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Breaking Up With The FitFam – It’s Not You, It’s Me!

Loneliness is an awful emotion.  It drives us to behave in ways, which make it difficult to recognise ourselves.  It can make us feel simultaneously self conscious and invisible.

It was 2012.  I had just finished my accountancy training and had started my first “proper job.”  I was working for a huge American Corporation.  My days were filled with SOPs, KPIs and every other acronym you can think of.  Like a fish out of water, I just did not fit it.  I started to wonder if I was even in the right career, or had the last 5 years of study been completely wasted?

It was a really low point for me.  I never had a huge social circle to begin with, and the years spent doing ACCA had distanced me from a lot of the friends I did have.  I was so lonely.  The worst thing about it, was that I felt guilty for feeling this way.  I had a loving partner, a wonderful family and truly appeared to be living the dream.  I had absolutely nothing to complain about.  So, I did what any self-respecting overachiever would do, I pretended to be fine!

Not long after starting in this “proper job” I discovered Crossfit and Paleo.  This seemed to be the answer to all my prayers.  Finally something had come along to fill the void.  I threw myself into it with the same single minded determination I had put into getting qualified.  I spent up to 3 hours every night in the the gym.  When I wasn’t training, I was thinking about it, or reading about it, (I read the entire back catalogue of The Crossfit Journal in a month) or talking about it!

I was completely focused on training, and to be honest, I became an asshole!  I was so fixated on this one aspect of my life, that I lost sight of pretty much everything else.  My husband would plead with me to come home, to spend time with other people, to be more present in my life.  But, all I could think was “he just doesn’t want me to succeed.”  I kept telling myself that the next gym milestone, (the body weight back squat, the handstand push up, the kipping pull up) would make me happy.  It didn’t.

My obsession was having a terrible effect on my overall well-being.  I would train straight after work, for hours.  I would come home so hungry and depleted, that I would be shaking driving the car.  Everybody warned me I was heading for trouble, my family, my partner, even my colleagues, but I ignored them all.  I knew better.  I was “dedicated.” I distanced myself from everyone who was being, as I saw it, negative.  I took something healthy and positive to an unhealthy and dangerous place.  I risked losing everything.

In my efforts to cure my loneliness, I only ended up more isolated.  The irony of this is not lost on me!  Finally, I reached a turning point.  I slowly began to realise the error of my ways.  I found a job I love, which is both challenging and engaging enough to not allow for outside obsessions!  I began to remember other things I enjoyed doing.  I started reading again, and seeing people.  Far from being a light-bulb moment, I very much clawed my way out of the darkness.

In this digital age, we are very much at the mercy of the social media Gods and gurus.  We are bombarded hourly with images of people living seemingly perfect lives, with wonder partners, exciting careers and most of all, flawless physiques!  In my desire to feel part of something, I bought into all of it.  I so desperately wanted to be part of that #fitfam.  I needed to prove myself worthy of acceptance by showing I could train as hard, prep as well and basically obsess as much as they did.

The funny thing is, there is no membership policy.  You never receive an email, text or tweet to say “Congratulations, you are now ENOUGH, welcome on board!”  Seeking validation from an online “community” is a fool’s errand.  So, I have decided to stop.  I have come to learn that my own self-worth is far more important than the acceptance of anyone online.  I have also realised, that chasing recognition from strangers not only damages my already fragile self image, it is just plain stupid.  These people don’t care about me.

In the last few months I have discovered that exposing myself to the #fitspos, is a real trigger for me.  One glance at a woman with abs, and I launch into a full on body comparison.  What is she doing?  How come she has a 6 pack and I don’t?  What’s her secret?  How can I get to look that way?  It’s relentless and damaging.

When it comes to social media, there are some great voices out there.  They are promoting health and fitness in a sensible and sustainable way.  Unfortunately they are in the minority.  It seems for every 1 intelligent and insightful person, we will encounter 10 idiots.  I was at The Better Life Project’s Empowered Women Workshop this week, and just one of the wonderful pieces of advice Sarah offered to us was “If someone in your news-feed makes you feel bad, unfollow them.”  Simple as that!  We can’t control the amount of negativity and bullshit there is online, but we can choose to limit our exposure to it.

As for my training, I still do and probably always will, love the gym.  But, crucially, I am approaching it now from a much kinder place.  I exercise because I love my body, not because I want to beat it into submission.  I am slowly learning to accept my limitations and to listen to the voices of those who love me.  Most importantly, the choices I make with my training and nutrition and for me, not to please the Fitfam.  Be well xxx

the-its-not-you-its-me-mistake-L-h7o6M5

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Naturally Unnatural?

I have never been what you might call naturally athletic.  In school, I avoided PE at all cost.  I feigned period pain so often, I am surprised they didn’t send me to a gynecologist!  In fact, I avoided physical activity of any description in so far as was humanly possible.

When I was about 21, my mother was getting married, and we both started taking a couple of fitness classes.  I can honestly say that that was my first exposure to anything even remotely resembling exercise.  I shouldn’t really wonder then, why physical activity doesn’t always come easy to me.  I have a long list of things which I have attempted, only to find I lacked the kind of fluency I was expecting to have.

The first time I remember experiencing this was with running.  I ran for the first time (certainly in adult life, however, I don’t recall doing much running as a child either,) when I was about 30.  I opened the hall door, and just started running, or at least trying to.  After no more than about 200m I had to stop.  Breathless and exhausted, I had no alternative but to return home with my shame.  I was completely baffled.  Other people make this look so easy, I just assumed I would be able to do it.  They are out running 10ks and marathons, and I couldn’t make it to the end of the street.

Over the coming years, I kept trying to run.  Running would routinely come up as part of our workouts, especially in the summer months.  Try as I might, I just couldn’t get it figured out.  My legs never wanted to adopt that easy rhythm other people had.  I seemed always to need to work so much harder, just to cover the same distance.  A friend of mine tried to comfort me by saying “you’re just not a natural runner.”  (I think she was trying to sweet talk me after telling me I look like Jean Claude van Damme when I run!)  As time went by, and I continued to struggle, I began to wonder if she was right.  Maybe running just wasn’t in my DNA?

I wish I could tell you that running was the only nemesis I faced in training, but alas there was another exercise I dreaded seeing even more.  Double unders!  For those of you who may not know, a double under is a form of skipping.  Each time you jump, the the rope passes your body twice.   Similar to my plight with the pavement, this movement eluded me, FOR YEARS!  I lost count of the amount of tantrums and tears I had about this particular exercise.

At the very height of my frustration, I spoke to my mother about it.  After explaining it all to her she had this insight “Arwen, you were never a natural at skipping.”  And, she’s right.  Even as a young child, I wasn’t any good at it.  I was always tripping up and tying myself in knots.

With both the running and the skipping, I had little choice but to just get on with it when they came up in workouts.  I accepted that I was never going to be the fastest, or even particularly proficient and committed to gutting through it.  Every so often, I would toy with the idea of going to a running coach, but the idea of spending a lot of time and money to get better (hopefully) at something I don’t enjoy, seemed a little foolish.

I never learned to swim as a child.   I initially took swimming lessons in my 30s, and although I have no fear of water, I more certainly am not a good swimmer.  Recently, I have started swimming again.  Each week, I go to the pool and try to complete a certain number of lengths without either drowning or swallowing half the water.  I started about 8 weeks ago with 15 lengths and last week I managed 22.  Slow progress indeed, but going in the right direction.  Every length is hard fought and usually involves stopping several times.

Last week, while I was choking on water, and wondering what the hell was wrong with me, a thought came to my mind.  You’re just not a natural swimmer!!!  I shook my head as though to physically dislodge this notion.   You see, unlike running, which I hate, and  double unders, which I would happily never do again, I actually quite enjoy swimming.  As well as that, I am determined to get better at it.   Until such time as that happens, I will have to put up with little kids and adorable old ladies lapping me with ease.  I will also have to try not to be embarrassed by my ineptitude and to resist the urge to shout “I am only learning” whenever people look at me!

One of the things I like most about being in the water, is that it gives me time to think.  I have spent some of this time mulling over this concept of natural ability.  I began to wonder a few things.  I mean is anyone ever really a natural at anything?  Or is it just that they have put hundreds of unseen hours into honing their craft, so that it now appears effortless?   Let’s face it savants and prodigies are few and far between.  For most of us, success only comes as a result of hard work and dedication.

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It also raised the question for me of whether we ever appreciate the things which come easy to us.  Or is it only really the struggle, which makes the end result worthwhile?

For me, the reality is, I have little natural ability when it comes to anything sporty.  I don’t think there is anything I can do to change this fact.  However, how I choose to deal with it is entirely up to me.  I can hang up my goggles and be content to sideline myself from the swimming pool, or I can keep showing up each week and make an honest effort towards self improvement.  For once, I have made the decision not to give up.  I am determined to prove myself wrong.  I have always wanted to be able to swim in open water, so hopefully that can be ticked off my bucket list in the near future.

I think we all have an innate desire to be good at everything.  We don’t like coming last or being seen to have weaknesses.  This ego all too often gets in the way of true growth and progress.  My advice to anyone struggling with something they are not a natural at (and to myself) is just not to give up.  Keep your head up, try not to get out of your depth and you never know, you might just surprise yourself.  Be well xxx

dory

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Eggs, Over Easy?

Easter weekend is just around the corner.  There will be chocolate and treats as far as the eye can see.  If there is one thing we Irish do well, it is go completely overboard.  It seems like every occasion and holiday is blown completely out of all proportion and Easter is certainly no exception.

I remember when I was a kid, my Grandmother would buy loads of Easter eggs.  Big, adult ones.  They would all be laid out, and on Easter Sunday you would be allowed to go into the room and select one.  Imagine, you could pick whichever one you wanted.  I loved this, it made me feel so grown up.  I would always hang back and see what everyone else was choosing, before I made my final decision.

These days kids get so many eggs, they don’t ever get to experience that excitement.  I think that’s a shame.  Most receive so many, in fact, that their poor parents have a battle on their hands trying to ration it out so that the children only consume a (somewhat) sensible amount of chocolate.  Unfortunately plenty of adults also find themselves with an excess of eggs!

My husband and I don’t have any children.  Yet in previous years we have ended up with more than 10 large Easter eggs in our house, all bought for us by well intentioned family members.  I don’t particularly care for them (that doesn’t mean I won’t eat them if they are in the house) and my husband is a self confessed chocaholic!  So, I tend to nibble on one or two of the eggs, and he polishes off the rest.  Or at least he would if I gave him the chance.  Usually I take what hasn’t been opened into work with me on the Tuesday after Easter, to be eaten by my colleagues, who probably have similar gluts at home.

I have two kid brothers (aged 25 and 15) and each Easter we have conversations which go a little something like this.

Me “What Easter egg would you like?”

Them “I don’t want one.”

Me “But I have to get you one, so just pick”

Them “Em, OK, just get me a (insert random confectionery name here)”

It’s completely ridiculous!  We buy eggs for people who don’t want them, which makes them feel obliged to buy eggs for us, which we don’t want either.  Can we please stop the insanity?  The only ones benefiting from this nutty practice are the chocolate makers.

This year I have decided not to buy Easter eggs for adults, and to only buy eggs for kids immediately related to me.  I am going to bake some small Easter treats for both families instead.  This is not me being mean or churlish.  It’s not about the money, especially as eggs are so inexpensive these days.  It is about not overloading people with things they don’t want, in order to make myself feel good!  There are plenty of things we can do to celebrate this holiday which don’t induce diabetic comas.

  • Flowers are always a lovely gift option, and most supermarkets sell them very cheaply.  A spring bouquet really brightens up the house and it’s a nice way to show you are thinking of someone
  • Have a meal together.  Holidays usually mean extra time off work, so it’s nice to spend some of that time with our nearest and dearest.
  • Pack a picnic and get out doors.  Easter represents the end to dark, dreary days, so make the most of it.
  • For kids, books and colouring books are always a great idea.  Believe me their parents will appreciate this much more than the sugar laden alternative!
  • Paint hard boiled eggs and do an egg hunt.

Mr men

If you don’t want to end up inundated with eggs, ask people not to buy them for you. This also applies your kids.  If you worry about the excess, ask people to please refrain from adding to the chocolate mountain.  Not everyone will take this on board, but some will and every little helps.

Don’t be afraid to re-gift.  If you receive eggs which you don’t want, pass them on to others, instead of buying even more.  Again, this might sound cheap, but it’s really just about damage limitation.

If you do end up with way more eggs than you need, there are a few things you can do with the leftovers.

  • Bring them into the office, someone will always eat them.  I find finance and IT to be particulary good dumping grounds!
  • Donate them to a local homeless charity.  We have so much that it’s easy to forget that some people have nothing
  • Make a batch of Rice Krispy cakes.  There are always bake sales happening and these guys are sure to be a big hit
  • Break up the chocolate and put in it a tupperware in the freezer.  It will keep for months and you can just grab a piece when you fancy it
  • Dump it!  This is a last resort for me, because I hate seeing food (even junk food) wasted.  However, if you are trying to control your diet, and you think you won’t be able to resist it, throw it away.  A misplaced sense of guilt is not worth sacrificing your progress for.

Calories in Easter Egg Guide

  • 100 grams of chocolate = 530 calories
  • 1 medium Easter Egg 100g = 530 calories
  • 1 average size chocolate bunny 180g = 980 calories
  • 1 large Easter Egg 200g = 1060 calories

Personally, I usually pick my favourite one, allow myself to have and enjoy that one and get rid of the rest ASAP.  I remember one year, going back to Weight Watchers after Easter having put on 5lbs!  I was shocked to realise just how much damage all the extra chocolatey calories can do!  I know you have live, and you want to be able to enjoy these special occasions.  However, 5lbs weight gain every bank holiday, can add up to over 3 stone in a single year.  Just something to chew over as you do your seasonal shopping. Be well xxx