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Rise and Grind?

Do you remember, as a child, your mother walking into your bedroom, and in a sing song way, greeting you with “rise and shine?”  Well, I certainly do.  (Even if I am uncertain about whether it actually happened, or if I borrowed the memory from American TV)  Something about that phrase is just so uplifting.  It seems to promise that the day will be full of sunshine and positivity.  All you have to do is wake up and it will all be waiting for you.

Fast forward 30 years, and the phrase has been significantly altered.  Instead of being told to shine, Grind is the order of the day!  The sweet and uplifting message has been bastardised and now it speaks of aggression, drudgery and toil.  Certainly not something I want to wake up to every morning.

Yes, yes, I will admit, three years studying English has meant that I read more into words than is merited at times.  However, it’s not just these three little words I take exception to.  I have a problem with the entire philosophy of “grinding.”  As we stand, half way through 2017, we are in the grips of an epidemic of personal effectiveness.  We are in constant competition to see who can be seen to be working, if not the hardest, then certainly the longest.   It wasn’t too long ago, that the only thing getting people up at 5am was either a bout of insomnia, or an early morning flight.  These days it isn’t unusual to hear people say they wake at 5am each and every morning, because “there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.”

Enough hours for what?  Well, there’s work of course, and if you want to get ahead, you have to be the first to arrive and the last to leave.  There’s the gym, if you aren’t spending hours a week there, are you even trying?  There’s books to read and Podcasts to listen to, all informative of course, because you wouldn’t want to waste time on anything that’s just for fun.  There’s meals to be prepped, FitBits and MyFitness Pals to be sated.  Meditation and mindfulness are a must.  And naturally, Social Media isn’t going to keep up with itself, now is it?  God, I am exhausted just typing all that, nevermind doing it!

The crazy thing is, not so long ago, this would have been a fairly accurate description of my life.  Work was bedlam and long hours were the norm.  I was in a new role, so everyday there was something new to learn.  I was in college as well. Even the gym was a constant source of stress.  I was either tying myself up in knots trying to get there, or beating myself up for not going.  I spent all of my very limited “leisure time” reading educational books and listening to education Podcasts.  Were they instructional and informative? Yes.  Were they what I needed at the time?  Absolutely not.

My mind was under constant pressure, and just like anything else subjected to grinding, it began to wear down.  My sleep was the first thing to suffer.  Not surprising really as all the nuggets of information I had crammed into my brain fought amongst themselves during the night.  The next thing to feel the effects was my creativity.  I had no desire to experiment with food or even to talk to my lovely readers.  Everything became a chore.  Just as it is possible to over train the body, I had over trained my mind.

I know I am not alone in this.  My news feed is awash with images of other Grinders.  I see them on a daily basis, “hustling” from dawn to dusk, fervently ticking off the never ending to-do list, so that they can be seen to #winningatlife.  Let me tell you something guys, if you constantly feel exhausted you are you doing it wrong!  If you feel like your life is dictated by an arbitrary list of tasks, you are doing the exact opposite of winning.  Who exactly are you competing with anyway?

Of course it’s important to work hard.  If you have goals, and most of us do, it will take effort to achieve them.  But this needs to be done in a balanced way.  It is okay to do things just for fun sometimes.  Not only is it okay to relax, it is vitally important.  Rest and relaxation are just as crucial to your health and well-being as your nutrition and fitness.  When it comes to your mental health, I would argue that R&R is even more important than anything else.

I like to learn lessons the hard way, and this was no exception.  I still have a lot going on.  There are still a million things I want to achieve, and I will always have moments of feeling like I will never get it all done.  However, I am learning just how important it is, to do the seemingly unimportant things.  Don’t underestimate the cathartic effect of a chat with your friends, a warm bath, a cuddle with your puppy or simply doing nothing.  Strolls don’t have to be just about step counts, and reading doesn’t always have to be “educational.”  Trust me when I say that anything, which makes you feel refreshed and revived, can never be a waste of time.

Life is constantly making demands of us, and just like any vessel, if not replenished we will eventually be emptied.  So, it is up to you to decide, do you really want to grind?  Or would you prefer to shine?  Be well xxx

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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.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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

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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

 

 

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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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What’s Another Year?

On the 27th of January, this blog celebrated its first birthday.  In the crazy haze that was January, it was nice to see the little notification popping up to remind me that 365 days had passed since I started talking to you guys.  In the very beginning, I knew very little about blogging, (and I am sure some would argue I still don’t!)  I didn’t have a “brand” or a “message.”  All I really had was a desire to reach out to people.  I wanted to try to give people the type of advice, I wish I could give my younger self.

You see, I am not a health guru, or an expert of any kind.  All I really am is a girl, who has made a lot of mistakes, but who has tried to learn from each one of them.  One year ago, I knew I had a lot to say, but I had no idea how to go about it.  Somehow, amongst the anxiety and impostor syndrome, I managed to hear a small voice say “just start!”  So I did.  Not knowing where it would lead, and not even daring to hope it might come to anything, I sat and put pen to paper for the first time.

In the last year, between the blog and the YouTube site, I have put out almost 100 posts.  I never could have imagined starting out that this could be possible.  It has made me think about just how many other things in life are like this.  It has reminded me how all great journeys begin with a single step.

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If you have a goal in life, whether it is fitness related, career related or even family related, the best advice I can give you, is just start.  Even if you are unsure of what the first step should be, just try something.  If it turns out to be the wrong thing, at least you have ruled it out as an option, and you will be closer to finding the right thing.  So often in life, we succumb to paralysis by analysis.  Constantly weighing up options and wringing our hands, but never actually doing anything about it.

I mentioned in a previous post, that we have been getting some work done in the house recently.  Nothing too major, just some decorating and minor repairs.  This has caused me huge turmoil.  I spent months, if not years, trying to figure out which order to do the jobs in.  Would it be better to get the shower in the en suite fixed before or after re-flooring the bedroom?  Should we start the painting in the kitchen or the living room?  I drove myself crazy trying to come up with the optimal plan, and meanwhile, nothing got done.

Eventually, when I began realising how pointless this all was, I decided to just do something, ANYTHING!!  I told myself to just start.  If it turns out to be a mistake painting the walls before putting down the floors, oh well.  At least I will have learned something.

I can’t tell you how many times over the last year I have questioned myself.  I have wondered if I am good enough.  I have fretted about whether or not I can make a difference to people.  I have told myself that nobody is interested in what I have to say and just to give up.  Without fail, in these moments of doubt, the universe has reached out to me.  Either through the encouragement of a friend, or the kind words from a stranger.  In just such a moment, I came across Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech

Neil is a fantastic author and orator, and his advice is, that when we face these times of darkness and despair, we should “make good art.”  This spoke to me on so many levels, but at the most fundamental level it told me to keep going.  It said to me, you have taken the first step, and the hardest, so just keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Even if you don’t know where your destination is, move forward, and be confident that you will recognise it when you get there.

I truly believe that in life, any meaningful change brings with it a certain amount of pain.  Whether you are trying to get promoted in work, or drop a dress size for your wedding, there will be times when you will wonder if it is really worth it.  When motivation abandons you, let momentum take over.  Just keep going and you will eventually get there.  Sometimes it is only in looking back, that we appreciate how far we have come.  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