Why It’s OK if you are Not OK

 

Many of us are over-achievers. We feel pressure from our parents, our managers, our mentors and most of all ourselves, to achieve and succeed in all aspects of our lives. Having a good job is not enough; we feel the need to have the ultimate career, the perfect relationship, the flawless body, the super-fitness, the good looks, the prestigious education and more. We live in a culture where we not only need to be the best versions of ourselves 100% of the time, but this needs to appear effortless to our peers. Beauty should appear natural, the career progression should simply follow as a result of our innate intelligence and we should simply stumble upon a romantic partner because we are so exceptionally charming. And we must do all of this while never missing a social event and showcasing our fantastic social calendar to our friends via social media, just to reassure them (and ourselves) that we are popular and interesting. God forbid you should admit you had to use Tinder to find someone. How could one possibly fess up that their success, in fact, came as a result of blood, sweat, tears, very little sleep, sacrifices, hardships and some seriously tough sh*t?
It has been engrained into us that tears are a sign of weakness, emotions are not to be displayed in public and low self-esteem is not on-trend. More and more celebrities are coming forward and admitting they suffer from anxiety and depression. For many who don’t quite fall into this category, but are definitely not “OK,” we have off-days and these days suck. But what happens when your off-day becomes an off-week or even an off-month? Sometimes, when life gives you lemons, you become a bitter, sour angry mess and just need to hibernate for a while. The lemonade comes later. Don’t let anyone judge you or reprimand you for feeling this way. Find friends who will empathize, listen, try to understand and love you all the same. You may find that some people in your life feel uncomfortable when you’re not the best version of yourself. It doesn’t fit into their plan for your friendship; they don’t want you in their life unless you’re popping bottles with them, dancing on roof-tops and making a positive contribution to their social life.
This internal and societal pressure isn’t going away and for many people, it has become a rule for living and part of our daily thought process. Once you think this way, and feel this pressure to be perfect, it’s tough to break free. We live our lives one achievement to the next. It’s addictive. If you’re not achieving a goal or learning a new skill or completing a challenge, you feel this restlessness and a sense of dread that maybe, just maybe, you aren’t really living. #FOMO. Life feels incomplete. For the millennial generation, our greatest fear is to settle and to wake up at the age of forty and feel as though we haven’t truly lived. We must be constantly stimulated and occupied and engaged in something, anything. The important thing is to channel this into positive behaviors and positive activities that will benefit us, physically, mentally and spiritually. But also, to know when it’s OK to switch off and rest and simply be at peace.
According to social comparison theory, fifty per-cent of people compare themselves to others. Social media exacerbates this problem as it gives us the perfect platform, by which to compare our lives with those of others. We look to our peers, our friends and our colleagues for guidance as to how we “should” be living, what we “should” be doing and how we “should” look. We benchmark our life timeline against people who we perceive to be similar to us. Everyone reading this is guilty of thinking, “He has got a promotion and I should too,” or “She has got married and I should too.” The ironic thing is that we all know this is illogical and foolish, yet we do it anyway! One of the biggest trends for 2017 is predicted to be Digital Detox-ing; the phenomena of switching off from technology and social media. There are hotels and resorts advertising themselves as Digital Detox-friendly, as consumers search for an escape from the anxiety that technology creates. We can only hope that as advertising, Hollywood and politics begin to embrace diversity and inclusion, we will realize that it’s OK to be different, beauty is unique and success is objective.
For anyone who has felt the pressure to be perfect or has compared themselves to others or who has worried they are not enough; know that we all feel this way from time to time. If you need to cry on the tube, put your sunglasses on. If you need to scream and throw things, those cheap IKEA plates will come in very handy. If you need to turn off your phone for one Sunday and watch Netflix in bed, know that there are millions of people around the world probably doing the exact same thing. And if you just need to have a complete meltdown, don’t be afraid to call your best friend afterwards and ask for help picking up the pieces. It’s OK if you are not OK, one hundred per-cent of the time. This doesn’t define you and having a slip-up is not always a set-back. Get up, brush it off and keep on swimming.

Fat Shaming: Shaming Fat People Thin!

Body Shaming

This is a photo of me in 2009, when I was close to my heaviest weight of 210lbs. I was eating junk food, drinking heavily and I did not treat my body with the love and respect it deserves. Check out my Instagram to see what I look like now!

The internet freaked out this week after Youtube (not-so-funny) comedian Nicole Arbour posted a video shaming fat people and claiming that, by doing so, she was doing them a favour. Grace Helbig, another Youtube comedian, then posted a video in response and briefly made reference to her own past struggles with her body image, as well as defending comedy. Whitney, TLC star of ‘My Big Fat Fabulous Life’, then posted her video in response, offering her own advice to fat people, which was quite simple; “Love Yourself.” On top of this huge pavlova of fat shaming, some idiot (not-so-clever) writer at the Daily Mail posted this article shaming Jennifer Aniston about her alleged “post-marriage weight gain,” accompanied by unflattering photos of her in athletic clothing. And the Huffington Post responded with an article, scolding the Daily Mail for such blatant, irresponsible body shaming. The cherry on the cake was a move by Cheryl Cole, who has been scrutinised relentlessly in the media for her fluctuations in weight, who stated an interview that she believes Body Shaming should be illegal.

Wow. That is a LOT of body shaming and fat shaming in one week. Are you surprised? I’m not. In fact, I stopped reading the Daily Mail a long time ago because it was making me feel really down. Why? Every other article seemed to be either written in praise of a female celebrity for being super-thin, size zero and beautiful (or a male celebrity for having less than 10% body fat), or in criticism of a celebrity who had exposed a little cellulite whilst being photographed on their yacht. Are people reading this content and actually benefitting from it or enjoying it? Are we seriously sending out a message that our bodies should be completely flawless? Have we descended into such a dark place that we actually feel better about our own bodies when we read about the struggles of other people with theirs? I seriously hope this is not at trend that will continue. In fact, I spend a lot of my time praising other people on social media for their aesthetics, their progress, and their achievements, in an attempt to counteract the negative, painful feelings of self-criticism that many people go through on a daily basis.

As an advocate of weight loss, health and fitness, I am fully in support of staying in shape and taking care of your body. I do not make excuses for obesity, as I firmly believe that if you make an effort to educate yourself about nutrition and eat a balanced diet, that even with a medical condition, you can still maintain a healthy weight (keyword: healthy). However, I am not okay with shaming and attacking people for being overweight. And I am definitely, definitely, definitely not okay with pointing out flaws in other people, or bringing attention to their imperfections. This further enforces the notion that our bodies should be ‘perfect,’ which is not a healthy goal or objective for anyone. The idea, of Nicole Arbour, that shaming fat people is a good idea to help them lose weight is so incredibly misinformed. Here are a few reasons why people may be overweight:

  1. Lack of Nutrition Education: People generally do not understand what a ‘carb’ is and what ratio of fat/carbs/protein their body needs based on how physically active they are. Most people eat far too many carbs, and should instead be getting their carbohydrates from plant-based sources (i.e. sweet potato, chickpeas, cabbage, carrots, etc.) rather than the highly-processed breads, pastas, and sweets that are heavily marketed at the general public. Most diets do not contain nearly enough vegetables either. My blog is all about eating more green food and I firmly believe that a little bit of nutrition education could quite literally change the world, and put an end to the obesity epidemic that is plaguing our nation!
  2. Health-related Challenges: Injuries, diabetes, heart conditions, hormonal issues, thyroid issues, and the list goes on. All of these health-related challenges are probably caused by poor nutrition and lack of proper exercise in the first place, but that’s just my opinion. However, they do all cause problems for their sufferers. People with PCOS and thyroid issues can find it difficult to lose weight, and a lot of the above health complications limit the amount of physical activity that is possible.
  3. Emotional Issues: Many of us are emotional eaters. We take emotional pleasure from food. Chocolate and candy makes us feel happy and good. They release those feel-good chemicals (i.e. dopamine) in our brain. We take comfort in comfort foods, and turn to food to fill that ’empty space’ inside of us. Whether it is loneliness, the loss of a loved one, insecurity, anxiety, or depression, some of us use junk food to make us feel better. The feeling, however, is only temporary and usually, we end up feeling worse as we enter a vicious cycle of comfort eating and weight gain. There are ways to overcome this habit, such as CBT, meditation, mindful eating, and hypnosis. Nevertheless, it is very difficult to break the cycle of emotional eating.
  4. Eating Disorders: Eating disorders range from anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, and some more obscure eating disorders such as food phobias and obsessive-compulsive eating behaviours. Binge-eating disorder is one of the more common disorders in the UK, and is more common in women than men. Even after overcoming an eating disorder, some individuals put on weight due to metabolic damage. Essentially, their bodies store more fat because months or years of restriction has slowed down their metabolism and put their body in starvation mode. It takes a lot of hard work to reverse this damage, so as you can imagine, the last thing these people need is to be shamed after winning a battle with an eating disorder.

If there is one message I want you to take away from this, it is this: “YOUR WEIGHT DOES NOT DEFINE YOU AS A PERSON.” Your weight, your body, your looks; they do not define you or who you have to be. You can be whoever you want to be, and it is you who is in control of your own personal pursuit of happiness. It has taken me years to realise this. Recently, after much reflecting on my past, the bullies who taunted me for my weight, and how much I have changed, I am finally realising that I spent far too long focusing on changing my looks to try and fit in, and forgot to focus on improving the real me; the “Emma on the inside” if you will. Thank goodness, I met some incredible people during my time at university and during the time I have lived in Belfast, who have helped me grow as a person. You all know who you are, and I thank you for being there for me, through the good times and the bad.

To the rest of you, join me and stand up against body shaming. Stop reading articles about what size dress Taylor Swift wore to her birthday party, or what circumference Kylie Jenner’s thigh is, or how Jennifer Lawrence put on 1kg after her last movie. Who cares?! Why are we doing this to ourselves? It certainly doesn’t make me feel good, and it shouldn’t make you feel good either. We need to put a stop to body shaming and fat shaming, and start loving each other more, so that we can truly start loving ourselves.

When Food Becomes Dangerous to Your Health

Watermelon

Did you know that there are 90 calories and 6g of sugar in 300g of watermelon, but there are 1500 calories and god-only-knows how many g of sugar in the same amount of chocolate!

During my weight loss journey, I have realised that my relationship with food is far more complex than any other relationship in my life. Periodically, I go from loving food to hating food and I have even found myself wishing that I could numb my taste buds. In previous posts, I have opened up about my crackhead-like cravings for chocolate, my prior dependence on mountain dew, my at-times distorted perception of myself and my eating, and my overall struggle with my weight and food. There have been times when I have felt completely alone and have felt like I am fighting a losing battle. Then there have been days when I have felt powerful, unstoppable, and have nailed my goals. All in all, it feels like a bit of a roller-coaster. But one thing I have learned is that I am not alone. There are so many people who have struggled with food-related issues of their own, and if the internet and social media has given us one gift, it is that sense of community for people like myself who at times, have felt very isolated. If you are reading this and you have struggled with food or your weight or your health, know that you are NEVER alone! There are people like me who have been through some tough times and are here to give you as much support and advice as we can. If I can help just one person make a positive change, then everything I have invested in this blog has been worth it.

One thing I have discovered is that food can become pretty dangerous when a ‘treat’ or a ‘cheat meal’ turns into a binge. Eating a diet that is too restrictive leads to ‘binge-ing’, which is essentially when a treat gets completely out of control, and someone over-consumes foods that they would not typically eat. This could be an entire tub of ice-cream, a family-size packet of cookies, candy, or a large pizza. A binge is different for every person. It is important to recognise that the term ‘binge’ should not be used loosely. Eating a packet of M&Ms is not a ‘binge’ in my opinion. Eating four or five packets of M&Ms could be classified as a binge. Why do these slip-ups happen? Why do we attack ‘naughty’ foods like a bear that has just come out of hibernation? Or a lion attacking it’s prey? There is something missing from our diet. Not eating enough calories, or carbs, or sleep, or lacking certain nutrients, can cause the body to crave what it is not getting. Stress, lack of sleep, and under-eating can all wreak havoc on our body and for those of us who live a fairly active lifestyle, the cravings can be pretty intense. There have been afternoons where I have wandered up and down the candy aisle at Tesco, staring and drooling over all the sweets like some insane drug addict that just escaped from rehab. Honestly, I have spent far too many minutes, and possibly even hours, of my life in that damn candy aisle.

It is scientifically proven that if you do not get enough sleep, your body craves ‘energy foods’ to keep it fuelled for a day of activity. People who have under-slept gravitate towards foods that are high in fat and sugar because their body needs extra energy to get through the day. It is also proven that hormonal imbalance, caused by poor diet or stress, can result in over-eating or eating high-sugar, high-fat foods. Now, I am not an expert, but I do have experience in the struggles of weight loss. It is so important to recognise WHY your body is craving, and try to figure out what it needs to get back to normal. Sometimes, a cup of tea will do the trick, or a tall glass of water, or even some raw nuts or berries. Know when your body is hungry, and when it is just suffering the dreaded ‘cravings’. Tonight, for example, I began craving chocolate and started day-dreaming about Cadbury’s. Now, I am convinced that it is largely psychological and that my brain is playing tricks on me. But I thought to myself, “hmm… I must be craving sugar” so I ate about 300g of watermelon and it did the trick. Watermelon has naturally occurring sugars in it but in 300g of this delicious fruit, there are only 90 calories and 6g of sugar, as opposed to the 1500 calories and god-only-knows-how-many grams of sugar in 300g of chocolate.

For people who are conscious of their weight or their body fat, binge eating can lead to distress, guilt, shame, and anxiety. If the cycle continues of restricting and bingeing, it can then lead to a fear of food or major food anxiety. And if it gets completely out of hand, it can lead to purging and sadly, eating disorders. Before it gets past that first stage, make a conscious decision to keep it under control. Step 1: Make sure you are eating enough (please- STOP restricting your calories; find out what is recommended for your weight and your activity level, and get your calories from heaps of vegetables, healthy starches, eggs, meat, and high-protein dairy). Step 2: Make sure you are getting enough sleep (minimum 7 hours per night, or 8 if you can manage it). Step 3: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate (at least one tall glass of water in the morning, mid-morning, lunch, mid-afternoon, and dinner; dehydration leads to false feelings of hunger). Step 4: Manage your treats (decide if you are going to have one small treat a day or a big treat at the end of the week and stick to it; don’t restrict yourself to the point where you are clawing at the doors of Krispy Kreme, and make sure you don’t go into your cheat meal or weekly treat hungry or you will overdo it).

Keep yourself busy. The times when we snack the most are when we are sat in front of the TV or on the sofa. The hit TV show ‘Gogglebox’ illustrates just how much we Brits love our sofa time. I mean, seriously, a nation of people sitting on the sofa watching a TV show about people sitting on their sofas watching TV shows? That is insane. Instead of watching TV every evening, pick activities to do a couple of nights a week. This could be a hill walk or a hike, a trip to the park, a pole-dancing class (I have tried it!), yoga, a swim, an art class (still life anyone?), or a trip to the adventure golf course. When you are active and busy, you aren’t thinking about food, and the temptation to snack or binge won’t even cross your mind. Recognise that binge eating never makes you feel good and that you are undoing all the hard work you put in at the gym; all that sweat and all those blisters are worth more than some junk food. One quote I saw on Instagram that really stuck with me was: “Love yourself more than you love food.” To you the reader, you are beautiful, inside and out, and you do not deserve to treat yourself or your body with harm. Treat yourself and your body with the love and care that you deserve, and please know and believe that you DO deserve it.

Peanut Butter Oreos

Obesity: Who is to Blame?

A trip to Five Guys

Fast food is hard to give up, even for the fit community! When I was overweight, like many Americans and Brits, I ate fast food at least once a week. Now, I save it for the extremely occasional cheat meal and there are things, such as soda, that I will simply never again eat or drink.

On Tuesday evening, I decided to watch the documentary ‘Supersize Me’ by Morgan Spurlock as I drank my cup of fennel tea and munched on some chocolate, which is most certainly not in my diet plan. This is a documentary I had seen before back in 2007 or some time around then, a couple of years after it was released. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it, especially if you are a fast food lover. To summarise it in a sentence or two for those of you who have not seen it, Morgan decides to eat only McDonald’s for thirty days and the effects that this fast food binge has on his body are shocking. The documentary brings to light not only the dangers of consuming fast food on a regular basis, but also the obesity epidemic in the United States amongst adults, adolescents, and most terrifyingly of all, children. There are a couple of scenes which really stand out to me after re-watching this almost a decade later. The first scene is of a group of children depicted in a middle school setting, who are choosing french fries, potato chips, cakes, and extremely sugary beverages for their lunches. The second scene is of several individuals, both adults and children, who cannot explain what a calorie is and what it measures. Furthermore, the schools in the documentary are stocked with vending machines which make sodas, potato chips, candy bars, and other unhealthy snacks, readily available for children who are in an environment where their food and beverage consumption is not as strictly monitored as perhaps it should be. What do these three scenes highlight as a real issue in today’s education system? There is a genuine lack of good quality nutrition education in our schools, and children are not being empowered to make good decisions when it comes to their own dietary needs and food consumption. However, there is another stand-out scene in which a mother is being depicted with her extremely-overweight daughter as they sob over the fact that they can’t afford to buy two Subway sandwiches a day and be slim like Jared the Subway Guy. What does this tell us? The ownership is on the parents, as well as the education system, to make sure they are informed about nutrition so that they can feed their children healthy, nutritious foods and raise a family free from health problems.

When I was nineteen years old and toppling the scale at almost 210 lbs (95kg), my mother looked at me with a sadness in her eyes and said, “I don’t want you to have a weight problem when you are still so young.” This memory will stick with me for the rest of my life, because at the time, I didn’t think I had a “weight issue” but looking back, I was putting my health at serious risk. Public Health England predicts that by 2050, 1 in 4 children in the UK will be classified as obese. In the United States, currently, more than one third of adults are considered obese. When are we going to wake up and start thinking about what we are eating, rather than consuming, and not questioning, what is put on our plate? We are trimming years off our life span and putting ourselves at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and ultimately, death. There is one thing that really stands out for me as a primary cause of this obesity epidemic; we have become a culture of convenience and we rate convenience, speed, and efficiency, more highly than our own health. Fast food has become predominantly drive-thru, supermarket aisles are stacked with more tinned and boxed meals than fresh ingredients, vending machines more accessible than ever in shopping malls, parking lots, and even inside actual supermarket stores, so that we can get a ‘quick fix’ whenever we need it. We are more pressed for time than ever before and we need to cram more and more into our busy day, getting less down-time and less sleep, so that we can ultimately be more productive. Americans eat out an average of 4-5 times a week. In 2013, research showed that the UK population is consuming more take-a-way meals than ever before, with Chinese (and lets face it, most of this “food” is not Chinese at all) being the nation’s favourite, probably because it is packed with more sugar than any other meal choice. When we don’t cook our meals, how can we know what is in them? Do you know what oils were used in the process of cooking your egg-fried rice? Do you know what ingredients are in the frozen chicken wings you ate at KFC? Do you know how many types of meat were used in the manufacturing process of the hot dog you ate at the movie theatre last week?

After chatting with one of my Scandinavian friends recently, she remarked on how ridiculous it is that some people actually believe that potato chips are one of your five a day. I retorted with a joke about how the FDA have classified pizza as a vegetable. Then I realised that, I used to be one of those people; the ones who are completely misinformed. Why was I misinformed? I believed most of what I was told by parents, friends and TV, and I never questioned it. I was the girl that sat and gobbled up a plate of Fettucine Alfredo with lobster thinking that because it was lobster, which was a seafood, it must be healthy. I was the girl that dipped her bread in olive oil and parmesan cheese and thought, “this must be a much healthier option than french fries.” I was that person who thought that having a side salad, which was basically iceberg lettuce smothered in a ranch dressing, before my main course meant that I was being “healthy.” Let’s think about what “healthy” really means for a second. If you are to classify something as being “healthy,” you are essentially maintaining that it will somehow benefit your health. If you are to classify something as being “unhealthy,” you are essentially saying it will have a harmful effect on your health. If you apply this concept to everything you eat, you will completely re-evaluate your nutrition and food consumption. But for this to work, you have to start learning about food and nutrition, and you MUST be honest with yourself. Stop eating, and living, in denial. Start asking questions and start doing your research*. (*Also, follow me on Instagram and Facebook as I am constantly posting articles, tips, advice, and sharing the things that I am learning!)

The internet, and mobile internet, has put the power in our hands as consumers to start educating ourselves about what we eat. Apps such as MyFitnessPal allow us to measure the amount of fat, sugar, protein, nutrients, and calories in most of the foods we consume. There are a wealth of doctors, nutritionists, and scientists who write blogs about food, diet, fitness and weight loss. Fitness gurus have shared some of their best tips for staying fit, getting stronger, and shedding fat. There is literally no excuse to be overweight or obese. You can choose to sit back, be angry, and believe what you are told, or you can choose to question everything, read the ingredients, research what you are eating and start taking better care of your body. I am not advocating ‘obsession’ and calorie-counting; I am recommending that you start educating yourself about nutrition like I started doing when I realised that nobody else was going to teach me. Take control of your health and you will thank yourself for it. It is never too late to change and no matter where your starting point is, 150, 250 or 350 lbs, you WILL achieve your goals if you genuinely want to lead a healthier lifestyle. Don’t compare yourself to other people and build your own online, and offline, support network. Never stop learning, never stop caring and never stop trying!

Bread

Carbs: The Struggle is Real

Transformation Photo

The left picture was me in 2007 when I was drinking and partying excessively, and the right picture is me today as I am living a much healthier and active lifestyle.

Carbs. We all love them, some of us eat too many, some of us eat too little, a few of us fear them, but most of us really misunderstand them. For most of my life, I believed that a carbohydrate was a grain. In my mind, carbohydrates were things like bread, pasta, rice, crackers, potato chips, potatoes, cereal and most things that were white in colour. When I discovered that root vegetables like sweet potato and carrots were actually a source of carbohydrates, it blew my mind. When I found out that fruits such as apples and bananas were technically carbs, I felt like I had been lied to my entire life. When I found out that milk and beans were both a source of carbs, I was downright confused. When my friend Karen from Good Clean Chow told me that avocados were even a source of carbohydrate, I was totally gobsmacked. My entire life flashed before my eyes. Okay, maybe I am being a little dramatic here, but I will never look at foods such as apples or chickpeas in the same way again. When we talk about ‘carbs,’ we are really talking about the foods that give our body energy. Simply put, carbohydrates come in three forms: (1) sugars, (2) starches, and (3) fibres. When we consume high-carb foods, our body converts these foods into glucose and burns that glucose fuel for energy. Suddenly, I remember when I tried to help my mom reduce her intake of refined carbohydrates (i.e. cake) and early on, she succumbed to her cravings and told me, “You don’t understand, I NEED this!” Well, actually, I do understand because like many of you, I too have experienced the dreaded carb cravings. These cravings are your body telling you that it needs fuel to burn for energy. The problem is that many of us interpret these cravings as actual hunger and end up overeating as a result, or over-consuming carbohydrates when we should either be drinking more water or eating more protein. The majority of the population tops up their body’s fuel supply with high-sugar foods like candy that the body can source energy from rapidly, caffeine, or processed grains, which are digested very quickly and give the body the instant boost it needs. What we really should be doing is eating healthier forms of carbohydrates such as beans, legumes, and root vegetables that digest slowly and will fuel us for a longer period of time. The third type of carbohydrate, a fibre, is possibly the most important as we need fibre to ensure digestive health and ‘waste management’ as we shall so politely call it. Raw porridge oats, beans, and vegetables such as broccoli and brussels sprouts are great sources of fibre. When I was first starting out with healthy eating in 2008, I started eating cereals and granola bars made by a company named ‘Fibre One’ which were foods fortified with extra fibre, and were popular in the US market at the time. The difference was incredible. I consumed much less food and many of my bowel problems (to put it politely) ironed themselves out. Now, I get my fibre from completely natural sources but even still, often I don’t get enough. However, I am working on it!

Sugar is a carbohydrate. Eating “Five a Day” in the form of five apples contains a whopping 125g of sugar. If you ate three bananas a day, your total sugar consumption from those bananas alone would be 54g. In fact, an apple contains the same amount of sugar as a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate bar! Now, before you freak out and trade in all your fruit for chocolate, obviously this sugar comes in different forms. In the chocolate bar, it is that white refined sugar that, in my opinion, is the heroin of the food world. In the apple, it is naturally occurring sugars in the form of fructose, which isn’t processed but is still a carbohydrates. Apples, Bananans, Oats, grains and simple carbohydrates are what I call ‘Fuel foods.’ If you are an extremely active person, you will need to eat more carbs than the average individual. Marathon runners and athletes who engage in a high amount of cardio would tend to eat a diet higher in carbs since their body is burning a heck of a lot of energy. Some people recommend eating carbs before a workout to boost your energy levels so you can power through the workout without feeling tired or sore. Personally, I find this works well for me right now but I always eat the same pre-workout meal; 25-30g of oats. A trainer recently told me it is essential to eat carbs after a workout, especially if you have been lifting heavy, since your muscles need to restore their glucose (available energy) and glycogen (stored energy) levels, which are severely depleted after a hard workout. Now, I make sure to get my carbs and protein in within 30 minutes of working out. This morning I had an incredible “milkshake” containing: 1/2 banana, 1/2 tbsp Meridian peanut butter, 100g Total 0% Greek Yoghurt, 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 scoop PhD Diet Whey Vanilla Creme, and approx. 1 cup Alpro unsweetened almond milk. This was one of the most delicious shakes I have EVER made and it completely refuelled me after my post-legs-day 10K.

Diets low in carbohydrates have worked really well for some people but not so well for others. If you think about the average American or UK diet, it is extremely carb-heavy. When I was at university, I ate cereal for breakfast, a sandwich and crisps for lunch, and pasta for dinner. That is literally 90% carbohydrates! When I was living in the United States, they served bread with the pasta at lunch and many Mexican restaurants served their meals with tortillas, chips, beans and rice. Carbs on carbs on carbs. So, for the past 5-6 months, I have been eating a diet a much lower in carbs and have been trying carb-cycling. Carb-cycling is where you eat low-carb for most of the week and then re-feed your body with carbohydrates either 1 or 2 days a week. The goal is to put your body into ketosis (fat-burning mode as opposed to carb-burning mode) for a couple of days a week so as to burn more fat and as a result, lose weight. On a low-carb diet, the cravings can be pretty intense and if you have too many low-carb days, your body can end up feeling tired and completely depleted. This is why I would suggest that you play around with the amount of carbs in your diet. Listen to your body and if your body is telling you that it is exhausted, depleted, and starved, then it is probably time for a high-carb day. Some women have reported going low-carb, or paleo, for a prolonged period of time and actually losing their menstrual cycle (a condition called amenorrhea) and experiencing hormonal issues. For this reason, I would recommend exercising caution if you are going to eat low-carb in the long-term. But, as always, listen to your body and experiment, but do so safely and consult a doctor, trainer or nutritionist if you are unsure. This article is a fantastic resource if you are seeking to learn more about this subject. Finally, I would like to share that I have been doing a low-carb, no-sugar diet for the past three days in a row and the cravings have been insane. On Day 1, I was totally fine and trained my upper body, interspersing some HIIT training into my workout. My protein intake was pretty high with eggs, protein powder, and tuna on the menu, with a lot of veggies. On Day 2, I did legs and was craving carbs like some sort of food crack addict. On Day 3, I ran a 10K and had a tiny amount of carbs in the form of 1/2 a banana and some blueberries after my run (because I think I wouldn’t have made it through the day if I hadn’t) but in the afternoon, I wandered around the supermarket googling candy, chocolate, cake and all sorts of high-sugar foods. However, instead, I came home, ate two dates, 150g greek yoghurt, some protein powder and some peanuts instead. My biggest problem is refined sugar as I have a sweet tooth and I love candy, as most of my readers will know. However, if I can succeed at this 21 day ban on refined sugar, I will be able to put a stop to my sugar binges and potentially give up candy forever, or at least cut down the sweet treats to once a fortnight or once a month rather than once or twice a week. As always, I will keep you posted and if you too are thinking of trying some low-carb meals, check out my Instagram and Facebook pages for some fabulous recipes and some food and fitness tips. See you soon!

You are Your Own Worst Critic

Many of us are far too critical of our bodies, and compare ourselves to professional celebrities and athletes, which is damaging and results in us feeling even worse about ourselves.

Many of us are far too critical of our bodies, and we compare ourselves to models, celebrities and athletes, which is damaging and results in us feeling even worse about ourselves.

There is something that is not talked about very often in the world of health, fitness, and weight loss. For many, it is always there, like an elephant in the room, but rarely is it addressed. Some people are aware that they struggle with extreme self-criticism and others choose to live in denial, or perhaps even normalise it or simply accept it. Many of us are our own worst critics; we scrutinise every part of our body and attribute imperfections to actual failures, which results in persistent feelings of inadequacy. No matter how much we work out, no matter how much weight we lose, no matter how toned we are; it’s simply never enough. Body Dysmorphia, or body dysmorphic disorder, is something that many men and women live with and cope with on a daily basis. And it is a lot more common than you think. Lots of people think about getting a ‘summer body’ or toning up, or maybe trying to fit into that pair of jeans that are a size too small. But for some, it becomes an obsession and it completely consumes them. Every single day when they wake up and look in the mirror, every single time they go shopping for new clothes, every time they eat a meal, every time they are at the gym, and every time they are going on a vacation; it is on their mind. Body. Fat. Muscle. Food.

Recently, on Instagram, I came across a hashtag titled ‘Fear Food Fridays’ and found a culture of people who eat a certain food, on a Friday, that they feel a genuine fear of eating. For many of them, it is junk food or carbohydrates; something that they fear will make them gain weight or make them fat. In my personal experience, as someone who has been fat, there is an increased sense of anxiety around these types of foods because of what they represent, but what is worse is the extreme sense of guilt and shame that is felt after eating them. A rational person would acknowledge that the consumption of one burger is not going to make them instantly fat, but they know that this combined with the few other little ‘set-backs’ during the week could certainly result in weight gain. You may have heard the phrase, “it’s a slippery slope” and with food, it certainly is. One oreo leads to two or three, and before you know it the entire packet is gone! Come on, admit it, we have all been there!

Body Dysmorphia is characterised by obsessions about one’s appearance and one’s imperfections. These obsessions may cause significant distress and may actually interfere with daily functioning. This is hard for me to write about because I have suffered from this, and still struggle with it to a certain extent. There are certain foods that I could not eat without feeling extremely anxious, even though my brain loves to remind me of how good they once tasted. There are mornings when I wake up, look in the mirror and just absolutely hate what I see. In fact, I recently consulted with my GP to make sure that what I was experiencing wasn’t too out of the ordinary, and she told me that she’s met quite a few other people who have lost large amounts of weight and experienced very similar side effects. It turns out that when you’ve been really fat, you will always experience fears of becoming fat again. You will always deal with a certain amount of anxiety relating to food and exercise; but it is how you cope with it that really matters.

Social Comparison Theory (yes, this is a real thing) states that 50% of people compare themselves to others. But, who are we comparing ourselves to? More than likely, we are comparing ourselves to celebrities, models, actors and athletes; all the people who we see in the media and in the spotlight. A while ago, I was watching one of those ‘The Real Housewives of…’ TV shows and one of the women gave viewers an inside look at her daily routine, which included a dermatologist, masseuse, hair stylist, personal trainer, cosmetic dentist, and the list goes on. If I were to aspire to look like her, I would need an army of professionals and thousands of dollars to attempt to perfect my appearance. This is what we are striving for; perfection, and it is never enough. When you are extremely critical of your appearance, you will never be satisfied. There will always be an extra jiggle, a blemish, a spot of cellulite, a wrinkle, or something to obsess over. We are very good at picking out our flaws, and not so great at celebrating our beauty and loving ourselves.

So, is there a cure? Not exactly, except for cognitive behavioural therapy if you feel you cannot cope on your own. I haven’t tried it but I know friends who have achieved a better quality of life as a result of this “change the way you think” therapy. Through speaking to a couple of friends and acquaintances who have lost significant amounts of weight, the presence of mild body dysmorphia is pretty normal. However, there is a point when it becomes extreme and dangerous. If body dysmorphia turns into an eating disorder or causes you anxiety to the point where you don’t even want to socialise or leave your home, then please seek professional help. There are also online communities who can offer support, encouragement, and ideas, so make the most of them. Everybody is different and everybody will cope with this in a different way. Find the way that works best for you. Personally, I try to focus on cooking most of my meals so that I know what is in them, exercising a healthy amount but not over-training, and indulging in a treat meal or treat food about once, maybe twice, a week. Also, I have a bubble bath about once a week with candles, salt scrubs, moisturiser, and skin products, so that I can show my body a bit of love. This is a ‘therapy’ I would highly recommend, as I always feel like a million dollars afterwards.

So, stop comparing yourself to others, especially beauty that is digitally manufactured and unattainable. Treat your body with love and respect, and focus on the things that you love about yourself. Celebrate the little wins such as the run where you beat your last time, the workout where you lifted heavier than ever before, the hill you climbed, or the long walk you completed. You are more courageous than you think and despite the messages conveyed by the media, your looks do not define you; it’s the inner strength and beauty that matters the most.

Top 6 Natural Sources of Protein

Fish

You don’t have to take a protein powder or supplement to get enough protein in your diet. There are many foods which are naturally high in protein and will help you build muscle, recover after a workout, and stay full in-between meals. Personally, I use a protein powder after I’ve been lifting because my muscles are like ‘FEED ME’ but I never take it after cardio. My approach to protein is to try and squeeze as much in my meals as possible so that I don’t get hungry in-between meals, and so that I don’t eat as many carbs. As a result, my muscles are reaping the benefits. According to the National Health Service in the UK, women are recommended to eat 45g of protein a day and men are recommended to eat 55g. However, some nutritional scientists are questioning this and considering that it may not be enough! So, download the app ‘My Fitness Pal’, take a food diary and see how close your protein intake is to the RDA.

Now, I will share with you my top six sources of protein, in my diet at the moment, and obviously this could change as I am always experimenting, but for now, here you go:

  1. Meat and Fish. Let’s start with the obvious source; meat and fish. There are between 18-25g in one roasted chicken breast, depending on the size and brand. The same goes for Turkey. These are also not high in fat like lamb, pork and beef. Fish is an incredible super-food but can be quite high in fat. What’s the best approach? Balance and variety, of course! If you are a meat-lover and need meat in most of your meals, go for the poultry.
  2. Eggs. When I was younger, I thought eggs were unhealthy and I avoided them. Instead, I ate fruit (aka sugar), cereal (aka sugar), toast (aka sugary grains) and low-fat yoghurts (aka sugar). If only someone had educated me and told me that eggs are pretty much a super-food! Eggs are packed with nutrients, I’m not going to list them all here because the list is long, but look it up! One boiled egg contains roughly 6-7g of protein. On my low-carb days, I eat up to 5 eggs. Either I eat 30g oats with 1 boiled egg for breakfast and then eat 2 boiled eggs with lunch (vegetables and a piece of lean meat), or if I’m hungry in the morning, I would have a 4 or 5 egg scramble (no milk) and a green smoothie. If your office is stocked with cookies, cakes and other naughty foods, take boiled eggs in with you. They are so filling and completely satisfy those hunger pangs or cravings.
  3. Greek Yoghurt. The only Greek Yoghurt I buy is the official Fage Total 0% Greek Yoghurt, because it is actually made in Greece, and has 10.3g of protein in a 100g serving. Do not buy the knock-off ‘Greek-style yoghurt’. If it has the word ‘style’ in the title, it’s just a very clever marketing tactic and the nutritional qualities are not going to be on par with the authentic Greek stuff. So, how do you eat this without being bored? Well, if you love yoghurt, eat it plan or throw a couple of chopped strawberries in there. Personally, I eat this several ways: (a) in a smoothie, (b) stirred into some oatmeal, (c) with a tablespoon of my favourite protein powder, and (d) with a teaspoon of coconut and some chia seeds or flaxseed. However, I am constantly coming up with new ideas so I will share them on my Instagram or Facebook as I invent them.
  4. Peanut Butter. This is also a fat source so be careful! Peanut butter is calorific and that’s mainly because, being a nut butter, it is very high in fat. My choice of peanut butter is Meridian because it has only two ingredients: peanuts and salt. There are no added oils or sugars, which is awesome! In a heaped teaspoon of Meridian peanut butter (approx 18g), there are 5.3g of protein and 8.3g of fat. If you trying a low-carb eating regime like me, then a little extra fat is necessary to make up for the carbs you aren’t eating, so a teaspoon of this in your oatmeal or on a rice cake is totally OK. Just don’t eat it with a spoon, because before you know it, you will have consumed 500+ extra calories! I speak from experience here!
  5. Chickpeas. These little beige peas are actually high in protein and fibre, with about 15g of protein in one serving (1 cup or 164g) and 12g of fibre. However, they are not a low-carb food and have about 45g total carbohydrates in one serving. Chickpeas are so versatile. They can be added to a salad or thrown in a soup or stew. You can also season them with salt and pepper and roast them until they are nice and chewy or crispy. You can also do the latest Instagram craze and make them into a cookie dough-like consistency by adding maple syrup, almond milk, protein powder and chocolate chips, or cacao nibs. Check out ‘CoconutVanillaSugar’ on Instagram for the original recipe.
  6. Quinoa. This is something that I am experimenting with at the moment. There are 8g of protein in a 1 cup serving (cooked). Grains don’t usually sit well in my tummy and the first time I tried this, I felt super bloated. However, my trainer has encouraged me to try it again through making fishcakes with it and mixing it with veg. I boiled a whole bunch of quinoa last night with one stock cube to add a tiny bit of flavour. I will keep you posted on how it goes!

Don’t be scared of the nut butters. I know that many of you will look at ‘peanut butter’ and think, “Yeah right! That’s what people eat to gain weight!” You are correct, and I guarantee you that they are eating the stuff that is packed with palm oil, vegetable oil, sugar, and high fructose corn syrup. If you are from the UK, you may have seen those bucket-size tubs of peanut butter in Holland and Barrett. Well, I consumed an entire tub in about 2 or 3 weeks and guess what, I’ve actually lost weight. Nut butters are awesome. Secondly, eggs do not raise your cholesterol, unless you have issues of hyper-sensitivity. In fact, they can actually have the opposite effect, lowering your ‘bad’ cholesterol and raising your ‘good’ cholesterol. Go and read about eggs instead of believing what your doctor tells you, and then try having a couple of eggs for breakfast instead of cereal or breads. Finally, find the form of protein that works for you. If you are vegan or lactose-intolerant or gluten-intolerant, there are other forms of protein out there. This is just my top list. Experiment, make it fun, add it to your other kitchen creations and find out what suits your diet best. 

Food-a-holics Anonymous

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This is an amazing chocolatey cake that my mother baked last Easter. It would take every ounce of strength in my body to stop me from eating this right now if it were here in front of me.

Have you ever watched the show ‘Intervention’ where the family and friends of an addict intervene to help the addict put a stop to their addiction? These addicts are addicted to various drugs including alcohol, heroin, prescription painkillers, and various methamphetamines. They will do pretty much anything to get their next fix. They lie, cheat, steal, sneak around, and spend a huge amount of their income, or in some cases, their family’s income on feeding their addiction. Some of them even go so far as to manipulating and coercing parents and other family members into buying drugs for them. In my opinion, and my personal experience, a food addict has similar qualities.

Apologies to my freshman year college housemates, if you are reading this, but I used to steal your food. That chocolate cereal you bought for breakfast? I ate it whilst my green grapes rotted in the refrigerator. In my second year of university, when I was my heaviest, I used to go to the 24-hour store to get a late-night fix, which was sometimes chips and dip or other times a large candy or chocolate bar. There was a Chinese restaurant next door which I suspected had rats, but I still ate there if I was viciously hungover and too lazy to go elsewhere for dinner. I used to buy a baked “treat” from the library nearly every day, until I could no longer call it a “treat”.

With an addiction comes embarrassment, shame, and withdrawal from many social situations. Even up until my final year of university, I avoided many situations that involved eating what I refer to as ‘danger foods’ with my skinnier friends or people I didn’t know. “Danger” foods included pizza, chocolate and any fast foods. Looking back to when I was in high school, I was the girl who sat there and devoured almost an entire stuffed crust extra-cheese pepperoni pizza whilst my skinny friends sat there and pressed a napkin into their slice of vegetable pizza to soak up all the grease. This memory has always haunted me. What would I do now? I would make my own cauliflower-base pizza and eat until I was full. In fact, I did exactly that last Friday night and the recipe is on my Instagram if you want to try it yourself.

Most addicts hate themselves. They aren’t proud of their addiction, they are deeply ashamed and feel like everyone they know is judging them. For food addicts, especially those who are extremely overweight or obese, their addiction is visible in their size so they can’t truly hide. They know, and their friends know, that they didn’t just have salad for lunch. They had the full chicken bacon caesar with heaps of parmesan, croutons, extra dressing, and some bread and butter on the side, washed down with a big cup of diet Dr. Pepper. They know, and their family knows, that their “diet” isn’t going very well. The weight watchers meals are never enough to fill them so they secretly eat Nutella out of the jar with a spoon after dinner at night and treat themselves to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory every Friday afternoon. I can put my hand on my heart and say that I never did this; I lasted all of one day on Weight Watchers and then gave up. But I still eat peanut butter out of the jar sometimes. The worst thing about food addiction, or any addiction, is that you feel like you are fighting a losing battle. You feel like you are your own worst enemy. You feel like you are a weak person.

Portion sizes are an issue. Restaurants in particular do not measure their portions by serving size and meals have gradually expanded as we, the hungry consumers, ask for more more MORE. Our plates are often piled with enough food to feed two or three people, which results in us over-eating and having to eat more food to feel satisfied. This spirals out of control and before we know it, we are roughly the size of a small car. Snacks are also an issue. When I was fat, I was angry. I used to eat the same meals as my friends but yet I was twice their size. Why? In-between those meals, I was consuming about 1000 calories in snacks, which were usually not very healthy, and the pounds were just piling on bit by bit. Beware of snacks; especially the ones that don’t come in portion control or resealable bags.

So, what about now? In all honesty, I still struggle. My portion sizes have been vastly reduced. Fast food no longer appeals to me. Bread, ice cream, pasta- not even interested. Crisps and crackers- no thanks. Popcorn- only if I am at the movie theatre. Sugar- a HUGE BIG MASSIVE problem. For a while, I was limiting the treats to once or twice a week. Then I started making healthy versions of “treats” like chickpea brownies or almond flour cookies, but then I would devour the entire batch and it sort of defeated the purpose of baking healthy. Then I tried supplements and stopped adding honey or maple syrup to my oats and even gave up caffeine. Then I started substituting fruit as treats but again, I would eat too much and I was consuming so much fructose that I might as well have just had a slice of cake since the sugar content would have been pretty much the same. Then I cut out almost all grains, fruits, and dairy products, and started limiting my consumption of nuts and tried going cold-turkey but the cravings got more intense and I felt like I was going through genuine withdrawal. So then, I was pretty much back at square one. Phew. So, what is the answer? Honestly, I don’t have the answer just yet. Hell, I just ate three chocolate chip cookies and now I am begging my boyfriend to eat the rest so I don’t end up polishing them off. Sugar is the only thing I am still struggling with. In fact, I would dare to say that giving up sugar is a hundred times more difficult than when I gave up cigarettes. But, I have asked my trainer for help and I continue to share my woes with my nutritionist friend, Karen (@GoodCleanChow), whose head I have surely melted, and hopefully I will soon have the answer for you. In the meantime, I’m trying to stick to peanut butter, blueberries, and herbal teas. Tonight’s tea menu: fennel and orange. See you next week.