February 25th is the start of Eating Disorder (ED) awareness week, affecting men and women of all shapes and sizes. We caught up with Laura Phelan, founder of Phelan Well, to get a better insight into a cause close to her heart, as well as banishing some of the myths and stereotypes surrounding EDs.
Tell us a little more about what made you train to become an ED specialist on Harley Street?
When I was travelling it really hit home how far I had come in my recovery, it had been about 7 years at this point and on my return, I became an Ambassador for Beat (UK’s leading ed charity). Through my work with them I realised sharing my story was really making a difference and I fell in love with trying to inspire others to keep going with their recovery.
During this time, I worked as a Wellbeing Mentor in schools/ a project coordinator for Mind and taught Boxing for Mental Health, so I had experience of helping people in a 121 setting with their Mental Health. I knew it was something I wanted to pursue further and so I began my Eating Disorder Specialist Training at the National Centre for Eating Disorders.
Years later having qualified and up-skilled in other areas such as Body Image, CBT and Therapeutic Coaching I decided to take what had started as skype sessions, into Harley St where they were keen to work with someone in this particular area, it also made it more accessible for people who wanted to see me in person and that’s where I still practice along with my only skype sessions with people all over the world!
How does your service as a practitioner help?
My mission is to help people who are in the transitions period of their recovery or who are seeking help for disordered eating before it progresses into a full-blown eating disorder. The reason being, is once out of the NHS, there is little in the way of support when it comes to feeling better in your recovered body and continuing working on your relationship with food and that’s where I come in.
Equally, for people who are in a chronic dieting cycle, or who are starting to feel obsessive about food, exercise and their bodies I can help them work on this and stop it developing further. I am also very passionate about my clinic being open to people in all different body types, eating disorders do not just impact people in smaller bodies. What sets me apart, is that I have the tools and insight from both a professional and personal perspective.
Tell us about your brand Beyond Body Confidence?
Beyond Body Confidence is an initiative, movement and community bringing together women through events, our online platform and campaigns to show them that there is so much more to achieving body confidence than focusing on how you look, its an inside-our process. We believe that to be the most fulfilled, happy and accepting version of you, you need to look beyond aesthetics and start to make peace with you who are as a person. I co-founded this with one my best friends Abby Russel.
Can you ever be ‘too healthy’?
YES. Orthorexia was first defined in 1997 by Dr. Steven Bratman. It is not currently in the DSM so is not recognised as an eating disorder. However, it does need attending to and often can lead into anorexia and a very disordered relationship with food, body image and exercise. People might begin to use eating “clean” or “healthy” foods as away to cope with negative thoughts and feelings about themselves. If you think you are becoming obsessive with any of the above please seek help early- and throw those diet magazines while you do!
What are some unmistakeable signs to watch out for when it comes to spotting an ED?
- Preoccupation around weight, shape and appearance
- Avoiding socialising around food
- Changing food habits
- Loss of normal interests
- Deliberate methods to purge food from the body
- Eating in secret
- Changes in mood
- Strict habits and routines around food
- Loss of period
- Feeling cold, dizzy, tired
- Uncomfortable eating with others
- In some cases, weight loss/changes in weight/weight gain
- Extreme mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep problems
- New found preoccupation with body and other people’s bodies
- Erratic behaviour
- Hair loss
Where can people turn to for help if they are experiencing difficulty coping?
First port of call should be your local GP who should refer you accordingly, sadly this isn’t always the case. If not, I would recommend reaching out to a Helpline such as Beat or your local Mental Health service to see what they can do.
For information on how I can help just pop an email to laura@Phelanwell.com, you can also see more about my services on Phelanwell.com!
I read you work with people all over the world including South America – do you see more of certain issues in different areas?
I do indeed! It fascinates me, but also shows the extent to which these problems can impact people, no one is immune, and no one is safe from a very problematic diet culture! I would say most of my clients are UK based, but I am part Irish and there is a huge gap of services there which I would love to be a part in changing, as well as the US, France and Australia to name a few more places people have accessed me from!
What do you predict for wellness in 2019?
I think, luckily being are waking up to what has been an extremely dangerous and one size fits all message for a long time now.
Skinny teas are being called out, as well as photoshop and unrealistic ideals which is great, but we do have a LONG way to go. We still see passive diet messages being put out there such as sharing what people eat in a day / superfood trends / cutting out food groups and promoting a smaller body as a better body.
Fatphobia is a huge problem which leaves people feeling ashamed and guilty for existing in a larger body, I am very passionate about Health at Every size (an inclusive and respectful community to people of all sizes) and not judging someone’s health on the size of their body, because its quite frankly not possible! I would also like to see a further decrease in objectifying bodies, male and female, daily bikini photos and perfectly posed angles aren’t showing the full picture, nor a real one and it can exacerbate the obsession we already have with aesthetic ideals.
Who were your role models growing up & now?
Oh, my goodness well probable not the best ones but every Disney princess that existed! I did always prefer the Pocahontas / Moana / Ariel lead though so I guess I was a game changer at heart haha! I can’t forget the spice girls!
Now it would be women like Brene Brown, Rosa Parks (making major shifts in history) Oprah (bar being a face for weight watchers), my mum, my Nana who has passed, my best friends and every single person who fights to accept themselves more every day.
What are the top 5 books and blogs on your reading list?
AH – to be honest I am a massive fiction girl! I have to read a lot for academic study, so I love being lost in a Paige toon, Jodi Picoult or Marian Keys novel!
But I would say:
- Body respect Linda Bacon
- Body Positive Power-Megan Crabbe
- How do you like me now (fiction but so topical)- Holly Bourne?
- Dolly Alderton- Everything I know about love.
- The Unedit Blog.
Do you have any unconventional words of advice?
The moment you stop going to war with your body on a daily basis is the moment you will find some peace. Likewise no amount of obsessing about how you look will ever make you feel better about it.
Its okay to be weird. Eating what you want does not mean you will never stop eating and never stop gaining weight (weight gain isn’t bad by the way) but diet culture just likes to trick us into this!
If money and time were no object, what would be on your to-do and to-see list?
Only the WHOLE WORLD haha, especially the hot countries. I love travelling so much, I would go to start somewhere like Africa to do Safaris and see a Great White shark! I would also love to set up an animal Shelter for dogs and have loads of horses on a vineyard in California! But mostly I would just want all my family and friends to live comfortably and not stress about finances and know there is food coming in and experiences to be had!
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