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.
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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.

 

 

Why Monday Morning Workouts are so Effective

 

After a weekend of sleep, rest, good food and good company, Monday mornings are the best time to get a really powerful workout in. Your body will be well-rested, well-fed and able to push through a harder workout than you’d ever manage at the end of the week. I enjoy completing my HIIT workouts earlier on in the week and leave my LISS until Thursday or Friday when I’m a lot more tired and struggle to push through any form of high-intensity workout. Currently, I’m training for a Tough Mudder so I’ve been gradually increasing the intensity of my workouts. On Monday morning of this week, I challenged myself to squeeze in as much as I could in 45 minutes.

Below is my Monday Sweat Session Workout:

  • Rowing 1000m
  • 75 Burpees with Press-Ups
    • Complete this circuit in five separate sets split into 200m and 15 burpees. You can do regular burpees or try a variation. I did burpees with press-ups but you could incorporate star jumps, squat jumps, jumping lunges or any explosive exercise to make this exercise even more challenging!
  • 60 Second Stairmaster Sprints
  • 60 Second Planks
    • Repeat this circuit four times and if you want to up the level of difficulty, add in Kettlebell swings after the planks.
  • Running at 11.5km/h on 1.5 incline
    • Run for a constant 20 minutes or split this into four 5-minute sections with rest periods or wall-sits in-between.

Sounds easy, right? Try completing this circuit as fast as you can with no more than 20 seconds of rest at a time to catch your breath. You are guaranteed to leave the gym feeling the burn! Remember, to burn fat and build or maintain lean muscle, HIIT is more effective than long periods of steady LISS/cardio. For optimal results, combine HIIT, LISS/cardio and strength training incorporating 1-2 rest days for recovery. Nutrition and fitness is personal so the same approach won’t work for everyone. Most importantly, results take time so be patient, stay focused, work hard and never stop believing in yourself.

 

Sunday Fun-day: Golden Milk and Meal Prep

Some of you may be reading the title of this post and thinking, “Hmmm… what the hell is Golden Milk and meal prepping is the last thing I would label as Fun.” Today was not a typical Sunday, it ticked a lot of little happiness boxes for me. And Golden Milk was something I had been wanting to try for a while after putting turmeric in my tea and chugging it with my nose closed. Turmeric in hot tea alone isn’t great… but Golden Milk was actually quite drinkable. What makes me happy/content in life? My family, my friends, good coffee, a nice morning run, a super training session, dark chocolate covered rice cakes, a great vintage find, a successful meal prep… to name a few. Today, I had all of the above.

What is Golden Milk? This is a concoction of Turmeric, Ginger, Cinnamon, Honey, Chilli Flakes and Almond Milk. From browsing online, there are so many variations you can make; some people choose to use coconut milk and some people use black pepper rather than chilli flakes. I used what I had in my cupboard. Then I heated it on a hob for 7-10 minutes on a medium heat so that it simmered. It was then somewhat of ‘Golden Tea’ as I consumed it whilst hot. The key benefit of turmeric is that it’s an anti-inflammatory. This article explains some of the other health benefits really well.

Meal Prep this week was simple, clean and healthy. Turkey breast seasoned with cumin and cayenne pepper, raw kale, boiled broccoli, roasted courgettes and parsnips seasoned with coconut oil, salt and pepper. My carbohydrates will be incorporated into breakfast (Winter is now going to be known as “Porridge Season”), snacks (Rice Cakes: the basic bitch’s snack) and dinner (ALL the veggies). Last week, I met with a nutritional therapist who recommended I try Rye Bread so that may work it’s way into my diet this week too. More to come on the Nutritional Therapist meeting in a future post so stay tuned!

Now I shall leave you with my Sunday routine and my workout for all of you who want to try training GFARS style.

8:00am – Woke up and felt overjoyed that I had gained an extra hour of sleep

8:45am – Ran just over 6K through foggy Gladstone Park for some #fastingcardio with my sister

9:30am – Made some Avocado on rice cakes for breakfast with a side of banana, coconut and yoghurt… and a side of dark chocolate rice cakes with peanut butter. Oops, that’s a feast.

10:30am – Said Goodbye to my sister 😦

12:00pm – Hit the Puregym in Victoria and trained legs

1:45pm – Post-workout Phd Diet Whey Protein Shake for recovery

2:00pm – Walked down to some Vintage shops in Pimlico / Victoria area and had a browse… OK fine, I bought a cashmere Reiss sweater in a Vintage store (£15 = Bargain).

4:15pm – Bought 4 Sainsbury’s chicken drumsticks and demolished them (#PROTEIN)

4:30pm – Took the Underground home

5:00pm – Went to Sainsbury’s, bought food for the week and meal prepped

6:15pm – Made Golden Milk for the first time

6:30pm – Laundry, organisation for the week, email, etc.

7:00pm – Sat down and realised I still had a couple of hours to #NetflixAndChill but instead I’m blogging and reading because I have zero attention span for TV

 

Sunday “Fun-Day” Workout: 

Split Squats – 12kg (10 reps), 10kg (14 reps), 8kg (18 reps), Bodyweight (25 reps)

Step-Ups on a bench – 20 Reps X3

Jumping Squats – 15 Reps X3

Full-Body Clean and Press – 20kg // 15 Reps X3

Curtsey Squats – 20kg // 15 Reps each leg, X3

Leg Extension – 32kg // 10 Reps X4

Dumbbell Swings – 10kg // 20 Reps each arm, X3

Mountain Climbers – 40 Reps X3

Sit-Ups – 100 Reps

Russian Twists – 6kg // 30 Reps, X3

Leg Raises – 15 Reps // X3

Stretch and Foam Roller !