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.

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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

To drink or not to drink? It’s not really a question…right?

Like telling yourself you’re on a diet, or that you’re giving up smoking, when you know that you can’t have something it’s amazing how that thing seems to gravitate to the forefront of your mind. In recent weeks that thing for me has been drinking.

Whether it’s a glass of red wine in front of the fire on a chilly winter evening, an Aperol Spritz over game of cards on a lakefront in Italy, a shandy in an English country pub after a long walk, a glass of champagne at a book launch, or a gin and tonic with the girls at the end of a busy week, I’ve come to realise that alcohol plays a part in many elements of my life. Being someone who is invested in a healthy lifestyle this may seem quite surprising and indeed there have been many times – often when training for a particular race, or else the morning after the night before, when I’m trying to drag myself through the day on a mixture of bananas, paracetamol and coffee – when I’ve sworn myself off alcohol. But this is a promise that I’ve been at liberty to rescind at any point, be it a day, week or month or so later, whereas at the moment I’m afforded no such liberty.

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That said, being pregnant has provided a good opportunity to enforce sobriety for a prolonged period. While I know that recommendations vary, and I believe everyone should follow the path that feels most right for them and their baby, I have made the decision not drink at all throughout my pregnancy. If I was mildly concerned to reflect on how integrated into my lifestyle drinking is, I’ve also been comforted to see that I can live a teetotal life. I’ve proven to myself that I can navigate dinner parties, private views, holidays and even the odd wedding or two alcohol free. And five and a half months into my newly found teetotal lifestyle I’ve found myself asking, once the pregnancy is over, will I go back to drinking?

In all honesty, my feelings in this regard have fluctuated wildly. In the early weeks of the pregnancy, the constant ‘morning’ sickness meant that I couldn’t think of anything worse than drinking. This not only made getting through the Christmas and New Year period without the usual lashings of mulled wine and Prosecco much easier, but also saw me thinking how easy a dry future would be. Since the nausea has subsided there have been times when I’ve lamented not having a glass of wine in my hand on a supper date with my husband, or found myself gazing longingly at a newly opened wine bar in town, with the look of a Dickensian pauper child staring into a toy shop window. Later, on these same evenings, I’ve caught the night tube home and, surrounded by vomiting and leery crowds, I have found myself feeling quietly pleased, and often slightly relieved, about my sobriety, and on waking the next morning, have felt so grateful for my clear head and nauseous-free stomach.

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In terms of training, weight loss, sleep quality and avoiding those lack-lustre post-booze days, it would make sense to give up drinking for good. The frustrating thing is at the moment I’m not seeing these benefits as I’m getting larger and slower. And there is something about the social element of sharing a glass of something with my husband or friends that I’m reluctant to relinquish completely.

What this period has made me reflect on is how eminently possible it is to enjoy events without a drink in my hand to counteract my natural introversion. And now I know that I don’t really need a glass of wine to unwind after a killer week – a gym session or run can actually do the job quite nicely.

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While I hope (all being well) we will be wetting the baby’s head with champagne come August, what I hope to return to is a more moderate approach to my alcohol consumption and the freedom and knowledge that I don’t need a glass of anything to enjoy the company of my brilliant friends. Besides, between the lack of sleep and potential breastfeeding that will come from having a new baby, I imagine those nights of inadvertently drinking one too many may be behind me…for a while at least.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you drink? Would you give up drinking? How has this impacted on your physical and mental health and athletic performance?

 

Fit and Fearless: Motivation beyond PBs and weight loss

Thanks to my pal Sophie, I recently discovered the Fit and Fearless podcast. I began listening with an episode on pre- and post-natal training but rapidly began mining their backlist, enjoying episodes on working out when busy, nutrition and body confidence.

Listening to this podcast threw into focus thoughts that I’d been having about what motivates me and how I measure success, both in terms of my exercise routine and my diet.

the girl gains
@thegirlgains

Eating and exercising throughout pregnancy can be a bit of a minefield, and while I usually measure the success of my workout routine by how fast or far I can run, how heavy I can lift, or how many burpees I can do before collapsing, right now none of these measures are applicable. Similarly, I would ordinarily gauge my diet on how my clothes are feeling and cutting down on calorie-dense foods if my jeans were to get a bit tight. But at the moment pretty much all of my clothing is tight and, all being well, it will only get tighter. So what other measures should I be using to quantify my success and to keep myself motivated to continue training and steer clear of the tempting treats?

One of the messages I loved from Fit and Fearless is that success can just be about getting yourself to the gym (or by extension, to an exercise class/your yoga mat/the pool/into your trainers). Even if, on arrival, you decide it isn’t your day, by just scheduling the time and getting yourself there you are developing a routine, which in all likelihood will turn into a workout. I know that sometimes the hardest part of getting out on my lunchtime run is just getting into my gym kit. It’s so easy to continue sitting at my desk, responding to emails and letting the moment pass, but once I’m over that initial hurdle the actual act of going for a run is easy (well, easy-ish!).

The other thing that the podcast reminded me is that exercise should be about having fun and treating your body. I always feel better after a workout, even if all I can muster at the moment is a 3 mile walk/run around the park. Exercise gets the endorphins pumping and keeps me sane during a hectic day. It’s an opportunity for ‘me time’, a chance to clear my head and reset. I loved that in the body positive episode of Fit and Fearless the team talked about not just thinking about exercise as a means of burning x number of calories, but as a time to enjoy yourself and feeling strong. They promoted the idea of exercising with the real intention of focusing on being present in your body and not thinking about weight loss.

The other big message of both this and the pre- and post-natal fitness episode was that exercise shouldn’t be about what you look like, but rather it should be about what your body can do. I love this sentiment and I have to remind myself that what my body is doing is not only going for a 30 minute swim or a 45 minute spin class, but doing those things while also growing a human!

So how am I implementing these messages as part of my exercise routine, attitude to exercise and diet more generally?

1. I’m reminding myself that no matter how brief the session, exercising always makes me feel good about myself. It makes me feel strong and empowered and reminds me that I run this body.

2. I’m committing to getting myself to the point of exercise, even if that fails to turn into a hard workout. If I walk instead of run, that’s ok, the important thing is staying in the routine of getting my trainers on and getting outside.

3. I’m eating mindfully and in a way that nourishes my body and not letting my rapidly expanding belly act as an excuse for overindulgence (which I have been doing!) instead, I’m asking myself if I feel good from what I’m eating, whether I’m getting plenty of nutrients from my diet and would I choose to eat x or y if I wasn’t pregnant.

4. Finally I’m reminding myself to enjoy this time: to enjoy being in my body and embracing the challenges it presents as well as knowing that now, more than ever, the imperative to be well nourished, fit and fearless is greater than ever.

Until my next, enjoy the Fit and Fearless podcast here and follow the girls @thegirlgains in Instagram and at http://www.girlgains.co.uk.

Beware the judgemental eyebrow, ditch the hot baths and go decaf: Lessons from a 17 week pregnant running vegan

(Image © babycentre.co.uk)

The other day it really struck me: there is another human being growing inside me. At this very moment, there is a future person dwelling in my ever-expanding uterus, coming to work with me, bobbing up and down on my runs, getting shifted around as I do yoga, hanging out with me as I hang out with friends and enjoying (in it’s own way) everything I eat and drink. And all being well, at some point in the not so distant future, that little being will walk and talk out here in the world. I know all of this is glaringly obvious, but at the same time it’s really weird and totally amazing.

As week 16 comes to a close and I’ve started to look pretty pregnant, I’m finally beginning to let myself hope and believe that this (not so) little bump will become a healthy baby. So what have I learned and experienced over the past weeks (aside from anxious excitement!)?

1. Morning sickness is a misnomer

While some people escape morning sickness altogether, for me it was more of an all day nausea. While it was pretty rough, I was lucky that it only lasted from about week 7 to week 13. Beige food really helped during this time and my go-to meals became porridge, avocado on crackers, peanut butter and apple on rye toast, butternut squash risotto and (bizarrely) vegan curry. I found myself trying to sneak veggies into my meals where I could stomach it, made sure I took my pregnancy vitamins plus a vitamin b complex and daily dose of liquid iron, but if I’m honest it wasn’t my finest few weeks in terms of nutrition. When it passed and I started fancying salad again it was amazing and I welcomed back all of the vegetables with open arms! Now I’m pretty much back to my usual diet with the addition of a 4pm banana or Trek bar snack and maybe the occasional weekend piece of vegan cake (because right now it’s hard to tell baby from belly!).

2. Get ready to slow down and get breathless

I would compare the tiredness of pregnancy with the feeling you get on a Sunday afternoon having done a long run that morning: one minute you’re fine and the next you’re flat out asleep on the sofa, still fully dressed. The benefit of this is that you sleep like a baby (or like a pregnant woman), and during the first trimester I’d be tucked up in bed fast asleep by 9:30 pm.

I’ve also found that I have an in-built slowdown mechanism that kicks in during pregnancy runs and prevents me from going much faster than 8.50 minute miles, but often sees me much closer to 9.30s. I have taught myself to embrace this sedate pace and enjoy the fact that I’m still able to run, rather than worrying about how fast I’m going.

There is also an, initially alarming, breathlessness that comes with being pregnant. In early pregnancy the boost in progesterone causes breathlessness, while later the baby pushing up on your diaphragm and lungs has the same impact. It is still pretty disconcerting finding myself out of puff having only walked up the stairs, but at least I know now what’s causing it and that it’s not indicative of a sudden dramatic drop-off in fitness!

3. Keep moving

Despite being slow and breathless, I still feel best in my body while I’m working out. I’m still able to run 4 or 5 times a week (normally between 3 and 8 miles, but if I have to cut a run short due to discomfort I don’t beat myself up about it), I still do yoga every morning (with some adjustments to allow for the bump) and I’m trying to fit in at least one weights session at the gym a week.

It’s recommended that you don’t take up new sports during pregnancy and that you avoid high-risk and contact sports, but if you worked out before you became pregnant, and still feel ok exercising, then generally there is no need to stop. If you have any doubts or concerns do check with your doctor or midwife and make sure you always listen to your body; if you feel uncomfortable or if something twinges take a step back or call it a day. Exercise at this time should be for general physical and mental wellbeing rather than for any particular goals, so it’s silly to push yourself unnecessarily (that’s what I have to keep reminding myself anyway!).

4. Treat yourself to maternity wear

While in the grand scheme of things you’re only pregnant for a short time, while you are living it, 9 months feels like an age. Now my body is dramatically changing shape I’ve made the decision to treat myself to some new pregnancy-body essentials: underwear (including non-underwired bras, which are a must for growing breast tissue, as well as sports bras, not least as mine have become slightly indecent in light of my recent growth spurt!), maternity jeans (I’ve received two hand-me-down pairs from a good friend of mine and they are the most comfortable things ever! They are still a little big for me at the moment but I don’t doubt I’ll grow into them), and some stretchy skirts and dresses for work. I’m also on the lookout for some over the bump smart black trousers for work so if anyone has any recommendations do pass them on.

While I don’t want to spend a lot of money on clothes that I’m only going to wear for a limited time, I do still want to feel like myself and attractive* (*or at least not like an enormous frump!). At a time when you are feeling more than a little ill at ease in your body – getting used to your new lumps and bumps, and accepting and trying to embrace a larger belly and breasts –  the last thing you want is to feel uncomfortable and self-conscious in your clothes as well as your skin. While I don’t condone fast fashion or materialism, I do think it’s ok to treat yourself to a few new pieces that will keep you feeling good throughout your pregnancy.

5. Don’t play the comparison game

If you Google ’16 week baby bump’ (and I have, many times) the range in the size of bumps and bodies is dramatic. This is a good reminder that every body and every pregnancy is different. While at first I was very anxious to ascertain if I was growing at a ‘normal’ rate and regularly comparing myself with friends at a similar stage of pregnancy, I’ve come to realise that this is really unhelpful. We all grow at different rates and in different places. I feel massive at the moment, especially compared to my tiny friends, but I’m hoping that the growth will come in fits and starts and that I won’t be totally humongous come August! I also know that many women worry about not growing quickly enough in early pregnancy and are concerned that their bumps are too small, so it’s important to remember that one size most certainly doesn’t fit all.

6. Your body will become public property

While you are going through these changes, and trying to get used to them yourself, be prepared for an onslaught of personal, body-related comments from others. Apparently when you are pregnant you are fair game in this regard, who knew?! Some days it will feel like everyone has something to say about your growing body, and not everyone will be tactful about it. Some people will use sensitive euphemisms such as ‘bloom’ and ‘glow’, while there will be others whose comments fall wide of the tact mark (‘I thought you’d put on weight’ and ‘wow you’re so big’ are a couple that I have been treated with). The only thing you can do is try to remain confident in your body and feel proud that you are growing another human (!!!), which will inevitably involve some changes in your shape.

I’ve certainly had a lot of insecure moments lately – my rib cage has pushed out making me feel a lot wider, I’ve gone from being practically flat chested to having a serious rack, any sign of abs that I had are a distant memory and side-on I’m now positively ‘deep’ – but I’m trying to own my new shape and remain focused on the bigger picture (not just my bigger belly!).

7. Beware the judging eyebrow

While the body comments can be taken with a pinch (or two) of salt, the judgemental raised eyebrow, which accompanies observations about your lifestyle choices and what you should, or more often, shouldn’t, be doing, can cut a little closer to the bone. Whether it’s a comment on your exercise regime (‘are you sure you should be running’), diet (‘but you’ll give up veganism now you’re pregnant, right?’), your holidays (‘but you didn’t actually ski did you?’), or your decision to drink one of the two the NHS-approved cups of caffeinated tea a day (‘don’t you want decaf?’) it’s amazing how suddenly judgemental the world seems to be.

Although I know that as a pregnant woman there is a seemingly infinite list of dos and don’ts, when I do make a decision it is usually after an agonisingly long conversation with my husband/mum/sister/mother-in-law/midwife and much careful consideration, not just on the spur of the moment. That said, I also live in permanent fear that I will do something that may damage the baby – should I have used a hot water bottle when i had that stomach ache? Was my bath cool enough? Was that swimming pool water too warm? How long was I asleep on my back before I woke up and realised? Am I getting too stressed at work?  – so rest assured all of you with the raised eyebrow, I don’t need external judgement to send me into a tailspin over whether I’m doing things ‘the right way’.

While I still haven’t mastered turning the other cheek to the judgemental eyebrow, the best advice I can offer is to do things in a considered way, seek advice from those you trust, do your research and feel confident that what you are doing is right for you.

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If anyone else is going through pregnancy at the moment I’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences. Until my next, happy growing!

A Rude Awakening

Last week I found myself taken aback, angry and confused to see an Instagram post from the company Rude Health declaring their support of the dairy industry. For those of you unfamiliar with the Rude Health brand, they produce an array of high-end, dairy free nut, oat and rice milks, and I have to admit their products are, well were, among my favourites. Like many of the other people who saw this post, my initial assumption was that either their account had been hacked or someone on work experience had made a massive PR error. However, a quick search on their website revealed neither of these scenarios to be the case. In fact, what I discovered was a ‘rant’ blog post from their Co-founder and Brand Director, Camilla Barnard, in which she categorised vegetarianism and veganism as fad diets.

While I don’t often get angry about many things, the messaging from Rude Health really wound me up, not least because it shows such a total lack of understanding on so many levels. It’s a lack of understanding of the motivations behind a plant based lifestyle (which Barnard describes as a fad diet ‘to save you from cancer and early death’ and a means by which to ‘claim the health and moral-high ground’), a complete misreading of who the people are who actually buy their products, and from a brand and marketing perspective, an apparent ignorance about how and why people align themselves to particular brands and brand identities.

Since seeing the Instagram image and reading the blog post, I have found myself morbidly fascinated in following the backlash of these postings, reading the thousands of comments that have resulted – many from people like me, who really don’t understand why any company in its right mind would seek to alienate one of its core audiences – and watching and waiting for some kind of explanation, apology or rationality from Rude Health. None has come.

I have also decided, along with many other vegans, to boycott Rude Health products. Reiterating the points above, my decision to buy Rude Health’s dairy-free milks was not just based on the fact that they were tasty; just as my decision not to eat animals and animal products is not just part of a fad to ‘save me from cancer’.

The fact is, that many vegans, myself included, made this lifestyle choice because we are fundamentally opposed to the meat and dairy industries and the impact they have on the well-being of animals and on the environment. We have seen the dark side of these industries and have come to our own conclusions not to play a part in the perpetuation of them. I didn’t become a vegan on the back of a ‘celebrity exclusion diet’ or to claim ‘the moral high-ground’. I became a vegan because I find the idea of killing another sentient being and consuming its corpse for pleasure totally barbaric and abhorrent. If my decision not to eat meat at the age of 8 was a fad, then it has been a bloody long one. Likewise, I don’t see that I have any business in drinking the breast milk of another species, not least when getting that milk involves cows being raped, having their calves taken away from them, being pumped full of hormones and steroids, being forced to express milk to the point of suffering from severe mastitis and then being culled when they are no longer of any use to the industry. No Camilla I am not ‘forced by an allergy’ to follow this diet, but I am compelled to, by the facts of an industry which I find to be inhumane. Eating may be a social activity and you may want ‘positivity and fun around food’, but this is equally possible while following a wholly plant-based diet and the fact is when I eat what I eat, no one has to die in the process.

Moreover, I’d be really interested to see who are actually buying Rude Health milk-alternative products. In insulting the vegan community, Rude Health clearly believe that there is a large enough market of non-vegans who are prepared to pay a minimum of £3.50 on a weekly basis for a carton of cashew milk and I just can’t believe that to be the case (although I’d love to be wrong on this). Even living in the lefty, middle-class bubble of North London, I don’t know any non-vegans who would be prepared to splurge on three different types of dairy-free milks on a weekly basis in the way that my vegan friends and I do. I know a few people who might buy almond or soya milk as a one off, but even then it is usually a cheaper brand, not Rude Health.

Finally, you don’t have to be a marketing expert to see that people buy into brands not just products. Whether it is in fashion or food, we like to align ourselves to the brands that we feel either reflect our personalities and our values, or that we aspire to imitate. In pledging their support for the dairy industry, Rude Health have isolated themselves from a massive vegan community who are fundamentally opposed to that industry.

And the big question for me is, why say anything at all? Why kick up this storm so unnecessarily? Is it just a case of massively misjudging and underestimating your audience, or is there something more sinister like a cash injection from an interested party behind it?

I’d be really interested to hear both your and Rude Health’s thoughts around this. I’ll also be keeping a keen eye on the Companies House site for their next accounts statement. 

Festivals and the fashioning of identity

This August, in a bid to finally overcome my festival virginity, I packed up my tent, hand sanitiser, wellies and dry shampoo and headed off to Wilderness. It was the most fabulous few days, camping out in the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside with my lovely pals and so many fun activities on tap. I knew it would be my kind of festival when our itinerary included archery and wild swimming alongside quaffing champagne and dancing, and when I spotted not one but two tea and crumpet stands. Our days were filled with everything from comedy and cricket to political debates and yoga, all topped off with a heady mix of delicious food and drinks, lots of glitter and of course, plenty of amazing music.

While I had such a fun few days, something struck me as I mooched amongst girls dressed in little more than sequinned-leggings and glitter: in my denim dungarees and wellies I suddenly felt incredibly conservative and strait-laced, a feeling at odds with the person I believe myself to be.
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While much of my identity is tied up in my liberal left-wing views, my veganism, an interest in the environment and sustainability and my love of the outdoors – running, yoga, hiking and climbing, swimming in lakes and sitting by campfires – the realisation dawned on me that my outer appearance isn’t necessarily reflective of these elements of my personality. I started to see that my tendency to err on the side of caution in my clothing choices has meant that while I’m pretty hippy on the inside, I’m definitely more preppy on the outside.

As a result, I started to examine the question of whether our inner- and outer-selves necessarily have to match up; are our personalities and sartorial decisions intertwined, or can they be mutually exclusive? Does a sensible polo-neck sweater and a pleated skirt preclude skinny dipping and a love of tofu and preempt quiet evenings in with a book and hot chocolate? Do I really need to don the festival uniform of a sequinned leotard and little else to prove to the outside world that I’m a fun-loving tree-hugging, left-leaning yogi?

There is definitely something about dressing in a certain way that makes you feel part of a tribe and gives you a firm sense of both self and community. There are times when this draw towards the ‘uniform’ of a tribe is particularly heightened, and a festival is one such occasion. I have to admit, having never before considered adding anything with sequins to my wardrobe, suddenly at Wilderness I found myself coveting them. But using dress to align yourself with a certain lifestyle or political outlook isn’t just about frivolously opting for a one style of shirt over another, it can also act as a creative means by which you can construct a visual representation of who you are.

This week in a BBC Radio 4 programme about identity, the speakers emphasised the role that coherence and consistency plays in establishing a firm sense of personal identity, and I suppose coordinating your inner and outer selves adds to this sense of coherence. Yet while for some people their look is part of a unified package, for others, like me, it’s slightly more scatter-gun and perhaps not as considered as it might be.

All of this got me thinking about my identity, both from the point of view of how people perceive me, and from the perspective of how I want to be seen. Would a more careful curation of my wardrobe give me, as well as those around me, a stronger sense of who I am?
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During my run on Thursday I was listening to a podcast interview with the skier Lynsey Dyer and something she said really threw all of these thoughts into focus. She observed that, as a teenager, she had fallen in love with the idea of surfing having seen the Roxy girls in various surfer magazines. However, later, when she realised that the women she had admired were just models who couldn’t surf it made her see that what really mattered wasn’t so much looking the part but living the experience.

In another podcast episode, Rich Roll explored the concept of authenticity and truth to oneself. He asked the question, who am I at my core, and do my actions align with this authentic sense of purpose and self? This drilling down to our core values and living in a way true to them is also something examined in Greg McKeown’s book ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less‘.

For me, these speakers highlighted a more important element of identity, that of asserting and living in a way true to your core values. In this way, the focus is on substance, not just style and it becomes more than just about veneering yourself in the tropes of how you feel certain values should look, or slavishly imitating those around you, without imbuing that aesthetic with an authentic piece of yourself.

So while I am reviewing my outward appearance and considering more carefully the messages that my choice of clothing may send out, I’m also auditing my inner self, digging deeper to establish what truly matters to me and how my behaviours in all elements of my life convey this message.

I want to finish with a quote from Rich Roll on the question of dress and aligning yourself with a particular look or brand:

If it’s authentic to who you are; if it’s a natural expression of what you would be doing or wearing ordinarily, then it’s ok. It’s when it becomes artifice and there’s some other agenda that’s built into that, where it become something else entirely, that’s where it becomes problematic.

Until my next, namaste.

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