How do we define our successes?

As I sit writing this in my new flat, I can’t help but question whether I feel successful. Indeed, a colleague of mine is fascinated by the question of defining and measuring success, which inspired me to think about what I consider to be my own personal successes.

What do I understand by success?

pen writing notes studying
From an early age, I measured my success against others. The best thing was learning success is NOT relative.

I think from a young age, my personal success was relative. Did a best friend get a B in an exam and I got an A? Was that how I measured my own success? Maybe.

But as I have grown older, successes are purely personal and not a relative phenomenon. Equally, how I view success, and what I understand by my success, has vastly changed and continues to change over time. I therefore view success as a fluid notion and not static.

At school, success for me was 100% about getting top grades, the same at University. I also felt as though I needed to be popular, a certain shape, have a boyfriend etc etc. Money was also a core feature of my idea of success when I was at school, although this became much less important at uni as I sought to have an impact on the world.

Yet now, as I am a year into my professional career, my understanding of success has changed again. Now I understand it as:

  • having a job that interests me, that I am good at, and in which I am having a positive impact;
  • smashing the gym and my diet to get the results I want;
  • being happy and finding my own sources of happiness; and
  • being self-sufficient/independent.

So my definition of success from school to now has changed from how others view me, to how I view myself. No comparison to others and no approval needed from anyone else.

The role of money in success

stack white business market
Money is too often viewed as a core marker of success. Changing this view is paramount in truly understanding success.

Of course, money has a part to play as being financially independent is, for me, a core part of self-sufficiency and independence.

In fact, I wrote a two year goal list in April which stated four goals I wanted to achieve over the next two years, they were:

  • help the growth of my employer’s company;
  • get promoted;
  • afford to rent own place; and
  • afford to buy new place.

And in seven months, I have ticked off two: get promoted and afford to rent my own place. And so I added another goal, get an MBA qualification in order to permit me to rise into a C-level position later on in my career.

So yes, money is key in two of these goals and I do not undermine that money permits goals to happen. Yet money is not an end in itself and having achieved the ability to rent my own place, I can safely say that yes money pays my rent and bills, but better than that it is the independence and self-reliance/dependance of living alone that makes me feel successful.

In the remaining two goals (company growth and promotion), I would argue money has little to do with it. My Boss has invested so much in my career and inspired me, that I am determined to help his company grow in the same way he continues to help me grow.

And part of me helping to do this comes from my promotion. I now have even more responsibility, and therefore the opportunity, to make positive things happen. It will be knowing that I did something to aid someone else and their goals that will me a core marker of my future successes.

What else fits into my vision of success?

A million things could go here, but these three came instantly to mind meaning they must be my most important ideas of success…

Giving back to my parents/family

My parents have provided for me my entire life. My successes are equally their successes – I would not be where I am if they had not done everything they had from the moment I was born.

And so part of me feeling successful is being able to give back to them.

I don’t mean paying them back all the money they have spent on me (soz’ rents), I mean being able to do things for them. For instance, this Sunday I have invited my family over to my place for lunch. And I cannot wait to welcome them into my home and show them what they have helped me achieve.

And then my Dad is coming to see my place of work and meet by Boss. Again, I am super excited and proud to show him the City, the buildings I visit for work, and what my London life is like. It’s showing him how he, and my Mum, have helped me get to where I am and that I could not have done it without them.

Knowing knockbacks are just a step to future successes

curve industry photography vintage
In photography, negatives are the first step to creating beautiful photos. The same applies to life.

Part of growing up is not only realising, but also believing, that without incurring negatives, future successes are limited. Mistakes are there to be made in order to learn and grow from them.

That doesn’t mean we should be complacent and avoid making mistakes. It means that when a mistake or a knockback hits you in the face, you have two options: 1) let it make you believe you are crap at life and can’t possibly do better; or 2) spin it into a positive and use it to create a future success.

Finding my own ways to be happy (self-fulfiness)

Lastly, for me success is the ability to solely rely upon myself for happiness which I previously touched upon but it is important point to reiterate. This is a lesson my Dad taught me a few years back after I had had my heart broken. And I think it is probably the most important lesson I have thus far learnt.

It required commitment and a couple of years to teach myself the lesson. Yet now I have achieved it, and continue to ensure I maintain it, is not only a great source of empowerment but also gives me a sense of success.

The future

close up of water
My crystal ball of the future…

Of course, if history is anything to go by these ideas I have of success will change in the future. Whilst the above three criteria of success  I would hope will always remain central, I have no doubt that I will have both material and non-material new criterion of success in the future.

But I hope that I will remember what I have learnt: that the material element is not what truly defines success.

Why? Because as I have grown up I have realised that independence and happiness, both non-material, have brought me more joy than any material possession. They have brought me a sense of inner empowerment, and that feeling my friends, is irreplaceable.

Z x

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My IBD caused me to fail the Army medical but that’s ok

So some may be aware that I love all things to do with security and intelligence, and for a long time I considered joining the British Army.

My current company is composed of former British Army Officers and hearing their stories, along with their full support and encouragement, I finally decided to apply to join the Intelligence Corps as a Reserve Officer.

The application process…

I applied online which included a brief medical questionnaire, all of which I passed. I then attended an open evening where we were introduced to the Intelligence Corps and had a formal interview. I again passed and was on the list to do a 12 hour assessment day.

In the mean time, with apprehension (for obvious reasons), the extensive medical form had been sent to my GP.

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During this apprehensive time, my colleagues were teaching me all about the Army. My Boss, a former top Army Officer himself, even took me to spend the afternoon in the National Army Museum in Chelsea and talked me through it all. We wandered through the expo on ‘Could you be a soldier?‘ which utterly captivated and excited me. And then just as I thought things could not get much cooler, we wandered through the special forces expo.

I was fully sold.

To FAILURE…

Yet it wasn’t to be.

Yesterday afternoon, whilst at work, I got a text message from the Army saying I had a new message in the Portal. I instantly logged in (sorry Boss) and a huge message appeared on the home screen telling me that based on the information I had provided, they were unable to continue with my application.

Wondering why, I clicked on my inbox and see that I have been medically rejected.

Charming!

And then disappointment…

Whilst I was half expecting to be medically rejected, it still came as a bit of a bummer.

https://www.sandhursttrust.org/events/sandhurst-tours/
Sandhurst Military Academy… never to be blessed with the presence of Z

My Boss truly believed in my abilities to be a top Officer. I was genuinely excited to learn a whole new set of skills which would have not only hugely aided me in my day job, but also in civilian life. I work with ex-Army guys and hand on heart can say they are some of the most intelligent and kindest guys I have ever met.

I was excited to see what my limits were and where they lie. I was excited to have someone else push me, instead of myself, and provide me with a whole new outlook on life. I was excited to go and train at Sandhurst after hearing all the stories from my colleagues and I was excited to see the outcome, me as an Officer, and where this may take me.

I had no intention of becoming a full-time Officer, but I was desperate to become immersed in this exciting world and play my part as a Reserve.

To getting back up again

Sadly, the reality of having a chronic illness is that it can place limitations on the things you can and can’t do and it can crush dreams.

It is of course annoying and infuriating that my body, despite being currently fit and healthy and despite knowing I would have made a good Officer, dictates what I can and cannot do in life. Especially so as Ulcerative Colitis is an illness I acquired through no fault of my own and I do everything in my power to keep my body as fit as possible.

Yet this is one view.

The other view is that ‘everything happens for a reason’, a phrase I consider to be my life motto. Just like I believe I have an illness for a reason, which has thus far proved to be for a reason of empowerment, joining the Army simply wasn’t destined for me. My skills and time are best spent elsewhere. Call me naive, but this is the view I choose to take.

And conquering the city of London.

And you know what? I don’t think I am naive at all.

I currently have the job most 24 year old’s could only dream of. I have a Boss who supports my career as if it were his own, who sees my potential, and who is giving me every single opportunity to reach it. And for that I owe him everything.

https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.city.ac.uk%2F__data%2Fassets%2Fimage%2F0009%2F339408%2FThe-City-of-London.jpg&imgrefurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.city.ac.uk%2Fmathematics-computer-science-engineering%2Four-london-location&docid=h-ySksd5fLevsM&tbnid=2u-f6er5JBWK6M%3A&vet=10ahUKEwiA7NrnsMXeAhXPN8AKHWNtB3QQMwhzKCcwJw..i&w=500&h=333&client=safari&bih=837&biw=1440&q=insurance%20district%20london&ved=0ahUKEwiA7NrnsMXeAhXPN8AKHWNtB3QQMwhzKCcwJw&iact=mrc&uact=8
My place of work: London’s insurance district

All of these buildings you see in the above photo – the Leadenhall, the walkie talkie, the gherkin, Lloyd’s of London – are all buildings I am constantly in and out of as part of my job. A job that continues to bring new and exciting challenges.

Yet to achieve this took a leap of faith by venturing into a world I had next to no idea about. I was uncertain, I had absolutely no clue how it would plan out, but something was telling me that it was the right move.

That is called a leap of faith and believing that everything does indeed happen for a reason. My professional journey has only just begun and I could not be more excited about the future. There is so much still to do.

And so maybe I will look back in 10, 20 years time when I have reached a CEO position, and I’ll understand the reason as to why me joining the Army was not meant to be. Not just because I have an illness, but because my current path is too great to have me pulled in any other possible direction.

So that’s the view I choose to take.

https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/uk/remembrance-sunday
‘Lest we forget’

And as remembrance Sunday approaches, and we celebrate 100 years since the end of World War One, I ask you all to appreciate what those before us have done and what our Army continues to do. I have heard first hand from my colleagues their war stories and I can tell you these are some of the bravest and most noble people in our world. They have hearts of gold and I am truly blessed to call some of these heroes my colleagues, and my friends.

Z x

How emotions affect IBD and why I choose exercise to manage both

This blog post is a particularly important one for me as both of my severe relapses were caused by my emotions, notably emotional upset and stress.

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Advise you all to give it a read – very insightful.

I have recently read a book titled Emotional Intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ by Daniel Goleman. Whilst the whole book is eye-opening, one chapter particularly struck a cord with me – ‘Mind and Medicine‘.

In this chapter, Goleman discusses how emotions can trigger illnesses but also how they play a key role in determining the speed of recovery.

The role of the immune system in causing illness

Goleman states the there is medical effectiveness in treating both the emotional and physical state as the two are inherently related.

He references the Chilean Neuroscientist, Francisco Varela, from Paris’ Ecole Polytechnique, who states that the immune system is the “body’s brain“.

If the immune system is the body’s brain, this means a strong immune system is fundamental to ensure our bodies function properly. Anything that can weaken our immune system then, must in theory be avoided.

Our immune systems can be weakened by numerous different factors but Goleman states that stress, notably anxiety, is “perhaps the emotion with the greatest weight of scientific evidence connecting it to the onset of sickness and course of recovery“.

This is because, as the American Neuroscientist David Felten showed in a study, the nervous system, which regulates everything from how much insulin we produce to blood pressure levels, is connected to the immune system. And our nervous system is essential for proper immune function.

The role of stress in triggering illness

Stress then, whether it be emotional or physical, affects our nervous system and therefore suppresses immune resistance making us more susceptible to illness.

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In a 1993 review in the Archives of Internal Medicine which looked at the link between stress and disease, Yale physchologist Bruce McEwen noted numerous links. Of interest to me was that stress leads to ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract triggering Ulcerative Colitis symptoms and IBD in general.

Now I already knew there was a link between the two as numerous Consultants have told me this is so, but it was nice to see it cited elsewhere.

The issue we then face is that if stress can trigger a relapse, a relapse itself also brings added stress. The stress of feeling constantly ill, the stress of being unable to properly study or work, the stress of a relapse affecting relationships, the stress of meds not working, and for some the stress of surgery.

That’s a lot of extra stress.

And a lot of extra suppression of the immune system which will only prolong the relapse.

The question then becomes how do we manage stress?

Managing stress: the key to recovery

Stress is a core part of being human and indeed it makes us human. Everyone talks about the importance of managing stress and it is of course an important topic for the general population. 

Yet I think it is especially important to talk about if you have an underlying, life-long condition which can worsen due to stress. Like us lucky lot with IBD.

And this is where for me exercise is THE saviour.

Goleman talks about how hope has a healing power, that a good support network aids recovery, and that relaxation training helps recovery as it helps deal with the distress of symptoms (which can cause more distress and so worsen symptoms). And I 100% agree with all of these but he seems to suggest these three come from different sources.

Well what about if they could all come from one source?

The gym: my de-stress environment

For me the gym provides all the elements that Goleman references. I have mentioned several times how the gym saved me following my last relapse and I truly believe it is what is keeping me in remission (touch wood).

I have spoken before about how the gym aided me whilst coming out of remission. So now I want to discuss how I believe it prevents me from falling back into remission but in relation to Goleman’s three points.

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Change your mindset: choose to be a ‘glass half full’ kinda’ person.

Firstly, the gym gives me hope. The rush of endorphins I get during and after training makes me feel positive, in turn giving me a positive frame of mind allowing me to tackle challenges.

These challenges need not be IBD-related. The ability to tackle the challenge means I tackle it with a positive mind-set and crucially, tackle it before it starts to stress me. I therefore am taking preventive action to limit any stress.

Second, my lil’ gym community is one of my many support networks. Of course family and friends are rudimentary (and I have the most incredible people around me) but sometimes we need to be around those who are unaware of the ins and outs of our personal (and medical) lives.

I always find that everyone in the gym is positive and happy, rarely do I see someone looking sad. This has a knock-on effect, making me happier, thereby either preventing or eliminating stress.

The social aspect is also key. I love chatting to people in the gym (albeit briefly as I am in ma zone), having a laugh, smiling at the same faces. It is a highly positive environment. A stress-free environment.

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Gym is my form of meditation.

Lastly, the gym is a form of relaxation. Sure it requires physical exertion, but I find solely concentrating on the exercise in hand permits an isolation from the entire world, a complete emptying of the mind, effectively what meditation seeks to achieve.

It also helps my body to relax and so eradicating stress. I have spoken before about how any pain, cramping or bloating I have disappears when I exercise. I believe this is my body’s way of letting go of any built up tensions or emotions that are triggering such symptoms, a sort of reconfiguration if you like.

So choose to be PRO-active, not RE-active

And these reasons are why I train so regularly. We are not always aware we are stressed, it can be sub-conscious. It is therefore absolutely crucial to be pro-active and not simply re-active, i.e. exercising only when we truly feel stressed.

It is essentially about creating a habit and our brains associating the gym with de-stressing. If I remember GCSE science correctly, it is about building new neurone pathways so that x triggers yx being exercise and y being de-stressing.

And so there you have it. It is possible to manage stress but it requires the dedication and willingness to do so. Yet once you have formed this habit, it is life-changing and for me it is keeping me in remission.

The gym permits me to positively tackle any challenges that come my way, health or non-health related. It permits me to know that a solution can be found, to know that stress is my devil, yet I have the power and the tools to overcome it, keeping my body, and mind, healthy.

Z x

Let’s talk about… rest week

How important is rest? Why is rest important? How often should we take rest days?

Now if you’re like me, you know that rest is super important when you follow an intense exercise regime. And here I am talking about 1-2 rest days per week, but what about when our bodies need longer to rest? Like a week?

close up composition conceptual creativity
Exercise places physical stress on the body, too much, and you can burn yourself out.

Burnout in the workplace is a thing. Working intensely, for long hours, over a long period of time, with little to no breaks, places the body under immense stress causing burnout. And exercise can do exactly the same thing: over-training places the body physically under too much stress causing burnout. When this occurs, it is time for a solid break from the gym.

And I hate it when this is happens, but I succumbed and took a break recently.

Rest is a key part of fitness

In general, rest is key and a core part of the fitness process for numerous reasons including:

  • top up energy stores;
  • rebuild the tears in your muscles needed to build muscle;
  • prevents injury from over-working certain muscle groups;
  • keeps motivation high; and
  • permits stronger performances.

It is there advisable to take 1-2 rest days per week. Yet there comes a time when our bodies need a longer period of time to properly recover.

How do I know when it is time to rest?

Last gym session before rest week.
Last gym session before rest week – old knee injury had been playing up for weeks.

I am speaking for myself here, but for me there are certain signs that the body is under too much physical stress meaning it is time for a rest week.

Tiredness

Quite simply, when I am due a break, I feel physically and mentally tired and also a bit low. No amount of sleep helps. And it is a different type of tiredness to just simply needing sleep after a busy day; it is my body being physically over-worked.

And with constant tiredness, comes a host of other related issues: increased risk of injury; aching body; weak performance and low motivation.

Injuries

Despite doing ballet to a high level for 16 years, I never once had an injury. And then the first time I ever went skiing in 2014, I got my first ever injury. I fell awkwardly and buggered up my knee.

The injury prevents me from running lots or squatting too much as the pressure on my knee becomes too intense. As long as I avoid these, my knee is genuinely okay.

However, when I have been over-training my body tells me it needs to rest as my knee starts playing up. If I don’t listen, my body punishes me by resurrecting my knee pain.

Aching

Another way I know it is time for proper rest is excessive and constant bodily aches, mostly in my legs.

Before my recent break, my legs constantly felt heavy. This affected my performance in the gym: my legs wouldn’t do what I wanted them to and I felt as though I wasn’t making any progress.

Which leads me onto the next factor…

Performance

man lying on rubber mat near barbell inside the gym
Couldn’t have said it better myself…

When you feel as though you have reached a ceiling in your training and you’re not smashing your workouts as normal, you know it’s time for a break.

It is like studying. When you over-study your brain goes hazy, you lose focus and don’t retain new information and start to forget learnt information. The same goes for physical training: over-training causes your body to plateau and the exercises you used to smash become harder to do. Your body starts to feel weak and not the beacon of strength it normally is.

Motivation

Tied in with performance is motivation.

I certainly know for myself that when I am buzzing for the gym, I absolutely smash my sessions. When I start losing that motivation, I can still smash my workouts but even if I do, it’s not to the same extent as normal.

Additionally, when my body is screaming at me to rest, I stop being excited to go to the gym. It feels more like a chore on my to-do list (which sometimes it actually is!) as opposed to the place I so look forward to going to. And for me that is the biggest tell-tale sign as I know how much I bloody love training.

How long should I rest for?

From what I have read, this completely depends upon the individual and the intensity of their training.

I have read that we can rest for up to two weeks and have had personal trainers tell me not to take too long off. But the general consensus is that we won’t lose our strength and endurance after having one week off training, assuming we maintain a healthy diet.

So I chose to rest for 4 days and boy did my body need it. My energy levels continued to increase over the course of the four days; I was not tired; I slept soundly and woke up early naturally feeling revived and not tired; my legs stopped aching; and my old knee injury recovered.

I think I will now incorporate longer periods of rest more frequently into my exercise regime so that I rest pro-actively, ie before my body tells me it is time to rest.

Of course, time will tell whether I stick to this as I’m a great advice giver but not the best listener to my own advice. Whoops.

Z x

Tracking our macros: a necessary fitness tool which risks becoming obsessive

Today’s topic is tracking. Tracking our macros (carbs, fats, protein) and calories, most likely using the famous ‘My Fitness Pal’.

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My general thought is that tracking is important as it gives you a solid idea of how much you are consuming, which is crucial for anyone but particularly for those doing intense exercise. The issue is that it can become quite addictive and hard to stop…

Why can tracking be important?

Personal Example

I am the prime example of some who has benefited from tracking my food. As you will recall from a previous blog post, I was under-eating by about 1,000kcal per day.

How did I know this? From a fitness MOT, which showed my basal metabolic rate was 2,547kcal per day, and from tracking my food which showed I was eating between 1,500-1,750kcal per day.

This was a huge turning point as it explained my excessive tiredness amongst others. I was simply not eating enough to fuel my body when sitting around doing nothing, never mind in addition to the intense exercise I was doing.

Since this MoT, I have made a conscious effort to increase my daily calorie intake and with success. All of this is only possible thanks to tracking my food.

Achieving goals

Tracking is also crucial to attain a specific goal.

ball fun game goal
Tracking is crucial in achieving fitness goals – 90% of the work is done in the kitchen.

If you are looking to lose fat, you need to know your fat to carb/protein ratio, as well as your calorie intake. Similarly, if you are looking to gain muscle, you need to know your current carb and protein intake. Without knowing where you are currently at, you can’t know the correct route to take to reach your end destination.

I feel this is especially true for those new to exercise. Like anything in life, knowledge is (mostly) power. The more informed you are, the better you can utilise this knowledge to achieve your goals. People often wonder why they are not seeing the results they want aesthetically and physically. I ask what their macros are to reach this goal and they say they don’t know. I say they are silly as they are trying to achieve something blind-sighted.

The same also applies to new diets. For instance, my brother has just started doing a keto diet (very high fat and no carbs). He must absolutely track his macros to ensure he is getting enough fat into his body as his body is running off fats, not carbs. When your body runs off fats, this is called ketosis. If he was just guessing, he would not necessarily be in a state of ketosis, therefore defeating the point of the diet.

General Lifestyle

I actually do believe everyone should track their food once in a while to have an idea of what they are consuming. It is very easy to be eating more than we think, and equally very easy to be eating less than we need.

Foods have hidden calories. It is only when we start looking at the nutritional information in our food and tracking it, that we become aware of what we are putting into our bodies. Is this not something we should all be aware of anyway?

And why can it be negative?

Numbers
Constantly tracking food can lead you to see food in numbers and not its nutritional value.

I have recently discovered that tracking is addictive and I would go as far as to say it has become an obsession.

I recently tried to stop tracking my food as I eat pretty much the same thing daily so knew my macros well. I only lasted a few days and felt completely out of control of my life! So I have started tracking again…

Knowing what is in foods means you start to no longer see a food as a food, but as a bunch of numbers and nutritional info. Because of this, you are less likely to go for certain foods. Whilst this is positive if you are refusing to eat a muffin every day, it is less positive if you look at an apple and think, ‘actually, I shouldn’t have this, too much sugar so too much carbs’.

3 reasons why tracking can have downsides

I am guilty of this and it is not good, for three core reasons:

Fit and Fearless 5 Live Podcast
Highly recommend this podcast.

Firstly, we need to eat a range of foods. I was listening to a podcast by Fit & Fearless on Radio 5 Live, which if I remember correctly, stated that we should  be eating 30 different foods per week in order to benefit from all nutrients. If we therefore restrict ourselves to certain food groups, our bodies will be deficient in certain nutrients.

Secondly, viewing food as numbers can be the start of an eating disorder. As I also learnt from this same podcast, this does not mean anorexia or bulimia, but simply a negative view of food, the severity of which can vary.

Thirdly, knowing our macros means we feel guilty when we ‘cheat’ i.e. we eat something that we consider unhealthy. Normally this would be a pizza, burger, a piece of cake etc for which macros are (mostly) not available if we are eating out. We feel guilty as we know we have not hit our macros and not having the nutritional information is an extra annoyance.

Having said that, I will happily eat out (keeping it clean) and not worry about macros. Equally, if I do really fancy a cheat meal I will do it and not over-think it.

So there you have it, like anything tracking needs to be done in moderation. It has given me a great insight into the nutritional information of foods I feed my body and it has permitted me to make changes to my diet to ensure my body is sufficiently fueled.

Do I see myself tracking my foods forever? Probably not, but for the foreseeable future, probably yes.

Z x

 

Fitness aesthetics: when does it become dangerous?

Today’s blog post is an important and relevant topic when it comes to exercising, but also post-summer holiday.

Once those bods’ have been on that beach and we feel suitably bronzed, until the return to the UK, aesthetics start to slip. I know mine certainly have, and it hasn’t gone un-noticed by my nearest and dearest (yes you know who you are).

Having said that, my aesthetic appearance has decreased: 1) because I am eating more as I explained I was unknowingly under-eating by about 1000kcal per day (without being arrogant I wasn’t aware that I was that fit); and 2) cause’ I kind of got bored of tracking everything and being so strict.

Now it is one thing me noticing it and knowing it, but it’s a whole different kettle of bells (do you get it?) when someone close to me also notices it (and praises it). I was told I look more ‘normal’ and my reaction to such a comment got me thinking about aesthetics…

What do we (I) understand by ‘aesthetics’?

Undoubtedly, everyone will have different ideals of aesthetics and different achievements.

A month into pre-summer restrictive eating.
A month into pre-summer restrictive eating.

For me personally, my aesthetics consist of:

  • being lean;
  • abs on point (solid lil’ 4 pack);
  • increased confidence;
  • feel good factor; and
  • mentally happier and pleased with myself.

So you see for me, as I always bang on about, it is not just the physical satisfaction but also the mental satisfaction. I could compare it to a beautiful pair of boots (like the ones I just bought) which bring a smile to your face every time you see them and give you a confidence boost every time you wear them (“these boots are made for walking“). Yet they come with an expensive price tag, but you kinda go with it cause’ of how they make you feel (Mum, Dad, I have been saving for them).

Additionally, aesthetics comes from me liking a challenge and pushing myself to be the best I can.

When I am lean and muscles on show, I feel as though I am truly pushing myself, my body, and nearing the best of me. Of course, even though I am now less lean my fitness level hasn’t changed, my gym sessions are still the same.

At what price do aesthetics come?

Now my aesthetics are nowhere near as extreme as it comes. You only have to look at bodybuilders to see the true extremes they go to pre-competitions. Pretty insane stuff.

From Instagram
A post I got tagged in on Instagram… Rude.

Nevertheless, in general aesthetics come at the following price (albeit to varying extents depending on how far you go):

  • very restricted diet (no leeway);
  • low carb and high calorie deficit;
  •  constant fatigue, excessive need of sleep;
  • headaches;
  • moodiness;
  • periods all over the place; and
  • I’m sure a whole load of other health problems.

Evidently, such a lifestyle is for short-term gains (i.e. that summer holiday or wedding) but is simply not sustainable in the long-run. Especially so when gym is part of your life and you have a job to excel at and the rest of your life to lead.

But what happens when you start losing the aesthetics?

Again, this will depend upon the person but here I will talk about me.

Negatives

  1. I really don’t feel as though I am in the best shape (despite my physical fitness level remaining the same) so I feel unhappy and annoyed at myself. I feel as though I am slacking and I am not, never have been, and never will be, a slacker so this only annoys me more.
  2. I feel AVERAGE and I look ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ according to my nearest and dearest. Whilst this was meant as compliment, I don’t want to be average or normal. And I know this is vain, arrogant, but if I lied that defeats the point of this blog. Feeling normal only reiterates to me that I am not pushing myself enough.
  3. Lastly (I think it’s the last) I have reduced self-confidence.

I am aware that I should not be feeling like this, but again I am being honest. And it is good I am aware of how I feel, and that it is bad, before it becomes obsessive.

Positives

So what about the positives I hear you say?

Since that meeting with the guy from Virgin active (see blog post Health MOT No. 2: the good and the bad news
) who gave me the best news regarding my fitness levels, but also indicated that my fatigue, excessive sleep, low energy, periods all over the place etc was due to me under-eating by around 1,000 kcal per day, I listened (personal achievement) and made changes.

Ben & Jerry's
Weekend treat: Ben & Jerry’s peanut butter and cookies dairy-free ice cream.

I have made the following changes:

  • increased my carbs per day;
  • increased portion sizes of general meals;
  • increased fats;
  • increased protein; and
  • have 1-2 treats on the weekend and don’t worry about it.

And as much as I dislike my aesthetic appearance, I feel a million times better so much so that:

  • higher energy throughout the day;
  • no more excessive fatigue and sleep;
  • less moody (much to the relief of those closest to me);
  • periods regulated (more on this below);
  • apparently I appear happier and have a sparkle in my eye; and
  • it is quite nice to not be constantly tracking my food, allowing myself to eat more carbs and enjoy a treat (or two) on the weekend.

Regarding periods, I have a period tracker on my phone and noticed a striking pattern between my very strict eating pre-summer and my periods. In sum, my periods were a week later, then three weeks late, then 2 weeks late and were also abnormally light. This all corresponded with the strict diet. This month however, it was only a few days late and a normal period.

So we can all see positives outweigh negatives and objectively, of course I can see that too, I am not stupid.

So why do I feel gross, unhappy and annoyed when see myself in mirror?

I recognise this is a dangerous thought but it is hard to find the balance, and indeed it takes time. However, you’ll be pleased to know I am not going to go back to my pre-summer restrictive eating as the positives are too great. I will however, be getting back to  more focused eating and tracking my food – the topic of my next blog.

Peace and abs (or not).

Z x

 

Is health the new wealth?

Continuing on from my previous blog post on the rise of multi-purpose gyms and why I am not an advocate, I want to write another opinion piece sparked by the argument that health is the new wealth. Whilst I do not agree with this statement, I believe the question goes much deeper. Bear with the longer post – the end is heart-felt.

The rise of chronic illnesses

From the 1960s onwards we have moved away from infectious diseases being the core killer. Instead, we have moved towards chronic illness, such as cancers, cardio-vascular issues etc, being a core cause of death. The argument goes that we can reduce the risk of getting such an illness, or avoid it altogether, by eating well, not smoking, moderate alcohol consumption, and of course, exercising.

Such a lifestyle bears no reflection on wealth or social standing, it would just seem like mere common sense. So where does this commonly-used phrase ‘health is the new wealth‘ come in?

Ways of distinguishing social standing

The Sum of Small Things by E Currid-Halkett
The Sum of Small Things by E Currid-Halkett

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett in her book ‘The Sum of Small Things‘  states that in the US wealth and social class is for example, proved by:

  • types of food (non-dairy; no gluten/wheat; vegan etc etc); and
  • exercise, including where we train, how often, types of classes, whether we have a PT.

Such foods and exercise are of course revealed by a toned, muscly physical appearance. Therefore, as Laura Faim points out in ‘Jus dĂ©tox et cardio-training, le nouvel esprit de la bourgeoisie‘, being unhealthy and overweight can therefore be viewed as a sign of poverty and laziness.

I have several contestations about these points, although I do have a perhaps somewhat controversial view on the latter.

Food

First and foremost, for those with numerous intolerances, such as myself, dairy and gluten-free alternatives are not an attempt to stand above the rest. It is necessary and not a choice nor an attempt to display wealth.

Secondly, the link between animal products and climate change is there. Now I know little about this but choosing dairy free alternatives, or opting for vegan or vegetarian meals now and again, therefore seems like a change we could all make. So again, choices of food can represent another decision as opposed to wealth.

However, such foods come with a higher price tag and are not necessarily in everybody’s price range. An issue governments must immediately rectify.

Exercise

With the rise of low-cost gyms, exercise need not be a question of wealth. With the masses flocking to the likes of easyGym and PureGym, both of which I have been members of and adore, those with a bit more cash attend the more exclusive gyms.

Attitude overrides everything else.
Attitude overrides everything else.

And that’s absolutely fine. But I do find myself smirking. A state-of-the-art gym does not equal health, nor does it equal a better physical body. Both of those are determined by one’s attitude and dedication to the gym.

A similar comparison is state vs private schools: I received a state school education my whole life. Yet as result of my attitude to work, I did as well, if not better, than many of those attending private schools and who came from wealthier backgrounds than myself.

Going back to the gym, this is because I believe that our reason for going to train  determines our outcome, not the type of gym we train in. As you all know, for me it is the mental and physical well-being I get from training: it helps me control my Ulcerative Colitis, but also life in general.

Furthermore, surely the empowerment I get from training would be the same from my current gym, PureGym, or some fancy gym in Chelsea?

Actually the self-satisfaction I get from knowing the body and mind-set I have achieved is all my own work, my own self-taught knowledge, and from a basic gym is much more rewarding than if I had paid an absolute fortune to train and attend classes at some exclusive London gym.

And that is because health is not wealth, but a million other things. Health is happiness, success, but also failure, it is confidence and strength.

Is being overweight a sign of poverty and/or laziness?

Poverty

Moving onto the second argument then, arguing that overweight is a sign of poverty really irks me. How are we defining poverty? Relative? Absolute? Living on less than a dollar a day?

This is an incredibly West-centric point of view given that those fleeing wars, or those suffering from abuse, or young children working as slaves, are indeed living in poverty and are not overweight but severely underweight.

In the West, being overweight and having less income may have a link due to the fact that unhealthier foods tend to be cheaper than healthier ones. A problem that I simply cannot get my head around.

Yet being overweight in the Western world need not be a sign of poverty. Normal middle-class individuals can be overweight from excessive alcohol consumption, or simply eating too much of the wrong types of food – money has little to do with it. Indeed weren’t British Kings and Queens historically overweight to reflect their wealth?

Laziness
Is Homer Simpson a warning sign to us all?
Is Homer Simpson a warning sign to us all?

I do not support the view that obesity = laziness. It is too simplistic. However, I cannot hide my feeling that seeing overweight individuals upsets me. Before I expand on this, I am discounting those who are overweight due to illnesses, medications, inability to exercise amongst others. Indeed I have been on steroids and put on weight through no fault of my own.

Equally, not everyone has the knowledge of the types of food we should eat and the amount/type of exercise we should do to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Nevertheless, having your health is everything. As anyone who has been severely ill, or who has a chronic illness (physical or mental) will tell you, when you lose your health you lose everything. Life becomes somewhat un-liveable.

When you lose your health you have a new found appreciation for your body and how bloody miraculous it is. You want to treat it with respect so that in return it keeps you well. You realise how fragile we humans really are and how easily health can be taken away. And that is why I am somewhat obsessed with what I eat and my training.

So whilst I will never judge an overweight person because I do not know their circumstance, it pains me that someone is increasing their risk of developing illnesses due to certain lifestyle choices.

It pains me that people are inflicting potential long-term illnesses on themselves which could be mitigated, especially as some get ill through no fault of their own.

Well said Thoreau.
Well said Thoreau.

Therefore, I don’t think being overweight is a sign of laziness but I do think it shows a lack of caring about our physical and mental well-being, and a lack of appreciation for our bodies.

And that’s why when someone asks me in the gym for help or advice, I am only too happy to help. I desperately want to help others ensure they give their bodies the best chance so that they don’t have to risk losing their health.

Everyone deserves the same opportunities in live, regardless of social standing. Health is not wealth, health is health.

Z x