Thursday, 9 November 2017

Let's stop assuming that girls only exercise to lose weight

"Oh, but you don't need to lose weight", "How much have you lost so far?", "I need to start dieting too" - these are by far the most common responses I receive after telling someone I go to the gym. Well meaning as they are, all they ever do is make me wonder why it's assumed that women only work out for one reason - to lose weight. Interestingly, the next thing that occurs to me is how no-one would say these things to a man in the same position; after all, there are a whole host of reasons why men go to the gym!

So why is this approach not extended to women? To me, the gym has never been about losing weight, or being on a diet. Actually, that's not true; at one point it was totally about that, and I hated it. Going to the gym for me is first and foremost about mental resilience and stress-relief. Equally, I love feeling strong and capable - going to the gym makes me feel as though I can conquer the world. It's not about what I can lose, it's about what I can gain.

Let's get this straight, if you exercise because you want to lose weight, that's great; if that's your goal then power to you. My issue is simply that there seems to be an assumption in society that women exercise for no other reason. Similarly, the amount of comments I've received about the type of workout I choose to do is unbelievable. It's usually along the lines of "but lifting weights will only make you too muscly" or "why don't you try *insert 'feminine' exercise here*, it's doing weight training that's making you bigger." First of all, what if I actually want to be strong and muscly? Secondly, I'm bigger than I used to be because I love food and hate diets, not because I lift moderate weights 3 times a week. Thirdly, mind your own business! 

As a society, we need to move away from this idea that if women go to the gym, they should be running on a treadmill for an hour because our goal is obviously to lose weight. And god forbid we pick up a dumbbell, because we'll be massive in the blink of an eye and that is SO unfeminine! Let's respect and motivate one another, rather than accidentally tearing people down with our 'helpful hints'. Girls, whether your goal is to be strong, to lose weight, to gain mental clarity or anything else, you do you. As long as your chosen exercise (whatever it may be) is making you happy, there's no reason to feel like you're doing it wrong, no matter what anyone says.


Wednesday, 1 November 2017

National Stress Awareness Day - My top 5 stress-busting techniques

Today's post is a day early, but seen as it's national stress awareness day, I thought this would be fitting. Each and every one of us is affected by stress from time to time; some more than others, yes, but we all know the feeling. As we mature and get to know ourselves better, we become more in tune to both our personal triggers, and to which coping mechanisms work best for us. This week, I thought it would be nice to really think about what works for me, and pass on some of my own stress-busting ideas. So without further ado, here are my top 5 coping mechanisms for when life seems a bit too overwhelming.

1. Lists

For me, lists are a complete life-saver. Admittedly I'm a bit of an organisation freak, but there's something about having a good to-do list that really calms me down. When I have all these tasks swirling around in my head, I find I'm using half of my energy just thinking about what I need to do, leaving no headspace to deal with actually doing them. By writing everything down instead of using your brain as your notepad, it's surprising how much more manageable it all seems. Once you have a list, it's as simple as working through it one by one, without simultaneously thinking about what you have to do next. Mono-tasking is the way forward people!

2. Ten minute rule

I used to be a person who was regularly late for events, despite lateness being something I really hate. I just couldn't understand why I would always set off 'on time' yet still not manage to actually be on time. Nowadays I always apply my 'ten minute rule' if possible; always think about how long it will take you to get somewhere, and aim to set off ten minutes earlier. This 10 minute buffer allows time for the 'little things' we don't think about, but that end up eating our time, for example locking the door, getting the car off the drive or putting our shoes on. For me, there's nothing more stressful than being unpunctual, hence why I find this technique so helpful.

3. De-clutter

Recently I read Marie Kondo's famous book 'The life changing magic of tidying' and it has, as promised, changed my life. Living in a family home, it's unrealistic for me to totally de-clutter the entire house, but clearing out my room has had such a positive effect on my stress levels. It's so lovely to have my own space which I enjoy spending time in. Even silly little things like folding my clothes differently so they're easier to see has a calming effect; seemingly insignificant daily tasks like getting dressed become so much easier. I'm really all about the little things; we tend to dismiss them, believing they're not big enough to have an effect on our stress levels but when they're all added up, they often have more of an impact than anything else. On a side note, I would highly recommend Marie Kondo's book, it's a really enjoyable read, especially for my fellow organisation geeks out there.

4. Get the right amount of sleep for you

I will never stop preaching the power of sleep, as it literally affects every aspect of our lives and health. Notice I haven't tried to specify an ideal number of hours; this is because it varies hugely from person to person. Some people need very little sleep in order to function properly, whereas others need a lot more. What's right for you is something you need to figure out yourself; both too little and too much sleep can have a negative effect on the mind and body, subsequently increasing stress levels. Personally, my ideal is 8-10 hours per night, which might seem quite a lot. I find that if I have less than 8 hours, I struggle to get out of bed and tend to need a nap in the afternoon. On the flipside if I sleep for too long, I feel groggy, headachy and lack energy throughout the day. Finding the right amount of sleep for you and sticking to that whenever possible is a really useful stress-busting tool.

5. Deal with things now

This is something I didn't learn until quite recently. When we're feeling stressed or under pressure, the easiest thing to do is sweep things under the carpet and bury our heads in the sand. The only problem is, the things we need to deal with then only become more urgent, whilst additional tasks come up in the meantime. As those deadlines become nearer and the unread emails pile up, it only makes us more stressed, which can lead to a vicious cycle. Put an end to that cycle today; make an action plan and actually do it, sort through your emails and from now on as soon as something needs doing, do it immediately. Your head will feel much clearer for it.

Stress management truly is so important for our productivity, but more importantly for our physical and mental health. I really hope these ideas can be of some use - they certainly have been for me. Furthermore, if anyone has any of their own stress-busting techniques, I'd love to hear them; I'm always open to new ideas, so the more the better!


Thursday, 26 October 2017

Why you shoudn't be afraid to be a 'basic bitch' this Halloween

I swear society is becoming a game in which nobody can win; there always seems to be a reason to drag a person down. This is especially true for women. If you dress conservatively, you're a prude, but if you show 'too much' skin you're a slut, for example. One thing that really confuses me, though, is a fear of judgement that seems to have arisen only in the past couple of years - the fear of being basic.

Basic. What does that even mean, and how can a person ever be basic? Basic is a word you use to describe something simple yet functional, like a Sainsbury's basics bag of potatoes. Not a human being, complete with a lifetime of memories, a totally unique personality and a complex spectrum of emotions. No matter what a person likes or dislikes, how can that ever be basic?

The concept of being basic revolves around a person liking or doing things that other people also like or do. But what about the revolutionary idea that the reason a lot of people like something is because, I don't know, it's good? Furthermore, why is it assumed that someone is either basic or they're not? I know personally, I like some things that would be considered basic, and I like some things that wouldn't. Music is a prime example of this divide; why does it have to be that somebody either likes pop music or they like indie music. And God forbid anyone who primarily likes pop music states that they love an indie tune - what a try hard! On the flipside, I know more than a few people who mainly listen to indie music who wait until they're drunk at 3am to shamefully whisper 'I actually kinda like Taylor Swift', as though they're admitting to cheating on their boyfriend. Why does society make people feel like this? Why can't all of us wonderful, one of a kind people just like whatever the hell we want, without being judged? Surely this is way more interesting than feeling the need to fit a certain 'category', constantly fearing the judgement and scrutiny that comes if you dare avert from what you traditionally enjoy.

How about everybody just listens to, and wears and enjoys whatever they damn want - you owe nobody an explanation. I am a basic bitch through and through, and I'll never be afraid to admit it. I'm proud of everyone who likes whatever the hell they want just because they like it. Don't ever feel constricted by all the weird boundaries that society cages us in. So to all my sexy cats, bunnies and schoolgirls out there this Halloween, I salute you. Get out there and don't be afraid to flaunt all of your wonderful basicness. I certainly will be!

Thursday, 19 October 2017

How to make going to the gym a habit

Seen as this month marks a year since I joined the gym, I thought this would be a fitting post. The fact that it's been a whole year (YEAR!!) really has got me thinking about what was different this time round. I'd tried getting into exercise countless times before, but never stuck it out. It's so easy to get caught in the trap of having all this motivation, spending months planning how you're going to join the gym. Next thing you know you've done 1 or 2 sessions, realised you don't have abs yet and are beginning to feel that motivation fade. I've been there more times than I count! In this year, however, I've picked up a few little tricks on how to keep that drive to succeed fresh. Here are a few of those sneaky little lessons - I really hope they can be of help to someone out there!

1. Get a membership

Twice I have fallen into the "I won't get a membership to start with" trap. Yes, in theory, not committing to paying a lump sum before you're sure you'll use it makes perfect sense. It does, however, make you less likely to stick at it. Firstly, if you know that every time you go to the gym, you have to physically rake 5 or 6 pounds out your pocket, the idea suddenly becomes less appealing (as if it wasn't hard enough already). Even though with a membership you're still technically paying, it's easier than literally forking out cash every time you visit the gym. Secondly, paying on the door can make you feel like you have to spend ages there in order to get your 'money's worth'. If you have a membership, you can say to yourself "OK, I'll just go for half an hour" and not feel bad for it, whereas if you're using pay as you go, you're way more likely to just bail altogether.

2. Start slowly

There's no need to go in and do Tammy Hembrow style workouts immediately! In the beginning, making the gym part of your routine is hard, and there's no shame whatsoever in easing yourself into it. When I started out, the first few weeks were all about motivating myself to actually turn up, trying out different things and finding out what I enjoyed. Don't beat yourself up for allowing time to just give things a go before going for the challenging, structured workouts.

3. Know there's no need to feel intimidated

When I first joined the gym, I was terrified; the thought of exercising in front of others filled me with what can only be described as pure dread. I was scared that people would look at me and judge me for only being able to lift the small weights, and I wouldn't try any new machines in case I made a fool of myself. It's OK to feel like this at the start; stepping out of your comfort zone isn't easy, but you'll soon begin to realise that nobody actually cares what you're doing, just as you don't care what they're doing. Everyone is there for their own reasons, and nobody is going to care or judge you if you mess something up. In my year at the gym, I've seen people helping each other out countless times - it's no big deal and there certainly isn't any judgement involved. This girl who a year ago was scared to even move in the gym is now the one you'll see smashing out sumo squats in the middle of the floor (not such a dignified sight, but who even cares? No-one!)

4. Focus on how you feel

It's easy to get caught up in the physical results, but I really do think this often does more harm than good. Physical results are slow, but the mental benefits can be felt almost immediately. Focusing on how going to the gym makes you feel, and realising the power of these benefits is so much more motivational than getting hung up on physical qualities. Treating the gym as somewhere to go to make you feel great is truly the best way forward, and any physical changes are just a pleasant side effect.

5. Don't sweat the details

Hands up who has ever missed a day or week at the gym and given up there and then, taking it as a sign of failure? I've certainly done this many a time. The truth is, though, that missing a week at the gym doesn't matter, it's how you decide to interpret it that does. Sticking to a strict routine isn't what will make you succeed in getting fit, it's the resilience to keep going even if things don't always go to plan. Yes, I occasionally miss a week in the gym - life happens. Sometimes you're just too busy, or you simply feel demotivated or under the weather. It doesn't matter! What matters is picking yourself up and going again. I have skipped plenty of workouts, yet their effect on my fitness is negligible. If, however, I'd used this as an excuse to give up completely, I'd be right back to square one. Alternatively, if some days you don't feel like going but want to try, just go for half an hour or so - what matters is that you went and you did something. We all have bad days, and teaching yourself that it's actually fine is incredibly liberating.

6. Find your niche

I HATE cardio. Always have done, always will do. At school, I hated PE. I was also shit at PE. This led me to believe that I hated exercise, which was far from the truth. Had I not sheepishly ventured into that weights section, there's no way I would have stuck at the gym. I just can't deal with the burning throat, the feeling sick before I'm even tired, and the dreaded jiggling that comes with cardio. It makes me feel unfit and downright crappy. Lifting weights and using resistance machines, however, makes me feel powerful - like I can conquer the world. Yes, it's hard work, but it's a different kind of hard work than cardio; a kind I really enjoy. Consequently, my routines contain minimal cardio, for no other reason than because I don't like it. It's all about finding something that makes you feel empowered and strong, rather than just sticking to what you know and hate.

7. Plan ahead

Having a super-strict routine doesn't work for everyone. What I like to do is plan when I'm getting my workouts in week by week, rather than having a set day for each thing without fail. I tend to get my diary out on a Sunday and figure out what I've got planned during the week, before deciding when to fit the gym in. This way, you can set time aside for the gym on the days which you don't have much planned for. Pre-planning is one of the best ways to ensure you don't miss a workout due to being too busy.


Friday, 13 October 2017

SAD: The mental illness nobody talks about

It's estimated that 1 in 15 people in the UK suffer from it[1], but how often do we hear about Seasonal Affective Disorder, also know as SAD? Until I was diagnosed with it myself, I admittedly knew very little about the illness. I'd spent a lot of my life thinking I just had to live with becoming a completely different person in Winter. Sure, I'd heard about the 'winter blues' but it never seemed to be portrayed as a serious issue. Finding out I had SAD was actually a huge relief; I think it's comforting being able to put a name to something that's kind of hard to put into words. I guess it's nice to know that what your experiencing isn't completely abnormal, and is totally valid and real. After many years of navigating this disorder, I've learnt a lot; from the facts and science behind it, to the best ways of managing it. I thought it would be nice to share some of my personal coping mechanisms. I think a lot of people probably suffer from the 'Winter Blues' on some level, so perhaps some of these strategies could be of help.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression which usually occurs between the months of September and April (although this varies from person to person), and is caused by the shorter daylight hours in Winter. Simply put, SAD is caused primarily by the brain producing too much Melatonin - a chemical which is produced in the dark, making us feel tired and ready to sleep. In theory, it's very useful, but too much can be problematic and lead to symptoms such as low mood, tiredness, difficulty concentrating, lowered immune system and sleeping problems. It can also cause a sudden lift in mood and bursts of hypo-mania (over-activity) in Spring[2]. Seen as it's around the time of year when SAD tends to set in, I reckon it's a perfect time to share a few little tricks that could help alleviate these symptoms.

1. Get outdoors

As I mentioned earlier, SAD is basically caused by the lack of daylight in the Winter months. Getting outside for a walk or something similar can help in two ways. Firstly, outside light from the sun is way more powerful than indoor lights, even on a murky day. Secondly, if going outside involves some exercise as well, endorphin levels will increase, boosting the feel good factor even more.

2. SAD lamp

Although getting outdoors more often should be beneficial, it may not always be enough. If this is the case, light therapy may be an option. Medically certified light therapy lamps produce artificial sunlight, and when used for 30 minutes early in the morning and 30 minutes at night (or whatever your GP advises) they can make a real difference. They essentially fool the brain into thinking the days are longer. It's about this time of year I start using my lamp, and in previous years I've found it really effective in reducing symptoms.

3. Schedule some me time

It's so important to set time aside every day to look after yourself, or to do something you enjoy. It could be as simple as having a long bath or reading a chapter of a book - anything that nurtures your soul. Looking after yourself is not selfish, it's a necessity.

4. Get moving

I can't stress enough the power of exercise when it comes to mental health care. I'm certainly not trying to suggest that exercise alone can 'cure' a mental illness, but I know from experience it can be a really useful tool. As I mentioned earlier, exercise increases endorphin levels, subsequently improving your mood - and the good news is you don't need tons of exercise to feel the benefits. If working out isn't really your thing, something as simple as a few short walks per week could well be enough to feel some improvements.

5. Take care of the little things

This might seem like a strange one, but I honestly find that the little things really add up and end up having such an impact on my state of mind. Especially if you're not feeling so good, small things like keeping your room tidy, looking after your skin or wearing an outfit you feel good in can make such a difference.

6. Make time for sleep

We've all heard it a million times, but there's so many reasons why. Sleep is great for pretty much every aspect of health, and mental health is no exception. Having battled with insomnia for a few years, I know this all too well and now value sleep enormously. A good snooze every night allows the body to repair itself, and the mind to process information (dreams are more productive than you may think!). Exactly how much sleep we need varies from person to person, but once you start paying more attention to your sleep routine, your body will soon tell you the answer to that.

7. Be gentle with yourself

If you do find things harder during the winter months, one of the best things you can do is to be gentle with yourself. Remember that it's not your fault you feel this way, make yourself a plan of action and simply do you best. This is all you can ever do and all anyone else can ask of you. Remember to put yourself first and prioritise your own needs, especially when things are tough.

8. Visit the GP

Lastly, but most importantly, if you suspect something may be wrong, go to your GP for advice. The tips I'm giving here are purely things I've learnt through my own experiences, and certainly won't apply to everyone. I'm not a professional, just someone sharing her own ideas and hoping they might be of help to someone else. Reaching out to someone qualified to provide the right sort of help is the best thing you can do. If going to a GP is too daunting to begin with, maybe start by speaking to a friend or family member, or contacting one of the helplines listed on the Mental Health helplines NHS page.

[1] Mental Health Foundation. (2017). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Mar. 2017].

[2] The Seasonal Affective Disorder Assosciation. 2016. Symptoms. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 9 March 2017].

Thursday, 28 September 2017

5 things my Dad taught me

I think it's safe to say the last month or so has been a difficult one. After my Dad died in August, adapting to such a huge change in life has been really weird and frankly, confusing. For me at least, it's more than anything been a period of reflection; I don't think you realise how much of an impact a person has on you until they're no longer around. It was this that made me start thinking about everything my Dad taught me; it's amazing how he shaped my life in so many incredible ways. Honestly, this list could be way longer, but here are just the top five wonderful lessons that my Dad taught me.

1) To never be afraid to stick up for myself.

Being a relatively shy person, speaking out and standing up for myself has never been easy. In fact, shy or otherwise, I think this is something a lot of us struggle with; the fear (or hassle) of confrontation easily pushes us towards settling for less than we deserve. Growing up, and seeing the way my Dad always boldly stood up for what he believed was right and fair, certainly taught me a thing or two about making sure I'm treated with respect.

2) That grades don't mean as much as attitude.

As a younger child, I was a perfectionist to say the least. From an early age, I was almost obsessed with doing well at school, and developed an unhealthy tendency to compare my achievements with those of others. My Dad always knew this insecurity of mine, and regularly reassured me that grades really meant very little in comparison to attitude and work ethic. He certainly practised what he preached in this respect. At a young age my Dad left school without sitting any exams, to work as a miner, as many boys in his local area did. However after a few years, he decided he wanted to become a police officer. Through sheer determination and hard graft, rather than amazing academic achievements at school, he did just that. The fact that my Dad managed to have such a successful career doing what he loved, despite not being 'academic', really shaped my perspectives; I'm now much gentler on myself when it comes to grades. Dad proved to me, and always reminded me, that academics are only a part of, rather than the definition of success.

3) That actions speak louder than words.

Anyone who knew my Dad will know that he wasn't the 'emotional type' as such. He would rarely directly say "I love you" or anything along those lines, but he had ways of making it clear without even having to say a word. It was little things like always being the 'soft touch' parent when my brother and I were young, or the way he would always say "watch what you're doing" whenever we left the house as we got older. In fact, even near the end of his illness, he would never fail to tell us to watch what we were doing and to text him when we got home, every time we left the hospital. It's so easy for someone to say that they love you, but the actions that accompany or even replace that are much more meaningful and telling.

4) To never speak down to anyone.

I always used to love listening to Dad's stories about his time as a police officer. What always spoke volumes to me was that in every tale he told there was always one common theme; he would never say a bad word about anyone. It was obvious that in his job, he'd never speak down to people. He didn't ever see himself as any 'better' than anyone else, and I know he was really respected for it. This was one of the biggest lessons of my life; it made me realise that nobody is any 'higher up' than anyone else, and that most importantly we're all just human beings with our own unique lives, stories and experiences.

5) To live life to the full and take nothing for granted.

As anyone who knew my Dad will know, he was very much a 'live in the moment' sort of person, and he would always say "I'm here for a good time, not a long time." It was a phrase that if I'm honest, I never truly understood the meaning of until he was gone. No matter what card life had dealt him, he was always 100% positive, even when things were really bleak. He dealt with things in an almost superhuman way, and his catchphrase was 'crack on' (often accompanied with a smile and wink), no matter how trivial, or how heavy, the issue he was dealing with was.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Autumn/Winter health goals

Ok so if I'm honest, this post is more about keeping me motivated rather than anything else! Firstly, let me get real here - over the past few months I have gained quite a hefty amount of weight. Don't get me wrong, I'm generally not bothered about weight. In fact, providing I'm feeling fit and healthy, I rarely bother to get the scales out at all. Unfortunately over the past few months, despite keeping my efforts up in the gym, a LOT of comfort food has been consumed! All in all I would say I've gained about a stone in the past few months. 

Firstly, I'm in no way beating myself up about this weight gain/slip in my habits. All that lovely comfort food was bloody amazing and well needed, and I don't regret a single bite. However, now I have a bit more time on my hands, it feels right to get my habits back into check. I'm realising now that I don't feel as healthy and energetic as I would like to. Although I'm feeling confident and accepting of my heavier body, I would like to lose a few pounds and get myself back into a healthier shape.

My ultimate goal is to lose 20lbs by Christmas, bringing me back to a healthier weight for my size. This works out at 1.5lbs per week. This is, I think, a doable and maintainable goal. I may tweak this and end up sticking at a slightly higher weight if I get to a point where I think 'yeah, this is right for me'. I say this because I have previously fallen into the trap of losing a lot of weight and ending up in a situation where I'm battling to stay there, which is no fun. I really do believe there always needs to be a balance between sensible food choices and having a GOOD TIME (aka eating what you want without guilt).

Personally, I don't like the word 'diet', and I don't like to go on diets, as they quite frankly make me miserable and worried about the way I look. Due to this, my plan is to slightly reduce my portion sizes, think more carefully about snacking and track what I'm eating on the app 'Lifesum', which I've used before and absolutely love! Exercise shouldn't be an issue as I've been going to the gym regularly for almost a year now, so I'm already in good habits where that's concerned. The only thing I'm doing differently in that respect is adding some cardio to my routines, (which I prefer to avoid like the plague but hey, needs must).

Does anyone else have any goals in mind for the Winter/Christmas period? The next step for me is figuring out some sort of plan for next year. New Year is 100% my favourite time of the year; I think having my birthday on January 1st gives me an extra dose of the 'fresh start' vibes.