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A to Zumba

I was first introduced to Zumba in 2012.  I had finished my accountancy exams the previous December, and by the time the results came out in February, I had watched as many Soaps as I cared to.  I was overweight, unhappy and bored.  I knew something needed to be done.  So, like many others, I joined my local leisure centre.  I had my new runners, my training gear, the whole bit.  What I didn’t possess was any confidence.  I trembled at the thought of looking foolish on the gym floor, when I clearly had no idea what I was doing.  So, I sought sanctuary of the studio!

Within 20 minutes of starting my first Zumba class, I was in love.  My instructor Angela was amazing.  She had the perfect body (when she danced nothing moved) and she was so energetic, confident and passionate.  I had a total girl crush.  I didn’t care that I was hopelessly uncoordinated and was at no stage doing the same moves as anyone else in the class.  I just loved moving to those Latin beats and learning to sweat for the first time.  What made it even better was that the class was on a Friday night, making it the perfect gateway to the weekend.  Before long, I was truly hooked.

I remember thinking how amazing it would be to become an instructor.  However, I quickly dismissed the idea.  How could I ever hope to inspire anyone as Angela had inspired me?  I definitely was not confident, I wasn’t a dancer or a personal trainer, and believe me when I tell you that when I danced, EVERYTHING moved!  I buried that secret dream way at the back of my mind and focused on other things.

Time passed and I moved away from Zumba to try my hand at other forms of training.  I did Crossfit for a while and strength and conditioning after that.  However, a spate of injuries meant I couldn’t get any momentum going and I became increasingly frustrated.  Earlier this year I made the decision (with a heavy heart) to take a break from that style of training.  So, back I went to the same local gym.

This time I felt so much more confident.  It didn’t bother me (as much) to take my place in the weight room or to do my thing on the gym floor.  But, I still loved the classes offered.  Spinning, TRX, HIIT and of course Zumba.  Anything that gets the heart pumping and the endorphins flowing, I found impossible to resist.  It didn’t take too many Friday night classes before I began to wonder again… Maybe, just maybe I could teach this?  Maybe it wasn’t as crazy as I thought it was?  I decided to check it out.

I went on line and saw that there was an instructors’ training course taking place just a couple of weeks later.  Was it a sign?  Not knowing how regularly the courses came up and terrified of missing my chance, I booked it!  Almost immediately panic set in.  Who the hell was I trying to kid?  I am an accountant FFS.  I have no business standing in front of a class.  I would be immediately exposed as a fraud.  Eventually, however, I convinced myself to go to the course.  I talked to my instructor and she assured me that I would emerge unscathed (thank you Audrey!)  I figured I had paid for it, so I may as well go, and sure what’s the worst that could happen?  GULP!

So, off I went and honestly, it was amazing.  I had such a brilliant day, met lots of cool people, learned so much and generally had a blast.  #Zumbaislife!  Until Monday.  Inevitably work and the day to day took center stage again, and all thoughts of embarking on a new adventure were relegated to the realms of pipe dreams.

The problem is, I have this friend.  Every time I saw her she would ask me “so, what’s happening with the Zumba thing?” and every time I would offer some lame responses, “I’m still looking in to it” or “I’m just so busy at work right now.”  Seriously though, she was relentless.  It got to the point where I agreed to contact my local community center about holding a class there, as much to satisfy her as anything else!  Imagine then, my horror, when the community centre agreed to host me!  I was completely overwhelmed and daunted.  Not only about the actual class, but also the logistics of marketing it and even getting people to show up.

As luck would have it, work got crazy and it looked like I was going to be spending a significant amount of time travelling.  I wasn’t going to be able to commit to teaching a class at least until things settled down.  There was no choice but to cancel it.  I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little relieved.  No sooner had I emailed to cancel the class, when the work situation changed again.  Just like that I had neither the exciting work adventure or the Zumba class to look forward to.

I was flattened, and horribly conflicted.  One side of me is Arwen the accountant.  Who has spent a long time building a career and doing a pretty good job.  But the other side of me wants to be writing, teaching and coaching.  I had always assumed that this conflict would eventually resolve itself.  One side of me would naturally become dominant and that would be that.  At this particular time both personas had suffered a huge blow and I really struggled to know what to do for this best.  I felt utterly lost and confused.

I was still in this state of mind when I found myself at The Better Life Project’s Empowered Women Workshop.  During the course of the day Sarah spoke about feelings we often have.  Voices in the back of our minds saying “who am I to do such and such a thing?”  This really resonated with me.  It was the exact question I had been asking myself for so long.  “Who am I to try to teach Zumba?”  “who am I to assume I can coach people?”  I don’t have the perfect body, I don’t have a dancing background, even after two training course and hundreds of hours of practice, I still trip over my feet at times.

Sarah advised us to re-frame these questions.  Instead of asking who am I to do it, ask who am I NOT to do it.  Oh wow, talk about a light bulb moment.  She was so right.  Who am I not to use the training and education I have gained to try to help others on their fitness journeys?  Who am I to take the motivation and inspiration I have gotten from my own instructors and not pay it forward?  Who am I to sit on the sidelines of my own life, waiting for something to happen?

The drive home that Saturday was long, and I had a lot of time to think.  I mulled over the events of the past months and began to realise I had missed a golden opportunity.  I had been standing on the precipice of my dream future and backed away from it.  What an idiot!  Resigned to the fact that I couldn’t do anything about it and determined not to dwell, as I parked my car I decided to put these thoughts away too.

The very next Monday, I received an email from a woman looking for a Zumba instructor.  Before I had a chance to talk myself out of it, I replied with an emphatic yes!  I feel so blessed to have been given a second chance to pursue this.  I appreciate how fortunate I am, and I am determined to not let anyone down.  The count down is truly on and this day two weeks, I will be pressing play on a long awaited adventure.  Keep your fingers crossed for me!

So many people have influenced, inspired and at times even bullied me into making this happen.  I am so thankful to each and every one of you.  If I could offer one small piece of advice to anyone who wants to take the first step towards their dream, it’s this.  Get after it!  Be well xxx

 

 

 

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Snakes & Ladders!

If you asked me to describe how 2017 has been for me so far, in just one word, that word would be “funny.”  The months have simply flown by.  There have been some periods of intense learning and growth.  During these times, I felt on top of the world.  Training and nutrition were dialed in.  Work was challenging and busy, but not difficult.  On the flip side, there have also been periods, like the one I find myself in right now, which were the complete opposite.

During these times, nutrition is a daily battle, when I manage to train everything feels hard and heavy.  Just getting through the day at work seems to sap all my energy and creativity.  It’s enough to make me feel like giving up entirely.  But you know what, sometimes it’s okay to do just that!

The last few weeks in particular have been very strange.  Nothing catastrophic has happened as such, but there has been just enough upheaval and lack of routine, to completely throw me off my game.  There has been lots of eating out and sleeping in. Plenty of missed gym sessions, and very little getting done to help me to achieve my long term goals.  I have put on weight, and I am pretty sure my FitBit thinks I am dead.  In short, there has been a definite back slide.

I can’t tell you how strong the urge is to beat myself up about this.  Words like “stupid,” “pathetic” and “failure” come to my mind unbidden and it takes so much effort to repress them.  My rational mind knows that progress is always non-linear.  It’s normal to take two steps forward and one backwards.  Sometimes we hit that snake and slide all the way back to where we started!  But, even that, when it happens is not is not a tragedy.  We bring all the knowledge and tools we have acquired back to square one with us.

I have given these back slide periods a lot of thought over the past while, and I have come to the conclusion that they might just be necessary.  We all know that a healthy body means a healthy mind.  However, I can’t help wondering if the opposite can be true sometimes.  Maybe the thing the mind and soul occasionally needs, is to let go of all of it.  Perhaps it yearns to stop worrying about every calorie and stressing about missed workouts.  Maybe if we truly want to nurture the soul, we should give the body what it wants, instead of what it needs, from time to time.

Another question I have pondered, is what brings on these phases.  Could it be that the change in seasons has prompted a sort of mini-hibernation?  Maybe it is that I know the next few months are going to get crazy again, so I am trying to build myself up?  Who knows!  What I do know, is that they come, and when they do, there is very little I can do to guard against them.

So, here I am, on another Monday, starting from scratch AGAIN!  Anyone who has been in this position, knows how difficult it is to start over.  Easier by far, to continue the self destructive behaviours.  The one thing that makes it easier, is knowing that I haven’t slid all the way back to square one.  Even if I put back on every pound I have lost, I still wouldn’t be back to where I started.  I have learned so much, and grown so much as a person since this journey began.  I have confidence now, that the sad, miserable and frightened girl I was then, is gone forever.

I really didn’t want to write this article.  It comes so much easier, when everything is going well.  I want to be able to sit here and tell you all about my successes and the progress I have made, but that wouldn’t be real.  I made a commitment to bring you guys with me on this journey, so that means showing you the lows as well as the highs.  The goods news is that I think I have slid as far down the board as I am going to, for now.  Here’s hoping I roll a 6 and find a ladder or two.  Be well xxx

 

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Work to Live?

The last few days, have been some of the most challenging of my professional life.  Without going into too much detail (it’s a long and boring story) I was faced with huge disappointment.  A promise, which had been made to me, was broken and I felt utterly bereft.  In the hours and days which followed, I found myself questioning everything.  Was it my fault somehow?  Did I deserve to be treated this way, after all I had been waiting for the other shoe to drop!  Was it “normal” to feel like this, or had I simply over invested in this opportunity?  Had I put too much of my heart on the line?

You see, that’s the trouble with me.  When I commit to something, I go all in.  Whether I am crunching numbers, teaching a cookery class or coaching nutrition clients, I put my all into the work.  In the words of the great Kahlil Gibran, “Work is love made visible.”  I have always believed this, and so I take my work extremely personally.

A few months back, I had had a particularly arduous day.  I had spent the day making a presentation to a nutrition group, and taking back to back appointments with one to one clients.  The evening was spent teaching a cookery class.  By the time I got home, my head was spinning and my body exhausted.  Tired and wired, I collapsed into bed for what would prove to be a sleepless night.  I remember talking to a good friend about it and saying “I wish I could do these things, without putting so much of myself in to it.”  Of course, he and I both knew this was not the truth.  I simply don’t have the ability to phone it in, or go through the motions.  With me, it is all or nothing.

I received the disappointing news when I was parked in front of the gym.  Immediately the tears began to flow.  Like a tidal wave, there was no controlling it.  I sat there, red faced and soggy, desperately trying to resist the urge to ask strangers for a hug.  I was frantically texting everyone who knew about the situation, looking for comfort and advice.  I am so thankful to everyone who was there for me in that moment.  Most especially, I am grateful for the text which just said “go train.”

So, that is exactly what I did.  I dried my eyes, kinda, and went and did a workout.  I had no plan, and I would probably struggle to tell you what I actually did.  I just kept doing rep after rep, set after set until the tears stopped threatening.  By the time I was finished training, I was numb, depleted and really ready for a glass of wine!  I spent a lot of time over the weekend reflecting, and comfort eating.  I gave myself licence to lick my metaphorical wounds.  My sister had suggested dipping cookie dough into peanut butter, while sitting in my “depressing gown,” but I thought that was a bridge too far!

As many of the great philosophers say, we are not judged by what happens to us in life, but by how we respond to it.  My initial response, and one which I am still drawn to, was a desire to curl up in a little ball and cry about how unfair it all is.  My secondary impulse was to say “screw them,” and adopt a work to rule policy.  You know, do what is required of me, no more, no less and leave on time every night!  The irony is, that enticing as these action plans are, neither of them would serve me very well.

I have decided instead to be the bigger man.  I will continue to do my job as well as I am able, and conduct myself in a way I can be proud of.   I realise that in a few months, this situation will not seem as big or as important as it does now.  It might even turn out to be a blessing in disguise, who knows.  Another important thing for me to try to remember, is that I am not a victim, powerless to withstand the corporate machine.  I am not trapped.  I have choices and that is extremely empowering.  Even if my choice is to do nothing, to let the dust settle and the emotion die down before rushing to judgement, I am still doing that on my own terms.

Every one of us is unfortunately going to experience set backs in life.  Whether they are career related or not.  Being upset and disappointed by them is not a sign of weakness, it merely means you were invested and you trusted.  Curve balls will be thrown at us in our relationships and with our health as well, and learning to adapt to them, without compromising yourself, is a difficult lesson indeed.  As Rudyard Kipling counsels “If you can meet both triumph and disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.”  Events in life don’t happen to us, they just happen!  It is up to us to decide whether to let them bolster us or break us.

As for me, I am very much in wait and see mode.  A naturally emotive person, this is a struggle for me.  However, if I act in haste, I am sure to repent at my leisure.  Watch this space.  Be well xxx

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Round Table Nights!

My husband and I are approaching the tenth anniversary of buying our house.  Looking back on it now, we were impossibly young.  We were completely overwhelmed by all the decisions, which needed to be made, and in our haste to get it all “finished” we made plenty of terrible choices.

One such choice, was with our dining set.  I wanted one with 6 chairs.  I was moving away from my home town, and was worried about being lonely, so imagined we would be thronged with visitors!  We had originally ordered a 5′ table, but when it arrived (and was assembled) we realised they had sent us the 6′ one in error.  Not wanting to cause a fuss, I convinced myself that it was “fine.”  It wasn’t!  The thing is completely enormous.  Totally unsuitable for two people (and one very large dog.)  I have hated it from day one and have lost count of the number of bruises its corners have bestowed upon me.

Last week, I made the decision to replace it.  I have ordered a small, round table (no more corners) and four chairs.  I am delighted.  I know the new one will be far more suitable for our limited dining needs.  The space it frees up in the kitchen will be invaluable, especially when trying to wrangle a muddy, wet dog coming in the back door.  Why then, do I also feel guilty?  Why do I find myself trying to rationalise the decision?  Even if I didn’t hate the original one, replacing it after a decade can hardly be considered frivilous.   So, why am I having such a hard time letting it go?

There will be times in life when such objects no longer serve us.  They don’t necessarily need to be broken or worn out to have outlived their usefulness.  Learning to recognise when this has happened, and how to let these items go, is definitely something I am going to have to work on.  For me, I think it is a fear of appearing wasteful, wanton and ungrateful, which causes me to hang onto things longer than I perhaps should.  Marie Kondo advises that when we come to make these decisions, we should thank the items for their service to us, and let them go.  Yes, it sounds a little silly, but I truly think it helps.

It is a similar situation when it comes to our habits and even our relationships.  There will be times when it no longer makes sense to do something, which we may have been doing for years, or even decades.  If we remain open to learning and growing, we will inevitably come to understand that maybe the path we are on is not the best one. Perhaps it never was, or maybe the landscape has shifted since our journey began.  Either way, allowing yourself to change direction is an extremely empowering thing.

Not for a moment am I suggesting that we should change course willy nilly, but being rigidly fixed on a set point, can really restrict us.  I remember being in University.  I absolutely hated it.  For the entire time I was there, I was miserable.  It had such a negative affect on me that by the time I graduated, I was physically and emotionally in a terrible state.  I became deeply depressed and more or less gave up eating.  Not through a desire to lose weight, but because I simply couldn’t have been bothered.  Most days I would eat one meal, consisting of a fried egg, two slices of toast and half a tomato.  By the time I approached my final exams, I weighed just 46kg (102lbs.)  I firmly believe that this phase in my life is where my chequered relationship with food began.

I recall, at the time my mother saying to me “Arwen, you have more staying power than anyone I have ever known.”  I thought to myself that this must be a good thing.  Surely setting a course and sticking to it no matter what is admirable and right?  It is only with the benefit of hindsight that I understand how wrong I was.  It was cowardly to continue to bang my head against a brick wall with something so clearly wrong for me.  It would have been far braver to accept I had made a mistake, and walk away with my mind and body in tact.

Even with our relationships, knowing when to walk away is a skill worth learning.  In all human relationships, there needs to be give and take.  Obviously this ratio will fluctuate during the course of the relationship, depending on where both people are in their lives.  However, if you get to the stage with someone where you feel like it is completely one sided, it might be time to ask yourself “what am I getting out of this?”  That might sound completely selfish, but if the alternative is that you end up feeling hurt, resentful and angry then the hard questions need to be asked.

If the person is important to you, then tell them how you feel.  They might have no idea that have been taking you for granted.  Asking for what you need from people is a mature and grown up thing to do, but it is never easy!  If you don’t feel able to address it, perhaps the only thing to do is walk away.  This doesn’t mean you need to have a huge confrontation and fall out with them.  You can simply stop being the first to text, call, or visit.  To put it plainly, if they want you, they know where you are.

I am a sentimental soul at heart, and my connections to people, places and things have always been important to me.  I find letting go extremely difficult.  However, I am beginning to learn that being overly attached to the past, can only serve to prevent me from moving forward.  My new table arrives on Monday and I am so looking forward to it.  It will serve as a daily reminder that sometimes it is okay to leave the past behind.  After all, even King Arthur knew that a round table was better!  Be well xxx

 

 

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Roman Holiday!

Donning my over-sized sunglasses and channeling my inner Audrey, I set off on my “Roman Holiday.”  It has been a little over a week since my return.  I wanted to get this post out much sooner but, I can honestly say it has taken me this long to even begin to process everything.  If I had to describe the city and our trip in general in one word, it would be overwhelming.  I don’t mean this in any way negatively, just that there was so much to see and do and eat, that it was impossible to absorb it all as fully as I would have liked.

So, what did we do?  I think it’s fair to say we made a good attempt at doing as much sight seeing as we could.  We took the sight seeing bus as soon as we arrived.  I like to do this whenever I land in a new city.  I think it’s a great way to get orientated, with as little chance as possible of getting lost!  (We did manage to get lost later that evening, but that is definitely a story for another day.)

Historical Rome was next on the agenda.  On our second day we took a tour of the Colosseum, before rambling around the Roman Forum and Palentine Hill.  It was amazing.  The guided tour was great and I would definitely recommend it, especially if, like me, you’re not an expert on the history.  It was difficult not to feel like I was in an Episode of Spartacus as I looked down on what would have been the arena.

We attempted to take the bus back to our hotel after the Colosseum, however it actually deposited us in the middle of the biggest, loudest and most colourful Gay Pride Parade you can imagine.  We were awed and disoriented in equal measure.  There may have been another navigational issue or two before we reached home.

Day three, armed with a map, and on foot, we went to see the Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps and the Pantheon.  The fountain is extremely beautiful and undoubtedly a Jewel in the crown of Rome.  The experience was only slightly marred by folks attempting to sell us selfie sticks and fidget spinners.  If I return to Rome, I will make an early morning pilgrimage back to the fountain to try to avoid the sense of claustrophobia caused by being surrounded by so many people.

The Spanish Steps were a joy to behold and a very up-market shopping district has grown up around them.  Definitely worth a look, if that is your thing.  I dared not go in, for fear of having my own Pretty Woman experience.  As for The Pantheon, it was breath taking, and inside it I found an oasis of tranquility, in an otherwise crazy city.  Even the McDonald’s we visited was like an assault on the senses!

Our last day, suitably covered up, we took ourselves off to see the religious sights.  In perhaps the most overwhelming day of all, we visited The Vatican, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica.  The day did not get off to the most auspicious start.  The area around the Vatican screams tourist trap.  You literally cannot walk two feet without someone trying to sell you something.  When you enter the Vatican at first, the building very much resembles a tax office.  Complete with clinical white walls and disgruntled clerks behind counters.  It certainly doesn’t prepare you for the wonder and splendour, which you are about to behold.

In the Vatican we decided to take another guided tour, again I would recommend this, particularly for your first visit.  The tour took two hours and we saw so many beautiful things, paintings, sculptures, tapestries and maps.  It was quite incredible.  By the end of the tour, I almost felt as though my mind was incapable of appreciating any more beauty.  I felt completely saturated.  Luckily, the tour ended at the coffee shop, which could never be described as beautiful, so we had an opportunity to revive ourselves!

From there, we entered the Sistine Chapel.  It was every bit as awe inspiring as you might imagine.  Every where you look there is something else to be appreciated.  Again, my mind struggled with the task of taking it all in.

The last thing on the agenda for the day, and the trip, was St. Peter’s.  Before we went inside, I had the opportunity to climb the 551 steps up to the Cupola.  I was able to walk around the outside of the Dome and get the most incredible 360 degree view of the Roman skyline.  This was undoubtedly the highlight of the holiday for me.

Not only were the views spectacular, but whenever I get to do something like climb up all those steps, I am presented with a rare opportunity.  I get the chance to appreciate my body and all it can do.  I am reminded to be thankful for my health and fitness, and granted perspective about the reason why I try to keep fit in general.  It is a wonderful and liberating thing that when I encounter such a physical challenge, I don’t have to ask myself “will I be able for this?”  That alone is worth all the effort in the gym!

Okay, okay, so I am sure many of you are wondering about the food, and the diet and the damage.  Food first.  We ate everything!  Or at least we tried to.  It turns out four days is not enough time to eat all the Italian food we wanted to.  However, we made a good attempt at covering all the bases.  Dinner was the only proper meal of the day, as breakfasts and lunches were quickly dispatched so as not to interfere with our adventures.  Breakfast was the typical continental affair and lunch was mostly sandwiches.  Luckily we still managed to get through a reasonable amount of pasta and gelato!

As for the damage, I weighed myself on the morning of departure and again on the morning after I got back.  Although I did put on about a kilo,  I wasn’t overly worried.  I am not a great traveler and usually retain fluid after I fly.  As of today I am back to my pre-holiday weight.

So what did I do to limit the holiday damage?  I walked!  We did in excess of 60,000 steps over the course of the four days.  I drank gallons of water.  In temperatures over 30 degrees it was needed, and I normally drink a few litres a day anyway.  I ate when I wanted and what I wanted for the most part.

I did try to be somewhat sensible though.  For example when we had the gelato, I would get at least half of it as yogurt.  It is an easy swap and I didn’t feel like I was missing out.   We stuck to just having main courses at all dinners except the last one.  (On the last night we shared a starter and a dessert.)  This wasn’t a conscious calorie counting decision particularly.  Dinner was usually late and we were too exhausted by that stage to sit through three courses.  A big thing which probably helped, is I didn’t drink as much alcohol as I usually would on vacation.  I typically had one drink with dinner and maybe one or two more back in the hotel.  Again this wasn’t really a decision.  My travel companion is pregnant, so she wasn’t drinking.

Overall, I am very happy with how it all went.  Every time I take a few days away from my routine, I tend to get a little panicked, thinking the wheels are going to come off completely.  However, each time I do it, and they don’t, I gain a little more confidence.  Of course, I would be more “comfortable” keeping to my routine, but what would be the fun in that?  After all, if we can’t go away or even take time out to enjoy ourselves, what is the point in any of it?  As Audrey herself says

“THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS TO ENJOY YOUR LIFE
– TO BE HAPPY – IT’S ALL THAT MATTERS.”

Be well xxx

 

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Lost and Found

For the last few weeks, I have been getting ready for my trip to Rome.  I am going away with one of my oldest and dearest friends.  She and I have been through a lot over the two decades we have known each other, and I am so looking forward to getting to spend time catching up.  As well, of course, as checking out all that the Italian city has to offer (read pasta, coffee, gelato, pizza!)

On the run up to my Roman Holiday I can’t help noticing that I feel really good.  I am in a good place with my health.  I feel reasonably happy with my body and self-image.  I haven’t had the usual nightmare in work, trying to get everything done before heading off.  I don’t even feel under as much financial pressure as I normally would before a trip.  In short, all is well.  In fact, I don’t think I have ever felt so good going away before.  Even my usual anxiety has not reared its ugly head.  At least not so far!

All this feeling good, has lead to some very strange happenings.  I am finding myself doing things I never would have thought of doing in the past.  Small, seemingly insignificant things really.  Like buying dresses, shorter than I usually would.  Or daring to try red lipstick.  Even just baring my legs on hot, summer days, would have been something I would have balked at previously.

The weird thing is, the more stuff I do, which is totally unlike me, the more like myself I feel.  It’s almost like the red lipstick wearing woman was stuck inside me, and has been waiting 35 years to finally make an appearance.  I feel as though I am beginning to find myself.

I wonder how much of this is a natural part of life.  As we come of age, do we unfold and stretch and become a truer version of ourselves?  Or could it be that as I have grown in confidence, I have gained the courage to try all the things I wanted to, but was afraid of?  Or maybe it is simply that I stopped giving a f$ck what other people think!  I walk down the street in a bright yellow rain coat.  I have no problem singing out loud in work or in spin class.  If I get funny looks, I just shoot them back a smile, and think what a shame it is that they have no magic left.

Being ambivalent about what other people think is the most liberating thing I have experienced.  Sure, I still care what my family and friends think of me, and certainly don’t go out of my way to upset anyone.  However, I no longer fall into the category of chronic people pleaser.  I do things now because I want to, or because they make me feel good, not because it is what is expected of me.

If you haven’t reached this point in your own life yet, don’t worry, it will happen sooner or later.  At some stage, you will reach a point where you have had enough of trying to make everyone happy, at the expense of your own joy.  When this happens, it will feel like your life has begun in earnest.  You will start discovering what it is that you like.  You will gain a new understanding of yourself.  And best of all, your mind will be freed of all the agonizing, paralysing overthinking, which comes from trying to do the “right thing” all the time.

I spent a lot of time as a girl feeling like the ugly duckling.  I was the typical teenager with acne and braces.  Painfully self-conscious and awkward.  All my pals were beautiful and had boyfriends and I always felt inadequate.  Even into adulthood, these feelings stayed with me.  I never felt like I fit in anywhere.  Never had quite the right outfit, or said quite the right thing.  I was always a little lost.

I don’t feel like that anymore.  I am going to be spending four days in a beautiful city, with one of the most gorgeous women I know, and I can honestly tell you, for the first time, I feel like I am enough.  I am like a kid experiencing the world for the first time.  I have no idea what is going to happen next, but I am very excited to find out.

As I was thinking about writing this post, the words of an Avicii song have been playing in my mind.  “All this time I was finding myself and I didn’t know I was lost.”  I wonder now if anyone ever feels themselves truly found?  I guess I will soon find out.  Be well xxx

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Rescue Remedy!

I have often said that I believe people come into our lives for a reason.  They cross our paths to fulfill a specific need.  Sometimes their purpose is to become a lover, a friend or a confidant.  Sometimes their purpose is instructional.  They come to teach us a lesson about the world or about ourselves.

In the last while I have come to learn that these people, who come to shape our existence, may not always be physically present.  Occasionally it may be an author you have never met, or even some of their characters who come to your aid.  Sometimes a work of fiction has the power to reach you in a way a “real” person simply never could. Just in the same way as it happens with real life people, this always seems to occur exactly when you need it most.

I have had an experience of this very recently.  In a very convoluted and six degrees of separation type way, I came to discover Terry Pratchett.  (I had heard about Amanda Palmer on a Podcast, which prompted me to read her book.  She is married to Neil Gaiman, and so I read a couple of his books.  After Neverwhere and American Gods, I was hungry for more, so I read Good Omens, which Neil and Terry wrote together.)  It was from here that the love affair with Terry began.

It amazes me that I have not stumbled across his work before now.  I studied literature in University and even outside of that, I am usually a voracious reader.  Stranger still, is that my sister and many of my friends have all read his work, and yet until now none of it had landed in my lap.

I am a couple of months and half a dozen books in to my tour of the Discworld, and I honestly don’t know how to describe it.  The books are mesmerising and enchanting.  I have been spellbound from the start, and the series has given me more honest to goodness, laugh out loud moments, than any other.  After months of taxing my brain to its very limit, Terry’s Multiverse has been like a balm.  Being able to completely immerse myself in a fantasy world, has proved to be the tonic, I didn’t even know I needed.

Terry’s characters are where the magic really lies.  Each one I meet, instantly becomes my new favourite.  The cast of witches and wizards, dwarfs and even Death himself, are all so incredibly relatable.  It is as though they hold a mirror in front of you to show you the long forgotten parts of yourself.  I had forgotten that there was a part of me that believes in magic.  I had neglected the little girl inside me, whose wide eyed wonderment makes the world just a little more interesting.  I had stopped allowing myself to be curious, to fantasise, to be surprised.  And how “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable” it had all become!

If you had asked me last year if I liked fantasy novels, I would have said absolutely not.  I am far too sensible and busy for all that!  However, thinking about it lately, if you enquired about some of my favourite books, among them would be The Hobbit and The Eyes of The Dragon.  Both fantasy, and both read to me as a little girl.  I have loved immersing myself in Terry’s world.  I have become extremely protective of the time I spend with Rincewind, Granny and Death.  These days, I feel I dream in Octarine!  I can’t help but wonder, why I had resisted it for so long.

I think the answer is simply this.  I had become so caught up in creating this “perfect” version of myself, (Arwen the accountant, Arwen the student, Arwen the writer) that I had failed to nurture any parts of myself which appeared not to fit this persona.  I stopped taking myself out to play.

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A very wise woman (thank you Sarah) told me recently that we need to learn to embrace our duality.  We need to try to accept that we can be both serious at times and zany at times.  Being more of one doesn’t make you any less of the other.  It’s okay to love the Beatles and still enjoy Bieber!  I am coming to realise that taking time out to refresh myself with fantasy, actually makes me better able to cope with reality.

I have written many times now, about the importance of balance.  I can’t stress how crucial it is to take time out to do what you want to do, in order that you can be re-energised to do what you need to do.  Important as well, is being open to trying new things.  Watch the movie that’s not your preferred genre, read the book your friend recommended, order the main course you haven’t tried before.  You just might discover a new passion!

As I questioned why it took me so long to trip over Terry, one phrase kept coming to mind “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear!”  I am beginning to feel that he was waiting for me.  His world has come to me right at a time when I am at leisure to explore it.  His writing has been soothing and inspirational in equal measure.  Magic!  Be well xxx

 

 

 

 

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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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