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Powering Up For 2019

As the start of my second week in my new job dawned, I was determined to hit the ground running.  I went to bed reasonably early (not something I am usually very good at) and awoke refreshed and ready to face the day.  I battled the traffic and managed to arrive at my desk in good time.  Yay me!  No sooner had I made my morning coffee, than the lights went out.  Power cut.

It came back after about an hour, so at least we weren’t sitting in the dark (a tiny bit awkward with virtual strangers,) but there was a further delay before our IT systems recovered.  I started to become irritated by the interruption.  I had a to do list as long as the M50.  Besides, even though we were all in the same boat, I didn’t want to seem like I was wasting time.

The frustration quickly melted into amusement as I couldn’t help smile at the irony.  It served as a timely reminder that try as we might, we cannot control everything.  There will always be times that despite the best laid plans, everything goes tits up.

As the year draws to a close, I always like to reflect on the past 12 months.  This morning’s outage pretty much sums up the entire year for me.  2018 has been one false start after another.  It has been tempting at times to throw my hands up and shout “what’s the bloody point?”  It has taken no small amount of effort to pick myself and dust myself off.

In the words Kipling, of one of my favourite poets,

“If you can make one heap of all your winnings, and risk it on one turn of pitch and toss, and lose, and start again at your beginnings, and never breathe a word about your loss.”

When you think about it, that is exactly what happens when you look for a new job.  You accumulate all your experience and skills, your winnings, and risk it in the hopes of obtaining something better.  You sacrifice your security, and your comfort and take a giant leap into the unknown.  Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my career hasn’t been the only tumultuous part of my life in recent months.  I am very much the type of person who needs stability and routine.  If one area of my life is in discord, the rest of it will inevitably follow suit.

I am loath to admit the amount of weight I have put on since this time last year.  My fitness levels have also taken a huge back slide.  In all honesty, I am very much looking forward to January and the natural reset point it always brings.

As I write this, I have a plan in place to get myself back to a level of fitness that I can be happy with.  Tomorrow evening, I am joining a Crossfit gym.  I know it probably sounds crazy to start a health kick Christmas week, but I have been putting this off long enough.  Plus, I know if I delay it any further, chances are I will talk myself out of it.

It can be difficult when not only have you failed to make progress, but you have actually gone backwards, not to feel like a failure.  It is hard not to look back with rose tinted glasses, to a time when you were slimmer, fitter or just generally had it more together.  However, if there is one thing I have learned, it is that there are peaks and valleys in life.  Progress is definitely non-linear.

With a shiny New Year on the horizon, I take comfort in the fact that I have a plan in place, and that I have walked this road before.  I know that following in old footsteps is always easier than trying to forge a new path.

Another lesson that is beginning to take root is that I am not my weight.  I am not my dress size or my body fat percentage.  Neither am I the job title I hold or my bank account balance.  Of course, it is easy to “know” these things on a rational level.  It is another thing entirely to actually feel it.

I spent more than three decades allowing these things to define me.  So much so that when I was unemployed, albeit briefly, I was surprised that people still wanted to be around me.  They sought me out and looked to me for my opinion.  They asked me for help and tasked me with projects.  The value they placed in me wasn’t tied up in my employment status.  Why then did I allow a temporary career set back to impact my confidence levels so profoundly?

I know it’s hackneyed, but I firmly believe that things to happen for a reason.  Events of the recent past are not far enough behind me yet, for me to have perspective in my rear-view mirror.  Their lessons will only begin to take shape in time.  In the meantime, I am very hopeful about the future.  I eagerly anticipate a few months of relative calm in which to get to work on myself.

In truth, we never know what is around the corner.  As prepared and ready as we think we are, there is always something which could potentially upset our little apple cart on the horizon.  All we can do is keep going.  Keep putting one foot in front of the other in the general direction of our goals.  Keep hoping the lights don’t go out.  Be well xxx

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No Business Like Snow Business!

This time two weeks ago, Ireland was bracing itself for the arrival of Storm Emma and “The Beast From The East!”  Just like when a tornado meets a volcano, it was to be a perfect storm.  For three days the country was hit with the most severe snow storm in a generation.  Huge drifts left roads impassable and very many of us were housebound for the duration.  Panic set in as people cleared the stores out of bread and milk.  Some households lost power, others were without water.  In fact some areas are yet to have their water supply fully restored and curtailments are still in place.

As for me, I was without the gym!  Before you accuse me of having a pity party, or being down right nuts, let me give you a little context.

Just over a year ago, I was diagnosed with hyper mobility in my hips and back.  I had been having pain in my hips for a long time (which I had steadfastly ignored) before eventually reaching out to a physio for help.  The guy I went to was great.  He gave me exercises to do and before long, I was free of pain.  He also explained to me that because my hips are essentially too loose, I don’t have the stability required to do some exercises, namely anything involving a squat!

At the time I was in a Strength and Conditioning gym, doing Crossfit style training.  Anyone who done or even watched Crossfit will know that not being able to squat safely, rules out a huge number of exercises.  The trainers at the gym were really understanding, but after a few months of constantly having to modify workouts, my frustration got the better of me and I decided to leave.  It was torture seeing everyone else taking part in workouts I was excluded from.  I felt like a kid not being allowed to play with any toys!

I joined a local leisure centre and started taking fitness classes there.  I was also doing a little bit of strength training, “my own thing” as I called it.  However, it was very unstructured.  I didn’t have the confidence to start squatting again without someone watching me carefully.  Whatever else happened, I knew I didn’t want to risk another injury.   Meanwhile, I was getting more involved with Zumba.  The more time it was taking up, the less I had available for my own training.  With the limited time I had, I was happy enough tipping away with what I was doing.

Fast forward to this year.  My Zumba classes are up and running and although learning new choreography will always take time, it is not as all consuming as it once was.  I found myself with the desire to focus again on my own fitness.  This time, I knew I needed the help of a professional.  So, I booked in with a personal trainer.  I explained all of my issues (that took a while) and told him exactly what I was hoping to achieve.  I wanted to build strength in order to support my activity, I couldn’t afford to risk injury and eventually I wanted to be able to get under a barbell again.

The trainer, to his credit, was completely undaunted by this.  He told me to come back in a couple of days and he would have my program ready for me.  True to his word, when I returned, it was all set.  We ran through everything and I began to get really excited.  All I had to do was follow his instructions and before too long, I could get back to “proper training.”  I left the gym that lunchtime feeling relieved and elated.  I had honestly given up hope of ever being able to do all of the fun stuff, like Olympic lifting, that I had loved in the past.  I had been in denial about just how much I missed it.  I was so grateful to not be injured anymore, but had no idea how to bridge the gap between where I was and where I wanted to be.

I was so happy I practically skipped to the car.  I managed to do one more session that weekend and then BOOM!!  Snowed in!  Are you actually kidding me right now???  Once again, I felt like I had taken one step forward and two steps back.  Is it too much to ask for just a little momentum?  Okay so in my rational mind I knew this wasn’t a big deal.  A few days watching Netflix and eating chocolate never killed anyone, right?  But I couldn’t help feeling that this interruption to my newly budding regime was coming at the worst possible time.

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All in all, I think we made the most of the snow-cation.  We took Annie on adventures (she was in Heaven) and we ate as well as we could, apart from the chocolate and beer!  By the Monday enough of the snow had cleared to allow us to go to work and by Tuesday I was back at the gym.  I ran into my trainer and he asked how I was getting on.  I explained that I hadn’t been able to get in and I think he could sense my frustration.  He just looked at me and said “but you’re here now.  Most people would have said screw it and never come back again!”  He was probably right.

You see the thing about me is I don’t like waiting.  I want everything to be happening right now.  When I commit to something, I go all in and I don’t deal well with my efforts being thwarted.  I am a control freak, but alas, even I cannot control the weather.  What I can control is how I react to it.  Do I allow the snow to bury me, or do I brush it off and move on as best I can?  Loath as I am to admit it, there are always going to be things that come up and get in the way.  Sometimes we are able to go through them, sometimes we have to go around.  Still other times, we just have to settle in and wait for the thaw.  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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Snakes & Ladders!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Work to Live?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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