Humble and Hungry

Comparison is the thief of joy.  This is what they tell us.  “Don’t compare yourself with others, only compare yourself with the person you were yesterday.”  While I can see some wisdom in this, lately I am finding myself thinking it also has a few fundamental flaws.

First off, I for one, am a highly competitive person.  It is not at all unusual for me to see someone performing well, be it in the gym, or at work and to think to myself “I want to be more like her.”  I see the talents of others and aspire to match them.  This competitive part of myself is as much a part of me as my sense of humour or the colour of my eyes.  Far from bringing me joy, trying to deny it has actually created conflict and anxiety.

You see, I have hunger.  I have drive.  I will always want to be doing more and achieving bigger and better things.  Its just in my nature.  So, how better to direct this drive than by looking to successful people and modelling my behaviour accordingly.  In work, this might be working as hard as your boss does, because you would like to be promoted to her level.  In the gym, this could be putting in as much practice with handstands as the guy who is always upside-down.  Let me be clear, this is not the same as simply being jealous of what others have.  This is unhealthy and will eventually drive you nuts.

The second flaw I see with comparing yourself with the person you were yesterday, is that is lacks context.  Regular readers will know that the last few months have been a little crazy for me.  I have to admit, as much as I will be happy to have this period behind me, it has definitely helped me to gain a little perspective.  This is particularly true when it comes to training.  In my quest to be better than the Arwen of yesterday, I was always striving to make improvements.  I constantly wanted to increase my volume, to lift heavier and to finish faster.  While I was never going to be an “elite athlete” there was a time for a while there when I wasn’t finishing last in every workout, and that felt like success to me.

During my recent busy time, I hadn’t been getting to the gym at all.  I was able to make something of a return a couple of weeks ago, and I got my ass well and truly handed to me.  I was standing at the bar, attempting to do chin ups.  Before my sabbatical, I had been able to string a few together, but on my first session back, I was barely managing one.  All the little voices inside my head started screaming at me.  “I have lost all my fitness,” “I am pathetic,””I will never get back to where  I was,” “I am going to be last!”  These were just some of the thoughts running through my head as I attempted to get my chin over the bar.

After the first round of the workout, I stood up and literally shook my head.  I knew I had a choice to make.  I could either continue to feel sorry for myself, and let self pity take away all the enjoyment of the workout, or I could strap on my big girl pants and handle it.  Thankfully, I decided to do the latter.  Yes, I am not where I used to be and I certainly am nor where I want to be, but I am doing it none the less.  It is a deeply humbling experience to realise you ain’t as good as you thought you were.  Still more so when the struggle happens in public.  Last or not, when I finished that workout I was greeted by the smiles and high fives of my Academy family and I am so very grateful for that.

When I look back at the time when I was “doing well” with my training, I would have beaten myself up for missing a single session.  Now, if I get to the gym AT ALL it feels like a win.  I have also gained a certain clarity that at the time when my training was going well, pretty much nothing else in my life was!  Circumstances change, life throws us curve balls and more important than striving to be better than yesterday is learning to be where you are.

When the dust settles and I can start putting a little more emphasis on my fitness again, I hope that it won’t be too long before I am back in the swing of things.  Until that happens, I will no doubt suffer many sore muscles and the occassional bruised ego.  However, I am learning that if I can remain humble and hungry, no amount of comparison can truly steal my joy.  Be well xxx


25% Off, Now What?

I have not always had what can be described as a healthy relationship with food.  As a girl I was naturally slim, so never really gave much thought to what I ate.  Of course, like every other teenage girl, I lamented to my friends about how “fat” I was and about how I should go on a diet, but it was really all just idle chatter.

I spent the summer before my final year in University on a J1 visa in America.  I loved every minute of it.  Waiting tables by day and partying by night.  When I came home, I had trouble getting back into the swing of things.  College wasn’t for me.  I studied English Literature, which was and still is a great passion of mine, but the whole student life thing just didn’t appeal.  I didn’t fit in, I struggled to make friends and I was generally miserable.  By the time my finals were approaching, I was in a deep depression.

I rarely made my classes, I didn’t have a job.  I was sleeping around the clock and I had no money.  I would eat one meal a day, which was always two slices of toast, a fried egg and a grilled tomato.  The rest of my waking hours, which were few, were fueled by coffee and cigarettes.  Naturally enough, I lost weight.  A lot of weight.  I plummeted to 7 stone (less than 45kg.)  My family and friends began to pass comments about it.  I took their concerned remarks as compliments and they were the one thing at that time, which made me feel good.  I guess you could say, I had developed an accidental eating disorder.

Thankfully, not too long after finals, my roommate recommended me for a job where he worked.  I got the job, and slowly began to emerge from the pit I had been living in.  It was a long process, and definitely a story for another day.  Slowly, as I started to feel “better” I began to put on some weight.  Initially this was a good thing, and everyone was relieved.  I figured I would just regain the weight I had lost during that year, and get back to normal.  Unfortunately, “normal” came and went and I was still putting on weight.  Over the next few years my weight steadily increased until I hit the 79kg mark.  I had almost doubled in size.

I hated myself.  I lived in over-sized clothes.  I hid myself away.  Dreading to go out and having to show everyone what I looked like.  I remember buying a dress for my 30th birthday, (something which should have been enjoyable) I just pulled something which I thought might fit off the rail in Tesco and decided that would do.  It was green and satinesque!  Even the thoughts of trying something on was too much for me.

It wasn’t long after that awful green dress when I decided something had to be done.  First to be tried was Weight Watchers and Aerobics, which before long gave way to Crossfit and Paleo!  Initially, I had some success and the pounds came off.  But it wasn’t long before the wheels came off the wagon and the weight would start creeping back on.

On and on it went, losing a little, gaining a little.  Each time I tried again, it was with renewed energy and more extreme measures.  At one time I was eating a 100% Paleo diet and training 8-10 hours a week.  My body was so over trained and under nourished that my hair fell out.  My skin was a mess and my hormones were all over the place.  I was once again giving my family cause for concern.  It was a decade later, and it seemed I had learned nothing.  I was right back in a place of disordered eating behaviour.  It didn’t matter how much weight I lost, I just couldn’t shake the fear that one day I would wake up back in my old body.

Then something amazing happened.  It all fell apart.  I changed jobs and I got really busy in work, so training had to take a back seat.  Following a strict Paleo protocol was simply impossible with the hours I was working and with the other commitments I had.  I had a series of injuries which kept me from training from a broken finger to a strained hip flexor.  If I had tried to write a story of disaster, I probably couldn’t have made it worse.

While all this was going on, I was trying to do my best to mitigate the damage.  I enlisted the help of two of the best nutrition coaches in the business and put myself entirely in their hands.  I didn’t have the bandwidth to argue with them, so I just did what they said.  I trained when I could and tried not to panic too much about it.  About a month ago, and 5 years after the hideous green ensemble, I weighed in at 59kg.  Exactly 20kg less than at my heaviest and about 25% loss in overall body weight.

I had eventually reached my “goal weight.”  Okay, so what now?  It is very peculiar reaching a goal like this.  It never feels like you imagine it’s going to.  I still don’t look in the mirror as see the body I want.  I don’t yet feel satisfied and I certainly don’t feel finished.  I have learned a lot on this journey, and made more mistakes than I can count.  I think the greatest lesson I have learned, is that I don’t do well in extremes.  I am very lucky to have great people around me, and I have become able to trust them, even when I don’t trust myself.

I really believe that although I may not be exactly where I want to be, that I am ready to close the chapter of my life that has been the last 5 years.  I am ready for losing weight to not be the primary focus of my life anymore.  I want to concentrate on what I can be more of and better at.  The irony of my situation is not lost on me.  I can only smile when I think about how far I had to veer off course in order to arrive where I am now.

For anyone else who might find themselves battling to stay on track, I have this to say.  Just trust.  Trust the process, trust your coaches and your loved ones, but above all, trust yourself!  Be well xxx


If You Don’t Know Me By Now…

Often when we spend a lot of time with people, and especially if we live with them, we come to be able to predict how they will behave in certain circumstances.  We all know the person in the office best avoided until after they have had their first coffee,for instance.  We also know who will be the one to upend the Monopoly board on Christmas night, and who will always try to be the peace maker.

Lately, I have started to wonder why I seem to be quite unable to make these connections with myself.  When I start to behave irrationally or feel like I am unraveling, I don’t seem to have the same internal index cards to tell me this is what I always do when the stars align in this way.

Let me tell you what I mean.  Regular readers will know that I am currently doing a management development course though work.  30% of the course mark is for a 5,000 work project, due in a couple of weeks.  The majority of the remaining marks are for an exam at the end of November.  Throughout my accountancy career, I have done more exams than I care to remember and I test reasonably well, so the exam part wasn’t really stressing me too much.  The project, on the other hand, was a completely different story.

For a lot of reasons, I was getting totally in my head about it.  I haven’t written anything academic in about 15 years, so to say I was rusty was an understatement.  Also, a large portion of the project was to be made up of a case study based around work.  I have only been in my job for a little over a year, and I have only been managing people for a few months.  I felt distinctly unqualified to write about it.

After weeks of procrastinating and “researching” I eventually decided to put pen to paper last weekend.  The week in work leading up to it had been hair raising, so as is often the case with me, the timing wasn’t exactly perfect.  I spent a few hours working on it on Saturday and another couple on Sunday morning.  By midday on Sunday, I felt like I had made a good start, but was starting to go a little stir crazy.  Errands needed to be run, and it was a good excuse to get away from the desk for a little while, so off I went.

First up was the pet shop for food for Annie and then to the grocery store for food for the humans.  I had been feeling a little funky all morning, it was hard to put my finger on it, but I just didn’t feel like myself.  I got the dog food and loaded it into the car, and the next thing I knew, I was in floods of tears.  Now, I am not talking Cheryl Cole crystal tears, I am talking huge, wracking sobs.  Let me paint the picture for you.  There I was, sitting in the car park of the pet shop, wearing huge sunglasses (thank God I had them) wiping my tears in a pashmina (note to self, always carry a hanky!)  For a good twenty minutes, I sat there, totally inconsolable.  The really crazy thing is, had anyone asked me at the time what was wrong with me, I would have surely sobbed “I don’t know!”

The truth of it is, I really didn’t know.  This made me feel both very stupid and more than little nuts.  I mean, grown women aren’t supposed to do this!  Surely I should be able to run some simple errands without being reduced to a puddle of snot?  What the hell was wrong with me?  Was I truly losing my mind?

The whole rest of that evening, I felt awful.  Like I was suffering some terrible, nameless grief.  I tried to nap, but couldn’t sleep.  It seemed as though anything I tried to make myself feel better, just made things worse.  Eventually, I gave up trying and put myself to bed.  Something amazing happened.  I slept.  I woke the next morning feeling like myself again, and apart from the embarrassment, there were no lingering affects from the day before.

It was only in the days that followed did I start to join the dots.  I began to remember I ALWAYS DO THIS!  I always take on a lot and hold onto everything so tightly, that when the pressure eventually releases, I fall apart a little.  The release of the tension of getting my project underway was so great, that it manifested itself physically.  I wish that I had been able to identify what was happening that day, so perhaps I could have avoided fearing I was losing my mind, on top of everything else!

I guess the truth of it is, when we look at other people the distance allows for perspective.  When we look at ourselves, this perspective will only ever come with time.  The best thing we can do for ourselves is be honest with those around us, so even if we are ill equipped to recognise what is going on with us, at least they will know!  I am not saying that if someone had told me last Sunday “Arwen, you always do this” it would have helped me hold it together, but maybe I would have felt like I wasn’t going through it alone.

I am very pleased to report that the project is just about finished.  Just as well, because I don’t want to have to find another pet shop!  Be well xxx