Why I’m surprisingly comfortable taking my kit off…

One of the (many) great things about growing up as a swimmer is that I have developed a total lack inhibition when it comes to stripping off in a swimming pool changing room. When you’ve spent years trying to fit in training around school, and as an adult you find yourself squeezing a pool session in during your lunch break, there is little time for prudishness. It’s a clothes off cossie on while trying to catch up with your swimming pals kind of affair, with no thought given to the nudity in between.

This lack of inhibition was something that was drawn to my attention after a swimming session this week. As I confidently flaunted my 30 week pregnant belly and newly formed breasts in the shower before drying myself with my tiny sports towel, the woman next to me was painstakingly manoeuvring into her swimming costume beneath a large bath towel. I felt sad that, in what I regard as a safe, female, sports-focused space, she felt uncomfortable enough to go through the rigmarole (that many of us are familiar with from on-beach changing) of trying to undress while within a towel tent.

This is perhaps a surprising observation, and a touch hypocritical, coming from a woman who can change her work clothes up to four times before leaving the house on a so-called ‘fat day’, and who has spent years battling with issues of body image and confidence. Yet with communal swimming changing, and likewise, when wearing sportswear (often the most unforgiving of the outfit choices), I feel surprisingly body positive and unconcerned about how I may look to those around me.

Reflecting on this on my walk home from the pool I realised that, when it comes to the sporting arena, for me it’s not about how you look but what your body can do, a message propagated by the #sportsbrasquad movement (worth searching on Instagram if you’re not already familiar with this hashtag). While on the beach I may find myself intimidated and in awe of scantily clad bikini beauties, on poolside, even with my giant belly, I don’t bat an eyelid. In fact, it’s in the pool at the moment I feel my most at ease. I’m weightless and can swim almost as well as I could pre-pregnancy, and I feel an even greater sense of smugness when me and my belly do some overtaking. It’s only when I pull myself back onto poolside, and it takes a while to regain my land legs, that that literal enormity of my body is brought back to me.

I’m pleased that I can have this focus on performance over physique in some areas of my life, but I need to work at translating this into the everyday, when I’m in my jeans and not just my joggers. The body critical and comparison games are dangerous and counterproductive ones to play. The question shouldn’t be about how my thigh gap compares to anyone else’s, but rather how well my body is performing at whatever it is that it’s doing, be that running, yoga, swimming, cycling or growing a baby, and whether I’m maximising my health and wellbeing alongside those goals.

I will be focusing on this going forward and until my next, embrace getting your (PE) kit off (and on) and as always, let me know your thoughts on all of the above.

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On exercise during pregnancy, getting larger and the fear of leaving work

As my last few posts have been interview or podcast based I thought I’d write a quick post to update you on my fitness and pregnancy progress over the past couple of months.

I’m now just over 24 weeks pregnant (or five and a half months for those working in normal time) with a little girl who, for reasons I won’t go into here, we are currently calling Crêpe Suzette. Getting past the 20 week scan was a big relief, and although this revealed an issue with one of Suze’s kidneys, which initially caused us a little shock and upset (her right kidney is multicystic and will never fully develop or function), having seen the specialist and knowing that they will be keeping an eye on how she develops, I am feeling a lot more positive about the prognosis. We are so excited about introducing her into the world and determined that even with one kidney she will be a strong and empowered little lady. Even if she can’t play contact sports such as water polo like her mum, we already have grand plans for her triathlon career!

She is clearly growing at a good pace (she is over a 33cm in length now), and in response my body has been rapidly expanding. Many of my clothes (sports wear included) have now fallen by the wayside and I’m embracing my new (enforced) capsule wardrobe.

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I made a few additions to this last week, investing in a new pair of running leggings – which are sufficiently baggy to see me through for a little longer and sufficiently jazzy to make me want to exercise – and a couple of oversized sports vests, which are a bit more forgiving when surrounded by mirrors in the gym!

In terms of exercise, I’ve been really enjoying going to spinning classes as I feel like I’m getting a pretty killer workout without Suze bouncing around too much. Similarly, I’ve been spending more time in the gym, trading my Sunday long run for a long gym session. When I’m lifting weights I feel strong (not just large) and the cross trainer provides a great low-impact cardio workout. I’m still going to yoga classes and modifying where necessary, and I start each day with 15 to 20 minutes of home practice.

I am still running, although it is becoming increasingly hard work, so it’s nice to have some other options available. I max out at around 5 miles now and I have to intersperse jogging with short periods of walking. I’ve noticed that my calves and hamstrings are a lot tighter and burn a lot more than ever before, which I am putting down to the change in my weight distribution. All the same, I’m determined to keep getting out for as long as I’m still enjoying it, especially now that the weather is improving and the parks are open later in the evening. I’m just really grateful at the moment that I have the time to run as I know this will change come August!

Another wardrobe addition I’ve fallen in love with, this time courtesy of my mum, is my maternity swimsuit. It is the first time ever that I’ve had a non-training/racing suit and instead I’m embracing a cute little polka dot, halter neck number! It took a bit of getting used to pushing off the wall and tumble turning whilst trusting that I was retaining my modesty, but I’m pretty comfortable with it now and I love the looks on people’s faces as I overtake them in my casual cossie with my enormous stomach! When I swim I feel pretty much normal, which is wonderful.

I’m really determined to keep my body moving, not least as it helps with the swollen ankles and ‘pasty feet’ I’ve suddenly started getting as a result of water retention when I sit down for too long. But also, when I exercise I am a better version of myself and a better person to be around. Exercise means that I still feel strong and confident in my body and even at times, dare I say it, sexy.

Although exercising is proving more physically taxing than ever before, it is still such a huge and valuable part of my life I wouldn’t go without it. Even if exercise now means a walk around Green Park at lunchtime rather than a 10k run along the river, I know I’ll always feel better for doing a little bit of something, and it’s still a good way to catch up on a podcast and see some sunshine.
Changes to my body and workout schedule are not the only things I’m having to get used to. At the moment the prospect of taking time away from work is totally terrifying. I love my job and my team so much and I have so many great projects on the go at the moment that it’s impossible to imagine stepping away, even if only for a year. I know that I will only have that first year with Suze once and how important that will be, and I’m sure when the time comes I’ll revel in our time together, but for the time being I feel like I want to cling onto my job tighter than ever, terrified that it won’t be waiting for me on my return.

I’m sure lots of parents-to-be go through all of these emotions. I’m hoping that my inability to control and plan for everything during this period will prove a positive lesson for the future. I’m having to learn to let go a little and go with the flow and, while for now I feel very out of my comfort zone, I hope that it will stand me in good stead for when Suze arrives and I can’t control anything at all!

If you’ve been through a similar experience, or are going through something similar I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Until my next, keep moving.

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!