Former CEO of Psycle and nutritional therapist Rhian Stephenson has helped dozens of people shift pounds and feel better. We asked her to share her tried-and-tested rules for year-round healthy eating without dieting
She's the Canadian powerhouse responsible for the meteoric rise of boutique fitness brand Psycle , having led the company as CEO for seven years. Now –after giving up her high-powered career to set up her own wellness brand Artah in 2020 – nutritional therapist, naturopath and mum-of-one Rhian Stephenson , 39, is set to cut through the noise of faddy January diets, too.
Having noticed her Psycle clients were so focused on getting fit but not improving their health, Rhian came up with the idea of Artah, naming it after the Hindi word for 'purpose' since Rhian wants people to make their health a core value, rather than a fleeting goal.
She started by offering restorative retreats at an estate nestled in the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees. Then came her 7-Day and 28-Day Resets, which helped women shift an incredible 13lb in four weeks. When the pandemic hit, she branched out into virtual workshops (her hormone masterclasses, in particular, have been hugely popular) and supplements .
Her latest endeavour? A digital nutrition monthly membership that's the next best thing to having your own pocket-sized Rhian – and her many years of expertise –with you at all times, for less than the price of your weekly coffee fix or single gym class.
"One of the biggest problems with new year diets is people thinking they've 'ruined their plan' by having a drink or hitting the breadbasket," she says. "This causes a lot of guilt and frustration and inevitably ends with them saying they will 'start again' on Monday.
"By the time you get to the new start date, you usually end up feeling far worse and then feel you need to restrict to get back on track, and so the cycle repeats. Switching on and off every few weeks is never going to get you there and it can cause a lot of emotional turmoil," Rhian tells us.
She's right. According to research, the average Brit tries 126 diets in their lifetime , abandoning each after just six days. Instead, Rhian's come up with a year-round support system to help us stay inspired and on track, for an affordable £12 a month
She created the plans after noticing how the pandemic changed our relationship with food. "Understandably, a lot of people had a hard time when they lost their routine. If you weren't accustomed to cooking or thinking about your nutrition, it was hard to know what to eat. Add other challenges, like stress, homeschooling, no delineation between work and home, and a lot of people were relying on takeaways, comfort food and snacking. On the flip side, some people took it as an opportunity to get more engaged with their health, so they were cooking more, exercising more, and feeling motivated to make some positive changes – but they needed solid advice to follow and good resources to help them."
Hence the Artah membership was born as a year-round approach to nutrition whatever life throws at you. Think health-driven and calorie-conscious meal plans for every day of the year, shopping lists, monthly forums with food and health professionals, and quarterly live 'resets'. It's designed to help us shed pounds, supercharge our energy levels and balance our hormones – for good.
"Food is the most fundamental pillar of my health, so for me eating healthy food that positively contributes to the state of my mind and body is non-negotiable. I'm running my second business now. I love to train, I love being active, and I have a young child. But I know, without a doubt, that I couldn't do everything I wanted to if I didn't eat well," Rhian reveals.
We sat down with Rhian to learn about how she stays on the healthy eating track when life (pandemics, babies, a new business) get in the way and for the 10 things we really need to know to make staying lean, energised and in balance a way of life.
GTG: How did the birth of your baby in March 2020 affect your own health?
Rhian Stephenson: "I had a Caesarean - and for the first time in my life, I couldn't exercise, so I noticed how much my mood, sleep, headaches and energy were all affected if I ate badly or went for quick sugary fixes. I felt like I couldn't cope with things nearly as well.
"I wasn’t even eating lots of processed foods or junk – just a ton of carbs and very little of anything else; snacking on fruit, dates or energy bars instead of eating proper meals. Our ability to regulate blood sugar is massively impaired by lack of sleep, so it’s even more important to eat well-balanced meals when you're overtired."
How did you change your own eating habits to manage life as a new mum?
"My routine now includes the foods and practices I know make me feel great and keep my energy super high. My diet is high vegetable, high fibre, moderate-to-high fat, moderate protein, and very low sugar. Although I’m not intolerant or allergic to gluten, I stick to gluten-free grains like rice, quinoa, and buckwheat because I feel far better when I eat them. My absolute vice is coffee. I love it and have a few a day, but I've stopped having it before breakfast because it makes me feel edgy.
"My relationship with alcohol has really changed. I barely drink now because, since having Maisie, I've found it has a profoundly negative effect on my mood and energy. I have less patience, I'm super anxious, and find it far harder to cope with work, baby and stress when I drink. Because she's still an infant, it also means there's no catching up on sleep….ever!
"I didn’t implement these things all at once – it takes time to work out the different layers of personalisation – but when you do, it’s transformational."
Do you adapt your own diet around your menstrual cycle?
"Yes, flexing my eating patterns around my period has a dramatic impact on how I feel. In weeks one and two (the follicular phase), I generally do two intermittent fasts a week. In weeks three and four (the luteal phase), I don’t fast, I increase calories and carbs, and I change my supplements to combat PMS, which helps me enormously."
Why do most new year diets fail?
"There needs to be an initial investment in your nutrition to get to a good place – whether that's three months or six months. It shouldn't just be two weeks after Christmas and two weeks before the summer. This doesn't mean you need to be anti-social and stay in the whole time, but it means that you are actively investing in a consistent, healthy approach to nutrition for a sustained period of time.
"Once you’ve done this, it’s important to be realistic about your goals, what you want and what you can stick with. If you're someone who wants to have great energy, keep a certain weight, have glowing skin, have good control over your mood, but you also want to drink alcohol five nights a week and eat a lot of sugar, something needs to give. Likewise, if you know that gluten worsens your IBS, but you eat it every day, there needs to be a level of acceptance – either you find an alternative that doesn't make you feel bad, or you decide keeping gluten is more important to you.
"A lot of frustration around health comes from the tension we create around these decisions. If you spend most of your time focusing on how upsetting it is that there is something you feel you can't have, it's going to be an uphill battle. It's important to stay positive – focus on finding stuff you love, that tastes great, and is still good for you. I promise you this is possible.
"Some people need to be a little more stringent in their approach and some people can be more moderate – it completely depends on your disposition and how you respond to food. I’m not one of those people who can eat one square of chocolate and then put the rest in the fridge for the next day. I’d rather have a full dessert once a month and really enjoy it. For others, giving up something can be too stressful and lead to a binge – so having a little every now and then helps them get through."
What's the secret to keeping weight off for good?
"Firstly, not having a consistent mindset often causes us to swing between extremes – so, periods of intense restriction followed by periods of extreme overindulgence. This feeds the yo-yo pattern and makes it so challenging to approach nutrition in a moderate, realistic way.
"In addition, it takes time to work out what really works for your body, so approaching nutrition as a quick fix rarely works – at least not past the age of 30!
"Although there's a ton of information out there that seems really conflicting when you filter out the food marketing and diet types, there are some fundamental principles of nutrition that nobody can really argue with:
- Healthy insulin (blood sugar) levels
- Choosing real food over highly processed food
- Choosing whole grains over refined grains
- Eating lots of vegetables
- Keeping longer intervals between food. Extending the window between your dinner and breakfast to at least 12 hours will really help.
- Decreasing snacks
- Meat consumption is something else to be mindful of – try to eliminate processed meats and red meat should be limited to about 12oz per week.
"If you start with those things, you'll be in a good place to further your knowledge and get more personalised, which is where I think a lot of people get confused. They often start with something super specialised like a lectin-free or Low FODMAP diet. Both diets are incredibly restrictive.
How do you know which diet will work for you?
"We often turn to the media to see what the magic bullet is, but everyone is different, and everyone needs to take time finding out what foods suit them. The first step is getting a healthy baseline by implementing some of the principles above, and then once you’ve done this, you can take time to experiment and observe what works for you.
"For example, do you have more energy on a savoury breakfast? Do the foods you eat make you feel good? I think a lot of us miss the step of actually working out what foods suit us the most. Porridge is healthy, but when I have porridge for breakfast my energy and mood is all over the place – I'm starving by 10am. Instead, I respond well to more dinner-like breakfasts (fish, rice, vegetables, leftovers etc) or smoothie bowls with a good amount of fat in them. I also love almond yoghurt with nuts, seeds and fruit – and I feel great afterwards. It's important that people go through this process.
"Here are the things to look out for – do you have an energy crash or feel hungry by mid-morning? Do you spend it fighting the urge to snack or can you easily make it to lunch? Are you bloated? Are there certain breakfasts that exacerbate any IBS or cause discomfort? Consider your mood, too. "
How have people managed to lose almost a stone a month with your 7-Day and 28-Day Resets?
"I was pretty blown away with the results from the 28 Day Reset, from both a weight and health perspective. People were losing up to six kilograms, and a lot of mums said it was the only thing that’s helped them shift the weight post-baby after years of trying.
"I created the Reset because I wanted people to have an easy-to-follow at-home plan that delivered noticeable results when it came to weight, energy, mood and overall wellbeing. The plan has three phases. In the first two weeks, you cut out common allergens and start to extend the time between meals to prepare your body for a fast-mimicking protocol, which happens in week three. In this phase, we cut the calories down for seven days, and also encourage you to reduce long intense workouts and instead switch to steady-state, lower-intensity movement sessions so that your body really reaps the benefits of the protocol without being too stressed or hungry.
"In week four, you bring the calories back up before reintroducing the foods you eliminated. So, although there’s one week that sounds intense from the outset, because there is adequate prep it doesn’t feel very difficult in practice. This really showed people how profound the change can be in such a short amount of time without too much sacrifice.
"The programme also teaches you how to identify sensitivities and intolerances as you reintroduce different foods – this was a big eye-opener for the community, especially for those who suffered from IBS, headaches, terrible PMS or eczema. Finally, I wanted the plan to get people excited about cooking super healthy food and show them that they could eat large, satisfying portions and still lose weight."
How did the diet plan affect other aspects of health such as hormone balance and skin improvements?
"Gut, energy and skin were all areas that people were reporting massive changes in. Eczema flare-ups were resolving and starting to heal, with far less redness. IBS symptoms like constipation, bloating, pain and wind, were going away, and people were feeling far more in control of their mood and appetite. Because people were loving the food, they felt that they could keep so many of the principles and meals in their everyday life.
"What we eat is the most powerful tool we have – it helps prevent chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and certain types of cancers. It determines how we feel every day, influences our gene expression and is intrinsically linked to the health of our microbiome, which we now know impacts our mood, metabolism, immunity and body composition.
"If you're eating a diet that is too high in sugar, it will result in increased insulin and cause weight gain. But excess insulin doesn't affect just weight - over time, we can become insulin resistant, which negatively affects our hormones, cardiovascular health, anxiety and increases inflammation.
What does a typical day of healthy eating look like?
Grain-free granola with mixed berries OR soft scrambled eggs with chilli broccoli
Daikon noodle bowl with avocado, carrot, mint, coriander and miso peanut dressing
Poached chicken, tomato and courgetti with walnut pesto (vegan option: mix courgetti with brown rice pasta)
How can we cook for multiple people at home and still please everyone?
"This is always a bit of a challenge at first! For example, my husband eats meat – I don't. My husband is allergic to gluten – I'm not. I’m allergic to dairy – he’s not. I can't eat eggs, but my daughter and husband love them. It's exhausting just thinking about it! This is another thing that led me to the creation of our nutrition membership, I wanted to have a resource of inspiring, healthy recipes that can be easily modified to suit different eaters. I also didn't want to have to think about food and planning so much."
Rhian's ten rules for keeping your weight, mood and hormones in balance
1. Cut the snacking
"Our bodies need time between meals – constant snacking can impair motility of the gut (leading to bloating and a sluggish bowel), keep insulin high (which can lead to weight gain and low energy) and if your body is always using energy for digestion, it has less energy to direct to other things like the immune system or cellular repair. Aim for at least four hours between your meals in the day, and at least 12 hours overnight – unless you're pregnant or have a specific reason to be snacking."
2. Eat more plants
"Veg should be a dominant feature in your diet. You can get clever about how to increase how much you eat – for example, when I am craving pasta, I often cut the quantity of pasta in half and cut it with a whole spiralised courgette. This way I'm still getting something extremely satisfying with the pasta and sauce, only with more fibre, more vegetables, and half the calories."
3. Try two days of intermittent fasting (IF) per week
"This can be transformational. You don't need to cut calories massively, just start by focusing on a 16-hour window between your dinner and breakfast, twice weekly, and go from there. Once you’ve improved your fasting tolerance and are feeling good, you can decide whether you’d like to experiment with other types of fasting or more frequent IF."
4. Focus on real food
"If you can't read the ingredients, your body likely can't either. Keeping your cupboard stocked with healthy staples is key because you can almost always whip something up. I always have things like brown rice, quinoa, beans, tahini, herbs and different vinegars. You can also add things like jarred artichokes, roasted peppers, or other speciality items so you’re able to make something interesting with very little shopping required."
5. Avoid sugar
"Instead, get your sweetness from fruit, root vegetables, and if you need the occasional treat – focus on the more natural sources of sugar like maple syrup or dates."
6. Personalise your diet
"Finding out what foods work for you takes a period of trial and error, so be patient with it. If you get any bloating, pain, headache, hunger, mood crash or fatigue, it’s likely a meal doesn’t suit you."
7. Change your internal dialogue
"Saying 'I don't want this' is far more empowering than saying 'I can't have this'."
8. Set behaviour goals as well as outcome goals
"For example, if you’re someone who tends to emotionally eat following stress, a behavioural trigger could be finding a positive way to reduce stress. If you’re only setting weight-related goals but you’re stress-eating every day, the latter is what you really need to address in order to get to the outcome you want."
9. Use targeted supplements to tackle imbalances and enhance your health
"Ashwagandha can help with stress reduction, formulas with compounds like chromium, inositol and alpha-lipoic acid can help regulate blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) can help reduce symptoms of PMS – and so on. Taking supplements isn't just about getting the minimum requirement, you can use them to support your system during stress, to help with cravings, or to improve energy which can be hugely beneficial when you're trying to be healthy."
10. Eat around your menstrual cycle
"Co-ordinating my diet with my monthly cycle has been so transformational for me when it comes to PMS and boosting my energy levels."
A monthly Artah membership costs £12. Find out more at artah.co .