“Self-care” – 4. & 5. On sweat, my favourite yoga videos, and eating less pizza

Here’s the third post in my “self-care” series, after I wrote last week that although the term “self-care” wasn’t in my childhood or teenage vocabulary, it’s become something I’ve learned is crucial, from listening to wonderful podcasts and reading great blogs on “lifestyle design”, mental health issues, and figuring out how to live and breathe in today’s changing and demanding world.

For the next week or so, I’m going to share some of the best things I do to give myself a little space, even when I’m so busy or anxious I feel like I barely have time to pause. Today, food and exercise (SIGH).

  1. Reducing carb and sugar intake, aka, limiting my Franco Manca visits
food-salad-healthy-lunch

(Credit: Pexels.com)

There are more arguments around this than people on the planet, but basically, through trial and error and diets and periods of eating rubbish I’ve found that I feel better and healthier if I generally avoid carbs with my food about 90% of the time. Everyone has to do what works for them.

I’m still fatter than I want to be and I still have a serious sweet tooth (and bread tooth, and cheese and gin) but even leaving behind all the crap about Atkins and paleo and cutting out food groups and ascribing morality to certain foods – top tip, don’t do it – I know that I feel better if I don’t eat pasta, bread, potatoes or rice, or any of their friends.

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The 8 stages of getting yourself out of bed for a morning workout

It’s been over a year since I started working out 5 to 7 days a week.

As a total night owl who rarely feels human until about 10am or later, I started my routine by doing my workouts in the evening, knowing that if I tried to do them in the morning, they’d never get done. For me, establishing a daily workout habit was tough enough – contemplating doing it in the morning before work seemed like a nightmare too far.

It worked for a bit. I did my workout even if I’d been out for dinner, or if I got home a little late. It was tough, but do-able.

But then, life started to get in the way. I’d go out to meet a friend for dinner and not get back until far too late, I joined a choir with evening rehearsals, I moved flats and it started to look a little anti-social to work out at half ten at night.

And suddenly, the workouts stopped getting done. I felt lethargic, fat, dissatisfied, and unhappy that I couldn’t seem to maintain my new habit.

Suddenly, morning workouts seemed the only way: get it done before anything else, and still have a life in the evenings. Sorted! Ahem, well, yes, but…

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Pasties, folk, dogs, and rain: What I learned in Cornwall

In honour of my friend Jenny, who is from Durham and Devon, who I first met years ago at Cambridge, and who has randomly but rather happily ended up living in Cornwall, and who gave me an exceptionally cosy and beautiful place to stay this weekend. 🙂

1. Dogs are awesome. Guys, meet Jimbo

Jimbo!

Jimbo (and sneaky decorative cello)!

OK, so I already knew this. But when you’ve played, walked, fussed over – and shared your bed with (HAPPY FACE) ‒ a straggly, lazy, docile dog, who is there every day, needs attention every day, runs, plays, sleeps, sighs and watches your every move, you can’t stay too depressed.

Even if it’s raining and horrible, you will leave the house with this dog, because seeing his excitement when he hears the word “walk” is worth any amount of rainfall. You will love bed even more than normal (rather than seeing it as a dark place in which to hide from the world) because there is a dog on the duvet, warming it up, waiting for you to get in so he can snuggle (albeit disinterestedly, and only if you’re warmer than the sofa, but still).

Jimbo is a fabulous, wonderful, cute, quiet, non-smelly, clean, happy and watchful Greyhound-Lurcher cross. With the hair of Bob Dylan in his wilder years, he has neither the looks nor the intelligence of say, a golden Labrador, but he makes up for this a million times’ over for his genuinely patient temper, total house-friendliness, ability to entertain himself for a few hours while you’re out of the house, and complete and utter gorgeous ridiculousness.

Playing with Jimbo :)

Playing with Jimbo by the sea, casual 🙂

He can’t eat a snack without taking it to his rug across the room. His neck is seemingly double-jointed, resulting in hilarious angles. He takes rain in his stride but secretly longs for his favourite, quilted coat. He only barks and jumps up when the word “walk” is mentioned, he sleeps like a human, and has eyes for which the description “puppy-dog” was invented.

Although I adore Jimbo, I also hate him, because he proved to me even more than I already knew just how much I’d love to have a dog, and highlighted how much that isn’t possible for me right now. One day, one day…

2. A folk night will make you throw out your fake nails. Yes, really

You can’t sit for too long in a cosy pub behind a door made from an actual barrel, among a group of random but ridiculously talented people playing folk songs and sea shanties, without thinking that maybe, your excuse that you “can’t really play a D chord on the guitar” because of the length of your false nails, might be a tad dumb.

I’ve been trying to learn the guitar – intermittently ‒ for months, and always get frustrated because I struggle with holding the strings down enough to get a clear sound.

Although I’m told this is a normal complaint for beginners, it doesn’t help that for over seven years, I’ve perennially had little bits of plastic stuck to my nails, in the pursuit of beautiful talons where otherwise I have unappealing stubs, ruined by years of biting and false nail glue.

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Look! Accordions! And guitars! And mini pasties!


In that pub – The Famous Barrel in Penryn ‒ where the men and women were unashamedly, ridiculously talented, able to join in to a song together (on the pipe, guitar, mandola, and even accordion) at a moment’s notice, I realised that my desire to learn guitar was stronger than my desire to have perfect nails. I KNOW. Finally.

Even though it’s making me genuinely anxious, today starts Operation Grow My Nails, to the point where they’re long enough to be acceptable in public, and short enough so I can hold down four strings at a time. Let’s see how long I last.

3. You can unlearn months of healthy eating habits within days

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Espressini’s finest (click to go to Espressini’s website) 🙂

I have lost over half a stone in a month and a half (a good amount, given my track record).

I have counted calories, kept a journal, exercised nearly every day, learned about nutrition, which brand of coffee place I can grab a healthy lunch in, where does good low-calorie snacks, and which drinks to have without screwing up my diet. I have restricted my carbs, fat and sugar intake, and learned how to eat this way without feeling horribly unsatisfied.

And yet. In the space of three days in Cornwall, I ate a packet of cookies, a packet of chocolate buttons, a whole pizza with chorizo on it, a big salad covered in dressing, a massive steak pasty with potatoes in it, two roast potatoes in a pub, a massive box of fish, chips and a battered sausage, a bagel with full-fat cream cheese and salmon, two milky cappuccinos, a hot chocolate, a bowl of Shreddies, one cocktail, and more than a few gin and full-fat tonics.

These are all things I generally never eat or drink. And I didn’t even feel that full, or bad for it.

SO. Today, I’ve gone back on the usual diet, because, between you and me, I’m a bit scared of what I’d eat next if I didn’t. Just goes to show, the carb monster in me isn’t dead. It’s only sleeping…

(Meanwhile – let me just reassure you, in case you didn’t know: proper Cornish pasties are EXCELLENT.)

4. London rain has nothing on Cornwall, jeez

It isn't raining here. This was rare :P

It isn’t raining here. This was rare 😛

Of course, it rains in London. A lot compared to some places. But wow. Here, it rains for maybe half an hour, an hour, and then stops. It can stay grey and miserable, and shower on and off, but generally perks up in between. Not so in Cornwall.

One day, it rained for literally hours and hours on end. One day, it was so rainy – and, down the windtunnel-like streets, so gusty ‒ that I actually gave up on the umbrella, and decided to resort to the coat hood, surrendering with stoic acceptance to whatever fate befell such a decision.

In fact, even though I felt damp for days, I saw hardly any umbrellas in Cornwall – everyone’s got sensible coats with hoods and waterproof bits. Clearly, umbrellas are for pansy Londoners. Having said that, it is pissing it down here at the moment, so maybe I’m just in denial. (Update, 10 minutes’ later: it’s now quite sunny here. So nuh.)

5. I don’t mind people – but I do mind when they’re taking up all the space

The Stable - one of my favourite non-London restaurant groups, and one of the places we ate at

The Stable – one of my favourite non-London restaurant groups, and one of the places we ate at (photo from The Stable website)

The most obvious contrast in Falmouth was that going out was SO MUCH LESS EFFORT.

I am not someone who normally complains about crowds in London (like, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen – or you, know, out of my way), but in Falmouth, we went to the pub; restaurants; out for dinner; into shops; cafes – and not once did we have to book ahead, struggle to get a table, worry if there would be space and if we should check out somewhere less good as backup.

We never had to queue, wait, hover around a door, yell over the noise, decide on somewhere and then un-decide ten minutes later when it’s clear we’ll be lucky to even get a hello out of a waiter, let alone a seat.

When we wanted a taxi, there was one, and it cost less than a tenner. None of this bartering, trying different companies, being charged extra because you wanted a cab at the same time as everyone else. It was, in many ways, bliss.

And yet, although it was amazing, it also felt strangely weird. A little like being in a pub on a Tuesday afternoon. A little reckless, a little eerie. Although it was so much easier, it was also so much emptier. The Londoner in me distrusts places without crowds; the lazy git in me adores the calm, the seating, and the space. I can’t decide which I prefer.

[Photo by Luke Gattuso/DogWelder on Flickr.com]

Admittedly, it also made me feel a bit sad about London. This city sometimes feels like the world’s best Christmas tree sat behind thick glass; you can see it, it has presents and lights and wonders and discoveries galore, but you can’t access any of it, because you’ll have to smash something in the process – namely your time, money, elbow space, and, most probably, entire vats’ worth of patience.

I don’t think I’ll ever feel that shutting an entire high-street at 5.30pm is acceptable, though.

Some of us have office jobs, and also like to walk through the street at 6pm without feeling like a character in a murder mystery novel. Long live shops being open till 10pm!

6. My desire to get my own place mainly boils down to having colourful bits of crockery and French-inspired posters on the walls

I have very little desire to get a mortgage – it sounds boring, scary, too-adult, the financial equivalent of straitjacketing myself, and what’s more, bloody expensive (plus, as a single person living in London, I may as well try to launch myself into space, for how attainable it is).

I do, however, desperately want my own space and place, simply so that I can fill it with beautiful things like colourful coffee cups, vintage travel and advertising posters, gorgeous textures, paintings, and fabrics. (The other reason is this place.)

Jenny taught me that happiness lies this way at University, when her room was a design-led, Art Nouveau, blue and white, coffee-drinking haven (compared to my room, which was very lovely and cosy, yet completely Aladdin-meets-Turkish-Indian-French-bazaar-slash-explosion in a junk shop).

Colourful coffee cups make me happy

Although she doesn’t yet own her place, when I finally get the chance to put my mark on more than just a postage stamp bedroom somewhere more permanent than either my parents’ house or a random flatshare, it will be inspired by Jenny, and her colourful coffee cups, posters, multiple coffee machines, exposed brickwork, and…random cello in the corner. Because, why the heck not?

Here’s to Cornwall. Have a pasty and a cider on me.

Jillian Michaels Kickstart: Day 5 – So nearly there…

Friday 19, day 5 of 7

Three words to describe today: Almost there, headache,

How easy was the food plan? ✦✦✦✦✧ (Actually felt full for the first time! Cheated a bit again…)

How easy were the workouts? ✦✦✦✦✧ (Fine. Super bored of cardio, though.)

Notable comments? CURSE YOU, headache. I’m drinking loads of water, why are you still here?! Surely I can’t be *that* addicted to sugar or wheat, right!? Argh.

Home straight, people! Home straight!

Just two days left (well, basically). Nearly done now. I AM going out at the weekend though, which is a bit of a road bump, but I’m planning on not going too crazy, and being 100% on-plan the rest of the time. Also, if this is to be sustainable in some way, then I have to let myself go out, and not worry about it. Especially on special occasions such as birthdays.

Also, a revelation: eating protein (chicken or ham) plus a bowl of homemade vegetable soup is the WAY FORWARD when it comes to feeling full on not many calories. And you don’t even need any bread! I know! (Although a chunk of country bread with a thick wodge of butter would definitely improve things, taste-wise, anyway. SIGH!)

I’m sure I’ve heard this tell before but discovering it for myself is a nice plus to this long, long, hungry week.

I do still have a near-constant headache or slight feeling of light-headedness though, which I guess is a sign that I really should either be drinking even MORE water (I’m already on over 2 litres a day, and really, how much time can one person really spend going to the bathroom?!) or actually eating a bit more, earlier in the day.

Turns out that *this* with a few raisins is not enough for breakfast, especially after a workout…:(

The teeny-tiny breakfasts on this plan (1 yoghurt and some nuts/raisins) don’t work for me. I’d prefer to eat a more filling breakfast, and then a smaller lunch, and a no-carb dinner.

Jillian does offer “target” calories for each meal though, particularly in the next, slightly easier stage of the plan, so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to keep seeing results if I work with the same calories, more or less, just slightly different foods – e.g. a green smoothie for breakfast instead of a yoghurt, and then maybe the yogurt for the afternoon snack, instead? Anyhoo…

Headache aside, all seems well – my calves have even stopped hurting quite as much as before!

AND – this morning I stepped on the scales, and have already lost over a kilo (3 lbs).

Whoop whoop! Maybe it’s water weight, but either way, I’d call that a little bit of a result. Now all I need to do is *not* put it all back on next week…

Jillian Michaels Kickstart: Day 4 – A note on diet “cheating”

Thursday 18, day 4 of 7

Three words to describe today: Perseverance, habit, positivity

How easy was the food plan? ✦✦✦✧✧ (I cheated. But hear me out. It’s not like I ate a cheeseburger or a box of Krispy Kremes or anything.)

How easy were the workouts? ✦✦✦✦✧ (Fine. Getting a bit bored with the same cardio now. But otherwise all good.)

Notable comments? Drinking water helps massively with headaches. Oh, and you have to make a plan like this work for you.

So today I cheated on the plan, more than I have all week. No major transgressions, but instead of a healthy low-fat yoghurt for a snack, I ate a small tub of what is basically a heart coronary in a pot (but a VERY delicious one) – Biscoff spread.

Allow me to introduce you if you are not already familiar. Biscoff is a brand of those “coffee biscuits”, often known in France as “speculoos”. As well as very moreish biscuits, these genuises have also made a spread version, which is creamy, sugary, unctuous, and fabulous for cheesecake bases, I’m told.

Personally, I reckon a teaspoon of it is enough for anyone, even if you have a raging sweet tooth. Because I work for a restaurant, hotel and foodservice magazine, we were sent some as a “taster” of the product. In industrial-sized quantities. AND OH MY GOD.

I had some a couple of weeks’ ago, when we were first sent it, and wow. It came very close to knocking Nutella off its pedestal as my go-to better-than-sex food (no, srsly). The Daily Mail even called it “crack in a jar”. So when we got sent some little individual tubs of it I couldn’t help but have a taste. I know, BAD DIETER.

But you know what? After nearly a week of not having super-sweet things, I was underwhelmed. I mean, it still tasted good, but there was a chemical hint I hadn’t noticed before, and it wasn’t as amazing as I’d hoped.

AND THEN – nearly-instant headache. Sugar rush headache. Didn’t really believe that these existed – omg they do. How depressing. And I was like, oh, maybe I’m turning into one of those really sanctimonious arseholes who is all: “Oh, I don’t eat sugar, it makes me feel ill”, and wasn’t sure whether to feel smug or totally ashamed.

Well, not to worry, I cheated later in the evening too, with, wait for it: TWO small squares of dark Green & Black’s. I also had 2 sips of whisky, to toast the Scottish referendum vote. AND I WAS TOTALLY FINE. So that clears up that little conundrum, friends!

My favourite whisky 🙂

BUT MY POINT (I do have one) is that I included these little cheats into my calorie allowance for the day, and wasn’t really much off the average 1,200 total (we’re talking 50 extra calories here).

Now, I know that taking in extra calories of sugar, or fat, isn’t exactly great, but I’m thinking that with two workouts a day, 50 calories is sort of neither here nor there. As long as I don’t then sneak in another 50, etc.

And I realised that even though technically I didn’t 100% stick to the plan, letting myself have those little bits, a) demonstrated that I don’t NEED a rush of sugar to feel OK and that actually, it might make me feel a lot worse (no shit Sherlock), and b) a restricted plan like this is FAR more sustainable if you let yourself wobble every now and again, and get right back on it afterwards. I sort of knew that already, but it’s nice to have it reaffirmed, and actually do it.

And workout-wise? All good. Still mildly horrific getting out of bed ½ an hour earlier than I’d like, but it’s already starting to become a bit of a habit (HUH?). And we all know what I think about those.

Onwards…

Jillian Michaels Kickstart: Day 2 – OUCH (and a confession)

Tuesday 16, day 2 of 7

Three words to describe today: Painful, persevering, determined

How easy was the food plan? ✦✦✦✧✧ (One yoghurt is not enough after a workout, Jillian!)

How easy were the workouts? ✦✦✧✧✧ (Always tough using already-sore muscles. Oh and my headache – see below…)

Notable comments? OUCH. DOUBLE OUCH.

Mainly today, I’m just achy. I still feel a bit fuzzy-headed right now, but I’m putting that down to not having had coffee yet today (it’s lunchtime, just haven’t got round to it!), and probably not drinking enough water.

But wow, not sure if it’s the cardio from last night or the after-effects of yesterday’s shoulder and back workout, or today’s thigh and back-work stuff, but I’m stiff as hell and can’t stretch my arms out straight either side without it really hurting my back. it hasn’t been this bad since I went from hardly any exercise to starting the first level of the 30 Day Shred eight months’ ago. Argh.

To be honest, as a Jillian regular, I’m surprised to be feeling sore. Even though her other workouts still kill me while I’m doing them, I’ve generally reached the point when it’s OK the next day. It just shows that this plan’s routines must be working muscles I don’t usually use, or haven’t for a while. Which is great, but man does it hurt!

(ps. the only coconut water you want, seriously, it’s so yummy.)

The food today has been OK, but I confess, I cheated and added some sugar-free coconut water to my breakfast, because I knew I couldn’t cope after a workout with just a small pot of yoghurt. That’s been my only cheat so far though, which I’m bloody proud of (nerd).

It also helps that the food has been *just* enough to stop me from eating my own arm, and the lunch and dinners seem pretty tasty so far, considering. But being properly on the edge of hunger like this all the time isn’t sustainable, not for me anyway (and certainly not every day). It’s too distracting.

But I can really feel the steely determination is beginning to kick in. I’m having to mentally remind myself that having the programme at such a difficult level (by which I really mean the no fruit and two workouts a day thing – argh) is only for a week. It’s started to become an objective challenge I have to complete, rather than simply a personal “lifestyle change”.

The “lifestyle” bit comes next week – and the 3 months after that – which will be bloody difficult, because unlike this week when I don’t have much in the way of evening going out planned (except a dinner on Saturday), next week I have something on nearly every night, a lot of it including food and drink.

I’m in no way complaining about the fact that I have nice places to go and lovely people to see, but wow, it just really hammers home how difficult it is to stick to a proper diet if you actually have a life…

Update, next morning: I have a confession to make. I didn’t eat dinner last night OR do the evening workout (cardio) OR prepare today’s food as planned. I was completely geared up to carry on as usual, but on the train home I was hit by one of my ‘migraines’ and couldn’t do a thing when I got home, except drink water and lie down in a dark room.

I put inverted commas around the word migraines, as the headaches have never been officially diagnosed or anything. Also I only get them maybe 4-5 times a year, maximum. They tend to hit when I’m overtired and have been squinting at a screen too long.

But when they do arrive, they’re pretty bad. It affects my vision – I can’t look straight at things, or focus on something right in front of me. I can’t use a screen or look at bright lights without discomfort. It sometimes stays on one side or moves around, and sometimes resembles a sinus or tension headache, going from the back of the neck to the nose and eye socket. Not good.

Now, I hesitate to blame the diet/workouts. I get these headaches no matter what diet or exercise regime I’m doing – and even if I’m not doing any.

coffee-heart

I am loath to accept that there is such a thing as too much coffee, but maybe two cups in two hours on a not-full stomach is my official limit…

But maybe the underlying stress – even the positive “lets do this” adrenaline, coupled with far less food than usual, and the twice-daily workout, might not have helped. I actually think the main trigger was too much coffee, too late in the day. So that’s a lesson.

But I was so disappointed not to be able to follow the plan. So annoyed with myself. It hasn’t even been that long – how can I be struggling this soon in; how pathetic am I? But I couldn’t fight it. With my headache as it was, I had to just ride it out. A rare case of my desperately wanting to do a workout, and not being able to. Imagine!

In any case, I figure since I didn’t eat dinner (except a little apple, whoops, sorry Jillian, breaking the no fruit rule) missing the workout won’t make too much difference. Instead I went to bed early (rock and roll!).

This morning (Weds) back as usual, with today’s am workout. All good. I’ve made a few tweaks to the meal plan so I can follow it without having done any cooking – eg. Yoghurt instead of eggs.

Encouraging words…

On balance, despite the horrible headache, it has helped. It’s been a reminder that even if you get sidetracked, you can just draw a line under, and carry on. It’s a general tenet of “dieting” – and, well, anything, really – that even if you mess up once, you can choose to *not* say, ‘to hell with it, I’ve ruined it now, I may as well mess up more’, thereby fecking up the whole thing.

Instead, you can choose perseverance, and not beating yourself up. Or as Jillian would say, right when you’re at the point of giving up on a workout move: “Finish it, people!”. Another Jillian catchphrase (gotta love em) is that if you ”know your ‘why’, you can put up with any kind of ‘how’”. So there we go.

Just keeping on keeping on…