How Getting Sick Was The Best Thing For My Health!

I first embarked on my weight loss journey back in 2010.  My first stop en route was Weight Watchers.  Since then, I have tried lots of different diets and plans, adopting a kind of trial and error philosophy.  I have spent a number of years experimenting with Paleo and other whole food approaches and I considered my diet to be fairly “healthy.”  I had eliminated or reduced a lot of different foods throughout the years.  Refined grains and sugars predominantly.  Don’t get me wrong, I still ate bagels and birthday cake, but they were definitely what I called “sometimes foods!”

I have had a long history of stomach problems.  I was originally diagnosed with IBS in my early 20s, but in truth, I had never had an easy time with my gut.  I would frequently experience abdominal cramping, bloating and other symptoms I will spare you the details of!  I could probably write an entire post on IBS, and perhaps some day I will, but for now, let’s me just say it isn’t pleasant.  Having gone through a battery of tests, I was eventually advised by the hospital to try the FODMAP diet, late last year.

This diet is essentially an elimination diet.  It not only calls for the exclusion of know gut irritants such as gluten and lactose, but also lots of fruits and veggies (garlic, onions, apples, butternut squash to name just a few.)  It was a tough diet to adhere to, but anyone who has experience of IBS will understand that I was happy to try just about anything if it meant no pain.  So off I went with my list of banned foods, determined to stick to it rigidly and looking forward to feeling better!

For the first week or so that was exactly what happened.  I had no stomach pain and I really felt like my insides were working properly for once.  However, towards the end of the second week on the diet, I got sick, and pretty much stayed sick for 3 months.  As discussed in The Winter of My Discontent!

I am not a good patient and I was getting really fed up with feeling crappy.  I was also quite indignant!  I look after myself, I eat well, I exercise, drink water etc.  How can my body be doing this to me when I am so “healthy?”  Except, wait a minute.  Surely if I am sick all the bloody time, that means I am NOT healthy?  As the days in pajamas passed, I had a lot of time to think about what might be going on.  Could it be that I had eliminated too many foods from my diet for it to be providing adequate nutrition?  Could it be that in my quest for health and wellness, I had pushed my body in the opposite direction?

By the beginning of January I had had enough.  I had a wretched cough which had been driving me and everyone else nuts for weeks.  I was on an antibiotic, which I knew was going to run me down even further.  Something had to be done.  I spoke to my sister and mother at length and came up with a strategy.  Firstly, I was going to start on a strong Probiotic (I take BioKult) to try to restore the balance in my gut.  Secondly, I was to start taking a “tonic” as we we have called it growing up (I was advised by my mother to try Revive Active, and mother knows best)  Thirdly, and perhaps, most importantly, I was going to reintroduce most of the foods I had eliminated.

This didn’t mean going gangbusters in the bakery aisle.  Instead it meant bringing back foods which I know to be nutritious, and which don’t seem to cause problems for my stomach.  So for example, apples are still out because I have identified them as triggers.  But all the vegetables I had been avoiding came back.  That very day, I got the recipe from my sister for a chicken stew.  Packed to the brim with veggies, and chicken cooked on the bone, it not only tasted amazing, but I could actually feel it doing me good.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, I think that stew may have saved me, or at least sped up my recovery.  Since then I have been experimenting with more stews and casseroles.  Good healthy, whole foods, just like mom used to make.  It has been a couple of months since I finished my antibiotics and I am happy to report that I feel great.  Like my old self again.  Furthermore, I feel fortified and resilient.  Confident that I can fight off any little nasties that come my way.  Even the Beast from the East doesn’t scare me, with a pot of stew on the go!

I have always said that healthy lifestyle is about trial and error.  What works for someone else, might not work for you.  What worked for you in the past might not be what your body needs now.  If something is not working for you, change it.  I clung to my ideas of what a healthy diet looks like, long after it was clear that it wasn’t working, and it was to my detriment.  My illness forced me to reexamine everything and I am so glad that I did.  As the saying goes “Don’t hang on to a mistake, just because you spent a long time making it.”  Be well xxx


My Tribe, My Vibe!

“Embrace your duality!”  This was some very good advice I received at a workshop I attended recently.  What the speaker meant by this, is that often we can have two seemingly opposite sides of us, which both need to be acknowledged at different times.  So, for example you might be very confident and self assured in the work place, but shy and reserved in social situations.  Neither of these is more valid than the other.  In order to avoid conflict within ourselves, we need to acknowledge and accept all of our many facets.  Easy, right?  In theory, yes.  In practice, not so much!

I have always been a fiercely independent person.  I enjoy my own company and usually gravitate towards solo activities.  Nothing makes me happier than curling up with a cup of tea and a good book.  I love taking long walks with a Podcast and the pupper.  I recognise that time spent alone and quiet is vitally important to allow me to restore and renew, especially at those times when it feels like everyone wants a piece of me!  Even when I was a little girl, I would often retreat for hours.  Infinitely more comfortable alone, or in small groups, than in the crowd.

A few years ago, I went through a rough time.  I was starting out in my career, and in typical Arwen fashion, I was determined to do anything I could fast track it.  I left a job, which was close to home, to work somewhere farther away, because I felt it was a step up.  I saw it as a necessary evil.  The country was deep into a recession and opportunities were few and far between.  In making the change, I was also leaving behind so much familiarity.  I was walking away from friends and colleagues I had been working with for years.  I was leaving the little pond to go be a little fish in a much bigger one.

When I started the new job, it was immediately apparent that it might not have been the “right” decision.  The commute was hellish and the workload was insane.  It was nothing overly complicated, I was simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work.  It wasn’t long before I was skipping lunch and bringing work home with me in a vain attempt to catch up.  I was in college at the time too and I honestly felt I was spending all my whole life working, studying or driving.  I had no time to see friends or do any of the things I enjoy.

However, this wasn’t worst part of it.  I am not afraid of hard work and I can usually gut out most difficult situations.  The thing, which impacted me most negatively was the people.  I DID NOT fit in.  The girls I worked with were cliquey and unfriendly (think Mean Girls)  I enjoy a gossip as much as the next girl, as long as it’s harmless.  Theirs wasn’t.  So, in order to avoid getting drawn in to the nastiness, I kept contact to a minimum.  I would often go through an entire day without having a single conversation that wasn’t work related with anyone.  It was awful.

I couldn’t understand why I was so upset by it.  It wasn’t like I was looking for a new best friend.  It took me a long time to understand what I was feeling.  I was lonely.  Desperately lonely.  Even someone was happy in their own company as I am, needs some level of human interaction during the day.  Going from 7am to 7pm each day without even a chat about what was on TV last night is extremely difficult.  If you don’t believe me, try it for a few hours.  I was totally isolated and felt like I had been sent to Siberia (think Erin Brockovich)

Thankfully, I wasn’t in that situation for too long.  I changed jobs again and met a whole load of like minded people.  I relished in the sense of camaraderie I had so sorely missed.  I joined a Strength and Conditioning gym where I made a lot of great pals, and began feeling so much better.  I was connected!  I had found my tribe!

Since then, there have been so many changes in my life.  New jobs, new gyms, new business ventures etc.  There have been times during all of that when I have felt disconnected and alone.  Feeling lonely is, at least for me, a difficult thing to recognise and an even more difficult thing to admit.  Especially when it seems like I have no “reason” to feel that way.  I am getting a little better and I have started to notice a things which trigger it.

I have experienced these feelings most acutely when a situation or dynamic changes.  For instance, when I went from being one of the team to being a “manager.”  This small change put a huge distance between myself and those reporting to me.  Even the transition from Zumba student to Zumba instructor hasn’t been an easy one.  It has set me apart from the rest of the tribe and I have found myself feeling like I am on the outside looking in!

Obviously these changes are a normal part of life and anyone who wants to forge ahead will probably experience these periods of loneliness.  Times spent wondering where, if anywhere, you fit in.  Times when you don’t feel part of a tribe at all.  In these times, it’s important to remember than everything is transient.  If you feel lonely and isolated now, remind yourself that you won’t feel like this forever.  Try to reach out to those who know you best and draw them closer to you.  It’s okay to say “I feel lonely.”  It’s okay to admit that you are struggling and need help.

I try to avoid regret, but I do honestly wish I had done something, anything differently when I was in that awful job.  I wish I hadn’t been afraid to let me friends know how much I needed them.  I wish I hadn’t seen it as a failure to say “I don’t fit in.”  It was many years later before I was able to tell anyone what I had been going through.  Those Mean Girls were definitely not my tribe, and I now realise how lucky I was to have avoided being indoctrinated!  Be well xxx





The Winter of My Discontent!

Last October I got sick.  It started with a stomach flu, which lasted a couple of weeks.  No sooner was I recovering from that, when I caught the seasonal flu.  That hung around all over Christmas and really put a damper on things.  New Year came and my dose had morphed into a nasty chest infection, which needed an antibiotic to clear up.  I finished the medication and started feeling a little better when I caught a bloody cold.

Long story short, I was sick for the entire winter.  Nothing serious, thankfully, just a few years worth of common illnesses all in one go!  I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything.  And just as I didn’t want to physically spread my contagion, neither did I want to risk infecting my wonderful readers with my malaise!  My energy levels were at an all time low.  I couldn’t get excited about anything and honestly felt I had lost touch with myself.  Who was this person full of negativity?  I wasn’t sleeping well or eating well.  My “self care” amounted to showering and the occasional fresh set of pjs.  I was just a mess.

During this time there was a lot of other stuff going on in the background too.  My poor dog started taking seizures.  (We have started her on medication and thankfully it seems to be settling down, but I was beside myself with worry.)  It was a very busy time in work, with budgets, audits and year end all demanding their fair share of my dwindling resources.  Christmas itself is always hectic with shopping and visiting.

I was also trying to get Zumba with Arwen off the ground.  It was hugely frustrating not to be able to give that 100%.  I had planned that over the Christmas break I would be able to learn all new dances and start the year with a bang.  As it turned out, I didn’t dance one step between finishing classes mid December and starting back in early January.  I literally couldn’t.  The first class back was like a near death experience!  I was still on antibiotics and truly thought I would pass out at about the 45 minute mark.  Mercifully, we all got through it, and I am not sure anyone even noticed.  Each class has gotten easier since then, and I have even managed to get a few new numbers into the play list.

In early January, I was approached by a company looking for me to lead a corporate wellness program for their employees.  I had worked with them the previous year and at any other time I would have jumped at the chance.  This time was completely different.  Full disclosure, I did everything I could to get out of it.  Months of illness with no training and comfort eating (more on this in a future post) had left me out of shape.  I am regularly plagued by impostor syndrome, but this time was worse than ever.  I felt like a complete fraud.  Who was I to offer lifestyle advice to other people when I couldn’t even get my own health on track?  I literally had nothing to give.  Or so I thought.

Luckily for me, the organiser of the program is a good friend of mine and she would not take no for an answer.  Between us we managed to come up with a way of running the program to maximise the benefits for the participants, without stressing me out of my mind.  I will be eternally grateful to her for giving me that push.  The lifestyle challenge ended up being a great success and I feel privileged to have been a part of it.  I think it was me who actually got the most out of it.

The last couple of weeks, as the days get longer and brighter, I have FINALLY started to feel like myself again.  I am no longer shrouded in darkness.  Once again, I am taking pleasure in preparing healthy food, and taking walks.  My Zumba classes are a huge source of joy in my life and I look forward to them with impatient anticipation.  As I have started to take care of my nutrition and get moving again, naturally my weight has started to come down.  I am confident that I will be back to my fighting weight before long, but I am not putting pressure on myself to get there.

I have learned so much through the long, dark winter.  I will fill you in on all of this and more in the coming weeks.  I am sorry to have been away for so long.  I didn’t feel I had anything to give, and you guys have enough going on in your own lives, without listening to me moaning!

It is definitely true to say that 2018 did not start the way I wanted it to.  I was not where I wanted to be physically, mentally or emotionally.  Part of me feels like the year is already a write off.  But a bigger part of me knows this to be completely false.  I know I shouldn’t need the symbolic turning of the year to reinvigorate me, but in the past it has always served as a source of motivation.  So, I have decided to celebrate Chinese New Year on 16th of February.  It is the Year of the Dog, after all!  My audit is finished and 2017 closed out, so I can finally shift my focus to the year ahead.

Happy New Year!  Be well xxx