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Aberdeen GP takes on women’s health after leaving NHS to launch academy

When was the last time you unclenched your jaw and drank a glass of water? Doctor Aileen Alexander is on a mission to tackle wellbeing.

Doctor Aileen Alexander is on a mission to help women fight back against diet culture. Image: KAD Photography.
Doctor Aileen Alexander is on a mission to help women fight back against diet culture. Image: KAD Photography.

Doctor Aileen Alexander may look familiar, having taken her mission to the stage at Tedx Aberdeen.

She was in the spotlight as part of the compelling line up of speakers, in a bid to change the narrative after years spent helping patients as a GP – but only getting so far.

You can’t help but warm to Aileen, who comes across as both earnest and passionate throughout our interview.

Dr Aileen Alexander took to the stage at the TEDx Aberdeen event. Image: TEDx Aberdeen

She is a clearly a woman used to listening, having heard different variations of the same story.

Now she’s determined to change the narrative, and she believes she may just help others to not only protect the NHS long term, but also change their health for the better.

The daughter of a fisherman and a hairdresser, Aileen is open about the fact that she didn’t go to a particularly good school.

“Honestly, I didn’t go to a school where people become doctors, and I didn’t come from a family where you said you were going to medical school,” says Aileen.

“My big brother went to university, but extended family didn’t.

“Medical school had been this lifelong ambition.”

Doctor Aileen Alexander left the NHS to pursue her passion of wellbeing. Image: KAD Photography.

Aileen ultimately went on to triumph, but all the studying in the world could not cure underlying problems for patients.

Aileen was used to writing sick notes for people overwhelmed by stress, and prescribed medication for conditions like Type 2 diabetes, which in her opinion could have been halted years before.

Never could she fix the root problem which is altogether more complex.

Aileen believes that women in particular, are coming up against decades of diet culture, dangerous myths and sheer exhaustion, alongside engrained beliefs and the fear that we’re not good enough, strong enough, or deserving enough to live a life which truly serves us.

Previously known as This Doctor Lifts, Aileen’s vision has been years in the making.

She has stepped away from the NHS having recently launched Nourish Academy and has already helped thousands of women all over the world.

Aileen has recently launched Nourish Academy. Image: KAD Photography.

She will not provide you with a diet plan or hardcore HIT classes, and nor will Aileen ask you to monitor your weight.

Many of her clients come on board with weight loss as their ultimate goal, but soon realise that their wellbeing is at the centre of everything.

Aileen is determined to empower people to nourish themselves, perhaps for the first time in their life.

We caught up and found out why this is just the beginning.

Imposter syndrome

“Nobody else in my family had gone to medical school, and it certainly wasn’t expected of me,” says Aileen.

“I had a lot of imposter syndrome, so when I got into university it was amazing.

“That’s where I had set my sights and I didn’t even consider doing anything else until I had qualified as a doctor.

“I accidentally fell into this field, and it just kept evolving and growing.”

Aileen believes the true meaning of well-being has drastically changed, and people now have a far greater understanding of what it can mean for them.

Aileen believes wellbeing is now more widely talked about. Image: KAD Photography.

“Even five years ago, If I said I was leaving medicine to work in wellbeing, I would have been a laughing stock,” says Aileen.

“It wasn’t an accepted term, even mental health wasn’t accepted.

“People would come and see me, and tell me about their mood or how they had been struggling.

“But there was still this element of shame, it just wasn’t talked about.

“The pandemic has really helped to bring everything to light, and people are genuinely interested in taking better care of their health these days whereas they hadn’t been before.

“I think the industry was previously very transactional.

“There was this belief that if you did your steps, count calories and do your workouts, whereas the wellbeing part of everything was almost dismissed or pushed out the way.”

A different type of medicine

When Aileen finally decided to take the leap into setting up her own business, she believes it was equal parts “exhilarating and terrifying.”

She continued to work one day a week as a locum GP, and has since gone fulltime in the wellbeing world.

“Initially it felt like an identity change,” recalls Aileen.

“When you are a doctor, it becomes everything that you are and it has taken me a while to realise that I am still a doctor.

“I’m just a different type.”

But what is Nourish, and how can people benefit?

Setting boundaries

“It’s all encompassing,” says Aileen.

“There’s a big difference between what people want, what they think they want and what they actually need.

“I noticed that people think they want to lose weight, but actually what they need to do, is they need to set boundaries, they need to care for themselves.

“They need to be more assertive and get proper sleep, and when this all comes together you can see people thinking, Oh!

Aileen often recommends different books to clients who want to learn more about wellness. Image: KAD Photography.

“I could say it’s like a psychological intervention, but people possibly wouldn’t buy into that.

“Nourish offers a supportive and creative space, but there’s also a scientific process behind it all.”

Aileen believes that Nourish enables women to reassess their lives, and finally take care of themselves.

“It really helps women to unpick all these narratives that we’ve embodied over the years,” she says.

“All these beliefs and values that aren’t ours, that are cultural or that society would have us believe.

“We’re trying to do, all of the things and actually you can’t cook with five pans on a four hob cooker.”

Doctor Aileen Alexander is on a mission to smash diet culture. Image: KAD Photography.

Aileen has recently launched Nourish Academy, a 12 week programme which enables women to reassess.

“It’s about optimising energy levels, managing stress, beating fatigue, looking at relationships, looking at the bigger picture,” says Aileen.

“It’s not just me saying I’ll knock half a stone off you, it needs to be sustainable.

“I don’t offer exercise plans, but I do want to know what exercise you actually enjoy?

“What does that look like and how can we create more of that, because it’s almost as if women need permission to do things a different way.”

Aileen, who has clients around the world, is now focused on making the academy a success but also wants to reach the corporate world.

Career and wellness

“I would love to create corporate wellness programmes,” says Aileen.

“I don’t believe companies are responsible for their employees as such, but I do think ethically and morally there is an obligation to deliver something.

“Employees are also responsible for themselves, so there needs to be this co-creation.

“I love seeing women blossom, they create the change.

“I just give them the skills and the tools.

“It’s not really about weight, weight is what people think they want.

“It’s the knock on impact of learning and understanding your wellbeing and passing that onto your kids.

“They pass it onto their family and bring it into the workplace, it’s a ripple effect.

“Hopefully at some point we can eradicate diet culture, it’s absolute nonsense which is destroying people’s lives, their health, their self-esteem.”

Wellbeing Diary with Dr Aileen Alexander

Favourite workout clothes?

I LOVE workout clothes, but have tall girl problems in that long length joggers and leggins are not a thing (yet). I always work out in a pair of nike, adidas or puma leggings and a tank top. Right now I’m loving the Peloton workout tops – they hold their shape even after a few washes!

What are the top three things we can do for our wellbeing?

I believe that the three pillars of well-being are sleep, stress management, and nutrition and these go hand in hand.

When we sleep well and manage stress we’re more likely to make healthier food choices.

When we sleep well we manage stress better and when we’re less stressed we sleep better!

Of course, nutrition is paramount because every cell in our body is made from the food we eat.

Think about it this way – food is the only thing we interact with that literally becomes part of our biological makeup.

It sounds very simple, but it absolutely isn’t. Getting the balance right while still working, running a home, taking care of a young family or elderly parents is always a juggle and that’s why it can be so challenging to find the balance.

Go to meal?

I absolutely love food and truly believe that not all food needs to be “healthy”.

All foods should be part of a healthy and balanced diet.

Sometimes we eat for pleasure and other times we eat to nourish our soul.

Food isn’t just fuel. My favourite meal would be steak (done on the BBQ) with a baked potato and a glass of shiraz.

My go to meal would be spaghetti bolognese because it’s always a hit with the kids! I always make a double portion and freeze it for fast weekday dinners.

Any must reads for those wanting to arm themselves with knowledge about their wellbeing?

Where do I start…? Seriously there are so many books I could recommend but a great place to start would be Atomic Habits by James Clear.

I often gift books to clients and believe that the right book for the right person at the right time can completely change the course of someone’s wellbeing journey.

Top tip for anyone starting out on their wellbeing journey?

My biggest piece of advice would is to start slowly. It goes against everything you’ll want to do but the biggest reason people plateau or even give up and go back to old habits is because most of us try to change too many things at once and it isn’t sustainable.

So when making a lifestyle change, I always encourage people to ask themselves, “could I do this for the rest of my life?” if the answer is no then adapt it.

For example, giving up chocolate forever wouldn’t be sustainable but having chocolate 3 days a week instead of 7 days would be a quick win. Also, ALL wins should be celebrated – no matter how small!

Guilty pleasure?

If you’re meaning food, I think this is an interesting question in itself because one of the big things I support women with doing is eliminating food guilt & creating a healthy relationship with food. I don’t believe foods are “good” or “bad” they are simply “nutritionally optimal” and “non-optimal”, but diet culture has conditioned us to believe otherwise.

The impact of diet culture labelling foods as “bad” is that it creates unhealthy relationships with food causing many to restrict foods, or feel bad after eating them.

But to answer your question – unfortunately, I’m lactose intolerant which means most chocolate is off limits unless I want to suffer the side effects which neither me nor my husband enjoy!

I’m partial to a vegan magnum or more recently ben & jerries have introduced dairy free ice creams which are delicious.

I also love a delicious glass of shiraz, served at the right temperature and in the right glass (of course).

More information

To find out more about the Nourish Academy, you can follow Dr Aileen on Facebook @Nourish Health & Wellbeing or via Instagram at @doctoraileen_