Sandie Fredriksson is loved by many for her evidence-based approach to midlife nutrition and life. Founder of the 8 week plan for busy women over 40, she is also the resident health coach at the brilliant Frank Magazine - one of the few titles unashamedly celebrating midlife for all its powerful beauty.
As The Healthy Habits Coach, she helps women take charge of their health and happiness with compassion and energy. But her route to 'here' was not an easy one.
In this conversation, Sandie shares the story of her own journey to health and the philosophy she applies in her work today. It's a rallying call to us all to prioritise our own health in the same way we prioritise all those 'to dos' around us. And we loved it.
Your life is precious. Live it well.
With love, the MPowder Team.
First, tell us a little bit about The Healthy Habits Coach. How did your breast cancer journey influence your decision to start your business?
I’m a little ashamed to say this, but at the time, finding the lump in my breast felt like such a massive inconvenience. It was Sunday night; my clients expected me at my trading desk at 6:30am, and to stay there for the rest of the week. Could I allow myself time for a GP visit in the morning? At just 44, with no history of breast cancer in my family and a clear mammogram the previous year, it would have been easy to dismiss this intrusive lump as nothing to worry about. Thankfully I didn’t.
Three weeks later, after a speedy mastectomy, I was back at The London Breast Institute waiting to find out if I would need chemotherapy. I was lucky - the cancer hadn’t spread, which made me optimistic I would be out the door and back to work within days. Turns out it wasn’t that straightforward. I’d need 6 months of chemo, starting immediately. Surgery was doable, but this felt like unchartered waters and I now faced the very real prospect of losing my hair. I spent the next ten minutes trying to talk my oncologist out of it.
So, what now? What should I prepare for?
“It’s not the chemo that’s going to be your biggest challenge,” Oonagh, the head nurse, told me, as she gently took my hand. “It’s changing your diet and lifestyle habits once treatment is over.” Being diagnosed with cancer had blindsided me, but I still hadn’t fully made the connection between how I was living and what that was doing to my body. Her words were the wakeup call I needed.
Like many women, I’d let my career and family responsibilities dictate my time and misalign my priorities. Other than the odd weekend pilates class or lunchtime salad (efficiently wolfed down at my desk), taking care of my health was a foot-note on my to-do list. My plan for avoiding burnout, cancer or any other disease? It was pretty simple - cross my fingers and hope I would dodge the bullet. That strategy failed me miserably.
My first instinct was to learn everything I could about the power of nutrition, leaving behind my twenty-year city career to train as a nutritional chef at The College of Naturopathic Medicine. But I soon realised that there’s much more to it than that. How we move, our emotional state, how we cope under stress, our connection to ourselves and to others; it all matters. When I started to look at my health and happiness as the sum total of my daily behaviours, everything changed. I went on to study behaviour psychology and the science behind how we form habits, eventually becoming a certified health coach.
My philosophy is simple: you are what you repeat. It’s the compound effect of our daily behaviours - and the things we think about - that impact our health and wellbeing. My coaching style changes the narrative from giving women a long list of things they should be doing (which can feel like an overwhelming project that’s difficult to start) to supporting them making changes, one new healthy habit at a time.
Your wonderful work now focuses on reaching women, 40+, who want to take charge of their health and happiness. In your experience, what are the common barriers women face in doing this?
One thing’s for sure; it’s not because we don’t know how to take charge or that we’re not very good at it! By the time we reach our 40s, most women have evidenced we are a fiercely strong force to be reckoned with. Three different school drop-offs whilst working full-time? No problem.
Conquering bedtime routines and staying up late to deliver on a project deadline? Just watch me. Negotiating with teenagers, supporting elderly parents and running our homes like a superstar CEO? All under control. When it comes to our careers and families, we’re unstoppable. So why is it that the things we need to do to take care of ourselves feel so impossible?
One of the biggest barriers is the misconception that dramatic results require dramatic changes, and women in particular can be guilty of trying to clear the decks before making time to work on themselves. Waiting for a quieter week at work, a month with less life admin, or - God forbid - holding off until the kids leave home. What if they never do?! It’s like waiting for three sets of traffic lights in the road ahead to all turn green before you finally hit the accelerator. It’s never going to happen.
The answer is to not make it about a massive life overhaul, but instead get started with something that feels achievable. Easy small wins can be incredibly motivating, and studies show that once you start to improve your habits in one area, it’s easier to build momentum with the next thing you want to work on.
Another barrier is the amount of information thrown at us. It can be tremendously immobilising; which diet to follow, which meditation app to try, which supplements to take. Who has time to peck around on the internet trying to figure all that out alone? Made even tricker when you realise we all have different bodies and we all go about our lives in different ways. Which means the vegan diet and early morning ashtanga yoga class your sister raves about isn’t necessarily going to work for you.
Then there’s the paralysing pursuit of perfection we burden ourselves with. I need the right leggings to be able to start yoga, I need to upgrade my pots and pans before I attempt cooking from scratch. I need everything to be perfect before I get started, and I need the perfect plan. I was the same way, but now I live by a new mantra: ‘Done is better than perfect.’
How has your relationship to your body influenced your outlook towards work and life?
I reframe self care as sexy, not selfish! And I no longer take it for granted that my body will cope with whatever I throw at it. Instead, I plan my days around the things I know I need to do to stay healthy and I treat them like sacred appointments with myself. There may not be time to do everything, but I always make time for things that will benefit how I feel as well as how I will age.
I’ve also abandoned the superwoman expectations I used to target - berating and torturing myself for not being good enough. What a ridiculous practice that is! Part of my evolution has been swapping judgement for simple curiosity. Instead of “Why the hell did I do that?” it’s “What made me respond that way? Let me sit with it and see if I can understand myself better.”
I now value progress over having things all figured out with a perfect plan, in business as well as life. Whatever you think is the best strategy usually needs several pivots en route anyway.
How do you define success for your business and yourself individually?
As I set about changing my diet and lifestyle, I looked for someone who could show me the right steps to take in the right order, but there was no one. And it was this absence of personalised coaching that helped me figure out my purpose. The wellness industry feels saturated and women are getting more and more confused at the very time of our lives we need clarity. My 1:1 coaching programs are designed to cut through the noise and shortcut women to their own personal blueprint for how to age well, lose weight or reclaim their health after breast cancer.
Success for me, is when my clients say they wish they’d known getting in control of their health was going to be this simple. It’s also hearing from past clients about how sleep hygiene is now a priority or how they’ve gone on to lose another 10 pounds using the strategies we put in place.
On a personal level, I define my success by the work-life balance I have achieved. I now work from home or from our house in Sweden, doing a job I love, taking care of my family and planning my schedule to include time for my own healthy habits.
But the truth is, you don’t have to give up a career you love to achieve balance. Whether you’re a high-achieving professional, an entrepreneur or a busy full-time mum; by simply making a few changes and sticking to them, you can quickly start to take control of your health even in the most challenging of environments.
Has your definition of success changed over time as an entrepreneur and individual?
I now fully appreciate the difference between feeling confident and content with life versus making a ton of money, but sacrificing my health and happiness to have it. But it’s unrealistic to say that money isn’t important. I was a single mum and the sole provider for my boys, but I was also a high-achiever. I wore my late night emails and early morning starts as a badge of honour, but I also felt trapped by the life I’d created.
Cancer was the kick in the pants I needed to realign my priorities and ask the right questions. What do I enjoy doing, and why am I not doing more of it? What if we downsized to a smaller house so I no longer feel chained to my city career? What could I do instead that would feel authentic and purpose-led? I’d spent 20 years driving down the motorway at 100mph with no breathing space to consider my options or even take in the view.
Two years ago I moved in with my now-husband, Johan, and his three wonderful daughters, which adds up to five fabulous teenagers in the home. Bringing the best version of me to this busy household would be impossible if I wasn’t doing the things that keep me strong, happy and healthy.
What correlation, if any, do you see between age and ambition?
It becomes a different type of ambition as we get older. Many of us choose more purposeful paths that we feel more aligned with, realising that we don’t have to stay stuck in the career or the life we’ve previously had, just because we’ve already given so much to it.
Especially if we chose our vocation early in life. It can be like a relationship that has turned sour - the longer we’ve been in it, the more we think we need to just make it work. But as we get older, we naturally start to ask the question: what truly matters to me?
In our twenties and thirties we’re planning for our future, perhaps sacrificing our own health and at times happiness, while daydreaming of the house we’ll eventually live in or the holidays we’ll take one day. But once we move into our forties, there’s a sense of the future having arrived, and we want to be happy and healthy right now.
What are your aspirations for your business over the next 24 months?
There are a number of logical next moves - people are always telling me I should write a book, or create an online course but they’re not my aspirations right now.
I love 1:1 coaching because it allows me to give women a personalised roadmap with support and accountability that makes their success inevitable. But this also means that I can’t spread myself too thin. That’s why I only work with five women at a time, and right now I don’t intend on changing that (even though it means having a little bit of a waitlist).
But there are a couple of projects running alongside, which are a big part of my plan for the next 24 months. As well as being the resident health coach for Frank Magazine (@thefrank_mag), I’ve also taken on a new role working with Future Dreams Charity (@futuredreamscharity) as part of their ‘Lunch and Learn’ panel. Over a third of women who have never checked their breasts say it’s because they don’t know what they are looking for or they’re scared. We aim to change that by taking our stories into the workplace, and offer a practical demonstration of what to look for.
This new role couldn’t be more aligned with my own personal mission; a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and one nipple tattoo later, you can bet I’m going to be nagging women to perform a monthly self-exam!
What do you wish your younger self had known sooner?
That most of the things you are worrying about aren’t important!
Did you know we have around 60,000 thoughts a day? That’s an incredible amount of mental noise, right? I like to think of it as an energetic toddler running around the house unsupervised - think of all the damage being done! We need to supervise that toddler.
The problem is that most of us have never been taught how to compassionately observe our own thinking. It takes practice, and it’s a fundamental part of what I teach. The process of watching yourself think requires you to separate from your own mind, which most people don’t even realise is a thing.
Your thoughts create your feelings, your feelings influence your behaviours and your behaviours create your life experience. Once you start to watch yourself think, you begin to see exactly why you are getting the results you’re getting.
What would be your key advice to women transitioning through menopause today? What practical steps could they take to better support their bodies and minds? And what has worked/is working for you?
How you feel during and after midlife isn’t just down to luck or your genes; it’s up to you. And you have the right to feel vibrant, joyful and delicious. So if anyone - especially yourself - is telling you it’s normal to feel depleted, unhappy and uncomfortable in your body as you get older, don’t listen.
BUT you will need to be an active participant in your own wellbeing, and it will require effort and a redistribution of your attention. The kind of effort you don’t hesitate to give to caring for others in your life, and the kind of attention you happily dedicate to researching your kids’ schools or family holidays. So be bold.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the MPowder community about our second spring?
There has never been a better time to be transitioning into the second half of life and everywhere you look there are women reinventing what it means to grow older. We’re lucky to have the information and opportunity to make much better choices than our mothers ever did.
Finally, we're living through unprecedented times. What counsel are you giving to your clients about managing their health during this period?
We’re all having very different experiences at the moment. For some it’s the pressure of homeschooling or driving miles to drop food parcels to elderly parents or trying to manage a work team remotely. For others it might be the stress from lost work or the loneliness of isolating.
Whatever you’re struggling with, try not to put too much pressure on yourself and remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Wise words indeed. Thank you Sandie for being so generous in your reflections.