Helen McGillivray is a psychological therapist with over 28 years of clinical experience, including 14 years providing psychological therapies. She specialises in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Helen is accredited with

The BACBP, the leading organisation for cognitive and behavioural therapies in the UK.

In this blog, Helen talks about the how to avoid eating 'mindlessly' and start paying more attention to what we're eating.

We all know what we should do to stay healthy. We are bombarded with information about what’s good, what’s bad, superfoods, hot yoga, cold swimming, vegan, paleo, keto… it’s endless. Perhaps the battle is not with ourselves but with how we react and respond to all this information.

In our modern world we have become more and more dependent on convenience—grabbing food on the go and not paying attention to, or connecting with, our food and the body it goes into. How we feel about ourselves and our emotional state has a massive impact on the food we choose to eat and our eating behaviour.

How we feel about ourselves, and our emotional state, has a massive impact on the food we choose to eat, and our eating behaviour

According to Healthy Nibbles, almost 65% of employees report that they do not eat a healthy diet. These poor diets cost the UK 97 million work days. So how can we be more mindful about what we eat?

Humans are hardwired to like and crave things that make us feel good and to choose the path of least resistance—it’s part of the human condition. We are also conditioned to compare ourselves to others. We no longer have only small tribes of our ancestors to compare ourselves to, but massive online communities—some of whom we have never even met. With this in mind, it seems even more important to pay attention to ourselves and notice how we react to these external pressures.

Who can relate to eating 'mindlessly'? Mindless eating means eating food just because it’s there, not because we are hungry, and we’re often not even being aware we are doing it. When we don’t pay attention to our body, we are likely to miss hunger cues. It’s so easy to grab some crisps out of a bowl, or snack on some chocolate in the afternoon when our blood sugar dips. Modern life makes this easy—especially in lockdown.

We don't think about the putting the food in our mouths; we just do it—without being mindful

Mindful eating means paying attention to how your body feels, your emotions when you eat, and also paying attention and connecting more fully to the food you are eating. When we focus our attention on what we're eating, we are more able to make better choices. It's not a habit that's easy to adopt. A lifetime of mindless eating, snacking and even drinking isn't going to go away with the snap of a finger. Instead, keep the following things in mind as you seek to improve your eating habits—and pause before you take your next bite!

Here’s some tips for adopting mindful eating:

  • Link your choices to your core values. Focus on the reason why you would like to modify your eating behaviour, e.g., I would like to be healthier so I have more energy to play with my kids.

  • Tune in to how you are feeling and the sensations in your body, e.g., hungry, full, stressed, tired, thirsty. Notice also how you speak to yourself when you make choices.

  • If mindful eating is new to you, take a few days and write down everything that you eat. This will highlight your personal habits and areas for improvement. You can do this with paper and pen, or use one of the many food log apps available on your smartphone.

  • Focus. Take time to notice the food you are preparing, how it smells, looks and feels. Sit down when you eat, turn off all electronics, eat slowly, chewing thoroughly and enjoy your food one bite at a time!

  • Eating regularly and choosing foods that release energy slowly will help to keep your sugar levels steady. Slow-release energy foods include pasta, brown rice, oats, wholegrain bread and cereals, nuts and seeds. Drinking more water will help reduce fatigue and improve concentration.

Tuning into our bodies and minds, while connecting with our values, may help us navigate more steadily through the storm of convenience and consumerism that we find ourselves in. Taking the time to slow down and appreciate our food is a great way to connect with ourselves and improve the health of ourselves and our families.

At OK Positive, we've partnered with Healthy Nibbles, who provide healthy snacking options at both individual and corporate level. Their snack boxes can be tailored to meet dietary requirements such as gluten-free and vegan as well as any allergens. These are the perfect idea for taking a proactive approach as an organisation to support employee health.

How do you feel after a workout?

Doing physical activity helps us connect with our body—and the more we’re connected with our body, the more likely we’ll look after them. Studies show that being more active can not only improve how we relate to ourselves, but also lower stress levels and even reduce the risk of depression.

When we experience high-energy emotions like fear, stress, anxiety or excitement—to name just a few—our body releases adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline prepares us physically when we perceive a threat by triggering the fight-or-flight response, while cortisol is produced in reaction to stress and can even suppress our immune system.

However, we don’t face the same threats in modern life that humans once did, resulting in excess adrenaline that can lead to fatigue and muscle tension. Cortisol can also suppress our immune system, so high levels of it over a period of time can make us more susceptible to illness. Doing high-energy workouts help burn off excess amounts of these hormones, reducing the negative impact this has on our body.

On the other hand, when we experience low-energy emotions such as sadness or depression, we often feel heavy or numb and can find ourselves ruminating, getting stuck in unhelpful patterns of thinking. Exercising can bring us out of this ‘thinking mode’ and release endorphins—a natural high created by our body.

Mindful, purposeful movement while exercising allows us to take time out from autopilot and bring us back to the present moment. This in turn aids our motivation and productivity. So, next time you exercise, try being aware of your breathing or where your feet land—see how it makes you feel.

Schedule in some exercise in the coming week—this could be as simple as taking a brisk walk around the park at lunchtime. Pay attention to how you feel before and after. You might find it helpful to record this in some way, like in a journal, or in our app when you log your mood. Do this a few times, start looking back at what you recorded, and you might be surprised by what you feel. We rarely regret a workout, but often regret not doing one.

With gyms still closed, staying active and keeping up our motivation can be a real challenge. We’ve added some new home workouts from Siri Price Fitness to our in-app resources. If you prefer more relaxed forms of exercise, there are plenty of yoga classes in our app, too—head over to the Resources section of our app and select Look after your body. Why not do just that and take the opportunity to try something new this week?

Helen McGillivray, Clinical Director

Learn how you as a leader can create calm in the midst of a crisis. Start with self-awareness, suggests Helen, psychological therapist.

The ongoing coronavirus crisis and new lockdown restrictions have left most of us feeling uncertain about the path ahead. The ongoing disruption poses a profound challenge to the way that we live and work, and we face the reality that life could look this way for some time to come.

In times of crisis, it is usual for people to seek social contact and community. As humans, we thrive on social contact and a sense of belonging and working together.

There is an opportunity here for business leaders to act with deliberate calm and direction—to help their teams work towards their goals with a shared sense of purpose.

It can be hard for us to deliberately cultivate calm, since we are biologically hardwired to a fight-or-flight response in a crisis. It takes practice, but in this crisis, if we allow ourselves as leaders to be vulnerable, there is opportunity for growth.

Rather than focusing on the difficulty of managing the work-life balance, we could perhaps view it as an opportunity to provide a sense of clarity and grounding to our staff amid the COVID storm. As leaders, we may need to prioritise this grounding as well as self-care so that we can lead by example. So, how best to achieve this?

1. Pay Attention to Yourself

Self-awareness is being aware of situations as they happen and noticing how we are responding emotionally and physically. For example, we might feel anxious or tense, we may have a racing heart or thoughts, and we may be irritated easily or respond abruptly to others.

These are our own unique internal experiences. Remember, you are not your thoughts. When you step back and see them as just thoughts, they don’t define who you are. Regular mindfulness practice can help cultivate this awareness.

2. Slow Down Your Reactions

Take time to reflect on how you responded to the first lockdown. Did you go into overdrive trying to save the world? How did that work out for you—and your team? Any lessons there?

When a stressful situation arises in your day, try to pause for a moment. Take a few deep breaths and pay attention to your internal experiences at that moment. What matters most to you right now? How do you want to respond? What sort of leader (or parent, or teacher) would you like to be?

3. Do Things Differently

We don’t need to carry on ‘as normal’—these are not normal times. It’s time to really get to know your colleagues: how are they doing, really? We are all unique, and unless we ask, we don’t really know what’s going on with people.

Encourage your team members to take breaks and be flexible. Use the OK Positive app to discuss well-being and encourage people to take time out during their day. Make an effort to really hear what people need. Notice how they respond and share your experiences.

4. Set an Intention

Take a few minutes at the beginning of your day to figure out what you want to accomplish. Ask yourself how you’d like this day to unfold. What actions would be required for this to happen? What obstacles might prevent this? How will your actions affect those around you? Then—commit to this.

5. Reflect

It’s important to focus on what went well. Make time in your day for reflection as well. Some people find it helpful to talk things over with a partner or friend; others keep a daily journal to capture the moment and look back on it later. One of my patients likes to write on Post-it notes and put them in a jam jar—over time, this jar becomes a tool for reflection.

6. Reframe Your Perspective

When we’re feeling stressed or anxious, we’re most likely caught up in negative thoughts and repetitive self-stories. Pay attention to what your mind is saying. When you find yourself thinking that nothing ever works out for me, reframe this as I’m having the thought that nothing ever works out for me. Stepping back and realising that these thoughts are just that—thoughts—puts you back in control.

7. Manage Your Energy

One thing I notice regularly is how hard it can be for leaders to find the right balance between work, and their physical and mental well-being. It’s so important to take time out to rest and recover. Try doing things at a slower pace for a couple of days and note how it impacts your attention span and productivity. Is it better? worse? the same?

Leadership during this time of crisis is a huge responsibility, but also a privilege. Where leaders are willing to be vulnerable, there’s a great opportunity to do things differently. Share your experiences; talk about the challenges that you face and how it makes you feel.

I keep hearing ‘we are all in the same boat’ but often it feels like we are all in individual boats, trying to keep up, but paddling at different times with different methods.

Consider slowing down, offering and asking for help, and cooperating on what needs to be achieved. You might just find that you get there quicker when you all work together as a team.