9 Dec 2014. MAKE THE HABIT

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This week I have been embarking on a mission to FORM habits, as opposed to focusing on those bad ones I am trying to break.

Here are my works in progress:

Happy Habit #1: yoga before breakfast.

Life is so bloody busy at the moment- fitting in work shifts, exercise, social time and arty-crafty time, not to mention dreaded life admin, that unless I practice before breakfast, it doesn’t get done until near lunchtime as I’m TERRIBLE for post-meal faffing around online and before I know it it’s time to leave for a group classes and I have to choose between the two.

My habit forming process is attempting to be gentle, no pressure: even if I only do 10 minutes of gentle stretching and no strenuous poses, its all about creating a new natural routine, not guilt tripping and psyching myself out.

Happy Habit #2: no snacking.

Definitely more of a challenge- I had been swearing by snacks as an essential way of fueling my increased exercise schedule. Unfortunately, when my exercise is less, I still feel the need to snack and has resulted in some serious ‘snack-attacks’. Instead of bulking up meals with rice cakes, I am allowing myself protein packed smoothies if I’m really feeling the low blood sugar, but as a general rule, once my plate is empty, that’s it until the next meal time. I’ve actually managed A WHOLE BLOODY WEEK (!) of this and feel great for it. I think the secret is never to have my cup of tea WITH my meal, but to save it until “dessert” and do all the washing up while I wait for the kettle to boil- sometimes I amaze myself in my ability to trick my brain with these little distraction tactics!

So far so good, although it has become harder to get the yoga in now the parents are home and dad invites me to a share of the french press every morning before I’ve even rolled out of bed. Tomorrow I shall have to set my alarm earlier…

28 Nov 2014. DAMAGE CONTROL

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I have been absent, not only from the online world, but from the exercise world in general. Despite the last cycle starting Strong (see what I did there?) it went downhill quickly after the arrival of my delightful boyfriend Tyler, who is Canadian and therefore needed showing around the length and breadth of England. We succeeded…and I failed in exercising…

I must confess however, that 6 weeks is too long to be on the road for (especially for a reluctant traveler like Tyler) and though we did have quite a lot of travel time, we did spend a few weeks at my home, a period in which I had hoped to get back into routine and limit the potential damage of a full 6 week hiatus from exercise.

It turns out that a loitering boyfriend is a seriously demotivating influence- apparently I find it incredibly difficult to work out to corny YouTube videos when there are witnesses present. My yoga practice has also suffered as I found myself- mid downward facing dog- wondering ‘Oh dear, I hope he’s not getting too bored.’ It would seem I have something of an overbearing mothering/suffocating instinct, God help my children should I have any…

But there IS a silver-lining to all this failure: in large part thanks to my new job at the Leisure Centre (I get off-peak free access) not just my desperation to get out on my own for an hour or two (!), I have discovered a love of group exercise classes. My competitive streak- against the other participants as well as my own past performances- means I work my butt off every time AND I also work-out for longer than I would at home where my attention is constantly distracted.  Furthermore, the set time schedules mean I cant procrastinate and keep putting off my workouts until 9pm. Result.

Let the new dawn of my public work-outs begin…next week- I am currently nursing snuffles so bad I fear they would send me home from a class with looks of disgust and fears of contagion.

In the meantime I shall yoga my way back to good health in time for BodyPump on Monday

6 Oct 2014. GETTING OUT THERE

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It’s been a tip-top weekend of wedding fun and shenanigans…and zero exercise…and terrible food choices.

I had a great time and felt OK….until today when I completely failed to get back on the wagon. I’m trying not to beat myself up- probably the most important thing I’ve learned in this whole fitness experience is that sometimes it just doesn’t happen and I need to just go with the flow and how I’m feeling day-by-day. As part of the bigger picture, it certainly seems to be creating a healthier me, both in body and mind, but MY GOD does it feel crap on these nasty off-days when I just can’t get it together.

After a day like today the paranoia kicks in and I wonder if THIS TIME I have really lost it, that now I’ll lose all my hard-earned strength and gain a bunch of weight.   I’m not going to lie- I have not been hugely disciplined for a few weeks now but keep on clawing things back just enough each week to hold on to the dream. I’ve really been struggling to find my enthusiasm and ENJOY my exercise since my knee caved in and I had to take a couple of weeks off last month.

Somewhere inside it’s still there though, just waiting to sweat it out and feel stronger. In an attempt to rouse myself to action (and because I’m STILL pretty pleased with myself over last weeks pace PB) I’ve decided to sign up for some races…surely a bit of pressure will get me back out there…

26 Sep 2014. A WATER BOTTLE CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE

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It’s pretty common knowledge by now that drinking plenty of water has an effect on weight and appetite. Certainly I have noticed that my appetite and risk of snack-attacks are reduced when I spend the day with my Nalgene water bottle clutched by my side.

Let me tell you a little bit about my Nalgene. Firstly, its 1 litre, a good size I think, but a little bulky for a handbag, which usually means I have to carry it under my arm or swinging by its lid-loop thing. Its completely rubbish for drinking out of on the move- the giant lip means I get more drink on my shirt than in my mouth. Some (eg. my mother) would probably say that this is a good thing, as having to pause what I’m doing to take a big swig makes me more mindful of my actions. Maybe, I’m not too hot on mindfulness just yet, but I have definately come to think there is a powerful psychologic element at play when it comes to the effect that this bottle can have on my attitude.

But it’s not really about the type of container, it’s how you pimp up the contents. Its bloody amazing how good a couple of bits and pieces floating about in there can make plain old water taste. My current favourites:

strawberries and mint leaves

cucumber, lime wedges and mint leaves

a slice of root ginger and lemon wedges

If I’m feeling the need for a little more energy in my day, I throw some chia seeds in there too, and here’s where it gets interesting: being out-and-about town with a great big water bottle of random detritus feels almost like a status symbol. People who can identify the objects bobbing around in there will recognise you as a fellow health-nut and you get a mild self-satsfied kick thinking that many will look at you and wonder ‘WHAT has she got in there? She must be one of those healthy people…’. Possibly this vanity aspect of the ‘status bottle’ makes you cringe but hear me out..

There is a school of thought, which I first discovered in the great TED Talk: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Areby Amy Cuddy, that the outward image you present to the world, even if its a false one, not only effects how others percieve you but- over time and with enough repetition- how you think about yourself. When I carry my bottle, its not just to feel like one of ‘the elite’,  it alters my attitutde to my body: I FEEL like a healthier person and make better choices based on this positive mindset.

It also puts me in mind of one of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: “Be the kind of person who takes supplements- then skip the supplements”. My Nalgene- though bulky and slightly impractical- is a constant reminder throughout my day that I have chosen to be, in Pollan’s words “typically more health conscious […] more likely to exercise and eat whole grains”.

So yes, I do feel SLIGHTLY smug about taking my concoctions out into the world and showing off just how healthy I am, but it’s the message I’m sending to myself, the mantra in my head that says, “I am a healthy, active person. I make good lifestyle choices” that is important. Not to mention the litre of water I end up drinking, which is never a bad thing.

Thanks go to https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are

and Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (2009), Michael Pollan, Penguin Books, England

for helping me to overthink my water bottle…

26 Sep 2014. HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT

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Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: THE MIRACLE COOKIE.

These were originally inspired by a rather magical looking recipe for ‘clean’ icecream sandwiches. I’m far too lazy (and suspicious of cashews) to make the full ice cream extravaganza, but the idea of using nothing but banana and ground oats to make cookies intrigued me.

The results were, well…disappointing- very bland and VERY ‘bouncy’. I had forgotten that when mashed banana comprises the bulk of any baked item the result will be a textured rubber suitable for an impromptu game of squash. The idea of a completely guilt-free cookie that didn’t have a single ‘red flag’ ingredient (The slightly embarrassing list of my dietary requirements can be found under ‘NUTRITION’) had got under my skin however, and I persevered.

After a little experimentation I think I have cracked it;  no bounce, more flavour and still nothing to be ashamed of putting in your mouth…even if you eat the whole batch in one sitting…

INGREDIENTS:

1/3 cup cooked buckwheat groats (cooled)

1/3 cup medium ground oats

1/3 cup ground linseed or flax (I use Harvest Morn’s mix with pumpkin seeds and goji berries but you can always add your own ‘extras’)

2tbs soaked almonds (chopped)

1 large ripe banana (the riper the better in my opinion, it makes for a much sweeter cookie)

1/2 tbs coconut oil

1tsp cinnamon

1 tsp mixed spice (I’m not sure how much these vary but mine contains: cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, clove, pimento and ginger)

1 pinch sea salt

METHOD:

– Pre-heat oven to 350F (Gas mark 4) and line a cookie tray with baking parchment

– Mash the banana in a mixing bowl until you have a fairly smooth gloopy mixture

– Stir in the coconut oil until it starts to melt down and blend

– Add the linseed and oats and mix well

– Mix in cooked buckwheat, spices and salt

– Finally, stir in the chopped soaked almonds

– Spoon onto cookie sheet using a generous tablespoon sized dollop for each cookie then use a fork to squish down to 2cm high

– Bake for 20-25mins until dark golden brown

– best enjoyed freshly baked and still warm…mmmmm…

The beauty of this recipe is that you can really go crazy and add all sorts of exciting bits and pieces to these- dried fruit, chocolate chips, more nuts, a bit of honey or agave if you’re after something a bit sweeter …

The ingredients I have used were with the intention of creating a really HIGH FUNCTIONING cookie: it’s full of protein, is low in carbohydrate and packs a serious punch when it comes to healthy fats (something that’s very important to people like me with cranky clanky joints!) It’s perfect just for snacking on and for my longer endurance training days I add some extra carbohydrate with some dark chocolate chips and a dash of maple syrup…yum!

24 Sep 2014. PULLING IT TOGETHER

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Weght: 126lbs (9 stone)

I am slowly and painfully inching my way back onto the wagon. My successes of late, which I am DESPERATELY trying to focus on, are that I have learned to love yoga. I would happily do it for all my workouts, any time of day EVEN first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, battling my way through strength training and gruelling runs and the feeling of achievement when it’s over is still the only truly effective way I have found to silence the demons in my brain and distract me from my snack-attacks.

My knees are still tweaky so I’m allowing myself off running for now, but my PAINFUL transition back into my strength training is beginning to make me suspect just one thing: I’m BORED.

I still LOVE Jillian Michaels, from the bottom of my heart, but- as with Yoga with Adriene– I know the workouts inside-out, back-to-front. I find myself thinking ahead to the circuits I hate most and filling up with pre-emptive dread, despite enjoying the actual present experience. Its time to mix it up.

I’m a LITTLE slow to the party, but today I tried out LiveStrong’s STRONGER plan. I’m not gonna lie- I miss Jillian, but I did enjoy the work-out, which is encouraging a tad corny but I think I can cope, and it seems to challenge me enough to be worthwhile. I intend to commit to the 8 weeks and make it the basis of my new ‘cycle’. On top of that, I will be nurturing my new yoga-love with daily sessions between 20 minutes and 1hr- time and feeling dependent. In a week or so, when my knees stop creaking, I am going to sub in some runs for the cardio work-outs. In the meanwhile, I’ll finish off my final week of ‘cycle 2’ with trials of the other STRONGER workouts.

I’m feeling re-motivated just plotting it…let’s get cracking…

24 Sep 2014. THE QUEST FOR THE ULTIMATE SMOOTHIE

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Having been through various ’bouts’ of training over the years, I have discovered- usually to the detriment of my weeks of fitness planning- that combining a restrictive low-calorie diet with a vigorous exercise regime is a recipe for failure. So many times have I started out with huge determination, only to completely burn out with exhaustion after a week or two and slump back into me (relatively) sendentary and over-eating state. this time around I resoved to ignore calories and focus instead on the nutritional value of the foods I eat. This has two-fold benefits as it means I can maintain enough energy to complete the training I set myself and it has also played a huge role in combatting my problems of binge-eating but that is for a seperate post.

I used to be a Vega girl…until I started wondering if it was an unecessary expense, and if there was a way to feel great after my workouts without having to deal with the taste of stevia, which- rather disappointingly considering its general awesomeness- I loathe.

Slightly ironically it was a Vega Blog article about the ideal protein:carb ratio for muscle recovery that made me realise I could go DIY with my nutrition. For some reason I do feel a little guilty about this, but I like to think that Brandon Brazier (Vega founder, plant fueled mega-athlete extraordinaire) SHOULD, by his own standards, approve of my desire to fuel myself with real foodstuffs that come from my kitchen, rather than powder from a packet.

My diligent research (google) into recovery nutrition came up with  3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein. After a gruelling workout your body needs easy digestible sugars to replenish it’s glycogen stores as well as protein to help repair muscle tissue. Too much protein however will hinder the refueling and rehydration process.

That chocolate milk is widely heralded as the optimum recovery beverage is something that I LOVE. Unfortunately, I wanted something a little less on the processed side. Armed with various nutritional information tables and a calculator, I set about creating a ‘real food’ 4/3:1 smoothie. Here is the result, it’s delicious and makes me feel happy inside.

The DIY Recovery Shake

342 calories, 10.8g protein, 32g carbohydrate

1 medium banana                              kcal 95, carb 23g, protein 1.2g

200ml almond milk                            kcal 28, carb 1g, protein 1g

1tbs linseed (I use the Harvest Morn mix with pumpkin seeds and goji berries)    kcal 77, carb 1.8g, protein 3.8g

1tsp chia                                              kcal 40, carb 3.4g, protein 1.4g

1tbs raw almond butter                     kcal 102, carb 2.8g, protein 3.4g

cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

Throw everything in the blender with a few icecubes and whizz up until smooth.

Delicious and nutricious 😉

Extra wisdom provided by:

http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/sportsnutrition/tp/After-Exercise-Recovery-Food-Drinks.htm