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Don’t Listen to Her!

We all know how good it feels when we get a compliment from someone.  A real, unexpected and genuine compliment.  It can be anything from “your hair looks pretty today,” to “great job on those accounts.”  It often doesn’t matter the content.  It is the fact that someone has gone out of their way to give us positive feedback, which makes us feel so good.  Just one such moment, can be enough to make your entire day.

Imagine then, the opposite.  Imagine how it would feel if someone approached you to tell you how fat, ugly or stupid they think you are.  Imagine if day after day that person continually berated you with negative, insulting and downright hurtful comments.  If they bullied you and upset you, if they stole your self worth.  Would you keep this person in your life?  I sincerely hope the answer to that question is no!

The scary thing is that for many of us, the bully is inescapable.  She follows us around from morning to night, every day of our lives.  She says the most unspeakably awful things to us.  She exploits our biggest fears and weaknesses.  She can access our deepest vulnerabilities.  Who is the BITCH?!  Well, actually, she is you!  She is in the words you say when you don’t like how you look in the mirror.  She is the voice you hear when you screw up at work.  She is the one saying “I knew you were going to fail” when you slip up on your diet.

For the vast majority of us, we are definitely our own toughest critics.  We say things to ourselves, which we would never allow others to say.  And worst of all, we believe it.  We do it almost without thinking.  In fact, it took my husband to point out to me how often I say things like “I’m so fat,” or “I’m so stupid.”  I have exclaimed these things which such regularity that they trip off my tongue unnoticed.  I have started to wonder how damaging this could really be.  After all, I have struggled with confidence for most of my life, could my internal dialogue be part of the problem?

In Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk she discusses how much of an impact our body language can have on ourselves.  She talks about how spending just two minutes in a “power pose” can have an enormous effect on a person’s confidence and demeanour.  If this is true, how much of an effect could a lifetime of negative self talk really have?  How can we expect to be confident, happy people, when the person who knows us best constantly tells us we are a failure?

Imagine yourself as a little girl, or a little boy.  Imagine that every time you make a negative comment about yourself, you are saying it directly to that child.  Envision the pain and upset you would cause her and know that despite the fact that you are all grown up now, your words still sting just as much.

We are often told to treat others as we would like to be treated.  How about treating ourselves that way too?  How about putting a ban on negative self talk?  Didn’t your mother tell you “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all?”  I know I would never dream of calling anyone else fat, lazy or stupid.  Don’t I deserve the same from myself?  How can I expect others to treat me better than I treat myself?

I think, for me at least, it’s time to stem the tide.  I am going to make a conscious effort to gag that girl!  I will endeavour to call time on all negative self talk.  Those of you who know me, feel free to pull me up on it if you catch me slipping!  After all, a habit 34 years in the making, won’t be easy to break xxx

 

 

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The Accountability Network

About this time last year, I was getting ready to make some pretty big changes in my life.  I was making a career move.  I got offered a great job, closer to home, which meant I no longer needed to commute to Dublin from Kildare each day.  It also meant changing gym.  I had been training at a strength and conditioning facility in Tallaght for about 3 years at that point.  After a bit of Googling, I found another great facility to train at, which was minutes from my home.  So, I made the switch, and honestly just assumed I could pick up where I left off.  I was wrong.

You see, I had gotten into a great routine in Tallaght.  Leaving work each day and heading straight to the gym, no exceptions.  I never had to think about whether I particularly wanted to go or not, I just sort of auto-piloted myself there each evening.   As well as this, I had built some great relationships there.  I was friendly with my coaches and there was a great sense of camaraderie in the classes.  I really had not anticipated how much I was going to miss this.

So, I left my little pond in Tallaght, and starting swimming in the big pond in Kildare.  I loved the training, and the coaches were great, but for some reason, which I couldn’t figure out, it just wasn’t coming easy.  I really enjoyed the classes, but had to drag myself there.  I felt awkward and unfamiliar, instead of comfortable and at ease.  I never managed to get to the gym as often as I had planned and started to beat myself up about it.  For want of a better expression, I had completely lost my mojo, and try as I might, I couldn’t figure out the root cause.

I remember when I told my father about starting the new job he had said “you won’t know yourself,” and to be honest, that was exactly how I was starting to feel.  I love training, and my family and friends even playfully called me a “gym junkie” so why was I having such a hard time getting my head back in the game?  Why was I finding this transition so difficult?  People change gyms all the time and do just fine.  What the hell was wrong me with me?

As the months went by, it slowly became clear to me what was missing.  I no longer had my accountability network.  In my old gym, I was a familiar face to all, and if I went missing, it wouldn’t be long before someone would be checking in with me.  In the new place, I was the little, anonymous fish.  Nobody would notice if I was there or not.  In Tallaght, there was a regular group of  girls (and guys) I trained with and the friendly competition between us was often what spurred me on.  This too was absent now.  Not that it wasn’t happening, just that I wasn’t yet a part of it.

So, now that I knew what the problem was, what was I going to do about it?  Unfortunately, as adults, we don’t often feel comfortable asking people if they want to be our friend!  The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on me.  I didn’t want to train regularly because I felt apart from everything, but the only solution to that was to train regularly!  If the accountability network didn’t exist for me, I needed to build it.  I was the new person, so it was up to me to make the effort.  As a friend of mine often says “you have to go along, before you can get along!”

It has struck me recently how often situations like this come about.  How we so often are faced with doing something, which feels alien and uncomfortable in order to reach the end goal.  Sometimes the very thing we need to do feels so very counter-intuitive, that we almost back away from it entirely.  It is often said that to be successful, whether it be with your weight-loss, your training, or even in your career, you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.  I agree with this, however, I would say that it’s not necessary to stay uncomfortable.  Once you get your foot in the door, start asking the question, “what would make this easier for me?” and once you have the answer, act accordingly.

For many of us, change doesn’t come easily.  In my situation, the career change was actually much easier than changing gym.  I know how odd that sounds.  The only thing I can put it down to, is that I expected the change in job to be challenging, where as I had greatly underestimated how hard leaving my network would hit me.  It’s an awful feeling when something, which was easy before, suddenly becomes difficult.  My rational mind kicked in and told me that if I just stuck with it, that it would eventually come good.  And, to a greater or lesser extent it has.

I love my new job.  It’s much more enjoyable and challenging than any other role I have had.  It also demands a lot more of me than other jobs, and so sometimes things like training have to take a back seat.  I am learning to be okay with this.  Gym junkie no more?  Perhaps, but I am figuring out new ways to define myself xxx

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Her Baby, Her Body, Her Business!

These days, few topics seem to be as divisive as women choosing to train during pregnancy.  It never ceases to amaze me the lengths some people will go to in order to express their negative opinions on this subject.  Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, people feel the need to advise women who continue to exercise while expecting, that they are doing untold damage to their unborn baby.  Every few weeks this topic rears its ugly head again and the vitriol and diatribe which ensue are deeply unsettling.

The truth is, there are innumerable benefits to be had from exercising while pregnant.  Physically, mentally and emotionally, women I have known who decided to continue exercising have all fared better than those who have decided against it.  Obviously, women who make the decision to continue their training, need to ensure they are doing so in a safe way.  They also need to be doing it in consultation with their physicians and coaches.

Naturally, there are some movements which are not advisable during pregnancy and some which need to be scaled back.  I am not going to list them here, as it’s largely individual, and to be honest, your body will tell you what you are able for far better than anyone else can.  The only caveat I would include is that pregnancy is not the time to try to break personal bests, nor would I encourage women to take up a new, unfamiliar activity.

Pregnancy is a hugely emotional time.  A woman’s body goes through so many changes, that it can almost become almost unrecognisable.  For fit and health conscious women, this can be difficult to deal with.  Many women may have spent years or even decades trying to maintain a healthy weight, and although they rationally understand that weight gain is a normal part of pregnancy, it can still be extremely difficult to accept.  Keeping up a healthy lifestyle, which includes an exercise regime, can help these women to feel a lot more in control.

As well as this, for a lot of us, the gym is not just about exercise.  It is where we go to blow off steam after a hard day in the office.  For many of us, it is also a social outlet.  So, even if you disregard the physical benefits, this is a lot to give up for the best part of a year.  We are not human incubators after all, and a healthy, happy momma, has got to be better for baby.

Over the years, I have been so impressed by the pregnant women I have trained with.  Once such woman is Yvonne.  Yvonne trains with me in The Performance and Fitness Academy in Kildare, which is one of Ireland’s leading training facilities.  Yvonne trained up until 39 weeks pregnant.  She is a perfect example of why women should continue to workout if they wish.  I was keen to hear about Yvonne’s experiences, and she kindly agreed to answer some questions.

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The Performance and Fitness Academy – Kildare

How many weeks pregnant are you now?

I am currently 39 weeks plus two days pregnant.

How do you feel exercising during your pregnancy has benefited you?

I feel being able to exercise throughout my pregnancy has helped to regulate hormones which has resulted in me feeling pretty ‘normal’ and like myself throughout. I can only compare this to when I was advised to take two weeks off in the first trimester before being cleared by my GP to return to exercise. During this time I didn’t sleep as well as I would usually and felt more hormonal and anxious also.  Pregnancy brings about huge changes to you physically, but it also impacts on your emotional and mental well-being.  Exercise allowed me to feel normal, feel good about the physical changes happening in my body and also impacted positively on my mood.  I often found I left training sessions in better form than when I arrived.  I also feel I was more conscious of eating healthy as a result of maintaining regular exercise, which undoubtedly was important for a healthy pregnancy.  I cannot say for sure whether exercise impacted on having a healthy pregnancy, but I suffered no symptoms such as morning sickness, food aversions or cravings or swelling for example. I also feel exercising likely reduced any aches and pains often associated with pregnancy such as back pain, potentially due to a strong core and maintaining strength in these muscles.

Was your husband supportive of your decision?

My husband was very supportive of me continuing to train throughout.  With the expertise from our coaches in the Academy, ensuring I did only exercises suitable and safe and maintained a healthy heart and work rate throughout.  This was very reassuring for both of us.  Training is a hobby we enjoy doing together and so it was fantastic to be able to continue doing so throughout our pregnancy.

Have you encountered any back lash from people in relation to you training?

I definitely received some raised eyebrows from people throughout pregnancy in relation to continuing to exercise.  Some were concerned that I was over doing it and subtly suggested lots of walking and swimming as better options.  However, throughout I always knew my body and what I was and wasn’t able for, using common sense to guide this.  I was always upfront about my exercise with medical professionals who always acknowledged the benefits of exercise and never expressed any concerns.  However, I also protected myself from potential backlash by being choosy as to who  I shared information on my exercise routine with, often minimising it to avoid judgement.  Having said this, many were also equally supportive.  My husband often found people were shocked when he discussed our exercise regime, but not in a negative way.

Would you make the same decision if you were pregnant again in the future?

I would definitely choose to exercise in subsequent pregnancies as I have had a ‘dream’ pregnancy and while I can’t say exercise entirely impacted on this, I definitely feel it played an important role.

Would you encourage others to continue to train?

I would recommend exercise to friends and family when pregnant also.  However, I would stress the importance of choosing to train in a gym where coaches have the expertise to guide you through your workouts and ensure you only do what is safe for you and your baby.  My Husband and I felt we were in safe hands in The Academy, which put our minds at ease throughout.

I have personally never been pregnant, but I have been injured.  In both scenarios, I cannot overemphasise the importance of working with coaches you can trust.  Knowing that your coach has your best interest at heart and that you are in safe hands, can really make everything a lot easier.  Plus, it takes the thinking out of it, when you know someone else is taking care of you.

Having spoken  to Yvonne, I was eager to hear what her coach Niall Munnelly, co-owner  of The Academy and Head Coach, had to say.  He gave me these insights.

There is a lot of misconceptions and confusion around training while being pregnant.  People live back in the stone age with their knowledge about this topic and they can be very critical about an issue they don’t have a clue about. There are amazing physical and mental health benefits attached to training while pregnant.  It can

  • Balance your hormones
  • Can reduce morning sickness
  • Can reduce anxiety
  • Can reduce weight gain
  • Can help with your own headspace
  • Can help improve your mood
  • Can help with your baby’s mood

When you exercise your body releases serotonin (happy hormone) your baby can receive the same feeling and so can benefit from your training too.  This is the same feel good hormone your body releases during sex, or when you eat chocolate!

In the academy we’ve had about 20-30 women in the past 5 years train with us while pregnant and every single one of them found it massively beneficial with all the points I made above.

If you want to train while being pregnant, it’s an absolute must for you to find coaches who actually know what they’re doing.  Most doctors these days will tell you to continue exercising while  pregnant, especially if you’ve been doing it pre-pregnancy.  Of course, everyone’s body is different and some women have harder pregnancies than others, so always consult with your family doctor before any training.  If you get the all clear, there’s no reason why you can’t train up until your due date.  We’ve had women train at the Academy until a day before giving birth!  Some people say training while being pregnant can actually help with labour too, as it keeps your body in fit state, with more energy to push harder.

Training while pregnant can help you recover faster after pregnancy as your body is stronger and if you keep your weight somewhat under control while pregnant, it will be easier to loose the baby weight.  Some people use being pregnant as an excuse to sit at home and eat everything.  When you eat healthy while pregnant your baby will receive all of those good nutrients from the good, as they say you are what you eat.

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Niall Munnelly, Head Coach and Co-Owner – The Performance and Fitness Academy

My own personal stand point is that the decision to train while pregnant is just that, a decision.  Each woman needs to make that decision for herself and her baby.  She should not be subjected to negative commentary from keyboard warriors, who have no skin in the fight.

I would like to thank Yvonne and Niall for sharing their insights on what I feel is an important subject.  I hope that as education around this topic increases, it may stem the tide of hurtful and unhelpful comments from people who know no better xxx

 

 

Articles

Locked In

A funny thing happened to me last week at the gym.  I had popped into the bathroom before class, and as I was leaving the key got stuck in the door.  It literally only took me about 5 seconds to unstick it and release the lock, but in that time I had managed to work myself up into a frenzied state.  Panic rose up in my chest and I could feel tears threatening.  The experience left me feeling a little shaken and very foolish.

I mentioned it to one of my coaches, sort of making a joke out of it.  He innocently asked me if I had ever gotten locked in a bathroom as a child, and funnily enough I had.  I had almost forgotten that as a young child I had locked myself in the bathroom of a family friend’s house.  I ended up having to throw the key out the bathroom window, so my mother could retrieve it and rescue her traumatized child!  My mother never liked locked doors.  She feared that in the unlikely event of a fire, she wouldn’t be able to get to us.  So, I would have been quite unused to the feeling of being trapped somewhere.

Having spoken to my coach, it amazed me to realise that almost 30 years later, this experience is still effecting me.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not “ruining my life” or making me want to run to a shrink or anything, but it has clearly left a little imprint on me.  It made me start to wonder how many other marks I might have picked up over the years.  How much of my current behaviour is determined by past events?  How often do we repeat the same patterns of behaviour, without even realising we do it?

One such pattern of behaviour that I seem to be locked in to has revealed itself recently.  As many regular readers will know, I have struggled with my weight for many years.  Lately, I have come to realise that each and every time I get to within a kilo or two of my goal weight, I just stop.  I stall at first and then I actually begin to go backwards.  I start doing ridiculous things like ordering take out twice a week and drinking far more than I normally would.  I can’t focus on my training, and I get into a negative feedback loop.  I feel like a loser for not being able to continue making progress.  I question my commitment.  I ask myself how could I be so stupid?  I know full well that my actions are not in congress with my goals, but yet I can’t seem to straighten myself out.

Why is it that I do this?  Truthfully, I am not entirely sure.  One theory I have is that I am scared to reach the finish line.  What if it doesn’t feel as good as I thought it would?  What if I am still not happy with myself?  What will I do then?  Maybe it’s because I have been actively trying to loose weight for so long, that I don’t quite know what I will do with myself when this is over?

Truthfully though the why, in this case, doesn’t really matter.  Sure it’s certainly interesting and possibly insightful to know that the reason I freaked out about being locked in was because of a past event.  However, knowing this isn’t going to set me free any sooner!  Life puts obstacles and stumbling blocks in our way all the time.  Some are external and some are internal.  Understanding the reason they got there is all very well and good, but knowing how to get around them is far more powerful.

I have come to understand lately, that each time this obstacle cropped up for me, I have tried to tackle it in the same way.  Like the very definition of insanity, continually doing the same thing and expecting different results.  I would fight and struggle and push and strain trying to get this damn thing out of the way.  Like the unstoppable force when it meets the immovable object, I was relentless.  Until eventually, my energy depleted and I would be left exhausted, defeated and no closer to the goal.

Sisyphus, in Greek mythology, was a sinner.  As punishment for his sins, he was condemned to spend all of eternity pushing a heavy boulder up hill, only to watch it roll back down again.  Forever locked in a cycle of exerting enormous energy, only to see it all come to nothing.  I can’t help wondering just how many of us have condemned ourselves to the same fate?  How many of us continually try to force the obstacles we encounter out of our path, instead of trying to find a way to simply go around them.

For me, encountering this same stumbling block again, I have decided to face it with a different perspective.  It’s a familiar adversary by now, and I have come to know how it plays the game.  I have decided instead of trying to tackle it head on, I will go under it, or over it, or around it.  I will, in short, do the exact opposite of what I have done until now.  In the past, I would have beaten myself up for all of the things I felt I was doing wrong.  This time, I am keeping a gratitude journal, and writing each day about the things which I felt went well.  During previous battles, I would have tortured myself for hours each night in the gym.  This time, I am focusing on enjoying my workouts and having fun.  I take walks at lunchtime to clear my head and get into the sun, not to “burn calories.”

I know that this phase will pass, so I will conserve my energy for when I come out the other side.  Will this strategy work?  Who knows!  But at least I will know I have tried something different this time.  As unpleasant as the thought may be, our past experiences shape us.  Like tiny threads, woven into the fabric, trying to unpick them may cause more harm than good.  However, when we become aware of a pattern of behaviour, which we have become locked in to, we have an opportunity to choose to do something else instead xxx