The right activity at the right time

This week I am doing a course. It’s the GP referral course which will allow me to work with people with various medical conditions, and is also the gateway to several further courses that I want to do. It’s 4 days of pretty full on learning, and so far seems really useful.

However, it’s got me thinking about exercise guidelines vs personal capability. Over the last couple of years, for whatever reasons, my body has spent a lot too much time in the fight or flight mode, and as such I’ve been “stressed” (intentionally in inverted commas – I haven’t felt stressed, not in the way you do when there’s a deadline to meet, or a million things vying for your attention) for much of that time. Funnily enough existing like this takes its toll eventually, and right now I find myself in a sort of chronic fatigue type situation. If I plan ahead, I can find energy for what I need to do, but that’s all. This week, for example, I am finding the energy for this course but it will be at the expense of next weekend, when I will likely collapse; I spent much of last week gearing myself up for it, too.

Enough of the pity party, Emily, what’s the point?

OK, sorry! The point is on this course we are told the guideline amounts of exercise for people with various different conditions. Many of these conditions are attributed to sedentary lifestyles, among other things, so it makes very good sense that moving more will help. However, the guidelines seem to state that for each one ideally the person should be doing some sort of cardio exercise 3-5 times a week for 30 minutes (there are variations on this theme – I’m not for a second suggesting the guidelines are exactly the same for every condition).

Now, from my new position of understanding what it is too need to eek out your energy, and from having been told that cardio exercise is one of the big stressors for my body, I am finding this all very interesting. Yes, I absolutely agree that we all should be moving more. Yes, I 100% on board that my role is to encourage people to get more active.

What I am taking from these guidelines each time we get to that slide for a new condition is that getting active is the key here. It isn’t going and training for a 5k, a half marathon, a triathlon, whatever; it is moving more. For anyone with any of the conditions we are studying being more active WILL HELP. For me currently, being active HELPS, it’s just a different level of active to previously.

I’m really excited to learn more and to see how I can couple this learning with my experience to better support people who are inactive to take those first steps, to find their “thing”. We all have a thing. At the moment mine is walking. I walk with the dogs, I take in the sights and sounds of nature. I used to run to achieve the same, but not for now.

If you’re reading this wondering if maybe just maybe there’s an activity you could try that you just might enjoy, let me help you find it.

Right, I’m off for a snooze before today’s learning…

Leaving the diet culture behind

I have been chatting to a lot of people recently about exactly what they’d like from me when they sign up to get more active. Weight loss comes up time and time again. Initially that really saddened me, because I always want to help people feel comfortable in their own skin and strive to be the best version of them. I felt that this desire to lose weight showed that my clients were unhappy as they are now and were looking for yet another diet.

Then I had a really honest conversation with a friend, who I believe is typical of so many people. She wants to lose weight to be healthier. She worries about specific health issues that are related to her weight being higher than ideal. What she doesn’t want is yet another diet, yet more guilt, yet more chasing her tail. However, and this was the “aha” moment for me, she doesn’t want to “love the skin she’s in”, she doesn’t want to do the body confidence/boudoir photos thing, because actually she still won’t be healthy.

Interesting, I thought. I had been seeing the term weight loss as synonymous with dieting, when actually it needn’t be. Perhaps rather than looking at the diet options that are out there we can dig deeper into our relationship with food. I know I am absolutely an emotional eater. I know I don’t have it nailed on. I do, however, know that I am comfortable in my own skin and am fit and healthy.

Because of this, I feel I am better equipped than some in the fitness industry to help people who over eat, or eat food that doesn’t support their health – I get it. I totally understand the link between boredom and reaching for chocolate; having a crazy busy day and wanting a “reward”.  I am not a nutritionist or a dietician, and as such I would never dream of offering advice beyond my remit, but I have tried most of the diets, I have walked the walk. I have learnt what little swaps really do make a difference, so you aren’t depriving yourself or counting every last calorie. I have worked out how to have a more normal relationship with food, and how to couple that with being more active. It’s pretty cool!

Food: good vs bad

The topic of what food is “good” and what is “bad” seems to come up with alarming regularity. I all too often see people who have had it ingrained into them by the diet culture, previous PTs, the media, etc that some foods are “good” and others are “bad”. I hate this. I genuinely hate this.

Yes, there are foods that support our health more than others. Yes, there are foods that fuel us better for work, exercise, life. Yes, there are foods that, if eaten 100% of the time would do us more harm than good. But can we say any one of these is “good” or “bad”? If you stuck to the different food stories in the media over the months and years, you’d never eat anything. Everything seems to have been demonised at some point. I remember red peppers being a bad thing some years ago; bananas have their phases; red meat, white meat, fish, chocolate, red wine, white wine. Aarrrgh!

I am not for a second saying we should ignore the five (or more) a day idea; I’m not suggesting we all live off pizza and chocolate. No. Not for a second. To suggest that would be to go against what supports our health, and fuels our body to do what we require of it.

What I am getting at is that we can change our language around food. Rather than good vs bad, healthy vs unhealthy, why not look at it as food. I know my clients are intelligent. I know they know what foods will support their health. I know they get tempted by “yummies” – don’t we all? The huge thing here is to remove the “bad” label from the latter. So long as it’s forbidden, we will crave it. We will want to rebel against ourselves and have another slice of cake while nobody’s looking. And hey, if nobody saw it we don’t need to acknowledge it happened, right?

I am often asked by clients to review their food diary. More than happy to. Will I then produce a calorie-counted meal plan? No. I’ll look at what times of day they are eating and aren’t eating. Skipping breakfast can lead to grabbing extra food later, because of an energy slump; a mid afternoon slice of cake can show lunch wasn’t balanced enough. Also, I like to look at WHY someone is eating. Is it habit? Is it comfort? Is it stress? Is it actual hunger?

Once we get to the bottom of why someone is eating what they’re eating when they’re eating it we stand a much better chance of making little changes that will bring big results. No diets, no meal plans, just little changes.

And with those little changes comes the acceptance that food doesn’t fall in to “good” and “bad” lists. It is all just food. Some will make you feel better, some will make you feel worse. Take away the emotion and the guilt from it, and you’ll be much more likely to reach for the things that make you feel better, safe in the knowledge the “yummies” are still there, still available for you, never off limits.

Sound good? I’m always happy to have a Skype chat to see if I can help you get more active and get a more happy relationship with food.

Language we use

I hope I’m not alone in having my external language – you know, how you speak to friends and family, the nice, censored version of stuff, the one that filters the appropriateness of what you’re saying most of the time to the situation you’re in, so you don’t start screeching at the little old lady in Sainsburys; and my internal language – you know, the one that has a very different filter as all the good stuff seems to get fined out, leaving just the negative versions of any story.

In our external language we tend to find a nice way to say things. We worry that we might offend with a poor choice of words. We sometimes walk on eggshells to avoid upsetting others.

Internal language? None of that. We beat ourselves with the worst of it. “You’re a failure”, “you’ll never achieve that”, “why even start?”. Would you EVER say these things to your friends? Almost certainly not.

OK, so we know we can speak nicely. We do it externally every day. So the next step is to start speaking nicely internally as well as externally. Rather than always going to the negative, start looking to find positives. Think about how you’re phrasing things. For example, “you’re a failure” can become “that didn’t work out quite as I planned, but I can learn from it”; “why even start?” can become “give it a try, it’ll be fun”; and so on.

What I find interesting is when internal and external language sort of meet up. I hear it a lot “I should get fitter”, “I should lose weight”. Should is a failure term – it’s using someone else’s external language to justify our internal failure. How about “I want to get fitter”, “I am going to lose weight”? Suddenly they sound so much more positive, so much more achievable.

Have a listen to what your internal language usage is. See if you can play around with it. See how much better you feel when you start using the positive language internally… Go on… Try it…

Wine issue 3 – unusual regions

We all tend to be aware of the big wine producers, I mean even if you don’t give that much thought to where your vino comes from, if you found yourself on Pointless you would know that to say France, Italy or Australia would get you a pretty high score, right?

OK, so how about those countries that might get you a lower score, and more importantly are the wines worth trying?

Well, within Europe there are the slightly less obvious countries like Austria and Romania who produce some lovely stuff, although Romania make some sweeter reds (not pudding wines, just sweeter red wines) that aren’t to my taste personally. But how about Moldova? They’ve been making wine there for centuries but it’s never been on the mainstream list. Or at the other end of the spectrum, both weather and wine history-wise, Denmark has fairly recently come onto the wine scene. I’ll admit I have never tried a Danish wine, however, and I’m not sure how well you’d fare trying to get some from your local Tesco, but you might get a nice low score on Pointless!

And further afield? Well one of the very nicest wines I’ve ever tasted was from Canada. There’s an area in British Columbia which has a very similar micro climate to the Alsace region in France, and their ice wines are phenomenal. In Japan a third of the wine consumed is locally made. But interestingly (or not, depending on your view point) only a quarter of that is from grapes grown in Japan.

On the list of wine producing countries by quantity for 2014 (I can’t find a more recent one), Italy produces the most, only just ahead of Spain and then France. You might be surprised to discover Australia is 8th on the list, producing less than a quarter of Italy’s total – certainly if you look in any UK supermarket you’d be forgiven for believing the Aussies churned out a lot more!

And at the bottom of the list? Here’s your Pointless answer: Reunion. Yup, that little island in the Indian Ocean. Still a French territory, so I suspect that might explain a bit of it.

What wines have you tried from unusual places? I’d love to know in the comments.

New year – new you? NO!

This time of year there’s all this “new year, new you” stuff being bandied about, as though the old you was a bit rubbish and the only way to survive the new year is to change your entire self. And how long will it take for you to “fail” at that? I’ll give it a couple of days, maybe a week. Who you are is who you are, you don’t need to become a new you!

However, there may be some changes you want to make, and the start of a new year can feel like a good time to address old habits and start creating some new ones. Gym memberships always go sky high in January, but I’m not sure how many of those people actually continue going. Slimming clubs make a small fortune in January from people buying into the idea that by watching their syns or their points they will somehow ditch all their old habits and become some new slinky creature, who is no longer affected by past troubles.

My issue with the gyms and the slimming clubs is that neither addresses why the person hasn’t made the changes before. Why they want to make a change. What success looks like. What has got in the way before. What are the current barriers. I mean, with all the will in the world, someone who works full time and has small children can pay a gym membership until they are blue in the face, but they still won’t have more time in the day, so ultimately they’ll stop going. Someone who comfort eats when life is stressful or work is tough won’t stop doing that just because their points are adding up.

In both instances we need to look at what is behind the habit that the person wants to change. Look at what little switches they can make to alter old habits – for good. Not put a one size fits all solution onto them, but actually…. LISTEN. Yep, I know, imagine that. A conversation about what is holding someone back, and working out what will encourage them forwards.

This is how I like to work. I like to be my clients’ biggest supporter, their confidante, the person who accepts that life happens and setbacks come along, but who is still there throughout and indeed after. I am by no means a counsellor or life coach, but as someone with plenty of experience of being unfit and overweight, I have probably felt how many of  my clients feel. I get it.

So, if in 2018 you want to address some habits that have been holding you back or that are getting you down, I would love to support you through that. If you think that just because it’s a new year suddenly everything will change, in a flash of glitter, then I can’t promise anything!

Give me a shout. Let’s Skype and see how I can help…

A few lunch suggestions

For my clients on the Get Energised plan, we talk about how food can work with us rather than against us. I love really simple yet effective lunch ideas, so here are a few of them:

 

Easy Humous

Ingredients: 1 can chick peas, 1 tub Quark, 1 teaspoon tahini

Method: blend together

Serve as: dip for carrot sticks, sandwich filling, wrap filling

 

Easy fish pate

Ingredients: 2 smoked mackerel fillets (or hot smoked salmon), 1 tub Quark, 1 dessert spoon drained capers

Method: blend together

Serve as: spread on Melba toasts or oat cakes, dip for sliced cucumber, wrap filling, sandwich filling

 

Quick salmon pasta

Ingredients: pasta, courgette, smoked salmon, light crème fraiche

Method: while the pasta is boiling, fry the sliced courgette until it is lightly browned on both sides. Drain the pasta. Mix the pasta, chopped smoked salmon and crème fraiche into the courgettes and quickly warm through

Serve as: main dish

 

Chorizo spinach mix

Ingredients: chorizo, cherry tomatoes, pine nuts, spinach, mozzarella

Method: fry the sliced chorizo, when it’s cooked add the halved cherry tomatoes and pine nuts, after a minute, stir through the spinach until it wilts, make dents in the mix and divide the mozzarella into them. Serve when the mozzarella has gone gooey

Serve as: main dish

 

Chilli, garlic and prawn linguine

Ingredients: 1 bird eye chilli, 1 clove garlic, raw prawns, 1 dessert spoon rape oil, linguine

Method: while the linguine is cooking, lightly fry the chopped chilli, and add the finely chopped garlic. Before either browns, add the prawns and mix the cooked pasta through

Serve as: main dish

 

Simple salmon

Ingredients: salmon fillet, bag of stir fry veg, lime juice, soy sauce

Method: put the salmon fillet in tin foil with some lime juice and soy sauce, make the foil into a parcel around the salmon and cook in the oven for about 15 mins. In the man time, heat some oil in a pan and stir fry the veg. As it’s nearly done (takes about 5 mins in total to stir fry, usually) add some lemon juice and soy sauce. Serve the veg with the salmon fillet on top

Serve as: main dish

 

Avocado and salmon open sandwich

Ingredients: hot smoked salmon, avocado, sour dough bread, rocket

Method: toast the bread, mash the avocado and spread it onto the toast, sprinkle hot smoked salmon and rocket on top. If you’re feeling really indulgent, add a poached egg.

Serve as: main dish

 

Pesto

Ingredients: basil, pine nuts, roasted garlic, olive oil, cheese (ideally parmesan)

Method: blend all the ingredients together to taste

Serve as: a pasta sauce, a topping on salmon fillet, an alternative to butter in a mozzarella and tomato sandwich, a drizzle on a salad.

 

If you’d like help with your food ideas, please do contact me.

 

 

Wine issue 2 – Northern Rhone

I’ll start by telling you this is my MOST FAVOURITE wine area ever. Seriously, if (when?) I were to win the lottery I would invest in so much of the beautiful wine from this region, alongside some top Champagnes, but I’ll come onto those in another post!

The Rhone Valley can be looked at in two parts – North and South. There are a few bits and pieces in the middle, including the very yummy Clairette de Die, but let’s not get distracted. From the South Rhone you get such lovelies as Cotes du Rhone and Chateauneuf du Pape, but again, that’s for another post.

The North Rhone is almost entirely planted to the Syrah grape. Syrah was long believed to have originated in the Iranian town of Shiraz, but in the late 90s a study in California found it to be the offspring of two other French grape varieties (Duereza and Mondeuse Blanche). Syrah is the name the grape goes under in France, and the Old World; while it is called Shiraz elsewhere.

So, when I win the lottery, what will I buy? Hermitage. Just so much Hermitage. This wine is all grown in a small area on the hill above the town of Tain l’Hermitage. It is made primarily from Syrah, but is permitted to also contain up to 15% of a mix of Roussanne and Marsanne (both white grapes). It is a wine that just blows your senses away, from the initial smell, through to the final end taste. And yes, I am straying into wine reverie and remembering tasting notes I have written over the years.

Just as a little aside, let me run through how to taste a wine properly:

Look – the first thing to do is to look at it in the glass. You can see if it’s past it by one quick look, so you can end up writing off a wine just from the first pour, if it’s been sitting in a wine rack a bit too long. Yep, if you pour a red wine and it comes out brick red, it’s probably past it. Back to my North Rhone wines, they should be a beautiful dark red, going to clear at the very edge of the wine.

Smell – next up you smell the wine. Put your nose right into the glass and get a good whiff (there’s a reason tasting samples are small, it’s so you don’t end up with a wet nose at this point!). With a Hermitage (and, for the purposes of generalisation, all the North Rhone red wines) you’ll find amazing smells of tobacco, pine, leather, smoke. Honestly, it’s just so beautiful.

Taste – at this point the aim is NOT to glug it, it’s to taste it. So take a small sip and hold it in the middle of your mouth, then breathe through it. Adding air will allow the wine to reach all your taste receptors and give you so many more flavours than you might have expected. Your Hermitage will give you flavours of blackberries, violet, spices.

If I were at a formal tasting, I would be jotting down these characteristics on every wine I taste. These big formal trade tastings that used to be a part of my life were a funny mix of older men in tweed and some of the younger wine merchants, all wandering around tasting in the order they choose, scribbling reminders so that when they get back to the office they know which to order and which to avoid. I used to find that people were very protective of their own notes, a bit like when, at primary school, you’d hide your work so the person next to you couldn’t copy!

Back to the real world, what does a North Rhone wine go well with? Well the immediate answer is lamb. Honestly, if there is a food-pairing made in heaven it’s Syrah and lamb. Early in my wine days I remember going for dinner with Dad, and we had a Crozes-Hermitage (from the same place, albeit a larger area and the next tier down of grape quality, so a bit more affordable) with a lamb dish. It was my first realisation of quite how much wine and food can compliment each other. If I tell you this was in 2000, so 17 years ago, you’ll understand what a big eye opener that meal was. There are a few other meals along the way that I’m sure I’ll refer to in these posts, that have given me the “aha” moment about different regions and food pairings. Dad has been present at many of them!

OK, so maybe you’ve never really explored the North Rhone as a region, maybe you’ve never really thought about smelling and tasting your wine, maybe you’ve stuck to the red with meat, white with fish (I’ll challenge that at some point, don’t worry) rule. This weekend, go and try a North Rhone wine. Be open minded when you smell it and jot down everything you can smell. Don’t think when you first taste it and note everything you can taste. I can only hope you’ll enjoy it a fraction of how much I do.

And to save you standing staring blankly in the red wine aisle here are some great wines to try (to suit various budgets, see why I need that lottery win now?):

Crozes Hermitage, Cave de Tain; Sainsburys£8.50 a bottle

Crozes Hermitage “Petite Ruche” 2015, M.Chapoutier; Majestic Wine£18.99 a bottle

Cornas, Jean Luc Columbo, Terres Brulees; Waitrose Wine Cellars£34.99 a bottle

Hermitage, Jean-Louis Chave, Rouge 2011; Yapp Wines£199 a bottle

 

 

Happiness

I have been trying to write this post for a few days now, and it keeps feeling a bit trite, as though in talking about happiness I am playing down the seriousness of mental health issues that so many people face. However, having heard that yet another friend is suffering with depression, I am determined to get this out there.

For far too long it has been taboo to talk about depression, anxiety, and so on. Stress has become a synonym for “far too busy being important” in too many people’s parlance, when actually stress need not have anything to do with work. Depression is an awful, dark place that I wouldn’t wish on anyone; along with anxiety it isn’t something the sufferer can “snap out of”, and yet all too often I hear people are advised that by acquaintances, even friends.

Personally I have always considered myself a happy person. I am very lucky in this regard. But I have had several periods of low mood, and more recently of intangible stress – it manifested itself as broken sleep, constant worry, disinterest in things that usually cheer me, getting slower and slower in my training, no energy, and many other things. I say intangible because it wasn’t associated directly to my job, my home life, money, whatever; but it caused me to worry irrationally about all those things.

OK, this is all a bit bleak, you’re meant to be talking about happiness, Emily!!

Knowing that my default setting is happy, I now make a conscious effort to notice things that make me smile, that lift my mood, that make me feel better. Today, for example, it’s the colour of the autumn leaves and it’s the toasted teacakes we had for breakfast (haven’t had any in years, desperately NEEDED them today!).

This ties in with the idea of mindfulness, being present, living in the moment. All these things help us to find the simple happiness in life, as they take us away from the stresses and worries that otherwise can engulf us.

Often people suffering with low mood, and worse, are told (helpfully!) that exercise will help. While this is undoubtedly true – exercising releases endorphins which lift mood – telling someone who is depressed that getting out there and running will magically make them feel better is like telling someone who is overweight that if they “just lose some weight” they’ll get healthier. We all know these things in our conscious mind, but illness or our subconscious can be so much stronger than just knowing the facts.

So, how do we find happiness? In doing little things: small bits of movement, small acts of kindness, small changes of food to be healthier; and building up to doing these things more. I’m not suggesting I have a cure for depression, but I do believe everyone can find a moment or two of happiness in their day.

In all my work with my clients I try to keep clear in my mind the trilogy of kindness, happiness and playfulness. When we speak on Skype, we look at how adding exercise will make someone happier, how it can become an act of self-kindness, and how being playful can fulfil that. If that sounds like your sort of way to get more active, do have a look at my Jumpstart plans. There is no taboo around mental health with me.

Kindness

On a lovely dog walk with a friend recently we were talking about what I wanted to achieve with my Jumpstart programme. The overwhelming thing was kindness.

By this I don’t mean going and giving all your worldly goods to charity, or taking a steaming pot of  stew to an elderly neighbour, although those are great things to do. What I mean is kindness to yourself.

Huh?

All too often we think of everyone else’s needs before our own. Got children? You put them before you. Got a partner? Their needs are pretty high up. Friends? Yep, you’ll rush to help them out. Animals? They need to be cared for. You? Sorry, who? ME? I don’t have time to be kind to me!!

OK, let’s put this another way around: if you never make time to be kind to number one, you’ll run out of steam to help everyone else. So rather than saying “I don’t have time to be kind to me”, let’s try “how can I make time for me?” I’m thinking maybe 10 minutes. How about you grab 10 minutes before the chaos of the day and do some yoga stretches? Or take 10 minutes at lunchtime and walk around the block? Or include the family – take 10 minutes before dinner and all dance like loons around the living room.

Kindness, in this context, is about giving yourself the time to keep having the energy for everyone else.

If you’re struggling with how to find the time, or what to do to fit little bits of activity in, why not join our Community over on facebook. Lots of hints and tips on how to get a bit more active and ultimately be kind to yourself, and all while surrounded by lovely kind people.