Today, I interview Susan Birch who grew up in a small village in New Zealand. She was the oldest of four children. The family kept busy and worked hard, and her siblings eventually found their callings and settled into successful career pursuits. Susan, however, felt a bit delayed because she often struggled with language.
Finding the right words, conveying the right message, and keeping her mouth and mind at the same pace was difficult. Her pace, in fact, was sometimes rather slow, and people would sometimes be impatient with her or assume she was a lazy person. Quite the contrary!
Not having a sense of direction through academics, she found herself lost and going through a rebellious teenage period. She later suffered extreme trauma, which affected her self-esteem and a myriad of other things.
After she married, she began to feel safe and comfortable in her own skin. She was able to catch up academically, pursuing various subjects in college. As a parent, Susan looked at her children and began to feel a sense of inner transformation. She wanted them to grow up without shame, the way she had because of her academic struggles and personal trauma. She chose to work through the pain and find a way through it all, making self-care a priority and setting the best possible example for future generations.
She now helps others to regain their power and take control of their mental and physical health by helping them to change the way they see themselves and their circumstances.
If you want to lose weight, get healthy, and enjoy your life, then Susan Birch, known as the health detective, is the weight loss coach who can help you. By combining her functional medicine skills with neuro change techniques and tiny habits formation, she can help you remove the blocks that
hold you back from losing weight, improving health, and staying that way.
Find Susan here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Watch the episode:
Learn How to Speak Without Fear!
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Transcript of Interview
Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast
Podcast Host: Dr. Doreen Downing
Free Guide to Fearless Speaking: Doreen7steps.com
Episode #46 Susan Birch
“Healing Her Past to Protect the Future”
(00:35) Dr. Doreen Downing
Hi, I’m Dr. Doreen Downing. I’m host of the Find Your Voice, Change Your Life podcast. I invite guests here who have a story, a story about not having had a voice. They also get to share the journey of finding their voice and we get to also learn about eventually what they now do. Today, I get to interview somebody that’s not in this country. Where are you from?
(01:06) Susan Birch
New Zealand. Yeah, little town called Coto and the bad plenty in New Zealand.
(01:14) Dr. Doreen Downing
What’s so funny is that today, Tuesday in California here for me and for Susan, it’s already Wednesday, and we had a little chuckle about what that is. But let me introduce Susan, if you want to lose weight, get healthy and enjoy your life then Susan Birch, known as the health detective, is the weight loss coach who can help you and Susan understands how your body and what happens inside of your body, I guess how it works and what the challenges you face. By combining her functional medicine skills, with neuro change techniques, and tiny habits formation, she can help you remove the blocks that holds you back from losing weight, improving health and well, this is the best part staying that way. Thank you for the bio, Susan, and welcome to today’s show.
(02:17) Susan Birch
Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here.
02:21) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yeah, well, most people who do have a full-blown program, like you, in a message, in a point of view, have found that they didn’t start out with a voice. So, that’s what I’d like to explore first is that I’m sure you didn’t pop out of the womb and say, oh, I’m going to be a health detective. But what was early life, like for you in around having a voice or not having a voice?
(02:52) Susan Birch
That’s a really interesting question. I would say my life was probably similar to many people’s lives. It’s taken me all my life to find my voice and I’m slowly gaining confidence. But that doesn’t mean that the demons don’t still pop up there now and again, you know. So, I grew up in rural New Zealand. We had– there were six of us in the family. I grew up in a little village called Rotana. I lived in a couple of small villages, Mangonui and Rotana. So, it was a great life in many respects. But it was also quite a hard and challenging life. As the eldest of six children, and just typical of the times it was a bit of a man’s world back then. So, us girls were sort of relegated to catch kitchen duties. But my dad also thinking that girls could do anything, thought that we could go hunting and chop the wood and do everything else the boys did as well. When I was about two, my mum tells me I got meningococcal meningitis. She said, I was quite a bright, outgoing little girl and my siblings are all very intelligent and have pursued great sort of academic careers. But I found as I grew up, I wasn’t very good at reading or writing and I really struggled with language. So, I found that although I had a lot of ideas inside of myself, I really struggled to express them. A lot of words I couldn’t say and even to this day, I still have trouble pronouncing a lot of words. Often when I’m speaking, I’ll have to stop and try and find an alternate word because on any particular day, I might not be able to get that word out of my brain, my mouth, which means I speak quite slowly too, I often get told I need to speed up about when I talk. So, that made going to school quite challenging. It was quite challenging because of the elders with this very smart sibling coming along behind me. So, I was told I was lazy. Then I remember we had an IQ test and my brother who was a year younger was a genius. I sort of had this extremely low IQ. So, my parents were concerned about me and thought, I should learn to do great things, like be good in the kitchen, and be good at raising a family and all those things have those kinds of skills. So, I didn’t really have a very good academic stat in life. When I got to being a teenager, I was pretty rebellious. We were– it was a fairly structured life at home. So, when I left home, I sort of got in with the wrong crowd, and ended up being as a result of that getting– suffering a very violent gang rape when I was about 18. So, that didn’t do anything very much to improve my self-esteem, or help me find my voice at all. It wasn’t until I got married, and started a family that I decided that wasn’t– I didn’t want the kind of life I was living and the kinds of things I was doing in my life I didn’t want that for my children. So, I decided I needed to learn to read and write and I set about doing that. Then I completed my New Zealand– we have school certificate and university entrance, so I did that by correspondence– and I got my school certificate, and I completed my university entrance and then I started enrolling in university papers. So, I did critical thinking and sociology and some art history and a whole lot of random papers until I got into the exercise and nutrition field, and then I fit in depending on my niche.
(07:45) Dr. Doreen Downing
Oh, what a story. Thank you for unzipping and giving us a view of what happened earlier on in life for you. I get the sense of being in a rural setting that that’s probably different than a lot of the listeners, but those who have grown up in a rural setting probably go yeah, I know what close to the land feels like and what is required. It sounds like it’s not an easy existence, to be somebody who has to get up and work the land.
(08:25) Susan Birch
Yeah, it’s still a good existence. I love the outdoors. That fostered my real love of physical activity and being outside and being close to nature. It was interesting, because although it was challenging, and very authoritarian dad and a challenging environment in many ways. I was really fortunate because my parents did highly value education. My dad hadn’t had a very good education, he left school very young and work on his granddad’s farm and then did manual labor. So, I had the example of him as an adult, improving his education. Back in those days, the encyclopedia salesman came door to door and dad bought this big set of encyclopedias, and he sat down there and just worked his way through them all and he read history and philosophy. So, I was really fortunate that I kind of had that background and grounding and it was a bit of a mixture with kind of like the corporal punishment kind of side of life in the sort of physical punishment. Then the hard work along with seeing that there is something better out there and that there’s so much more to learn. So, I would say my dad that these days I would say, he would be classed as someone with a growth mindset, which I think he passed on to me. So, I’ve been very fortunate in many ways.
(10:08) Dr. Doreen Downing
Oh, yes, it sounds like what he said about you being even though you were a girl, you still could do the hard work. So, I remember what you just said about that. But then now, pointing to him being what, a hungry learner just sucking up the encyclopedia. But you’re right, it sounds like, that’s what you later on you also told us about how you then went back to school and just absorb as much as much as much as possible. So, then, yes, okay. So, I get the sense of the early context, both the challenge and also the opportunity, especially it sounds like your father, but then just being a little girl, and having siblings that seem to have more qualifications in terms of what society looks for, and then comparing yourself so that to me feels like you had to live with that for a while. Luckily, you found your way out of that. But what’s interesting to me is that you said it was your children, your children that woke you up and said you don’t want to pass on a life to them, that maybe you were trapped in.
(11:38) Susan Birch
Yeah, that was the real wake up to me, you have these beautiful little babies, and you’re holding them in your arms, and you realize that you’re responsible for the experiences that they have in life, and that those experiences are going to be how they look on the world and how they look on life. So, I worked really hard to be a thoughtful and consistent parent, and I worked really hard to think about what I wanted for my children doesn’t mean I got it perfect by any means, because we’re all human. But I did have this really big picture in my mind, for the kind of values and integrity that I wanted my children to grow up with. I didn’t want them to grow up with thinking that some of the stuff I’ve done as a teenager, and my late teens was healthy, normal or appropriate. So, I really needed to change, I really needed to make some dramatic changes, which I did.
(12:51) Dr. Doreen Downing
Well, life gives you the window and as long as you’re looking out at it, and the children show you a vision, a new vision of what could be, that feels like that was the beginning of a new journey for you, not just giving birth to these children, but like you say, holding them and seeing what their life could be. Wow, that feels like, as we move on in our talk today about what you love about the work that you do, like you said, improving health and staying that way in that there’s this whole sense of not only just self-improvement, but how you feel like you’ve dedicated your life to helping others improve their life.
(13:49) Susan Birch
Yes, for anyone who’s been the victim of sexual abuse and any form, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be hugely violent, but even domestic abuse, even just verbal abuse, about themselves, directly to them as a person and their competence. You live feeling really ashamed. I was already quite ashamed because I knew I wasn’t as bright as the other kids. I really struggled and I think some of my rebellion came as a result of not being able to express myself and just this absolute frustration. Because inside I knew I wasn’t done, but I had no way of knowing how to express that out in the world. So, you do all these sorts of silly things. I think you probably do them anyway. But anyway, that’s my excuse. Then after the sexual abuse is this absolute self-loathing because you feel that– you feel filthy and ugly, and you have no control, and you can’t stop it. Afterwards, you feel like, it could only happen to you, because you’re so disgusting as a person, and you’re so ugly as a person. If you were more beautiful and better, people wouldn’t– they wouldn’t do that to you. It’s crazy I look back now sort of 40 something years later, and you think, oh, my goodness, but at the time, that’s how I processed it. One of the things was that, while it was happening, there was one really positive aspect for me, and that is that my early life and being out there hunting with dad and climbing the hills and the lessons that he taught me about how tough you can be, I was able to go inside my head, you can’t make me do it, you can’t make me think about it. I think that was one of the saving graces for me. Then afterwards, also, I became determined I wasn’t going to be scared, I wasn’t going to live my life in fear of something bad happening to me. So, I think I was born under an optimistic stare, I think a whole lot of things aligned for me, you know, I was born under an optimistic star. I did seem to have a grasp of a bigger picture. Even if I didn’t always live that out. Then I had these early experiences of that, I can be tough, and I can handle anything and things move on. So, it was an accumulation of a lot of things. But the thought of being ugly, the feeling of being ugly, is still with me today. So, I really understand how a woman get up and look in the mirror, and just think, oh, my God, you’re so disgusting. How can you be like this? I really get it. I know one of the things I’ve done all my life is good nutrition and exercise and that was one way I could take back some of my power. So, I’ve done that. So, I really understand how that gives you the ability to take back your power, but you have to do it from a place of self-worth and self-love for yourself. Not for anyone else out there. Because there’s no way I could have exercised for the last 43 years if I’d been doing it for someone else. I had to get to a place where I was doing it for myself. Now, that still doesn’t stop me looking in the mirror like, oh my God you are so ugly. I don’t know if anything will. But I know enough now to go like, seriously, get a grip, like, hey, you are just the normal, just the average looking woman like, what’s this about? I know enough to sort of start asking myself the questions. So, that’s what I teach my clients to do. Because all the diets in the world, all the exercise programs in the world, chopping and changing and going from one to the other. Well, they all work for a little while until they stop working. But they all stopped working until you can get a handle on your own self-worth and that you are worth taking care of. Just because you’re worth it and because your body deserves it, you know? You might have a bad day or a crappy boss and you know we all do I feel like you want to come home and have a glass of wine and a chocolate. But how is that serving your self-worth? How is that making the boss better or the day any better? It’s not, because you’re at it and then you just go and beat myself up mode or look at me, I promised myself I wasn’t going to do that every night and here I am doing it again and what’s wrong with me and maybe you just give up?
(19:58) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yeah, the next day you back to work and the boss is just the same.
(20:02) Susan Birch
(20:06) Dr. Doreen Downing
What I’m getting also, from what you were talking about a few minutes ago around. Now you’re really speaking to it is self-worth and how we come to value ourselves. I’m thinking about how that relates to voice. I’m thinking about voice as being, what you’re demonstrating to people is the inner voice that speaks to you, and says something to you around how valuable you are, that incident might not have happened if, you know, whatever the– however you fill out that sentence, that blank ifs. So, the idea of what you’re listening to inside of your head as being the voice, that then you are– you become, you become that person because the voice is saying you are not worth something or you’re not valuable. It’s just you’re showing us I think you’re really demonstrating to people how important what we think is really a voice.
(21:16) Susan Birch
Yeah, and you’ve got to change that voice. I call it our story. I’ve always noticed that when you meet people, they always tell you this story. Then I became aware that I have a story about myself. So, my story is, I’m a survivor, and my story is, I’m strong and my story is, I’m physically capable and fit. So, I am always living up to my story. But the other part of my story is that I’m not attractive I’m ugly, I suppose, is the other part of my story. I live up to that part of my story as well. Because I don’t always– probably, I always feel uncomfortable dressing up, because I feel like I’m pretending to be something I’m not. So, there’s a lot of aspects of that side of me where I’m living to the story that I have that I’m ugly. So, I think we all have different stories inside of ourselves. Some people have remarkable work stories, or creative stories, or artistic stories or musical stories, but then there’ll be another part of them where the story is not matching up, and you go, well, how can this person beat the horse, and then do that. So, I think learning to change that story about ourselves. That is what our self-worth is based on. Then we go out and we live up with the baptized story.
(23:00) Dr. Doreen Downing
I like that philosophy of having a story that we live up to, I’ll be taking that with me today. That’s great. Then also, because I’m a psychologist, that’s part of what I’ve studied is the shadow. That’s what you’re talking about this other story that we might tell ourselves. So, that’s also you know, that– we have so many voices inside of ourselves, and what are we listening to? But there was a way in which you talked about looking at the mirror and hearing the voice that said, hey, you’re ugly, but you also heard hey, you know, you also heard, it’s just like, oh my gosh, it’s like a kaleidoscope of voices inside. You also heard yourself say that. Then I saw, for those who are listening, and don’t see you, you giggled, you kind of had a smile on your face when you went oh, that’s ridiculous. You were not confronting or being mad at yourself for thinking that but just saying Oh, there you go again, that old whatever has been that sense that hard to transform.
(24:14) Susan Birch
And that is such an important point you raise there because I have– I work a lot with theory I don’t like using the word overweight or obese too much. In my circles, we talk about being over fat because you can be skinny and overfed. You know, being over fat is about having too much body fat, not the size that you are. So, it’s really about, is the amount of body fat you’ve got harmful to your health. That’s really the big question. Then of course we have our own. We say society wants us to be a size 10 or whatever, but rarely that comes from us. That’s our own feelings that if I was a size 10, I could love myself more if I was a size 10, I would be a better person. That’s not really. I don’t think it’s so much about society anymore anyway. Anyway, I’m losing track, but being able to stand in front of that mirror, and look at yourself and say, yes, I am overweight, or over fit, but still feel that you have self-worth and it’s being able to match those two things up. That’s where you can live into your story, where I’m a worthy person, and my body is worthy of being taken care of. Then in each moment, we have a choice, if I eat that cookie, is that living up to my self-worth and taking care of my body, it’s the only one we’re going to have for the rest of our lives. So, we really want to take care of it. So, if I eat that cookie, that might give me some temporary relief from the pain of the things I’ve suffered. I know about them, and a lot worse things than just eat cookies. So, that gives you some temporary relief from the pain. But it’s not a long-term strategy because then you dislike yourself even more for being weak for eating the cookie or helping the weight.
(26:32) Dr. Doreen Downing
While you talk about, when I introduced to the medicine skills and neuro change techniques. Say more about that.
(26:44) Susan Birch
So, in functional medicine, we’d look at root cause– and you mentioned root cause earlier on when we were talking so we look at– in functional medicine, we look at the root cause for health conditions, what’s the root cause of someone getting diabetes, or heart disease or having gaps, inflammation or having an auto immune condition. So, in functional medicine, we look at the root cause and I’m trained and doing blood chemistry analysis and a lot of other testing analysis. So, you know, Dutch testing for hormones, or organic acids, to look at what the nutrient status of the body is like. Then, of course, if nutrients are missing, the body can’t function properly. You know that very well in your work like for the brain, I mean, nutrient dense foods that are absolutely the key to helping with depression, and things like that. Sure, we might use other pharmaceuticals or other things. But if you haven’t got the right nutrients going to your brain, the brain can’t work properly, you know? So, the functional medicine side looks at how do we get these nutrients into you? How do we get you digesting and absorbing them and using them properly, to lay the building blocks and the foundation for your body to be able to work properly? You can’t lose weight and keep it off if you don’t have a really good nutrient status, if your body’s not healthy. You can lose a few pounds and you put it back on because you can stab yourself and lose some water and it looks good on the scales. While it’s not really long term, it’s not a real long-term solution. So, you’ve got to get the body restored properly, physiologically, chemically, biochemically. Then the neuro change stuff, which is sort of what you work on, which is being able to learn how to take those thoughts, those thoughts, which turns into feelings. So, you look in the mirror and you go, I’m fat, that turns into a feeling of being, I’m fat, therefore, I’m worthless. Then you find an emotion or reaction to that and you’re like, well, I can’t do anything about it at the moment because I’m too busy at work. Then you find a justification for that. Then that triggers another thought and another thought and I call it a spiral up loop. So, we just keep layering these thoughts on top of each other and then we keep justifying why we can’t do anything about it as well. I’m too busy. I don’t have the right food in the house. These are all reasons why we can eat properly. Why we have to eat the cookie, you know? So, the neuro change comes in by really doing what I said about looking in the mirror and laughing and going well like seriously, is that true? So, we take our thoughts and you learn to notice through the day how often you have that thought you walk past the shop mirror, oh my god, you walk into a dress shop, or you might walk past the front of a store and see some clothes that you think you can’t fit into, or you walk into a dress shop, anything, oh, everybody in is judging me. But what you’re really doing is you’re really comparing yourself to the size of everyone else in the shop, and then you’re judging you. Most people aren’t judging you, you’re going, I’m smaller than her. Yay, that’s good. I’m bigger than her, damn, what she must think of me. That’s really just about what we think of ourselves. So, it’s just learning to get a handle on those thoughts. There’s a lot of techniques we can use to deal with them. It takes a lot of work in the beginning. I run a six-to-eight-week program or a bit longer, depending on the individual, and I find right by about six weeks, suddenly, people have kind of got it and they turn up for a session and they go, “ah, actually, I’ve got a handle on this now.” What I see with my clients is that suddenly, all the pressures and stresses in their lives go away, well, they don’t go away, what happens is they are able to separate those out from their eating behaviors and their exercise behaviors. I mean, I’ve seen some remarkable turnarounds. Last year, I worked with a lady who is about my age and had been on the yo-yo dieting treadmill for most of her life and her daughter was a prostitute and used to beat her up. She had like this whole violent thing going on at home and aggravation with her husband and concern about a granddaughter. She always felt she needed to reward herself with food, because of how difficult all this other stuff in life was. Once we got a handle on this, and she started to see where her responsibilities to other people ended, and where her responsibilities to herself began, she’d be able to just, she lost weight, kicked it off, started wearing makeup and lipstick and looking really awesome and saying, “oh, this happened but that didn’t mean that I had to eat the cookie or drink the wine or eat half the chocolate cake, I could still just either eat my meal and take care of myself.”
(32:41) Dr. Doreen Downing
I keep hearing it today with you this because of my sense of voice and what happens inside of us, that you help people develop a new way of thinking, which to me is a new way of speaking to themselves. So, that’s what I’m taking from how you explain your work and how it applies to what we’re talking about today, finding voice, helping people be able to say to themselves, something more positive than staying stuck in the negativity or the worthlessness.
(33:22) Susan Birch
Absolutely, they regain their power and then they’re able to stand in their power of being who they are. The bombs can go off around you but you’re still standing in your own power. I think gaining that voice I love that about having your voice because I feel like I fought for my whole life to have my voice and I see that. So, many of my clients, beautiful people have so much talent and it’s just lovely to see them develop the power of their own voice.
(34:03) Dr. Doreen Downing
Oh, well, I love what you’re saying. It feels like both of us have such a thrill because it is find your voice change your life and that’s what it seems like you’re saying is that when people do find this new way of being with themselves and they can say to themselves, talk to themselves in a more positive way they are empowered. Oh, we’re coming to the end and I want to make sure people can find you, what would people do to find you, Susan?
(34:35) Susan Birch
They can find my website which is email@example.com.
(34:45) Dr. Doreen Downing
This Susan Birch–
(34:50) Susan Birch
Susan@susanbirch.co.nz and you can find me on Facebook looking up Susan Birch – The Health Detective and LinkedIn on Susan Birch – The Health Detective.
(35:05) Dr. Doreen Downing
Susan Birch – The Health Detective.
(35:10) Susan Birch
Then I also have a YouTube channel Susan Birch – The Health Detective.
(35:15) Dr. Doreen Downing
Right? I think you have a podcast, don’t you?
(35:18) Susan Birch
Yes, I do. So, I have a podcast, which is out on a few different podcast apps as well. I started with a YouTube channel, just doing zoom interviews and then just recently, I’ve started transferring those interviews over to podcast app so people can listen, as well as watch.
(35:40) Dr. Doreen Downing
So here you are, today, you have a voice. You get to have a voice and not only look back on your life in your development, but acknowledge where the strengths were and acknowledge where the challenges were and it feels very integrated. So, thank you so much, Susan, any last words that you want to leave people with around voice?
(36:06) Susan Birch
Think give it time, it doesn’t happen overnight. If someone had said to me three years ago, I’d be sitting on a podcast or I would have my own podcast I would have laughed. So, these things just evolve over time. Don’t worry about being perfect. If I went back and edited my podcasts and worried about it, I would never do them because they wouldn’t be perfect and then you lose your voice when you’re worrying about perfection. So, I just ignore it. I just like put it out there and move on and people can take it however they like. But I don’t let it get inside of me and damage my soul. I’m just like, I’m doing my best. I’m learning as I go and it will evolve over time. So, yeah, just give it time. Be patient with yourself. Don’t worry if you make a mistake, just get out and have another go the next day. Just be patient, I think.
(37:16) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yeah, thank you. It seems like what we’re saying today is finding your voice is a process. It isn’t like a destination and you get there and say, aha, I found it. It’s an ongoing process. So, thank you so much, Susan.
(37:32) Susan Birch
It’s been such a pleasure to talk to you today. Thank you so much for having me on.
Also listen on…
Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.
Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.