Sustainability in my health & wellness journey

August 20th 2016 was when I first started my health and wellness journey.

Growing up, I was never the type to stick to anything for so long. I’d always have a variety of interests like ballet, Zumba or choir at school but I’d never stick to going to classes or implementing it to my life for it to truly make much of an impact.

Prioritising my health has been the longest thing I’ve ever stuck to, and you know what? I’m pretty proud of myself. 😊

A much needed walk in the Peak District
A much needed walk in the Peak District

I’ve written a blog post about my health and wellness journey every year since 2016, you can read them all here by year: 2016-2017, 2018 and 2019. I like writing these to help me keep accountable, but also to reflect on how far I’ve come. We’re in 2020 now, and so much has changed.

Initially, “how far I’ve come” meaning how much weight I had lost or how much my muscles were visible compared to last year. Although I’m proud of the physical changes to my body, now that I look back I’m proud of how much my mindset has changed when it comes to physical health.

2019 was the year I travelled a lot, and because of the travel, I didn’t have much of a focus on fitness as to the days when fitness was everything I was doing when I wasn’t doing anything else. On top of that, adjusting to my new life in the city and living away from my family got super overwhelming. Becoming balanced became my focus and helped me reframe my mind for the years ahead. Sustainability has been key!

I’m so glad that I trained my mind over the past 12 months because it has got me to where I am today. More than ever before, I’ve never felt more proud of the habits I’ve truly integrated into my life as well as where both my body and mind are at the moment.


Physical Health

Fitness

I love starting out with this one! Here are some comparative photos. I always add these every year, so this is no different.

2019 vs 2020 photos.
2019 vs 2020. Keep in mind, these photos aren’t exact angles as last time (I’m currently in Sheffield and haven’t got the same space to fully recreate)

Here are also some other bits of data I’ve collected over the past year. Please note: these are numbers I’ve collected for my own interest, they no means define me or my self-worth. I’m also definitely not labelling any of these numbers as a good or bad, they’re just… numbers!

A line graph of my body composition measurements over the past year
Body composition measurements over the past year
A table of data from my smart scale
Smart Scale data since December 2019

Since last year, the structure in my workouts has stayed relatively the same. I like to hit the main muscle groups across a span of 5 days.

The main difference in 2020 has been the fact that I haven’t had access to the gym because of coronavirus. When gyms closed, I wasn’t too worried as I’ve been set-up to do home workouts. Matt and I got adjustable dumbbells in the summer of 2019 to help us still get our workouts in on the days we woke up too late to go to the gym. I also started my fitness journey in 2016 working out mostly at home, so it wasn’t too much of a massive deal to me.

With that said, I have missed using a barbell (I am currently home in Sheffield for the month with access to my dad’s home gym with pretty much everything I could ever need 😹)

The thing I'm most proud of... upper body GAINZ.
The thing I’m most proud of… upper body GAINZ.

During the first few months of quarantine, I actually did Natacha Oceane’s home workout programme which was a lot more HIIT focused. It was great to switch it up a bit and feel like a proper athlete like Natacha who motivated me to try all sorts of new exercises.

Because I like a bit of variety, after completing her program, I switched over to my trainer Ryan Kitto’s home workout plan. I’ve been following Ryan’s structure since then and throwing in exercises from our previous PT sessions to switch it up.

I haven’t been able to practice my powerlifting because of the lack of equipment. So, I’ve been focused on a high rep range for most exercises with little breaks in between. It’s safe to say, I’ve earned my sparkles!

I listen to my body as much as I can. Obviously, if I want to switch my exercises for a rest day – I do it. I don’t see much of a point when I’m not in the mood for it! It just makes exercise more a chore rather than something that I look forward to. Having this more flexible approach has helped me keep my motivation levels at a sustainable range.

My main advice for those especially at the start of your journey is to never force yourself. Get 3 days in, then move to 5 if you want. Forcing it is never fun! Create a sustainable system that works for you. More often than not copying what other people do just doesn’t work out in the long-term. Figure out if you’re a morning person or prefer workouts in the evening. What type of exercise do you enjoy? How does exercise make you feel?

My workout structure

MONDAY10-minute morning sequence by Shona Vertue
5-minute warm-up (I’ve enjoyed using skipping recently!)
Upper focus
TUESDAY10-minute morning sequence by Shona Vertue
5-minute warm-up (I’ve enjoyed using skipping recently!)
Lower focus
WEDNESDAY10-minute morning sequence by Shona Vertue
5-minute warm-up (I’ve enjoyed using skipping recently!)
Upper focus
THURSDAY10-minute morning sequence by Shona Vertue
5-minute warm-up (I’ve enjoyed using skipping recently!)
Lower focus
FRIDAYRest
SATURDAY10-minute morning sequence by Shona Vertue
5-minute warm-up (I’ve enjoyed using skipping recently!)
HIIT
SUNDAYRest

Cardiovascular Health

In 2018, my dad went to the hospital after a health scare. It turns out he has cardiomyopathy. This is a genetic condition when one of your heart walls thickens, reducing oxygen delivery. Because there is a chance that it is hereditary, my siblings and I all had a series of tests.

On our first results, we all seemed fine. But then after investigating further, it turned out that I actually had signs of the condition. I went in for another series of tests which a tough time for all of us.

My dad has loved exercising for as long as he can remember, so being told that he had to reduce his weight training and powerlifting was a bit of a blow to him. Like father like daughter though, because as soon as they asked me (and none of my other siblings) for the second round of tests, I was crippled with anxiety. Exercise, especially weight training had been pivotal to improving my mental health. Luckily, it seemed like they couldn’t determine anything specifically but I have had regular check-ups since because of how odd my results came out.

My potential heart condition has led me to take it easy with my training. If ever, I feel any sort of pain in my chest I have stopped workouts prematurely, out of fear and caution.

Being flexible and adjusting where necessary is important. I had considered just stopping exercise all together after the anxiety around this, and I could’ve gone ahead but I know how good it is for me overall. This was something that I just had to adapt to, and continue to today!

Food and ‘diet’

Hand-in-hand with exercise is always food. Overall, I’m in the happiest place when it comes to food at the moment. I feel like I’ve found a healthy balance of eating whatever I want at the time as well as ensuring I eat enough food to feel good.

Back in 2017-2018 period, I most definitely ate too little. Looking back at myself during this time, I realised how much smaller I looked and how I was exercising and eating to become as small as possible. At the time, I focused so much on being lean that I pretty much only ate kale and a bit of chicken at lunch (which by the way, was my first meal of the day because I fasted until lunch) then had a considerably small dinner too. I hardly snacked or had any other meals! On top of it, I was exercising in the mornings as well as walking everywhere so was burning loads of calories. There were more days than not where I felt like I had such low energy… I wasn’t eating enough!

A favourite brunch recently!
A favourite brunch recently!

I realised that the more I focused on food with things like tracking on MyFitnessPal or saying “oh sorry, I can’t because it’s unhealthy” or “Oh yes I can because it’s my cheat day today!” ultimately made me miserable.

Long-term it just wasn’t sustainable. Since moving out and learning to cook, I started experimenting with food that I wanted to eat. I began eating until I was full, I stopped eyeballing how many calories something was and I completely stopped tracking. I relaxed a little, ate out more with friends, enjoyed treats whenever I craved it.

Body image

2016, 2017, 2020

I’ve also been following fitness influencer, Stephanie Buttermore. After following her “All In” journey, I began to realise that I was on my way to developing an eating disorder with the obsessive way I was thinking about food. My restrictive diet in the past caused me to miss periods in 2017-2018 and even though I was lean, I was far from healthy. Stephanie inspired me to stop doing that to myself and now even though I’m bigger and less lean, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

I love how fuller and healthier I look compared to my slimmer self. The better relationship I have with food is just more sustainable long term.

I have to be honest though – on some days, I felt “too big”. Especially when I would look back at old phones of myself and see no stomach rolls in sight. I’d get upset when I look at selfies and see that my cheeks looked puffer and bigger compared to before.

On days like these, I always look through Steph’s Instagram to remind myself that I am more than my weight or how my body looks. I’ve also started following various body positivity folks on Instagram who remind me this all the time! It can get overwhelming when everyone you’re looking at on Instagram is flawless with their six-pack abs and this distorts your reality of the definition of health.

At the end of the day as well, pictures on Instagram are deceiving. Sometimes, we all just need to have a bit of reality check. 👌🏻

Mental Health

COVID-19 Anxiety

Like most folks, my anxiety flared up when coronavirus broke out. With frequent breakdowns and feeling more depressed as days dragged out, I wasn’t in the best place mentally over the past few months.

I’ve tried my best to keep afloat by regularly remind myself that I’m lucky to still have a job that I love, a place to live and to have a supportive network around me. Over time, I also slowly stopped watching so much news but kept myself informed as much as I could. Having access to so much information is a privilege these days, but is something I have worked hard to consume much more mindfully. Although I’m still finding a balance, I’m getting better.

Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I tend to return back to the basics. For me, that’s exercise as I described above but also things like going out for a walk (socially distanced, of course), having screen-free time, talking to friends and family, reading and consuming my favourite content.

Sleep

As always, I’m still obsessed with optimising my sleep. With everything that has gone on this year, I have to say the quality of my sleep hasn’t been the greatest. But I’m persevering to learn different ways to improve quality! I use an app called AutoSleep to track the amount of zzz’s I collect every night.

A graph of hours of sleep against the whole year (2019-2020)
Data collected from AutoSleep, running from December 2019 to August 2020.

Tracking mood and meditation

I’ve also tried to track some reflections every day. To check-in with myself, I’ve been using Youper – an app that acts as a virtual, personal therapist – every day since lockdown. It has been a fantastic way to take some time to myself, reflect and observe ways to identify triggers to improve my mental health.

(I had the opportunity to do a short review on Youper’s YouTube channel recently, you can check it out below.)

At the same time, I’ve also taken on meditation again. Over the past few years, I’ve been using Calm to help me with my meditation practice but to keep things fresh, I’ve switched over to Headspace. It has been nice to start up regular meditation sessions and just… breathe. Headspace also released a podcast which I like to tune into to help me gain some perspective during the madness at the moment.

Reminder for future me: just breathe.


Sustainability was a key focus area this year for me.

Reframing my mind to a more healthy, sustainable way of living has been a vital part of my journey. I’m glad that I got to this point today; here’s to another year of #PawGainz 💪🏼

4 responses to “Sustainability in my health & wellness journey”

  1. This is especially an area you’ve always inspired me. You always seemed so good at this, but it is nice to see that we all can struggle with stuff like this. The heart thing sounds scary, but I’m glad you’re trying to be mindful of that but not letting it totally get in your way either.

    I really need to get exercising. I haven’t for ages. I need to lose some weight (for health reasons since I’m a bit over, and to feel better). For me I’m the opposite, I sometimes have to make myself do stuff, but usually feel really good after.

    Anyway, keep being awesome!

    1. Thanks so much Megan 🥰 I know how good exercise has been for my mental health and so even though the heart thing is kind of worrying, I’m trying not to let it take over my whole life. A mindful approach should do it!

      Sometimes we just need to set ourselves a little bit of a reminder 💜 Exercise to feel good!! Set that as a goal to help motivate you when you’re just not feeling it. You’ve got this Megan!

  2. That’s amazing! I’ve been working on being healthier because I have diabetes in my family and don’t want that, so I’ve been working on losing weight and it’s been working!

    You look great!

    1. Thanks Michelle, it’s something that I’m *super* proud of. 😊 Keep going!

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