A postpartum comeback?

I am acutely aware that for a blog ostensibly about exercise I haven’t written much on this subject in a little while. The various changes over the past ten months to my life, lifestyle and body as a result of pregnancy and childbirth have resulted in a shift in my fitness routine, with a significant decrease in the frequency and intensity of my workouts. While I continued to exercise throughout my pregnancy, yoga, weights, walking and swimming took the spotlight, while running played more of a supporting role. 

On 10 August my baby was born by caesarean section. It may be quite telling that while in the operating theatre one of my first questions to the obstetrician was when can I exercise again? I was told I could do a ‘gentle cycle on a stationary bike’ from four weeks, but no running or swimming until after six weeks. At the time six weeks seemed like a lifetime away, yet now, with the six week mark fast approaching, I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone! Florence has occupied so much of my headspace and my physical and emotional energy, the thought of going for a run has been so low down in my list of priorities as not even to register, that is, until now. 

Over the past week or so I’ve started to feel more like myself again and I’m eager to start getting back into shape. I’m adapting to the new sleep pattern, walking further and faster and my milk supply and appetite seem to have regulated, meaning that Florence is more satisfied and I’m no longer filled with the desire to guzzle Vego and peanut butter! My ability to multitask is returning (I’m feeding Florence as I write this) and this week I ordered a stack of books to read, treated myself to a manicure, got back on my yoga mat and ventured to the gym. 

While I’m taking it really easy, I was pleasantly surprised by my strength and fitness both on the mat and the bike. It’s amazing how much easier it is to chaturanga without an enormous stomach weighing you down and I can easily reach the handlebars of the bike again! My tummy does still leave a lot to be desired – I have a distinctive paunch now and it’s pretty squishy, as is my bum! But I hope once I can get back into a proper routine they will begin to firm up again.

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I’m really looking forward to returning to the pool once I’ve had the all clear from the doctor and I can’t wait to get Florence in too (she already has three swimming cossies just waiting!). I’m also looking forward to eventually lacing up my trainers again for a run, although at the moment, with my scar still tender and my ligaments still quite loose, I’m conscious not to race back into it and risk damage or injury.

While I’ve earmarked some mother and baby yoga, Pilates and buggy workout classes, to make sure my reintroduction to exercise is safe and properly paced, I’ve booked an appointment with a women’s health physio for the six week mark. This was something that other sporty mums recommended and will make sure that I’ve had a full MOT before embarking on a full comeback. 

I will be keeping you up to date on how I progress and the workouts I’m doing. If you are getting your fitness back after childbirth or injury, or if you have been through a similar experience do share any tips and advice with me, I always love to hear from you. 

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Figuring out parenthood

We are now just over four weeks into being parents, and every day we are learning a little bit more about this new, exciting and utterly terrifying role. A big lesson for me has been to let go of my routines and accept that we are now on Florence-time (and I’m not talking trips to the Uffizi and aperitivo hour). I’m also ensuring that I remain humble in my role as a mother, because the moment I think I’ve got something down, or we seem to have a routine nailed, it immediately changes (and I suspect this is something that will continue to be the case for the next 40 years!).

This week I’ve been thinking about these lessons and what other tips I would give myself if I could travel back in time to my final weeks of pregnancy.

My list so far:

  1. Remember that accepting help isn’t the same as accepting defeat. This applies in so many areas. You can’t do everything and you won’t be the perfect mum, wife, friend and family member immediately/ever/all of the time. Let go of this idea of perfection now and remain open to help and advice. 
  2. Don’t worry about trying to regulate feeds to begin with. They will start to regulate themselves in the coming weeks so to start with take your cues from Florence and feed her when she wants feeding. Be patient when feeds stretch out for an hour or more, or are demanded when you have visitors/want to eat a meal yourself/would rather be asleep, and remember that hunger, satiety and wind are all new feelings that she is learning to respond to.
  3. Sleep deprivation may mean 4 hours a night, but it may also mean 2 hours…in 30 minute chunks. Be mentally prepared for the bad nights and remember, good nights will follow.
  4. The sling will be both of your best friends. It will let you hold Florence close and make her feel safe and secure – remember she has been close to you for nine months and has never been alone before now – and it will also give you back your mobility and the use of arms! 
  5. Keep in mind the you of the future – whether that means picking out both hers and your outfits the night before, expressing milk in the middle of the night, putting the washing machine and dishwasher on before bed, or preparing your packed lunch during her morning nap – ‘jobs time’ is at a premium so if you have time to do something, do it. You don’t know when the next window will come up and the you of the future will be infinitely grateful to the you of the past for this.
  6. Bobbi Brown will be your other best friend. You will look tired but you will feel infinitely better after a shower and with some concealer and mascara on. It’s ok to want to feel like yourself as well as feeling like a mum and a bit of makeup can help with this.
  7. Keep water and snacks to hand – breastfeeding creates a thirst like no other, so make sure you have a full water bottle within reach at all times, and I mean literally within reach, as there is nothing worse than getting into a comfortable breastfeeding position then realising you can see your water bottle but can’t quite get hold of it! Likewise with snacks. Other people may ‘forget to eat’. You have never forgotten to eat and won’t start now. As you watch the time tick away while stuck to the sofa breastfeeding you will just get increasingly hangry if you don’t have a snack to hand. You have been warned!
  8. Remove all of the things that you don’t need from your surfaces. When you are juggling a breast pump, Haakka pump and bottle of water while breastfeeding the last thing you want it a load of ornaments/books/papers in the way on your coffee table. 
  9. Remember that babies cry, especially in the evening. Change, feed and burp her and hold her close; she likes movement, shushing noises and being cuddled. When the crying wont stop, remind yourself that at the moment crying is her only form of communication and her only means of telling you something is wrong. 
  10. Enjoy how tiny she is, because she is growing fast and will never be this small again. Spend all of the time you can looking at her little face, hands, feet and chubby little legs. Kiss her a hundred times a day and remember that even when it’s really hard and you are so tired and depleted from the lack of sleep and all of the feeding, she is your beautiful little girl, that you wanted her more than anything in the world, and for every tough moment there will be hundreds of wonderful ones.

Labour of love

A little word of warning before I start: this is a post about my experience of labour and childbirth and may not be for everyone. Please feel free to skip it if you’re squeamish or if this content just isn’t for you. For the morbidly curious, on the other hand, read on!

It’s now just over two weeks since our beautiful baby girl, Florence was born, and what a two weeks! In that time I’ve had chance to process the experience of child birth, I’m starting to get used to my new body and it’s role as sole nutrition provider for our baby girl, and we are all getting to grips with our new life as a family of three. I was going to write here about both my labour and the process of adapting to the various postpartum changes to my body, but once I started writing I realised that the labour took up plenty of space on its own (!!) so the post on the physical impact of pregnancy and birth will have to follow. 

Ahead of the birth we had tried to steer ourselves away from a specific ‘birth plan’, knowing that some things just can’t be planned for. In the event, this open minded approach served us well as we certainly couldn’t have predicted the course that my labour took.

My contractions started at 8am the day after my due date. Following advice from our midwife, who we had seen the previous day, we continued our morning as usual and I sent R off to work. Throughout the course of the morning the contractions got progressively longer and closer together, but they were still no more than uncomfortable and I was able to do some weights, eat lunch and have some time on my yoga mat and birthing ball before deciding to go for a little walk in the park. Not far into the park it became apparent that the contractions were getting much stronger, so instead of forging on I turned around to walk the 3/4 mile home, a walk which became increasingly difficult. 

On my return I messaged R to tell him to make sure he had tied up any loose ends at work by the end of the day as I was sure today was the day and ran myself a bath. With the contractions getting stronger I tried to get into the bath, only for my waters to break before I’d even lowered myself in. From this point on the pain increased rapidly and I struggled to get dry and to dress and to get the final things together for my hospital bag (luckily I’d had the majority of things packed for some weeks and only needed to throw in final essentials). I have to admit to feeling pretty scared and very vulnerable in those moments alone. There were some tears and then, when my more practical side kicked in, there was some crawling on the kitchen floor to try to sort out food for the cat for fear of him being left overnight and going hungry. I also messaged R to get back asap – a request thwarted by his having a puncture en route home! 

I was so relieved when R finally arrived. I was in such pain by that stage and the TENs machine given to me by my sister was doing absolutely nothing to take the edge off. 

The taxi ride to the hospital seemed to take a lifetime and by the time we reached the waiting room it was all I could do to get onto all fours in the corner of the room and try not to be sick while we waited to be seen. 

All of the beds were full and there were no midwives available so when we did eventually get seen it was by a doctor who told us that two women had already given birth in the stuffy, sterile assessment room we were now in. This was not what I needed to hear. We were left there for 4 hours while my waters continued to break, my contractions – which were basically on top of each other – got increasingly painful and I was sick into a nappy bag. Not pretty. In the background we could hear another woman screaming in pain as she gave birth. This was a particularly low moment and I wasn’t sure I could go on. 

I just remember saying to R over and over again, ‘there are no gaps between the contractions. Everyone told me there would be gaps!’ I was also begging for any kind of pain relief, and about 4 hours after our arrival I was finally given some codine by a midwife who told me that I needed to move back into the waiting room until I was in ‘proper labour’. With my waters breaking everywhere and writhing in pain we told her that this wasn’t going to happen. Not long after the urge to push came and on second inspection it became apparent that I had reached 8cm dilated – I’d call that pretty ‘proper labour’ thank you very much! 

At this point a bed on the labour ward became available and I was hoisted into a wheelchair to get me upstairs. I couldn’t sit down in the chair, so I lodged myself in sideways and was sick down the corridor as they wheeled me to the ward. Another particularly low moment!

Once on the labour ward our experience totally changed. We had the most wonderful midwife who looked after me so well. I was immediately given gas and air, which made me feel like I was having an out of body experience, making the pain more bearable, and I was hooked up to a monitor for the baby. I tried to stop pushing when the contractions came but I couldn’t and as Florence was in distress they advised that I have an epidural. I had been in so much pain with contractions on top of each other for 7 hours by this point that I would have said yes to anything. I’d always hoped I wouldn’t have to have an epidural, but in the event I was happy with the decision. I’d had my eyes screwed up in pain and body contorted for so long, with the epidural I was able to open my eyes and relax my limbs. With the epidural came a catheter (again something I’d hoped to avoid!) and a cannula with an IV drip. The natural, mobile birth I’d had in the back of my mind had suddenly become very medicalised, but, as long as my baby’s heart rate remained constant, I didn’t care. They also ran a series of blood tests on Floss to check her oxygen. This involved scratching the top of her head to take the blood while she was still in the uterus. Apparently the device used for this didn’t look particularly mummy-friendly, but again I was more concerned about her than me and also chose not to look at what was going on below my waistline! 

I was given 2 hours from that point to dilate to the full 10cm. The epidural dramatically reduced the progress of the labour and by 1am I had only reached 9cm. I was given a further hour to see how it progressed and was put on a hormone drip to help things along. Just after 2am I had reached 10cm and was allowed to push (finally!). But pushing having had an epidural is pretty difficult and Florence was so high that after an hour of trying we hadn’t made enough progress to continue. The doctor, who was also amazing, advised attempting a forceps delivery and failing that an emergency c section. We agreed to follow her advice and I was taken to theatre. R dressed in scrubs so he could come with me.

Because Floss was so high, because her head was tilted to one side and because she was in distress the doctor felt that, after trying with the forceps, an emergency section was necessary. I was given further anaesthetic so that I was numb from the chests down and a screen went up so I couldn’t see beyond my chest.

The anaesthetist did a great job of distracting me during the procedure and it seemed that no sooner had the screen gone up that Floss was in the world crying. I will never forget that sound or the look on R’s face when we heard it! He cut the cord and she was put on my chest while they removed the placenta and sewed me back together. The feeling of being put back together after a c section is so bizarre; the anaesthetist described it as like ‘rummaging in a handbag’! I can’t say that it’s a sensation I ever want to feel again (although I expect many women say that about a vaginal delivery!). 

The epidural left me without any sensation in the lower part of my body for some hours afterwards and even once I had sensation back the c section meant that I couldn’t sit up by myself for several days. I’ve never felt as helpless and vulnerable as in those first hours when everything from the waist down was paralysed and I was catheterised and hooked up to an IV drip and unable to reach over into the cot next to my bed to pick Florence up. There was an awful moment when I was alone with her and she was being sick and because of the cannula in my hand hooked up to the drip I couldn’t reach her and when I pressed the buzzer for help no one came. Likewise, when I was on my own on the postnatal ward overnight, still attached to a drip and unable to lift myself and Floss out of bed after a feed, we ended up just laying there together until a midwife came in at 4am, to find me awake terrified I might fall asleep and let her roll off me. 

Since coming home the experience of giving birth seems more distant and surreal. I was reassured to discover that because I had become fully dilated, Floss had received all of the hormones from me as if she had been born vaginally. Similarly, my milk came in without any issues, which can sometimes fail to happen after a c section. And there has certainly been no question about our bonding; I don’t think I could love a little squidge any more than I love her!

A couple of days after giving birth R asked me if I’d do it again. My answer two weeks on remains as it was then, let’s just wait and see!

Taking the ‘work’ out of ‘workout’

On those occasions when someone remarks on how ‘good’ or ‘disciplined’ I am to exercise on a regular basis I always feel like a little bit of a fraud. It’s not like I have to drag myself to the gym, or force myself to lace up my trainers, shunning a favoured spot on the sofa or an evening in the pub; the truth is, I actually really enjoy exercise and want to workout.

While for many people exercise may seem like a drag, or something that needs to be ticked off a weekly to do list, for me it is an escape and a way to pacify my restless legs and even more restless mind. I find relaxation in my runs, ‘me time’ in my yoga practice and serenity in the swimming pool. I love attending spinning classes with my friends, or spending time alone in the gym, headphones in, focusing on form and technique, leaving all of my stresses and worries outside. That’s not to say that I never miss a workout, or that I never have those days when I’d rather lay in the bath than lift weights, but in recent years, finding the sports and workout times that work for me has made keeping fit a whole lot easier.

What I’ve learned, through trial and error, is that working out doesn’t have to be hard work. If you can find the types of exercise you enjoy, done at the right time of day and driven by the right motivating factors, you may find that a 6am slog can be transformed into an 8pm indulgence.

So how can this magical transformation occur? I’ve outlined a few things here that have worked for me.

Find a sport that you enjoy

This may sound obvious, but so often I hear of people forcing themselves to pursue an activity that they dislike simply because they feel they ought to do it. Instead of pushing yourself in a direction that you don’t want to go, think about what it is you enjoy doing and how you like to do it. If you know you prefer social activities to solitary sports then look for team games rather than solo pursuits, or join a running/swimming/cycling club instead of going it alone. Consider whether you need a coach or trainer to motivate you and therefore whether PT sessions or classes would work well for you, or, if you prefer to have the freedom to undertake workouts at your own pace, maybe look to more ‘open’ activities instead of things like boot camps and Cross Fit. Ask yourself if you would rather spend more time outside and therefore whether running, kayaking or paddle boarding would be fun for you, or if you favour being inside, look at activities within gyms or studio spaces, such as yoga, zumba, box fit or spinning.

And remember, the answers to these questions don’t always have to be the same.

I love doing yoga on my own in the morning, but equally enjoy a group dance class with someone telling me what to do. I love running and swimming outside, but also like  lifting weights in the gym. The secret is when you don’t enjoy something, figuring out specifically what it is about that thing that you don’t like. For example, running for me is an escape and a chance for some internal processing, so I have no interest in having a coach dictate my pace or forcing me to run track. I know that I dislike getting on the bike in the gym as I find it really hard to motivate myself, but I love going to spinning classes and I know I will put in a really good session with the help of an instructor shouting directions from the front of the room.

Of course, all of this comes with the caveat that for most activities it can take a little time for enjoyment to grow while you build up your fitness, confidence and competence, but if after a couple of months of persevering you still don’t feel like the regime you are following is working for you, then don’t feel like you have to stick it out, simply change it up.

Time it right

It’s not just what you are doing that can impact on your enjoyment of different types of exercise, but also when you are doing it. It so often seems that when people take on a new fitness regime they automatically opt for the 6am workout window, which to me seems like they are making it unnecessarily hard work for themselves. While I appreciate that for some people this is the only option available, for many others it is just one of the multifarious slots in the day when we can sneak in some exercise.

I’ve learned that while I love running I have no interest in going before work in the mornings. I find that I am sluggish and uncomfortable running at this time, my stomach is never happy and my limbs are heavy. Come lunchtime, however, I’ve got my trainers on and I’m ready to bound out of the door like a gazelle! I’ve discovered that my favourite way of starting the day is with a yoga session, preparing my mind and body for the day ahead, but it is very rare that I will take to my mat after this 6:30-7:30am window. Swimming is a lot more flexible for me, I love an early morning swim, a sneaky lunchtime dip, or a post work session, but that said, I find getting into the pool a whole lot easier in the summer when it’s warm outside, than stripping down and diving in when there is snow on the ground! The weather impacts on my running motivation too, and my husband and I joke that we are the opposite of ‘fair weather runners’ as we much prefer running in the cold than in the heat and do our best training and races between late September and early April.

Where you are in your life can also impact on the types of exercise that feel right for you. While pregnant, for example, swimming, walking, Pilates and yoga have definitely taken priority, and I’ve put running on the back burner for now. Injury and illness may also dictate what you feel you can do and you may find lower impact exercises or strengthening workouts take over from HIIT or intense cardio sessions.

Remember, you can be a seasonal and time specific athlete and can workout on rotation if that works best for you.

There’s no ‘I’ in team

While there are times when working out alone seems like the best option, for me, there is nothing like accountability to others for getting me out of the door for a training session. Whether it is going on a run with a pal, agreeing with colleagues that we will head to the gym together after work, or playing a team sport, knowing that others are relying on me to be there is often all the motivation I need. Even on the days when I would rather train alone, it can help to agree to meet a friend at the pool or gym, knowing that we will do our own sessions once there, but then may go for a coffee together afterwards.

The secret with group training is not to let being with others give you an excuse not to train as hard as you might otherwise do. Remember that standing chatting at the water fountain in the gym or gossiping at the end of the pool isn’t going to help you hit your fitness goals!

I hope that this is all helpful and that it motivates you to try a new sport or at least to try shifting the timings of your exercise to see if it improves how you feel about working out. If you have any additional motivation tips I’d love to hear them.

Until my next, stay fit!

Podcast episodes to enjoy while you are…

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that the discovery of the Serial Podcast a couple of years back changed my listening habits for good. I was training for the Paris marathon at the time and found myself chain listening to episode after episode on my long runs. From that point on, podcasts rapidly replaced music during runs and gym sessions, while my at home listening switched from exclusively Radio 4 to an array of podcasts covering everything from sports to true crime and from love to politics.

Three years later, podcasts have become an integral part of my life. Whether I listen for extra motivation while running, relaxation while in the bath, entertainment while cleaning or inspiration while cooking, I’m rarely without the dulcet tones of one of my favourite podcast hosts.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve discovered a few new podcasts and like any evangelical listener I wanted to pass these recommendations on. Of course, if you have been living under a rock for the past few years and haven’t yet heard the first series of Serial, this is the gateway drug I would recommend to start you on your podcasting journey. From there you could do worse than to delve into the archives of This American Life, (one of my favourite episodes will always be ‘Our Friend David‘), or continue down the Serial path with S Town (from the makers of Serial and This American Life).

But if you have already enjoyed these series and are looking for something new, or else, you would like something a little different in tone, the below may be for you.

Podcasts for while you are…walking

Happy Place Podcast with Fearne Cottone: Kirsty Young
Hosted by Fearne Cotton, Happy Place explores the experiences and shares the advice of guests on how to find joy every day.
I only discovered this podcast a couple of days ago but have already walked over 50,000 steps, eschewing buses and tubes, so that I could keep listening! I’ve just finished the episode with Gok Wan, which I loved, but I think if I was to recommend a single episode it would have to be the Kirsty Young interview. If you love Desert Island Discs you will really love this episode: thought provoking, engaging and calming, what more could you want from a podcast? I’m really excited to mine the Happy Place back-catalogue of episodes to find some more gems.
The Rich Roll Podcast – Finding joy in simplicity with the Happy Pear

Regular readers will know that I’m a big Rich Roll fan. I find his interviews inspiring, motivating and great for getting me through long runs (not least because he takes the ‘long form’ format to the extreme with interviews running, in some cases, over 2 hours!). While sometimes this sort of time investment can seem a bit of a daunting prospect, and I have found myself losing momentum with some of the seriously long episodes, this relatively snappy episode with The Happy Pear, (Dave and Steve, the Irish, plant-based, sporty twins behind The Happy Pear food product, cafe and book brand) really made my day.

I love these guys so much; they are two of the most charismatic and emphatic advocates for healthy living that I’ve ever encountered. Their philosophy: ‘if you’re happy with really simple things, it’s a lot easier to find joy every day.’

I can guarantee this episode will make you smile and the enthusiasm from Dave and Steve for healthy living, their dedication to family and their attitude towards keeping active will certainly rub off.

Podcasts for while you are…in the bath

Love Stories with Dolly Alderton: Emma Freud

I discovered the wonderful author and journalist Dolly Alderton through the podcast series The High Low (see below), and when I found out that she had released this solo podcast I immediately jumped on the bandwagon.

In this series, Dolly talks to guests about their most defining relationships: the passion, heartbreak, longing, familiarity and fondness that have formed who they are.

My favourite episode has to be this interview with broadcaster, writer and script editor Emma Freud, the woman behind the man that is Richard Curtis. If anyone is well-placed to talk about love in a sincere yet lighthearted way, it is the partner one of the biggest names in romantic comedy.

The High Low with Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes: The Dangers of Self-Deprecation; & A Deep-Dive Into ‘Nanette’

The High Low came to me as a recommendation from one of my great friends, Helen, and after a car journey of episodes together I immediately got home and downloaded the back list. I’ve subsequently got a whole host of other friends hooked and post-episode debriefs always result in some really interesting conversations.

It pitches itself as a ‘news and pop-culture podcast’, which translate as a really nice mix of high- and low-brow culture, from issues of race, gender and politics to reality TV, romance and celebrity. Whenever I pass this recommendation on I always feel like I have to caveat it with a note that the hosts, while amazing, are incredibly posh (perhaps not something I need to point out given that one of them is called Pandora). While they are hyper-aware of this and don’t shy away from it, it is something that strikes you the moment you start listening and could put some people off without giving it a chance.

There are lots of episodes that I could recommend, but this recent one about ‘Nanette’, a stand-up show by Australian comic, Hannah Gadsby, provides a lot of food for thought. From comedy to the dangers of self-deprecation, I hope this episode gets you thinking and as hooked on The High Low as I am.

Podcasts for while you are…cleaning

Ear Hustle – Left Behind 

I discovered Ear Hustle via the Radio 4 Extra Podcast Radio Hour, when they played a short clip from one of the episodes. I was immediately intrigued and after listening to the previewed episode in full, quickly caught up on the entire first series. The podcast presents stories of life inside San Quentin State Prison, shared and produced by those living it. The hosts, Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods, are a visual artist employed by the prison and an inmate respectively. The stories they explore are honest, funny, difficult and thought provoking and offer a new and nuanced view of people living within the American prison system.

The episode I would recommend you start with is called ‘Left Behind‘ and is about prisoner Curtis Roberts, who was sentenced to 50 years to life for stealing under the three strikes law for committing three non-violent robberies. The story explores how he ended up becoming a thief and how has has struggled to maintain a sense of hope during his years in prison. It is really moving and will certainly start to make you think differently about the people incarcerated in the US as well as the American judicial system.

30 for 30, Bikram: Arrival 

Recommended to me by friend and fellow podcast addict, Anna, this series of 30 for 30 explores the life of yogi Bikram Choudhury, from his rise to fame and fortune to stories of scandal and sexual assault.

If you have heard of Bikram yoga but know nothing about the man behind the moves, then this podcast is definitely for you. I knew nothing of how Bikram took Beverly Hills by storm, using his Hollywood connections and rags-to-riches origin story to build a devoted following and lay the foundation for a yoga empire. Nor did I know about the seedy underworld of this empire and the mental and physical abuse suffered by many of his followers at his own hands.

For this series you will need to start at the beginning with the first episode, ‘Arrival’, but you will soon find yourself at the end!

Podcasts for while you are…working out

Running for Real with Tina Muir: Colin McCourt

I migrated over to the Running for Real podcast with Tina Muir after she left another podcast favourite of mine, Run to the Top. As a presenter, I find her relatable and easy to listen to and she always has interesting guest on the show. I know I’ve mentioned this episode with Colin McCourt on the blog previously, but it is so good it bears repeating. McCourt was a middle distance runner who competed at the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and was on track to race in the Olympics in 2012. However, when at the age of 27 he didn’t make the 2012 GB team he stepped away from running for what he thought would be for good.

During the years that ensued he struggled with his mental state and with his weight until one day, when he saw an old photograph of himself running, he decided to seriously rethink how he was living his life. By reintroducing running and structured training, as well a by improving his diet, he regained control of his life.

If you need a little motivation to get you out of the door for a run or to the gym, or if you need something to spur you on while you are running, this is the podcast for you.

Fit and Fearless: How to be Healthy when Hectic with Alice Liveing 

I discovered Fit and Fearless via my friend and fellow fitness fanatic, Sophie. She had spotted an episode on pre- and post-natal training and sent me a link and I started listening from there. The episodes are short and easy to digest. They are good for shorter runs or gym sessions rather than longer slogs.

As a starter, this episode with fitness guru Alice Liveing is great for tips on how to be healthy when you’re snowed under, but as I think I’ve mentioned this before, I will also recommend this more recent episode with dancer and singer Fleur East.

Podcasts for while you are…cooking

Table manners with Jessie Ware: Yotam Ottolenghi 

In this podcast, singer-songwriter Jessie Ware and her mum, Lennie, host a series of guest from the worlds of music, culture and politics, for dinner. Discussions centre on food and family with a soupçon of oversharing. I first head about this podcast a few months back when it was mentioned on High Low by Dolly Alderton, but I only got round to listening this week.

I really loved this episode with one of my favourite chefs, Yotam Ottolenghi. In it they discuss Yotam’s children, husband and their surrogacy process, as well as his new book in which he will be (finally!) simplifying some of his dishes. Perfect listening while you are cooking up a storm in the kitchen.

Vegan FODMAP

When, a couple of weeks back, my husband announced that he was going on the low FODMAP diet to help with his digestive health, I have to admit that my initial reaction was panic. Although I was supportive of his decision and pleased that he was taking positive action to improve his wellbeing, I was also aware of how restrictive the diet could be, especially when approached from a vegan perspective. In fact, when it had been recommended to me by my GP a year or so ago it had been my husband who had said that he wasn’t happy with me pursuing it if it meant cutting anything further from my diet. To be honest, once I looked at the list of foods that I’d need to cut out – avocados, cashews, apples, dates, falafel, beans, mango, mange tout, rye bread, crumpets, garlic, hummus, basically all of my favourite things – I didn’t take much convincing that going low FODMAP wasn’t for me. And in fact, with some moderation and a bit more thought into how and when I was eating these particular foods (i.e. not wolfing down an apple after a falafel wrap with oodles of hummus while sitting, hunched over at my desk feeling stressed), I actually found that my digestive issues calmed down a little. So it was that I put the idea on the back burner.

Twelve months down the line I have found myself researching the low FODMAP diet once more and reminding myself what is ‘in’ and what’s ‘out’. A bit of online searching certainly seems to validate the efficacy of this diet in improving gut heath and symptoms of IBS. While it originated in Australia, it is now promoted in the UK by the NHS and supported by research from King’s College, London. But what exactly are FODMAPs and what is the theory behind this diet?

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, which are essentially a collection of poorly absorbed carbohydrates found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, wheat and milk (i.e. high FODMAP foods). Some of us are more susceptible to issues with absorbing the sugars from these foods and if they are not absorbed they tend to pass through the small intestine and enter the colon where they are fermented by bacteria. This in turn produces gas, which stretches the bowel causing bloating, wind and pain. It may also cause water to move into and out of the colon, resulting diarrhoea, constipation or a combination of the two (nice!). Cutting out all of these high FODMAP foods for a limited time can reduce these symptoms and then controlled reintroduction can help you to ascertain which foods in particular are causing you issues.

While my husband’s decision to go low FODMAP doesn’t necessarily have to impact on my eating habits, I do love to cook delicious food for us to enjoy together in the evenings, and the idea of me chomping away on a garlicy, oniony, mixed bean chilli while he eats plain brown rice with steamed carrots is just too sad. Moreover, when he did try few days of ‘fending for himself’ (read: eating plain lentils and rice cakes) he lost interest in food and a lot of weight, which worried me more than his stomach upsets. And, while I do love many of the high FODMAP veggies, such as mushrooms, asparagus, leeks and sugar snap peas, I know that I only need to cut these out of our evening meals for a short period, while for me, my husband has given up eating meat indefinitely, which is a much greater sacrifice.

So with all of this in mind I got Googling ‘vegan FODMAP recipes’ and discovered some great dishes that I’d love to share (whether you are going low  FODMAP or not!). We’ve found quinoa, brown rice and lentils to be great staples, as well as baked sweet potatoes with salad and sun dried tomatoes. My favourite discovery was the website The Wild Gut Project, which is where the below two recipes are taken from, with a few slight adjustments from me. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

Speedy satay and coconut noodles
(adapted from www.thewildgutproject.com)

Serves 2

Ingredients 

1 tsp coconut oil
1 inch cube of fresh ginger, finely chopped
50g tofu, pressed and cubed
1 carrot, chopped into thin sticks
1/2 courgette, cut into rounds
2 tbsp peanut butter
6 tbsp coconut cream
1-2 tsp miso paste (adjust for your own taste)
1 onion and garlic free stock cube
1 packet of rice noodles
1 big handful of choi sum, chopped (use the leaves and the top part of the stalks)
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1 tbsp soy sauce (more to taste if required after serving)
1 tsp garlic-infused olive oil
Small bunch fresh coriander
1/2 lime 

Method

  1. Sauté the ginger and tofu with some coconut oil in a wok until the tofu is slightly browned all over  
  2. Add the carrots and courgette and cook for a further 5-7 minutes, stirring so the tofu doesn’t stick
  3. Pour in 200ml of boiling water and add the peanut butter, coconut cream, miso paste and stock and stir until the sauce is combined 
  4. Add the rice noodles
  5. Once the noodles have loosened up, add the choi sum and red pepper and stir for 3-5 minutes 
  6. Add the soy sauce and garlic oil  
  7. Serve with fresh coriander and lime juice

Tasty tofu and spinach curry
(adapted from www.thewildgutproject.com)

Serves 2

Ingredients 

200g firm tofu, pressed and cubed
1/2 aubergine cubed
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp asafoetida
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp nut or vegetable oil
4 tbsp worth spring onion, dark green section only
2 inch cube root ginger, grated
3 salad tomatoes sliced
1 bag spinach
5 big leaves of chard
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp sesame seed oil
2 tsp garlic-infused olive oil
4 tbsp coconut cream
Cayenne pepper and salt to taste
Small bunch fresh coriander
Brown rice

Method

  1. Put the rice in saucepan, add water and bring to the boil. Allow the rice to simmer while you cook the curry
  2. In a bowl, mix the cubed tofu with the soy sauce and turmeric before setting aside and prepping the ginger, spring onions and tomatoes
  3. In a hot frying pan toast the garam masala, asafoetida and cumin seeds until they start to smell fragrant. Then add the oil and fry them for 1 minute before adding the spring onion greens and ginger
  4. Once the spring onions are a little crispy, transfer to a food processor/blender (I added a little water and popped them into the NutriBullet). Then use the same frying pan to fry the tofu and transfer back the bowl once it’s a little golden on each side
  5. Using the same pan and a dash of oil fry the aubergine until soft. Once cooked through add to the bowl with the tofu
  6. Add the tomatoes, 3-4 handfuls of spinach and chard to the processor and blend until it is like a bright green smoothie
  7. Gently heat the green smoothie liquid in a large saucepan for approximately 10 minutes until it no longer tastes grassy. Add water if needed
  8. Stir in the cumin powder, sesame seed oil, garlic oil, coconut cream, cayenne pepper and salt. Add the tofu, aubergine and 4-5 handfuls of spinach to the curry and heat for another couple minutes until the spinach has wilted 
  9. Serve topped with fresh coriander and brown rice

1,500m two ways

As I get closer to my due date, and as London gets hotter and hotter, I’m finding swimming is my fitness saviour.

I’m definitely slower and get tired a lot quicker than ever before, but I always feel better for just getting into the pool and moving my body. Being in the water also helps to ease my heavy legs and deflate my ugly swollen feet and ankles!

This week I’ve hit the pool four times, and while I can’t go as far or as fast as usual, I’m aiming for 1,500m per session. My sets aren’t the most varied at the moment, as I can’t do backstroke (due to buoyancy issues) and I also find it slightly awkward swimming fly in a busy, public pool, but on the plus side this is encouraging me to get the kick board and pull buoy out to make things a bit more interesting.

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Here are two options for 1,500m sets, which I’ve enjoyed this week while 36 weeks pregnant:

Warm-up

200m front crawl

Main set

200m breaststroke

4 x 50m free kick off 1 minute 30 seconds
200m front crawl pull
200m front crawl
4 x 50m breaststroke kick plus 15 seconds rest between sets
200m front crawl pull

Swim down

100m front crawl

1,500 m

Or

Warm up

400m front crawl

Main set

4 x 50m from crawl kick off 1 minute 30 seconds
200m breaststroke
200m front crawl
200m front crawl pull

Swim down

300m front crawl full

1,500m

Do let me know if you have done any fun swim sets lately that I can enjoy this week.