Being consistently sensible

I know you know that I like to post about fitness. Yes, we all know this and I also know that some people find it very annoying (by the way, you’re not obliged to be friends with me on facebook or to read what I write here if you don’t like what I post ūüôā I am not holding a gun to your head). I’m sure lots of people think I do it because I love myself or because I have this amazing body or some such nonsense. Actually, neither of those things are true. I do it because I have had a ‘complicated’ relationship with food and exercise in the past and guess what….lots of girls and women do and it’s not healthy or normal or acceptable. Actually, it’s very sad and, for the most part, it’s kept hidden because it’s not very attractive to talk about how you hate how you look.

The reason why I post about doing exercise and eating right, is because I have all but ruined my metabolism through starving myself and then eating badly, exercising on next to no food and over-eating (I don’t believe I’ve ever properly binged as in a tub of ice-cream, packet of biscuits, 3 burgers etc. Some girls do this…in secret, of course). I don’t do these things anymore and I would like whoever stumbles across this blog to know that there is a way of ‘healing’ from this vicious cycle, but that it won’t necessarily mean that you finally end up with your dream body. You just come to accept that you are a work in progress.

Women in my family have struggled with their weight and it rubs off on younger children. If I ever have children, I would like to be so careful in this regard. It’s not anyone’s fault but it’s very easy to damage a little girl’s perception of what is healthy and normal and what she should/should not be eating.

I would like people to acknowledge, and to be sensitive to the fact, that there are a lot of girls and women who obsess about food and who feel trapped in a cycle of restricting their diets and then binging from the pressure of eating so little. You wouldn’t believe how widespread this is. There are a lot of women who have wrecked their metabolisms and they have to recover from that. Please don’t dismiss them when they try to hold themselves accountable by posting on social media about their new healthy and reasonable eating habits. Personally, it’s a great help for me to do it because it helps me to be consistent (I am also part of a private group where I can do this and be in a little community. It helps a lot!). If the world of facebook knows I am going to go to the gym and not just skip breakfast and eat cookies for lunch, then I will do it and I will keep on doing this.

If I were posting about the cake I baked and ate all to myself this morning, I don’t think anyone would object (in fact, it would probably get a lot of ‘likes’), but if I say that I’m happy because I managed to do X exercise in the gym, I’m told to calm down. Which is the better option for me, physically and mentally? Can we please encourage each other to have a sensible lifestyle?

Keep going!

I have just got back from the best run! I absolutely love runs like that, where I time my snack just right (for me, about 2 hours before works), warm up (5 minute walk uphill), stretch really well (stretch your calves especially, hold the stretch for 15 seconds on each leg and repeat 3 times) and then I’m off! Tonight, I was running like a crazy woman!

On the longer route that I do at home, I have to run through the centre of the village which has three pubs and, at this time of night and at this time of the week, there are tons of people outside enjoying a pint. I always feel incredibly self-conscious, especially because my village is so hilly and so the run is always hard (which is why I do it). Tonight, I ran down the hill past all the pubs on the beginning of my route and then I decided to take a different route home and add in that hill to all the others (I do a loop which requires going down some hills on the way ‘out’, so to speak, but you’ve got to run up them all on the way home). It was the best feeling to run up a hill that I have literally dreamed of being able to do…and it wasn’t even hard!!

Recently, I have been having really really goods runs. I mean, there are steep hills everywhere around here and I’ve been doing 11k+ runs with ease. I am the person who was fat all the way through school (yes, I was FAT not curvy, FAT), until I was 17. I used to try to make myself ill, I hated sports lessons that much. Once, a friend and I drank a pint of milk and then a pint of orange juice afterwards because she had read that the orange would curdle the milk in your stomach and make you vomit (it didn’t work). That is how much I hated sport. When I first started running, I could not even run 100m. That’s not an exaggeration. I absolutely despised myself…

One day, I just got sick of what I saw in the mirror and I pushed and pushed myself and lost 2 stone. Building up my fitness was bloody awful. It was pure pain and I paid in sweat for every step that I was able to do.

I’ve been through so many stages in terms of my level of fitness and how I look and I have bordered on obsessive eating habits before but I have never totally stopped exercising since I was 17…and I’m 25 now. That’s 8 years of sweating and sweating, running in the rain, making myself go to the gym early in the morning and late at night, cycling to the gym in Corsica on a dual carriage way (not sure that was legal, but hey, it was Corsica) and killing myself in the fitness classes. All this, when many of my friends just ate what they wanted and looked amazing.

Last year was so frustrating for me because I was working full-time the other side of the city with 3 hours of travel everyday and then 40 Days For Life was happening with work and my driving test and I just didn’t have time for exercise. I had gained a ton of weight when I wasn’t working and it just wasn’t coming off, even though I was eating healthy foods and trying to get in exercise when I could. But I didn’t give up! Now, I have the time to exercise and although my body doesn’t really reflect how far I can run or how strong I am right now, that’s ok, because I’m not going to give up. I get a kick out of running up a huge hill with ease, knowing that I don’t look like I could do it. Being fit does not necessarily mean being thin! It took me years to learn this. In school, I was so jealous of skinny girls, but now I’m (kind of, sort of) thankful that I gain weight easily because it means that I don’t abuse my body with fatty foods. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t love to eat whatever I want and not gain weight, but it wouldn’t be good for me in the long term.

Why am I writing this? Not because I think I’m so great, but because I know that I need the motivation of reading stories of people who haven’t given up on themselves, who take the time to look after the body that God gave them, to eat properly and exercise and not to get disheartened because they’re not stick thin. Every workout that you get in makes a real difference so just keep going! It all adds up in the end so don’t think that just because you can’t do it everyday this week, that you shouldn’t do it just this once. Remember that no matter how slow you are going, you are still lapping everyone on the couch.

To begin…and to begin again

Now that 40 Days For Life is over and I have passed my driving test, I finally have my evenings and weekends back and that means that I have time to exercise again. I’ve been so sedentary for the past few weeks and it’s tempting not to want to go back to exercise, to get used to feeling sluggish, but that’s just not an option for me. For one thing, I am far too vain!

Recently, I’ve¬†been going back to exercise (see this and this post) only to have to stop almost completely because of other commitments. I used to be so fit; I have been in amazing shape before but I have to be able to commit at least an hour a day to it and that has not been feasible for me for so long. That makes me so sad! I know it’s vain, but I hate not being in good shape.

I don’t¬†regret doing those things at all – they have been so worthwhile – but that quote regarding our interior lives that I posted here from St Josemaria has been in my head recently:

“Your interior life has to be just that: to begin… and to begin again”

Yes, we will go through periods of time where we have a decent amount of time to pray, we get into a routine and we feel happy with how everything is going, but then life gets in the way and you lose your routine, you feel as if you’re drifting from God and suddenly you haven’t prayed your Rosary in a week. Well, that’s how I feel when I’m trying to take care of my body but, in the same way, it’s just a matter of getting back on the horse. What good will it do you if you give up? If you have to begin again 10,000 times over, so be it. It’s the only thing you can do, so don’t give up on yourself!



British Military Fitness

Long suffering readers of my blog (all 16 of them) will know that I like to¬†try¬†to keep fit. I don’t say that I always succeed, but my situation is a bit like what Venerable Fulton Sheen said about Catholics – they get off the road like anybody else but they never throw away the map. Now, I know what I¬†should¬†be doing, it’s just that the pub beckons and one cider leads to another (as I’m sure you know). I see this as a good and a bad thing. It’s wonderful to be in the best shape of your life; there is nothing like trying on a pair of jeans and knowing that they fit like a glove. Then again, is it worth missing all that time with your friends? You’ve got your jeans but no good memories of talking with your friends over a bottle of wine and a nice meal. Nonetheless, in the 7 years since I took up exercise, I’ve never totally stopped and since my last posts on fitness, I’ve been doing quite well really. When a Groupon offer for 6 sessions with British Military Fitness (BMF) presented itself, I thought I’d give it a go.

I went to one BMF session at the end of my second year with my outrageously fit friend who beat everyone in our group (all BMF sessions are separated into groups with different coloured bibs: Blue for beginners, Red for intermediate and Green for advanced). I think I did pretty well but then I left to go on my year abroad to Corsica and when I came back, I got into running with my housemates and I was heavily involved with the uni pro-life society and all the trouble we had with the monkeys running the Student Union (when I say “running the Student Union”, what I¬†actually¬†mean is it was a complete farce)¬†over their dictatorial pro-abortion stance, so I didn’t actually have that much time for anything else. Now, I’m working full-time, preparing for my impending driving test and preparing for 40 Days For Life (25th September – 3rd November). Nevertheless, not turning into a giant mound of lard is still quite high up on my list of priorities for some reason.

I’m sorry to say that my first BMF session last Saturday was a bit of a fail. I made it through the session, but it was the weekend after Walsingham and I just don’t seem to be able to sleep on pilgrimage (I suspect it might have something to do with the hard floors) so I got no sleep on pilgrimage and then for various reasons got very little sleep during the week. The long and short of it is I nearly passed out and could be seen bent double trying to catch my breath after every set, feeling like I’d been winded. Yes, not good. Rest up before intensive exercise is the lesson from that disaster! I felt quite embarrassed about it because I think the only person slower than me in the group was an elderly lady who really shouldn’t have been there anyway. Hmmm.

However, after a few days of good rest and early nights, I thought I’d give it a go and said a prayer to Our Lady of Perpetual Help for good measure just beforehand¬†(I keep this icon, in the form of a prayer card, on my desk at work. I actually found the prayer card at a church with a horrendous mass but a lovely selection of prayer cards on sale. Every cloud…).

I must tell you that BMF is quite tough, even with the groups. I feel I have to say that because I, for one, like to know these things. It’s good to mentally prepare yourself!

Like this but more sweaty.

One of the first things we did, after the warm-up (which was the usual running back and forth, high knees, heel flicks, lunges etc etc), was to get into partners and give a piggy back to your partner across the field. Now, I am well experienced in the art of piggy backs but I’m usually carrying a 4 year old and I’ve never been carried by someone I met oh…10 seconds ago. Anyway, I did it and I survived (and she survived too, which was a relief). Every session is different (and we had a different instructor this time too) but this one involved the three groups (blue, red and green) being all together but with the blues doing the least number of reps of whatever exercise it was (press-ups, burpees, squats, lunges etc), reds do 2-4 more than blues and greens do 2-4 more again than the reds. I was in blues (you pick which group you go in, but be realistic!). It was tough because we’d do 8 burpees, for example, and then run to a tree the other side of the rugby pitch and come back again, do 8 star jumps and then 8 press-ups and run to the tree again and repeat this over and over. Even when you’re on a break, you’re jogging on the spot (I say jogging…the instructor actually called it ‘pitter-patter’ which is probably more accurate. Sometimes, I didn’t even bother doing that). Having said that, he does change it a lot. You never get bored and it is a full body work out, which is what you want (well, it’s what I want anyway!).

The BMF website says, 

All our 500 plus instructors are serving or former members of the armed forces. Highly trained, experienced, and responsible in their approach to training.

…and they really are. They’re not too shouty either. I mean, they do shout, but that’s because you are somewhere over near the tree, the other side of the field. There was also a really good feeling in the group with everyone having a laugh. Even the super duper fit ones were feeling it and the instructor is good fun. If he shouts at you that you need to run all the way because if you don’t you’re only cheating yourself, he’s right. Nobody is forcing me to be here. I paid for this. I am not going to moan all the way through because this man would not be making me do the plank if I had not asked him to make me do it. It’s for my own good – no pain, no gain. There is no magic pill, no magic diet. If you want to look good, you have to work hard. There it is.

Anyway, unbeknownst to me, we were very nearly at the end of the one-hour session when he (I didn’t catch his name) told us to get in two lines, facing each other. He told us to get into the squat position (see below) and hold this position. If we saw anyone wavering, we were to shout “Cheat!” and that person would be out. Well, as someone in the group said, “No one likes a grass”, so in the end, the instructor had to do it. As with everything we did, I was just focused on getting through it.

Squat position

So, I got into the squat position and a few people went out in the first 30 seconds or so. I was just looking at the ground, keeping myself to myself. He was calling out other people and they were going out too. I didn’t think anything of it; I kept my eyes down. Anyway, I suppose a minute (or maybe two minutes, I have no idea) had elapsed and I look up and there’s just little old me and some super fit man from the reds left! People are cheering me on and I’m just shocked. So, I keep at it, I feel ok…a little more time goes by and I keep looking at the ground. All of a sudden, this other man bows out and I’m the only one left and I have beaten them all! WHUT! I tell you what, the only other time I’ve been more shocked is when I got my first ‘first class’ essay in uni! I couldn’t believe it. It just proves that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and because you do such a range of exercises with the BMF, I suppose you’re bound to find¬†something that you’re good at. Well, there you go. A lovely surprise which has spurred me on no end.

I don’t know if I’ve given the most encouraging account of the BMF, but if you want to get in shape, this is a pretty inexpensive and fun way of doing it. If I’m going to put myself through pain, I’d rather do it with a group of other people instead of being on my own. You also have all the knowledge and experience of the instructor, who is in the armed forces. You can’t really get better than that, if you think about it.

Keen for quinoa

So, with regards to the old fitness, it hasn’t gone¬†quite as well as in the first week but I am still going running 3 or 4 times a week and that is the important thing! I haven’t done 11k since that last time but every run has been 8k, which is not bad. I am finding that, whereas before I would get up at 6am to do a run before going to work if I had to, now I am definitely not motivated to do that. Running just before sunset is my favourite time so there are some days when I am just not around or don’t have the time to do it then. I have been using my exercise bike a bit though. The other day, I didn’t have time to exercise until about 9.30pm, but I just cycled through two episodes of ‘Nashville’ (my new favourite thing to watch! It’s a bit cheesy but I just love it now. On a different note, Hayden Panettiere, an actress in the show, said this about motherhood!), which was about an hour and a half. Happy with that!

Now, the next step is healthy eating. I’m not one of those people who has a take away every other night and eats a ton of processed food. Thank goodness I will never need to be taught how to identify what is healthy and unhealthy. Believe me when I say that I know the approximate calorific content of most food and what is good for a workout (I have read my fair share of fitness and nutrition magazines and books!). ¬†I genuinely like vegetables and lean foods, so that’s not a problem. However, whereas I can pass on the savoury most of the time, sugar is my big downfall. The other day, my own mother shamed me into not eating a chocolate biscuit with my breakfast (and let me tell you that this was not going to be the only biscuit of the day!). I know I shouldn’t be having it with my cereal but she came out and said it and then I had to admit to myself that, since Lent (where I gave up all sugar), I have been going a bit crazy on the ol’ sugar. So, that’s something that I am trying to reduce a bit. I’m not going to totally cut it out, because I do crave it and it does motivate me to actually do a run so that I can justify having sugar in my day.

With healthy eating in mind, and having watched one of Sarah Dussault’s youtube videos about what she puts in a salad, I decided I would finally give quinoa a go (apparently it’s pronounced ‘keen-wah’, though I’m not one of those snobs who corrects someone because I think there is a better way of saying ‘chorizo’, so say whatever you want!). I’ve eaten it in salads before, but, since being at home, I’ve never made it myself because I assumed it was hard to cook and because I know that my Mum and Dad would not like it (when I say my Dad likes potatoes, I mean he¬†really likes them!). When I do cook a meal for my parents (and I’m actually not bad at cooking), my Mum goes all silent and when I ask her if she liked it, she says, in a high-pitched voice, “Yeah, yeah, it was…fine”. Oh, fine, was it?! Wrong answer.

Anyway, Sarah suggested putting quinoa in your salad. I had read about this in a food column at the back of the Stella magazine (and of course it’s been a fashionable ingredient for a good while now…), which comes with the Sunday Telegraph, and therefore knew that it was high in protein, which is always good! I remembered that the food column had mentioned that it tasted a bit plain if it wasn’t roasted in a pan before you cook it, so I knew this was what I should do. However, on the packet it said that you should wash it beforehand. Well, quinoa grains are very small so I wasn’t sure how I should drain it. I gave it a go but lots of bits went into the sink when I tried to drain it and I could see that it wasn’t roasting when I put it in the pan, so I chucked that batch. I started again, not washing it this time, and putting about a teaspoon of olive oil in the pan (I used a frying pan and then transferred it to a normal pan to cook it with water). This worked well so I moved it around for about a minute before adding water to it and cooking it out for about 20 minutes. In hindsight, I think I will add less water to it (the packet said 360mls of water for 60g of quinoa) because you’re supposed to cook out the water (a bit like what happens when you cook couscous, where the water is sucked up by the grains, except you cook it on a stove) but by the end of about 20-25 minutes, it was still a bit moist. I ate it anyway and I realised why it should have been washed. It wasn’t inedible but it was definitely a bit bitter. I’ll put some instructions below with some advice on how to clean it because I think it would have been more enjoyable if I had done that. I can say that I am feeling nicely full now though and I ate with lots of vegetables too, so I feel quite virtuous too :p

I ate mine with an edamame bean salad that I bought from Waitrose (very tasty!) and some green peppers that I left as thick strips, drizzled with a little olive oil, seasoned and roasted in the oven for about 25 minutes on gas mark 6. If you’re unfamiliar with roasting veggies, it’s delicious and very easy to do. Just rub a little oil on whatever vegetable (usually root vegetables work the best…), season with salt and pepper and roast it in the oven, on a high-ish heat until it has gone soft and caramelised a little. You can add herbs and so on if you like.

The end result.

The end result.

How to cook quinoa (serves 1)

– 60g quinoa

– 340-360 mls water (you can add stock too; I think that granules are fine. I add them when I cook cous cous – either chicken or vegetable. Beef granules taste horrible, I think)

– A pinch of salt (not needed if you’re using stock as that will have plenty of salt in it already)

– 1/2 teaspoon Olive Oil


1. Measure out 60g of quinoa (I have some digital scales for this. If you’ve never tried them, they’re very useful and not very expensive)

2. Empty the quinoa into a sieve and put it under some running cold water. You can use your fingers but I think it would be better to use a wooden spoon to move the quinoa around as I found it stuck to my fingers.

I found this on a cooking website, which explain why it needs to be washed:

Rinsing removes quinoa’s natural coating, called¬†saponin, which can make it taste bitter or soapy. Although boxed quinoa is often pre-rinsed, it doesn’t hurt to give the seeds an additional rinse at home. Some cookbooks suggest soaking the quinoa but, in our experience, this is unnecessary.

So, now you know.

3. After draining the quinoa as much as you can, heat the olive oil in a pan and add the quinoa. Move the quinoa around with the same wooden spoon for about a minute. I think the goal is to cook it out a little bit to get the nutty flavour.

4.¬†If you have used a normal pan, keep the quinoa in that and add the water. If not, empty it from the frying pan into a normal pan and add the water (with the stock, if you’re using it). The water should be fresh water, not boiling.

5.¬†Bring the water to the boil and then allow it to simmer for 20 minutes with a lid on. Keep the heat as low as possible, whilst allowing it to be high enough for it to simmer gently. I’d keep an eye on it while it cooks to make sure that it doesn’t become too dry and burn. One website suggested cooking it for 15 minutes and then turning off the heat and letting it stand with the lid on. Well, I had added too much water so I cooked it for about 20-25 minutes and then let it stand for another 5 with the lid on.

6.¬†Take the lid off and stir the cooked quinoa with a fork so that it goes ‘fluffy’.

7.¬†¬†Eat it! ūüôā From what I understand, quinoa can be used in the same way as couscous. Mix it into a salad, eat it with curry or whatever else. I almost never eat rice if I’m cooking for myself and use couscous in its place, so I might start to eat a bit more quinoa in place of couscous as I believe it has slightly more protein.

Go forth and be healthy!