Brain Food Column Month Nine: Set the agenda

Every month Amerley Ollennu challenges you and herself to road-test research and healthy strategies to help change the way we think about food once and for all


Brain Food Column Month Nine: Set the agenda

Why is it that I’ll drag myself out after work when I’d rather go home, just so I don’t disappoint someone, yet constantly let myself down? It could be anything from deciding to start a healthy regime and failing, to allowing the wrong people into my life. I started to ask, have I more respect for others than I have for myself?

Lifecoach and doctor Barbara Mariposa says: ‘It’s a self-perpetuated vicious circle. If you always did what you said you would, you’d start to feel wholesome and healthy instead of guilty and shameful. There’s an element to not holding yourself accountable that’s all about the deep-seated belief that you’re not OK.’

The challenge

So in a bid to finally start doing what I say I will, I’ve challenged myself to be more accountable to myself. While writing this column, there have been times when I’ve emotionally eaten or given in to temptation, or skipped the gym in favour of seeing a friend (I’m only human!), then come up with a whole load of excuses to explain my hiccup away. By letting myself off the hook, I’ve been doing myself an injustice – after the excuses have rolled off my tongue, I start to feel the shame and guilt that are associated with comfort eating and ‘failure’.

The experience

Mariposa suggested I write down the things I’ve decided to do in my daily agenda. That way it’s like I’ve booked it in with myself, and just as I wouldn’t cancel on someone last minute, I shouldn’t cancel on myself either. I began by writing down what I planned to eat each day, as well as what time I’d go to the gym. I found it a challenge. What if I didn’t fancy the meal I said I’d eat for dinner when it got to dinner time? Or what if I really don’t have the energy to go to the gym because I’ve had a stressful day at work? ‘Stop being a puppet on a string. Don’t be governed by your thoughts and feelings, but let your authentic self take the lead,’ says Mariposa.

The result

This was one of the hardest challenges yet. I allow my emotions to run the show when it comes to the way I live. To take a step back from them and keep telling myself that I’m not my thoughts and feelings means unlearning a habit of a lifetime. I didn’t ignore my feelings when they arose, but instead went on autopilot, and followed my schedule while I worked through them. I tried not to allow my course to be altered by the sudden change in emotion and the one time I did, Mariposa encouraged me not to beat myself up about it, but not make excuses either.

There was one profound breakthrough – I realised I was buying into the negative self-bashing that came from failing to eat in a healthy way. I had to admit I didn’t truly love myself, and the times where I hadn’t eaten for comfort when issues arose, were when I felt loved by others (because this allowed me to love myself). Mariposa’s insight into the investment I had in letting myself down to provide evidence for the misplaced belief that there is something wrong with me, allowed me to start holding myself accountable and to realise I’m not the person I keep telling myself I am. 

Amerley Ollennu is Beauty and Wellbeing Editor. Find her on Twitter @AmerleyO