Consistency and Cutting

Warning: this entry contains pictures of me in my pants. Sorry about that.

I started this year sober and motivated, with the lofty goal of attending the gym consistently. Gaz’s generous gift of a year’s gym membership for my birthday in early January was going to be the catalyst for improvement in my strength and physical fitness, and the motivation I needed to re-introduce deadlifts and finally start bench pressing.

True to my word, I started attending the gym 3 days a week. I went twice in the period between Christmas and New Year, smashing out a new back squat PB of 102.5kg 1RM @ ~77kg bodyweight. Unfortunately in February my knees started playing up (after niggly pain on and off for some time) necessitating some time off and a drop in squat weight to less than half of my new PB. Sad face. I later discovered, after much research and reading, that this was potentially caused by a quad dominance. I have not had any problems since I incorporated more work on my hamstrings to balance out my legs. Another gym break occurred in May/June because of the house move, but aside from that I have attended the gym consistently: week in, week out.

As well as working out religiously, I started documenting my lifts consistently. Rather than turning up and winging it — doing what I felt like that day — I came up with a plan that targeted different muscle groups on different days, with accessory lifts and a range of low rep/high weight and high rep/low weight stuff. (I was very much aided in the draft of a plan by lifting insta-friends and Google.) Documenting reps and weights meant that each week I was able to increase one or the other: progressively overloading my muscles to encourage growth and increase strength.

Sobriety and this new-found consistency meant that I started to drop some weight early on in the year. I lost 10lbs without really trying. Although I was confident and happy at that weight, I was particularly liking the increase in muscle definition that losing 10lbs had given me and I decided to lean out a little more. I wanted to make the results of all my efforts visible.

Unfortunately it wasn’t that simple. My attempts at furthering my losses didn’t seem to make much difference; I was bouncing back and forth between 150-160lbs (68-72kg). Not only that, but I was feeling weaker and I would often stand up and get a ‘head rush’/low blood sugar feeling. I was concerned I was under-eating despite being in ♥ with food, because I didn’t know how to properly fuel the work I was putting in to both my lifts and my other fitness exploits (running, taekwon-do, pole dancing etc). I was eating like a sedentary person, rather than an “athlete” (for lack of a better word).

In June, I finally decided to seek help, and ordered a fat loss template from Renaissance Periodization. Now, you may recall that I’d ordered a diet plan from a “personal trainer” back in December. This original plan left me underwhelmed, which I think reflected in my previous entry on the subject, but I decided to modify it and stick it out for a bit. However, within days of posting that entry, I’d queried some bits in the template and got back an answer that could be summed up as “because I said so”. I don’t do anything in life on the basis of “because I said so” and especially not when it comes to something as important (and full of bro science) as nutrition, so I chucked it in as a bad idea.

Anyway, back to the template from RP… like the original plan I’d ordered, it broke down macros into 5 or 6 meals across the day. However, it did so according to training or non training days and workout intensity, and crucially (unlike the other plan) everything was backed up by references to scientific studies. The plans themselves are written by a team of doctors, dietitians etc: all with actual qualifications and everything. I felt more comfortable with the template (which in itself was non-restrictive and flexible) which straight away gave me the confidence I needed to fit it into my intensely busy schedule.

RP recommend a 12 week cut maximum, followed by 12 weeks minimum at maintenance. This gives your metabolism time to recover and beds in your new metabolic set point (the body weight set point is a theory in nutritional science that suggests we have a “comfortable weight” and that the body will use various signals and hormones to get us back to that point despite increases and decreases in calorie intake; it has its critics but has been observed in animals). Resetting this metabolic “set point” helps prevent bouncing back to your old weight, which is a common problem in a lot of diet programs and weight loss systems.

Within a couple of days of starting the new template, the dizziness and side effects from low blood sugar were gone. I was eating HUGE amounts of food compared to what I was used to. ALL THE CARBS! Holy macaroni. Not only that, but the weight loss started easily and immediately: I’ve lost over 10lbs in just shy of 8 weeks. Losing weight while eating all the foods? Winning!

weight loss progress over the course of 6-7 months
I have lost significant amounts of fat from my stomach, hips, back, chest and face. Also boobs. Bye bye boobies :(

Perhaps even more importantly than losing this weight, I have smashed out some fucking EPIC lifts. Yesterday, after struggling with my squats since my knee problems, I did sets of 5 at 40, 50, 60 and 70kg. 3 and 2 reps at 80kg then 1 each at 90kg and 100kg. I am within touching distance of my Christmas squat PB and I weigh 10kg less. I finally incorporated the deadlift back into my program and am already doing reps at 80kg, which thrashes one of my new year goals “deadlift my bodyweight” without even really trying. This morning I benched 40kg for a handful of reps (bench is my weakest lift by far) after starting the year barely able to lift the bar for all 5 sets. Add this to running PBs at my 5k and half marathon distances (and a couple of 10km races coming up to thrash those too) and finally completing my long-held goal of completing a pull-up (albeit with dodgy AF form)…

& I am just buzzing! If I maintain the consistency (including trialling a 4 day split over summer), and see the cut through the final month, what else can I achieve? A double bodyweight squat, 100kg deadlift and 50kg bench seem like good goals to be going on with. Fingers crossed!

Self employment and mental health

Self employment / freelancing and mental health issues seem to go hand in hand. The stress of finding work, maintaining momentum, dealing with all the admin etc, not to mention restricted access to Actual Humans (besides the postman) and the feelings of isolation this can bring, lack of holiday and sick pay causing freelancers to feel like they have to be “always on”… all massive contributors to stress and mental health issues.

From a personal perspective, I have recurring mental/emotional problems and my work is usually the first thing to suffer if I’m experiencing one of “those” days. This in itself can trigger feelings of inadequacy and guilt, putting me in a downward spiral. But, as someone with a mental health condition brought on by a relatively predictable syndrome (hello PMDD) self-employment is not always the stressor. In fact, it can sometimes be the cure: the chicken soup for the soul.

I’m not tied to Mon-Fri / 9—5 working hours

If I’m having the sort of day that kicks me in the guts from the second I open my eyes, where getting out of bed and facing the world seems impossible, I just don’t. I soak up the comfort of the warm snuggly duvet and I treat myself to an extra hour. The indulgence can often be a band-aid on invisible wounds, enough to get me to take the first step back into reality.

And when it doesn’t work? I can double down, bury my head under the covers and catch up on Saturday. Or at stupid-o-clock of an evening when the kids are in bed.

(Photo by Sonja Langford)

And allows me to exercise

Working a schedule outside of the norm allows me to sub an hour at my desk for an hour in the gym, or an hour on the road training for my next race. Exercise is a huge contributor to better mental health (it’s scientifically proven!) and being outdoors massively benefits my mood, my self esteem and my overall health.

I can juggle my calendar

Because my issues generally fit within my cycle, I am able to fit my work around this. I don’t have to drag myself into work just because it’s a Monday, or meet a client just because some dev manager or boss has stuck it in my diary.

This week I am post-period, and so I will be prone to hyper-concentration, greater sparks of inspiration, confidence & an increased libido greatly improves my people skills (believe it or not!) so now is a great time to work on things I’ve been putting off or new projects that need creativity. By the end of next week this will have a fizzled out and I will be anxious and needy. I will avoid meetings with new clients and difficult phone calls. After that I may get another short period of increased productivity, and then I will need space for my temper; it is not a good time for me to deal with clients who don’t pay on time (for them, I mean).

Finding a full time / office job that would give me the freedom to organise my time and my work into 28 day blocks would be next to impossible, and would massively contribute to the guilt I feel for not being on “top form” 24/7 and in turn worsen my symptoms. And so…

It reduces the guilt

The last time I worked in an office, I spent the majority of my time ‘on-edge’ and feeling guilty. Guilty for needing flexibility, guilty for needing mental support and compassion for nearly 2 weeks of every four, guilty for feeling like I was letting my team down, and for a long time just guilty for the inability to put a name to the problem that I had.

I was very privileged to work for a boss who was understanding and supportive, but even the most compassionate of people have to draw a line when their profits and productivity are threatened. I avoid most of this as a freelancer by utilising the flexibility of hours and schedule, as mentioned, which lessens the burden and eases the symptoms.

I can choose my clients

Beyond sculpting my schedule into something that works for me, I help avoid inter-cycle flare-ups by working with only people who are sympathetic to my needs. It doesn’t have to be someone who’s intimately familiar with mental health issues or working with someone with PMDD, rather just a case of finding clients who are fine receiving an email at 8pm rather than 8am, or who trust that I can balance out a shit day with more great days in return.

Picking my own clients also allows me to reject people who I don’t think I’ll get along with either through a conflict of beliefs or simply mismatched personalities. It’s so much easier to produce great work for great clients and feel good about it.

I can choose my own path

Conventional advice would have us believe that to optimise your ‘wellness’ and ‘work / life balance’ you have to set strict boundaries, never reply to e-mails outside of the 9—5, never get personal with clients or allow work into your “home life”. That’s great if it works for other people, but if I never replied to emails outside of the 9—5 I’d miss out on a chunk of my day when I’m at my best (or busy doing the school run). If I didn’t get personal with clients I wouldn’t have the great relationships that I have with some of them.

It’s not for everyone, but my balance and my wellness comes from ignoring the conventional and choosing my own rules and my own path.

Lead photo by Tim Goedhart

My PMDD is Under Control

For the uninitiated and new readers amongst you, PMDD is an extreme version of PMS/PMT. It can cause cyclical feelings of anxiety, depression, anger and even suicidal thoughts, as well as the physical symptoms typically associated with the menstrual cycle.

It’s been over a year since I last talked about my PMDD. When I lost wrote, I confessed that I felt like I’d become consumed by this disorder – the one thing I’d hoped to avoid above all else. However, after a rocky year or so of trials and tribulations, I finally feel like I have my PMDD under control (for the most part). Since that blog post, I have tried:

Tracking and Not Tracking Cycles

I became worried that my compulsive tracking — counting ahead based on a typical cycle and shading in the calendar when I expected to be sad or angry — was putting me on edge. I worried that I was expecting to be angry, or sad, or paranoid on X day and thus causing a self-fulfilling prophecy. I stopped tracking altogether but then ended up waking up with anxiety, or full of rage, and being unable to figure out why which just made me feel crazy (until I remembered).

I seem to have found a happy medium whereby I track my cycle start time each month and extreme symptoms in an app, but don’t cross-reference or look ahead to see where I expect to be in my cycle. This gives me a point of reference but no doom-mongering.

Consistent, Varied Exercise

I’m usually active in one way or another but I have found that I have my best months when I am both consistent in my workouts and do more than one activity, e.g. lifting and running in the same month. Months where I’ve run the furthest I find my cycle the most bearable, but then I have always found my mental health directly correlates to the amount of cardio based exercise I do.

During February and early April when I was not able to do as much as I would like (half term and Easter holidays respectively) it didn’t take long for the activity gap to hit me.

Vitamin Supplementation

I read a guest post by Beckie Takacs via the Gia Allemand Foundation (PMDD charity) in October 2017 about the supposed benefits of potassium supplementation in the treatment of PMDD. The piece struck a cord, and given my history of hyperemesis during pregnancies and probably execessive alcohol use, it wasn’t that unlikely that I had a low-level potassium deficiency. However, I got in touch with the author of the post and although mostly common sense stuff, the detailed protocol she sent me made reference to the “potential health hazards of wireless devices and smart meters” which immediately put me off; I’ve no interest in tinfoil hat science.

Nevertheless, my sister started a lower dose potassium supplement schedule and mentioned some relief of some of her pre-menstrual symptoms, so I started taking 300mg (half Takacs’ recommended dose) on an every-other-day basis, as well as magnesium, which also reportedly improves PMS. (Magnesium is also recommended for runners and those taking part in regular exercise.) My temper and anxiety/paranoia symptoms have improved since starting supplementation.

Sobriety

Last, but definitely not least: I gave up alcohol again.

After my brother’s suicide last year put me in a downwards spiral with my drinking, despite my best efforts to “be chill about it“, it wasn’t long before the casual on-off drinking became multiple triple vodka shots on a Friday night “just because”. I hit rock bottom again in mid-December and crushed by the weight of my own mental health I knew I had two choices: give in to the paranoia and anxiety and voices that told me I was shit and stupid and useless and fat and unloveable and just throw myself off a building, OR stop being a whiny dick and make the sensible decision to stop drinking.

Obviously choice A was no choice at all, so giving up it was. Just like the first time I stopped, this had an almost immediate affect on my anxiety-related symptoms.

And so here I am. I am not miraculously cured of all ills, & I can’t be sure that this isn’t all some massive coincidence, but each subsequent step against this debilitating disorder has given me back a piece of myself and some semblance of control. That’s better than nothing.

Lead photo by Hoàng Duy Lê

Going Nuud

I happened to casually mention to my brother via facebook messenger recently that I get quite sweaty. (There is context, something about exercise, I didn’t just randomly tell him I’m sweaty as that would be weird.) Some short time afterwards I saw an ad’ for Nuud deodorant on facebook itself. Ignoring the slightly creepy-stalker aspect of this — let’s pretend it was a total coincidence — my curiosity was piqued.

Nuud is marketed as a “carefree” deodorant: harmless, sustainable and revolutionary. I didn’t care for the marketing BS, but I was genuinely interested in the claim that this little deodorant was both effective for several days and actively prevented odour. Any sweaty bird will tell you that despite the supposed long-lasting effects of all commercial deodorants, they generally coat you in a sticky gunk which mask smells for a few hours, but move so much as an inch and you’re on your own. I shower daily but am usually a hot mess fairly early on.

Now that I’ve filled you all with the mental image of me dripping with my own filth…

I ordered a tube of Nuud at a cost of over £11, which is quite possibly the most expensive deodorant I’ve ever bought by more than double, and it arrived a few days later. It was a hell of a lot smaller than I expected, but more about that in a sec. I didn’t hesitate to test it to the max straight away, with a double session of taekwon-do first up and then Ironbridge Half Marathon the following day.

Nuud is not like any other deodorant I’ve tried. It’s a silver-beige coloured paste that you squeeeeeeeze out a tiny pea-sized amount of and then apply directly to the armpits. It spreads easily and is not sticky or difficult to apply. However, with it being such a tiny tube, not only have I been incredibly precious about the amount I’m applying but on the one occasion I accidentally squeezed too hard I was distraught that I’d wasted a couple of days worth in one go. It’s not normal, and probably not healthy, to be upset over deodorant.

Nonetheless, application mishaps aside, I have been genuinely surprised at the effectiveness of the deodorant. Taekwon-do, a half marathon, various gym sessions and general day to day life have put it through its paces and it has significantly decreased odour, to the point where even after 13.1 miles on a clear warm day Gaz mentioned a “barely perceptible smell”. Sexy.

In addition to the rigorous exercise test, it didn’t seem to matter whether I had shaved or not, with the first week of my self-imposed two week trial sporting a full armpit… bush? (Is there an equivalent slang term for armpit hair? Anyway…) This is a massive improvement on the vast majority of roll on and sticks that I’ve tried previously which just seem to coat the hair and do sod all for the actual armpit. As someone with a very relaxed attitude to society’s idea of what’s “attractive” when it comes to the removal of body hair, this is a problem more often than not.

I’m not surprised, however, that it definitely isn’t effective for more than one day (despite the marketing claims to the contrary). There is absolutely no way I’d get 3-7 days out of it as advertised even if I spent those days in bed (sleeping, you perv). If I worked out my usual amount over the course of 7 days on one application of deodorant I’d be a walking bug repellent by the end of the week. I prefer a thorough wash each morning and re-application, but the cost implication of this with >£11 deodorant is clearly huge.

tl;dr nuud works. It’s effective against odour by tackling the bacteria rather than just coating your skin in goop. It’s not left any marks on any of my clothes and I feel better fresher for wearing it. However, it’s fucking expensive for what you get and I’m not sure I can financially justify it with the amount I go through.

Back to being a sweaty bird I guess.

Update 02nd August 2018: Despite my original concerns that the nuud deodorant was too expensive to regularly use, I managed to eventually fall into a routine with it. I now get about 3-4 days out of an application, which although is at the low end of their use case is pretty impressive for someone as sweaty as me. I’ve now been using nuud deodorant for nearly 6 months and wouldn’t replace it with anything else.

Nuud product shot taken from their website.

7 Ways to Make Fitness Stick in 2018

1. Find a reason

A reason that isn’t just “being thin”. Not that there’s anything wrong with losing weight if you feel your health and wellbeing is negatively affected by your current weight, but a lot of people make the mistake of deciding they’ll lose some arbitary amount of weight and then find that when (if) they reach that magic number that it’s not actually all it’s cracked up to be. Being skinny isn’t a cure-all.

When I first started running and weightlifting, my reason was to be physically fit and strong when mentally I was anything but. Physical strength was my way of keeping my body alive. (Mental wellness was a surprisingly addictive side effect.) Finding a reason kept me going even on days where I struggled to get out of bed, and always gave me something to fall back on when I hit rock bottom.

Your reason doesn’t have to be quite this ‘deep’, but having that “something” will give you motivation & purpose.

2. Find a sport

A lot of people use running as the go-to sport of choice when they first start. Running is awesome – and good for you – but not everyone likes running. Forcing yourself to run even if you despise it won’t help you stick with it long term. There are literally thousands of sports and activities you can try: you don’t have to run unless you want to.


Martial arts can be a great cardio workout, and post-grading selfies are not compulsory.

With that said, I would recommend sticking out whatever you choose for at least 3-4 weeks. If you’re currently leading a sedentary lifestyle, most things are going to suck in the beginning while your body adjusts and you find your pace. Don’t write something off after a few days because you’ve got a few aches or you’re not immediately running like Mo Farah.

3. Find a buddy

Find a friend who doesn’t care when you go “gym wanker” on them.


That time my instabuddies made me go to the gym

Find someone who you can either work out with if you can, but mostly find someone who will keep you accountable. Someone who will check in on you to find out how your progress is going, and who will not tune out when you rant that you have a blister on your big toe or you’ve hit a plateau under the bar. The key is to find someone who makes you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile, so that when the initial novelty wears off and your willpower is wearing thin (because willpower alone won’t make this stick) you don’t just give up.

This doesn’t even have to be someone offline; every sport I’ve ever been involved with has a massive online community of passionate folk who will have your back when you need it. I personally track a lot of my workouts via dodgy selfies on instagram, and love the feedback I get from fellow gym-goers.

4. Find a goal

When you have your reasons for working out, for running, for dancing, for zumba, for whatever it is you decide to call “your” sport, then you can set yourself a goal.

Real, tangible goals give you something to work towards. It could be something as simple as run 5km without stopping, or as lofty as getting yourself marathon ready. Set a specific goal, and even break it down into milestones if you can, and you have something long term to aim for that not only stops you flailing about aimlessly achieving nothing, but also provides motivation and allows you to track actual measurable progress.

In addition to the benefits of actually setting the goal, meeting a goal gives you an excuse to treat yourself. For some people, meeting a goal is its own reward, but if you’re a little more materially minded you might want to consider putting your sights on something physical: new running trainers if you run a 10km, a new fitness tracker if you manage to do a half marathon, or even something completely random… whatever floats your particular boat.

5. Find inspiration

One of the ways I stay dedicated to a particular goal, particularly in months where I feel like my progress is stalling or I’m just not quite good enough (and that will happen), is to follow athletes who participate in similar sports on instagram. When I wanted to get past my 60kg squat plateau I watched videos of crossfitters and weightlifters squatting massive weights and breaking world records. I squatted 100kg this Christmas.


“Off my tits on dopamine post-100kg squat high” selfie

You don’t have to be on instagram to get inspired. Most professional and semi-professional sports persons have facebook pages, twitter profiles etc. Find someone who’s doing it like you want to and follow them for that dose of “fitspo”.

(Word of warning: don’t get sucked into the rabbit hole that is “thinspiration“. It’s dangerous.)

6. Find a routine

When the novelty of a lifestyle change is wearing thin and it’s cold and wet outside and your well of motivation has run dry, there’s only one thing that’s going to make you get out of bed and hit the tarmac or drag your butt to the gym: by making your new sport a continuous part of your routine, or more simply, by making it a habit.

There’s tons of small snippets of advice on how to build good, strong habits online so I won’t repeat it all, but for me the basics are as follows:

  • Plan ahead to when your best time of day is, and fit your sport in then. For me this is directly after the school run on a Monday and Friday, before I even touch my laptop or look at what chores need doing.
  • Make it easy to do by prepping anything you need in advance. I always lay out my workout clothes the night before, and I always wear them on the school run so that I can head straight out.
  • Don’t make poor excuses to miss out early on. If it’s a bit cold out, put a coat on. If you’ve got a bit of a sniffle, take a tissue. If you’re tired, suck it up, you might end up with a much needed boost.
  • If you have to skip a session, never skip it twice. It’s just a downward spiral from there.

There’s lots of science behind habit building and I recommend having a bit of a google to find out more.

7. Find yourself

Cheesy? Probably. However, the times in my life I have been most consistent with my exercise and most dedicated to my current goal are the times I feel the best me that I can be.

Exercise has massive positive benefits on many aspects of your wellbeing and I’m my own living proof of that. Nothing feels as good to me as physical and mental wellness and that’s a privilege I do not take for granted, so I owe it to myself to keep going.

The Best Laid Plans

Diet plans, that is. Last week, I decided to get a head start on the January fitness rush by getting a “customised” nutrition plan from a personal trainer through his website. I have done so much reading on fuelling my workouts and weight loss, weight gain, maintenance etc that it took several weeks of convincing myself to even justify the cost (not exactly breaking the bank at £35) but as with most things in life, I doubt my own ability to put my knowledge and ability into something workable. There’s also something reassuring about having the back-up of someone who does this as a living.

Nonetheless, my excitement was short-lived when I saw the plan. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, but it’s clearly just a generic template with my macros worked out and inserted in the form of varying size portions of chicken and veg spread over SIX MEALS A DAY. I know that I need to fuel my workouts, but I also need to run a business, raise my children, take care of my ‘zoo’, fulfil my volunteer responsibilities, etc. I barely have time to sit down and eat 3 meals a day (and so generally don’t!) and so 6 meals is never going to work.


Such chicken. So wow. Much gains.

Despite my cynicism, it’s still a breakdown of what I need in terms of protein/carbs/cals etc that I’ve never had the mental energy to work out myself, and so I’m determined to see it through for at least the first 4 weeks (Christmas Day indulgences aside). I’ve “cheated” and modified the plan based on the stats provided, doubling up a couple of the meals to bring me down to 4 meals a day, which is eminently more workable. I can’t find any science to justify eating 6 meals a day, aside from the possible issue of maxing out protein absorption, but as I’m eating more protein than I normally would I can’t imagine that negatively impacting my workouts, which is my main concern anyway.

On that note, Fitness Savvy got in touch with me this month to mention some supplement giveaways they’re running to celebrate their launch; there’s more information on their Facebook page (I’ve not been compensated for mentioning this, it’s just “of interest” to much of my audience…)

With my upcoming nutrition in the bag, the next step is to figure out how to take my fitness forward. I have a couple of races booked in 2018, but as I’ve demonstrated time and time again I absolutely suck at training for them, somehow winging 10ks and half marathons by the skin of my teeth. I’ve tentatively considered getting up half an hour earlier each morning to clock a steady 5k – my logic being that although short in distance, some running is better than no running – but I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination and the prospect terrifies me.

On top of that, having cracked the bodyweight squat earlier this year (and beyond) I’d like to reintroduce deadlifts to my routine in 2018 and beast a bodyweight deadlift. I stopped doing them because I was worried about my form, but I have so many resources available to me to fix this, I just need to suck it up and ask for help. I’d also like to start benching, which is something I’m terrified off.

Lofty goals.

Just be chill about it

Gaz asked me one Saturday a few weeks back — as I ordered a vodka cocktail — whether or not I’d given up on the ‘not drinking’ thing. A fair question, given the ‘ordering a cocktail’ thing.

Sobriety was going really, really well. I had managed to get through several months without a drink, battling some immense cravings (which peak around ovulation, bizarrely) along the way. I ‘slipped’ on a couple of social occasions but was able to get back into it with ease. And then my brother died, and not only did I smash through a few bottles of red wine in a short space of time but it brought on a crisis. What am I fucking doing? Why can’t I just be “normal” and enjoy a drink with friends without getting utterly wasted? Why can’t I have a healthy relationship with this addictive drug (ha ha ha)? Am I going to end up like my brother?

It wasn’t pretty, and the more I thought about it the worse it got, and the worse the cravings got, and the more I felt useless and like a failure… a vicious circle of self-loathing ensued which, for someone used to self-medicating their problems with a glass or 5 of wine, potentially only had one way of ending. (Because only I could be so stressed about drinking that I need a drink to de-stress which causes me to stress about my drinking… & so on.)

So, I tried to be rational. I tried to think about what my “goals” were if I wasn’t going to be 100% sober:

  • Enjoy a drink on a special occasion, e.g. birthdays, celebrations etc, without it being “weird”.
  • Be able to order one drink and no more. Or, order a soft drink around people who were drinking without feeling left out.
  • Not put on the weight that I lost by giving up.
  • Not drink for the sake of drinking.
  • Most importantly, to not get into a cycle of drinking to ease problems, which worsens my anxiety and depression symptoms caused by PMDD, which causes me to drink more.

With these goals in mind, I have been able to concoct a vague plan, and ultimately relax about it. Relaxing calms the stressy voices which immediately reduces cravings. This, combined with the pressure of knowing what I have to lose if I regress (my sanity, my relative happiness with my body), and seeing the impact of sobriety on my mental health, means I have been able to better make ‘mindful’ decisions about where and when to drink. To just ‘be chill’ about it.

So far so I’ve successfully navigated a couple of birthdays, a weekend with friends, several games nights and other social occasions:

I have chosen to drink, and to not drink, in equal measure. I have interspersed water with wine. I have picked low alcohol ciders over double vodkas. (And I’ve got pretty drunk and felt like shit the next day, which served as an excellent reminder of what not to do.)

I am feeling OK with where I’m at right now. It might not last; I might lose my shit and drink far too much, or… I might go sober again. I don’t know. But it’ll do for now.

Baring All

I plonked my wibbly wobbly stretch-marked belly (maybe NSFW, features underboob) on Instagram last night. It came off the back of a conversation with a gorgeous, sexy friend who mentioned that she had issues with her tummy. It’s a common one, especially for mums.

I spent a long time hung up on my stomach. I’ve had stretch marks (all over) for as long as I can remember but during pregnancy they multiplied by the dozen. I have weird bits of skin from where it was stretched to the obscene and didn’t quite recover. I have some lines that look as wide as they are long. I’d been with Gaz for close to two years before I stopped flinching every time his hand brushed past my stomach; before I stopped pushing it away, swallowing hard and holding my breath until he was out of the ‘danger zone’.

It’s so easy to look down at myself and see this ‘mess’ and then compare it to instagram models and “just bounced back” celebs and wonder where I went wrong. But comparison is the thief of joy (according to Theodore Roosevelt) and although he probably wasn’t talking about bellies, I can see his point. When we compare our untouched naked skin to the Photoshopped elite we stop seeing the things these soft, squishy, wondrous tummies have done for us. For those of us who are lucky enough to have been able to grow babies, they have protected new life, shielding it from the elements, giving it space to grow.

When I had my little self-love epiphany after my gallbladder issues, I promised myself that come what may I would not slip back into the habit of negative self-talk, of filtering out my flaws and avoiding the scars and marks that cover my skin. I told myself that I would use my platform & my confidence & my ‘fuck you’ attitude to normalise the wobbles and bulges, dips and bumps and lines. Despite this, despite finding comfort in my jiggles, I still hesitated before sharing. That familiar deep breath, hard swallow. Why is it hard? It shouldn’t be hard.

There is beauty in imperfection, in vulnerability, in accepting who we are and how we got there. If that means baring all and shouting “I LOVE MYSELF” from the rooftops so as to reiterate that and encourage other people to do the same? So be it.

Radical Self Love

I posted this picture to instagram at the end of May:

The general gist of the caption was that, while I don’t agree on everything my mum says & does, I did appreciate her “don’t give a fuck” attitude growing up and it helped me develop a similar approach to society’s pressures to look a certain way.

Of course, this wasn’t the full story (because seriously, nobody wants to read a blog post in an insta caption).

While that is mostly true, as I said on instagram, I have poked at wobbly bits with an element of self-doubt. In the depths of PMDD-fuelled anxiety I have questioned whether my own husband could truly love me with all my scars and stretch marks. I liked myself most of the time, but I’m not “perfect”, and I knew it, but I accepted who I was.

When I got sick in early May, and a week of excruciating gallbladder pain stopped me from eating, I dropped ~10lbs quite quickly. Any other time this would be cause for celebration, but I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognise the person looking back at me. My skin looked pale, my stomach was shrivelled up like a weird dry prune and I felt myself shrinking: the opposite of what I want to achieve. I looked like shit, and it terrified me.

I hated it. I hated how I looked, I hated feeling weak, and I hated being less ‘me’.

As I got better, I had what can only be described as an epiphany. It hit me: when I’m not ill I can run, I can lift heavy weights, I can kick arse in the dojang, and I am strong, capable and confident. Weighing 10lbs less didn’t give me superpowers, it didn’t make me suddenly more attractive or physically fit (quite the opposite in this instance).

And so I realised that if I hated myself like that, I had no choice but to love myself when I’m 10lbs heavier, when I’ve not shaved my legs in a fortnight, when I’m bloated to all hell because I’m due on, when my brain is telling me I suck because my hormones are going haywire. Merely accepting myself wasn’t enough. I accept bills, and taxes, and having to get up at 7am to get the kids ready for school and those things all SUCK. And so that caption also said something quite radical: I think I love myself.

I gave myself permission to enjoy the comedy of the wobbly belly, to celebrate the origins of the stretch marks, to find mystery in my scars. I gave myself permission to say fuck yeah, I actually look pretty good. And I’m cool with that.

Insta fitness and chasing tiny

(This post doesn’t have an image attached to it because the search for “thinspiration” to demonstrate what I am getting at turned up some fucking horrific images and I don’t want to contribute to that.)

Despite being a late adopter to Instagram (as per usual; I only downloaded snapchat this week) it is easily my favourite social network for procrastination. As well as engaging with the people I follow multiple times a day, I also frequently make use of their ‘discover’ feed and randomly like/comment on other people’s photos. It’s actually a good way to find new people with similar interests (which I guess is the whole point).

Unfortunately, because I use Instagram as a half-hearted fitness log, and as such follow other fitness folk, my insta discovery feed is absolutely rammed with weight loss posts and “transformations”: picture after picture after picture of women — always women — before their “magical transformation” and after. The before pictures usually feature someone obese or significantly overweight, and the after can be anything up to and including skeletal women (that quite possibly have an eating disorder).

Sometimes the women are even the same person & it’s hilarious how bad some of the fakes are, but that’s another post for another day…

And people LOVE it. They lap it up. Thousands of likes and comments applauding the desire to shrink, to be smaller, to better fit into society’s normal. “Thinspiration!” they cry. Lots of supportive comments, but as is the norm on the Internet, a whole fuckton of fat shaming too.

Why? Why do we — women — strive to take up less space in a world that tries so hard to keep us small and meek and fearful? And I don’t mean the act of weight loss in itself: I am happy to support anyone that wants to lose weight if they so desire, whatever their motivation for doing so. I have obviously pursued my own weight loss goals to better fit the way I feel most comfortable and confident… but chasing “tiny” just for the sake of being tiny?

In a world that has us fighting to exist on an equal footing for pay, for health care, and in some countries for access to basic human rights; in a world that is led by men who brag openly about sexual assault so that we know our place? Deliberately shrinking ourselves seems so counter-productive.

Where are my insta-fitness shots of growth: growing muscles? Growing more confident? Growing competence in a discipline that pleases you? Growing more secure, or growing capacity for fitness? Growing the distance you run or the friends you make through a mutual enjoyment of a sport?

Fuck, grow your plate of cookies for all I care – just demand more. Be MORE. Not less. Never less.

Detox teas, crash diets and the gallbladder

I recently supported a short instagram campaign by the UK Fitness Bloggers highlighting the dangers of so called ‘detox teas’ and their call to use “teas for biccies, not weight loss”. Here I am post-run and covered in sweat, enjoying my ‘biccie’ (admittedly I had a cup of coffee, not tea, but the sentiment stands):

Detox teas — under brands like Bootea and Skinny Tea — claim to “spring clean” your body, “eliminate toxins”, as well as aid in weight loss.

Firstly, let’s be 100% clear here: detoxing is a marketing scam. None of these teas (or any other products marketed as “detox”) do anything for supposed toxins in your body. If your body had a build up of toxins, you would either a) be dead or b) in need of serious medical attention, because it would indicate kidney and/or liver failure.

These teas generally contain either a laxative, or a diuretic, or in some cases both. In other words, they’re designed to make you poop or pee. If you’re lucky, you’ll spend the duration of your “teatox” on the toilet shitting water or pissing it. (More on if you’re unlucky in a moment…) Yes, you’ll be slimmer at the end, but only because you’ll be dehydrated and have lost water weight. A few days of normality and you’ll put it all back on.

Crash/fad diets generally involve heavily restricting calories or eating only certain food groups but the result is often the same: dehydration and potential digestive upset. Unless you’re unlucky.

I spent last week in various states of agony. I was in A&E doped up with morphine twice:

I haven’t been on a crash diet and I sure as hell haven’t succumbed to any detox marketing, but I have had some of the busiest weeks of my career on top of running races, half marathons, training for a taekwon-do grading, kids, pets & all that entails, volunteering, work outside of the home, a wedding anniversary and general social calendar chaos. And I wasn’t careful: I missed meals to fit in meetings, and forgot to take lunch on volunteer days. I drank coffee instead of protein shakes post-workout and I fell into bed at the end of the day too tired to cook.

Like people who drink detox teas and risk crazy crash diets: I was stupid, and I was unlucky, and I pissed off my gallbladder.

When you don’t take in enough calories to meet your body’s demands, your body starts to eat itself — stored fats — for energy. This stimulates the production of bile; a liquid produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder that helps break down fat. If you lose weight (because of restricted calories, or shitting all your food out before it’s properly digested because of your laxative tea) too fast the amount of cholesterol in the bile increases and it turns into thick “sludge” which can prevent the gallbladder from emptying properly.

Even worse, as bile salts accumulate, it can crystalise, turning this thick sludge into hard lumps: gallstones. Which, if you’ve known me for long enough, you’ll know I have past experience of thanks to a little bastard of a stone that blocked a bile duct when Isabel was a baby, putting us both in hospital for a week.

So anyway, back to me pissing off my gallbladder… when your gallbladder gets annoyed, it gets REALLY annoyed. Gallbladder pain is excruciating. Anecdotal reports (including mine) put it as one of the most painful things you can experience, and I say this having been through a “natural” birth to a boy with an abnormally large head which was PAUSED MID WAY so that the midwife could unwrap the cord from his awkward bloody neck.

I was in so much pain last Monday that I had cold sweats, I was delirious and at one point I thought I was hallucinating. I drove myself (stupid decision, don’t do this) to A&E and was rushed through and hooked up to morphine. The first time in my life an A&E visit hasn’t taken over 4 hours.

Just over a week later and (one further visit to hospital) and I don’t really have any news on my situation. My agonising pain is gone and I’m back to eating (properly!) but I have bloating, discomfort, and persistent indigestion type pain. I’m due an ultrasound at some point in the next week to figure out what’s going on, and to make a decision on whether or not my gallbladder needs taking out.

Is it really worth this pain, ill health, and potential surgery to lose a few pounds a bit quicker? Is a stupid marketing trick worth risking your gallbladder for? I was stupid, and I was unlucky: you don’t need to be.

AMA: What gets you out of a funk?

I was going to answer my AMA questions in the order they were asked, but having not long come out of a pretty rough few days or so I figured now would be the perfect time to answer Kelly’s question:

What gets you out of a funk?

The reality with PMDD, which is the root cause of my ‘funk’ symptoms, is that there’s not really any way to stop it. Which means that if I’m having a bad cycle, the only thing I can do is wait it out. With that said, there are several ways I can distract myself from it, which often reduces the severity of the symptoms at least temporarily:

Socialising

Being around people makes a big difference to my ‘funk’ symptoms. I think this is partly because I like to socialise, and enjoy being around other people’s energy, and partly because if I’m in the company of someone who seems to be actively enjoying my conversation and my presence, it tempers the anxiety. I find it easier to convince myself that I’m not a worthless piece of crap because surely nobody would want to be around a worthless piece of crap?

Of course there are times when my mood is so deeply low that getting off my arse and actually going to see someone, or making the effort to socialise is a moutain to conquer in itself. It can be hard to take that step when you’re already ‘in the depths’, so to speak.

Alcohol

Ahh, alcohol. My friend and my nemesis.

One or two glasses of wine can mean the worst of the anxiety completely disappears even if I don’t feel particularly tipsy. However, it will come as no surprise that using a known depressant to ease depressive feelings is a Bad Idea. One or two glasses of wine can become one or two bottles without a second thought and before I know it I’m sobbing over the nearest person who’ll listen and feeling like a massive twat.

I know I have a weakness when it comes to alcohol and so I try and avoid ‘using’ it as anything but a ‘social lubricant’. (Try and achieve are two different things, mind you.)

Running

There’s nothing like a really long run to help you mash out and mull over a shit ton of unwanted thoughts and feelings, and process everything so as to come to a reasonable and rational conclusion.

Unfortunately, I haven’t done anywhere near as much of this as I should have lately and it shows: both in my mental health and my waistline!

Counselling

If the shit really hits the fan, I go and see my counsellor. Talking therapy is the dog’s bollocks and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who is struggling. Find someone you can trust, and get it all out.

Although nowadays my counselling sessions are few and far between, I find it reassuring just knowing that I have that fallback if I need it.

Sex

There is no doubt about it, sex is my #1 ‘fixer’ when it comes to my low moods but it’s a complicated and dangerous path to tread… using intimacy and closeness to boost me up when I’m feeling so fragile can end in tears, and has on several occasions. It might take one ‘wrong move’ or one misinterpreted signal and I can be crushed in an instant.

Even when it goes right (wink wink nudge nudge) it’s not a perfect answer: it can exacerbate the problems I have with my libido during certain parts of my cycle which puts in a vicious circle of needing it more.

Of course the worst part about it is that it feels incredibly selfish to expect Gaz to ‘help’ in this way. It can’t be easy finding someone who is literally rapid-cycling through a million unwanted emotions even remotely sexually attractive, let alone to know exactly the right thing to say and do lest you destroy what little self-esteem they have at that precise moment.

I’m working on my expectations and ‘demands’ in this area.

So there we go: my funk-fighting techniques. If you want to ask me a question, pop it in the comments over here.