Everything is good

January is the worst month of the year, I’m sure most of us we’ll agree. Conversely, however, I’m starting the year feeling pretty good.

To be honest, I shouldn’t really be in such a great mood. My leg is still feeling a tad niggly and my runs aren’t going as smoothly as they should this close to the marathon (sorry this is such a boring repetition right now). There’s no pain or horrendous discomfort, but I know in myself it’s not perfect and running twice in a row or pushing out the mileage or number of times I run in the week would definitely be risky. Not only this but my longest run for a fair few weeks (months!) is six miles. Seven weeks out to a marathon this is not ideal.

That said, I’m a glass half-full kind of girl (which is one of the reasons I have so many adult fails as I just presume things are going to work out and neglect to double check or consider contingency plans). I’ve got a general fitness, I’ve run seven marathons before, I have seven hours to complete it… I mean, it could go terribly let’s be honest. My leg could really start to bother me and walking could even eventually be an issue. I might DNF my first marathon. I might be in the middle of a foreign country I’ve never been to, knowing no one, half-way through a marathon I can’t complete, in tears. I mean, that’s the worst case scenario and if it happens it happens. The silver lining is that it’ll make for a great blog post 😉 In a very schadenfreuden way, failures and mishaps are sometimes a more interesting read than someone who succeeds. Obviously I don’t want to fail. More than anything, it’s a bloody expensive failure. And also, having a marathon meltdown isn’t that fun when it’s actually happening to you.

Foam rolling like a trooper

Marathons aside, mentally and physically I’m in a fantastic place.  I feel strong and healthy. Though I’m not running regularly, at the gym I’m lifting heavier weights and feeling strong. I’m still maintaining a level of fitness through running two-three times a week as well as some of my own spinning sessions and steady-state elliptical machine.Long-term readers may remember some frustrations I had a year or so ago about my body basically failing me in certain ways. Things have changed, for the better! I’ve put on about three pounds over the year – which I know isn’t massive and is probably a mix of muscle and fat. I mean, my weight probably varies a few pounds either way but long-term I’ve remained at the same consistent weight. It seems be a nice happy point for me and it’s clearly helped bump me in the right direction to feel and be in optimal health. I feel happier where I am at the moment and really like how I look and what my body can do. My main intention is obviously not lose any weight when my running increases but I’ve got a pretty good handle on this.

Key things that I’ve found that helped get me here:

  • Eating good food and lots of it. I tend to be fairly healthy during the week and then relax at the weekend. If I want cake, I’ll eat it. If I want a takeaway, I’ll have it. I don’t restrict anything but I am conscious of what I’m eating in general. I eat lots of good fats, complex carbs and protein. I’d say my diet is probably more protein and fat heavy though than carb-based. And I’ll tend to time my carbs around when I’m running to get the max benefit. But I do eat a lot, as I’m sure you’ve seen by now! I’m a three course kinda girl 😉 Essentially, I don’t worry about what I eat as throughout the week it all balances nicely.
  • Sleeping enough. I get up ridiculously early in the morning to go to the gym (3-4 times a week, lifting weights). I try not to stay up past 10pm and I find that works for me.
  • Minimising stress. In general my life is not that stressful. I enjoy my job, though my commute sucks at times. I’ve just come to accept some days are good and some days are bad – learn to control the controllables and don’t worry about things are out of your control. I have a great network of friends and family so when life does get hard I’m fully supported. I know I’m very lucky and blessed in this respect.
  • Being sensible with running. Running is a stressor and clearly my body is sensitive. So not training for a marathon all year round will help. After the spring I will be spending the summer and winter just enjoying running and entering races I fancy, but not a marathon. The training for a marathon is a fairly long and arduous process, one that my body might appreciate not doing all the time. I will be running marathons in the future, obviously, but it’s no longer as big a priority as it used to be.

So yeah. I’m feeling pretty happy right now. Mentally over the past year I’ve become a lot more happy in myself and confident. It’s nice that that’s also being reflected to how I feel and how my body functions.

What are important things for you in terms of reaching optimal health?

How much sleep do you get?

How is January for you?

Proud of my muscles

When I look at photos of me from just a few years ago, when I was first getting into running and racing, I can’t believe how much I’ve changed.

Mentally I’ve changed in a big way. I view running and exercise completely differently. I no longer just run. Several injuries have taught me my body is not the hardy type and I need to work on my weaknesses regularly to keep me running healthy and strong. But not just that, I found a great love of lifting weights. I no longer feel that running is my one and only (though if I had to choose, it would always be running. I am a runner first and foremost).img_6036For the past few weeks I’ve just been going to the gym and lifting and it’s been a great break from running. Though I’m itching to get back to it now, I haven’t been going out of my mind because “omg I haven’t been running”. I’m happy to take a break and refresh my system to get the mojo juices flowing again (nice). This is is different to the old me!

I thought I’d share this comparison pic I created because it kind of blew me away. The photo on the left is from around three years ago. I look like an entirely different person. I feel like an entirely different person.Transformation photoThe lack of self-confidence is obvious but also lack of muscle. This is why I love lifting. It’s given me a body I’m proud of. I’ve never hated my body or thought I looked bad, but seeing my body now in comparison to how it was has just validated my love for the gym. I feel better in myself and think I look better after gaining some muscle to my frame. And with that I’ve also gained confidence.Girls with muscleI stride into the gym knowing exactly what I’m going to do that morning. I feel confident going into the weights area, setting up the squat rack and doing my thing. And this has trickled into my life in general. At work I’m more confident, I stand taller, and with running I run stronger and feel like I can kick out that 7min/min at mile 26 of a marathon.img_6051There is also something so satisfying and fun about lifting weights. You can focus on so many different areas. Becoming a stronger runner with form drills and increasing my strength endurance, or focusing on aesthetic goals such as sculpting my shoulders and getting a perkier bum. Or just generally increasing my overall strength – can I smash my personal best when squatting or deadlifting? There’s so much you can do. I’m never bored at the gym.

I’m not saying everyone must lift, and everyone must have muscles. Absolutely not. What I think is important is finding that thing that you love and enjoy. Exercise shouldn’t always be a grind and it certainly shouldn’t be a punishment.

lucysewellIt has to be something that, first and foremost, is enjoyable. If it’s not you won’t stick to it.

It also has to make you feel GOOD. Both running and weight lifting make me feel fantastic. Realistically not every gym session or run is a “punch in the air” scenario, but overwhelming most of the time I enjoy it and look forward to doing it again. So choose something that makes you happy, whether it’s weight lifting, cross-fitting, running, swimming or walking, it’s all good stuff. And most importantly, don’t compare yourself to anyone else out there! No exercise is superior to another and everyone is in a chapter of their own story after all.

What is your favourite exercise?

Do you compare yourself to others?

How has exercise changed you?

Quick fixes don’t exist

Like everyone else in the world, I want quick results and less hard work. I want to go to one interval session with my running club then smash a personal best at my next race. I want to eat a bowl full of salad and kale that immediately cancels out the cake I ate the night before. I want to do a few crunches at the gym one time and have killer abs. Forever.

Yeah. Doesn’t quite work like that, does it? Sadly not. And there is no time like the start of the year than hearing BS claims about “lose 7lbs in 7 days” or “get your bikini body in two weeks!”. It’s almost comical how these things suddenly spark up almost as the new year is chimed in. BOOM. Every news paper, every magazine, every advert, every gym… It’s all about that January fix and New Year’s Resolutions.

And the latest diet craze that sprung up out of seemingly nowhere is this “sirt food diet”. Er, what? Sirt, or sirtuins, are a type of proteins in the body that help regulate biological pathways that basically stop our fat cells from multiplying (more fat cells = the more fat we can become). So more foods containing sirtuins apparently means less risks of getting fat. This is a very loose explanation. I won’t get into the science of it because, let’s be honest here, it’s a load of rubbish anyway and the science premise of the diet itself is shaky. Oh and hey, there’s a book so you can go and waste your money on buy and read and be thoroughly unimpressed. The science is based on mice and fruit flies. Enough said.

Ranting aside, Women’s Health actually have a great article outlining this so-called diet revolution. And for once, it actually puts some sense into it.

February addition of Women’s Health

For example, they highlight that one of the ‘sirtfoods’ is red wine and you’d have to drink around 40 litres to get any sort of benefit. And surely then you’d kind of be dead… Unlike say the Daily Mail, Women’s Health doesn’t just present an entirely one-sided article promoting a ridiculous food plan. They give a good insight into how little we actually know about these flimsy claims. And they note how ridiculous such a reductionist approach to eating would be. The final advice was, just stick to eating healthy and exercising. No nonsense there.

What I also like is that WH also talk about good food to include in your diet which have actual science behind them, such as turmeric (a runner’s best friend for anti-inflammatory properties). I like this: science-based no-nonsense advice and for once not another diet to try and lose those “stubborn pounds”. Plus, not everyone reading Women’s Health wants to lose weight so having foods described in terms of beneficial properties other than just fat-burners is always welcomed.

In a nutshell the takeaway message is: you can’t just eat a ton of kale and drink a load of red wine and think that you’re going to wake up the next day two sizes smaller and feel amazing. Unfortunately life is far more complicated and your body is far more complex (it’s smarter than some dumb new crazy diet as well).

Don’t get me wrong, it is tempting to believe the claims that you can lose weight quickly and shape up in an instant but it’s just marketing rubbish. A big load of money is in this industry and it’s sole purpose is to convince people of their quick, easy routes to body perfection. But health is a lifestyle change and takes weeks and months, even years to achieve. And health isn’t solely measured by weight anyway. Any crazy diet to quickly lose weight is just going to cause more harm than good and be unsustainable. So, my advice would be eat your kale and have your cake too (but in moderation).

**Full Disclaimer: My subscription to Women’s Health was provided for free by magazine.co.uk as part of being in their blogger network**

Don’t be afraid to make a change

Nothing brings you back to reality than Monday traffic and your first day back at work or school. The holidays are done and dusted.

I’m actually OK with going back to work. The cynical among you might think that’s because in less than three weeks until I’m off to Florida and then Dallas with Ben. You would be right. But remember, I then have a long year ahead of me!

Just before Christmas, when very few people were working, I experimented with my desk at work by putting an Amazon box underneath my laptop to give me a standing desk. When I work from home this is standard practice for me. Sitting down all day long is not healthy, even if you’re active (here’s a depressing read on The Guardian if you want to read more).

DIY standing deskI wear a Vivofit to monitor my steps and always ensure I’m over 10,000 a day – usually 12,000 is my average. I give Alfie a 30-40 minute walk in the morning sacrificing a bit of sleep time for some peaceful morning walking listening to a podcast or just music. It’s very refreshing and gets me ready for the day, not to mention by the time I get to work I’m on 5,000 steps already. I try to walk a lot during work (lots of drinks and subsequent loo visits help with that) and make sure I go for a 20 minute walk at lunch time. But I still sit from 8am commuting an hour, then 9am until 5pm working, then another hour commute home. Then watching TV or chilling on the sofa at home. That’s over 10 hours of sitting every week day. You can’t deny how unhealthy that sounds.

IMG_8902So I made a change. I made myself a standing desk in the office. There were few people in the office at the time and it was only one day before we went off for Christmas. But I vowed to myself to continue when I got back. On Monday the office was full, I set myself up and started work. I won’t lie, I felt extremely embarrassed stood there with my make-shift desk with everyone else sat down around me. People obviously started to notice. When they asked me what I was doing I explained my reasoning. And you know what? They got it. OK they’re not all creating their own standing desks but they understand why I want to do it and no one thought I was stupid or laughed at me (actually they know what I’m like so it probably came as no surprise).

I now stand at my desk from 9am until lunch when I go out for a walk, then I sit down for an hour to eat (which is so lovely by the way – it’s nice to appreciate being sat down!) and then stand again until 5pm. Originally I was aiming for 4pm but it’s actually not too tough. I take little ‘breathing’ breaks every now and again where I sit down, have a look at my phone then stand up again. The hardest part is not letting myself slouch when I stand.

The benefits? I feel more alert at work. More focused. My posture is so much better. My legs feel loose rather than stiff. In fact my whole body feels better. I enjoy my commute more 😉

My point is, my health is number one priority to me. Work takes up a very large part of my life and I’m conscious that just because I’m at work it doesn’t mean I can’t also look after my health too. Who knows if this is why I’m always injured? This is something I’m doing for me regardless of what people might think. I’m lucky my work is quite casual in this respect as I can understand in certain offices this might not be allowed. But as I can, why shouldn’t I?

Have you ever made a change to your life for health reasons? OK this isn’t a huge change in the great scheme of things but it does improve my health in the long term!

Do you sit a lot during the day? At the weekend I’m always on my feet but in the week it’s so different (or at least it used to be).

Am I healthy?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself recently.

I like to think I’m fairly healthy. I do lots of cardio-busting exercise running 4-5 times a week. I do some strength work to try and smooth out biomechanical imbalances. I always hit my ‘5 a day’ fruit count (no, not just with apples ;))Healthy foodI eat stupid amounts of vegetables. We’ve swapped to organic or free range meat and I try and buy organic vegetables and fruit where it ‘matters’. I’m at a healthy weight, everything functioning like it should (or I hope at least!)…no major spot break-outs or lack lustre hair. Perfect, right?

Hmmm. There is something that I never really mention on the blog. Most people would probably say it’s not a big deal. But I’ve started to wonder about my consumption of artificial sweeteners.

It’s no secret of my love for sweet stuff. I could eat cake every single day if I let myself. I don’t because I want to be healthy. I’ve often had comments from people like “where do you put it?” or “I wish I could eat like that and remain so slim”. Well my secret is I don’t eat it every single day. Obviously it appears on my blog a lot because I love cake and it’s a whole lot more interesting than “here’s another apple…”. But if I’ve eaten a lot of cake or chocolate one day I’ll balance it the next day or the next meal. I do love healthy food and eating salad for a meal is my kind of thing.

However, like I said I love sweet things but I can’t eat calorific sweet things all day long. So I’ve found ways around this. And now I’m starting to wonder if my ‘work arounds’ aren’t much better.

‘Sugar-free’, ‘no added sugar’…these are words I’ll look for. I’m not interested in ‘fat free’ or ‘low fat’. It’s all about reducing the sugar for me. However I’m not all about reducing the sweet taste. And here lies my issue.

Am I consuming too many sweeteners every day? What are the risks with eating too many sweeteners? What is this doing to my health in the long-term?

To put this into perspective this is what I consume every single day:

  • No Added Sugar Squash

SquashI drink squash by the bucket load. At work I have a 500ml glass and I probably drink at least three of these with squash every single day at work. Sometimes more. It’s very rare that I’m actually thirsty. I drink squash because I get bored at work and it stops me from mindless snacking…so instead I’m mindlessly drinking. I’m also constantly going to the loo. Good for getting my daily steps!Squash I have to buy a 1.5 litre double concentrate squash every week for work. Less than 10 calories per 250ml? Perfect! Let’s ignore that long list of chemical-sounding ingredients shall we? Hmm.

  • Low Calorie Mint Hot Chocolate

I will have a large mug of this every night.

Options Hot ChocolateI take this hot chocolate with me if I go on holiday, to friend’s, I took it with me to Endure and when I stay with relative’s. It’s the last thing I have at night and I love it. Alfie loves it too, he gets to lick the mug afterwards (shh, this isn’t disgusting at all. You’re wrong). Also probably the one reason I have to get up every single night to pee. But less than 40 calories for a mug! It tastes delicious. I can’t even touch Starbucks hot chocolate in comparison to this chemically formulated brand. I’m well and truly hooked. But again, those ingredients look so dubious. Sure once in a while it’s fine…but every single night?

  • Low Calorie Jelly

Like my hot chocolate, I’ll have a pot of sugar free jelly every evening. We used to buy the ready-made pots but it would cost us a fortune the rate I was getting through them (like 70p per pot). Now we buy the sachets that make four pots a time (we kept the old pots and make the jelly in them) for the same price. I actually found out my lovely running friend does this too!Low calorie jellySorry for appalling photo which you probably can’t read! 

She probably doesn’t have one every single day though…and on bad days I might have two (‘bad’ days like “I fancy chocolate but I ate cake earlier so maybe I’ll have another jelly instead”).

  • Sugar free chewing gum

A bit like my squash obsession, I’ll chew a lot of chewing gum at work. Mint gum after my morning coffee, maybe a fruit-flavoured one before lunch, one after lunch, one after my other coffee, one because I’m bored…I get through a lot. I’ve heard horror stories about what it does to your insides. I don’t even want to know.

I reach for these sugar-free alternatives to keep myself in check and not over-do the sugar-rich things I love. But is this any better? Recent research has shown that diet drinks actually don’t work as the body is tricked into thinking that calories are going to be arriving and they never do – so you crave more sweet things. And what’s the story on sweeteners and whether they’re bad for our body or not? Do we really know in terms of long-term consequences? Do I want to know?

I want to cut down or cut out completely…but the sad fact is I know I can’t give up my hot chocolate. I love it too much. And my one jelly…that can’t be that bad can it? But I can reduce my squash intake. Yesterday I’m proud to say I drank one 250ml of squash (to keep me sane…) and the rest was plain water or this:

IMG_7201 Water with lemon slices. Boring as hell I assure you and doesn’t quite hit the spot, but it’s a change I’m willing to make.

Small steps right?

Do you think you’re healthy?

What is the one thing you do that you know is not healthy?

What do you think of artificial sweeteners?