Tuesday 30 June 2020

June 2020: Staying Healthy in Lockdown

Hello everyone, happy Tuesday!

This is coming to you mid-pandemic from Syston, just north enough of Leicester city centre to be outside the newly announced zone to be placed under strict lockdown for a second time. Thoughts and best wishes to our family and friends stuck in the middle of it all (which includes my own Mum and Dad).

One ongoing theme of this blog is health, fitness and wellbeing; it's a subject close to my heart and something I've given priority to ever since visiting China at the age of sixteen and learning that in their culture, health and wealth are viewed as being of equal importance as the former helps you to achieve the latter for yourself and your family.

It's also something I've struggled with: I have yet to experience a serious injury or physical health problem, but have always been the recipient of (justified) concerns from health professionals because I'm heavier than I should be and carry too much body fat. As an adult, I've never been smaller than a UK size 16 in jeans, despite the best efforts I can manage.

To be honest, at the moment I'm pretty happy with how my body looks - even my big tummy! The wealth of plus-sized bloggers and larger ladies of Instagram have been hugely inspiring and proved to me that round, plump bodies with cute little rolls of chub can indeed be very beautiful and stylish. Hats off to all of you! However, though I am learning to appreciate my body, managing my weight continues to be a struggle. I love the idea of intuitive eating, so it's a shame that I utterly suck at it! If I ate what I wanted in the quantities I wanted all of the time, I would just gain weight uncontrollably and continue to do so until my fitness, wellbeing and satisfaction with life deteriorated. Them's the facts, as hard as it is.

For that reason, most of the time I need to measure portions, track what I eat and limit my food intake, which I first started doing using an app called MyFitnessPal and more recently an alternative one called LoseIt. I'm not necessarily trying to lose huge amounts of weight, just making sure it's managed so I don't increase the risk to my health any further - even though I resent the mental bandwidth it takes up.

Lots of people are experiencing the same struggle at this time it would seem: routines are disrupted, gyms and swimming baths closed, childcare arrangements in disarray and all the comfort eating/drinking caused by anxiety, uncertainty and boredom have had the result that many are finding that the balance of calories in versus calories out is becoming hard to manage. 

As someone who has a complicated relationship with food and who definitely 'uses' eating (to celebrate, to commiserate, to feel happier, when I'm bored - the list goes on...) here's some things I've found over the years to give myself a 'treat' instead of using junk food:
  • Do a fun workout that you'll enjoy - for me, it's Zumba or Clubbercise. There's loads of virtual classes online that you can subscribe to or do for free.
  • Do something calming, such as yoga, meditation, or some simple stretches. Carving out some time just for yourself on a regular basis is really important for your wellbeing.
  • Get outdoors - this could be a walk (ideally through a sunny, green space in the sunshine but this being England, we'll take what we can get!) or doing some bits around the garden you've been putting off. There's something so soothing about playing in the mud like you're a kid again!
  • Make yourself a low-sugar hot drink (such as tea, fruit tea, coffee or a hot cocoa) to linger over at your leisure.
  • Plan out your weekly menu of delicious, nourishing meals; incorporating plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein and complex carbohydrates. Feeling that you're eating well and treating your body with respect is a huge mood boost! I love browsing recipes on the BBC Good Food app and adjusting them to my taste. Then... get cooking and enjoying!
  • Look up some healthier treats that you can bake for yourself: Tom Kerridge, The Hairy Bikers, Pinch of Nom, Diabetes UK and My Fussy Eater all have some excellent recipes online for you to discover.
  • Do an absorbing, creative, hands-on activity; such as painting, drawing, cross-stitching, sewing, knitting, weaving, photography, pottery... whatever takes your fancy!
  • Do something that occupies your mind and attention - I especially like reading books, magazines or blogs; doing crossword puzzles, writing (doesn't need to be long - sum up your mood each day in one sentence if you like!) or watching a really engrossing film or TV series.
  • Listen to your favourite music or podcast. The glory of this is that it can be enjoyed while doing just about anything else; I like to have something interesting to listen to while I'm folding clothes or washing up.
  • If social media is your thing, find something positive and uplifting and share it on your channel/s - could be a pretty flower you saw, a moment of kindness or something awesome that happened to you. Spread the love!
  • Do some big-time pampering: have a long, hot soak in the bath; take a refreshing shower, give yourself a massage with some oil or body lotion, do a manicure or pedicure, put on some nice-smelling hand/foot cream, light a candle or incense in your favourite scent - indulge your sense of touch and smell!
  • Dress yourself, in whatever feels good for your mood in that moment. Maybe it's your favourite confidence-boosting outfit: a silk top, jeans, sparkly shoes, jewellery and a full face of make up. Or perhaps its your cosiest onesie with a pair of slippers for ultimate comfort. You do you.
  • Lastly and perhaps most importantly - reach out. Call a friend for a chat, or write someone a letter, card or message. A problem shared is a problem halved after all, and lots of people are feeling lonely and ready to reconnect with loved ones. Thinking of something you can do to lift someone else's day is one of the most life affirming things you can do.
I hope you've found some of these suggestions useful, that concludes this blog post! Thank you all for reading and I'll see you next time!

Best wishes,

Emma x

Thursday 2 April 2020

April 2020: Moving the Goalposts

Hi everyone, this is my first post of 2020 (better late than never!) Hope you enjoy.

So the first post of the year is usually where I share my goals for the year ahead, here are the ones I set at the end of last year for 2020:

  • Get a full-time job as a marketing specialist
  • Buy a house with Tom
  • Get a dog
  • Reach my target weight
  • Practice using my drawing tablet
  • Make some new pictures
  • Go to weekly Zumba sessions
  • Do strength workouts twice per week
  • Go on regular walks with Leicestershire and Rutland Walking Group (weather permitting)
  • Learn to ride a bike
  • Have a book on my bedside table at all times
  • Complete a crossword puzzle a day
  • Use the calendar on my phone instead of a paper diary

What a mockery these last few weeks have made of my plans for this year (and I’m sure that’s a feeling shared by many!) The current situation with COVID-19 in the UK has changed everything and I’ve had to have a major rethink of what is now realistic for me to achieve in 2020.

I reached the first goal in February when I succeeded in securing a new job as a Marketing Coordinator at Mattioli Woods, a financial services company in Leicester city centre. I was so proud and pleased to have taken the next step in my career, and to have achieved one of my major life goals so early in the year.

Well, things didn’t turn out as planned, sadly. I started my new job just as the Corona virus situation was getting serious, and in the end only worked there for four days before being let go. Being a job seeker in the present situation is disheartening enough, knowing that it will probably be some time before I can find work again as many companies have postponed hiring until life returns to something approaching normality. It also has a knock-on effect for our other goals of buying a house and getting a dog, which likely won’t happen this year. However, I’m determined to use my newly available time productively by working on personal projects and improving my skills.

One exciting development is that the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) have decided to allow Associate members like myself to work towards and eventually achieve Chartered Marketer status – something that previously only Members and Fellows could do. To achieve this, I will need to record and submit evidence that I have completed the requisite amount of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for two consecutive years and then successfully pass an online assessment. I’ve already started logging my CPD and will complete my first year at the end of October this year. Becoming a Chartered Marketer is one of my big long-term goals, so the prospect of being able to achieve that much sooner than I thought I would is very cheering.

Once I found out I was out of a job, I made a veritable laundry list of things I would like to learn and do, including renewing my skills in Adobe Illustrator and InDesign software, studying HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and learning more about Google Analytics, Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Pay-Per-Click (PPC). I would also like to undertake a couple of projects: one selling products online (to put my SEM, SEO and PPC learning into practice) and another building a website from scratch (to test my HTML, CSS and JavaScript knowledge). The product-selling project will have a creative aspect, as I’m thinking it would be fun to design some new cards, postcards and prints to offer, which I can use my new tablet to create so I’ll get practice using that too. These kinds of products should also be ideal as they can be sent via post without needing to visit the Post Office (limiting unnecessary human contact).

I do have fun things planned too, such as reading books, doing crossword puzzles, watching films, cooking and baking. I’ll also have more free time to practice self-care: lots of pedicures, face masks and long relaxing baths! I’d like to get the house a bit cleaner and tidier, and have found that migrating from a paper diary to the calendar on my phone has helped me organise myself more effectively.

My health continues to be one of my big priorities, and with all this free time on my hands I’ve been able to really step up my exercise regimen. Earlier this year I started attending a Zumba class each week. Obviously, those had to cease once the lockdown started, but our instructor is a real trooper and has sorted out virtual dance classes several times a week that we can stream live to our living room. So I’ve started doing classes three times a week: Tuesday Clubbercise, Thursday Zumba and Saturday Move2Muscials. It’s a form of exercising I really enjoy – very energetic and even more fun than dancing in a club! The other weekdays (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) I do some weightlifting and a 30-60 minute jog. Sunday, of course, is the day of rest, with just a gentle walk outside in the fresh air. I’m already starting to see improvements to my stamina and muscle tone; I also find that keeping active gives my days structure and lifts my spirits.

Once the weather is nice, I can head out to nearby Watermead Country Park with Tom and hopefully start learning to ride a bike. I think this would make my cardio even more fun as I’d be able to cover longer distances and explore further afield during my daily exercise. Walks with Leicestershire and Rutland Walking Group (our local Ramblers club) have sadly all been cancelled for the foreseeable, which is a shame because I’d been looking forward to enjoying some long walks now that the weather has improved.

Still on the subject of health but focusing on weight loss, I decided to not continue my journey with Slimming World. Despite some early success I found that my weight plateaued, and I couldn’t seem to make any further progress by following that programme. So I decided to try calorie counting using MyFitnessPal, and have been very pleased with the results so far. I managed to lose around half a stone, though I put a few pounds back on when I lost my job and did some ‘oh screw it’ eating (read: pizza, fish and chips and plenty of chocolate). I think such a reaction is understandable in the circumstances! I’m now getting back on an even keel emotionally and mentally so have got my head back in the game and have been on track for a week and a half. I’m taking the advice of a slimming group called Team RH who recommend taking your weight each day and then working out a weekly average as a more accurate way of measuring fat loss, so I still have yet to see if my efforts are bearing fruit. The most important part is that I feel much more energetic, motivated and happier in myself when I am eating well.

Some other nice news is that Tom succeeded in passing his driving text in February; it’s been lovely having someone to share driving duties with (and he’s been very generous offering me lifts and being designated driver if we’re out having drinks!) We won’t be taking that trip up to Scotland to visit my brother and his family that we were looking forward to, but hopefully we’ll be able to go later this year.

So that’s how we’ve been getting on, amazing how much can change in the space of a few weeks! Looking forward to the rest of this year, it looks like career and house/pet ownership goals are on hold for now but achievements for creativity, health and new skills are within reach and seem promising. Either way, I’m determined not to take this setback too hard and carry on working on my personal development. We’re in a much more fortunate position than many and I want to make the wisest use of this gift of time I unexpectedly have.

Thanks for reading everyone, hopefully my next missive will be delivered in more cheerful times! Wishing you all the very best and hoping that we all make it through these challenging circumstances together as best we can.