Niamh’s experience of Appetite Retraining, in her own words
I recently emailed everyone who has done my online Appetite Retraining course to ask how they were getting on, and had a reply from Niamh which opened with the words, “What can I say? You’ve literally changed my life this year!”
She went on to explain the transformation in her relationship with food, detailing some of the “dietary tweakments” (her words – fabulous!) she had made. This blog is longer than usual, but I wanted to share her story as she told it, as so much of it might resonate with you.
Niamh read my book and a light-bulb went on
“Until I discovered Dr Helen’s book “How to Retrain Your Appetite”, it’s fair to say I’d spent most of my 51 years fit but overweight. I was overweight right from being a baby to becoming an adult. My weight was something I thought about literally all the time; it was a huge source of anxiety and pain.
Staunchly diet-resistant (it never made sense to me to do something that couldn’t be maintained long-term), I scoffed inwardly at friends on weird, unappetising diets and instead used long-distance running to avoid becoming enormous. But nevertheless I enjoyed a pretty unhealthy relationship with food.
A conflicted relationship with food
I love food, and always have, but I have considered myself someone with a massive appetite. Plus I will eat just about anything and don’t seem to have an off switch.
Food was reward for a hard day in the office, for getting through the week, for conflict with a colleague, for family dramas. Food was a quid pro quo reward for running a long way, a zero-sum game of miles run = consumable calories.
I kidded myself that because my meals were relatively healthy, that would compensate for all the biscuits, chocolate and family bags of crisps either side of mealtimes. Sometimes I would do it out of stress, but often it would simply be done in a tired, unthinking way.
The initial light-bulb moment
The first time I read the book, it was like a light-bulb moment. It made so much sense. I was really able to see the root of my eating issues for what they were – psychological rather than physical. But also to see myself within a wider context – an often highly unethical food industry and living in an age with food that literally didn’t exist forty, fifty years ago.
The light bulb went off again
Nevertheless, after the initial euphoria and temporary changes, eventually I returned to my bad habits and the book began to gather dust on the shelf. It wasn’t until January 2023 when I hit rock bottom that I was ready to pick it up again.
Niamh’s lowest point
I can remember the moment clearly – it was a Monday evening. I’d been out at work all day and had returned and had served healthy, home-made soup for the family. But because it was “soup” and therefore I might die of starvation later that evening(!), I’d added huge amounts of bread and cheese, and afterwards I started on the chocolate biscuits and then the dark chocolate. Eventually I hauled myself onto the sofa, almost catatonic. I honestly felt ill enough to die. My heart was racing, my stomach looked like it was in the third trimester and I was filled with all this energy I didn’t need and couldn’t use.
Doing the Appetite Retraining course
In desperation, I reached for the book and forced myself to read it again – slowly. Not in a box-ticking kind of way, but really slowly. I also saw that Dr Helen was running an online course. I had considered expensive counselling at this stage – honestly I thought I was “unfixable” and was ready to throw any money I could at expensive one-on-one counselling but I decided that before doing so, as a second-last resort, I would give the course a go.
Fast forward six months and I have gained control and lost 8lb, which is perfect for me and I don’t need any individual counselling. There is more to do but I am happy to get to my destination as slowly as it takes and I feel comfortable with. My clothes are loose and I can wear a bikini and feel good. I am enjoying running more without carrying those extra pounds around with me.
But even more importantly, I have completely reset my relationship with food. In the process I have got to know my body properly for the first time. The book was the start of a long journey of education – and the best part is that because it’s not a diet, there is nothing to fail at.
The changes Niamh made
- I have let go of the fear of mild hunger (though my blood sugar is now so stable that I have much less of an appetite than I used to). When I feel the mild hunger pangs, I think “oh it’s stomach-housekeeping o’clock!”
- I really try to only put real food into my body. Ultra-processed chemical compounds are out. These faux-food chemical compounds just don’t fill us up, however much or many we eat. No one ate this stuff fifty years ago. Once I really thought about it, I began to look at “food” differently. I eat healthily. It’s as simple as that.
- I have smaller portion sizes and no seconds. Previously I was eating the same as my husband and two sons who are all half a foot taller than me!
- I eat within a 10-hour window.
- Every meal is delicious. I plan absolutely delicious meals that the whole family loves and I look forward to them. I ensure we get a good mix of vegetables, lean meat, fish especially oily fish & seafood, fruit, nuts, seeds, pulses, herbs and spices. There are no diet foods in the house – in fact I have even thrown away the Stevia. We eat a lot of Mediterranean and Asian dishes. We also eat cheap, hearty, spicy soups. I have never enjoyed food more in my life.
- I don’t eat anything after meals ie no dessert. That particular habit took at least four months to break….it was really hard. But, per Dr Helen, I knew that willpower is often lowest in the evenings and at some point it would get easier.
A different way of seeing herself
Knowing I will never again feel like that night back in January is really liberating.
I realised I’m not alone having issues around eating
The key to success for me has been education, and realising that I’m not alone was heart-warming.
For the first time I felt less lonely with the issues with food I’ve had all my life. Dr Helen’s course gave me permission to forgive and be kind to myself, to stop the judgement and self-recriminations whilst working through these deep-rooted issues.
A different relationship with food
Thank you Dr Helen, I am now on a different path. I’ve never felt this good in my whole life. When I eat good food, my body and blood sugar just feel right.
I feel like we have a dialogue going, me and my body.
It’s not easy, but if you are determined enough, bad habits can be turned into good ones. I am now able to get on with my life without stressing about my weight.
A different attitude to fast food
A final note: my sons asked me to take them to McDonald’s recently. They each had large meals and I had a cup of tea. To me, what they were eating just isn’t food and I couldn’t eat it. I also knew that it would not stop me from feeling hungry for long, which is something you need to think about with appetite retraining.
Shortly after, they both said how dreadful they felt. We went home and they were hungry an hour later and ate a normal dinner. We talked about all the above, and my journey and how amazing we feel when we’ve eaten food that is good for us. I don’t think we’ll be back there for a long time”.
That’s Niamh’s story in her own words
It’s important to be clear that where Niamh is talking about nutrition, she didn’t learn that from me – I’m a Psychologist and my expertise is in the psychology of eating, appetite and weight loss.
My stand-out points from Niamh’s story
When I first read Niamh’s email I was deeply moved. It is a joy and a privilege to be working on something that can create such positive ripples in the world. What I have done in creating Appetite Retraining is to bring together what I have learned about helping people make real changes to how they think, feel and act through my career in Clinical Psychology, and to combine that with some of the amazing work done by academic colleagues working on the psychology of eating, appetite and weight management.
What struck me particularly in Niamh’s story are these gems:
I feel like we have a dialogue going, me and my body
When I feel the mild hunger pangs, I think “oh it’s stomach-housekeeping o’clock!”
I have never enjoyed food more in my life
I am now on a different path. I’ve never felt this good in my whole life
This is how it should be – connecting with your body, listening to what it’s telling you and bringing joy back into eating.
We are all unique
It is really important for me to say that Appetite Retraining won’t work for everyone. If you are interested in the approach but not sure if it would be helpful to you, I’d suggest starting by reading through the blog articles on my website.
That costs nothing and will give you a flavour of taking this psychologically informed approach to changing how you eat.
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The book: How to Retrain Your Appetite: Lose weight eating all your favourite foods
Photo by Conscious Design by Unsplash