Nicola Jane Hobbs is passionate about helping people eat, move and live with less fear and more freedom. She is a qualified Ayurvedic Nutritionist and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor. She has a Master’s degree in Psychology with a research interest in Eating and Exercise Psychology. She is the author of Fear-Free Food: How to Ditch Dieting and Fall Back in Love with Food, Thrive Through Yoga: A 21-Day Journey To Ease Anxiety, Love Your Body and Feel More Alive, and Yoga Gym. She is a successful journalist and has written for publications including Society Guardian, YOU, The Mail on Sunday, Runner’s World, Mind Body Green, and Train Magazine. Nicola also teaches yoga internationally.
If you would like to work with her for nutrition counselling, content and recipe creation, or for anything else, please get in touch with her here: Work With Me.
The Short Story…
- I was diagnosed with anorexia, depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder at age 15.
- I spent the next few years in and out of eating disorder treatment centres, undergoing refeeding regimes, being put on drugs, and being given traditional therapy to ‘fix’ my flaws.
- At 19, my weight dropped so low I ended up with organ failure. Depressed, drained and defeated, I had two choices: To give up. Or to do something remarkable with my life. I chose life.
- I spent the next couple of years gaining weight, health and strength. I got sucked into different diets in the process (low carb, Paleo, vegan, raw food, calorie counting, macro tracking…) until I found a way of eating that worked for ME – Fear-Free Eating.
- I also explored meditation, yoga, and various scientific and spiritual techniques for healing which gave me a new perspective on recovery and allowed me to find complete freedom from my eating disorder.
- I finished my psychology degree, went travelling, trained as a yoga teacher, and studied for a Master’s degree in psychology, specializing in eating and exercise psychology and post-traumatic growth (the way we grow stronger from adversity rather than remain devastated by it).
- I got a publishing deal with Bloomsbury Publishing and began writing about yoga, healing, food, and personal growth.
- I trained as an Ayurvedic Nutrition and Lifestyle Consultant and Intuitive Eating Counsellor to gain greater education and experience on the issues I was most commonly coming across with my clients.
- The focus of my work is now on coaching and counselling individuals to find trust in their body, make peace with food, and become healthier and happier. If you would like to work with me then drop me an email!
The Long Story…
When I was consumed by my struggles with food, I vowed that if I ever found freedom, I would help others find freedom too. And that’s why I created Fear-Free Food.
I’ve had a pretty turbulent relationship with food in the past. From the age of 14 until my early twenties, I struggled intensely with food. You name the eating issue, I’ve dealt with it: anorexia, orthorexia, obsessive calorie counting, elimination diets, clean eating, over-exercise, emotional eating, weight gain, weight loss… I’ve been there.
So I want to assure you that understand. I get it. I’ve felt the anxiety and the guilt and the shame. I’ve experienced the nutritional confusion, body shaming thoughts, and all-consuming cravings.
Trust me, you are not alone in this.
How It Began
As a child I always felt a little different, like I didn’t quite belong. I had a happy life on the outside – a loving family, great friends, good grades… but I felt disconnected, misunderstood and lost. I found the world overwhelming and I didn’t know how to communicate this vulnerability, this anxiety, this hurt, so I started starving myself. Because hunger felt better than hurt…
Up until I was 14 I had never counted a calorie in my life. I ate when I was hungry and stopped when I was full, never had any digestive issues or intolerances, effortlessly maintained a healthy weight, enjoyed a variety of sports, and never really thought that much about what I ate other than whether it tasted good.
Dieting was something I fell into by mistake. Maybe it was because I had genetic vulnerabilities. Or my perfectionistic personality and oversensitivity made me more susceptible to it. Or maybe it was simply because I was a teenage girl in a society that idolises thinness. To be honest, I’m not sure it matters all that much. But I started restricting my food – slowly to begin with: first by cutting out chocolate and crisps, then skipping lunch at school, and then purposefully limiting calories and exercising more.
My weight dropped and by the time I was 15 I had been diagnosed with anorexia. I spent the next four years trapped in a cycle of hospital refeeding regimes only to come out of each hospital admission still consumed by anxiety around food, my weight, and my body.
None of things that were supposed to help (therapy, drugs, psychoanalysis, dealing with emotional issues, boosting my self-esteem…) ever worked.
At 19, weighing 25kg, I suffered from organ failure. It was a big wake-up call and I managed to get my weight up to a level that, whilst not healthy, allowed me to function day-to-day.
Although I was no longer at physical risk, for the next couple of years my relationship with food was far from healthy. I became trapped in a world of clean eating, calorie counting, and sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free dieting because I thought it would make me healthier and happier. In reality, it did the opposite.
I got sucked into the fitness industry where calorie counting and tracking macros are common place. And found myself caught up in the world of wellness where I began believing that my diet was a reflection of my worth and that the ‘cleaner’ I ate and the more I cut out sugar, gluten, meat, and anything processed, the better I was as a person. I thought that as long as I controlled my calorie intake and placed food into strict categories of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, the more I would fit in and the less overwhelming and more manageable life would be.
Eating clean, counting calories and creating more and more rules around food made me feel safe and in control. It was what all the ‘experts’ and ‘gurus’ of the diet and fitness and wellness industry were telling me to do. I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought it would make me healthier and happier. I didn’t know there was a better option. I no longer had a diagnosable eating disorder. And I didn’t want to lose weight. But I was still at war with food. I still didn’t trust my body. And my relationship with food was interfering with my life.
Deep down, what I craved was freedom. Freedom from anxiety. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from obsession. Freedom from the thoughts that told me that carbs were the devil, eating sugar would make me fat, and that I needed to keep a tight harness on my appetite at all times. I wanted the freedom to trust my body, truly nourish myself, and enjoy my life to the fullest.
And that freedom does exist. Because I have found it.
How I Found Freedom
After going through anorexia and being told by doctors, dieticians, and therapists that I’d have food issues my whole life and they were ‘just something I’d have to manage’, I accepted that I would spend the rest of my life fearing food and battling my body.
But, I can tell you now, that nothing could be further from the truth.
It was the following three insights that set me free from my food fears and allowed me to rebuild a healthy relationship with eating, my body, and myself:
1. The dieting industry is wrong
We’ve been led to believe that we need to live by a set of food rules because, if we don’t, we’ll lose control, binge on everything in sight, and gain a tonne of weight. We’ve been sucked into thinking that our bodies can’t be trusted and instead we need to rely on scientific research, dietary guidelines, food labelling and perplexing pyramids.
Well, I spent nearly a decade listening to the diet industry. And do you know what I learnt? They are wrong. I found that the more I cut out food groups, counted calories, and went hungry because the latest diet says you should fast for 16 hours, or swap carbs for cauliflower, or cut out sugar because it’s ‘toxic’, the lousier my life became. Restricting my food restricted my life.
2. My disordered eating and unhealthy relationship with food was a habit
I know it is unusual to hear eating disorders and food issues referred to as habits – usually they are described as disorders, diseases or illnesses. But, having this insight transformed my relationship with food instantly.
Through a combination of my own research, Eastern wisdom, and neuroscientific studies, I learnt that by changing the wiring in your brain, you can find freedom from disordered eating and chronic dieting any time you choose. This is what I’ve developed into the Habitual Voice Recognition Technique (HVRT).
Read more about disordered eating and habits here: How My Eating Disorder Became a Habit
3. I am the expert of my body
There are a lot of experts out there who know a lot about food. But I realised that I am the expert of my body. Just like you are the expert of your body.
Only I knew what foods made me feel energised and which ones made me feel sluggish. Only I could tell when I was hungry and when I was full. Only I could recognise whether I was eating for physical or emotional reasons. Only I was aware of whether counting calories and cutting out food groups was helpful or harmful. And only I could decide to make peace with food, honour my appetite, and nourish myself properly.
So, I put a giant middle finger up to dieting, gave myself unconditional freedom to eat, and began learning how to trust my body.
Where I Am Now
Rebuilding a healthy relationship with food was pretty simply when I knew how. For years, I had known deep down that restricting food, fighting my appetite and jumping from one fad diet to the next was not bringing me the health or happiness I truly wanted, but I didn’t know there was another way. Although it felt harsh and restrictive, I didn’t see there was a better option. But now I know there is a better option – one that allows me to trust my appetite and eat without rules and restrictions.
Although it was simple, it wasn’t always easy. It’s hard to gain weight and stop dieting when the rest of the world seems to be losing weight, counting calories or going on some cleanse or detox or diet. That’s why I made a promise to my body:
“I promise to look after you for the rest of my life.”
This meant no dieting. No restricting. No over-exercising. And I slipped up from time to time along the way. I’ve been sucked back into a dieting mentality for a moment or a meal or a few days. But I learnt that going back to dieting would be a choice, so whenever I felt myself slipping, gently reminded myself that it was not a choice I wanted to make. The sacrifices were just not worth it. Slowly, the urges to diet became less intense. I slipped up less often. And I knew how to catch myself when I did so I could get right back on my path.
Learn more about the power or promises here: The Promise
I don’t have the ‘perfect’ diet (whatever that is?!) and nor do I want one. I eat food that makes me feel happy, energised, and full of life. I feel strong and healthy, and I maintain my weight effortlessly.
I coach clients. I teach yoga. I do handstands. I lift weights. I walk by the ocean. I read books. I meditate. I watch way too much Netflix from time to time. I eat vegetables and pasta and loads of hummus. I cook with oil and butter and spices. I love cake dates and dinner parties and meals out. I have totally recovered from my eating disorders. I am embracing my humanness. I have fallen back in love with life.
You can read more about how I knew I had recovered here: Can You Fully Recover From an Eating Disorder?
Throughout my journey I’ve learnt that eating a healthy diet and being a healthy weight doesn’t have to be such a struggle. You can trust your body. You can eat without fear or guilt. You can enjoy food. It’s a matter of unlearning a lot of messages we’ve been told by the diet, fitness and wellness industries and tuning back into the messages our body is telling us.
The philosophies, tools, and recipes you’ll find here are those I’ve learnt through my own journey, my training in nutrition and intuitive eating counselling, degrees in psychology, work with clients, speaking with professionals, and from published research on nutrition, body image, and eating psychology.
This is not just about eating fear-free food, this is about living a fear-free life.