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Meet the 'Proud Teessider' Who Went from Teacher to Nutritional Therapist and Lost 12 Stone

Lesley Markey
February 2023
Reading time 3 Minutes

Lesley Markey has gone from an Early Years teacher to a Registered Nutritional Therapist, and lost 12 stone along the way. Elizabeth Joseph finds out more about Lesley’s amazing midlife change of career

So far in this column I have spoken to several amazing women who have, for one reason or another, changed career in midlife. Some did so because a spark was lit that refused to go out, for others it was a need to find a solution to a persistent problem, and for a few, it met a need for change. For Lesley Markey it was both accidental and all of the above.

Lesley went from Early Years teacher to Registered Nutritional Therapist, losing 12 stone and facing her greatest fears whilst taking part in a Total Warrior Race to celebrate her 50th birthday!

She describes herself as a proud Teessider living in Middlesbrough. As we get down to chatting, we are occasionally interrupted by Lesley’s sleepy puppy who keeps jumping up in the hope of getting a cuddle. Once he is happily nestled on Lesley’s lap, we get to talking about her first career as a teacher. As she explains, she started out as an Early Years teacher, working predominantly in nursery and mainly in schools that were classed as being in areas of high deprivation. Over a 13-year career in teaching, which she loved, Lesley worked her way up to Assistant Head.

Impressive stuff for a child who struggled at school, in primary school particularly. ‘English made no sense to me at all,’ Lesley recalls. ‘There were too many rules and they all contradicted each other.’ Maths, however, she took to immediately. Initially she set her sights on becoming a doctor. ‘I always knew I wanted to help people and to be honest, I wanted to be a doctor from being tiny,’ she says. When I ask her why, she explains: ‘A big part of it was being rescued from an outside toilet by a family friend’s brother who was training to be a doctor. I was absolutely obsessed with him! I followed him everywhere.’ A fantastic reason to have ambitions towards being a doctor if ever I heard one.

Lesley, however, realised she would have to be realistic in her ambitions, feeling at the time that she wasn’t bright enough to pursue a career in medicine. ‘Where I lived, nobody, nobody in central Middlesborough, ever became a doctor,’ she laughs.

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However, for all Lesley had struggled initially in school, she did well in her exams and decided that she wanted to pursue a career in teaching. She makes me smile with her total honesty. ‘I’m not sure if I was trying to prove a point by going “you know what, that kid who struggled in primary school can do this”, or if I actually wanted to make a difference! It seems like such a long time ago now.’

The theme of helping people runs through all of Lesley’s career choices. Her move from Early Years teaching was to work for Sure Start: a programme which sought to support parents and children under the age of four living in the most disadvantaged areas, targeting health and wellbeing, social and emotional development and learning skills. ‘Some of the schools I had been working in were Sure Start linked, so I decided to work for the other side,’ she explains. But when Sure Start lost its funding, Lesley found herself shunted into local authority.

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Local authority is not where she wanted to be, but it’s where she found herself. This unplanned move ultimately played a part in her need for a second career. As she recalls, once again with her typical frankness and openness, ‘I actually had a massive panic attack and I ended up at the doctor’s. He said it was work-related stress and burnout. Now, it wasn’t burnout because of the amount of work I was doing. On the contrary, the local authority didn’t know what to do with us and after years of working in high deprivation, it didn’t sit well with me, sitting in an office, earning a lot of money for doing not a lot.’

The other factor was that she had started a Post Graduate Diploma in Nutritional Science and Practice. ‘I did that purely for me,’ she explains. ‘I had lost over 12 stone in the past on different diets, and I wanted to learn how to feed my body properly.’ Possibly as a result of feeling that she struggled in school, and possibly to prove that she can do anything she sets her mind to, Lesley is drawn to learning. ‘I’ve always loved learning,’ she says. ‘I’ve always done courses. So I’m the one who has a Level 3 in Silversmithing! I’ve done Indian Head Massage. I’ve always kept myself busy, I’ve always wanted to educate myself further.’

Lesley loved the course as it allowed her to work with clients to get to the root cause of their issues by taking a holistic approach. ‘Somebody would come with a symptom, or a number of symptoms, but actually we would look at the person as a whole: their life history, their nutrition, everything that was going on in their lives, to get to the root cause and put nutrition and lifestyle practices into place.’

The real game changer for Lesley was working with a client who was postmenopausal and really struggling with an array of symptoms. Typically, this woman had always put the needs of others before her own but had got to the point where she was completely overwhelmed. Lesley loved the detective work of helping the client, but even more so the fact that she could see the positive effect as her client made recommended nutritional changes. Her symptoms eased, her weight started to drop, but the most powerful change of all was her new outlook on life.

‘It can be scary making a move,
especially if you have become established
in your first career, but you have to ask yourself whether you want to still be doing the same thing in 10 or 20 years’ time’

Seeing such positive outcomes was almost addictive to Lesley, and coupled with the joy she found in the behind-the-scenes research, it wasn’t long before she had stopped seeing the course as just something for her and started seeing it as a career she would like to pursue. A career that would enable her to share her learning and help as many other women as possible.

So, Lesley made the leap into her new career as a BANT (British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine) Registered Nutritionist and Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, working predominantly with pre- and post-menopausal women, putting the individual front and centre and supporting them to make the necessary changes. A big change, but as she points out, ‘It can be scary making a move, especially if you have become established in your first career, but you have to ask yourself whether you want to still be doing the same thing in 10 or 20 years’ time.’

Such a leap of faith gave Lesley the confidence to take part in a Total Warrior to celebrate her half century: a race involving jumping over fire into water, ice baths, running through electric wires, wading across rivers, and having to be hauled out by a frogman at one point!

Pretty impressive stuff, but maybe not for everyone! But maybe, just maybe, you feel you may be ready for a career change? If so, Lesley advises that you are kind to yourself, that you take small steps – but keep taking them – as she quotes Martin Luther King: ‘You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.’

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