Remember that little lady, Gillian Mckieth? ‘The Poo Lady’, as I used to remember her as, who then went on to make a bit of a spectacle of herself on ‘I'm a Celebrity...’. Well, I'm beginning to realise she had a point. You are what you eat.
This post is about my experiences of trying to adapt my diet to a healthier one, and to try and do a bit more exercise. I coach clients around these challenges so I thought it might be helpful to share what I’ve learnt along the way.
The last few months I've been pretty up and down emotionally, feeling stressed, verging on burn out and have been very tetchy, much to my partner’s frustration. “You're addicted to sugar, do more exercise”, he'd say. Yeah, yeah heard it all before but I did know I needed to take stock of things.
To start with, I gave myself a week off from seeing clients, which was hard, as those who have their own business will know, it's hard to say no to clients. I also started to block out one evening a week where I'd have no plans just so I could venture home and rest (well, do the washing up at least!). This gave me some breathing space to think about how to get back on track with my eating and exercise habits.
I'd been toying with the idea on having a Personal Trainer for a while but wasn't sure about costs and how I could fit one in if I was seeing clients every evening...all excuses really. I'd gotten good at making excuses, which in my head were absolutely valid reasons e.g “Cycle to the office in the mornings? But it's too much admin; I'm tired in the mornings; it's cold” etc.
In the end I thought, well if I book a training session in then I would meet my aim of spending one evening a week doing my own thing and I get to exercise too. Bonus.
What I didn't bank on however was the nutrition advice he gave me. After reading my food diaries, his first question was to ask if I was bulimic because “you eat ALOT of junk and do very little exercise so I’m surprised you’re as lean as you are”. Interesting. He wasn't surprised I lacked energy, was up and down all the time and was irritable, as I was living off a diet of sugar. I'd get really hungry having not eaten for hours then grab the nearest thing in sight, usually a cookie, pretzel, Mocha from Pret, a piece of toast, easy to make pasta, pre-made porridge, or a banana etc...the list of carb-based sugar went on. “A piece of toast is sugar?” Yep, processed carbs like that break down in to glucose if you’re not exercising i.e sugar. Yikes, there was no denying it. I was eating ALOT of sugar.
Big learning curve. So I was given a list of the three food types each meal should contain - protein, good fats and natural occurring carbs - and told to eat every 2-3 hours... that bit I liked the sound of!
I left morbidly depressed and the first thing I wanted to do was hit Cafe Nero next door and have the biggest Mocha and croissant I could find. But then I thought, “well, that's not going to make me feel any better, worse in fact”. I go a bit crazy on caffeine, and croissants make me feel bloated and then I usually need a big old nap later to reset, which of course is never possible during the day... unless you can get away with a kip under your desk! Focus on the long term, positive consequence rather than the short term, relatively short lived instant gratification of eating sugar.
So, back to planning my week and diet a bit better to keep my energy up, or at least consistent to start with. Luckily, my partner had also realised his diet was effecting his performance (sports wise mainly); he'd been to see a nutritionist too who'd also told him to cut out the crap in his diet. Our fridge became stacked with non-processed foods (nothing that man has constructed) bought online and delivered to our kitchen table. Online delivery works wonders for busy people who have a tendency to get hungry and rush in to the Supermarket on the way home and grab the first easy thing they see for dinner, which often requires heating in a microwave and kills all the nutrients according to Mr PT man... who knew! That solved the diet issues at home at least.
But what about in the office? or the temptation out and about? I’ve started buying bits and pieces (mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, cooked chicken breast, avocados), which can all be thrown in to a salad for lunch. Itsu does some great low carb meals too. I still struggle with breakfast but you’ve got to start small. Snacks are also hard but Pret and Itsu do some small protein pots, which are good. My PT keeps going on about eating nuts. I hate nuts so I’ve got a while to go on that one but I’m sure I will find something to snack on that’s better than a Pret cookie. I just keep thinking, if it is slightly less processed and healthier then that’s better than having a cookie at least.
I try and cycle to the office at least once a week. Again, starting small. It is a lot of admin but I’ve heard the best thing to do is pack the night before, buy two of most things (make up, deodorant etc) and leave these, plus a few days worth of clothes at the office so you don’t have to think about packing too much. A gentle commute shouldn’t raise a sweat on the bike so no real need for a shower when you get to work. Feminine and/or face wipes are a great way to freshen up though if the thought of now shower grosses you out.
All in all, big learning curve. I still have treat days when I enjoy the naughty things now and again but you sure feel it the next day - tired, no energy, tetchy etc. I read an article that suggested you have to do something at least 21 times before it becomes a habit. It helps to share with others what you’re trying to do so they don’t tempt you in to breaking your new habits...and that’s all they are, habits. And habits can be changed in time, with commitment and hard work.
Keep up the good work. Hope some of the things I’ve learnt above might help you along the way.
I could not recommend Alice highly enough. She strikes a great balance of acting as an independent sounding board and confidant but also playing devil’s advocate, which prompts thought-provoking introspection.