At the start of 2020 for the first time in a long time I felt like I had been given a bit of my ‘me time’ back. My youngest child had started Kindergarten which left me with some time in the middle of the day to dedicate to my own personal pursuits. I threw myself into building more of an online presence with my health business and started a structured weights based program at the gym (that wasn’t an afterthought after training a morning of clients). I was super motivated and committed for the first time in a long time and I felt I was improving in all areas of my life. Life was good!
Life for all of us changed forever with Covid 19, a pandemic which threatened to compromise our health and disrupt everything we knew to be familiar and comfortable. I was stood down from a job I had been in for 17 years and on the same day so was my husband. I no longer had a gym to train out of which more than just a physical outlet for me but also a mental one. Everything I had been invested in had been turned on it’s head in what felt like a number of days and weeks. I was concerned about my health and the health of my family and friends, as this pandemic was uncharted waters for all of us.
Fast forward many months later, as we start to regain some sense of normality back what should be a reassuring time for many of us has left us feeling flat, demotivated and like
we are treading water. Conversations with friends and clients is centred around lacking motivation to exercise and some are simply still cautious about resuming their previous routines. Instead of feeling stuck or like we are stalling my approach has been to focus on the things that are within our control and let the things that are out of our control simply be.
Staying ‘fit’ is more than the physical it is also the mental and if we practice the below tips it will help us all feel happier and more productive in everything that we do. We owe it to ourselves to work as hard on our happiness and mental health as we do on our physical health so let’s try to make these tips and tricks a daily practice.
Be Kind to Yourself:
During lockdown some of us felt the pressure to upskill, learn a new language, food prep, crochet or start a new business. I refer to this as ‘quarantine guilt’. What is quarantine guilt? It is the feeling that you should be doing more to better yourself. Now on the one hand if you find yourself with more time than usual and learning a new language is something you have always wanted to do then pursuing this whilst you have more time seems logical and is perfectly ok. However, if on the other hand you want to use any excess time to relax, watch Netflix or read some books that is fine too. A part of what makes us all different is that some people thrive on stress and become uber productive and some people simply do not. It’s important to recognise and accept which one you fall under and accept who you are and what you are capable of. This doesn’t mean don’t push yourself, but make your goals realistic and relative to where you are now. You will be surprised at how much happier you will be if you stop pressuring and comparing yourself to everyone’s achievements around you.
Get a Grip on Your Diet:
With more time to shop and food prep feeling better about ourselves can be instantaneous if we choose to eat more nutrient dense foods and less processed foods.
The way we think and our emotional health is directly related to our physical health, the two are intimately linked and dependent upon each other. If we are filling our bodies with junk and processed foods this disrupts our energy levels, the way we sleep and even changes the way we make decisions.
Start your day off right with a healthy breakfast which can play a key role in regulating appetite for the rest of the day. Opt for protein rich foods, wholegrains and add some good fat into the mix as well. Studies have shown that people who eat breakfast are less likely to snack on sugary foods later in the day.
Have a Plan:
This plan needs to be realistic! Committing to training 6-7 days a weeks when realistically you can only fit in 3 is setting you up for failure. The one thing I have learnt about being a trainer for many years is that life gets in the way. People start off with great intentions and then run into a work deadline, an injury occurs or their children need their attention. If you can’t train for any of these reasons suddenly your self-esteem and motivation go and you are no longer training at all. When creating your plan for exercise ensure that it is ‘sustainable’, something that you can realistically fit into your week.
Have a Goal:
Having a goal gives us something to focus on when motivation starts to wane. Motivation is often turned to for momentum to get you started but can’t be relied on for long term success. Why? Because motivation is a feeling and all feelings fluctuate. It doesn’t matter how badly you want to achieve a goal or love doing something – there will be days where you are just not feeling it!
Instead, set a realistic and sustainable goal that doesn’t add more stress to your week. I often hear stories from clients who have a plan and if they mess up one part of the plan up like eating something ‘bad’ they throw it all in and start again next week. The key here is to not expect perfection and to keep your expectations in check.
Be Realistic and Start Small:
Here is the most important thing to remember when you get started, that ‘moderation is the key to fitness success’. The key to success is showing up consistently and making small, achievable changes over a period of time. You are more likely to stick to a plan that works in with your lifestyle and not against it. Take a long-term view rather than chasing the quick transformation. As things start to become easier you can increase your training load to suit. You don’t want to go from 0 to 100 overnight, it is not sustainable and you will burn out or injure yourself.
Consistency is key, consistency gets results!
Make some Lifestyle Adjustments:
It’s often the little things we do outside of our training regime that have the biggest impact on our lifestyle. These adjustments don’t have to be all encompassing but can be little things like having 4 alcohol nights free a week, getting up from your desk every 30 minutes to walk around, changing how we are currently eating or simply moving more. One thing that we can change right away which will have a significant impact on our health is drinking more water. Being hydrated helps detoxify the body, balances our blood sugar and promotes healthy looking skin. If you were to do an audit of your current lifestyle what adjustments could you make straight away that are not serving you? Take some time to have a think about these and then pick one thing you will change for that week. These little changes over time will create substantial positive differences over a period of time.
Get rid of Distractions:
How many times have you heard yourself say ‘if it’s not in the house I don’t think about it/eat it’. With more of us spending increasing amounts of time at home working and self-isolating it is important to get rid of any distractions or things that may derail your plans. Don’t keep biscuits and sweets in the house if you know you struggle with willpower around these types of foods. Limit the amount of alcohol you consume by saving it for 1-2 nights per week instead of every night during the week.
Set up a dedicated spot where you can do your exercise, meditation or stretching everyday. Establish a routine around what time of day you do it so that it becomes a part of your daily ritual. Ensure you pick a time where you won’t be interrupted by work or children even if it means getting up a bit earlier each day to do so.
Finally, stop comparing yourself to other people especially those you see on social media. Most images you see of fitness models/influencers have been training for a long period of time and will only post pictures of their ‘highlight reel’ which in some cases have been heavily edited. Try not to fall into the habit of competing and comparing as what we often perceive to be somebodies ‘perfect life’ is often not the case at all. We feel good when we perceive we are better than or ‘getting one over’ those around us and feel terrible when we seem to be falling behind. This fear of missing out (F.O.M.O) or keeping up with the ‘Jone’s’ is nothing new but it can have harmful effects on our emotional and mental health.
Remember confidence comes from consistency! It’s like anything in life, if you want to be better at it then you need to do it more often.
I like this quote to keep me accountable: ‘You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do’.
There has been much hype in the health industry recently about the merits of ‘cleansing’ or ‘fasting’. If you care to research this topic further there is alot of literature supporting the merits of both to achieve optimal health. Results range from greater mental clarity/focus to decreased blood pressure and possibly even slowing down the ageing process. Fasting for even 8 hours, causes the body to dip into glucose stored in the liver and muscles as a source of energy. As well as aiding weight loss, Dr. Razeen Mahroof, of the University of Oxford in the UK, explains that the use of fat for energy can help preserve muscle and reduce cholesterol levels. “A detoxification process also occurs, because any toxins stored in the body’s fat are dissolved and removed from the body,” he adds, noting that after a few days of fasting, higher levels of endorphins – “feel-good” hormones – are produced in the blood, which can have a positive impact on mental well-being.
What is a detox:
- Endongenous – (made from inside of you) hormones, brain chemicals, cellular waste from fatigue exercise. Or chemicals from the good/bad bugs that live inside your stomach and membranes.
- Exogoneous – (comes from outside) hormones, pollution, natural or synthetic food chemicals, poisons, venoms. Not to mention synthetic or natural drugs, inhalants, cosmetics, dental fillings, vaccinations, pesticides, electromagnetic radiation and fertilisers to name a few.
When should you detox:
How to Detox:
- Starting each day with apple cider vinegar or lemon in warm water
- Drinking fresh vegetable juice daily full of super greens
- Eliminating alcohol and caffeine
- Eating more raw foods such as vegetables and fruit
- Reducing your intake of red meat or meat products
- Using only natural cleaning, bathing and hygiene products
- Eliminating white sugar and processed foods
- Eliminating toxic people out of your life
- Drink more green tea or herbal teas like dandelion and ginger
- Exercising more and stressing less
Exercise Recommendations whilst on a Detox/Cleanse:
Your goal, whilst on a detox is to let your body do what it needs to do, that is rid itself of toxins. The right type of exercise can actually facilitate this process, but the wrong type, or too much exercise can detract from it. Exercising provides a great pathway for detoxification to naturally occur simply by sweating and breathing. Sweat increases our blood flow to our working muscles and carries away damaged cells which make us less sore after a workout. It also dials up heat-shock proteins (a special set of responders that safeguard other proteins from damage) repair any damaged ones and produce new ones. Exercise also stimulates our digestive and lymphatic systems so we expel toxins quicker and more efficiently. The key whilst detoxing/cleansing is to pick the right cleanse and pair it with the right type of exercise.
Here are my recommendations around certain exercises and cleansing:
- Yoga (Hatha or Gentle Yoga): The purpose of Hatha yoga is to stretch and restore energy due to it’s relaxing nature. The more intense cleanses can be completed whilst still practicising Hatha. These include 3-5 day juice or aw food cleanses. Opt for juices full of vital greens to restore iron levels or juices full of red beets, oranges and carrots to stimulate and sustain you.
- Power/Hot Yoga: The more dynamic Yoga’s do need more energy to perform and usually more sweat to be expelled. For these types of mind/body classes opt for a more protein rich drink to aid in recovery, especially taken after the workout itself. Add ingredients such as almond or any other nut milk, coconut water for hydration or a pea protein to assist with any breakdown in muscle.
- Weight/Strength Training: Similarly to Power Yoga, heavy strength work can cause tiny tears in the muscle fibres which require protein rich foods to repair them. Include a higher level of protein in your detox/cleanse if you would still like to weight train. Some of these foods include green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, broccoli, sprouts, brussel sprouts. Fruits to include are avocados, guavas, apricots, peaches, kiwi fruit, blackberries, oranges, bananas, rock melon and raspberries. Ensure you supplement your shakes with a good quality pea protein powder.
- Walking/Low Impact Exercise: Even low intensity exercise still requires energy, ensure walks and low impact exercise are no more than 45-60 minutes in duration. You may want to add metabolism boosting spices such as cinammon or jalapenos to kick start your weight loss . Citrus fruits like limes, oranges, grapefruits also have chemical properties that help decrease insulin levels and promote weight loss. Not to mention, broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower and bok choys being cruciferous vegetables that help jump start your metabolism and assist with weight loss.
- Running/High Intensity/Cycling/Endurance: For endurance or high intensity activities such as running or cycling an intensive 3-5 day juice only cleanse is probably not optimal for replenshment and repair. Food is required for these type of activities especially to sustain energy and to repair muscle and cells. Alongside food, green juices are good because they are high in potassium which helps with muscle contraction and prevents cramps. Ensure you get plenty of raw solids too—like avocados, nut butters, nut milks, whole fruits, and vegetables. Aim for a minimum of 1500 calories a day and add some pea protein for muscle repair. Coconut water will help for added hydration and maintaining your electrolyte balance.
- Swimming/Pilates: Toning exercises like swimming and pilates still get the cardiovascular system going. Try adding ‘super foods’ such as goji berries, acai berries and spirulina to a vegetable mix for extra vitamins and minerals. Lastly, throw in a blend of almonds, plant protein, dates and omega-rich flax to boost tissue repair.
Recently there has been a shift away from the terms ‘health and fitness’ to a more encompassing term used to describe our overall health called ‘wellness’. You only need to look on social media for an increase in the amount of people describing themselves as ‘wellness warriors’ using hashtags such as #nourishing and #fitmotivation whilst striking the latest Yoga pose. I should know! I am one of the converted as well!
The shift for me has been a positive one as more and more research has come out to support the fact that our overall health is made up of much more than what we put into our mouths and what type of exercise we do.
Whilst our diet and exercise play an important role in how we look and feel, these are just smaller parts to the bigger picture to what I describe as, our ‘Holistic Health’.
Our Holistic Health is comprised of the following 5 lifestyle factors:
We have somewhere between 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts on any given day that is 35-48 thoughts per person per minute. As you can imagine that is a lot of information for our rational brains to process. When we think, we manipulate information to form concepts, engage in problem solving, reason and make decisions. Not all thoughts are deemed equal, and sometimes when we are under stress or are feeling tired or depleted our rational brain finds it hard to make decisions and think positively this can be described as ‘stinking thinking’.
Long-term stress can wreak havoc on our physical health thru the presence of injuries and mental health concerns. If left untreated, the ill effects of stress can lead to time off work, niggling injuries that don’t get better and even the breakdown of oneself and our relationships.
In order to maintain positive thinking and manage stress levels it is important to take time out everyday to ‘switch off’ from distractions and allow yourself to be present with your own company and thoughts.
Options to help manage stress levels include mental awareness apps such as ‘Head Space’ which encourage you to take 10 minutes out of everyday for some mental wellbeing activities. Other ways you can help manage your stress include participating in a Yoga class, practicing some meditation or Tai Chi and even doing some adult drawing or colouring in.
How we breathe effects the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood at any given time replenishing our brain and other vital organs with essential nutrients. We take on average 20,000 breaths per day which, makes it an important part of our health to get right.
Breathing correctly can reduce your stress levels, improve the performance of your workouts and boost your immune system. Poor breathing can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, hyperventilation and even insomnia and depression.
When we are stressed our body goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode and our breathing becomes more shallow and frequent. This causes us to breathe like we are hyperventilating which in turn increases our heart rate, leading to palpitations and contributes to feelings of anxiety and being out of control.
In order to breathe correctly we should focus on what we call ‘diaphragmatic breathing’. This technique involves placing one hand on our chest, say our left hand, and our right hand on our abdomen. When we breathe in and out your left hand should remain still and your right hand should move up and down. If your left hand is moving your breathing is too shallow and you are not using your diaphragm correctly. Practice taking slow deep breaths in and out until you perfect the technique. Take note of how this correct breathing technique will help boost your workouts and your health.
The average amount of water contained in the human body is approximately 50-65% for the average adult person. Considering our bodies are largely made up of water then it is crucial that we consume enough good quality water on a daily basis.
Water in the body is responsible for flushing wastes and toxins thru the body as well as metabolising and digesting food. It is also the primary building block for all of our cells, as well as helping to insulate and lubricate the body, and assist in regulating our body temperature.
The research around how much water to drink does vary but you should aim to consume 35-45ml/kg of fluid which translates into about 2-3 litres per day. An active person who trains for longer than 40 minutes per day training at a high intensity should add an extra 500-1000ml a day with athletes or people exposed to extreme heat more again.
Generally, an indication of being thirsty is the bodies way of telling you, your already dehydrated. Just losing even 1% of the bodies water has an impact on our physical performance as well as impairing our mental performance. Up to 70% of people are dehydrated at any one time a result of drinking too much coffee, juices and smoothies which are loaded with caffeine and sugar.
If your having trouble drinking enough water daily, try carrying around a drink bottle with a slice of cut up lemon or lime. Add vegetables such as sliced up cucumbers, carrots or mint leaves for a fresh zesty flavor. Add a glass of water before every meal and snack to help you feel fuller for longer and to stop the urge of wanting to overeat. Add a pinch of rock salt to assist in replacing essential minerals and salts lost thru perspiration as well as to help slow down the urination process.
Life is a about balance and when it comes to nutrition nothing beats a strong foundation of carbohydrates, good fats and proteins or what we commonly refer to as macronutrients. Where a lot of people get it wrong is when we start eliminating certain food groups in an attempt to lose weight often replacing proteins and carbs with foods loaded with hidden sugars.
The need to refuel throughout the day will largely depend upon your workload and individual energy requirements. If for example, you are a Personal Trainer like me and get up before 5am every morning to train and work, then I often need 2 small meals before lunchtime to keep me going. If you exercise during your lunch break you may find that you need a small snack before you train and a bigger meal after training to help manage hunger and energy levels or vice versa. As a general rule of thumb try not to leave longer than 3-4 hours between eating as this will help regulate your blood sugars and prevent you from overeating at your next meal.
Your 3-4 meals a day should consist of lean proteins to help build lean muscle and keep you feeling full as well as good fats such as olive oils, avocado’s nuts and seeds. Green vegetables such as spinach, kale, lettuce, broccoli, cucumbers, beans and peas should be eaten with every meal to ensure you boost your immune system and help you get all of your essential vitamins and nutrients in.
We are a nation of alarming statistics with obesity levels on the rise with data from the ‘National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey’ (NHANES 2013-2014) stating that ‘1 in 3’ adults were considered to be overweight. More that ‘2 in 3’ adults were considered to be overweight or have obesity and ‘1 in 6’ children between the ages of 2-19 were considered to be obese.
‘Sitting’ has become the new ‘smoking’ with the majority of our adult population sitting at a desk for 8-12 hours a day up to 5 times a week. It’s no surprise then that the incidence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes is also on the rise, this is adding more strain to an already overflowing health system. According to the U.S division for “Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention’ about 630,000 Americans die from heart disease every year – that is 1 in 4 deaths. In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds. According to the report also, the estimated cost of covering health care services, medications and lost productivity is approximately $200 billion each year.
Coupled with the heart disease facts is our current statistics on the incidence of diabetes. According to the “National Diabetes Statistics Report’ from the ‘Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)), 30.3 million Americans have either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes that is 9.4% of the population. From this 30.3 million people, 7.2 million are undiagnosed which means they do not even know that they have it.
Alarming statistics aside, a strategy to help improve our current health situation is to get moving more often. When clients ask my advice on how often they should exercise my response is always ‘everyday’. Now this may seem a little excessive but exercise doesn’t always have to be in a gym environment it could involve taking the dog for a walk after work, swimming laps in your lunch break or playing some social sport of a weekend.
Try to stick to exercise that you enjoy doing as you are more likely to stick with it long term. For those times when you think your motivation may be an issue enlist the services of a Personal Trainer who can design workouts specifically tailored for you or grab a workout buddy as you are less likely to cancel on them.
When it come to exercise variety is the ‘spice of life’, your body is very good at adapting to exercise so ensure you do a variety of cardio, resistance training, body weight exercises and stretching.
Ultimately, the responsibility of our health and wellness comes down to 1 person….which is ourselves. In order to not be a statistic of disease we have to move more and watch the amount of processed foods and drinks we consume.
Perhaps one of your goals for 2018 is to prioritize your health, which involves quitting the excuses and putting more time into your physical and mental wellbeing.
In today’s world there is so much noise around healthy eating which can range from what diets work, the types of foods you should be eating and even what food groups to cut out. It’s no wonder then, when we decide to embark on what I like to call a ‘Healthy Food Plan’ not a ‘diet’ that we end up more confused then when we started.
To help cut through some of this noise I try to follow this simple philosophy when it comes to food and nutrition, how you look is 70% dependent upon what you eat and drink and 30% on what you do. Therefore Abs are definitely made in the kitchen and finessed in the gym.
Here are my top tips when it comes to Nutrition:
1. Cook to lose weight
When you prepare your food you know exactly what ingredients go into it, there are no hidden oils or excess sodium unless you put them in there. Often when we buy takeaways or even salads it’s the hidden extra’s that can cause bloating or a creeping weight gain at the end of the week. Preparing your food allows you to control exactly what’s going in.
2. Understand Portion Sizes
In an era of everything being ‘super sized’ avoid the temptation of ordering extra servings of food and drink that you don’t need. When we talk about serving sizes ‘1 hand’ is all you need. 1 protein serve = the size of your palm, 1 fist = a serving of vegetables, 1 cupped hand = a serving of carbohydrates and 1 thumb = a serving of fats. Try to listen to your appetite centres and stop eating when you are full rather than finishing the plate.
3. Drink your food and chew your water
Chew your food until it turns into liquid form as this assists with the digestion process. Large chunks of undigested food can ferment in the stomach causing bloating and food allergies. Hold and swish water around in your mouth a few moments before swallowing which can also assist in the digestion process.
4. Does it fit my Macro’s?
Wherever possible, to stave off cravings and to avoid overeating try to eat a protein, carbohydrate and fat source in every meal and snack. This provides the body with the right amount of sustenance and ensures you don’t crave sugar or carbs at the dreaded 4pm slump. Eating these macronutrients will keep your energy levels on an even keel which will improve your mood and ability to concentrate.
5. Don’t undo all of your hard work on the weekend
I have this very conversation with the majority of my clients who thrive on the routine of Monday to Friday but when it comes to the weekend their food and exercise habits fall apart. When we talk about having a ‘cheat’ meal it is exactly that, it is not drinking a bottle of wine and eating a large pizza plus dessert. Try not to go crazy on the weekend, rather relax your food a little bit but try and get some outdoor exercise on at least one of the days. Some great incidental exercise is spending some time in the garden, stand up paddle boarding, walking the dogs or swimming with the kids.
My 16 month old generally wakes me up bright and early and whilst I am getting her a bottle I will whizz up my Protein Smoothie. This includes approximately 250mls of coconut water, a serve of clean protein powder, 2 x Tbs of organic greek yoghurt, a tsp of chia seeds, frozen berries and a drizzle of honey. As I generally workout in the morning and have back to back clients I need the natural carbs from the fruit.
On the weekends I indulge with some sour dough toast topped with smoked salmon, avocado mash and cherry tomatoes – delish!
Macchiato is my reward to myself after a hard workout which generally consists of 60mins of H.I.I.T, running or weights. After my workout I am generally hungry and will raid my daughters lunch box and eat whatever she has left which is an apple and some grapes or brown rice cakes.
Being a busy mother of 2 I prepare a lot of my food the night before and this works a treat when you have a toddler at home to look after. My ‘Go –To’ meal for lunch is chicken breast with roast vegetables. I generally oven roast the day before sweet potatoes, pumpkin, beetroot, carrot, onion and capsicum and sprinkle with rock salt, rosemary and olive oil.
Other ‘Go-To’ meals include whipping up a leafy green salad with chickpeas, spring onion, feta cheese, olives, sun dried tomatoes and some form of protein like smoked salmon, tuna or chicken.
Afternoon Tea for me is a must. Training a lot and being on my feet all day (I average around 20,000 plus steps a day) means I have a very efficient metabolism which needs to be fuelled every 3-4 hours otherwise I get ‘Hangry’ (tired and angry). Again I pre prepare some frittata or quiches (minus the pastry) which can be easily heated up. Caramelise the onion, toss in some mushrooms, capsicum and spring onion to give it plenty of flavor.
Dinner – Both my husband and I train clients in the afternoon so we take it in turns in getting dinner ready. One of his specialities is his sweet potato skins which are topped with sour cream, ham and cheese combined with a serving of protein. I tend to make a shepards pie once a week (without the pastry) using organic mince and topped with a half and half of sweet potato and potato if we feel like indulging.
I try not to eat after dinner but if I have a craving it is generally for chocolate!!! These days I tend to opt for an organic chocolate or a dark chocolate and try and restrict myself to a couple of squares!!
For every glass of alcohol you consume make sure you drink a glass of water to keep yourself hydrated and in control.
Rather than drinking full strength alcohol try a beer shandy or a white wine sprizter and save yourself half the calories.
Make sure you eat before you head out so you are less likely to overindulge on party food or have too much to drink.
There are a multitude of low calorie and low carb beers and wines to choose from these days to assist you in watching your waist line.
Don’t allow other people to top up your glass especially if you are driving, ensure you know what a standard drink looks like.
Avoid the Punch Bowl or the Slushie Machine these drinks a full of sugar and therefore calories and contain large amounts of alcohol.
Try not to socialize around the buffet table – out of sight is definitely out of mind.
Don’t succumb to peer pressure when it comes to drinking and food. Just because it is offered does not mean you have to eat/drink it. Instead opt for healthy appetizers and sensible drinking.
Don’t beat yourself up too much if you have a splurge on your favourite dessert or cocktail. Rather hit the gym the next day or go for a run instead to burn off those extra calories.
Keep in mind there are no ‘quick fixes’ to weight loss, crash dieting before an event will only lead to bingeing down the track. Instead opt for a healthy eating plan and aim to move your body for at least an hour everyday.