Tuesday 14 February 2017

Valentine Sale!

For the 14th and 15th I'm having a little Valentine sale in my shop!
Treat yourself to 15% off - no need for discount codes, the prices are already adjusted!


Sunday 12 February 2017

Kettlercise Ignite - 2 Weeks Later

   I've been using Kettlercise's 'Ignite' for two weeks now, and in that time I've used all three of the workouts twice each. As I'd expected, the 30 minutes includes a warm up and cool down, but the workout itself is a solid 20 minutes and you truly underestimate how much work you can get done in so short a time. Kettlercise has never given you a moment's pause between moves in any of their other DVDs and this is no different, and while that's exhausting, it's effective, and after 20 minutes of work, my goodness, you feel it.
   I'd forgotten how effective kettlebells are, in fact. My new year's resolution this year is to stop overdoing it, to stop adding on extra work after an intense workout, because the workouts I generally use - like this and Jillian Michaels - are designed to be effective on their own, along with sensible eating. Adding on extra exercise has led to me feeling run down and exhausted all the time, and, I eventually realised, a loss of results because my body can't keep up with what I'm making it do. As such, I'd forgotten it's the intensity of the activity that counts, not the total time spent on it, so I was relatively sure I'd end up breaking my resolution on this.
   Not so. 20 minutes of kettlebells is insane if done right, and Kettlercise know what they're doing.

   What surprised me beyond how deep a kettlebell workout gets into your body - you seriously feel it everywhere the next day - was how varied the three workouts are. The first, After Burn, uses complexes - a string of several kettlebell moves repeated in a complex sequence (the clue is in the name) - and while there are only a few of them, it remains immensely hard work and challenges your nervous system by trying to keep the pace and maintain the pattern. I'd thought that, because there weren't many complexes, that it wouldn't feel very different from the other two, but I was wrong. Detonator is more traditional, but it's a whole other kind of hard work with its focus and control, and Melt Down has these horrible little 1-minute cardio blasters in between several minutes of kettlebell moves.
   All three workouts, though focused entirely around the kettlebell and get into every part of your body, feel different from one another. It doesn't feel like 'a kettlebell workout three days a week,' but rather 'three workouts a week with kettlebells'. And that is a really, really good thing, because kettlebells are an exhausting piece of kit, so to get such different use out of them keeps them from getting stale so quickly.

   It's hard work, so much so that it's almost not enjoyable, but though February is a 4-workout-week month, I might give Ignite 5 weeks instead, working into the first week of March. It's definitely worth it - I'm convinced I'm already seeing results. So I'll either update again on the 26th, or on the 5th! Whenever I've finished. So be sure to come back for my long-term impressions, then the week after for the full, detailed DVD review.

Thursday 9 February 2017

Valentine's Day on a Budget

   Love it or loathe it, Valentine's Day is a thing. Seeg isn't fond of it, but as I was single all through high school, I've embraced it fiercely for the six we've shared together so far despite what I...may have said in the past. This year will be our seventh - perhaps.
   Not 'perhaps' as in 'we might not make it', but rather because money is frustratingly tight this year and I've had to choose between my best friend's birthday present and the 'holiday-that-isn't-really-a-holiday' in my boyfriend's eyes. Naturally, Lucy won out.

   But I've been quite reluctant to forfeit Valentine's Day, so I've been looking for ways to celebrate on a budget. I gathered up lots of ideas, and found some great articles like Payplan's budget Valentine's Day, and ultimately decided that the best, easiest and most financially sound way is to just get crafty. Presents are a no, but that's all right (though I did tell him I wanted some Rolos, but the corner shop doesn't bloody stock them, so that really is out), because it truly is about spending an evening together, setting everything else aside for a few hours. We go for a walk and have a movie night every weekend, and we hold our anniversary in May as the 'big one', so I usually like to try to take Valentine's day half way between the two.
   Usually, it would be dinner, chocolates, presents, a movie, and so on and so forth, but this year it's got to be reined in. But I've got Valentine's Day on a budget all worked out, and it's one that, though simple, will have a bigger impact and can completely avoid the crowded restaurants and cinemas which only really serve to compromise that special together-time.
   Go on. Tell me I'm wrong.

Valentine Dinner
   Forget eating out; cook at home instead. Cooking together is so much fun, and Seeg and I both have our specialties. He's actually the savoury chef, and I'm the dessert master, so we tend to make both at the same time without getting in each other's way - he prepares dinner while I mix up some brownies in the corner, and they only go in the oven when we settle down for the main course. It's usually quite simple: duck, roast potatoes, lots of veg and a boatful of gravy. It's simple, but it's delicious, and as it's all made from scratch it's also pretty healthy. Then we undo it with the brownies, fresh from the oven, and chocolate fudge ice cream. Because it's a special occasion.
   Everything is pretty basic, and the only expensive components are the meat and the ice cream, both of which can go in the freezer and subsequently be bought ahead of time to spread the cost. Freshly frozen veg is also good - that's vegetables that were frozen shortly after harvesting rather than having been prepared and diced first. They still have most of their nutrients and can in fact be healthier than 'fresh' vegetables - ie carrots that were imported from another country. It's not actually 'fresh' unless it comes from your garden or a local farm.
   Try my deliciously simple apple rose tarts, or make some chocolate leaves to garnish even the simplest desserts.

http://www.ablackbirdsepiphany.co.uk/2015/05/apple-rose-tarts_26.html http://www.ablackbirdsepiphany.co.uk/2015/06/chocolate-leaves.html

Valentine Chocolates
   Make them yourself. You can temper chocolate so it sets with a snap by using the seeding method at home, no fancy equipment needed. Just melt 2/3 of a cup of chocolate in a bowl over a pan of boiling water, then add the remaining 1/3 once it's fully melted to help cool it down. Pour them into heart- or alphabet-shaped moulds, add some rice crispies, nuts, fruit, whatever when they're half-full, then fill them the rest of the way with more chocolate and leave them at room-temperature to set.
   Or forget chocolates and make biscuits. I've got a wonderful and ridiculously easy recipe and how-to for Valentine locket sugar cookies, and the only unusual ingredient is isomalt - you can find it in craft shops, baking stores, or online from ebay or baking websites like Craft Company, and all you have to do with it is melt it. Or make some mini Valentine whoopie pies with some marshmallow fluff, which again is becoming increasingly common in supermarkets.
   Try my Valentine cake bites, or patchwork heart cookies.


Valentine Flowers
   Fancy bouquets of flowers cost so much money, and it's tempting to just go for the £5 bunch from the corner shop. But that's frowned upon, isn't it? They're only good for those "just because" moments, for spontaneous flower-buying. Not for special occasions. But with roses costing upwards of £25 at this time of year, there is an alternative, and it's much better! A cake bouquet. Get a nice, disappointingly thin bunch of those budget flowers, then head down to the cake aisle. See those packages of little individually wrapped cakes? Buy a few. Cadbury mini rolls, Mr Kipling, or some simple cupcakes. Brilliant. Now get some sticks. Wooden lollipop or cake pop sticks aren't hard to come by in craft shops anymore, not with baking being so popular a hobby, so get a few of those for about £1.50 and then unwrap the cakes, one by one, and push them onto the end of the sticks. Arrange your flowers in a vase with some pretty ribbon or tissue paper, then insert your cake sticks at attractive intervals, or cluster them in the centre and have the flowers surround them. There you go. And what did that cost? £5 for the flowers and another £5 for the cakes? And I'll tell you what: it'll leave a much bigger impression than a fancy but ultimately inedible bunch of flowers for £25+

Valentine Gifts
   Make something. Yes, it's that simple. Use something you're familiar with - paint, draw, cook. Put time into something that will show them you know them. Fold origami hearts for your love notes instead of buying a card - they're not as difficult to make as you might think. String them up, slip them into their pocket, scatter them around the house.
   Gestures are also a lovely idea - run them a bath with rose petals or bath salts. Make them breakfast in bed, even if it's just toast. Mix them up a special Valentine smoothie.
   It's easy to make even mundane food look festive - a heart-shaped cookie cutter is all you really need. Draw around it onto paper and cut it out to make a heart shaped coffee stencil. Use it to cut heart-shaped toast or make heart-shaped eggs or omelettes. Or reverse it with an inside out sandwich - cut a heart out of the top slice of bread and fill the hollow with something aesthetic. An egg salad sandwich with some curly carrot shavings spiralling out, or fill the heart with halved cherry tomatoes. Make a bacon and egg sandwhich and arrange it so that the fried egg yolk is presented in the heart. Or make a ham sandwich, fill the heart cavity with cheese and grill it.
   Give food a dash of Valentine colour with freeze-dried berries, paprika, bell peppers, tomatoes, salsa, strawberry jam and other red and pink foods.
   Try my Eros' Elixir Valentine smoothie, or my rather ancient tutorial for Valentine scratch cards.

http://www.ablackbirdsepiphany.co.uk/2015/02/eros-elixir-valentine-smoothie-recipe.html http://www.ablackbirdsepiphany.co.uk/2012/02/origami-love-notes.html

Valentine Movie Night
   Do it at home. Rent a DVD, or grab one of the first ones you ever watched together, then gather up all the blankets and cushions in the house, shove the furniture out the way and snuggle down amongst it all. You won't have to deal with selfish people in the cinema who just go to make noise, you can pause it to run to the loo, and if it's a movie you saw together years ago, it will totally outmatch the newest blockbuster because you won't be so engrossed in the movie that you forget you're supposed to be on a date.
   Popcorn is also easily made at home, and as it's such a popular health food right now, you can get all kinds of flavours beyond the simple sweet or salty you'd find in the cinema. Or you can find any number of recipes and make apple pie popcorn, triple chocolate popcorn, spicy salsa popcorn, and so on. And you can have any bottle of wine that strikes your fancy.

   Valentine's Day can be amazing even on a budget, and by getting creative and putting in this kind of effort, it will stick in your mind for longer, too, and is guaranteed not to meld into the tangled mass of memories of other Valentine's Days a few years from now.

Wednesday 8 February 2017

Valentine Order Deadline - 6:30pm

Yup, that's right, the final deadline for Valentine orders within the UK is tonight at 6:30pm.
The 10% Valentine discount - FEB10 - also expires at that time, so don't miss out!
Visit Myth Of The Wild and place your orders within the next 6 hours.

Unfortunately this deadline doesn't include the book flowers, as they take much longer to make.
I intend to ship on Friday to ensure delivery before Valentine's Day, but I'll be posting on Monday 13th, too.
I always post 1st class, but that doesn't guarantee next day delivery.


Tuesday 7 February 2017

Reward Your Efforts with StyleWe (+giveaway)

   Rewarding yourself without food. I think that was one of the hardest things I had to work on when I first started trying to change my body - even now, sugar remains my vice. Ultimately, I think the problem is that chocolate and biscuits are delicious and affordable, and as they're available in a range of different extents, from custard creams to giant, freshly-baked monsters, they're appropriate for any level of celebration.
   But because they're so affordable and so easy to buy (and eat), it's easy to turn to food as a reward simply because there's an option for every celebration. And that's not good if you're rewarding yourself for good progress in your fitness, be it weight loss, toning, strength or beating your personal best, because it's a step towards compromising exactly what you're proud of.

   This is not to say that gourmet marshmallows, epic freshly baked brownies or a night out to dinner can't be a reward, but it is to say that you need to limit it. I keep dinner for my birthday and Seeg's, or for achievements like an art exhibit in a gallery or publishing my book. I keep chocolate and similar for birthdays and anniversaries, which means they're never really a reward, so much as a treat.
   The trick when it comes to rewarding yourself with something other than food is simply  broadening your mind. Find things relevant to what you're rewarding yourself for. A skin treatment - in a spa or at home in your jim jams - is a great option for health-related achievements like tidying up your eating, giving up smoking, giving up alcohol and so on, because a spa treatment can make you feel even cleaner and more sparkly. If you're rewarding yourself for reaching milestones in your handmade business, some new bookkeeping stationery or luxury craft tools you've had your eye on for ages are also fabulous ideas that can help propel you towards your next milestone.
   But when it comes to fitness, my favourite way to treat myself is with new exercise clothes. New active wear. It's relevant, but it's also a bit of an investment - no point buying it if I'm going to give up on my workout, right? And there are so many gorgeous brands out there that, these days, you're seriously spoiled for choice regardless of your budget!

   My most recent, a reward for not only completing my Christmas workout but also for getting my eating back on track after the Christmas and birthday season, were some gorgeous capris from StyleWe. Most of my fitness style preferences are loud - I usually go for quite muted tops, I like them to be plain black but they have to have something going on at the back. A simple black tank will never do. But when it comes to my leggings and capris, I love bright colours, messy patterns, unique prints, and so on. But with the fact that I took up meditation last month, I felt it was time I added something more muted to my collection. I've been looking for a while, and I've always liked leggings with mesh panels on the legs, but I've never bought them because the focus was generally on that panel rather than colour or print. But this time, that's what I wanted, so when I saw these wonderful grey capris with a lovely white mesh panel creeping up the leg, I had to have them.

   They fit wonderfully - these days, most active wear have flat-lock seams and wonderful wide, flat waist bands which are immensely flattering, and these are no different. They breathe well, they look lovely, and the mesh panel doesn't ride up. I've used them against kickboxing, kettlebells, and yoga, and they've stood up (get it?) just fine against all the movements.
   Buying something that I'm going to use, will make me look and feel good, and generally provide me motivation to keep going is the best way to reward myself. Because, while the reward should be the results of your hard work, having a stylish little boost certainly helps to maintain enthusiasm and momentum, and that ultimately contributes to ongoing improvements in your skill and results.

   StyleWe agrees, of course, and as an incentive to help keep you on track - we've just stumbled into February and, for many of us, New Year Resolutions have become a bit tiresome - they are offering one of you lucky readers any single item of clothing from their site worth up to $60 - be it regular, fashionable clothing or activewear. For anyone interested, these WakingBee capris were $49.

   Because the prize is shipped straight from StyleWe, this giveaway is under their shipping restrictions, meaning that the giveaway is only open to residents of the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Canada, USA and Australia.
   The winner will be contacted by myself initially and will be given 72 hours to respond and accept the prize. They will then be contacted by StyleWe to confirm what item of clothing they would like, which will then be shipped directly to them from StyleWe. Only one item of clothing may be selected, up to the value of $60. There is no cash alternative.
   Enter using the widget below - good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday 5 February 2017

Jillian Michaels 10 Minute Body Transformation Review

Price: £12 / $9
Length: 5x 10 minutes
Workouts: All-over body (cardio, abs, strength)
Suitable for: everyone; some kickboxing knowledge required
Overall Rating:   ★★★★☆
Enjoyment:  ★★★☆☆   Difficulty:  ★★★★★   Results:  ★★★★☆

   I started my fitness journey 3 years ago with a Wii Fit and some 10 Minute Solution DVDs. They were a really good starting point, and the DVDs in particular lasted me ages, but even way back then I knew I wasn't going to get any real results after just 10 minutes of work so I always did a few workouts back to back.
   When I discovered Jillian Michaels and her 30 Day Shred back in 2014, I really started to up my game and found that the workouts I was getting in those 10 minutes, even if I did three of them, were quite low-impact and intentionally designed for newbies. I realised I'd been wasting my time, because I only started seeing considerable results when I moved onto her DVDs, and so, when I saw she had released 10 Minute Body, I was intrigued and dubious. I figured, in interest, that it could be insane because of Jillian's 'don't waste time' mindset - just because you only have 10 minutes doesn't mean it should be easy. Alternatively, what concerned me was the idea that perhaps it would be easy because it was only 10 minutes, and what can you really pack into that?
   I usually skip the intro of these DVDs, but in this case, I wanted to know Jillian's intentions behind this DVD. I wasn't disappointed. She says that if you have 10 minutes, give her everything you've got in those 10 minutes, but if you have 20 minutes, do two workouts, 30 minutes, do three. This is how I used to use 10 Minute Solution DVDs (and still do with Knockout Body), and while it's true that doing just one workout from this DVD will certainly do something for you, far more than other 10 minute workouts, you'll never get any actual results if you stick to just 10 minutes a day, no matter how intense. But this DVD can provide an amazing and varied 30-minute workout by selecting 3 workouts, or a full 50 minutes, though that is incredibly difficult. Alternatively, it's a brilliant DVD to have in your fitness collection for those days when you don't have time but don't want to miss out on mobility, or simply want to move.

   Made up of five 10-minute workouts in varying styles and methods, this DVD is designed for days when you don't have time but can't afford to miss a workout, or as a means of creating your own hybrid fusion workout, combining different styles - Pilates, kickboxing, calisthenics - into one session. And because it's so easy to stack the 10-minute workouts, you can do just 10 minutes, or you can do far more. You have more control, and as 10 minutes doesn't feel intimidating, even when you've finished what you planned to do, you may find yourself saying "I can do one more". After a 2-minute break, perhaps.
   But these 10 minutes are not easy. The idea is that if you're only going to do 10 minutes, you have to give those 10 minutes everything. So consider these workouts typical Jillian Michaels workouts that have been compressed from 30 minutes into 10.

   You need very little for this DVD. A mat is ideal for most of them for the sake of comfort, especially during Pilates Power and Calisthenics, but it's also nice for a couple of moves in Booty Bootcamp and Cardio Burn where your elbows and/or knees are on the ground. Or if you have a wooden floor and no gloves, and so are likely to slip.
   Hand weights are only needed for Booty Bootcamp as your arms are engaged with weights at the shoulders for just over half of the moves, but in this case just one set of medium weights are best. I alternate between 4kg (9lbs) for deadlifts and a goblet squat, while I use 2.5kg (5lbs) for the rest. So a variety is nice if you have them, to make sure you give every move your best, but if you only have one set of weights, it won't make too much of a difference. The deadlift in question is single-legged, putting more work into your standing leg, and the goblet squat is more of a goddess squat than a regular one, putting more work into your glutes and quads through the depth and range of motion. So the weights themselves are not totally vital - but it is only 10 minutes.

   The DVD lists the five workouts, each 10 minutes long, between a 2.5 minute warm-up section at the top and a 2.5 minute cool down section at the bottom. The idea is that you do your warm up, then select a workout, then do the cool-down. This means that you'll do a minimum of 15 minutes, and this is good because if you're only doing a 10 minute workout, you don't want half of that taken up with a warm up and cool down. Every one of these sections are 10 minutes of work.
   Alternatively, the workouts are also listed on the menu in the ideal order for if you were to do the entire thing all the way through, though I stress that the full 50-minute run is very demanding. After the warm up, you begin with Pilates Power - controlled but powerful Pilates movements to build strength, use up the energy in your muscles without exhausting you, and warm up your body all the more, working while still avoiding the threat of pulled muscles (a 2.5 minute warm up isn't much, after all) - followed by high-impact, pure cardio with Cardio Burn, then Booty Bootcamp to recover your breath without resting your muscles nor heart rate. The real 'rest' comes with Calisthenics, when you get your breath back more and let your heart rate drop a little, and then when you finish up with Kickboxing, you've got the energy and mindset to tackle those last 10 minutes. Then stretch in the cool-down - though you might want to run through it twice if you've done the whole DVD.
   Each workout is 10 minutes - not 9, ten minutes - and consists of a 5-minute circuit completed twice, once on each side of the body where applicable.

Pilates Power - I'm always surprised by Pilates. It never looks all that difficult, but it's probably the lowest-impact resistance workout (in terms of affecting the heart rate) there is. It's very difficult, though none of the moves are particularly unusual for Pilates, but rather it's the fact that it takes both strength and flexibility to execute. Pilates itself is not for total newbies, and while there are modifications in this 10-minute workout, it is still a challenge, though a manageable one. You will feel this workout in your legs at the beginning, and your abs by the end. I also have to say that it's nice that Jillian makes it known that it is, really, Shannon's workout, one of her assistant instructors and the woman who taught Jillian Pilates. It's also the one workout where Jillian seems calm. Strangely calm.
Cardio Burn - This is brutal. It is what you would expect for a compressed Jillian Michaels workout: burpees, frog hops, complicated variations of basic moves like high knees, and other wonderfully awful things. I hated it - I hate cardio in general, but I really hated this, and had to remind myself far too many times that it was only 10 minutes. Which means it's one of the workouts on the DVD you really don't want to skip. For it to be so horrible, it has to yield results.
Booty Bootcamp - Though the focus on this workout is all in the bum, your arms are still constantly engaged with hand weights, keeping the blood pumping up and down, burning more calories and, effectively, more fat. It's high impact, though not on the scale of Cardio Burn or Kickboxing, but it's a great workout for combining resistance and cardio with the most balanced ratio out of the five.
Calisthenics - It's more dynamic than I expected it to be; while still slower and more controlled than other sections on this DVD, it still keeps your heart rate up (plyometric single-legged bridges, yikes). I was sweating by the end, and calisthenics had been the first workout I'd used from the DVD, so it couldn't have been overkill, but it's also low-impact enough to be able to manage at the end if you decide 30 minutes isn't enough and want a little more (assuming you used three other workouts).
Kickboxing - There's very little chance to get your breath back in this non-stop kickboxing section; you do need to know your punches and kicks beforehand as it's made up entirely of quick combinations, and if you don't know how to hook or round-kick, you're gonna have a bad time. Of course, Jillian's Kickbox Fast Fix is an amazing 3x 20 minute workout DVD that will teach you how to kickbox while giving you an amazing cardio workout in the process.

Enjoyment:  ★★★☆☆  -  A difficult workout, not conventionally 'fun', but the variety on the DVD lets you shake it up a lot and really avoids boredom.
Difficulty:  ★★★★★  -  It's Jillian Michaels. In 10 minutes. It's far from easy!
Results:  ★★★★☆  -  Depends how you use it. If you only ever use it for 10 minutes at a time, you're not going to see results, but if you use it for about 30 minutes a time, you are guaranteed results.

   Every single workout provided on this DVD is like a Jillian Michaels workout in miniature. All the sweat and hard work compressed into just 10 minutes. It's not enough time to get your body burning fat - it takes about 20 minutes before that happens - but if you follow her suggestion and compile a 20-30 minute session with a combination of the workouts provided, you'll get amazing results - in fact, from my experience, you'll get a workout more intense than a usual 30 minute Jillian Michaels workout.
   The DVD is amazing, it shattered my hopes and my concerns were unwarranted.
   ...Except one: the warm up isn't enough. I do understand the decision to make it only 2.5 minutes - people wouldn't be too impressed if it took 20 minutes to complete a 10 minute workout - but a warm up is vital for avoiding injury in the workout as well as opening your body up to get the most of out. My main concern here was that the warm up would be included in the 10 minutes for each workout, and that would have been much worse - it would have been an even shorter warm up, and the workout would be reduced, too - so I'm really glad it's at least been done this way instead.
   I would recommend doing some butt-kicks, high knees and jumping jacks for 2.5 minutes before beginning the DVD's own warm up. Warm ups are becoming a little too quick on DVDs these days, I've noticed, and I think people are more concerned about time than about avoiding injury - some people skip the warm up altogether. I remedy it by doing my own for a full 5 minutes before embarking on the warm up provided by the DVD. I want to hurt and ache from hard work, not stupidity.

   Otherwise, Jillian Michaels' 10 Minute Body is all you really want from a 10 minute workout. It's intense enough that 10 minutes will leave you feeling like you've accomplished something, but the workouts provided are all versatile enough to be stacked up in any order you want to make anything from a 20 minute workout to 50 - or more if you are insane and were to repeat a few. It's high-impact, it will give results when used alongside good eating, and it should, in my opinion, be a staple in everyone's fitness DVD collection for those days when you don't have the time or the drive.

Thursday 2 February 2017

UK Valentine Order Deadline

Just a quick update - the final date for UK orders in time for Valentine's day is February 8th - Wednesday next week.


Wednesday 1 February 2017

Maintaining Your Motivation in Fitness

Warning: this is a lengthy post, but if you're not feeling February's motivation, it's worth it.

   January. The month of resolutions. That time of the year when we finally decide to make those big changes. It's fun, really, isn't it? The positivity that comes from doing something good, something worthwhile, be it for you or for someone else - it's difficult to beat and that can really urge you on.
   The trouble is, while it's easy to find the motivation to start, it's even easier to run out of steam. It's far from uncommon that January 28th rolls around, we congratulate ourselves on four weeks well done, and let ourselves fall slack, slip up and say "I'll try again tomorrow". And honestly, that's fine - as long as you do try again tomorrow.
   Failure only happens when you give up - or, y'know, you miss the deadline. But if the change you resolved to make was for the benefit of you and you alone, there is no deadline, not really. You may have taken up a new craft with the goal of having a new product line in your Etsy shop by the summer, or tried to get your dream body in time for your autumn wedding, but just because you might fall short, by a little or a lot, that doesn't render your progress redundant. Not at all.

   That's the most important thing to remember when it feels like you're getting nowhere and you want to give up: every single step you take, no matter how big or small, counts.
   But of course it's only February - it's too soon to start thinking negatively for six months down the line. So instead, we'll focus on the 'now' - an act that could easily obliterate that six-month-negativity and keep it from ever coming to pass.
   First of all, my ultimate goal: I want my dream body. Because I'm entitled to it. But there's no hiding from the fact that it's going to take a lot of work, especially when, like me, your vice is sugar. It is so difficult to maintain a steady pace. And yet, when you look at my blog, it's clear that I'm managing, right?
   Right. And why? Because I've learned a few truths over the past few years that have made it easier. So I'm laying them out for you now to help you maintain your new year motivation and get February off to an eager and healthy start.

First of all: there is no steady pace.
   That's right. The world will work with you some days, against you on others, and you'll find that your body will, too, with completely natural fluctuations. There's also no escaping stress and pressure from sources out of your control - especially these days, but we won't get into politics - just as there's no escaping more positive things that will try to put a dampener on your progress either, like Valentine chocolates (even if they're from yourself), Easter eggs, birthday cake and so on. It's important to realise this, and to give yourself permission to relax when celebrations come around, and to cut yourself some slack if you're hindered by things out of your control. That said, it's also a good idea to find ways to deal with stress that doesn't involve eating. Though it may sound pretentious, I urge you to put aside those preconceptions and try meditation. Just 10 minutes of sitting quietly and focusing on your breath can truly help to eradicate stress. Yoga works really well, too, though that can be less practical as you need space and some time to limber up, first.

Keep away from the scales.
   Weight fluctuates, and if you're working out with weights - which you should be - the scales are absolutely not going to reflect your progress. When I first started out, I was doing general running and aerobics using the Wii fit my boyfriend had bought me for my first birthday with him (he wasn't dropping a hint; he was picking up on one of mine). It told me to weigh in every day, so I did, before my exercise at about 9am every morning. And yet, even though I had exercised every day, I weighed more every morning than I did the last. This was extremely disheartening. But he had spent too much money, so I couldn't give up, so I weighed in again on Monday after having Saturday and Sunday off. And what I found surprised me: I weighed less that morning than I had the Monday before. This was a pattern that happened every week, without fail, and it taught me that exercise puts a strain on your body, and your body's recovery seems to make you weigh more. But with a day or two without exercise, giving your body the chance to recover properly, your body levels out. Just as you might find your waist looks bigger, feels bigger and perhaps actually measures more after an ab workout. Because you're swollen.
   In short: keep away from the scales, rely on a tape measure instead, but don't do either more than once every two weeks. Better still, don't weigh or measure at all, just go by the fit of your clothes. Whether you know what the number is on the tape or the scales or not does not affect the results you have. Just keep going.

Broaden your options.

   Exercise and fitness goes way beyond running, swimming and cycling. You know, I've never been to a gym? I also can't swim, can't ride a bike (I kid you not), and generally don't really run. All of my fitness, and the resulting drop from a size 16 to a size 8, has been done in the comfort of my living room.
   With the help of twitter, pinterest and general workout websites and magazines, I've discovered the presence of all kinds of different fitness activities, and have tried many via DVD, youtube or other free resources. When I started, I thought the RSC - run, swim, cycle - weights and dance DVDs. And weights were out of the question because I had the dire misconception that weights would make me look like a man.
   But I started branching out, after getting bored with the same 3 dance DVDs and the Wii fit, so I started trying a few of the things I'd glimpsed, like hula hooping, or giving Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred a go. This was in 2014, and since then I've discovered drumming-inspired workout, POUND, African dance workout Kukuwa, ballet-style BarreAmped, kung fu with the Shaolin Warrior Workout. I've tried new kit like pilates rings, body bars, body bands and kettlebells. And I've tried and fallen head over heels in love with yoga, kickboxing and kettlebells.
   By working out at home, your options are still immensely broad, and by taking advantage of the fitness craze that has grasped the world and encouraged indie trainers to develop their own unique forms of exercise, you can seriously keep yourself bouyed, as well as stave off plateaus and keep your results coming.
   I generally switch up my workout every month - a brand new DVD, routine or program, and I always try to make sure that the activities are never similar on consecutive months. I'll do barre one month, kettlebells another, Pilates another and kickboxing the next.


Don't compare, but do observe.
   There is no one single body shape we can all achieve through the right exercise. The fact is, every body is different. Some people have wide hips and broad shoulders, and that makes their waist look smaller, giving them that hour glass look. Some people, like me, have tiny hips and a tiny ribcage, making it more difficult for a toned, narrow waist to actually look it. Some people also naturally store fat in their bust, meaning they will always have bigger breasts than other women, while others have naturally round bums that will respond incredibly to booty workouts.
   So it's important not to compare yourself to others, but certainly observe them. With all the workout DVDs in my collection, I have a wide range of different body types to look at and envy. But it was only when I used Jillian Michaels' Kickbox Fast Fix, which has, alongside Jillian Michaels, five other women, that I really began to appreciate that there is no one single 'fit and slender' body. All six women looked different - some were narrower than others, some were taller, others bustier, others bootier. But they were all fit, all slender, they just had, quite simply, individual bodies.
   Since I noticed this, I've been looking more technically at fit womens' bodies. Rather than looking at slender inner thighs in envy, I'm noticing when some of them have thicker thighs that look remarkably like mine. And suddenly, while I do still feel there's room to narrow them down, I don't consider my thighs 'fat' or 'ugly'. But rather, they are my own fit thighs.

   Yes, anyone who has looked at a couple of the workout posts I publish at the start of each month will have noticed that, lately, there always seems to be a new pair of capris next to the DVD. Why? Because I'm addicted, but it's a wonderful incentive. A new piece of clothing or kit to use while exercising can help to keep you motivated, as well as presenting itself as a bit of an investment. After all, you can't justify a £50 pair of sweat-wicking leggings if you're giving up 2 weeks later, right?
   Fortunately, especially if you're just starting out, there are brands you can try that are high quality but won't punish your purse strings. USA Pro have some wonderful prints, are moisture-wicking, fit wonderfully and have absolutely no restriction. And their line sits around the £10-£25 mark. In the US, you could try Adore Me's new activewear collection, or, if you're looking to splash out, my very favourite is Fabletics. Their leggings are around £50 or so, but they are so worth it. They fit perfectly, they have the kind of compression that make your legs look like someone else's, they're moisture-wicking, they have 4-way stretch, the fabric is the best quality I have ever come across, and their designs, which are limited and change every month, are honestly at the height of trends. Some are also shiny. Like, actually shiny.

   A weekly, fortnightly or monthly delivery of fitness excitement can really give you an amazing boost. Subscription boxes like Joggbox and Yogi & Bare provide wonderful snacks and performance-boosting supplements, and sometimes small pieces of kit like water bottles or resistance bands. Graze provides a lovely selection of clean snacks to keep your food interesting and stave off the risk of undoing your hard work with spontaneous crisps and sausage rolls. Health and fitness magazines like Women's Fitness provide a more intellectual and visual boost, with useful articles, no fads, and full or sample-class workouts to try at home in a range of different forms, including yoga, kickboxing, barre and HIIT. There are product reviews, and the writers are real - I believe there was a marshmallow chocolate bar featured on their hot list in the issue that came out today. Because even one of the top health and fitness magazines in the country understands that everyone needs something naughty every now and then.

The controversial: cheat meals.
   Studies have gone into the concept of a cheat meal helping with weightloss, but none of them can agree. Why? Because it depends entirely on the individual. If you're the kind of person who sees food as fuel and only eats when it's meal time or you're hungry (and you're sure it's not just thirst), then a cheat meal is completely useless to you, because you don't need the incentive of a naughty meal once a week or once a fortnight in order to keep you on track for the rest of the time. But if you're a foody, like me, you may find that, without a cheat meal to look forward to, it can get difficult to behave. You might start trying to make little compromises or sneak biscuits. When I started to allow myself a cheat meal every Friday, I found it so much easier to eat well through the rest of the week. But I did make additional conditions to allow that cheat meal: my Friday morning workout has to be HIIT, and my Saturday workout has to have extra cardio. HIIT generally provides afterburn, which means I can put that cheat meal to use, and the extra cardio the following day helps to use the energy up and avoid any lingering guilt.

And here are a few quotes and statements that have really helped to change my perspective on those days when I just can't be bothered:

The only bad workout is the one you didn't do.
   Indeed, I've actually discovered that the days I really can't be bothered to exercise always, without fail, end up being the most motivated, energetic and ultimately successful workouts I do. I'm probably trying to prove myself wrong, because I want the results more than I want to stay in bed for 30 minutes longer.
There is no such thing as perfection.
   You do your best, you grow, you improve. If you're perfect at something, what's the point in doing it but to show off? Push yourself out of your comfort zone and prove to yourself how powerful you are in body and mind.
Don't fight for your limitations.
   Jillian Michaels says this a lot, and it can really help when you're at the point where you think you're at your limit. Then you realise, while you're telling yourself "I can't do another one", that you're still moving.
Nothing worth having comes easy.
   Why do fit women look so good? Because they fought for it. They stand out because so many other people don't fight for it, because fighting for it is hard. But that fight provides another kind of strength.
I made this body.
   This is one of mine. Far from catchy, but the point is that any workout you completed, you did yourself. No one can do a bicep curl for you. You have to do it. I made my body what it currently is - toned, slim and powerful - all on my own. I've only ever been advised and instructed, but I did every single squat, burpee and Warrior 3 myself.
   The same, of course, can also be said for unfit people.

This post was written in association with
Adore Me's 'Motivate Me' campaign.