Project HeatherED

Live your happiest, healthiest, and emotionally wealthiest life

Tag: goal-setting

The New Year Post (or how I’m opting out of Diet Culture in 2019)

You can already feel the momentum building. You can literally see it online. People are pre-planning their New Year’s resolutions, preparing for the clock to strike midnight. For many, this means starting yet another diet. Especially in January, “diet culture” is alive and kicking.

Give it whatever name you wish – wellness program, healthy-eating plan, a holistic lifestyle adjustment – it’s all the same. Collectively, we’re looking forward to a time when things – when we – will change. Somehow, we’ll become better.

In public – often at parties with family and friends – we set forth ambitious annual “health” goals. Secretly, we all add the same silent sentiment:  “…and then I’ll be happy.”  

“ Diet culture is a system of beliefs that worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”

Diet culture doesn’t just mean “being on a diet,” because you don’t have to follow any sort of official diet to be caught up in the culture of dieting.”

Christy Harrisson of Food Psych podcast.


Diet Culture and the Resolution Revolution

Peach Rose Taken By Heather DugganI’m talking about more than weight loss here. Not everyone sets out to slim come January 1st – though many  still make this their top personal goal, year after year. Regardless of what we choose to work on , the intention behind New Year’s resolutions stay the same: 

You must do – or stop doing – something if you want to be accepted; to potentially be seen as “good enough”.

In other words, if you break away from expected norms, you risk rejection. Or its cousins: loneliness, humiliation, and even shame.

This “New Year, New You!” sentiment is almost impossible to avoid.

Case in point: Infinite twixmas Weight Watchers advertisements, punctuate my festive viewing. Notably, it’s been rebranded as “WW: Wellness that Works” to appeal to a modern-day dieter. Heck, they’ve even got Robbie Williams alongside owner, Oprah, for their glossy new promotions.

If I’m honest, it’s tempting, even for a seasoned slimmer like me; one who’s been there, done that, and got the T-shirt in multiple sizes.

Whatever the original outcome, however, all previous attempts at weight loss have brought me back here:

Wondering when – if – I’ll ever feel good enough.

And I’m tired of feeling this way. It’s time to step out of diet culture’s vicious circle. I’m taking a different approach this New Year.

New Year, New Me?

Instead, my focus in 2019 is on how I feel. Specifically,  I’m working on feeling good about myself, irrespective of my current weight or appearance. Contrary to what diet culture tells us. 

And it’s not just me who’s fed-up with the whole Groundhog Day goal-setting routine that comes around every January.  

Mel Wells Author of The Goddess Revolution: Anti-Diet CultureThere’s a growing social movement of people like me looking to create a different relationship with food, fitness, and their bodies. One that’s based around prioritising feeling healthy and happy, rather than what we look like. Amazing, inspirational teachers and leaders are emerging from my peer group. Wonderful women like Laura Thomas PhD, Isabel Foxen-Duke, and Mel Wells are standing up to speak against diet culture, instead espousing Intuitive Eating (IE) and Health at Every Size.

Take Mel, who’s come a long way since “Hollyoaks”. She’s the youngest author with Hay House book publisher of my self-help dreams! She’s also organising the UK’s first Self-Love Summit in 2019. Earlier this week, Laura (who hosts popular podcast “Don’t Salt my Game” ) has been on the cover of “The Times Magazine” promoting her forthcoming IE book.

Even popular glossy women’s magazines are joining the revolution. When I opened my copy of this month’s “Red”, I was delighted to see they’ve cut out the stereotypical diet and exercise articles. The editor openly acknowledges their evolution, from encouraging readers to  “be a better you” to  simply “just be you.”

I think this is awesome! Clearly, I’m not alone in wanting to get off the weight-loss resolution roundabout. To kick diet culture to the curb. But how exactly can we step off? 

HeatherED’s Top Three Tips to Counter Diet Culture

Like I’ve said, it’s everywhere we look and near impossible to avoid completely. So here are my ideas for three step-off strategies to steer clear of self-destructive diet chatter:


Tip #1: Opt-out of Perfection Propaganda Publications

Magazines, newspapers, books – not to mention online media – all go goal-setting gaga at this time of year. Don’t get me wrong – I adore magazines and subscribe to at least three monthly publications at any one time – , but for this month, it’s a case of if in doubt, opt-out.

Intuitive Eating Book: Anti-Diet CultureThis includes impulse-purchase favourites and sneaky peaks at the Sidebar of Shame. (Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. We all do it.) A comprehensive knowledge of the cast of Love Island‘s weight fluctuations does not win any prizes. (At least, none you’d actually want to take home.)

I’m literally not buying into any diet-related materials in January. Instead, I’ll channel my curiosity into other, more positive publications. Right now, I’m reading Tribole and Resch’s book on “Intuitive Eating” and I’ve a ton of other texts lined up, including “Health at Every Size”, “The Goddess Revolution, and “Quiet“. 

Tip #2: Get Selective with Social Media.

My reasons for staying on Facebook far outweigh those for getting off. I’ve built deep and meaningful connections online, both with strangers and friends, by being vulnerable and sharing what matters. Which is why I’m unwilling to follow the trend for turning off technology.

Whilst I won’t be going cold-turkey on social, I will be spending less time on Facebook. Mostly, I want to avoid the January junk feed; save my brain from being bombarded with messages around what we “should” be, “must-have”, and “ought” to do.

Thankfully, I’m not on Instagram, otherwise I’d be limiting that, too. These heavily image-focused forums head to new heights when it comes to pushing unrealistic #bodygoals. We know these images are curated to within an inch of their life; artificially staged before being edited to death. Yet we’re still affected by them.  They infiltrate our daily lives, filling our social media feeds (and brains) with bullish*t beliefs.

Realistically, I recognise we can’t control this particular cultural change. However, we can choose how much time and attention we give it.  Namely, less of it than we do already! 


Tip #3: Workout (but only if it works for you)

Purple Hydrangea by Heather DugganSeparating how my body feels when I move from how my body looks is my top 2019 fitness goal. 

Resolutions around dieting typically go hand-in-hand with exercise. Many people only workout to control their weight – for a long time this was me ,too. Success measured by calories burnt, we mentally associate fitness with food. 

Interestingly, I first joined the gym for reasons beyond body size. I needed something – anything – to relieve the pain of depression. So desperate, I was willing to try exercise in hopes of feeling a bit better. Amazingly, it worked!

Still, I’m sometimes reluctant to go, which is when I’ll drag myself to the gym. I consistently come out feeling more like myself. When I workout I find my flow; body and mind on the same page. It’s a way of pulling myself back together, so to speak.

When I go back to work, I’ll go back to the gym, despite it being the most popular time of year for new members. Being busy, I’m sure I’ll find myself feeling anxious and angry at times. Yet I plan to push through because I know – from experience – exercise is one of the most helpful things I can do – for my brain and body.


One more time, what really matters is…

And that’s my plan to avoid being sucked in by the “wellness” industry this January. Admittedly, it’s not much but it’s a step in a more positive direction than going on another diet.

Nevertheless, I’m still tempted by the promise of weight loss. A voice in my head continues to coax me back:

Just one more diet – one more time – might be the answer to everything…


Except that it’s not.


I know this, you know this. And still we feel the tug of thinness. 

Rationally, I know the size of my body doesn’t affect my happiness. Some of my darkest moments have been whilst I’ve been objectively in my “best” shape. Yet still I’m drawn to diet culture. As a reasonably intelligent human being, it’s incredibly frustrating. 

I’ve done dieting so long, at times it feels like I don’t know what else to do.

But this is just another thought. It’s hard, but I can change my thoughts.

It’s Cognitive Behavioural Therapy 101. And if I can do that – if I can change what I think – then eventually, I can change what I believe, too. 

“We are what we believe we are.” C.S. Lewis


Becoming Better

Pink Rose by Heather DugganLiving our best, most beautiful lives has got to be about something more than what we weigh.

Something we can’t measure in inches or kilos; something far more valuable than any number on the scales.

Even well-respected leaders in the wellness industry are beginning to buy into the idea that we’re more than our weight. Joe Wicks, the so-called “Body Coach”,  for example, calls the scales the “Sad Step” – and for good reasons!  

What I understand as “becoming better” is evolving.  Focusing on what truly matters, rather than what I’m led to believe is important. Breaking the rules of diet culture by making life about more than what we eat. 


I’m getting back to recovery basics in 2019. More than ten years in, I’ve hear the same messages over and again:

“It’s never been true, not anywhere at any time, that the value of a soul, of a human spirit, is dependent on a number on a scale.”

Geneen Roth

Somehow these words washed over me before. I’ve never really taken them in – at least, not to heart. I always hoped diet culture would deliver in the end. I figure it’s about time I listened – body, mind, and soul. 

Self-worth comes from more than what we look like or what size jeans we wear.

I’ve got more important things to think about in 2019. And so have you.


The Fourth and Final W2W Post (or my conclusions from this month’s not-so-scientific experiment)

PostItsI’ve completed my last week of my Walking to Work (W2W) Challenge! I’m super proud for having kept this promise to myself this past month. While it’s taken a little longer than usual to write this post, I’m excited to share my findings with you because I’ve had such brilliant and unexpected results!

To give you a bit of background on how I came to set myself this W2W challenge, like many people, I work in a desk-bound office job that exacerbates back niggles and leads to my feeling irritable in the office.

By designing my W2W experiment, I wanted to test whether moderate morning exercise (like walking) would help to improve my back issues and put me in a better frame of mind for the working day. Though I expected physical improvements from moving my body , what I didn’t predict was the massive mental impact of incorporating the Tony Robbins’ Hour of Power (HoP) techniques into my walk.

Technically, the HoP wasn’t part of my initial challenge. I’d recently immersed myself in Robbins’ practical psychology and came across his suggestion of priming (which I wrote about here in an earlier post here). Incorporating the HoP ritual into my walk, I hoped to get my physical and emotional exercise, in one clean hit.

Essentially, my HoP is a conversation I have with myself – out loud – during my commute. It’s forty-five minutes in which I’m:

  • intentionally focusing on gratitude;
  • dreaming about my future;
  • setting goals for the day ahead; and
  • affirming the greatest possible emotional state from which I can achieve my goals and be the my best self.

In this, my last post in this mini-series, I’ll dig deeper into the four elements of my personal interpretation of the HoP ritual, to explain what I’ve learnt by completing the W2W challenge.

#1 HoP Ritual: Gratitude

“When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.”

Tony Robbins

This experiment confirmed that gratitude is the best remedy for negative emotional states, like depression or anxiety. Writing daily gratitudes in my journal  – a common self-help strategy the world over- had nowhere near the impact as does speaking my thoughts aloud to myself as I walk.

I now understand – in my body as well as in my mind – that all emotions are physical; the word “emotion” itself says it all. By changing our physical energy, we can change our emotional energy. Walking, talking and listening to myself, I use more of my senses, which helps me feel thankfulness in my body.

“Emotion is created by motion.”

Tony Robbins (2012). “Awaken The Giant Within”, p.178, Simon and Schuster

In taking the W2W challenge, I have proof that my emotions are under my control. Effectively, this month, I’ve been learning how to manage my feelings, which I’d previously assumed was beyond me. Through my HoP commute, I’ve experienced my physical and mental energy change as I become thankful for the world around me. In this positive, heart-felt manner, I’m “checking my privileges” and appreciating all I have right now, rather than wishing for more. As someone who’s experienced mental health issues, this is nothing short of miraculous. My W2W experience has empowered me to take control of my emotional responses, by practising choosing what I want to feel, and consciously acting to make it happen.

#2 HoP Ritual: Future Dreams

In the second part of my HoP ritual, I visualise what I really want most in life in that moment, and I tell myself this new story aloud, framing it as if I’m grateful for having already accomplished it.

In this way, the W2W challenge has taught me to imagine a future for myself. Having lived in a depressive state most of my adult life, “the future” was a totally alien concept. Not being able to think more than a few days, hours or even minutes ahead for so long, I found it very uncomfortable to try and imagine my dream destiny. Even as a kid, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I certainly never thought about getting married or having a family. In my teens I plan a life beyond thirty – I couldn’t imagine being that old (!) – and, taking risks with my health and safety, I doubted I’d make it that far anyhow.

So, as technically, I’d already exceeded my life expectations, I gave myself permission to dream of a future from now, for myself and those I love. It was difficult to begin with; I’m used to limiting myself to what I think is practically possible.Judging and critiquing my ideas to where I’m too afraid to act has become a bad habit. I believed not making future plans would save me from disappointment. What I now realise is that it limited my achievements and my life. 

Following the metaphor below from famous Buddhist teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn, I’ve let myself drift along on life’s waves, and  at 34, I’m now only just ready to take control of my surf board and lead my own life.

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

 Jon Kabat-Zinn

Through the HoP has encouraged me to dream big. After all,

Making a decision not to judge, censor or criticise my thoughts has freed me to allow whatever dreams I can think of to come to the fore. I’m daring to dream big – after all, I’m only talking to myself!  As I walk, I hear myself say words that have never come out of my mouth before. I’m acknowledging to myself, for the first time, that perhaps there are things I might want to experience in life. I do see a future for myself after all.

#3 HoP Ritual: Setting Daily Goals

Surprisingly, the hardest part of my W2W ritual has been setting goals for the day. It’s not easy to get excited about daily chores; they don’t exactly fulfil my wildest dreams. So rather than focusing on “what do I want to achieve today?”, I ask myself “how do I want to feel today?” This focuses me on my true purpose of every day, regardless of my future hopes and dreams: to feel great now!Knowing the emotions I don’t want makes it easy to think of those I do. Thanks to cleverer questioning, I’m now regularly experiencing empowering emotions – happiness, excitement, energy, confidence – that make such a huge impact and help me make the most of my day.

In setting daily goals, I’ve realised that I can ask myself for what I really want, and not just what I think I should want to do. By asking :“what small step can I take today to move me closer towards my dreams?”, I’m making space for my mind to devise creative ways of moulding my day to fit my longer-term plans.

The future can feel so very far away, and my dreams a million miles further still. Sometimes, when I’m trying to craft my daily goals to fit my dreams, I still hear my inner critic say “what’s the point?”. Yet I’ve learnt to wait, give myself time, and I know positive steps forward will come, however tiny. I then act in spite of any lingering negative thoughts. It’s working: I want to write, so here I am, writing this blog. I want to be a skilled speaker, so I’m volunteering to make presentations at work. I want to plan a future with my partner C, so I’m starting conversations I’d previously have avoided, and I’m speaking my truth. I’m facing my fears and risking rejection in all areas of my life because I want more for myself.

#4 HoP Ritual: Incantations

“Using incantations to help take direct control of your state can make all the difference in your quality of life.”

Team Tony

This is the most “hippy-ish” part of the HoP ritual that Tony teaches, and the bit about which I was particularly sceptical. Still, I made a decision to trust the method in this guy’s madness –  and I’m so glad I did! Amazingly, I’ve found this the most impressive tool I’ve learnt so far. With the power to instantly change my emotional state, incantations have had surprisingly long-lasting effects on me for the better.

I’ve already talked about incantations here on the blog; and the results of my W2W experiment speak for themselves. By the time I arrive at the office, I feel like a totally different person to the one that left my house. Depending on how I’d designed that day’s statement, I can feel confident, energetic, and enthusiastic for the day ahead, or maybe driven, dynamic and determined to make great things happen. Being the wordsmith that I am, I’m excited to craft my daily incantation and create the mood in which I want to live. You can see some examples of my recent affirmations, which I keep stuck on my desk or in my journal to remind me how I’ve promised to live.

And so…

In conclusion

I actually feel a bit sad that my “official” challenge is over. However while I may be done with my experiment, I’m definitely committed to the walking commute, and to the HoP ritual which has had such a huge positive impact on the quality of my life, at work and beyond.

Adding the HoP ritual to my challenge worked for me because walking to work is one of the few times I’m truly alone. Being on my own helped me to speak openly and honestly with myself, and not to be self-conscious in trying these techniques. There was no one to witness my sounding like Mary Sunshine, using words like “gratitude” and “joy” as often as many other (normal) people might drop an F-bomb.  Well, with the exception of the odd dog walker and runner who may (or may not) have heard me declaring my intentions to the Universe!

As potentially embarrassing as it may be, my HoP W2W ritual has taught me how I can practically take control of my emotions. By redirecting my mental focus in an empowering way, I’m learning to make decisions and take action that moves me forward each day, in a positive direction.  I’m shaping my own experience of life by choosing how I want to feel about it, rather than just accepting whatever emotions arise.

Happiness has become my new habit – and let me warn you – it’s addictive!







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