The Minimalists

‘Love people and use things. Because the opposite never works.’

Joshua Fields Millburn

Last weekend, on my Sunday run, I enjoyed listening to an interview with self-proclaimed minimalist, Joshua Fields Millburn, who was speaking on the Rich Roll podcast. Millburn, who along with his fellow minimalist Ryan Nicodemus, has written a number of books on the subject of living with less, has also more recently produced a documentary film, which reflects on his life and lifestyle and on our relationship, as a society, with material things.

What I really like about Millburn’s approach to minimalist living is his openness and his pragmatism. For him it’s not as dogmatic as throwing away all of your possessions, or as extreme as reducing your annual waste to the contents of a mason jar. Rather, he looks at the gradual stripping back and rationalisation of things; a process of simplification, not only of the objects around him, but also of his digital and mental clutter. His approach posits that by simplifying all elements of your life you are able to ascertain greater degree of freedom from these physical trappings and, as such, a greater degree of clarity.

The problem, as Millburn sees it, is not consumption per se, but rather our compulsiveness to always want more. What a minimalist approach to life allowed him to see was that his happiness couldn’t be found in material things and that everything he thought he ever wanted wasn’t actually everything he ever wanted. For him, minimalism was about a process of taking back control of the world around him, of not being told what he should want or how a particular thing should make him feel. And what began as a process of unshackling his relationship to material things culminated in his finding a way of creating more by consuming less and a means of prioritising experience over accumulation.

Millburn’s approach to life really struck a chord with me, not least as while I was listening to him speak I ran past two houseboats on Regent’s Canal which, due to recent bad weather, were sinking into the murky waters below, taking with them all of the material possessions of two families. Sobering indeed.

In fact minimalism has appealed to me ever since childhood, when an irrational fear of losing all of my toys in house fire (a fear which, I may add, had no basis in any real event) led me to take many of my possessions to a charity shop, a decision based on the premise that you can’t be sad to lose the things that you don’t have. This detachment from things was joined, in later years, by a love of neatness and general order, creating the perfect storm for discarding and de-cluttering.

While I’d be anxious to call myself a minimalist in the purest sense (not least as I do have my fair share of things and, in a shared living space, I’ve learned that it’s not quite as acceptable to just throw items away as when you live alone), I am quite selective about the things that I take into my life. I like to audit my books, clothes, shoes, paperwork and general bits and bobs on a regular basis, finding something very therapeutic about throwing things away or giving them to charity. I try to operate on a ‘one in one out’ basis, something which my husband finds slightly severe and difficult to understand. When I do buy new things it is often after much agonising, although I do then find that I keep hold of them until they fall apart or, as is more often the case, until they find themselves being held together with safety pins and I’m shamed into throwing them away. It’s not that I don’t like new things, or stuff in general, it’s just that too much of it, its disorder, or its redundancy makes me anxious and uncomfortable.

With Black Friday today and Christmas on the approach and with the prospect of an influx of stuff on my mind I’ve begun with a whole new round of ‘rationalisation’ and am trying to encourage my husband to do the same. At a time we all seem to fixate on things, I’m trying instead to organise spending some time with the people I love and whose company enrich my life more than any object ever could.

If you have time to listen to the podcast or to watch the documentary these can be found here and here, but if not, perhaps just take a step back away from the material world to reflect on the virtues of focusing on life’s most important things—which actually, aren’t really things at all.

Namaste.

Festive treats: Perfect presents for sporty types

It seems like every paper and magazine you pick up at the moment is offering ‘best gift guides for Christmas’, so in the (sort of) festive spirit I’ve decided to jump on to the gift list bandwagon.

I’ve picked out some sporty treats that I hope will help inspire you in your Christmas shopping. Hopefully some of these might make it onto your list, either as gifts for others, or perhaps as sneaky little treats to yourself.

Gifts for runners

1. Cold weather accessories

nike running headband
Nike dri-fit headband, £10 from John Lewis
Breathable running headbands, hats and gloves are all very welcome gifts as winter running necessitates wrapping up warm before venturing out on those chilly mornings and evenings.

I love my Nike headband, which keeps my hair back and my ears warm and I don’t know what I’d do without my More Miles running gloves, which I need to keep my fingers nice and snuggly on icy cold days.

2. Running rucksack

osprey backpack
Osprey Tempest 9, £64.99 from Runners Need
R bought me my Osprey running backpack last year and it’s had plenty of use since then, not only when I run my commute, but also at races, when going to yoga and generally when carting my gym kit around with me.

It’s the perfect size for fitting everything in but not too big that it hampers my runs.

It has a waist and chest strap and it’s breathable so your back doesn’t get too sweaty when you run!

3. Bright, long-sleeved tops

ron hill running top
Ron Hill Vizion Running Top (also available in pink), £28 from John Lewis
When winter hits you suddenly realise that all of your runs are in the dark and bright attire becomes crucial.

Wearing something bright and reflective at night, especially if you are running near roads is really important and the long sleeves keep you warm on chilly evenings.

I’ve got a couple of these Ron Hill high vis running tops and they serve me well either layered up over vests or on their own over a sports bra.

4. Running socks

No one wants to buy them for themselves, but when you are padding along in a new pair of fluffy running socks you are infinitely grateful for they squishy, soft newness! This makes new running socks the perfect stocking fillers for any runner.

5. Foam roller

foam-roller-90cm
Foam rollers, available on Amazon from £20
Slightly awkward to wrap and known mainly for the agony it brings, a foam roller is a must-have for any regular runner.

Yes it hurts like hell, but after a foam rolling session your muscles will thank you for it (but maybe not until the next day).

Gifts for yogis

1. Yoga mat

yoga mat
Manuka yoga mat, £38 from Manukalife.com
Another one that’s a bit tricky to wrap, but I can’t tell you how nice it is to have your own yoga mat.

Home practice becomes so much easier and there is really no excuse not to get into your downward dog every morning.

I’ve got a Manuka Yoga Bunny mat from John Lewis which I love. It’s really grippy even when my hands start to get sweaty during an energetic practice and it has an inbuilt tie so it’s easy to store.

2. Yoga socks

yoga socks
Gaiam Toe Sox, a full range of colour and styles available from Gaiam.com
Starting to do yoga regularly has opened up my eyes to a whole new range of useful and stylish sporting accessories, of which yoga socks are one.

While I don’t yet own a pair, these grippy socks help if you find yourself slipping on your yoga mat, or if you want to do yoga while away from home and would rather not take your mat with you.

grip-socks-gloves-gaiam-all-grip-yoga-socks-3_large
Yoga socks, £8 from Tesco
You can splash out on a snazzy toe-less pair from the stylish range at Gaiam.com, or try a more low-key pair from Tesco for just £8.

3. Chalk

A revelation to my yoga practice came when I started using the liquid chalk from my climbing during my yoga practice.

liquid chalk
Liquid Chalk, £6.50 from bananafingers.co.uk
Often when venturing off my own yoga mat and onto one of the well-used ones at my yoga studio I find my hands slipping and sliding all over the place, particularly during a fast flow class.

Using chalk helps to counter the sweaty palms making holding my downward dog infinitely easier. This liquid chalk tends not to come off too much on the mat either, so you don’t leave a chalk imprint of your mits behind!

Gifts for fit foodies

1. Spiraliser

spiraliser
Kitchen Craft Spiraliser, £14.99 from Currys
Eighteen months ago I don’t think I had any idea what a spiraliser was, let alone corgetti, but now no self-respecting foodie is without one.

From butternut squash noodles to courgetti spaghetti, our spiraliser has revolutionised supper time for the better.

Mine was a birthday present from my pal Sophie, but this Kitchen Craft spiraliser looks similar, with the same array of blade options.

2. NutriBullet

Still on my wishlist, the NutriBullet is the king among blenders. From nuts, avos and even carrots, apples and chunks of ginger, you can pop everything in, whizz it up a within seconds you’ve got your dream juice. 

nutribullet
Original NutriBullet blender, £89.99 from http://www.buynutribullet.co.uk
3. Deliciously Ella
I think I’m probably the only person on the planet not in possession of this book, but I’ve sampled many recipes made by friends, both at the dinner parties and snacking lunches and it’s at the top of my wish lists!
From breakfast crumbles, to date and cacao balls, and from delicious salads to heart warming stews, Ella offers an array of easy to make, vegan recipes, which don’t have the ominous ingredients list of an Ottalenghi dish. 

4. Graze subscription

My sister bought me a Graze subscription a couple of years back and it was such a deliciously tasty treat! Regular snaking boxes, with treats selected according to your dietary preferences and delivered to your door, what more could you want? 

Media fitness gifts

1. Jawbone Up / Fitbit
jawboneThis is a dangerous choice, as R will attest.

The recipient may be infinitely grateful, but that gratitude may be expressed as the desire to walk everywhere and in an obsession with number of steps per day.

You have been warned.

2. Fitness magazine subscription

Packed with lots of exercise, diet and well-being advice, these are a staple indulgence for many fitties.

I love treating myself to Women’s Health, Women’s Fitness or Runners World, but at around £4 a copy they often feel like a decadent purchase. However,  subscriptions come in as low as £21.99 for 10 copies and there are plenty of festive subscription sales around so it’s worth shopping around.

3.  GPS watch

garmin
Garmin
If you want to spend a bit more a GPS watch makes a useful and thoughtful present. Garmin’s are a good place to start for trusty stats and reliable mapping.

4. Strava premium

If a GPS watch seems a bit too pricey, you could treat someone to an upgrade on their running tracker app. Strava Premium is available for just £4.49 a month or £44.99 for a year and offers pace and progress analysis, target setting functionality and training videos.

5. Running books

natural born heroes
Natural Born Heroes, Chris McDougall, £16.99 hb from Waterstones
Books are possibly my favourite kind of present, both thoughtful and thought provoking. 

I really love running and sports related books and some favourites include Running with the Kenyans, What I talk about when I talk about running, Eat and Run and Natural Born Heroes. Nothing beats a well-chosen book with a thoughtful note on the inside jacket.

Festive indulgences

Christmas pjsEach year I save up my annual leave so I can take the days from Christmas Eve to the 2nd January as holiday and escape the hectic hustle and bustle of London by retreating to my parents’ house.

This is the one time of year when I know my inbox can withstand the break and when I really allow myself to stop, relax and unwind.

As for most people, this period usually involves a number of festive indulgences, from roasted vegetables and stuffing piled high, to glasses of mulled wine at all hours.

However, I’ve come to realise that not all indulgences need to be bad, and this Christmas, particularly as I’m in the midst of marathon training, I’ve been enjoying some healthy treats.

1. Indulging my gym kit habit

running clothes
New Christmas running gear

From running tights to headbands and from warm winter tops to florescent gloves, this Christmas everyone has been helping to feed my sportswear habit.

My favourite new items include my snuggly new Rab running jumper, which has kept me toasty even in the snow, my Sweaty Betty headband, and my new running tights to keep my legs warm on my winter jogs.

2. Satiating my love of cooking

Christmas offers plenty of time and lots of opportunities to try out new, tasty dishes, and since I have been treated to lots of new cookbooks for Christmas I’ve got no excuse not to get into the kitchen!

As part of my New Year’s resolution I’ve decided to try out a new delicious vegan recipe every week or so, the best of which I will share with you here. In the meantime I’m making the most of all of the delicious seasonal fruit and veggies that my mum has bought, including butternut squash roasted with cinnamon, sprouts steamed with dried cranberries and dates stuffed with walnuts, delish!

3. Seasonal snacks

Talking of food, not all Christmas treats have to be bad for you; I’ve been enjoying lots of little satsumas, mixed nuts, dried fruit and chestnuts, all delicious snacks and great for fuelling winter training sessions.

4. Winter pampering

Snowy run
Snowy run with R

With nights drawing in, lots of central heating and chilly winter winds your skin can take quite a battering over the winter months. To counteract the winter ‘grey’ period, my Christmas stocking included an array of new nail varnishes, cotton gloves, face masks, lovely Lush bath bombs and Elemis body washes.

As an extra special treat, my sister and I booked in for a spa day at the beautiful Macdonald Hill Valley Spa Hotel, where we enjoyed two 30 minute treatments each – I had a back massage and a lime and ginger full body scrub – use of the pool, steam room and sauna, and a delicious vegan lunch, all for £55 each – a total bargain!

5. Long, lazy runs

Running with my brother-in-law
Running with my brother-in-law in Hanchurch Woods

Not having to squish my runs into my lunch breaks or my commutes home from work is such a treat. I’ve been staying on target with my marathon training by dragging friends and family members out with me in the snow.

The ice gives a good excuse to take the runs slightly easier and catch up on some gossip on the way round, while at the same time burning off some of those seasonal treats!

6. Pjs and bedtime reading

Snuggling up by the fire in my new Christmas pjs enjoying one of my new books is such a treat and is the perfect way to unwind. My stocking included ultramarathon runner and vegan Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run and Runner’s World journalist Alex Hutchinson’s What Comes First, Cardio or Weights? both of which I will be reporting back on!

7. Movies with my mum

Curling up with my kitty
Curling up with my kitty

Watching movies with my parents is one of my favourite holiday pastimes. Curling up on the sofa together to watch anything from Bridget Jones’ Diary to Casablanca with a hot drink and my kitty on my knee is absolute bliss!

What are your holiday indulgences?

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…

chestnuts roasting on an open fireIn the spirit of all things festive I’ve found myself a new favourite winter treat – roasted chestnuts.

A paper bag of hot chestnuts from the South Bank Christmas market got me hooked, and this weekend when I celebrated Christmas with my housemates before we all disappear for the holiday period, I decided to make my own to enjoy while we played board games and drank mulled wine.

What I hadn’t realised about this deliciously festive snack is that it’s also a nutritional powerhouse.

Chestnuts, unlike other nuts and seeds, are relatively low in calories as they are primarily starch based. While this makes them higher in carbohydrates than other nuts, the carbs in chestnuts are complex, so they are digested slowly offering a gradual release of energy.

They are a good source of cholesterol-lowering dietary fibre, offering approximately 8.1g per 100g.

They are also the only nut to contain high levels of vitamin C, with 100g of nuts provide 43mg of vitamin C.

They contain folic acid (100 g nuts provide 62 µg), which plays a role in preventing neurological defects in the foetus of pregnant women, as well as having a role in the creation of DNA, RNA and red blood cells.

Like other nuts, they are a rich source of mono-unsaturated fatty acids including oleic acid and palmitoleic acid, that can help lower bad cholesterol levels and increase levels of good cholesterol.

Moreover they are an excellent source of iron, (essential to protect against anaemia), calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc, (important for bone strength).

They provide around 518mg potassium per 100g, which helps counter hypertensive action of sodium, lowers heart rate and blood pressure.

Finally they are also rich in many important B vitamins. 100 g of nuts provide 11% of niacin, 29% of pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), 100% of thiamin, and 12% of riboflavin.

If that isn’t reason enough to get roasting chestnuts over an open fire I don’t know what is!

Happy holidays!

A toast to festive cheer!

Dr Stuart's Liver Detox Tea
Dr Stuart’s Liver Detox Tea

With Christmas edging ever closer and with it, the opportunity to over-indulge, I thought this was a good opportunity to re-blog my post on the impact of alcohol on the body, with a few added extras.

In attempt to mitigate the effects of the festive ‘cheer’, I’ve recently started drinking Dr Stuart’s Liver Defence tea, which is a potent mix of milk thistle, camomile, peppermint and liquorice.

While the flavour takes a little acclimatising to, I’ve now become quite a fan and the multifarious benefits make this a tea worth trying, particularly at this time of year!

Milk thistle is believed to stabilise the cell membrane of the liver and stimulate protein synthesis, while accelerating the process of regeneration in damaged liver tissue.

This quality means that milk thistle extract can be used to protect the liver from the effects of toxins such as alcohol.

Silymarin in the milk thistle also assists the liver in its role in fat metabolism, with the potential benefit of fighting against the alcohol -associated midriff spread.

So drink up on this and maybe avoid that extra glass of mulled wine…

One Glass or Two – from 20 June 2014

ImageLately I’ve come to realise that, quite alarmingly, I seem to separate my otherwise obsessively healthy lifestyle from my love of wine and my sometimes rather frightening intake of alcohol.

By Sunday, this week will have involved a toast to a book project, a publishing pub quiz and a wedding, all of which include drinks. Indeed, alcohol intake is somewhat of an occupational hazard, with book launches, networking events and fairs, all helped along with a glass (or two) of wine a teetotal publisher seems something of an oxymoron.

I go through dry spells, mainly to prove to myself that I can happily manage without a drink, but there is something so deliciously decadent about a glass of red curled up next to a fire on a chilly evening, or a crisp Italian white on a sunny afternoon, that I don’t seem to have either the power or inclination to give up altogether.

While I always feel a little disappointed and annoyed at myself when I have that one glass too many, and envy my teetotal friends who don’t have the same enjoyment of wine, this just doesn’t seem to be enough to give it up completely.

A recent survey of a number of my colleagues and friends revealed a similar story, with many of them admitting that they should probably drink a little less and that they too separate drinking alcohol from other health and fitness concerns.

spirits-yorkshireThe short term outcome of drinking aren’t great.

The calories in alcohol are only matched by those in pure fat (so when you think you’ve ‘lost your appetite’ after a few drinks, you may actually find you’ve just taken in your calorie intake in a less nutritional form). These empty calories not only add to your waistline without offering any nutritional value, but the alcohol also reduces the amount of fat your body uses for energy. This is because while we can store protein, carbohydrates, and fat, we can’t store alcohol so our body works to get rid of it and in doing so all of the other processes that should be taking place (including absorbing nutrients and burning fat) are interrupted.

On top of this there is that inevitable night of poor sleep (which in itself boosts your desire to eat) followed by a day of chain drinking coffee and indulging in stodgy carbohydrates, sugary fruit juices, or fatty nuts. Not to mention the subpar performance in the pool/gym/running track, if you even make it to your workout.

The longer term outcomes of regular alcohol intake are pretty bleak and include increased risk of mouth, throat, liver, oesophagus and breast cancer, steatosis (fatty liver), cirrhosis and fibrosis of the liver, pancreatitis, cardiomyopathy (stretching of the heart muscles), arrhythmias (irregular heart beat), stroke and high blood pressure.

cider-doughnutDrinking too much can also weaken your immune system and chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.

The Guardian reported this week that the number of people diagnosed with liver cancer has risen sharply in recent years. An Office for National Statistics study shows the incidence of liver cancer in England increased by 70% for males and 60% for females between 2003 and 2012.

This study reports that since 2003 there have been large increases in the number of registrations of liver, oral, uterine and kidney cancer, all of which are strongly linked to lifestyle choices, such as smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity.

The NHS says that while the exact cause of liver cancer is not known, it is thought to be related to damage to the liver, such as cirrhosis, which can be caused by excessive drinking.

beer-steakDrink Aware has a great resource for calculating your daily and weekly unit and calorie-from-alcohol intake which is quite shocking and I’d recommend having a look (if only out of morbid curiosity!)

Still fancy that glass of wine…

Read more on the NHS, Drink Aware and the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism websites.