Today I'm chatting with eating psychology and life coach, Alexandrea Farha about why it's so important that you break up with your diet. We discussed dieting, eating habits, body image, and how you can reconstruct your beliefs so you can reach your goals without the diet.
Listen to the podcast below!
Or watch our chat here
Alex is an eating psychology and life coach, who founded The Diet Breakup, a program and community to help woman break up with their diet, stop yo-yo dieting and finally fall in love with their body, and heal their relationship with food.
After spending years as a personal trainer and struggling with an eating disorder herself, Alex discovered that there is so much more to your health and your confidence than what you eat and how often you exercise. Inspiring woman to look within and learn the language of their body, Alex has helped woman finally stop the food fight, and step into a life that’s really worth living.
You can find Alex on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/the.diet.breakup/
Brooke: I am so excited to have you on. You can just, we were chatting beforehand, but you can just tell how passionate that you are when it comes to helping women and helping women break free of yo-yo dieting, working on their body image and the psychology behind food.
Thank you for your kind words. It's definitely a big passion of mine. So this message is very important to me.
My story is probably quite similar to a lot of women out there. You may be past it or you may be still going through it. But I remember I was probably about 15 when I went on my first diet and this was the very, very start of what ended up being a very long journey.
You go on your diet and you lose a little bit of weight and the attention sort of starts flowing in. You look great, what are you doing? And that validation at the time feels amazing. So from that place, that's when things started to turn a little bit toxic. I'd weigh every ounce of food, I would overexercise, I would count every single calorie to the point where I probably knew what was in an ounce of spit.
From weighing myself every morning, every night, at lunchtime before I ate and after I ate. And that's kind of when things got a little bit toxic. So what I did was being into sort of fitness and health, I went and did my certificate in personal training.
I became a personal trainer and I started bringing clients on board and there was a part of me that knew what was going on with myself and I knew that it was wrong. But for anyone who's kind of sucked into a diet way of life, it's kind of hard to see and break away from it.
With my clients, I could see that they were going through something very similar. Only they were going from they'd put on weight and then they'd lose it and then they'd put on weight again and they had this really unhealthy relationship with food.
Dealing with an eating disorder
It got to a point where I needed to control food so much that I developed bulimia, which consumed my life for about a good five years which is so much more common than you can possibly understand.
If you are listening to this, I want you to know if you are going through it, there are so many girls on the same page, you're not alone.
It was kept as a dark little secret and I was living with someone at the time and she had no idea because that's how good I was at hiding it. Sometimes there would be episodes of engaging in it up to five times a day.
I was in and out of therapy and I was seeing a psychologist for about three years and then things were just not getting better. I was just playing this victim story in my head over and over, just like a CD, it was just a story that was going on. I just couldn't break free from it.
Then at one of my sessions, my psychologist recommended antidepressants and I know where medication does have its place. It definitely does, but I knew that it wasn't what I needed at the time. And that was the day that the light bulb went off for me and I realised something needed to change.
Thank you for sharing your story because I know there are girls out there that can relate because there's a lot of sort of guilt that comes with eating disorders and it can be hard to share. I know that I've experienced it, so thank you so much for sharing.
Yes, the guilt and the shame and sometimes when I'm speaking with people, even my friends now, I'm not as transparent as I would even like to be, just because of what you hold onto when you go through something like an eating disorder or binge eating or the food has this hold over you.
There is so much shame and guilt carried with it. But my message is that it's not something to be shameful for and it's not something to feel guilty about. It is an actual coping mechanism that you've turned to, to help get yourself through different areas of your life.
You said you're light bulb moment or your aha moment was when they said, "Okay, medication is the answer to fixing your problem", what was your mindset shift or what was an alternative method that you thought you could take to help get through what you were going through?
Yes. So that day when I walked out of my psychologist's office, I went home and I just cried. And it really felt like this turning point for me because that was the signal that I needed, that if I don't do something different and decide that I want something different, I could see my life another five years from that moment.
I was seeing her for about three years and I just wasn't getting any better. And there was this part of me that I lent on my eating disorder. It was my best friend really. It was getting to the point of saying, "I want to live and I want a life that is filled with magic."
So I went on and started reading, YouTubing, trying to find people who were going through similar experiences. And every single day I would wake up and I would just think about choosing to get better and choosing to have a positive relationship with food. And I would have friends around me who had this relationship with food that seemed so pleasant and just easy. And I just craved to be like that. So I think it's getting yourself to a point where it's so bad that there is nowhere else to turn other than something better.
Turning inward, yeah - I think something that you were saying earlier is that you felt like perhaps you were really, really in control. Like you are controlling your diet, and your exercise and you felt like you had control over your life, but when you're so pedantic about weighing yourself before and after every meal, you're really out of control.
It's those small but positive mindset shifts that you have to try and take every day because for every action, there is a reaction.
Totally. I can so relate to that because it's like you said, you think that when you start that diet on Monday that you're finally going to feel in control.
I tell my clients that the only way that you are in control is when you're tuned in and listening to what your body needs - that's when you're controlling the food.
When you can say yes to the cookie without feeling guilty or no to the cookie, because you actually don't feel like it. That is control.
How to eat intuitively
I agree, when you're feeling into your body and listening to your body, that's when you're able to make positive decisions. Do you identify as an intuitive eater and how's your relationship with food now?
Yeah, so I'm a total intuitive eater. Mind you; it took me a very long time to get here, you know? So it's not something that I woke up one morning and said, "Today I'm going to eat intuitively."
It's quite the process, but I don't embark on any diets anymore. Even just the thought of a diet, of me going on a diet, even if it's just mental, sends me into a spiral of anxiety and will often cause me to start acting quite disordered around food. So I just don't even allow myself to go there anymore.
I start my mornings by checking in with how I'm feeling, what my body needs. And I do this before every meal as well. So, I'll ask myself what do I feel like, how hungry am I? And it doesn't always look that simple, but definitely an intuitive eater for now and for life.
Our bodies weren't designed to be sick and unhealthy and overweight. That is not your body's natural state. So it already has an abundance of wisdom inside of it. And if you learn to listen to it and learn the language of it and become the master of your body, it won't fail you.
How do you try and direct people to a better way of thinking about diet and exercise as well when coming into the new year and we feel like it's an all or nothing mentality?
Totally understand - if you can just for a moment put weight loss on the back burner and instead start honing on, "Okay, what do I actually feel like today? Do I feel like eating vegetables in this meal? Do I feel like going out for this meal?" And like I said, intuitive eating is definitely a process, and there are some things that you can do in place to get yourself there.
But going into this year, I would really, really highly recommend focusing more so on how you feel rather than how you look. Because if you can do that, the external kind of follows. If you get yourself feeling good majority of the time your outside world generally follows.
How do you help people get out of a negative mindset? Because I know it's a journey, but a lot of people base their value on how they look or number on a scale. How do you help people change that mindset?
I'm quite strict in terms of the people that I work with one-on-one, just in terms of I can't get you to that really dark place of what your life will look like if you don't make a change. I can't do that for you.
I can give you tools for example, I'll ask them to "write down for me what five years from now is going to look like for you if you don't make some changes here. And then on another page, let's write down five years from now what your life is going to look like if you do make these changes."
The first card usually says, "I'm still really controlled by food. I can't wear a bikini. My relationships are affected. I can't feel intimate with my partner. I can't go out for dinner and just enjoy myself." So you get them to kind of really see the areas of their life that are extremely affected by this unhealthy body image and this control around food.
And then on the other page, when we talk about having more freedom around food and developing a level of confidence and body image that serves them, their card looks completely different.
They include things like travel, and they want to start a family and be the best partner that they can possibly be. And they want to participate in life and experience as much as they possibly can.
If you can get yourself to that place where the good outweighs the bad, and you can kind of see a future where, "This is why I'm doing it, this is why I'm NOT going to weigh my food today because I want to be happy." Get them to focus on that vision. It makes what they do a lot easier.
Working with a coach vs personal trainer
Do you notice a difference in the work that you do now as a coach versus when you were a personal trainer?
Oh yes. It's much harder in a personal trainer environment or in a gym environment to tell people to put weight loss on the back burner. Because that's what they're paying you for. So, if I was to recommend that they would be like, "What do you mean?"
Because I know when you go to see a PT, the first thing they do is they measure you, they weigh you, all those kinds of things where you feel your value and your worth is based on the number on the scale or size of your arms decreasing.
Totally, it's pure self-betrayal. It's literally seeing your body has this object that needs to be measured and weighed and pinched and prodded to be worthy.
I'm all for having goals and wanting to get to a certain level of health. Amazing. But if you don't heal that relationship with food and have that solid foundation of self-love and confidence to build upon, your results will always be shaky.
I've seen it time and time again and if you're listening to this, just know that you will continue to fluctuate with your weight and go up and down if you don't also work on your mindset. You need to look at that core foundational relationship with food and what's going on there that's causing these shaky results.
Why diets DO NOT work
And when it comes to dieting, I believe the diet industry is a scam. You may lose weight, but then I think the stats show, 97 per cent of dieters regain everything they lost and then some within three years.
That's why the diet industry is so massive, and we keep going back. It's because you see the results, but then you put the weight back on because it's not sustainable.
Totally, and it's so sexy to go on this new diet, you know? It's almost calling you. You're looking at this photo or the testimonials of the before and afters, and you're like, "This is going to change my life." And maybe it will for a very short period, but unless, as I mentioned, you deal with the stuff that's going on beneath the surface and really heal that relationship with food, something's going to come into your life that's going to shake you up, and food becomes your coping mechanism.
Commenting on people's weight
"Oh you look amazing, you've lost weight," is a common comment that you hear. You also see comments online of people saying, "you're so brave for putting yourself out there," if you show your roles or cellulite etc and it can be 1. really insulting and 2. make feel that their worth is based on how they look.
What kind of advice would you give to people about commenting on other people's appearances?
Alexandrea: I think it's so important to understand that how someone looks isn't a necessary, true reflection of what's going on beneath the surface. So if we go back to when I first started dieting and I lost all this weight and the compliments started rolling in, I was struggling big time.
It was this constant fight every day with food and I lost all this weight, yet when I looked in the mirror I still didn't like the person that I was. I was still deeply unfulfilled. I didn't feel like I had much of a purpose. But what 16 year old does? The point is that I wasn't really filling my cup up with things that nourished my soul and helped with my own personal growth, it was all about external validation.
So if you're going to go and compliment someone for just how they look, make sure that you are also checking in and seeing, are they enjoying their new lifestyle? How are they feeling mentally? Do they feel their level of confidence has gone up? It's so important to dig deep beneath the surface and find out what's going on there.
Brooke: I agree, I think it's also being mindful of your words and I think you don't always need to comment on people's appearance, even if they may seem happy it can be a front. So ask yourself "is there something else I could compliment them on?" Like, "you look really happy, or you're doing really well with your career or you're a great mum!" And I think there's just so many other smarter choices of words that you could potentially use.
What advice would you give to your 16-year-old self?
Alexandrea: The biggest thing that I would tell myself is that it's all going to be okay and that how I look isn't what I'm worth. And what I weigh doesn't measure my worth. And the things that really matter, are focusing on the relationships that I'm building around me and being really authentic and also tuning in to my body and trusting that it knows what's best for me.
When we start a diet, what we're really doing is we're pushing away that part of ourself that has that inner wisdom and we're saying, "This program or this diet knows better than me."
What I would say to that 16-year-old girl is that "You have all of the answers inside of you and as long as you stay strong nd really tune in and listen to what your desires are, you can't go wrong."
What's your advice for someone in their 50's +
Alexandrea: You are whoever you want to be.
Your life is going to pass you by and it's never ever too late. And as long as you are still on this earth and you're still taking breaths there is an opportunity for you to change.
My coach says "Your identity isn't stuck on you by superglue, it's just velcro and you can take those identities off as you like and stick new ones on that serve you."
Alexandrea: So in the.diet.breakup, one of the biggest things that we focus on is, what do you value and how does your lifestyle line up to that? How can we make your lifestyle line up with the person that you want to be? So you might be sitting there in your 40s or 50s or 60s and think, "That's it, I am who I am." And this is something that you need to realize is that language is only limiting yourself.
Unless you decide that you want to change, you're right, you're not going to change. It's too late. But if you can change your language and say, "I am whoever I want to be today," you can make magic happen.
How do you practice self-love and take time for self-care?
Alexandrea: I think your self-care practice or self-love practice is really understanding who you are and where you get your energy from. So for myself, I'm quite introverted and I get a lot of my energy by being alone.
So I know when I need time on my own, I know when I need to do journaling and writing and reading to replenish those energy stores. I think a lot of the time your self-care and self-love practice is being disciplined with your rituals every single day.
If you want to make time to meditate and journal and exercise, where in terms of the priority do these things sit in your life? What's the consequence of you not doing these things? I know that if I don't wake up and meditate, it affects my whole day. So it's a non-negotiable.
So little tiny rituals during your day can be massive in terms of change, but it's also checking in with yourself and asking how you feel today.
What if you have no one to support your own self-growth and development?
Alexandrea: I can relate to this, because when I first started I felt like I was an alien. I thought I was so different, I couldn't fit in and my perspective was quite different to a lot of people around me and I went through stages of feeling so isolated and so alone.
What I can tell you is that you aren't alone, and you're always connected and there are people out there going through exactly what you're going through. Sometimes if you can't get that support directly around you, it's listening to a podcast or picking up a book and reading that you can really resonate and relate to.
Starting an online program where you can meet like-minded people. You're not always going to have people around you that are supporting what you're going through or what you're trying to achieve. And the hard truth is that you have to go out and find it.
I agree, I think community is so important because when you feel alone and isolated, it's really hard to focus on yourself. And even if you don't have the people around you, like you said, you can jump online. I get so much with my energy and inspiration from women like yourself, on Instagram and within my Facebook group.
That was a big shift that I started making a couple of years ago was just unfollowing accounts that didn't serve me and following accounts where women were uplifting each other and they're talking about personal development and body positivity.
Be careful what you consume
Alexandrea: Being so mindful about what you're consuming, not even in a food sense, but you think about your different senses and trying to eat a balanced diet, well the same goes for what you intake in terms of Instagram and the influences that you follow. Are they serving your soul or nourishing your soul, and if not, unfollow.
How do you model your confidence?
Alexandrea: Confidence to me is a massive inside job. You can go out, you can change your look, you can lose weight, you can put on weight, you can do whatever you want in your external world. But unless you have done the internal work, you're never going to reach that destination of confidence.
One of the biggest things that I teach in my program is around beliefs. So we get clear on what your beliefs are around food, around your body, around your work, and any area that sort of comes to mind. And then we break down those beliefs and we start to create beliefs that are going to serve your confidence a lot better.
If you want to know what your beliefs are, all you need to do is look around your life and see areas where you're not happy with and I can guarantee you hold very strong beliefs in that way. And these are very unconscious, so you might not even be aware of it.
An example that I give to my clients is, imagine a little girl sitting on a chair and you go out to this little girl and you say things like, "You're a failure. You're not enough. You can't do this. Who do you think you are?" You would leave that little girl in absolute tears.
She won't want to go out and conquer the world because she won't have the confidence or courage to do so. Whereas if you went up to this little girl and you said to her, "You are beautiful and wise and you can do anything you set your mind to. You are so intelligent, you are powerful."
By saying these affirmations and create strong beliefs within this child, she is going to go out, conquer the world with confidence because that's who she believes she is. The little girl is the analogy for your thoughts and the things that you say to yourself.
So right now my biggest mission is to get this message out to as many women as I possibly can. I want to leave a dent in the diet industry and get women stepping into their power and owning who they are by listening to their body, healing their relationship with food so that they can actually create a life that they love.
6 Habits That Are Keeping You Stuck With a Negative Body Image: https://www.bybrookelindsay.com/post/6-habits-that-are-keeping-you-stuck-with-a-negative-body-image