixes and to truly reverse the signs of ageing, you need to address the internal and the external.

I highly recommend this book and have been using it a resource when working with clients. A must-read for any naturopath or nutritionist!


What I’m Reading: 10% Happier

Riding the waves

Everyone seems to be talking about mindfulness these days. ¬†A few months ago, I was wandering around Indigo, a fabulous chain of bookstores in Toronto and decided I wanted to read something about mindfulness and meditation, to learn a bit more. I didn’t fancy a long tome ala Eckhart Tolle, just something light and easy so¬†I picked up 10% Happier, on a whim.

I’m glad I did. Subtitled ‘How I Tamed The Voice In My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story’,¬† 10% Happier definitely did the trick in giving a light hearted introduction to mindfulness and meditation.

I’m personally a bit more open than Dan Harris, the author was initially, to meditation and mindfulness, but it’s his overriding skepticism and back story that really make the book so engaging and funny. A bit of back story: Dan Harris is a high profile anchor on ABC, an American television network and is typical of many of us. Stressed, very ambitious, trying to cram 25 hours into 24 and using drugs, alcohol and food to self-medicate. He falls¬†into the meditation / mindfulness world through a story he’s reporting on and is intrigued, yet dubious.

What I loved most about this book, was Dan’s big realisation, on his meandering journey to learning about mindfulness. He wasn’t ever going to find something that would make him 100% happier. But anything that would make him even 10% happier was something worth exploring. I like that. There’s no expectations for a cure-all, or something life changing. Just something to help make each day a little brighter, something to help cope with the stresses of everyday life.

Even if you think of this mindfulness stuff is b.s., the book is still worth a read, purely for the fish out of water in crunchy hippy meditation world narrative that underpins it. The appendix also includes some great counter arguments to various ‘bad’ reasons not to meditate and a lovely basic mindfulness mediation that you can even do on the tube. To paraphrase:

  1. Sit comfortably.
  2. Feel your breath. Pick a spot – nose, belly or chest. Really try to feel and focus on the in-breath and then the out-breath.
  3. Every time you get lost in thought (which you will – thousands of times), gently return to the breath…beginning again and again is the actual practice, not¬†a problem to overcome so that one day we can come to the ‘real’ meditation.

Have you tried mindfulness or mediation? What did you think? I’ve used Headspace¬†and found it very calming and also practice the parasympathetic breathing that I learned in Hypnobirthing (really!) when I get really stressed.

Photo by Cameron Kirby

What I’m Reading: Year of Yes

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

If you haven’t already, add Year of Yes to your Christmas list. I ripped through this book in two evenings, stopping only for sleep, childcare, cooking and studying.

Before I go on, I have to say that I am a HUGE fan of Shonda Rhimes. She’s responsible for Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, two of my favourite shows, as well as #TGIT (Thank God It’s Thursday), the amazing Thursday night programming block on ABC in the US.

Year of Yes¬†is a fascinating read. At first sight, based on her body of work and the level of success she’s achieved, you’d expect Shonda (we’re on a first name basis :)) to be hugely extroverted, taking no prisoners in her personal and professional lives. We soon find out that she is hugely introverted, gradually retreating into herself and her work as she becomes more and more successful.¬†She is forced to face¬†this reality when her older sister confronts her and says,

“You are your own boss – your job is only as busy as you make it. But you never do anything but work. You never have any fun. You used to have so much fun. Now, all of these amazing opportunities are coming your way – once in a lifetime opportunities – and you aren’t taking advantage of any of them. Why?”

Shonda realises that she has to find herself again and saying yes to everything will help her do this. I’ll let you read the book to find out what she did in her ‘Year of Yes’ and how she challenged herself to get out of her introvert comfort zone, to say yes to being healthy, to say yes to saying no and to say yes to who she is.

This wonderful book reminded me that it’s so easy for a routine to turn into a comfort zone, which can then turn into a rut.

I love routine and I am such a creature of habit, so I need to remember¬†to keep challenging myself – with my social life, my studies and with exercise. ¬†So I’m going to say yes to more, even if it makes me nervous (ahem, another Barry’s Bootcamp class!?!).

I’m also going to continue to say yes to being happy, yes to feeling¬†bien dans ma peau,¬†yes to enjoying my little family and yes to experiences, not material things.

What are you going to say yes to?

What I’m Reading: Better Than Before


Photo by Charles Yeager

I love self-improvement books. There, I admit it. I’m a relentless self-improver and love finding out about new (to me) life hacks, cooking & nutrition tips and general health & wellbeing advice.

I had read two of Gretchen Rubin’s books on trying to find ways to happiness and contentment, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home and loved them, but didn’t pick up her new book, Better than Before, until I heard her interview on Underground Wellness. Side note: who else gets surprised when you hear an author’s ‘real’ voice after hearing what they’ve written in the ‘imagined’ voice in your head while you’re reading?

What a great book. Gretchen tries to answer the question, “how can we make good habits and break bad ones”, with a number of different frameworks and models (i.e the Strategies of Monitoring, Foundation, Scheduling and Accountability) , all underpinned by the Four Tendencies, which cover outer and inner expectations. She posits that everyone falls into one of these four distinct groups, with very little overlap.

Upholders: Respond readily to both outer and inner expectations.

Questioners: Question all expectations, and will meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified.

Obligers: Respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations.

Rebels: Resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.

Want to know which one you are? There is a great quiz on her website and it confirmed that I am indeed a Questioner.

According to the book and quiz results, Questioners:

  • Question all expectations
  • Respond to an expectation only if they conclude that it makes sense
  • Are motivated by reason, logic and fairness
  • Decide for themselves whether a course of action is a good idea and resist doing anything that seems to lack sound purpose
  • Want to make well considered decisions and come to their own conclusions
  • Are very intellectually engaged and are often will to do exhaustive research

According to Gretchen, “Questioners come in two flavors: some Questioners have an inclination to Uphold, and others have an inclination to Rebel; the first type accepts expectations fairly readily, the second type is very hard to persuade.” I’m definitely in the first camp in some areas in my life and in the second in others. I’m not a people pleaser, but I am very aware of both inner and outer expectations – and sometimes chafe against both.

There is a specific call out to exercise and how a Questioner can make an exercise habit stick that i found highly relevant:

  1. Design an exercise habit that works for your character and lifestyle (Strategy of Distinctions): ¬†I like variety, I don’t have a lot of time and I like knowing that others are doing the same type of exercise I am. This is why Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide has really been working for me these past 11 (!) weeks. I can do the workouts in 30 minutes during naptime, the exercises change each week and there’s a huge community on Instagram that are super supportive.
  2. Consider exactly why and how a particular habit should be kept (Strategy of Clarity): I like the way exercise makes me look and feel (the why) and I know there are windows of opportunity on Monday, Wednesdays, Fridays and the weekend for me to grab 30 minutes to workout at home. ¬†I have all the equipment I need, so it’s very easy for me to change into my workout clothes and go!
  3. Get more information about your habits by wearing a pedometer or charting your exercise (Strategy of Monitoring):¬†Kayla’s programme is broken into days and weeks, so I know exactly where I am¬†in the programme and she encourages everyone to take progress photos to compare and contrast.

Better Than Before is chock full of wonderful information that will helps to understand good habits and bad ones.

From a nutrition perspective, the section on abstaining is fascinating. We’ve all heard truisms such as “a little of what you fancy” and “everything in moderation”. But one person’s moderation is another’s immoderation. Or to use a Samuel Johnson quote from the book, “I can’t drink a little wine, child; therefore I never touch it. Abstinence is as easy to me, as temperance would be difficult.” Some people just can’t moderate in food, in drink, in consumption of television, etc. They just aren’t built that way.

I’m one of these people. I can’t just eat one square of dark chocolate (what a cliche!) ¬†or a scoop of ice cream to satisfy a craving. I know that I’ll eat the whole bar or tub, so it’s easier for me to totally avoid these types of foods. According to Gretchen, “abstainers do better when they follow all-or-nothing habits. Moderators are people who do better when they indulge moderately.” ¬†That’s why elimination programmes like Whole 30 work well for Abstainers – the all or nothing principle makes sense and takes no mental effort once you’ve decided to be done with a certain category of food.

The abstainer / moderator and Four Tendencies frameworks take us nicely back to the ‘no one sized fits all’ principle for nutrition. Everyone has different backgrounds, lifestyles, hormone levels and genetics. We also approach things in different ways, which is why it’s so important that nutrition and wellbeing programmes are built and customised for the individual.

Have you read Better Than Before? What do you think?

P.S. Don’t forget to check out¬†Happier, the weekly podcast that Gretchen puts out with her sister, the writer Elizabeth Craft.

What I’m reading: Overwhelmed


My summer of reading continues, with the excellent Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte. Chock-full of information, research and case studies about gender roles at work, home, love and play, this book, predominantly aimed at women, dissects why so many of us feel so overwhelmed and frazzled so much of the time.

I have to admit that the first chapter made me feel a bit anxious and panicky as I was reading it. Brigid runs through all the ways she feels stuck in what she calls, ‘the overwhelm’, that state of not having enough hours in the day to accomplish the endless to-list that comes with having a busy work and family life. She describes in forensic detail, how much she has to do, how late she stays up to accomplish some of what’s on her to do list and the endless guilt she carries around with her. It struck me how much she was trying to accomplish on her own and how much long-term resentment she held against her husband for not being more of an equal partner at home.

I could relate to the stories of being a busy parent, trying to fit everything into the day. What I couldn’t relate to was the endless guilt. Guilt about not working enough, guilt about not being there enough for her children – so much guilt. This guilt that mothers tie themselves up in knots about, that creates this endless worry and anxiety. There’s a great quote from one of the expert the book, Terry Monaghan, who says, “so much of our overwhelm comes from unrealistic expectations…and when we don’t meet them, we think we’re doing something wrong.” It’s this unnecessary pressure that we put on ourselves.

A large section of the book is devoted to unpacking the relationship that men and women have with work, how both genders would generally like to work in a more flexible way, but how the the myth of the ‘ideal worker’ – the person who is always available to take meetings, jump on a plane, stay late – can hold people and companies back from making real change. The benchmark, the country that seems to have it all figured out in this area is Denmark, where couples share parental leave, overtime is frowned upon and people maximise their leisure time as much as possible. When I read some of the case studies of American women and maternity leave, I realised how good we have it in here in the UK and in Europe. A strong parental leave policy backed by government subsidised and regulated child care means that women can spend longer with their babies with generally good childcare options to fall back on.

Brigid talks a lot about the ambivalence that American mothers tend to have around work. Towards the end of the book, she realises that she “would never be able to schedule [her] way efficiently out of the overwhelm. [She] had to face [her] own ambivalence about trying to live two clashing ideals at once.”¬† She realises that she has to figure out how to embrace her own life with passion, in the face of ambiguity. I really relate to this. I admit that I still feel some ambivalence about being back at work, despite being freelance and really enjoying what I’m doing. I feel torn about putting my son in nursery, despite me knowing that for his three days a week there, he has a great time and has made some lovely little pals. Before reading this book, I thought this ambivalence was a natural part of being a mother – wanting the best of both worlds.

It’s clear that it’s time to let go of this ambivalence and start fully enjoying what I have and that I am privileged to be able to make my own choices – the choice to freelance part-time, to study towards my dream career part-time and to have two full days with my son to myself in the week.


What I’m reading: Unprocessed


It’s so nice to get back into the swing of reading. I just finished reading¬†Unprocessed by Megan Kimble and found it utterly inspiring. The book is half-memoir, half fact-finding mission, which made it a very compelling read.

The book is divided into twelve chapters, each covering a specific type of food or food process – meat, dairy, wheat, refrigeration, eating out and so on. Each chapter is chock full of eye opening insights and information, that surprised even a food and nutrition junkie like me. What I loved most about this book were the insights that Megan peppered throughout the book about how eating in an unprocessed way was making her feel, physically and emotionally. She acknowledges the emotional ties we have to food and how difficult it can be to dramatically change eating habits. Her honesty is refreshing.

In that regard, Unprocessed is a big departure from the food and nutrition books I usually read, that are science based and a full of short case studies. A breath of fresh air actually, to look at nutrition and food in a different way.

As I began reading this book, I happened upon an article on ‘processed food’ by Jay Rayner, that ended up being a bit of a straw man. I had this cynicism about ‘processed food’ in my mind when I started Unprocessed. Happily, Megan sets out what she means by ‘processed’ on page 2, stating, “today, the work ‘processed’ refers to the adulterated foods – foods that have been shifted and shaped into packages that are¬†not better, not for us or for the earth. All foods are processed, but if we understand the difference between an apple and a bag of Chex Mix – and we do – and if the space between the two matters for the health of our bodies and the environment – and it does – then the question of what makes a food too processed also matters.” An open, honest and optimistic definition.

It’s interesting where Megan lands, at the end of¬†her year long unprocessed journey. It’s a similar place that many people who do food challenges or strict eating patterns, such as vegan or paleo, get to after a while. She starts from a strict unprocessed ‘dogma’, where she had been trying to unprocess everything, including making her own sea salt (!) ¬†and butchering her own meat. At the end of her year, she ends up in a more moderate place, concluding after her many food experiments, including grinding her own flour (!), that the best approach is that one that is tailored to you and your lifestyle, “the messy middle”, as she puts it.¬†This balanced approach acknowledges eating as much whole, unprocessed food as possible, with the reality of eating out, social relationships and the fact that life happens and unless you have life threatening allergies, you need to just make the most of whatever situation you happen to be.

Such a great read and I can’t wait see what she does next!