February 4, 2019by Gavin Reynoldson0

My work means I meet people constantly. While they all come with different needs and nutritional concerns; from performance outcomes to food anxiety, fundamentally they are all looking for that golden nugget, that something that is going to make them feel “complete”.

Indeed, none of us are immune, talking to my close friends, it does feel like so many of us are just trying to “make sense” of what life is and should be. However, in the case of many that I work with, this pursuit for “constant happiness/success/completeness” often results in extreme behaviours, which can result in short and long term health problems.


Its important to remember that the mind and body are not separate entities; making a change at one level can have severe implications and consequences at another point within the body.

Let’s take the example of restrictive eating. It usually starts with the individual believing that changing their nutritional intake; going gluten free will improve their overall health and energy levels. This in turn will make them happier and more accepted. However, when this change doesn’t provide the response they were hoping for, they may remove a further food group. Over time their diet and energy intake becomes so restrictive, it leads to biochemical and hormonal irregularities, resulting in depression, anxiety and bone health problems. Similarly, many of us turn to exercise to help with stress and improve general health parameters; while we know exercise is good for us, there is a dose related response. So if we take it to an extreme, it can become obsessional, leaving the individual feeling more anxious when life or circumstances means they are unable to train.


Where does this all come from? Why the constant need and search for “perfect”? It does feel that we are a society that defines individuals by external validation. We are only deemed successful if we have “achieved”. The constant pressure to live by ideals, from what we look like, to what we eat, even to what the interior of our home looks like. It feels like we live in a constant state of judgment. For those of us who are vulnerable, who struggle with our sense of self, this creates more anxiety; we crack the whip harder but no matter what we do, we are never good enough. While love and happiness are positive emotions to experience, many of us run a mile (quite literally) when it comes to experiencing these difficult emotions such as loss, uncertainty, pain and trauma. Its fairly understandable –any of us who suffer with anxiety know that it can be debilitating; the severe physical feelings, that you can sense deep within you and make you want to just unzip and escape from your body. However, the problem is that no matter what “coping mechanisms” you put in place to “control, contain and numb” these difficult emotions, such as restrictive eating, over exercising, alcohol, sex or drugs, they are always temporary. Those difficult emotions always come back –eventually you have to choose to accept them, work your way through them in order to finally come out the other side and get on with your life. This obviously feels terrifying but working with a qualified psychological practitioner is critical. In order to change a behavior, we have to challenge it which means stepping out of your comfort zone and accepting discomfort, understanding that while it may cause you unease, nothing awful actually happens.


You will never find your answer in food or exercise. These are important components to a healthy life but as we have seen, they can fast become the crux too. Emotional problems need to be dealt with – you lack of self worth and ability to believe you are good enough will have developed through a number of different means –your experiences, your interpretations of situations. In order to be able to navigate through life, you have to learn self acceptance and, as said previously, I highly recommend working with a clinical psychologist trained in this field. So many of us allow our circumstances to define who we are and yet just because you didn’t’ achieve your job promotion, does that really make you a failure or a bad person? Of course not, fundamentally you are still you, the same you, you were a few days earlier when you felt comfortable in your present job.



When it comes to food and exercise, here are my top tips:


  • Healthy eating is not about deprivation. In fact, I often describe it as unrestrained eating. Don’t follow fads, they are not the answer to eternal happiness and only leave you feeling low in energy and depleted of essential nutrients for required for optimal health. The key is to keep meals balanced and colorful; nothing should be off limits but be mindful of portion sizes of certain foods and frequency of eating them. Thinks of foods like friends, some you will want to spend more time with than others.


  • Don’t compare –most of us have a love, hate relationship with it. More and more studies are finding that social media negative impact on mental health; we find ourselves socially comparing ourselves to everyone we follow. While it may not always be conscious, this can drip feed into our psyche and start to affect how we view ourselves. How come they can work a full time job, train 20 hours a week and have time for family? It makes us feel inadequate and thus feed into our desire to prove we are good enough. The thing you have to remember about social media is that it is rarely real. Most people will only post when life is going well. You also need to ask yourself, why do I need to compare? Fundamentally we are all unique, this is actually what makes us human; comparing yourself to another is futile because there is no-one who is going to have the exact same genetic and lifestyle make up as you. There really is no ideal as rarely are two human beings the same, with the exception of identical twins.



  • And finally show yourself self compassion. Even if you do have a training session booked in, if you are tired or you just don’t feel like training, then take the day off. Or change what you are doing. Some mornings I wake and I just don’t feel ready to run; I’ve learnt that pushing through a session is not the answer. Listening to your body and understanding what it needs is. On these days, I just swap my morning run for morning yoga and a gentle walk. I still get the benefits but at a pace that is more suitable for me that particular day.


January 11, 2018by Gavin Reynoldson0

The art of caring…

Those of you that follow me regularly on social media will know that my two areas of specialism within nutrition are sports and Eating Disorders. More and more though I’m being drawn to the middle ground of this venn diagraph – athletes with eating disorders.

No matter whom I work with, elite, paralympians, football academy players, junior/development/talent pathway or recreational athletes, one of the main outcomes required from my input will be optimal performance.

Of course this is to be expected. The same is true of any sports practitioner; whether that be coach, S&C, psychologist or performance analyst.

The desire to achieve those marginal gains is always top priority –athletes want to be the fastest, the strongest;the need to be the best outstripping all other aspects of their life.

As a practitioner working within a team, it is easy to get caught up in this drive to be the best – with each member helping the athlete to achieve.

But at what cost?

I have come across many practitioners who are so fixed on the performance outcomes that they lose sight of the athlete as an individual.

Often the consult between athlete and practitioner becomes a well rehearsed script; the need to be associated with a gold medal or an athlete’s personal best performance becomes the driving force and the potential to pick up on tell tale signs of stress are missed.

As a dietitian with both clinical and sports qualifications and experience, my responsibility lies with helping the athlete to achieve optimal performance, but awithout losing sight that an athlete is still a person. I have an important role to play in safe guarding them from potential health risks.

I’m fortunate that I have worked with some great practitioners and coaches who really do look at an athlete as a whole person – yes they want then to train hard but they also take time to listen to the athlete; if an athlete is saying I have a pain in my foot –it is not shrugged off –it is taken seriously and some additional rest days are added in; if an athlete mentions that they are sleeping badly – nutrition and training load is checked. If a female athlete discloses that she has skipped menstruation for several months, this is not just accepted as a norm – it is investigated.

Sadly this is not true of all cases – over the last 12 months I have been approached by several athletes, where the need to achieve by them and their support team has over looked signals that they were struggling. Some arrive with persistent injury; not being given enough time to heal and rehab before going straight back into training. Others have put their bodies under huge stress with large training loads but insufficient energy intake; some have adopted fads – diets, supplements in an attempt to hit those marginal gains with poor supervision by their support team.

Athletes are not just about numbers –like a plant, in order to thrive they need support, understanding and nourishment –sometimes this doesn’t fit in with performance gains.

There are always going to be times when you do need to support an athlete in order to reach a target weight or body composition but it is also important to ensure that the disruption this causes is limited to the shortest time possible.

That said, as a practitioner working in elite sport, it is important to know your boundaries and there are occasions where you need to take a stand and suggest that an athlete takes some time out.

Athletes are driven and in order to make it to the top, are often associated with extreme behaviours. This trait is not too dissimilar to those associated with an Eating disorder –extreme behaviours in the form of rules and rituals around food and exercise in order to maintain their eating disorder because it makes them feel safe and secure, even though this far from the reality.

However in both cases, these individuals need to be told to stop –when they are doing more harm than good, even if it means they will be missing out of a major competition. What good is a podium finish if it’s the only one of your career because the stress you have put your body through has meant that it will never return to its previous form?

It’s great that more and more athletes are speaking out about the pressures they have felt to train in a certain way, be a particular weight or body composition and the lack of support they received. However, what we need is more education around this; how to listen, how to pick up on signs and then how to have that difficult discussion.

I always want to help an athlete achieve their true potential but not at the cost of their long-term health.

I’m not always popular with my approach –its never easy telling an athlete that their training or their nutritional choices are doing them more harm than good but I take pride in always seeing the human in an athlete and not just as a performance outcome!

And for the record, all those I’ve worked with have thanked me in the long run as it has meant they can return to training and a winning form!



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Wow that’s a really worrying phenomenon.