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! 

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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!

An escape to the country: Our treehouse babymoon

With a tendency towards minimalism and a love of the great outdoors, it is perhaps unsurprising that one of my longer standing whims (if that’s not too much of an oxymoron?) has been to stay in a treehouse. This desire was finally realised last week, when R and I headed to Wales for three nights in a secluded cabin in the canopy.

Located just outside the village of Tintern, sited at the top of an orchard and surrounded by fields on all sides, the treehouse offered the perfect solitude we were looking for. Built by our host, Gemma, it spanned three rooms – a combined lounge/kitchen/diner, a bedroom and a bathroom – plus a little balcony, just big enough for my yoga mat! With running hot and cold water, a wood burner and an electric hob, we had every luxury we needed for a glamping weekend away.

While a few people raised an eyebrow at my desire to holiday in a treehouse while 33 weeks pregnant, this did little to dampen my enthusiasm. In fact, taking a few days to escape the hot and hectic city, and all of the jobs that need to be done around the house, was just what we both needed. Chore, TV, work and stress free we enjoyed long chats over unhurried meals in the local pub, read our books while sitting on the balcony overlooking the orchard, went on long walks fuelled by a supply of hot cross buns to be enjoyed when sufficient mileage permitted, lingered over the crossword over breakfast of properly made (not microwaved!) porridge, played cards and scrabble in front of the fire, and generally embraced the serenity and togetherness that we know may become increasingly rare in the coming months.

While the excitement of the new addition to our lives takes up a lot of ours thoughts, energy and plans at the moment, our weekend in the trees was a wonderful opportunity to just be us again for a while. Whether it was while doing yoga on the balcony or reading a trashy magazine (me), going for a morning run or enjoying a third pint at the pub (R), we indulged ourselves, free from the usual pressures of home life. We also enjoyed those conversations, which so often come with our holidays, that are liberated from the bounds of domestic priorities – no questions over what’s for dinner or who’s going to empty the washing machine!

While I don’t often talk about my relationship here, I just wanted to acknowledge how lucky I am to have such a wonderful partnership with someone with whom sharing a tiny space in the trees is all the luxury I need! I love that when our relationship is stripped back to two pairs of walking boots, our anoraks and some time outdoors, we are both at our best, no grand gestures or fancy hotels required. It was good to be reminded of this and to have it at the forefront of both of our minds ahead of the new challenges that await us.

I was too sad to leave when Monday morning came around and we needed to get back to the city. Sadly our treehouse retreat was not enough to satiate my whim for a treehouse holiday; rather, it fuelled my desire to book another! Let’s hope baby Suze shares her parents’ enthusiasm for time outdoors and we can enjoy more treetop adventures together.

Until my next, enjoy any summer escapes you have planned.

We stayed at Mistletoe Treehouse, Tintern, booked with Canopy and Stars.

Good run? Well that depends on your definition of good…and run.

Good run?

It’s amazing how two seemingly innocuous words can stir up such a array of emotions. I know when my husband poses this question he is just taking a casual interest in my daily activities, and yet when he asks, for some reason so many feelings – embarrassment, anger, upset and irritation – well up inside me. In my mind I’m shouting, ‘imagine rapidly gaining 2 stone, being constantly hot and breathless, feeling nauseous with acid reflux and needing to pee almost as soon as you’ve been to the toilet, and then try having a good run’, but I usually just smile and say ‘yeah ok’.

Having had two pregnancies in relatively quick succession, and with the toll that this has taken had on my body, I’m struggling to recall the last time I enjoyed a truly good run. There were some relatively decent 10 milers in the autumn last year, when I was starting to feel something like myself again, but that was before the first trimester sickness of the latest pregnancy took hold. At the moment, nine out of every ten runs feels like a struggle for one reason or another – reflux, fatigue, abdominal pain, sore hamstrings, upset stomach, breathlessness, the list goes on – and I can barely run a mile before I need to walk a little. So why persist, you may reasonably ask? The answers are many and various, but it was only while listening to the Running For Real podcast interview with Colin McCourt this week that I really started to deconstruct what exactly it is I’m feeling now when I run, and why it is that I’m continuing in this endeavour.

For those of you unfamiliar with McCourt, he was a GB runner who, after failing to make to Olympic squad in 2012, decided to give up being a professional athlete. He subsequently buried himself in a career in finance, put on quite a lot of weight and gave up running completely. Years later, a bet with friends saw him lacing up his trainers once more, shedding the weight he had gained and going on to run an impressive sub 16 minute 5k.

McCourt’s ethos now is to be transparent about his running and the struggles he has had with his training since returning to the sport, and he is open and honest about the internal conflicts he has had managing his ego during this period. A lot of what he said in the interview really resonated with me. It’s hard to admit to yourself that you’re now pretty rubbish at something that you were once ok at, and even harder to let other people see how far you have fallen. One of the most powerful things that McCourt said in the interview was that while you may be worried about a slow run or a bad race performance, the reality is, no one else really cares. I think this important to remember this when massaging a bruised ego after a sub-optimal run.

Although I am still slightly ashamed of my Strava stats at the moment, and while I may need to temporarily change my definition of a ‘good run’, there are still reasons within me that mean that I keep going.

I keep going for that one run out of the ten when I feel something like myself again; for the run that reminds me why I love the sport. It’s never obvious when this ‘good run’ will strike: I could feel great in the morning when I get up but then fade after a few metres on the road, or feel awful on setting out and then find I can keep going for longer than I’d anticipated. So I have to keep going on the off chance I hit that running sweet spot.

I’m also aware that giving birth will be the toughest mental and physical challenge that I’ll ever have to face and I need to prove to myself that I’ve still got the grit to get through something I’m finding difficult. If I can keep my body fit and healthy and force myself out of my comfort zone then this has to set me up, to some degree, to manage the trauma of birth, or at least put me in a better place than if I let myself get overweight and unfit, right?!

I keep running for my general health and the health of my baby. Despite the old school rumours that expectant mothers should basically be bedridden, the NHS, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the National Childbirth Trust and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence all recommend moderate exercise during pregnancy. This helps to alleviate or reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced hypertension, high gestational weight gain, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

I run because exercise is good for Suze, because the babies of prenatal exercisers tend to have more efficient hearts than those of non-exercisers, and this higher cardio fitness level seems to last into the childhood years.

I keep running because I’m terrified of becoming horribly overweight. I’m ashamed to admit this, but as I pick up weight so easily and I’m acutely aware that I’m eating more and moving less at the moment, I’m nervous about becoming enormous and not being able to lose the weight post-pregnancy. I know I shouldn’t be so vain as to be worrying about this right now, but I can’t help it, and with more women than ever making the hot pregnant and postpartum body look like the norm, I don’t want to be the one fatty who let themselves go in pregnancy.

I also keep running because right now I can, whereas in a few months time it’s going to get a whole lot harder.

And I keep running because next week I’ve got a Race For Life 5km raising money for Cancer Research and I need to know that I can get round the course and earn my sponsorship money!

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.

5 Little changes that could just make your life that little bit better

I often find myself naively drawn in by articles promising the secret of an infinitely better life: 5 steps to total mindfulness, 3 intense fat burning workouts, 10 steps to the perfect relationship, that sort of thing. Unsurprisingly, what I regularly find is that these articles just offer a series of commonsensical points, which often align with the things I’m already doing, and I’m left a little disappointed that I’m no closer to secret of perfection in mind, body and spirit.

So rather than promising 5 revolutionary hacks that will give you the ultimate life, I’m offering a series of little adjustments and lifestyle tweaks that I’ve found work for me, and which have made my life just that little bit better everyday.

1. Morning yoga

IMG_3576I’m not really sure how I got into my morning yoga routine, but now I can’t imagine starting my day without it. It’s amazing how getting up and showered and then spending between 15 and 30 minutes on my mat can transform my mood and the way I approach the day. I’m certainly no bona fide yogi, but spending some time stretching out my limbs, syncing my movement and my breath, doing a bit of core and arm work and playing around with headstands, bridges or shoulder stands wakes me up (even if I’ve had a glass of something I shouldn’t the night before) and puts me in the right headspace for the day.

Some days I’ll listen to classical music and follow my own yoga flow routine, other days I’ll watch Yoga with Adriene on YouTube and follow her, but either way, no matter what my day holds, I try to corner off at least 15 minutes of my morning to dedicate to my practice.

2. Lunchtime exercise

IMG_5074The realisation that I could kick the 3:30pm slump by just going out and doing something physical at lunchtime was a revelation. My lunch run often negates my need for that dangerous afternoon coffee, which I know will play havoc with my sleeping patterns, or for the 4pm mindless snacking, often undertaken out of boredom or a need for a distraction rather than real hunger.

I know that I’m really lucky in this regard – that my boss and colleagues are very understanding of my need to get out in the fresh air and run off any stresses – but I also know that getting the oxygen circulating around my system makes me so much more productive in the afternoon and in a better mental place to respond to those emails that require a bit more thought or diplomacy.

Moreover, on the days I get to meet my running pal Lou for a quick dash around Kensington Gardens it’s a great opportunity for a catch-up or a space to vent and, come 6pm I’ve already done 5 miles and I can take the evening off guilt-free if I fancy.

While I know running isn’t for everyone, taking a lunchtime walk, or making the most of the summer sunshine and doing some yoga outside are also great alternatives. If you have a work gym you might even sneak a quick HIIT session between meetings.

3. Walking or running part of my commute

IMG_4349About a year ago I made the decision to add 4,000 steps to my day by walking to and from the tube station, rather than jumping straight on the train that leaves from practically outside my house. A year on and I’m still doing it, now less for the extra steps and more for the pleasure. In the morning getting just ten minutes of fresh(ish) air (this is London after all!), natural light and, in recent weeks, a vitamin D hit in the sunshine, really sets me up for the day. In the evening, having chance to decompress after a day at my desk is invaluable and strolling back the long way through the park rather than cramming myself into a train is definitely the best way to do this.

On the days I want to sneak some extra exercise, especially while the weather is good, I’ll walk the full 4 miles home, or, if I’ve not had chance for a lunch run, I’ll jog home, either directly or via Regent’s Park to add an extra 3 or 4 miles to my route. It’s not just the exercise but the benefit of being outside in the world that never fails to boost my mood and allows me to arrive either at work or at home smiling.

Living in the city where we are set up for walking and cycling a commute I know this is easier, but even elsewhere you could consider parking your car a little further from your house or office, or using public transport for part of the trip and walking or running the rest. Making exercise a functional part of your day – i.e. a means of getting from a to b – makes you more likely to do it on a regular basis and it also means that you have plenty of free time to spend with friends and family rather than squirrelling yourself off to the gym.

4. Tuning into my appetite

IMG_1619Like many people, I’ve been through phases of eating too much, not eating enough, eating through stress, through boredom and through sadness. However, recent GI issues have forced me to take a more careful approach to eating and there have been many benefits to this.

Slowing down my eating, selecting foods mindfully, with an eye to what will nourish me without causing stomach upset, pain or sluggishness, and eating in line with my hunger, rather than unconsciously nibbling throughout the day, has vastly improved my approach to and enjoyment of food. I now focus on three meals a day, or two on a Sunday/my long run day, without snacking in between (if I can help it!). If I’m doing a double workout – a lunchtime run followed by an evening swim for example –  I might add a banana or nectarine in the  late afternoon to keep me going until I get home, but otherwise I hold on until supper.

Following this routine I’ve found that I will naturally feel hungry at around 7:30am once I’ve finished my yoga, and again between 1 and 2pm in the afternoon. Evening hunger usually strikes around 6:30–7pm so I know if I’m going out for supper later than this and don’t want to over-eat because I’m famished I’ll have a more substantial lunch or eat a little later. I also make sure I stay well hydrated throughout the day so I don’t confuse thirst and hunger. I have moments of weakness of course – on weekends I could keep on munching through oats, granola with berries, avo on toast, smoothies and coffee indefinitely if I don’t make a conscious decision to stop and in the evenings if there are nibblies in the house, like grapes or cashews, I am often tempted to them. But knowing when these moments of weakness come I’m learning to avoid, resist or keep them at bay.

5. Accepting I’m not a night owl

IMG_3388I’ve spent years in denial and harboured a lot of guilt around this point, but the fact is, I like my sleep, and I like it at night. I tend to rise early regardless of my time to bed, which means late nights leave me exhausted and grumpy.

Accepting that I’m not going to be the last man standing on a night out, or that I’d rather head home than out to a night club without feeling guilty has been a long time in coming, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve become increasingly at peace with this fact. I’ve started scheduling breakfast dates and lunches over late-night drinks and I try to arrive early to longer events so that if I duck out before last orders I’ve still had plenty of time to catch up with my pals. Just like not everyone gets up at 6 to fit in a pre-work yoga workout, breakfast and blog writing session, not everyone can keep their eyes open and enthusiasm up past 11pm. And that’s ok.

Accepting yourself doesn’t have to just relate to sleeping habits and I’m sure we all have traits that we try to fight against. Just take a moment to reflect on how good or bad these elements of your personality really are and if they are essentially harmless maybe it’s time to embrace them.

Working out on work trips: Finding balance in Chicago

IMG_7698
Looking along the river

Last week I was in Chicago for a conference with work. Work trips such as this are so useful for building relationships with our colleagues across the pond. It’s so nice to add a human element to all of those emails that shoot between us during the remainder of the year and to be able to meet the wider team in the Chicago offices. I love catching up with colleague over suppers and have the opportunity to have those interesting and innovative brainstorming sessions, which are infinitely more productive as a result of face-to-face interactions.

The Chicago trip also means pushing myself out of my comfort zone and presenting to a room of people, something which I often dread but which practice seems to be making increasingly easier.

While the days of my trip were dedicated to meetings, presentations and keeping on top of my emails from London, I was also able to squeeze in some sightseeing, eat deliciously healthy food and keep on top of my exercise schedule.

FullSizeRender (3)
Sun through the skyscrapers

Chicago is one of my favourite cities and I know I’m incredibly lucky that I get to spend time there for work. In the winter Chicago comes alive with festive cheer; it is so beautiful with the lake reflecting the blue of the sky and the winter sun making all of the skyscrapers glisten.

One of the benefits of work trips to the States is that the jet lag usually means that I wake up between 5 and 5:30am, giving me plenty of time to run, enjoy the sunrise over breakfast, catch up on my work emails from the UK and get in a morning walk, all before heading to the office.

I also find myself crashing at about 9:30pm, which meant that I got some 8 hours of sleep a night – certainly more than I get at home (when I’m lucky to scrape 7 hours) and something which meant that I hardly touched a cup of coffee for the whole trip.

My workout routine took on a new shape during my time away too, and I let myself enjoy a focus on lower intensity exercise with walking taking centre stage as I averaged around 17km (or 10.5 miles) a day.

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Reflected in the Bean

I enjoyed striding up Michigan Avenue from the lake to the Art Institute and the ‘Bean’.

I could spend forever walking around the Art Institute of Chicago, overwhelmed by the incredible collection there, which houses many of my favourite Impressionist and Modernist pieces, as well as an impressive collection from the Dutch Golden Age and of course, the iconic ‘American Gothic’.

On Friday evening I walked to the Bean for a carol concert, which made me feel very Christmassy. I tunelessly joined in with renditions of Jingle Bells and the Twelve Days of Christmas, not remembering the last time I’d belted out some carols.

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Admiring the Picasso collection at the Art Institute

I also spent time walking along the lake, making a trip to the Planetarium (I’d visited the aquarium and Field Museum, which are on the same site, on a previous visit) and walking from there to Navy Pier, some 6km away.

On Saturday night I walked along the lake to the zoo in Lincoln Park for ‘zoo lights’, a free event where the zoo is lit up with Christmas lights formed into animals, snow flakes, snow men and Santa Clauses, while Christmas music fills the air.

Before my trip I’d also researched a yoga studio, called the Yoga Loft, and I booked in for an ‘all levels’ Ashtanga class for one evening. I’m not sure how ‘all levels’ it really was, as the girls all around me were bending like pretzels and at one point the instructor told us to just ‘throw our leg over our shoulder like a rucksack’, which is definitely easier said than done! Still, I really enjoyed the class and felt totally relaxed afterwards and very glad I’d gone.

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Architectural boat trip

I mentioned the class to one of my colleagues at the conference and she told me that she had booked in for a hot yoga workshop for that Saturday afternoon at 105F Hot Yoga Centre in the South Loop, and asked if I’d like to join her. Although I’d never done hot yoga before but I was keen to give it a try, and nothing says ‘team bonding’ like some serious sweating on a yoga mat!

It was a Yin yoga class, where you are encouraged to hold poses for 4 to 5 minutes at a time, a total contrast to my usual flow classes. I was pretty nervous, but the heat was more bearable that I’d feared (although I did get pretty sweaty!) and it actually helped me to ease more deeply into the positions, more so as the minutes ticked by.

It was such a relaxing class and I felt almost like I’d been to a spa for a deep tissue massage by the time I came out!

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Penguins at ‘Zoo Lights’

As the weather was mild for the time of year I also managed to book in for an architectural boat tour along the river, which usually doesn’t run into the winter months. This had been recommended to me by a colleague at the conference as the architecture in Chicago is so stunning an so varied it really warrants a proper tour. It was really interesting a definitely worthwhile, not least to see the city from a whole new vantage point.

Finally, I was keen that my diet do didn’t go totally off-piste as a result of my travels. On arrival I kept myself awake with a trip to Whole Foods, where I stocked up on oats, vanilla soya milk (it was really tricky getting hold of just regular soya so I indulged for the week, and despite initially finding it too super-sweet at first, by the end of the week I’d become rather accustomed to its rich deliciousness!), apples and grapes, baby carrots, hummus, olives and (as a treat as you can no longer get them in the UK) a selection of Lara Bars.

We had a conference supper one evening where I had a delicious vegan dish with black beans, sweet potato and a yummy spicy salsa. I also discovered Lyfe Kitchen on North Clark Street where they had separate vegan and gluten free menus and I treated myself to a festive sprout, cranberry and sweet potato dish followed by a banana and chia seed pudding.

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Carols and the Bean

After my hot yoga session indulged in a quinoa, avocado and tofu salad from The Protein Bar on Michigan, which was really tasty and very filling – a perfect post-exercise treat!

I also enjoyed a long lazy breakfast with my friend Carrie at Eggsperience Cafe, a good American diner. Not ideally set up for vegans (eggs clearly dominated the menu and the oatmeal was pre-made with milk), however I was still able to get rye toast with avocado, lots of coffee and, most importantly, a chance to catch up with my wonderful friend, who was serendipitously in town from LA for a wedding in Chicago.

All in all, a wonderful week of work, working out and working off some delicious food!