Category Archives: Fitness

An Easy 3-Day Juice Feast to Jumpstart 2015

#JuiceFeast Day 1 of 7. This being the season of Thanksgiving, this juicy bonanza offers a timely opportunity to give thanks for the abundance of fruit and vegetables we have access to in this modern world. Who knows, when the zombie apocalypse arrives, t

“I’m not really one for new year’s resolutions, “Dry January”, “New Year New You” or other such arbitrary means for betterment. But the fact is, I entered this year feeling not exactly my best self. Granted, I’ve felt worse on New Year’s Day. At least this year I well-rested and didn’t have a hangover (because I didn’t go out the night before, for various reasons). But my sobriety only made it all the more clear that the only trousers that fit comfortably at the moment are leggings.

I know: don’t panic. A little bloat is expected after a 10-day trip to France, and bonus: I know that a great solution to the over-indulgence blues is a juice feast. But I know from experience that this “quick fix” doesn’t mean much if there isn’t some forward planning to go with it. A little more on that later. In the midst of all my thinking and scheming, my friend and fellow smoothie addict Jacqueline Meldrum set out a challenge called Jumpstart 2015, the rules being as follows:

  1. A freshly made smoothie or juice (made of mostly veg) for breakfast and lunch
  2. Drink more water
  3. No alcohol (Jac asserts that this is optional but I reckon that for many of us it’s the key to feeling awesome)
  4. Eat more soups
  5. Normal meal in the evening

This is pretty close to my own plan for the coming weeks so I thought I’d overcome my cynicism and, in the spirit of camaraderie and support, join Jac and fellow bloggers in this challenge. (BTW, Jac notes that she isn’t medically trained and the challenge is based on common sense, but it’s worth noting that her challenge is pretty much on par with the Clean program, designed by an M.D., and which I can say from experience is pretty solid!)

3-Day Juice Feast

As mentioned, I’m beginning with a 3-day juice feast to bump start my jumpstart (not that kind of bump start). I am essentially following Jason Vale’s 3 Day Juice Program (you can find the program with recipes in full on The Fresh Network Blog). I found it very therapeutic to take some time to scrub my kitchen, and my appliances, and set up a little home juice bar in my kitchen. (In case you’re wondering, my tools of the trade are the Froothie Optimum 9400 blender and Optimum 600 slow juicer.)

Getting prepped for a juicy 2015 by giving the home juice bar a good tidy, stocking up on beautiful ingredients, and augmenting the bar with some inspiring reading materials! How is your awesome prep going?

Following this, I plan to follow the challenge pretty much to the letter, with some fitness goals thrown in:

  • Monday – Friday: Cardio training in the morning – either Swim or Cycle
  • Monday – Friday: CrossFit in the afternoon
  • A walk every day
  • Some kind of long walk or bike ride on the weekends

Some of my training may necessitate some solid food mid-afternoon (or mid-ride / mid-hike!) but in general the plan is to eat and drink super clean. And embrace soups!

Goals: What This is All About

This year I want to take on some big fitness challenges. Things that come to mind:

  • The Omm
  • The Pennine Way
  • The Pembrokshire Coast Path
  • Cycle tour in France
  • Multi-day wild camping adventures

I’m NOTE going to do all of these but if I did even one I’d be pretty stoked.

And I can’t deny that some of this is aesthetic. I want to comfortably fit into my trousers! I want to like what I see when people take pictures of me!

What worked in 2014?

But in writing all this, I think it’s important to remember my successes and what worked in 2014.

  • CrossFit – I am definitely way stronger than I was at the start of the year and I’ve met some amazingly supportive people as a result
  • Swimming / Spinning in the mornings – I just feel better when I bump start the day with some exercise, preferably cardiovascular
  • Juicing / Smoothies
  • Walking every day
  • How water with lemon
  • My solstice friends
  • Social activities that are active, either physically or mentally (i.e. not purely focused on food and booze, not that there’s anything wrong with that!)
  • Crafts!

So all of that is part of my strategy for the coming months. Then…

Why didn’t all of that work in 2014?

I’m pretty sure that my big downfall is drinking. Drinking means I eat more, I sleep less and I perform poorly (or at least at a sub-standard level) at all physical activities. I know I’m not alone on this one. I am very grateful that I know so many awesome people, and that the opportunities to socialize keep increasing! But it’s up to me to recognize that not ALL social occasions necessitate drinking lots of booze and having a cheese board.

Cheese shop in Hillsboro

I’ve recognized in myself that I’m a person of extremes: 85% of the time I’m an uber healthy, super clean-eating superstar. The rest of the time I’m the person obsessed with making cocktails, tasting all of the wines and making dutch babies, no matter how full we are after dinner. It’s a dilemma, because I actually LIKE that I go all out in the things I do. I just can’t do that all the time. And that goes for the uber healthy stuff, too, because I’ve been there and I was a total bore to be around.

For most of us doing Jumpstart January, or any other kind of New Year reboot deal, it’s all about changing our physical selves. But the problem is totally mental. But that’s ESPECIALLY why doing something like this is important: it takes clarity of mind to figure out how to overcome life’s challenges. And that’s what I love about Juice Feast: it gives me that clarity, and seemingly boundless energy, to plow through what’s bothering me and get to the heart of the problem and hatch a solution.

Over the next couple days I’ll be using this clarity to make some plans and set some goals for the year ahead. Two things I’ve found helpful is the Wheel of the Year book and YearCompass.

First #greensmoothie of 2015 (with garnishes), and fresh new note books for mood padding and getting things done. Feeling the fresh start vibes all around.

I finish with a quote from a friend that I keep coming back to for inspiration, especially when I find myself dwelling on past mistakes: “Nothing to fear. The reality will be what it is.”

Also, from Wheel of the Year: “These old parts of ourselves we banish now / what’s past is past / we look to the new.”

And finally, this song.

Jumpstart2015

Be sure to visit these rad peeps who are also taking part:

Tinned Tomatoes
Fuss Free Flavours
Ren Behan
Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary
Maison Cupcake
Veggie Desserts
Franglais Kitchen
Utterly Scrummy
Food to Glow
London Unattached

11 Immediately Gratifying Things You Can Do Right Now To Improve Your Health

Goals are hugely important and I’m a big fan of dreaming big and aiming high. But the thing about goals is that they involve time, and let’s face it, sometimes those goals seem so out of reach that it feels daunting to even get started. For that reason, it’s important to do little things on a daily basis that offer immediate gratification while also edging us closer to the self we dream of becoming.

Here is a list of things I do on a daily basis that help me keep my head on straight by reminding me just how good it feels to treat myself well. All of these things offer near instant gratification. They are also easy and inexpensive.

Morning ritual: hot lemon and water. And a groovy mug to put it in.

1. Start the day with hot lemon and water.

There’s already loads of hype around hot lemon and water – it aids digestion, stimulates the liver, boosts the immune system… this may all be true, but in terms of immediate gratification, I find a mug of hot lemon and water first things is refreshing, boosts my energy and seems to kick-start my digestion, thus keeping me regular (TMI?). You can still have your teas and coffee, but have the hot lemon water first and then move on to the hard stuff.

2. Go for a walk every day.

Fresh air, folks – we could all do with a bit of that on a daily basis. I find walks especially helpful if I’m feeling tired or ho-hum.

“I try to walk minimum 1/2 hour after school run, & second walk about 1pm for 30-40 mins…The walk itself is good though, fresh air, nature & lots of other dogs & there walkers, so social too:-)” – Jude McGee, A Trifle Rushed

3. Buy flowers instead of junk food. 

This is my friend Claudia’s idea and I love it. If you’re at the shops and you want cookies, instead buy some fresh flowers – they’ll be nice to look at and remind you how awesome you are.

4. Start the day with a bit of exercise. 

Walk, run, bike, skip, yoga… it doesn’t matter really. A bit of exercise first thing is totally energizing and starts the day with an immediate success that you can feel good about all day long.

5. Contain your drinking to three days per week max. 

Not so much a “daily activity” but a good guideline for keeping the booze in check. For me this rule is less about calories than it is about good sleep – I just don’t sleep as well if I have alcohol. Good sleep = energy and motivation to do the other stuff on this list, and everything else you want to do. Again, immediately gratifying. I never regretting NOT drinking. Think on that!

6. Limit sugar to one day per week. 

Do I really need to explain this one?

7. Do something every day to connect yourself with nature.

The aforementioned daily walk is a good place to start.

Get outside. Sounds silly but even 30 mins on my allotment puts me in an amazing mood and emotional health is just as important as physical.” – Urvashi Roe, The Botanical Baker

Sunday morning walk

8. Garnish.

Garnish your food with nourishing deliciousness. For smoothies, I like seeds, nuts, coconut flakes, oats and bee pollen. For soups, I like more seeds, boiled eggs, diced vegetables and of course, avocado. They make your food more interesting and tastier too. It doesn’t get more immediately gratifying than that!

Coming soon to the blog (I swear): my recipe for my go-to breakfast smoothie as of late. It involves lots of lime and greenery. And garnish!

 

9. Visualize Success. 

Spend a few minutes every day visualizing your desired outcomes, be it fitness, financial, professional or anything else.

“As we routinely and intentionally visualize a desired outcome, and step into the belief that it is possible, our brains increase the motivation to make it happen. We become more and more determined to do whatever it takes to achieve our goals.” – Marla Tabaka, Inc.com

10. Reflect on daily achievements.

While I’m doing my visualizing, I also try to work in a little reflection on the prior day’s successes. This is way more better for morale than focusing on what you didn’t do. Cuz really, all of the smart people I know have so many goals and dreams and ideas and ambitions, none of us have time to do it all. But as long we’re doing something, we’re ahead of the pack – so let’s remember what it is we HAVE achieved (it can be something as simple as having that hot lemon and water!) and wear a smile on our face because we’re so damn awesome.

11. Focus on gratitude.

When temptation strikes, respond to this feeling by thinking about what you CAN have. The fact is you can have anything you want, but you choose to have the nourishing stuff and leave everything else for an occasional treat.

“If you say ‘I want but can’t have’ – you will suffer. If you say ‘I can but I don’t want to have’ – you won’t… An ‘attitude of gratitude’ moves you from the ‘I can’t have’ child-like mental tantrum to one of empowerment and fulfillment.” – Jason Vale

So that’s MY list. What would you add to it?

Goals 2015: The Original Mountain Marathon

In the last few years, my fitness goals have largely revolved around fixing injuries, but now I’m feeling pretty “fixed” for the most part (hurray!) and ready to set myself a challenge that will actually make use of my fitter better self and push me to, well, keep on pushing.

My friend James recently completed the Original Mountain Marathon (aka ‘the OMM’) and posted a video montage of the experience. I totally want to do this!

The OMM is a 2-day Mountain event, held in a different region across the UK every year (and other courses held in other countries throughout the year). It was first held in 1968 and continues today. Gerry Charnley, a skilled mountaineer and orienteer, designed the course to test orienteering skills in extreme circumstances; the full-length KIMM course is a double-marathon length race (there are shorter options).

There’s an OMM in France 19th-20th July which is appealing and well timed for my birthday. I’m looking forward to seeing when they set they 2015 UK date. It’s a little daunting and I’m not sure I’m capable of it – yet! – so all the more motivation to keep on CrossFitting, swimming, eating well and most of all: get out into the world and walk up some big hills and see some amazing places!

So, anyone want to be my OMM buddy?

Juice Feast: Harvest Edition

First of the Orchard Cottage Apples

Last Saturday I embarked on my third “Juice Feast”, a 7-day juice-only regime following the program designed by Jason Vale (you can read more about this in my previous post, Juice Feast in Review).

Having done this twice before, I just wanted to share a few observances so far from round three.

Why Juice? Why Now?

Why does anyone go on a “juice fast” (hefty note: this is not a fast!)? To look better and to feel better. Like many others who have juiced before me (!) I too have become increasingly bored with feeling “gunky”, and also increasingly frustrated with my own inability to achieve a few personal goals. I needed a “bump start”, but [definitely] not of the alcoholic kind, rather of the positive, life affirming kind. After my first juice feast last year, I felt better than I’d felt in a LONG time. So I’m at it again, chasing that high.

Passed the halfway point of my #JuiceFeast. Celebrating with one of my favourite blends: apple, pineapple, spinach, wheatgrass, lime, celery, cucumber & avocado.

But there’s an added spin on it this time around. It’s August, and we’ve just celebrated Lammas, the first harvest festival. The apple orchard is in full swing. My Riverford veg box is frequently laden with my favourite fruit and vegetables. And the nearby Organic Farm Shop is alive with their beautiful homegrown cucumber, carrots, spinach and more. So I’m trying to make this juice feast not only about ME, but also about a celebration of all that’s available this time of year, and how lucky I am to live in a place where I have access to such beautiful fruits and vegetables, some of which grow right outside my door.

The harvest aspect also plays to the “positive thinking” angle of Juice Feast. This isn’t something to “get through”, it’s a treat to my body and my brain. I say this, but in truth, this notion of being good to myself doesn’t come naturally to me at all. I am the worst when it comes to self doubt and self deprecation, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s part of why I’ve felt so frustrated with my goal progress as of late. It has nothing to do with food or exercise, it’s all about the mind, man!

So when work hasn’t interfered, Juice Feast has been all about mindfulness. Visualisation. And doing meditative harvesty things like picking blackberries and de-stalking elderberries (which I’ll be preserving as wild fruit wine, which I know sounds totally contrary to Juice Feast, but it makes sense to me!).

Picking green elderberries while I walk. Yes, I have a plan! #picklecult

I’ve also been using this as an opportunity to push my limits with the juice. On Day 2 I did an 11+ mile hike up Black Mountain in Wales (thank you, Jane and Jimmy) and felt totally fine the whole way. I did have an extra juice that evening, followed by an epic 9 hour sleep. Day 3, the legs were a little stiff but I managed to get out for some foraging and dog walks. Today I had my first CrossFit session of the Juice Feast; it all went as usual – I struggled with rowing and had fun on the rings, nothing abnormal there. I’ll be curious to see how I go the rest of the week. I did manage a “PR” (Personal Record) on the overhead squad (which didn’t take much – see, there I go with the self deprecation again!) and would love to PR on something else before the week is through.

Jane and I on Black Mountain

Finally, I’m also using this as an opportunity to test out my new Froothie Optimum 400 Slow Juicer and Optimum 9400 Blender. I’ve already posted a review of the blender. Watch this space for a review of the juicer, which is competing for counter space next to my trusty Phillips juicer, the thing that got me into juicing in the first place. Who will win in their battle royale?

Using the #juicefeast as an opportunity to try out the #froothie Slow Juicer. Juice it does. Slowly (and that's a good thing - maximum extraction action!).

Closing thought: this Juice Feast has been pretty easy – third time’s the charm? I’m loving the clear headed feeling I get when I do this – productivity at last! And since I’m not cooking, I have loads of free time to do fun Lammas-y things like forage, make plum wine, work on some make-more-money projects, write and walk up big hills!

Black Mountain walk, Brecon Beacons, Wales

Too many avocados? My macronutrient drama.

Requisite avocado...

First, a recap. Here is a brief summary of my smarter fitter journey so far, starting from roughly 12 years ago:

First I was kind of chubby.
Then I was a little chubbier.
Then I was pretty chubby.
Then I lost some weight.
Then I lost too much weight.
Then I gained some back again.
Then I gained some more…

Weight gain is not a bad thing, especially when it comes in the form of muscle. And in fact I have been making some big efforts to get stronger over the recent years (especially after the big muscle wasting debacle of 2009 that followed a really annoying kidney infection). My efforts include eating more protein, swimming, weight lifting and most recently, CrossFit.

But for anyone who’s ever gone through the hassle of losing weight, it’s a real drag and a little scary putting weight on again. I’m pretty sure that some of that weight is good muscly weight (as evidenced by my body fat and circumference measurements, thank you CrossFit Cirencester 30 Day Challenge). But I know that it’s not all muscle, and as much as I like to think I’m immune to aging, the fact is that since entering my 30’s, I tend to carry more blubber in those problematic hip and tummy areas. There’s stuff around my waist that wasn’t there a couple years ago when I felt at my prime. And it’s damn frustrating!

I feel like I’ve been trying all sorts of things but I can’t seem to get back to where I was. The measurements taken at CrossFit have been encouraging, but still, I feel like I’ve been trying at this for years and I don’t seem to get anywhere.

So recently I’ve gone back to basic principals. Back in the day when I first became really interested in my physical fitness, I counted calories. I know it’s mundane and it’s not for everyone, but it worked for me and was a major factor in my achieving my initial weight loss goals. Every so often I like to track my calories for a week or two just to see where I’m at. So, that’s what I’ve done for the past week, and the results kind of surprised me.

First off, what am I going for here? Well, there are so many school’s of thought on macronutrient ratios, protein intake and so on, it’s a bit tough to know which to follow.

The “Zone Diet”, which lots of CrossFitters seem to like, promotes a 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein, 30% fat ratio. On most days I tend towards a ratio of 35% carbohydrates, 20% protein and [a whopping] 45% fat.

Another way to look at it is protein: there are different school’s of thought on this but I tend to trust Mark Sisson’s advice which says that a moderately active person should consume about .7 or .8 grams of protein per pound of lean mass per day, or as much as 1 gram per pound of lean mass for active athletes. Now, I’m not training for the Olympics, but I am pushing myself to get “harder”, training most days per week so I can work towards doing things like hike around Scotland with a pack, walk the Pacific Crest Trail and do cool party tricks like walk on my hands. For me that’s about 60-90 grams of protein. My daily intake tends to be in the 50-60 gram range.

Whether either of these metrics are the end all be all to fitness and feeling awesome, I’m willing to admit that getting nearly half of your calories from fat is probably not ideal for anyone, regardless of how “good” that fat is. So, I should probably try to lower my fat intake and up my protein. This is kind of a bummer.

Despite adding more fish to my diet, I’ve actually found it a struggle to eat as much protein as I’ve been eating (thought I certainly feel better for it). And as for fat, well I love my avocado, not to mention my nuts, seeds and salads. I bemoan the idea of a life of steamed vegetables and egg white omelets. In fact, the whole point of this blog and what I’m about is figuring out ways to get fit and healthy without that boo feeling of sacrifice.

There is also an argument to be made that this line of thinking is totally mental and that I should just relax because I DO have my health already so why worry? Well, Scotland… trails… party tricks!

I had a thought the other day which helped dissolve the slow-progress blues. One of the problems with all this “get fit” shit is that you have this vision of success, and it sits out there way in the distance, and in fact may not even be achievable. So you spend all this time pushing for it, never really getting there, and perpetually feeling like a failure. But the real success is actually in the process. I am thinking about my situation, analyzing it, and doing something about it: boom, I am successful. Achieving the goal is just bonus.

So what is the goal? Well that’s another tricky matter. It’s not about weight loss for me. It’s about being strong, capable and – critically! – feeling comfortable in my own skin. So how to measure that? I’m still figuring that one out, but hope to explore this in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, any suggestions for yummy high protein, low-ish fat meals? Or ways to dress up steamed vegetables that don’t involve a beautiful oily dressing?

A few good ideas from the blogosphere include Jacqueline’s Veg & Lentil Stew (also 5:2 friendly), Dannii’s Bean Chilli (can’t go wrong with a good chilli), Michelle’s “picnic bakes” (akin to mini frittatas – I love frittatas), Kavey’s not-so-mini courgette and mint frittata, and, as Camilla points out, the ever versatile poached egg (not to mention hummus).

Any more?

P.S. I have no intention of giving up avocado.

Oh jeez, I’m doing a detox!

I’m just back from a really fantastic weekend of camping and revelry with friends from the Rave Coffee crew in nearby Minchinhampton: two days and two nights largely spent around a campfire or a picnic table engaged in good conversation fuelled by craft beer, barbecue, bread, pickles, cake and coffee (of course!).

One such conversation has inspired me to take on a 21-day detox following Alejandro Junger’s technique outlined in his book, Clean. I know very little about this detox cleanse as of yet, but two friends from Rave are doing it and I’ve decided to tag along for the ride. I’ve been feeling less than awesome for a few months now and try as I may to “get back on track”, I feel a little lost as to what that “track” actually is. I like the idea of having a system and a plan and knowing that there’s a couple other people out there I know doing it, too. (There’s much to be said for the buddy system.)

Today was going to mark my official start but as I’m learning what the cleanse entails, I realise I’m totally unprepared! For example, I am not to eat soy, bananas, tomatoes, eggs or dairy, just a few of many “off limit” foods that are currently taking up space in my kitchen. I am also suppose to eat one solid meal and two “liquid” meals per day. No tomatoes? Liquid food? What’s this all about?

Here’s the idea: Junger’s supposition is that much of the food we eat is toxic. The toxins are stored in our bodies, and our waste systems can’t get rid of them because they’re constantly bombarded with them. The 21-day cleanse is meant to give the body a chance to clean out the toxins and restore the body’s natural ability to heal itself. This means eating an alkaline diet of high pH foods, so certain kinds of vegetables and fruits, plus wild animal protein and gluten-free grains. And obviously, no “toxins”: processed food, dairy, eggs, soy, alcohol or caffeine.

Eating “clean food” is pretty much what I do anyway, but it’s those latter two liquid temptations that will be difficult to avoid. But it’s the effect of those temptations that have me wanting to do something about it. The last year or so has been extraordinary, with weekends (and sometimes weekdays) much in the spirit of the weekend I just had: visiting old friends, meeting new ones, talking endlessly, inspiring each other and, most importantly, celebrating. But at the same time, I do feel a strong sense like my body needs a “break”. So I’m excited about this. I’m excited to have a plan. And I’m excited that the cleanse allows avocados.

Not one to waste food, I’m going to use today to do some planning and to get through those few remaining low pH foods hanging around my kitchen. Tomorrow will mark Day 1 of the cleanse. I sense a lot of Vitamixing in my future!

Fitbit Review and a Giveaway

Fitbit

Lately I’ve been thinking lots about gamification and using game strategies to achieve goals, particularly those related to health and fitness. I’m the sort of person who responds well to numbers and data, and quite like the idea of attaching rewards to data-driven results.

So last December I decided I wanted to buy a pedometer to help motivate me to stay active while visiting Chicago over the holidays. A little research and some chatter with my sister, Stephanie, quickly saw my $12 pedometer lust balloon into something more sophisticated. And so we found the Fitbit One, a $90 gadget that tracks steps, distance, calories burned, stairs climbed and sleep. We both bought one (go Team!).

Fitbit - After

In the four months since owning the Fitbit, I find I’ve become – quite literally – attached to the thing.

It’s not just about the device – it’s the whole Fitbit website / web app package that syncs up with it. The app lets you set goals for various parameters (steps / miles walked, floors climbed, weight, etc) and then tracks your progress towards those goals on a daily basis. Feeling good is very much a one-day-at-a-time thing, and the Fitbit really does make the whole fit and active thing a lot more interesting. Who doesn’t like a good chart?

Fitbit Dashboard

The Fitbit features I like the most:

  • Good apps: The Fitbit web and iPhone apps allow you to track other things besides data recorded by the Fitbit, including weight, activities (handy for swimmers like me – the Fitbit is NOT waterproof!), and food. In fact I’ve even read on some of the Fitbit forums that there are people using the apps without actually owning the Fitbit – the food, weight and exercise tracking is good enough to use even without the Fitbit.
  • iPhone friendly: And speaking of the app, I especially like the iPhone app, which is almost exclusively what I use. Even the Calorie counting aspect is better than most I’ve seen.
  • Social: The web app lets you follow friends who have Fitbits, which I love because my sister has a Fitbit, too. Go Team Shaw!
  • Motivating: I guess this is the most important thing of all. The Fitbit really does motivate me to walk more and reach my daily target (currently set at 10,000 steps). What really shocks me is when I wear it on a day out in London and I realise how LITTLE I walk now that I don’t live in the City. Not that I’d give up the country idyl and working from home, but it’s a much needed reminder to get off my duff once in a while and go for a stroll.
  • Gamifying: Steps walked, floors climbed, calories burned, they’re all “points” in the game of getting fit, and Fitbit “rewards” you with various badges for different achievements (e.g. walking 40,000 steps in a day, getting to 100 total lifetime miles, and so on). I’d like to come up with a system for attaching these achievements to more interesting goals – it’d be nice if I could define my rewards in Fitbit, so it could tell me when I’ve earned, for example, something off of my Amazon wishlist, or a pint at the pub (though having said that, one of my goals in using the Fitbit is to find non-food / non-alcohol motivators, so I better stick with Amazon, or tattoos, or original art).
  • Hackable: The Fitbit API lets you program your Fitbit to trigger events. For example, one guy hacked his Fitbit to turn off the power to his fridge if he didn’t walk enough. You could do the same to turn off your TV, computer, Internet, etc. Hardcore, though I’d be more apt to use the API for good (reward) verses evil (punishment). This would, of course, require me to be a mad elite computer programmer, which I’m not. So I hope someone else will step up to the plate for me.

The Fitbit isn’t perfect, however…

  • It’s really easy to lose, but on the plus side, Fitbit has a very responsive and understanding customer support team.
  • In order to track sleep, you’re supposed to wear their Fitbit on your wrist using a velcro wrist strap thing. It’s kind of uncomfortable and is prone to fall off in the middle of the night.

My sister, who presents a slightly different use case, adds…

  • Android syncing only works with two phones: Samsung Galaxy S III and Samsung Galaxy Note II.  This is just crazy given there are over 70+ models available in the US alone.  Yes, iOS is more popular, but the Android share can’t be ignored! [You can read Fitbit’s reason for developing their apps this way on their blog.]
  • The Fitbit really should come with some kind of a security clip to attach to a belt loop…anything to secure it better. [Amen.]
  • I can’t track specific workouts unless I enter them manually. It means I often don’t enter them at all.  
  • Some activities produce false step counts.  Horse back riding, for example: it says I did x amount of steps, but obviously I didn’t.  Yes I burned calories, but it’s just not calculated right.  I have to remove the Fitbit if I want to keep my step count accurate.
  • It doesn’t track my average speed.

Verdict…

The Fitbit has a few flaws but what gadget doesn’t? I’m addicted to thing, which is really a testament to its worthiness as a great life hacking tool. Or maybe it’s just evidence of my geekiness? Either way, I do believe I’m actually fitter for owning a Fitbit. Or at least, I’m more motivated to keep my activity levels up, and motivation is often the hardest part. And looking at my monthly step average since owning the Fitbit, it seems to be working (this is why I love data):

Fitbit Dashboard - Yearly Steps

And for the record, Fitbit didn’t ask me to say any of this. But they did give me something groovy to give away. Read on.

Giveaway time…

The folks at Fitbit kindly gave me one of their Fitbit Zip Wireless Activity Tracker to give away. This is much like my Fitbit One but it doesn’t have the sleep tracking capabilities. You can read all about the Fitbit Zip on the Fitbit website. And as you can see, it gets great reviews on Amazon!

Bonus fitbit! I love this uber pedometer, & this one's destined for one lucky @smarterfitter reader. Thanks @fitbituk!

 

To enter, simply complete the Rafflecopter widget below (disclaimer: I’ve never used Rafflecopter so I hope it all works smoothly, but if you have any troubles just let me know).  There is one main way to enter and various ways to get bonus entries (which I will verify so please be honest).

This giveaway is open to everyone (fortunately the Zip is lightweight so I don’t mind shipping it overseas – Fitbits for all!). Entries close on May 21, 2013. The winner will be chosen randomly using Rafflecopter and notified by email.

Good luck!

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Intermittent Fasting Takes Over the UK

The Fast Diet

If you live in Britain then you’ve likely heard of the 5:2 diet, aka ‘The Fast Diet’, popularised by Dr. Michael Mosley in the BBC Horizon episode, Eat, Fast and Live Longer. Since the programme first aired in August 2012, thousands of people have latched on to his method of Intermittent Fasting for weight loss. Celebrities like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have climbed on board and now there’s a book on the subject, the fast diet, co-authored by Mosley and food and fashion writer Mimi Spencer.

Intermittent fasting is nothing new, and it’s a subject I’ve been interested in for the last few years, ever since I started reading about ‘primal’ and ‘paleo’ diets and how eating as our ancestors ate may have benefits to our overall health (I’ve found Mark Sisson’s work on Mark’s Daily Apple particularly interesting, useful and inspiring). But what’s amazing about Mosley and the Horizon programme is how strongly it’s struck a cord with what seems like the entire nation. I know dozens of people who have been doing the 5:2 diet, and what’s incredible is that they’ve been keeping it up and seeing results for weeks and months.

So what is the 5:2 diet? In case you’ve somehow missed it, the 5:2 diet works like this: two days a week you restrict your calories to 500 per day if you’re female, or 600 per day if you’re male. It doesn’t matter which days you choose to fast or how you partition the calories throughout the day. On non-fast days (“feast days”), you can eat whatever you want.

That’s it.

Perhaps this is what’s sold the nation on 5:2: the method is so simple and easy to follow. You can have your cake (and your beer, chips and chocolate) and eat it, too. It’s not socially restrictive. The only real hard part is not eating much two days a week, which isn’t really as hard as it sounds.

The diet is so simple that it almost seems a shame there’s now an official website and book about it, padding out the story with extra “tips” and “success stories”, and making the diet seem more like, well, a ‘diet’. And what ‘diet’ has ever really worked for anyone? (Seriously, I’d love to know.)

The book has merits, though. The most useful bits are the first few chapters that describe the science behind intermittent fasting and why this crazy 5:2 thing might actually be the way forward, not just for weight loss, but for disease prevention and long life. When we fast, we fool our bodies into thinking we’re in a potential ‘famine’ situation, and our body responds by toughening up. A major player here is growth hormone IGF-1, a hormone that influences cell reproduction, and thus ageing. Fasting causes levels of this hormone to drop, and in response, repair genes to switch on. This is a good thing, and has huge implications for reducing age-related diseases. Fasting also gives our pancreas a rest, which improves insulin sensitivity and thus reduces our risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. There is also evidence that fasting improves your mood.

Oh yeah, and you tend to gradually lose weight, too (a natural effect of dramatically restricting your calories twice a week).

At least, this is all true in theory. The problem with the science behind intermittent fasting is that most of it has been done on mice. In reading the book, you get a sense of the hand-waviness behind some of the theories. Dr. Mosley and Ms. Spencer aren’t shy about this, and that is why only a small portion of the book is devoted to ‘science’, and the rest devoted to their own personal experiences with fasting and tips for making it work for you (groan, it becomes a ‘diet’ book).

Intermittent Fasting: The Monica Method

I’ve practising intermittent fasting since December, but I’m loathe to call it “5:2″ because my approach and my motivations are a bit different from most people I know (and I’ve never really liked being part of the “in crowd”). I’m less interested in losing weight than I am in longevity and mental health. I’ve already been through my own “weight loss journey”, and I’m grateful to have succeeded, but it’s left me with certain mental baggage about ‘diets’ and ‘calories’ that I’d rather cast aside. I like that intermittent fasting frees the mind from thinking about food as calories (except on fast days, of course). Also, in the same way that “feast days” allow food to be truly celebrated (as it should be – there should be no such thing as a “guilty pleasure”), fast days too offer a different kind of freedom.

If you’re a foodie like me, then you tend to obsess about food – what’s for dinner? What can I make today with all the ingredients I have? (How lucky are we to live in the modern world?!) And so I find fast days quite liberating: for a good solid chunk of the day, I just don’t have to think about food and I can get on with other things, be it work, writing, cleaning or walking (admittedly, the more active I am on fast days, the easier it is to forget I might be hungry).

I’ve seen many foodies channel their food obsessions towards creating really amazing super low-calorie fast day recipes. But here’s my issue with this: on fast days, I don’t want to worry about food. In fact, I personally find the idea of eating a lot of small pathetic meals throughout the day extraordinarily depressing. So my “fasting” approach is to simply eat nothing all day until about 6pm, at which point I have a “sensible meal”. I don’t typically count the calories, but I don’t go crazy either. I deliberately try to have a light meal, and usually go for soups. A recent favourite is vegetarian pho with julienned carrot and courgette “noodles”, broccoli and tofu. There’s also lots you can do with an egg (about 80 calories), be it hard boiled for a salad nicoise or filled with veggies and turned into a tasty frittata or omelet.

Pho extreme.

My other motivation for fasting this way is the argument that your body gets the most benefit from fasting when you’re actually, well, fasting. But again, the science is patchy on this and, according to Mosley, it appears even if you do snack on a fast day, you still glean most of the ‘benefits’ of fasting.

But that’s just me, and as Dr. Mosley explains in his book, that is the beauty of the 5:2 – you can tailor it to suit your own personality and approach to eating, as long as you stick to the basic rules. The thing to remember is that you can deal with going hungry for a bit. It might seem hard at first, but that’s only because we’re so used to being satiated all the time. Hang tight in the knowledge you can eat whatever you want the next day and just get on with life. I know. We’re foodies. It’s kind of a bummer to miss out on a meal. But it means we get to enjoy the meals we DO eat with more freedom and pure pleasure, and none of that pesky guilt stuff.

A few final observations from my personal experience:

  • Fasting is hard but not as hard as it sounds
  • Sometimes you get hungry, but you just have to get over it, because…
  • Being hungry isn’t the end of the world, and if you’re only fasting for a day, the hunger doesn’t build and build until you explode… it comes in subtle waves and then it passes
  • Missing a meal isn’t a total travesty
  • Fasting is a handy approach to dealing with crappy airline food on long-haul flights
  • Drinking a lot of fluid is very helpful, and in fact necessary; I like tea and sparkling water
  • After an indulgent day or weekend, fasting for a day feels like hitting the “reset button” on your body, mentally and physically
  • Fasting is addictive
  • Fasting is harder when the weather is miserable
  • Fasting is easier when occupied by physical activities like walking, cleaning, shopping and exercising
  • You can work out while you’re fasting – your body won’t crumble to pieces
  • You should go to the doctor before you start fasting and make sure it’s a safe idea, plus get some blood work done to set a baseline so you can measure how fasting effects your physiology (one of the best features of the fast diet book is that it tells you which tests you can have done under the NHS through your GP)

This post first appeared on the Great British Chefs blog.

My First “Green” Smoothie

"Green" Smoothie

I’m doing a little life experiment – I’ve been drinking whey protein smoothies every day for the last while, but lately they’ve been making me feel kind of blah in my innards, characterised by weird digestive gurgles coupled by fatigue, and tripled by bloatiness. Gross, right?

Yes, I could just stop drinking them, but I’ve come to really enjoy my afternoon smoothie ritual – especially when they involve cocoa powder. So I’m going to use this as an excuse to find out what the fuss is about these “green smoothies” – smoothies that include something green like kale or spinach, plus fruit and other stuff to make it yummy. I’ve had my Vitamix for a couple years but have never tried one of these – until today!

My smoothie was: banana, beetroot, blackberries, a big handful of spinach, a few ice cubes, water and a heaping spoonful of cocoa powder (that’s right – cocoa powder!). I enjoyed this, though in the future I would skip the blackberries – the beetroot and cocoa are so good together, but the blackberries add a sour note that I’d rather pass on. The spinach? I couldn’t taste it very much. And it must be said: the Vitamix blended this to silky perfection.

While not as satisfying as my whey protein smoothies (I was hungry within 30 minutes of drinking this), it was also not as digestively challenging. And it was real food, which I can’t really say for “whey protein powder”. I could use this opportunity to externalise my internal debate about protein, fitness and a mostly vegetarian diet, but that would be boring. I’ll let the experiment speak for itself. Tomorrow: no blackberries, more cocoa.

Knee Update: 10 Months Post-Surgery

Knee TapingThe last time I wrote about my knee was seven weeks after my knee surgery last July. It’s time for an update, and this time I actually have something hopeful to say that might even be helpful to some of you.

A little background: I’ve had chronic knee pain in my right knee for several years now. Last year, the doctors found a cyst and encouraged me to have it removed as it would be a “minor” surgery and it might fix the underlying problem.

So I had the surgery and did my physiotherapy, but the pain persisted. I tried resting. I tried exercising. I tried wearing a knee support. I tried lots of things. Not only did I continue to have the pain I experienced prior to my surgery, but I also had new troubles: my knee constantly felt almost numb.

Finally after all this trying I found myself in enough pain that it was difficult to walk any distance. This was a little over a month ago, well after the surgery. So I went to my GP who took one look at my legs and said “your right leg is noticeably smaller than your left leg – you need more physiotherapy.”

I decided to shell out for a private physio. Her theory was that I had scar tissue in the joint from the surgery that was causing me the weird numbness. Meanwhile, muscle imbalance was the source of the original knee pain. So she prescribe three things:

First, an exercise that involves me sitting in a chair and pushing my right leg into the floor as hard as I can – repeat ten times, for ten seconds each time, three times a day. Second, she massaged my patella to loosen the scar tissue. Third, tape!

I’d heard of “taping” before but didn’t know anything about it. Here’s what the interwebs say: “The taping technique is based on the body’s own natural healing process. Rather than “strap down” the muscle, the philosophy is to give free range of motion and allow the body’s own muscular system to heal itself bio-mechanically.”

The physio described it to me as “retraining” the muscle to do what it’s told. As such, the tape was applied to the same muscle I was working when I did the leg-push exercise.

Well I don’t know if it was the patella thing or the exercise or the tape (probably a combination of all three) but this is the first time I’ve felt real progress with my knee. After only a month, I’m swimming without the pull buoy for the first time in over year. I’ve been dong 20 minute warm-up runs at the gym with no problem. And I’m walking with gusto.

This isn’t to say the problem has disappeared completely. I can still “feel it”, especially after prolonged exercise. (Today I did a 2-hour walk in the country, after which I could feel some stiffness in my knee, but that subsided after a short rest.)

I would love to be able to run properly again for real distances. But that’s one thing I’m NOT going to push. Actually what I’d really like is to be able to go backpacking. I know I’m not there yet, but it’s something to work towards. So, I’m going to try to get out once a week for a “long” walk. If not for me, then for Rocky, because he needs to learn that car trips mean good things (he’s currently a bit whiney in the car).

But now I’m digressing. I look forward to the knee update that says “All better now! Let’s go run a marathon!” Stay tuned!