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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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Why Losing Weight WILL NOT Make You Happy

At the kick off meeting for my Lifestyle Re-Engineering Program last month, I gave a short presentation.  I naturally wanted to outline the program to the participants, but I also wanted to give them a little bit of insight into my own journey.  I have talked about my struggles with my weight on the blog a few times, but I have never really talked about it in public before.  I was standing in a room full of strangers, telling them about where it all began and I was amazed by how emotional I felt.

In that instant I was back there.  All the sadness and feelings of worthlessness came flooding back to me.  It was as raw and as real as if it were yesterday and not five years ago.  I remembered what life was like for me all those years ago.  I was an extremely troubled girl.  I hated my job.  I worked long hours, had a crazy commute and was going to college at night.  All of this left little time for self care, let alone self improvement.  There was no fun in my life and I was really just existing.  To top it all off, I was overweight.  I had no confidence and couldn’t stand looking at myself in the mirror.

In time, I began to lose weight.  I honestly thought this would be the answer to all my problems.  I would tell myself “just lose another five pounds, then you will feel good.”  Those five pounds would shed, and I would feel the same way, so I would convince myself that the next five would definitely do it.  On and on this went.  I continued to drop weight, but I was still miserable.  Even when I was approaching “goal weight” I still struggled with negative self image.  I was terrified that if I took my eye off the ball for a moment, that I would end up back where I started.

I had fallen into a very common trap.  I had treated the symptoms of the problem, without addressing the root cause.  I was, in essence, doing the easy thing.  Counting calories and hitting the gym, while it does take effort, is fairly straight forward.  You have a clear set of parameters to work within, and if you do what you’re supposed to, you will get results.  Easy!  The hard thing, the thing which I was avoiding doing, is to look for the cause of the problem.

What was it that was making me so unhappy, that I did not care what happened to my body?  What had made me give up on myself?  Why had I resigned myself, in my 20s, to a lifetime of feeling undesirable, unsexy and unwanted?  Why did I feel that I didn’t deserve to be happy?  These were the questions I needed to ask myself.  Nobody could do if for me.  There was no YouTube video to show me the steps, no ten minute miracle cure.  It definitely was not going to be easy.

I needed to re-engineer my life.  I set about identifying everything, which was not working for me, and trying to change it.  The first thing I did was quit my job.  I vowed never to stay in a job I hated again.  Life is too short to spend 40 hours a week in a toxic environment.  It took a couple of attempts, but I finally found the right fit.  I can’t tell you what a difference it makes to your overall well-being to be happy in your work.

During this time, I also finished college.  This had a huge impact.  My stress was massively reduced, and I now had time to do the things I enjoyed (if only I could remember what they were!)  I had spent 5 years studying at night and on the weekends, and my single-mindedness had allowed it to become almost all consuming.  I was in suspended animation!  When it was finally over, I spent two months sitting on the couch watching soaps (we will call this recovery.)  I then had to set about rediscovering what it is that makes me happy.

It was at that time when my love of fitness was born.  I needed to escape Coronation Street and the gym was as good a place as any to go.  My workouts became my outlet for a number of years.  I love training, but in hindsight it was probably foolish to put all my eggs in one basket.  Injuries and issues inevitably cropped up, and without something else to put my energy into, I became frustrated.

It is really only in the last year that I feel I am beginning to find balance.  I have rediscovered a too long latent love of reading.  Meditation and mindfulness are of huge importance to me now.  I invest more time and energy in my relationships.  The effect of all of this, is that I am happier now than I have ever been.  The happiness and confidence I have gained allows me to prioritise my health and well being.  In other words, being happy is helping me to maintain my weight, not the other way around.

The process is by no means complete.  I believe we are all on a journey of self discovery that lasts a lifetime.  I definitely do not have all the answers and  I want to continue to learn about myself.  I wasted far too many years being unhappy, I don’t want to let another moment be lost.

For anyone out there who may be struggling, feeling unhappy or lacking self confidence, I will say this; nothing changes if nothing changes.  The first step in addressing the problem, is to face it head on.  This may be scary and painful, but I promise you it will be worth it.  If your weight is problem for you, then loosing weight is naturally a good thing to do.  However, just be aware that it won’t solve all your problems.  Be well xxx

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Less is More

“The average American has 300,000 items in their home and $16,000 in credit card debt,” according to a recent post by The Minimalists.  I will admit, I was a little incredulous when I read this, until I realised I had over 30 items in my handbag alone (this includes my purse, but not its contents.)  In my last post, I touched on how I am currently going through a decluttering phase.  I am trying to eliminate all the “stuff” from my home, head and life.  I want to leave only the things which Ms. Kondo would say, “spark joy.”  In other words, if I don’t either use it, or consider it to be beautiful, it has got to go.

Most of this discarding has been relatively easy.  I am experiencing a mixture of amusement and horror as I discover how much of a hoarder I truly am.  Little did I know just how many possibly used, possibly unused batteries there actually were in my home.  Some of it, however, has been more challenging.  I find myself reluctant to let go of certain things.  There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to this.  For example, I have a particular item under my bed.  It was a gift, a number of years ago, and it has never been used.  In truth, I am not sure if I have ever taken it out of its box.  There is no rational reason for me to hang onto this.  I can only assume it is my fondness for the giver that is preventing me from parting with it.  As well as this, it is something that I asked for, and so I feel guilty for having had the person waste their money on me.

For these challenging items, which I just can’t bring myself to part with straight away, I have exercised a stay of execution.  I am giving myself 3 months, and if, in that time, I still haven’t found a use for them, they are going, end of story.

clean

Let’s face it, January is a pretty lean month for most people.  Excessive spending over the festive period and a longer than usual wait for pay day leaves most of us feeling strapped.  This financial pressure, coupled with the impending dread of the credit card bill landing on the mat, can lead to feelings of anxiety and stress.  I am no different from anyone else in this, and I can assure you, I have been counting down the days until my salary hits the bank, and I can start spending again!

Wait, what?  As the first couple of weeks of January trickle by, it is slowly dawning on me, that decluttering and throwing stuff away is only half the story.  Unless I stop actually buying said stuff, I am never going to achieve the state of Zen-like minimalism I crave.  Like the poor old Americans, my bank account drains and my house overflows.  I have caught myself in a vicious cycle of constantly spending money I don’t have, on things I don’t need, and never having a penny to do the things I actually want to do.  It’s insanity.

So, what is to be done about it?  I have decided to go on a spending ban.  I will not spend money on anything unnecessary.  Defining unnecessary took a bit of doing, but for me it looked a little like this.  No more buying clothes, period!  I have wardrobes overflowing with garments.  Just last week I took a black bag of rubbish out of my socks and tights drawer alone, so let’s face it, I am covered in that department.  No more buying books, until I have caught up with the ones already on my bookshelf. (Books are definitely an impulse buy for me, and one click ordering on Amazon really doesn’t help!)  No more buying a coffee on my way to have coffee.  Grocery shopping will be done with a list, so hopefully no more gluts of canned goods.  You get the picture.

I have also gone through my monthly direct debits and cancelled everything I could get away with.  For example, I was paying separately for roadside assistance with AA, even though I get it as part of my car insurance.  Why?  Because I am crazy, clearly.  Next to go were my Patreon subscriptions.  Sorry guys, but until I get my finances in order, I need it more than you do.  All these tiny micro transactions don’t seem like much in isolation, but they must be adding up, because come the end of the month, I always end up wishing I had the money back in my account.

To help me avoid retail therapy while at work, I have unsubscribed from all emails trying to sell to me.  I have unfollowed anything on social media, which may lure me back to my old ways.  I have never been a great shopper anyway, so this just gives me an excuse to stay away from the centres entirely, which suits me fine.

Don’t misunderstand me.  This is not about being penny pinching or miserly.  It’s not about squirreling away all the pennies either particularly.  For me, it is just about being less wasteful.  It’s about redefining the word “need.”  (As in, yes, while I might like a new Fossil bag, I definitely don’t need it!)  It is about recognising that I work damn hard for my money, and being a little bit more mindful about how I dispose of it.

I have lost count of the number of times recently I have heard people say that they need a bigger house, or more space, or more storage.  The truth is we don’t need any of that.  We don’t need more space to fill up with even more crap.  What we need is less consumerism.  Less time spent constantly coveting the latest and greatest of everything.  Less expectation that the new, shiny thing will make us happy.  Because, I promise you, it won’t.

I know I have said that I don’t believe in resolutions, and so I will be calling this my “less is more” challenge.  I am not promising not to spend money at all.  I am currently trying to redecorate my spare bedroom, so there will need to be money spent on that.  But, I am going to make a concerted effort not to waste any money.  Alcohol and take outs are also in the unnecessary category for now, which will only serve to improve my health in the long run, so win win!

I will keep you updated on my progress over the coming weeks, and encourage you all to take the New Year as an opportunity to examine your own habits and see if there are changes you would like to make.  Be well xxx

 

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Are We There Yet?

I have a confession to make.  It turns out that I don’t, in fact, love the Holiday Season as much as I thought I did.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the big meal and getting to spend some time with family and friends, but it is all starting to feel like too much.  Too much eating and drinking, too much excess, too much not knowing what day it is, and dare I say it, even too much togetherness.  I find myself really looking forward to things getting back to “normal.”

I am probably in the minority of people who can genuinely say they look forward to January.  To me it feels like an enormous reset button and presents a great opportunity for a fresh start.  Few things excite me more than opening a new diary, and thinking about all of the possibility its blank pages contain.  All of the unimagined challenges, triumphs and everything in between, which will soon be jotted throughout, fill me with a sense of optimistic enthusiasm.

If you have started to think that this post is about New Years resolutions, then I can assure it is not.  In truth, my jury is still out about them.  In 20 odd years of making them, I would struggle to think of one I have managed to stick to, and I am quite sure that I am not alone in this.  Part of me believes that sitting, pen in hand, on the last day of the year, making lists of ill defined and arbitrary objectives is only setting ourselves up for failure.

As we get ready for 2017’s imminent arrival, I have decided instead to resolve only to do my best.  I know that this probably sounds trite and overly simplistic, but it feels to me like it covers all the bases.  If 2016 has taught me anything, it is that I have no idea what is going to happen next.  So, I have promised myself, that whatever I decide to undertake, I will do it with a good heart and a clear mind.

By a good heart I mean that I will be careful about the demands I let other people make of me.  Often we take on so much, because we don’t want to say no, that we end up resenting it.  We can end up feeling like everyone wants a piece of us.  I have discovered lately that when this happens, it isn’t the other person’s fault, but entirely my own.  As Matthew Kelly says

“Most people overestimate what they can do in a day, and underestimate what they can do in a month. We overestimate what we can do in a year, and underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade.”

I have had to remind myself of this so much this week, and tell myself that “no Arwen, you can’t expect to fit months worth of catching up with people into the week long winter break!”

As for the clear mind, this is a little more straight forward.  I have been taking a leaf out of Marie Kondo’s book and clearing out the clutter.  This all started a few months back.  The girl I shared an office with was heading off on maternity leave, and there was a new guy coming it.  The office itself is about as large as a box bedroom.  I worried that a man and a woman in such tight confines might feel a little claustraphobic.  So, before he started I decided to clear as much as possible out of the office.  Years worth of boxes and files were sent to archive.  (I will admit, I was ruthless, but so far nobody has looked for anything!)

As the clutter began to be removed from my work space, I honestly could not believe how much better I felt.  The air seemed lighter somehow.  I felt like my head was clear and I could breathe easier.  It was amazing.

Since that happened, I have been trying to take the same approach in my home.  My catchphrase for the last few months has been “is it OK to throw this out?”  I have taken countless car loads to the dump and boxes to the charity shop.  The latest mini clear out included no fewer than 26 coffee mugs!  I can’t begin to tell you how cathartic and addictive it is to literally put your house in order.

Such a simple thing has had such a profound effect.  I am calmer and sleeping better.  Getting ready to meet a friend for dinner last night, in my cleared out bedroom, was an absolute pleasure.  Even being able to put our Christmas presents away was revolutionary.  Normally we would be still tripping over them until well into the New Year!  I feel like I am getting ready to welcome 2017 as I would an honoured guest, with a tidy home and an expectant heart.

As much as I can’t wait for the New Year (and I really can’t) I am tying not to wish this time away.  Before long we will be back in the routine of working, training, meal prepping etc. and longing for the next break!  A good friend of mine describes these periods as being like deserts between rivers.  I think this is particularly apt as it is almost impossible to appreciate the one, in the absence of the other.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have supported me in my endeavours this year.  I wish you all the very best for 2017.  Be well and don’t forget to have an adventure or two xxx

 

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2016: Curves, Conflicts and Context

As the end of the year approaches, I find myself reflecting on the past twelve months.  Revisiting resolutions and making judgments on goals set this time last year.  I try to look back on the year about to close as objectively as I can.  I ask myself what have I learned?  What did I achieve?  Am I closer to where I want to be than I was back in the dark days of January?

This year, for the first time, I am having trouble answering these questions.  You see, the goals at the start of this year were pretty much the same as they are every January.  I am always very interested in making improvements to my overall health and fitness, and so I set goals to work towards this.  Namely, I wanted to lose weight and I wanted to increase my fitness.

Did I achieve these goals?  The answer is, not really.  I started the year at about 62kg and I am finishing it at about 60kg.  So, nothing too note worthy there.  2kg weight loss in an entire year is slow by anyone’s standards.  What about the fitness then?  Did I make some noticeable progress in this area?  Am I able to go faster, or longer, or harder?  Again, the answer to this is not really.  If I was being completely honest, I would say I would be lucky if I have managed to maintain the level of fitness I had when I rang in 2016.

In the past, this realisation that I have “failed” to achieve my goals would have sent me spiraling into self pity, self loathing and self destruction!  I would have been lamenting and crying and declaring myself a hopeless case.  I mean, I only had two things I wanted to achieve, and I succeeded at neither.  What the hell happened?  In a word, LIFE!

I have come to understand that taking a snap shot of where you are at either end of the year can be a useful tool, but it is extremely limited.  It doesn’t take into account the other 363 days, when life is actually happening.  It doesn’t allow for any context.  Neither does it reflect the learning and growth which has occurred in other areas.  Just because you didn’t write something down as a “goal” at the beginning of the year, doesn’t make it meaningless.

Let me explain what I mean.  In January, this blog was just an idea and the YouTube channel was yet to be conceived of.  I hadn’t even contemplated giving cookery lessons.  I was blissfully unaware that I would have an injury, which would significantly restrict my training.  I had no idea that I was about to embark on two distinct and completely different courses of study.  In short, I had no idea of everything which was about to come my way.

These may all sound like excuses for not having achieved my goals, and truthfully, it is hard for me not to dismiss them as such myself.  A huge part of me wants to scold myself for allowing distractions to get in my way.  Surely if I had been truly committed, nothing could have stopped me?

In the stillness and quiet, I have spent time trying to reconcile this conflict.  How can we stay committed to our goals while remaining open to new opportunities which come our way?  How can we prevent our determination from turning into dogmatism?  The answer to this, for me, is to change the way I look at goals, and goal setting in general.  Instead of listing out thing I want to achieve, and dutifully ticking them off, I have tried instead to look at where I want to be, and use this as the litmus test when deciding to pursue a certain course of action.

In Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why, he refers to this as the “celery test.”  It is the process of determining whether your actions move you closer to your overall goals or not.  So for me, I could ask if doing physio for my hip injury, and listening to the professional advice of restricting training, would ultimately help me to get fitter and stronger.  I think it will.  I could also ask myself if taking courses, writing blogs and teaching classes moves me towards my goal of helping other people to achieve their own fitness goals.  Again, I believe the answer to be yes.

Regular readers will have heard me say before that progress is often non linear.  We can often feel like we are taking one step forward and two steps back.  Putting emphasis on one aspect of life, naturally means something else may move out of focus.  Growth and improvement present learning curves, often steep ones.  But if we can try to put our goals at the centre of our actions, we won’t veer too far off course.

When I think now about the year just gone, I can’t be disappointed with my progress.  I feel like I have learned so much in the past twelve months, and that I am now far better equipped to handle whatever the future has in store for me.  So as it comes time to pen those resolutions, think hard about where you would like to be come Christmas 2017.  Choose actions through the year, which support this.  But remember, nothing is set in stone.  Life has it’s own plan, so be ready to roll with the punches.  Be well and Merry Christmas xxx

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The Gift Is In The Present!

So here we are, it is the month of December, and we are counting down the days to the biggest consumer event of the year.  The initial flush of excitement of our “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” bargains has abated and we are ready to get to the serious spending.  Let’s face it, that’s what this time of year is all about, right?  Or am I becoming cynical in my old age?

I have always loved Christmas, but this year for some reason, I find myself not wanting to get drawn into all the hustle, bustle and craziness.  Maybe it is because the frenetic pace of the past few months is relaxing a little, so I am loath to fill the void with any more busyness.  Or could it be that the flagrant consumerism, waste and excess are feeling a little out of step with the practices of moderation, gratitude and mindfulness I have been trying to embrace for the last while?

For the last few months my husband and I have been trying to get a few bits and pieces done in the house.  We have lived there for nine years and a lot of what needs to be done is long overdue.  It has been costing money to get things in order, naturally, so there isn’t as much in the piggy bank as there normally would be at this time of the year.  My husband has told me not to get him anything for Christmas in order to ease the financial stress a little.  But, I have to admit, this isn’t really sitting well with me.  He has said he doesn’t need anything, which is true.  However,  I can’t help feeling that if I don’t spoil him like I usually do, that I will be missing out more than he will be!

This realisation has made me question the whole thing.  How much of the spending and fuss we go through during the festive period is more about filling a need in us, and less about making our loved ones happy?  Every year I promise myself I won’t go mad, I won’t stress out and I won’t buy things just of the sake of buying.  Every year I break my promises before the first door on the advent calendar has been opened.  What is fueling this compulsive consumption?

Like a lot of other families, Christmas hasn’t always been easy in our house.  Regardless of how bad things got, my mother has never stopped trying to give us all the “perfect Christmas.” No matter how old we get, she always tries to make sure that it is a magical time for us.  Everyone’s pile of presents has to be the same size and Christmas pjs will never go out of style!  No detail is left to chance and the list of traditions observed is a long as the M50 (with more being added each year!)  I don’t know if she has ever really had that fairy tale Christmas she wishes for.  But the fact that she never gives up on the dream of it, no matter how tough things get, is the true miracle of the season for me.

With this in mind, I urge everyone, myself included, to put down the Visa card for a second and try to think about what is really important.  Our family and friends are the greatest gifts in our lives, and our time and attention is worth so much more than material items.  All too often we put ourselves in debt and create stress to buy things, which will be forgotten about by New Year.  Giving your time, showing love and creating memories can be stay with the person forever.

There are some really practical things we can do for people that don’t cost any money, but do take time.  Do you have a sister who would love the offer of a babysitter so she and her husband can go out?  Do you have a grandparent who would appreciate your help cleaning their house or putting up their Christmas tree.  Do you have a colleague in work who will be alone this Christmas and would love to be invited to dinner with your family?  Of course, it’s easier to just buy something.  It’s far less effort to just throw money at it, but is the path of least resistance truly the best route?  Maybe this year, we can try to remember that the gift of Christmas really is in being present.  Be well xxx

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Humble and Hungry

Comparison is the thief of joy.  This is what they tell us.  “Don’t compare yourself with others, only compare yourself with the person you were yesterday.”  While I can see some wisdom in this, lately I am finding myself thinking it also has a few fundamental flaws.

First off, I for one, am a highly competitive person.  It is not at all unusual for me to see someone performing well, be it in the gym, or at work and to think to myself “I want to be more like her.”  I see the talents of others and aspire to match them.  This competitive part of myself is as much a part of me as my sense of humour or the colour of my eyes.  Far from bringing me joy, trying to deny it has actually created conflict and anxiety.

You see, I have hunger.  I have drive.  I will always want to be doing more and achieving bigger and better things.  Its just in my nature.  So, how better to direct this drive than by looking to successful people and modelling my behaviour accordingly.  In work, this might be working as hard as your boss does, because you would like to be promoted to her level.  In the gym, this could be putting in as much practice with handstands as the guy who is always upside-down.  Let me be clear, this is not the same as simply being jealous of what others have.  This is unhealthy and will eventually drive you nuts.

The second flaw I see with comparing yourself with the person you were yesterday, is that is lacks context.  Regular readers will know that the last few months have been a little crazy for me.  I have to admit, as much as I will be happy to have this period behind me, it has definitely helped me to gain a little perspective.  This is particularly true when it comes to training.  In my quest to be better than the Arwen of yesterday, I was always striving to make improvements.  I constantly wanted to increase my volume, to lift heavier and to finish faster.  While I was never going to be an “elite athlete” there was a time for a while there when I wasn’t finishing last in every workout, and that felt like success to me.

During my recent busy time, I hadn’t been getting to the gym at all.  I was able to make something of a return a couple of weeks ago, and I got my ass well and truly handed to me.  I was standing at the bar, attempting to do chin ups.  Before my sabbatical, I had been able to string a few together, but on my first session back, I was barely managing one.  All the little voices inside my head started screaming at me.  “I have lost all my fitness,” “I am pathetic,””I will never get back to where  I was,” “I am going to be last!”  These were just some of the thoughts running through my head as I attempted to get my chin over the bar.

After the first round of the workout, I stood up and literally shook my head.  I knew I had a choice to make.  I could either continue to feel sorry for myself, and let self pity take away all the enjoyment of the workout, or I could strap on my big girl pants and handle it.  Thankfully, I decided to do the latter.  Yes, I am not where I used to be and I certainly am nor where I want to be, but I am doing it none the less.  It is a deeply humbling experience to realise you ain’t as good as you thought you were.  Still more so when the struggle happens in public.  Last or not, when I finished that workout I was greeted by the smiles and high fives of my Academy family and I am so very grateful for that.

When I look back at the time when I was “doing well” with my training, I would have beaten myself up for missing a single session.  Now, if I get to the gym AT ALL it feels like a win.  I have also gained a certain clarity that at the time when my training was going well, pretty much nothing else in my life was!  Circumstances change, life throws us curve balls and more important than striving to be better than yesterday is learning to be where you are.

When the dust settles and I can start putting a little more emphasis on my fitness again, I hope that it won’t be too long before I am back in the swing of things.  Until that happens, I will no doubt suffer many sore muscles and the occassional bruised ego.  However, I am learning that if I can remain humble and hungry, no amount of comparison can truly steal my joy.  Be well xxx

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Half Weigh!

So here I am, exactly half way through my 28 day cutting phase.  At the start of the phase I weighed in at 59.9kg, and today the scales read 58.8kg.  A drop of just over a kilo so far, and almost exactly  on target to achieve my goal of 2kgs weight loss by the end of the cycle.  This however, does not tell the whole story.

I have spent a lot of time writing about and talking about the fact that weight loss is often non-linear.  I have also spent a lot of time talking about how sometimes no matter how on point you are with your inputs (diet, exercise, fluid intake, sleep etc.) the outputs are not what you would have expected.  All of this knowledge and experience, however, didn’t really prepare me for what has happened in my body over the past few weeks.  Let me tell you how it’s really been going.

The 28 day cut officially started 2 weeks ago.  I spent the week before it started getting myself organised.  I tested out meals and menus to make sure they fit my calorie and macro targets.  I worked on getting my mindset sorted.  I cleared out any foods from my home, which I felt threatened to derail me.  (I generally don’t keep junk food in the house, so this wasn’t hugely difficult.)  I used this week to plan and prepare so that when the cut kicked in, I would be as ready as I could be.

I have to say I found this first week (week minus 1) a bit of a challenge.  I experienced hunger, low energy and brain fog for the first 3 days in particular.  Some of this hunger was undoubtedly real, as I was in a caloric deficit, but some of it was definitely in my head.  When we start any diet or cut, we spend a lot of time thinking about food for the initial few days.  This can make us feel hungrier than we really are.  By about day 4, this had passed, my energy levels were recovering and I was settling in to things.

The next week (week 1) presented a different challenge for me.  I was on a very rare week off from work.  I was determined to eat as well as possible, which I did.  However, as we were on holidays, I had a drink or two most evenings.  This would have put me at my maintenance calories, or perhaps a little over.  I track my weight each morning, so I could see it was holding fairly steady, apart from the small daily fluctuations that you would expect to see.  I was not expecting to achieve weight loss during this week, so when I weighed in that Sunday at 59.6kg, I was totally fine with it.  Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.

On Monday morning I got up early as it was my first say back in work, stood on the scales and it read 61.4kg!  I couldn’t believe it.  I had literally put on 2kg overnight.  Now rationally I know that this CANNOT be possible.  In order to put on that amount of weight in one day, I would have needed to over eat by about 15,000 calories.  I certainly did not do that.  I tried not to freak out.  I tried to tell myself it was a weird blip and that all would be fine by the next day.  Imagine my horror then when on Tuesday the scale said 61.5kg.  This is when I started to sort of lose it. What the hell was going on?  I haven’t weighed over 61kg in months and now suddenly, when I am actually trying to lose weight, tracking my food and doing everything as close to right as I can, I PUT ON  2 KILOS!!!!!

“Breathe Arwen, just relax, trust the process and you will get the prize.  Resist the urge to say F This and reach for the nearest chocolate bar.  Give it time, you have 3 more weeks to do.  See what happens at the end and make a decision about what to do then.”  This was my mantra and believe me when I tell you, I repeated it to myself numerous times over those couple of days.  Wednesday came and the scales happily reported 60.5kg.  Phew! It looked like maybe things were starting to normalise, thank God!  For the rest of last week, my weight continued to drop each day until by Friday, I had reached 59.8kg.  Almost my exact starting weight, after nearly 3 weeks of hard work.

Why did this happen?  I don’t know for sure, but I do have a theory.  While I was on my week off, I made the decision to change my birth control.  I had been using a Mirena coil for about 8 years, and I decided to have that removed and start using oral contraception instead.  Both of these birth control methods contain hormones, but very different ones.  I think that making this change may have resulted in some fluid retention, but honestly, who knows!

So, why am I telling you all of this?  I could have posted a 2 line update saying “everything is great, 1.1kg down and on track for my target weight loss!”  This would have been the truth, but it would not have been the whole truth.  There are far too many voices out there trying to convince us that changing our lifestyles and our bodies should be easy.  I am here to tell you that it’s not.  There will be times when you will feel frustrated and deflated.  You may feel, like I have during this phase, that your body is working against you.  The difference between success and failure during these times is in keeping your head.  Patience, persistence and consistency are what is going to get you to your goal, not lotions, potions skinny teas.

I have to say that being part of the group, has really helped me to stay the course during this up and down week.  I didn’t want to let the other guys down by throwing in the towel.  Whether they knew it or not, they were holding me accountable and keeping me focused.  My advice for anyone trying to make a change, whether you are just starting out or you are a seasoned veteran is this:  Trust your process.  Leverage your network and as the wise man says “All will be well.”

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28 Days!

For the past few months, I have been feeling a little bit like my progress with my weight loss has stalled.  I have mentioned in previous posts that for one reason or another, I just haven’t seemed to be able to drag myself across the finish line to my “goal weight.”  So, when Philly Kinsella announced that he was starting a 28 Day Nutrition Program for a small number of Academy members, I jumped at the chance to take part.  The idea behind it was to get a small group of 10-12 people together, with similar goals, in order to enable us to support and encourage each other.

I have done plenty of nutrition courses, and spent hundreds of hours listening to and reading the work of the finest minds in the industry.  For me, like many others, knowing what to do is not the issue.  The issue is, actually doing what is required to get the results I want.  I am a social animal, and having something or someone to be accountable to, outside of myself is hugely motivational.  This program gives us the perfect forum to share our struggles and triumphs as well as tips, recipes and ideas.  I couldn’t be more excited to be taking part.

My starting weight on day 1 was 59.9kg and my bodyfat, also measured on day 1 with calipers, was 17.5%.  I have learned over the years to be quite detached from these numbers.  They are just objective metrics with which to track progress.  They do not impact how I feel about myself (anymore.)  The days when I feel I look my best and at my leanest usually don’t correlate to the scales at all.

What I will be doing:

  • I have calculated my current maintenance calories and have set up about a 15% deficit.  This means I will be aiming to eat just under 1600 kcals per day
  • I am aiming to get about 130g of protein per day (roughly 1 gram per pound of body weight.)  I want about 30% of my calories coming from fat and the remainder from carbohydrate.
  • I will weigh myself each morning and track my weight on a spreadsheet.  I weigh myself every morning anyway, so this is not a big change.  The idea is not to become fixated on the numbers themselves, but by tracking my weight, I can start seeing the patterns behind the numbers.
  • I will track my food intake using MyFitness Pal.  This will mean weighing and measuring food to be sure that the information is accurate.  This can be a bit of a pain, and not something I will be doing forever, but I really don’t think there is another way to go about tracking calorie intake.
  • I will be continuing to train 3-4 times per week as usual
  • I will be leveraging the power of the group when my motivation, creativity and energy are flagging
  • The photo above is showing some of the food from the first few days of the plan, as well as a picture of me before starting.  I will continue to photograph what I am eating, and I will take another one of myself at the end.

What I will not be doing:

  • Freaking out any time I see the number on the scale increase.  Body weight fluctuations are normal, especially for women.  This is why getting the overall trend of weight changes is important
  • Expecting everything to be easy
  • Giving myself a hard time if my calories or macros are not perfect on any given day.  I recognise that it is what I do consistently over the course of the program, which will bring results.

What I expect:

  • I am hoping to achieve modest weight loss over the 28 days.  1-2kg drop would be great.
  • I would also hope to see some small drop in my bodyfat percentage, but I am realistic.  28 days is not a long period of time, and it may take a little longer for results to show up!
  • I am expecting to feel hungry at times.  This is normal in a deficit.  I am eating less than my body needs, so it’s natural to expect hunger.  Even when not on a cut, it is normal to experience hunger.  If you never get hungry, chances are you are over eating
  • Not every meal is going to be an Instagram worthy masterpiece.  Sometimes eating is simply about fueling your body.  This is especially true when you are aiming for specific macros.  There will be times when I will eat something that I don’t particularly “want” #firstworldproblems
  • I expect to feel tired and lacking in energy at times.  My body will have less fuel going into it than it is used to, so there may be less energy available.
  • I am going to have to get creative.  As the wise man said “calories are scarce in a deficit,” so more thought and planning needs to go into each meal/day to ensure I get maximum benefit.

Overall, I feel confident that with a group of great people behind me, as well as great coach in my corner, I have every chance of being successful.  The community support aspect of weight loss is something, which is all too often overlooked.  If you are trying to change your lifestyle without the support of your family and greater community, you are facing an uphill battle.  This is true if your aim is to lose 1lb or 100lbs.  We may not be able to get those close to us on board all the time, but we can seek out others to support and be supported by.  Our creativity is sparked by interactions with others.  I know personally this week, I have been trying to come up with new and exciting things to try.  I feel energised and awakened by being part of a group and harnessing its power!

I will let you know the final result after the 28 days, and also where I plan to go from there.  A new body is a bit like a new outfit, you don’t know how it’s going to fit until you try it on.  At the moment my goal weight is just an arbitrary number, when I get there I might decide I want to drop a little more weight.  Or equally, I could find that I want to put a little back on.  I will let you know when I get there.  Be well xxx

 

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Only a Number?

This year I will be turning 35.  I must admit the idea of it is filling me with a certain dread.  I am not particularly looking forward to officially hitting my “mid-thirties.”  However, this is not for the reasons you might imagine.  Yes, my hair is going plenty gray.  The little lines around my eyes are there for everyone to see.  My boobs are not quite what they used to be, and it certainly gets harder to hide the tiredness with each passing year.  None of these things, although certainly unwelcome, are not what is really bothering me about getting older.  What truly terrifies me is the prospect of my body not being able to do the things I expect from it.

I only genuinely started to find fitness when I was about 30.  I had no interest in sports as a kid, and used every excuse you can think of to even avoid PE.  The word athletic could never have been used in a sentence containing my name.  In the past few years I have enjoyed figuring out all the new and exciting things my body could do.  I loved feeling strong (relatively speaking) and even mastering fairly basic things like a press up or a pull up, was a huge thrill.  Up until now, I have been in the position of feeling that there was more potential.  That I hadn’t yet reached the peak of my physical performance.  As I get older, there will eventually come a time when this capacity is maxed out and starts going in the other direction.

Obviously, I am aware that this happens to everyone.  I am not a unique snowflake after all!  I know that we all must face the challenges that growing old presents, as gracefully, or disgracefully as we can!

My grandmother was a hugely influential person in my life.  My mother’s mother was a constant presence in our lives, especially when we were very young.  She had married a man 13 years her senior, and spent much of the last years of her life being his primary carer.  I truly feel that making such a sacrifice for the man she loved, and not putting herself first, aged her considerably.  Although she was only in her early 70s when she passed away, by that time she would have had difficulty walking around the block.  As well as this, she had battled an illness in her middle age and it left her as frail as a tiny bird.  I find myself wondering if had she engaged in some form of exercise, if she might have been able to rebuild herself.

Watching her struggle, really taught me a lesson about the importance of staying as active and mobile as possible, no matter what stage of life you are at.  I look at fitness now, almost like a pension.  The more you invest into it at an early age, the greater the return will be when you are older.  Every day of the week I see pictures of men and women in their 70s and 80s performing amazing physical feats, breaking records and out lifting people half their age.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not about that!  What I am about, is being able to look after myself in my twilight years.  I want to have the strength to be able to lift myself out of the bath tub and the balance to bend over and tie my shoes.  I know this may sound extreme.  However, if we don’t make the necessary investment in our fitness, we may well be faced with the prospect of not being able to perform even these simple tasks.

Exercise is important, we all know that.  What we might not know, is that as we get older, it gets even more important.  Strength training in particular is crucial.  This is especially true for us women.  As we go through menopause, our bone density decreases, leaving us at greater risk of fractures.  Resistance training has been proven to counteract this.  Another factor to consider is muscle wastage.   Physically inactive people can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass each decade after age 30.  There are two ways to mitigate this.  Increased protein consumption is one (this can be a problem as older people sometimes experience a drop off in appetite and may not be able to increase protein intake.)  The other way to help prevent muscle loss is to engage in resistance training.  I am not talking about lifting intimidatingly heavy weight.  Resistance training can be done with light weights, kettle bells, or even just your own body weight.

I remember having a chat with a couple of girlfriends and they were asking would I still be training when I was 60.  I said why not?  I don’t imagine that at 59 I will say, that’s enough of that now.  I fully understand that my training may change as the years unfold.  I don’t expect to be doing the same workouts as I am now, but I would like to hope that I could continue to do something.

over-55s-class

Matty Nagle Fitness Over 55s class killing it on the Concept 2 Rowers

In the gym where I train, The Performance and Fitness Academy, there is a class specifically designed for people over 55.  There are men and women in their 70s taking these classes and getting amazing work done.  The coaches routinely post updates of their progress and it’s amazing to see the increases in strength, endurance and mobility that these guys have gained.  The participants are visibly younger looking.  This crew of older people, some of them grandparents, really give me confidence that an active, healthy life is possible at any age.  One member had this to say “I was meant to have back surgery before I started because the pain was so bad. Now the pain is gone and the doctor told me I don’t need the surgery anymore.”  Another member began training after a course of chemotherapy.  The training helped him to gain enough strength for his doctor to allow him to travel to Australia to visit his son.

When we are young, training for lot of us, is about managing our weight and looking hot in that new pair of jeans.  As we get older it becomes so much more significant.  It begins to have a profound impact on your quality of life.  So, I urge you, whatever stage of life you may be at, get active and stay active!  As they say, use it or lose it!  Your grandchildren will thank you for it xxx

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