Getting healthy

So, as part of the whole ‘re-starting my life’ deal, I’m going to get back into the healthy habits that I lost somewhere in the past six months.

For me, getting healthy starts with food. Now, to be clear, ‘going on a diet’ is a terrible approach to getting healthy. Diets, particularly those that are restrictive — no carbs, no fats, whatever — are pretty much going to stress you out. They contribute to overall unhealthy eating patterns, and — assuming you take up a diet to ‘lose weight’ — are going to fail.

Food underpins my health, both physical and mental. Food is something to celebrate; good food brings me joy. And food connects me with friends and family. Life would be far less fun if I couldn’t share a meal out with P. or gift a friend some cupcakes.

My focus when it comes to eating well is nutrition (as opposed to weight loss/calorie restriction). I strive to eat lots of vegetables/fruit, whole-grains, and good fats. I try and eat a varied diet, throwing in random different items and trying out new recipes as much as possible.

My food challenges tend to revolve around adding things in rather than taking things away. Drink more water, eat more vegetables and so on. Focusing on adding good foods means you don’t stress about ‘forbidden items’. Drinking more water automatically means you start drinking less soda, eating more veg means you eat less junk food almost by default.

My favourite food tracker is cron-o-meter, because it lets me track nutrition. Most trackers put way too much emphasis on weight loss/calories, but cron-o-meter comes more from the nutrition/optimum health end of the spectrum.

Nutrition is interesting. I am not an expert (more curious amateur) and I have read many many articles and blogs over the years, ranging from vegan-raw-food ‘vegetables are everything’ to the club-swinging, ketogenic loving, paleo offal-is-key.

Again: I’m not prescriptive. There are many routes up the mountain, and many diets that can work to make us happy, healthy and fulfilled.

So, today kicks off day one of me trying to eat more mindfully, and to make more healthy choices. I started the day with roasted tomatoes, asparagus and a poached egg (verdict: delicious) and then made a huge batch of pea-and-vegetable soup (pork stock, dried green peas, onion, garlic, celery, carrot and celeriac) and for dinner I shall be eating some left over chicken and dumpling stew.

I did also eat a cupcake, because cupcakes are good 😉

9 servings fruit and vegetables challenge – an update

Mmm, vegetables!

Last week I said I was trying to eat 9 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. I thought I’d let you know how I was doing.

Slow cooked beef and vegetablesMonday – Friday? Success!

A typical day included a green smoothie or eggs & vegetables for breakfast, a piece of fruit as a snack, and something plus vegetables for lunch. I found myself making healthier choices; for example when I didn’t have a packed lunch I ordered a chicken burger with both salad and mixed vegetables for the sides. Prior to the challenge I would probably have ordered chips in place of the vegetables.

It quickly became clear that to get the 9 servings you really need to be eating mostly vegetables/fruit at each meal. Take a look at a typical dinner plate to the right. That was beef and a whole heaping pile of vegetables.

The key to success is to find lots of different ways of serving vegetables. If you’re anything like me, you quickly get bored of the same things again and again. Luckily there are lots of vegetables, and lots of ways to cook them!

Beef casserole

I had a few notable successes. The beef casserole was one. The beef itself was delicious (I cooked it for two and a half hours, with a slug of red wine and vegetable stock. It’s not a quick after work meal, but it is an easy one as you just need to leave it alone!

Once the beef was cooked, I drained the liquids into a bowl and set the beef to rest. I boiled the veg in the casserole liquid, and then made a gravy out of the remaining liquid into which I mixed some spring greens to wilt.

Spicy Eggs

One easy way to get a serving of veg in is to use tomato sauce. In this case, it was passatta into which I mixed smoked paprika and chilli flakes.  I cooked until the sauce was thick, wilted some spinach into the pan, then cracked in two eggs and covered the pan with a lid. When the eggs were done I sprinkled on some goats cheese.

Thai Green Curry

Another brilliant choice was a Thai Green Curry. This was super fast… mostly because I used a jar of thai spice paste. Cook up some chicken, toss in a bunch of veg, add a can of coconut milk and your paste and let it simmer. When the veg is cooked, you’re done!

One failure…

I opted to make some chinese chicken, but replaced the chicken with large mushrooms. This turned out to be a mistake, as the mushrooms soaked up so much of the soy sauce that they tasted of nothing else. It felt a bit like eating solidified sauce. Yech. The greens were no better, as I overcooked them.


A couple of bowls of bananas and cream, or some homemade applesauce finished the day up nicely.

Getting fruit and vegetables while travelling

The weekend proved to be more challenging. I travelled on Friday. I started the day with a green smoothie and picked up a ‘five-a-day’ juice at a juice bar. Luckily, the people I visited had created a vegetable curry for dinner, so Friday was fine.

Then I was dependent on my friends and restaurants. I decided not to worry too much about things, and to eat what was served. I didn’t really want to turn into an obnoxious guest!

Saturday we had fruit and yoghurt for breakfast, but then a buffet lunch (we were at a conference) led to an over-fill on bread and meat. A visit to a Turkish restaurant for dinner meant a salad and some lovely vegetable soup but also a plethora of naan and kofta.

Sunday started well, with a fried breakfast that ticked off three servings (beans, mushrooms, and tomatoes). Lunch also went well, when we got a sunday roast lunch overflowing with parsnips, broccoli and carrots. Unfortunately, the rather delicious additional stuffing, yorkshire puddings, mountain of roast beef and potatoes meant that dinner just didn’t happen at all — we were stuffed!

Still, five servings minimum on both days was not too shabby…. right?

Then Monday happened! We started the day with scrambled eggs and mushrooms (one serving). For lunch we went to a noodle bar. Sadly for me, the only vegetables on display included a large quantity of bell peppers.

Ick. I hate bell peppers. I don’t know why, they are pretty much the only food thing I actually won’t eat.

So I got noodles and chicken, with barely a piece of vegetable in sight. Then I did the only thing possible, and ordered a slice of cake.

The cake was amazing – banana, chocolate and hazelnut – but my total servings of fruit and veg for the day still stood at one.

A train ride home, and we were packed in so tightly that I could barely breathe, let alone snack on the orange in my purse. I finally rolled into the house at 9pm and was too tired to face cooking. So an insta-pack of pasta it was. The packaging claimed it contained broccoli, but if it did it was in such microscopic amounts that it didn’t count.

Sooo… Monday I managed just one serving and that was it.

However, today is another day. I’m about to go and cook up a concoction of eggs and vegetables – at a minimum spinach and mushrooms and then head into town to run a few errands.

After all, it wouldn’t be a challenge if it was easy!

X is for… eXcuses

I’m slightly disappointed I didn’t manage the last four posts of the A-Z Challenge in time. The only thing worse would be to not complete the challenge at all. So here are three of my last four posts (happily condensed into one post for ease). I’m missing W – but look for it turning up tomorrow. (I’ll give you a hint, it will be some lovely wallpapers for your computer).

X is for Excuses

Original image by swissmiss.

It only seems right that a late and limping almost-final entry into the Challenge should be about excuses. And I’ll be honest; I have a lot. My second novel is still not finished. I haven’t done a pull-up for almost four months. My low-sugar challenge went off the rails spectacularly (who knew it would be so hard to quit the demon sweetener?) I missed a project deadline at work — actually it went flying by at the speed of light about four weeks ago!

For all of these things I have reasons. Excuses. I moved house twice in the last five months. My commute now takes anywhere from an hour to two hours. Other projects got dumped on me. I just want to relax for one night and I’ll get back on it tomorrow.

Difficult. The problem is, of course, I want to finish that novel (and a third, and a fourth). I want to be fit, and able to crank out twenty pull-ups with ease. I want my job to go well, and my career to be a success. I want to enjoy health and a long life.

There are lots of productivity tips out there, and I’ve applied some of them already. Productivity isn’t the issue. I strongly believe working hours are too long across most of the world. With unemployment so high and wages so unequal? There is no reason two people could not do the job that one person does now; and both would get better quality of life.

Exhaustion, stress, depression. These have become almost default positions for so many people.

But these are the parameters we work with. Changing the way the world works is out of my control, for the most part. So what can I do?

I think a little bit of forgiveness to ourselves is allowed. A celebration of what we do get done, rather than reflecting on what we don’t. One project at work fell by the wayside — because I got pulled off onto another, highly critical and more important project. I worked (and am working) my ass off on that project!

I haven’t finished my second novel, but I’m halfway through the second draft and I keep on keeping on. Progress is made, and I know now that I will keep plugging away, at weekends and on holidays and eventually at least a handful of these stories will get written down and released to the world.

I can’t do a pull-up yet, but my fitness is light years away from where it was two years ago. It’s a part of my life now, and even though I’m not as fit as I want to be, it’s still nice to feel so much stronger than I used to be. The other day I even managed a feat of strength after someone else had failed — something that would never have happened before. (I used to be the weediest person you can imagine, with arms like tiny soggy spaghetti strands).

Excuses? Is often another word for reason.

If I’m making progress, I’m doing okay. It might be inching and slow, it might be blazing fast (it won’t last!) but as long as I keep heading towards the things that I want, it’s fine.

Every journey is made up of thousands of steps; but also rest-stops, conversations, detours, meeting strangers, getting pissed off, being attacked by a horde of orcs, having your brain taken over by the Borg — okay, you get my point.

Life would be boring if we just walked in a straight line to our destination without pause.

Y is for… yesterday and yankee.

Me and my other half
Me and my other half

Yesterday was a Saturday, and one of the first I have spent at home and relaxing. It was nice, and here’s why:

My partner is American. Of the four+ years we’ve been married, we’ve been apart for probably half of that time. Even when he finally moved back to the UK, we had some housing issues that stopped us from living together. We have not had what you might call a straightforward courtship and marriage.

It doesn’t matter, however, because all the chaos and craziness has just gelled us together stronger and harder than ever before. Yesterday we hung out, we watched a movie, we snuggled and every second of it was precious. 🙂

Z is for… endings (and new beginnings)

Book shelves filled with books
Original image by brewbooks

So much for the A-Z Challenge. I hope you enjoyed this rather frantic ride. I’ve decided to do another challenge (one that doesn’t involve blogging quite so often). If you are also looking for a blog challenge, here’s one you might want to try:

May Blogging Challenge

However, I am thinking of doing something a little more rounded and ticking off another life goal – namely, to read the Telegraph’s ‘100 novels everyone should read‘ list, and writing a review for each one.

Right this minute, however, I’m off to do some writing.

Have a great day xxx

V is for… Vikings

The letter VThis post is part of the A-Z Blogging Challenge.

Did you see the movie Thor?

I did, completely by accident. I am a bit of a comic book fan, but never really liked the Spider Man movies and as a result got put off the Marvel Movie franchise. But I was around a friends house one day and he suggested we watch it and I was like “Meh, whatevs.”

Two hours later I was a committed fangirl to the nth degree (I have a bit of a problem with getting OHMYGOD-OBSESSED with certain things).

Anyway, I adored Thor, bought it for myself and quickly dived into the rest of the Marvel movies (loved them all, but Thor and The Avengers are definitely the best.)

The whole experience spring-boarded me into a light flirtation with Vikings in general. The mythology is more interesting than most (alright, I admit it, I find 90% of mythology absolutely tedious; including judeo-Christian) and a short while later I had my own rune kit. (Did I mention the bit where I have a problem with getting obsessed?)

I have this rather unlikely fantasy of putting together a signature steampunk-viking outfit, but to make it work I am first trying to get my strength and fitness levels up. The reason I’m responding to those valkyrie images is, of course, because of the strength on display.

F is for… fitness

The letter FThis post is part of the A-Z Blog Challenge.

First: some history. When I was a foolish teenager I hated sports. PE (physical education) remains the only class I ever truanted from (to go and play Dungeons & Dragons – what can I say, I was your typical rebel). I always walked a lot, so stayed relatively fit by walking to work etc but sport, running, getting fit… these were all things I had no interest in.

Then I went from walking to work to walking to a bus stop a few feet from my house. At the same time, I started getting tired, lethargic and depressed. It wasn’t just the lack of exercise that did it, but that certainly didn’t help.

Over the next couple of years I dabbled with different things, but it wasn’t until two years ago that I discovered how much impact regular exercise really had. I started a weekly yoga class, and found myself so upbeat and energetic after the class that I began to love going. After a couple of months I added a weekly karate class… then a weekly zumba class… then upped my karate to three times a week, and started cycling to get there. I had never felt better, although the cost made me wince a little.

I started looking for things I could do at home, and discovered youtube videos, bodyweight exercises and ‘fitspiration’. All of a sudden I was hooked.

When I moved to Oxford in January last year I left all my classes behind, but I joined a gym and even paid for a personal trainer. I started doing pull-ups, running 5k, and discovered that the rowing machine was actually… kind of fun.

Keeping things varied definitely helps. Having some outside pressure helps too – classes are great because people expect you to turn up, and comment if you don’t! The particular gym I went to was great, because they give you a free workout plan and every time you go in one of the trainers signs the session off. Motivation!

My life has been a bit chaotic recently, but I’m trying to get back on track next week. Now that I’m back in Towcester (long story!) I’m looking forward to getting back into my old routine which looks like this!

  •  Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: Zumba
  • Wednesday: Hatha Yoga
  • Thursday: Zumba
  • Friday: Karate
  • Saturday: Karate
  • Sunday: Walk

I also wanted to share some great workout/fitness websites that I visit regularly:

  • Zuzka Light’s video channel: Zuzanna posts a workout every week (ZWOW), each one a tough 15 minute or so bodyweight/weights challenge. There are loads of backdated ones, or you can work out each week and become part of the community.
  • Nerdfitness: Motivational blog, plus free exercise videos and workouts. I tend to disregard the food advice (I love bread too much to ever go Paleo) but the emphasis on fresh whole foods is definitely better than many alternatives.
  • The Fitnessista: Regular recipes and workout suggestions, monthly challenges, and a friendly attitude that keeps me coming back for more.

What are your favourite exercises? Are you a gym rat or a long distance runner? Do you prefer to work out alone or with people? And what stops you from exercising?