It was wonderful to chat with Orlena and find out more about her unique path and creations that she shares with other women.
Orlena uses her experience and expertise to support women and their families develop healthy habits and lifestyles.
Orlena’s podcast Fit and Fabulous shares inspirational stories and ideas on how to create and maintain health and wellbeing.
Orlena offers one-on-one and group coaching for busy mums feeling stressed and overwhelmed to find healthy routines, habits and systems. Orlena also hosts a Healthy You Healthy Habit Challenge for mums to create family habits that fit in a busy, hectic life.
Episode 24 of the Authentic Tea podcast features Orlena.
It's absolutely wonderful to be joined today by Orlena. Orlena uses her experience and expertise to support women and their families to develop healthy habits and lifestyles. Orlena's podcast, Fit and Fabulous shares inspirational stories and ideas on how to create and maintain health and wellbeing. Orlena offers one-to-one and group coaching for busy moms who are feeling stressed and overwhelmed to help them find healthy routines, habits, and systems. Orlena also hosts The Healthy You Healthy Habit Challenge for moms to create family habits that fit into a busy, hectic lifestyle. You're welcome, Orlena. It's wonderful to have you today.
Thank you so much for having me. It's an absolute pleasure.
It's great to reconnect with you and we've been talking about how we were both at university together, and now years on, we are following slightly different paths than we were then. Is there a point in your career, in your own life when you started to recognize the importance of good nutrition and how making changes to food and the eating patterns that we have could impact both our individual and also family health?
That is a really interesting question. I think when I was doing clinical work, I was working as a pediatric doctor and I was aware obviously that how we eat really impacts us. Typically, as a pediatric doctor you're seeing a lot of kids with tummy pain and a lot of that tummy pain is constipation due to not eating vegetables. At that time, pre having kids, I would glibly say to parents, "Oh, you just need to eat more vegetables. It's really easy." Which, on one level it is, but now as a parent, I've realized that it's not quite as easy to get our kids to eat vegetables as we want. I think for me, that realization that I could do better, that I could take more care of myself came when I had kids.
For me, I've got four children. So, I had four children under the age of four and a half, which was, as you can imagine, stressful, full on, lots of big emotions. It was a few years later on, but I really started to see that I wasn't being the mother that I wanted to be. I was feeling stressed and this would manifest as snapping at the kids, feeling tired at the kids, and just not being the person that I wanted to be, and taking a good, hard look and thinking, "Okay, so what's going on here?" Obviously, it wasn't something that happened overnight that I came up with. "Ha ha I've got these four pillars."
Now I teach four pillars, but I developed them over a period of time by looking and thinking, "So what is important to ask?" Partly from looking at the research that shows us what a healthy life is and how do we lead a long and healthy life, but also, it shows us how we can feel fabulous. Basically, when you're leading a healthy life, you do feel fabulous. You do have that energy.
One of the questions that I like to ask people is, "Out of 10, how much energy do you have every single day to do the things that you want to or have to do?" And very rarely do people say 10 out of 10. But I can genuinely say I have enough energy to do everything I want to do every single day. Okay. I'll give a little caveat, not when I'm unwell, but other than that, 10 out of 10, every single day. I think so many people are so close and they just don't realize it.
That's an amazing way to measure your energy levels. I love that. I think that's a really nice way. It's also a nice way to check in on yourself, isn't it? How do I feel? Where am I on on that scale? You were just sharing there about your own experience of becoming a mom and having four children and very small little children at the same time. Now when you look back, where were your energy levels on that scale and was there a point where you really thought, "Gosh, this is something I need to really change. I want it to be 10."?
Yeah, definitely. When I look back now, I would say probably my average was around eight but I would definitely say there were times when it dipped to three. For example, on Sunday morning, I'd go to a beautiful market and buy loads and loads of vegetables. And obviously, I have to come home and unpack them. But there would be times when by the evening, I just hadn't done it because I would come home, plunk everything on the kitchen table, and then the twins would need feeding or nappies changing and all of that stuff. I just wouldn't get to this job until the evening and just thinking, "Oh, I just don't have the energy to do that."
I remember reading to my children at their bedtime, seven o'clock or so in the evening, and just sort of lying on their carpet and thinking, "Oh, it's so nice just to lie down and be horizontal." I'd think, "I'm just going to lie here for a little bit to recuperate my energy before I start this other job." So, thinking they were really dips in it and thinking how did that transformation happen to me?
I think what I first recognized was this snapping, this being cross and grumpy. First of all, recognizing that it wasn't helping the situation in any way whatsoever. It was just exacerbating and making everybody else cross. Secondly, thinking this isn't how I want it to be. Thirdly, thinking, this is a symptom of a bigger picture. What do they say? It's like having a light on your dashboard saying showing that something else isn't working.
I teach four pillars which are nutrition, exercise, sleep, and emotions/mindset. For me, the big pieces or the ones that I started were emotions and mindset and really thinking about how you can get stuck in this negative way of thinking. You know, it's normal for us to be negative. We're sort of negatively wired, but with self-awareness you can overcome that and you can say, "Okay, this isn't a way of thinking that is serving me. I'm going to think in a different way."
It's work to do, but it's fun work to do. That was a big part of it. I think another big part for me was exercise as well. I'm now a keen avid swimmer and during the summer I will swim like two or three kilometers every day in the sea. It's beautiful here. This really started, for me, when my children were little and they were going off to the swimming pool to have swimming classes. One day, my husband returned with the two older children who must've been around five or six, I would guess.
I had been looking after the twins who are younger and my husband came back and said, "Dante hasn't been swimming because he didn't want to go." You know what it's like when you've got a young child and you're like, "Yeah, okay. I hear that he doesn't want to go, but I've paid for that swimming class and he's going to that swimming class." I said, "Okay, don't worry. I will go next week and a little bit of gentle persuasion will get him in the pool." A bit of harsh love.
So I sorted that out and then I went upstairs to watch the class and thought, "It's ridiculously hot here, it's a bit boring, and why aren't I down there in that swimming pool swimming?" That was really the start of it. I would just go once a week for the time of their lesson, which I think was not heaps of time. IBut I recognized that it just gave me the space.
Now, as I said, I had four young children and when you have four young children, they like to jump on you which is lovely. I love cuddles, but at a certain point, it starts to trigger your "I'm being attacked" and you feel like you need a little bit of space. So, to go in that swimming pool and just have nobody touch me for however long it was was just kind of bliss.
I started to really relish that and my swimming grew from strength to strength. I just did a little bit more and a little bit more. I started doing swimming training and then swimming in the sea. Then last year because of the pandemic, when we were all at home and my children weren't having to go to school, I started just going every single morning at seven o'clock in the morning with my friends. So, I call that spiral upwards as opposed to spiral downwards?
That's amazing. Thank you for sharing that story because it's amazing to see how it's evolved. Do you think some of that also was about realizing that you've been in a role where you were caring for a lot of people, both through your professional world but also as a mum and being in a family where you're giving care all the time? Was that moment also of, "Ah, I can also care for myself."? Do you think that there was a bit of a realization?
Yeah, absolutely. I see this so often with my clients and people that listen to my podcast and things like that. I think this is one of the big reasons why I want to talk to mothers in particular, for two reasons. Partly, with my pediatric hat on, I think mothers are in such an amazing situation to help their children develop healthy living habits.
When you grow up with healthy living habits, it's just normal. It's just what you do. There are so many studies that say children who go to university essentially eat the same way as they do at home, and children who are used to moving, it's just what they do when they're older. It's all about doing stuff without thinking because that's just what you do. Those are what habits are.
We can hugely influence our children's habits. And from a public health point of view, that's amazing because when people grow up with healthy habits, then obviously they're going to lead longer and healthier lives. The other aspect of it is that mothers are hopeless at looking after themselves. You can see the logic behind it.
When you first have a baby and they need your care 24 hours a day; this tiny creature is dependent on somebody else to do absolutely everything for themselves and we get into that role of, "I am going to care for my baby 24 hours a day." You may be lucky and have some help, but normally, it's minimal help. Gradually, as that baby grows older, they become more autonomous, more able to do things for themselves and that's the idea.
We want to teach them to do those things but we get stuck in this mindset, this habit of, "Oh my goodness, I have to put everybody first and I have to put my own needs right at the bottom of the pile." The absolute reality is if you can't care for yourself, by which I mean look after yourself, eat healthily, make sure you get exercise, make sure you get good sleep, make sure you replenish your batteries, then you are in a much h better situation to care for whoever it is you're caring for. So, your family or other people that you need to care for because you've got the energy to do that.
As a parent, a lot of the work, I have found, is emotional work. Our kids have such big emotions and it's exhausting. It's like their emotions are up and down. They're like a roller coaster. In the space of five minutes, my son will say, "Oh mommy, this is the best day ever. The worst day ever. The best day ever." And I'm like, "I can't keep up." Once we're connecting with them, we're taking on some of those emotions.
As adults, we're much slower to get angry, but we're much slower to calm down too. Our emotions are sort of being dragged along by our children and it's exhausting unless we have the tools to cope with that emotional roller coaster, but also the tools to look after ourselves. Then when we've got all of that, we can actually show up and make sure that we're feeling fabulous and help our kids with whatever their issues are.
Do you think that some of that, for you, is also mirrored when you've moved into a different environment? So, some of the things that you've been talking about, going to the market, going swimming, being able to go to the sea, you've now lived in Spain for a period of time. Was your move then also related to wanting to live a slightly different lifestyle or was that coincidental? How have you found exploring a different way of maybe eating and also the way that people enjoy their lifestyle and being outdoors more? Has that been something that's influenced the way that you've been able to look after yourself and your family?
Yes, absolutely. So many amazing questions there. On a personal level, yes, absolutely. The reason I made that change was because I wanted a different lifestyle for myself. As much as I love the UK and I loved being in clinical medicine, and as you know, it's a stressful job, I wanted a different lifestyle for myself. I hadn't really thought it out exactly, but now as I look back, I can see that, yes, definitely, part of the culture in Spain was different. It's more relaxed, it's more laid back. Obviously, the weather is much nicer.
Thinking about how that has impacted in terms of eating; that's a really interesting question from a habit point of view. One of the things that I teach people is how we create habits and how habits are the key to making it all easy and to doing things without thinking. Now, the problem with habits is they are a double-edged sword in that our brain doesn't care whether we have got good habits or bad habits. To our brain, it's all exactly the same. It doesn't matter whether your habit is sitting on the sofa watching television or getting up on Saturday morning to go for a run. Your brain is just like, "This is what we do." It's all on autopilot.
Obviously, there's a big difference for your body. One of the things that I teach is about, well, so how do we change our habits? And it's not about discipline. People think, well, if you're super healthy and you've got this healthy lifestyle, it's because you're really disciplined. That's not true. It's about how we set up our lives. One of the key aspects is environment and there are a lots of studies that show that in order to maintain good habits, you have to set your environment up.
For example, going to market is a prime example of this. I go to market on Sunday and guess what I can buy at market? I can buy fruit and vegetables. If I were to go to the supermarket and see all those amazing chocolates and cakes and packaged foods, it's not like I have this amazing willpower. Well, I have actually trained myself to just walk past them now, but they're still there. They're still tempting. Whereas at the market, I can buy fruit and I can buy vegetables. So, what's the worst that I can buy? Some grapes or some highly sugared fruit and vegetables.
I come back with kilos and kilos because I know that I need to feed my family for a week and I buy what's available, which is basically vegetables. The environment does play a huge role. So yes, on a personal level, it's totally helped. It's also helped me see that it can be really easy when you get into the habit. So I cook everything from scratch, again, not because I'm super disciplined, it's because there isn't an alternative here in Spain. We have even less packaged food than you do in France.
In fact, we love coming to France and raiding your supermarkets because it's like, "Oh wow. They've got all these amazing French cheeses and different desserts," which we just don't have available here. There is processed food here. It's not like there's zero processed food, but I don't look at it and think, "Oh, that looks delicious." I look at it and think, "Oh, that looks a bit cheap and nasty and they've used horrible oils and emulsifiers." And I think, I just don't really want to buy it. Not like in the UK where you get some processed foods that are made with reasonably good quality ingredients.
So, it's definitely influenced what I teach. Again, it's this spiral upwards. The environment helps you create these habits and as you create these habits, you build on the habits and you go up and up and up.
I can really see how that's mirrored to some of my experience from moving to France actually. It's interesting that for you also the market is a big thing and I think that goes with how some European countries have retained that sense of local food, local producers, and really relishing the products that they can grow locally and sell locally.
For me, I'll just share a little story here. When we first went to the market, I used to find that people were touching the food a lot and checking out which apple they really wanted to buy. Looking at the apples and thinking, "Oh no, I'd rather this one." I was really quite shocked because I had never really interacted with my food in that way. I would go to a supermarket and I would pick up a bag of apples. I wasn't really thinking about where the apple had come from, what the apple looked like, whether it was going to be nutritious when I was going to put it into my body.
From that experience, now going to the market is just something that, like you say, is an upward spiral. It's become so part of our life and part of our way of being conscious about what we're buying, who we're buying it from, and what we're putting into our bodies. I can see a lot of parallels with that switch into a different environment and a different culture around us.
I suppose it's interesting because I know your podcast is called Fit and Fabulous and I think that's also something that I've seen progress in me of being more aware of how I feel over time. Maybe, can you share a little bit about why it was important for you to share some stories and your thoughts on your podcast and where the title came from?
Yeah. I think one of the things that we all struggle with or when you look at people who aren't leading a healthy life and you think why aren't you leading a healthy life? It's not a knowledge gap that most people have. It's really easy. I can sum up healthy living in two sentences. Eat more vegetables and stop eating packaged foods. Do some movement, go to bed on time, and think positive, happy thoughts.
That's it in a nutshell and it's actually really easy and really simple, but most people don't do it. That's the big question. Well, why don't they do it? In my mind, it all comes back to the habits because we have these habits and we're not intentional about creating habits. I think that's one aspect.
Why did I call it Fit and Fabulous? Because that's what I want people to feel. In my mind, it's about healthy eating and healthy living. Now, I do help people to lose weight. Not all of my clients want to lose weight. For some people, it's about weight loss, but it's about weight loss for health in my mind. For other people, it's just about health. The ultimate goal is to feel fit and fabulous and lead the most amazing life that we can and be really intentional about how we lead that life.
A lot of people think, for example, "Oh, I'm depressed. I have these sad thoughts." I'm not talking about clinical depression. I'm talking just like looking at my kids going to school and thinking, "Oh, I've got homework to do." Or "I don't like school," and things like that. Well, I know they're children. Yes, we have this life but we can also be intentional with this life and think, "Okay, what is it that I want to get out of this life? I want to be happy so how do I create happiness?" It's like motivation. It's not like suddenly somebody just drops this out of the sky for you and you think, "Oh, now I'm happy and now I'm motivated."
No, we have to generate these things. We have to work at them and we have to create habits surrounding them. Once they're habits, they're really easy and you do it without thinking. I might sound a bit like a broken record thought but that's essentially where I want people to get to. I can lead this amazing life. I can lead a long and healthy life and it can be easy, and I can really enjoy my life and do all the things I want to do. It's just amazing.
With yoga, it's really interesting with habits. What the yogis will term as habits are like samskaras and they're like threads. So it's like linking to that unconscious thinking that you're talking about, all of the subconscious. The subconscious really drives so many of our behaviors, from what we've learned, and it goes back to what you were saying about, if you can learn behaviors at a very early age, you're going to have those threads and those habits ingrained in you to be able to take forward into adulthood and you become much healthier by doing so.
When you're working with your programs, particularly, I know you run the challenges several times a year where you're really helping mums to adopt more healthier habits and also for their families. Could you share a little bit about what those challenges look like for the women that come and join you and what you find women change from some of those processes?
Yes, thank you so much for asking. We have just finished my first challenge and my next one is going to be in July and it was super exciting. The challenge that I did was aimed at mothers. I might change that slightly as the time goes on, but essentially it's the same thing. It's about understanding this thing about habits and about understanding healthy living.
What I want people to take from that is it's easy and fun. I always say, if it's not easy and fun, it doesn't get done. So you have to create a system and habits and routines that work for you. In this challenge, it's all about helping them just make one small change.
Now, the challenge is a week-long. You can't create a habit in a week but what you can do is create the foundations for habits; the understanding of what I want to do. I always think once you understand something and see it from a big picture level, it shows you that you can do it and that you can take those steps and move forward. Then at the end of that challenge, if people want to carry on working with me and implementing those changes...
The group work we do, there are not heaps more information that you need. It's about actually doing it. And it's the same with my one-on-one coaching. There's no magic, "eat kale at five o'clock in the morning". It's so easy. I've told you everything, but most people have so many problems. There's what I call the rickety bridge between where you are now and where you want to get to which is where you've got all of these habits set up.
The problem with the rickety bridge is that life happens. You go along, life happens. Suddenly, what happens when life happens is you turn back to your habits. Now, if those habits aren't ingrained, it's like there's an elastic band that pings you back to you were and then people start feeling deflated and like a failure and, "Oh my goodness, I can't do this. There's something abnormal with me." So many people say, "I've tried everything and nothing works for me."
It's not that they aren't a human being. It's not that they don't have normal physiology. It's all in their brain. It's that they've tried something. They haven't really got to the other side of that rickety bridge and then they've gone, "Oh, it doesn't work. I'm going to go back and I'm going to try something different." Really, if they just stuck to it, they would have got to the other side and it would have been a habit.
Yeah, that's basically what the challenge is about and what the group work or the one-on-one work that I do is. It's just, we will get you there. We'll create habits in all four of the pillars.
It sounds wonderful. And like you say, it's about realizing that we're always learning and that there is no quick fix. You can't do anything very quickly but by persevering and by championing ourselves. I think also there's an interesting aspect there where you've mentioned about the group work and how that support system.
The way that we live life now is often people get very busy and sometimes it can feel like you're really on your own. Do you find that by providing a space where people feel like they're going through a similar process to other people gives them some support that maybe they don't have in their day-to-day life?
Yeah, absolutely. The evidence just shows that if you can make changes with other people, you're far more likely to succeed. It's like if you're a smoker and you want to give up smoking, don't go and hang around with your smoking friends who are going to offer you a cigarette. Go and hang around with your people who are like, "Why on earth would you smoke?" You're going to just get swept along with that. It's the same in a group coaching program that people build on each other. They support each other when they're down, but they inspire each other as well.
Again, it's about creating that upward spiral. I would just add, if anyone is listening and is interested, I offer a free breakthrough session which is just a chat to come and talk about you for a little bit and think, "Well, where are you?"
We'll make sure we put all the links in underneath the podcast as well. It's interesting that that offer of where are you and that breakthrough also links into what you were saying about your swimming. You're able to give that space to other people, just somebody to listen to them. And often, that is what's missing from a lot of people's lives. There's a lot going up in their brains so there's a lot going on around them, but they just want that space and that time for them.
Yeah, absolutely. I love chatting to people. I'm so blessed that my job is essentially chatting to people. It's wonderful. You're right, there is so much value in being able to take a little bit of your space and go, 'Okay." So many people have this mind space that they use up. Again, I talk about the habit fairy. What are those things that you're just mulling over but they're using your energy? For a lot of people it's this nagging doubt of I want to lose weight or I want to be more healthy, but how do I do it? And I never create the space to actually address this situation.
In the back of my mind, I'm like, "Oh, I need to get this new book and try these new recipes." But I'm so busy doing everything else that I never get around to it. So, just having time to sit and chat and have somebody else who's objective and goes, "Okay, this is where you are. This is where you want to get to. How are you going to get there?" Just that 30 minutes is like gold dust and so many people just find that useful. Whether they carry on working with me or not, even if they don't, they're like, "Oh yes." I walk away going, "I can do this and it is easy."
You're offering people that clarity of mind, aren't you? You touched on something there about the mind being so busy and that's something that I've had to work with over the time and particularly some of the skills that I've learned from my yoga practice about quietening down the mind where it's replaying things.
Whether that's replaying, so talk about eating, but replaying what you've eaten or what you slipped up on, or the habit you dropped back to, or thinking into the future, "Well, I'll do this next week," or, "I'll do this after I've had time to get a book or go to this." But actually, just being able to be present, bring yourself back to what's going on now, how am I feeling, and what can I control today? What can I do that's going to make me feel great and fit and fabulous? What's going to energize you in that moment in time?
I can see a lot of parallels with that mindset which you were saying is one of your four pillars that you share with people. Maybe just talking about this four pillars, can you maybe give a little summary of why you decided on the four pillars and then what you combined with them.
Okay. Nutrition: there's so much information about nutrition and there's so much evidence as well that the way we eat impacts our health. If you're thinking about weight loss, people always think, "Oh, I need to go to the gym to lose weight." But it's not true. It's about 80% what we eat and 20% exercise. Even if weight isn't an issue, still what we eat has huge implications on long-term health. Since we've been to medical school, I think there's been so much interesting research. You know, this idea of the bio. I didn't learn anything about it at medical school. At Bristol, we didn't.
I know people in other universities who did at the same time, but for me, it's totally new over the last 10, 20 years. Nutrition is really interesting, but again, really simply, eat more vegetables. If you can come away and think, "I'm just going to add more vegetables," then that's a really positive change to make. Exercise is pillar number two, and it's the key to having energy and feeling, "Oh my goodness, I can use my body."
Our bodies are designed to be used. We need to use our muscles every single day. Particularly, we were talking about this before we started recording, but after the age of 40, you need to be thinking about your muscle and your bone strength and how you can maintain that into later life. The key is movement. And it doesn't have to be complicated. It doesn't have to be going to the gym. It can just be simple things like walking or cycling or swimming or seven minute workouts, but just being aware of how much you move.
I recommend that everybody have a sports watch as well because just moving throughout the day. I get up and walk around our little garden whenever my watch goes off. So movement is super important and sleep as well. There's been so much research on sleep; so much interesting understanding of how sleep works and what it does to our body over the last 10 years. The reality is we all know that sleep is good for us. I don't know about you, but when I haven't had enough sleep, I'm just unbearable. I'm like an angry bear, and we know that.
So, on one level it's so clear, on another level, the research now supports that. Sleep is a really important thing. Also, there are connections to sleep and things like Alzheimer's and other illnesses later on at lifetime. I think back to our university days and it was, "Burn the candle at both ends." And that was what we were advised to do. Whereas now I think, "Oh my goodness, make sure you get your eight hours sleep." 'You're far better off doing that."
Then mindset or emotional wellness is what I think is the foundation in that you can't make these changes unless you've got the right mindset. If your mindset isn't there and you're thinking, "It's difficult and I don't want to do this," you're not going to do it. I think it's so important and it's so interesting as well. It's thinking about how we think about things and our emotions and having tools to change those.
So thinking about how our thoughts and our emotions and our actions all go round in this loop and how we judge ourselves and how we have this really mean voice that talks to ourselves and how you can actually set up systems to not do that. Meditation is a really useful tool and I recommend that all my clients have meditation.
Now, I don't add that in right at the start because if you give people too much stuff to change all at once, then they get a little bit overwhelmed. Essentially, yes, I would recommend everybody do meditation. Partly, for what I call a maintenance tool to just help you every single day. Also, you can use it as an emergency tool as well. When you're feeling overwhelmed and stressed and your kids are climbing on top of you, you can just say, "Do you know what? I feel a little bit overwhelmed and stressed. I'm just going to take myself away for 10 minutes, calm myself down, do a little bit of meditation."
That's demonstrating really good emotional control to your children who will follow you. Those are my four pillars and those are why I picked them. I see lots of people who want to make it more complicated, things like, what supplements do you have to have and thinking about these particular foods are really good. But I'm all about just keeping it easy. As I say, if it's not easy, you're not going to do it. It's easy and simple.
It sounds brilliant. I could listen to you for a long time. What I really love about the way that you're able to describe these concepts is it's really clear that you're using your experience as a doctor and your experience as a mum and your experience in life in general, to share what you've learned. You're able to put it into a really clear way for people to grasp. It's lovely to listen to you because it really highlights how you've been able to combine both of those things and all of your experience together.
As you mentioned, we were at medical school together, which feels like a whole world away. Maybe you could just reflect on how your experience since then has got you to where you are now and what you're doing now, is it something that you ever thought you would be doing when you left med school? How has your career found its path to doing something that you clearly get a lot of passion and enjoyment from?