Couch to 5k

Today I entered week 9 of Couch to 5k. At the same time Storm Ciara battered the coastline I was running along. It’s been a long 9 weeks, mostly because it took me longer than 9 weeks, but I had to ignore the voice of Jo Whiley telling me I could do it because my body was definitely telling me I couldn’t.

I would recommend Couch to 5k to anyone medically able to run. Here’s my advice for starting and an explanation of why I started and why you should too.

  1. Don’t push yourself too hard

Yes, the cheery voice you choose will tell you that you can do it, but you know yourself better. When the amount of time set for running increased too much, I had to alter the programme to allow myself more breaks. Over time, you’ll know how to tell whether you physically can’t go on without hurting yourself or whether you’re just tired of putting the effort in. Pushing yourself too hard can result in injury or even a migraine. I now know that pushing myself too hard results in a migraine and 5 hours of intense pain and nausea. But somehow I didn’t let that time deter me and just gave myself a few days off.

2. Running outside is easier than running on a treadmill

I can’t explain this one. Running outside, you have to contend with hills and uneven terrain and, of course, Storm Ciara, but I’ve found it so much easier. It could be that running outside is more visually stimulating and varied. Running on a treadmill at the gym means you’re often either looking at a wall or a TV screen playing the same music videos and adverts over and over. However, I think running at the gym is a good way to ease yourself into running. When I decided to start running, I was too self-conscious to run in my local area because I didn’t want to be seen stumbling along, red faced and breathless by people I knew. The gym felt anonymous and, when I was ready, so did the great outdoors.

Beach sky

3. Safety is key

Safety was a huge concern when I decided to try running outside. I still wanted to avoid people so I preferred running early in the morning and late in the evening but I was worried that the lack of people at these times made me more vulnerable as a lone runner. In the end, I decided that I needed to find places I felt were safer. Here’s what worked for me:

  • Find a route close to home along a road you are familiar with and which is overlooked by lots of houses. Even better if you live in a close-knit community and can run in an area where you know a lot of people you could call in on if needed.
  • Get to a location which is open and frequented by dog walkers and runners. I would recommend the seafront.
  • Go to a location with someone who needs to do something else that will take the same amount of time as your run. For example, if they want to go shopping or pop into work or get their car washed. Then just get them to drop you off in a familiar place while they do what they need to do and get picked up when you’re finished. Even better if they agree to wait in the car while you do your run and then join them and do what they want to do before or after.
  • Choose places you know really well like an area you used to live in or where you used to go to school or university.
  • If you choose to use headphones, which will help to fight boredom, make sure the volume is fairly low so that you’re still aware of your surroundings. Consider only keeping one earphone in or using a set with one earphone that doesn’t work.
  • Be vigilant. If you see something strange like a car always stopping by you on the same road or you feel uncomfortable in a certain place, listen to yourself and change your route. Don’t be too embarrassed to look back to see if you’re being followed or to cross the road. Always tell someone that you’re going on a run and where you’ll be going. It may seem unlikely that you would be targeted but it’s always better to assume the worst and stay safe.

4. Let your mind wander

Whilst running, you don’t think about your problems. You don’t ruminate and beat yourself up. Put on a good audio book and you probably won’t even focus on that. When you’re running, you just allow yourself to exist. And it’s amazing.

‘Wow, that’s a nice house.’

‘That dog is looking at me. I should smile so it can see I’m friendly.’

‘Watch that puddle.’

Water

5. Finally, why am I doing this?

Now for some context. I was a very active child. I played a variety of sports but never liked learning the rules of various games and having my efforts mocked by those who were crazy about sports. I just liked running around. I was entered into a race but I was terrified and backed out at the last minute. Then came secondary school and I was introduced to the time when the majority of young girls stop exercising and playing sport. I still had to do P. E. or ‘games’ as it was called at my school but I didn’t participate unless I had to and mostly chatted or stood staring into space. But I wasn’t alone. There were the sporty girls but a lot of the girls were just like me.

From 2017-2019, Girls Active ran a survey into the exercise attitudes and practices of girls aged 7-16. They found that the biggest reduction in activity occurs during the transition from primary to secondary school when friendship groups are disrupted and body confidence declines. Only 8% of the girls surveyed did the recommended amount of exercise. Some of the barriers to exercise include:

  • Lack of support from parents (inc. parents focusing more on male children’s participation in sport, therefore leaving girls behind)
  • Body insecurities and lack of confidence which lead to a fear of trying
  • Perceived judgement from more ‘popular’ girls
  • Lack of variety in type of sport on offer, e.g. either competitive sport or high intensity gym exercise
  • Fear of sweating and therefore appearing less feminine and attractive
  • Feeling that menstruation means abstaining from exercise

These issues, when not resolved, merely continue into adult life and make girls unlikely to voluntarily participate in exercise at university and in adult life. The girls that do take up exercise again voluntarily tend to do so to look better as they hope to solve the body confidence issues that stopped them from exercising during their teenage years. If not, there is a danger that food will become the focus, leading to eating disorders. There are now several campaigns to encourage girls to see exercise as the key to a healthy life and to increase their confidence whilst still at school so that these issues don’t continue into later life.

For over a decade I did no proper exercise and convinced myself that I was just one of those people who wasn’t suited to it. I was just meant to sit in my room on my computer and stagnate. However, when I graduated from university, I realised that this had affected almost every part of my life. Let’s just say, I hit rock bottom and running was what pulled me back up and made me feel like a real person for the first time since my early teens. I honestly thought that it was normal for people in their teens and into their early twenties to feel tired all the time but now that I feel the way I remember feeling as a child, ready to break into a run at any time, I know that it’s not.

But I needed to hit rock bottom. I needed to experience a life without good health to fully appreciate a life with good health and happiness. I now know that being healthy isn’t about looking good or being able to eat pudding without feeling bad about it. Being healthy completely changes your mental state. Believe me, I’ve felt the exasperation when people say that you can cure your mental health with exercise. I wouldn’t call it a cure because I’m sure there are other factors at play that just happened to all work together at the same time for me. I’m not a doctor or a therapist so I won’t tell you that you need exercise to be happy but I am a person who has experienced the incredible effects of running and I will seriously recommend that if you feel like I did then the best thing you can do is start running and building up your fitness. Not to make yourself look better or to allow yourself to eat ‘bad’ foods but to become the best that you can be, physically and mentally, and most importantly to be happy.

Now get running.

 

 

A Week of Wartime Food

Throughout my time at school I hated history despite loving to watch documentaries and read books about history. Only now do I know that this is because history at school focuses on war and monarchy and dates whereas I’m more interested in the realism of social history. After watching the Back in Time for Dinner series on BBC2, I became obsessed with how the people of the past ate. I was interested in what ordinary people used to eat every day and how healthy they were as a result.

So, after doing some research and watching Back in Time for Dinner, Further Back in Time for Dinner, and The Supersizers Go Wartime, I came up with enough recipes to get me through the week only eating as someone would have done in the 1940s. My main source was the blog The 1940s Experiment, which is full of delicious hearty meals.

wartime breakfast

I started with a breakfast I would eat now. Porridge with water instead of milk and agave nectar instead of honey, an apple, and a glass of orange juice. I wouldn’t usually have the apple and the orange juice but I found that it filled me up so much more than just porridge and I enjoyed my breakfast more.

wartime oslo

For lunch, I was a bit more adventurous. I tried the Oslo meal, a meal designed to be nutritious and which was so successful in schools that parents started making it for children as a quick and easy lunch. I had wholegrain bread instead of national loaf and Sainsbury’s vegan cheddar instead of cheese but the rest of the meal is just tomato, lettuce, cucumber, and carrots. The meal would have been served with milk so I had soya milk and overall I was shocked at how wholesome the meal was. I would never imagine that such a simple salad sort of lunch would fill me up but it really did and I felt so healthy afterwards. I was initially confused by the cheese but I found that, because the rest of the meal was so healthy, the cheese was probably added as a bit of a treat and I enjoyed it so much more with the cheese.

wartime pasties

I tried a variety of different dinners throughout the week. The first one I tried was vegetable turnovers, which are essentially Cornish pasties. The pastry was easy to make as it was just flour, margarine, and water and the filling was potatoes, carrots, and onions. The turnovers were enough to make a full meal and I’ve made them a few times since as they’re a quick and easy dinner.

wartime supper 2

I also tried some simple light dinners which were surprisingly tasty. I got this recipe from Back in Time for Dinner and the family hated it but I tried it anyway. I found it oddly satisfying, almost like a simple chip butty with ketchup because I decided to put the potatoes and tomatoes in the bread to make a sandwich. I would definitely eat this again if I wasn’t very hungry but wanted something to eat before bed.

wartime pumpkin soup

Finally, my favourite meal of the week was wartime pumpkin soup. It was the most simple recipe: pumpkin, onion, and stock. I can’t remember ever eating pumpkin before but I loved the soup and I’ll be sad when pumpkins disappear from the shops again.

Trying these recipes has given me a new appreciation for those affected by rationing. It can’t have been easy finding ways to beat hunger during rationing but living off the land and focusing on nutrition meant that people were more healthy during the war than they were before or after it. I think we could all learn from the 1940s and eat more locally grown produce and make meals simpler. My food shops have halved in price since I did the week as I’m buying more vegetables and cooking more simple but tasty food. Shopping like this has also reduced the amount of plastic I buy because I can buy loose vegetables and I’m not buying pre-packaged vegan junk food. I just want my own vegetable patch now!

 

 

 

A Full Face of Lush Makeup

In a society that prizes appearance over personality, makeup is integral to survival. Some may escape the propaganda of the beauty industry but for those who don’t there needs to be a way to feel confident without being detrimental to the planet.

When I was 9, I first experienced the self-consciousness that results from being bullied for spots. So once I discovered makeup, at age 12, I thought I had solved my problems. A layer of slightly orange foundation protected my pale, pimpled face from childish ridicule but the older I got the more I questioned this. Why should I wake up earlier every morning to make it look like I was unaffected by puberty? Why should I suffocate my sensitive skin to deflect attention from my imperfections? Since then I have gone through periods of wearing makeup daily, periods of never wearing makeup, and periods of only wearing makeup for special occasions. When am I happiest? Probably when I only wear it for special occasions. Whilst I’d love to claim that I feel best without makeup, the energy and the self love it takes to consistently present your imperfections to an unforgiving world is beyond me. So I must find a way to make my cosmetic comfort blanket better for the world I love so much. I must find a way to wear makeup without having to pay for products that test on animals or pollute the environment.

To do this, I have been researching zero/ low waste, vegan, cruelty free makeup and have now tested a full face of Lush makeup.

Makeup pic

PRIMER – Aloe vera gel or Lush Amazon Primer

As someone with skin that is both oily and dry, I rely on primer. But my current primer is in a plastic tube so I need to find another way. I spent a long time researching and I came up with aloe vera. If you get aloe vera gel from the leaves of the aloe vera plant then there is no plastic involved and you just get a nice feeling from cultivating a plant. Unfortunately, I found that plants actually take time to grow so the aloe vera plant I got for this post is still too small. However, I then found Lush had brought out a primer and this is what I have used to create and test a full face of Lush makeup, all of which is zero waste and vegan except for the mascara (low waste recyclable packaging).

Aloe vera plant

FOUNDATION – Lush Slap Stick

As much as I’d love to DIY all of my makeup, many products are simply too difficult to make yourself. So the only option is to find the companies that provide zero waste, vegan, cruelty free products. For me, that company is Lush. Lush is known for being a cruelty free company but has also made a variety of its products zero waste and vegan. Lush offers solid foundation in a wide variety of shades and undertones, dipped in peelable wax and delivered in recycled and recyclable packaging. The foundation went on smoothly and I couldn’t even feel it on my skin.

CONCEALER – Lush Trix Stick

I chose a lighter shade for the concealer as the shades made my skin tone when mixed together. Both the foundation and the concealer felt very nice on the skin and only failed a visible mark appeared on my nose just under the bridge of my glasses. However, this is a pretty common issue with any concealer and foundation when you have glasses so it just meant I had to dab under my glasses with a tissue occasionally.

CONTOUR – Darker concealer

Contour may be a fairly modern trend but its appeal is undeniable. Being able to change the shape of your face is attractive to any of us who dislike our natural face shape. I use it to give my highlighter a bit of structure and mark my jawline because that’s my insecurity. I have only ever used powder contour but its so much easier to make cream contour zero waste and I found this in the form of Lush concealer darker than my skin tone. It wasn’t quite as strong as my usual contour but that may just be because it wasn’t as dark a colour and that’s easily fixed.

BLUSH – See lipstick.

Lush

HIGHLIGHT – Lush Glow Stick

Highlight is another modern trend which it would be hard to say goodbye to. Personally, I love looking in the mirror and seeing my face glowing! The lush glow stick Linnet surpassed my expectations. It was reflective and glittery and  I can’t wait to try some other colours.

EYE SHADOW – See lipstick

EYE LINER – Lush

Eye liner and mascara go hand in hand. You can use cake mascara for both with the help of a small angled brush for eye liner and a recycled mascara brush for mascara. You can buy cake mascara on Etsy but you can also get mascara in recyclable packaging from Lush. I chose not to get a liquid eye liner from Lush because the applicator was the sort that I know I wouldn’t be able to do from years of trying and failing.

MASCARA – Lush

The mascara was very wet so I had to be careful for a while before it dried. Otherwise, it didn’t clump at all and was actually very good at separating my eyelashes.

LIPSTICK – Lush

Lipstick can have a variety of uses. Lush makes lipstick in a multitude of colours but no eye shadow or blush so why not use the lipstick to fulfil all of your colour needs? I got lipstick in the shade Haarlem and it worked perfectly for the blush and the lips. For the eye shadow, it was very light and I’d probably only use it in the day. Maybe Banjul, the darkest shade (purplish black) will create a better night look?

BEAUTY BLENDERS AND BRUSHES

When thinking of how to replace beauty blenders I hit a complete blank. I looked into natural sea sponges only to find that they are categorised as animals and therefore not considered vegan. I came across luffa, a plant (like a cucumber or a marrow) that can be dried and then the husk can be used as a sponge, but it didn’t look quite right. Eventually I discovered the Korean konjac sponge, a plant sponge which looked much more like the face sponge. However, none of the options were especially promising (importing from Korea is hardly environmentally friendly) so I used my beauty blender and will continue to research alternatives or return to brushes, which Lush also makes.

MAKEUP REMOVER – Coconut oil

Coconut oil is truly versatile. How can one thing be used to both moisturise and remove your makeup? To remove the makeup, you can even make or buy reusable cotton pads. These are simply cotton circles sewn together to make cotton pads that can be washed and reused until they decline in quality. I simply massage the oil into my face with my fingers and then rinse. It removes mascara better than any makeup wipes or miscellar water I’ve found, possibly because you can get right into the water line without pain!

Coconut oil

 

Overall, I’m happy with the Lush makeup collection and will be using their naked products from now on. I did have to add eye makeup for my night look but with more shades of lipstick I’m sure I could create a darker look.

Lush Tutorial_Moment2

A Week of Meal Prep

Recently, I’ve fallen back into old habits. I’ve been eating toast for breakfast, which leaves me hungry and unsatisfied, I’ve been snacking at midday and losing track of time so that I miss lunch altogether, and I’ve been forgetting about dinner until my mum makes it for me.

From day one of my week of meal prepping, I had to get out of these habits and I felt so much better for it.

For breakfast, I found that I still had time to spare in the morning but I also had a delicious, nutritional breakfast. All I did was top the oats with chopped almonds, raisins, desiccated coconut, almond butter, and agave nectar, and my breakfast was done. I ate this breakfast for 5 days and at no point did I stop enjoying it.

For lunch, I just toasted some almonds and then microwaved the butternut squash and couscous, finishing the meal off with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. This salad continues to be one of my favourite meals and I would recommend buying Áine Carlin’s Keep It Vegan just for that recipe! It is also transportable as all you have to do is heat it up for 3 minutes in a microwave and its ready to eat.

Dinner was still ready-made but by me. It may not have looked very appetising but it was healthy and the marinated tofu was unlike anything I’ve had before. As time went by, I found that the tofu really didn’t last very well and I now know that I should have just marinated it for the meal prep and left the frying until the day. On the last day, instead of heating it up, I cut it up and put it into some wraps and it tasted so much better!

At the end of a week of meal prepping, the only thing I would do different would be to change it up a little and provide some small alterations. When I went out for dinner, 4 days in, I couldn’t tell if the burger and chips I ordered were the best I’ve ever had in my life or whether it was just the novelty of different tastes!

Now that food prep isn’t a part of my day, I have so much more time. I’m a meal prep convert and look forward to a fridge full of aesthetic jars of overnight oats!

Meal prepping?

I have been wanting to try meal prepping for so long but had no idea how to start. What meals were the best to make? Should I keep them in the fridge or the freezer? What if some foods don’t do well when kept in the fridge for week after cooking?

Meal prepping is a pretty modern take on batch cooking, which is a normal part of family life for many people. I have never cooked my meals in batches. I’ve reheated leftovers but never set out to make more food than I need. But meal prepping is a great way to save money and to lose weight so it seems worth a try.

To start, I found 3 recipes I like from Áine Carlin’s recipe book and bought all the ingredients to make 5 portions of each.

This week, I won’t have to cook in order to eat which hopefully will stop me from grabbing snacks (which tend to be crisps or ice cream in the summer) when I’m hungry because I can’t be bothered to cook.

My menu this week is:

Breakfast: Cocoa and almond butter overnight oats

Lunch: Winter (yeah, I know) squash and couscous salad

Dinner: Sweet and sour marinated tofu with stir fry vegetables

If I get bored, I can change the toppings on my oats, add vegetables to my salad, and change what I eat with my tofu. As I failed to properly cut my tofu, the last portion is pretty measly, so I may cook up some really quick tofu scramble on the last day to go with my vegetables. But this way of eating should allow me to get all that I need as everything is decided beforehand and I know what nutrients and what portion sizes I will be eating.

meal prep intro

Day Five of 5am

Day Five

Five days of 5am seems to be one good day and one bad. Today was not exactly bad but I woke up feeling very tired. I still went to the gym and got a good workout but I got to the gym later than usual and there is a HUGE influx of people after 7am. I then had a fairly productive day but mostly spent quality time with friends. Now, thanks to their generosity, I have an aloe vera plant which will be featuring in my blog soon! I think the plant pot I was intending for it is a little big though!

Day five plant

I did also come across an unexpected con of waking up at 5am. To get 8 hours, I have to get to sleep by 9, which is difficult enough on a normal day when I’m still trying to get things done. As a result of this, I’ve been getting an average of 7 hours sleep and my goal has been to improve this, but there’s an issue. Whilst spending time with friends, I noticed that the hours were ticking by, getting closer and closer to 9. In the end, I had to go home early because I was so exhausted and I’ve now been getting tired at 7, ready for bed at 9. Even earlier in the week, I missed out on an evening out because my adjusting body clock and my increased physical productivity meant that I was too exhausted to leave the house and just fell sleep. This is no way to continue.

Waking up at 5 is such a good way to increase your productivity and make you feel better about life but a huge part of my life is spending time with friends and this is often from 6 to midnight when people have finished work. If I were to continue waking up at 5 every day, I would have to get 4 or 5 hours sleep after every night out and that’s just not sustainable. I am the sort of person who NEEDS sleep to function. I do not react well to feeling tired and I don’t use any form of stimulant to keep me awake. Caffeine affects me badly and I never want to be dependent on stimulants to get through the day.

 

So, do I go back to normal? No, of course not. There have been so many benefits to waking up at 5am that I can’t go back. My plan is now to continue doing 5am but not as a set time. Depending on what I’m doing and how my week looks, I will adjust the time to suit me. If I’ve been getting very tired then I’ll wake up at 6 or 7 and if I have a night out I’ll have a one-off guilt-free lie in and then get back to normal the next day. When I get my body used to 9pm to 5am as the default setting and other times as unusual, my body will hopefully always be able to wake up earlier and not just revert to my night owl origins.

This Sunday, I have a dinner party with friends, so I will use this to practice changing my sleep schedule so that I can be up later for one night but be back to normal the next day. I don’t want to be at the dinner party in body but not in mind simply because I’m tired. I want to enjoy myself and my time with friends without worrying about flagging towards the end.

Overall, I’m so glad I did this challenge and I encourage you to try it too. Waking up with the sunrise, when the birds are waking up and the sky is lightening, is so therapeutic. The world just looks different when you look at it with the mindset of opportunity rather than drudgery.

Day One window still

 

Day Four of 5am

Day Four

I had an AMAZING sleep. The Sleep Cycle app doesn’t do it justice but I woke up feeling so refreshed. My body may have kept me in light sleep until the time I usually go to sleep but somehow it did the job.

Because of this, I had my most productive day. I went to the gym and did my best workout because I finally felt brave enough to use the machines that are always dominated by body builders! I then spent the rest of the day assembling the IKEA furniture I got delivered and redesigning my room so that it actually looks bigger (my room is a cupboard).

I’m a bit achy from all this but I feel good!

Day Three of 5am

Day Three

Today was the first day I seriously considered going back to sleep. It took me so long to get to sleep that I only got 7 hours sleep and I woke up with a sore bloodshot eye. I felt so exhausted all morning that I didn’t go to the gym and I only went outside for a few minutes. I rinsed out my eye because it felt very irritated and, when this only relieved it slightly, I just tried to rest it. As the day went on, the soreness slowly got less noticeable but I still only really got admin done today.

I’m hoping tomorrow is better because waking up at 5 is so much nicer when you go out and enjoy the extra hours. Let’s call this a mid-week break and be in bed by 9?

Day Three flower

Day Two of 5am

Day Two

I think this is starting to work already? Before I went to bed I meditated and by 9pm I felt ready for sleep. My sleep quality was so much better, 82%, which is 7 hours 26 minutes of sleep and deep sleep. As a result of this, I enjoyed a long morning and a good gym session (yes I am standing on a tiny chair to fit into the mirror!). My day was fun and productive and I’m starting to feel tired for 9pm!

Day Two workout

Day One of 5am

Day One

I went to bed at about half 9 so it took me ages to fall asleep and then I was in and out of dreams until half 3 when I woke up as if it was 5 already. I stumbled out of bed to the bathroom and was blinded by the light. Then in my way back I trod on one cat and fell on another, making them both angry and confused as they don’t seem to realise I can’t see them in the dark. I forced myself to go back to sleep and according to Sleep Cycle I yo-yoed between being awake and being in deep sleep for just over an hour.

Day One Window

Considering all this I didn’t feel too bad waking up. I spent some time with my head out of the window breathing in some fresh air and listening to the wood pigeons, I drank some water, and I ate some Nakd bites.

Day One Snacks

I was lucky enough to get a lift to the gym and once I stepped in to the gym I started to feel the sleep deprivation. I tried to do a simple workout but I just felt faint and my head hurt so I finished the workout in 20 minutes and then walked home feeling like I might pass out. Luckily I didn’t. I’ve never actually passed out. But I spent the 2 hours before work just relaxing and replenishing my energy levels with a Trek bar and some cereal with nuts and flaxseed.

Towards the end of the day I started to feel more normal. No better than normal but no worse. Hopefully this will get better? I’m looking forward to seeing a difference.