One for the Ladies

Solidly aimed at 50% of the population this one.  Sorry.

When I’m on my period I literally crave fatty, sugary, salty foods.  When you spend a lot of time trying to eat well this is pretty annoying so I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time looking into why and what I can do to try and make myself feel better (because I suffer from horrible cramps most months and bloat enough to feel like I may actually be pregnant with a baby Elephant) without giving into eating 10,000 calories of pure fat and sugar a day.

Just before and during our periods our Serotonin levels lower (less feel good hormones), our stress hormones spike (not helping in the feeling good department) and our bodies use more calories making us feel hungry more often.  It’s therefore not hugely surprising we want to comfort eat- but apart from eating too much of the crap stuff affecting your body shape aims (I won’t say weight!) eating too much sugar will also cause a spike followed by a crash and burn which also doesn’t make you feel good in the long run.

I’ve therefore been making an effort to read up on what foods will help make me feel better without having a negative affect on looking after myself in general to try and implement them more into my diet .

Foods To Eat:

  1. Water – Not really food but hydrating well helps keep skin clear, prevent bloating (the better hydrated you are the les likely you will retain water) and reduce cramps.
  2. Almonds – also sesame seeds / flax seeds- these have calcium in them and calcium (but not dairy) can help reduce cramps.
  3. Dark chocolate – A little dark chocolate can help relax muscles and so reduce cramps, it will also help release some happy hormones.
  4. Celery – Full of water but not full of calories so a good option if you feel the need to constantly graze!
  5. Hummus- This one may be a bit controversial. I have read that chickpea’s can help you sleep better and also help improve mood. I have also read however that they can be classed as a Legume and cause bloating so perhaps eat in moderation.
  6. Pineapple – Help relax muscles (less cramps) and reduce bloating
  7. Bananas – Helps relax muscles (reduce cramping) also contains Vitamin B6 which can help improve your mood. Banana’s are also good at helping to regulate the digestive system, which some women can have problems with during this time.
  8. Tea – Yes it has caffeine in it, but it’s apparently better for you than coffee (which can increase anxiety levels and cause you to and retain water). Other types of tea can also help: Green tea for instance provides a little caffine still, peppermint tea can help soothe an upset stomach, Chamomile tea is relaxing and can help reduce anxiety.
  9. Spinach / Kale- These Superfoods have Calcium in them which assists in alleviating cramps. They are also Iron rich (our iron levels can drop whilst we are on our period hence why we crave iron rich foods).
  10. Salmon – This is full of omega 3 and Vitamin D. If you can eat it the week before you are due on it can have an anti – inflammatory effect.
  11. Oranges – Provide Calcium which can help relax cramping muscles and Vitamin D (can help regulate your mood).
  12. Brocolli – Full of Magnesium, potassium, Calcium, Vitamins A, C, B6, E – Good for improving your general mood and fighting fatigue.

Foods To Avoid:

  1. Fizzy drnks – Can cause bloating, plus sugary.
  2. Processed foods – Tend to be high sodium – sodium boats. Making food from scratch can reduces salt intake).
  3. Fried foods – Can elevate estrogen levels.
  4. Legumes( – I mentioned this before – some things I’ve read say hummus can help, others say avoid Kidney beans, blackbeans et.c due to their bloating effect.
  5. Refined grains (- refined foods can interfere with blood sugar levels and regular control of appetite, so whole grains are a better option than cookies, white bread etc.
  6. High fat foods – Can affect hormone activity and contribute to inflammation (and cramps)
  7. Coffee – Can increase anxiety / stress levels and contribute to water retention.

Really, this list is not too different to the type of foods I’d want to eat more of / avoid at any other time of the month but if you tend to feel a bit rubbish at certain points in your cycle knowing how you can help manage those symptoms (painkillers and hot water bottles aside) thinking about your diet isn’t a bad starting point.

Note- I’m not a trained nutritionists this is simply based on my own research about something that affects me- I would always recommend you see a qualified dietitian should you need advice!

If Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes

I haven’t posted anything for a couple of weeks as I’ve been busy preparing for my Level 2 Gym Instructor exams, which I took the weekend just gone (and passed!).

The days leading up to the exams were stressful.  Some parts of the course came naturally to me but other parts definitely did not and I suffered severe self doubt that I would be able to pass certain elements.

I almost decided to cancel and not even try to sit them because I was convinced I wouldn’t pass.

In the end pass I did though, so I’m glad I didn’t give into my own self doubt.

Does that mean I was stupid for worrying, getting so stressed out about it?  Some people I know would probably say yes and that I’m just a stress head but I don’t think I was – I was genuinely concerned I wasn’t adequately prepared and was scared of hearing that I’d failed.  Actually just deciding to go and try my best and see what happens meant me having to fight my own anxiety and fears.

People will often say walk away from things that cause you stress but sometimes to get to where you want to be you have to accept that you have to face up to rather than walk away from difficulties, to face up to potential failure and give it your best shot regardless.  If you really want something, you need to sacrifice things / do things, which make you uncomfortable short term to get results.

Next up for me is Level 3 Personal Training and I know this course will be harder and I will need to try and get less stressed before I give myself a heart attack!

But this has also enforced the idea adage that if nothing changes nothing changes.  If you don’t occasionally push past your own comfort zone and challenge yourself you won’t move forward.

Relationships- Facebook and Reality

I’ve had a few conversations recently that made me think about our relationship with social media and how social media affects our relationships with others.

How many friends do you have on Facebook you haven’t seen in more than 12 months? more than a month? How many have you never met?

Social media has warped our perception of what it means to be friends.

I’m old. To me my friends are the people I speak to daily, weekly, sporadically but often as well as those who I may see less often but have deep seated connections to (old housemates, best friends from school etc.).

Then I have friends I know via my jobs but don’t really know well enough to have a one on one conversation with. We all have friends who fall into both categories sometimes people can cross from one to the other over time, others stay in one camp all the time.

This is how I see the distinction. The number of people on a friend list, number of followers and number of likes and gushing comments on posts do not define my worth. The people I speak to all the time – who know what’s happening in my life not just what I post on Facebook- their opinions matter to me.

I feel like for some, perhaps more so those bought up in an age of social media, this is less the case. The distinction between quality interactions and connections versus instagram fame are less defined.

This has more to do with fitness than you would first think it does.

Fitness is big social media business these days. The platform allows you to make yourself well known and carve out a reputation by depicting yourself in a certain light.

This is a brilliant tool and I’m not knocking it at all- I know many people who have used the medium well and carved out reputations that are genuine and true to who they are.

These people tend to understand the difference between real life relationships and Facebook relationships. This ability to understand what a real connection is allows their personality to show on social media and whilst they may come across less polished than others at times they tend to be pretty happy with how they are perceived, largely I think because they are comfortable within themselves – they have their people, their support – the reaction to something they post therefore becomes ess important to them.

I also know of fitness professionals who post to boost their business in the way they think will win them clients and likes, but which is maybe more detached from who they are in real life. To be fair I’ve seen this method build profiles and large followings of strangers – make people recognisable to people they’ve never met – so for some people this works really well. Again, those people still tend to nurture a group of positive relationships away from social media.

But I worry there is a risk amidst all this Social Media hype of people getting swept away – because having lots of friends online doesn’t help you when you need a shoulder to cry on or you are having a crap day. If we focus all our energy on growing followings we risk loosing opportunities to build personal connections with people we actually see or speak to daily. That’s not saying I think we should all quit social media – but perspective and balance are lovely things!

To be honest when I’m enjoying someone’s company I normally forget to log onto Facebook or Insta. The people I speak with most often – when I meet up with them I’m less likely to tag that on Social because I don’t need to tell the world I’m there to make it worthwhile for me – although obviously if there isn’t a selfie it didn’t happen still, that’s jus the law these days – which is unfortunate because if it isn’t food I’m unlikely to photograph it!

This has been a bit deep and rambling (sorry) but my takeout from my brain dump is pretty simple.

I think we should embrace social media- I have great banter online, love sharing photos and Insta stories along with my random opinions and gnome updates. Sometimes it can be used to great effect to get your message and opinions out there. You can meet some lovely, like- minded people. We just need to remember to cultivate real life relationships at the same time. Because, if nobody online likes your photo but you best friend messages you and says it looks great which matters more?

You Control You

I feel like my posts this week have been quite deep so I thought I may as well keep to the theme (don’t worry next week I’ll write about falling falt on my face doing box jumps or something).

I feel like I’ve changed and progressed a lot in the last twelve months and most of that has come from a change in mindset.  I’ve written about this previously in various forms but essentially I’ve just started doing little things, considering certain questions I hadn’t thought about before which has led to me taking more control of my outlook and emotions.

  • What are my aims- for this week, month, year, five years, 10 years?
  • Why do I want to do these things?
  • What is my purpose for doing what I do? What purpose will doing these things serve and will it get me closer to my aims?
  • What do I need to focus on right now to get to where I want to be?
  • How can I use my goals to motivate me to do things right now?

By starting to think about these things and structuring my life around these questions I feel like I’ve started to gain more control.  Even if things are not perf6ect right now there is a purpose for what I am currently doing which fosters a more positive outlook that before.

There are lots of things that happen in life I can’t control of course but I can control me and my reaction to those things and turn those reactions back to focusing on my why and purpose.  This is so much easier said than done and I often have blips where it doesn’t quite happen immediately but building mental fortitude takes time.

Have a read of this email which pretty neatly sums up where you can start with thinking about your why:

Why?: https://mailchi.mp/08cb9784151a/free-workout-316403

Fat Shaming – a Real Life Story

A couple weeks ago I was walking down the street at lunch time (on my way to buy an icecream… errrr… I mean an apple …) and a man called me fatty.  Literally. A stranger.  Just called me fat.

Now I’m not skinny but I’m not fat by any means. I’m quite strong and reasonably defined – but not overweight.

I am also apparently quite thin skinned because this throw away comment really ate away at me all day and knocked my confidence a lot.

I’d not had the best week food wise (and was on my way to get icecream) so it fed into all my negative perceptions of myself, because I already felt a little bit out of sorts.

I mulled it over several times in my head and with people before I felt better about it.  I wanted to write about it at the time but to be honest it actually knocked my confidence too much to commit it to paper.

A few weeks later and with some perspective, I want to make two observations about this comment.

First, for your own mental wellbeing learning when not to give a shit matters.  I lost so much of my day being upset about the opinion of someone I’ve never met.  More to the point it wasn’t even an accurate comment because I’m not fat – would I have been so upset if he’d have said today is Tuesday (when it was in fact Thursday), an equally inaccurate comment? Of course not.   Even more importantly – if I was fat his opinion on the subject still wouldn’t matter.

I’m healthy and fit – what anyone else thinks of my choices surrounding my body or lifestyle are irrelevant as long as I am happy with what I’m doing.

Second, setting aside point 1, we should all be careful with our words.  I’m almost positive that man thought nothing more of that throw away line.  I mean yes, it was unnecessary and mean, but he probably never gave it a second thought.  Yet it affected me for hours- knocked my confidence, bought up insecurities.  If he had thought about that would he have still said it? Perhaps… but I think he was probably just a dick to be honest.

What we say without thinking and see as insignificant may mean more to and affect the person we are talking to in a much bigger way.  That doesn’t mean we should never speak our mind- sometimes people get too easily offended- and we can’t be held responsible for how others interpret our words and their meaning.  But.  If we know something could be taken negatively (calling someone fat for instance- a pretty sure bet) and there isn’t an actual need to say it – why do it?  Even if you think it’s not a big deal- it could be to the person you are talking to.  It’s just spiteful.  Be a nice person not a prat.

So the next time someone decides to shout an insult at me in the street (I’m sure it will happen some people are just idiots) I shall ignore them and be happier for it knowing I’m more in control of my own feelings that I was just a few weeks ago.

So really the man did me a favour.

No Jazzy Title, Just an Honest One Today

I’ve struggled to train recently. I’ve also struggled to hit a calorie deficit in the last few weeks, having some really good days food wise and then some days where I’m dramatically overeating all the wrong stuff. This has coincided with not feeling 100% myself.

I don’t know why – nothing has happened to make me feel down and there hasn’t been any reason for my training or food intake to be affected. Often I find the two go hand in hand though – so if my training or diet isn’t great I will feel a bit low and when I feel a bit low I’ll eat my bodyweight in chocolate and train less.

I’ve realised that I, like most people I imagine, get myself caught in self – destructive cycles where if one thing isn’t perfect it feels like nothing is right, and in turn I let myself sabotage other areas of my life. I get a downer on myself where I feel like everything I do is substandard. The last few weeks I’ve questioned myself on so many things that to others may seem ridiculous and been upset about things I should have brushed off.

One thing I’m getting better at though is recognising this in myself, because this is when you can step back, get some perspective and draw a line.

  • Realistically I’ve still trained 2-3 times every week for the past few weeks, as well as teaching and running a half marathon – so I’ve not really been lazy.
  • I’ve finished the last two weeks in a calorie surplus which isn’t great, but I’ve hit my protein goals and I’m not overweight so I’ve not done any lasting damage.
  • I’ve been a bit down but I know I’ve had some stressful situations to deal with plus been poorly so this isn’t the start of something terrible, I’ve just let myself get a bit stressed.

What I’ve started to try and do when this happens is train – no pressure- just go to the gym and do something (and enjoy it) and then eat nice but fresh food that isn’t processed and sugar filled. Normally I’ll start to feel more positive quickly just from this little system.

Three points from this:

  • A week or so ago was Mental Health Week and there were lots of great posts- but people struggle all year round so don’t be afraid to speak up at other times if you feel like everything is getting to be just a bit much.
  • Sometimes depression doesn’t affect you all in. Sometimes you are perfectly fine and functioning just not feeling 100%. This doesn’t mean it’s any less important to recognise and deal with it – and being aware of how you feel and how you can improve your mood can sometimes help you catch yourself.
  • For me – physical wellness and mental wellness are closely linked. Small habits make a big difference to my mind-set.

15 Tips to Help Improve Mental Health

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week I wanted to offer some ideas of simple things you can do relating to fitness and nutrition to help improve your mental health and manage depression and anxiety:

1) Drink water

Most of us don’t drink enough water at the best of time and if you feel low the chances are you will drink even less. Fill a water bottle and sip throughout the day. Dehyration causes fatigue and has been linked to feelings of depression so drinking water is a cheap, low effort way of helping you feel a bit better.

2) Vitamin D

This can help make you feel better natutally. You can buy supplements, a light box, possibly use a sunbed or even better get outside and get some fresh air at the same time. Little effort required for a potential improvement in your mood.

3) Fish Oil

Omega 3 has been linked to improving symptons of mild depression. Make the effort to take a supplement each day – you can buy it in liquid form if you can’t swallow tablets (and are brave!). This was one simple habit that has worked well for me.

4) Eat regular meals

When you feel low eating proper meals at regular times can go out the window. Set an alarm for regular intervals and eat a small simple meal when it goes off. This will help stabilise your mood and create a feeling of routine and normality which can help when life feels like it’s crumblig around you.

5) Eat colourful food

Go to the shop and buy lots of different colourerd food. If you don’t feel like cooking buy prepared veg and fruit. Eating a variety of colours will mean your getting a variety of nutrients and will help improve your mood as well as your health.

6) Eat simple healthy meals

Eating healthy foods can have a dramatic affect on how well your mind feels. If I’ve had a bad week a simple healthy meal can help me feel more positive and in control of my own mind and body. It may sound stupid but when i eat well I feel like my body feels better and I’m looking after myself which in turn makes me feel brighter within myself. On days like this I won’t have the energy to cook a fancy meal so I go for a simple piece of salmon I can microwave or grill and a pack of microwave veg. 10 minutes to prepare a good quality meal.

7) Try some alternative meal prep

The holy grail of fitness freaks! Cooking is the last thing you want to do when you feel depressed. So if you find yourself having a good day make the most of it and prepare so batches of food that you can freeze. Then on days you just can’t face cooking you can defrost one of these meals and still eat something homemade.

8) Buy a slow cooker

Slow cookers allow you to make healthy tasty meals with little effort -and a casserole is brilliant comfort food. They are great for preparing a comforting meal without much effort and will make you feel better thab turning to chocolate and other quick food sources that we often crave when we feel low.

9) Drink less coffee

Adrenal Fatigue and depression / anxiety are linked. Too much coffee puts you at risk of developing adrenal fatigue – drinking less will help reduce stress levels. You could try a herbal tea instead which many people find helps then relax.

10) Walk

Getting outside helps you move more -that will help your mental health. Fresh air will help lift your mood. Being outside will help increase vitamin D intake. Walking can help clear your head. Walking is free. In short one of the best and most simple things you can do to help yourself.

11) Exercise

As I said moving has been shown to help manage many mental health issues. You may not feel much like it but it can be in any form and doesn’t need to be for long periods of time to help. Start small and build up as you start to feel like you can.

12) Dance

Stick music on and just move to the music. Music can improve mood as can moving which makes thos fun activity a win win mood boosting activity.

13) Try group exercise

Nerve wracking and requires motivation. Sounds awful if you aren’t having the best day. But if you can push yourself to walk into the room you can find exercise, motivation, good music and social interaction in one place. It’s hars to leave a class not feeling at least a little bit more positive than when you walked in.

14) Join a team or club

Another nervewracking idea. Another idea which will allow you to exercise which will help your mental health and get to meet new people, another great mood booster. It can also help boose confidence which will help your mental health dramatically.

15) Try yoga

A chance to challenge your body and stretch along with a focus on breathing and mental wellbeing. You could try a class or find a free video on You tube. You could do and hour or even 5 minutes. Whatever you feel like at the start there is an option you could try out and you may feel more relaxes by the end of it.

Do you have any other tips for improving your mental health?