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.

Don’t let the scales get you down

https://www.flickr.com/photos/alasam/
“I don’t believe it”

Now before I start let me say that I know only too well how disheartening it can be to step on a set of scales after a day/week/month/lifetime of starving yourself and sweating your socks off at the gym to find that the arrow hasn’t gone down at all. I also know how it can feel even worse finding that after all that effort the blummin’ thing has even had the nerve to creep up slightly.

If you too have been in this position I have a little challenge for you: loose the scales. Hide them in a cupboard, pack them off to a remote island somewhere or take them to the tip. They are dragging you down.

The thing is, muscle weighs more than fat. So stepping on the scales does not reflect the changes your body is undergoing. It is of course extremely normal to want some proof that all your efforts are paying off. But instead of jumping on the scales though take measurements of your waist, hips and chest periodically. Alternatively get a personal trainer or fitness instructor to do a body fat test on you.

There is no secret to having a healthy body but here are a few hints:

  • Exercise and eat nutritious food and you will have a strong and healthy body and mind.
  • Be honest with yourself about whether you have the balance right. Deep down you probably know whether you do or not.
  • Cut back on sugar, salt, alcohol, excess fat and smoking.
  • Some fats are good and vital for your body to function so don’t eliminate them all. Not all fats are created equal.
  • “Low fat” and “reduced fat” foods are pumped full of chemicals your body isn’t designed to process. Swap them for clean foods in their purest form, organic if possible.
  • Vow to never go on a fad diet again. They are temporary solutions that generally see you depriving your body of a vital macronutrient (fat, carbs and protein) that your body needs in order to function properly. You may loose a little weight but you can pretty much guarantee that you’ll put it back on, with a little extra, once you go back to your old eating habits.
  • Give up cereal. Almost all contain some sugar and most low GI so set your body off into a serious of sugar spikes at the start of the day. The box it comes in is probably more nutritious. Swap it for the toast with nut butter, porridge, quinoa flakes or eggs.
  • Drop the fizzy drinks. There is startling evidence that shows a direct correlation between soft drink correlation and a rise in obesity and type II diabetes. The calories in them not only slip into your body undetected due to their liquid form, but they also trick your body into thinking it needs more food than it does. There’s a reason cinemas and restaurants serve such gigantic servings of the stuff.

Loosing the obsession over the scales will free your mind to be honest with itself, and will allow you to focus more on whether you truly feel better for the changes you are making. The chances are when you find what it is that really revitalises you, a stronger and healthier body will follow.

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.