Mum and baby fitness

This weekend I enjoyed my first session back in the pool since giving birth (full set below). This came at the end of a fun and diverse week of postpartum fitness classes helping me to feel more like myself again. 

Having had our six week check and been signed off by the doctor on Monday, Tuesday saw me and Florence at a restore and repair class with Warrior Mums (http://elizaflynn.co.uk/warriorrr-workouts/warriorrr-mums-babies/) in Highbury. I tend to struggle to put Florence down without her crying so it was great that I could do a lot of the exercises while holding her. We began with core work, followed by a quick cardio warm-up and a circuit of resistance and weighted toning exercises. It was really fun and I felt like I was getting a workout, albeit a suitability gentle one. The GP and trainer at Warrior Mums confirmed that I have approximately 1.5cm separation in my abdominals, which is totally normal and doesn’t classify as fully-blown diastasis recti, although I still need the avoid crunches, planks and anything that engages my six pack until the muscles have come back together again. 

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Wednesday was a bit more sedate with a trip to the cinema for a baby screening of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’. We took a brisk walk to the Screen on the Green in Angel, Islington to meet the NCT girls (https://www.everymancinema.com/screen-on-the-green). Here we enjoyed a two-man sofa to ourselves, free tea served to our seat and, of course, a good movie, which Florence slept and fed through – perfect! We followed it up with a trip to Planet Organic for a healthy lunch of vegan sushi and a smoothie and a walk home via a slightly elongated route. 

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On Thursday we attended a mum and baby yoga class at Yoga Home in Stoke Newington (http://yogahome.com/). This was our second attempt at the class and for a second time Florence cried for most of it. The crèche worker helped, as did the ‘tummy time’ toy I took along, but overall it was a struggle and the amount of yoga I actually got done was questionable! On the one hand, it is good practice for me to put Florence down, for her to see other babies and for us to do an activity together, on the other, it’s not an inexpensive class and if she really doesn’t like it, is it worth persisting? I’m still unsure. 

On Thursday evening, I enjoyed a run while Florence had some daddy time. It was my third run back and felt great. I’m taking it really slow and steady at the moment (10 minute miles for 3 1/2 miles); I’m being mindful to take care of my body and enjoy being out rather than pushing myself, but it feels so great all the same. 

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On Friday we enjoyed a workout in Clissold Park with the Buggy Belles (http://www.buggy-belles.com/). Florence slept in the sling for the whole class and was good for ‘weighting’ my step-ups, squats and lunges! It was a really fun class on a beautiful sunny morning and we will definitely be going back next week!

Today I had a visit from a women’s health physio from My French Physio (http://myfrenchphysio.london/). She checked my section scar, abdominal separation and pelvic floor. She gave me some exercises to strengthen my transverse abdominal muscles and to help me to fully relax my pelvic floor. We also discussed my return to exercise and it was good to be able to ask about my decision to start running again and for her to let me know what to look out for in terms of discomfort, pain and symptoms of pushing myself too hard too soon. It was good to feel supported by an expert in this area and I made another appointment for further checks and exercises in three weeks. 

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On the whole it’s been a great week for exercise; now I just need to cut back on my Brazil and cashew nut snacking!!

My swimming session from Sunday is below, enjoy.

7 weeks postpartum, swim:

Warm up:

200m front crawl

Main set:

200m backstroke 

200m breaststroke 

200m front crawl

200m front crawl kick 

200m front crawl pull 

200m front crawl full stroke

200m backstroke kick 

100m alternating 25m breaststroke kick, 25m front crawl kick 

100m front crawl pull 

Cool down:

200m front crawl 

Total: 2,000m, 45 minutes 

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The secrets of self discipline

If you are anything like me, you will have times when you are feeling really strong, fit, healthy and well-disciplined, and others when it feels like your healthy lifestyle has gone a little bit awry. I find that healthy behaviour breeds healthy behaviour, while once I start snacking and skipping workouts a downward spiral can ensue. 

Following an enforced break from my usual fitness regime I now find myself in this latter camp, and desperate to get back on the right track. While diet and exercise will of course play a key role in this, underpinning my success will be the strength of my self discipline.

The thing is, there is a gap between wanting to be disciplined and actually exercising self discipline, and at the moment that’s a void I’m trying to close.

In search of the secrets of self discipline I found myself undertaking the inevitable Google search. The below are some of the tips that I’ve gathered and I hope these will help me (and you) to rediscover the discipline that I know I have buried somewhere!

Thanks to selfdevelopmentsecrets.com and jamesclear.com for the advice on their sites.

Own your weaknesses

To begin you need to recognise where your weaknesses lie. Do you struggle to say no to treats? Are you swayed by the bad habits of others? Do you talk yourself out of workouts and find that you are justifying behaviour that isn’t in line with your goals? Or discover that all good intentions disappear when you’re tired, hungry or have had a bad day? Once you own, rather than deny, these weaknesses you can begin to correct them, recognising when your resolve may be weak and putting in place strategies to avoid slip-ups. 

Reconfigure your choice architecture 

‘When you are surrounded by better choices, it becomes a lot easier to make a good one’. These are the words of James Clear in his work on choice architecture. This theory posits that you can reconfigure your environment to promote particular choices and achieve set outcomes. Put simply, hide the chocolate and keep fruit close at hand!

When your willpower is depleted you are more likely to make decisions based on your environment; if you are feeling tired or stressed then you may be more susceptible to reaching out for an unhealthy snack handily placed in your desk draw rather than taking a walk or fitting in a workout. If you know that you are at risk of taking this path of least effort, take a little time each day to organise your kitchen/office/gym bag etc. to guide  you towards better choices, even when your willpower is fading. That may mean not having chocolate (or in my case, peanut butter!) in the house and making sure you have plenty of healthy snacks to hand, or serving meals on smaller plates to make smaller portions appear bigger. It may be that you lay out your gym kit or pre-pack your swimming bag in the evening in anticipation of a morning workout, or keep images of your role models around you so you can turn to them when you need inspiration. As Clear states, ‘by making small changes to the physical environment around you, it can become much easier to stick to good habits.’

Make a plan

What are your goals? Write them down and think about how you are going to reach them. Include details about when you will start, what your long and short term targets are and precisely how you intend to achieve them. 

It is important to make the details as specific as you can. By having a clear idea of where you are going it becomes easier to make and track progress and to stay motivated. 

Don’t let boredom get the better of you 

This point from Self Development Secrets is particularly pertinent to me at the moment as I’m spending a lot of time at home with a new born baby. I’m sure we’ve all been in the position when we’ve had too much time on our hands and turned to the snack cupboard, or found ourselves mindlessly chomping midway through a monotonous office task. 

While there is a brief moment of feeling good while we eat, feelings of regret and guilt inevitably ensue and the result is that we end up feeling worse than we did before. 

Recognising the difference between genuine hunger and boredom is an important step to prevent this mindless eating. I find that making a cup of tea, drinking a big glass of water, taking a walk, or doing some yoga can help to give me a window of reflection when I can identify what it is precisely that I’m feeling and if a snack really is necessary. 

What would Kayla Itsines do?

Here Kayla is representative of any role model you may have. Seek out people that you view as successful – be that on social media or in real life – and pay attention to their habits. By reflecting on how they may act in a situation you can draw guidance on how you ought to behave. Would Kayla have that glass of wine or skip a workout? I suspect not. 

Accountability

Tell others what your goals are and be honest with them and with yourself. I find writing this blog is a good way of keeping myself accountable and of explaining my goals so that others are aware of them. Now I’ve told you I’m working to get myself back on track I can hardly secretly scoff a piece of cake, right?!

Let it go

Mistakes happen and we all have bad days. But a slip up isn’t a reason to give up and missing today’s workout doesn’t mean you can’t try again tomorrow. 

Take some time to reflect on your mistake, think about what happened and why, learn from it and then let it go. 

As a new mum, I know that tiredness can feed into a lot of my bad habits so I’m having to learn to recognise when a coffee or a cup of tea, a walk in the fresh air, a power nap (baby permitting), or simply asking for help is the solution rather than a sugary snack. As the Self Development Secrets website says: ‘are you going to let this one thing defeat you or are you going to learn from it moving forward?’

I hope that you have found this post helpful; thank you as ever for reading. If you have any further tips for strengthening self discipline I’d love to hear them. In the meantime I’m going to grab another cup of tea and clear the peanut butter supplies out of the house! 

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. 

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!

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