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We’ve Been Sent Good Weather!

Wow!  How about that sunshine!  It has been glorious for days and it looks set to continue.  I joked to my husband that only in Ireland would “it’s a sunny day” make the 9 o’clock news.  As the heat wave stretches on, the temperature is the topic on everyone’s lips.  As a nation, we love chatting about the weather, and the last few months have given us plenty to talk about.  Between Hurricane Ophelia, The Beast from the East and now the highest temperatures for a generation, we have had one “extreme” weather event after the other.  We Irish are more used to a moderate climate and we find it a struggle to cope with anything outside the usual range.

Nowhere is this struggle more obvious than in our clothing!  Typically transitioning to a summer wardrobe requires nothing more than ditching the winter coat and putting the boots in storage.  Not so this year.  Most of us are finding ourselves rooting through the holiday clothes to find something half suitable for work.  (What do you mean I can’t just wear a bikini and a sarong?)  We Irish never expect to encounter 30 degree heat without a drink in hand and a pool in close proximity.  We aren’t used to having to actually function in it.  We “can’t cope!”

Despite this, it has been fantastic, especially after the snow in the early part of the year.  It is just what the country needed to give us a lift, and help us to forget that Ireland are not appearing in the World Cup.  People are smiling and having fun.  Everything (apart from sitting in the car) is easier and more enjoyable.  We are truly getting a taste of how the other half live!

One thing that I have noticed both in myself and in others is that we are letting go of our inhibitions.  I am wearing things to work that I wouldn’t have dreamed of in the past.  I live in dresses as I am too short to get trousers to fit, and before now tights would have been considered a must.  This hot spell has allowed me to dispense with that rule and bare my pasty legs.  Staying cool and comfortable, or at least trying to, is winning out over modesty!  I don’t know if part of this is because as I get older, I seem to care less about these things, but the weather definitely has a role to play.

As our dress codes have relaxed, so too have our attitudes.  The vast majority of people seem determined to make the most of the sunshine, even if that means leaving chores undone.  Annual leave has been rescheduled and even the busiest and most conscientious among us are sneaking out of the office as early as possible.  I find myself wondering if maybe it takes something extraordinary to help us appreciate the ordinary?  Are we all so busy trying to make a living, that we need to be reminded to make a life?

I am also noticing that I am a lot less self conscious at the moment.  We are all in the same boat and this sense of collective experience seems to have softened our approach to each other.  People seem less judgmental of each other, at least where fashion is concerned.  As well as this, I am a lot less regimental about everything, which has been a refreshing change.  Even little things like stopping in for a 99 while out walking with Annie have made a huge difference.  It has underlined to me the need to let go.  I don’t need to hold on to the reins so tightly all the damn time.  If and when I loosen my grip, nothing bad will happen.

Suffice is to say, getting back on track with my weight has been postponed for another while.  It is just too heavenly to be adding unnecessary stress.  I am not going completely crazy with my eating, but I am not in the right frame of mind for tracking and counting right now.  I am teaching a couple of classes a week and I have found a cool yoga place around the corner from my new job.  If offers one lunchtime yoga class and one Pilates class per week.  I have been doing both classes pretty much since I started here.  So, my activity level is high enough.  I do want to get a little of this extra padding off, or my jeans won’t fit me when it gets cool enough to wear them.  I know what needs to be done and how to do it.  It will involve cutting down on alcohol and eating less!  Easy!  But the truth is, I want to enjoy this beautiful summer for as long as it lasts.  There will be time enough for cutting when the rain is back.

My advice to anyone out there who might be in the same situation, is just relax, for now.  There is a season for everything after all.  Enjoy the good weather, be sun safe and stay hydrated.  Get out for a walk in the cool of the evening.  Absorb all the Vitamin D you can.  But most importantly, be sure that in years to come when people talk about the “great summer of 2018” you will be able to honestly say you enjoyed it.  Don’t waste a second feeling self-conscious or guilty.

I will be starting a 100 day MyFitnessPal challenge very soon, and I would love if you would join me in doing it.  More on this to follow.  Until then, be well xxx

 

 

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Pain is Built To Last?

For the last few months, I have been having trouble sleeping.  Not insomnia as such, just difficulty drifting off.  I have been putting it down to having a lot on my mind, and too little down time.  On the nights when I teach, I am always pumped full of adrenaline and can have a hard time coming down.  It isn’t a huge problem, but for someone who loves their sleep as much as I do, it can prove hugely frustrating.

While my husband was away, I was convinced I would have the best sleep ever, but sadly that wasn’t the case.   I tried my side of the bed, his side of the bed.  Inside the covers, outside the covers.  I practiced breathing techniques and meditation.  Nothing worked.  Lying alone, in the dark, replaying every bad decision and awkward conversation of my life, I became aware that the position I was lying in wasn’t just uncomfortable, it was actually painful.  It struck me as odd that I was so in my head, I had failed to even notice what was going on with my body.  Since then, there have been several other occasions when I have noticed the same thing.  Whether it be sitting in work, or standing funny and generally being oblivious to the signals my body is giving to me.

It made me start to wonder just how often we put up with discomfort or even pain?  How many times have you ignored that niggling tooth?  Are you guilty of down playing injuries in the hope they would magically resolve themselves?  Have there been times when you have postponed a trip to the GP, which eventually became unavoidable?  I know I certainly have!  Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting we should run to the medical professionals at the first sign of discomfort.  Not many of us have the time or money to allow us to do that, even if we wanted to.  What I am hinting at, however, is that our bodies are probably smarter than we are.  Pain is a sign that something is wrong.  Dulling it and ignoring it, are not long term solutions.

Physical pain isn’t the only thing we are experts at compartmentalising.  We often sweep psychological and emotional issues under the giant rug as well.  We put up with shitty relationships, unfulfilling jobs, and even terrible friendships for far longer than we should.  I know for me, the reason for this is usually stubborn pigheadedness.  To walk away from something, even if it isn’t working, feels like admitting defeat.  It makes me question myself “what is wrong with me?” “why can’t I fit in like everyone else?”  This examination is so uncomfortable, it’s often easier to just ignore the elephant in the room.

The biggest example of this in my own life is probably my academic career.  As a child, I was always told I was bright and clever.  Destined for great things.  It was pretty much preordained that I would go to University.  So, I got in and off I went.  The trouble was, when I got there, I absolutely hated it.  I studied English, which is my first love, and absolutely enthralled me, but college life definitely was not for me.  I didn’t fit in.  I didn’t make friends.  The ten or so contact hours a week, were far too few to keep me engaged.  In short, I was completely miserable.  Determined to be “successful” at it, I stuck it out.  Three years later, I achieved my degree (which I have never “used”)  By that time, I was also deeply depressed, and looking back on in now, I believe this time to be the root of my disordered relationship with food.  But that’s a story I not quite ready to tell!

To this day, I strongly believe in the merits of follow through.  It’s so important to do the things you say you’re going to do.  I can’t stand flaky people and find them essentially impossible to deal with.  A friend of mine once gave me the mantra “Decide, Commit, Succeed.”  I think she borrowed if from some gimmicky exercise program, but I identified with the message.  However, the older I get, and the more experience I have dealing with uncomfortable situations, the more I realise “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, Know when to walk away and know when to run.”  Walking away from something which no longer serves you, is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength.

This philosophy of mine has been tested lately.  I was offered a new job.  The new role sounds exciting and challenging.  It presents opportunity for growth and development, as well as stimulation.  The trouble is, I am comfortable in my current job.  It’s close to home.  My gym is around the corner, which means I can train on my lunch break.  The people are lovely and there’s no conflict.  However, it doesn’t present the same opportunities.  Should I sacrifice my current comfort for the sake of potential future growth?  It was a really difficult decision.  As is always the case with hard choices, there was no obvious “right” course of action.  There was an opportunity cost associated with both options.

In the end, I decided to accept the new job.  I am excited to get started and really looking forward to the challenge.  Of course, there are a few other things going on!!  Impostor syndrome is kicking in.  My inner critic is shouting so loud, she is almost drowning out everything else.  She is telling me I won’t be able for it, and who do I think I am to even try!  She’s a bitch!  There is also a tiny seed of doubt in the back of my mind.  Questioning if I am doing the right thing.  Wondering if I will live to regret my decision.

The thing is, it really doesn’t matter.  I fully expect the new job to be awesome, but if it turns out to be a complete disaster, who cares?  I am not entering into indentured servitude.  If it’s not for me, I can go back to the drawing board and try again.  We all have within us, the power to reinvent ourselves as often as we want or need to.   I think it is really important that we make time to check in with ourselves on a regular enough basis.  Ask yourself how everything is going.  Is there any area of your life that needs to be changed, or even just given more attention?  It is so easy to keep going through the motions and not even notice that there is a stone in your shoe.  Be well xxx

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How Getting Sick Was The Best Thing For My Health!

I first embarked on my weight loss journey back in 2010.  My first stop en route was Weight Watchers.  Since then, I have tried lots of different diets and plans, adopting a kind of trial and error philosophy.  I have spent a number of years experimenting with Paleo and other whole food approaches and I considered my diet to be fairly “healthy.”  I had eliminated or reduced a lot of different foods throughout the years.  Refined grains and sugars predominantly.  Don’t get me wrong, I still ate bagels and birthday cake, but they were definitely what I called “sometimes foods!”

I have had a long history of stomach problems.  I was originally diagnosed with IBS in my early 20s, but in truth, I had never had an easy time with my gut.  I would frequently experience abdominal cramping, bloating and other symptoms I will spare you the details of!  I could probably write an entire post on IBS, and perhaps some day I will, but for now, let’s me just say it isn’t pleasant.  Having gone through a battery of tests, I was eventually advised by the hospital to try the FODMAP diet, late last year.

This diet is essentially an elimination diet.  It not only calls for the exclusion of know gut irritants such as gluten and lactose, but also lots of fruits and veggies (garlic, onions, apples, butternut squash to name just a few.)  It was a tough diet to adhere to, but anyone who has experience of IBS will understand that I was happy to try just about anything if it meant no pain.  So off I went with my list of banned foods, determined to stick to it rigidly and looking forward to feeling better!

For the first week or so that was exactly what happened.  I had no stomach pain and I really felt like my insides were working properly for once.  However, towards the end of the second week on the diet, I got sick, and pretty much stayed sick for 3 months.  As discussed in The Winter of My Discontent!

I am not a good patient and I was getting really fed up with feeling crappy.  I was also quite indignant!  I look after myself, I eat well, I exercise, drink water etc.  How can my body be doing this to me when I am so “healthy?”  Except, wait a minute.  Surely if I am sick all the bloody time, that means I am NOT healthy?  As the days in pajamas passed, I had a lot of time to think about what might be going on.  Could it be that I had eliminated too many foods from my diet for it to be providing adequate nutrition?  Could it be that in my quest for health and wellness, I had pushed my body in the opposite direction?

By the beginning of January I had had enough.  I had a wretched cough which had been driving me and everyone else nuts for weeks.  I was on an antibiotic, which I knew was going to run me down even further.  Something had to be done.  I spoke to my sister and mother at length and came up with a strategy.  Firstly, I was going to start on a strong Probiotic (I take BioKult) to try to restore the balance in my gut.  Secondly, I was to start taking a “tonic” as we we have called it growing up (I was advised by my mother to try Revive Active, and mother knows best)  Thirdly, and perhaps, most importantly, I was going to reintroduce most of the foods I had eliminated.

This didn’t mean going gangbusters in the bakery aisle.  Instead it meant bringing back foods which I know to be nutritious, and which don’t seem to cause problems for my stomach.  So for example, apples are still out because I have identified them as triggers.  But all the vegetables I had been avoiding came back.  That very day, I got the recipe from my sister for a chicken stew.  Packed to the brim with veggies, and chicken cooked on the bone, it not only tasted amazing, but I could actually feel it doing me good.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, I think that stew may have saved me, or at least sped up my recovery.  Since then I have been experimenting with more stews and casseroles.  Good healthy, whole foods, just like mom used to make.  It has been a couple of months since I finished my antibiotics and I am happy to report that I feel great.  Like my old self again.  Furthermore, I feel fortified and resilient.  Confident that I can fight off any little nasties that come my way.  Even the Beast from the East doesn’t scare me, with a pot of stew on the go!

I have always said that healthy lifestyle is about trial and error.  What works for someone else, might not work for you.  What worked for you in the past might not be what your body needs now.  If something is not working for you, change it.  I clung to my ideas of what a healthy diet looks like, long after it was clear that it wasn’t working, and it was to my detriment.  My illness forced me to reexamine everything and I am so glad that I did.  As the saying goes “Don’t hang on to a mistake, just because you spent a long time making it.”  Be well xxx

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Lost and Found

For the last few weeks, I have been getting ready for my trip to Rome.  I am going away with one of my oldest and dearest friends.  She and I have been through a lot over the two decades we have known each other, and I am so looking forward to getting to spend time catching up.  As well, of course, as checking out all that the Italian city has to offer (read pasta, coffee, gelato, pizza!)

On the run up to my Roman Holiday I can’t help noticing that I feel really good.  I am in a good place with my health.  I feel reasonably happy with my body and self-image.  I haven’t had the usual nightmare in work, trying to get everything done before heading off.  I don’t even feel under as much financial pressure as I normally would before a trip.  In short, all is well.  In fact, I don’t think I have ever felt so good going away before.  Even my usual anxiety has not reared its ugly head.  At least not so far!

All this feeling good, has lead to some very strange happenings.  I am finding myself doing things I never would have thought of doing in the past.  Small, seemingly insignificant things really.  Like buying dresses, shorter than I usually would.  Or daring to try red lipstick.  Even just baring my legs on hot, summer days, would have been something I would have balked at previously.

The weird thing is, the more stuff I do, which is totally unlike me, the more like myself I feel.  It’s almost like the red lipstick wearing woman was stuck inside me, and has been waiting 35 years to finally make an appearance.  I feel as though I am beginning to find myself.

I wonder how much of this is a natural part of life.  As we come of age, do we unfold and stretch and become a truer version of ourselves?  Or could it be that as I have grown in confidence, I have gained the courage to try all the things I wanted to, but was afraid of?  Or maybe it is simply that I stopped giving a f$ck what other people think!  I walk down the street in a bright yellow rain coat.  I have no problem singing out loud in work or in spin class.  If I get funny looks, I just shoot them back a smile, and think what a shame it is that they have no magic left.

Being ambivalent about what other people think is the most liberating thing I have experienced.  Sure, I still care what my family and friends think of me, and certainly don’t go out of my way to upset anyone.  However, I no longer fall into the category of chronic people pleaser.  I do things now because I want to, or because they make me feel good, not because it is what is expected of me.

If you haven’t reached this point in your own life yet, don’t worry, it will happen sooner or later.  At some stage, you will reach a point where you have had enough of trying to make everyone happy, at the expense of your own joy.  When this happens, it will feel like your life has begun in earnest.  You will start discovering what it is that you like.  You will gain a new understanding of yourself.  And best of all, your mind will be freed of all the agonizing, paralysing overthinking, which comes from trying to do the “right thing” all the time.

I spent a lot of time as a girl feeling like the ugly duckling.  I was the typical teenager with acne and braces.  Painfully self-conscious and awkward.  All my pals were beautiful and had boyfriends and I always felt inadequate.  Even into adulthood, these feelings stayed with me.  I never felt like I fit in anywhere.  Never had quite the right outfit, or said quite the right thing.  I was always a little lost.

I don’t feel like that anymore.  I am going to be spending four days in a beautiful city, with one of the most gorgeous women I know, and I can honestly tell you, for the first time, I feel like I am enough.  I am like a kid experiencing the world for the first time.  I have no idea what is going to happen next, but I am very excited to find out.

As I was thinking about writing this post, the words of an Avicii song have been playing in my mind.  “All this time I was finding myself and I didn’t know I was lost.”  I wonder now if anyone ever feels themselves truly found?  I guess I will soon find out.  Be well xxx

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Rise and Grind?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Naturally Unnatural?

I have never been what you might call naturally athletic.  In school, I avoided PE at all cost.  I feigned period pain so often, I am surprised they didn’t send me to a gynecologist!  In fact, I avoided physical activity of any description in so far as was humanly possible.

When I was about 21, my mother was getting married, and we both started taking a couple of fitness classes.  I can honestly say that that was my first exposure to anything even remotely resembling exercise.  I shouldn’t really wonder then, why physical activity doesn’t always come easy to me.  I have a long list of things which I have attempted, only to find I lacked the kind of fluency I was expecting to have.

The first time I remember experiencing this was with running.  I ran for the first time (certainly in adult life, however, I don’t recall doing much running as a child either,) when I was about 30.  I opened the hall door, and just started running, or at least trying to.  After no more than about 200m I had to stop.  Breathless and exhausted, I had no alternative but to return home with my shame.  I was completely baffled.  Other people make this look so easy, I just assumed I would be able to do it.  They are out running 10ks and marathons, and I couldn’t make it to the end of the street.

Over the coming years, I kept trying to run.  Running would routinely come up as part of our workouts, especially in the summer months.  Try as I might, I just couldn’t get it figured out.  My legs never wanted to adopt that easy rhythm other people had.  I seemed always to need to work so much harder, just to cover the same distance.  A friend of mine tried to comfort me by saying “you’re just not a natural runner.”  (I think she was trying to sweet talk me after telling me I look like Jean Claude van Damme when I run!)  As time went by, and I continued to struggle, I began to wonder if she was right.  Maybe running just wasn’t in my DNA?

I wish I could tell you that running was the only nemesis I faced in training, but alas there was another exercise I dreaded seeing even more.  Double unders!  For those of you who may not know, a double under is a form of skipping.  Each time you jump, the the rope passes your body twice.   Similar to my plight with the pavement, this movement eluded me, FOR YEARS!  I lost count of the amount of tantrums and tears I had about this particular exercise.

At the very height of my frustration, I spoke to my mother about it.  After explaining it all to her she had this insight “Arwen, you were never a natural at skipping.”  And, she’s right.  Even as a young child, I wasn’t any good at it.  I was always tripping up and tying myself in knots.

With both the running and the skipping, I had little choice but to just get on with it when they came up in workouts.  I accepted that I was never going to be the fastest, or even particularly proficient and committed to gutting through it.  Every so often, I would toy with the idea of going to a running coach, but the idea of spending a lot of time and money to get better (hopefully) at something I don’t enjoy, seemed a little foolish.

I never learned to swim as a child.   I initially took swimming lessons in my 30s, and although I have no fear of water, I more certainly am not a good swimmer.  Recently, I have started swimming again.  Each week, I go to the pool and try to complete a certain number of lengths without either drowning or swallowing half the water.  I started about 8 weeks ago with 15 lengths and last week I managed 22.  Slow progress indeed, but going in the right direction.  Every length is hard fought and usually involves stopping several times.

Last week, while I was choking on water, and wondering what the hell was wrong with me, a thought came to my mind.  You’re just not a natural swimmer!!!  I shook my head as though to physically dislodge this notion.   You see, unlike running, which I hate, and  double unders, which I would happily never do again, I actually quite enjoy swimming.  As well as that, I am determined to get better at it.   Until such time as that happens, I will have to put up with little kids and adorable old ladies lapping me with ease.  I will also have to try not to be embarrassed by my ineptitude and to resist the urge to shout “I am only learning” whenever people look at me!

One of the things I like most about being in the water, is that it gives me time to think.  I have spent some of this time mulling over this concept of natural ability.  I began to wonder a few things.  I mean is anyone ever really a natural at anything?  Or is it just that they have put hundreds of unseen hours into honing their craft, so that it now appears effortless?   Let’s face it savants and prodigies are few and far between.  For most of us, success only comes as a result of hard work and dedication.

the-iceberg-of-success

It also raised the question for me of whether we ever appreciate the things which come easy to us.  Or is it only really the struggle, which makes the end result worthwhile?

For me, the reality is, I have little natural ability when it comes to anything sporty.  I don’t think there is anything I can do to change this fact.  However, how I choose to deal with it is entirely up to me.  I can hang up my goggles and be content to sideline myself from the swimming pool, or I can keep showing up each week and make an honest effort towards self improvement.  For once, I have made the decision not to give up.  I am determined to prove myself wrong.  I have always wanted to be able to swim in open water, so hopefully that can be ticked off my bucket list in the near future.

I think we all have an innate desire to be good at everything.  We don’t like coming last or being seen to have weaknesses.  This ego all too often gets in the way of true growth and progress.  My advice to anyone struggling with something they are not a natural at (and to myself) is just not to give up.  Keep your head up, try not to get out of your depth and you never know, you might just surprise yourself.  Be well xxx

dory

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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.

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

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Scenes From the Dressing Room!

It had been about 5 years since I trained in a gym which had communal dressing rooms.  Just long enough, it turns out, for me to have almost forgotten all of the weird and wonderful goings on the innocent bystander is likely to observe.  Let me preface this post by saying, it is not a rant.  I am not about “fit shaming” or “fat shaming.”  I merely wanted to share some of the things I love to hate.  Some are amusing, others are confusing and some are just downright odd!

Pristine, post workout perfection:  I came out of the shower the other night and I was standing with a towel around me, waiting to get to my locker.  There was a girl using the locker beside mine, so I patiently waited while she rooted in her gear bag, (forever.)  I waited because I assumed she was getting ready for her workout.  She was all long, blonde tresses, not a hair astray.  Make-up so perfectly applied, it could have passed for a professional job.  She looked like she has stepped off the cover of a magazine (albeit a fitness one!)  So imagine my surprise when she hoisted her bag onto her shoulder and left the gym!

I don’t understand this, and I have no problem admitting jealousy.  How can these girls leave the gym looking more put together than I manage even on my best day?  What genetic anomaly is at play to ensure these girls’ faces don’t sweat and their hair doesn’t move?  The bitchy part of me thinks they must not be working too hard if they look that good at the end of their session.  If the bitchy part is wrong, I definitely need to get some make-up tips!

look cute

The tummy tuckers:  I firmly believe that anyone showing up to the gym and making an honest effort deserves nothing but respect.  Regardless of your size, shape or current level of ability, you are making an investment in your health and well-being and you should be proud.  It honestly breaks my heart to see women, and usually young girls, obviously sucking in their tummies while trying to get changed.

Not only is this hugely impractical and uncomfortable it should be completely unnecessary.  All of us are in that changing room together because we share a common goal.  It should feel like a safe and judgement free environment.  Not a place where you feel the need to risk passing out from lack of oxygen.  In a world full of body image issues and pressure to be perfect, surely the dressing room should be the one place where we girls can let it all hang out?  In any case, as my mother always says “nobody is looking at you!”

The last time I witnessed this, the girl doing the sucking in had a lovely figure.  It really saddened me to see such an obvious sign that she is unhappy with her body.

The make-up mogels:  This one really baffles me.  Women who, after their shower, take the time to blow dry (with their own hair dryers) and straighten their hair and expertly reapply their make-up.  I could understand this painstaking ritual first thing in the morning, but this could be at 9pm on a Monday.  Either these ladies have far more exciting social lives than I do, which wouldn’t be hard, or they are going to a lot of effort to get ready to go to home.

Part of me is completely confused by this, but another part is envious of their energy and conscientiousness.  Most nights I can barely be bothered putting a bra back on!  I am far too busy calculating how many hours sleep I will get.  Full disclosure, I only make the effort if I have to stop on the way home.

Miscellaneous madness:  There are some things which really ought only to be done in the privacy of your own home.

  1. Shaving legs, or any other part of ones body.  Seriously girls time, place etc.
  2. Standing naked in front of the mirror to examine oneself, intimately (enough said)
  3. Using hair dryers to dry your body.  Unless you have forgotten your towel, and even at that, I struggle to think of a reason why anyone would do this, even at home!

For all the things which confuse and baffle me, there are one or two that just genuinely make me smile.

I love seeing little kids running around with wild abandon.  Caring not about what state of undress they are in, and deftly escaping the clutches of parents trying to wrangle them into clothing.  They serve as a reminder that we are not born with inhibitions, hang ups and body image issues.  These things are learned, and so can be unlearned.  Small children don’t question whether or not they fit in or if they have the right to be there, they just live.  We can learn a lot from them.

I also love seeing parents putting kids into their pj’s for the journey home.  There is something so timeless about this, and I remember it being done when we were children.  It is heart warming to see them in their pajamas with overcoats and shoes.  I just wish I could go home like that myself.

Mostly I just love seeing the place full of people.  Be well xxx

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Food, Fallacy and Foolishness!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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