Category Archives: Articles

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.

16May/18

Daft Things We Do as First Time Parents (that never made life easier)

Having a baby is a massive decision for anyone, but for first time parents? THE biggest overhaul life will ever take.

 

With constant pressure to keep up with those parents who are breezing through it getting everything perfectly right, combined with Mother Nature’s blessing in disguise that makes us mothers settle for no less than perfect, and the standards are set high.

 

Now throw in the fact that, for baby #1 at least, we don’t have a fricken’ clue what we’re doing, inevitably we’re going to end up in a whirl of combined panic, anxiety and over protection, not to mention overspending, while trying to produce the next ‘happiest, healthiest, smartest child ever’.

 

I’m the eldest of eight kids (yes, 8), the youngest being 16 years my junior, so I KNOW what babies involve. On a knowledge level, I was fully equipped to keep a baby alive, so if I fell prey to this new Mum neuroticism then I can only begin to imagine what less experienced parents must feel.

 

One day someone WILL write that elusive handbook on how to be a parent (in the real-world sense). Until then, here’s some of the daft things I did as a first-time parent that, in hindsight, didn’t make life any easier whatsoever.

 

  1. Listened to Classical music while pregnant.

Apparently this develops baby’s brain, improving chances of emotional wellbeing and high intelligence. My Eminem DVD’s were banned. No swear words in the house from now on.

 

  1. Went to pregnancy Pilates and swimming lessons.

Because we will be a healthier, calmer mother to be and have short, easy, pain-free labours. Oh, the naivety.

 

  1. Worried that every niggle, twinge and unfamiliar sensation was a medical emergency.

By #2 we’re just so grateful if we got through a day without vomiting.

 

  1. Bought a top and tail bowl.

I still don’t know what this is for?

 

  1. Bought hundreds of pounds worth of baby phonics DVD’s, books and matching word cards set.

These never saw the light of day with #2 (because I would just put on whatever kept #1, now a toddler, happy, for some peace). For the record, child #2 is the best reader in her class. #1 is on the ‘extra help’ list.

 

  1. We kept charts of every feed.

Which boob, how long, what time (start and end), or ml of bottle milk. But we panicked because every time they threw up (which was often), we couldn’t measure it, so lost track of exactly what they’ve ingested.

 

  1. At the other end (sorry), poo is no longer a taboo subject, but an important health marker.

How many times today? Too hard or soft? Colour?

 

  1. Sleep monitoring.

Theirs not ours (nothing to monitor for us, no sleep here…). How long? What time? Nap duration? How quickly did they fall asleep? When should they stop napping? Why didn’t they nap today? Oh God I need a nap!

 

  1. Measuring growth.

The red book has spoken. Your child is not growing ‘averagely’. They are far too big/small/fat/thin/tall/have big feet / hands are too small in relation to their forearms…..

 

  1. Sterilise everything.

The conflict between strong enough anti-bacterials and minimal chemicals is real. And once crawling starts, we wipe the floor with anti-bacterial wipes when in public spaces, just in case.

 

  1. Anything non-organic is now poison.

Never mind we haven’t really bought organic food in the past. From now on it’s organic even if we have to re-mortgage the house.

 

What daft things did you do with your first born?! Do let me know in the comments!
16May/18

How to Get More Protein for Women who are Too Busy

Protein powders have been popular in the fitness industry for years, but only recently have they become more mainstream, and too often I find people, especially those new to getting fit and healthy, suspicious about a big tub of powder with labels they don’t understand.

 

But dismissing protein powders is missing a trick, and today I want to show you how high-quality protein powder can make healthy eating so much easier, more convenient, and often tastier and cheaper!

 

This blog was originally published on the MyProtein blog here. Myprotein make lots of tasty, convenient and nutritious foods, snacks and shakes

 

When my first daughter was born I suddenly found my life thrown into a whirlwind of nappies and washing, with virtually no time to shower myself let alone prepare healthy meals. As a health-conscious person and personal trainer by qualification, how was I going to find time to eat well?

Now my two girls are at school not much has changed, time wise. Us Mums are constantly running around after everyone else, sometimes on not enough sleep, and it’s very easy to rely on quick energy fixes like biscuits and crisps to keep us going through the day.

But these foods have very little in the way of nutrients, don’t keeps us full for long (so we need more to stave off hunger), and lead to energy crashes, and more sugar cravings!

It’s a vicious cycle but one that I see rectified with one very simple addition to a person’s diet; more protein!

protein shake

 


Why is Protein Good for Women?

Protein is needed to build and repair muscle. Want to look toned? That’s simply muscle definition you see on ‘toned’ people, and without protein, you won’t have much muscle. For weight loss, protein is the most satiating type of food. Eating enough protein at each meal and snack will satisfy your appetite and help stop you picking at junk in between.

Protein, or rather the amino acids it’s made of, are even necessary for immune function and detoxification. So yes, protein is a better choice than (virtually protein free) vegetables juices to undo the effects of a heavy night out!

Vegans and vegetarians are even more likely to be lacking protein, since meat and fish are good protein sources.


Why Use Protein Powder in a Busy Lifestyle?

Not all protein powders are created equal and it’s important to buy one that isn’t bulked up with cheap fillers and sugar. In addition, while whey is the fitness industries favourite, casein is slower to digest so can keep you full for longer, and people who can’t or choose not to consume dairy have the options of pea, hemp or rice proteins which are all nutritious.

Protein powder has a long shelf life, is extremely versatile, quick to prepare depending on how you’re using it (more on that in a moment), and comes in a variety of delicious flavours, or alternatively unflavoured for savoury meals.
While protein powders are traditionally used to make protein shakes, in this article I’m going to show you some other ways of how to use protein powder in your meals and snacks to boost the protein content.

Protein mug cake


7 Easy Uses of Protein Powder to Help a Busy Lifestyle

If you’re struggling to make nutritious meals and snacks in a hurry, then try some of these ideas I’ve listed here. You’ll likely find you lose excess weight more easily, recover from exercise better, and even have as much energy as your kids!

1. Protein pancakes

So easy, as batter can be made the night before and simply poured into a hot pan. Try one egg plus one scoop of protein powder, plus your choice of nut butter, mashed banana, oats, ground flax, or anything else you fancy. Top with fruit for a nutritional boost. Savoury pancakes made with unflavoured powder, with added herbs or spices, make a great lunch with salad.

2. Mug cakes

The cheats’ pancake. Same mixture but whisked in a mug and cooked for 1-2 minutes in the microwave. These are a life saver on school mornings when I need a satisfying and warm but quick breakfast.

3. Proats

Protein oats, porridge; whatever you want to call them, just add a scoop of protein powder to your morning porridge to make your bowlful keep you going that much longer.

4. Protein bars

Either buy some protein bars in a flavour you like or have a look online for easy recipes. Wrap individual bars in clingfilm then freeze; simply take a bar out instead of going to the corner shop for a chocolate bar.

5. Soup

Turning slightly past it vegetables into soup by boiling and blending with stock is a great way to reduce waste and eat your veggies, but for a meal it needs some protein too. Unflavoured vegan proteins work best here as they’re thick and are less likely to clump. I got through a week of flu this Winter on pea protein boosted soup.

6. Shakes

It wouldn’t be fair to leave shakes off the list completely. Mix the protein powder with your choice of liquid, and shake in a shaker bottle or blend in a smoothie maker or blender. If your blender can crush ice it makes your smoothies thick and slushy! Add other ingredients like nut butter, yoghurt, berries, spinach and oats depending on your needs.

7. Pudding

Mix protein powder with plain Greek, soy or coconut yoghurt, or cottage cheese, for an instant pudding that’s also super nutritious, especially when topped with extra fruit, or some seeds.

 

Check out Myprotein’s huge range of high quality protein powders to suit all preferences and tastes, which are appropriate for all the ideas I’ve mentioned here and more.

Experiment to see what works best in your favourite meals and you’ll see there’s way more to protein powder than just shakes and no easier way to make your food healthier with such convenience, however much those little people keep you on your toes!

16May/18

Closer Magazine Beach Body Special

About this time of year I get panic emails from Mums who have booked a family holiday and want to get beach body ready so you feel more confident in a skimpy swim suit.

 

If I’m honest I don’t really like the ‘beach body’ concept for several reasons.

 

1) It implies a temporary goal. Presumably once Autumn returns along with baggy jumpers, you won’t feel such a need to take care of your health.
Health should be a goal for everyone, regardless of size or shape. Health = a better quality of life, more energy, fewer illnesses and better mental well-being.

 

2) It suggests you can only be confident on the beach if you like at least slightly more like a Baywatch (showing my age there?) lifeguard.

 

Confidence is psychological, a mental state. Even if you do actually need to lose a few pounds for health reasons, you should still be confident. You’re still an amazing, beautiful person with or without those extra pounds.

 

3) It suggests bigger bodies must be covered up.

 

I hate overhearing people slag off big bodies in skimpy outfits on the beach. Mind your own business will you?! People can wear what they like, you and me included. Being slim doesn’t necessarily you even look good so it’s a mute point. And carrying extra weight usually increases body temperature, so larger bodies are even more in need to strip down and cool off.

 

But of course magazines are all over the ‘get a beach body’ theme at the time of writing so I guess if it encourages a person to make healthy, positive, long term changes to they way you eat and exercise, that can only be a good thing.

 

So Closer Magazine asked me to contribute to their Diet & Fitness special and here’s what I told them:

 

“Carbs aren’t the enemy. The body uses the right kind of carbohydrates for energy. But if you’re trying to lose a few pounds pre-holiday, ditching processed or refined carbs is a good way to see quick results. This is simply because carbs are metabolised by the body into sugar. And that sugar is then turned into fat.

 

Of course all food that’s ‘excess’ calories get turned into fat, but refined carbs and sugar are the easiest to overeat and least satiating, so since weight loss requires a lower calorie intake, they’re usually the best place to cut calories from. – This bit was missed by Closer, so I thought I’d clarify it here!

 

Closer suggests you swap refined carbs like white pasta and potatoes for high fibre foods like beans, brown rice and nuts. For breakfast, toast some rye bread and each with two protein rich poached eggs. For lunch, have a crisp green salad with prawns or mackerel. Then feed your body with nutrients with a dinner of stir-fried chicken and broccoli with brown rice.

 

“People try to improve their fitness and health by punishing their bodies with exercise they hate and horrible diets they can’t stomach. If you take a positive approach you’ll make better fitness regime choices, which will lead to a healthier body – without you becoming so resentful that you give up”.

 

This last quote is really important. If you hate your body, you won’t treat it well. If you don’t treat it well, it won’t feel good, it won’t look good, and diet and exercise plans that you do out of spite to your love handles just isn’t the way.

 

Respect your body, care for it and nourish it, and trust me the aesthetic results you’re after will happen too.

 

Click on the images below to enlarge them to see the magazine feature. And for a great exercise that tones your bum as well as giving you a stronger (less injury prone) lower back, click here for my fave glute exercise. 

 

  

31Mar/18

Why Do We Have To Make Lists For Daddy?

Every time I go out for longer than half a day, child-free, I have to make a list as long and comprehensive as the NHS budget report just to make sure the  day runs smoothly.

Read This where it was originally published on The Motherload website here

Your first thought; “You went out for the day?!”

No, not very often (I run my business from home during school hours), but very occasionally I’ll have a work-related trip to London which entails a 6:34am train to Waterloo, leaving Daddy in charge.

Now I don’t know about your significant other, but mine seems to think being ‘the parent’ is easy; they are old enough (5 and 8) to dress themselves and even get basic non-heated, no-knife foodstuffs, but on a typical school day there are just a few more details in between.

And we’re not talking days like ‘Bella – ballet day’.

Oh no, that particular scenario would require:

1. Start prepping tea early so that they can eat right after ballet.

2. Snack after school – oat biscuits are in the red tin by the cereal.

3. Ballet bag is ready for you on the sofa – she needs to be dressed by 4:45.

4. She wears coat too, it’s cold by the time she comes out.

5. 4:50 set off – lots of traffic so need extra time.

6. Buy Aurora hot chocolate while Bella is in ballet. NO sweets.

7. Tea as soon as home, they’ll be starving.

You get the idea.

A whole day out? The list gets pretty long.

It’s not the big stuff he’ll forget. It’s the details. Vests when it’s cold. Sun cream in summer. And no, 8 hair clips randomly placed does not counter not brushing hair.

What’s Dad’s usual response?

Well, six times out of ten I’ll get a call mid-morning from school asking if the kids are sick, since they’re not there. My reply is ‘Daddy is in charge today while I’m away’. They understand.

If they do go to school, he won’t need to cook, because he’ll meet up with a single Dad friend and they’ll all go for pizza. The kids will stay out too late and then go to bed in their uniform. We’ll locate the book bags when I’m back the next day, and explain again to the very understanding teachers that ‘Daddy was in charge’.

Aforementioned ballet will probably be skipped, though this week I (smugly, I’ll admit) threw him because I have a sensible arrangement with a fellow Mum where one takes Aurora and her friend to tap dancing, the other collects, so he couldn’t get out of it. I did giggle to myself over that one.

For all the ‘why are you so tired, you don’t do anything’ comments I get during a typical week, you can guarantee Daddy has fallen into bed (also fully clothed) by the time I arrive home that evening.

I’m used to it and I don’t even resent it, but a day out is more than a military operation, and the one time I went away for 4 days (! – to America, including 2 days travelling) I actually got my mother-in-Law to stay. Four days would have finished him off.

The Aftermath

As I’m driving back from the station I’ll be anticipating the state of the kids, and the house. I’ll go through each step of the day and assess how it went like any real business-woman (or Army Sergeant) would.

Did they eat breakfast? Doesn’t look like it judging by the bowls of uneaten, soggy Weetabix still on the kitchen side, dried a little only because the cat has been helping herself (cat alive? Win).

The dishwasher is still full of clean plates, the wet washing is going rancid in the machine, the toothbrushes are dry and I’ve no idea where aforementioned ‘ballet bag’ is. They seem to have tried on every outfit they own at some point in the day, dirtied it, and left it on the floor. Perhaps this is a positive sign they were always clean and presentable?

It sounds like I have the worst husband ever that’s useless in every way right? Actually no, as my best friend and soul mate, there’s no one I’d rather spend my life with. He’s just good at other stuff.

And that’s fine with me, because after dealing with the possibility of not being able to have children, and yearning to be a Mummy, I’ll put up with anything knowing that I’ve got the most wonderful kids and a lovely home. Even if they are for the most part totally my responsibility. And so long as they’re alive and well, Daddy will do things his way.

As any Mum will know, a 14 hour day, child free, to be an adult and be able to switch off from having to make Weetabix correctly and remember the book bag, is the parental equivalent of a week at a spa in Bali.

I’m writing this on the train, by myself, hot cup of tea next to me, on my way back to the hurricane that will be my home in about an hour, refreshed and spirited after a day of metal rejuvenation. And I’ve blocked out tomorrow to clean the house.

Image credit: Mug by Lavender and Wolf

31Mar/18
fat loss tips

Fat Loss Tips from 8 Fitness Professionals

Everyone trying to lose a few pounds is looking for the secret fat loss tips that will make their progress faster and easier. In this post you’ll hear from 8 fitness professionals who share their insight into the best ways to burn fat.

 

But rather than take it from just me, the article I contributed to contains advice from no less than 8 health, nutrition & fitness professionals who all share our pearls of wisdom on the best ways to lose fat.

 

Note that we talk about ‘fat’ not ‘weight’ because weight can be water, which might happen if you have water retention before dieting or suddenly lower your carbohydrate intake. It could be muscle which we definitely don’t want to happen as muscle keeps you strong, prevents injuries, and gives you the defined ‘toned’ look most people want.

 

Here’s my excerpt:

 

“To lose fat you must be eating in a calorie deficit.

While there are various ways to do this, all weight loss diets work by creating a deficit in some way. However, this can lead to hunger when you’re eating less food, which you can only ignore for so long before ‘falling off the wagon’.

One very effective way to prevent hunger is to eat a diet that revolves around protein and fibre. Protein from meat, fish, eggs, some dairy products and also good quality protein supplements are best, or Quorn and tofu for vegans. Vegetables are both high in fibre and very low in calories and are high in water which adds bulk.

Example meals could be an omelette with lots of vegetables, big chicken salad, Greek yoghurt with blueberries, or a steak, salmon or Quorn fillet with loads of veg.

Eating enough protein has the extra benefit of supporting muscle, which will help keep your metabolism high while eating less and as you lose weight.

The Government’s recommendations for protein intake are too low for active people, and most health professionals agree we should be eating much more than the advised 5 portions of veg and fruit a day.

Eating a diet rich in both has helped many of my clients lose weight without ever going hungry.”

 

You’ll like this video too: Why a Low Calorie Diet Won’t Work

Read the full article here:

19Nov/17

The Truth About Being Pretty: Why Being Attractive Shouldn’t be so Attractive

A departure from my usual blog topics? Yes, but I felt it was something I needed to get off my chest, so wrote this post from the heart for Mum’s website The Motherload.

 

For what is a fairly controversial and potentially segregating subject, I hope that I’ve opened some eyes and dismissed the misunderstanding that to be traditionally good looking is always a positive. I’d love to hear your feedback after you’ve read it.

 

It was around my early teens that I noticed I was getting attention from men. Not just boys in my year at secondary school but in older years, and even adult males who didn’t seem to notice, or perhaps mind that I was in my school uniform as they’d chat me up in town after school, or on the beach on weekends where I’d hang out with my friends.

 

Far from being bothered, this was the self-esteem boost I’d needed after recently moving to the area and having to adjust and make new friends.

And what teenage girl doesn’t want to be made to feel attractive?

I learned as I grew up that leaning in at a bar (necessary due to my 5’3 stature) would get instant service, a smile could get the best table in a restaurant, free entry to a club, backstage entrance to a gig. I could get the attention of the most attractive man at a party, from models to celebrities. Yes, I exploited it and had fun. Heck, I was 18, and I was going to make the most of the party years. Some minor modelling work came along at various points over the years (I’m too short to take it seriously), so I even made money from how I looked.

It’s funny how the world has become so image obsessed. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t part of that, but there’s a fine line between vanity and insecurity, and while I didn’t realise it at the time, my insecurities were brewing into a host of mental health problems that were to surface later on.

When asked if I’d rather be slim and pretty, or fat and ugly, the answer isn’t simple. The question itself is flawed. I’d rather be happy. If being attractive makes you happy then sure, take that. Unfortunately if it was that easy cosmetic surgery would be the answer. It’s never that easy, and while many people think I’m lucky, or have life easy, or am #blessed with wonderful genes, I’d like to shed light on a life that so many are craving.

There are two sides to every coin, including this one.

1. You will be seen first and foremost for your appearance

It’s not just blondes who are stereotyped. People think it’s not possible to have brains and looks. Okay, I may have fluttered my eyelashes to get out of a speeding fine once, but I’m not proud of it, and it says as much about the shallow policeman who let me go. Perhaps the reaction was encouraged by the fact I was wearing my beauty therapist uniform, another career choice put into the ‘all looks and no brains’ category.

Looking good becomes your identity. I’ve done a bit of modelling so it’s even on my CV. But that means people expect you to look good. Not in the way that it’s on their mind but if I turn up somewhere looking tired, with greasy hair, no make-up and premenstrual spots, it doesn’t go unnoticed. For many years I couldn’t let this go and would make the effort to live up to these expectations, which I think in hindsight were my own as well as others’. Thankfully age and confidence have both risen simultaneously, and I happily don’t give a damn if people start wondering if I actually own a shower. I’m pleased I’ve made this turn. Self-esteem built on looks is doomed. Even the most beautiful woman in the world will lose her looks eventually.

2. I’m young and inexperienced (except I’m not)

I remember when I was handed a leaflet in the street about a support group for young (aka teenage) mothers, as I waddled along 8 months pregnant with my first child. I had to hold my tongue not to go into a hormonal rage and wave the ring on my finger in the well-meaning social worker’s face. This isn’t to dismiss teenage or unmarried mothers at all – in fact my own sister is a fantastic young mum, but some people do have preconceived ideas about unplanned teen pregnancies, and I guess it said something about my own insecurities that it bothered me others may also have these judgemental ideas about me.

Now that Aurora is eight, nothing has changed. I ‘must have been a teen mum’ given I’m not old enough to have an eight year old. If I had been, it wouldn’t make a difference to what kind of mother I had become, but why is it that people feel it’s appropriate to make a point of it? You wouldn’t say to an older looking mother, ‘oh, they must have been an IVF baby, you’re too old to be a Mum’. And yes, it is the same thing

3. I have to work hard to be taken seriously

When people presume you are young and dumb, try walking into a business meeting and being taken seriously as a mature and level-headed business woman. I can hold my own very well on the phone but the looks on the bank manager or company owner or potential joint venture’s face doesn’t evade me; ‘she’s not a business woman, she’s just a girl’. It takes a while before they realise what comes out of my mouth isn’t all fluff, after all.

4. I’ve never had male friends

I’m actually quite a tomboy at heart, and with three brothers I understand the other kind quite well. But somewhere along the line a great budding friendship has always turned awkward when they try and make a move, or admit they’d like to be ‘more than friends’. Was it my fault? Was my friendliness giving the wrong impression? I don’t know. I thought being friendly was a good thing. I didn’t know it could so easily be misinterpreted.

I was at a marketing event recently and a lovely guy kept coming over to chat. About halfway through the second day he asked if I was single and I showed him my left hand and said actually I had two children too! He walked off and never spoke to me again. Shame, he was really sweet.

5. I have to be so careful of what my girls pick up

Any mum of girls knows it’s pretty much built into them from an early age, this instinct of wanting to look ‘pretty’ to attract a mate (though that last part thankfully hasn’t clicked in our house yet!). Whether it’s insisting on wearing a princess dress to the supermarket or plastering pink glitter on their eyelids, being pretty matters.

They are pretty girls, but that’s not what I want them to be valued for, and even more what they value themselves for. When friends and relatives call them pretty it angers me, and maybe this is an overreaction, but I wish they were called kind, or thoughtful, or generous, or someone said that they worked really hard at their painting. I don’t call my girls pretty. We must look presentable to go to a party, yes, and dresses and bows and shiny shoes are part of that for my girls (I never pushed this stereotype on them, I battle every winter for them to wear jeans outside when it’s cold; pink dresses always win). But that’s because self-pride is important. Making an effort for others is important. It’s a sign of respect to yourself and to your hosts. You don’t have to be conventionally ‘pretty’ to do that.

6. Male attention can turn bad

While a wolf whistle is nice on occasion, I noticed something as I was growing up that was different about the way these men behaved towards me compared to my friends. I was curvy as a teen – I had boobs worthy of page 3 (breastfeeding sadly said goodbye to those), and somehow wearing a fitted top (as you do, in your late teens) meant men felt they had license to pass all boundaries. It’s one thing getting a ‘hey chick’ across the street, quite another to be cornered, pushed up against a wall, boobs grabbed, and having to resort to kneeing them between the legs to escape.

7. Looks don’t make you happy

While most people think they know this, to really see how true this is you only need to look at my mental health history. I have recently been diagnosed with cyclothymia (a form of bipolar), was hospitalised three times with anorexia, complete with drug-resistant depression and organs that were failing. I’ve overdosed on legal drugs, self-harmed, and have to put my mental health first just to stay functioning on a daily basis. As a personal trainer who’s in okay shape, I frequently hear ‘it’s okay for you and your lack of wobbly bits’. No, it’s not ok for me. I wish it was, but it’s not. Exercise is my therapy, not beauty treatment.

Do I resent looking a certain way?

Absolutely not, I resent and regret nothing in life; I’ve always seen both as a little pointless. And I don’t blame or resent anyone who’s judged me on my looks, from the builder who pinned me up against a wall to the businessman who looked down at me to the dance teacher who casually stamped on my dreams saying I probably wasn’t good enough to get tonnes of work, but why not try modelling? Oddly enough, that was not why I’d spent nine hours a week training for the last six years. This was the same dance school where I’d been praised for being the only one who’d not gained weight over Christmas; I’d been vomiting and taking laxatives.

I hear some women say their looks have alienated them from making friends with other women who feel threatened and jealous. Thankfully that’s never been the case for me and I have some wonderful female friends, maybe even because I don’t want to rely on looks to get things and attract people; I’ll always be as good a person as I can be first and foremost.

In Dr Nancy Etcoff’s “Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty”, she believes that appreciating beauty is not learned, but rather it is a biological adaptation. Research on infants’ perception shows that children as young as three months are staring at attractive faces longer than at unattractive ones. Uneven skin and lacklustre hair are a sign of sickness, which to the ancient instinctive human in us means less fertile, which means less attractive. Humans were designed to survive.

Some things just are as they are. There are plus sides, there are downsides, but isn’t that the same with everything in life? At nearly 34 and having found my first two grey hairs already, I’m finally feeling comfortable with who I am as a person, and if I lose my looks completely, that’s okay with me.

10Sep/17
relaxing holiday

24 Tips to get the most out of your relaxing holiday

Holidays are supposed to be a time for relaxation as well as fun, so how do you enjoy your holiday so that you come back restored and not more frazzled than when you left home?

 

When you’ve been working hard or running around after kids at home the last thing you want is for your well earned break to be equally stressful, so travel consultants Hayes & Javis have come up with some ways to get the most out of your holiday.

 

They’ve gathered tips from 24 well-being professionals to compile a downloadable guide so that you can learn and implement some key tricks to make you really chill out and enjoy your holiday, and come back restored and rejuvenated in the way that you hoped.

 

Up to 65% of people report feeling even more stressed while on holiday according to one survey, so don’t let yourself be one of them!

 

Their essential Four Pillars to Holiday Relaxation are:

 

Physical

Looking after your body means you’ll have more energy to do all the things you want to do on holiday. You know that, so how’s best to get physically prepped for you hols? This pillar covers all that.

 

Mental

Happiness and relaxation starts before you even leave home, as you’ll know if you’ve ever run around at the last minute trying to find a lost passport! Chilling out will help you think clearer and leave all your worries behind back home.

 

Communication

Spending days living closely with others from one small hotel room, apartment or villa with less time alone than back home means talking, communicating, and diffusing tension and disagreements is especially important. Nobody wants a fallout while you’re supposed to be enjoying yourselves.

 

Nutritional

How to use and enjoy food so that you feel good inside and out while still enjoying local culinary specialities.

 

In this final section I give you some tips on which foods and nutrients actually work in your body to reduce stress:

“Cooking is a relaxing and creative way to wind down and fresh food will get you feeling and looking good for your holiday. Some foods actually have stress busting properties themselves. Vitamins B and C get depleted under stress, so top them up with meat, wholegrains, red peppers and citrus fruits. Magnesium helps with relaxation and can be found in nuts, seeds, and dark chocolate. Omega 3 oils are fantastic for all areas of brain health including stress management, so make some tasty salmon or mackerel dishes to top up your stores.”

 

And yes they got a bit muddled when calling me a health & beauty therapist – I actually am a fully qualified beauty & holistic therapist but haven’t worked as one for some years! (but if you ever need help choosing skincare, you know who to call….;) )

You can pick up your own copy of the guide on Hayes & Jarvis website here.

Or download if directly here.

18Aug/17

The Candida Diet – Could It Work For You?

The Candida Diet is a food protocol used primarily by natural medicine practitioners, naturopaths and nutritionists as a natural alternative to drugs for treating a candida infection.

 

Candida is a yeast that occurs naturally in out gut, but can become overgrown, causing IBS symptoms, usually bloating being the main one, as well as recurring thrush, brain fog, intense sugar cravings, low energy and mood, and even fungal nail infections.

 

But does the diet work? Women’s heath website Femedic asked me and a few dieticians for out opinions on whether the fairly extreme diet is effective.

garlic candida diet

 

I have personal experience of it when I was tested while having extreme bloating and sugar cravings (no other symptoms thankfully) and was put on the diet for a couple of weeks, alongside various antifungal medications.

 

It was difficult to follow and the medications were doing the bulk of the work in clearing the infection, but while benefits of the diet may be bigger in some people than others, I reasoned that anything that helped was worth doing temporarily. It’s not a way of eating that’s sustainable long term and I didn’t do the extreme ‘cleanse’ that some people start with.

 

Here’s an extract from the article on the Femedic Website which specialises in women’s issues such as menstruation, menopause and other areas of gynaecological health.

 

” Dietitians aren’t all that convinced by the claims of the Candida diet, and both stress the importance of not changing your diet or following any ‘cleanse’ without first consulting a doctor. However, others do believe that the Candida diet works – or at least it worked for them. Pollyanna Hale is a weight loss coach, personal trainer, and nutritionist, and thinks that some people could see positive results from the Candida diet.

“You can have a gut only Candida infection and not get thrush,” she says. “So regularly feeling bloated with a distended stomach would be a sign that Candida might be the culprit. Brain fog and sugar cravings are two other common symptoms, as well as skin and nail fungal infections.”

Pollyanna believes following the Candida diet could help relieve symptoms and clear infection. “The Candida diet cuts out sugar, yeast, fermented and mouldy foods, and foods that have a tendency to contain low levels of moulds, such as some nuts, which help Candida thrive. It also encourages natural anti-fungals such as garlic and coconut,” she explains. But not everyone will need to follow the diet as strictly as others. “The more severe or stubborn the infection, the more rigid you will need to be with what you eat and drink, until the infection is cleared,” she adds.

However, like Faith and Sophie, she does voice her concern at the extreme cleanse part of the diet, as advertised. “An aggressive reset won’t be necessary for everyone,” she says. “It’s basically just eating lots of vegetables and a little fat and protein to ‘flush out’ your gut and cut off the Candida’s food supplies to help stop it growing.” However, this sort of extreme eating (or abstaining) can be difficult to stick to, she notes, and says the Candida dying off can cause “unpleasant and flu-like symptoms”. She does add that anyone wanting to do the cleanse part of their diet should first seek a doctor’s advice. “It’s quite an extreme way of eating even if it is only for three days, and not everybody is suitable to follow such a protocol,” she says. ”

(click here for the full article)

I’d love to hear what you think and if you’ve tried anything like this to help with candida infections.

The best conversations happen over in my free Facebook Group so come and join us here and have your say. 

30Jun/17
addicted to exercise

I Was Addicted to Exercise

A scroll through the #fitfam or #fitspo posts on Instagram will reveal countless images of gym buffs grappling with kettlebells, before-and-after transformations and motivational quotes. If you’re an avid exerciser, perhaps they inspire you to work out harder and longer, to try new moves that will lead to a more defined body, to exercise every day. But where does being fit, healthy and strong end, and an unhealthy attachment to exercise begin?
“Exercise addiction” used to be a relatively innocuous term – a jokey way of saying that you loved exercise – but now it’s a recognised problem and the British Medical Journal has even published a piece about how to recognise and treat it.
According to an Italian study, people who strongly identify as an exerciser and have low self-esteem are at a higher risk of developing an addiction. Women are more likely to suffer from secondary exercise addiction, meaning that it’s associated with an eating disorder. Over 40% of the 120 gym-goers who completed the study were found to be at risk.

What are the signs?

Those with exercise addiction might exercise even when they’re ill or tired. They might miss out on social or family occasions so that they can exercise. They might feel anxious and irritable if they can’t work out or they might exercise to the point that they experience physical injury, such as a stress fracture. They have an inability to stop or reduce their levels of exercise.
But plenty of people love exercise and train to a high level without a problem. So where does the boundary lie between healthy and unhealthy? “The difference is that a compulsive exerciser works out not to feel good, but to avoid feeling bad,” says Dr. Carolyn Plateau, a Loughborough University psychology lecturer who specialises in compulsive exercise. “They rely on it for mood regulation, may get feelings of guilt, failure or anxiety if they don’t exercise, and tend to have a very rigid routine. It comes above all else – exercise will always take priority.”
Polly Hale, 33, agrees. In her late teens and early 20s, she was addicted to exercise alongside having anorexia. She attended dance school, where image was all-important, and during the holidays she would exercise compulsively, seeing it as a way to burn as many calories as she could.
“I started cutting down on the calories I ate,” she says, “but I would also take any opportunity to exercise, such as walking everywhere (even if it took hours) or dancing without stopping all night at a club. If I was away with my family, I would have a strict regime of strength exercises to do. My motives were all wrong. I wasn’t exercising to feel good or stay healthy but to stay thin, and I would get overwhelming feelings of guilt and failure if I couldn’t exercise. I lost the ability to listen to my body and pushed on through, even when I was exhausted and undernourished.”
The triggers can vary. “It can be a small thing, such as a comment on your body made by a friend or family member,” says Carolyn, “up to a dramatic life change such as going to university, having a perfectionistic personality where you’re always striving for high goals, or having a difficult emotional experience and exercise becomes a way of avoiding it.”
“Social media can also play a role, particularly in people that use it a lot as they can lose a sense of the real world,” she adds. “There has been a backlash against being very skinny; now it’s all about lean and strong. But that can be equally damaging if you’re striving for an unrealistic image of a woman with a six-pack and zero body fat – she could be training for hours a day to look like that.”
And because exercise addiction is so often linked with disordered eating, the “clean eating” trend can also play a part. “Hyper-vigilance about what goes into your mouth and a focus on consuming only ‘healthy’ foods can often go hand in hand with compulsive exercise behaviours,” says Carolyn.
A problem with other people recognising it in you, or even a health professional diagnosing it, is that exercise is usually a positive thing. Where starving yourself is clearly a bad idea, we’re encouraged to exercise. “It can go under the radar if it’s not accompanied by an obvious eating disorder,” says Carolyn. “It can also be disguised in much the same way as the early stages of an eating disorder – ‘I’m just exercising a bit more at the moment to stay healthy’.”
“Although my family could see it was part of my eating disorder, they questioned the amount of food I ate but not the amount of exercise I was doing,” says Polly. “I recognised it in myself and knew that it wasn’t normal, but I couldn’t stop myself. The desire to exercise was so overpowering.”

Where to get help

“The first and often the hardest step is admitting to yourself that you have a problem,” says Polly. “Then you can open up to someone else and say you need help.”
You can see your GP, who can refer you to an appropriate service. You could even open up to your personal trainer, who may be able to help you devise a healthier schedule and set positive goals, rather than exercising for exercise’s sake.
Treatment can include cognitive behavioural therapy and psychological help to equip you with healthier ways of dealing with negative emotions. “You wouldn’t necessarily have to stop exercising but you might be asked to reduce it or replace it with low-intensity exercise such as yoga,” says Carolyn. “It’s about reformulating your attitudes to both exercise and food (if it’s associated with an eating disorder).”
For Polly, her turning point was a night at the pub in her early 20s. She had been hospitalised three times but always relapsed. “That night, one friend announced she was pregnant and another that she was getting married. Something in my head just clicked and I realised that everyone was moving on with their lives and I was going to be left behind. No one would want a relationship with me and I would never have children (my periods had stopped long ago). I suddenly wanted this thing out of my life. I worked with a dietitian to help me see food as a pleasure and as fuel, rather than unnecessary calories, and my attitude to exercise slowly changed.”
Change doesn’t happen overnight but Polly proves that it is possible. She’s now a personal trainer and founded The Fit Mum Formula, helping women to learn to love their bodies, exercise and eat well because they want to look after themselves. She’s also married with two children. “It took me about five years to fully recover, but I now exercise and eat well because I want to enjoy life, and I appreciate what it feels like to be strong and healthy, rather than thin and exhausted.”