About Gillian Riley
When I think about the appreciation I have for the work I do, and how I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else ever, it’s quite extraordinary to recall how much I really didn’t want to do it to start with.
I’d written a self-help book on how to stop smoking, based on a decade of teaching a cognitive approach to smokers. It had been published by a big publishing house, and every time I spoke to my editor, she asked me to write another book, a book about overcoming temptation for food in the same way I’d written about doing that for cigarettes. She kept pleading with me, over and over again, and I kept saying “No!” and “No way!”
I had two reasons for my reluctance. One, I knew it would be a massive undertaking to write. And it was. Secondly, which I thought was more important, the entire subject seemed to me to be all about improving appearance to gain approval from others; about losing weight in the hope of feeling more credible and worthy.
That was my view at the time. It wasn’t that looking good is of no value at all, it’s just that for me it didn’t inspire me enough to put the work in. Providing the support people needed to quit smoking – to escape emphysema and lung cancer and premature death – that, for me, is a pursuit I would (and did) put everything I could behind in order to create those results for my clients. But losing a dress size or two? It just didn’t grab me, and it was a while before I found out why.
It took about a year for it to slowly (very slowly) dawn on me that I was myself at least three dress sizes overweight, and that my idea about not falling in line with my culture’s preference about how I should look was my way of trying to make that okay. The truth was, I was overeating. I wasn’t heading for emphysema, but surely diabetes and arthritis are worth avoiding too. So, I began my second book as the way for me to face that, building on what I already knew from smokers about craving and impulse control.
Six months later I’d written the first half of the book, but still had no contract from my editor. When I pressed her, she said they’d decided not to publish, giving me no reason at all. I was furious but too far into it to stop, much too excited about what I was discovering through the process of writing. So, I did finish it and I self-published.
I was captured by what I was exploring, especially that crucial distinction between the public judgement of our size that preoccupies us so much and our very private – even secret – relationship with food.
I ran weekend workshops on overeating – food addiction – using my self-published book as course material. I got an excellent feature in a major national newspaper, which I just happened to mention during a meeting with my editor. And then, they decided to publish my precious book about eating less.
I once knew an author who had told me, “if you can write a letter, you can write a book”. And I thought, that makes sense. I know I can write a letter, and I can just keep going for as long as I want.
But when it came to delivering my course online, here was a brand-new challenge. The seemingly insurmountable problem was that I was convinced I wasn’t the sort of person who could run an online business, delivering my course content in that format. I didn’t know what I was missing, but I knew there was some quality I most certainly didn’t have and had no clue how to obtain.
It was a while before I understood that the only way I would ever be able to develop this mysterious quality I needed to deliver an online course was by doing it. And making any attempt to create some false persona was bound to fail. I could only do it in the most sincere way I knew, in the only way I could do it. I broadcast my first webinar in January 2017, and along the way I think I’ve made every mistake it’s been possible to make.
Which fits in very well with my course content, which is built around developing a strong and empowering learning process, instead of assuming it’s possible to find some rules and just stick to them for ever. This, it turns out, is the key to freedom from yo-yo dieting, but it took me a while before I could fully appreciate that.
As I said at the start, I’m so grateful to be doing this work. Losing weight is a bonus, and a nice one at that. But transforming the mismatch between how you want to behave around food and what you actually eat is nothing short of life-changing. As I’m often reminded by my wonderful clients.