Why don’t we talk about miscarriages?

It was while listening to an interview on the High Low podcast with Vanity Fair and New Yorker editor, Tina Brown, that I began thinking about writing this post. While you may not be familiar with the name, you will certainly be familiar with Brown’s work. She was the editor responsible for the 1991 Vanity Fair cover featuring the Annie Leibovitz photograph of a heavily pregnant, naked, Demi Moore. This image, now a right of passage pose for every pregnant celeb, was ground-breaking in its time and marked a massive shift in the public presentation of pregnancy. No longer were women expected to hide their expanding waistlines beneath floral smocks; now they could wear their baby bump with pride. And why not? 

But while in recent years the full bloom of pregnancy appears to be something that society can stomach, we still tiptoe around the 12 weeks (that’s almost a third of the pregnancy) prior to the first scan when women must go to ridiculous lengths to conceal their condition. We find ourselves dodging glasses of wine and cups of coffee like bullets, with every social occasion posing a risk of exposure. Work offers little sanctuary either, as you’re forced to hold it together when all you want to do is throw up, fall asleep under your desk or cry. 

And why do we go to such lengths to conceal what is, in all probability, glaringly obvious to anyone close to us? (When I turn down a free glass of wine and go cold turkey on coffee anyone who knows me at all knows something is awry).

The answer, for many of us, is that in those high risk, eternally long 12 weeks, we might lose the baby and have to share that fact with others. And yet, as it turned out for me, the one thing that would have made going through a miscarriage worse than it already was, would have been going through it alone and in silence. 

The truth is that 1 in 4 women will experience a miscarriage in their lifetime. Yet this seems to be a statistic that the social presentation of pregnancy and the public dialogue around miscarriage conceals.

I found that learning more about the prevalence of miscarriage and hearing about the experiences of other women who had struggled to conceive or who had also miscarried helped to make me feel less like the anomaly – less like the one failure where all other women seemed to have succeeded. Yet it wasn’t until I had made this rite of passage into the 1 in 4 club that these stories were shared with me. 

We discovered that I’d lost our baby at the 12 week scan. I had a ‘missed miscarriage’ – no symptoms, no pain, no blood – at 9 weeks our baby’s heart had stopped beating but my body just wouldn’t let it go. 

The scan was on a Monday morning and I’d planned to go straight to the office afterwards, ultrasound picture at the ready to show off to friends and family. Instead, we found ourselves sitting in the Early Pregnancy Unit, waiting for hours upon hours, watching a silent TV screen, consumed by the horrible gut-wrenching knowledge that all of the plans we had made for the next nine months and beyond had been torn away. 

In the three days that followed between the ultrasound and having surgery to take the baby away I felt like an empty vessel. I spent a day at home and my mum came to visit, I then, rather selfishly (as I was no use to anyone) spent two days at work, sitting in front of my computer, occasionally crying and just trying not to think about what was happening. The team in the EPU, the surgical team and all of the nurses we encountered at UCLH were amazing throughout that awful week. Even more amazing were our family, friends and colleagues who rallied round and supported us more than we ever could have wished for. 

We hadn’t told our friends or colleagues about the pregnancy but circumstance meant that we had to tell those closest to us about the miscarriage. And yet now I can’t imagine how we would have got through the weeks that followed without them on our side. My boss was an absolute powerhouse and let me go through the whole spectrum of emotions from the comfort of my desk. My friends and family let me talk and cry and talk some more, and held me close even when I tried to push them away.  

I don’t think I was ready for the onslaught of emotions I had after the miscarriage. The initial feeling was one of failure on my part – that I had let my husband and myself down by not carrying our baby to term. I suddenly found it difficult to be around pregnant women and felt a bitter sting every time I gave up my seat on the tube to a woman brandishing a ‘baby on board’ badge. I found myself sobbing in the toilet every time someone announced that they were pregnant and then overwhelmed with guilt for feeling so sad and selfish. Weeks later I felt annoyed at myself for still feeling so sad and told myself that I should be over the grief and that I needed to pull myself together. Later still I went to see a therapist about how I was dealing (or not dealing) with what had happened.

Going through a miscarriage is a very personal experience and while it isn’t something that everyone wants to share one of the most valuable things for me was being able to talk openly to friends and family about the experience, as well as reading other women’s blog posts about what they had been through. Listening to others helped me to realise that experiencing so many mixed emotions is totally normal and not something to feel guilty or ashamed about. While my husband was such a rock throughout and while the experience welded us even more firmly together, we were both glad of the support and perspective that being able to talk to others offered us. While at the moment I still can’t imagine having a successful pregnancy, what this experience has taught me is that even if this does happen again we will be ok; we will be stronger together, and the amazing support network that we have built will be there to catch us if we do trip and fall.

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A Rude Awakening

Last week I found myself taken aback, angry and confused to see an Instagram post from the company Rude Health declaring their support of the dairy industry. For those of you unfamiliar with the Rude Health brand, they produce an array of high-end, dairy free nut, oat and rice milks, and I have to admit their products are, well were, among my favourites. Like many of the other people who saw this post, my initial assumption was that either their account had been hacked or someone on work experience had made a massive PR error. However, a quick search on their website revealed neither of these scenarios to be the case. In fact, what I discovered was a ‘rant’ blog post from their Co-founder and Brand Director, Camilla Barnard, in which she categorised vegetarianism and veganism as fad diets.

While I don’t often get angry about many things, the messaging from Rude Health really wound me up, not least because it shows such a total lack of understanding on so many levels. It’s a lack of understanding of the motivations behind a plant based lifestyle (which Barnard describes as a fad diet ‘to save you from cancer and early death’ and a means by which to ‘claim the health and moral-high ground’), a complete misreading of who the people are who actually buy their products, and from a brand and marketing perspective, an apparent ignorance about how and why people align themselves to particular brands and brand identities.

Since seeing the Instagram image and reading the blog post, I have found myself morbidly fascinated in following the backlash of these postings, reading the thousands of comments that have resulted – many from people like me, who really don’t understand why any company in its right mind would seek to alienate one of its core audiences – and watching and waiting for some kind of explanation, apology or rationality from Rude Health. None has come.

I have also decided, along with many other vegans, to boycott Rude Health products. Reiterating the points above, my decision to buy Rude Health’s dairy-free milks was not just based on the fact that they were tasty; just as my decision not to eat animals and animal products is not just part of a fad to ‘save me from cancer’.

The fact is, that many vegans, myself included, made this lifestyle choice because we are fundamentally opposed to the meat and dairy industries and the impact they have on the well-being of animals and on the environment. We have seen the dark side of these industries and have come to our own conclusions not to play a part in the perpetuation of them. I didn’t become a vegan on the back of a ‘celebrity exclusion diet’ or to claim ‘the moral high-ground’. I became a vegan because I find the idea of killing another sentient being and consuming its corpse for pleasure totally barbaric and abhorrent. If my decision not to eat meat at the age of 8 was a fad, then it has been a bloody long one. Likewise, I don’t see that I have any business in drinking the breast milk of another species, not least when getting that milk involves cows being raped, having their calves taken away from them, being pumped full of hormones and steroids, being forced to express milk to the point of suffering from severe mastitis and then being culled when they are no longer of any use to the industry. No Camilla I am not ‘forced by an allergy’ to follow this diet, but I am compelled to, by the facts of an industry which I find to be inhumane. Eating may be a social activity and you may want ‘positivity and fun around food’, but this is equally possible while following a wholly plant-based diet and the fact is when I eat what I eat, no one has to die in the process.

Moreover, I’d be really interested to see who are actually buying Rude Health milk-alternative products. In insulting the vegan community, Rude Health clearly believe that there is a large enough market of non-vegans who are prepared to pay a minimum of £3.50 on a weekly basis for a carton of cashew milk and I just can’t believe that to be the case (although I’d love to be wrong on this). Even living in the lefty, middle-class bubble of North London, I don’t know any non-vegans who would be prepared to splurge on three different types of dairy-free milks on a weekly basis in the way that my vegan friends and I do. I know a few people who might buy almond or soya milk as a one off, but even then it is usually a cheaper brand, not Rude Health.

Finally, you don’t have to be a marketing expert to see that people buy into brands not just products. Whether it is in fashion or food, we like to align ourselves to the brands that we feel either reflect our personalities and our values, or that we aspire to imitate. In pledging their support for the dairy industry, Rude Health have isolated themselves from a massive vegan community who are fundamentally opposed to that industry.

And the big question for me is, why say anything at all? Why kick up this storm so unnecessarily? Is it just a case of massively misjudging and underestimating your audience, or is there something more sinister like a cash injection from an interested party behind it?

I’d be really interested to hear both your and Rude Health’s thoughts around this. I’ll also be keeping a keen eye on the Companies House site for their next accounts statement. 

Why ‘me time’ matters

Try to do one thing each day that nourishes you.

This was the takeaway message from a yoga event I attended this week at the Shard in London. The event, sponsored by California Walnuts, saw me and my good friend Sophie getting up at 5:30am to join a group of yogis for a 7am yoga session with Mandy Jhamat from Yogasphere, a wellness talk by Julie Montagu and delicious breakfast, hosted high above the city on the 69th floor of the Shard. It was the perfect start to the day: a relaxing vinyasa flow class suspended above the hubbub of the city below, followed by a feast of smoothies, mini pots of overnight oats, fruit kebabs and vegan flapjacks, all enjoyed from a room with a spectacular view.

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Image with thanks to California Walnuts

The event finished at 9:30am and we left with a free yoga mat, a bag full of goodies (including a big jar of delicious California Walnuts!) and that warm fuzzy feeling that I can only describe as the post-yoga glow.

While I’ll admit that I found myself reaching for the coffee by 3pm (I’m a morning person but even I concede that 5:30am is that bit too early) the feel-good factor from going to the class and spending some time with Sophie stayed with me until bedtime.

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Image with thanks to California Walnuts

While this was an exceptional day, the message from the speaker, Julie Montagu, was that you don’t need a special event to feed your physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. Instead, we should find a little space every day for those acts that make us feel more like ourselves and contribute to our overall sense of wellness. Whether it be a 15 minute yoga practice, a short walk or lunchtime run, curling up with a good book, wandering around an art gallery, taking a hot bath, going for a cup of tea with a friend, calling your mum, listening to a podcast or baking a cake, it’s amazing how just a little act can quickly change your mood and the course of your day.

While (as regular readers may have gathered!) I find my greatest sense of self through exercise, another very different area in which I have found nourishment is while drawing. It’s amazing how taking the time to really look at figures and forms and then attempt to replicate them in graphite on paper, can be so meditative. To this end, a friend and I recently established a life drawing class as part of a wellness initiative. It is amazing how quickly the two hours of the class pass as we work on a series of 5, 10, 15 and 20 minute poses, working in silence, looking, sketching and being present in the moment. While I’m not the greatest artist, I’ve learnt to use the lessons from my yoga practice of leaving my ego at the door, focusing on my easel and working within my own parameters. When I began drawing I found the process more frustrating than therapeutic, but now I have evolved my practice, making it a much calmer space for engagement and self development.

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Image with thanks to California Walnuts

It is so easy to forget to spend that little bit of time feeding your mind, body and soul and to find that you’ve spent a day racing around with little to show for it. I’m now taking the message of this week’s yoga event and aiming to dedicate a portion of each day to self-nourishing acts as I know that by feeding my own soul I feel stronger, richer, fuller and more able to give back to those around me.

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Festivals and the fashioning of identity

This August, in a bid to finally overcome my festival virginity, I packed up my tent, hand sanitiser, wellies and dry shampoo and headed off to Wilderness. It was the most fabulous few days, camping out in the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside with my lovely pals and so many fun activities on tap. I knew it would be my kind of festival when our itinerary included archery and wild swimming alongside quaffing champagne and dancing, and when I spotted not one but two tea and crumpet stands. Our days were filled with everything from comedy and cricket to political debates and yoga, all topped off with a heady mix of delicious food and drinks, lots of glitter and of course, plenty of amazing music.

While I had such a fun few days, something struck me as I mooched amongst girls dressed in little more than sequinned-leggings and glitter: in my denim dungarees and wellies I suddenly felt incredibly conservative and strait-laced, a feeling at odds with the person I believe myself to be.
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While much of my identity is tied up in my liberal left-wing views, my veganism, an interest in the environment and sustainability and my love of the outdoors – running, yoga, hiking and climbing, swimming in lakes and sitting by campfires – the realisation dawned on me that my outer appearance isn’t necessarily reflective of these elements of my personality. I started to see that my tendency to err on the side of caution in my clothing choices has meant that while I’m pretty hippy on the inside, I’m definitely more preppy on the outside.

As a result, I started to examine the question of whether our inner- and outer-selves necessarily have to match up; are our personalities and sartorial decisions intertwined, or can they be mutually exclusive? Does a sensible polo-neck sweater and a pleated skirt preclude skinny dipping and a love of tofu and preempt quiet evenings in with a book and hot chocolate? Do I really need to don the festival uniform of a sequinned leotard and little else to prove to the outside world that I’m a fun-loving tree-hugging, left-leaning yogi?

There is definitely something about dressing in a certain way that makes you feel part of a tribe and gives you a firm sense of both self and community. There are times when this draw towards the ‘uniform’ of a tribe is particularly heightened, and a festival is one such occasion. I have to admit, having never before considered adding anything with sequins to my wardrobe, suddenly at Wilderness I found myself coveting them. But using dress to align yourself with a certain lifestyle or political outlook isn’t just about frivolously opting for a one style of shirt over another, it can also act as a creative means by which you can construct a visual representation of who you are.

This week in a BBC Radio 4 programme about identity, the speakers emphasised the role that coherence and consistency plays in establishing a firm sense of personal identity, and I suppose coordinating your inner and outer selves adds to this sense of coherence. Yet while for some people their look is part of a unified package, for others, like me, it’s slightly more scatter-gun and perhaps not as considered as it might be.

All of this got me thinking about my identity, both from the point of view of how people perceive me, and from the perspective of how I want to be seen. Would a more careful curation of my wardrobe give me, as well as those around me, a stronger sense of who I am?
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During my run on Thursday I was listening to a podcast interview with the skier Lynsey Dyer and something she said really threw all of these thoughts into focus. She observed that, as a teenager, she had fallen in love with the idea of surfing having seen the Roxy girls in various surfer magazines. However, later, when she realised that the women she had admired were just models who couldn’t surf it made her see that what really mattered wasn’t so much looking the part but living the experience.

In another podcast episode, Rich Roll explored the concept of authenticity and truth to oneself. He asked the question, who am I at my core, and do my actions align with this authentic sense of purpose and self? This drilling down to our core values and living in a way true to them is also something examined in Greg McKeown’s book ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less‘.

For me, these speakers highlighted a more important element of identity, that of asserting and living in a way true to your core values. In this way, the focus is on substance, not just style and it becomes more than just about veneering yourself in the tropes of how you feel certain values should look, or slavishly imitating those around you, without imbuing that aesthetic with an authentic piece of yourself.

So while I am reviewing my outward appearance and considering more carefully the messages that my choice of clothing may send out, I’m also auditing my inner self, digging deeper to establish what truly matters to me and how my behaviours in all elements of my life convey this message.

I want to finish with a quote from Rich Roll on the question of dress and aligning yourself with a particular look or brand:

If it’s authentic to who you are; if it’s a natural expression of what you would be doing or wearing ordinarily, then it’s ok. It’s when it becomes artifice and there’s some other agenda that’s built into that, where it become something else entirely, that’s where it becomes problematic.

Until my next, namaste.

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Step up to 2017

While inspirational quotes and motivational sound bites seem to be endemic on social media, there are the odd occasions when one of these really strikes a chord. I recently had such an experience on seeing an image emblazoned with the words ‘surround yourself with people who get it’. After a really positive start to 2017 – a blissful New Year’s Eve gathering with wonderful friends, a yoga retreat with my sister-in-law, some lovely runs with my fabulous running pals, lots of luxurious time with my husband, and plenty of good books and inspiring podcasts – these words really resonated with me.

It’s amazing how the process of surrounding yourself with inspiring people and good influences can penetrate into your everyday ways of being and feeling. While there is so much going on in the world at the moment that is far from ideal, being around people who ‘get it’ can help to remind you that, even when it appears that your are at odds with the status quo, there are people close at hand who are on the same wavelength as you. That isn’t to say we should encase ourselves in an echo chamber of consensus that leaves our views unchallenged, but rather, by pulling together with similarly-minded people, we can create positive ripples across our spheres of influence, and the more we are, the bigger the initial splash and the greater and more impactful the waves that follow.

So what does this mean in practical terms? How can we reach out to, connect with and be inspired and lifted by those people who get it?

Start with an escape

After the amazing weekend away at The Orange Tree yoga retreat in January last year, my sister-in-law and I immediately booked in for another new year’s escape. Returning to The Orange Tree for the first weekend in January was the best possible way I could have started my year. The retreat reinforced many of the good habits that I had cultivated on my first trip – meditation and mindfulness, regular yoga practice, syncing my movement and by breath – as well providing the perfect opportunity to meet and spend quality time with the most wonderful people.

It was so enriching and nourishing spending quality time with interesting and inspiring people – enjoying rich conversations free from our mobile phones, TVs or other digital distractions – as well as devoting plenty of time to our own headspaces during meditation practices. When we weren’t practicing yoga or meditation we enjoyed lounging in the hot tub, which overlooked the Yorkshire countryside, reading our books by the fire, chatting over delicious vegan food, and enjoying massages and other indulgent treatments. Having the time and space to really engage with the inner workings of your mind is incredibly enlightening and while meditation isn’t the easiest of practices, it is certainly one of the most rewarding.

More details about visiting The Orange Tree are available on their website and to get inside your own head try out the Headspace meditation app.

Move away from materialism

If you have read my recent post on minimalism you will know how much this movement appeals to me. This week my devotion to living with less sunk a little deeper as I finally got round to watching two documentary films that had been on my radar for a while: Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, which looks at a variety of takes on minimalism, from tiny houses to the stripped back 333 wardrobe, and The True Cost, which examines the fashion industry and its impact on the environment and the workers who make the clothes that we wear every day.

If you haven’t watched these films then you really must take the time to do so; they will change the way that you look at your possessions and, in particular, your clothes, for good. The way that garment makers in developing countries are treated is truly abominable and the impact that the now-52 season fashion industry has on the environment is devastating. Watching these two films in relatively quick succession really fed into my desire to move away from a consumerist way of being and forced me to look at the possessions I have (and where they were made).

One of the interesting takeaways from these films was that while in some ways we are more materialistic than ever, at the same time we have no interest or respect of material objects at all. We buy things to fill other voids in our lives and engage in a fast-fashion culture, which sees us wearing a piece of clothing one day and casting it aside the next.

My sister-in-law and I are toying with the idea of playing the minimalist game, but our biggest concern is, if we are disposing of our things, where will they go? I’ve signed up to free-cycling to pass on domestic appliances that we no longer use to those who need them and we are planning a clothes swap party to recycle fashion among friends. If you have more ideas, websites or companies that can help to recycle or re-use sustainably I’d be really interested to hear more and hope to have a post on sustainable living in the not too distant future.

For some more upcycling inspiration see the beautiful Upcyclist website and move away from fast fashion and be inspired to make your own clothes (or commission a friend to do so!) with Thumblenina.

Listen up for inspiration

I’ve been enjoyed a feast of inspirational podcasts lately and wanted to share a couple of the best with you here.

If you want something to feed your soul listen to Rich Roll’s interview with Guru Singh. I enjoyed listening to this over a series of runs and came back from each feeling so enriched and warm inside. To boost your body confidence, Tina Muir’s interview with Lanni Marchant is amazing. Marchant is such an incredible athlete and inspiring spokesperson and really makes you think about how you connect with your body and appreciate what it can achieve. Similarly, Rich Roll’s interview with Kerri Walsh Jennings, Olympic beach volleyball champion, is so uplifting I found myself smiling all of the way through. If you need a boost then this ‘six feet of sunshine’ is exactly what you are looking for.

Finally, for training inspiration listen to Josh Trent on the Run to the Top podcast. One of the key takeaways from this episode for me was having an overarching reason ‘why’ behind your training programme. Are you aiming to get faster, go further, lose weight or improve your cardiovascular health? While each training session will have its own purpose, it is important to know what your overall objective is so that you feel motivated to stay on course. I was listening to this episode while running in the cold and rain and took a moment to pause for thought on this. I realised that I run to really connect with my body – it is one of the few times I feel like my mind and body are totally in sync and it forces me to listen to, engage with and respect my physical self. It was an enlightening process really examining the question of the why and I really think it is something worth taking the time to do.

Get on your mat

Starting on 1 January Adrienne (of Yoga with Adrienne fame) launched a new free online yoga series called Yoga Revolution. The series consists of 31 yoga session of approximately 30 minutes, which work to help you engage, gain balance, tone, relax, strengthen and sculpt. If you’ve not encountered Adrienne before you can jump straight in with this, or else start with her 30 Days of Yoga series, which I equally loved. The best thing about the series is it’s easy to fit in sessions before work or in the evening before bed and all you need is a yoga mat and something comfy to wear. I can’t tell you what a difference it makes having the opportunity to get onto my mat every day and just take the time to breath and engage. So join the revolution and check this out today!

Write about how happy you are

For Christmas I received a ‘Happiness Planner‘ from my sister-in-law. Each day there is a space to write down what you are excited about, what your main focus is, your to do list, what you are grateful for, the good things that have happened and what you hope for tomorrow. Each section only has space for couple of lines so it’s not a daunting task to complete, but it does really make you think about all of the little things that bring a smile each day. Whether it is meeting friends for a cup of tea and a chat, going on a run in the winter sun, lazing in a bubble bath, getting lost in a good book, or indulging in a glass of red wine after a busy week at work, just taking the time to reflect on these things makes you appreciate them all the more and definitely adds a bit of additional happiness and contentment to your day.

I hope that this all leaves you feeling inspired and ready to take on 2017.

Until my next,

Namaste

To eat, or not to eat? That is the question.

There are few subjects that are so simultaneously prosaic and emotive as food.

We photograph it, comfort eat it and watch programmes about it. We spend hours in the kitchen preparing meals, or spend a fortune in restaurants trying out new and delicious dishes. We read about how to eat ourselves healthier; how to make our skin brighter and our hair shinier through our diets. The internet is full of advice on how to treat certain ailments with a variety of ingredients, or how to improve athletic performance through what we eat. So why then, with all of these positive associations, is food also so inextricably linked with guilt, shame, obsession and illness?

While I know that my guilty pleasures aren’t as decadent as they might be, calories are calories whether they come encased in an avocado skin or a chocolate bar wrapper. I can’t be alone in feeling guilty for mindlessly chomping through a bag of cashews to get me through an afternoon of editing, for curling up with a hot chocolate before bed rather than a herbal tea, or for sneaking a wholly unnecessary round of toast with nut butter as I laze around with the weekend papers, only to regret these decisions just moments later. As my brain flits from gratification to guilt in the blink of an eye, it brings to mind a book I read about the psychology of eating and how we completely confuse ourselves with such mixed messages of ‘pleasure’ and ‘pain’. How can it be that something which one minute we associate with a pleasurable treat then next fills us with the pain of guilt and anxiety?

More to the point, I worry that it it’s abnormal to get so hung up on food in this way – either as an indulgence or as a deleterious presence – and often wish I could just embrace an indifference to eating: a food equals fuel equation, removing all other associations, pleasurable, painful or otherwise. This, I recently discovered, is exactly what Andrew ‘Spud Fit’ Taylor has done. Andrew has taken dieting to the extreme, removing everything from his plate for an entire year with the exception of one thing: potatoes.

I discovered Andrew’s story in a recent interview on the Rich Roll podcast and it really struck a chord with me. Despite being a vegan, Andrew admitted to spending a lot of his life struggling with his weight and suffering from the all too familiar yo-yoing effect of dieting. He came to realise that all of his attempts to lose weight were actually only touching the surface of a much deeper-rooted issue, a food addiction.

It was only a short while before listening to this episode that I had been discussing a similar topic with a friend and former GP. When we spoke she compared food addiction to drug abuse or alcoholism, but with the added difficulty that with food you can’t go completely cold turkey, or wean yourself off it with the eventual aim of giving it up completely. I remember thinking then how hard it must be to curb an addiction when the source of that addiction is also something that you need to survive.

Andrew’s solution was to research and explore nutritional science more deeply to find the perfect single food source of nutrition that could sustain him for an entire year. The answer? Potatoes. By eating potatoes for every meal he was able to take away all thoughts about food; from the practical thoughts – meal planning, food shopping lists, checking if there is something you can eat at a restaurant before attending etc. – to more detrimental or destructive thoughts – cravings, hankerings, obsessive calorie counting and restrictions.

With food out of the equation his hope was that he could retrain his brain ‘to get comfort, pleasure and emotional support from other areas of life’ and to become ‘less reliant on food and therefore have a better relationship with it’.

While this may sound extreme it was interesting to listen to him talk through this process of unshackling himself from the draw of food. From acting as a crutch when he was down to a source of celebration when he was happy, food had played such a central role in his life and now he had to find something else to fill that space. It certainly made me think about all of those times I turn to a snack because I’m bored, or tired, or over-indulge on treats to celebrate some arbitrary event, or else as a source of comfort if I’m feeling down. While my relationship with food certainly isn’t as extreme as Andrew’s was, there are elements of emotional attachment to what I eat that I would certainly like to sever and Andrew’s story is an inspirational way of showing that this is possible.

I would really recommend listening to the interview and exploring Andrew’s blog.

Until next time, eat mindfully, and perhaps take a moment to reflect on where exactly the void is that you are trying to fill next time you turn to the fridge.

The Minimalists

‘Love people and use things. Because the opposite never works.’

Joshua Fields Millburn

Last weekend, on my Sunday run, I enjoyed listening to an interview with self-proclaimed minimalist, Joshua Fields Millburn, who was speaking on the Rich Roll podcast. Millburn, who along with his fellow minimalist Ryan Nicodemus, has written a number of books on the subject of living with less, has also more recently produced a documentary film, which reflects on his life and lifestyle and on our relationship, as a society, with material things.

What I really like about Millburn’s approach to minimalist living is his openness and his pragmatism. For him it’s not as dogmatic as throwing away all of your possessions, or as extreme as reducing your annual waste to the contents of a mason jar. Rather, he looks at the gradual stripping back and rationalisation of things; a process of simplification, not only of the objects around him, but also of his digital and mental clutter. His approach posits that by simplifying all elements of your life you are able to ascertain greater degree of freedom from these physical trappings and, as such, a greater degree of clarity.

The problem, as Millburn sees it, is not consumption per se, but rather our compulsiveness to always want more. What a minimalist approach to life allowed him to see was that his happiness couldn’t be found in material things and that everything he thought he ever wanted wasn’t actually everything he ever wanted. For him, minimalism was about a process of taking back control of the world around him, of not being told what he should want or how a particular thing should make him feel. And what began as a process of unshackling his relationship to material things culminated in his finding a way of creating more by consuming less and a means of prioritising experience over accumulation.

Millburn’s approach to life really struck a chord with me, not least as while I was listening to him speak I ran past two houseboats on Regent’s Canal which, due to recent bad weather, were sinking into the murky waters below, taking with them all of the material possessions of two families. Sobering indeed.

In fact minimalism has appealed to me ever since childhood, when an irrational fear of losing all of my toys in house fire (a fear which, I may add, had no basis in any real event) led me to take many of my possessions to a charity shop, a decision based on the premise that you can’t be sad to lose the things that you don’t have. This detachment from things was joined, in later years, by a love of neatness and general order, creating the perfect storm for discarding and de-cluttering.

While I’d be anxious to call myself a minimalist in the purest sense (not least as I do have my fair share of things and, in a shared living space, I’ve learned that it’s not quite as acceptable to just throw items away as when you live alone), I am quite selective about the things that I take into my life. I like to audit my books, clothes, shoes, paperwork and general bits and bobs on a regular basis, finding something very therapeutic about throwing things away or giving them to charity. I try to operate on a ‘one in one out’ basis, something which my husband finds slightly severe and difficult to understand. When I do buy new things it is often after much agonising, although I do then find that I keep hold of them until they fall apart or, as is more often the case, until they find themselves being held together with safety pins and I’m shamed into throwing them away. It’s not that I don’t like new things, or stuff in general, it’s just that too much of it, its disorder, or its redundancy makes me anxious and uncomfortable.

With Black Friday today and Christmas on the approach and with the prospect of an influx of stuff on my mind I’ve begun with a whole new round of ‘rationalisation’ and am trying to encourage my husband to do the same. At a time we all seem to fixate on things, I’m trying instead to organise spending some time with the people I love and whose company enrich my life more than any object ever could.

If you have time to listen to the podcast or to watch the documentary these can be found here and here, but if not, perhaps just take a step back away from the material world to reflect on the virtues of focusing on life’s most important things—which actually, aren’t really things at all.

Namaste.