Body Positivity

I have been skirting around wholeheartedly embracing the body positivity movement for various reasons, but I realised that the only way I can properly support women to grow in confidence while getting more active is to establish my take on it.

We all have a body. The size of our body doesn’t define how intelligent, kind, happy or sad we are, however much society might try to tell us otherwise. The inherent message is out there that if you are anything bigger than a size 12, you are a failure, you must be miserable, and you can’t possibly be living a fulfilling life. Furthermore the message is that you are unhealthy.

Let’s unpackage that a little.

If size 12 (or 10, or 8) isn’t your natural size, then you will be constantly depriving yourself to achieve the clothes size society wants you to be in. That doesn’t sound intelligent, kind or happy to me.

The idea that being larger than BMI 25 (don’t get me started on BMI – that requires a whole separate soap box!) immediately makes you unhealthy is unhealthy in itself. Yes, there are some conditions that can be exacerbated by carrying extra weight. Absolutely, I accept that. However, losing weight just to be within the correct range of numbers is just as unhealthy, both mentally and physically.

There isn’t much research into the effects of yo-yo dieting, but this article is worth a look https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323723.php if you’re interested. Add to this that only 3-5% of all dieters keep all the weight off long term, and I hope you’ll agree it’s time to attack the fat stigma and embrace the positivity.

So, what is my understanding of body positivity? It’s about accepting the body you are in. Being kind to it. Limiting the negative self-talk. Asking yourself “would I say that to a friend?”.

I absolutely understand that when you’re surrounded by messages telling you that you should be slimmer, younger, blonder, smoother-of-skin and so on, it’s pretty hard to break the cycle of negative self-talk. I also understand that for many of us, being surrounded by those messages only reinforces the desire to eat more, because we’ve already “failed” so we may as well eat all the cake.

Where do we start to change this? Well, each and every one of us can make little changes. Rather than constantly looking for the negatives (“I’m so fat, I can’t do X,Y,Z”, for example; “I’m such a failure because I ate more than 3 lettuce leaves today”; “I must have no willpower cos I can’t lose weight”; and so on), let’s start looking at positives: “My body is awesome, it can do A,B,C”; “I need more than just lettuce to survive – my body knows what food it needs”; “If negative dog training doesn’t work, why do I think depriving myself and constantly treating myself negatively is going to work – let’s start being positive”.

So what positives can you cite about your body? What can your body do for you today? How can you start to focus on the good things, and treat yourself like you’d treat a friend?

And yes, I know that the body positivity movement is way bigger than this, but for today, that’s enough of my take on it.

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Get outside in nature

I don’t think I’m alone in finding getting outdoors therapeutic. I love to walk with my dogs, I love to run (slowly, and chattily) with friends, I love to ski.

Do you know what I love most with these activities? The chance to clear my head. The chance to mull over stuff that I need to find an answer to. The chance to talk through things that haven’t quite made sense.

You see, if I walk alone I find that in the very act of moving myself forward while filling my lungs with air, my head finds new ways to process information. Swimming does the same, so long as there’s nobody getting in the way in the lane!!! Honestly, I often find that if I sit at my desk and stare at a list, the inspiration simply never comes, yet as soon as I grab a dog or two and start walking the solution presents itself.

And if I walk or run or ski with others, what’s the benefit? Well, being side by side with someone, rather than face to face, makes it easier to talk about things that have been upsetting you. Face to face insecurities kick in – should I word it like this or that, will someone take offence, will I go red – but side by side brings a freedom. Add the fact that you’re moving, you’re outside so the scenary and surroundings are constantly changing as you go forwards, and you can unburden yourself of things you never thought you would be comfortable talking through. And your companion, because they are also moving and observing ever-changing scenery, is much more receptive to hearing you and absorbing the information.

Try it, it’s liberating. Find a close friend and just walk with them. Talk through things you have been worrying about and see how you get on. Report back (doesn’t need to be in detail, don’t worry!) in my Embracing Fitness community on Facebook.

But I’m too unfit…

It’s a horrible feeling turning up to a fitness class that lasts an hour, and 5 minutes in feeling like you might pass out, and that death would probably be preferable to staying for the remaining 55 minutes. You know that you’ll get fitter by doing stuff, but you hurt so much after doing a class or a gym induction that you have no desire ever to put yourself through it again.

And those people who say no pain, no gain? Yeah, they may be missing the point. I mean, yeah, muscles that aren’t used to being used do ache when they start having to do something, but you don’t want to be in agony. You don’t want to feel like your whole body is rebelling against you for the next week to the extent that all your colleagues notice that your walking a bit strangely.

The ideal, the real thing we’re after, is a level of activity that gets you feeling energised and happy. That gets your muscles working WITH you, not against you, that means you want to do it again and again and again, until one day you notice you just ran up the stairs and can don’t need resuscitating at the top, or you can walk further than you ever imagined, or you start thinking that actually adding a bit of running in might be a good idea.

Yeah. It can happen. It happened to me! I was that unfit person. I drove to work, sat at a desk, drove home, sat on the sofa. I tried the odd gym class and hated every second because (in my head at least) nobody else was puffing and panting, nobody else was tomato red in the face, everybody else was effortlessly doing what the instructor said.

So what changed? Well, I accepted that I don’t like normal fitness classes. I don’t like being in a room full of super fit people and feeling inferior. I can’t believe I’m alone in that! So I tried running. Very slowly. I really enjoyed it. Well that was a revelation. Then I tried cycling. I quite enjoyed it. I remembered I had always liked swimming when I was younger, so I gave that another go.

And now? Now I try things that sound like fun. I still don’t like team sports or rooms full of super fit people. They’re not where I feel happy. But they’re great for the people who do like them.

The beauty of it is that just as there is no right or wrong about what activity you discover you enjoy, there is no such thing as too unfit to start. Start with 5 minutes. Then 10. Then 15. Build up slowly. Discover what you enjoy, and equally discover what you don’t enjoy. Try loads of things. With each try, you’ll get a little fitter and each thing will feel slightly easier.

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

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

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.

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

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.