Re-framing my view on health

I’m filled with so much happiness and gratitude writing the third installment to this annual post about my health and well-being journey. To the folks who have been here a while, you’d know this as #pawgainz – my mission to live my happiest, healthiest life.

Pauline by the seaside in England
3 years since #pawgainz started

It has been exactly 3 years since the day I decided to take full control of my health and turn my life around for the better. To summarise for anyone who is new here, back in 2016, I was in a dark place. I suffered from high anxiety, depression, energy fatigue that led me to often being unwell and pretty much dragging my feet everyday, feeling purposeless and to put it blunt – a waste of space. I also get teary thinking back to that time, mainly because I feel so much pride on myself for searching for a way out.

I recently spoke on Graham Torrington’s show on BBC Radio about mental health, and openly shared that exact moment of deciding that enough was enough and I was tired of being tired. The response I got from the feature was incredible, and hope to continue to share my health journey to inspire others to start to take positive action.

You can read the first post on my full story from 2017 here.


3 years on

Today I’m delighted to share my health and well-being progress, 3 years on. I mentioned in last year’s edition that I apart from writing on the internet, I have never been so consistent with anything else. It truly has become a huge part of my lifestyle and identity.

I’ll be covering mental health, physical health, balance and mindset.

My lifestyle has changed

Since my last annual post, my life is different. I now live in the centre of the city, walk less often as a result and spend most of my day sitting down at a desk. This is a huge contrast to living far enough that I had a 30-40 minute walk to where I needed to be, allowing me more opportunity to hit the recommended active minutes and step count to prevent conditions like heart disease.

Trying to implement healthy habits around an office job isn’t new to me. I spent my first #pawgainz year on my first ever office-based role, but there is a huge difference in that I don’t just live round the corner of the office like I do now. Although it may not seem like much of a difference… Afterall, it’s just walking, right? It is in actual fact quite significant – not just physically but mentally too. I’ll get into this more a little bit later.

Having a very structured 9-5 life, with daily goals and objectives that I’ve set myself is again not new to me. But I have found myself feeling more mentally drained and stressed. This has more to do with pressure that I put on myself than the work that I actually do. Again, more on this later.

All of those factors added together with the fact that my first year of living away from home was a blur of difficult emotions (mostly related to homesickness), I think the statement that my lifestyle is now very different rings true.

It is different, but don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t necessarily means bad! Instead, it’s been quite a good exercise to be able to make the adjustments necessary for my habits to thrive.

Superhero Training

Pauline and her lifting faces
Wearing my lifting faces with pride

Training

Since actually watching the Marvel films for the first time ever, I was inspired to rename my workouts to superhero training sessions. It makes me feel powerful ASF and reminds me what is important: building up strength and being the best version of yourself rather than aesthics.

I wanted to switch things up a bit this year, and opted in to training with a Personal Trainer. My PT, Ryan has been fantastic these last couple of months. I thought that I had enough experience and growing knowledge around my workouts. But he has very much opened my eyes to how small changes in my form have a huge impact in performance and gainz. Training with Ryan has made me fall in love with exercise all over again and pushed me to my limits – giving me space to grow into my own version of a superhero.

Ryan and I at the gym
Ryan and I at the gym

These past few months, Ryan and I have been working on a mixture of power lifting and hypertrophy training. It has been fun to have such variety during the week!

Home workouts

When I don’t have access to the gym for any reason, Matt and I have a nice little home gym set-up in our new flat. Although there are some exercises I can’t do due to lack of equipment at home, it’s still good to have space to squeeze in a workout when I’m running late to work.

Gaining weight

I gained weight and body fat since last year.

My current stats
My current stats

And I have to be honest, it was at first quite difficult to get over. The thoughts running through my head, the first time I realised were all blame, fear and criticism towards my bigger body.

“I’m going back to how I was before.”

I remember actually spending some time on the floor of my bedroom feeling completely deflated. Did I cry? Yeah, I did. It was increasingly getting difficult to accept when I slowly couldn’t get into my XXS and XS clothing. I was working out the same amount I had done in the past, but my lifestyle is different now โ€” I spend more time sitting, live in the centre of everything and don’t have that regular LISS exercise that I had every single day so naturally, my body fat percentage was going to go up. The back of my mind expected it when I started working full time.

Progress in 2019
Progress in 2019, you can also view shots from here.
Progress in 2019 – side view.

But wait. I spent a ridiculous amount of time explaining myself to myself and everyone. Why exactly? I don’t know. I put a ridiculous amount of pressure on myself to be perfect, optimum performance and measurements day in, day out. Why?

I didn’t realise how truly damaging it was dropping into this mindset of chasing to become as small as possible, until I was in the doctor’s office.

I went to have a general health check-up, and as I was getting my results on my weight and other metrics like body fat percentage, I found myself explaining my numbers to my doctor. My doctor – completely confused – told me not to apologise and that with everything in consideration such as height, age etc. I was bang on in the healthy range of weight and body fat.

Despite feeling very embarrassed, the whole experience was a light bulb moment. It was one of those brick-to-the-face realisations, reminding me that I am healthy. I can move, breathe, and push myself to my limits. I don’t need to fit into XXS clothing, be ripped, have low body fat to prove it.

This may seem like common sense, but as someone (like most people) who constantly consumes content on social media platforms that boast unrealistic body images I’m only human and fell into the trap, being so hard to myself along the way.

Bupa health check results
Bupa health check results
Bupa-health check results

My fitness journey didnโ€™t start with this mindset, and so, I will not let it manifest further. #PawGainz to live my happiest, healthiest life, yo. Emphasis on happy and healthy.

It’s been difficult to be honest about how I’ve been feeling about my body to anyone, but I want to raise awareness and repeatedly remind people that being healthy doesn’t mean having the lowest body fat percentage, weighing the lightest or fitting into size 4 clothing.

Wins

  • I fell in love with training back, shoulders and upper body in general.
  • I’ve improved my push ups and can pull myself up more than one rep (currently at a six rep max)
  • I stopped following all the “Instagram influencers” that promoted unhealthy habits, and started following people who reflect realistic body images and promotes healthy habits. My favourite right now include Stephanie Buttermore, BodyPosiPanda and Shelley Darlington.
  • I’ve evened out my quads and they’ve gotten bigger and stronger.
  • I am proud of my consistency, I truly feel like a mix of Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman and the upcoming female Thor.

Headspace – am I addicted to work?

I’ve always had loads on my plate, it is just how I work, a preference maybe.

However, I made it one of my new year’s resolutions to work on setting better boundaries in my precious me time, work and side hustles. My progress so far? I’ve written about it a few times throughout the year already (read: my breaking point and what really matters), and although I am much more aware of my capacity; there are some days I forget how fast I’m going until the consequences hit me in the face. It very much is a huge learning curve, but compared to previous years, I’ve gotten a lot better. I have a shiny Netflix subscription to show for it.

Tips and notes to self:

  • Turn off all notifications – I only have Monzo and iMessage left on my phone
  • Take a social media break
  • Don’t bring work home
  • Reduce screen time – do other things without screens!
  • Carefully consider opportunities – you don’t need to answer straight away, nor say yes to everything
  • Spend time doing what brings you joy (e.g. blogging, a side project etc.) But it’s okay if all you want to do is binge watch another season of the 99. ๐Ÿ’œ
  • Meditation helps ground me, and keep my generalized anxiety at bay

Sleep logs

I’ve continued obsessing over my sleep to improve performance, make my next day better and overall keep me happy. Researching sleep has been a side hobby – I’ve literally read so many articles, studies, books and completed Masterclasses on this very topic. It is fascinating to me!

After monitoring it quite closely over the last year, I found that I am my most optimum after 7 hours of sleep. The closer I am to 8 hours or more, the worse I feel. If I sleep 6 hours, I feel bad but can still function after drinking coffee. I feel worse on more sleep than less.

Tips that have worked for me:

  • Keep your bed time and wake up time consistent. Even if it means getting up early after staying up โ€” you’re more productive, even if you’re tired.
  • Don’t drink loads of water just before bed, it is one of my main cause of sleep disturbance ๐Ÿ˜‚
  • Re-wind before bed – I usually read a book, watch a calming YouTube video (recently it’s been Plant Hauls ๐Ÿ˜‚) Quit Twitter an hour before bed, personally it is one of those apps that can wake me up instantly with all the information overload. Not ideal before bed.
  • Put Night Shift on!
  • Listen to Calm’s Sleep Stories before bed and you’ll be asleep within seconds

Binge eating episodes

This year has especially been quite stressful for me. A year of moving, working full-time and the general change of environment was all too much. One of my common coping mechanisms was finding comfort in food.

Again it is difficult for me to actually share this, because people seem to think all I eat is kale and chicken but the reality is far from it.

My relationship with food has improved since the first time I moved out, I’ve stopped labelling food as bad and if I’ve craved something, I won’t hold back from eating it. This has been a lot more freeing than my constant control of every little crumb I consume.

Compared to the last two years of being health conscious, I have had more sugar than usual. I think moving out has contributed greatly to this (my family home is very heath-conscious) Although I don’t ever ban myself from any type of food (especially when I crave it), I have had sugar-related headaches more often which never is good. Bringing my own awareness to my consumption in a healthy, balanced way is something I’m still working on but making slow, and promising progress.

H2O and me

Like sleep, drinking enough water is another one of my obsessions. Just like a plant (especially my Calathea), whenever I feel a little dehydrated I instantly feel bad. Topping up on water never fails.

Tips and notes to self:

  • Set a goal to get as much water in before 5pm
  • Drinking water first thing in the morning has had the same effect as having coffee for me – maybe try swapping it as your first beverage of the day. I always aim for 1L in before I get to work (this fits in nicely because I workout in the mornings!)
  • Replace high sugar food with fruits – apples have helped me a lot recently
  • You deserve a treat and to not be shamed for what you eat – so eat that slice of cake and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it. That includes you.

Re-framing my mindset

Throughout this writing process, I have become much more aware of how in some cases I need to re-frame my mindset and/or look at other ways to balance things for me to truly live my happiest, healthiest life.

I’m not perfect. I need to stop trying to be.

My main learning from this year is exactly this.

I want to continue work on creating a better me, but with the right message and goals at the heart of it. I’m excited to see what the next 12 months of this journey involves, it’s been quite a ride. I’m here for the long game, let’s get it! ๐Ÿ’ซ

2 responses to “Re-framing my view on health”

  1. Ahh, I’m also going through the changes that you just mentioned, and most of those changes happened when I started working full-time!

    I’ve been working out too but I also started to gain weight and body fat – and like you, I wasn’t very happy about it (even though I was told that I was still in the healthy range for my age group)! But unlike you, I haven’t come to terms with it yet. I’ve always been skinny so seeing myself blow up like this hasn’t been good for my self-esteem. Haha!

    I’m getting better with sleep too! Like you, I’ve found that tracking sleep helps, and when I see my sleep log I instantly gain insight on why I’m feeling a certain way on certain days. It’s so awesome that apps and trackers now exist to help us gain take better care of our health ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Aww Claudine, I totally feel you. But I hope that we can all be more body positive towards ourselves, we honestly really deserve it! Thanks for sharing this ๐Ÿ’œ

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