This post shares a little personal success I recently had – so I’ll keep it short and sweet.
I currently have a desk for my work at a WeWork in the heart of the City in Bishopsgate. External parties are always invited whether this be to provide food, seminars, or as happened on Monday, a health MOT.
A guy came in who is a fitness trainer and nutritionist and I was first to have my health MOT. He took the following information: height; weight; blood pressure; BMI and body fat percentage (something I have wanted to have properly done for ages).
So my results were as follows:
Height: 169 cm
Blood pressure: don’t remember but it was great (though I do have low blood pressure)
Resting heart rate (RHR): 41 beats per minute (bpm)
Body fat %: 21.8
BMI: don’t remember but no issue
I told him about my nutrition and fitness regime which he said, combined with the above results, showed that I am “smashing it” and in the “top 1%“.
So what do these results mean?
Starting with RHR, a well trained athlete will have a resting heart rate closer to 40bpm whilst the average is between 40 and 60 bpm.
Your RHR decreases as you become fitter as your heart does not have to work as hard to pump blood around your body – one beat delivers more blood and so fewer beats per minute are needed.
Moving onto body fat %, according to the American Council on Exercise, female body fat % are as follows:
Athletes: 14-20 %
And for me?
For anyone, I think that would be great news but as someone that has a chronic illness it was particularly heart-warming news.
My illness means my body attacks itself; my meds mean I should be catching every cough and virus going; my daily discomforts and fatigue mean I should be sitting around, and yet I am physically in fantastic shape.
Three years ago I was falling faster and faster into a severe relapse; getting skinny, weak and mentally exhausted. Three years later I am physically and mentally stronger than ever and in the best shape of my life.
So you see having something bad doesn’t mean life has to be bad, similarly having restrictions due to an illness doesn’t mean you have to live restrained by them.
Lesson 1: IBD does not control your life – you control your IBD if you choose to.
Lesson 2: don’t hate your body for giving you something bad, thank it for giving you the challenge to make it strong.
In this blog I want to share with you my food intolerances along with the foods I eat to minimise general discomfort but which also allow me to get results from the gym (#gainz).
Word of warning: the food diary I provide is what I have found works for me after years of trial and error. This is NOT to say others should follow this but do take elements from it. Also, I do like the aesthetic results from the gym so have a strict diet – it just so happens this agrees with my stomach.
Food intolerances and IBD
It was during my first hospital admission in 2010 that my Mum did some research and found that many people with IBD are also lactose and soya intolerant.
I immediately cut out both of these products, as well as cow’s milk protein, and saw an immediate difference. The excessive bloating I had after eating, as well as stomach cramps and nausea, were linked to these food intolerances. Whilst these symptoms were of course related to my IBD, they were severely exacerbated by these foods.
Then in 2016 I found that I got the same symptoms when eating bread and pasta. So I cut wheat and gluten out of my diet.
So yes, I hear your question: what on earth does this girl eat?
I actually eat a lot and very well. I believe my diet/lifestyle plays a core role in keeping me in remission and keeping my immune system strong. I am very much a foodie and those closest know me know all too well that food is the way to capturing my heart.
Food and gym
Because I train intensely, normally 5 sessions per week including 1h30 for weight sessions (x 2-3) and 40 mins for cardio (x 2-3) I need to properly fuel my body.
I vary my macros (carbs, fats, protein) depending on whether it is a gym day or not. I also do a refeed day every two weeks where I double my carb intake and keep fats minimal. My body doesn’t like too many carbs in one go – I get severely bloated and stomach discomfort – so I still have to be careful on refeed days.
I therefore, do follow a low-carb diet, high-protein diet. Not because I hate carbs, as I eat them pre- and post-workout, but because my body quite simply doesn’t seem to like them that much.
During relapses the hospital tells me to eat minimal veg and increase carbs (you all know why). This causes me to get severe constipation and discomfort so I ignore the advice. My daily diet is full of veg.
A typical food day
So let’s start with gym days:
Breakfast: 40g porridge oats (if training immediately after or 30g if training in evening after work), 30g raspberries, 20g peanut butter (obsessed is an understatement), 5g cacao powder, 5g flax seed with unsweetened almond milk and water, black coffee
Snack 1: 20g almonds
Lunch: can of tuna with mayo and veg
Snack 1: 2 fried or hard-boiled eggs; tomatoes; spinach
Pre- workout (if in evening): some sort of cereal bar giving around 20g carbs and low fats
Immediately post-workout: 10g of brown rice powder (this is lactose free) 40g of sugary cereal (e.g. Jordans’ Country Crisp Chunky Nut cereal). This is quick releasing sugar so gets to your muscles quickly.
Within an hour of finishing workout (lunch/dinner): 50g-70g brown rice (depends how hungry I am) with either minced beef/ can of tuna/ chicken and a ton of veg (like seriously lots, I love my veg)
Dessert: 40-80g of St Helen’s Natural (full fat) goats yoghurt (I am fine with goat’s milk protein, try it); around 50g strawberries and probably a few more almonds and peanut butter
To clarify, during weekdays I train in evenings after work so my post-workout meal will be dinner. On weekends I train in the morning so the post-workout meal is lunch.
Also, I steam certain veg (broccoli etc) to keep dem’ nutrients. I always cook veg until super soft, which probably causes some nutrient-loss, as otherwise they hurt my tum.
And for non-gym days:
Breakfast: 30g porridge oats; 30g raspberries, 20g peanut butter, 5g flax seed with unsweetened almond milk and water, black coffee
Snack 1: 20g almonds
Lunch: can of tuna with mayo and veg
Snack 2: 2 fried or hard-boiled eggs; tomatoes; spinach with half avocado
Dinner: meat/fish/eggs with veg
Dessert: 40-80g of St Helen’s Natural (full fat) goats yoghurt; around 50g strawberries and probably a few more almonds and peanut butter
I also drink tons of water, probably around 4 litres a day and find lemon and ginger tea always settles my stomach so drink lots of that too.
And the naughty stuff?
To be honest, I have never been a fan or had the taste for so-called junk food and takeaways as was never fed them as a child. If I do eat foods such as pizzas, burgers etc (but good ones), I’ll go for one post-workout but I do tend to avoid them as they mostly make me bloat and give me discomfort. Probs all the grease and carbs my stomach doesn’t like.
All the normal cakes, brownies, ice-creams etc I can’t eat due to food intolerances. Having said that, there are lots of vegan ones available now which I can mostly eat and occasionally do (notably Ms. Cupcake in Brixton which is incredible, check them out).
For those that do enjoy these foods, enjoy them in moderation! No food should be avoided 100% of the time, it’s unsustainable.
BUT, and this is really important, sometimes my body craves sugary foods. It actually needs the sugar and no other food satisfies the hunger until I give it what it wants. If I don’t give it the sugar I start to feel tired, headachy, unfocused and very weak. I get like this probably once every few months.
It happened recently so I got a lactose-free blueberry muffin and bam, I felt a million times better. The following day I was more awake and had a ton of energy. And that’s all it took, one muffin. So you see it is crucial to listen to your body – it tells you what you need.
My previous blogs have focused on my journey from ballet dancer to gym bunny and touched upon the role of weights in helping me through my second relapse.
In this post, I want to really spell out why this is so and how weights continue to help me manage my physical and mental health. So this is a slightly longer post but worth going through.
So what is it exactly?
As we all know, having a chronic illness can be debilitating at times and make us feel physically and mentally weak. We can feel helpless and as though our bodies control us as opposed to us controlling our own bodies.
For me, the gym is where I turn all these ideas on their head. In the gym I don’t feel helpless, I don’t feel weak and crucially I am in control of my body.
I am nurturing my body, taking care of it and making it stronger.
I have now been solidly training (with the exception of the period of my second relapse) for almost four years. I have gone from doing single bicep curls with 3kg to 10kg and squatting 20kg to 80kg. I have learnt an array of new exercises and even made up my own to the point where people, both friends and those I see in the gym, ask me for advice and tell me I am incredibly strong. I have gone from being one of the weaker females in the gym to one of the strongest.
I have picked up and taught myself tough training routines and thoroughly love pushing and challenging myself each time I hit the gym.
I have made new friends and train with them.
I am now in love with my body as opposed to hating it for giving me this disease.
And that’s why I take pictures (above) of my body’s changes. Not because I am narcissistic (ok maybe a bit) but because I have seen my body at its weakest; I have seen my ribs following rapid weight-loss during relapses; I have seen and felt my body thinning out.
And now my body is the strongest it has ever been; I can see my muscles; and hell I am proud of myself for accomplishing that.
So what are the physical benefits?
Many of us with IBD are on immunosuppressants meaning we are more susceptible to catch whatever is going around. It is important therefore, that we do whatever we can do keep our immune systems strong. Food is one aspect (which I will cover in a later blog) and exercise is another.
Despite being on immunosuppressants, I never catch what is going around (touch wood). I have lived with and sat next to people at work with sickness viruses and not caught it (I also took precaution and removed myself immeditately from the situation). And if I catch a cold, I don’t go down with it as severely as others.
Secondly, even in remission we all still experience either daily pains or periodic pains. I know that I personally can get severe stomach cramps and bloating, especially pre-menstrual (am I right girls?), or for no obvious reason.
So yes, hot water bottles, ginger teas and paracetamol all help. Yet I don’t use the latter as I find exercise does the job better.
When I experience either of these symptoms, I will opt for a cardio session as opposed to weights as I find it relaxes my stomach muscles much more thereby reducing the bloating and pain. I choose to run back from work or do a 30-40 minute HIIT workout (of course you can opt for a 20 minute one).
However, if I am feeling low or frustrated for whatever reason then I find weights channel my anger more due to the sense of empowerment. Having said that sometimes I prefer cardio so it’s really a question of what I am feeling at the time!
And the mental benefits?
As well as having a strong physique, I feel mentally strong. I will keep banging on about this as my Dad has instilled in me that the mind plays wonders over our bodies.
I simply can’t reiterate enough the success and power I feel when I lift. The physical effects of weights are great but they come second to the mental benefits.
It is well documented that those suffering with chronic diseases also suffer with depression. Counselling and meds are often offered and yes can be needed. However, I strongly believe that the only long-term solution is YOU controlling your body and mind.
As we all know exercise releases endorphins, the feel good factor, and this is critical in making us feel happier, more positive and better about ourselves.
Improving our fitness additionally gives us a sense of success and personal growth. Our focus soon turns onto these positives and away from the negatives associated with IBD. As we see more and more results from the gym, our mind is increasingly focused on continuing to see such results. Consequently, our focus on IBD, and the importance we allow ourselves to give it, soon loses its priority status.
If anything, I am grateful I have Ulcerative Colitis. I have found myself to have an inner strength that I was previously unaware of. It has given me the willpower to channel my frustration, with my self-attacking body, into the gym and into loving my body. It has made me the physically and mentally strong woman I am today with the self-confidence I never thought I would have.
So as I said in my previous post, I joined easyGym in my third year of University. I was very much in the learning process of what to do, what to eat etc in order to get stronger and gain muscle. It was working as come summer I had four little abs and some form of biceps.
For those that have read the various parts of my page, you’ll know that I got food poisoning in May 2015 whilst I was abroad. I quickly recovered from that delightful affair but shortly after began experiencing symptoms of a relapse. These were fairly mild at the time as I still managed to train four to five times a week at the gym, sometimes even twice doing weights in the morning and a run in the afternoon.
The move back to Bordeaux
But then I moved back to Bordeaux in September 2015 and the nightmare immediately began. Firstly, I got dumped; secondly, my suitcases arrived early at my Bordeaux flat (when does this EVER happen?) before my plane had even landed so they had to get re-delivered; and thirdly, my symptoms suddenly got waaaay worse and I lost five to six kilos in a week.
I still tried to do some exercise as it made me feel better so I went on runs (I hadn’t yet joined a gym in Bordeaux) but ended up walking the way as I had no energy. I ended up in A&E one night as the pain was so bad, got back at 3am but still made it to my 9am.
Long story short, I got very ill very quickly and was given multiple different meds, including oral and rectal steroids, but nothing worked. The steroids, which once had worked, actually ended up making things worse. I ended up being admitted into hospital for a week and treated intravenously.
The mental darkness of relapses
At this point, I was in a pretty dark place and was losing the will to fight especially as my parents were back in the UK. I remember sitting in the University library and suddenly crying for no reason; followed by a similar spout of tears on the tram on the way home and then sitting under the shower crying so my flat mates couldn’t hear me.
I felt as though I had a bird’s eye view of the world, as though I was an observer but not actually part of the world. I saw life in black and white and despite having an incredible support network, I just wanted to be alone. I had no desire nor energy to go out with my friends.
After leaving hospital I continued to feel incredibly low even as I began to gain my strength. I spoke to my Consultant who recommended therapy. I half agreed but stubborn old me was determined I alone could get myself out of this rut.
The first trip back to the gym
Fast-forward a few weeks and I was desperate to get back in the gym but they were all so expensive compared to easyGym. Luckily my amazing Mum said money was no object and for me to just go for it. And I did.
I will never forgot my first session back in the gym. I distinctly remember standing in the road once I had finished my session and sending my Mum a WhatsApp voice note telling her how amazing I felt. My voice sounded completely different.
Lifting weights again made me feel physically strong which in turn made me feel mentally strong as I was back in control of my body. I eased myself back in and before I knew it I was back training four to five times a week and I felt incredible. I was on top of the world.
The physical pain disappeared when I hit the gym. The exercise eased and relaxed my stomach muscles, thereby easing cramps and discomfort. But for me the biggest transformation was that I no longer felt sad and low. The physical strength gave me the mental strength to carry on the journey into remission.
The world was once again full of colour. No meds. Just pure endorphins and strength.
Ok so I wasn’t quite the prima ballerina I aspired to be but I did okay and successfully took my ballet exams up to Advanced level.
I have always been active. From the ages of four to 18 I studied classical ballet intensely, as well as picking up modern/jazz as my second dance of choice. I also did tap and ballroom dance for a bit but nothing compared with my love of ballet.
However, I definitively didn’t fall in love with ballet immediately. I didn’t really enjoy it THAT much (I wanted to quit twice but my teacher encouraged me not to) nor did I ask my parents to pay for extra classes. This was to later change following my grade 5 exam.
I was always incredibly shy in class, hardly spoke to anyone and to be honest, I wasn’t that great. Yet the chance to do an exam pushed me and I fell in love with ballet. After that I asked my parents to send me to more classes per week but I was still very shy.
To a diagnosed and confident young woman…
It was only when I was diagnosed with UC in August 2009 and hospitalised in February 2010 that I came out of my shell.
A slight paradox really as one would think being told you have a chronic illness would cause me to retreat and knock my confidence but the inverse truly happened.
Why? No idea really but perhaps having to discuss my bowel habits with every Doctor and Nurse I met and be open with everyone about well, pretty much everything, cracked my shell. In short, following my hospital admission I fully came out of my shell and more confident in every aspect of my life. Today, I have an inner self-confidence which I am told comes across when I meet people.
Anyway back to ballet. My dance teacher noticed the difference in me as I began to make jokes in class; I became more expressive in my dancing; and ‘went for it’ as such in any improvisation classes. I no longer cared about what anyone thought of me, nor did I care about making a fool of myself.
Indeed, in our dance shows I gained lead roles and found myself in almost all the dances. I even played a wicked character with a best friend when we were 17 requiring us to act like utter idiots in numerous dances – if I’d had been asked to do that pre-diagnosis I’d have probably quit. But there I was, pulling faces and making a fool of myself on stage in front of a huge audience.
Dancing allowed me to feel free and concentrate my mind 100% on the movement and the story I was telling, not on my IBD. It brought me inner peace and contentment. My dance school therefore, soon became my second home and my escape from reality.
I gave up ballet in my third year of University as training once a week no longer sufficed to keep my standard up. With a lack of dance in my life, I needed a new type of exercise to replace it with – enter the gym.
To gym bunny
I joined easyGym (great cheap gyms btw) in Cardiff in my third year of University and quickly began lifting weights. I got physically stronger and truly enjoyed it. Although in hindsight, my knowledge was minimal and I was so unaware of the true mental and physical benefits of weightlifting.
And that’s truly okay because fitness is a journey, and I had just taken my first step. Little did I know that the gym would come to truly save me a year later. But that’s the topic of my next post…