14Nov/18

Are calorie counts on menus a good idea?

Plans have recently been announced that it may become compulsory for all restaurants to list the calorie content of their menu items, but is this a good idea?

The amount of people needing to lose weight in Britain is increasing so the thinking is that knowledge and awareness of calories would help people to make better choices.

The studies so far are mixed; people do eat fewer calories when they can see what’s in menu options, but only enough to amount to 1 lb loss over 3 years, not much if we’re being honest!

So it’s clear that calories being listed isn’t the only answer and motivational and behaviour change approaches would probably be needed alongside.

The main backlash comes from Eating Disorder specialists and sufferers who believe focussing on calories will detract from intuitive eating and other markers of a healthy mean, for example nutritional content.

But I had a different view despite being a recovered anorexic:

“However, criticism of proposals to make calorie information more readily available is not unanimous. Polly Hale, who suffered from anorexia, found that having calorie information more readily available makes eating more relaxing. “A therapist would say that’s giving into the ED (eating disorder) but if I don’t know the calories, I undereat ‘just in case.’ I eat better when I’m in control,” she says. Hale’s account suggests there may be mileage in a middle ground that allows individuals to more readily access calorie information, but without forcing it into the consciousness of anyone who looks at a menu (an example of such an approach would be making labelled menus available upon request).”

Read the full article on The Skinny Website here.

 

 

03Nov/18

Avoid Antidepressant Withdrawal

It’s no secret I’ve battled mental health problems for years and have taken medication for it, but I’m very thankful I didn’t suffer with Antidepressant withdrawal symptoms like many people do.

 

In fact 4 million people are at risk of withdrawal symptoms in England every year, yet only 25% say they got advice on coming off medication from their doctor.

 

Stylist Magazine did some research into the facts and spoke to 5 women about their experience of antidepressant withdrawal, myself included.

antidepressant withdrawal 2

 

My summary is:

I started taking antidepressants when I was 19. I’d been suffering with anorexia for a year and talking therapies weren’t helping. My mood was very low.

At my worse, when I was sectioned in hospital, I was on a high dose of five types at once. Nothing worked and I was given lithium, which radically improved my mood.

I took the medication for six years without any breaks, then decided to come off it when I was 25. I’d been mentally stable for a while, even though I’m on the bipolar spectrum. I wanted to start a family and put that part of my life behind me.

I reduced the doses of each pill very slowly, one type at a time, until I was on the smallest dose of just one, to make sure my mood didn’t worsen. I also saw a psychiatrist regularly.

I would say don’t stop taking antidepressants without medical supervision; if your doctor won’t support your decision, find another one who will.

Come off them very slowly and add natural anti-depressants into your life, such as exercise, fresh air, sunlight, sleep, good food and time with your friends and family.

These things seem so simple, but they are incredibly effective.

 

But not everyone’s experience of both mental health problems, medication or coming off meds will be the same so if you’re currently on any mood stabilising medication or know someone who is please have a read of the other women’s stories so that you are prepared or can hopefully prevent any nasty antidepressant withdrawal symptoms.

 

Read the full article here on the Stylist Website.

 

P.S. If you struggle with mood problems of any sort please do not suffer alone. The best place to reach me is in my free Facebook Group here. I’m not a psychologist but I have been there and I understand.

03Nov/18

Kids Lunch Boxes – are we failing them? Live Sky News Feature

In a back to school special earlier this year, charity Action for Children set out to help parents improve their kids lunch boxes, and asked me to help.

 

As a parent myself it’s a cause I care about – kids need good nutrition to have energy, learn, grow and behave well. Yes the studies even show conditions like ADHD and Autism are improved when diet is improved!

 

But most parents know that already. The problem is getting your child to eat a good meal in the middle of the day that they won’t reject. Kids tend to favour sweet and processed foods, so how do we create a win win situation?

The charity Action for Children are on a mission to help parents improve kids’ lunch boxes and set out to do some research:

 

  • A massive three quarters (75%) of British parents with children aged 5 to 13 who make a school lunchbox admit to feeling guilty about what they pack, according to new research (1).
  • The poll showed parents’ top four favourite lunchbox items are a ham sandwich, yogurt, a packet of crisps, and an apple. A carton of juice was the most popular specific drink picked out by parents, while biscuits and chocolate bars were also popular. (3)
  • Worryingly, the latest Government statistics show one in three children in England are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school. (2) But the charity’s research found that the most important factor for parents in packing a lunchbox was being confident their child would eat what they were given (38%). Making sure the lunchbox is nutritious was the second most important reason at 28%.

 

I was invited onto Sky News as they were covering the story  to talk about the issue live on air with my 9 year old daughter Aurora in tow (she did such a good job and I was so proud of her!):

 

Here’s the clip if you missed it (or here on YouTube):


My local radio Spirit FM (as well as many National radio stations) also covered the story here using my words below.

 

Or listen to the full compilation of soundbites with my views on what we can do about kids’ lunch boxes my clicking on the video or here on YouTube.

“Children can be notoriously picky eaters – they do have a preference for sweet foods and they will go on hunger strike. I disagree with people who say if children are given no other option but healthy food, they’ll eat it. I’m a nutritionist and if I can’t get my children to eat lentil spinach salads then I don’t know how anyone else is supposed to be able to. If they don’t like what they’re given they won’t eat it. If that happens at school they won’t be able to concentrate, they’ll be falling asleep in class and they won’t have the energy to take part in sports.

“I think it benefits everyone, not least the children, if they’ve got a full belly. The easiest way to do that is to give them food that you know they love and you know they’re going to eat. Children being children, that’s going to be the sugary junk foods. that’s why people do it; it gives everyone an easy life.

“But healthy eating doesn’t need to be complicated. Children can eat things that are very familiar to them but also nutritious such as swapping processed cheese for mild cheddar cheese or cocktail sausages for sliced ham off the bone. Instead of giving them a packet of crisps it could be plain breadsticks that don’t have loads of added flavourings and salt and sugar. I don’t know many children who won’t eat some sort of fruit and vegetables, even if it’s just a couple – maybe blueberries or cucumber sticks. If that’s all they’re going to eat, it’s better than nothing. 

“Children are creatures of habit and they tend to prefer routine. They probably prefer it if you give them exactly the same thing to eat every day . It’s familiar to them and it taps into that safety net – they understand the food and they know it’s safe. Variety doesn’t tend to be a problem for them. 

“It’s about making compromises. They may not like granary bread that has loads of seeds in and tough crusts, but they might eat a wholemeal wrap that’s a bit softer and easier to eat. I can’t shove salad into my kids’ sandwiches but a few slices of cucumber might be ok or some cherry tomatoes chopped up. There’s lots of options out there. I think people make it more complicated than it has to be.”

Polly Hale, nutritionist, Chichester

 

Parents need the knowledge and confidence to give their child the best start in life when it comes to nutrition. Anyone in need of inspiration for packing a fuss-free healthy lunchbox that your child will want to eat can visit //actionforchildren.org.uk/lunchbox.” 

Registered Public Health Nutritionist Mari Clark, who designs menus for Action for Children’s Eat Better, Start Better service, says: “Through no fault of their own, many parents simply don’t know exactly what their child needs. This isn’t helped by confusing packaging that has pictures full of fruit and happy children, when the products inside are packed with sugar and fat and salt.

“There is no need for any lunchbox to contain crisps, sweets, processed food, cereal bars, chocolates and things like that – if you have sandwich with some good quality protein, a portion of fruit, veg and dairy then that’s enough.”

 

TOP TIPS FOR A HEALTHY PACKED LUNCH FROM ACTION FOR CHILDREN’S NUTRITIONIST 

  • Swap juice for water or milk. Or choose a low sugar drink or dilute fruit juice 50/50.
  • Give your sandwiches or wraps different fillings; cooked chicken, turkey, egg, tuna, low fat cream cheese are all good options
  • Ditch the crisps for chopped vegetables and a tasty low-fat dip like hummus
  • When you’re shopping, choose the lower salt bread options stocked by most supermarkets
  • Use spreads and condiments sparingly and choose lower salt versions
  • Don’t pack a sandwich every day. Think salads with pasta, potato, couscous with vegetables and some protein like chicken. Other things to think about include boiled eggs or omelettes.

 

(1) All survey figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 4348 adults, of which 535 are parents with children aged 5 to 13. Fieldwork was undertaken between 8th – 10th August 2018.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

(2) National Child Measurement Programme England 2016 – 2017

(3) List of most regularly packed items: ham sandwiches (59%), yogurt (54%), crisps (60%) an apple (53%). 31% selected biscuits and 26% selected chocolate bar. Whilst the most selected drink was “Other drink” (47%), the most selected drink from the list provided was a carton of juice (39%).

HOW ACTION FOR CHILDREN WORKS: Action for Children helps disadvantaged children across the UK through intervening early to stop neglect and abuse, fostering and adoption, supporting disabled children, and by campaigning tirelessly to make life better for children and families. With over 550 services the charity improves the lives of more than 300,000 children, teenagers, parents and carers every year. Actionforchildren.org.uk

 

 

 

03Nov/18

Are these popular diet trends worth the hype?

With every year that goes by a new popular diet crops up, but is there any merit to these new diet trends or are they just silly fads?

Protein snack company Seven Bars asked what I thought of 7 of the most popular diet trends; read it on their website here or my thoughts are below. Have you tried any of these?

 

  1. Low carb

Reducing carbohydrates means cutting out rice, potatoes and pasta, as well as dairy and fruit. It’s thought that reducing carbohydrates helps to balance blood sugar and therefore energy levels, as well as keeping hunger to a minimum.

Pros: You can eat a filling diet without over-consuming calories. It’s also simple so makes meal planning easier.

Cons: Going low carb doesn’t work for everyone and some people don’t feel great without enough carbs. And while you can make and buy low-carb treats, traditional sugary snacks are off-limits, which can lead to blow-outs and binges.

 

  1. Paleo

Paleo basically means eating like our ancestors (well some of them, there are lots of variations depending on where they lived) – cutting out grains, dairy, legumes, alcohol and processed foods.

Pros: Cutting out processed foods and focusing on whole, natural, nutrient-dense foods makes this a nutritious way of eating, while some people will also benefit from reducing dairy and gluten.

Cons: The types of food may be restricted, but the overall quantity and proportions of fat, carbohydrate and protein are vague, so you won’t necessarily be getting the right balance of macronutrients. It’s also easy to under-eat, says Polly, and you could be cutting out some “banned” foods unnecessarily, losing their potential health benefits.

 

 

  1. Whole30

Whole30 is similar to Paleo but also cuts out natural sugars like honey.

Pros: The foods you’re allowed to eat are very nutritious and, so long as you’re getting a good variety, you’d get all the nutrients you need.

Cons: Avoiding whole food groups like dairy, grains and legumes could leave a person deficient in certain nutrients. Cutting out all treats completely is also unsustainable for most people and may even lead to bingeing on ‘forbidden’ foods, or orthorexia – a fear of ‘unhealthy’ foods.

 

 

  1. 5:2 Diet

This form of intermittent fasting means consuming 500-600 calories two days a week, with a “normal” diet of 2,000-2,400 calories on the other five days, effectively creating a calorie deficit across the week.

Pros: As well as weight loss, results can include improved blood pressure and cholesterol profile. It could also help you to learn to go for longer without eating, so in the long run you might be less inclined to snack.

Cons: The drastic drop to 500 calories a day can cause hunger, low energy and poor concentration. Women tend to fare worse with intermittent fasting as our hormones stay better balanced when we don’t go too long without eating.

 

 

  1. Meal Replacement Plans

Plans like Slim Fast and Lighter Life see meals replaced by calorie-restricted products including shakes, soups and bars.

Pros: For some people, the convenience of a readymade product is appealing, meaning there’s no need for cooking, preparing or calorie-counting.

Cons: Pre-made foods will never match up nutritionally to fresh, whole, natural foods, especially when many of these products use cheap ingredients and bulking agents. Sticking to the same products day-in, day-out can also lead to “flavour fatigue”.

 

 

  1. Ketogenic

A ketogenic diet forces the body to switch its fuel supply to run almost entirely on fat. When the body is in “ketosis”, insulin levels become very low and fat burning increases, helping you lose weight.

Pros: Some people find the diet really satiating, and the lack of sugar and carbs can help get erratic blood sugar under control.

Cons: Getting into ketosis means cutting out even healthy foods like fruit and many vegetables, so it’s very nutrient deficient. The science behind keto being good for everyone isn’t very sound – in fact, the only place it seems to really be beneficial is in epilepsy sufferers.

 

 

  1. Intermittent Fasting

As its name suggests, intermittent fasting involves fasting for certain periods of time, though the timings can be varied. 

Pros: Intermittent fasting can help get someone back in touch with their natural appetite by realising they didn’t need food at certain times and were eating out of habit. Limiting eating times tends to limit calorie intake by default, so it can be helpful for weight loss.

Cons: In some people it simply leads to low energy, poor concentration, and making up by eating way more later. Like keto, the science behind intermittent being great for your body and brain health is mixed. There’s no solid reason to recommend skipping meals if it doesn’t suit someone.

 

 

How can I diet safely? 

Sticking to any form of “diet” long term has to be enjoyable. As well as keeping you feeling, looking and performing at your best, whatever that means to you, it has to fit to your lifestyle in a convenient and not too disruptive way.

 

Temporary diets can work to kickstart weight loss, but the key is knowing how to eat healthily once you reach the end of the plan. Unfortunately that’s where short term diets fall down. They don’t teach long term habits and strategies for health.

 

If swapping unhealthy habits for better ones sounds more appealing to you then rest assured over time these changes really add up to big results.

 

To get you started I’ve got a FREE 5 Day Healthy Habits Challenge you can sign up to here.

 

 

 

Seven is a new, healthy, natural, high protein, low calorie protein snack made in Hampshire in the UK from high quality, responsibly and locally sourced beef and chicken, marinated in natural ingredients that have been carefully balanced for maximum flavour with minimal sugar.  Vegan versions will also be available soon. Find out more at https://chooseseven.com/

 

 

03Nov/18

Could Exercise Help Your PMS Symptoms?

You might feel like binge watching Netflix with a family size bag of chocolates but doing some exercise could really help ease those horrible PMS symptoms.

The figures show that getting active can really improve the physical and psychological symptoms of PMS. One study, analysing young women over an eight week period, found that exercise made a ‘significant difference’ in improving PMS symptoms.  Overall, 31% of PMS symptoms were reduced over the two months, in participants who had been doing aerobic exercise.

 

The Metro Newspaper asked for my advice on exercising before and during your period, and how exercise advice might change at different times of the month.

 

Here’s what I had to say:

“Steady state cardio like running, cycling, hiking and power walking are perfect during PMS, and will also help regulate mood and even help reduce water retention, common problems with PMS.

Body temperature also rises during this time, which can make intense exercise less comfortable.

A lower carb, higher protein and fat diet will complement this type of exercise and since the body is less insulin-sensitive during PMS, will reduce blood sugar and energy swings.

During your period is the time to hit those heavy weights and take all that tension out with a big workout. Your body uses carbohydrates more efficiently now, and the extra carbs will help fuel the harder workouts.”

 

In other words;

Premenstrual: lower intensity exercise and a lower carb, higher fat diet

On your period: higher intensity / heavy weights, while eating a few more carbs.

Exercise also induces endorphins; powerful antidepressants and pain relievers, which help at any time of the month but especially when you feel grumpy with period cramps!

 

(You might like this video too: The Stress and Weight Gain Connection)

 

Of course each woman is different and the best way to see what works for you is to try a few things out and see how you feel. At the very least, try and get a walk in to keep active on a basic level, and take appropriate pain killers for cramps if you need to.

Read the full article here.

27Aug/18

Fitness Model Portfolio Update

Having modelled in the past I figured it was about time I got some new photos done. I’ve worked with photographer Gareth Davies before and once again he did a fantastic job.

The grey and white tops are eco friendly and by UK company Sundried; get 50% (!) with code TFMF at https://sundried.com

sundried eco workout clothes

sundried eco workout clothes

In my The Fit Mum Formula uniform. Find out how I help Mums lose weight without compromising family life at http://www.thefitmumformula.com/

the fit mum formula fitness model

Plus some fitness & bikini shots for good measure – find my CV, credits, work history and stats on my acting and modelling facebook page here.

   

 

13Aug/18

The Instafit Challenge – a Bournemouth Uni Diet Documentary

Could you eat like an ‘Instafit’ Instagram ‘wellness’ influencer?

 

That’s the challenge one Bournemouth University student took on when she decided to make a documentary about the different diets people follow in a bid to lose weight, be fitter and healthier and look, well, like an Instagram wellness Influencer!

 

I was asked to bust some myths around diets and why they do (or don’t) work. Here is their final short documentary about their findings.

 

Want to try ‘clean eating’ yourself? There’s a free 3 day plan here. 

 

Click Here to watch the video on YouTube and Subscribe to hear as soon as new videos are uploaded.

Or click on the image below.

26Jul/18

We Enter The World of Beatrix Potter

This Summer I achieved a childhood ambition of visiting the magical world of Beatrix Potter by booking a holiday to where she lived near Lake Windermere in the Lake District.

 

Not only that but a quick google led me to a special ‘Beatrix Potter Experience’ holiday run by the Lindeth Howe hotel, the only hotel which is a former home of Beatrix, as she became quite a property investor with all her book royalties.

 

The experience included a tour of the area including a trip to Hill Top Farm (where most of the Beatrix Potter boos are set) and a boat trip on the lake, plus entrance to The World of Beatrix Potter experience centre. Not to mention enjoying the beautiful chocolate cottage hotel and 6 acres of grounds and gardens, and finding time to slot in some obligatory walks over hills and round lakes.

 

The reason for this post, which as you’ll notice has nothing to do with healthy eating (other than the odd mention of meal times) is because after two family members being quite ill in the last two years I decided enough was enough and it was time to ‘Live More’, while we could. Not everything has to be expensive – we’ve spent more time having family meals, going for country walks and playing in the garden together this year than we have done, well, ever. This holiday was the first thing I booked and symbolises our goals to live life to the full.

 

Whether you’re after some light reading or are considering a family trip to the lake District yourself, you’ll find information you need here on all the places we visited and hopefully be entertained and inspired to take your own magical trip somewhere.

 

P.S. I’d love to know where you’ve always wanted to visit so please do take the time to come and tell me in my Facebook group here or email me at polly@thefitmumformula.com!

 

 

Hotel Tonight App

Our adventure started with hitting the roads with nowhere to go or stay. Well for one night anyway. We didn’t want to either get up at 3am or waste the first day of our holiday travelling, so decided to hit the roads on Sunday night, see how far we got (it’s a good 6 hours from us on the South Coast, without wee stops), and find a room using the Hotel Tonight App. Not having used it before it was a little concerning, but what’s the worst that could happen? Somewhere would have a room, even if we ended up having to pay more than we’d hoped for in a cheapo travel inn style place because we only really needed the beds for a few hours.

hoteltonight app

The app combines your GPS location or desired destination and links to a huge database of hotels, plotting them on a map with price labelling. This first step was fab – we literally just needed cheap beds for a few hours and quickly found a few suitable. Unfortunately you can only seem to search for 1 or 2 beds, no good for a family of 4, but I simply called a couple of hotels that the app had shown up and in 5 minutes had a room with two double beds for £89 and that included breakfast. Big up to the Holiday Inn which was not only clean and staff polite but there was a lovely pool (which we didn’t have time to use), a fully equipped gym (which I did use at 7am while the others slept), and 24 hr room service. You can’t get a single with no kettle for that money south of Oxford.

Get the HotelTonight App Here

 

Lindeth-Howe

The only hotel that was a home once owned by Beatrix Potter herself, Lindeth Howe on Lake Windermere is the only place to stay for a Peter Rabbit and friends short break in the UK.

I’ve been told about the wonders of the Lake District for years but as a child who, for every night for two years running made her single Father read ‘Mrs Tiggy-Winkle’ at bedtime, visiting the farm and surrounding areas where the stories are set was a must for me, and preferably before my girls got too old to emerse themselves in the stories and help me spot locations and animals from the books.

lindeth howe hotel review

The hotel itself is a charming country home adorned with Beatrix Potter memorabilia, with beautiful gardens and spectacular views over the lake. The rooms are cosy and the restaurant serves local, family friendly food, and while there’s free WiFi throughout, this is the closest place you’ll get to tech-free peace and bliss without sending the kids off to Grandparents while you go to a spa.

The gardens and surrounding area turned out to be just perfect for some early morning ‘me time’ too. I’m an early riser so while Daddy and kids slept in (following holiday typical late nights) I took advantage and went on an hour-long power walk/run/uphill climb hybrid that cleared my mind, blew the cobwebs away and allowed me to dive into enjoying the day ahead refreshed.

https://www.lindeth-howe.co.uk/

 

 

The World of Beatrix Potter

The slightly more commercial and child friendly walk through experience ‘The World of Beatrix Potter’ was walking distance from our hotel but don’t worry, it’s not ‘if Butlins did Beatrix Potter’ and is way more charm than chav, with a fully planted vegetable garden, a cute walk through of all the locations in the stories like Mrs Tiggy Winkles kitchen complete with flagstone floor, Mr McGregor’s Greenhouse, and there are shows to watch and characters to meet every day throughout the Summer.

world of beatrix potter

Queues were long (30 minutes wait) and it took about the same time to walk round but the children loved seeing all the characters, especially 5 year old Bella who loves cuddle animals and insisted on spending most of her saved up pocket money on a fluffy talking Lily Bob Tail.

Visit The World of Beatrix Potter website here

 

 

Hill Top Farm

If you’ve read a Beatrix Potter book, you’ll already be familiar with Hill Top Farm. Bought in 1905 with the proceeds from her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, she used Hill Top Farm and the surrounding countryside as inspiration for many of her subsequent books.

The house is full of original artefacts and Potter’s possessions and the garden, a National Trust area, is maintained to exactly how it is in the books.

hill top farm review

While not huge, the gardens are beautiful and Mr McGregor’s garden is exactly as you’d expect, complete with blackcurrant bushes to stain little blue rabbit jackets and a little path just right for a hedgehog to run up. The house is almost untouched, and you can see areas that are right out of the book, as if the illustration was done that very morning. It brought the books to life for the girls, who were completely enchanted with the dolls house inhabited by two bad mice, and I bought the Miss Potter movie in the gift shop so the girls could learn the story behind the amazing woman who created the stories.

This was a truly magical place if you were ever read Beatrix Potter stories as a child, it’s like walking right into the pages of a book.

hill top farm review

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hill-top

 

 

Peter Rabbit; Let’s Go! App

It’s it incredible how fast children learn to use technology? As an online business owner I’m pretty tech savvy but to be honest I’ve got better things to do than spend ages figuring out children’s games they’ll ultimately be playing without me. I wasn’t sure what to do as soon as we opened the app but neither was I worried. 5 minutes in Bella’s hands and she’d figured out how to hunt for bugs and vegetables and was over the moon with her fruit reward badges.

We couldn’t see any introductory instructions (this would have been helpful at first) – this would be one thing I would add – some kind of walk through that’s easy and clear (but not annoying) enough for both kids and non-techy adults to understand so that children can get playing asap with minimal frustration. But I wasn’t worried as Bella seemed happy swiping and clicking away and discovered the colouring in area, where she can create Beatrix Potter pictures and save them to be printed when we get home.

The games can be played ‘as’ various characters; Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny and other hoppy friends, and there’s a map hunting game, a ‘catch the butterflies and bees’ and the aforementioned colouring in. Cute children’s voices narrate (in a surprisingly non-irritating way) and fruit badges are rewarded for efforts and wins. Bella was very proud she could recognise every fruit and vegetable – and as I nutritionist so was I! If your young kids are totally against fruit and veg in every way this could be a way of making them fun. In fact in the ‘free hand’ drawing Bella chose to actually create bright pictures of all her favourite fruits, which made a refreshing change from the hundreds of ‘Mummy Daddy and Aurora and our two cats’ pictures I have stuffed in an art folder and smothering the fridge.

The app really came into it’s own at a family wedding. We hadn’t taken their iPad but come 9pm when the older kids were still going on cake and Bella had had enough, colouring in on my phone kept her going on my lap for an hour before we retired to our hotel. It was a novelty that there was a game on my phone as I don’t let them use it normally but I was pleased it was there at the time. So many kids’ games are noisy and stimulating and annoying but this was calm and quiet and well, like the Beatrix Potter books I guess in that respect!

In fact this is probably the best bit. The vast majority of children’s apps are noisy, shouty, musical, and stimulating, with all sorts of unsavoury characters who are either trying to kill each other or dress up like prostitutes (I’m looking at you, Barbie Fashion…). The app retains as much of the calm and charm as the Beatrix Potter books as you can for a digital app, and if we can survive a 6 hour drive to the Lake District with it with neither kids nor parents going insane, that’s pretty impressive.

 

Find the Peter Rabbit; Let’s Go! App here

 

If you have young children or are a Beatrix Potter fan yourself it’s a lovely short break. And if you’re not a fan then I think the Lake District is now my favourite British holiday I’ve ever been on. If you have any other suggestions I or my followers might like then please let us know!

 

16May/18

10 absolute must-do’s for staying mentally well and happy

My medical notes are piled high on the consultant’s desk. Complex, is a very mild way of putting my mental health history. In fact I was even used as a ‘demonstration’ at Southampton University, giving talks to psychology students about my experiences, to help them with their studies.

I shouldn’t really be here at all, if my prognosis is anything to go by. Once you go above a certain threshold; a number of relapses, numerous and mixed conditions, unresponsive to therapies and medications, you get put into the ‘chronic’ category where one is destined to be in and out of hospitals and treatments before dying prematurely either through physical complications like heart failure (from eating disorders) or suicide.

This blog was originally published on Mumspiration, click here to read it there.

But despite the serious nature of mental health illnesses and the degree to which I struggled, I’m here to tell the tale, stronger than ever, and hopefully by sharing my story I can inspire and give hope to others suffering behind an ‘invisible’ illness that has no proven cure.

I didn’t see the eating disorders team for the first time until I was 18, but the first time I made myself sick I was only 12. I was diagnosed with depression alongside anorexia, but I’m pretty sure the recurring headaches and sick bugs I got as a child were my way of expressing this. Children aren’t able to make clear how they feel mentally, so often childhood mental illnesses manifest in physical ways. The blood tests when I was 8 showed up nothing, so the doctor said it was for attention. He was probably right, in a round about way; after all my parents had got divorced and remarried recently, all big changes for a young child.

I did my best to control my own discontent, dabbling in everything from painkiller abuse to self-harm and had borderline OCD. I was sectioned and have resided in no less than 4 different psychiatric hospitals, often for months at a time. I attempted suicide twice.

Then one day, a sunny spring afternoon when I was recently out of hospital and having a diet coke with a couple of friends in the local pub garden, I felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness. One of my friends told us she was pregnant, the other that she was now engaged to be married. It was a tuning point; I was being left behind in this thing called ‘life’ and one thought remained…that I wanted to have a little baby girl of my own one day.

The journey upwards was tough, really tough, and I have so much respect for anyone who has overcome mental difficulties as I know how hard it is. But this time I really wanted it, and now I stay pretty well, and medication free, with a strict regime of my own medicine, as I’ll describe below. I even managed to get married and have not one but two miracle little girls of my own.

At first they’ll look too simple. Normal, everyday things that are good for everyone surely?

Well yes, but for me they are a must. The following list is my daily medication and I absolutely must do them to stay well. I will take my own snacks on outings, be late for social events if I needed a few minutes ‘me time’ before going out, and make my kids walk, moaning, in the rain if I have to.

Being selfish and putting my mental health first is the only way I stay well, and if that means being a bit stubborn so that ultimately I can be a better Mum, wife, daughter, sister and person in general, then so be it.

Here are my 10 absolute must-do’s for staying mentally well and happy:
1. Sunlight
Sunlight boosts serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’. It also boosts vitamin D, which in turn boosts energy and mood.

2. Fresh air
This goes hand in hand with sunlight, but is a separate mood booster in itself. As my Mum says, let’s go and ‘blow away the cobwebs’. I’m more of a fan of warm and dry than windy, personally, but I agree with windy days being invigorating when you’re stuck in a warm stuffy house in Winter.

3. Walking
If you’re going to get fresh air and sunlight you may as well walk at the same time and get some exercise benefits too. The rhythmic nature of walking is thought to be why it’s an active form of meditation. Bonus points for walking in nature like parks and woodland; greenery is highly beneficial to your mood. We walk to school in all but the most dire of weather, and enjoy a little chat on the way too. It’s lovely time between the girls and I when at home there’s always chores to distract me.

4. Exercise
In addition to walking, formal, intense exercise is my daily therapy. I use workouts like some use a literal punch bag; pounding and pushing the stress away. It’s also highly effective in short bursts when you’re feeling wound up – a few jump squats can be as good as counting to 10 when kids wind you up!

5. Good food
I learned the hard way, though being very ill with anorexia, how lack of nourishment will ruin not just your body but your brain too. Food isn’t the enemy; it’s life giving when you eat well. A happy brain needs nourishments and nutrients. Positive eating yields positive mental energy. Don’t make it complicated; less junk, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, minimally processed food, good fats and plenty of protein.

6. Sleep
Less than 8 hours and I can already feel the effects. Less than 6? I’m a nightmare. Yes we’re all busy. But trust me on this one you won’t be losing time if you prioritise sleep, because you’ll be that much more effective in getting things done when you’re awake. I’m in bed reading by 9pm if I can help it.

7. Meditation
Like sleep, condensed, meditation is a way of calming your body and mind and is proven in scientific studies to be highly restorative for both body and mind. If like me you’re hopeless and quieting your monkey-mind, use an app like Headspace which guides you though the process. Just 10 minutes daily is beneficial.

8. Fun
As a working Mum I don’t get much time for socialising, so I make sure to prioritise the things I really want to do and people I really want to see. That means saying no to endless coffee mornings and drinks at the pub, but I’m fully there and 100% happy when it matters, whether that’s giggling over some trashy TV with my husband a couple of nights a week, or drinking tea and chatting to my Mum on a Sunday afternoon.

9. Hugs
Hugs instantly boost oxytocin levels, which heal feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger. Air kisses don’t count; when I need a hug I’ll turn to my husband and kids, and we all feel better immediately.

10. Priorities
I’m a perfectionist and driven, and typically want to do everything, now! But that only leads to overwhelm. Some things just don’t need doing (ironing?!) and others can wait because today is full enough. Not rushing to cram as much as possible into each day, and instead taking time to think and reflect and just be in the moment, was one of the biggest and most profound mindset changes I made last year. I’ve never felt more at peace without the feeling there’s always the next opportunity to chase.

Have you overcome or are struggling with mental health problems? Come and join in the conversation and get support in my Free Facebook Group Here.