My story: Why I say “I understand”

IMG_5291My motivations to be a personal trainer and nutritional advisor go way beyond wanting people to be proud of their big biceps and washboard stomachs. Sharing the story which lead me to this path is a bit scary, as it’s it not something I discuss with many people, but hopefully it will help people see why I preach and get so passionate about the things I do.

It’s rather long at just over 2000 words, but I hope you find it interesting, and that it helps you or someone you know in some way. Please feel free to share it.

 

Dog walking and dam building

I have enjoyed being active my whole life. My happiest memories as a child are climbing trees, building dams and wandering the fields near my home carrying a rucksack full of nature books in order to identify any critters that I came into contact with. I loved walking my dog and got up early to do so before school (I’ve always been an early bird).

My senior school had a leisure centre on site and as soon as I was allowed I spent my lunchtimes in the gym or pool. By this time though another motivation was at play. I had been bullied from the age of 12, which continued on-and-off for the remainder of my school years. With this, as is often the case, my confidence plummeted. Add the rollercoaster of teenage hormones and an increasingly negative relationship with my body image, and the result is that my exercise sessions became more about feeling marginally happier with my body than about having fun.

Wafer-thin ham sandwiches

Into this mix I now added what I was led to believe were healthy food choices. Thinking back to those days I remember eating a lot of rice cakes and sandwiches made from Weight Watchers bread, with no spread or a tiny bit of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Light spread and two slices of wafer-thin ham sandwiches. My lunches looked anaemic in short.

My mum is an amazing cook yet I felt terribly guilty eating her delicious meals, and enviably watched my brother devour his own bodyweight in food day after day, whist he remained lean. Meanwhile I was always hungry yet my body did not seem to reflect all the effort I was putting in. It was like I was baking a cake with all the “right” ingredients, yet the result was always flat, burnt and disgusting to taste. I could not understand it.

Discovering some confidence

It was a huge relief when I could finally leave the bullies behind as I left to go to university in Swansea when I 18. I was free to break free from the social anguish that had plagued me for six years at school. I could make friends based on who I was at that point in my life, not based on who I had gone to school with.

When I started uni I had been in a relationship for several years with a guy from home (not school, I was far too short on confidence there). About half way through that year though, the relationship came to an end. Although I felt devastated initially I very soon felt more free than I had for a really really long time. I was like an exotic bird discovering for the first time it’s beautiful wings, then realising that they were also my passport to freedom.

I made great new friends, many of whom I’m still close to. I had tons of fun, got involved in new things, in short I had the university experience. I felt loads happier and was more active. I was also thinking less than I had about food than I had for years and ironically weight started to fall off me, without my even noticing. I soon needed to buy smaller clothes and received lots of compliments from those around me. I felt ecstatic. Finally I discovered what it felt like to not completely hate my own body.

Heading into the danger zone

Subconsciously though, I linked my loss of weight to my new-found popularity and fun-filled life. Therefore once I slowly but surely started to gain weight again, I was terrified. In my head I would loose my great new friends and fab new life if I put weight on again. I once again returned to rice cakes and Weight Watchers bread sandwiches. They had just as much success for me then as they had last time though.

I was by now a second-year student; drinking most nights of the week, frequently grabbing takeaways on the way home and sleeping way less than I needed. As the weight increased I got more and more desperate. This is how I became bulimic.

In a shared house of nine I could easily get away with sneaking off to nearby shops to buy bags of “forbidden” foods, and then embark on binging and purging sessions. Or so I thought. I suspect my housemates were on to me far sooner than I realised.

I can’t really remember how long this went on for. I do remember though that at some point I realised that I needed to tell someone what I was doing in order to experience the shame needed to get myself out of it. I told my mum about it, who got me to see a counsellor, I read a book about it but it didn’t help a great deal.

Meeting Dan

It was meeting Dan that really put a stopper in it. Mainly because I was generally either at the gym or with him (or both) during my free time, so I had far less private time in which to embark on any bulimic behaviour. The binges and purges became less frequent, and at some point stopped altogether, but the poor body image and shaky self-confidence remained with me for years.

Throughout all of this I was still an avid gym-goer. I would come in from clubbing and be in the gym a few hours later. Looking at it now I must have been a metabolic wreck, but I guess you can get away with it more when you’re young.

“Running 20-odd miles a week unfortunately doesn’t mean you can get away with eating whatever the hell you like”

I continued to be a gym bunny when Dan and I moved from Swansea to Cardiff, where I studied to be a journalist, and then when we moved from there to Bath. Funnily enough the gym we joined when we moved to Bath was at the YMCA. If someone had told me then that I would be working for them in a few years I would never have believed them.

The nutritional side of things

As you do when you join a gym I had a programme written for me by the lovely Simon (who ended up getting me my YMCA job years later). I met with him every 12 weeks for a retest and at one of them we found my results weren’t what he’d expect given how much I was in the gym. I knew, and he most likely knew too, that was due to the nutritional side of things.

marathon
Me after running the London Marathon

I distinctly remember him suggesting we look into my nutritional intake. I was petrified. I went to the gym so that I could eat chocolate, cake and all the rest of it. I knew he would tell me not to eat such crap and I couldn’t have coped with that. I vowed to just exercise more and decided to take on the London Marathon. I would surely loose weight if I trained for a marathon wouldn’t I?!

 

Not necessarily, so it turns out. Running 20-odd miles a week unfortunately doesn’t mean you can get away with eating whatever the hell you like, as I believed it would. I thought that if I was doing that much exercise I would get back the body I had at the end of my first year of uni, which was the smallest I had ever been.

Extra chocolate allowance

Maybe it would have done if I had been eating well, but it didn’t for me, no doubt partly because I was counterbalancing the running with chocolate. I had joined Weight Watchers by then and every time I came back from a run or gym session I would work out how many points I had just burned, and consume that exact amount of chocolate. I would even do an extra mile or an extra ten minutes in the gym simply to “buy” myself some extra chocolate allowance.

So this mentality went on until I fell pregnant with Jack. After having him I went straight back to the gym and to weighing out chocolate, despite the fact that I was breastfeeding and shattered. However now a change occurred. My gym sessions and runs were now the only headspace I got. They were the only times I saw people and did the things I had done before I became a mum. Over time my exercise sessions became more vital for my mental wellbeing than my physical wellbeing.

Huge amounts of cake and chocolate

Since having Jack I had been eating huge amounts of cake and chocolate because I was breastfeeding, and had been told by midwives and everyone else that I needed to eat lots of extra calories to produce the milk that he needed. Clearly I had been eating enough to produce milk for several babies, and consuming such a huge calorie surplus that my weight had gone up and up.

“Clearly I had been eating enough to produce milk for several babies”

I seriously needed to get my weight under control, but no longer had loads of spare time I could spend in the gym. I needed another tactic.

In searching for some help I came across The Clean & Lean Diet and everything clicked. The book spoke about cutting out refined, processed foods, caffeine, and alcohol, and about eating whole, clean foods. I decided to give it a go for a few weeks and have never looked back. Not only did I start to loose weight, but most importantly I felt far healthier that I probably ever had. No surprise. For the first time I was eating loads of nutrient-dense food instead of air-filled nutrient-poor foods.

Game changer

This was real game-changer for me. I had discovered that the secret to being healthy wasn’t hidden in a certain number of hours logged in the gym or a particular “health” food. It was in a clean and, most importantly, healthy approach. Combine this with the fact that to me exercise was no longer a way to control my weight, but something I enjoyed in and of itself, and you can see why I felt better than I had in years. And I felt better not just physically but mentally and emotionally too. The bulimic inside me slowly grew smaller and smaller until I realised she had gone entirely.

Today I enjoy healthy food, and I also enjoy the occasional treat. I no longer fear “treat” foods, as I am in control of my feelings around them now. My own exercise sessions are now fun and something I love to do, not something I feel I should do in order to look a certain way, and I hope that my clients and class participants feel the same about the ones I deliver to them.

The road to making my discovery was a painful one for me, and it angers me that food companies, supermarkets and in many ways the government had made it so hard for me, and others like me, to make that discovery.

This is why I decided to retrain to be a personal trainer and nutritional advisor. I wanted to help educated people about how to live a healthy life, be it mentally, physically, nutritionally or emotionally. If I save just one person from going down the horrible road that I did, that I will have succeeded.

So when I tell you I understand how hard it can be to live a healthy life, I really do.

I will be there to help whoever I can in whatever way I can.

Thanks for reading.

 

Ten reasons women should lift weights

angie
Angie by Greg Westfall

In recent years it has been far more commonplace to find women lifting weights in the gym. I love seeing the girls at CrossFit throwing barbells around and my daughter can’t wait to join them.

 

Why should we lift weights though? For a long time weights were left to the boys, as many women didn’t want to “bulk up”. The truth is though that adding weights to your fitness regime has numerous benefits, and it is highly unlikely you will end up looking like Arnie!

Here are some of the benefits of weight training:

  1. Faster metabolism, which in turn will lead you to burn more fat.
  2. Toned muscles – once you’ve burned off the body fat, the muscles on display will be well defined.
  3. Improved bone density, therefore reducing the risk of osteoporosis – this is particularly important for those over 40.
  4. Stronger core which helps improve posture and therefore makes you less liable to injury.
  5. Fun!
  6. Improve aerobic capacity – more efficient muscles make long, steady workouts such as runs, cycles or walks easier.
  7. Happiness – exercise is uplifting, and there’s nothing like throwing some weights around to temporarily take your mind off any troubles you have.
  8. Improved functional fitness – you’ll be stronger and more flexible and therefore less likely to injure yourself in or outside the gym.
  9. Rewarding – seeing the weights steadily increase gives a great buzz.
  10. Prevent or control chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, depression or obesity.

So what are you weight-ing for (sorry, couldn’t resist)? As long as you start with light weights and use good technique, the results you get from resistance training are manyfold.

If want advice about adding weights to your training then please get in touch.

Bend over backwards to fit yoga into your life

Love that yoga feeling (photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/blancalala)
Love that yoga feeling (photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/blancalala)

You have three hours a week to exercise. If you want maximum bang for your buck the chances are yoga would not be your first choice. I know that I’m guilty of this mindset, despite having practiced yoga on and off for all of my adult life.

However having recently been fortunate enough to spend a week at fitness retreat The Body Holiday, I have been reminded about the virtues and power of yoga, and of the fact that it should have a place in every fitness schedule.

Who should do yoga?

Although yoga can be gentle enough that those who are new to exercise should be able to hold their own in a class, it shouldn’t be underestimated. Give a crow or headstand a go and you’ll see why. It is great for newbie exercisers but it is equally, if not more, beneficial to those who regularly partake in taxing workouts.

Cardiff-based yoga teacher Cathryn Scott agrees, “Yoga can be so beneficial for people who are already committed to practicing another sport or fitness discipline. I often get hard-core exercisers coming to my classes, as well as cyclists, surfers, rugby players, people who do MMA [mixed martial arts] and so on, and they have all noticed a big difference in their primary discipline since taking up yoga.”

Yoga is great wherever you do it (image by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sugarmeloncom)
Yoga is great wherever you do it (image by https://www.flickr.com/photos/sugarmeloncom)

Why should I do yoga?

If you don’t regularly exercise it’s a great starting point, because it doesn’t require high levels of cardiovascular fitness or strength in order for you to reap the benefits. If you are already blessed with these skills however, they will definitely payoff in a yoga session, and can also be improved.

Three of the biggest benefits to be gained from yoga, for olympic athletes and newbie yogis alike, are flexibility, concentration and improved breath control.

Better flexibility can lead to improvements in an athlete’s main discipline. Cathryn Scott agrees, “Often these people are physically fit and very strong – but they lack flexibility. Becoming more flexible can aid their strength and help them improve on techniques they have been struggling with or take them to a new level.”

Equally, improved breath control and concentration has pay-offs that carry over into many aspects of life, including other sports. “A lot of people notice their concentration improves through yoga, which can help their focus in their prime discipline,” says Scott. “The breathing techniques we learn in yoga can also help with other disciplines. Runners and cyclists, for example, often find good breath control and an increased lung capacity can help their stamina,” she continues.

How can I fit it in, my life’s busy enough as it is?

You struggle to make it to the gym three times a week though. How are you supposed to make it to a yoga class as well?

The beauty is, you don’t have to. There are brilliant yoga apps and YouTube channels out there, offering yoga classes aimed at particular disciplines, fitness levels, specific aches and pains or particular mental improvements.

My favourite is Yogamazing, a podcast which I’ve been using regularly since the hubster and I went travelling seven years ago. Each of instructor Chaz Rough’s episodes is put together in response to a request that he has been sent.

Rough is not a condescending yogi but a regular guy, who tells you to, “Leave your ego at the door, and to go when you can go.” His sessions are rarely longer than 30 mins meaning it is easy to fit one in before or after work, during your lunch break or while your baby naps or children watch CBeebies (often mine end up joining me when I do this.) Best of all, it’s totally free.

Of course once you’ve been doing yoga a while you will have a selection of favourite poses up your sleeve, which you know your body and mind respond well to. You can do these whenever you like, and actually it’s hard to think of a better way to end a workout than with a few yoga poses, especially if coupled with some controlled breathing exercises and relaxation. In fact I often throw a few poses into cool-downs with clients and class participants.

Yoga teacher Scott agrees to the benefit of yoga relaxation post workout as well, “The relaxation techniques yoga teaches helps the body’s autonomic nervous system switch off, taking us out of that fight or flight mode that the adrenalin from exercise can often leave us in.”

So roll out a mat, relax your mind and give yoga a few moments of your time. You’ll be glad you did.

Cathryn Scott has been teaching yoga for seven years and runs the Yoga Sundays Cardiff classes. Find out more about her and her classes on Facebook.

Pack your bags, jet set, go!

beach run
Discover beautiful new places (pic by https://www.flickr.com/photos/nathaninsandiego/)

Summer holiday season is well and truly underway, thank goodness as I have had to get my gillet back out today it’s so cold.

Holidays are no doubt good for the soul but sometimes the body doesn’t fair too well. A week or two of indulgence coupled with a exercise regime that generally consists of a quick dip to cool down, and a wander to a restaurant normally help to undo months of hard work we’ve been doing leading up to the dreaded “B-Day” (Bikini Day).

Sure holidays are there to be enjoyed, and I’m not for a second suggesting otherwise. However there are little tweaks you can make that mean you come back feeling revitalised and energised, rather than guilty and disheartened that all your hard work so quickly became undone.

Here are a few tips for keeping fit and healthy while away, without reducing your enjoyment:

  • Pack your trainers. Even if you’re not a regular runner a little plod in a new place is much more fun than pacing around familiar territory. It’s also a really good way to explore the place you’re visiting, and if you go straight after waking up you will feel like you have it to yourself.
  • Suspension training
    Suspension training is fun and versatile (pic by https://www.flickr.com/photos/mariachily)

    Buy a suspension training kit. There are loads available at various prices and they’re really versatile. Strap them up to a tree, door frame etc and you have a multitude of exercises on offer, at any intensity you choose.

  • Swim. Choose the hotel pool or sea and challenge yourself to a certain distance or time, increasing it gradually throughout the holiday.
  • Plank. No equipment needed. Just hold it for as long as you can.
  • Try something new. Check out locally available activities such as paddle boarding, diving, climbing, mountain biking and try something new. You’ll be so busy concentrating and enjoying yourself that it won’t feel like exercise. You may even find you make new friends or find a new hobby.
  • Allow yourself treats but also try to be healthy. A 80/20 rule is good to follow (80 per cent healthy, 20 per cent treats that is, not the other way round). If you’re staying in a hotel this can be hard, especially if you’re all-inclusive but allowing yourself treats you really love you should find it easier to make healthier choices the rest of the time.
  • Think drink. Drink loads of water, especially in intense heat. Choose clear cocktails that aren’t packed full of cream, or juice and when drinking wine alternate with water.
  • Limit the ice-cream. Ice lollies carry fewer calories but better still is iced water, served with a twist of lemon, lime or orange to make it more refreshing.

Most importantly have a good time. Life is hectic most of the time so chilling out and enjoying yourself with your nearest and dearest does your soul and cortisol (stress) levels the world of good.

If you’re going away and would like me to put together a plan to do while you’re away then get in touch.

Sights set on the London marathon?

marathonIf you watched last weekend’s London marathoners wondering if you’d ever be among their masses then read on to find out if you’re up to the 26.2-mile challenge.

Am I fit enough?

If you are currently pretty fit then by implementing a structured running schedule six months before the run you would most definitely be ready to run next April’s race. If you don’t really do any exercise at the moment then it doesn’t mean the 2016 marathon is out of your grasp, but it would be a good idea to slowly introduce some activity into your routine in order to slowly build your fitness levels up.

It is also a good idea to run some shorter distance races beforehand in order to understand what happens at races, and to learn what you like to have with you, how to pace yourself, and about how to mentally get yourself through.

What do I need?

A good pair of trainers is essential, and for running these kind of distances it’s really important that they fit well. Buy them from a specialist running shop as they will analyse your running style to find the right pair for you. Bad trainers can be responsible for injuries all over the body so buy the best pair you can afford.

How do I enter?

There is a public ballot which opens on Monday 4th May 2015, but if you don’t get a place that way then you can apply for a charity place. Check the official London Marathon website for a list of the charities offering places.

I don’t think I’m up to it but still want a fitness challenge

There are so many events you can take part in now. There are obtascle style races such as the Tough Mudder, or Rat Race, loads of different running races over different distances and terrains, some at night and some during which you get covered in paint (Colour Run and Run or Dye).

Cancer Research no longer just offers their 5k race for life. You can now take part in their 10k, Pretty Muddy®, half marathon or even marathon. Check their website to find events near you.

If wheels are more your thing then bike events are becoming more popular by the day and there are now a huge range of those to choose from too.

Help, I don’t know where to start

Whatever challenge you set yourself the key is to have a structured training schedule in place, which sees you gradually increasing your fitness. There are plenty of websites, books and magazines out there that will help you find one.

If however you would like a bespoke plan that takes your needs, schedule and energy levels into account then get in touch at laura.f.hilton@gmail.com and I’d be happy to put a training and nutrition plan together that will see you achieving your goal.

The importance of pelvic floor exercises in pregnancy

Why should I do pelvic floor exercises? I’ve heard that it needs to be relaxed during labour, not contracted. 

Pelvic floor exercises are vital for several reasons including not weeing yourself post labour(!), and are an important part of the labour preparations too. Relaxing it is important but the exercises are what enable you to control it as directed by midwives in labour, so they very are important. People also say they help prevent prolapse too and although that’s true it’s also uncommon.

I’ve heard that it’s more important to practice squats during pregnancy than pelvic floor exercises. Is that true?

There’s no denying that squats are beneficial, especially if you think you might like to give birth in that position. However pregnancy is not the time to start hitting the squat rack if you’ve never set foot near it before.

Instead maybe try squatting against a wall. Lower yourself down until your knees are at a right angle. Hold the position if you can. If not raise yourself up and down for about a min. Keep your back pressed into the wall.

What pelvic floor exercises should I do?

  1. Slowly relax and contract the pelvic floor ten times, then do the same quickly.
  2. Image your pelvic floor as a lift that goes up three “floors”. Lift it up to each floor and release back down stopping at each “floor” on the way.
  3. Contract the pelvic floor and hold it for a count of ten.

Try and do these at least three times a day. Maybe every mealtime? Or every time you stop at a red traffic light? You could also set a reminder on your phone.

Introducing kettle bells

Kettle bells could become your secret weapon (Copyright 2011 John Piekos)
Kettle bells could become your secret weapon (Copyright 2011 John Piekos)

One of my greatest fitness loves are kettle bell classes. They give me results I’ve never got from any other kind of workout. By doing them I’ve seen my strength and muscle tone increase, lost weight and body fat and seen a huge improvement in my stamina and general fitness.

They give you an all-over-body workout and combine cardio and resistance training, and as a result you get great results. If you’ve never tried kettle bell training, read on to find out more.

What are kettle bells? 

Kettle bells are cannon ball-shaped weights with a handle. They are generally made of cast iron or steel. They come in a wide variety of weights.

Why do they give such great results?

Kettle bell classes combine strength, flexibility and cardiovascular training. All your energy systems are going to be challenged and all your muscles are going to be working hard, in particular those in your legs, shoulders and lower back.  Your core also gets a great workout because of the need to engage it throughout the class for stability, as well as any moves which specifically target the area.

What does a class involve?

It will depend on the instructor but personally I’ve encountered two approaches. In one an instructor will demonstrate a move, the class repeats it for a minute, and so forth throughout the class. Moves will come in a fairly random order varying between big combination movements such as squats, and isolation movements such as bicep curls. The pace for all will be fast and all body areas will all be worked throughout the class.

In the other kind an instructor might take a more circuit-like approach. A set might involve three or four different moves performed a certain number of times or for a certain duration. Besides kettle bell moves these may also include some bodyweight or ab exercises such as press-ups, burpees, v-sits or planks. The set will be repeated several times before the class is moved onto another mini circuit.

I like both approaches. In the best instance a fitness centre will offer both within a week in order to give variety while still using the same powerful moves.

Where could I try a class?

Kettle bell classes are very popular now. Check out your local council gyms, private gyms or personal trainers in your area who might run classes.

Can I do this at home? 

Yes. There are plenty of DVDs available. Obviously you would need the kettle bells themselves but these too can be bought online. If you’re a beginner a 4kg will probably be good to start off with. Just remember that you need to increase your weight as you get stronger, otherwise your fitness will plateau and you won’t reap all of the potential benefits. This can mean that you have to keep buying new weights which is a downside to home kettle bell workouts vs those in a gym, where these is loads of equipment.

If you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to contact me. I can’t urge you enough to try out this great workout.