Killing Bad Habits, Creating New Ones

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Part of achieving a lifestyle change and making it stick is killing old habits and creating new ones. When I began my weight loss journey a few years ago, I had to break some bad habits and adopt some new healthy ones. Everyone made it sound easy, like I could just flip a switch, but it was really hard. Along the way, I found some tricks and short-cuts that really helped me reinforce my behaviour changes. For anyone who has just started their weight-loss journey or is struggling to break bad habits, this post is for you.

Stop Snacking.

A lot of people who are overweight struggle to lose the weight because they are constantly eating, snacking, picking, grazing and consuming a few hundred extra calories on top of their regular meals. Food is a drug, it releases feel-good chemicals in our brain and our senses are heightened. Snacking is a bad habit when it is preventing you from losing weight or causing you to gain weight. But there are a few habits you can introduce that will help you stop your snacking habit. The most effective for me is chewing gum. I go through about 50 pieces of gum every 1-2 weeks. Yes, that’s a lot of gum. I also have very healthy teeth, according to my dentist, so maybe this gum-chewing habit is doing more good than I even realise. The second best habit to introduce is drinking more water. Every time you feel like a snack, drink a bottle of water. You will pee a lot more often so prepare for that, but your body will thank you for an increased intake of H2O. The third best habit to combat a bad snacking habit is introduce more physical activity. Change your routine. Are you snacking while watching Netflix in bed? Go to a class at the gym instead. Go for a walk and listen to a Podcast. Go walk to Starbuck’s and grab a decaf Americano. Replace your snacking with a different activity that will make you feel just as good, if not better, than that shitty kit-kat.

Drink less alcohol. 

Alcohol messes your body up. It sends your blood sugar levels sky-rocketing, only for them to crash and burn the next day. It is a depressant. It can change the composition of your gut bacteria. It increases your heart rate. So yes, it’s fun and it can make for a fantastic night out with friends, but it does not do the body good. If you struggle with your weight, alcohol may have an even greater impact on you than someone who doesn’t struggle with their weight. But there are a few new habits you can introduce to help kick the alcohol habit. Sign up for early morning gym classes on the weekend to avoid the temptation to go out boozing on a Friday night. Or sign up for a Friday evening gym class for the same effect. Alternate between champagne or red wine and water, so you consume half the amount of booze you normally would on a night out. If you’re going out for dinner, order a Diet Coke or sparkling water instead of boozing. You’ll still get a mental kick from the caffeine in the Diet Coke but without all the calories. Sounds boring, I know, but it will help you shed the pounds. Don’t stop socialising altogether, this isn’t good for your happiness, but find a way to cut down on booze while still being social.

Cut down (or out) refined sugar. 

When I was younger, I loved sugar. It was my drug. I drank it, in the form of Dr Pepper or Mountain Dew. I ate it, in the form of candy. I snacked on it, in the form of brownies, cookies and cakes. I had a terrible sugar habit and when my weight peaked at 210 lbs. in 2009, I knew I had to do something about it. It took years before I got to a place where I was consistently eating a low-sugar diet. I gradually cut down. Then I pretty much cut it out altogether. Then I got stuck in a restrict and binge cycle (e.g. no sugar for a week, followed by a big bag of Pic n’ Mix at the cinema on the weekend). Then I got to a place where I was having it semi-regularly but in extremely low amounts (e.g. a few squares of chocolate a couple of times a week). Refined sugar is the reason that most overweight people are overweight. So, how do you kick this habit when sugar is on pretty much every list of ingredients in the supermarket? Again, I go back to chewing gum (bubblegum flavour to be precise). Drink flavoured sparkling water (not too regularly though, it’s full of artificial sweeteners). Eat more berries or any other low-sugar fruit. Drink black coffee after large meals to help re-balance your blood sugar levels. Exercise more, to help maintain level blood-sugar levels. Eat complex carbohydrates like porridge or rye bread with breakfast for slow-release sugars and energy. Learn to think with your stomach and not your mind. Your stomach doesn’t want refined sugar, it will completely destroy the good bacteria in your gut. Your brain wants it because it’s a drug. My biggest piece of advice here is to not replace all sugar with artificial sweetener, because that’s not good for your body either. Also, don’t replace it with honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, etc. because those are all just different forms of sugar.

There is so much more I could write here. Instead, I’m giving you my perspective on the top three bad habits of overweight people and some top tips for creating and sustaining new healthy ones. I’ll save the rest of my thoughts for a future post! For now, you can check out fitness and food tips on my Instagram and Facebook page. Thanks for reading and have a happy Sunday!

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.

Flexitarian: What the F***?

Last week, I noticed an Insta-celeb posting about a new diet he has designed for weight-loss and it’s called ‘The Sweet Potato Diet.’ This is when I realised that, with the help of marketing and advertising, we have truly taken the word “diet” to new extremes. It has become really, really fashionable to eat a diet that is gluten-free, dairy free, paleo, vegan, raw and the list goes on. The more you restrict your diet, the more trendy you are. And don’t get me started on how some people’s restrictions are simply a cover-up for eating disorders*. Oh, you’re dairy-free but you still eat fro-yo on Leg Day? Cool. Oh, you’re gluten-intolerant but you still allow yourself a granola bar after you’ve run an ultra-marathon and have “earned” the carbs? Sure. Picture that scene where your girlfriends look on in horror as you eat a piece of bread, as in “How could you put that poison into your sacred body?” Speaking as someone who has also demonized bread in the past and then realized that bread isn’t the enemy; all refined, processed foods are in fact the enemy! If the ingredients list is a mile long, it’s not really ‘real food’ is it? We have become obsessed with putting a label on our personal nutrition, branding it in a way that fits with our social image. This is something I have never advocated and will never support. Eat real food, eat foods that will nourish you and help you flourish, eat intuitively and only supplement if/when you need to.
The newest fad is ‘Flexitarian.’ This is defined as a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish. So… you have adopted quite an ordinary, regular approach to your nutrition then? Meat is not essential to our diets; protein is. We should all eat less meat and play our part to save our planet and her resources. There is no need to put a label on it and make it into some sexy, ultra-cool trend. Hashtags like #meatless are cool and help spread awareness of this new cause and how people can change their diet and still maintain healthy nutrition, all while contributing to environmental sustainability.
Veganism and plant-based nutrition have soared in popularity in recent years. For most people, veganism is a huge adjustment and it is very challenging to eat this way and still get enough protein in your diet. If you aren’t getting protein from meat, dairy or eggs, you need to find it from other sources. Many people turn to soy products but if consumed in great excess, soy can disrupt the reproductive hormones in women. Chickpeas, lentils, beans, quinoa and other vegan-friendly foods are high in protein but also high in carbohydrates. Nuts and seeds are high in protein but also high in fats. Vegans and vegetarians can often find themselves gaining weight because they eat more foods that are high in carbs or high in fats. The best approach is to make sure the majority of your diet comes from green, leafy, fibrous veggies dressed in healthy fats like avocado, extra-virgin olive oil and seeds. Check out Instagram for vegan food inspiration and tips on how to cook healthy, filling vegan meals. If you’re London-based, I recommend making a trip to Tibits, Ethos Foods or Wholefoods for some delicious vegan inspo.
Paleo is a diet that I tried for the good part of 6-8 months and ended up gaining weight because I was eating so much fat. Paleo is one of the most restrictive diets I have ever eaten. You cannot eat grains or dairy or any processed foods. All meals are made from scratch and all ingredients must be 100% natural. It’s very meat-heavy and the exclusion of beans, nightshades and many other foods can result in a diet that is deficient in fibre. This diet, if too low in carbohydrates, can disrupt the menstrual cycle in some women so proceed with caution. Or take the principles of paleo but don’t restrict too much! Some attributes of the paleo diet make sense, like not eating refined carbohydrates and grains, but other attributes like avoiding many fruits are not necessary if you’re extremely physically active. Fruit is not going to make you sick or fat.
Try not putting a label on your diet or the way you eat. Diet and food is very personal to the individual and we all have different nutrition needs based on our physical activity, physical and mental health and internal biology. Eat to achieve your goals, feel good, thrive and to maintain a strong, stable immune system.
*If you feel you may be struggling with an Eating Disorder, please contact BEAT who can offer you advice and support on 0808 801 0677.

Bish, Do You Even Lift?

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The left image was taken in 2009 and the image on the right was taken a couple of weeks ago. There have been a lot of ups and downs in between these two photographs and the journey, and progress, has not been linear. 

Most of the time, I prefer to look forward, but once in a while, I need to look back to remember that the girl on the left (pictured above) is still part of who I am today. I must not hate her or resent her, but rather feel proud of how far she has come. How did I transform my body and my lifestyle? It started with teaching myself about nutrition and exercise. The nutrition piece has always proved challenging but exercise has become a strong passion and major part of my life. For a long time, I was a runner and cardio-lover. But my body really started to change when I began lifting weights. Hopefully, the above pictures are proof that lifting weights won’t make you fat. It will change the shape of your body and will help you build muscle. Muscle is not something to fear; it makes you fast, fit and strong. It gives you shape and definition and helps avoid injury.

With that being said, I want to share a workout for strength which includes weights and body weight. Interspersing exercises with weights and body-weight movements will help burn fat and build muscle. Sounds easy, right?! It’s not easy but it is well worth the hard work!

  • Sprint for 60 Seconds / Rest for 30 Seconds (Repeat for 6 minutes)
  • Clean and press 20kg (20 Reps)
  • Lunges with 20kg (20 Pulses each leg)
  • Straight Leg Deadlifts 20kg (20 Reps)
  • Power Jacks  (30 Reps)
  • REPEAT 3 TIMES

 

  • Side Step-Ups on Bench (20 Reps each leg)
  • Squat Jumps (20 Reps)
  • Sumo Squat with 20kg Kettlebell (15 Reps)
  • REPEAT 3 TIMES

 

  • Front Squats with 2x 6Kg Kettlebells (15 Reps)
  • Leg Extension 39kg (15 Reps)
  • Hip Abductor 45kg (20 Reps)
  • REPEAT 3 TIMES

 

  • Jumping Lunges (100 Reps)
  • Running at 10.0Km/h for 10 minutes to Cool Down

 

Remember to adjust the weight to fit your own personal strength. Don’t forget to stretch at the end of this workout and use a foam roller if necessary. Have a hot bath to relax those muscles and make some Golden Milk to help ease an inflammation. Have a high-protein dinner, get lots of sleep and make sure to recover the next day. Recovery doesn’t have to mean no exercise at all, a gentle run may be OK, but don’t over-exert yourself. Have fun with your fitness and have a great week!

Five Ways to Motivate Yourself to Stay Healthy

Motivation is a term used by many as if to signify some obscure mysterious, stranded concept or object that we must dig and search wide to find. Where can you find motivation? What does it look like? How do you maintain it?

Recently, I met a wonderfully passionate PT in Covent Garden who shared with me something called the Emotional Threshold. This is the exact point when someone becomes emotionally ready to commit to achieving a goal. Many people want to lose weight or get fit but are not ready to commit and make the sacrifices necessary to achieve their weight loss goal. Many people want to get healthy but deep down, they don’t want it enough.

In January 2015, I reached my emotional threshold and committed a sum of money to Personal Training as well as a huge amount of time to reaching my fitness goals. I committed to the diet, the personal research on nutrition and health, the time spent exercising and I sacrificed my social life and any activities that involved alcohol! I had reached a point where I was willing to do anything to lose weight and lean out. I wanted it more than anything and I remember standing in front of my personal trainer and saying, “I am ready. Let’s do this.”

Fast forward a year and a half later and I found myself slipping back into bad habits. My motivation and willpower to say “No” to treats has been virtually non-existent. And I find myself asking, “Why?” What has gone so terribly wrong? Why am I eating treats every day and why can’t I say “No” when someone dangles a piece of chocolate in front of me? I am a logical, rational person and I know that the chocolate has zero nutritional value and the bad ingredients in them will have all sorts of terrible effects on my body including acne, cellulite and excess body fat.

My frustration with myself got me thinking and reflecting on how I acquired such strong motivation last year. What motivated me? How did I stick to my plan for achieving my goals? What got me to the gym on the mornings when I was tired? What stopped me saying “Yes” to that piece of cake? My motivations were very personal to me and I have shared them in previous posts, but for this post, I want to share my five steps to motivation so you too can achieve your goals.

The Why. 

Before you can even begin, you need to ask yourself why you want to do this. Are you truly doing it for yourself? Is the reason strong enough to get you out of bed in the morning at 5:00am on a rainy day in December? The “Why” is the most important part. It can’t be too superficial and if there are multiple reasons why, even better. The stronger this is, the more likely you are to succeed.

3 Reasons.

Consolidate your reasons and decide on the three most important ones. You can’t have a list a mile long. This is too much and you will feel overwhelmed. Decide on your three top reasons for committing and write them down. Remind yourself every single day of these three reasons and drill them into your brain. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Baby Steps.

Start small. If you can stick to your diet for 1 day, that’s a win. Then one more day. And one more. And before you know it, you will have hit a week. That is fantastic. One week will turn into two and when you hit the 21-day mark, it becomes a lifestyle change. Try cutting out alcohol for the first short while to avoid messing with your body’s hormones, hunger signals, sleep, etc. Start small and take it day by day, week by week. Don’t overwhelm yourself with saying things like, “I’m going to cut out candy for 6 weeks.” You’ll fail. Start with, “I’m going to cut out candy for 6 days.” This is more realistic and the small wins will strengthen your motivation rather than leaving you feeling deflated.

SMART Goals.

Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. Use tools like a journal, a calendar, a spreadsheet or post-it notes to help keep you on track. Write down your goals to hold yourself accountable. Create short-term and long-term goals. Try setting goals daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly to stay focused and to make sure you always have things to work towards.

End Result.

Decide what your end result should be. Is this a weight? A percentage of body fat? A dress size? A marathon? A Bench Press? You need a specific box to tick when you have reached your ultimate goal. This doesn’t have to be the end of your lifestyle change but you need this point to know that you have succeeded. From here, you can celebrate your achievement and figure out what your next goal and challenge may be.

Balance: What does this mean?

Lately, I’ve been contemplating the concept of ‘balance,’ which has become a very overused word in the world of health and fitness. Balance seems to represent something different for everyone, depending on their health and fitness goals. For some, balance means having a teaspoon of peanut butter on their rice cake instead of eating it plain. For others, balance is having an entire pepperoni pizza and a glass of pinot grigio. Balance, as a concept, has been used to validate and justify disordered eating, binges, treats, cheat meals and more. But what does it really mean?

  1. Eating Healthy but not Restricting is very challenging for anyone who feels a strong desire and pressure to be slim and stay slim. We live in a society where restricting is viewed as “motivation” and thin is viewed as “successful.” Salads are the only acceptable option on the menu and everything needs to be gluten-free, dairy-free, nightshade-free, meat-free, carb-free and basically, calorie-free. Pass the celery?
  2. Being Mindful of Food but not Obsessing over ingredients, calories, macros, etc. too much unless you are on “prep” or a professional athlete. The fitness community can be somewhat irresponsible when it comes to sharing the grueling diet and fitness regimes that are followed by competitors on prep and professional athletes. Unless it’s your full-time job or career, spending hours analyzing food content can result in disordered eating and thinking. If you’re on a diet, calorie-counting and macros-counting can be important and will help you lose weight, but know when your diet will end and stick a time-limit on it.
  3. Exercising to Stay Fit but not Punishing your body because this will wreak havoc on your mind. Extreme over-exercising puts stress on your body and elevates your cortisol levels, which affect your sleep, your hunger hormones, your mood and much more. Not to mention that exercising for punishment takes the joy out of something that should be fun and should help relieve stress rather than causing it. Have fun with your fitness and enjoy feeling fast, fit and strong!
  4. Enjoying Food but not Over-Indulging will help you maintain a steady metabolism and balanced blood sugar levels. It will also avoid the urge to restrict to make up for having a few too many chocolates or calories. Food shouldn’t be primarily for pleasure, it should be primarily for nutrition and we should eat with our health in mind. It can become a drug and it’s important not to approach food this way. Try to be aware of your emotional triggers and find another outlet that is not food or alcohol. Easier said than done after a hellish week at work, right?
  5. Having a Drink but not Bingeing is the healthiest way to consume alcohol. Giving up alcohol altogether is not easy and when I tried this, I found myself avoiding ALL social situations for the fear of succumbing to my cravings and having a drink. This was a very long, lonely year and I missed out on many opportunities to enjoy a drink with friends. Going from party-girl to sober and back to party-girl again, I am now finding a new form of balance when it comes to alcohol. Is there a way to drink and not get hangovers? If so, let me know!
  6. Working Hard but not Pressuring yourself to be perfect in every aspect of your life. If you prioritize fitness and health, other areas of your life will take a backseat. I don’t know many people who work really long hours and have very successful careers AND very full, exciting, boozy social lives AND the body of a fitness model. If you’re out there and you have all of the above, please call me ASAP and tell me your secret. For me personally, I feel that I can have two out of three but not all three at the same time. Maybe next year, I’ll have mastered the art but this year, my goal is to have two out of three and be balanced and happy. In my experience, putting pressure on yourself in all areas of your life is not good for your mental or physical health.

Through my journey so far, I have not yet achieved balance. I have see-sawed from ultra-healthy to ultra-indulgent. I have bounced from not drinking at all to boozing and cruising. These behaviors result in extreme distress, anxiety and guilt. The impact on mind and body? Torture! Weight gain ensues and your metabolism and digestive system don’t know what to do with themselves. Sleep is disrupted and mood is a rollercoaster. Your mind torments itself up with feelings of failure, disappointment, discouragement and more. Sugar levels and energy levels are all over the place. It’s not a healthy way to live! During 2015-16, I was eating extremely healthy and exercising every single day. I was on a path of weight-loss and I was the fittest I’ve ever been. But my social life suffered and so did my friendships. During 2016-17, I have been eating and drinking whatever I want and have spent a lot of time indulging. My social life is the best it has been in years. But I feel really bad about myself, guilty about the weight I’ve gained, and disappointed that I am not the lean, mean, fitness machine I used to be. So where do I go from here? The next chapter of my journey will be finding a point halfway between the ultra-healthy and ultra-indulgent. This is scary and exciting but my body feels ready for a positive challenge and some positive changes.

 

 

Saturday Workout: Legs and HIIT

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Checking out my progress in the mirror at Puregym following an upper body session. Shout out to all the ladies who lift!

There is nothing I love more than waking up on a Saturday morning hangover-free, having an Americano with Calorie-free Walden Farms caramel syrup and hitting the gym for a huge training session. Many of my commutes, lunchtimes or evenings are spent scanning personal trainers and fitness models on Instagram for ‘Fitspiration‘ and ideas for new exercises and workouts. Why not take #inspo from the best?

While I am on my way to the gym in the morning, I plan my workout in my head or on the Notes app on my iPhone. One of the joys of living in London is that the Puregyms in Zone 1 are virtually empty at the weekend because everyone who lives in Zone 1 probably has their own gym! For this reason, the weekends are when I typically get some of my best sessions in. No queuing for machines and more space to do explosive exercise and to create my own circuits.

More on the benefits of Weekend Workouts next Sunday, but for now, below is my Saturday Session. Remember to adjust the weight to your own fitness goals and always prioritise form over reps. Rest when you need it but try and keep your heart rate up. If you cool down, smash out 20 burpees to get warmed back up! Let me know if you try it and what you think. You can reach me on Facebook and Instagram. Happy Sunday Fun-day!

Legs and HIIT:

90 seconds Running 13.5 Km/h
15 Kettle bell swings 14Kg
10 push-ups
60 second plank
REPEAT X3

15 Reps Leg extension 45Kg
30 jumping jacks
REPEAT X3

15 (each leg) Split Squat 10kg (20Kg total)
15 Jumping squats
REPEAT X3

15 Full Clean and Press 20Kg
30 seconds Mountain Climbers
15 (each leg) Curtsey Squats 20Kg

REPEAT X3

12 Smith Machine Squats 60Kg
REPEAT X3
6-8 Reps @ 70Kg

90 seconds running 12Km/h
15 Burpees
REPEAT X5

Stretch! 😊

How to Train for an Endurance Event

 

For the longest time, I was running 5Ks and going to the same circuits classes at the gym. I would work up a sweat but after a few months of training, I plateaued. Training was fun but I reached a point where I no longer felt challenged. It was time to shake things up.

I am a Type A personality. I f***ing thrive on achievement and my favourite person to compete with is myself. In July 2012, my sister introduced me to endurance events when she persuaded me to sign up for the Tough Mudder. For those of you unfamiliar with this event, it is 12 miles of running interspersed with mud pits, lakes, rivers, electric wires, ice water, fire, gravel tunnels and other obstacles designed by the military. It took us over three hours to complete and as we crossed the finish line, I burst into tears out of sheer pride (that I actually finished it) and relief (that I didn’t die). We were fed a protein shot, water, a burger and a beer. That evening, we continued re-feeding ourselves with an indian meal and some cocktails. The next day, I could barely walk. My body felt broken! But I was hooked.

The Tough Mudder was fantastic but I wanted to try something new. In 2013, I signed up for the Belfast Half Marathon. This was new to me. I had never run more than 10-15 Km so I had to educate myself about training and supplementation. Thankfully, I worked with a girl who was an avid, competitive runner and she gave me some great advice. The training was great and I love running so it was really fun trying new routes and incorporating uphill runs to build my strength. I completed it in 1:48 and crossed the finish line with a rush of adrenaline and emotion.

This spring, I completed the Clapham Common Half Marathon in London and it was a very special event. Shortly after signing up for this event I tore a muscle in my lower back and I wasn’t sure that I would be able to participate. I didn’t run for 4-5 weeks and stuck to the cross trainer and some strength training. With the help and advice of a physiotherapist, I managed to recover and rebuild my strength. Things happening in my personal life messed with my emotions and I had gained a bit of weight, which made me even more nervous about running. Nobody wants to feel heavy when they run! You want to feel light and speedy! I focused on strengthening my muscles. This was all I knew how to do. I decided I would strengthen my hamstrings, glutes, hip abductors, core and just run 5-10K a couple of times a week during the weeks prior to the event. It worked. I ran the half marathon in 1:42 and finished 2nd. And I may have collapsed on the grass afterwards and cried (or sobbed) happy tears before phoning my mum to tell her the news.

My preparation for each event was entirely different. Each time, I was armed with more knowledge and experience. I had done my research, spoken to other athletes and tried and tested my own methods. After this most recent event, I felt fantastic. Of course my body was fatigued but I had zero pain, I still went for a long walk afterwards and I didn’t feel ravenously hungry during the hours following. I was tired but not exhausted. This is how I knew I had found a strategy that worked for me. And I want to share it!

One Week Prior:

During the week prior to the Clapham Common Half Marathon, I ran two 10Ks, two 5Ks, did two full-body strength sessions and two days of rest with plenty of walking. My eating was low to medium carb but with lots of protein. I wanted to feed my muscles and make sure they were fighting fit for the run.

One Day Before: 

On the day before the Clapham Common Half Marathon, I ran approximately 5-6 kilometres on the treadmill (easy on the knees) and did some core and upper body work. I took BCAAs for recovery and that night, I CARBED UP. I had chicken with tons of colourful veggies and some rice for dinner. I had a lot of pic n’ mix (mostly chocolate) at the movie theatre. Oops! And before I went to bed, I ate 4 rice cakes with some peanut butter and apple sauce. It was A LOT of food! I was stuffed.

The Morning Of: 

Prior to the Tough Mudder, I snacked on trail mix slowly and steadily until 30 minutes before the event. Banana, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, m&ms and raisins. It was pure energy food and the mixture of sugars and fats meant it would slow-release. Halfway through the event, they handed out half-bananas to us. This worked really well and I didn’t lack energy during the event at all. During the first half marathon, I took the advice of a nutritionist friend and had a paleo breakfast (avocado, bacon, egg, butter, black coffee). It was the WORST decision ever! Zero carbs meant zero energy. And I had an upset stomach prior to the event, which meant I was extremely dehydrated before even starting the run. As a result, I had a cramp in my side for the first 8km. This time, for the Clapham Common Half Marathon, I knew exactly what to have. Porridge! All you need before a run is carbs. I had already fuelled up the night before so I didn’t need a huge breakfast. Two cups of green tea, lemon water, a swig of BCAAs and 40g of oats with a scoop of Diet Whey protein, and I was ready to go.

30 minutes Post-Event:

Immediately after the event, I swigged some water and grabbed a tall black Americano. I ate some dried mango and headed home to get a hot shower. After my shower, I had another cup of green tea. Caffeine = energy. I also ate a small granola bar. I was feeling peckish at this point.

60-120 minutes Post-Event:

By this time, I was ready for a meal. I had begun to feel tired and knew that I needed a good feed! I went to a lovely restaurant called Brasserie Zedel and had a salmon filet with a small portion of wild rice, two small slices of crusty baguette with real butter and a huge portion of sautéed spinach. Then, a cup of black tea for a perk-me-up. This hit THE spot and filled me with nutrients, starches and omega-3s.

Please know that I am not an expert! I have never done an Iron Man or a Triathlon or a Marathon. But I have done a LOT of running, a lot of strength training and I am a bit of a “fitness freak”. I spend a lot of time doing it, reading about it, researching it and constantly learning so that I can try new things and share my experiences and knowledge with other fitness-lovers. I hope you have enjoyed reading this post and if you have anything you’d like to add, please leave it in the comments! You can see photos from these events on my Facebook and Instagram pages. Happy Exercising!

Fitness Struggles: Coping with an Injury (Part II)

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Since my injury, I have been focusing on building my strength and flexibility. This will hopefully make the recovery process easier as I strengthen the muscles in my legs, arms and core rather than losing muscle mass.

If you haven’t read my previous post ‘Coping with an Injury: Part I‘ then I recommend that you start there before reading this post. 🙂 In summary, I tore my Psoas muscle on the left side of my lower back/hip flexor approximately five weeks ago and it was a very difficult injury to recover from.

Stage 6: Assessing the Damage

As a person who is naturally impatient, it was very challenging to take a step back from my normal workout routine. I had to try certain exercises, assess the pain, and then figure out if I could continue or if it was too much. In week one, I could not walk without being in excruciating pain and discomfort. I even had to take paracetamol to sleep. I began with the cross trainer in week two. In week three, I began doing burpees, rowing, jumping jacks and body weight lunges. In week four, I began doing a lot of upper body weights, core work, and squats and lunges with a 10kg and 15kg bar. In week five, I increased to a 17.5kg bar and built up to the weights I was using before the injury. I added in leg extensions, jumping lunges, courtesy lunges, hip thrusters, dead lifts and then before I knew it, I was back to my normal routine with a little less of the explosive moves, but the normal weight. The best feeling was not having any pain. I felt strong again!

Stage 7: Helping Myself Heal

Thankfully, my medical insurance covered me for a consultation and six sessions with a physiotherapist. She has helped me cope with the injury both physically and mentally. She completely understood what I was going through and I trusted her more than I have ever trusted a medical professional in my life. She understood my fear of never being able to run again, my fear of gaining weight, my worries of not being able to exercise, and all of the emotional turmoil that came with such a complicated injury. From doing a lot of reading and research about nutrition and exercise as part of my own personal weight loss journey, I knew a few things could help speed up the healing process. First and foremost, a high-protein diet which wasn’t hard as I eat a lot of protein as it is! I also bought BCAAs and L-glutamine, which I took 3-4 times a week pre and post-workout to help my muscles heal and grow. Branched chain amino acids have been shown to help muscles repair. I figured it could only help, so why not? I took my regular supplements, which are: Omega-3 fish oil, Vitamin B complex, multi-vitamins, cranberry and a probiotic in the evening. Basically, filling myself with nutrients to try and heal as quickly as possible.

Stage 8: Unpleasant Side Effects

The worst side effect was the hormonal imbalances that I experienced during the few days following the injury. Going from vigorous workouts and exercise every morning to virtually zero exercise and constant pain wreaked havoc on my hormones. I felt deeply depressed. My stress levels sky-rocketed and I wasn’t sleeping well. My diet was horrendous. I binged on sweets, chocolate and all sorts of rubbish and did a lot of comfort eating. The guilt and depression following these binges was very hard to cope with. After doing some research, I bought a probiotic to try and help reduce the hormonal imbalance. Thankfully, my body is well on its way to getting re-balanced. However, the side effects of eating so much junk are- a lot of fat gain and a few lbs of weight gain. A frustrating set-back. This will take at least 2-4 weeks to fix, but it can be done. With a lot of commitment, motivation, and focus of course!

Stage 9: Baby Steps

Last weekend, I ran a 5K and only with mild discomfort. On Friday, I ran 8Km and felt absolutely fine. Yesterday, I ran 7.5Km and felt great! Today, I walked 16.5 Miles in total (all over London) and my hamstrings and calves are pretty fatigued, but mentally, I feel fantastic! I am starting to feel like myself again. This week, my goal is to work out for at least 30 minutes every day. I am not going to run every day because I know that this could risk irritating the injury or causing another injury. Although I feel like I “could” run a 10K every day, it doesn’t mean that I should. I need to take this one day at a time and really listen to my body rather than pushing it over its limits. But I feel like I am finally getting back to normal and I am so thankful that my injury is healing so well. I am so thankful that I can run again. I feel so thankful for my health. This experience has made me very aware of how important my health is to me. In fact, it’s probably the single most important thing in my life!

Stage 10: Moving Forward and Key Lessons

Moving forward, I am so much more focused on strength and flexibility rather than absolutely hammering my body in the gym until it is completely fatigued. I am making a promise to myself that I will stretch after every workout and use the steam room at my gym as often as I can. I will push my body and challenge myself but not punish it. And when I do push it to its limits, I will reward it with a massage or a spa treatment or something nice to show it some love! I will make sure to balance weight training with cardio, not doing too much of one or the other but equal amounts of both.

In the past twelve months, I have completed a Masters degree, been through a break-up, moved to a new city, started a new job, and I would truly say that this injury has been the most difficult thing I have had to deal with this year. It has been a physical and mental battle but I feel that I have learned a lot throughout the process. To my friends and family, if you are reading this, thank you for putting up with my constant moaning and my (virtually menopausal) emotional rollercoaster. I am hoping that it is onward and upward from here.

 

 

 

Why I Wrote a Letter to Myself

 

Me

A Photo of me from a recent holiday in Gran Canaria. Happy with my body for the first time in a long time.

I wrote this letter to myself to remind myself the importance of self-love. No, not masturbation. But rather self-acceptance, self-reassurance and self-confidence! It is so easy to be critical of ourselves and to focus on our shortcomings. But sometimes we need to be proud of the positive things we have achieved and show ourselves a little more kindness.

9 February 2016

Somewhere in London.

greenfoodandrunningshoes@gmail.com

Dear Emma,

You have always been insecure and have struggled with body image issues and a lack of self-confidence.

This has affected your perception of yourself and somewhere along the way, you stopped loving yourself and began to bully yourself and beat yourself up about not being thin and “perfect” (there is no such thing). You stopped focusing on the inside, and started focusing on perfecting your body and your physical self.

From the age of fourteen, you were cutting photographs of Victoria’s Secret models out of magazines and sticking them into your diary with captions such as, “this is what I want to look like,” and “this is what I should look like.” You talked to girls at middle and high school and compared your weight and what size clothes you wore. When you found out that you were bigger and heavier than the other girls, you started to feel insecure about your differences and began to feel anxious about your size. Size and numbers began to matter. This continued into your university/college years.

At the age of nineteen, you weighed in at 210 lbs. This shocked you and you felt frustrated and unhappy about how much you had stopped caring about yourself and your health. You were disgusted with yourself and you began your weight loss journey. It has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs, and it was only in January 2015 that you finally began to gain control and gradually make improvements. But mentally, the battle has been tough and you have been left with scars.

You have come a long way and you now have a wealth of knowledge about food, nutrients, calories, and physical fitness. You are the slimmest you have ever been and finally, you feel more “normal” (again, there is no such thing). But you must not focus on being perfect. You must focus on being healthy, both in the physical sense and the mental sense. There is no perfect size or number. All bodies are different, and all women are different. You must try and be the best version of yourself rather than comparing yourself to somebody else. Beauty is not just physical, it is spiritual and you must not lose yours.

How can you help motivate and inspire others if you don’t love yourself and live by the same advice you give on your blog? Weight loss is a transformational journey. It is not simply about losing the pounds; it is about a change of attitude towards food and exercise, a change in the perception of one’s self and learning to nourish your body, mind and soul.

You are just as important as the people who follow you, and you need to prioritise your health or everything else will fall apart. The people who care about you describe you as a kind, hard-working, compassionate individual and it’s time that you started believing it.

Don’t forget to celebrate your successes rather than focusing on your failures. A failure is not the end; it is a lesson learned. You are strong and you have overcome many obstacles in your life so far. You will continue to grow and flourish.

Take time for yourself and don’t forget to have fun. Smile. Find the positives in each day, even if there are set-backs. Remember the concept of ‘balance’ and think about what it really means. Be grateful for those around you who support you and live a life filled with love and learning.

Sincerely yours,

Emma.