Here’s what you’re really addicted to (hint: it’s not food)

If you’re binge eating, it’s easy to think you’re addicted to food. You can’t get it out of your head. It’s everywhere and you keep wondering when you’re going to score your next hit of sugar.

Doing lines of sugar

Using my friend The Queen to snort lines of the precious white stuff


The science doesn’t back this up in the true, chemical addictive sense[1]. Yes, food lights up dopamine responses in your brain, but that’s because food is meant to be rewarding. It’s a biological necessity that food — which we need for survival — make us feel good.


So you’re not truly addicted to food in the same way you are for crack, but in the sense that you can’t get these damn thoughts out of your mind, well, you might feel addicted.


And in that sense, I’ve got news for you.


What you’re really addicted to


Here’s what you’re really “addicted” to:


Your comfort zone. Your belief system. Your excuses. The stories you tell yourself.


How much of your day is given up to small fears? The kind you barely notice. The fears that make each day comfortable:


  • The fear of standing out, to get through the day as smoothly and with as little conflict as possible.
  • The fear of being ridiculed that holds your lips to a library silence, when you know you should stand up and speak.
  • The fear of rejection that causes you to avoid hundreds of potential connections.
  • The fear of failure, so you don’t try something new (or quit soon after trying).
  • The fear of success, so you only play in the small kid sandpit.
  • The fear of judgement, that prevents you from challenging opinions and the status quo.


The fact is: your mental and physical potential is far beyond what you limit yourself to.


What prevents you from accessing this ability is your mental and physical conditioning.


Your belief system is bullshit


There’s a basic human need to form beliefs[2]. At their most fundamental level, beliefs keeps you alive. They also allow you to gain control of the otherwise random, meaningless events of life.


The thing is, once you have a belief, you filter the world around you to confirm that belief.


Let’s take an example:

  • If you believe everyone is out to get you, then when Dave hurts your feelings, you’d probably say, “Fuck you, Dave. See! I told you everyone is an asshole to me!
  • If you believe people are mostly good, then if Dave hurts your feelings, you might say “Wow, I wonder what’s going on with Dave right now. He must be upset about something.


So, you have a specific belief, then something happens, and you claim more evidence for this belief.

Belief –> Action –> Evidence


Culture has a huge effect on your beliefs. If you grow up in Kayan culture, you will probably believe that women must have long necks to be attractive.

Fuck your Western beauty standards, yo.


In the Western culture (at least at this point in time), the images you see in the media might lead you to believe you need to be lean, have a six-pack, be white yet tanned, and preferably own a yacht to be of any worth.



And, of course, there are different “rules” for men and women. This was highlighted a few years ago in a hilarious photoshoot of Ducati motorbikes:


We’re so used to seeing women in these poses, that it looks completely normal (and sexy), but put a man in that position and it looks ridiculous…


Sometimes you need to see jarring images to jolt you out of your own reality


The images you see and the messages you hear all become part of your mental conditioning, and your beliefs. When you’re really invested, this stuff becomes your religion — you start to believe you must look and be a certain way, even at the detriment of your own mental and physical health.


For example,


  • You might believe you need to look a certain way to be accepted and loved, so you go on extreme diets that the media told you to go on. You start to think about food constantly.
    • Then, even though all the science says that diets don’t work, you think if you stop dieting, you’ll be completely out of control, even though your body is way more intelligent than any magazine, website or diet guru.


  • You train through injuries to try to prove you’re not “weak”, rather than admitting there is weakness, and working to remedy it.


  • You work yourself to the ground, and never rest, because you’ve been told you need to hustle and grind if you ever want amount to anything.


  • You believe you aren’t in control of your life, and there is no hope, so you become depressed.


  • You believe your body is disgusting.


I’ve believed all of these, and more.


But the fact is, every single one of these thoughts is invented. So you may as well believe the thoughts that are actually going to help you move forward in your life.


Here’s another way to think about it. If someone cuts you up in traffic, you could:


  • Get angry and think they’re an asshole, and shout and scream, and then come home and take it out on your partner; or,
  • Create a different story: tell yourself that maybe they have a sick child in the back of the car, and they are rushing to the hospital. You can then adopt empathy and compassion, and come home feeling grateful.


Neither of those stories are true or false. The fact is that in every moment in life, you get to choose what to focus on, and that’s going to decide what kind of person you are.



To change, you need to get out of your own way


Let’s make this clear. If you’re binge eating — or stuck in any part of your life — it is your beliefs that are limiting you.


It’s not other people. It’s not your circumstances. It’s your beliefs.


You are in your own way.


I don’t say this to make you feel bad. I don’t want you to blame yourself. Instead, I want to empower you. To let you know the you have everything you need to change your life, and shape it into exactly what you want it to be.


The thing with beliefs is that it’s difficult to let them go, because they are yours, and change is scary, and hard.


The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh said it best:


“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”


Sometimes you must break things apart to build something better.


This stuff takes consistent work, because your brain is made to keep you alive, and not necessarily to keep you happy. But whenever I’ve made huge progress in my life, my beliefs have changed:


  • It turns out, I’m not a total loser who will never experience happiness.
  • It turns out, I won’t be out of control if I stop dieting.
  • It turns out, there’s nothing wrong with carbohydrates.
  • It turns out, my body is awesome, not a mess.
  • It turns out, I don’t need to work every hour of the day. I perform much better (and am much happier) when I’m rested, and I take time just for myself.


To start to change your beliefs, it’s a good idea to try to take a look at them as they currently stand. So grab a piece of paper and a pen, and then write down everything that comes to mind when you ask yourself: What do you believe about…


  • being fat
  • being thin
  • being a man
  • being a woman
  • being a high achiever
  • having money
  • being successful
  • being worthy of love.


Do these beliefs serve you? Are they the absolute truth? What could you replace them with?


Once you’re more aware of your current belief system, you can begin to change the ones that limit you by taking action.


You don’t start with confidence. You start with action.


There’s a common misconception that people can do amazing things only because they have the confidence to do them. This is wrong.


At first, no one feels ready. When it’s completely new to them, everyone feels scared. It’s unchartered waters.


No, you don’t start with confidence, you build it by continuously facing the unknown, and overcoming it, time and again.


Only then do you start to see “wow, if I can overcome this… what else am I capable of?


That’s how you take out the bricks, and then break down the walls of your limiting beliefs.


Belief –> Action –> Evidence

I’m not sure I can do this –> Holy shit! I can do this! —> I am in control of my life


So what could you do that’s manageable, but where there is some fear? How can you push out of your comfort zone?


For example,


  • Start eating a certain food that you’ve been restricting.
  • Start wearing something you’ve been too self-conscious to wear.
  • Start walking around with your back straighter.
  • Start looking people in the eye more.
  • Start becoming aware of the voices you’re listening to — both in your own head, and outside. (When I get stuck in my own head, I put on YouTube and listen to the voices of people who inspire me. I replace my narrative with theirs.)
  • Start exposing yourself to people and ideas that support the person you want to be, and the beliefs you want to adopt. (Are you following those people on Instagram because they truly inspire you, or are you actually comparing yourself to them?)
  • Start exposing yourself to different bodies (not just ones that are white and lean), and notice the thoughts that come up for you. Here’s some great examples of diverse bodies on Instagram:


For those of you who think you already push yourself out of your comfort zone every day — which is why you smash it at the gym, and crush it at work — realise that working too much is its own kind of comfort zone.


If working is all you know, then finding how to actually rest and relax is what will push you out of your comfort zone. (And, yes, I know that scares you, which is exactly why you need to do it.)


This is a process. Watch your thoughts, observe them as you take action (or even just think about taking action). Notice the hesitations, the doubts, the negative patterns, and the tensions within your body. Realise that all of these things are a choice.


Try it right now: do a quick mental scan up and down your body. You’ll probably notice some muscles are unnecessarily tense. Now choose to relax those muscles. You see? Even tension is a choice.


When you practice this awareness as often as possible, you can begin to choose your actions and responses, rather than being a product of your comfort zone, your belief system, and your bullshit.


From there comes the ability, not just to stop binge eating, but to tap into your true potential.


The fact is you are capable of so much more than you know, but to find out, you must step into discomfort and uncertainty. You must go to where the fear is.


As Joseph Campbell said,

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”


To sum it up:

  • You’re not addicted to food — more like your comfort zone, your belief system, and the stories you tell yourself.
  • Beliefs are a fundamental need of humans, but the more you can become aware of them, the more you can change the ones that don’t serve you anymore.
  • To change, you need to get out of your own way. Your beliefs are the only things that are limiting you, in any part of your life.


What to do next:

  • Try to figure out some of your current beliefs.
  • Take (small, manageable, consistent) action to change the messages you see and hear, both inside your own head, and in your environment.
  • Remember: perfection is paralysis. Don’t overthink it, just get started.


[1] For a great overview of the research, see:

[2] For a great summary of how beliefs are formed and why we have them, I recommend:


10 Life Lessons My Twenties Smashed Into Me

It’s official: today is my birthday. I’m no longer in my twenties, and I’ve never been happier.

I never used to be happy, though. I used to think I was broken. I used to wake up and wonder how I’d get through the day, or if today should finally be the day to kill myself.


That dude on the far right? Yeah, that was me.


But over the past seven years, I’ve worked hard on myself and my life, carving and shaping it into exactly what I want it to be.

I’ve come from the edge — fifteen years of chronic depression, growing up with an alcoholic mother, three years in an abusive relationship, several years of anorexia, followed by binge eating — to living a life I’m truly proud of, and excited to wake up every day for.

I’ve climbed up cliff faces in multiple continents, completely alone, without ropes. I’ve been a strength athlete for seven years. I’ve got a Ph.D. in Mathematics. I create cool art. I write, I give public talks. I have amazing friends.

And, yes, I still have bad days, but I have never been happier or more proud of myself, and that’s because of all the work I put in throughout my twenties.

I started NoCtrlZ with an aim not just to help you stop binge eating, but to help you thrive, in all parts of your life.

That’s why today I’m sharing with you some of the lessons I learnt over the last decade.

I hope you find something insightful that you can apply to your own life.



All your problems are internal

The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” – John Milton

I’ve been in abusive relationships, but none more so than with myself.

I used to hate myself. I’d blame myself for everything. I’d ask myself questions like:

  • Why am I such an idiot?
  • Why am I always depressed?
  • Why am I never good enough?
  • How can it possibly be OK that I’m here, when other people don’t even have clean water to drink?

The fact is, these are shitty questions. If you ask “Why can’t I do this?” then your brain will automatically say, “because you’re an idiot”.

But if you ask “What can I learn from this?”, then your brain will focus on trying to find creative solutions to your problems.

If you want to change your happiness, your self-belief, your confidence and — by corollary — your life, you have to change your mindset.

You have to direct your focus towards things that are helpful.

You have to realise that your thoughts are not necessarily the truth (but more like opinions, old beliefs, and habitual responses).

You can work on this stuff, just like you can work on your body in the gym. You can interrupt the pattern of old, unhelpful thoughts, and you can create a new narrative for yourself.

The first step to any change is awareness.

Once you gain awareness of the automatic, habitual noise that’s in your head, you gain control. You begin to realise that your thoughts and feelings aren’t permanent. And then you get to choose what to believe, and how to act in any situation.

Here’s an example of how that might work for you:

Step 1: Become aware of the thoughts and stories you’re telling yourself. Write down whatever you’re thinking (either at a certain time of day every day, or when you feel in a rut).

Step 2: Become curious about the thought, or label it for what it is.

For example, “I’m a failure.” becomes “I’m having the thought that I’m a failure.

Doing this creates a little bit of distance from it, so it’s not all-encompassing, so you can look at it with more clarity.

Step 3: Ask yourself: Is this thought helpful? Is this thought going to get me through this situation?

Step 4: If it’s not helpful, then tell yourself, “I hear this thought, but right now I’m going to let it go. Every time it comes up, I’m going to let it go, and focus on something else that’s going to help me move forwards.

Do this enough, and you will have trained your mind to naturally ask better questions, to naturally become the supportive, encouraging environment that everyone should live in.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

I believe this is true, not just of other people, but also of yourself.


You only get one body

As long as you are breathing there’s more right with you than wrong with you” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

Your body is a miracle.

Think about it. Your eyelids blink every four seconds to keep your eyes safe, and clean. Your heart is so strong it moves 2,000 gallons of blood per day. You breathe 1,000 breaths an hour. And you digest just about everything you’ve ever thrown inside it.

And yet what do we focus on? The things we dislike. The things we’ve “failed” at.

Your body tells a story. The cuts, the scrapes, the scars — they are all part of your story. It’s time to own it, appreciate it, and respect it.

Me? I’ve broken both my arms. I haven’t been able to walk pain-free for a total of two years of my life. I’ve starved my body down to 40kg, and stuffed it to breaking point, over and over.

And I’ve finally realised that I only get one body. There is no point hating it. There is no point comparing it to anyone else’s. None of these things ever helped me to get to where I want to be. None of those things ever made me feel happier, or at peace.

But you know what has helped? Treating my body with respect.

That means:

  • Talking to it like you respect it (instead of saying “I’m so fat”, you can start saying “This is what my body looks like today, on Thursday”).


  • Celebrating the ways in which your body can move (rather than torturing it through endless workouts, it’s OK to go gentle sometimes).


  • Trying to fuel it (relatively) well, but also recognising that eating isn’t just about fuel — it’s also about celebration and connection with other people in your life. (It’s totally OK to smash a pizza.)


  • Giving it adequate rest and recovery (and not hating on it if it can’t perform something your mind thinks it should).

Your existence on this planet is a fucking miracle.

Don’t just listen to me, listen to physicist Neil Degrasse Tyson:

“The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy, billions of years ago. For this reason, we are biologically connected to every other living thing in the world. We are chemically connected to all molecules on Earth. And we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.”

Everything else is cultural invention.


The world doesn’t give a shit

You’ll stop worrying what others think about you when you realize how seldom they do.” – David Foster Wallace

When I was 26, I sold all my belongings and moved from the UK to California.

I had a Ph.D. in Mathematics, I was a US citizen, and I tried my absolute hardest to go to a tonne of job interviews and get a job in Silicon Valley.

You know what happened?


No one cared.

After completely failing to find employment in the US, I went back the UK (and got a secure job within one week). I then decided to cut my hair really short.

Maria with short hair

This was a huge change for me. I came out of the hairdresser, walked down the street, and guess what happened?


No one cared.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Obviously no one cared — lots of people have short hair, and lots of people go for job interviews in Silicon Valley.

But you have to realise those moments after my Ph.D. were the first time I’d basically felt positive emotion in my entire life. For the first time, I felt excitement. I felt like there was possibility.

So I experimented by taking big action: doing crazy shit in New Zealand, moving to California, then cutting all my hair off.

But I realised two things:

  1. No one is going to stop you from doing anything. You are totally free, and the only person holding you back from anything is yourself.
  2. Everyone is too wrapped up in their own shit to care. Everyone is too busy either trying to convince the world to pay attention to them, or they’re just mindlessly scrolling through Instagram.

This is actually good news! It means you can do loads of stupid shit, and fail, and no one will notice.

It means if someone else seems annoyed, it probably has nothing to do with you.

And it means that you have to offer yourself validation. You have to offer yourself love. Because other people might not be around to do it, or might not even think to tell you.

So you have to become the cheerleader or your life: talking yourself round from the failures, and celebrating your successes, every damn time.


The world may not give a shit, but some people do

There might not be angels, but there are people who might as well be.” – David Foster Wallace

Any problem you’re having, many people have not only been there, but they’ve solved it and got through it.

You are not alone, in anything, ever.

There are always people who have achieved what you want to achieve. Don’t try to be a hero and figure this all out on your own. Find mentors. Seek advice. Commit, and work towards change.

When I realised I finally had to overcome a childhood trauma that was ruling my life, I had no idea how to do that. I had to be shown the way.

When I decided to stop living my life depressed, stop binge eating, and turn my life around, I had to find the books, the information, and the people to help me.

Realise that it’s OK to not be OK, and that absolutely no one does anything by themselves.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We’re all in this steaming pile of humanity, together.


Every setback will make you stronger (but only if you let it)

The most successful and resilient people in the world know that problems and failures are just opportunities for growth. That — no matter what you go through — there is always something to learn from the experience that will make you even better.

You may not be able to see how your problems are beneficial when you’re inside them. That’s OK. Just trust that they will make you better somehow.

Trust that you will figure it out at some point.

Binge eating and depression allow me to empathise with other people, in a way I just wouldn’t have been able to understand had I not gone through them. I also wouldn’t be the strong, confident, and emotionally stable person I’m proud to be today, because I wouldn’t have taken the time to work on myself, had I not gone through those things.

Did I realise that would happen at the time? No.

Most of the time, I didn’t know what I was going to learn. When I had a chronic leg injury for two years, I even kept on saying (while shaking my fist at the sky) “OK, I’ve learnt my lesson now… you can stop!”

But that fact is there is always room for more growth and less suffering.

The fact is that, no matter what you’re currently feeling, it will pass.

The fact is, whatever you’re going through will make you stronger, and better, but you have to be ready to open your heart, and let it change you.


Happiness is the process of becoming your ideal self

I’ll be happy when I get top grades, and go to a good university.
I’ll be happy when I get a first at university, and then do a Ph.D.
I’ll be happy when I can deadlift 100kg, when I can clean and jerk my bodyweight.

Actually, it turns out you can be happy right now.

While it’s great to have goals, I realised that achieving those goals didn’t actually make me that happy. That’s because I never celebrated my achievements. I just immediately looked for the next thing to achieve.

The fact is, there is always more to do, more to strive for, more to be, and more to give.

So if you put all your happiness into achievement, you will never feel like you are achieving enough.

You will never feel like you are enough.

Happiness lies in the middle ground. It’s about figuring out what’s important in your life, and who you ideally want to be. It’s about working towards the goals that will get you there. It’s about celebrating every single one of those achievements (however small), while recognising that you simply will never be your “ideal self” (because there is always more you can do, be, and give).

It’s about appreciating the journey of ups and downs, courageous acts, and setbacks. It’s about being satisfied with yourself — yet remaining hungry for more — simply because you decided this is who you want to be, this is the life you want to lead, and this is how you’re stepping in to it.

Happiness is growth itself.


You can’t help everyone

A few years ago, I went to the Sony world photography exhibition in Somerset House, London.

I became in awe of the beauty of nature, people, the world. Then, right at the end, there was an exhibition on female genital mutilation. That was some totally fucked up shit right there, happening right here, in this world, while I’m alive.

I’m a very empathetic person, and in the quiet of that beautiful, busy place, I couldn’t help but put myself in the shoes of those women. It was totally unacceptable.

I walked out of that exhibition reeking of the guilt of my white, British privilege.

My boyfriend at the time just shrugged, you can’t feel guilty for being alive.

I couldn’t understand how he wasn’t affected by those photos, but, you know what? He was right. Feeling that way won’t help them, or me, or anyone.

The fact is, there are too many causes to fight for in the world. Too many injustices.

In the past, I’ve felt overwhelmed with emotion every time I learnt of the extent of some new disgusting truth. I was totally unable to handle it.

I’m getting better at this. I’m still working on these reactions, but I realise now that I can’t help everyone (especially when I feel completely overwhelmed with guilt and anger and sadness).

In cases closer to home, know that people won’t change until they are ready. So while you may know that someone would be so much happier and better off if they just did X, you can’t force them. And nor should you.

We all have to take our own journeys. We all have to find our own way.


You have already changed the world, just by existing

While you may think you can’t change the world, know that you are changing it every single day, just by being here, just by existing.

Kat Cole has a brilliant essay on this. She says,

“By doing good for just one person, in just one moment, you can affect the trajectory of many things, of many lives, all over the world. Even if in some situations it’s not easy to be kind, gracious or positive, keep in mind it’s not just that moment that you are affecting, it’s many moments into the future.”

Your effect on others matters. Sometimes it’s even the difference between life and death.

So we can all can learn to be a little kinder, a little more patient. We can smile at strangers, do random acts of kindness, listen harder, and laugh louder.

As Rumi said, “You are not a drop in the ocean, you are the entire ocean in a drop.”


Do good shit, better

I believe it’s a moral imperative to help other people.

A couple of years ago, I began to learn how to help others better. I got interested in Effective Altruism, which is about optimising your time, background, experience, and money to make the biggest impact you possibly can (to help other people, animals, or the planet).

It’s about supporting research-backed charities that demonstrably make a difference to causes you believe are truly important in the world.

So while, for some people it makes sense to volunteer their time, for someone else it might make more sense (given their background and experience) to get a high paid finance job and pay for ten volunteers.

Rather than donating to random charities that stop you in the street, or volunteering your time almost at random, I believe we can all do so much more in this world if we use our logic — as well as our emotions — to guide us.


Sometimes you have to just fucking believe

When you’ve nothing else, construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them.” – Cormac McCarthy

Sometimes you just have to believe you’ll get through the day, even though you have no idea how.

Believe you’ll find the answers, even when your grief burns like a match in your throat.

When your eyes feel like they’ve been rubbed with sandpaper from all the tears you can no longer cry: believe.

Hold onto certainty as the world crumbles beneath your blistered feet.

Know that you’ll find a way out, because you will never give up.

Trust that you are stronger than all of it.






12 books to help you stop binge eating

I’ve always been a big reader. When I get stuck in life, I always turn to books for the answers. They help me feel heard, and they help me to heal.


These ones have helped me in my life — both with binge eating, and with living better in general. That’s why I wanted to share them with you. I hope they help you too.


Maria’s top pick:

  • The Power of Vulnerability by Brene Brown

If you do nothing else, get the audiobook version of this book. I recommend every single person hear it. Brene Brown is a god of storytelling and authenticity, like no other.


Non-diet strategy books:

  • Thinside Out by Josie Spinardi

I don’t advocate dieting, and neither does Spinardi. The tips and tools in this book are scientifically backed, and incredibly useful on the journey to stop binge eating.


  • Brain Over Binge: Why I Was Bulimic, Why Conventional Therapy Didn’t Work, and How I Recovered for Good by Kathryn Hansen

Kathryn’s brain-based approach helped her recover from years of bulimia, and is a radically different approach from many others in this field.

  • Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn

This book changed my life. I literally wouldn’t be alive today without this book. It’s a game-change for anyone with chronic pain or depression.


  • Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach

Another beautiful and healing book, though a little on the Buddhist-side, so be aware of that if that’s not your thing. (It’s totally readable either way.)


  • Mindful Eating: Free Yourself from Overeating and Other Unhealthy Relationships with Food by Jan Chosen Hays

This book teaches you the fundamentals of eating more mindfully, so you can really taste your food.


Mental Toughness:


  • Grit by Angela Duckworth

This book will teach you about mental toughness, and how to get more of it.



Poetry is truth. You will find yourself inside.


  • Salt by Nayyirah Waheed
  • The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur


Creating Healthy Habits:

If you want to learn more about how to set things up so you have a lifetime of good habits, James Clear really is your man. He’ll teach you how to live better, no question.


General Self-Help:

  • Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Someone Who’s Been There by Cheryl Strayed

This is a beautiful book. It will make your heart glow with the warmth of acceptance and shared humanity.


Mark Manson is an incredible writer, whose truth bombs smash into you like a punch to the gut. But then things get much better!

I recommend him very highly, but in particular, these articles are very important:



  • The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk.


Many people who binge eat have suffered trauma in their lives, which is why I want to include this book. This is a great book for anyone interested in learning more about trauma and its effects on the body. There are treatments described in the book itself, but if you are suffering from the unaddressed effects trauma, I highly recommend seeking the help of a therapist. Things will get better, I promise, but you need to take the time to address what has happened to you.



  • Come As you Are by Emily Nagoski

The more people I talk to, the more I see that sex comes up as a problem in people’s life, due to body image issues, and other nonsense we’ve been taught over the years. This book digs into the science. It’s an incredibly interesting and reassuring read, no matter what gender or age you are.


I’m getting slightly off-topic now, but I also wanted to mention:


The most powerful TED talk I’ve ever seen:

Our story of rape and reconciliation

In 1996, Thordis Elva shared a teenage romance with Tom Stranger, an exchange student from Australia. After a school dance, Tom raped Thordis, after which they parted ways for many years. In this extraordinary talk, Elva and Stranger move through a years-long chronology of shame and silence, and invite us to discuss the omnipresent global issue of sexual violence in a new, honest way.


I love learning. I love challenging myself to think differently and to be better than I was yesterday.


So now I’m interested – what books, articles or videos have influenced you, or even changed your life? Let me know in the comments, below.




“Help! I don’t diet anymore, but I still binge eat”

Someone recently reached out to me about their number one struggle with binge eating. Since this is such a common problem, I thought I’d share my response here.

Here’s the message I was sent:

My #1 binge eating challenge is mental/emotional restriction.  Though I am slowly letting go of food rules, I sometimes still have an idea in my head of what my day’s food “should” look like or how much of a previously forbidden food I “should” allow myself.  When I cross those imaginary lines in my head between “good” and “bad” eating, I end up in last supper mode.  So while I don’t physically restrict my food as much as I used to, I am still struggling to legalize and allow all foods mentally.

Here’s my response:

I’m really glad to hear that you aren’t physically restricting yourself anymore (here’s why). What you’re experiencing is known as the “diet mentality”, and it’s extremely common! It’s difficult to let go of old thoughts and beliefs around food, when we’re so used to telling ourselves these stories.

Here’s what I’d do.

Firstly, I would always advise self-compassion. No matter what happens, or what thoughts come into your head, forgive yourself. Forgive your actions. Know that you are doing the best you can. It might not be the ideal behaviour you want right now, but you’re doing what you can, given your life experience.

Second, I’m wondering if it’s possible to really start to notice those thoughts that come up. So, say you ate a brownie. What thoughts would come up after you ate it? Is it possible to write those thoughts down on a piece of paper and really look at them?

Once you get them down on paper, you can question if these thoughts are something that you actually believe, or are just leftover thoughts from being on diets for so long.

You can also ask yourself is this thought is helpful?”

Finally, you can label these thoughts, and observe them, non-judgmentally.

Let’s go through an example

Say I just ate a brownie. Previously brownies would have been completely off-limits in my diet. Although I’m no longer restricting them, I’m still in the diet-mentality, so maybe I’m thinking:

“I didn’t need to eat that brownie. It’s like 400kcal. I’m out of control again, and I’m going to start putting on weight if I keep doing this.”

If thoughts are just swirling around in your head, and you aren’t sure what you’re thinking, try just getting a piece of paper and writing down whatever comes up. (If you don’t get concrete about what you’re thinking, you’ll often just find yourself standing over a jar of peanut butter, with no idea how you got there.)

From there, we have three approaches:

#1  Do I really believe these thoughts? Let’s see…

“So, OK, maybe I didn’t NEED to eat the brownie, but eating is about emotional satisfaction as well as physical satisfaction. I enjoyed the brownie. It was delicious. Also, it doesn’t matter how many calories it is, because if I pay attention to my hunger and satisfaction, I’m only going to eat as much as I need (most of the time. We’re all human, and eating past full is totally OK sometimes).”

#2  If you can’t logically talk yourself out of the thoughts, don’t be afraid to just say “OK, I hear you, but is that thought helpful right now?”

If it’s not helpful, then just let it go. No matter how many times it pops into your head, just say “OK, this isn’t a helpful thought, so I’m going to think about something else.”

#3 Labelling thoughts. 

In this case, you can just say to yourself “I’m having the thought that I broke my (non-existent) diet.”   or “I’m having a thought about food“, or “I’m judging myself about eating that brownie”.

By labelling the thoughts you’re having, you can actually create space away from those thoughts. Creating that space means you won’t be drawn into the stories you’re telling yourself, which means you’ll be less emotionally attached to those stories, which means you’ll be less likely to binge!

Let me know in the comments if you found this useful.


If you’re struggling with something in particular, or want a question answered, feel free to email me. I guarantee you’re not alone in your struggle, and these kinds of questions can help everyone.




My Honest Review Of Jessi Kneeland’s Authentic Body Confidence Course

I was lucky enough to be part of the beta group of Jessi Kneeland’s Authentic Body Confidence course, which started over the summer of 2017.

Here’s what’s included in this review:

Let’s get to it!


What Is ABC?

Jessi describes Authentic Body Confidence as

12 weeks to feel safe, free, and sexy AF in your own skin. This 12 week coaching program is the ultimate culmination of everything I know about forgiving, accepting, and befriending your body.

Practically-speaking, it’s a series of coaching calls, tools, and exercises to help you change how you feel about yourself for the better. There were also bonus videos and worksheets from other experts in the industry, and also a private Facebook group which immediately became a safe space for all of us to discuss not just the course, but whatever else came up along the journey.


Why I Joined The Course

I’ve gone through abusive relationships, eating disorders, and fifteen years of depression during my life. I’d come a hell of a long way in accepting myself and healing through all of that. Then, in 2016, I suffered a chronic leg injury. I lost my identity, not just as an athlete, but as an able-bodied person. I was learning deep lessons from this injury, which was slowly healing, but I knew I needed to go further in forgiving myself, and recognizing why I was pushing myself so hard in the first place.

Alongside this, my belly was (slowly) growing, and I couldn’t run off the additional weight. I kept feeling like my stomach was this big block I was carrying. It felt like it was holding me down, holding me back. I was becoming conscious of it every moment of the day, and I knew that I had to explore that deeper. Why was I so focussed on having a six pack? I needed to know.

I had been very impressed with Jessi’s work in the past, so when the opportunity came up to take the course, I signed myself up.


How Is Life Different Now?

As someone who already “had their shit together” (after about seven years of doing this kind of work myself), I was genuinely, and pleasantly, surprised at how much I learnt from this course, and how much depth it went into.

We explored and uncovered things I didn’t even realize needed to be explored and uncovered. So, yes, I now have even more tools to deal with emotional experiences – such as grief – and, yes, I am even kinder, and more in love with my body than ever before. But I also unearthed some old beliefs about myself that I didn’t realize were still there. By becoming aware of these subconscious beliefs, I was able to choose if they still had any value to me. (Whereas, if I’m unaware of them, they are impacting my life without my knowledge.)

Which is all to say that I’m happier and more joyful in my body (and my life) than ever before. And I have more tools for the future, whenever life next punches me in the face. Win.


Results From One Week Of The Course

After just the first few days, I had a deep, and totally unexpected, insight about my body. I even posted this message to the private Facebook group:



So after just a couple of days I could see that what I thought was just “this thing about my belly” was a whole lot more. Needless to say, Jessi knows this already, and this course is about diving deep to find the real, underlying issues of your hangups.

It’s also worth emphasising that one of the brilliant things about the course were the amazing, supportive group of people I got to do the course with. Here’s another message I left the Facebook group in the first week:



Connecting with a group of people who “get you” is invaluable, not just in a course, but in life in general. Jessi’s work attracts the “right crowd”, so I have no doubt if you’re reading this that you’ll definitely feel welcome.

In fact, one of the first things Jessi said to us was, “You couldn’t put too much on this table.” As in, no matter what, don’t be afraid to be yourself. You are not “too much”, and none of your “issues and problems” are “too much”. This community has got your back, big time.


Results From Two Weeks

Two weeks in and two things were on my mind.

My body, and the word “sensual”.

Language is a funny thing. I hadn’t really thought about the word “sensual” for years, but I realized — even after doing lots of mindfulness, and practicing being more in touch with my sight, taste, touch, smell, and hearing every day — that the actual word “sensual” was still a loaded term for me.



I began to consciously realize that being sensual wasn’t “dirty”. That’s just a label I put on the word when I was kid. Sensual means being in tune with your senses, it’s what it means to be a human being; it is life itself.

Alongside this insight, during week two, I also had an extremely powerful, liberating experience with “tapping” my body. (The idea of tapping is basically to get back in touch with your body by physically tapping it with your hands. We also did the additional step of “reclaiming” your body parts as your own, see the FB post below.) For someone like me, who has previously been in an abusive relationship, this was an incredibly powerful moment.



So in just two weeks, I knew this course was going to be life-changing. Again, I was surprised by this because I had already changed my life so much from the person I was. But I was seeing that this course would challenge me and make me dig even deeper. I was game.


Results From Six Weeks

Half way!

I was beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed with all the information we’d been given, even with an additional week in between to catch up. But I realised that I didn’t need to be doing every single thing right now. I could pick and choose my own way through this course, and I could also leave stuff now and do it once the course was over.

We have this material for life, so even if I don’t quite get it all now, I can look over it in the future. It’s not going anywhere.

During this time, we were taught about grief, and how to grieve “consciously”. Again, I had another very powerful experience with this one, and it’s also a tool I’ll have for when I need to grieve in the future.

Here’s the Facebook message I posted to the group:



We were also learning to really tune into how desires and emotions manifest in our body, on a deep level.



I was struggling a bit with feeling exactly how my emotions manifest in my own body. This is something I intend to do more of; in fact I believe tuning into your body like this is something people should practice every day.



Results From Twelve Weeks

As I’ve already said, I was impressed with the course, and I’d had a lot of powerful experiences, but I was still hung up on my belly for quite a long time throughout the course.

Together Jessi and I cracked that I was identifying very, very strongly as an athlete. And I had the belief that, as an athlete, I needed a six pack. I decided to do a little writing exercise that I knew of:



Once I identified this, things started to shift, and eventually my belly felt lighter. Physically it was the same, but I was more at peace because I had internalized that our bodies change as we live life. They mirror our internal and external experiences, both of which are in constant flux. So it is natural and normal to expect our bodies to change every moment of the day (and totally unrealistic to expect them to look like a fitness photoshoot).

This sounds like a simple thing to say on paper, but truly internalizing this — especially with the constant bombardment of images we see in the media, and when we’ve had leaner bodies in the past — is more difficult.

And, of course, some days are not as good as others. Some days it’s more difficult to accept how your body looks and feels. That is just the way life goes, and that is what Jessi teaches.


A cool experience I had while taking the course

Lastly, I also want to mention that I had a really cool experience in the gym, which wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been doing the course:



Is ABC right for you?

I truly believe this is a life-changing course, no matter what stage you’re at. Whether you’re already a fairly confident person, who isn’t afraid to be authentic, or not. Whether you’re pretty much OK with your body, except for a few body parts, or if you dislike or hate your entire self.

I believe there are huge lessons to be learnt here, and Jessi is a knowledgeable, compassionate guide on the journey.

Personally, I’ve already revisited some of the material, and I intend to revisit this material again as problems in my life arise. I’ve come to think of Jessi’s ABC course as a toolbox for life.


Authentic Body Confidence is NOT right for you if…


  • You want a super structured course, which micro-manages every action step. In Jessi’s own words, this is more of a “choose your own adventure” course. There is a lot of information, and a lot of tools. Some of them will work for you, some of them won’t. You have to find, pick and choose what works for you. So, if this style doesn’t suit you, then this may not be the course for you.


  • You’re looking for a quick fix. This isn’t a “30-day ab blast”. This is real, emotional work, which is often more difficult and can take more time (but the results will definitely last longer).


  • You’re taking lots of other online courses. You’re going to need some time and emotional energy to deal with this course. Now, everyone is always super busy all the time, and I was no different, but do be aware that this is a deep-ass emotional shit you’ll be diving into. If you’re super swamped, or not ready for change just yet, then it might be worth waiting until you have at least a bit of space to deal with this.


Authentic Body Confidence IS right for you if…


  • You don’t like certain parts, or all of, your body. Or if you’ve ever wondered what “listen to your body” really means, and how that can guide you into making positive decisions in your life.


  • You feel you have to act a certain way around others – that you’re covering up something, for someone. That you aren’t being true to your real self.


  • You aren’t afraid of doing the emotional work now, so you can reap the benefits later. This course does require you to dive in deep, which can be hard, but it’s always worth it to uncover the layers.


If you’re binge eating, I can help you.

I know what it’s like to use binge eating to cope with difficult emotions. To hate your own body. To feel like you can’t trust yourself.

That’s why I wrote the 65-page, illustrated Ultimate Guide To Stop Binge Eating.

Jessi’s Authentic Body Confidence course is comprehensive, but I want to give you this guide FREE, so you can learn to trust yourself, and your body, even faster.

Just put your details in the box below, and I’ll send the guide straight over.



Three steps to survive the holiday season

Well, it’s officially December, which means turkey and roast potatoes are already coming out of your ears, and if you see one more mince pie, you might cry from the indecision… to eat or not to eat.


But at least you get to spend time with your family, right?


Whether you hate your family or not, Christmas can be a stressful time.


And if you’ve been binge eating recently, it can mean full-blown anxiety and panic.


So how the hell do you survive all the parties, meals out, and full-on gluttony that is December?


Here’s three steps to help you:



Step 1: Focus on habits rather than negative thoughts about your body


Right now you’re focused on how your body looks. Since you don’t like how it looks now, you’re wondering how you’re going to cope when comes to the end of December.


This is causing you anxiety and worry. And what do you do when you’re anxious and worried? You eat.


So let’s shift the mindset.


Rather than being judgemental of yourself, rather than focusing on how your body looks (and thinking about an increasing waistline), focus instead on habits; on the actions and behaviors you have a choice over.


Which brings us to:

Step 2: Pick ONE of these habits to practice


These are great habits to practice at any time of the year, but particularly when you’re being bombarded with lots of rich food.


1. Eat mindfully. Let all your senses really awaken each time you eat. Take a good look at the food before you eat it. Does it smell good? How does it taste? How does it feel on your tongue and in your mouth? How does it sound? Be with the experience as much as you can. Not only will you enjoy it much more while you’re eating, but later on you’ll actually remember that you ate it, which means you’ll be more satisfied and less likely to snack later.


Remember that it’s totally OK to eat for purely emotional reasons. It’s OK to eat your favourite Christmas dessert / baked treat for no other reason than you want to. Give yourself permission. Enjoy it. Eat it mindfully. Then move on with your life.


If eating mindfully for a whole meal feels like too much, try to do just one mindful bite per meal, or just one mindful bite per day. Shrink it down to whatever feels manageable to you.


2. Eat / drink more slowly. Eating slowly means you’ll enjoy your food more, and you’ll probably find you need to eat less, too. Put your knife and fork down between bites. Take a sip of water and a deep breath. Enjoy the conversation around you. Just don’t eat so slowly that it feels restrictive. That’s the opposite of what we want to achieve here.


3. Find some quiet time. Find a quiet time every day, to get away from the Christmas mayhem, focus on your breathing, and try to tune into sensations in your body.


This could be taking a breathing space throughout the day, or trying to be with the sensations in your body first thing in the morning, or last thing at night.

Pick one habit to practice; don’t be an overachiever and overwhelm yourself. Less is more.


Step 3: Get on top of your thoughts



The biggest problem people binge eating face is dealing with all or nothing thinking, such as:


  • I’ve blown it.
  • Screw it, I’ll start my diet again tomorrow/in January.
  • I ate something naughty/bad.
  • I’m a failure.


It’s normal to have those thoughts. We’ve been conditioned by the media and the diet-obsessed culture we live in to think those thoughts. But you don’t need to act on them.


You see, most people let their thoughts and emotions run their lives. They’re on autopilot. But when you can bring awareness to your thoughts, you become free to choose how to act.


So when you notice a thought arise, one of the best things to do is to turn that thought into a factual statement.


For example:


  • I’m having the thought that I’m fat.
  • I’m having the thought that I need to restrict.
  • That was a judgemental thought.
  • I’m having the thought that I want to eat, even though I’m not hungry.


By labelling your thoughts and creating factual statements about the thought itself, you create space from the emotionally-charged part of the thought. And once you create space, you realise you don’t have to interact or get involved with any of the thoughts that arise.


You see, thoughts are like clouds in the sky. They arise, and they take certain shapes. When we get caught up in a cloud, everything becomes a kind of fog. We can’t see clearly, so we don’t act in the way we’d ideally want to.


But we can also take a step back. We can feel our feet on the ground, look at the cloud, and say “hey, that cloud looks like a hamburger!”, or “that cloud looks like a worry about the future”.


Then we can just watch the cloud go by.


(This amazing painting is by Rhads)


Because thoughts — just like the urge to binge — will always pass, as long as we don’t try to cling to them; as long as we keep our eyes focused, not on the cloud, but on the blue sky as a whole.


Think about it: a binge never happened when you felt calm and at peace. So removing the emotional charge of your thoughts is going to help you keep on top of those urges.


So take the perspective that, yes, it’s normal and totally OK to have these thoughts, but you can choose to let them rule you, or you can choose to take actions in line with your values, no matter what you’re thinking or feeling.


When you keep your eyes on the sky and your feet on the ground, when you focus not on negative thoughts about your body, but on actions that are in your control, that’s how you can craft a holiday season — how you can craft a life — that you will truly enjoy.




My trip to Rome (and why I used to be scared to go to Italy)

I feel a bit silly saying this, but I just know you’ll understand.


I used to be kinda scared to go to Italy because I knew the food was really good.


And if the food was really good, then I wouldn’t be able to stop eating it.


And if I couldn’t stop eating it, then I’d gain weight.


And that TERRIFIED me.


I had a real love-hate relationship with food. I couldn’t physically live without eating, but I didn’t seem to have any control over it. It was so delicious and yet so disgusting, scary and awful, all at once.


A couple of years ago — when I realized this fear had been holding me back from visiting an entire country — I went to Venice. And last weekend, I went again to Rome:

Rome was stunning. I went with a great friend of mine (the perfect travel partner) and yes — the food was incredible.


But you know what? I’m actually not going to talk about the food. In fact, have you noticed that I never post pictures of food?


That’s because (a) food porn can trigger binges, and (b) binge eating isn’t even about food.


It’s about not truly listening to what your body needs.


When you learn to get in touch with your body, not only do you stop binge eating, but other cool things happen too. You begin to trust yourself. You create healthy boundaries for yourself, which you — and other people — respect. You become more confident and at ease in your own skin.


This is definitely what happened to me. Just look at this photo my friend took of me outside the Colosseum in Rome (without me even noticing):

Look how relaxed, confident and at ease I am. I’m in a foreign city, talking to strangers on the table next to us, totally comfortable in my own skin.


I didn’t pose for this photo.


But when I was binge eating, I couldn’t be confident, because I wasn’t comfortable in myself. I continually ignored what my body was trying to tell me because I wanted it to look and perform a certain way.


After a LOT of reflection, I realized that’s because I was scared — on a deep level — that I wasn’t enough.


I wasn’t lean, strong, intelligent, fearless or badass enough.


So no matter what I achieved, I wasn’t happy and I was never proud. Instead, I was always striving for more.


It was a never ending scale of inadequacy.


Now — to be clear — I think it’s great to want to achieve things and make the most of your life. But the shit hits the fan when this motivation — this drive — comes solely from a place of fear.


So these days, I don’t smash my body and mind into the ground to prove my self-worth. I don’t obsess over food. I try to listen to when my body needs rest. I try to listen to sensations of hunger and satiety. I try to be kind to myself.


And you know what? This means I actually perform better, because I know when to stop working, and how to de-stress without using food. It means I can actually go on holiday, with zero anxiety about what to eat, all the while knowing that I don’t need to “be strict” when I get home.


The thing is: eating ice cream and spaghetti is part of life. The diet doesn’t start when you get home from holiday. It doesn’t start on Monday, or tomorrow. What you eat — and how you treat your body — is a continuum.


Continually dieting and beating yourself up because you think you need to look or be certain way means you’re continually restricting your experience of life.


This mindset — which I was stuck in for years — is a life thief. It can stop you from being able to just sit and enjoy quality time with your family, it can stop you going to nice restaurants with your friends, and it can stop you visiting entire, beautiful countries, like Italy.


But when you can listen to your body; when you can put your self-worth into more than how you look, and how you perform; when you make room in your belly for laughter, there is less room for vast quantities of food, consumed in secret.


The fact is that freedom — like Italy — is there, waiting for you.



But you have to be willing to open your heart, to let it in.





What To Do If You Think About Food All The Time

As I said in my ultimate guide to stop binge eating, I used to be obsessed with food.

I’d think about it all the time. I’d sit at my desk and drool over what I could eat now, what I would eat next, what I could eat later. Whether I was out catching up with friends, sitting in the cinema, or lying in bed, it didn’t matter — food would constantly call to me.

It turns out dieting and deprivation is the reason you’re obsessing over food. If you never deprived yourself, or had a diet mentality, you’d never feel like you can’t go on living another second unless the entire bag of M&Ms are in your mouth. That just wouldn’t be a thing.

And why did we all diet in the first place? Well, duh… because we’re unhappy with how we look.

Personally, I wanted a six pack. I wanted to look, feel and therefore be, a strong motherfucking badass.

What started as a project of self improvement became a full blown obsession, of orthorexia, anorexia and then binge eating. My entire self-worth was put into an image of myself I could never attain.

When you spend this much time fantasizing, planning out exactly what you’re going to eat and at what time, constantly exercising purely to try to change your size and shape, checking the mirror to itemize everything that’s wrong with your body… when your mind is focused only on these things, you lose so many other things:

  • You lose the mental resources to focus on productive and creative ideas.
  • You waste a tonne of time.
  • You waste a tonne of energy (emotional or otherwise).
  • You can’t be fully present with your family, friends, the cheerful barista pouring you the most amazing cup of coffee, or the view from your AirBnB holiday rental.


You exist, but you don’t truly live.

But here’s the thing:

  • 90% of women and 80% of men are unhappy in their bodies (obviously the stats depend on exactly where you look, but it’s not good).
  • 95% of diets don’t work. (With people usually regaining more weight than they lost. And the people who restrict hardest and longest are often the ones who go onto binge eating. We’re too busy trying to crush it to be the best version of ourselves that it completely backfires.)

When statistics are this high, this isn’t about individuals anymore. This is about society (a) making everyone feel — at best — inadequate and — at worst — entirely worthless in the body they were given the gift of life with; and (b) the diet industry knowing this, and therefore getting repeat customers, time and again.

Think about it: it’s the perfect business model:

Step 1. I’m going to make you believe have a problem (since you’re not white with 3% body fat, and therefore don’t look the way only 4% of the population could ever look),

Step 2. I’m going to sell you something that will work for a bit, (so you trust me enough to come back when it inevitably fucks you up).

Step 3. When it does fuck you, I’m going to cash in on the fact that you’ve blamed yourself… You failed because you’re a lazy piece of shit, right?


Mmm, I’m gonna sleep well tonight.


It’s not ethical, but apparently it works, because according to Brene Brown’s (highly recommended) book, there’s a:

  • $38 billion hair industry
  • $33 billion diet industry
  • $24 billion skincare industry
  • $18 billion makeup industry
  • $15 billion perfume industry
  • $13 billion cosmetic surgery industry

While I know a lot of people get into the fitness industry because they want to help others feel and perform better, it would be naïve to not realise there’s a shit ton of people getting rich out of making you feel bad about yourself.

But Maria, I still need to fit in. Even if it’s wrong, I need to live in this society!

So what can we all do about this?

You can be aware of where this pressure is coming from. Ask yourself: who benefits from me feeling this way about myself?

You can acknowledge that loving yourself doesn’t make you fat (and hating yourself doesn’t make you thin).

You can realize that your feelings about your weight actually have zero impact on how other people feel about you (but your feelings about your body may have an impact on how pleasant you are to be around in general, because it turns out people actually like us a shit tonne more if we’re actually focused, friendly, and feel comfortable in our own skin, no matter what we look like).

Realize that feeling utter despair over eating a Mars bar is going to make you eat more Mars bars because of the emotional pain you’re in. Whereas eating a Mars bar because you were feeling a bit sad, then moving on with your life is totally fine and human. The strict diet mentality — that level of perfectionism — is actually holding you back. Try instead, to be compassionate towards yourself, no matter what you eat, do, or don’t do.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve and change yourself (which is presumably why you dieted in the first place), but when you take this too far, when you’re putting all your self-worth into what the scale says, or how you didn’t eat “perfectly”, maybe it’s time to diversify your identity. Maybe it’s time to go to that painting class you always wanted to go to, learn how to play the piano, or just take your friend out for coffee.

Because, I don’t know about you, but when I’m on my death bed, I don’t want to say “I obsessed over food for every second I was alive, but at least I had a six pack”.


How do food thoughts hold you back? Let me know in the comments or contact me with all the amazing things you want to do instead of thinking about food all day.





Face The Unknown

I hung from a cliff face, all alone, in a foreign country. No one knew where I was. I had no ropes, only the strength of my fingertips against the rocks. The sun was beaming down. I’d finished my water 3 hours ago, and the rucksack on my back was full of books.

I call this: facing the unknown.

It was January 2014, I was living in Exeter, UK, and it kept getting flooded. I’d just finished my PhD, and was renting a room in a terrace with no insulation, and no heating. There was also this massive hole in the window of my bedroom. Sometimes I’d lay on my bed and just watch leaves blowing around in circles on the floor. Each night I wore 3 layers of clothes under a duvet, and still I shivered and barely slept.

Now, I’m not an umbrella person. I’m a hood-up-and-get-on-with-it kind of person. So each day I was soaked through from the day before. My shoes started to smell. I started wearing baggy, old clothes. I looked a bit like a homeless person, but I didn’t even care.

It’s no surprise I got fired from my waitressing job.

I went to London for a few days, and on the train back to Exeter, I got an email saying the final part of my PhD (the viva) would be happening in 3 months’ time.

Three months to wait around in the cold? No way.

I stepped off the train in Exeter, walked straight into a travel agent and said, “what’s the cheapest flight to New Zealand, leaving as soon as you can?”

The flights cost exactly the amount I’d made waitressing. I left one week later.

And it was amazing.

I jumped out of a plane, I bungeed off a bridge. I did all the things I’ve always wanted to do, ever since I was a kid. I hired a car, and I drove fast. When I got pulled over by the cops for speeding, I talked myself out of the ticket.

I was having the time of my life.

In the southern part of the North Island, I rocked up at a youth hostel. I’d had a hectic few days, so I decided to have an easy one. I packed my bag full of books, and a small bottle of water, and asked the owner of the hostel for directions to the beach.

He gave me a leaflet, which had this tiny, cartoony map on it. I started walking and there wasn’t a soul in sight. I loved it. I looked at the leaflet again. It said I could walk along the coast in 4.5 hours and get the train back from the next town. Since the route was along the coast, I figured I couldn’t possibly get lost.

The “beach” was mostly shingle, with these huge pieces of driftwood. It was pretty difficult terrain to walk on. I was wearing a pair of Converse, that had so many holes in that most people would have thrown them out by now. The more I walked, the more this “beach” was getting sketchier and sketchier.

I took a wrong turn somewhere, and it became impassable. I had to turn back and get to the beach. But I realized… there was no beach.

The tide had been high this whole time.

The leaflet said if the tide was high, I’d have to step over a few rocks at Wairaka Point. No worries.

So I kept walking.

I was 3.5 hours in when I got to the point, and there was no path. There were just huge rocks sticking out of the water — giant, jagged, monstrous things — not small ones I could hop over.

On top of the only rock it might be possible to scale, there was this huge seal, sitting there, mocking me.

Now, I’m a terrible swimmer, but even I considered it for a microsecond, and then a massive wave crashed over the rocks and washed over the seal.

“Hell, no,” I said, “I will definitely die if I go into the sea.”

So I sat on the beach for a minute and looked at the cliff face behind me.

I had no drinking water left. I had no supplies. I was not prepared for this at all.

But I had a decision in front of me: go back the way I came, or face the unknown.

Now, at this point in my life, I’d overcome years of eating disorders. I’d moved past abusive relationships from both my mother and a lover. I’d recovered from 15 years of chronic depression. I worked hard to get over all of these issues while I did a PhD in Mathematics.

I’d got myself out of the rain and I knew I couldn’t go back.

I refuse to go back the way I came.

I stood up. I told myself I had to be confident. “If you hesitate, you die. If you fall, sprain an ankle, break a leg, you die.”

I started climbing the cliff, knowing I couldn’t afford to be scared.

I realized, after so many years of wanting to kill myself, that I wasn’t done yet. It was the first time there was a threat to my life since I’d overcome depression and I realized I wanted to live.

I kept climbing. Telling myself, “don’t be on the news. Don’t be that idiot tourist on the news!”

I reached the top and looked out at the view. It was awesome because I knew not many people had seen it. It was just me and the seal, watching two vast bodies of blue meet at the horizon.

But I didn’t stay for long. I was scared, had no idea of I’d have to climb back down the other side, and I needed to find water.

I kept moving forwards.

After another hour of nothing, eventually I found a fence.

I have never — before or since — been so happy to see a piece of metal wire.

I followed the fence for a good while, and then I saw cows. Cows meant humanity! Way down the bottom, a farmer mowing his lawn. When I got there, his gate had 4 different padlocks on it. I hid behind a bush and timed it perfectly: vaulted the gate while he wasn’t looking.

In town finally, I hopped on the train back to the hostel. Ate a glorious portion of fish and chips. I cannot even describe what colour my Converse had become. That night, I threw them in the bin, went to bed and listened as a storm raged outside, feeling immensely grateful that I wasn’t still out there.

And the day after the next? I did the Tongariro National Alpine Crossing, and it was fine, but you know what? There were too many people. There was too much certainty.

Because, look: at any given moment you can step forward into growth, or step back into safety.

Pioneers and explorers know this. That’s why they step forward and face their fears.

Now I’m not saying I’m the greatest or bravest explorer, but I do know that sometimes in life you have to face the unknown. And I’ve learnt that when you do that enough, an amazing thing happens.

You begin to trust yourself.

And when you trust yourself, that voice in your head that tells you you can’t — that fear — it becomes a little quieter.

That’s when you know, even in the toughest moments, that you will always find a way.

Because when you face the unknown, when you confront it head on, over and over again, you develop the strength and resilience to face anything.




Why Idealizing The Body You Used To Have Could Be Preventing You From Moving Forwards

Jessi Kneeland is back this week to discuss your questions on binge eating, losing weight, and idealizing the body you used to have.

If you missed part 1 of this podcast, go check it out here.

[Download MP3 here]


[0:27] — I can see why it’s easy to love and accept yourself if someone already loves you, but what if I’m trying to find my man/woman?

[6:19] — I still identify as the “big guy”/”big girl”

[10:01] — The Blind Man method to describe body parts in a neutral way

[15:00] — How the Tapping Technique can take you towards neutral

[16:25] — I feel self-conscious unless I wear baggy clothes. Other clothes show my shape too much.

[19: 08] — Using a “body-part inventory” to dig deeper

[21:47] — I idealize the body I used to have…

[27:15] — One action step you can take right now to move you away from binge eating and towards health and wellbeing.