Well-practised in fad diets and uninspiring exercise, Michelle Sokolich recently turned 40 and was ready for a fresh approach to health and wellbeing. A discovery online provided food for thought that could be life-changing for us all.
I’m sweaty-palmed, knock-kneed and so nervous I can feel the butterflies doing loop de loops in my stomach. The lights go off and we’re plunged into complete darkness. I can hear nervous giggles all around me. Suddenly the Eurythmics' ‘Sweet Dreams’ is blaring out and the crowd goes WILD!
I start dancing and cheering and all inhibitions are thrown to the wind – or rather, the sweaty damp air – as everyone around me dances up a storm, song after song after song. Well, I assume they were, it’s not like I could see them.
As we’re filing out at the end, my friend and I grin at each other – that was ridiculously fun! And exactly why I was at No Lights No Lycra, a locally organised chapter of an international dance trend. All in the pursuit of fun.
But let’s rewind a little to the beginning. My lifelong love/ hate relationship with food and dieting had finally led me to Sarah Jenks. After years of Atkins and aerobics, I’d recently turned 40 and come to the conclusion that diets didn’t work.
I was tentatively discovering a new world of listening to my body, so when I stumbled across Sarah’s Live More Weigh Less programme, I felt like I had finally found something that actually made a lot of sense.
The philosophy is simple – don’t hold off buying new clothes, wearing lipstick, or booking that holiday till you’ve lost weight. Do all that stuff NOW! It feels counter-intuitive, but if you stop focussing on the weight and start living your life, you know what tends to happen? You lose weight! Even crazier than that, you don’t care as much about the weight any more because you’re too busy living your awesome life. As Sarah so eloquently puts it: “You are robbing the world of your beauty and excellence if you keep waiting for your life to begin when you’re thin”.
No more restriction, I could eat what I wanted to, have a blast and lose weight? I won’t lie, I was sceptical. But I knew it made sense. The hardest part was trusting the process and letting go.
Sarah Jenk’s six-week online course is made up of six modules: Fun, Food, Love, Body, Career and Spirituality. The idea is when one or more of these areas are out of balance, we usually use food to fill the hole.
As Sarah says, “Fun is a lost art for adult women. Stress is a natural state these days which, in turn, triggers our fight or flight response, shutting down our digestion and metabolism”. When we’re stressed and not having fun we look for the cheapest, quickest jolt of excitement we can get our hands on – and that’s food.
“Sugar, salt and alcohol entertain us for a short time but they don’t satisfy what we’re really craving. The food is medicating our extreme deprivation of fun and playfulness” says Sarah.
As a fun-loving girl, I feel like I’m nailing this area of my life but I quickly realise that I’m not prioritising fun every single day. So using Sarah’s prompts for inspiration I form my fun-list: baths, reading novels, dancing, fresh flowers and time with friends. My first instinct is to say I don’t have time to fi this into my busy life, but with Sarah’s help, I see that I actually can find five minutes each day. That’s literally all it takes. So I try out No Lights No Lycra, take my wireless speaker into the bathroom so I can sing while I wash my hair, and I pick up a book when the kids are in bed instead of mindlessly watching bad television I’m not even interested in... And I Love. Every. Second. I’m worried fun will eventually slip down in priority again so I've put my list on the wall where I’ll see it every day.
"The food module", says Sarah, “is everything that really helped me heal my own relationship with food”. And then she tells me something I don’t want to hear.
“The most important thing you have to do 100% of the time is to eat without distractions. No eating while texting, reading, working, or Facebooking.” My defences go up immediately.
I’m a multi-tasker – I’m too busy to sit and eat my food slowly!
The other really important thing is to eat only when you’re actually hungry. “This is the single most powerful thing you can do for your happiness, stress levels and your weight.
If you listen to your body, this amazing signal called hunger is your body telling you it’s ready to burn calories” says Sarah. If you eat when not hungry, food will just sit in your stomach and get turned into fat. “Most weight-loss programmes only focus on what to eat. You could have the healthiest diet in the world, but if you’re not eating mindfully, it is a total waste of time”, Sarah concludes.
I was expecting the Love module to be just romantic love, but it’s all about creating meaningful and fulfilling relationships with your parents, partner and friends. According to Sarah, “Your relationship with your parents is the foundation to all of the relationships in your life. No matter how old you are, understanding and healing our relationship with our parents is critical to us having emotional freedom with our lives”.
There’s a lot of great advice for all the single ladies in this module too, but one thing that really fascinated me was the concept of polarity in romantic relationships. “If you want that feeling of wanting to rip your partner’s clothes off, you have to work on your polarity”, Sarah says. “This is the magnetism between opposing forces of masculine and feminine energy.”
Masculine energy is directive and goal oriented, with work being the priority. Feminine essence longs to be loved and to be deeply intimate. It wants to be nurtured and taken care of.
Feminine energy can also be wild and cyclical, like a raging ocean. Sarah explains “We all have both in us, and sometimes the masculine can take over, especially for very driven women. Coming back into your feminine energy in your relationship will really help your polarity”.
Now this is not to be confused with a 1950s' relationship where the woman is really subservient and dependent on her man. It’s more about a woman knowing she can support herself and be confident in her own independence, but deciding to step into her femininity and let her partner lead and take care of her so that there’s a real give and take there; a polarity.
Being in nature, pleasure and loving your body are all things that will help you get more into your feminine essence. Sarah has a lot of practical tips on what that looks like in real life and there’s much more to be said on this topic than I have room for here – but this was definitely an eye-opener for me, and something worth delving deeper into.
Forget diets that often don’t work long-term. The Body module teaches us that eating should be about trust. We trust our bodies to breathe and pump our blood – so why do we not trust them when it comes to food?
I can totally relate, but how do I change habits that have been formed over a lifetime? “If your tummy is rumbling, just really listen to figure it out” says Sarah. “Ask, 'Do I want something hot or cold, creamy or crunchy, salty or sweet?'
Your body will have specific cravings based on the nutrients and energy it needs. Connect with what you’re craving and explore some healthy food options to satisfy it.”
I can think of many a time when I’ve been craving a pizza or burger and eaten a salad instead. But because it wasn’t what I really wanted, I ate way too much salad, and then binged on pizza a few days later because I felt deprived. Sarah’s advice is to enjoy a whole-food, healthy version of what you were craving in the first place. If you still go for the processed quick fix, be sure to eat it slowly and mindfully, listening to your body.
Another important part of this is repairing the damage from years of hating your body and beating yourself up about it. As Sarah says: “Hating your body is not motivating. You need to love it first so that you want to eat well and exercise”.
Now for the Holy Grail – how can you become one of those people who just loves to work out? Sarah’s advice is to ask yourself how you could move your body in a way that makes you feel good in the moment. This is not about exercising solely because you want to lose weight. “I used to go to a personal trainer” says Sarah. “I hated it but I thought I could suffer through it if it meant I would be skinny in a few months. But it brought me so little pleasure. I felt like I needed a chocolate croissant after every workout and I actually gained weight.” Instead she tuned in to how she wanted to feel when working out. “I wanted to have fun, feel free, sexy and strong. I started going to dance class and I loved it."
This really resonated with me and I made some changes to my morning run. I let myself walk on the days I felt a bit flat instead of pushing myself through it. I created a Spotify playlist that I loved so much I had to refrain from singing and dancing through the streets. But, most importantly, I started appreciating the time I had to myself on my morning outings; the beautiful sunrise, the birds chirping, and no children demanding things of me. Bliss!
Believe it or not, I actually really look forward to it now.
The Career module has some great advice on how to find a job you love, but what really struck me is Sarah’s advice on loving the job you have, which may well be full-time motherhood.
“A lot of us feel like life is happening to us and we get stuck in victim mode, thinking things like ‘I always get overlooked for promotion’. The reality is that you do have a choice” says Sarah. “Our choices have consequences, but we still have a choice.” So it’s all in the reframing. “You can say ‘I choose not to ask for a promotion’ and this is what will give you the energy to change. You become empowered and more excited about your current reality and start to see options more clearly.”
The Spirituality module is the one I was most nervous about, but it promises to teach you how to meditate, manifest and intuit without feeling like a woo-woo weirdo. Sarah says “Spirituality is one of the most incredible tools for healing emotional eating”.
It’s really important to note Sarah’s differentiation between spirituality and religion. “For some of us”, she says, “religion helps us feel spiritually connected, but it’s not the only way. What’s important are the feelings spirituality brings to you”.
There are many ideas and tools in this module, but I really loved learning about connecting with my intuition. “We’ve spent most of our lives being disconnected from our bodies and we’re completely cutting off our intuition” says Sarah. Spending more time in nature and having quiet times really help develop this. As an extreme extrovert, I usually feel no need for silence or time to myself, but it’s made me realise how important this is.
Sarah has a great exercise you can do any time you want to get a gut reaction from your body – you can use it for anything from a major life decision to what to eat for lunch! “I like to take my consciousness like an elevator from my mind to my gut. Put a hand on your belly and look for either a slight expansion or contraction. There’s so much wisdom in our bodies. I don’t want you to think about it, I want you to just feel."
At the end of six weeks, I feel I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster, but in the best possible way – it’s no magic bullet. There’s been a lot of facing reality and processing.
Am I putting everything I’ve learned into practice? Not yet. But I’m changing a lifetime of bad habits so I’m not pressuring myself. Have I lost weight? I couldn’t tell you as I got rid of my scales at the start of the programme. Do I care? Actually, I don’t, and I honestly never thought I’d say that. My life is fuller – there’s more fun, peace and love (for myself) than I’ve ever had before.
Healing from emotional eating doesn’t mean never doing it again. “I’ll be honest with you” says Sarah, “this is stuff that still comes up in my life. I still have moments I want to binge on ice cream, but the difference is I don’t always eat the ice cream any more, because I know it’s just my body’s beautiful way of saying ‘Hey Sarah, you need to take a break and slow down. What’s out of balance here?’”. And that’s something we could all do with asking ourselves, every single day.
Auckland mum Michelle Sokolich is kept busy with her three young daughters and her own business, lovethelittlethings.com.