Our latest guest blog comes from Jan Holden. We absolutely love what Jan has developed around food and wanted to share it with you, as it’s so aligned with our own philosophy and approach.
My life in (and out of) food by Jan Holden
At the tender age of eight years, I was put on my first diet. A trip to the doctor to investigate my out-turned feet turned into a diagnosis of “my springs being weighed down” i.e. I was overweight. In that moment, my life changed. From then on my food was restricted and my perfectly normally proportioned eight-year-old body was deemed too big.
Diets became a way of life after this. Into my teenage years my sister and I would pour over an ancient typed sheet of calorific values to ensure that we did not exceed the 1,000 calories a day. Inevitably we lost weight doing this, but equally inevitably came the strong urge to binge on the foods I had so staunchly denied myself. Secret eating was a way of life.
Thus my life became a roller coaster of restriction; “being good” followed by bingeing “being bad” with the net result that I was permanently unhappy with my body. Jump on the scales: lost weight? Phew, now I can eat! Gained weight? Oh no! Now I’m going to eat to smother my feelings of self-loathing.
Relief came in the shape of babies. For some reason (hormones? happiness at being pregnant? being legitimately allowed to eat?) my appetite regulated itself and my food struggles subsided. I gained very little weight as I ate more intuitively and I loved my round shape.
Literally, as soon as the baby was born, and this happened four times so not exactly a coincidence, I felt the old cravings re-emerge and the same desperation about weight gain. I tried every diet under the sun from the ultra low-calorie Cambridge Diet to a slimming club, to high fibre….the list is endless. I took up running and exercising. My body loathing remained.
In the consciousness raising 80’s I began to understand the deep conditioning I had received throughout my life to look a certain way and to not take up too much space. Through the 90’s I explored the effects of diet and nutrition on health and wellbeing as I trained to be a Natural Health Practitioner. I was full of theoretical knowledge at least!
I had my own physical and mental breakthrough when I read “Overcoming Overeating” and “Fat is a Feminist Issue” and pieces of the jigsaw started to fall into place. Here my problems were addressed. I discovered that other people behaved in the same destructive ways that I did and the secrecy and shame that tightly wrapped itself around me loosened slightly. Using the methods suggested in these books, I achieved a peace around food that I hadn’t experienced except during pregnancy.
In 2000 I started working with a fellow NHP and we formed an organisation called Bodykindness. We put together a programme that tackled food, weight and body image problems, drawing together all we had learned about these issues over the years. We encouraged our group members to take a more compassionate and understanding approach to their struggle rather than the harsh and punitive restriction of the starve/binge cycle. We had both found that this approach worked well but neither of us had an understanding of the progress of the Food Industry and the development of more and more processed foods, their effect on the mind as well as the body and the insidious nature of food addiction, particularly the addictive nature of modern wheat and sugar. I made the decision to return to nursing so our collaboration ended.
Another piece of the jigsaw emerged in 2013 when my eldest daughter Emily told me that she was struggling with food and body issues to the point where she had joined a 12 step recovery programme for food addiction. However, this approach with its rigid avoidance of wheat and sugar was not sustainable for me and Emily also left after some months attempting to work with their perfectionist abstinence programme. However, we both learnt a great deal from the experience and are grateful for it.
Together, we set up “I eat what I need”, a group for compulsive overeaters, as that is what we are. Our approach, which we call The Process, is based on mindful, conscious eating. At its root is kindness and gentleness towards ourselves and our bodies, recognising that focusing on food and weight and size is not the answer. The answers lie within! We support people to develop their own individual ways of moving from unsupportive, painful ways of behaving to new supportive behaviours.
We aim to end the secrecy and shame surrounding disordered eating. Our bodies reflect this shift as we do the work slowly and kindly. There is no quick fix or magic wand. We welcome anyone who struggles with food, weight and body image issues, however this presents itself. We run courses and support groups in Colchester and Brighton.
Hayley entered into my story in 2014 when I went on a Reclaim Yourself retreat and I was introduced to her Holistic Kitchen. The very first morning I talked about my issues with food, particularly sugar, and she immediately understood and identified with my struggle. That week of eating nourishing, beautifully fresh plant-based food was wonderful. I loved it and I wanted to learn more. So I signed up for a series of weekend retreats in Italy with Hayley and the Women’s Wellness School. Each weekend brought new discoveries and awareness in the company of an amazing group of Italian women. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience, as an expert holistic chef and also as a yoga and qi gong teacher. Her teaching style is accessible and authentic and you can see that she walks her talk. I can never go back to “conventional eating” now. Thanks to Hayley and my own research, I know too much about what nourishes my body!
To finish my story, I want anyone reading this who compulsively overeats, to know that there is hope. You too can wake up in the morning and think about something other than food. You too could be alone in the evening and not cruise the cupboards looking for something, just something, to fill the empty space.
It is possible to live at ease in your body and be your beautiful self.
It is possible to eat what you need.
Jan Holden, 2017