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“There is no other way to manage body and weight issues other than nurturing a healthy relationship with the self”: a clinical psychologist opens up

It’s World Mental Health Day today, a subject close to our hearts here at Peach. In honour of the occasion, our incredible client Lauren – also a qualified and practicing clinical psychologist – has opened up about her past eating disorder struggles, and how the right trainer can help to heal a complex relationship with exercise.

Mix a perfectionistic type A personality with self-esteem issues and it’s the perfect recipe for an eating disorder. Many women will relate to my obsession with food and exercise. Some will find my story more extreme than theirs and some less so, but sadly it is a familiar tale for many women. It started with the need to control, however so many aspects of life are uncontrollable. What better focus than the malleable body.

As a child I had a normal relationship with food and my body. However, the womanly shape that I developed in my teens made me feel self-conscious and big. I always wanted to continue looking like a skinny girl with small boobs and hips. The fixation with exercise and food control took shape in my early twenties, but in truth I watched what I ate long before that. The full blown disorder kicked off when I felt most out of control with a work relocation and a simultaneous long term relationship breakup. At my worst I ate apples, dry salad and a few steamed veg a day while exercising vigorously for three hours a day. I won’t bore you with the details as they are irrelevant, but with the help of a team of mental health professionals and a superb nutritionist I slowly started to heal and fully understand the emotions driving the obsessional behaviours.

The journey to health is about building self-trust and self-acceptance. I’m still journeying as we all have to do. It is a process which starts with checking in and asking the question, ‘what am I hungry for?’ Is it food I want, or am I eating or restricting because I’m angry, sad, bored, tired, irritable or alternatively happy and feeling worthy of food? It’s about learning to be kind to the ‘inner child’ and is a daily practice of mindfully eating. It’s not about thinking what ‘should’ or ‘must’ I eat. There are no good foods or bad foods, but there are good eating behaviours and bad behaviours around food. Yes, some foods are more nutritional than others, but everything exists to be enjoyed appropriately.

The balanced relationship with the body can only truly come from a place of self-acceptance. And the same goes for exercise. I train because I love feeling fit and strong and healthy. I want to have a long life for my kids. My PEACH trainer helps me by challenging me to remain mindful of my journey. He encourages me to stay balanced. We have days where I stumble and days where my purpose is clear. Thankfully he is so skilled in his understanding of the emotional issues related to diet and exercise.

The more that women (and men) talk about a certain diet app, (or their caloric restricting or the latest and greatest exercise program); the more I am worried for the many people out there who have the propensity to take it to the even unhealthier next level. And it is already unhealthy. In my opinion and experience there is no other way to manage body and weight issues other than nurturing a healthy relationship with the self.

Lauren Jacobs
Clinical Psychologist
BA Psych Honours (UCT)
MA Clinical Psych (UWC)