Hellllloooooo Internet Peoples! I hope you’re all well this wonderful Thursday afternoon. As I write this, I’m feeling oh so smug because I’m actually sticking to my word and blogging once again. Mwah ha ha!
Really though, none of us thought I’d stick to it. I’m as surprised as you probably are.
But alas! Here I am, and today, I wanted to talk about my new-found love of exercise. Now, if you know me at all well, you will know I am incredibly lazy. I am the definition of the French paresseuse. I love activities such as sitting down, eating, drinking cups of tea, and I especially love naps and sleeping through my morning alarms. I am certainly not the type of gal you’d expect to see donning trainers and a sports bra, downing a protein shake after a hard day’s gymming.
However, the reality is that last year, my mental health took a dip. Note that by a dip, I mean it took a nose dive with flames and explosions and mad-ass crashes. But the one thing I kept being told by every doctor, every councillor, every Internet forum, every friend and family member, was that exercise was the magical cure.
Now, upon hearing this for the fiftieth time, I was quite possibly ready to shank someone. I mean, when you’re having the worst bout of anxiety of your entire life, with a touch of depression thrown in for good measure, the LAST THING you want is to run or dance or do yoga. I was getting seriously fed up hearing “get some fresh air!” or “take the dog for a walk!”. HOW is that meant to help my muggy, messed up brain?!!
After what felt like an ETERNITY of appointments and medications and meetings and the likes, I was starting to feel a little bit better. And to reward myself for feeling better, I decided that, as it was Christmas, I was going to treat myself to ALL THE THINGS. And I very quickly gained like, the generous side of more than a stone. In three weeks.
IN THREE WEEKS, LADS. THREE. WEEKS.
Who does that?!
I didn’t really notice until I was getting ready for brunch with my friends, and whilst getting dressed, I noticed my jeans did not want to go over my hips. The struggle to button those bad boys was real. And I hopped on the scales, and got the shock of me life.
That was my motivation to start exercising. The moment when I realised I’d literally broken a sweat, ripping my Topshop Jamie jeans over my swelling, meaty thighs.
(That was a grim picture I painted there, yikes! Sorry pals.)
So what did I do exactly? Well, it was a combination of 4 things:
- Trying to hit 10,000 steps every day
- Using MyFitnessPal to track my food and exercise
- Drinking more water
- Starting workouts
These three things helped me to lose a stone in a month, and then some. Magical, right?
Anyhow, I thought I’d talk a little bit more about each of them, in terms of both their physical and mental benefits. Yay!
The 10,000 steps thing
A lot of people say that the 10,000 steps a day thing is a lot of nonsense *cough*Chris*cough*. And maybe they’re right. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have a goal to achieve every day. After seeing in the New Year, my daddy and I started walking every night while I was still on study leave- a good, long, one hour+ walk. And you know what? I felt great after it. It seriously filled me with dem endorphins, and I just love being out and about at night when the sky is clear, the town is peaceful and you can see the stars. It’s truly wonderful. Walking gives you that much needed time to clear your head, and having my daddy with me meant that we chatted out all the feels I was having. It was fabulous for both my physical and mental health.
Here’s a totally cool pic of me and my adorable pupper, Alfie. If anyone is benefitting from our health kick, it’s this little guy- he’s getting daily walks and we play football with him in the garden. This is one happy dawg.
(also, 10/10 would recommend my daddy for deep life chats. Or my mammy. They’re wile nice.)
The MyFitnessPal Thing
Oh, MyFitnessPal. You sweet little darling, you. MyFitnessPal is the real “secret” of my success*. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s basically an app you can download, where you enter your age, weight and height, your general activity level, and your weight goal, and it tells you how many calories you should eat in a day to achieve that goal. I know people complain about counting calories, but hear me out. It is not as much of a chore as you might think!
Almost every food you can imagine has been “logged” onto the app. Even things like “potato bread” and “champ”- yes, you can still have your delicious, Norn-Irish favourites! So all you have to do is type in what you eat, and it tells you how many calories you have left after that meal.
The thing about MyFitnessPal is, it teaches you to be food conscious. So where I might have gorged half a box of quality street without batting an eyelid, I soon realised that that was my calorie intake for the day finito. Kaput. You might not start off healthily, but once you realise a measly can of coke has the same number of calories as a literal flipping BUCKET of strawberries, you might reconsider.
I love MFP so much, I’ve even got Chris doing it. And it really helps to have someone doing it with you, to keep you on the right track.
Just trust me on this one- it’s worth a shot!
(It also scolds you if you eat too little, so it’s sensible!)
[*Has anyone else seen that Michael J. Fox film? Classic.]
The “Drinking More Water” Thing
I AM THE WORST PERSON EVER. I complain about feeling tired and dizzy and light-headed, google my symptoms and convince myself I am dying, when in reality, I’m dehydrated. I never, ever drink enough. But something I’ve found in the past few months is that drinking water is as magical as people would have you believe.
Every time I feel hungry in between meals, I go and have a glass of water. And nine times out of ten, I wasn’t actually hungry- I was thirsty, or bored. And that way, I’ve saved myself a lot of snackcidents in the past wee while.
When I make a conscious effort to drink more water, life seems better. REALLY! I have more energy, my skin looks great, I’m less cranky, my mood lifts, I sleep better; it’s literally wonderful. Plus, I have this truly adorable water bottle which I found in Paperchase. Most days I’d rather fill it with gin tbh, but I can live with water for now.
The “Start Working Out” Thing
Okay, this is the biggest turn-around for me. I feel like everyone says this, but for me it’s 100% true; I was the worst in P.E. at school. I loathed it. It made me feel awkward and embarrassed and I knew I sucked at everything. I regularly got picked last, and remember a handful of occasions where P.E. teachers literally laughed in my face because I was that bad.
Physical education had a special place in the hate folder in my brain, marked with the label “NEVER AGAIN”. I was tiny, and therefore, that meant i didn’t have to worry about exercise, right? But tiny doesn’t mean healthy, and I came to realise that once I started losing what I now refer to as my Christmas-celebration-post-OCD-breakdown pudge. I would run for the bus, and after two steps, feel like I was dying. Walking up the stairs to go to class felt like death. So, I made the change. And started working out.
I’ve been following HIIT workouts* on YouTube- I tried the Kayla thing once before (that’s definitely staying in the “NEVER AGAIN” folder- I felt like I was going to chuck up a lung), but that didn’t really work for me. I’d watched the SacconeJoly’s for years, and Anna had been working out with a personal trainer with whom she’d uploaded several exercise videos. I think that seeing the results of someone who’d stuck to working out for a while convinced me that I wanted to give it a go. So, I did!
Now guys, to explain these particular workouts a bit more, you do various High-Intensity workouts for about ten minutes, then take a rest, and repeat the circuit two more times. It looked easy, but rest assured it was not. The first time I tried, I only (barely) made it through two sets. I had never sweated like that in my entire life- I genuinely looked like I’d been in the sea, and the dog was visibly frightened when he saw the state of me crawling into the living room afterwards. My legs ached for days, but I knew the only way to ease the pain was to fight through it. And I did. And I made it!
I followed the same workout for about a month, and noticed I was getting faster every time. It was suddenly not as physically demanding as it had once been. Then, when I felt my body was getting too used to the exercises, I found Anna’s trainer, Lucy, on YouTube, and attempted some of her other workout videos. These videos are AMAZING because she always shows you a low-impact version of the exercises, so if you’re a beginner or you get tired, you can take it easier without totally stopping. I love Lucy’s videos, and recommend them highly to anyone who wants to start HIIT training.
Click here to have a wee look at Lucy’s channel!
More recently however, I’ve been following FitnessBlender workouts, too. Again, like Lucy, they love a good HIIT routine, but they’re generally longer, and much more challenging. Whereas Lucy is so like “you go girl! Don’t hurt yourself though, you is fabulous”, FitnessBlender is more “GOGOGOGOGOGO BURN THE FAT PAIN IS GAIN YAAAAS”. And while I end up loathing them halfway through a round of burpees, I know there are days when I need that tough love instead of Lucy’s gentle guidance.
While I’ve loved noticing my fitness levels improve, the main thing for me has been the benefits for my mental health. I have OCD, and as much as I don’t want to admit to the doctors being right, they were- my OCD is so much more manageable when I exercise. When I look after my body, and feed it good things and exercise it well, I take more pride in myself. It’s basically another form of self-care, except you become physically stronger as well as mentally stronger. I recall days when I felt like I was drowning in negative thoughts, and my anxiety was through the roof, and by the time I was half-way through a workout, I would have the sudden realisation that my OCD thoughts had vanished. Honestly, it’s been the biggest relief for me- to find an outlet for all that tension and stress, it’s been the biggest blessing.
Pour conclure, a few pieces of food for thought/advice for those of you considering kick-starting a healthier lifestyle/who I haven’t convinced with my silly ramblings yet:
- You might be stubborn like me, but exercise is one of the best ways to improve your mental health. BUT I AM NOT SAYING IT IS A SUBSTITUTE FOR MEDICATION AND MEDICAL HELP. It is great when used alongside these things.
- A great way to get yourself excited about working out is investing in some new workout clothes! ASOS have an amazing selection of things, and there’s nothing better than feeling fabulous in a new, colourful pair of gym leggings and a fancy new sports bra.
- I HAVE LITERALLY SPENT NO MONEY INVESTING IN THIS “JOURNEY”. Kinda want to vomit having called it a journey, but seriously- people think it’s necessary to go out and join a gym, and pay lots of money for equipment and fancy apps. While that’s fantastic for some people, it’s not for everyone. Personally, I feel more self-conscious in the gym; I would much rather exercise in the comfort of my own room (with the door locked and the curtains drawn, and my family under the threat that if they dare look at me mid-workout, I will have to have their toes stomped upon). MFP was free to download, and YouTube has thousands of free videos. It’s so easy!
- Investing in yourself is worth it. When you feel good, you radiate positivity. I remember in church recently, the minister was talking about that well-known verse “Love your neighbour as you love yourself”. But I think a lot of us, especially those with mental health issues, are terrible at loving ourselves, so how does that mean we’re going to treat others then? You gotta do YOU, friend. Be nice to yourself.
- Feeling the burn is a good thing. You never regret a workout (unless you get eaten by a shark halfway through, idk, but I feel that is unlikely to happen in suburban Ballymoney…)
Anyway, if you’ve made it this far, WELL DONE! And thank you for reading this, it makes my wee heart ever so happy 😀
Let me know in the comments if any of you have any advice to add to this, or if there’s anything you’ve found which really helps with your mental health!
I’ll be back super soon with a post on my different workout gear I’ve treated myself to in the past few months since starting my regular work outs.
I love you all lots and lots,
[*If you’re wondering what I mean by “HIIT” workouts, it’s very simply High Intensity Interval Training. It burns lots and lots of delicious calories, and you can read more about it here!]