Sunday 30 September 2018

Resistance Training - 3-Month Check-In

   It's amazing how the last week or two of a 3-month plan can fill you with such energy. The end was in sight and I wanted to reap as much as I could while it lasted, so I pulled out all the stops. This past week I increased all reps and sets and weights wherever I could - 4 sets became 5; 12 reps became 15; 17.5kg became 20kg. I am so ridiculously proud of myself. And sore. I was focused, I was determined, and I felt every single rep. I hit muscle fatigue, I shredded my glutes and hamstrings to pieces, my foam roller became my new best friend, and I had a bit of fun with new proteins - flavours and types. I'd previously decided to try collagen, hearing it was also very good for bones and joints, but after buying a bag and then doing a little more research, it looks like I jumped the gun. Collagen is great for bones, cartelidge, joints and such, but it's not a whole protein (it contains only 8 of the 9 essential amino acids that the body cannot make, and it isn't balanced, with much higher amounts of three in particular: glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline) and isn't so reliable for muscle repair. But rather than get rid, I've returned to using whey but I add half a scoop of collagen to it, too, which ultimately frees up more of the proteins in the whey to act on my muscles rather than trying to repair muscle, bone and joints at the same time. Also, rocky road whey.

   But throughout my first training plan, and towards the end of the second month of this training plan, I was fatigued. I knew I could do better, but with every week that passed I seemed to slip further and further from my PBs, and it really had a bad effect on me. I was still determined and focused, but I wasn't enthusiastic as much, and it got worse every week. But I knew I was eating enough, so I had a look at what I was eating, and I realised: I'm low in iron. Women, it seems, find it quite easy to become iron-deficient, especially at certain times of the month, and, especially, if they work out and lift weights in particular. Iron is responsible for lots of things including blood quality and circulation, and low iron leads to fatigue, moodiness, dizziness, headaches - all of which I've been getting with increasing frequency over the past two months. So, about three weeks ago, I started taking an iron supplement, and adding red meat into my diet and ensuring wherever I can that it is coupled with vitamin C and not with calcium - so no beef lasagne, but beef with broccoli, cauliflower or sweet potatoes is a winner. Calcium inhibits the absorption of iron, as does tea, coffee, cocoa and eggs, whereas vitamin C increases it, so I've been paying particular attention to when I take it. And I've genuinely been feeling better, so I think I've hit the nail on the head. Only time will tell, though. Because on Monday, I'm starting Core de Force, and that means fatigue will come more easily.

   Yes, I'm returning to Core de Force. But not the DVD. There's nothing at all wrong with it, but in these 1-month training breaks, where I focus on cardio and body weight resistance instead, it's nice to ensure there's something new to do. I've far from exhausted the DVD, even though I used it all the way through June and have supplemented my training from July-September with it, but when I found out that there were a few other videos on BeachBody On Demand, I had to have a go. So I have. It's not cheap, but I got the DVD for £15 on Ebay and I know it's going to be worth the money.
   I'm excited, and I've bought an agility ladder. It was last-minute so I hope I get it in time, but I can make do the first week without it if need be.

   I'll start a new 3-month training plan in November, and I have 5 weeks to put it together. It will follow the same format as this one: lower body, total body, lower body, HIIT, and probably with a core-strengthening sequence on one of my down-days and an active recovery on another. We're moving swiftly into the autumn now, so warm evenings and afternoons are no longer an excuse for active recovery/rest days to be so sedentary.

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Autumn Spiced Porridge, Honey-Soaked Pears And Chestnuts

   Oof! I've been AWOL for over a week, but for good reason. Seeg and I just had a week together at home while my dad took my mother away on holiday again, so it was our second week of the year as non-carers. Yay. It's always great; our living situation is so difficult and unusual it's a wonder we've managed to function for eight years, but we have! But it means that these rare weeks alone together are precious - and, as always, leads to us cooking foods we never usually get to have because we can't be troubled to cook different meals for us and different meals for mum, which means we can finally have rice, noodles, soups, stews, ribs,'s amazing. I also reached an epiphany: rather than feeling guilty for the treats that come with such a week and obsessing over cardio to getitoffgetitoffgetitoffgetitoff, I realised that there wasn't all that much wrong with what I was eating - it was all home made stuff so I knew what was in it (except, perhaps, that ridiculously delicious Meateor Domino's Pizza) - and that I should view the rise in calories and nutrients as fuel. Therefore, I upped the ante, increased my weights and my sets and tried to get as much out of the increased fuel as possible. It made a huge difference to my mood and my outlook towards the food itself.

   That said, it does mean that I also work on healthier recipes, too, and buy more unusual ingredients in general - a big, unrestricted shop opens my eyes to other things on the shelves I either never noticed before, or never bothered to look for. And so I bought lots of different fruit and had all kinds of porridges for breakfast! And that's not taboo anymore, either, because autumn is now upon us! The leaves are turning, there are speckles of yellow and orange among the green, soon to become red and brown and beautiful. I can now openly eat porridge to my heart's content.

   Among others, I was drawn to red pears this season - Bartlett or Williams. They're much softer than typical pears, juicier, and striking, and if you add some spice it is irrefutably autumnal. Because spice is reserved for cooler weather. It's a rule of life. In my house, anyway. Warm honey and chestnuts top the whole thing off beautifully, and the added protein on top of all that fibre keeps you going all morning.

30g oats
20g whey protein (or preferred)
10g chestnut flour
1/2 tsp mixed spice
Sweetener of choice
100ml milk
100ml water
5g honey & 10ml hot water
1 pear
30g chestnuts
Optional seeds

Overnight Oats
1. Thoroughly combine the oats, whey, chestnut flour, spice and sweetener in a bowl (or shaker bottle) and, stirring all the while, add the milk until mixed (or shake it all together and transfer into a bowl).

2. Set it in the fridge overnight, then move on to step 4 the following morning.
If you'd like to heat it the following morning, add 50ml water and set it in the microwave for 1 minute on full power, stir, add the pears from step 7 and mix, then heat for 20-30 second bursts until desired consistency is reached. Add more water if needed.

Oats on the Hob
1. Boil 100ml water

2. Thoroughly combine the oats, whey, chestnut flour, spice and sweetener in a pan and, stirring all the while, add the milk, then 100ml boiled water until mixed.
3. Bring the pan to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until desired consistency is reached. Add more water if needed.

4. Meanwhile, slice the pear in half then cut segments/slices out of the middle of one half; remove the core and dice the remainder of the pear.

5. Set the diced pear in a pan with 1-2 tbsp of water and bring to a boil, then simmer until soft, about 10-15 minutes. Add more water if needed.

6. While the porridge is thickening and pear softening, lay the segments/slices of pear out flat on a plate or dish. Mix 5g honey with 10ml hot water in a small bowl or cup (add more honey, if you'd like - more water means thinner consistency, so adjust however you'd like) and drizzle half the warm honey carefully over the flesh of each flat slice. Reserve the rest of the honey for later.

7. Chop your chestnuts.

8. Empty the softened pear and any water left into the pan of porridge, mix and heat for a further few minutes.

9. Transfer the porridge into a bowl, top with soaked pear slices, chopped chestnuts, seeds if using, and drizzle over the remaining honey. Serve immediately.

• I used Pulsin premium whey
• I used Amisa chestnut flour
• I used a red Bartlett/Williams pear
• I used 5g wildflower Rowse honey
• I used Merchant Gourmet roasted chestnuts

Without seeds
432 cals, 4g fat (0.5g sat), 64g carbs (33g natural sugars), 9.5g fibre, 27.5g protein, 1 of 5 a day

Friday 14 September 2018

Friday Favourites

   Oh, what joy, it has been cold this past week! It's as if it's been waiting for September to return to tolerable temperatures. It is amazing. And I could swear some of the trees in the field behind the house are starting to turn. There are yellow leaves of a few choice trees, and, I'm sure, some orange on one in particular. It's true I do my best work in the spring, but I'm at my most creative in the autumn, particularly with food. It's when I start spending more and more time in the kitchen. Spices may have something to do with it...
   It's also so dark. I'm sure the sun didn't set until 9pm two weeks ago, and now - I write this at 7:34pm with a clear sky - I'm having trouble seeing. Give it ten minutes and I'll be writing beneath a light beside closed curtains. It's baffling. But wonderful. I've been smiling more easily lately, and sleeping longer.
   And I'm excited for our 'staycation'. My dad's taking my mum on holiday so Seeg and I aren't carers for a week! It's such a breath of fresh air, and a holiday for us as much as them. She needs full-time care, so while my dad works full-time, she's our responsibility, and it's a tough one. So a week off is amazing, and only comes twice a year.

   This week's favourites, though, are simple. Aside from the changing leaves, I also nabbed Seeg's old hoody. I said when he bought it that I'd have it when he got bored of it, and I have. It's a gorgeous deep burgundy, and, while it is huge, it's so comfy. And broken in. And smells of him.
   He also finished Destiny 2: Forsaken, and earned the soundtrack. It was a great expansion, it made me cry, and I have to wonder what's going to happen next. It's always a good expansion when it leaves you wondering like this - because there is more to come.
   Also, MyProtein's virtue bars. High fibre, low carb, and more delicious than protein bars usually are, with crispies and a thin layer of melted chocolate - not 'chocolate-flavoured coating'. That's always dubious... And and and, here's 30% off of your first MyProtein order of £35+ - try their rocky road whey, too! I love to use their chocolate peanut whey with 1/2 banana in my porridge. Uh yum. But this week I've been working through the pears the neighbours brought over last week.

Destiny 2: Forsaken   ♥   MyProtein Virtue bars
Autumn is coming   ♥   Witcher 3 burgundy hoodie

Friday 7 September 2018

Friday Favourites

You wouldn't think I'd like it. I didn't think I would. A film about a man in a wheelchair and his carer? No thank you, too close to home. Sounds like my every day life. But Seeg's mum recommended it, so we gave it a go. Never has a 'feel good' film actually made me feel so good. It was hilarious, and while it was real, there was a whole layer of comedy intermingled with the honesty, making fun of the situation in the kind of way you have to in order to handle it on a day-to-day basis. The same way we cope with my mum's disability. If you don't laugh, you'll cry. Honesty, I hugely recommend this film. Les Intouchables (or 'Untouchable' in the UK market) is a French film and based, I might add, upon a true story. And while I can't guarantee you won't cry at the happy ending, I can guarantee that you will laugh. Please watch it.

As for the rest of the really quite mundane things in this week's compilation, allow me to explain.
I have been looking for a brown top for years. You'd think they'd be more common, but you would be wrong. Brown, dark green, deep red, burgundy and deep purple are my favourite colours - foresty, autumnal, I'm suddenly realising - but while I have an abundance of the rest (though perhaps not quite enough dark green; it all seems closer to teal), brown has eluded me. The best I've done is a brown waterfall cardigan, which broke years ago. But look!! Finally I've found one! It's nothing special - that doesn't matter. I don't want 'special', I want 'brown'. And it is. And it is beautiful.
As for the pears, our neighbours brought over a bounty of them yesterday, as they do every year. The previous owners had a pear tree and it hung over the side wall so you could see they were never harvested. When the new occupants moved in a couple of years ago, they started harvesting them - free, organic fruit; who wouldn't? But they always have so many, and so they share them with the people of the street. Last year I used one of them to make Clangers' blue string pudding. Because I'm cool. This year, though, they brought over a lot more, so I've now got pear crumble and pear porridges for a week or so! I am so happy.
Also, it is my parents' 30th wedding anniversary on Sunday, and while I don't usually follow the annual traditions, I thought this was a good landmark to try it. I bought a gorgeous and tiny porcelain bowl handmade by Melissa Choroszewska with an interior pearlescent glaze, and some crispy pearls from Godiva which I'm going to attempt to coat in an edible pearlescent spray. I am also going to make a Japanese cotton cheesecake and spray that pearl, too! Wish me luck...

Les Intouchables (also 'Untouchable')   ♥   3/4 sleeve brown top by H&M
Conference pears   ♥   Handmade pearl bowl by Melissa Choroszewska

Monday 3 September 2018

September [and Handling a Perpetual Sweet Tooth]

   I am not eyeing up my jumpers. I did not pre-order a Naked Marshmallow advent calendar the moment they became available on Saturday morning. I did not I buy a few tins of pumpkin puree. I am not noting down recipe and craft ideas for Christmas. I have not started my Christmas shopping.
   No, I am. I did. I have. It's all true.
   Calendrically speaking, it is autumn. I don't really count it until it comes around meteorologically, but as that's only on the 23rd, I'm just rolling with it. 24 degrees or not. And I'm not the only one. I've seen Christmas products sneaking out into shops - decorations, food and the like. And I may already be compiling a list for our homemade advent calendars. Yes, that's right, two again. Ask me if I'm bothered.

   But aside from all that, I'm also excited about the start of a new month. I'm a firm believer that if you want to make a change, you do it right away. If you do it 'tomorrow', or 'Monday', or 'the 1st' or 'January', you're putting your decisions on a pedestal and that means you have a lot further to fall when you inevitably slip up - and much further to climb to get back onto it. Because you will slip up, it's only natural, and strength and progress come with acknowledging that likelihood, acknowledging your mistakes, and climbing right back on the horse.
   All that said, when you do happen to make a decision or experience a sudden rush of determination to reinforce a change that has started to slip on a Sunday night on the 2nd of a fresh month at the start of a brand new season, it makes it that much sweeter. Because a new week, a new month, they are great places to start, and you are that much more likely to persevere.

   Sugar has started slipping back into my diet - I never gave it up, but it's coming in more frequently than it used to. One or two chocolates will not hurt, but if it's one or two chocolates every single day, and you're not acknowledging them because it's just a little bit, then that can become a problem - because, in my case, that can, and has, become three or four. And when a single chocolate averages 75 calories, three chocolates equate to a chocolate bar, and a chocolate bar a day, while still not really an issue, it's not going to help with fat-loss and it's only going to fuel my sweet tooth, especially if I'm not acknowledging it in my food diary.
   I've said it before: I don't drink alcohol or sweet drinks. If it's not water or tea, won't drink it. With the exception of the occasional light Chocomel or hot chocolate. I get about 5 take-away dinners a year, and I would sooner cut off my hands than step foot in a fast food 'restaurant'. I also only eat out about 3 times a year, and that's assuming my in-laws are around. Otherwise, it's just the once. I don't smoke, I don't drink coffee, I don't do anything like that. My one and only vice is sugar.
   I know that if I cut it out, I will lose my mind. So I learned long ago to appreciate a single chocolate. It takes me about 2 minutes to each a single chocolate, and I will have it in 3-4 bites, each of which I melt in my mouth before moving on to the next bite. It's the best way to eat chocolate because you really get to savour flavours and textures without scoffing it down, and it's much, much easier to be satisfied with it that way. It may take some...'training', I suppose, but it's a trick well worth mastering if you have a sweet tooth like me.

   All that said, I've also learned that it takes me just 3 days without sugar to eliminate the craving. 3 days. I usually have a chocolate or two about an hour and a half after dinner when I sit down with my laptop. If I don't have chocolate within 30 minutes of sitting down, I'm not likely to have it at all. When I'm in the habit of chocolate, those 30 minutes are a lifetime. When I've gone 3 days without, however, I don't even think about it when I flip the laptop on, I just get right on down to work.

   All that said, though, there is also the fact that it's mostly just Hotel Chocolat, and they have always been high cocoa, low sugar, and no artificial nasties, so even then the chocolates in question aren't as guilty as they could be...

   Either way, it's Monday, it's autumn, it's September, it's my final month of my present training plan, and chocolate is edging its way in a little too easily. I'm trying, as I said before, to meet maintenance calories, and empty calories - ie sweets and foods with little nutritional value - should not play a part in that. A chocolate every other day is absolutely fine, but when it becomes routine, it isn't. If the fancy strikes, no problem, but if it's a need, I have to ignore it. And with Christmas on the horizon, it's time to get it in check. I've got a few sweet recipes to try for the blog, and with my parents' 30th wedding anniversary this Sunday, now is as good a time as any to shed the cravings so that when I do taste-test or have a slice of cake, there's no guilt to add to.

   September-October is the perfect time to start getting in shape for winter, by that physically or mentally. There's enough time to make real and safe progress towards a little black dress - and as strange as eating more is towards that goal, that is mine, and shedding the sugar is part of that.

   Do you have any goals to set in motion?

Sunday 2 September 2018

Resistance Training - 2 Month Check-In

   I'm moving into my third month of this training plan, week 10 of 13, and it's going well. I started trying some body recomp recently, too, which requires me to eat more than maintenance calories on training days (which goes against every fibre of my being, making it very difficult) and just under maintenance on rest/cardio days. 'Training day' means weights and resistance training, muscle building - if neither are involved, it doesn't count as a training day, even when 30-40 minutes of Core de Force is involved (which I am still doing and loving).
   The added challenge to this has been actually acknowledging my maintenance calories. I've been eating more these past few months than I used to - 'used to' being 1300 a day, and more recently 1600 a day. But I used seven different BMR/AMR calculators before changing my eating (none of which compare, of course, to the personal evaluations of a nutritionist and a trainer, but I quite simply cannot afford that), and all of them say that that's too low for me. Two said 1750, three said 1850, and two were up around 2000! Maintenance! That means the calories needed to neither lose weight nor gain muscle, and I want to do both. That doesn't typically go hand in hand, but body recompositioning is possible.
   I've taken these numbers with a pinch of salt and have been aiming for the 1750 bracket. I'll know if it's working, too, because I'll see muscle gain before I see fat loss. If it doesn't work by the end of this training plan at the end of September, then I'll increase it to 1850 when I start my next plan in November.

   Otherwise, it's been amazing. Once again I've been loving the fact that I don't repeat anything in a week; I have one lower body workout for Monday, a total body workout for Wednesday, another lower body workout for Friday and 30-40 minutes of Core de Force on Saturday, of which I have 6 different options in itself. Which also means that I only actually repeat a workout four to five times in a whole month, and it really helps to keep the boredom away. Strength grows with every workout, however, both physically and mentally, and when the end of the month rolls around, I always up the weight, and that timing is just right.
   I started with a 12.5kg (27.5lb) barbell in the first month on both lower body workouts, and 15kg (33lb) barbell on the total body. I switched that to 15kg for lower body and 17.5kg (38.5lb) for total body on week 5, then on week 9 (last week; one week sooner than planned) I switched it to 17.5kg on lower and 20kg (44lb) on total. It feels amazing. And, what's more, when I was doing the triple alligator push ups in Core de Force last Saturday, I was finally able to jump switch my hands and feet at the same time, rather than just my feet and then replace my hands. That is a huge achievement for me!

   I'm feeling awesome, but I'm not checking my results. No mirrors, no tape measures, nothing. Not until I've finished. Though, that said, I can't escape the fit of my clothes - either all of my jeans are starting to shrink in the wash, or my bum has gotten bigger. And as someone who has never had a fat bum (or any bum at all, in fact - seriously, lower back -> hamstrings), that is just...impossibly good news.

   One month to go, and I'm still buzzing. Sometimes, I admit, I don't relish the idea of working out, but when I actually get down to doing it, I love it. Then there's also the fact that I've not listened to music while training since I started this program - I've been watching The Secret Life of the Zoo. So has Seeg. I stay focused enough, and I enjoy the work enough to concentrated and ensure I get the very best out of it, to the point that I completely miss some episodes, but it does result in the occasional outburst should a baby otter flounder onto the screen. Or, I admit, a few tears when another animal dies. I don't want to work in a zoo. I couldn't do it. I love animals too much. Fortunately I can hip-thrust 20kg. And it made me ridiculously happy to see that that's what Cassey Ho is hip thrusting. #GoalsMetGoalsSet.
   And chocolate caramel protein powder helps, too...