Olivia Shakespear is a Naturopathic Nutritional Therapist specialising in support for people with binge eating disorders and those who have an unhappy relationship with food. After many years of her own struggles, she created a unique method that is incredibly successful with moving people into a balanced way of eating. Olivia uses nutrition within a truly holistic framework, understanding that problems with eating occur due to multiple physical and psychological factors. She understands the pitfalls of applying a "clean eating" approach, whilst appreciating the incredible power proper nutrition has in healing the mind, body and soul.
Olivia Shakespear, Nutritional Therapist and Health Coach
Please tell us a little about yourself so that we can get to know you better.
I've always been drawn to working with people in a healing capacity and initially I trained as an occupational therapist and worked in the NHS for a number of years. However, much as I loved the experience, I struggled with the lack of focus on the role that lifestyle plays in disease. It just seemed like something fundamental was missing and I wasn't going to be able to find it working in this capacity.
I've always had an interest in nutrition, as it is so fundamental to our health, and ended up studying naturopathic nutritional therapy at the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London. I knew from day one that I'd found my area, and this was where I was going to be able to provide people with real support to change their life. The course was fantastic, and much more academic than I was expecting. But at the same time, being naturopathic in approach, it kept true to its holistic roots. I qualified in 2014 and have been working as a nutritional therapist ever since. I love my job, and I love seeing how much change can come about simply through changing your eating patterns and managing your lifestyle.
Do you work as a general nutritionist or do you specialize in a particular area?
I worked for a number of years as a general nutritionist and saw people with a wide range of conditions, but decided a couple of years ago to focus on supporting people who binge eat as well as those who just have an unhealthy and unhappy relationship with food. It's such a common theme as so many people use food to deal with stress, and let's face it, most people have a whole lot of stress in their lives! I also think that addictions are a way for people to avoid dealing with things in their lives and food seems like a logical place to go.
What inspired you to work in this area?
The reason I've always been interested in nutrition is because from a young age, I had a very turbulent relationship with food. When I studied nutritional therapy it was with the aim to help me find balance with food, but actually I realized that whilst great nutrition is completely essential for stabilizing up and down eating, it has to be used very wisely because otherwise you can make things worse. I used myself as a guinea pig to trial my theory that you need a combination of approaches to help with disordered eating. Combining naturopathic nutrition with the understanding that clean eating can be detrimental and trigger even worse behavior around food.
It feels so good to have overcome this myself and I just realized that ultimately it was the area I was most passionate about.
How do you support your clients to make lasting changes?
Well as I was saying above it really is a delicate balance between using incredibly nutritious foods but with no strict rules about what you shouldn't eat. The minute you tell someone who has disordered eating that they shouldn't be eating a certain food, then that food becomes all they think about until eventually they push the sod it button. My aim with my clients is to help them overcome such extreme emotions around food and fear that if they eat certain foods they will end up overdoing it or bingeing.
So whilst a part of my role is to provide education around nutrition, the most important thing I do for my clients is give them daily support to help keep them on track and accountable. This for me is completely essential, and gives them a sense that their emotional well-being is also being provided for. You can fall a long way off the wagon in 24 hours, so messaging someone once a week and having follow-up calls every month just won't cut it. It has to be more intensive than that. But that's what makes it so enjoyable, because I really get to know my clients and am very much with them every step of the journey until they're able to manage it themselves. My programs are all three months long as a minimum.
If you could change one thing about your industry, what would it be and why?
I think the thing I struggle with the most is the idea that there is one approach that fits all. That there is one perfect diet and everyone should follow it. I just don't buy that, not only for people who have an unhealthy relationship with food, but for anyone needing nutritional therapy. This is true in terms of our physiology, in the sense that we all have our own individual makeup. But also from a broader perspective. We know that diet is about way more than just physiology. Let's face it, food plays an important role in our lives and we attach a lot of meaning to it that goes beyond calorific and nutrient need.
It's really important to treat people as individuals and find a way of eating that works for them and incorporates their own values. It can't just be about imposing a strict diet on someone and telling them this is what they need to do, now get on with it!
I think the nutrition industry can induce a lot of self-criticism in people because it does come across as very perfectionist and a little bit self-righteous at times. This is particularly unhelpful for the clients I see, so it's important to me to bring something new into that area.
What current goals do you have for your business?
I love working one to one with people but eventually I guess it would be lovely to run groups as this way I'd be able to reach more people. However, I'm not interested in producing a DIY program that people can subscribe to without any personal interaction. Not only because I don't think this is the best way for them to make those changes but also because I like having that personal interaction with my clients and I wouldn't want to lose this.