Monthly Archives: May 2011


Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder.

Homeward bound.

Sitting on a train last weekend, I had a lovely moment.  I’d just spent a weekend in Manchester with my cousin Ana, and I was looking forward to a peaceful journey home to see my husband and children.  As I watched the beautiful English countryside whizz by I slowly felt my heart fill with joy. Ana and I had spent most of the weekend chatting, eating and doing a bit of shopping. We’re close but don’t see each other much, so having nearly 48 hours to catch up was a luxury. It was nice for me to get out of the family routine for the weekend too. I went to bed late, could be relaxed about timings, had no children demanding things of me, didn’t have to tidy up (Ana wouldn’t let me) and slept in till 10 both mornings. We savoured patisserie cakes, Brazilian tapas, cocktails, and a proper English fry up. As a mum, it felt so good to step out of my everyday role, and remember what its like to just be me.
As I travelled home, my thoughts returned to my children and I looked forward to hugging them, hearing how their weekend had gone, and settling back into family life again. I felt lovingly grateful and appreciative of my husband who eagerly took on the job of looking after the kids all weekend. I expect that he should be able to and happy to do that, but before I went I thought grateful thoughts about him doing it. Now I feel my gratitude in my heart. It all reinforces the old cliche….absence makes the heart grow fonder.
I also think it’s about stimulating the brain by experiencing novelty, getting out of the regular routine, and recharging my sense of self. This is especially important for parents I think. Personally I came back feeling renewed, re-energised, reconnected with my cousin and my family, and an all round happier person.      

Health and Fitness Tactic 5 – Home Workouts

So, what if you can’t get out of the house to do regular exercise?
Maybe you have small children, are on a tight budget, or just don’t like exercising with other people. Maybe you hate gyms or jogging, and feel all the travelling to and from health clubs is a waste of time.  Maybe it’s raining and you’d rather stay in.
A good friend of mine, Karen Plested from Karen Plested Personal Training, recommends setting up your own fitness routine in the comfort of your home  if you can’t – or don’t want to – get out to an organised one. She gave me a schedule to follow, which I am going to use when I miss my scheduled classes and when I’m ‘too busy’ to exercise (and maybe if it’s raining.)   She is happy for me to share this schedule with you, so please contact me on and I’ll email you a copy.
I’m also going to use the individual sets in my 5 minute exercises (see Tactic 4), and I’m hoping that the more I do them, the more I’ll be likely to do them.  I would like them to become a habit which I don’t even have to think about.
So, this is the end of my Health and Fitness Tactics.  I’ve no excuse now, not to be fit and healthy for the rest of my life. But since we all know it doesn’t work like that, I’m hoping that by having more tools and tactics at my fingertips keeping fit and healthy will become easier, more effective and become a regular part of my life.
I hope you have been inspired to use some of these tactics and tips. Please comment below and let me know what works for you.

Health and Fitness Tactic 4 – It only takes 5 minutes

Exercises can be done anywhere…and at any time.

This week, and while I am on holiday (or am I deluding myself?) my new health and fitness tactic is 5 minute exercise slots.   I want to get into the habit of incorporating quick sets of sit-ups, press ups, lunges, squats etc to my daily routine. I could even market it to myself as a time saver. Don’t waste time waiting for the kettle to boil, get down on the floor and crunch.
Why do I have to wait until I’ve been for a run, or have completed my bootcamp session to do some stomach exercises? It’s not essential to do these toning and muscle strengthening exercises at the same time as cardiovascular work.  By doing 5 minutes a day, it soon adds up to more toned body, which is what we all want. After 3 weeks of my health and fitness drive I am quite proud of my newly defined stomach (I’m talking very softly defined. A six pack it ain’t), and just think; if I did sit ups everyday how much better would it look?

Health and Fitness Tactic 3 – Being Mindful

“I’ll just have a small cake….”

As I mentioned on Tuesday, I recently spent 12 days doing the Reset Programme where I gave up wheat, alcohol, dairy, sugar and caffeine.  It was difficult, but I was prepared and organised and it wasn’t as hard as I’d thought it would be. But completely changing my diet – even for such a short time – made me realise how much I would normally eat.  I noticed all the times I would have eaten, when I would have snacked,  finished off the kids food, grazed when I wasn’t hungry and eaten food which wasn’t good for me or when I wasn’t hungry.  I concluded that a lot of my eating was habitual, it was lazy and not particularly mindful.

I love food, and I think about it a lot, so I do often enjoy and savour it while I’m eating.  But during the Reset programme I noticed a lot of times when I was eating fast and not savouring my meal. It was often mechanical (I need to eat this food) rather than a pleasure sensation. Now I’m not saying that our every meal should become an exercise in pleasure sensation through the worship of food, but I think a few changes could be made.  I found that if I ate smaller mouthfuls I could taste it more. I don’t really know why but maybe if I was concentrating enough to take smaller mouthfuls I was probably concentrating on savouring it too.  Whatever it was, I found I enjoyed my food more this way.

I also became more mindful about what I really wanted to eat. Usually there is some point in the day when I eat without thinking.  During Reset I was able to take a step back and think about whether I was really hungry or just worried I might be hungry soon – an anxiety that I’m afflicted with often.  And also I was able look at food that I would unthinkingly eat (like a cold bowl of pasta that my kids had left) and say to myself that actually, that’s not very nice and I don’t want to eat it.

Wow, don’t I sound like a saint!  I’m not of course, and I know myself enough to be pretty sure that when I come back from holiday in a few weeks these new ‘clean’ mindful habits will be consigned to the past. But at least I know that I can make changes in my eating habits, and I have faith that I can pick it all up again the next time I do Reset.


Health and Fitness Tactic 2 – Bootcamp

Koen from KB Fitness and Nutrition

For my 12 day health and fitness plan I went along to a local ‘bootcamp’ run by fitness trainer Koen Bouckaert, in Cowfold, West Sussex.  I’d been a few times before but obviously had not been committed enough to keep going on a regular basis.  Now that I wanted to exercise 3 times a week his class was perfect for me.  It’s on a Monday and Friday morning at 9.15 which is exactly the time I finish the school and nursery run.

The class is very relaxed, mostly mums, but not all, and you can turn up and pay on the day or book a block of sessions 3 or 4 weeks in advance. I recommend this because when it’s dull and raining, there is more chance you’ll turn up if you’ve already paid. And strangely, exercising in the park in the rain is energising, inspiring and more enjoyable than I’d ever have thought!

The sessions are like circuit training except they are not in a stuffy, soulless hall but with nature and wildlife all around. It’s amazing how uplifting exercising outside can be. Never will I go back to the gym.  I have realised that I like this way of training. I like the short sharp bursts of effort, the mixing up of different types of exercises, running the short distances in between each set of exercises to keep your heartbeat up.  It means I don’t get bored. It works, it feels good, nature is recharging me and it’s all very friendly.  Koen works you without you realising he is. He’s not the bark out the command kind of instructor which is great because I don’t think I’d like that.  He pushes and encourages you, but you can go at your own pace.

I’ve only been doing this for two weeks and already I feel  fitter, my stomach muscles are more defined and perhaps even more surprising I look forward to going.  I am definitely going to keep attending, even if some weeks I can only go once.  With my Zumba class too, it’s all the exercise I need at the moment.


Health and Fitness Tactic 1 – Reset

My cousin Tom Marien runs a training and fitness company in London called One Element.  He has designed a 12 day Reset programme which helps you kickstart better exercise and eating habits, lose weight and become fitter.

Last year my husband and I did Reset, and I must admit I failed abysmally. My heart just wasn’t in it. I did change what I ate, but I bent the rules and didn’t do the exercise bits and I cursed my cousin everyday for making me do it. (Of course he didn’t make me do it, he’s a very nice man and it was my choice.) My husband stuck to it and lost 5kg in 12 days. I think I lost 1lb, which doesn’t count because I could have lost that overnight.

Anyway, knowing that the problem was with my attitude rather than with Reset, we started the programme again two weeks ago and this time my committment was completely different.  I don’t know why. Perhaps I knew what was involved, perhaps I was just ready to make the changes this time, perhaps I had grown up a little.  Either way, I stuck to the diet completely. Actually it’s not really a diet, you have to cut out certain foods and stick to some basic rules. I still didn’t make time for all the exercises but I did more than I normally would have so I’m going to focus on the positives.  At least I have something to aim for next time!

The main rules of the programme (as I followed them – I’d lost my book so I was doing it from memory) are:

  • no alcohol
  • no sugar
  • no wheat
  • no dairy
  • daily exercises
  • four cardiovascular exercise sessions per week.

This time I lost 5 lbs and my husband lost 6lbs, and I have carried some of the habits on since stopping the programme at the weekend.  I’m not drinking in the week, I’m not snacking so much, I’ve cut down hugely on the wheat , sugar and dairy I’ve eaten too.  I’m sure this won’t last because we’re going on holiday in 9 days but I do feel I will start the holiday with more restraint than I normally do.  And I can look forward to doing Reset in another couple of months to help keep me on track.

Luckily for those of you who want to give this a try, Tom has just relaunched the Reset programme this week and has made it available for free as a pdf download on his website.  He recommends doing Reset 4 times a year, and One Element sets Reset dates 6 times a year where you sign up and are supported by daily emails.  If you live in London you can attend their Training  in the Park sessions too.

Have a go, I recommend it. And don’t worry if you don’t stick to it completely first time round. Who wants to be perfect anyway? Not me.


Health and Fitness Week

I think I need new trainers.

A couple of weeks ago – after the Easter choc-fest – my husband and I started a healthy eating and fitness drive. We’d both picked up some bad snacking habits, were too used to big portions at our evening meal and not doing much exercise. We’re both busy – he works long hours in London, while I work long hours juggling house, family and my own work. Healthy eating and exercise keep getting pushed down the priority list, so now, we decided, was the time to focus on them for a few weeks to kickstart a healthier lifestyle and to establish some better eating and fitness habits.

In 12 days I lost 5lbs and my husband lost…well we don’t know yet because the scales ran out of battery. He  has lost some, and knowing him (he’s strict with what he eats when he’s decided to) he’ll lose more than me.  So what did we do and how did we do it?  Every day this week I will discuss one of the tactics we used to change the way we eat and get fit.

First though, why are we doing it?  Because like everyone we know the benefits of healthy eating and regular exercise but don’t practice what we believe. We wanted to start living with more integrity as well as more energy and vitality and less toxins and weight.  But also, exercise is often cited by positive psychologists as one of the key daily habits that happy people commit to. And who doesn’t want to be happy?

So for us, making exercise a priority and a regular habit is what we were aiming for, while also being more mindful about what we put into our mouths. We had got used to not doing it, and wanted to get used to doing it.


Keep a One Sentence Journal

Recently I’ve been thinking more seriously about gratitude.  I’ve learnt quite a lot about it over the last couple of years in the many positive psychology and happiness books I’ve read.  To summerise the findings in the recent research:  people who habitualise gratitude into their lives on a daily or weekly basis are generally happier than those who don’t.
Quite a simple idea, you would think.  But introducing new habits and changing already established habits is often a difficult thing to do.  And I’ve found it the case with gratitude.  I have not one, but two gratitude diaries and I have not one but two apps on my phone for counting my blessings.  But do I do it every day, or even every week? No.  I’ll do it for a few days, then let it slide, then a few more days and then forget for a couple of months.  I need to find an easier, more memorable way of making this a habit. Because I have no doubt that it works, I can feel it works when I do stick to it. This is because when you focus on the positive things in your life, you feel more positive. When you focus on the negative things, guess what, the negative things take over.  But it is important not to treat this as a ‘positive thinking’ exercise, repeating affirmations and mantras that you hope will make you happier.  You have to really feel and experience the gratitude and appreciation in your heart.  Varying what you are grateful for each day helps this too.
So what am I going to do about this gratitude habit?  Well, as a fan of her Happiness Project, I read one of Gretchen Rubin’s recent posts entitled ‘The One-Sentence Journal’.  She admits she is not a natural diary writer and so has come up with this idea to help her collect her happy memories.  I’m going to join her, and started my own a couple of weeks ago. It is easier to stick to a new  habit if it doesn’t take much time to do.  Nobody can say they don’t have time to write one sentence and revisit those happy memories and emotions. Why don’t you give it a try?