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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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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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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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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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Maintenance Is a Dirty Word!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

james-hill-quote-it-is-ironic-that-we-focus-on-weight-loss-when-the

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The End is No End!

Back in January, I launched a corporate wellness program, for a well-established engineering company in Dublin.  The participants were very diverse, and had a wide range of personal goals.  The program set about improving overall health and wellness by addressing nutrition, hydration, sleep, exercise, mobility and stress.  It also sought to foster a sense of community and establish an accountability network for the group, in which, to support each other.

This is the sixth and final week of the challenge, and the men and women who have stuck it out have seen some phenomenal results.  Some have lost weight, others have seen improvements in health markers, while still others are seeing the benefits of mindfulness in their everyday lives.  I check in with the group everyday and visit them on site every two weeks. When I met them last week, the difference in everyone was immediately noticeable.  They all stand taller, exude more energy and just seem genuinely happier.  I could not be any more proud of them.

But what now?  These people have had strict guidelines in place for the last six weeks.  They have had daily contact with their coach and they have had the support of each other.  What will happen when the program ends?  This is a problem with all programs of a fixed duration, and let’s face it, nothing can go on forever.  Every plan, be it a 28 day cut,  21DSD, Whole 30, or a program like mine has an end date.  One day you are on the plan and the next day you are off it.  So, what do you do?  How can you avoid walking, lemming like, off a cliff and back into all your old habits?

It can be a tricky enough transition.  On the one hand, it is not realistic to live in such a regimented and restricted way forever.  On the other hand we don’t want to end up back where we started.  Making a plan for how you are going to manage this phase is absolutely essential.  Without clear intention about what you are going to do after the end date, relapse is almost guaranteed.  Believe me, I speak from bitter experience.  As much as we may not want it to happen, if we don’t guard against it, the old familiar ways quickly return.

If you think about it, this really isn’t surprising.  You were practicing your old behaviours for years, or even decades.  Our new habits, only really budding after a few short weeks, haven’t a hope of competing.  They need to be continually nurtured, so they can take root and become part of the landscape.  But of course, there has to be balance.

My guys have been really working hard for the last few weeks.  Eating whole, unprocessed food and exercising daily.  I have been giving them bonus challenges and truly putting them through their paces.  I absolutely expect that come Sunday they will celebrate.  I fully expect that there will be take aways ordered and beers opened.  In fact, I encourage it.  It is really important to let your hair down, once in a while, especially after a period of restriction.

I have asked them to take some time this week to reflect on the experience.  Try to identify aspects that they found helpful, and come up with a plan for incorporating those elements into their lives going forward.  If any of you are currently working a program, or planning on starting one soon, I encourage you to do the same.  Say, for example, you are currently doing a program that requires 20 minutes of daily exercise.  You might enjoy that, and decide to continue with it.  If you don’t make a plan for how that is going to happen, it simply won’t.  Similarly, you might decide to continue eating mostly whole, unprocessed foods, but if these items don’t make their way onto your shopping list, they definitely won’t make their way into your diet.

To my mind, programs of a short duration are essentially reset points.  They act as a Ctrl+Alt+Delete for the body.  Purging you of junk and rubbish and helping you to lay the foundations for a healthy future.  They act like stabilizers on a bicycle.  When your program ends, that isn’t the end of your biking career, you just continue on with two wheels.  Yes, you may have the occasional wobble, but with planning and perseverance you will gain the confidence to go it alone.

We live in a world where everyone wants the next quick fix, the magic tea or the simple solution.  The reality is that if you want a healthy life, it will take effort and intention to get it.  Once you have achieved it, it will take just as much effort and intention to keep it.  We make dozens of choices every day, which can either bring us closer to our goals, or steer us further away from them.  So, if like my guys, you have a Sunday coming, make sure you don’t wake up on Monday morning wondering “what now?”  Make a clear plan, write it down, and commit to it.  Remember, the end of the program is really only the beginning.  Be well xxx

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Food, Fallacy and Foolishness!

As a society we have become completely spoiled when it comes to food.  We consume it with hedonistic abandon, and treat it with very little respect.  During the last couple of decades, our attitude towards food and eating has become completely skewed.  In short, we take it utterly for granted.

Growing up in Ireland in the 80’s, money was short and people learned to make do with what they had.  A pot of stew supplied four meals (two dinners and two lunches.)  Sunday’s roast was refashioned into casseroles, curries and sandwiches.  Nothing was wasted and nobody ever complained about eating the same meal two nights running.

I am now in the second week of a Lifestyle Coaching program I am running with a company in Dublin.  When we launched the program, I decided I would take part along side them, and “walk the walk,” as it were.  It came to the first weekend, and I was about to set off for my grocery shopping.  In readiness for this, I was standing at the fridge, with a thrash bag in my hand, preparing to throw away all of the uneaten food from the previous week.  To my astonishment, there wasn’t any!   We had eaten pretty much everything.  This is probably the first time EVER that this has happened.

My initial reaction was “oh my God, we nearly ran out of food, I better buy more this week.”  But then it dawned on me, this was the first time I had actually gotten it spot on.  If your fridge resembles Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard come shopping day, you’re doing it right.  If, like me, you end up having to throw away a black bag of food, just so you can fit the new food, you are getting it terribly wrong!  When the realisation of this sank in, I felt both shame and stupidity in equal measure.

So where does this wanton wastefulness stem from?  I certainly wasn’t brought up with it, that is for sure.  I am beginning to think our generation is plagued by the paradox of choice.  So many available options causing us to devalue what we already have.  It is the classic thing of going and buying €200 worth of groceries and then hitting up the McDonald’s drive thru on the way home.  All of the food which was too tempting to leave of the supermarket shelves, instantly obsolete once a “better,” more convenient option has been presented.

Perhaps it is the remnants of our Celtic Tiger hangover, which has completely inverted our value system when it comes to food.  At its most fundamental level, food is fuel.  It powers every function in the human body from respiration to reproduction.  Should it be enjoyable, yes of course it should.  But pleasure is not its only function.  We, as a collective, to have managed to completely separate food from its utility.  We increasingly seem to want to eat purely for pleasure.

Clever corporations have cottoned on to this.  It is impossible to turn on your TV, scroll through your phone or even walk down the street without a barrage of advertising messages assaulting you.  Never before has overly processed, highly palatable, nutrient deficient “food” been so cheap or so readily available.  Fast food outlets churn out obscene amounts of food to us, while we let our fresh produce rot in our fridges.  It is not uncommon for typical families to be eating take out 2-3 nights a week.

We are being fooled into thinking that outsourcing our nutrition is the easy option.  Believe me when I tell you, it ain’t.  I brown bag my lunch every day, and have done for a good few years now.  I have a few tried and tested menu options, which I know will fill me up and fuel my training.  It does not bother me to eat the same few things all the time.  I know what I need to buy each week, I prepare it quickly and I don’t have to think about it.  It’s easy.  If I didn’t bring lunch with me, I would spend the morning wondering what I was going to eat.  I would have to go out to get it, which can be a pain in the ass.  I would create stress worrying if what I was eating was supporting my goals, and I would be spending a fortune.  The complete opposite of easy, if you ask me!

You might ask “do you not get bored eating the same thing?” and truthfully the answer is not really.  Breakfast and lunch, for me, are utility meals.  High quality food, in well constructed meals, designed to get me through the day.  I know only too well that I a have limited supply of both decision making ability and creativity, so I prefer to use these for pleasure meals.  Dinners with my husband and meals out with friends.  Not every morsel we consume needs to be worthy of a death row dinner.

The last few weeks has given me a real opportunity to evaluate my own food behaviours.  I have had some exposure to the homeless crisis in our Capital and wasted food really bothers me.  However, I honestly believe that unless we revert to the old ways, we will keep on filling up those black bags.  Unless we begin again to appreciate food and all that it does for our health and well being, we will keep allowing ourselves to be sold to.  Big corporations do not care about our goals.  It is up to us to be the gatekeepers of our own refrigerators.  Be well xxx