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.

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.

 

 

 

RECIPE: Banging Cilantro Turkey Burgers

There is nothing like a good burger, especially when it’s homemade. I like to know what ingredients are in my food and I like my meat nice and lean. There is nothing more repulsive that a grisly steak or a chewy fatty sausage. Please don’t misunderstand me- I LOVE beef mince and duck and bacon, but not if it is dripping with fat. Have you ever felt like you are wearing vaseline after eating meat? That is gross. Turkey mince is a great substitute for beef and it’s extremely lean. You don’t have to sacrifice flavour when munching on these juicy patties. They are packed with flavour from fragrant coriander, hot red chilli, and a few other herbs and spices. This week, I served mine with some low-sugar slaw because I was feeling lazy. But I would highly recommend serving these with avocado and a homemade mango pico de gallo or some cumin sweet potato fries. Wow, I’m salivating as I write this! Happy cooking and happy hump day.

Ingredients:

  • 500g lean Turkey Breast Mince
  • a handful of chopped coriander
  • 1 tbsp of ground Cumin
  • 1 tbsp of ground Coriander
  • 1 tbsp of Cajun Seasoning
  • 1 Red Chilli (diced)
  • 1 medium Egg
  • 1/2 a Red Onion (diced)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Coconut Oil (for cooking)

Method (makes approximately 6-7 small patties):

  1. Place the turkey mince in a bowl.
  2. Add the egg, onion, chilli and coriander and mix it up with a fork!
  3. Add the spices and stir it up until the mixture is covered.
  4. Heat up the coconut oil in a frying pan or griddle on a medium heat.
  5. Get your hands dirty and form approximately six or seven patties from the mixture.
  6. Cook those burgers for approximately 5-7 minutes on each side or until cooked all the way through.
  7. Serve with whatever topping your heart desires!

 

*I recognise that the photos in this post are not high quality! Please rest assured that future recipe photos will be a lot better. Thanks!

Why I Wrote a Letter to Myself

 

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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.

Fat Shaming: Shaming Fat People Thin!

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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.

6 Ways to Love Yourself on a Budget

Before and After: Happy

The photo on the left was me in 2009, putting on a smile, but not truly happy. Today, I take more time to love myself and to take care of my body and my mind.

Today, we live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with messages about the importance of being productive and cramming in as much as possible into our day so that we can achieve, achieve, achieve. Our social media news feeds are collages of motivational quotes, resulting in many people left feeling like they are simply not doing enough and are therefore not good enough. Everyone appears to be constantly busy all of the time, running marathons, travelling to far-away places, dining at trendy juice bars, and visiting hip new yoga studios. Staying focused on your goals is important, and I am definitely an advocate of personal development. In fact, I am never satisfied! As soon as I tick one thing off my list, I am straight onto the next thing. I live my life one goal to the next. I thrive on that feeling of achievement. But sometimes, it can become exhausting. There are times when I have to pinch myself and tell myself to “slow down” and take time for just focusing on me.

Loving yourself doesn’t need to be expensive. A trip to Bora Bora or a spa weekend would be delightful, but we are not all made of money. During the past year, I have had to live on a budget, but as someone who is relatively high maintenance, I have not had to sacrifice a bit of self-love. So, today I am sharing with you some ways you too can indulge and spoil yourself a bit!

  1. “Poor Man’s Massage”: My physiotherapist refers to this as “the poor man’s massage.” Simply place a tennis ball, or a baseball, between your back and the wall and move around so that the ball massages your muscles. Do not roll it up and down your spine; this will hurt. You can also roll it, firmly, over your calves and quads to loosen up those muscles and give them a bit of special treatment. A session of physio costs approximately £50, but this my friends costs as much as a small, firm ball.
  2. Relaxation: Lie down on your bed in a starfish position. Turn off the lights and light a lemon flavoured candle (lemon scent has been proven to have a calming, soothing effect). Breathe in and out, focusing on the diaphragm and deep, slow breaths. Count up to 100, or down from 100; whichever you prefer. Or if you like, focus on relaxing your toes, legs, core, arms, shoulders, neck, etc. until you reach the top of your head. When you finish, you will feel as if you have just had a session at a spa. It is gloriously relaxing.
  3. Bubble Bath: Do not underestimate the power of a bath. Light some candles and climb in to a bath. When you get out, moisturise your skin from head to toe. This is something I do not do enough! If you are a gym junkie like me, your skin is probably dry from showering twice a day. It is so important to moisturise and it feels so great after you do. If you do it before bedtime, you’ll wake up with skin like a baby’s bottom. Try it.
  4. Motivation Board: A motivation board is something that is personal for you, to help remind you every day that you are strong, you are powerful, and you are awesome. Buy some colourful paper or sticky notes and write down your goals and your reasons for choosing those goals. Personally, mine is on my fridge so that I look at it every single morning when I go into my kitchen. You could even add photos or postcards to add visual elements. Most importantly, make it personal; this is for you and you only.
  5. Music: Create your own personal playlists. Have a playlist that you can play to pump you up for the gym, one for your actual workout, one for your commute to work, one for your walk or ride home, one for your relaxation time, and even one for your shower. Yes, it may take you an hour or two to put them together, but the benefits will be worth it. Music directly impacts your mood, and your mood sets the tone for your day or your activity. If you can’t be bothered creating your own, check out Apple Music or Spotify, and choose from the customised activity playlists.
  6. Date Yourself: Treat yourself to something fun one night a week. It could be your favourite hike, an evening walk or cycle with your favourite podcast, a trip to the independent cinema, a trip to that new hipster coffee shop with your favourite blog, a visit to the driving range, or a night in bed with Nicholas Sparks movies. Whatever floats your boat! Just make sure to set aside one evening a week for YOU. Whether you are single or coupled, it is important to have your alone time, so why not take yourself on a date?

These are just a few ways that you can take time every week, or every day, to make time for you. Slow down, breathe, and find time to make you a priority. If you love yourself, you will genuinely feel more content and other areas of your life will improve. Sometimes, we spread ourselves too thin and try to please everyone, or multi-task to the point of exhaustion. Stop beating yourself up for what you didn’t achieve, and focus on celebrating the things you did achieve. Let the negatives pass, and keep your mind on the positives. Celebrate the little successes, and acknowledge what you learnt from your failures. Love yourself, build your confidence, build your self-esteem, and work towards being a happier, healthier person.

Those Bikini Photos and Why I Posted Them…

Bikini Photos August 2015

These photos show me in a bikini, not flexing (left) and flexing (right). As you can see, there is a noticeable difference in how ‘lean’ or ‘tight’ I look, in my stomach and legs.

My Instagram account is just a collage of food photos. One of the reasons I started ‘Green Food and Running Shoes’ was to help people make better choices in their diet and eat healthier, more wholesome food. Diet is just as important, if not more important, than staying active. Every now and then, I like to share a photo of my weight loss progress and my muscle gain. This journey is about body transformation, inside and out, and I want to show people that you can go from fat to fit, without undergoing surgery or any extreme diets or shortcuts. On Monday 17th August, I posted a photo on my Facebook and Instagram pages which showed me in a pink bikini (pictured above). Upon sharing the photos, I received a spectacular variety of messages from friends and loved ones. Some told me to take them down, some warned me of what employers might think, and others told me I looked damn fabulous, and that they were happy for me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am super thankful to have people in my life who genuinely care about me. I take advice on board, when I feel it is coming from a good place and I am by no means stubborn or arrogant. Part of this blog as about me sharing my story and being honest without sugar-coating anything. So, to anyone and everyone who judged me for sharing those photos, deemed them to be inappropriate, or thought I should take them down, I would like you to read this post and then seriously reflect on whether you still feel the same way afterwards. Here are the reasons why I posted those photos:

  1. Bikini Confidence is something that many women, of all shapes and sizes, rarely or never experience. Wearing clothing that reveals every inch of your body, every little ounce of cellulite, every jiggle, every stretch mark, every blemish, and every imperfection, is extremely nerve-wracking for many women. For the first time in my entire life, I feel like I might be able to wear my bikini on holiday (30 days and counting) and actually feel somewhat comfortable. Not even ‘amazing’ or ‘sexy,’ just ‘OK.’
  2. High School Bullies taunted me for my weight from the age of 11 until the age of 18. In fact, it destroyed my self-esteem to the point where I would literally avoid pool parties or pretend that I was on my period so that I did not have to strip down to my bikini. Any trips to the beach and I wore one of those hideous ‘Tankini’ sets or shorts and a bikini top to try and cover myself up as much as possible.
  3. 8 Months of Hard Work is what it has taken to transform my body into what it is today. Or, if you count the time I have spent on my weight loss journey since my fattest point, that would be 6 years. Yes, that is correct, six whole years.
  4. Vacation Photos of me in a bikini are non-existent. Why? Because I hid my body and only let people take photos of me from specific angles. If there were photos of me where I believed I looked fat, I deleted them or begged the photographer to remove them from existence. How sad is that? All those memories that were captured were then deleted because of how much I hated how I looked.
  5. General Body Confidence is something I have genuinely never experienced. In fact, I will tell you that I used to wear my dad’s shirts in high school just to hide all of my curves and flabby bits. Then, I tried an alternative strategy, and wore jeans that were SO tight, they ripped in the crotch, because I thought it concealed my fat by sucking it all into uncomfortably-tight denim.
  6. To Motivate Others has genuinely been my primary goal throughout this entire journey since I started ‘Green Food and Running Shoes.’ There was nobody to help me lose the weight, or give me nutritional advice, or help me make better choices, or give me exercise tips. I had to learn everything on my own using magazines, online blogs and articles, and Google. Losing weight and getting fit is damn hard, and I want to show people that I am no fake; I am real and my weight loss and muscle gain is 100% authentic. Photos help me show my authenticity.

If you know me, you will know that I am not one of those vain, self-obsessed, arrogant, obnoxious girls whose entire social media profile is a collection of selfies that would rival that of Kim Kardashian. Even now, after repairing much of the damage I did to my body, I am still repairing the damage that others inflicted on my mind. My body photos are not shared for the purpose of gaining ‘likes’ or attention. They are shared for the purpose of showing others that their goals are not out of reach, and I am living proof of that. If you follow me regularly, you will know that I only share photos of myself once a month, if that. Most of my posts are food and fitness-related. My goal is not to show off; it has always been to offer encouragement, create motivation, and inspire strength. Forgive me if I share a photo of my body once in a while, but it is something that I am gradually learning to be proud of, rather than feeling ashamed. Thank you to those who read this. Next week, I have a recipe to share with you guys, as well as some tips for changing up your work-out routine. Have a great week!

5 Foods You Should be Eating Right Now

Red Cabbage

A few weeks ago, I got SO bored of my diet. Sweet potato, broccoli, and greek yoghurt gets seriously monotonous after a while. I started browsing Instagram and Google for inspiration and started doing some research into healthy, high-protein foods that were trending. After some trying, tasting, testing, and researching, I want to share with you five foods that I think YOU should be eating right now. These foods are currently in my refrigerator and as I discover new, exciting foods with great macros, I will share those with you too. Here you go:

  1. Sugarsnap Peas: These crunchy, yummy veggies are often tossed into stir fry dishes or served up over-cooked as a side dish. But if you haven’t eaten them raw yet, you need to try this. They are actually sweet-tasting and super satisfying. Also, these peas are a good source of vitamin C and as we all know by know, you need vitamin C to maintain a strong immune system and fight those germs. Best of all, the calories are pretty much non-existent. Next time you’re tempted to reach for an apple or a high-sugar snack, have a few of these instead.
  2. Cottage Cheese: If I hear one person say to me, “I don’t eat cheese” when I suggest they eat cottage cheese, I am going to flip out. Cottage cheese (as long as it is plain, natural, and fresh) is a fantastic high-protein food that has virtually zero fat and zero carbs. In fact, 100g of the stuff (Tesco Extra Value range) has only 65 calories. You can mix in some protein powder and make it into a creamy protein super-snack, or you can put it on your eggs to boost your protein intake too. Or, eat it with some grapefruit and flaxseed for breakfast like I did today. For all your macros-obsessed people like me, the macros are on point so get on it, and get creative with it.
  3. Quark: For anyone on a budget who is sick of hearing people hark on about organic Greek yoghurt that retails at about £3 ($5) a tub, you seriously need to try quark. My trainer introduced me to this creamy slightly-cheesy dairy product, which has the same macros (sometimes better) as greek yoghurt. Eat it with smoked salmon, fruit, veggies, or whatever you want. Mix in herbs and make it into a dip, pretend it’s cream cheese, use it as a yoghurt substitute, mix in protein and sweeten it; but seriously, start eating it because it’s another high-protein, low-calorie food.
  4. Watermelon: Watermelon is the best snack to have if you are craving sugar or carbs. Yes, it has naturally-occurring sugars but not nearly as many as that candy that you are gagging for. This fruit is about 92% water and actually contains lots of antioxidants and amino acids, which makes it a great post-workout treat. It also has a reasonable potassium content, which helps prevent cramping as well. Watermelon is currently in-season, so get eating it before prices go up and availability diminishes.
  5. Zucchini/Courgette: This food is the latest craze in the fitness world as it is almost calorie-free and is a reasonably good source of potassium and a good source of vitamin C. In 1 cup of this veggie, there are only 19 calories! You can slice it up and grill it, roast it or add it to soups, stews, and salads. Some people, including myself, have found more creative ways to use it. People on low-carb diets have added it to their porridge (oatmeal) to increase the volume so as to trick their bodies into thinking they are eating more. It would double the volume of your oats if you are only eating 20-40g as part of a low-carb diet. I decided to add it to my protein pancakes and named them “Zancakes” because, why not? You can also join the zoodle club and spiralise it, creating an imitation of pasta noodles. Tesco have also started selling this product, but you can easily make your own.

Get creative with your food and remember that variety is important. Get your essential nutrients from different sources, and keep trying new things. Have a great week!