Feature in Sussex Life Magazine March 2019
Sarah recently found an old picture of herself in a bikini, taken when she was 15 and on holiday in France. It brought back a lot of memories - not least the beginning of her long battle with food. "I thought I was really big at the time," she says from her home in Ditchling Common. "But I look at the photo now and I was probably the same as I am now. What followed was years of dieting, and falling off dieting, overeating and not listening to my own body."
She admits attending an all-girls boarding school probably didn't help: "It was rife with eating disorders. I had friends who had anorexia and bulimia. But disordered eating can stick in your diet mentality - you're trying to improve and end up putting yourself down."
Now from her Ditchling conservatory she has launched Kale and Cake, which offers one-on-one nutrition and eating psychology coaching. "I don't think there is anything else out there which helps people who don't have eating disorders, but do get caught up in the hype of turning vegan, clean eating, cutting out sugar or juice fasting," she says. "If you feel like you're carrying a bit of extra weight you fall into this diet trap. You're eating food that somebody else is dictating to you and not listening to your own hunger and fullness."
The approach that Sarah, 41, takes is based on her diplomas in Eating Psychology, and Diet and Nutrition, a BA Hons degree in Anthropology and Psychology from Durham University, a course about the principles of intuitive eating and her own experience. Having had two children, Clara, 7, and Archie, 4, she decided to give up the commute to London where she worked in advertising, and instead focus on her love of nutrition and motivating her friends and family. "When I was talking about going back to work (after having Archie) my friends were saying I should be a life coach" she says. "But this is what I feel passionate about and where I can help people. I get such a buzz knowing it is working and making them feel happier."
Her one-to-one courses begin with an hour long session before a series of follow-up sessions. During the sessions, she explores her clients' relationship with food and the reasons why their dieting isn't working. "The longest stage is self-awareness," says Sarah. "People go on diets and spend so much time suppressing their hunger. They're eating with their mind, not their body - they should find out what their body wants and stop when their body says they should stop." This can mean counteracting the clean plate mentality so many of us have drilled into us as children at home or school, or stopping bad habits like eating in front of the television.
Sarah believes often we should give into what our body wants. "Often people will see a chocolate mini roll and really want to eat it," she says. "They say no to themselves because it's 140 calories. So instead they eat some carrots and houmous which are 50 calories, and some nuts which bring it up to 200 calories, and then a chocolate covered ricecake which is another 60 calories, and often they end up eating the mini roll anyway - or three. If you say "I can't have something" you want it all the more. You should treat naughty food with respect. If you find yourself munching on a packet of Malteasers it's mindless eating. You should go and find a treat you really like, sit down and focus on it - and you will stop when you are full."
Her courses also look at emotional eating - the stresses and anxiety which can cause overeating, or alternatively the boredom and lack of direction which can have the same effect. She helps her clients recognise the signs and deals with them. She also challenges common beliefs and advice around food - such as cutting out eating after 6pm, or keeping away from carbs during the day - instead examining the scientific evidence behind them to turn them into positive thoughts. For example, carbs are designed to keep you full, so by eating them during the day you may not need to eat more in the evening.
At the heart of her work is the idea of self-care: "Relationships won't work unless you learn to love yourself , "she says. "You have to learn to love your body and treat it properly, by giving it good food, lots of self love and self care."
She doesn't hold weigh-ins or promote calorie-counting. Each course is tailored to the person at the heart of it. and the principles are very hard to go back on. "You can never say: I've stopped eating when I'm hungry, or I've stopped stopping eating when I'm full" says Sarah. "Time is an investment - you care about what you're eating, then make time for a bowl of porridge in the morning . Some people have never thought about planning food before."
"If I hadn't been there myself I don't think I could help - I'm not afraid to use myself as an example."
Moving to Ditchling Common was a big part of Sarah deciding to launch Kale and Cake. She and husband Ed, 38, who is a City-based chartered surveyor in commercial property, decided to move to the country when they had their second child. Having rented in Plumpton, the family found their current home which is at the end of a country lane just outside of Ditchling. They are now in the middle of completely refurbishing it. "The house was last done up in the 1970s" says Sarah. "The kitchen looked like a Swiss ski chalet - everything was made of wood, or with cherry tiles. It was beautifully done for the era, but it felt very claustrophobic." Sarah focused on transforming the kitchen first over the Summer of 2017, moving the sink so that it was possible to see out into the garden while washing up, and putting the oven under the counter. "The breakfast bar was my idea" she says. "I like to sit down to eat - that way you're focusing on what you eat. It has become a favourite part of the house."
Her bright and clean design has incorporated some of the older parts of the house too, such as the exposed low ceiling beams and the wooden floor which came from a nearby prep school. There are a range of period fireplaces throughout the house - a favourite being the large fireplace in the sitting room.
The conservatory is another important part of the house -which again had a strong 1970s vibe originally. Having first been turned into a children's playroom it is now where Sarah meets her clients - having turned an alcove upstairs close to their bedrooms into a childrens play area. The conservatory's tiled floor has been replaced by painted wood, and the original orange colour scheme has become much lighter and brighter reflecting the conservatory's position overlooking the garden.
The gardens, which are maintained by Ed, play a big part in family life all year round. "We have a wrap-around garden," says Sarah. "There are three lawns and we do different things on each one. The kids get on their bikes and can ride all around the house - it can be a nightmare to get them inside!" There are plans to build raised vegetable beds this Spring which will augment the healthy meals Sarah creates for her Instagram feed.
Outside the house the family enjoys walks along a nearby bridleway. The children enjoy visiting a nearby ropeswing while Sarah jogs in the woods. Nearby Ditchling has the attractions of The Bull and cafe Green Welly where Sarah likes to meet fellow local mums. Further afield, favourite food haunts include The Ginger Fox near Albourne and The Jolly Sportsman in East Chiltington.
As for the future Sarah would like to build on her existing client base. She has given her first Skype consultation but would like to keep the business local. In January she held her first "Change your Eating Mindset" workshop, for groups of no more than five, the first of which sold out. "I would like to make the workshops more regular" she says. "They appeal to different people - some people like to share in groups rather than be in a one-on-one session. But I want to be a small local business which helps local people."
The essence of the business is contained within its name Kale and Cake. "It's about balance," says Sarah. "It's about having both - kale stands for health and cake does the opposite. It's worked well as a name, it gives it a talking point for people rather than just being a person. People seem to get it."
And she stills enjoys the reaction she gets from her clients: "I have had some clients say it's like a lightbulb going off," she says. "It's the realisation that the time when your body was perfect was when other things were happening to you - either a heartbreak or when you're weren't focusing on food and dieting. It's always a big turning point - that discovery that dieting isn't working."