Articles

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

 

Articles

Round Table Nights!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Articles

Roman Holiday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be well xxx

 

Articles

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.

Articles

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

Rise-Shine-2016-550x366

 

 

 

 

 

 

Articles

Maintenance Is a Dirty Word!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Articles

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

the-its-not-you-its-me-mistake-L-h7o6M5

Articles

Eggs, Over Easy?

Easter weekend is just around the corner.  There will be chocolate and treats as far as the eye can see.  If there is one thing we Irish do well, it is go completely overboard.  It seems like every occasion and holiday is blown completely out of all proportion and Easter is certainly no exception.

I remember when I was a kid, my Grandmother would buy loads of Easter eggs.  Big, adult ones.  They would all be laid out, and on Easter Sunday you would be allowed to go into the room and select one.  Imagine, you could pick whichever one you wanted.  I loved this, it made me feel so grown up.  I would always hang back and see what everyone else was choosing, before I made my final decision.

These days kids get so many eggs, they don’t ever get to experience that excitement.  I think that’s a shame.  Most receive so many, in fact, that their poor parents have a battle on their hands trying to ration it out so that the children only consume a (somewhat) sensible amount of chocolate.  Unfortunately plenty of adults also find themselves with an excess of eggs!

My husband and I don’t have any children.  Yet in previous years we have ended up with more than 10 large Easter eggs in our house, all bought for us by well intentioned family members.  I don’t particularly care for them (that doesn’t mean I won’t eat them if they are in the house) and my husband is a self confessed chocaholic!  So, I tend to nibble on one or two of the eggs, and he polishes off the rest.  Or at least he would if I gave him the chance.  Usually I take what hasn’t been opened into work with me on the Tuesday after Easter, to be eaten by my colleagues, who probably have similar gluts at home.

I have two kid brothers (aged 25 and 15) and each Easter we have conversations which go a little something like this.

Me “What Easter egg would you like?”

Them “I don’t want one.”

Me “But I have to get you one, so just pick”

Them “Em, OK, just get me a (insert random confectionery name here)”

It’s completely ridiculous!  We buy eggs for people who don’t want them, which makes them feel obliged to buy eggs for us, which we don’t want either.  Can we please stop the insanity?  The only ones benefiting from this nutty practice are the chocolate makers.

This year I have decided not to buy Easter eggs for adults, and to only buy eggs for kids immediately related to me.  I am going to bake some small Easter treats for both families instead.  This is not me being mean or churlish.  It’s not about the money, especially as eggs are so inexpensive these days.  It is about not overloading people with things they don’t want, in order to make myself feel good!  There are plenty of things we can do to celebrate this holiday which don’t induce diabetic comas.

  • Flowers are always a lovely gift option, and most supermarkets sell them very cheaply.  A spring bouquet really brightens up the house and it’s a nice way to show you are thinking of someone
  • Have a meal together.  Holidays usually mean extra time off work, so it’s nice to spend some of that time with our nearest and dearest.
  • Pack a picnic and get out doors.  Easter represents the end to dark, dreary days, so make the most of it.
  • For kids, books and colouring books are always a great idea.  Believe me their parents will appreciate this much more than the sugar laden alternative!
  • Paint hard boiled eggs and do an egg hunt.

Mr men

If you don’t want to end up inundated with eggs, ask people not to buy them for you. This also applies your kids.  If you worry about the excess, ask people to please refrain from adding to the chocolate mountain.  Not everyone will take this on board, but some will and every little helps.

Don’t be afraid to re-gift.  If you receive eggs which you don’t want, pass them on to others, instead of buying even more.  Again, this might sound cheap, but it’s really just about damage limitation.

If you do end up with way more eggs than you need, there are a few things you can do with the leftovers.

  • Bring them into the office, someone will always eat them.  I find finance and IT to be particulary good dumping grounds!
  • Donate them to a local homeless charity.  We have so much that it’s easy to forget that some people have nothing
  • Make a batch of Rice Krispy cakes.  There are always bake sales happening and these guys are sure to be a big hit
  • Break up the chocolate and put in it a tupperware in the freezer.  It will keep for months and you can just grab a piece when you fancy it
  • Dump it!  This is a last resort for me, because I hate seeing food (even junk food) wasted.  However, if you are trying to control your diet, and you think you won’t be able to resist it, throw it away.  A misplaced sense of guilt is not worth sacrificing your progress for.

Calories in Easter Egg Guide

  • 100 grams of chocolate = 530 calories
  • 1 medium Easter Egg 100g = 530 calories
  • 1 average size chocolate bunny 180g = 980 calories
  • 1 large Easter Egg 200g = 1060 calories

Personally, I usually pick my favourite one, allow myself to have and enjoy that one and get rid of the rest ASAP.  I remember one year, going back to Weight Watchers after Easter having put on 5lbs!  I was shocked to realise just how much damage all the extra chocolatey calories can do!  I know you have live, and you want to be able to enjoy these special occasions.  However, 5lbs weight gain every bank holiday, can add up to over 3 stone in a single year.  Just something to chew over as you do your seasonal shopping. Be well xxx

Articles

Full Circle Fitness!

It was early 2012.  I had just finished my accountancy training, and I was beginning to realise that I couldn’t ignore my health and fitness, or lack thereof, for much longer.  I made a decision to join the gym.  I was determined to get fit and I also wanted to take swimming lessons for the first time.  So I went and bought my new trainers, some “active wear”and signed up at my local hotel gym.  I was all set, or so I thought.

I was not one bit prepared for how intimidated I was about to feel.  I was over weight, out of shape and had never lifted a weight in my life.  I had literally no idea what I was doing.  I was sure everyone was looking at me and they could tell I didn’t belong there.  So, I did what many others in the same situation do, I turned my attention to the fitness classes.  I tried everything on offer from aquafit to Zumba and I loved it all.  It was a really safe and non judgmental environment in which to start getting fit.

The months passed and I starting feeling like I wanted more of a challenge.  Something different to push me further, so I joined a Strength and Conditioning gym and began doing Crossfit style training.  I was instantly in love.  The challenge and sense of community were exactly what I had been seeking.  The fact that it was progressive was absolutely perfect.  There seemed to be no limit to how much you could achieve with your fitness with this type of training.  You guessed it, there’s a BUT coming.

I kept getting injured.  Nothing major, just little knocks and niggles.  Mostly in my knees and hips.  All fairly minor and things, which in my mind, I could “train around.” I got into a cycle of injury, rehab and physio, full training, injury…  Eventually, about a year ago, I asked my coach to refer me to a good physio, enough was enough.  The guy was amazing, and for the first time I was getting answers as to why my body kept on breaking.  He told me I have hyper mobility.  What this basically means is I have no stability in my joints.  He told me in no uncertain terms that I am not strong enough to do Crossfit safely.

It took many, many months of banging my head against a brick wall before that message eventually sank in.  Months spent having to modify workouts and feeling heart broken watching my peers across the gym doing what I so desperately wanted to be doing.  Months of promising myself that I would eventually get back to it.   Months of beating myself up for not being able to compete.  I hasten to add that during this time my coaches were phenomenal. They truly did all they could for me, and never made me feel like I was a problem child.  The pressure I felt was purely coming from within.

I was also having an insanely busy time both in work and out of work.  Just making it to the gym was a challenge. Classes were on the hour and a five minute delay would leave me scuppered.  Each time I would get back there I would say to myself “Okay Arwen, 5 sessions next week, no excuses!”  Monday would come and I would be buried in the office and not make it to the gym.  I had failed the week already!  Ironically, it was hearing myself say something to other people, which eventually made the penny drop.

I was giving a presentation to a corporate group, and I was telling them about the importance of exercise.  I heard myself saying “you don’t need to do Crossfit, you don’t even need to join the gym, you just need to get the body moving!”  Suddenly it dawned on me.  I had been so attached to the idea of being a “Crossfitter” and so unwilling to let it go, that I was standing in the way of my own fitness.  I realised I needed to let go of my ego.  It was not serving me, and it was making me crazy.  I needed to take a fresh approach.

It was not an easy decision.  It was hard not to feel like I was admitting defeat.  I love Crossfit and I wondered could I even watch the events now without feeling like a fraud.  But at 35 years old, I need to be moving in a way which neither damages my body nor causes stress to my mind.  Eventually, I made the decision to return to my local hotel gym.  Five years later, I was going back to where it all began.

It has been about a month and I have been taking all the fitness classes again, HIIT, TRX and of course Zumba.  It took me no time at all to remember how much I loved these classes.  I love Zumba so much in fact, that I took the instructors course last week  (more on this in a future post.)  It is such a relief to get a sweat on without getting stressed out.  It has also been a great revelation to me that sometimes going full circle is not the same as going backwards.

I am not saying I will never try Crossfit style training again, but for the moment I am happy enough to be moving and letting someone else do the thinking.  I can’t believe I allowed the fantasy of doing Crossfit become more important to me than the reality of actually training.  When I started writing this blog, I made a commitment to being as honest as I possibly can.  Sometimes this is going to mean admitting I was wrong, this is definitely one of those times.  It feels very fitting that I should talk about this now, in my 100th post.  If we are lucky in life we will always be learning.  Sometimes the teacher will be yelling at us, but we just are not quite ready to hear it.  What this has taught me, eventually, is that if something isn’t working for you, change it.  This doesn’t make you a quitter and it doesn’t mean you have failed.  All it means is that you have learned to invest your energy where it will serve you best.  Be well xxx

 

 

Articles

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