The mental health benefits of sport

Exercise has lots of known benefits – improved cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, increased bone density etc., but the mental health benefits are, if not ignored, rarely celebrated as much as the physical – there’s no ‘before and after’ transformation photo, little obvious outwardly change… and yet for me, the mental health benefits of exercise are SO much more important than anything else. Better still than simply exercising, SPORTS can have an even larger positive effect. Initiatives such as England Athletics’ #runandtalk and Sport England’s ‘Get Set to Go‘ have started to open up the conversation about mental health, as well as make social sports more accessible to all.

Countless studies have linked physical activity to lower levels of anxiety, depression and stress, even improving conditions such as ADHD and PTSD – and there’s a particular class of exercise that does it better than any other. Sports – the kind of exercise where there’s a particular goal – has helped me and countless others both physically and mentally.

Throughout my life I have gone through various sports, training consistently, motivated by the daily mental improvements it helped me feel. When I was 15 I got into squash in a big way – it was the antidote to all negative emotions I had been feeling for many years. Constantly exhausted, depressed and feeling powerless, with low self-esteem to boot, I disliked school and struggled everyday, sadly assuming that that was just how I was meant to feel. As a teenager at a top school, I felt pressure to perform in academics whilst excelling in my social life, physical health, looks and home life – an impossible task that left me always feeling like I was running in a hamster wheel just to stay in the same place.

Getting up and doing things wasn’t always on the front of my mind during the time I was depressed. Although I was at boarding school and had little choice in the matter, I would sometimes zombie my way through the days, and sports was initially a real struggle – I hated it until I was 15 because I was bad at everything I had tried. However, school did teach me the discipline of getting up and out even when I didn’t want to. Especially when I didn’t want to. Being semi forced to play a sport 3 times a week was so tough at first, but once I paid attention to how it made me feel, I would start to look forward to the times I could leave the classroom and head to the court, ready to set aside the day’s worries and fall into the rhythm of training. For anyone struggling with depression and/or anxiety, one quick piece of advice is to get out into nature. Walking is good, running is better. Just keep moving forwards – it does wonders for your mind.

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Vitamin D deficiency is common in the UK and can worsen depression – get outside!

Through daily squash training I was able to see myself improving, getting stronger, fitter and faster whilst spending time with a community that was entirely focussed on enjoyment and improvement. There’s nothing better for your self-esteem than working hard to reach a goal and your hard work paying off. If it’s possible to get addicted to exercise I did, training up to 7h a week on top of other sports. The intensity at which I worked meant that over the following 2 years I became good enough to compete in the national schools championships as the number 1 player for my school. But it wasn’t the winning I cared about – the best thing about it was the way it made me feel. It was that high that I was chasing. When you feel totally out of control with your life, having that one thing that you can control is a godsend.

I also started horse riding in a serious way at this point. The unique thing with horse riding is that horses are terrifyingly good at mirroring emotions. It is impossible to feel stressed or distracted whilst jumping around a ring if you actually want to get very far. So every time I headed to the stables I learned to leave my fears and worries at the stable door and spend an hour without focussing on anything but me and the 17hh (huge) muscle machine beneath me.

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Nothing beats the feeling of horse riding

After I left school I wasn’t able to play squash or ride so much – frequent travel before heading to university meant that it was impossible to find a routine, but the discipline training taught me translated well into other areas of my life. I still revelled in playing squash when I got the chance and picked it up any time I had the opportunity. Being good isn’t the point – it’s all the other benefits that are there regardless of your standard. My year away from the stresses of education tempered my obsession with exercising, allowing me to enjoy it for what it was every time I played. I learned balance and the importance of working on all aspects of health and happiness, including taking care of my body, resting and fuelling it properly. No more 10h training weeks and hello rest days.

Once I arrived at university I picked up running and whilst I loved it, it didn’t hold the same mind-clearing properties that squash and riding had before. I spent university mixing up weights in the gym and running, but I was missing that little extra something you get when you really ‘click’ with a sport. Leaving university led me to boxing, which I now practise weekly. I’m not the first person to talk about the benefits of boxing for mental health – Prince Harry alerted the nation of the power of boxing for coping with mental stress back in April. Multiple professional boxers have done the same, despite the history of corruption in some areas of the sport. Ellie Goulding, too, voiced almost exactly my sentiments about the sport:

“It wasn’t about any change in my outward appearance; it was about seeing and feeling myself get better and stronger. It carried over into other areas of my life, and now I truly feel that exercise – however you like to work out – is good for the soul,”

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The university athletics club kept me busy and fit

What all of the above sports have in common, I have now realised, is that they don’t allow any space or time for outside emotions and negativity to join. Focussing your attention on your goal – the next shot, the perfect line into a jump, the rhythm of your punches – leads to a sense of power and achievement at the end of a session that isn’t found anywhere else. It’s a kind of enforced mindfulness not found in all forms of exercise, banishing dark thoughts whilst simultaneously releasing endorphins and shifting your focus from the future in the outside world to the now in your personal world.

Above are three sports that have helped me more than I can tell you. The combination of the physical, mental and emotional benefits beat any pill or any diet, and now that I feel I have achieved the perfect balance of exercise, nutrition and rest, I have never been so happy.

Everyone’s go-to sport for relaxation will be different – some will find this with weights, others with running (runners high is a real thing) and still others walking round a park. The trick is to find what does it for you and do that.

I really hope you have found this article useful – I feel so lucky to have been able to find so many sports that I love throughout my life, and now want to spend time spreading the word about the benefits of sport and exercise. You don’t have to be depressed or have a diagnosed conditions to feel the benefits. They’re there for all of us. What does exercise do for you?

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Further reading:

If you struggle with depression this is pretty helpful (it’s the little steps that make all the difference!)

This goes into some depth about benefits for sufferers of OCD

See infographic below for some more benefits for everyone!

“Studies conducted on mice have shown that exercising on a running wheel helps them sprout new connections between neurons in their brains. Exercise may cause the release of “growth factors,” which trigger neurons to make new connections. These new connections may help to reduce symptoms of OCD. Exercise also promotes the release of endorphins, “feel good” neurochemicals, boosting mood and fending off stress.”

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Holiday fitness – how to stay on track

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Holidays are a great time to pick up something new – waterskiing KILLS my glutes

Holiday time! The moment we can get away from everyday life, relax and enjoy ourselves. But for people on a fitness and health journey, holidays can sometimes be a time of anxiety, getting away from the everyday routine that they’ve come to rely on to see results. For others it can be an excuse to abandon healthy eating and exercising, which can see you go back on months of progress.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I love holidays, I love good food and I think it’s amazing to be able to take a proper rest from working out every now and again. However, I also have been in both positions here: where I have temporarily ‘fallen off the bandwagon’ and also where I overexercise in order to compensate for what I deemed ‘bad’ foods. After years of trying, I have finally got the balance of health on holiday right – I’m able to enjoy the holiday without feeling the need to overdo it – on either food or exercise.

 

You should return from your holidays feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. If you’ve got a rigid workout routine at home, think about this time as a chance to shock your body by doing different exercises, so that when you return you are able to continue seeing progress that perhaps wasn’t so fast before.

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Walk/run – it’s a great way to see lots of your destination in a short space of time

 

My top tips:

  • Eat three meals a day. It can be tempting to skip meals, or to graze throughout the day, especially if your accommodation is all-inclusive. Try to stick to regular meal times and not eat in between unless you’re actually hungry. The heat may make you feel less hungry, but having a health salad midday can help you to make healthy choices when it comes to dinnertime.

 

  • Move! Gymming is 100% NOT the only form of exercise. In fact, it is only one of almost countless ways to get your heart rate up. Walking and running are great ways to explore a city or the surrounding countryside. Ask your hotel for good running routes and don’t forget to take water. Even just walking around the local town for half a day or doing an hours swimming should be sufficient for a day’s exercise. Try not to spend entire days doing absolutely nothing.

 

  • Be wary of the buffet – fun though it may seem, buffets are an absolute killer when it comes to a healthy diet. Choose different foods everyday and try not to have a little of everything – four course breakfasts are not ideal if you’re having them everyday! Enjoy the variety, but don’t let it overwhelm you.

 

  • Try a new sport – if you’re in a hot country, maybe try horse riding, surfing or waterskiing, or maybe switch from skiing to snowboarding if you’re on the slopes. Using different muscles to normal can help you progress faster than you would usually. Not to mention it’s great fun to find new sports that you’re good at!

 

  • Drink LOTS of water. This will help keep you full and is super important, especially in hot countries even if you’re not doing very much!

 

  • Find a new gym routine. Often hotel gyms are very basic, with lots of cardio equipment and some light weights. Use this time to practise bodyweight workouts or workout different parts of the body – a 10kg dumbbell might not be much for squats but that’s plenty for an arm workout. Use this to your advantage!

 

Most of all, do what makes you feel good. If you find yourself dreading the even idea of the gym, head outside and do something totally different – it could be your body’s way of saying you’re burnt out. Spend the time remaining active and healthy, but also allowing your body and mind to rest. Enjoy your holiday!

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Maybe a little bit burned, but at least not burnt out.

National Pet Week – how dogs can improve our health

It’s coming up to national pet week, so I thought I’d do a bit of a different post, writing about the positive effects of having a dog. I hope after reading you’ll look at your pet with new found understanding, and if you don’t have one, maybe you’ll adopt, sign up to pet sitting websites like me, or just go on ‘puppy therapy’ walks in the park to get your puppy fix.

Almost everyone I know feels better after contact with a dog, cat or other domesticated animal. There’s something about their unjudging looks and innocence that just makes you feel good. Having signed up for multiple pet sitting websites at university, I know how much of a difference it makes to my happiness when there’s a dog around in the house. But why is it? What is so special about pets – dogs especially – that makes them so wonderful?

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Thomas, the lovely dog I look after in Bristol

A little background: dogs evolved around 130,000 years ago, where they are thought to have originated from grey wolves. They were thought to scavenge food around temporary human settlements (humans hadn’t even moved on from hunter-gatherer societies at this point) and become more and more closely associated with those humans. Those that were the least scared of humans survived better, and over time the friendliest, most trainable and useful dogs were later bred into the many breeds of dog we see today. Some were used for hunting, some for companionship, some as watch dogs – there were even some breeds specifically bred for keeping your feet warm in bed

So what makes dogs (and pets in general) so awesome?

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My adorable pup at home 🙂

Mental benefits

  • People with pets have higher well-being (e.g. greater self esteem, more exercise) and individuality (e.g. higher conscientiousness, less lonely)
  • Pets can alleviate social isolation and reduce negativity from bad social interactions in everyday life.
  • Spending time with animals releases endorphins, the same feel good hormones that we get when we exercise.

Physical benefits

  • Pet owners are less likely to die within 1 year of having a heart attack and elderly people with dogs have fewer medical visits
  • Lower blood pressure and heart rate just from stroking a pet, and also in the long term – those with pets maintained lower blood pressure and cholesterol even when apart from their pets.
  • Encouragement to go outside and walk in fresh air – this has a multitude of physical and mental benefits all by itself.

Has having a pet helped you in any way? Could you consider adopting one if circumstances allowed?

If you’re interested in getting a pet of your own, please consider adopting at your local shelter.

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Graphic thanks to PuppySpot, find a puppy (America)

Top budget picks from MandM direct

When training everyday, it’s important to feel fresh and comfortable every time you start a workout. For me that means wearing different kit for each type of workout. Also, add in that extra motivation bonus of a new pair of trainers and you know you’re hitting a good session!

This means constantly looking for new sports gear and at least enough to get you through the week without resorting to smelly bras from 2 days ago! And when you have an activewear obsession like I do, it’s difficult to buy enough without going massively over budget.

So when I found MandM Direct, I thought I’d share my ‘top budget picks’ with you guys. They sell clothes from so many top brands, including ELLE sport, Puma and New Balance, as well as casual clothes for everyday wear at reduced prices (always up to 75% off!). You can kit yourself head to toe and still have some money left over for your favourite gym class.

I picked out my top choices from the website for under £100 total, saving £157!  That’s for 2 tops, 2 pairs of leggings, trainers and a jacket without breaking the bank.

You can click here to shop the look at MandM Direct

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Elle sport bra – £8.99, Elle sport jacket – £16.99, Puma trainers – £29.99 (!!)

These Puma shoes are my all time favourite to wear and are somewhere between comfy everyday shoes and training shoes. They look amazing and are even comfier – I have barely stopped wearing them since I got them (if you follow me on instagram you will know this)! If you’re looking for a shoe that will look equally stylish walking around London as in the gym, these are for you.

Above outfit all New Balance. Top – £11.99, capris – £16.99

This cute matching kit from New Balance is the ultimate running outfit. It is cool and comfy, and the reflective panelling on the sides mean you’re extra-visible, even at night. I have done Barry’s Bootcamp in the leggings and they definitely hold their own in terms of keeping you dry and comfy throughout. If you’re a fan of Barry’s Bootcamp, you’ll know that that’s not easy!

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 ELLE sport tights – £14.49

This ELLE jacket will really come into its own now it is spring. It’s lightweight, with mesh panels for ventilation, so it’s perfect for those cool evening runs, or heading home after a hot gym session. The zip pockets are also ideal when travelling around at speed – the amount of time I spend thinking I’ve dropped things out of my pockets because they have no zips is ridiculous! Luckily with this jacket that’s not a problem.

I would definitely buy from MandM Direct again, especially considering the diversity and quality of clothes available – have a sift through their website and you’ll find everything you could need for most sports at up to 75% off which, when you’re an active wear addict like me, is invaluable.

Glute activation

This workout is great for preventing injuries when it comes to doing heavier work, such as running and weighted squats. You can also do it in a busy gym or outside – all it requires is a tread (or some outdoor space), some floor space and a kettle bell.

Why glute activation? Most people don’t activate their glutes in day-to-day life, potentially leading to lower back pain, hip pain and potentially other join pain. This is because we compensate for weak glutes by using other muscles, such as our lower back, hamstrings or (like me), quads. This can eat to pain, sub-optimal performance and eventually, injuries.

Most people contract their glutes harder when doing body or lightweight glute exercises than heavy-weight exercises, so the exercises below are great for building the main gluteus muscles, as well as the stabilising muscles around the hip and glutes. Basically, they may not be personal best weight wise, but they may well help you get there (and stop you getting injured along the way!).

Warmup:

10-15 minutes cardio warmup (running or incline walk)

Activation:

  1. Resistance band (RB) glue bridges x15
  2. RB clams x10
  3. Kettle bell (KB) swings x7
  4. KB goblet squat x14
  5. Single leg deadlift x7

Complete the circuit x3

 

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With thanks to Heart Kettlebells for providing me with the beautiful kettle bell!

Get yours here

My daily routine

 

I have been asked many times what I usually eat in a day, how often I workout, what I do when I workout etc etc. At first I wasn’t going to write it – I don’t eat anything special. My diet isn’t an insight into how to get abs or the ‘perfect’ diet, so why would anyone want to see it? But then I thought, that’s why I’m going to write it – my diet isn’t a miracle worker, but then healthiness isn’t a miracle. It requires hard work and dedication, but you also need to have fun. Unless you’re training and eating to compete, ‘clean eating’ just isn’t sustainable or fun enough to contemplate doing all the time (at least for me). So if you’re reading this to find some miracle, you might as well stop. But I hope you don’t, because this is what a real person with real cravings and a real life eats. If you think that it’s filled with superfoods, hours of cardio and no cake, think again!

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I try to run about 4-5 times a week, either on the track or on the treadmill before a workout (photo by @mattlincolnphoto)

Daily diet: I don’t have a standard diet that I stick to everyday – my diet switches up daily and, like most people, I go through phases of eating really healthily and then have days when I eat probably (a lot) more than I should. But that’s balance, and that’s the ethos I live by. I base my diet on vegetables, but enjoy fish, quorn and complex carbs too. I try to limit animal products (except for eggs) and don’t eat meat.

Sleep: Sleep is a huge part of my life. I sleep 8-8.5h per night, although if I had my way it’d probably be more like 9.5-10h. I am a koala bear and can sleep at pretty much any time, anywhere. Sleep is so so important and stops you craving sugary snacks when you hit an energy slump in the afternoon. It also means you can train hard – it’s always so difficult if you’re sleep deprived. A good sleep routine helps me. I usually go to bed by 10, and am asleep before 11pm 🙂

Exercise: My workouts vary from day to day, and I try to mix up the parts of the body worked. I start most workouts with a 2km run or a 15 minute steep incline (8-10%) walk. This is to warm up my legs (especially needed in the winter) and increase my heart rate. This is all the cardio I do unless I got to track to train with the athletics club! I go for 2km in under 8 minutes, but of course everyone will vary. I workout abs twice a week at least, legs/butt I leave to running and arms/shoulders/back twice. Any remaining workouts are usually at the running, boxing or classes to mix things up a little. Sometimes I do full body workouts, which follow a Barry’s Bootcamp style (run, circuit, run circuit etc.). These are amazing if you want to burn fat, as they incorporate weights and cardio.

Supplements:

BCAA – Branched chain amino acids. These are three of the nine essential amino acids in humans and help muscles recover and grow after exercise. They may help reduce fatigue and DOMS in athletes. However, BCAAs probably aren’t required if you get lots of protein in your diet.

Protein – Similar to BCAAs, protein supplementation helps fix minute tears in muscle fibres after exercise. Having protein shakes is really useful if you’re not going to eat in the 45 minutes after exercise, as this is when protein is most needed by the body. I mostly use vegan protein, as whey, whilst it is absorbed more easily into the body, may not be as good for you in the long run (another post entirely)! I love strippd vanilla pea and hemp protein and am also a massive fan of Nutristrength whey isolate, which is kind on your stomach and really natural even if you’re lactose intolerant. Use FLORA15 if you’d like 15% off!

Multi-vitamins – I take multi-vitaminseveryday. They’re useful if you’re vegan or have a restrictive diet, although most people should have enough of the vitamins in their diet in general if you eat a variety of foods!

Ginkgo – Ginkgo has been used as a supplement for thousands of years in China. Whilst I’m wary of anecdotes about the wonders of traditional medicine, gingko has been widely researched and shown to slightly boost memory and cognitive speed. It may improve circulation (much needed for me) and increase energy levels.

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BCAAs, protein, snack bar and some other essentials I take to the gym

Day 1:

Breakfast: Smoothie bowl (check out some of my favourite recipes here and here) topped with muesli and crystallised ginger.

Lunch: Wholemeal pitta filled with vegetables I roasted over the weekend (squash, parsnip, carrot, tomato, kale), tomato paste, chilli flakes and mozzarella. Plain yogurt for dessert.

Snack: A protein bar/shake and some BCAAs after my workout.

Dinner: Homemade sweet potato and chickpea curry with Pollock

Dessert: Protein banana nice cream (food of the gods)

 

Day 2:

Breakfast: Bowl of chia and oat protein pudding (half chia and oats, mixed with almond milk or water and protein powder).

Snack: Slice of homemade beetroot chocolate cake

Lunch: Sourdough toast, ½ avocado, 2 scrambled eggs, polenta

Post-workout snack: Grenade carb-killa protein shake, BCAAs

Dinner: 2 egg omelette, quorn chicken pieces, kale, tomato

Pre-bedtime snack: cereal and crystallised ginger with coconut and protein powder.

 

Day 3:

Breakfast: Scrambled eggs (2) on homemade protein toast

Snack: Apple and peanut butter

Lunch: Kind bar and protein shake (I was full!)

Dinner: (LOTS of) Homemade veggie lasagne with apple crumble for pudding

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Apple crumble! I could eat this all day everyday ❤

I hope you find that useful, and don’t hesitate to ask any questions you might have. Remember, being healthy is not a miracle and it’s not a diet. It’s got to be a sustainable way of living, and one that you enjoy doing!

Interview for Umoyo active

I was interviewed by the new fitness brand, Umoyo Active last summer about my fitness motivation, my instagram and all things healthy living! Here’s what I said:

 

  • When and why did you decide to create your ‘food_fitness_flora’ blog?

I created my Instagram when I was around 17. It originally started as a reminder that everyone needs to eat food at least 3 times a day. I used to be quite obsessive over my eating and exercise, and the Instagram community really helped me overcome the problems I had. It slowly changed into a positive page about food and fitness, but originally it was a support page.

  • What does your blog involve?

My IG involves my life, basically. It documents my meals (albeit only the pretty ones) and my workouts, which I try to do everyday. I also try to inspire others to live as well as they can, in regards to health and fitness. My blog is filled with recipes and reviews of products and gyms, as well as longer posts regarding matters such as healthy eating and food and fitness culture 🙂

  • Who are you speaking out to and why? 

Anyone and everyone. Anyone who is already living the fitness lifestyle, anyone who wants to and anyone who just needs a bit of food inspiration and fitness motivation! I don’t think there’s any particular age group or type of person that I am speaking to in particular.

  •  What does a ‘healthy lifestyle’ mean to you?

Healthy to me means balanced. Orthorexia (obsession with eating healthily) is no joke, and I don’t believe that this is being ‘healthy’. Living healthily means you are both mentally and physically healthy. This doesn’t always involve clean eating and working out everyday!

  •  Have you always lived a healthy lifestyle? 

No, but I’ve always been into my healthy foods (along with plenty of unhealthy ones 😉 ). I’ve been a pescetarian since I was 4, which was originally due to the fact that I hate the taste and texture of meat, but later was also due to both ethics and environmental reasons. I feel like this threw me into the world of healthy eating at an early age, as I had to learn how to feed myself well when I was very young!

  •  Do you have a specific weekly fitness/work out routine? 

No specifics. I try to listen to my body and not workout when I am exhausted, but tend to go to the gym most days. In an ideal week, I will gym 5 times and have one track running training session. Gymming involves a mix of things, including circuits and resistance training, and I often incorporate treadmill sprints into my circuits.

  • What are your favourite breakfast meals to fuel your day and why? 

Breakfast is definitely my favourite meal of the day. I love a good smoothie bowl, and there are so many types you can do! The carrot cake smoothie bowl on my blog is always a winner, as is simple peanut butter, banana, oats and protein. I also make my own muesli at university that is just so delicious (if I may say so myself).

  • Do you have long term or short term individual health and fitness goals? 

My long term fitness goal is to stay as aerobically fit and physically strong for as long as I can. Immediately, I guess my goals in the gym are aesthetics based (ie. to look good and strong), as well as being able to do un-assisted pull-ups (more than 2) and hold a handstand. Outside of the gym, with my running, I am always looking to improve my 5k and other distances. My only competition is myself.

  • What is your favourite style of activewear? 

I love monochrome activewear, mesh and cool straps. But more than anything I need functionality.

  • What are you looking for when you want to buy new activewear? 

How well it performs in the gym – there’s nothing worse than having a bad workout because your bra strap keeps falling down, or because your leggings reveal too much when you squat. However, I love to look and feel good in my activewear – which is why I wear it as casual clothing 90% of the time too!

The truth about detoxes

I was asked to write this article as an ‘unbiased piece on the popular detoxes on sale after christmas’, showing which worked, which to avoid and including my advice on the matter. I found it impossible to remain unbiased – the ‘popular detoxes’ on the market aren’t healthy and could in no way be recommended to anyone. At best they’re a waste of time and money, and at worst they could do you some damage. Have a read and let me know what you think!

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If you Google ‘post Christmas detox’, you get 2,970,000 results. Some of the advice is helpful (eat your greens, don’t eat too much cake) but some of it could be downright harmful (cut out all wheat/sugar/dairy/food from your diet). It’s not uncommon for people to gain a few pounds over Christmas. Students, especially, when they come home from perhaps not the best diet (halls food and/or budget meals) to home made roast potatoes and their favourite desserts, are likely to indulge on the free food – hence that ‘Christmas bulge’. As you may remember, before Christmas there was a piece in Epigram on whether or not you should allow yourself to indulge in all the Christmas food you like, or whether you should show restraint and perhaps not go back for seconds. The overwhelming message was that Christmas is there to be enjoyed, and part of the joy is eating excellent food until you pass out on the sofa, unable to eat any more. Or at least that’s me. So what do you do when you’ve gained a few kilos over Christmas (I personally gained 3kg from eating over 3000 calories a day) and want to perhaps tone up a bit from New Year onwards?

There are basically two options:

  • Detox: This usually involves cutting out a lot from your diet, often entire food groups, eg. wheat/dairy/sugar/alcohol/red meat (my mum cuts them all out for 2 weeks) in an effort to ‘cleanse’ and ‘detox’ your body. Maybe you’ll even try a ‘skinny/detox tea’ because the transformation pics are great.
  • Continue to eat normally, but healthier. Cutting down on unhealthy foods/drinks such as refined sugars, saturated fats and alcohol and allowing your liver to do the rest.

As a scientist and advocate of balanced eating, I am a firm believer that DETOXES DO NOT WORK. A quick note on how our body removes toxins (or ‘detoxes’) itself: the lymph removes larger waste products and liver removes and inactivates most other toxins, such as alcohol. The water-soluble ones move to the kidneys to be excreted in urine. The last major part is your digestive tract, where fibre can help move toxins through until they are eventually excreted. Yum.

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Natural detoxification

What even is a ‘toxin’? Interestingly, the companies that benefit from detoxes and diets can’t all agree on what is meant by detoxification. Essentially it means removal of toxins from the body, through diets and cessation of ingesting toxins, in this case unhealthy foods, alcohol and cigarettes. The aim is to reset the metabolism and allow the body to function at full capacity without being inhibited by these ‘toxins’. Unfortunately due to some poor science and misunderstandings, the term ‘toxin’ has been broadened to include anything that the diet might remove. This can include harmless substances such as wheat or dairy (unless you’re intolerant).

 

Here are some of the more popular and misunderstood ‘detoxes’ being sold on the market, especially after New Year.

 

Juice cleanses: We’re all aware that fruit and vegetables are good for us, and therefore many people believe that, by extension, a diet of purely fruit and veg MUST be even better. Juice/smoothies diets advise nothing but fruit and veg smoothies/juices for days or weeks. Of course you will lose weight, but only because you’re probably only achieving a maximum of 800 calories a day. You could eat 800 calories of cheeseburger a day and you would lose weight. You would still not be ‘detoxing’. On such a low calorie diet, our bodies start to use up stored glycogen, before burning fat. A lot of water is stored in glycogen, so significant amounts of weight may be lost quickly, although most of the weight would be water, not fat. After a few days of detoxing, energy levels would be rock bottom and irritability sky high as your body uses the last of its glycogen and starts moving to burning fat (and muscle). Luckily liquid diet detoxes usually don’t last long enough to cause vitamin/mineral deficiencies, and probably won’t land you in hospital. However, the result tends to be a very hungry person who may or may not feel the need to eat more upon finishing the diet. Sometimes electrolyte imbalances can occur, leading to fatigue and dehydration. Usually, all weight lost is regained within a few days, mostly from eating real food which holds more water. Thus both weight lost and gained is mostly water.

 

Detox/diet/skinny teas: Most detox teas make you lose weight because they contain laxatives or diuretics. Laxatives ‘work’ by releasing anything in your gut along with a lot of water, allowing you to lose weight for the first few days of using them, although none of this is fat. Diuretics increase the amount you pee, effectively dehydrating you and allowing you to lose more water weight. Laxatives are among the more harmful diet aids, as they can dehydrate and cause mild nutrient deficiencies if used over an extended period of time, as food spends less time in the gut, so not all the nutrients are absorbed. In addition, your body may compensate by decreasing your natural ‘movements’ – so when your detox finally ends, you may find yourself feeling pretty uncomfortable. Ew.

As you can see above, I also fell prey to the glamour and marketing of detox/skinny teas. Lyfe and boo-tea were two that I was sent and happily showed off on my Instagram. I’m not hiding this as I think it’s important to show that without educating yourself, anyone can believe what they’re told. For someone who was, at the time, recovering from an eating disorder, these sorts of ‘detoxes’ were quite damaging. 

Diet shakes: These work in a similar way to juice cleanses, in that they produce a calorie deficit that means that you lose weight. Often the instructions are to replace one or two meals a day with a replacement shake. These shakes were incredibly popular around 10 years ago and have thankfully gone out of fashion a little. They are attractive to people wanting to lose weight as they don’t require thought into eating healthily, and are quick and easy. However, the advice to ‘not drink your calories’ whilst trying to lose weight is useful – when you drink high calorie drinks, often your body doesn’t ‘realise’ the amount of calories being consumed. With diet shakes, it’s easy to think it doesn’t have many calories as it’s just a drink, meaning that you’re more likely to eat more later. It’s possible that you’ll actually end up eating more calories later in the day to compensate, resulting in weight gain.

 

Instead of a diet? So if you want to ACTUALLY relieve your body of the stress caused by excess aforementioned toxins, what can you do? The great thing is that you CAN help your body, but it might not be as fancy as a detox/cleanse/diet/whatever. Supplying your liver with enough nutrients to function properly is very important. Essentially you need to aid your body in its own detoxification process. This means:

  • Eat more vegetables, which will boost your immune system, fibre intake, feed your liver and make you feel better in general.
  • Drink more water – this can flush out toxins, and help the excrement process, so that your body can detox itself faster.
  • Exercise. This increases your metabolism and means your body can function at full capacity. If you’re not into working out, try walking more – even just standing up and walking about every 30-60 minutes can have a positive effect.
  • Sleep. We need 7-9h of sleep a night for optimal functioning. You’re also much less likely to crave unhealthy foods if you sleep enough at night. If you don’t, try a 30 minute nap (MAX!) during the day to catch up.
  • Don’t sabotage yourself. If you’re detoxing, remember not to add more toxins in – this means limiting caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes and unhealthy foods containing high levels of fat or refined sugar. These sorts of food tire your body out, as the amount of processing that has to occur to digest them is more extensive than with healthy foods. The more you consume these substances the more you’ll crave.
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Supplying your body with natural, healthy food is the best way to aid it in the detoxification process.

The long and short of it is that quick fixes don’t work. Nothing beats a healthy diet and your body’s natural way of detoxing. There is NO evidence that the above diets remove harmful substances faster than eating healthily.

 

Note: There is something to be said for intermittent fasting, ie. missing meals here and there – if you’re interested in this then research it, as the science behind it is super interesting. I’ve never tried it myself but the research is extensive and seems sound.

 

Read this amusing diary of a 3 day juice cleanse: http://laist.com/2013/04/12/juice_cleanse.php

DAY THREE

8:59 a.m.: Wake up, want to die. I have absolutely no energy, and I’m depressed and miserable. I can’t believe I have to do this for another full day.

9:07 a.m.: Call my mom for moral support. She wants to know exactly what a “toxin” is and why I think this will rid my body of them. I think that’s a good question. She thinks I should quit the cleanse and says it’s for vain people with nothing else to think about. Kind of agree with her. She also suggests that people who want to rid their bodies of toxins should probably just eat healthier.”

Cover photo my Matt Lincoln (IG: @mattlincolnphoto)

Guest post – Ally

 

Alice Miller runs the instagram @kaylaitsines.transformations. She wrote this article to answer the multitude of questions she gets asked on a daily basis (IG:(@kaylaitsines.transformations).

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Ally Miller is a keen advocate of BBG and has been doing it since 2014

“Hiya!

My names Ally, I’m a fitness instagrammer and affiliate for Kayla Itsines. If you aren’t familiar with who Kayla Itsines is (and have been hiding under a rock instead of paying attention to social media), let me get you up to date!

 

WHO IS KAYLA ITSINES?

Kayla Itsines is the face of a fitness brand created by herself and her partner, Tobi Pearce. This ‘brand’ has been changing women’s lives since their Bikini Body Guide’s (BBG) were released in 2014. Kayla and Tobi took an active role in the emerging health trend of ‘strong not skinny’ and produced workouts to help women build lean muscle; the BBG focuses on FITNESS, HEALTH & STRENGTH.

 

WHAT MAKES BBG DIFFERENT FROM OTHER GUIDES?

The true secret behind BBG becoming so HUGE (10million+) is, hands down, social media. The community that has evolved on instagram is immense; often referred to as “Kayla’s Army” you will see many women of all ages with handles including the abbreviation “BBG”. It truly is the most supportive and encouraging community you will ever be a part of. Women often tear each other down and in day-to-day life there’s a lot of negativity and judgement; however within the BBG community only positive vibes are tolerated. Many girls find that in their family or friendship groups they don’t have the necessary support required to stay determined with their new fitness lifestyle, and the BBG community provides this. Worldwide there are BBG meet-ups where girls can attend workouts and meet others with similar interests. Yes, instagram friends turn into REAL LIFE friends. I know personally that when I moved to Bristol it was amazing to have a group of girls to go and meet up with, originally I didn’t know anyone apart from some family and who I am living with, but due to BBG I’ve met some incredible girls (shout out to the BBG Bristol Squad).

 

I have been a member of the BBG community since July 2014 so believe me when I say I’ve heard every question under the sun, so here’s a quick FAQ for you guys!

 

WHAT FORMATS ARE THE GUIDES AVAILABLE IN?

The guides are available in PDF format for use on phones, tablets, pc’s and thus can also be printed if you wish. When you purchase the PDF format of the guide it will be immediately emailed to you to do with as you wish. I personally chose this format as I like to have access to it on iBooks (iPhone app), and being able to print the programme allows me to annotate my progress actually on the guide. The second format the guides are available in is through the apple or android App Store. The app is called “Sweat with Kayla” and allows you access to the workouts, nutritional information and extra little things such as a weekly progress photo journal.

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DO I NEED TO JOIN A GYM?

Absolutely not, and this is one of the main reasons I love this programme. You don’t need any fancy gym equipment, however you will need to purchase a few small things such as a yoga mat (thicker is best for back support), a medicine ball and a pair of dumbells (weights are shown on the guides themselves). Anything else in the programme you can easily find substitutions for in your home. I would also highly recommend purchasing a foam roller to aid recovery and reduction in muscle soreness.

 

WHAT IF I CAN’T DO ONE OF THE EXERCISES?

If you can’t do one of the exercises do not worry! It is a tough programme and it is built to challenge you. All you need do is use a modification, for example the most common people struggle with is push-ups, so to make the move easier you can do these on your knees instead. Once you have built your strength up you can then begin incorporating some full moves amongst the modified version until you can complete all the reps with the full move.

 

WHAT SHOULD I BE EATING?

A full BALANCED diet. This is a new lifestyle so it needs to be sustainable, don’t focus on restriction just focus on keeping your fresh foods higher and your processed food consumption lower. If you feel you need extra advice in this area Kayla has also created a nutritional guide called the “H.E.L.P Guide”.

 

HOW CAN I LOSE WEIGHT ON X PART OF MY BODY?

Suuuuperrrr sorry but you can’t pick where you lose body fat. It’s a concept called “spot reduction” and it is a total myth. Fat loss will occur over your whole body and dependent on the individual it may be lost in some places more than others, however there is no way to know this until it has begun. (RIP boobs & bum)

 

WHY DO I STILL WEIGH THE SAME?

The BBG focuses on building muscle, and boy muscle weighs A LOT. Therefore unless you have a very high volume of fat to lose it is likely your weight will remain the same or potentially it may go up. Original weight – fat loss + muscle gain = similar weight (typically). This is precisely why in BBG we take progress photos instead of using the scales. Quick tip: take your progress photos in your underwear/ a bikini and in good lighting so you have really clear comparison photos, also take these of your full front, full back, full side and any extra areas you want improvement e.g flexing arm muscles etc.

 

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I HAVE MISSED A WEEK?

At some point everyone gets ill or has a commitment that stops them for a week or so. It is advised that you go back as many weeks as you have missed. E.g. if you completed week 6 and fell ill for a week you should restart at the beginning of week 6, or if you were ill for 2 weeks then you should restart at week 5.

 

I’M NOT SORE, AM I NOT WORKING HARD ENOUGH?

Soreness does not directly correlate to how hard you have worked out, so don’t worry! In the first few weeks of the programme it is likely you will be veeeery sore due to all these new muscles being used, and then after a while your body will adapt and begin to get used to the increased level of exercise. This results in a mega reduction in soreness.”

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My (Flora) BBG transformation after just over 1 round

Rest days – why and how ?

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Put your feet up and relax – you’ve earned it!

For those of us who train hard, it’s often difficult to force ourselves to rest, especially if we’re not feeling overly tired or stiff. However, going without a rest day can cause injuries, exhaustion and other symptoms of over-training. A lot of us have the mind-set of all or nothing – it’s so hard to push ourselves to go to the gym everyday, that once we’re in a routine we don’t want to break it, and therefore taking a day off can feel like you’re falling behind. However, first hand experience has shown me that rest days are PART of an exercise routine, not just a day off. Here’s why:

Rest prevents injury

Our bodies are only built for a certain amount of strenuous activity. This level can be built up over time, but try to build it up too quickly and you’ll likely injure yourself. This is for a number of reasons, from the increase of tiny muscle tears that aren’t given time to recover, to the loss of form of a tired body. After intense exercise, our main muscle groups become tired and lazy, meaning poor form in further exercises. Poor form can lead to injury. On a side note, this is how I managed to get IT band syndrome on BOTH my legs only 4 months apart, putting me out for around a year off and on. Whilst I wasn’t training as much as others, the intensity of training was too much too soon, and caused my form to get worse, causing long term injuries. You really, REALLY don’t want this.

Allows the build-up of muscle

When we workout, we cause tiny muscle-fibre tears, that can thankfully be repaired by our immune system and adequate amounts of protein in our diet. However, this takes time and rest, and as above, without this tears can accumulate, leading to bigger muscle tears and injury. Rest days are needed to build back up muscles, nerves, bones and connective tissues. This is why it’s important to stagger muscle-group workout days, not working out the same muscle group for around three days after you last worked it out.

Better sleep

Interestingly, middle amounts of exercise help sleep a huge amount, but too much exercise can actually negatively affect sleep. Over-training increases the hormone, which is not only the stress hormone, but also the hormone that wakes you up in the morning. Having too much of it will wake you up in the night and keep you awake when you’re trying to sleep. You can find out if this is happening to you by measuring your resting heart rate (RHR) on a day you’re well rested and again when you think you might be over training. A raised RHR is a telltale sign that your body is on high alert, which could be due to over-training.

Better resistance to illness

Your immune system takes a hit when you’re tired, as it has to work extra hard to repair muscles and joints, alongside its usual job of fighting off millions of pathogens everyday. More rest gives your immune system a break too, meaning it’s better able to fight off any lurgies that are around.

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Nutrition is as important (if not more) on rest days as workout days. Pack in the protein! 

The reasons why you should rest vary a little depending on why type of exercise you do – lifting weights causes different issues to running long distance, but the essential point remains: rest is essential to progress. Rest days don’t have to involve hours of inactivity – getting up and walking around is important to keep muscles warm and your heart healthy. However, if your workouts are usually light to moderate intensity, rest days can involve a little more physical activity, for example yoga, pilates, a (very) slow and short jog or a longer walk. Food wise, you’ll need a little less food on your rest day but don’t be fooled: you may not be working out that day, but our bodies still burn more calories the day after a heavy session, meaning that you’ll require more food than if you had taken the whole day off.

 

Prescription for rest day:

  • Lots of protein
  • Slightly less carbs than usual
  • No intense exercise – a light jog at most, but don’t overdo it!
  • This is NOT a cheat day: using your rest day as a cheat day won’t do your body or mind any favours. Plan it like a training day and nourish yourself accordingly.
  • Stretch and foam roll

 

Finding out what works for you may take a bit of time and fiddling, but making sure you keep a track of how you feel will mean you can ace your rest day like any other day of training.

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Sleep is life