Diet Going Well Then?

For the past week I have had a terrible bout of either food poisoning or gastroenteritis, and I’ve found myself eating (or mostly not eating) for survival rather than for any other reason. And I won’t lie, it really got me thinking…. (VERY dangerous I know).

Just over a year ago I was introduced to intuitive eating (or what I like to call… ‘eating’) and quite frankly it was life changing. Not because I’ve become a fabulous intuitive eater in that time but because it truly highlighted the flaws of the diet industry. And try as I may, I can’t help but look at all the diets available without a great deal of scepticism. But yet, up until now I’ve still kept going back.

And then I discovered this…

So in answer to your question? The diet’s going GREAT thanks (insert sarcastic emoji).

As I lay on the sofa clutching my stomach and trying to force feed myself starchy carbs, I had the epiphany that for the past year I have been eating what I think I ought eat, rather than what I have wanted to eat.

Which is why I’ve found myself eating 2 icecream sandwiches and a chocolate bar after dinner every single night for the past couple of weeks. Counterintuitive I know.

Scientifically speaking, diets DO work because they *should* put you in to some sort of calorie deficit which will result in some form of weight loss – however this weight loss could include water loss, muscle loss or fat loss.

But where it really goes wrong is our adherence to sticking to ‘the plan’. Personally speaking I think the maximum I’ve managed to ‘stick’ to a diet in the past 3 years is 4 days.

Despite educating myself on everything possible about nutrition, the subliminal messages coming through the internet has one again left me doubting what I know and I sit here having achieved absolutely nothing.

One day 1200 calories is too many, the next day it’s not enough. Another day you should maximise protein and the next you should maximise ‘healthy fats’. The following week you should cut carbs and the next you should up your carbs to 50% of your macros. Don’t forget to count your macros, but then that’s going to cause disordered eating so convert your calories/macros to points instead. You should really eat whole foods but they have too many calories so switch to chemical based 0 calorie foods. These won’t have points but then you shouldn’t count points anyway so just eat between 12-2 everyday and you’ll be grand. Oh but wait, that’s an eating disorder. But so is not eating at all. So eat what you want because obesity can be healthy too. But then obesity isn’t healthy so you should move more. Oh but you don’t need to move when you can lift weights even though weight lifting burns less calories. Oh but the extra muscle will burn more calories so it’s fine. But what about cardiovascular health? Oh that doesn’t matter.

And this is why I don’t belong in the health and fitness industry. When you truly delve into what it’s all about, it’s fundamentally the opposite to what it’s promoting. It’s more ‘unhealthy and unfit’.

Abs do not equal health.

The amount of weight you can lift/squat does not equal health.

Clean eating does not equal health.

Do we even know what we are trying to define when we refer to ‘health’. It doesn’t appear that way anymore.

In reality I will never be eternally ‘healthy’. Not only because I live with a chronic health condition but because we all have to die from something right? None of us will be ‘healthy’ forever.

The healthiest person I know is my husband who ate Yum Yums and icecream yesterday and weighs 153lb. He’s not needed to go to a doctor or a dentist in the 6.5 years we’ve been together.

We can of course make improvements to our lifestyles and optimise our health, but the fundamental problem is that a truly balanced lifestyle isn’t entertaining to watch and learn about. We are prioritising extremism (and subsequently entertainment) over our true health and well-being.

The Importance of Maintaining a Routine

I would predict that 99% of us have seen some shift in our routine recently… even if it’s because the ‘I’ll just pop to the shops’ now takes 2-3 hours.

It is likely that even the most ‘go with the flow’ people within our society have struggled. And I’d expect them to because a pandemic isn’t normal.

However for most people there has been a HUGE shift in routine… children are now at home, people are attempting to work from home whilst trying to educate their kids. People have either switched to home working or have been furloughed and even for those who it’s a case of ‘business as usual’, work is probably busier or quieter than normal. We have to wave goodbye to our key workers and hope that they’ll be okay.

Lack of food in the shops may result in a change from what we’d normally eat. If you were someone who ate out for most meals, you’ll find yourself either living off takeaway pizza or trying to facilitate a relationship with your kitchen.

Socially things are a mess. We can only see the people with whom we live with and it’s putting marriages through their paces. We have to explain to our children why they can’t see their friends.

None of this is normal and everyone’s resilience is being tested.

But by maintaining some kind of routine will help us maintain some kind of normality. If your mental health has been affected, it’s likely ‘what’s the point?’ thoughts may start to slip in. The odd day of ‘what’s the point?’ is fine. On Easter Sunday my husband was working so I stayed in my PJs and binge watched all 7 episodes of Tiger King on Netflix.

However ‘what’s the point?’ could begin to slip in on the daily and before you know it, you’ve no food in the house, all your clothes are needing to be washed, the dishes need doing and everything feels VERY overwhelming.

So here’s my top 10 tips on maintaining a routine:

1) Go to bed and wake up at a reasonable hour – even if you wake up and have nowhere to go. Keeping your sleep routine in good shape is essential for maintaining good physical and mental health.

2) Get washed – some of you may be judgemental on this one as it’s assumed it’s a normal habitual task. However, it’s very easy to slip in to ‘my hair can go another day without being washed’ or ‘my teeth don’t feel that bad’. Trust me, you’ll feel loads better if you make sure you keep your personal hygiene intact.

3) Eat regularly – even though I’m still working and I’m now exercising more than ever, my appetite is all over the place. My body is telling me it’s anxious even though I don’t mentally feel anxious and I assume it’s because I’m generally unsettled ALL THE TIME. Some days I’m eating more and others I’m eating less, but I’m trying to make sure that each meal has a source of protein, carbs and fats and trying to maintain some kind of appropriate relationship with the biscuit tin. Obviously don’t force yourself to eat, but try to stick to as normal an eating plan as possible that you know works for you.

4) Try to learn a new skill – there is a lot of promotion on learning a new skill but it may be you don’t have a burning desire to do anything which is totally okay. I went through a period of unemployment two years ago and I had no idea what to do with my time. I ended up starting to explore blogging and vlogging/watching YouTube and it’s something I’ve kept in my life ever since. It’s okay to sit in front of a blank piece of paper and get creative in even the slightest of things that pique your interest.

5) Talking – just because we can’t see our loved ones like we used to doesn’t mean we can’t speak to them. There are loads of ways to contact and it doesn’t have to be on Zoom. Telephone calls, Facebook messenger, WhatsApp, text messages… if you speak to someone anyway, it doesn’t have to change just because we’re in lockdown. I’m all for Zoom, but I feel like there is a bit of a stigma developing if you don’t use it…

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

6) Exercise – now don’t worry, I’m not about to get all #fitspo on you. But the sun has been shining in the UK and I would encourage you to go for a walk/run/cycle or HIIT (indoor/outdoor) some/most days of the week. Don’t feel like you have to go out every day, but I think we’re all needing some Vitamin D (well that’s a fact) and some endorphins from exercising. For many of us, we are no longer going about our ‘usual movements’ e.g walking from the car to our office building, walking to the shops for our lunch and these movements add up. I know if I don’t do anything else in a day, I’m currently looking at doing 400-500 steps a DAY.

On the flip side to that, don’t spend ALL your time exercising. It’s essential your body has time to relax, especially if you’re stressed. Even though you may experience a rush of endorphins from exercise, doesn’t mean that using muscles are still experiencing a stress from physical use/overuse.

7) Reduce screen time – as we all know by now, screen time (and blue light) can affect sleep quality. But, it’s also important we do other things in addition to watching YouTube, Netflix or working. Even if it’s just staring out your window, doing some mindfulness or chatting to your partner, give your eyes a rest.

8) Do one domestic activity a day – I know. You thought you’d escaped someone telling you to clean your room. I’m sorry. But even if it’s cleaning the dishes, vacuuming, doing one load of laundry… try to keep on top of your domestic duties otherwise they can quickly build up. It’s also more calming to live in a aesthetically calm environment (or at least in the environment you’re used to).

9) Take your medication – this applies for everyone who takes regular medication obviously. Now is not the time to be experimental in whether you actually ‘need’ to take your medication or not. Taking medication is actually quite routine based for us and adds an additional sense of normality. Disclaimer: Ensure you always speak to your doctor about any medications you are taking.

10) Be kind to yourself – A phrase that is often said but what does that look like? The concept of self-care is often misused on social media. It’s not all facemasks and bubble baths. Maintaining a routine can be considered self-care. It’s okay to feel like this is a complete mess. It’s okay to feel whatever emotions you are feeling. If it feels like it is becoming too much, you can contact your GP, or charities such as Mind, the Samaritans or even a friend or family member. Let’s be kind to each other and to ourselves and remember we are all in this together.

How To Get A Good Night’s Sleep

Now I am someone who’s sleep can range from one extreme to the other but I’ve recently noticed that the quality of my sleep is improving and I’m sleeping for longer.

I thought it might be useful to share a few of these tips, especially as we head into spring / summer with lighter nights and mornings and with all the other pandemic stress that is going on at the moment!

1) Black out blinds/curtains – these are an absolute must if you want to sleep before sunset or after sunrise. I truly don’t know where I’d be without thick curtains and blackout blinds. If you can’t afford blackout blinds or you live in rented accommodation and are not allowed to touch such things, you can always opt for an eye mask!

2) Reduce screen time – yes you’ve heard it before but blue light really can affect the quality of your sleep (just ask my Fitbit!) Putting your phone down 2 hours before sleep is ideal, but at the very least – 30 minutes.

As tempting as it is to look at Instagram or TikTok just before bed, you won’t be thanking the apps when you’re still awake at 3AM.

3) Talking – I don’t know about you but the most insignificant problems are the ones that wake me up at 4.39AM (to be precise) and in a sleep deprived confused state, they become the greatest problems of all time. Sharing your feelings with a loved one/friend/random person/professional during the day/evening can be enough to rationalise the thoughts in your head before you say goodnight to the world and ensure you have a much better nights sleep.

4) Avoid caffeine – another obvious one but if you’re craving a tea or coffee in the evening, there is always the Decaf option. As a dedicated decaf coffee drinker myself I promise there are good coffees on the market that barely taste any different (sorry tea drinkers I can’t help you – I really hate tea!)

5) Stimulate your mind and body throughout the day – this sounds a bit weird but (and especially whilst we might be temporarily not working/lockdown), ensure you are using your brain and body throughout the day. Use the 60 minute allocated slot to go for a walk/run/cycle/yoga, start reading books or commit to a new hobby. Not only are you getting the blood pumping but you won’t lie awake at night thinking ‘I really should have done that today’.

Trying to achieve this pose will keep you busy!

Now go put down your phone, run yourself a bath and have a good nights sleep!

I Gave Up Drinking Alcohol

In three weeks time I will have been sober for 11 years. That time has FLOWN by.

Binge drinking was hitting its peak when I went to university and although I wouldn’t say I was dependent on it, there was a certain euphoria that came from letting all your insecurities go and strutting your stuff on the dancefloor. At my worst, I was going out to the clubs four nights a week and binge drinking on every single one of them.

My sudden ‘change in lifestyle’ resulted in the start of my journey with epilepsy in 2006 when the doctor explained to me that it was probably the undue stress from poor eating habits, poor sleep and binge drinking that triggered the seizures.

I continued to drink and eat badly throughout my time at university. I refused to have a ‘different’ experience to my peers and often paid the consequences. However, as I approached my graduation and getting a job became a reality, I took my last sip of alcohol on my 22nd birthday.

For the first few years it was hard. As I mentioned, I wasn’t reliant on alcohol and didn’t experience withdrawal, but the social stigma put me through my paces.

These were the days before mocktails became mainstream so it was always pretty obvious when you weren’t drinking. I started to notice that people stopped inviting me out, friendships were lost and I became the ‘boring’ friend.

Being the stubborn person I was, I persevered. Generally I am quite sociable and so I became the friend who wanted to live vicariously through her friends. I was forced to let my insecurities go whilst being sober in order to be invited ‘out’.

I’ve had conversations with ‘unique individuals’ that asked me if I’d die if I had a shot of vodka. I’ve been told by a bartender in Soho that I was in the wrong place if I wasn’t going to drink. Even a date cancelled when he found out I’d be sober on it and that ‘there was no point going to a pub’.

It definitely can show peoples true colours.

Of course we live in a slightly more health conscious society now. It’s much more common for people not to drink and there are certainly more options in pubs and bars for the non-drinker.

There are also a million more benefits to not drinking:

Liver health – my liver is very thankful for me no longer putting it through its paces.

Financially – I begrudge (and refuse) to pay £1.50 for a bottle of Pepsi Max, so I can’t even imagine paying £4-£5 for a bottle of wine (is that even the going rate for a cheap bottle?!) I remember nights out sometimes costing me £50-£60 (this was 10-15 years ago) which I can’t even imagine spending now! I save on taxi fairs because I have the freedom to drive when going out and can drive home when I want to. People also buy my drinks when going out and expect nothing in return (I have offered don’t fear!) People who are under the influence often think a soft drink costs 2p, not £2 and will happily buy your drinks. There have been nights out where I haven’t spent a penny.

Weight – Your waistline will thank you – the drunken munchies are a much less likely occurrence. If I’ve had a good old boogie then I may be slightly peckish but the portion size is much smaller. There’s also no need to spend on food the next day for the ‘hangover cure’. And of course, alcohol has calories in it too.

Mental health – I don’t know about you but I could go from being one of the most popular people in the room to being convinced everyone hated me in about 10 seconds flat. I was an absolute liability some nights and I’d like to apologise to all my friends!

Some of my friends have stated that they can be quite depressed for a few days after a night on the booze. Alcohol is a known depressant so it makes sense as to why you feel down in the dumps.

Sleep – a night wining (and sometimes dining) would not only result in a late night but also a very early start as I was never one to be able to sleep through a hangover. Even now a night out always results in a slightly shoddy sleep but at least I’m not fighting the side effects of alcohol.

I won’t sit here and say you should give up alcohol. As long as you don’t make the mistakes I made and drink responsibly then I think it’s okay to relax with a glass of wine every now and again. But if you’re weighing up whether you should quit (or just reduce), hopefully here’s some reasons as to why it’s worth a try!