Remember you’re unique

As Dr Seuss says: Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!

When we get caught in a cycle of being inactive and feeling sluggish it can be very easy to believe our body can’t do much. It’s easy to get into a negative self-talk cycle. However, with a bit of time and persistence you can undo that negative self-talk. You can move over to what’s awesome about YOU.

Old voice might say “oh, I can’t run quickly, I’m always slower than anyone else and I look like Phoebe from Friends, there’s no point being more active”; to which new voice might respond “I am so lucky to have a body that can support me to walk and start to run”.

When old voice says “well, of course I can’t do that”; new voice can pipe up with “why the hell not?”.

Old voice “they’re all better than you, of course they are”; new voice “none of them is better at being ME than I am”.

Old voice “if I do X/Y/Z I’ll only fail”; new voice “but imagine the fun to be had in trying – imagine the funny stories that might come from it”.

OK, that’s lovely and all, but how do I stop believing old voice? Well, start with making a list of all your positives. It might be how you make a cup of tea, your amazing cake baking skills, those hugs you give when friends are in crisis. Perhaps it’s that you always remember the punchline to jokes. Perhaps it’s that you always forget the punchlines to jokes and your friends love you for it.

Go on, grab a piece of paper now and list your positives. Only the positives. And don’t worry if the list is short to start with – it’s difficult to switch over to focusing on positives – keep adding to the list as you think of things. Then keep the list somewhere you can see it so you start to remember all these amazing things about you. All the things that make you YOU.

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2018 in review

For 2018 I set myself the target of 2000 self propelled miles. That could include bike, run, walk, ski, swim… anything that didn’t have an engine.
By March I was well on track to achieve the goal for the year, although I was struggling with concentration, energy levels, unexplained weight gain, crazy emotions (towards the end of 2017 I had to pull over and sob for 5 minutes after a moorhen ran out in front of the car and I clipped it), and much more. In April I finally had some tests done to try to understand why I wasn’t right. Turned out my cortisol (the stress hormone) levels were, to put it politely, a bit skewed (that’s the most polite way I can put it!!). This was my body’s way of saying “NO MORE STRESS”. The technical term is Adrenal Fatigue.
Now, you’ll read everywhere that exercise helps reduce stress. Well, yes it does. If you’re inactive then moving more definitely helps, however there’s a tipping point beyond which exercise, in particular cardiovascular exercise, adds to the stress. For the 4 years leading up to this diagnosis I had been training for various Ironman triathlons, I had been training 6 days a week. I had also had a 6 month stint in a job that I found beyond stressful. Suddenly the stress (and therefore Adrenal Fatigue) made a lot of sense. Finally I had to take a good look at what I was doing.
I had to pare back life. No more cardio exercise, no evening clients, factor in time for naps, avoid stress wherever possible. To be honest, by the time I got those tests done, I had been running on empty for a good year or more. Maybe two. So none of these changes were hard to adapt to, they were welcome.
However, I still had my 2000 mile target quietly in the back of my mind, so I carried on tracking my walking miles. I started exercising purely for enjoyment. To that end I went in the river with friends, I tried aerial hoops and silks. Towards the end of the year I started doing powerlifting. I can’t lift particularly heavy stuff yet, but 2019 will see me deadlift 100kg and more. I’m VERY excited about that.
Back to the miles, though. My last “proper” run was a half marathon on 8th April. Since then I have run 4 more times. Each time giving it a go to see how my energy levels fare afterwards. The first 3 times gave me a big NO. The 4th was today, so we’ll see!
And the total…. 1796.3 miles. Not bad for someone who has to schedule naps into her week and who at one point was only functioning for 3 days in every 7.
And for 2019? Well the goal is still 2000 miles. I am starting to get better, or at least I’m starting to manage life better, so I hope that might be achievable. But more importantly I’ll deadlift 100kg. And heavier.
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It’s resolutions time….

With Christmas over and New Year on the horizon, it’s that time when people start to make resolutions. Maybe you find yourself annually writing the following:

  • lose weight
  • get fit
  • give up alcohol
  • join a gym

And so on…

How do those lists pan out, usually? I know for me they fail every single time! And not because I can’t lose weight, or I can’t get fit, or I can’t give up alcohol, or I can’t join a gym; rather it’s always because I set the bar too high. A goal to lose weight and to get fit is so intangible that it’s set up for failure. There is no measure for what losing weight or getting fit will look like. Further to that, we have all been bombarded with the message for so many years that to lose weight or to get fit somehow involves restricting ourselves, punishing ourselves, relying on “will power”.

So how about we look at it from a different view-point? How about taking a look at where you are now, taking stock, then finding all the positives about where you are RIGHT NOW. Look at all the ways your body already serves you well. The reasons your friends and family love you. The things you excel at.

Then, how about being kind to yourself? So, rather than restricting your food and ultimately ending up bingeing (did you know that 97% of people who diet ultimately put the weight back on after 2 years – surely with a success rate of only 3% it’s worth looking at alternatives…), why not start to move more, start to listen to what your body really wants from you.

Listening to your body is huge. It knows. It is really clever. It knows when you need veggies and when you need protein, it knows when you need sleep and when you need to move. But we’ve got so used to ignoring the messages that we flit between pushing too hard on the food or movement side (just me who has tried to “punish” themselves for eating something yummy by doing an extra however many minutes of an exercise I hate?) to then “failing” and giving up on it.

Now, it doesn’t come quickly to start listening to your body, but I will bet you any amount that if you really tune in to it, it doesn’t want another diet starting on January 1st. It doesn’t want any more punishment.

Let’s resolve to make 2019 the year we are kind to our bodies.

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Tuning into hunger

This is a biggie for those of us who eat for reasons other than fuel. Let’s say you’re prone to reaching for the doughnuts after a stressful day at work, or your go-to treat after doing something you weren’t looking forward to is a bag of crisps, you’ll know all too well what I mean about eating when you’re not hungry.

If you sign up to a diet plan, they tell you prescriptively what to eat when, and for those who use food just as fuel this can be really handy. Likewise, many PTs ask their clients to record what they’re eating, which can be a great way to stop and think about what you’re going to eat before it goes into your mouth. However, both of these ways ultimately cause a feeling of deprivation in those of us who use food as an emotional crutch as well as fuel.

If I’m not describing you, you probably already intuitively tune into your hunger and you’re good to go. However… if you’ve read the above and thought “how the hell does she know that I do that?” then read on…

Intuitive eating is (for emotional eaters and yo-yo dieters) an amazing thing. It takes time. You have to overcome a lot of gremlins in your head, and you often find yourself faced with societal beliefs that mean others still believe you should diet. Intuitive eating is just that – you eat what your body wants when it wants it. You take away the norms around food, so if you want apple crumble for dinner (like really genuinely craving it, not just fancy it cos it’s sweet and yummy) then have it. You don’t have to have some savoury thing beforehand to justify it.

Yeah, it goes against all that “you can only have pudding if you clear your plate”. It goes against lunch at lunchtime, breakfast and breakfast time and so on. If you want bubble and squeak for breakfast, because your body is telling you that’s what you need, then that’s what you have.

Now, this is by no means a quick fix. You don’t get free of the gremlins overnight. It is also absolutely not a weight loss tool. Yes, some people do lose weight because they work through some of their non-hungry gremlins and end up eating less because their body needs less. Others gain some weight because their body has been stuck in the yo-yo diet rut for so long that it needs to find its natural weight. But the beauty of it is that weight isn’t the measure. How YOU feel is the measure. What YOU need is the measure.

This is a very brief overview of a much more in depth topic, but if I’ve piqued your interest I would strongly suggest you look up Beyond Chocolate. It’s a great way to start your own journey to intuitive eating.

For support, hints and tips, sign up to my mailing list or head over to my Embracing Fitness community Facebook group.

Stop! Look, listen, smell

We all have a huge playground just waiting for us outside the house. Depending on the season and where in the world you live, there is just so much to see, hear, smell. But so often we all get caught up in our day to day life and forget to just look.

How is this about being more active, Emily? Well, sometimes it isn’t all about moving. Sometimes it’s about putting your mental health on a par with your physical health. Going outside and being in nature does wonders for mental health. (Quick disclaimer, at this point I’m talking about mild to moderate anxiety, stress and depression; I’m not purporting to cure all mental health illnesses).

When you really lose yourself in the world around you it is very hard to stay wound up and worried about the hustle and bustle. If you stop and watch a bird, or walk through autumn leaves kicking and laughing, or smell the scent of fresh flowers, in that brief moment you have no choice but to be present. And once you’re present, the worries and stresses of life can’t get a look in.

Of course we can’t go through life being present all the time, for one we’d have no ability to plan ahead or look back; however, finding your safe place outdoors where you can stop, be still, be calm and just let nature embrace you is a very powerful thing.

Try it. Take a photo of your place, and share it in my Embracing Fitness community on Facebook.

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What did you enjoy as a child?

As we get older, we can very easily become fixated on this idea that fitness has to be hard work. It has to take place in a gym or other confined space, it has to have a purpose. And as such, it can seem a pretty daunting prospect. What if I don’t enjoy it? What if I’m no good? What if… What if… What if…

How about we look at it from a different angle? When you were little, I will hazard a guess you played outside a lot. You rushed about the place. You created games that were full of physical activity. Maybe you loved playing Tag or Kiss Chase, perhaps you were more of a pretend horses type, you could have chosen handstands and cartwheels. Whichever you spent hours of play time doing, I’ll guarantee you now that if you go and try it you’ll realise how exhausting it is!

When we’re little we don’t worry about being fit or not, we just do what is fun. How about we bring that attitude into adult life? How about we step away from fitness plans and gyms and we just do what we enjoy?

I bet if you were to make a list of all the active passtimes you enjoyed as a child you’d find some sort of common theme that you could extricate and use as an adult in your activity.

For me, I have great memories of loving hanging upside down on those rings in the park and playing on the monkey bars. Can I do that now? Not a chance! But I’m working on it. I’m working on getting stronger so I can do that sort of thing again, because I loved it.

As a child I didn’t love running. Not one bit. I have clear memories of school cross country. Pure hell. It took me until my mid 30s to give running a chance. And, yep, I’m still pretty rubbish at it. The difference now is that I enjoy the feeling of getting outdoors and filling my lungs, and I’m never competing against anyone else. Also there’s never a PE teacher shouting at me!

So, look to what you loved as a child, but don’t write off everything you hated – establish WHY you hated it, and remove that aspect (the PE teacher is pretty easy to remove as an adult!).

For support, hints and tips, sign up to my mailing list or head over to my Embracing Fitness community Facebook group.

Will I lose weight?

Anyone who knows me, or who has read much of my blog, will know I am not a supporter of diets (because they are short term, involve depriving yourself and ultimately fail, in case you wanted to know!). To this end it surprises me when nearly every client who signs up with me tells me exactly how much weight they “need” to lose.

I have to admit this chase for some perfect number on the scales baffles me somewhat, but that’s not the point right now. The point is will you lose weight if you exercise more?

Well, maybe. Yep the answer is that wishy washy, I’m afraid.

If you exercise your body will likely use food more effectively, which can lead to weight loss. Exercising uses extra calories, which can lead to weight loss. Moving more can bring about better food choices, which can lead to weight loss.

But does exercise = weight loss? No, ‘fraid not.

And does this matter? No, it absolutely doesn’t.

Exercise does has so many benefits above and beyond the number on the scale:

  • Increased energy
  • Improved mood
  • Better sleep
  • Better muscle tone
  • Change of body shape
  • Improved concentration
  • Lower stress
  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Increased confidence
  • Improved body image

And the list goes on. Diet alone won’t give you all that. Exercise alone won’t give you guaranteed weight loss.

Personally I have only once in my life lost weight only by exercising more. And that was when I was working as a ski rep so I was skiing 4-6 hours a day 4-5 times a week. I ate whatever I wanted. I drank a lot of beer. I lost weight. I have no idea how much, because I didn’t see a set of scales in over 6 months, all I know is I needed new clothes!!

Conversely, I have put on weight while training 12+ hours a week for a long distance triathlon. Why? Because I would rather eat when my body needs fuel and I would rather be strong than skinny.

So what’s my point? Well, if your ONLY reason for exercising more is to lose weight, I’m afraid I have to be the bearer of bad tidings. However, if you want your chance at the things listed in the bullet points above, get moving. Get jumping around. Dance to your favourite song. Go for a long walk. Play on the swings. Anything that gets you moving and feeling good. Go for it!

Join my Embracing Fitness community on Facebook for more hints and tips.

The danger of the comfort zone

Comfort zones. They’re there to keep us safe. Our mind wants to protect us from injury and death, and the comfort zone is where the mind is happy because we’re wrapped in metaphorical bubble wrap. Unfortunately, nothing great comes from the comfort zone.

Think about it, did any of the great explorers let their mind get in the way when heading off into unchartered territories? No. I bet they still had concerns and bad days, but they wouldn’t let those stop them.

And how about top sports people? They know they can fail. They know their mind is what stands between them and success (they’ve done the physical training, their coach is happy they’ve got it) – what do they do? Work with sports psychologists to make sure the comfort zone gremlin doesn’t stop them.

So, where’s your “safe”? Does your comfort zone keep you on the sofa? Does it keep you doing the same routines every day, week, month? Does the gremlin not like the idea of you changing and getting stronger and bolder? The gremlin tends not to like that.

My personal gremlin likes to remind me from time to time that I am a non-sporty, I wasn’t in the school teams, why do I think I can be a PT and advise other people on being active. My gremlin has been SHOUTED at on long bike rides (never when other people have been around to witness my unique levels of crazy!). My gremlin keeps me constantly looking for the next activity I can do, so I can prove it wrong.

This drive to get away from the comfort zone has seen me sign up to triathlons and other challenges that scare me. It’s also seen me work in different countries and take on projects others might not. Currently the gremlin is trying to work out how to tell me I can’t do weight lifting.  So far it hasn’t managed to find a way to keep me “safe”, but I’m sure it’ll try! It always does.

Your comfort zone escape doesn’t need to be as extreme. It might be a few small changes in your daily routine so that moving and being active become part of life. And once they’re part of life, who knows what might be on the horizon… Dare to think big…. Go on.

Drop me a reply below with what your gremlin wants to stop you doing, and what you’re doing to overcome it. And let me know what you’d love to do if you dared think big…

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“Oh I’ll start exercising when I’ve lost weight”, “well you don’t see anyone my size in the gym”, “lycra is only for the skinny girls”… and so many other thoughts can help to keep larger ladies away from moving more. I understand – I have been the fat lass at the back on bike rides enough times to know it can feel pretty alienating.

However, what if these thoughts are just the demon voice telling you what you want to hear? What if you could start moving more TODAY whatever size you are?

At the weekend I went to watch a good friend play rugby. The girls on both teams were a range of shapes and sizes, from the tall skinny ones who charge forward when they get the ball to the shorter stockier ones who are there to prevent the tall skinny ones from scoring. Everyone has their place. Everyone is as necessary to the team as everyone else. BECAUSE of their size, not despite it.

Then on Monday I was chatting to my PT about power lifting – she is getting me lifting crazy heavy weights that I would never have dreamt possible – and she told me about a competition she was in where she couldn’t lift as heavy as she used to because she had lost weight. She needed those extra few pounds to be at her strongest.

Granted there are many sports where having very low body fat is the key to being at the top of your game, and granted the pros will generally be slim, but in amateur sport? No such bias is necessary. Find the activity that suits you, work out if you’d like to try a team sport or if you’d rather go solo and head out for a walk or dance around your kitchen to your favourite songs, and go for it. Go for it today. No more internal excuses relating to your size.

Remember: yes, your size can be your strength. No, you don’t need to lose weight to be able to move more. Yes, there is always something that is right for you. No, you don’t need to hang out in a gym and be intimidated by the “beautiful people” (many of whom, incidentally are just as self conscious as everyone else – the ones who don’t look beautiful when they’re exercising are the ones who are doing it right!).

For more of this sort of thing, join my Embracing Fitness Community on Facebook.

The mystery of the missing mojo

Where does motivation go? I mean we have all had those amazing weeks/months at the start of a new “healthy living” kick when we’re on it. We’re sharing all these amazing posts about cycling to work and drinking loads of water and saying no to cake. People compliment us on our achievements and so we carry on for a while longer (at this point I won’t address the frustrating habit people have of only complimenting us on looks, not on other achievements, that’s for another day).

Then something changes. Maybe the restrictions of our “healthy living” start to feel too tight. Maybe we get a cold. Maybe work, life, something else gets in the way, and suddenly it’s been weeks since we last saw our trainers.

How do we find the missing mojo when it’s gone AWOL?

Well, there are two things to address here, I think.

First up is this “healthy living” ideal.

“Healthy living” seems to have become a new synonym for diet. Diets don’t last. They fail. That is their job. They help you lose weight in the short term, and then they fail because they are time limited. Unfortunately “healthy living” seems to have become the new name for diet. But, Emily, healthy living sounds so positive? How can you say it’s just another diet? Well, it’s still full of restriction and guilt. The cornerstones of any diet. If you find yourself saying “oh no, I can’t have that slice of cake, I’m being healthy” YOU ARE STILL RESTRICTING. If you find yourself saying “I don’t fancy any cake at the moment because I’m not hungry” you’re actually listening to your body. Meaning you aren’t dieting, or “healthy living”, you’re living.

Now don’t get me wrong, getting to the point of understanding exactly what your body wants AND then providing it, can take a long time. We have any number of ingrained habits and beliefs that can easily get in the way. We can look at intuitive eating and its benefits another time, but for now, if you’re swapping one set of diet language for another, please don’t. Your motivation doesn’t live in a pile of kale any more than it does in a Muller Light.

Secondly, the exercise mojo.

You have been jumping around to an exercise DVD every morning for 2 weeks and trying to cram in a walk every lunchtime. After doing nothing for months. By the end of the 2 weeks you’re exhausted. It’s too much. And the guilt cycle starts again. “Oh I can’t get more active, I tried but I was too tired”, “oh I don’t have the discipline to keep up my exercise regime”. Hang on a sec. This sounds just like the diet language but in exercise form.

MOTIVATION DOES NOT LIVE WITH DENIAL. That’s the biggie here. Motivation comes from a place of happiness and wanting to achieve. Denial comes from a place of misery and wanting to change from some perceived “bad” thing. Going back to the diet mentality – you deny yourself because you believe you need to be thinner and that your current self is “bad”. And on the exercise front – you deny yourself any self love, choosing instead to slog your guts out in an act of self hatred.

OK, so where is motivation? It’s in listening to your body, in doing what is right for you right now, in striving for the best, happiest YOU, not the media version of some soulless perfection.

Thanks Emily, I’ll just stay on the sofa with some chocolate in that case, cos I don’t want to deny myself this Netflix series.

Well, OK, if you’re knackered and you need to recharge your batteries, do have as much rest as you need. But… if you’re feeling ready to start moving but just can’t quite find the oomph to get out of the door or put on your exercise gear, why not catch yourself unawares – dance along to a favourite song, play on the swings in the park, go for a long walk. In doing whatever you decide, be aware of what in that activity is making you feel awesome. Is it the fact that you’re singing and dancing? Is it that you’re embracing your inner child? Is it that you’re in nature? Remember this awesome. This awesome is your motivation. This awesome is the thing that feeds your soul and makes moving more make you feel better.

Everyone’s awesome is different. I love running (very slowly) with my friend and our dogs. We chat and put the world to rights. The running is almost secondary to the “therapy”. It’s all about putting me first, not denying myself anything. I love skiing (why do I live in Norfolk?!), because it’s about being in stunning scenary while getting my legs and lungs working.

What’s your awesome? I’d love to know in the comments.

Want more ideas on how to move more without needing lycra or gyms? Come and join my Embracing Fitness Community on Facebook.