Silva Neves

Silva Neves
Psychosexual, Relationship and Couples Therapist

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Valentine's Day: 5 quick tips to improve your relationship

Valentine’s Day is upon us again. Some love this time of year, some hate it. Nevertheless it is a time of year when most people think and reflect on their love life.

Some of you may be single, and some of you will celebrate their good relationships. But some of you will look at your relationship feeling bad about it, feeling stuck and feeling trapped. I work with many unhappy couples. They often wonder ‘how did I get here?’ ‘what is happening between us?’ ‘I just feel so distant from my partner’. Being in a relationship that feels distant or bad can make the couple feel miserable, it can be exhausting and draining. If this is you, don’t despair. There are a few things you can do to start improving your relationship.

Here are five tips:

1-    De-clutter your bedroom. When I ask couples what their bedroom looks like, I often hear that it is a space that has become cluttered and has been invaded with ‘things’ like a computer, piles of dusty books, or storage boxes. Or it is a place that has become the kingdom of pets or children. The bedroom needs to be a relaxing and private space for the couple. Pay attention to the environment: de-clutter the bedroom, buy new bedsheets, put some candles or essential oil in the room. Put some relaxing and beautiful art work on the walls. Have dim lighting. Leave the computer outside the bedroom. Leave the pets outside too (most of the time). And explain to your children that the bedroom is a private space and therefore they can’t come in any time they want. It is an important first step because it will send a message to both of you that the couple space is sacred and a priority.

2-    Look at each other’s eyes for two minutes. Sit in front of each other and look carefully, in silence. Let the silence between you become meaningful. With the silence, you will notice a new language: the one of the eyes, facial expression, energy in the space. When I ask couples to do this, they often giggle at first. It is ok to do so. But after the giggles have passed, keep looking, in deep curiosity. Couples then see something of their partner that they have long forgotten. Sometimes the energy is so potent that tears start to appear. They are either loving tears, or tears of sadness: the loss of what the relationship used to be, feeling nostalgic. Looking in each other’s eyes in silence is a meaningful way to return the connection that once was.

3-    Give each other a hug for one minute. When I ask couples to do this, they often feel awkward at the beginning but after a while they start relaxing. One minute is just long enough to feel each other’s breath, feel each other’s rhythm. Both your body’s nervous system start to regulate at the beat of each other’s body. It is another meaningful moment that helps return to the couple’s connection. I ask the couples I see to make the one-minute hug a part of their daily routine: greeting each other when they return home at the end of a long day at work, for example. Many couples report that the one-minute hug has made big improvements in their relationship. It is one minute worth spending!

4-    Send an appreciation to each other every day. Even if you are struggling in your relationship, even if you are angry at your partner, even if you think your partner constantly lets you down, try to find one thing that you appreciate about your partner. It can be a small thing like: ‘I appreciate that you have taken the bins out tonight’ or something more existential: ‘I appreciate your presence in my life’. One appreciation a day doesn’t take long and it usually makes a big different in the couple’s connections: it encourages you to notice at what your partner does that is good, rather than focusing on what they do wrong. And when you receive an appreciation it feels good. Couples often report that their relationship becomes warmer and more loving.

5-    Do something fun together. If you can find a hobby to do together (as well as continuing a hobby separately), it can make your couple stronger. Try pilates or yoga together. Or you can play badminton, for some reason it seems to be one of the preferred sports for couples. Or you can go on a dancing class together. Whatever you choose to do is fine: the point is to take your couple outside of the daily routine and to have a laugh together. It brings a different energy to the relationship and can create closeness.

If you start with these five tips, you may be surprised at how quickly a few minutes a day doing something different can start to improve your relationship and make a warmer space between the two of you. For the more tricky issues, I suggest you seek the help of a suitably qualified and experienced couples therapist.

This February, you can make the first steps towards transforming your relationship.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Monday, 9 January 2017

How to lose weight efficiently in 2017

A new year begins. Everybody has eaten too much during the festive period. And now people think about getting fit again, rushing to the gym. The magazine covers display numerous headlines such as ‘the 12-day fat burn plan’, ‘lose weight in 10 days’, ‘Get fit fast’ or the ‘clean eating super diet of 2017’. Facebook is populated with ‘How to detox’ steps. The shopfront of bookstores is full of celebrities’ books on a diet plan or how to get thin. By February, people will stop going to the gym and they will stop their clean-eating plan, feeling worse than ever, feeling defeated and ashamed of themselves: ‘I failed again’, ‘I’m no good’.

Does it sound familiar to you? Don’t worry, you are not to blame. Failing to stick to the latest diet or your gym programme is normal. These things are not sustainable for weight loss nor good health. Of course, you can lose a few pounds with the latest work out video, but you will not be able to continue the programme for long, and soon enough you will have regained the weight (and possibly more). Don’t feel ashamed by it. Because, once again, it is normal to fail. And here is why:

1- Diets don’t work. Most diets work on the principles of ‘sin’ foods and ‘good’ foods, or cutting out a whole food group, or juicing everything, doing a detox, or being ‘really good’, etc… These practices will only send your body and your mind into distress because your body will be in deficit of some important nutrients and your mind will work on a ‘deprivation mode’. Physiologically, this type of distress will create cravings! And soon enough, you will be devouring your favourite chocolate biscuits again, feeling ashamed and feeling fat.

2-    Gym programmes are not designed with psychology and wellbeing in mind. Often the exercises are too intense and you won’t stick to them. Also, your body and your mind will rebel against them. It can be counter-productive for sustained weight loss.

3-    Your body gets rid of toxins, naturally and automatically. You don’t need to detox. There is no clinical evidence that detox works. However, detox can be harmful: you can lose important nutrients and it will only set you up for cravings and over-eating later. Going into a yo-yo state of losing weight fast and regaining it can be harmful in the long –term. Don’t mess with your body in this way!

So, if diets create cravings and gym programmes don’t really work. How can you lose weight?

Unfortunately, there is no magic pills to weight loss. All the weight loss medications available have horrendous side effects and aren’t efficient for long-term weight loss. There is no magic foods or special diets or special exercise tricks that can guarantee sustained weight loss. However, there is hope! The hope lies within you!

There are three areas to look at:
1-    Your psychology. The psychology of eating is complex. It is often overlooked with people dieting or exercising, and yet, it is one of the most important areas for real change to happen.

2-    Your nutrition. This is obvious. But there are so many confusing myths about diets, foods, what is healthy and what is not. It is hard to know the facts.

3-    Your exercises. A big part of weight loss is, of course, exercises. But, just like nutrition, there are so many myths about exercises.

I would argue that the goal to weight loss isn’t losing the Christmas fat by February. This type of goals hardly work. The real goal is to be at peace with your body and with food whilst losing weight, in a healthy and efficient way, and most importantly, in a sustainable way. How does it sound? If you agree, stop focusing on the goals: ‘I want to be a size 8’. Swap it with: ‘I want to be happy and healthy with my body and my eating behaviours’. Your new goal will help you with weight loss.

Here are my tips for successful and sustained weight loss:


1-    Paradoxically, in order to lose weight successfully, you have to love yourself as you are now. This is an important first step. Swap the critical language like: ‘I’m too fat’, ‘I’m so ugly’ with a nurturing language: ‘I am a good person worthy of good health’. ‘I am a loving person’. ‘I am proud of what I have achieved so far and excited about my next step into health’.

2-    Paradoxically, in order to lose weight successfully, you have to stop focusing on your weight. Stop weighing yourself (it is a terrible habit). And stop staring at all the body parts you don’t like in the mirror. Swap the thinking: ‘I want to lose weight’ with the thinking: ‘I want to be healthy’. This is also an important and crucial step to success.

3-    Have the important moto: ‘Food is Medicine’. What I mean by that is that ALL food is medicine. Yes. ALL food. Even red meat, cheese, fat, bread, chocolate. Do not cut down a food group, it will only set you up for cravings and overeating later.

4-    Do not count calories because not all calories are the same and they have important functions in your body. Counting calories is also a distressing behaviour that can make you become obsessed with food and body image.

5-    Think of three gratitudes every day. Things in your life that you love. People that bring you joy.

6-    Develop your intuitive eating: not all hunger is the same. You can feel hunger because your stomach is empty. But you can also feel hunger because you are stressed, bored, anxious, feeling low, feeling cold, etc. Understanding which hunger you feel is important so that you can choose different resources to deal with them.

7-    Eat mindfully: eat your food slowly, enjoy all the flavours. Eat with your favourite plates and cutlery every day. Do not eat in front of the television.

8-    If you eat a biscuit, don’t panic, don’t speak to yourself harshly like: ‘I’ve blown it’ or ‘I failed’. Instead, speak to yourself kindly: ‘One biscuit is not going to ruin my weight loss. I have enjoyed this biscuit very much. And one is enough. Well done me for being healthy.’ And then you can think: ‘what type of hunger did I feel that sent me to this biscuit? Was my stomach empty? Or was I anxious about something?’


1-    Include protein in all your meals, including breakfast. Example of protein sources are: chicken, turkey, tuna, salmon, kidney beans, legumes, rolled oats, lentils, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, cheese, eggs, peanut butter. Protein promotes the production of many neurotransmitters which will help your brain and body to function properly.

2-    Complex carbohydrates are also very important to include in your meals: cereals, bagels, bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, corn.

3-    Indulge with dark leafy greens or green vegetable from the cabbage family: broccoli, spinach, brussel sprouts, etc. You can have an unlimited amount of those! Also include vegetables of all colours: the more colourful the better: red, yellow, purple, etc.

4-    Include essential fats in your meals. Please, don’t be afraid of fats. Essential fats are extremely important for your health. If you are overeating on ‘treats’, it is likely that you are deficient in essential fats. Essential fats play vital roles in your body such as: promoting hormone production, protection of internal organs, temperature regulation, energy, hair and skin health, sex drive, good mental health and concentration, reduces carbohydrate cravings, helps with bowel regulation, helps absorb vitamins, protects against heart disease and cancer. You will find essential fats in fresh salmon and fresh tuna, flax seed, green leafy vegetables (like spinach and cabbage), pumpkin seeds.

5-    Another vital part of successful weight loss is to keep your blood sugar stable, and to keep your brain functioning properly. Eat foods rich in nutrients mentioned above every 4 to 5 hours to keep your blood sugar stable. You will not experience cravings and you will not feel like you need to eat a whole packet of biscuits. If you include all the above, your brain will work well, you will feel an improvement in your moods, too. In order to lose weight efficiently, you must not feel hungry or deprived of food.

6-    Be mindful of alcohol, caffeine and refined sugar. They can upset your blood sugar levels and de-stabilise both your physiological and emotional system.

7-    One rule of thumb: eat food that are as close to its original form as possible. And buy the best quality food you can afford. Go for organic if you can afford it.


1-    Move more. Do the exercises that you love. Don’t do a gym programme if you find it too hard. Exercises that support weight loss doesn’t need to be painful. Do something fun instead like: Zumba. Yoga. Pilates.

2-    Be mindful of other ways you can move more: take the stairs instead of the lift. Park your car a little further from your destination, etc.

3-    The NHS Guidelines for exercises suggest that adults aged 19 to 64 should aim to be active daily and do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (cycling, walking fast) per week PLUS strength exercises on 2 or more days a week working on all major muscles. OR 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (running, singles tennis) every week PLUS strength exercises on 2 or more days a week working on all major muscles. This is actually not that much and easy to include in your daily lifestyle. You don’t need to go to a gym for these exercises. All you need to do is put the volume up on your favourite songs and jump about in your living room for vigorous aerobics!

Important notes:
1-    If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, it is not impossible to have a nutritional lifestyle that is healthy, but it will be much harder. Please follow the guidance of a properly qualified nutritionist if you want to lose weight efficiently and safely, because if you don’t, you are likely to be deficient of very important nutrients.

2-    Please do not take supplements capsules/ pills that are widely available over the counter without medical supervision. Taking those without professional advice can have serious harmful effects on your body and your brain.

These tips are designed for a good psychological and physical health. It can be sustainable in a long-term lifestyle. Not only will you lose weight, but you will maintain the weight loss and enjoy a good mental health too!

For individual help, I recommend that you see a therapist properly qualified in weight loss therapy and mind-body therapy.