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Day 36: When the hard work pays off

I’ve been doing the 100 Healthy Day Challenge for 36 days now, more or less*. And I am delighted to say that I’ve started to really see the effects of my hard work! It’s not just imagined, I have empirical evidence(ish)!

The best kind of party. The cake kind.

The best kind of party. The cake kind.

Here is my evidence:

1. I stepped on the scale and saw that I had lost half a stone (7 lbs for my awkward American friends).

2. I’m now able to do a full push up

Some details about the above:

1. Weight loss is not necessarily the main objective of my 100 Healthy Days challenge. Fat loss yes for sure, I want a whole lot of that, but weight loss, as measured by the scales, I’m not too pushed with knowing on a regular basis.

All the experts now seem to agree that weight loss only gives you one side of the story, and is really not representative of how healthy you are. See here for some more bullet-pointed wisdom from mindbodygreen on the subject.

I’m relying mostly on my body fat % testing to get a full picture of how I’m doing and I’m going to get re-tested in a couple of weeks.

However, I think that my 7lb loss is a definite indicator that things are going well, which is why I’m so happy about it! If the scales tell me I’ve lost 7 lbs, I can only that assume my body fat % has gone down as well and it’s not just a false-positive related to water retention. Watch this space, I’ll report back as to whether my hypothesis is correct.

Have you ever had your body fat % tested by the way? They basically grab and pinch your fat in a set of calipers – in parts of your body you never even realised could get fatty! Slightly humiliating, but you have to pretend to be totes cool with it all. Oh yeah sure, grab away!

2. I’m now able to do a full push up! And I ain’t talking about no little girly push-up on my knees. I’m talking about a real-life adult push up. Full disclosure – I don’t go alll the way down but around 75% of the way. But, 75% of a real-life adult push up, is a pretty big deal in my book. Considering the fact that I couldn’t go 50% of the girly-push up when I first started working out. Definite progress.

It’s so amazing to see myself getting stronger and fitter. It’s as good a feeling as the weight/fat loss, if not more.

Next stop, a pull up!! Ha, maybe in around 2 years.

Also, I’ve been told I may be nominated for GYM MEMBER OF THE MONTH. How cool is that! I must have been boring the ear off of Jon, my personal trainer, about all my healthy activities and all the research I’ve been doing about health and well-being. If it does happen, it would go straight into my sporting achievements hall of fame. Right next to the time that I made sub for the Minor C netball team when I was in 3rd year in secondary school. That’s actually my only other sporting achievement. It’s been a slow 17 years.

So, all in all, I’ve seen some really excellent results – proof that all of my hard work is paying off. This is actually the greatest motivation I could get. When you see the results you want more and more of the same, so you’re more encouraged to do more and more exercise and healthy eating.

So, I’ve decided to change my meme.

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I know this looks like me, but it’s not me

*Creative license was taken with the counting of the days for the purpose of the narrative. It’s been more like 40 days but I can’t remember what happened on the days I didn’t blog. Granola, Barry’s Bootcamp,  something, something, something…it’s all a blur

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Day 35: Coping with work stress – the healthy way

I am just off the back of a 12 hour work day. It’s one of those weeks. It was one of those weeks, last week. And it will probably be one of those weeks next week.

I am in the midst of a work-stress attack!

This is me. This is my granola.

This is me. This is my granola.

I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty details, you’ll be happy to hear.

I think it’s the most boring thing on earth to listen to someone talk through the minutiae of a working day that you will never understand. Or care to understand. I have enough boring minutiae of my own to be bored by. Let’s be clear – nobody outside of your company, will ever be as incensed as you are about that pivot table that was pivot-ed incorrectly, even though you are 100% convinced that your co-worker actually did it on purpose (!), just to make you look bad, because you may or may not have accidentally undermined her in your weekly project meeting, but you only did it because she sent an email to your mutual stakeholders without CCing you, in a FLAGRANT violation of the AGREED-UPON internal process you set up SIX MONTHS AGO!

(Note, the events in this blog post are a work of fiction, and are not based on the true life of Michelle).

Suffice to say, it’s been a fast-paced and busy time, which is why I haven’t posted in a while.

The good news is, I’ve still been trying to live a healthy lifestyle throughout all of this. Not just, in spite of the stress, but to actually combat it!

A year or so ago, I learned the hard way that stress can have a huge impact on your physical well-being.

I had always dismissed stress as a real health threat. There were plenty of other things that would ‘get you’ before stress would – smoking, drinking, bad diet – we all know these things bring doom and gloom, cancer and heart disease, weight gain and bad skin.

Little did I realise that stress does the exact same thing! There are countless articles on this, but this is a nice easily digestible one from mindbodygreen.com.

So, one day, about a year ago, I was sitting in work, just out of a particularly difficult meeting, when suddenly my left arm started to go numb, my heart started racing, there was pressure on my chest, I couldn’t breathe and I started to over-heat…all of the symptoms of a heart attack! So, of course, I instantly got on Google Chat to my friend Marie (most logical thing to do in an emergency) to tell her I was having a heart attack, and to maybe call an ambulance.

Thankfully, she calmly pointed out that I probably wouldn’t be able to chat with her if I was really having a heart attack, and that I was probably having a panic attack. She was right. After a few minutes of breathing deeply with my head between my legs I started to feel normal again. (MORTO, by the way. Sitting at your desk, with your head between your legs, heavy breathing, is not a professional look.)

Funnily enough, that hugely scary situation was not enough to wake me up to the reality of the stress I was under.

It was only after I started balling my eyes out crying, in a pub, on a Sunday, surrounded by happy people, in the middle of eating a huge plateful of French Toast, just before going back to the office for more work, that I realised something needed to change. It was only then that I took an objective look at myself and really saw what the stress had done to me – in addition to heart attack symptoms, crying in public, eating French Toast and working on a Sunday, I had definitely gained weight, my skin was gray and spotty, I was short-tempered and absent-minded, I couldn’t concentrate on conversations with family and friends…and the list of terrible things goes on.

After this shocking realisation, I made the decision that I needed to pro-actively dig myself out of the stress hole I had dug and buried myself in.

So, I did a number of things – attended some good classes, had conversations with some experts and got some good advice that really helped me.

The following is a list of the best pieces of advice I got, that I’ve adapted for myself.

  • The corporate world is not the world. What happens in the office cannot make or break you, as you’re a lot more than an employee. You’re a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a friend. Keep perspective on this!
  • Take time to breathe during the day. When you’re stressed you don’t breathe properly. Every time you get up from your desk take a huge breath in and breathe the stress out.
  • Take time to drink water – you can be guaranteed you’re dehydrated when you’re stressed. Taking the 2 minutes to re-fill your water bottle will pay dividends.
  • Schedule some ‘you’ time at some point during the day and do not, under any circumstances re-schedule.
  • Think about making the ‘you’ time exercise time. As soon as I hit the gym I forget about my problems for a little bit.
  • Eat healthfully where you can. There will be times when all you want is bad stuff. But when you have the option choose vegetables.

This time around, whilst I’m still doing 12 hour days, which should be a big no-no, I’m not nearly as bad as I was before. Kicking back with a scented candle, some wine and some blog-therapy also helps!

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Stress therapy. Scented candles are my crack cocaine.

FYI – I’m just going to skip over the other days in the challenge, and pretend we’re now on Day 35. Cheating, perhaps, but it’s the best way for me to get back on track.

Day 25: A Healthy Day in Nob Hill Spa

The secret to good health lies beyond simply eating right and regular exercise. Man cannot live by broccoli and cardio pump alone.

It’s so important to pay attention to your mental, emotional and spiritual needs as well. When these are neglected you often see a manifestation of that neglect in your body- stress, breakouts, exhaustion, headaches, weight gain.

This is how I justify my small, and slightly expensive, obsession with day spas. In my mind, it’s the perfect place to meet every single one of your health needs.

On Day 25 I took myself off with a group of 4 girlfriends to Nob Hill Day Spa. This was my first time going, and I must say I enjoyed every lavender-scented minute of it.

We were there for 9am, which was a good call, as it got a little more crowded later on (but not uncomfortably so). They have all of the usual amenities you would expect from a day spa – robes and slippers, a relaxation room, pool, hot tub, sauna all of which were perfect. The relaxation room was kind of small though, with only 4 loungers. In saying that, I was always able to nab one when I wanted it so it wasn’t an issue.

The relaxation room is always my favourite part of a spa. As soon as I sick down onto the lounger, and drape the blanket over me I can almost physically feel the stress draining away from my muscles. It’s magical. I’m a bit of an introvert as well so I love just sitting there, not needing to talk, just thinking and staring off into space.

And then of course you have the all the free beverages and snacks – herbal teas (ever try rooibos and coconut – yum), fruit and then if you’re feeling especially naughty- chocolate almonds and trail mix. And before you ask, no I did not go there. My ‘indulgence’ of choice was some dried fruit. I had a huge dried pear. Party. Girl.

Our healthy lunch was then served out on the balcony with a lovely view of the city. All of the lunch options were pretty much healthy. Even the ‘sandwich’, where they had replaced the bread with turkey slices.

It was such a lovely day and I left feeling rejuvenated, relaxed and balanced.

And then our afternoon took a slightly kookier, kinkier turn with a decision to check out the Folsom Street Fair. This is not your average family, street fair! You will not find any cotton candy, face painters or quaint singer songwriters. I’m not going to elaborate, but there was a lot of leather. And whips.

This was such a ‘San Francisco’ event to witness – a group of people openly and unabashedly indulging in what makes them happy. Leave your prejudices (and pretty much most of your clothes) at the door. I stuck out like a sore thumb, with Irish Catholic school girl written all over my slack-jawed face, despite my attempt at nonchalance. We left pretty quickly needless to say, wishing them all well with their leather-clad endeavors!

Just your usual San Francisco weekend really.

Food:

NOTE: After the spa we went to Tartine, a renowned San Francisco bakery, for a snack. This place is amazing for baked goods and of course constantly has lines out the door. Their lemon cream tart was recently listed as one of the top 50 treats to eat before you die. I am happy to tell you I did not have anything. I had a cup of tea and only drooled a small amount while the others tucked in.

Photo Collage Maker_9iuAos

  • Breakfast: 3/4 small pot of low-fat Greek yogurt, 1 banana, 4 strawberries, 6 pecans, 1 tbsp chia seeds, large coffee with milk
  • Snack: Pear and some dried fruit
  • Lunch: Salade Nicoise, coffee with milk
  • Snack: Dried fruit
  • Dinner: Wholegrain pasta, with left-over meat loaf and a green salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, 1 sml glass of wine

Days 21-23: MIA- most likely found in the granola aisle

As you can most likely infer from the title of this post the past few days have been rough. So rough I haven’t been able to face blogging about them. And the lack of blogging, or rather the lack of full disclosure to the masses, most likely exacerbated the issue. If I had come clean, and faced the shame on day 21, I would have probably been able to bring myself back from the brink, instead of spiraling into the darkness… The nutty, oaty, cranberry-y darkness.

So, can you guess what caused this tremendous flying leap off the wagon?

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Yes, granola.

I can hear you all sigh at your screens as you read this. ‘I knew this would happen. The way she talked about granola in the last post seemed slightly manic. Hysterical almost. A lady on the edge.’

And all I can say is you were right, how very astute of you, well done. Just, the next time, make sure you intervene, k? Wrestle the box out of my hands, if needs be. (It will probably be needed.)

So, what happened exactly?

I would say that over the past 3 days I’ve actually been 75% healthy. Lots of veg, lean protein, healthy fat. Exactly what the magazines tell you.

But the other 25%? I’ll give you the showreel- granola after dinner, granola for breakfast one day, granola as an afternoon snack, pasta (!) and eating ice cream out of the carton standing at the freezer (only one spoonful but it’s kind of the defining moment of those 3 days of madness).

I think the worst thing about this period was the feeling that I was out of control, that I couldn’t say no to the badness, that the granola had complete power over me. And then of course, there were the feelings of guilt and loathing. The beating myself up and telling myself I was a terrible person with no will power, who had just failed the 100 day challenge.

Needless to say they were some dark times, food wise.

But, I am happy to say I am back on track and committed one again to my 100 Healthy Days.

What helped me? Some words of wisdom from my roommate Venessa.

‘Have you ever thought about telling yourself nothing is off-limits?’ She asked.

‘Interesting question.’ I replied. ‘Never. That would just open the flood gates. I would be having carb fests morning, noon and night.’

‘Well,’ she said, ‘think about this. If you say to yourself there is no way in hell you can have that granola, all you’ll do is obsess about it and then eat the whole box.’

I nodded emphatically.

She continued ‘If you tell yourself instead, you can have a quarter of a cup of granola today, if you’re craving it, and then you can have another quarter of a cup the next day if you still want it, you kind of remove that sense of deprivation. And also the obsession.’

You know what, what Venessa said to me just made sense! And it allowed me to get back on track, almost immediately, funnily enough. Without wanting any more granola. It’s like the desire has been neutralised.

Funny how the mind works. You always want what you can’t have.

So, the next time I have an intense craving, I’m going to remember Venessa’s words and just have a tiny bit, with the thought that it’s there for me if I want it later. And I’m just going to focus on eating food that makes me feel good. Ie healthy stuff!

I’m not saying this is the end of my struggles, but it’s food for thought, and thought for food. (Haha dork).

And I’m now back in the saddle! Roll on Day 24!

Day 19: The perils of too much coffee

  • Snack: 10 almonds
  • Exercise: 45 mins spin class
  • Breakfast: Eggs (scrambled), chia seeds, steamed kale, strawberries, lrg coffee x 2
  • Lunch: Mixed salad with veggies, chicken and avocado and balsamic vinegar
  • Snack: Granola and banana and chocolate covered blueberries
  • Dinner: BURGER…with a BUN

Photo Collage Maker_srZDZ6

So, today I kind of fell of the wagon. Not only did I have granola (and it was a large bowl, I’m not going to lie),  I also got a burger with a bun for dinner. Granola and hamburger s with buns are not foods that should feature in a healthy eating plan – apart from as a treat. And today should not have been a treat day.

So annoying!!

But, the one positive I can take from this experience, is that I kind of understand why it happened , which hopefully means I can prevent it in the future.

My theory is that the two large cups of coffee I had with breakfast (as well as the strawberries) wreaked havoc on my blood sugar levels. After drinking the coffees I felt on edge and restless all day-  just not satisfied. After lunch I still felt like I wanted more food, even though I wasn’t hungry. And then, when I walked past the cereal at around 3pm it was like an invisible force dragged me over to the counter, made me get out a bowl and go to town on the granola. OK,  I’m being over-dramatic, but normally I can avoid the cereal no problem. I JUST NEEDED THAT GRANOLA.

And then of course I needed chocolate covered blueberries and a hamburger.

Does anyone else get like this after too much coffee?

Biggest lesson here for me is that I need to be careful with what I eat and drink in the morning- avoid too much coffee and too much fruit and make sure you’re well hydrated.

As I write this, I’m sitting on the bus on way to work on Day 20 and I know I’m de-hydrated and looking for a coffee. Fingers crossed I can get it together later!

coffee

Day 18: Dolores Park life

Breakfast: Low fat natural yogurt, raspberries, red grapes, 6 pecans, cinnamon, coffee with milk
Snack: banana
Lunch: Vietnamese chicken salad (grilled chicken with cabbage, carrots, pickled onions, peanuts), kale smoothie made with almond milk and almond butter. All from Delores Park Cafe (really tasty).
Snack: Apple
Dinner: Chicken with tomato ratatouille, cherry tomatoes, red grapes

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The summers in San Francisco are not the best. It’s cold and foggy and you’re more likely to be investing in a sensible Northface fleece than a cute pair of shorts. The fog is kind of cool to see though- it rolls in over the city like a wave and hovers so low you feel like you could touch it. The San Franciscans have become so acquainted with it they’ve even given it a name. Meet Karl the Fog. It’s a definitely a love-hate relationship.

Anyway, SF summers kind of suck (which is a lot for an Irish person to say) but the SF fall can be spectacular- like this weekend! It was so hot, but with a light breeze so very pleasant indeed. I love the sun!!

If you’re staying in the city there’s really only one thing to do when the weather is nice- hit up a park. And my park of choice is Dolores Park. Not only is it in my hood, but it’s the most fun in my opinion, even with half of it under construction as it is now. It’s chock-a-block with people, dogs (sometimes cats), babies, birthday parties, acrobatics, hippies doing hippy things, hippies selling hippy things (like things 😉 ) and…people kicking back and drinking.

Beers in the sun, in a park. Is there anything nicer?

Before heading over to meet my friends I tried to steel myself against the lures of Delores Park by reminding myself of my goals, blah blah blah.

But as soon as we sat down and someone mentioned getting beers my resolve began to waver and the internal battle commenced.

‘Well maybe one, tiny, light beer won’t hurt.’ ‘

‘That skinny girl over there is drinking beer, how bad could it be.’

‘Drinking in the sun burns off calories immediately.’

And so on.

It wasn’t until another friend Katie refused the offer of beer in favor of coffee that I was able to calm the inner voice and say no myself.

And the good news is I still had a good time. Parks are fun without the drinking.

But it just goes to show that while I have won a few battles on behalf of healthy eating, the war with my old habits had yet to be won.

In other news, I got a hair cut today as well. It was really needed! Thanks Henrik, magic work!

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Day 15: Reflections and Refocusing

  • Breakfast: Low fat natural yoghurt, bee pollen, flax seeds, tsp dried cranberries, apple
  • Exercise: 30 mins PT
  • Snack: Acai bowl (frozen blended acai, bananas, strawberries, shredded coconut)
  • Lunch: Mixed salad with plain tune
  • Snack: Half carton of low-fat cottage cheese, crudites
  • Dinner: Mediterranean chicken (chicken with homemade tomato sauce and zucchini, peppers, onions and mushrooms) with mixed salad and avocado
  • Dessert: What I didn’t have was some of the Mitchell’s ice cream my parents bought. BOOM.
Photo Collage Maker_aaHAEO

The acai bowl is more of a cup really. False advertising.

I am now in my 3rd week of my 100 Healthy Days in SF challenge – where did the time go?!?

This has prompted me to do some thinking and reflecting on how the challenge has gone to date and what I want to focus on for the next while.

Biggest learning for me has probably been that it’s not just a matter of saying you want to change a behaviour and relying on sheer will power to get you there. Yes, will power plays a part, obviously, and the more you practice using it, the easier it gets. It’s like a muscle, don’t ya know.

But I think you also need to think about pro-active, intervention strategies as well. Bad habits take a while to form and they can be steadfastly entrenched in your day-to-day life. It’s going to take some effort and planning to get rid of them.

So, one of my big focuses over the next while is to plan ahead and be prepared to meet the various challenges head on.

The second biggest learning is around FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). This will happen a lot!! You see someone else happily drinking a margarita in the sunshine of a Friday evening, or ooo-ing and ahhh-ing and smacking their lips over an ice-cream and a little voice inside your head screams ‘THAT SHOULD BE ME! I DESERVE TO BE HAPPY! HAPPINESS IS NOT FOUND AT THE BOTTOM OF A BAG OF STUPID CARROTS.’

What I’ve learned is that it takes a lot of shouting back at that inner-voice to get him to shut up. You need to constantly remind him it’s all for the greater good, that this is a new way of living, that carrots are tasty in their own way and that the person who appears to be having such an amazing time eating or drinking may not actually be enjoying themselves that much. (Although I’m pretty sure the people eating Mitchell’s ice cream are having an amazing time).

Funny note – my mother is obsessed with the phrase FOMO. She laughs every time she hears it and has started saying it as well. I’m trying to get her to start saying YOLO as well. That would make me LOL.

The third part of my reflections are around exercise. I haven’t been doing nearly enough. Partly because my parents are over and partly for no reason at all. Laziness most likely. So the next few weeks will focus on getting my sweat on!

Last note for today – do you know how to pronounce acai? I did not. Apparently it’s pronouced ah-sigh-ee. Morto for me, I was pronouncing it A-Kigh. Oh how the Californians must have laughed at me.