HEALTHY LIVING: Shedding the pounds is all in the mind

Life coach Karen Foy.
Life coach Karen Foy.
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‘Life coaching’ provides motivation for losing weight instead of dieting

BECKY Damms admits she was sceptical when she first signed up.

The 22-year-old wasn’t even exactly sure what ‘life coaching’ involved - and hadn’t got her hopes pinned on anything much more than a run-of-the-mill slimming club that used all the same old methods which she had tried, and failed with, before.

She was accompanying her mum on the course run by Doncaster-based coach Karen Foy, believing that even if all she did was provide her with a bit of extra support then it wasn’t time wasted.

Becky, from Ecclesfield, Sheffield, said: “My mum saw an advert in The Star about it and decided she wanted to give it a try.

“I went along with her for some extra support, although I also knew that I could do with some help anyway because, at nearly 14 stone, I knew I was overweight.

“I didn’t really know what to expect or what the coaching would involve - but to be honest I just thought it would just be like all the others. The main reason I went along really was to help my mum feel a bit more confident with it all.”

But on arriving at the very first session, delivery driver Becky knew that the approach being taken here was totally different.

Karen had set up the pilot study as part of her Masters degree in Coaching Psychology - which she has just completed at the University of East London - to investigate whether coaching exercises could equip people with the skills, confidence and motivation to make the changes needed to lose weight and lead healthier lives themselves. She wanted to find a different approach that achieved long-lasting results, away from fad diets that can often soon fizzle out.

She said: “From personal experience I know diets don’t work, they might help to lose some weight for a while but sadly the research shows that for most people it will come back with more besides.

“Not only that, but from my own and other research it is clear that they can cause psychological harm.

“People are looking for something different, something that will help them understand why they have such issues with food and weight and a way to tackle the issues for life not just for as long as their will power holds out.”

And the results of Karen’s research, which were analysed and used in her final thesis, have highlighted that this fresh approach could be one of the answers.

They show that after the eight week course the coaching group had reduced their weight by an average of 1.03kg, while a control group - set up to provide a point of comparison - had increased their weight by 3.13kg.

But even more interesting were the figures three months down the line - when clients had gone on to lose an average of 3.62kg.

Karen believes this shows that although coaching cannot provide a ‘quick-fix’ to a weight problem, it can support people to make the lifestyle changes required to alter the way they think about food, increase their physical activity levels, boost self-esteem and ultimately lose weight.

For Becky, the programme was crucial in helping her think more deeply about her relationship with food and what her body actually needed.

And it was also vital in helping to get her back onto the football pitch and a sport she loves - which in turn helped her along a weight loss journey that has already seen her lose more than three stone.

She said: “The sessions with Karen got me to think about things differently - often about things that beforehand I’d never even given a second thought to.

“Like, in the past, I would always be picking out of the pan whilst a meal was being cooked, then I’d have my dinner, and go back to the pan and pick again afterwards. So I was eating more than I should have been.

“We also looked at things like eating more slowly and not whilst you are watching the TV so you can properly think about what it is you are eating - there was lots of work around our behaviour with food, looking at why we were eating and how we were feeling when we did. It was really good and even though the course has now finished, these things are going to stay with me for a life-time.”

The course was also key in helping to build Becky and her mum’s confidence and assertiveness around food and meal times - helping them to feel more in control of saying ‘no’ to extra portions or desserts for example, when well-meaning loved ones offered them up with persistence.

This confidence boost has also helped Becky return to the football pitch and take part once again in a sport she has always loved, but which she had drifted away from.

“I had wanted to get back into it, but I didn’t have the confidence to go back - she helped me get that. Now I play five-a-side twice a week and I feel healthier and happier, because I know now I can do it. I have got the control back over my life now.”

Karen said she was thrilled with the outcome of the programme for the participants like Becky and now has ambitions of making it available through the NHS.

She said: “My hopes for this programme are that it will start to change the way people think about what it takes to have a healthy, fit body that they are happy with.

“Everyone who took part in the research knew that in the end it is not about food but about re-connecting with your body and your knowledge and motivation to make changes for life. I hope that through my continued research this programme will eventually be available through the NHS so that everyone can be free from yo-yo dieting and self-hatred. Becky is such a brilliant example of what this programme can do. She arrived at the first session as a shy young woman who had given up her football playing and was making her life smaller and smaller because she didn’t like how she looked. When I saw her again three months after the programme I couldn’t believe my eyes, and I still can’t. She is beautiful, vibrant and healthy and back playing football and loving life. She is the perfect ‘cover girl’ for the programme because she shows it is not just about losing weight but getting your life back.”

Karen is running a free trial session of her next course on March 26 at the Holiday Inn in Warmsworth, Doncaster, between 2pm and 4pm, with the full programme to follow in April. Call 0844 854 2997 to book a place.