This week, we close LOVE month with another interview to feature the holistic part of nutrition. Sometimes we turn to food to feed our soul, when what we really need is connection. So this post is dedicated to all the women out there – post-natal or otherwise – who are emotional eaters and struggle with unhealthy cravings.
For many women, having children is a shock to the system. Many of the post-natal mamas I talk to struggle with a whole host of emotions like feeling beautiful, mentally switched on, energetic and even relevant. And whether the woman chooses to stay at home with the baby or return to work, their reality has forever changed. The post-baby era demands a new version of us as a woman, a mother, a wife, a professional, a friend, a family member. And this transition & redefinition is hard and leads to behaviours like emotional eating, stress-related illnesses and unhealthy cravings.
If you’re sorting out an emotional issue, striving to redefine yourself and your value, making a bold leap into a new career, struggling to adapt to a new home country or engaged in any change that exposes your vulnerabilities, it’s pretty common for that to have an effect on your food choices & your health. In these cases, it’s really useful to have a professional help through these transitions.
I myself turned to a coach – two in fact: Su Chern Teo from Intrinsic Consulting who helped me find my voice and give birth to Thrive. And Rebecca Hopkins who is helping me be brave and dare greatly every day.
So to end LOVE month, I am interviewing Rebecca Hopkins, an Accredited Life Coach and creator of Live Brave Workshops, which runs in-person self-development workshops for mums here in Hong Kong.
She is going to give us her top tips on how we can let go of our fears and crutches and feel fierce & empowered.
And why is that important within the context of nutrition? Because mind and body are intimately connected. The stronger we are in body, the stronger we feel and vice versa.
Q: Rebecca, before we kick off, can you tell us a little bit about you and what lead you to coaching?
A: In my corporate career back in 2009 I was lucky enough to be given a Coach to work with. The impact on me was profound. I was more engaged at work, motivated in my life outside of work and it started me off on an internal journey of finding out what made me feel alive and how I could get more of that every day.
Q: You’re coaching me through Brené Brown’s “The Daring Way” programme, which I has been such a game-changer for me in the way I approach my business and my role as a parent. I feel like I have so much more clarity of purpose now that I did before. And one of the first exercises you had me do was to figure out my core values. Can you explain why that’s such an important first step in your coaching process?
A: I describe core values as our own individual personal beliefs that show what we care about more than anything else in the world. Mine are connection, curiosity and authenticity and they are my key to knowing who I am. They help me move away from being hung up on what people think and towards living a life where I can just be me. Most of us have a vague awareness of what we value, but getting really clear on my top 3 core values made the world make sense in a way that it never had before. For example: why I loved some jobs I did and hated others, why I connected deeply with some people, and not others. I believe that a clear articulation and integration of our core values into the choices we make every day is absolutely essential to building a strong sense of self-worth.
Q: So true. When we become mothers, I feel like we stop asking for what we need and a result, we lose our ability to verbalize it & communicate it. We know we need help & support but we don’t know the form it should take or who to turn to for it. As a result, it’s easy to get caught up in a vicious cycle of frustration. How do you help your clients break that cycle and get clarity?
A: For me this wasn’t when I became a mother. I don’t think I ever knew how to ask for what I needed. It wasn’t how I was raised. I was raised (as I’m sure my own mother was) to “be nice” which for me translated into me putting my own needs last. It was actually when I became a mother that I had no choice but to put my own needs on the table because if I wasn’t okay, no one was okay. So the first thing I do with my client is talk about, “What are your specific needs that aren’t being met?” And then the next question is, “What needs to happen for you to be ready to have a brave conversation about asking for what you need?”
Q: So one of my big takeaways from The Daring Way programme is the practice of self-compassion. I’m not really good at self-compassion – as you know – because I’m constantly searching for my weaknesses and critiquing my work. But I am not alone. You see that common thread in many of the women you work with and once I started to look out for it, I began to see it in many of my clients. Can you talk to us about why in your opinion self-compassion is so important and perhaps share with us your favourite way of practising this skill.
A: One of the key findings from Dr. Kristin Neff’s work (who is one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion) is that we think self-compassion is weak, which is why we resist it. But the research shows that self-compassion is one of the biggest sources of strength and resilience that we have available to us.
The first lesson I ever learned on self-compassion was: talk to yourself like you talk to someone you love. When I was at the depths of my grief with our struggle with infertility I would speak to myself in a way that I would never speak to someone I love. “Pull yourself together moron. So you can’t have a baby? Suck it up, people are dying of cancer for f*cks sake.” “What are you crying for? It isn’t even a real baby. Get over it.” “You’re a failure.” I spoke to myself in a way I would never speak to anyone else. It was brutal and damaging and it didn’t need to be that way. I’ve since then learnt a beautiful way of using my internal voice. I speak to myself like I would speak to someone I love. I’m much kinder to myself and much more resilient because of it.
Q: I want to talk a little about shame because this is such a big issue with post-natal mamas. I myself lived in so much shame about my inability to have a vaginal birth, to breastfeed Sofia successfully, to lose weight, to go back to work, to even want to have sex again. And that’s the short list! These shame stressors lead me down the path of emotional eating, which then fuelled my sugar beast and contributed to a decline in my health. How do you help women tackle shame and when you are able to tackle it, how does it transform the person?
A: Yes. Shame is a beast of an emotion. The definition in my work is that shame is the fear of disconnection because we feel we are somehow flawed and not worthy of love, acceptance and belonging. Shame resilience is the ability to recognise shame when we are in it and are able to move through it in a constructive way that allows you to stay true to yourself and grow from the experience. My post natal shame was around how I felt about my body after having twins. Carrying twins was really hard and my body (and my pelvic floor!) didn’t bounce back like it did after my first child. I had an eating disorder from when I was 12 until I was 23 so body love is an area I am super passionate about. Body and appearance in Brené’s research is the biggest shame trigger for women (and now that also is showing up in the data for men too). I run two-day workshops for mums to start a journey to loving their post baby bodies as this learning to love our post baby bodies is really about critically assessing the shame messages we feel and building our critical awareness and resilience to it. Self-compassion is a big part of this!
Q: So, I’m going to say something which might be slightly controversial. I have this feeling that the reason women tend to isolate themselves post-natally and not reach out to discuss their shame & vulnerability issues is because we don’t feel safe doing so. And the reason we don’t feel safe is because we lack empathetic ears. Do you think there’s some truth in that?
A: I definitely agree that we don’t feel safe sharing our shame. That is the power of it. It thrives in an environment of secrecy, silence and judgment. But when we are brave enough to share our shame and it is met with empathy, we feel seen, heard and connected. Empathy is the antidote to shame. There is nothing more beautiful than sharing shame and hearing a “me too, I hear you.” at the other end. I worked with the amazing Sofie Jacobs from Urban Hatch on my post-birth emotional decisions. She supported me in making decisions that were right for me and my family. And I don’t think we lack empathetic ears intentionally, I just don’t think most of us know how to practice empathy. Empathy is a skill that we can and should learn.
Q: Can you please describe empathy and give us some tools to practice it so that we can become better listeners to our children, spouse, friends, family and even colleagues or clients?
A: Empathy is feeling with someone, rather than feeling for them and in my work, it has four components: 1. Staying out of judgement 2. Taking the other person’s perspective 3. Recognising emotion 4. Communicating that emotion to the other person. I think most of us think our job is to fix the other person, when really, more often than not, we just want someone to listen without judgement. There was never more judgement on me as a mother with my decision to not breastfeed our twins. Here is what empathy doesn’t sound like… “Wow, you aren’t even going to try? I breastfed my twins for a year. You really should have given it a go. It is the best thing for your baby.” Empathy might have sounded like “That must have been a tough decision for you. How are you feeling about it now?”
Q: What is your top piece of advice to the moms out there who’ve just had a baby and are trying to redefine or re-invent themselves?
A: Be kind to yourself. Depending on how old your baby is, you could still have a shed load bunch of crazy hormones in your system so take it easy and be kind to yourself. And work out what you need to stay connected. Having a baby can be isolating, it was for me. So a good question to ponder is who are the 1 or 2 people you can really trust to share what’s going on for you. Sharing our stories with the people who have earned the right to hear them, who will respond with an empathetic ear is crucial. We all need a good bestie who isn’t going to judge us for not having our stuff together as mums. Oh and always keep a cold bottle of wine in the fridge (it’s fruit right Cristina, totally nutritious ;)
Thanks so much for your time Rebecca and for generously sharing your experience with us. I love the time we spend together and gain so much inspiration and strength from it.
And to all you mamas reading – here’s a recipe for connecting with your fierce feminine identity and putting you squarely in control of your eating decisions. This dish is based on the Ayuverdic principle that meals should contain all six tastes to help nourish us completely, thereby banishing cravings and emotional eating. These six tastes are: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent.
SALMON MISO SOUP WITH BROWN RICE & CHOI SUM
- 2 cups of water
- 6-8 pieces of choi sum (depends on how big and hungry you are)
- Small palm size portion of salmon (cut into thin slices)
For the goma miso balls:
- 1 tspn sesame seeds
- ¼ tspn ginger powder
- 1 tbsp FOODCRAFT goma miso paste
For the soup base:
- 1 small clove of garlic chopped
- ¼ piece onion chopped
- ½ tomato peeled and chopped
Scallions, fresh coriander & a small dollop of kimchi to garnish
Serve with a cup of green tea.
Make the brown rice separately by cooking 1 part rice to 2 parts stock or water. Cooking it in stock add nutrients and flavour to the rice. And if you soak the rice overnight, you make the rice easier to digest. You can also use leftover brown rice.
Slice your salmon into thin slices and set aside.
Make a ball with the miso paste, sesame seeds and ginger powder.
In a deep sauce pan, sautee the chopped onion, garlic & tomato until it’s nice and soft and has made a bit of a paste. Add the water and heat until it’s nice and steamy (BUT NOT BOILING). Reduce heat. Add your FOODCRAFT goma miso ball. It’s really important not to put it in boiling water because miso paste is full of enzymes which will die in the boiling water. At this point, I like to breakup the miso ball and then mix the soup base with a hand blender just to get it a bit thicker.
Add the salmon to the steamy pot and turn off the heat. Cover for a few minutes until salmon is cooked through.
I like to sautee the choi sum in garlic & coconut oil to add a bit more flavour to the veggies I’m using.
Put your serving of brown rice at the bottom of your bowl. (I usually go with 2 tbspn). Add the choi sum. Pour the salmon soup over the rice and choi sum. Top with fresh chopped scallions and coriander.
This kind of meal tells your body that you commit to caring for her so that in turn, she can support your mind and heart in its every challenge.
Sometimes, making healthy choices is so much more than the food we eat.
It’s about connection.
It’s about self compassion, empathy, vulnerability and whole lotta LOVE.
To find out more about Rebecca’s work and upcoming workshops, please click here.
If you have never heard of Brené Brown or seen her TED Talks, please discover them asap. They are life changing.
Cristina Tahoces is a holistic nutritionist and owner of Thrive Nutrition Practice. Please join her Facebook group "Thrive Nutrition Practice" for daily articles, recipes, promotions on professional grade supplements and upcoming workshops.
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