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Run Baby Run!!

My Crossfit workout today involved running. That was it, just running. It consisted of intervals of 1,000, 800, 600, 400 and 200 meters, with three minutes rest in between. What could be more straight forward?

Anyone who knows me, will know that to say running isn’t my jam, would be a fairly sizeable understatement. I hate it and it hates me right back. Up until very recently, and I am talking like yesterday, I would have done anything in my power to avoid doing this workout. I would have either skipped training entirely or if I had gone I would have come up with 101 reasons (read excuses) why I “couldn’t” run.

That has been my default stance since I began strength and conditioning many years ago. I have lost count of the number of times I have told anyone who would listen that I can’t run. Of course, what I actually meant is that I can’t run fast. It is not a strength of mine. It isn’t in my wheelhouse as they say in the biz!

You see, I have this innate fear of coming last. I am mortified at the thought of my glaring weaknesses being exposed and of letting people know just how much I suck. This has led to me sidestepping occasions where I think this could potentially happen. Not exactly the best mindset for growth.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that I am wonderful at all, or indeed any, other aspects of Crossfit, but nowhere do I feel more exposed and vulnerable than when I am running. Huffing and puffing and being overtaken by little old ladies out walking their pugs. It’s a struggle, and it’s painful but it’s also the only thing that has even the slightest chance of making me a better runner.

At the beginning of the summer I had started going out for some runs. But before long I had picked up a tiny injury. I wasn’t hurt so badly that I had to stop training, thankfully, but it was just enough to completely knock my new found confidence. Within a week or so the old thought patterns and self limiting beliefs had taken hold again.

It is extremely difficult to break a habit that you have had for a lifetime. It requires stepping out of your comfort zone again and again and again. Eventually it gets easier, but not over night. It isn’t a case that you face your fear one time and it never rears it’s ugly head again.

All week long I had been dreading today’s workout, and only half jokingly said it was giving me anxiety. I kept playing it out in my head. Forcing myself to feel the shame of being last to finish before I had even started. Talk about setting yourself up to fail!

When it came time to actually do the workout, it wasn’t so bad! Yes, it was a struggle and as predicted, I finished last. I would still say it wouldn’t be a workout I would choose, but I got through it, and also predictably, nothing bad happened. As Pat Sherwood would advise, I high fived some people and made it the best hour of my day.

I have always said that comfort zones are for resting in, not for living in. I believe that you should push yourself sometimes in your training and be prepared to leave your comfort zone. Because that is where growth happens. However, there is a pretty big caveat to this. Your training environment needs to be a safe space. You need to feel supported and empowered enough to allow yourself to risk failure.

If you are made to feel ashamed or humiliated every time a workout doesn’t go to plan, you will never take risks. If the atmosphere is super competitive, you will only want to do the workouts you know you are good at. I am so fortunate that I have great coaches around me and incredibly supportive team mates. This has been the biggest game changer for me this year. Knowing the guys and girls are rooting for me and genuinely want to see me progress, even when I am dead last makes a huge difference. Now if I could just get out of my own way…

Be well and keep putting one foot in front of the other xxx

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100 Lessons, What Have I Learned?

I started teaching Zumba a little over a year ago, and since then I have taught over 100 classes.  That’s over 100 times that I have had the privilege to do something I had wanted to do for a long time, but I thought was beyond my reach.  It is over 100 times that students have come to me, given me their money and their trust, and allowed me to share with them something I am truly passionate about.  I have always loved dancing, but am not “professional” by any stretch of the imagination.  Standing in front of people was a giant leap outside my comfort zone and for the first few weeks, I felt sure the adrenaline would completely overwhelm me.

Gradually I relaxed in to it and began to enjoy it more and more.  I love teaching and it never feels like work.  No matter how tired and sore I am, or how much of a crappy day I have had, as soon as the music comes on, a new energy starts flowing through me.  It has been such an amazing experience so far, and I have learned so much.  I wanted to take a moment to reflect on this and share with you a few of the lessons I have learned.

Expect The Unexpected:  I am a classic over thinker.  In the weeks leading up to my first class, I must have run through a million different scenarios in my mind, desperately trying to anticipate every eventuality.  At one stage I had myself in a state worrying about not having enough €2 coins to give people their change.  I mentioned this to my husband and he said “I can’t believe this is what you’re worrying about,” to which I replied “I think I have already worried about everything else!”

The truth of it is, as much anxiety as I caused myself, you simply cannot be prepared for everything life, or teaching, can throw at you.  All you can do is be ready with your brightest smile if/when disaster strikes.  Laugh it off, even if inside you’re screaming at the universe “why are you doing this to me?”  Over the past year some crazy things have happened, none of which I had mentally run through, but I lived to tell the tale!  I never did run out of €2.  In fact, I am inundated with them and every time I bag them up I am reminded of my own silliness.

Ego is Not Your Amigo: I have read enough philosophy, both ancient and modern, to understand intellectually that Ego is The Enemy (thank you Ryan Holiday) however, that doesn’t stop me getting caught up with it in the heat of the moment.

I wasn’t teaching long when a new student came to my class.  She was a German girl, and I asked her, like I ask all new students, if she had done Zumba before.  I wasn’t at all prepared for her to say, “Yes, I’m a Zumba instructor.”  I can’t begin to describe to you the level of panic I experienced in that moment.  I was convinced she would judge me and worse yet, find me wanting.  In reality, this lady just wanted to come and dance.  She was very sweet and after a little while my nerves subsided.

A couple of weeks later, she was in class and we were dancing to Tip Toe by Jason Derulo.  She was getting really into it and clearly enjoying herself.  I found myself almost competing with her, as irrational as that is.  The more energetic she got, the more intensity I put into my own moves.  I ended up tweaking my calf and having to disguise my discomfort for the rest of the class.  It was a painful reminder of the damage that ego can do!

Don’t Take It Personally:  This particular lesson has been hard learned.  Sometimes people come to class once and never return.  In fact this happens quite a lot.  In the beginning I was convinced that this was some failure on my part.  Truthfully, it is still very tempting to think this way.  When I look at it objectively though, it is easy to see that there are a million reasons people stop coming.  They get busy.  The time doesn’t suit them anymore.  Their friend stops coming and they don’t want to come alone.  Maybe they can’t afford it, or maybe Zumba just isn’t for them?   None of these reasons have anything to do with me or any other instructor.  Simply put, I am not that important!  Ego, again!  All I can do it create a safe environment so people know they are welcome to return anytime.

Some students find it easier to watch another student than the instructor.  This can be because they have positioned themselves in such a way that they don’t have a clear view.  It can also be because the instructor generally faces the class to teach and the students mirror him/her.  Some people just have a hard time following this.  Again, this is absolutely nothing to do with the teacher.  The first time I noticed this happening, I was highly put out!  But I quickly got a grip.  Seriously Arwen, as long as the students are moving, sweating and having fun, it doesn’t matter if they are looking at you, each other or their own feet!

There’s No Way to Speed Up Experience:  I am a very impatient person, especially with myself.  I want to be an expert at everything I attempt straight away.  I don’t have time for the whole learning thing!  When I first began teaching, just remembering the steps was about all I could manage.  Any little thing could distract me and throw me off.  It didn’t matter if it was someone walking in late or people laughing (or grimacing,) it would immediately make me forget where I was.  This frustrated me so much.  I just wanted to get to the stage where it all at least appeared to be effortless, even if it really wasn’t.

As I got more experience under my belt, these interruptions fazed me less and less.  I am now at the stage where I can dance, sing, smile, cue and count all at the same time.  Just last night I had a lady straight up free styling in class, and I was able to appreciate how brilliant this was, and laugh with her, without missing a beat.  I promise you, if you are struggling with something now, as long as it’s something you actually want to do it, stick with it.  It will get easier.  It will happen so gradually, you may not even notice it, but then one day you will be screaming “look Ma, no hands!

Mistakes are a Part of The Process:  There’s a saying in our industry “There are no mistakes in Zumba, just unexpected solos,” and it’s very true.  In the beginning of my teaching career, I was terrified of making mistakes.  When I missed a step or lost my place, I would berate myself, convinced that the students would A. Notice and B. Care.  When, in fact, most times, they do neither.  When I look back on classes I attended as a student, I don’t remember the instructor making a mistake that anyone talked about.

I still don’t like making mistakes, obviously, and I do everything I can to avoid them.  However, just like in all other aspects of life, they happen.  The best thing to do is just to try to get over it as quickly as possible.  Take whatever learnings there are from it and move on.  Nobody is perfect in this world, and I think sometimes it can even help students to see their instructor make the odd mistake.  It takes the pressure of them to try to be perfect.

I have learned so much about myself in the past year, I really can’t put it all into words.  I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me, either by attending a class or by giving advice and encouragement.  It means the world to me.  I have so much more to learn and I am still excited to see where this adventure will lead me.  Be well xxx

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Another Run Around The Sun!

It’s my birthday next week, again!  Birthdays are always a time of mixed feelings for me.  A period of reflection on the past year and of planning for the coming one.  But this, my 36th birthday, feels very different.  When I look back on everything that has happened in the last 12 months, I actually can’t believe it.

The last year has seen me taking lots of small, seemingly insignificant steps, which have somehow accumulated to bring me so much closer to my “dream life” than I could have thought possible when I was turning 35!  Slowly, almost imperceptibly, I have begun to change.  So here’s the run down!

I started coaching nutrition clients!  Even as I type this, I almost can’t believe it.  After all the training, the research and my own trial and error, this year it was finally time to take the plunge.  I was wracked with impostor syndrome.  I felt sure someone would interrupt my presentation to ask “why should we be listening to you, what do you know?”  Surprisingly, this did not happen.  Naturally, I was very nervous during that first presentation, but I think I relaxed in to it.  Six weeks later when I was closing out with that first group, it felt like no big deal anymore!

The other big thing that happened is that I qualified as a Zumba instructor and recently began to teach classes.  I have spoken about this in previous posts, so suffice is to say, the nerves and anxiety were back with a vengeance.  Even attending the training I felt like a fraud.  I didn’t have the right gear, I wasn’t as good as the other girls, I wasn’t fit enough, etc., etc., etc!  Of course, this was ridiculous.  Both training days were a complete blast.  I can’t think of a better way to spend a day than dancing with 50 like minded ladies.  I have even signed up for another course in December.

When it came to teaching that first class, I was so nervous, I thought I was going to throw up.  The things I came up with to fret about!  I was terrified of my mind going blank and forgetting all the steps, even though I had spent countless hours practicing.  I was nervous people would question my previous experience.  What was I going to say if people asked how long I had been teaching for?  Would it make me less credible if I admitted that this was my first class?  What if nobody turned up?  What if too many people showed up?  What should I wear?  On and on it went.  I can confidently say that my mind ran though every possible eventuality and even a few impossible ones!  My over thinking kept me awake at night.  For the weeks leading up to the maiden class, my walks, drives, showers and even dreams were all done to a Latin soundtrack!

The night eventually came, and although my performance was far from flawless, we all got through it.  I fumbled a few steps, but I think I got away with it.  I followed the advice of my own Zumba instructor who said “keep it simple and don’t forget to smile!”  The ladies were lovely and not one of them asked to see my credentials.  Even better, they all came back the following week!  When I woke up the morning after, my body felt like it had been run over.  It was only then did I realise just how tense I had been.

Another big change lately, has been starting the low FODMAP diet.  After more than a decade of struggling with digestive problems, I am excited to think that maybe I can “fix” it with dietary and lifestyle interventions, as opposed to medication.  I am only two weeks in and it’s really too early to tell if it’s working, but I will definitely be writing a full post about it in the coming weeks.  Ironically, the IBS issues combined with my struggles with my weight, have been what has inspired the other big changes in my life.

I trained in nutrition initially, so that I could help myself.  I was deeply frustrated by reading and listening to conflicting advice, so I resolved to become my own expert.  I figured nobody would have more of a vested interest in my health and fitness than I would, so it was ultimately up to me.  The reason I wanted to coach others, is so that I could give other people the type of help I wish I had had all those years ago.

It was a very similar story when it came to Zumba.  At the very beginning of my fitness journey, it was there.  Providing a fun, non threatening and body positive way for me to get a sweat on.  For the first couple of classes I lingered at the back, trying to make myself invisible.  As the weeks went on, I could feel myself coming out of my shell, and although I never became a #frontrowdiva, I definitely grew in confidence.  I want to give that to other people.  I want to empower women to reconnect with their bodies and to feel sexy and gorgeous, even if it is only for an hour!

If this year has taught me anything, it is the importance of Why.  If you can search inside yourself and be honest with why you want to do something, it can be extremely powerful.  I warn you, such close examination of your motivations can be painful.  I spent ages getting close to it, and then backing away.  The truth of it is this.  In my twenties, when I struggled with my weight, was unfit and unhealthy, I needed someone.  I didn’t need a nutritionist or a trainer necessarily, what I needed was for someone to say “I know you are sad now, but you won’t always be.”  I needed someone to show me there was light on the other side of the darkness.

This is what motivates me to try to help other people.  It might not be glamourous or exciting, but it is honest.  I believe that when I stand in front of people and ask them to trust me, the authenticity of my motives comes though.  While having years of experience is invaluable, being passionate and authentic is just as important.  For me, it isn’t about money, or social media “fame.”  It is about taking a chance that I could reach even one person, who might be feeling like I was back then.  I want to tell them you won’t always be sad xxx

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The Wild Atlantic Way!

Last week, my husband and I spent a few days in County Donegal.  We took Annie, our German Shepherd with us, and rented a cottage in a remote area called Gweedore.  The cottage was very close to vast, unspoiled beaches and I was so looking forward to experiencing the wilderness effect.

The weeks leading up to the trip had been extremely stressful.  Work had been nightmarish and between running my nutrition group and trying to get ready to start teaching Zumba, it was all systems go (as usual!)  I felt completely exhausted.  It was to the point that I went to the doctor for blood tests.  I was convinced there must be something wrong with me.  Surely it couldn’t be “normal” to be so bloody tired all the time.  I was spending all day dragging myself around.  Dying to get to bed at night, only to lie there looking at the ceiling instead of being asleep.

Thankfully the blood tests came back all clear.  I am the picture of health, if only I felt it!!  The only thing the fatigue could be down to was either a hormonal issue (a change in pill was prescribed to try rule that out,) or stress/burn out.  The week of the trip my mouth erupted in cold sores.  A sure sign that I was run down.  I felt fragile and tearful.  I can honestly say, if I had had to last another week in work without a break, I may have had a break down!

Finally, the departure day arrived.  Even packing seemed like such an effort.  I made the decision to leave my make-up bag and hairdryer at home.  I claimed this was a nod to minimalism, but it was more that I couldn’t be bothered trying to sort that out.  It was all I could do to throw some clothes in a bag, grab my doggy and hit the road.

No sooner were we on the road, when I felt myself beginning to unwind.  A whole wonderful week lay ahead of me with no work, no gym, no housework or responsibilities.  Imagine, an entire seven days with no schedule to keep.  The thought of it made me giddy, or it would have if I hadn’t been so drained!

We arrived at the cottage just as dusk settled.  Stepping out of the car, taking a big stretch after the long drive, I took a deep breath.  As air scented with turf fires and sea salt filled my lungs, I began to wonder when was the last time I had done that?  When was the last time I had really allowed myself to breathe?

The few days we spent in Donegal were pure bliss.  Waking naturally, enjoying a leisurely brunch while planning the day’s adventures.  We spent hours tramping the beaches with Annie, watching her running through the surf.  Laughing at her jumping into boggy water and seeing her delight at how dirty she was getting.  We spent a lovely afternoon in Glen Veagh National Park, wandering and exploring.   We walked for hours every day, my FitBit was on overdrive.  The evenings were spent just hanging out, watching movies we had already seen, and enjoying not having anywhere to be.  I slept better than I had in months.

We drove up to Donegal in the rain, and we drove home in the rain.  In between journeys we were blessed with bright sunshine and clear blue skies.  We couldn’t have asked for more.  The sea air and wild terrain were such a tonic.  As the days wore on, I felt like a weight was being lifted off me.  I began to feel myself relaxing for the first time in I don’t remember how long.  For the first time in ages, I was content just to sit and do nothing.

The best part of the trip, for me, was seeing how much fun Annie was having.  As a 35kg German Shepherd, there aren’t too many places we can let her run wild and free.  But along the deserted coast lines we were able to do exactly that.  It was amazing to see her come to life and embrace her new found freedom.  It made me realise that I am not entirely unlike her.   I spend all my time restrained and restricted.  Adhering to schedules and rules.  Just like my puppy, I am beginning to understand that I too need time to be wild and free.

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Coming back to reality this week, I have made myself a few promises.  Firstly, I have vowed to never go that long without a break again.  I have also promised to be more aware of the signs of overload and to take steps to avoid ending up feeling the way I have recently felt.  I am committed to exploring more of this beautiful country of ours and to take advantage of the wildernesses on our doorstep.

The trip away has proved to be exactly what the doctor ordered.  In the isolation, I was able to find my way back to myself.  I love being around people and would consider myself very social.  I had forgotten just how important time spent alone and quiet can be.  I didn’t even miss my make-up.  Be well xxx

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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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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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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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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!

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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