May 29, 2017 | life

Food, Exercise and Finding Balance

Food has always been an issue for me. I’ve had a problematic relationship with it for as long as I can remember. I’ve been an insanely picky eater since I was a child and I just never grew out of it. I wrote a big feature about it for ELLE last year which kick started me getting help and I’m thankfully in a much better place with it now than I ever have been. But I remain conscious of how easy it would be for me to slip back into bad habits.

As a child, my pickiness limited me to just a few foods. My mother used to have to cook me an entirely separate meal to the rest of the family at dinner time. I was that kid. And no matter how much my parents tried to get me to try new foods, I flat out refused. As I grew older, those habits remained. I stuck with my ‘safe foods’. The thought of trying new things was scary. Food was never pleasurable. It was always stress and anxiety inducing. Eating out at restaurants or going to friends houses for dinner was quite the ordeal for me. What if there were none of my safe foods? What if I didn’t like anything? I’m going to offend everyone by not eating. I became a master of pushing food around my plate and saying I was full, just to avoid having to try whatever was in front of me.

People are somewhat understanding when you’re a kid, because all kids have their quirks, but as an adult it’s been shameful and embarrassing. I’ve always hated having to discuss food. I could never explain why I was the way I was. And people really love food! When you’re someone who just has kind of a ‘meh’ attitude towards it, it makes you a bit of a social pariah. ‘Why don’t you just try it?’ people say when they put something new in front of you. Oh, if only you knew how hard that is for me.

Getting Help

In writing an article for ELLE about this last year, I met with dietician Lucy Jones, who really changed my life. On my first meeting with her, we went through my lists of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ foods. The no list was mighty long. When we finished, Lucy sat back and told me she has no clue how I’ve been living my life with this diet. I’m a spin instructor, teaching sometimes upwards of seven classes a week, training new instructors and generally having to be very ‘on’ and active all the time. The way I was eating, Lucy told me, I wasn’t getting enough vitamins, minerals or nutrients. I was fast tracking my way to type 2 diabetes, the stress and anxiety I felt about food was only being amplified by the foods I was choosing to eat. I was putting myself at higher risk for certain types of cancers and chronic ageing conditions, such as dementia.

That right there, was quite the wake up call.

I’d been telling myself for years that I was just picky and had figured out all these ways to just work around it rather than ever actually deal with it. I’d honestly not really given much thought to how it was affecting my health.

With Lucy’s help, I went about slowly introducing new foods into my diet. That process started last September and is ongoing. Nothing changes overnight, but my diet is already a vast improvement on what it once was and I feel so much better for it.

Food as Fuel

Three weeks ago, I started with a personal trainer, Dan Chapman. He’s a ‘transformation specialist’ and has a program called the ‘6 Week Shred Up’. I’m not particularly bothered about being ‘shredded’, but as I discussed in this post, I have a definite need to be stronger and injury free.

At the start of our journey, Dan gave me a nutritional plan to follow. It was eating certain food groups at certain times and with Dan keen to see what a transformational change in my body, it was limited to a certain number of calories per day.

I decided right off the bat for myself that I wouldn’t be following any sort of calorie-restricting plan. I’ve never given a crap about calories and I don’t intend to start now. I followed the basic principles of the plan, having to make adaptations where I could due to being a vegetarian (which makes getting lean protein a little tougher for example).

I was concerned that it could be quite easy for me to slip into just eating the same foods all the time, when I’ve been doing fairly well in introducing new foods to my diet. I started to feel a bit stressed out about the food stuff, but the training with Dan was going great. We’ve been doing three sessions a week, on top of my usual 6/7 spin classes that I teach.

Dan was texting me most days asking how I was doing with the food and I was finding nice, creative ways to avoid the conversation. Oh boy, old habits die hard. Avoiding talking about my food issues has done nothing but worsen the problem for me in the past.

Just be frikkin’ honest!

So one Friday morning when I went in for my session with Dan, he asked me about food again as I was warming up on the rowing machine and I decided to come clean about food being an issue for me. I’d been doing fairly well in following what he gave me but I told him I couldn’t follow it to the letter because that would lead me down a path of controlling and limiting the foods I eat, when I’ve really been trying to move away from that. I told him I found food quite stressful and difficult to talk about.

But as I blurted all this out, while rowing, Dan was nothing but understanding. He shared a few personal stories of his own and I felt as though a weight had been lifted. A problem shared is a problem halved and all that. I realise now how essential it was that I was open and honest about that. We need to be on the same page so we can work towards the same goal.

Since that session, all talk of food or fat burning has been off the table (so to speak) and we’ve zoned in on focusing on my body’s abilities, which has only served to up my enjoyment of our sessions even more.

All that being said, I have been following basic principles of the nutrition plan, which I’ve found to be really beneficial. These are mainly to do with timings of when I eat. I eat three hours before I work out and eat every 3-4 hours in the day, with my last meal being just before 7pm. I can be a pretty prolific snacker, so just following this and cutting out the bad snacks, has made me feel much better.

I also do intermittent fasting twice a week. What is that, I hear you cry? I have my last meal at 7pm and won’t until around 10:30/11am the next day. I do this on Tuesdays and Thursdays where I teach double spin classes in the morning. I’ve found that it’s made me more efficient, as my body’s given time to properly digest and use the food to fuel my performance.

I should stress, I’m doing this strictly from a performance point of view and not for weight loss. When your life is about movement, you have to find ways to manage your energy and ensure you’re being as efficient as you can be. This is something that I’ve found is working for me, but it may not work for everyone. Everybody’s lives are different and you have to fuel yourself in a way that suits yours. Part of the reason I never discuss food is because there are a zillion different schools of thought out there. I’m no expert, all I can say is do your research and consult a professional.

Bottom line: food has always been a struggle for me and finding balance, especially given my very active lifestyle, has been a challenge, but working with Dan and being honest about my situation has helped move me in the right direction.

That right direction for me, is someone who is strong, who can push and challenge the ability of her body and is fine with the fact that her body may have some jiggly bits on there.

If you struggle with food, I cannot recommend dietician Lucy Jones highly enough.
And if you like personal trainers who actual listen to you and create and adapt plans based on your very specific needs, Dan Chapman is your dude.

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