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The Brain/Body Disconnect!

If there is one thing I have learned over the past few years, it is just how little I know.  In the area of health and fitness in particular, there is always new research being done, lessons to be learned and assumptions to be disproved.  It can seem at times that the more I learn, the less I know!  That being said, there are a couple of things that I do have a degree of certainty about.

The first thing is that more often than not, the scale will not behave in the way the think it will.  Let me give you an example.  As many of you know, I weigh myself each morning. This is purely for information and really is more a ritual now than anything.  For the last several weeks my weight has been in and around 59kg.  While getting below this weight might be nice, it would require a large amount of effort.  I definitely am not about to make this a priority right now, so as long as I can maintain my current level, I am happy enough.

Two weeks ago, I underwent a colonoscopy.  The procedure itself is very straightforward. The preparation for it, however, is anything but.  I had to fast for 24 hours prior to having it done, and the night before I had to take a preparation to essentially clean me out.  The morning of the procedure I literally had nothing left in my system.  I was curious about the impact of this and so decided to weigh myself before leaving for the hospital.  I honestly expected to see some ridiculously low number.  Imagine my surprise then, when I saw 60kg on the scale.  Having spent an entire day fasting and purging my body, I had put on a kilo!  My husband even jokingly asked “God, what do you actually have to do to lose weight?”

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I was not one bit concerned about this “weight gain.” Let’s face it, I had more pressing matters on my mind that day, but I did find it funny. Here I am, with all my nutrition training, having spent years managing my weight, and I can still be blindsided by the bathroom scale.  24 hours, and two McDonald’s meals after the procedure, I was back to normal weight, and in fact, weighed in slightly lighter than usual.

The scale is definitely a powerful tool, but she is also a fickle mistress.  If you, like myself find yourself getting a reading so off the wall, it literally couldn’t be possible, just brush it off.  These blips can happen for all sorts of reasons, and there really is little point in agonising over it.  It’s also important to remember that it is the overall trend of your weight that matters, not a single reading.

The second thing I have come to be certain about is that, for most of us, how we see and feel about our bodies, is usually a long way away from the reality of the situation.  We humans are complicated creatures.  We have all sorts of biochemistry and hormones, which not only impact how our body behaves, but also effect how we feel about it.  Some days we wake up feeling that we look great.  Other days, for no apparent reason, we will wake up feeling fat, sluggish and generally like a whale-blob!  I have even had times where I have experienced both in the same day!

There are two reasons why I think this happens.  Firstly, we simply don’t see ourselves how we really are.  I honestly believe we all suffer from a degree of body dis-morphia. We all have certain delusions about ourselves, be they positive or negative.  Some people think they look fat, when they are perfectly slim.  Some others think they should win the X Factor, when in fact, they are completely tone deaf!  I don’t really know what the answer to this is.  The only advice I can give is to be kind to yourself.  Stop negative self talk COMPLETELY.  Life is hard enough, without being your own worst enemy.

The other reason why I think the body and brain have a disconnect, is simply because the brain takes longer to realise that change has happened.  When I was putting my weight on, I was in complete denial.  Of course, I noticed that my clothes were no longer fitting (damn tumble dryer) and that I was more padded than I had previously been, but I was always able to explain it all away.  My light bulb moment came when I was getting ready to go out one evening.  I had laid a pair of jeans out on the bed.  When I came out of the shower, with my guard down, I actually saw them, as if for the first time.  I was horrified by how enormous they were.  I knew that I needed to do something.

When I began to lose weight, it again took a long time for my brain to catch up.  It didn’t matter what the scale said, or how many people commented on my weight loss, I just didn’t believe it.  Ironically, it was another pair of jeans that made the penny drop. Similar to before, I had them laid out on the bed.  Even though I had worn them before, this day they looked to me, impossibly tiny.  My brain said “there is no way they are going to fit you.”  My body, however, had the last word!

It’s not surprising that this disconnect occurs.  Your body really just goes with the flow.  It responds to the inputs and outputs in a very predictable way.  When we take in more fuel than we need, over time we put on weight.  We lose weight when we do the opposite. There is no escaping this, our body is designed to do this.  Our brain however, is a different beast.  When you have spent years, or even decades seeing yourself in a certain way, it can take a long time to reprogram this self image.  If every time you look in the mirror, you expect to see a fat person, that is exactly what you will see, regardless of the reality.

The advice I give to anyone going through this, is just be patient.  Your body knows what to do, even if your brain is struggling.  Trust the process, control what you can, and know that eventually your jeans will show you what’s what.  Be well xxx

 

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The Goldilocks Effect

A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to buy a new mattress.   We had had our existing one since we moved in and it was long overdue for replacement.  It was flat as a pancake and I was tired of feeling like I was sleeping on springs.  It goes without saying that I am no mattress expert.  There was a million choices and it seemed impossible to differentiate between them.  But, I figured anything I chose would be a marked improvement on what we had.  So, just pick one, right?  Instead of getting overwhelmed (which I usually would) I did what people normally do in a situation like this like this.  I didn’t go for the cheapest, and didn’t go for the most expensive.  I went for something in the middle.

This is fairly standard in decision making.  It has been well documented by behavioural experts.   If you don’t believe me, just notice what you do the next time you are choosing a bottle of wine in a restaurant!  This all got me thinking, if this Goldilocks effect is so standard in decision making, that it is essentially the default, how come it doesn’t translate into the rest of our lives?  How come so much of our behaviour is one extreme or the other.

I have talked a lot on the blog about the idea of balance.  I want to have a healthy diet, but I don’t want to feel restricted.  I want to get enough exercise, but I don’t want to run myself into the ground.  I love to keep busy and active, but want to avoid feeling stressed and overwhelmed.  Why is it that in these areas of my life, I find it difficult to determine what it “just right?”

I mean, wouldn’t it be ideal if our bodies were programmed to give us immediate feedback?  Like, “OK Arwen, that’s enough cake now.”  How perfect would it be if we were given accurate indications on how much actually is enough?  Of course, there are plenty of devices we can plug data into.  We can track our food intake, our energy expenditure, our sleep and just about any other metric you can think of.  However, is our reliance on these tools only further damaging our ability to make good decisions by ourselves?

Any regular readers will know that I have experimented with just about every diet protocol that there is.  I have gone from elimination type diets, where I ate as much as I wanted, but only from certain food groups, to diets that involved weighing and tracking every bite.  No matter how diverse these diets appear, they all have one common drawback.  They don’t feel like a “normal” or “natural” way to eat.  I am at the stage now, where I really want to be able to eat intuitively.  The only problem with this, is that I don’t trust my intuition.  Do you blame me?  It hasn’t got an awesome track record of keeping me in line!

It is a very similar situation with training.  I always wonder if I could or should be doing more.  I am constantly on the look out for new things to incorporate into my routine.  New ways to get more out of my training sessions.  Again, it would be lovely to feel in tune enough with my body to be able to relax about it.  I don’t want to spend any less time in the gym, but it would be nice if it took up less head space.  Surely the only time I need to be actively thinking about training, is when I am actually doing it?

In short, I have reached a point now where I want my training and nutrition to just tick along in the background.  I don’t want them to be a source of stress or anxiety.  I would love to be able to just rock up to the gym and do whatever workout I felt like, without worrying about how it will impact the rest of my week.  I would love to blow off meal prep if I am tired or busy, without it giving me a panic attack (not literally, but you get the point!)  As it is, I am over thinking and creating problems for myself, using up time and energy which could better serve me elsewhere.

Having given all of this a lot of thought, I think the only way I can learn to trust my inner Goldilocks is if I let her take control.  This isn’t going to be an easy transition for me.  I am a complete control freak and I always have a nagging worry in the back of my mind that if I take my foot off the gas, even for a second, I will wake up 20kg heavier.  I know how irrational this is, but you try telling that to the voices in my head.

I have a trip to Rome coming up in 3 weeks, and I think this will be the perfect time to experiment.  For the four days I am there, I will not even attempt to track a single calorie or macro.  I won’t be eating at my desk or with other distractions.  I will try to use eating in a more relaxed setting, to help me to better recognise and trust my hunger and satiety ques.  My travel companion has never struggled with her weight or food in general, so she will be a good guide.  I also won’t have access to a scale, kitchen or bathroom, so I will need to trust myself to do without the former, and not worry what is happening with the later.  (I will post my meals and snacks on my Instagram story, so you guys can see how it’s going.)

Any of you who may be reading this, thinking it all sounds crazy, let me tell you how much I envy you.  I have battled for a long time with very disordered thoughts and behaviour around diet and exercise.  At the moment I feel like I am controlling it, as opposed to it controlling me, but I am acutely aware of how quickly the scales can tip in the other direction.  Enough is enough.  Be well xxx

Ps.  Any of you who have come up against similar issues, I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

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Rise and Grind?

Do you remember, as a child, your mother walking into your bedroom, and in a sing song way, greeting you with “rise and shine?”  Well, I certainly do.  (Even if I am uncertain about whether it actually happened, or if I borrowed the memory from American TV)  Something about that phrase is just so uplifting.  It seems to promise that the day will be full of sunshine and positivity.  All you have to do is wake up and it will all be waiting for you.

Fast forward 30 years, and the phrase has been significantly altered.  Instead of being told to shine, Grind is the order of the day!  The sweet and uplifting message has been bastardised and now it speaks of aggression, drudgery and toil.  Certainly not something I want to wake up to every morning.

Yes, yes, I will admit, three years studying English has meant that I read more into words than is merited at times.  However, it’s not just these three little words I take exception to.  I have a problem with the entire philosophy of “grinding.”  As we stand, half way through 2017, we are in the grips of an epidemic of personal effectiveness.  We are in constant competition to see who can be seen to be working, if not the hardest, then certainly the longest.   It wasn’t too long ago, that the only thing getting people up at 5am was either a bout of insomnia, or an early morning flight.  These days it isn’t unusual to hear people say they wake at 5am each and every morning, because “there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.”

Enough hours for what?  Well, there’s work of course, and if you want to get ahead, you have to be the first to arrive and the last to leave.  There’s the gym, if you aren’t spending hours a week there, are you even trying?  There’s books to read and Podcasts to listen to, all informative of course, because you wouldn’t want to waste time on anything that’s just for fun.  There’s meals to be prepped, FitBits and MyFitness Pals to be sated.  Meditation and mindfulness are a must.  And naturally, Social Media isn’t going to keep up with itself, now is it?  God, I am exhausted just typing all that, nevermind doing it!

The crazy thing is, not so long ago, this would have been a fairly accurate description of my life.  Work was bedlam and long hours were the norm.  I was in a new role, so everyday there was something new to learn.  I was in college as well. Even the gym was a constant source of stress.  I was either tying myself up in knots trying to get there, or beating myself up for not going.  I spent all of my very limited “leisure time” reading educational books and listening to education Podcasts.  Were they instructional and informative? Yes.  Were they what I needed at the time?  Absolutely not.

My mind was under constant pressure, and just like anything else subjected to grinding, it began to wear down.  My sleep was the first thing to suffer.  Not surprising really as all the nuggets of information I had crammed into my brain fought amongst themselves during the night.  The next thing to feel the effects was my creativity.  I had no desire to experiment with food or even to talk to my lovely readers.  Everything became a chore.  Just as it is possible to over train the body, I had over trained my mind.

I know I am not alone in this.  My news feed is awash with images of other Grinders.  I see them on a daily basis, “hustling” from dawn to dusk, fervently ticking off the never ending to-do list, so that they can be seen to #winningatlife.  Let me tell you something guys, if you constantly feel exhausted you are you doing it wrong!  If you feel like your life is dictated by an arbitrary list of tasks, you are doing the exact opposite of winning.  Who exactly are you competing with anyway?

Of course it’s important to work hard.  If you have goals, and most of us do, it will take effort to achieve them.  But this needs to be done in a balanced way.  It is okay to do things just for fun sometimes.  Not only is it okay to relax, it is vitally important.  Rest and relaxation are just as crucial to your health and well-being as your nutrition and fitness.  When it comes to your mental health, I would argue that R&R is even more important than anything else.

I like to learn lessons the hard way, and this was no exception.  I still have a lot going on.  There are still a million things I want to achieve, and I will always have moments of feeling like I will never get it all done.  However, I am learning just how important it is, to do the seemingly unimportant things.  Don’t underestimate the cathartic effect of a chat with your friends, a warm bath, a cuddle with your puppy or simply doing nothing.  Strolls don’t have to be just about step counts, and reading doesn’t always have to be “educational.”  Trust me when I say that anything, which makes you feel refreshed and revived, can never be a waste of time.

Life is constantly making demands of us, and just like any vessel, if not replenished we will eventually be emptied.  So, it is up to you to decide, do you really want to grind?  Or would you prefer to shine?  Be well xxx

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Maintenance Is a Dirty Word!

Anyone who has ever managed to lose weight, will understand what I mean when I say it can be highly addictive.  Stepping on the scales and seeing it move in the right direction feels incredible.  Bumping into someone you haven’t seen for a while and hearing those magic words “have you lost weight?” can keep you smiling for hours.  This is a good thing.  During the weight loss phase, these little boosts are extremely motivating and can help us overcome all sorts of obstacles.

Let’s face is, there will be days when you won’t feel like training.  There will also be times when Susan’s hot chicken roll seems more tempting than your Tupperware of salad.  It is at these times when the motivation, which comes from seeing results, will help strengthen your resolve.  Even if it means you don’t sit beside Susan at lunch!

So, what happens when the weight loss phase is over?  You have reached your goal and decided that you don’t need or want to lose any more weight.  You are happy with where you are.  However, you have worked too damn hard to simply revert to your old ways and end up right back where you started, right?  Que the maintenance phase!  Although strictly speaking, calling it a “phase” is a misnomer, because if we do it right, this “phase” will last as long as we do.

Yes, you heard it right.  Maintenance is forever!!  In truth your weight can only ever do one of three things.  Go up (we have already established that this is a non runner,) go down (again, not ideal seeing as you are already at your target,) or stay the same.

It’s the FOREVER bit that people have a hard time accepting.  I was definitely not prepared for it.  I assumed, like a lot of others, that I would go on a diet, do that for a while, then come off the diet and go back to “normal.”  So, that’s what I did, LOTS of times.  It was a continuous cycle of weight loss, followed by almost immediate weight gain.  I was missing an important part of the puzzle.  I had failed to realise that it was my “normal” which was doing the damage.  The very definition of insanity, I was doing the same thing and expecting different results.

I credit myself with a reasonable amount of intelligence, but damn it took me a long time for the truth to sink in.  Keeping weight off requires the same amount of energy and focus as loosing it in the first place.  Good nutrition, exercise, hydration, sleep and stress management are all just as vital in maintenance as they are during weight loss.  The simple, but perhaps unpopular, reality is that taking your eye off the ball, will eventually cause a back slide.

Another unfortunate reality of weight maintenance is that those little boosts I spoke about earlier don’t really exist.  When maintaining your weight, by definition, you won’t see the scale moving much, if at all.  Your friends and family will be used to your new sleek physique and so probably won’t dish out as many awe struck compliments as they did when you were loosing weight.  All this means is that you will have to rely on intrinsic motivation.  In other words, it’s all on you!  You will need to focus on how good you feel inside yourself to help you to make good decisions on a daily basis.

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So yes, maintenance is hard, and it is un-glamourous, but one thing you do have going for you, is that you know you can do it.  You have successfully reached this point, so you know you just have to keep doing what you have been doing and you’re golden!

I am not for one minute saying you need to meticulously count calories for the rest of your life.  Neither am I saying that you need run marathons or compete in Crossfit.  I do however, recommend that you continue to track your weight, at least until you find the sweet spot and figure out what you can and cannot get away with.

I got married three and a half years ago.  I had lost about 15kg on the run up to the wedding and was pretty happy with my body by the time I walked down the aisle.  Since then I have lost a further 5kg.  I have done this so slowly that I really consider it to be more maintenance than weight loss per se.  In this period there have been holidays, birthdays and Christmases (of course.)  There have been times I have completely overdone it, and times when I knew I needed to keep a tighter rein on things.  Life does not need to stop at the end of your weight loss.  However, if you think going back to how you lived before your diet began will help you keep your results, you are just as deluded as I was.

When I gave up smoking more than a decade ago, I remember saying to my husband that I would never smoke again.  Not because I didn’t want to light up a cigarette, but because quitting was so hard that I doubted I would be able to put myself through it again.  This is similar to how I feel about my weight.  Loosing weight is as emotional roller coaster and not something I would choose to go through again.  So, maybe maintenance is worth the effort after all.  Be well xxx

 

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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

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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

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Life’s a Peach!

I prefaced my last post by saying that it was not a rant, so I suppose it’s only fair to warn you that this one probably is.  Some of what I am about to say will no doubt be unpopular, but I am willing to take that risk.  I simply must get this off my chest, but I promise I will try to keep it short!

It is no secret that I am mildly obsessed with all things health and fitness related.  I am also extremely active on social media.  I have accounts on all of the platforms ( I think) and I follow lots of people, such as, athletes, nutritionists, trainers, fitness experts and other bloggers.  Lately though, I find myself noticing, and being irritated by, a weird trend.  Some of the trainers I follow have been posting photos and videos of their clients drawing attention to their “peach.”

I am sorry, but I don’t care what you call it, I don’t think it is right to be showcasing your clients’ asses!  People go to trainers because they want to improve their fitness.  For some people, especially women, by they time they get to you they can have pretty serious body image issues.  One of your main roles as a trainer is to provide a safe environment for healing and rehabilitation.  It is not your job to objectify and sexualise your clients on social media in order to gain more likes, follows, etc.  Not only does this exploit them and abuse their trust, but you also risk exposing them to all kinds of negative feedback at the hands of trolls.

Another thing which is bothering me lately (while I am on a roll, I may as well let loose) is how certain female “Fitspos” are choosing to peddle their wares.  As a woman, trying to establish herself in this world, trust me, I understand how difficult it can be to be taken seriously.  But, believe me when I tell you, posing in your underwear, is not the way to do it.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciate the beauty of the female form, and I think it should be celebrated.  I would love to live in a world, where everyone was accepting of their body and felt no shame in revealing as much of it as they wish to.  One of the most empowering things I did when I lost weight was to get an underwear photo shoot done.  I am all for women feeling sexy and beautiful.

The problem I have is with women feeling the need to strip off in order to essentially, sell their product.  You are a fitness professional.  You have studied and worked hard in order to achieve your qualifications.  Please don’t cheapen yourself and the industry in general by making it a peep show.  All of the social media attention might feel good now, but like any dopamine hit, it will be short lived.  Ask yourself is that really how your want to grow your business?  Call me old fashioned, but I just don’t see what boobs and bums have got to do with fitness.  Be well xxx

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Scenes From the Dressing Room!

It had been about 5 years since I trained in a gym which had communal dressing rooms.  Just long enough, it turns out, for me to have almost forgotten all of the weird and wonderful goings on the innocent bystander is likely to observe.  Let me preface this post by saying, it is not a rant.  I am not about “fit shaming” or “fat shaming.”  I merely wanted to share some of the things I love to hate.  Some are amusing, others are confusing and some are just downright odd!

Pristine, post workout perfection:  I came out of the shower the other night and I was standing with a towel around me, waiting to get to my locker.  There was a girl using the locker beside mine, so I patiently waited while she rooted in her gear bag, (forever.)  I waited because I assumed she was getting ready for her workout.  She was all long, blonde tresses, not a hair astray.  Make-up so perfectly applied, it could have passed for a professional job.  She looked like she has stepped off the cover of a magazine (albeit a fitness one!)  So imagine my surprise when she hoisted her bag onto her shoulder and left the gym!

I don’t understand this, and I have no problem admitting jealousy.  How can these girls leave the gym looking more put together than I manage even on my best day?  What genetic anomaly is at play to ensure these girls’ faces don’t sweat and their hair doesn’t move?  The bitchy part of me thinks they must not be working too hard if they look that good at the end of their session.  If the bitchy part is wrong, I definitely need to get some make-up tips!

look cute

The tummy tuckers:  I firmly believe that anyone showing up to the gym and making an honest effort deserves nothing but respect.  Regardless of your size, shape or current level of ability, you are making an investment in your health and well-being and you should be proud.  It honestly breaks my heart to see women, and usually young girls, obviously sucking in their tummies while trying to get changed.

Not only is this hugely impractical and uncomfortable it should be completely unnecessary.  All of us are in that changing room together because we share a common goal.  It should feel like a safe and judgement free environment.  Not a place where you feel the need to risk passing out from lack of oxygen.  In a world full of body image issues and pressure to be perfect, surely the dressing room should be the one place where we girls can let it all hang out?  In any case, as my mother always says “nobody is looking at you!”

The last time I witnessed this, the girl doing the sucking in had a lovely figure.  It really saddened me to see such an obvious sign that she is unhappy with her body.

The make-up mogels:  This one really baffles me.  Women who, after their shower, take the time to blow dry (with their own hair dryers) and straighten their hair and expertly reapply their make-up.  I could understand this painstaking ritual first thing in the morning, but this could be at 9pm on a Monday.  Either these ladies have far more exciting social lives than I do, which wouldn’t be hard, or they are going to a lot of effort to get ready to go to home.

Part of me is completely confused by this, but another part is envious of their energy and conscientiousness.  Most nights I can barely be bothered putting a bra back on!  I am far too busy calculating how many hours sleep I will get.  Full disclosure, I only make the effort if I have to stop on the way home.

Miscellaneous madness:  There are some things which really ought only to be done in the privacy of your own home.

  1. Shaving legs, or any other part of ones body.  Seriously girls time, place etc.
  2. Standing naked in front of the mirror to examine oneself, intimately (enough said)
  3. Using hair dryers to dry your body.  Unless you have forgotten your towel, and even at that, I struggle to think of a reason why anyone would do this, even at home!

For all the things which confuse and baffle me, there are one or two that just genuinely make me smile.

I love seeing little kids running around with wild abandon.  Caring not about what state of undress they are in, and deftly escaping the clutches of parents trying to wrangle them into clothing.  They serve as a reminder that we are not born with inhibitions, hang ups and body image issues.  These things are learned, and so can be unlearned.  Small children don’t question whether or not they fit in or if they have the right to be there, they just live.  We can learn a lot from them.

I also love seeing parents putting kids into their pj’s for the journey home.  There is something so timeless about this, and I remember it being done when we were children.  It is heart warming to see them in their pajamas with overcoats and shoes.  I just wish I could go home like that myself.

Mostly I just love seeing the place full of people.  Be well xxx

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Full Circle Fitness!

It was early 2012.  I had just finished my accountancy training, and I was beginning to realise that I couldn’t ignore my health and fitness, or lack thereof, for much longer.  I made a decision to join the gym.  I was determined to get fit and I also wanted to take swimming lessons for the first time.  So I went and bought my new trainers, some “active wear”and signed up at my local hotel gym.  I was all set, or so I thought.

I was not one bit prepared for how intimidated I was about to feel.  I was over weight, out of shape and had never lifted a weight in my life.  I had literally no idea what I was doing.  I was sure everyone was looking at me and they could tell I didn’t belong there.  So, I did what many others in the same situation do, I turned my attention to the fitness classes.  I tried everything on offer from aquafit to Zumba and I loved it all.  It was a really safe and non judgmental environment in which to start getting fit.

The months passed and I starting feeling like I wanted more of a challenge.  Something different to push me further, so I joined a Strength and Conditioning gym and began doing Crossfit style training.  I was instantly in love.  The challenge and sense of community were exactly what I had been seeking.  The fact that it was progressive was absolutely perfect.  There seemed to be no limit to how much you could achieve with your fitness with this type of training.  You guessed it, there’s a BUT coming.

I kept getting injured.  Nothing major, just little knocks and niggles.  Mostly in my knees and hips.  All fairly minor and things, which in my mind, I could “train around.” I got into a cycle of injury, rehab and physio, full training, injury…  Eventually, about a year ago, I asked my coach to refer me to a good physio, enough was enough.  The guy was amazing, and for the first time I was getting answers as to why my body kept on breaking.  He told me I have hyper mobility.  What this basically means is I have no stability in my joints.  He told me in no uncertain terms that I am not strong enough to do Crossfit safely.

It took many, many months of banging my head against a brick wall before that message eventually sank in.  Months spent having to modify workouts and feeling heart broken watching my peers across the gym doing what I so desperately wanted to be doing.  Months of promising myself that I would eventually get back to it.   Months of beating myself up for not being able to compete.  I hasten to add that during this time my coaches were phenomenal. They truly did all they could for me, and never made me feel like I was a problem child.  The pressure I felt was purely coming from within.

I was also having an insanely busy time both in work and out of work.  Just making it to the gym was a challenge. Classes were on the hour and a five minute delay would leave me scuppered.  Each time I would get back there I would say to myself “Okay Arwen, 5 sessions next week, no excuses!”  Monday would come and I would be buried in the office and not make it to the gym.  I had failed the week already!  Ironically, it was hearing myself say something to other people, which eventually made the penny drop.

I was giving a presentation to a corporate group, and I was telling them about the importance of exercise.  I heard myself saying “you don’t need to do Crossfit, you don’t even need to join the gym, you just need to get the body moving!”  Suddenly it dawned on me.  I had been so attached to the idea of being a “Crossfitter” and so unwilling to let it go, that I was standing in the way of my own fitness.  I realised I needed to let go of my ego.  It was not serving me, and it was making me crazy.  I needed to take a fresh approach.

It was not an easy decision.  It was hard not to feel like I was admitting defeat.  I love Crossfit and I wondered could I even watch the events now without feeling like a fraud.  But at 35 years old, I need to be moving in a way which neither damages my body nor causes stress to my mind.  Eventually, I made the decision to return to my local hotel gym.  Five years later, I was going back to where it all began.

It has been about a month and I have been taking all the fitness classes again, HIIT, TRX and of course Zumba.  It took me no time at all to remember how much I loved these classes.  I love Zumba so much in fact, that I took the instructors course last week  (more on this in a future post.)  It is such a relief to get a sweat on without getting stressed out.  It has also been a great revelation to me that sometimes going full circle is not the same as going backwards.

I am not saying I will never try Crossfit style training again, but for the moment I am happy enough to be moving and letting someone else do the thinking.  I can’t believe I allowed the fantasy of doing Crossfit become more important to me than the reality of actually training.  When I started writing this blog, I made a commitment to being as honest as I possibly can.  Sometimes this is going to mean admitting I was wrong, this is definitely one of those times.  It feels very fitting that I should talk about this now, in my 100th post.  If we are lucky in life we will always be learning.  Sometimes the teacher will be yelling at us, but we just are not quite ready to hear it.  What this has taught me, eventually, is that if something isn’t working for you, change it.  This doesn’t make you a quitter and it doesn’t mean you have failed.  All it means is that you have learned to invest your energy where it will serve you best.  Be well xxx