What is Food?

I learned to cook when I was too short to reach the stove top. I had to stand on a stool to help Mum and before I knew it was making dinner for the family once in a while. So I’ve been fascinated with food for a long time.

This fascination has been there with me through everything I’ve done in my life. My interest in sustainability and the environment stems from wanting to know more about where food comes from. I’ve worked in agricultural science for nearly 10 years now because I’ve been following that curiosity. When I graduated from high school I very nearly decided to become a chef. I love cooking for my friends and family and having people gather around food. Then there’s the more recent connection between food and health that has brought me here, aiming to help people improve their experience in life through the lens of food.

I’m pretty new to coaching. I’m still establishing why I’m here and how I want to do things. Up until this week I would have described what I do as:

Help you improve your experience in life through a lens of food.

But... As I talk to more people about food, I'm starting to see that what I do is more about aligning the way you eat with the story you want to tell in life.

A client recently described me as her counsellor for her relationship with food. I’m not a trained counsellor, but I thought it was very perceptive about my approach to food and coaching. It all starts with how I define the word food.

What is food?

Food is what we eat. Food is a tool. Food is fuel. Food is life.

There are a lot of definitions of what food is. It’s pretty broad because it comes down to anything we eat is food. But the way you define something and the words you use create a story around it that effects what that thing is to you and your relationship with it.

I see food as information. A communication. A script or a story. Food delivers messages to our bodies about which hormones to switch on or off, which proteins to express, and what to do.

Sure, food contains energy (‘food is fuel’), but it also contains lots of other things that have nothing to do with energy but are critically important to a functioning human. Micronutrients, phytochemicals, zoochemicals and mycochemicals are just some of the other things in food. When you’re missing key vitamins and minerals, your body doesn’t work properly. And you feel crap and get sick. It doesn’t matter how much ‘fuel’ you’ve eaten when your body isn’t working properly.

Living organisms are not machines. They’re super complicated, self regulating, dynamic, close-to-magic, unbelievably efficient, antifragile systems. The food you eat is a way of communicating with that system.

Your thoughts, feelings and environment can also affect the processes. If you smell your favourite meal, or have positive or negative thoughts about food (or anything else), are happy and relaxed, or worried and rushing it effects the system too.

Food is a communication. It’s a story. It’s part of who you are as a person.

Disconnection from this story is a common theme I see in coaching. Whether it’s someone who is struggling to manage their weight because they can’t tell when they’re full, or an athlete who is so used to counting calories that they can’t tell when they’re full without knowing how many calories they’ve eaten. In both situations, communication has broken down.

In both cases, it’s time to figure out what food means to that person. It’s time to figure out what the story is, what information is being passed on, and understand the food story being told.

You can do this now by taking a few minutes to consider this question:

What is food? For you?

Is it information? Is it personal freedom? Is it about making environmentally sound choices? Is it reducing animal cruelty? Is it self-esteem? Maybe it’s shame?

Okay. Now consider this. What would you like food to be? Let me know in the comments.

Think as big as possible. This is a story that shapes your daily life, your health, and how you move. You have the power to change this story and food can help you to give your body the information it needs.

People come to me with goals like lose weight, feeling better, improving performance, adding muscle, getting stronger, or looking better. All of these are common stories people have about food.

I help you figure out what your food story is, what it could be, and how you can get there.

In other news, this week I started the Precision Nutrition Level 2 certification. It’s going to consolidate my experience so far coaching and help me be a better coach. I’m really excited about what my year in the program will bring.

What are you Hiding from Yourself?

Very early in 2018 I had a super weird realisation: I’m a details person. I delight in details. I get sucked into and lost in details.

Time and time again in 2017 I noticed people saying things to me like “thanks for all the detail you put into this” or “you spent way too long on this, it’s only a small detail for this report!” or “you’re a great [physiotherapy] client because you’re always asking so many questions and pay attention to all the details” . I kept putting it out of my mind, but I could feel a little pull that there was something important here. It took me almost all year, but eventually the common theme got through to me: on things that matter to me, I go into lots of detail.

This was a mind blown moment for me. For some reason I’ve always thought of myself as a big picture person who stayed up in the clouds and didn’t like detail. When I heard descriptions of ‘dreamers’ and ‘details’ people, I always identified so much more with the ‘dreamers’. I think part of it is also that somewhere deep inside, I feel that it’s somehow ‘better’ to be a dreamer than a details person so I willed myself to be a ‘dreamer’ so I could be better. Pretty dumb right? Talk about a [story I’ve built my identity on].

I asked a few of my close friends about this and they were all surprised I didn’t realise I was a details person. They told me that the difference with me and a ‘classic details person’ is that I tended to start big picture, then sink right down into the detail to get something done. Apparently other ‘details people’ always start in the detail and have trouble ever coming up to big picture.

All of a sudden I’m free of this story. I’m not a dreamer. I am capable of getting into details (so capable that I do it all the time without even meaning to!) I’m not just a slow worker - I’m getting bogged down in detail. Now that I realise that’s what’s happening, I’m able to catch myself much sooner than before. I’m able to use my details-power for good! It’s very exciting and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do with this new knowledge.

All this got me thinking. What long-held truths about you aren’t true? Is there anything pulling at your awareness right now that might change your story of who you are?

Question your Needs to Set New Direction this Year

Seth Godin’s blog grabbed my attention again:

Once our needs our met, our instinct is to invent new ones, to find a fuel to continually move things forward, to bring that propulsive energy back.

I couldn’t help myself - one mention of ‘needs’ and I went way off from what Seth’s post was about. I thought about this compulsion humans have, to continually move things forward, and how our needs affect the direction we move.

This is why it’s important to break down your needs sometimes. Do you need everything you think you need? Have you tried fasting once in a while - you’ll find it hard, but I bet you’ll also find that you don’t need all that food all the time. You’ll find that it’s alright to be a little hungry sometimes and maybe you’ll enjoy your food more.

Further to this, what if you could get that propulsive energy back in your life that easily? What if you could question and strip back some of the things you need to find fuel in the things you already have access to?

The Enemy of Creativity is Comparison


I got a Panobook from Studio Neat today. It’s really nice. The cover is lovely, and the paper itself is beautiful to write on (and I’m only using a bic!).

Do you ever feel bad writing in new notebooks? Like whatever crap your writing or drawing isn’t as nice as the notebook deserves or something? I do. The Panobook has lovely paper and such attention to detail that I felt bad writing in for the first time.

I learned from Merlin Mann that the way around this is to break the spell straight away. Draw something stupid on the first page. Scribble on it. Write a dumb quote. Put a sticker in there. Shit. Someone has to do it. Once you realise that the notebook is just there for you to fill up in whatever way you want, there’s nothing left but to fill it up! Create in it. Draw. Write. Make Things. No-one will laugh at you here in this notebook.

And even if they did somehow find the notebook, look at it, and for some reason laugh at you, it’s because they’re not creating. It doesn’t mean you should turn off your creative tap. It doesn’t mean you should stop creating.

Creativity is how you figure stuff out. It’s how you learn about yourself. Fuck, it’s how you get in touch of who you are. It’s play. It’s human.

It starts with the first page. And Don’t Fucking Stop. I get it. You’ve heard this before. And you can’t draw anyway. Well fuck. If you really can’t draw then that’s something you can learn to do in this notebook.

The enemy of creativity is comparison.

I’m sure I heard that somewhere but I can’t remember where. A few months ago I would’ve let that stop me writing because I wanted to be scientific and cite my sources always. That’s a fair point - people should get credit if they want it. But creativity is also taking what you see around you and bringing a part of yourself to it. I’m not saying you should steal. I am saying don’t fucking let details like that get in the way of you tapping into your creative stream.

I wrote about making something instead of consuming something next time you and try to relax. Did you try that? What did you make?

Once you besmirch the first page of your notebook and keep creating, the next step is realising that’s the whole point. It’s about attitude. In this culture where work is the primarily valued thing, it can be easy to measure the value of your play and creativity in terms of money. Imagine for a second that the value in whatever you’re creating in this notebook (or whatever you’re doing!) is just as important as the work you do. Hopefully you don’t need much imagination because if it feels good to you and you get something out of it, it has value.

So. Go dirty the first page of your notebook in whatever way you want. Hell, you can just tear it out if you want. Creativity is valuable in all its forms. Don’t let comparison in any form get in your way.

Images on this post are from Studio Neat

On Grieving, Festivals, and Fasting

An Aside

The last 18 months or so has been particularly challenging. Things are different now and they’ll never be the same again. I’m okay, change isn't all bad but I’m grieving for the loss. I’m being cryptic about what exactly I’m talking about here because I’m simultaneously embarrassed about the triviality of my problems and learning to accept that they have been serious problems for me. I’m not embarrassed to say that I’ve sought quite a lot of help from friends, family, and medical professionals. It has meant the world to me and I thank each and every one of them for what they’ve done.

While this is still going on, I’m not ready to talk openly about it. But I do intend to share later - I think my experiences can help you. As for right now, I want to talk to you about some of the philosophy that is helping me. Seneca[1] and stoic philosophy might help you too.

Seneca’s letter on Grief and the Key to Resilience in the Face of Loss

This post was prompted when I received the excellent Brain Pickings newsletter that included a write up of Seneca’s letter to his mother on Grief and the Key to Resilience in the Face of Loss. Most striking to me was this section on taking things for granted:

No man has been shattered by the blows of Fortune unless he was first deceived by her favours. Those who loved her gifts as if they were their own for ever, who wanted to be admired on account of them, are laid low and grieve when the false and transient pleasures desert their vain and childish minds, ignorant of every stable pleasure. But the man who is not puffed up in good times does not collapse either when they change. His fortitude is already tested and he maintains a mind unconquered in the face of either condition: for in the midst of prosperity he has tried his own strength against adversity.

This is not a call to simply expect the worst all the time and remain cynical about all good times; but rather a call to use fortunate times to prepare oneself for bad times. Enjoy the good times, but do not take them for granted as though they will last forever. This will not only let you enjoy the good times more thoroughly, but also prepare you for when they may pass.

Seneca’s Moral Letters to Lucilius - On Festivals and Fasting

In another of his letters (to Lucilius), Seneca touches on this same idea.

Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?” It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress, and it is while Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against her violence.

I read this passage for the first time about two years ago. As it turns out, I’ve had quite a few days in the past 18 months where I have asked myself “is this the condition that I feared?” Even though I was not purposefully putting myself through hardship as Seneca is suggesting to Lucilius, this question was still helpful to step outside my experience, even for a moment so I could observe it for what it was. Seneca is saying that one should practice this skill so that it comes more easily in times of hardship.

Ride the Wave of your Experiences

Seneca’s letter to his mother on grief recommends that it is better to ride the wave of our experiences rather than avoid them:

It is better to conquer our grief than to deceive it. For if it has withdrawn, being merely beguiled by pleasures and preoccupations, it starts up again and from its very respite gains force to savage us. But the grief that has been conquered by reason is calmed for ever. I am not therefore going to prescribe for you those remedies which I know many people have used, that you divert or cheer yourself by a long or pleasant journey abroad, or spend a lot of time carefully going through your accounts and administering your estate, or constantly be involved in some new activity. All those things help only for a short time; they do not cure grief but hinder it. But I would rather end it than distract it.

This applies for many emotional experiences. Anxiety about emotions can rise rapidly and avoiding them feels good in the moment. In this way, we are rewarded each time we avoid, further reinforcing that behaviour. But the problem is, it doesn’t deal with the emotions that are troubling us. If anything, avoiding the emotions can make them larger and harder to tackle.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done. I’m bad at this. But I try to use Seneca’s question to pull myself out of the experience so I can observe it: “is this the condition that I feared?”

If you’d like to hear more, you can sign up below. When I’m ready, I’ll send you the whole story.

Image: morhamedufmg

Dialling Down and Habits

In the last month I’ve noticed a few people I follow on the internet choosing to dial back their information intake. Most notably CGP Grey wrote an article called Dialling Down in which he described the creeping sense of overwhelm he was feeling in his life despite doing less ‘work’ than before.

I’m not sure why Grey’s article particularly spoke to me, but I suspect that it’s because I’m feeling similar to him despite a massive decrease in the ‘work’ I’m doing in the last few months. On reading his post, I found myself nodding to his description of the creeping Internet:

For lack of a better term, I’ll call it 'The Internet' but it's a broader than that: it’s the rise of all the digital vectors of information delivery pointed at me.

Daily Habits Make up life

Whether we notice it or not, every day all of us are building our lives by the habits we keep. They can be good habits like drinking water or exercising; or bad habits like smoking. That said, I don’t think it’s necessarily useful to think about habits as good or bad, they’re just habits. It’s what they add up to after weeks, months, or years of repetition that makes them good or bad. It’s whether they allow us to progress towards our goals.

I paused and listened and found another kind of background noise in my brain that had been increasing, ever so slowly, since I became self-employed a few years ago.

I think that the background noise Grey describes is the representation of habits he formed. I think this because I have formed very similar habits. I found myself spending my days listening to podcasts and not doing much else. I stopped being able to find time to write on my blog, think, read, and create. Through the power of the habit I had formed that was ‘listen to podcasts in every bit of downtime I have’ I had vanquished boredom in my life. At the same time, my mind slowly lost the capacity to create in the way that it had before.

Forming Habits

Forming habits is both hard work and incredibly easy. We can form a new habit through simple neglect. For example, after a week of coming home from work very tired and watching television, one might seed the beginnings of a ‘watch TV straight after work’ habit. However, when one wants to form a new habit often there are a few things in the way:

  1. Old habit
    • sleeping in vs exercise in the mornings. When faced with the choice to get up or not each morning, the old habit of staying in bed is really hard to break.
  2. Building momentum in the new habit
    • habits need to gain momentum to stick. It depends on what it is, but generally it takes around a month to build momentum.
  3. Seemingly unrelated habits
    • trying to do more exercise? Finding that you just don’t have enough energy to do it? It could be that while you are changing from the habit of being inactive to being active, your eating habits aren’t giving you the energy you need.
  4. No clarity around your reason to develop a new habit
    • This is a huge one. If you aren’t clear on why you’re trying to do this, you won’t be able to stick to it.

So often when we are trying to develop new habits, we’re doing it because it seems like it might be a good idea or that we see that it’s working for someone else. The fact is, if you aren’t really clear on why you’re doing it, and what you hope to gain from it, when things get difficult you won’t be able to stick to your new habit. Most of the time people do things because they want to feel something. For example, you want to feel good when you look in the mirror. If you can focus on how you want to feel and develop your habits to get you to that feeling, you should be able to stick to it.

Dialling Down

That brings me back to Grey and dialling down. I’ve made a conscious choice in the last week to try to change the ‘distract myself all the time with podcasts/internet’ habit I had formed. I’m not going as full on as Grey - I still subscribe to all the same podcasts, and I will still read my RSS feeds. I’m just making some changes to the routine that I found myself in that will allow far less time for those things. The new routine will also put the time for those things at times where they won’t creep into my day and distract me from what I really want to be doing that day. I’ve tried to list how I’m dealing with the forces that will try to stop me from building this new habit.

  1. The old habit: I believe the old habit in this case isn’t so much the podcasts or RSS itself, but the unstructured way in which I allowed those things into my life. Therefore the old habit is ‘a lack of structure’ whilst the new habit is structure.
  2. Building Momentum: Since it’s December and things tend to get very hectic in this month with family commitments, I think this will be the most difficult problem I face. It’s not what we do on sunny days that defines us, but what we do when things are hard.
  3. Seemingly unrelated habits: I think that a lack of structure in other parts of my day has contributed to these issues. I’m trying to ensure that I understand what I’m doing in other parts of my day, and being more aware of when I lose focus. That way when I fall of the wagon I have also built a habit to be able to catch myself and get back to work/creating.
  4. No clarity on the reason for the new habit: I want to build this new habit to give myself more time for meaningful creative work. I want to do more meaningful creative work because I want to feel accomplished and proud in my days and weeks for things that I have created.

Wish me luck in my new habits!