Surf, stretch and stay with Freewave Surf

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

After the dance floor, being on the water is my favorite place to be.  It is hard living in London, though, to find bodies of water that are not crowded, polluted and/or freezing cold.  A few weekends ago, we headed to a wedding in Cornwall during which time we spent a lot of time on coastal trails (and dancing on the dance floor).  Even though it was slightly overcast, and stormy seas meant we couldn't SUP or go on a boat tour, we still manged to get sand in our shoes and take in amazing views.

Photo by Amanda White
Two weeks later, I found myself back in Cornwall.  Freewave Surf Academy invited me to their site in Bude for their three day surf and yoga retreat (#gifted).  The weekend was jam packed but I will try to fill you in on the key bits of info.  If you have any questions though, leave a comment below and I will do my best to answer. The weekend kicked off at 4pm on a Friday night with welcome drinks, a yoga lesson and an introduction to surfing lesson on the beach. To finish the evening, a two course vegetarian dinner was served at the house.   Unfortunately, I was unable to arrive until 10pm as I was on a course in London until 5pm.  I had to take a train to Exeter and was collected my another attendee (who had a car) from Exeter Central Station for the two hour drive to Bude.  They did put some food aside for us to enjoy when we arrived.  Everyone waited up but quickly went to bed as they already had a yoga class and surf lesson that evening.

The accommodation was a beautiful five bedroom house with large garden, decks, outdoor BBQ, air hockey table, games, and two sitting rooms.  We spent most of our time around the kitchen table for breakfast and snacks for lunch.  There were two double bedrooms (one with en suite), three bedrooms with two single beds (one with en suite) and then another full bathroom and a half under the stairs.  Elle from Keep it Simpelle and I shared a twin room.  Loads of windows and sliding glass doors meant the sunlight (when available) illuminated the rooms.  There was parking for about five cars and an outdoor shower to rinse out wet suits and feet of sand.  We had to move some furniture for yoga when it was raining outside which made all of the spaces very versatile.  Plus the beach was close enough to walk to.

Saturday and Sunday are structured differently, depending on the tides.  A typical schedule may look like this (although we had 6:00am start on Saturday).  The key points are one surf lesson each morning and two yoga classes per day.

7am yoga
8:30am surf lesson
10:30am brunch and video feedback
free time until...
1pm cake and tea
3pm yoga
5pm surf film and chill time on Saturday
7pm dinner on your own on Saturday (we went to a great restaurant, The Beach House, down the road) / BBQ at the house on Sunday

Photo by Amanda White
The surf lessons started with basics of how to line up on your board, how to keep it stable as you push up and several options on how to stand up.  I was fairly confident that I would not be able to stand up as I cannot do a squat thrust or burpee well.  Although I didn't manager to stand up at my first lesson, I did on my second and third.  Robin (Freewave Surf Academy owner) and Charlie (instructor) were there to keep an eye on the six of us, offering tips, providing real-time feedback and keeping our boards stable when a big wave was approaching.  In addition to watching us in the water,  Robin and Charlie took turns videotaping us from the beach and with a GoPro in the water.  After our lessons (which lasted about an hour), we had time to shower and get dressed before Robin put together the clips and reviewed points each of us needed to work on.  The primary observation for me was that I needed to keep my head up (looking at where I wanted to go rather than the board) when I tried to stand up.

Photo by Tommy Hatwell
As I mentioned earlier, we had yoga indoors on the first two days.  On Sunday, there was enough sunshine to have one practice in the garden and the second on a clifftop overlooking the sea.  There are too many amazing photos (taken by Tommy Hatwell, Plymouth-based commercial and portrait photographer) of both sessions to share here but I have included a few of my favorites.  Yoga was taught by the talented Anna Young who is also one of the Freewave Surf Academy instructors.  She has a real calming presence and fantastic choice of music.  She also helped with breakfast in the mornings and tidied up after us (thank you Anna!).

Photo by Tommy Hatwell
A fun surprise was taking part in a beach clean up with Ado, who works for the local task force.  He explained how much plastic washed up on the beach but also how much the local community works to keep the beach tidy.  There were litter pickers and bags at the beach entrance for a #2minutebeachclean movement.  We were out there for an hour and filled up one bucket worth of items.  Another group had been through earlier, and they collected a lot more than we did. Her told me about how Legos from an old sunken container are washing up on the shore (ironically a sea-themed design) and how his Jack Russel can sniff out stranded seals in the dark.

Most of the guests left Sunday afternoon and evening to get home before work on Monday.   With only three people left on Monday, we had an early yoga class and a quick surf session before brunch at 10:00am. There weren't many waves but I did catch a few small ones before heading back to the house.  Robin was kind enough to cook up eggs and bacon at our request.  It was a family meal as Charlie and Anna joined us before Elle gave me a lift back to London and Amanda headed back to Staffordshire.

Similar to my ski weekend in Italy with No Boundaries, it was a jam-packed weekend with little time for sleep.  My goal for the weekend was to be outside as much as possible.  I packed my snorkel, running shoes and trail shoes for hiking.  I also had my iPad for reading e-books, and my laptop for doing work (which I only used on the train).  The stormy seas were too cloudy for snorkeling and I was too exhausted to run (aside from a few shots with Tommy in the dunes on Sunday night). The weather wasn't great either so I was happy to stay inside and chat to the other ladies staying that weekend.

Photo by Tommy Hatwell
The biggest challenge of the weekend was transportation to Bude.  It isn't easy to get to if you don't have a driving licence or car.  The house we stayed at is about 15 minute drive from town, but a short walk from the beach where there is a small snack hut.  The fridge and cupboards were stocked with a variety of foods (including dietary requests such as vegan and dairy-free) and drinks (including wine, beer, and gin) but you might want to bring your favorite snacks. For example, I should have packed Diet Coke. The seven of us went to town on Saturday afternoon for grocery shopping (as a few people choose to cook their own meal on Saturday night) and the chemist. We also discovered Temple, a very Instagramable coffee shop and bar that Charlie also works at.

Photo by Amanda White
Would I do it again?  Heck, yes!  I suggested before we left that we schedule a reunion retreat and I hope we do in the autumn before it gets too cold.  Robin was open to feedback from us as it was the very first time he held the retreat and he had another group coming in right after us. He was a fantastic host with lots of laughter from everyone over the weekend.  I think it would be an active alternative to a birthday party or hen do.  You could also make it a couples weekend or travel on your own to meet new people who are interested in the same sports as you.  Freewave Surf Academy is happy to arrange any extras that you need (within reason, of course).

Is surfing something you have been meaning to try but haven't yet?  Don't be shy but instead book in to this intensive weekend and let me know how you get on.

Photo by Amanda White
Thanks to Freewave Surf Academy for this complimentary weekend experience.  All views and opinions are honest and my own.

Keeping fit with Canyon bicycles

Monday, June 17, 2019

How many bicycles have you owned in your lifetime? Growing up in suburban USA, every kid on my street had a bike.  These were usually based down to younger siblings as we quickly outgrew them and finally sold at the neighborhood garage sale.  Once you turned 16 though, you could drive a car so you no longer needed a bike.  (Remember, America was built for driving not riding).  But when I started grad school in a small college town in Michigan, I picked up a bike at the local super store.  My boyfriend and I guesses at the fit but had no idea what we were doing.  The tires were for mountain biking, not road riding so it was very challenging to ride into campus.  In the end I bought a parking pass and hardly ever rode my bike.  When I graduated and left town, I sold it pretty cheap.

Rack of bikes in the sun
The next time I bought a bike, I went to s specialist bike shop and bought a hybrid.  I lived 12 miles from where I worked and had high hopes I would build up my fitness to ride to work.  I never tried it because of the busy motorways involved.  I did, however, ride it around my neighborhood for exercise.  Indoor cycling had been my passion during grad school but there wasn't a gym with cycling studio nearby to join.

My Pathlite
A few weeks ago, Canyon bicycles invited me to try one of their fitness bikes (also known as hybrid in USA and UK) as a way to stay fit.  Founded in Germany, Canyon entered the UK market eight years ago and the US market in 2017.  Up until this point, I forgot that cycling for fitness was even an option to stay fit.  Since moving to the UK, bicycles have only been for commuting or riding 30+ miles on a Sunday morning for "fun." (This is fun and easy for my husband and I can just about do it.  If there wasn't cake involved, I might not be so motivated).  Canyon has two different models for fitness- their Pathlite and Roadlite.  Both are designed with upright handle bars, which I love.  My petite frame and belly bulge make it hard to utilize drop handles.  (I even had additional brakes added to my road bike handle bars a few years back.). I decided to try the Pathlite as I am toying with the idea of cyclo-cross next year.

Smooth ride
The Pathlite has adjustable shocks and cables stored inside the frame for protection.   It also has a robust aluminium frame, 40 mm gravel tyres and 75 mm of suspension all come together to keep you comfortable over any terrain, while a modern geometry and integrated cockpit provide agile handling for fun and reliable riding, perfect for going off the beaten track.  At this event, we were near Richmond Park, so we rode along the path before having a mini-sprint challenge between members of the group.  The bike was so smooth to ride I felt like I was gliding on air.

Canyon are a direct-to-consumer brand and all purchases need to be made online.  The bike is shipped to you nearly assembled.  You just need to attach your handlebars and seat.  There is a 30 day exchange period so if anything is wrong you can get it fixed or make a return.  Only 11% of their sales are from these fitness bikes.  After trying one myself, I can see this number going up.  The bikes are really versatile (and so light!) that they would make a great bike to have in London.

Here are a few ways you could use the bikes for a cardiovascular workout.  Cycling is a great option to get your heart going without having too much impact on your joints.

Good upper body workout?
Remember to spend five minutes riding at an easy pace to warm up before your main set and when you are done, cool down with an easy five minutes ride and stretch when you get off of your bike.  Another important aspect of riding, especially in public places is etiquette.  Be sure to stay to the left of the path if you are in the UK, use your bell when passing someone who is walking or running, and beware of children and dogs who are unpredictable in their direction.

Hill workout
Finding a challenging hill.  Ride up as fast as you can for 1 minute and recover on the way back down.  Make sure your recovery is at least a minute long before trying again nine times.  Can you make it to the original end point each time?  If the hill is too short or your find the repeats too easy, make the gears heavier.

The easiest plan would be to find a park which has a circular route.  Ride one lap with hard effort and then take the next lap to recover.  Repeat five to 10 times.

After taking part in this lovely morning ride with Canyon, I have now decided to sign up for the London Triathlon.  Because of my Achilles tendinopathy, I will only do the Super Sprint distance (400m, 10K ride, 2.5K run).  I won't be riding a Canyon unfortunately, but this brief ride has inspired me to enjoy cycling again (even though I am signing up for a competitive ride).  

When was the last time you took your bike out for a spin?  If you don't own a bike, London has many options to hire bikes for a few hours to ride around the parks.

Thanks to Canyon for inviting me to their event to try out the Pathlite.  All opinions are honest and my own.

I've got a meal plan

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Over the last 2 years, I have been working with a nutritionist on and off to help me loose a bit of weight and ensure I was fueling my body properly for all of the training I was doing (remember my 4x4 challenge?).  However, since I took my foot off of the gas at the end of last year due to injury, it was hard to stick to my plan without a race in the diary.  Her plans were based on the amount of calories consumed per day and associated macros.  At the start of this year, I wasn't hitting either target.  I knew I had to make a change.  I just didn't have the motivation or willpower to get myself on track.

Meet Melissa, the delicious nutritionist.  She has a First Class degree from Newcastle in Food and Human Nutrition, endorsed by the Association for  Nutrition.  I found her on social media when she was offering her services to bloggers in exchange for a testimonial and review on their website.  I volunteered to be a guinea pig and be assured, I will tell you about my experience honestly.

Start of my acai bowl (but I didn't have any acai powder)
We started off working together with some paperwork so she understood my lifestyle, food habits, and dietary preferences.  We then chatted on the phone for about 20 minutes about my goals and what I was looking for.  The following day, I had two weeks of meal plans in my inbox.

My meal plan and list of expiry dates for the fruit and veg (thanks James)
While we were chatting, I asked Melissa the difference between being a registered dietitian and registered associate nutritionist. She said nutritionists help healthy people while dietitians help the sick.  What attracted me to her program (of which I have been gifted one month) is that she designs a weekly meal plan, complete with recipes and shopping list.  I didn't have to think about anything or make any decisions.

Salad with nectarines and lentils
Week 1 started on our way back from Cornwall.  My initial shop was at Asda one evening with James, much to his disappointment.  We usually have our groceries delivered, so while we were driving back home I added the things I thought I would need (and be able to eat).  The shopping list was very detailed with the amount of each items needed.  However, I was a bit nervous about all of the perishable goods.  Would we be able to eat them before they go off?

Full fridge, please ignore all the plastic

The things I like about working with Melissa:

  • No thinking required- the meal plan takes all of the guess work and decision making away.  We have been a in a bit of a food rut so it has been nice to try new things that end up tasting good. 
  • Meals are fast to prep- during our phone consultation, I explained to Melissa that we are time poor (or just want to spend our time doing other things) so she made sure to choose recipes that are quick and easy.
  • Fruit and veg are back-  these were definitely lacking but are now key components of each and every meal.  It is too early to tell for sure but I think I feel a bit more energized too.  This is something I will be monitoring closely as I continue to work with Melissa.
  • Drinking lots more water-  Although this isn't a part of her plan, I am reaching for water more often than not.  The warmer weather may have something to do with it too, or the fact that I am slowly increasing my activity levels.  Whatever the reason, I am glad to be hydrating the proper way.

Of course, I am still facing challenges:
  • Using all perishable goods before they rot-  Minor fail on this one.  While a portion of what we ordered we used in the provided recipes, we were able to use ingredients in other ways, such as for dipping in hummus, adding to yogurt for breakfast, and grilling on the BBQ.
  • I am still snacking and stress eating-  This will take time to change my bad habits.  I have many triggers that cause me to reach for cookies, cookie dough, and chocolate.  Some of these I can control by not having poor snack choices on-hand.  My plan recommends Brasil nuts as a snack so these are now in my lunch bag.
  • Finding time to stick to the plan- Ironic?  I thought so.  We have been travelling and now I am on a course for work.  Hopefully I can start Week 2 properly next week (after I return from another trip to Cornwall).
As I already have my Week 2 shopping list and plan, I wil start this next week when I am back from a surf and yoga weekend.  This week, I will continue to refer to Week 1 meal and snack suggestions, wrapping my brain around healthy choices rather than my old bad habits.  Have you ever worked with a nutritionist or followed meal plan?  If so, let me know if you have any suggestions on things I should be trying.  Or tell me your favorite easy meal to prepare.

Goat cheese and tomato scramble with avocado and prosciutto
Thanks to Melissa, the Delicious Nutritionist, for the complementary one month program.  All opinions are honest and my own.

My next set of travel plans

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Wow!  Part of my recent feeling low was not having any trips to look forward to.  I love to travel (maybe due to the escapism of real life?) but in the last few weeks a plethora trips have firmed up making 2019 look pretty darn adventurous.

Hoping this is actually a photo of Cornwall
Our first trip is to Cornwall on southwestern coast of the England.  We are going to a wedding for the Bank Holiday weekend.  I have never been to that part of the UK and I miss being near the ocean.  Plus I am looking forward to exploring a new bit of Britain.  It seems like in the last eight years, I have been limited in the places I have visited in England because Europe and Africa are also close. This year, I hope to visit a few new corners, far and wide.  Back to Cornwall though!  All of my fingers and toes are crossed for sunshine while we are beach side.  Aside from the wedding, we have booked on to a sea life cruise to see grey seals and puffins in the wild, a SUP session (will the water be chilly?) and James is packing his bike.  I decided I can ride my bike in London anytime but I can’t sit by the sea.

A few weekends later, I find myself back in Cornwall.  Freewave Surf Academy has kindly invited me down for a weekend of surfing and yoga (#gifted).  It will be my first attempt at surfing and I am not feeling confident as I can't do a burpee or squat thrust.  I should probably start some sort of burpee challenge between now and then to ensure I succeed.  Anyone care to join me?

Marshes in the tidal zone at Love Trails 2018
In July, I am headed back to the Gower Peninsula for Love Trails Festival (and James is coming along too!).  Last year, I had the best time (the weather definitely helped) and I can't wait to do it all over again.  Once again, I am volunteering to lead a few runs.  The organizers have also marked trails to the Blue Lagoon so people can go on their own and also arranged a free shuttle bus around the peninsula to help people explore.

Somewhere between now and November, I will be joining No Boundaries (NB) for a three-day hiking tour in Italy.  A few friends and I have bought our trip credits and are waiting to hear on the possible dates.  Back in February, I went on a three-day ski trip with NB (which I still need to write up) and had a blast.  It was lovely being away with people with common interests (skiing, being in nature, and of course, wine).  Hiking will be a bit of change (aside from Kilimanjaro) in terms of an active holiday.  I have no idea how rigours it will be but I think being outdoors with my friends will make it unforgettable.

My day job is sending me a week-long training course in Maine, USA in August.  To take advantage of being stateside, James and I are spending a few days in Boston and Philly before I head to Maine.  I went to university in Boston and can’t wait to take my nephews to the New England Aquarium (where I worked part-time during uni) and dine with old friends (as in I have known them for a long time, not that they are old LOL).

View of Edinburgh beach
My mom arrives for her annual visit in September, along with her friend, Donna.  They have visited us twice now.  Each time we explore somewhere new.  Their first trip we went to Bath and the next one we did an Irish roadtrip.  This year, we are spending a few days in Edinburgh for a change of scene.  I see castle tours and whiskey tasting in our future!  If it isn’t too far, I would also like to visit Loch Ness and St. Andrews, but I need to consult with the geographer before booking anything.

Hiking on mountain tops
My big adventure for 2019 is the Orbis Challenge in October.  2018 spoiled me bit between Kilimanjaro and Jordan.  My lack of mojo at the start of this year was partly due to lacking a sense of adventure.  Just like Kilimanjaro, I saw a tweet that sparked my interest and I was quickly connected to the team.  Slowly, I am being introduced to the team and helping sort out brand sponsorship.  This is an amazing opportunity to train/travel with Dame Kelly Holmes and interact with local people in Malawi, while learning about their plight with malnutrition.  There are three spaces left if you want to join me.  We are also gathering sports kit for the local school and monetary donations for feeding the local children. (I totally get that I fund raise a lot.  What can I say?  I like helping people!)

Finally, we are dreaming of powder ski days in Colorado for Christmas.  A few ducks need to be put into a row so stay tuned for this one.  Let it snow!

Body Image: Am I normal to think I am 'skinny-fat'?

Friday, May 17, 2019

This year's theme for Mental Health Week is Body Image.  Here I share a bit about my own hang ups with my body and how my views have changed over time.

If we define 'normal' as what the majority of people do, I think it is safe to say that it is normal not to like specific parts of your body.  These views are influenced from the culture we were raised in, what we were teased about at school, what media showed us growing up and even what we see today.  Fashion trends change (look at the evolution of eyebrow trend and male facial hair) with time, as do definitions of beautiful.  Marilyn Monroe, Twiggy, Cindy Crawford, Halle Berry, Jennifer Lopez, and Beyonce (just to name a few) each have their own unique look and style.

Often times, we as the general public forget that these famous beauties have several things going for them which is why they are famous and/or beautiful.  Genetics is a big factor, followed by time and money.  Why time and money?  Because if you had the time, you too could work out for several hours a day to achieve a strong/lean/muscular/toned (insert adjective here) body.  If you had the money, you could afford a live-in chef, a top personal trainer, and be motivated by contract requirements to look a certain why (such as how actors manipulate their appearance for roles such as super heroes or POW).
September 2017- at one of my heaviest recent weights (but also a bad angle).
Plus my tan and the clothes I am wearing are not flattering.
My motivation comes and goes.  As a fitness blogger and personal trainer, I do feel a bit of pressure to look a certain way.   My grandmother was always on a diet when I was growing up.  Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, cabbage soup- you name it, she tried it.  My shape takes after her's- apple.  However, when I told her this- she defensively declared she was not an apple shape! In the first two years of high school, I felt pretty fit because I had physical education three times a week and played recreational soccer and softball.  Plus I could do proper press ups.  My goal weight will always be 126 pounds because when I was 19 years old, I had my tonsils out and started university.  I hadn't eaten solid food for a few weeks which slimmed me right down. Having access to ice cream twice a day in the canteen meant I quickly gained the Freshman Fifteen.  When I flip through old photos from my first year out of university, I am shocked at how chubby my face looks.  I didn't even notice at the time how heavy I was and wore bikinis to the beach (which I am reluctant to do now).  When I lost a lot of weight after my ex broke up with me in 2004 (dropped down to a USA size 6), everyone was so complimentary about how 'good' I looked. And it felt good to receive compliments and be skinny.  Lately, a few people have told me I look skinny when I bump into them, but I don't believe it.  Your perception of your own body image is relative based on where you are in life (lifestyle, maturity, self-confidence), the people around you and societal pressures.

Trying to be a lifestyle blogger with black on black
For the most part, I think of myself as skinny-fat.  I thought I had made up the term, but apparently it is a medical term for dangerous visceral fat that can impact your organs from working properly.  To me, it means that 'I know I am not fat but I also know I am not skinny.'  I am usually about 135 pounds and a US size 8-10 (UK 12).  I fluctuate depending on my training, how much sleep I am getting, and of course what I am eating.  Over the past two years, I have worked with a nutritionist and got down to 125 pounds.  I am also happy with my body at 130 pounds.  But sometimes when my weight is higher than that, my BMI says I am overweight (side note- I am not really keen on BMI for various reasons.  However, I totally understand why people use is as a baseline measure as it is easy to obtain).  Do you let ratings such as BMI effect you or do you go on how your clothes fit and how you feel?  Or do you use another measure, like percent body fat?

Working on my lazy (but fabulous) bum for running
The part I like least about my body is my stomach.  I love my legs, my ankles, my boobs, my arms, and my wrists.  I like my bum too.  But in my mind, a narrow and toned stomach is the ultimate feature.  Unfortunately for me, I don't have the genes to have one naturally or the will power to eat my way to having it.  Because of this, I don't like wearing tight-fitting clothes or what I call "fabric that gives." I want to avoid looking heavier than I actually am or worse- pregnant (which I am not).  I don't enjoy clothes shopping because I only want to wear clothes that make my body look the shape I think it should even though it's not.  It took a long time for me to give up boot cut jeans and swap to the trendy skinny cut because it changed my silhouette to be bigger at my hips and waists because my ankles are skinny.  And low cut jeans?  They are my nemesis!  I need panels of fabric to keep my belly contained, especially after a burger and fries.  When I moved to the UK, all the women in the gym wore leggings, but I was self conscious about my shape to I stuck with shorts (which show off my legs) and boot cut activewear for a long time.

March 2019 on the last day I ran up until recently.
Tan is gone but looking a little more toned than the 2017 photo.
I have proven (between doing the Whole30 while marathon training and while sticking to my nutritionist's plan) that I can loose those last annoying five pounds and be skinny (well I could in my 30's).  Was I happy with how I looked?  Absolutely.  What I happy in life while avoiding certain foods and alcohol?  Sometimes.  Whole30 is very hard for anyone to accomplish, especially someone who loves sugar, sweets, and Jack Daniels as much as I do.  It also put a lot of pressure on cooking meals at home and socializing with friends.  With that said, I found black and white rules much easier for me to follow than stopping halfway through eating a candy bar.  My nutritionist would set goals for calories (based on if it was a workout or rest day) and then tell me how many grams of fats, carbs, and protein I should eat per day.  I was given the choice and flexibility to achieve that.  But I barely could stick the calories, let alone the macros.  I made incorrect choices. I couldn't control my cravings.
My weight over the last 6 months
I managed to get my weight down and stable between August and December 2018.  It was probably due to my 4x4 Challenge, which required a lot of travel and running.  Now that I can start running again and have a run challenge set for October (more on that next week), things are starting to look up.  My weight has crept up since then but I now feel I am ready to focus on making good food choices.  But I will probably always think of myself as skinny fat and wonder if other people think I don't know how to dress for my body type when they see me wearing tight fitting clothes.

August 2018. Flattering outfit and fit body.
Are you happy with your body shape?  Does your body image match how others perceive you?  What influences you the most in your judgements?

Feeling like my old self again

Monday, May 13, 2019

Did you know that it is Mental Health Awareness Week is 13-19 May?  The theme this year is Body Image, which I will talk about in another post as it is such a loaded topic.  I have been sharing a bit here and on social media the mental struggles I have been having over the last few months.  I am happy to report that I seem to be coming out on the other side.  There is still a bit of stigma around mental health and anxiety in the United Kingdom, so I wanted to share a bit about my story and what I have been doing to try and get better.  It feels a bit weird to do this as I brand myself as the "Happiness Personal Trainer."  You might think I have nothing to be sad about or that I am always smiling.  Neither of these are true.  I am just like everyone else who experiences the highs and lows of life.

The first time I was on anti-depressants was in 2005 when I didn't get into veterinary school for the second time.  It was a plan I had put in place in 2002 that involved moving back in with my mom, attending university part-time to obtain the appropriate prerequisites (like organic chemistry) and working part-time in a small animal clinic.  I also had to take standardized tests and obtain additional experiences with animals (I volunteered at the local humane society farm on the weekends).  I knew it would be a stretch to get in based on the USA vet school admissions system (too complicated to explain here) and even considered moving to North Carolina to increase my chances at different school.  In the end, it wasn't meant to be.

I really struggled with that reality.  I felt lost.  I didn't have a life plan or a sense of purpose.  All I knew is that I wanted something else with my life.  I tried to figure it all out with career counselling, therapy, and switching jobs to a medical laboratory that allowed me to move into my own place.  To help me get through an unsettling time, my doctor put me on citalopram, a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor.  It is used to treat depression and panic attacks (luckily, I don't have these unless I have to get a cavity filled or go in an enclosed slide).  When I started to feel better, I went back to my doctor and obtained a plan to wean myself off of them.

Fast forward to the summer of 2010.  I was getting married and moving from a small Midwestern town in the USA to London.  Almost everything I had, I had to sell, donate, or throw away (turns out not enough of it as we had to hire an extra car to drive items for storage to my mom's).  Luckily, I was able to secure a job before we landed, but there was a lot of change going on in a small window of time.  So I decided to get back on citalopram to help me through another time of transition.

Life in London was a huge adjustment and I stayed on the medication to help me cope.  There never seemed to be a good time to come off of it.  I am 'only' on 20mg/day which my doctor says is a low dose.  A few years ago, I increased my dosage around Christmas time as I was stressing about family and holidays (as many people do).  There is too much to go into here, but I wasn't handling things well.  I went back to my doctor and we agreed to temporarily increase my dose. After a few months, things were less stressful and I went back to my original dose.

And here we are today.  For the last few months, I have been struggling mentally and emotionally.  There are a few reasons why:
  • Things at work aren't where I want them to be
  • My dog passed away unexpectedly (we knew the end was near, but there was an accident)
  • I haven't been able to do high-impact exercise (ie run) since 8 March
  • Also during that time, I have had a bad cold with stuffy nose and cough (so it was good that both happened at the same time to save me time)
  • My energy levels are low and I just feel tired, especially when I wake up. I was worried my glandular fever (mono) was back but I never had a fever.
  • In general, I tend to over-commit which brings on anxiety.  This is an on-going problem that I am working on.
I finally decided I couldn't go on like this.  A few weeks ago, I went to my doctor for blood tests and to increase my citalopram dosage.  I have also read books on mindfulness, cognitive behaviour therapy, SUMO straight-talking, had hypnotherapy, and tried CBD oil.  I also reached out to several friends back home and had some amazing catch-ups on the phone.  Even though it caused tension at home, I decided to avoid certain social situations that could have triggered additional stress.  Finally, I ate a lot of raw cookie dough.  So much so that I gained six pounds (I am sure the no exercise bit didn't help).

Slowly the tides are changing.  My cough is just about gone.  Last week, I was able to run for a few minutes at a time (not long enough to get a runner's high).  I was a bit worried before I started running as I didn't want to injure myself again, but so far so good!  At the end of last week, my husband noticed my mood was improving too.  Citalopram (much like other anti-depressants) can take a few weeks to start working.  My blood work was normal, aside from low folic acid for which I was prescribed a medication.  The doctor said if I still feel low in three months to come back and see her (thanks NHS).  On Saturday morning, my latest adventure became real because I booked my flights (more on this later in the week).  Finally, I was able to watch a very adorable puppy Saturday afternoon which brought me much joy.  I am still looking on several dog rescue websites a day but haven't found "the one" yet.  Puppy-sitting will have to do for now.

Where does leave me?  And you?

Obviously, in sharing these personal details with you, I officially have Imposter Syndrome and am worried the trolls will come out of the woodwork.  However, I felt strongly that I wanted you to know about my experience in case you or someone you know are also feeling low or sad.  I am quite open with my colleagues about my medication and happy to answer any questions that they may have.  And I want you to know that you can ask me questions too.  There is nothing to be ashamed of in needing anti-depressant medication.  I have many friends that have been on them.  Some have been able to come off and others realized that they need to stay on them.  

Depression can be genetic, it can be a chemical imbalance, caused by a stressful situation (like I have had recently), or medical problems.  It doesn't mean you are weak or a bad person.  If you are feeling depressed and thinking about harming yourself, please call 999 or Samaritans in the UK (911 or Suicide Prevention Helpline in the USA).  Ask for help.  

What have I learned over the last few months?
  • I need to run to manage my anxiety and depression levels.  Soon I will be able to do this.
  • I asked for help and I got some from friends, my family, and my doctor.  And their support helped me tremendously. 
  • Although I have enjoyed having freedom in my schedule not to be home at specific times, I really miss having a dog.  Oldland gave me a purpose, a reason to walk in the park every day, and a friend to cuddle with on the couch.
  • I needed extra medication to manage my situation.  How did I know this?  I didn't want to get out of bed (sometimes I didn't even want to shower, but I did).  I didn't want to talk to anyone.  My tolerance for other people was very low.  I just wanted to sit on the couch and watch Grey' Anatomy.   
  • Having an adventure or trip to look forward to gives my mind something to focus on and plan for.  Which makes it a good distraction technique! 

I can't say what the next few months will bring.  The medication seems to be working.  Once I am able to run regularly, I will have a good think about whether it will be time to adjust it again.  I will keep sending James links to dogs up for adoption and try to convince him that we are ready for another one.

Please feel free to email me if you would like to ask me any questions about depression or being on anti-depressants.  

Help save the planet by eating more chocolate

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

From when I was young until 2014 when I did my first Whole30.  I was a vegetarian/pescatarian.  The only meat I ate was tinned tuna.  This slowly faded out after I ride a TIME article explaining how the fish was going to be extinct within the next 50 years. The no-meat-thing stemmed from me being a picky eater rather that a righteous drive.  I was opposed to swordfish for over-fishing reasons and veal for animal welfare perspective, but seemed to be in the minority for both.
Typical Whole30 breakfast
When I started eating meat three times a day, it was a big change. I had no idea how to cook it or how to season it.  My husband has been flexitarian since we lived in USA so it caused a few problems at meal time when we wanted different things.  Although I no longer follow the Whole30, I work with a nutritionist, Shannon  who has me eating 100+g protein/day.  As much as I love protein shakes and bars, they tend to be expensive when you have multiple servings a day and seem to be full of chemicals and/or sugar.  They are handy to satisfy my sweet tooth though because of this.
Sweet tooth, say what?
My husband and I still disagree about how much meat I eat and what kind.  Normally I have chicken for lunch, which I season and grill.  However, this gets old quickly.  I will mix it up with sustainable wild salmon, Heck sausages, and the occasional ground beef or lamb.  If we eat out, I will usually get a cheeseburger (with bacon, avocado, and sweet potato fries if possible).  In a recent article, the environmental impact of eating meat is highlighted.  There are movements for Meat Free Monday and generally eating less meat.  I no longer have meat at every meal, but I do need to hit my protein targets.

The one source of protein we agree on is chocolate milk (one of the many reasons I think we knew we were suited for each other).

When I saw a tweet offering a new protein-packed chocolate for review I immediately responded for the following reasons:
  • I love chocolate
  • I need more protein
  • I like to support female entrepreneurs and small businesses
If you went to the London Marathon expo, you may have met Carole Armitage, the person behind 80 Noir Ultra.  She started 80 Noir Ultra because she has used chocolate a a way to fuel when growing up and when playing badminton for England.  She uses a specific 79.3% dark chocolate blend that she created with a Parisian chocolatier and it is been tested and endorsed by a registered nutritionist. The current available flavors are the baseline 80 Noir Ultra (7.7g protein/100g), Funky Monkey (8.6g protein/100g), Booster Bars (8.8g protein/100g), and Apple Pie (9g protein/100g).

I treated myself to a hot chocolate after being timekeeper at parkrun not too long ago and it was delicious.  I added two scoops of the pistols to 160ml of slowly microwaved semi-skimmed milk and stirred for a while to get it to melt (I don't think the milk was hot enough and I was being too lazy to heat properly on the stove top).  I have also tried Apple Pie and Funky Monkey.  My usual preference is for dark chocolate and they were all yummy.  On average, 100g of dark chocolate offers 4.9 grams protein but, as shared above, 80 Noir Ultra offers more.  When you add this to milk (3.6g protein per 100ml), it is a pretty powerful punch.

Simply put, I loved each and every sample I was given of 80 Ultra Noir.  I haven't been able to use it for a proper recovery drink as I have been injured for eight weeks but I will be happy to give it a go as soon as possible.

So it looks like, I need to be supplementing my protein intake with hot chocolate, dark chocolate, and chocolate milk instead of mass produced farm animals.  That is one diet I can get on board with!

Thanks to Carole Armitage for the complimentary samples. All opinions are honest and my own.