‘It’s like being at a silent disco without the headphones on, everyone is dancing to music you can’t hear’

This is how someone described loneliness at a conference I was at a few weeks ago. I could immediately relate to what they meant. Loneliness is being talked about all over the media at the moment, but it’s not new and its definitely not just about older age.

I manage a programme which aims to reduce loneliness for people. And a bit like how, when you decide you might buy a new car, and suddenly it seems like everyone is driving around in the one you’ve had your eye on, I am now noticing loneliness everywhere.

Sometimes the things I blog about are really planned and thought about, and other times, like this, it just seems important to write something that has popped into my life repeatedly over the last few weeks and months.

The Campaign To End Loneliness defines loneliness as ‘the unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship. It happens when we have a mismatch between the quantity and quality of social relationships that we have, and those that we want’ (Perlman and Peplau, 1981)

This makes loneliness an incredibly personal experience.

I didn’t really think about loneliness until I started doing the job I do now. Then I realised looking back that there have been lots of times in my life where I’ve felt very lonely. I’m prone to loneliness because I’m a bit rubbish at being in my own company for too long. I like people. I grew up with close siblings. I shared a bedroom with my sister until I moved out of my family home and even then I only moved out to buy a house with my brother. I am a serial  monogamist. So being alone just wasn’t really part of my experience.

I’ve talked about loneliness with friends and family a bit over the last few weeks and it seems that everyone has their own experiences of being lonely. Mostly, people have talked about temporary feelings of loneliness linked to life transitions. For instance, I used to get lonely in the school holidays as a teenager. Sometimes the lack of connectedness to others for seven hours a day used to make me feel like I was going out of my mind. I used to walk to the supermarket for no reason, feel like the isles were closing in on me and leave in a blind panic. Some weeks I would book dentist appointments to give my day a bit of structure so I had someone new to talk to. And I bloody hate the dentist.

I was lonely when my friends went to University and I stayed home and got a full time job. Then I was lonely as a new Mum to my first baby. During all these periods it felt exactly like I was on the outside looking into a world I couldn’t access. In my head everyone else was having more fun than me, everyone else had friends and connections and somehow I wasn’t doing well enough to be included. God help today’s young people, growing up in a world where every social experience is plastered on social media. Now they don’t have to imagine every one having fun without them, they can see it for themselves. I’m not sure what’s worse.

And how hard is it to make new friends as a grown up?! It can be so awkward to do that thing where you step outside the social norm of chatting in a break or on the school run and actually invite an acquaintance or colleague over for a cup of tea. When there are not longer social structures around to force people into your life, making the effort to ‘build relationships’ with your peers is scary as hell. This article about making friends as an adult is really interesting

Looking back I also know that feeling lonely doesn’t bring out the best in me. Instead of it making me more eager and more likely to make new friends, it makes me panicky and needy. I am more likely to perceive other people as a threat, or distrust their kindness. Feeling lonely made it harder for me to trust people. And that’s the bit that isn’t always talked about in the media, which is guilty of simplifying the problem and the potential solutions.

We are gathering evidence in my job about what it takes to overcome loneliness, and what we know is that it definitely isn’t as simple as just rocking up to your local craft group and joining in. Don’t get me wrong, connecting yourself to something and meeting new people is always a good way of starting to combat feelings of loneliness. But the battle doesn’t end there. If you’re like me, you have to overcome the demons in your head telling you that nobody really likes you, or that everyone else there is different to you and you are wasting your time. Then you have to give people a chance to get to know you and hope they don’t reject you. Then eventually you might realise that people are generally kind and care about you and you can call them friends. But this can all take lots of time and bravery. In my opinion overcoming loneliness starts when you find a way to build a better relationship with yourself. Which sounds like some hideous American slogan for self help, but is actually true in lots of ways.

Now I’m a bit older, I realise that there were people in my life during those times of loneliness that I didn’t call upon enough. In those times I felt paralysed by loneliness and powerless to do anything about it. I was saved repeatedly from my loneliness by Centre Stage, the theatre group that was like a family, and relationships I’d had with people as a young person which survived the test of time when I needed them.

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Centre Stage was always full of people who were there if I needed them

I try harder now to nourish the relationships in my life and I try and panic less if not everyone likes me or wants to be my friend, because as I’ve grown older I’m a bit more chilled and open minded and I’m better at recognising what I need to feel happy.

I’m not sure what I would tell my younger self in those times of loneliness, probably to open up more and give people a chance. I’d encourage myself to reach out to people and have some patience. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I don’t think there are any magic solutions to cure loneliness. Just small steps we can all take to stay in touch more and value our relationships. Underneath we all need to feel connected to each other, it’s part of what makes us human and we should never feel ashamed to talk about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s the deal with this “Strong Girls Club?”

If you follow me on Facebook, you may well have noticed lots of shares from The Strong Girls Club. Hopefully you might have seen my friends and family sharing too. Now lots of people are asking me what it is all about.

For about the last three years I’ve talked about starting my own business. I’ve always wanted to be my own boss. But life has always just been too busy (more on that in ‘how do you fit it all in’).

So I made an effort to quieten my life a bit. I stopped doing the Theatre stuff, I only train five or six times a week now instead of twelve (!) So when I was having an innocent conversation with my friend, colleague and training partner Natalie (in a hot tub!) in March this year about starting something new, there actually wasn’t anything getting in the way.

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Little did we know at the time, we had started something that would change our lives forever!

Before I get into the ‘why the Strong Girls Club?’ stuff, just a quick aside on the power of the universe. I have always believed in the law of attraction. If you want something to happen you have to talk about it, write it down and then make space for it in your life. You have to make small choices everyday that feel right, you have to be brave and then you have to be patient. The universe will do the rest. In this case that’s kind of what happened.

So back to the hot tub. We were talking about what it is like to be a parent of a young girl in today’s world. We were talking about our own experiences of growing up. And we were talking about Titan and the amazing tribe of women that we train with everyday. And somehow those things kind of got mingled into one. What if we could re-create what we love about Titan for younger girls? What if we could use our experience of working in mental health to provide safe space for girls to talk, share and receive advice and information in a setting away from school and therapists? What if we could create a place where girls could build amazing relationships with each other, but most importantly with themselves? What if we could be one small part of helping girls grow up stronger? physically and mentally? these were all the questions we asked ourselves.

Without knowing it, we were talking about our ‘Why?’

We decided to do it.

We didn’t know exactly what ‘it’ was at the time, but we knew our ‘why?’ and that was enough to spur us on.

It made perfect sense for us to work together, because we knew that we could. We work together everyday and we have complimentary skills and strengths. I don’t think either of us would have embarked on this on our own, so we can be brave for each other. We also really like each other, so that helps. I feel really grateful to have Natalie in my life.

We’ve spent the last seven months doing our research, changing our plans, doing more research, changing our plans again and getting the right qualifications to be able to instruct young people to safely learn how to do resistance training. I get up an hour early most days to fit in the development work and we both work over weekends to keep things moving. We both still have full time jobs and kids (and dogs!) and we both still coach at Titan. So getting to this point has been lots of energy. But we are almost ready!

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You can find more info about The Strong Girls Club here (We built the website ourselves!)

So far on a personal level this has already been really challenging and scary. It is the first time there isn’t another boss or a whole organisation to back me up. The success or failure is down to us, and there’s nowhere to hide. Everyday I worry people will be thinking ‘who does she think she is? she can’t do this’ and in my head I have to use all my effort to try and banish those thoughts, because every time I put one foot in front of the other nothing bad happens. The world keeps spinning and the Strong Girls Club keeps growing in momentum.

So if you are reading this and you are connected to me in anyway, I need your support right now. Please click ‘share’ on Facebook, or comment on our posts, or tell a friend about us, because every time that happens it helps me believe in myself a little bit more.

 

 

 

“We don’t do gymnastics to get abs”

Watching my ten year old warm up with her friends in her gymnastics session, it suddenly dawned on me what we lose as grown ups that is so valuable to us. One of the keys to why so many of us struggle so much to stay active and healthy. – we don’t maintain a healthy relationship with our own body. This is not really new information to most people, but it was a bit of a revelation to me.

Last week at Titan a woman said to me “I hate my body”. I listened to all the reasons she hates her body, her legs, the way her stomach looks, her arms. It occurred to me in that moment that she was using her exercise sessions to punish her body. Which in turn means she is using the exercise to punish herself. Hold that thought a minute.

Now I’m not going to get started on the relationship between exercise and fat loss, because thats a different blog entirely, as is the significant role played by what we actually put in our mouths everyday. I’m also not going to write about ‘self love’ (which is also really important but I’m really crap at it) All these things seem to be pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. I meet people everyday that have got one or two pieces sorted out. The pieces that help people maintain the changes they make to their lifestyle seem to be the final missing pieces. The bits of ‘all the same colour sky’ lost on the floor that elude us just when we think we have it nailed.

This blog is about one of those final pieces. It’s about the fact that, as grown ups (or maybe just as women?) we lose the ability to value our bodies for what they can actually do, rather than the way they look.

Lets go back to Emily, doing her gymnastics, and all her friends. When I talk to them about why they love gymnastics, not a single one says ‘because I want to see my abs’ or ‘because it helps me lose weight’ or even ‘I like being toned’. They do gymnastics because they like the feeling they get when they learn something new. They like to get stronger, or better at something. They like that their bodies can ‘do’ something really cool. And they train really hard, and its painful and disciplined but they do it anyway. Because they love it. This is so obvious and simple, we kind of take it for granted with kids. Loving it, is also the reason they keep doing it.

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Ten year old Emily and her gold medal!

But where the hell does that go when we get older? and when does it disappear? when we hit fourteen? or twelve? what age do we start judging our own body just in relation to what it looks like rather than because of the cool things it can do?

I was a gymnast as a kid. I totally loved it too. After two years of lifting weights I realised my motivation had switched from body transformation to enjoyment and stress relief. If this switch hadn’t happened, I’d have stopped doing it and I’d be much less healthy by now. The changes to my body are much harder to see now. The scales don’t change and the process of getting stronger is slow. My goals are no longer about weight loss, but more about maintaining good habits, adding weight to the bar or sprinting a bit faster. It’s the pure sense of accomplishment that keeps me motivated. But it’s taken ages for that penny to drop.

I spend all my time at Titan saying to women ‘forget the scales, look at how bloody strong and fit you are! look at what your body can do now that it couldn’t do before!’ the ones that stick to it are the ones who really enjoy the feeling of accomplishment from getting to the end of a session less out of breath, or having lifted heavier weights. The ones who only last a few weeks are the ones who are using exercise to punish themselves or those people who can’t get past their obsession with the scales.

It’s really hard to maintain the negative energy required to punish yourself everyday. Life is pretty busy and energy is a valuable commodity, it’s crazy to waste it punishing the most valuable thing we have.

One of the final missing pieces to the puzzle of maintaining long term lifestyle changes? you have to find something that makes you feel like ten year old Emily. Because eventually the scales stop moving, or the difference you see gets less and less, and if you haven’t fallen in love with the activity itself and the way it makes you feel, you won’t be able to keep doing it.

Find something you love!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Long term body transformation

Just a quick word about something that lots of people tend to avoid talking about – long term body transformation. I’ve blogged a bit about this before, but it just keeps coming up again with so many women I talk to, so thought it was worth another conversation.

Us women are generally an impatient bunch. I am one of the most impatient people I know. Ask anyone and they will tell you that I want things done yesterday and I find it difficult to wait. I especially hate waiting for food, sleep or getting somewhere. Travelling is my most hated thing. I don’t want to enjoy the journey, I want to be at the destination. Yesterday. Are we nearly there yet?!

Just another reason why weight training is a challenge for me. I tend to eat well for a day, train hard, and wonder why I don’t wake up looking like wonder woman the next morning. I constantly have to check myself to remember that this is a long term lifestyle change, not a short term quick fix.

Two years in, and I think I can safely say this is something I’m sticking to. The problem is, a bit like motherhood, sex and being an adult, you can’t go back to your younger self and say ‘stop worrying, just stick at it and it and it will all fall into place for you’.

Now I find a myself trying to convince other women everyday that they just need to be a bit more patient with their bodies and themselves. People new to exercise and good nutrition tend to see results quickly in the begining, like I did, and its great! It really helped motivate me to keep at it. But the long term lifestyle changes required to keep moving forward and achieve proper body transformation are harder than most people anticipate. Often people have really unrealistic expectations about how fast or dramatically you can safely change your body in a few weeks, and so give up when they don’t loose all their tummy fat straight away. A very common conversation I have with people

Them – ‘I really want to drop two dress sizes and lose the fat round my tummy’

Me – ‘Great, that’s a great goal! And definitely achieveable for you’

Them – ‘I’m going on holiday in six weeks, so that’s my goal for holiday’

Me – ‘how long is it since you were two dress sizes smaller and without the belly fat’

Them – ‘about ten years’

Me – ‘it’s really great you’re taking this step to change, and you are doing everything right, but you might need to re-consider the timescale for your goal . . ‘

Don’t get me wrong, you can make a big difference in eight weeks, and eight weeks is generally long enough to form new habits and give yourself a good chance of  sticking to them. But after that it gets trickier. The reality sets in that to keep getting results you have to actually keep eating well and training hard (forever!) You have to accept that some weeks (or months) it’s just a grind and you might feel like you’re getting nowhere, and that’s ok. Because as long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other, perserverance will always win out. And you have to enjoy the journey.

The women I train with everyday are inspirational, not because they are all in amazing shape (although mostly they are!) but because they are all still working everyday to achieve amazing things for themselves. They are the reason I enjoy the journey, and so many people are missing out by trying to do this sort of stuff on their own

 

 

Long term body transformation is as much about being kind to yourself and self acceptance as it is about actual physical transformation. I’ve realised that I can’t stay at 21% body fat and still enjoy life. I’ve also realised that I quite like how my body feels with more curves and more muscle. And I love lifting heavy weights. I also love Pizza. All those things mean that the shorts in my picture barely fit me anymore (I can stand up in them but squatting is impossible!) But I’m much happier with my body now than I was in the middle picture when I was smaller. You can see from the picture that I’ve built muscle, but also put on fat. Which has taken me a while to get my head around.

A bit rambling this, but I just wanted to say that if you’re thinking about jumping into something new, give it everything in the begining, because the results will motivate the hell out of you, but then find a way to embed the changes into your life in the long term, or you will end up back where you started. And at the very least, enjoy the journey!

 

‘You’re going to end up with a flat older lady bum’. . . .

. . . .  said my kind and far too honest for his own good younger brother. He said this about a two and a half years ago I think. At the time I was in decent shape, I had done a lot of running and cardio type fitness, and I was at a fancy dress party wearing a ‘Mrs Incredibles’ outfit! but I was skinny, and his not so considerate remark stayed with me for ages. The more I dieted and exercised, the skinnier I got. But it wasn’t helping me appreciate my body.

So this blog is unashamedly about my bum (sorry Dad,Grandma or anyone else who might offended by pictures of my bum). Because if you aren’t sick of hearing it already, I am now a weight lifting convert. It’s also a bit about cellulite. And some more pictures of my bum.

Soooo celulite. It’s something women of all shapes and sizes have. I’ve done some research. There are different grades of celulite. There’s the cellulite you can’t actual see (most women have this!) the cellulite you can see if you pinch skin, the stuff you can see if you lay down and the stuff that’s just always on display regardless. Usually the last type is found on our bums and thighs. There are a whole load of myths about cellulite and loads of companies out there that will try an convince you to buy creams and ointments that will magically reduce it. But here is what I have learnt:

  1. cellulite occurs when underlying fat deposits begin to push through layers of collagen fibers, or connective tissue, under the skin. Women’s connective tissue is weaker than mens, so we are better at forming cellulite (lucky us!)
  2. There are no proven ‘treatments’ to get rid of cellulite.
  3. Cellulite is not formed by toxins (so detox treatments won’t work either!)
  4. Cellulite is not just for people who are overweight. Slim, healthy and toned women  still have it! But the more fat you carry round your body, the more visible cellulite will be.
  5. You can’t get rid of cellulite, but exercise can reduce its appearance. Exercise helps strengthen and tighten the skin giving the illusion that cellulite is reducing. Weight training and fat loss help.
  6. Cellulite can be genetic – you’re more likely to have it if your Mum and grandma have it.

Then there’s the thing about how people manipulate pictures to make it seem like they have no cellulite, making you believe that your very normal, slightly dimply bum is revolting. I’ve posted an example of this below (again, sorry Dad).

Don’t trust what you see in instagram! The light, the pose, the clothes, the angle and everything else, mean that you can be fooled into thinking people have perfect bodies, when in fact, they don’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about any of the pictures above. They are all my body, at different angles, lights, times of day and times of the month and I am proud of how fit and strong I am.

There are some really good instagram accounts to follow if you want to see real women without the filters, @charlihoward, who is a model, but posts candid shots of her body with all its lumps and bumps is great. So is @malinbjork and @saggysara.

But the actual truth of it is that lifting weights, with progressive overload, matched with some decent nutrition, has helped me build the muscles on my bum and lift it back to where it belongs. It’s bigger than it was before, and I’m a bit curvier (and a bit chunkier!) and it feels great.

But what I really love is that the muscles in my body now help me lift heavy weights, and the fact that other women compliment my bum is just another way to start a conversation about weightlifting and the benefits of looking after your body, and every woman I can help convert to that life style is a total win in my book.

 

What happens when you fall in love with your Personal Trainer

“It must be so much easier for you to stay in shape if your other half is a fitness professional!” I hear this a lot, and someone at my day job said it to me this week, and it made me think about the absolute joy and some of the less joyous things about living with Danny, who is my coach, and technically when I’m at the gym, also my boss! And don’t worry, this isn’t about the way he leaves the toilet seat up (he doesn’t) or leave his dirty clothes on floor (he totally does).

So actually the reality is, pretty much like all relationships, it’s complicated!

For a start its harder for him than it is for me! Take this very simple situation as an example . . We are at the cinema, it’s the weekend, I’ve been really good with food all week. Ive trained hard and eaten really well. We pay for our tickets and then I think maybe I want some ice cream. So I say . .

“should I get some ice cream?”

It’s an innocent enough question! But for Danny this is a potential minefield. What he has no idea about is whether I want him to respond to that as my boyfriend or my coach. If he says ‘Yes, if you want some, get some!’ Then he knows he is going to get into that whole anxious ridden conversation with me about how it will affect my body, and then I start to worry that he will question my commitment. I also then don’t really get to complain about not losing body fat. Or maybe I question whether he is really that committed to coaching me.

If he says ‘no, it doesn’t fit in your macros and will baisically ruin your day’ then I question why he doesn’t love me the way I am, if he is so desperate to keep me in shape that I can’t eat ice cream.

He basically just can’t win! Which probably isn’t that disimilar to most men.

We realised pretty quick that if I don’t specify which role I want him to be in when we talk, it can get a bit tricky. And sometimes even when I think I want coach Danny, I still go nuts if he doesn’t answer like boyfriend Danny, especially if I’m a hormonal mess. It’s pretty hard for him to keep up. Thankfully eighteen months in, I’m educated and confident enough in the training and nutrition now to not have to ask for his advice so much, because if I want to get into better shape, I know what I need to do (and it doesn’t involve ice cream!).

In reality he doesn’t control what I eat on a day to day basis, which is probably a good thing (although some days I wish he would!)  As my coach, before he was my boyfriend, if he said ‘jump’ I would say ‘how high’ that’s how I got into such amazing shape. Now I will ask his advice and when I get it, I usually reply with a ‘yeah but . . .’

Then there is the constant talk of exercise and nutrition in our house. Weight lifting is still my main hobby, and so I want to talk about it all the time. But it’s Danny’s job, and he talks about it and thinks about it all day. So it’s not rocket science to understand that he might not want to answer all my questions and have me going on about it all the time (even though given the chance, it’s all I’d talk about!) So I’ve had to learn to pick my moments!

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Despite all that, the reason we work so well is because the things that make us tick are baisically the same. We are both passionate about being able to make a difference to people. We value the same things, we have loads of fun and we both totally buzz off being involved in Titan, and seeing the amazing progress of all our fellow Titans. Life can be really busy and chaotic, and in the middle of it all we are always having an amazing time. I feel really lucky to be able to share what I love with someone and have them totally understand how it feels.

So for any of you out there thinking that having your coach live with you full time would be really great, then in the main part I would agree, the benefits definitely outweigh the challenges, at least for me anyway!

Why did you stop writing your blog!?

People kept asking me where my blog went! That’s probably a bit misleading, not loads and loads of people, like about six different people, but all the same, that felt like enough people to start writing again. It’s been well over a year since I wrote the last one. I keep asking myself why I stopped, and I think it boiled down to a few key things:

– I lost my confidence . Which sounds odd, but this blog started out based on fitness and the fact that I could see my abs. I was really overexcited and full of positive energy. Some days I can still see my abs, but mostly my life is more balanced now, and there’s nothing really interesting about balance, so I started to think that maybe I didn’t have anything interesting to say

 

– I got busy. But then I was always busy, but I suppose my head got more busy. I’ve been trying to bring some balance (there’s that word again!) to my life, and its taken up more time than I imagined it would

But . . . I missed writing this blog! It’s therapeutic and it enables me to be a bit creative. Both of those things are good for me, so here it is. And six people asked me start writing it again. I didn’t want to let my audience down (insert laughing emoji!).

And then when I started to think about it, there’s loads of stuff that I want to write about, and I’ve learned a lot in the last year. So it’s going to spill out here. Upcoming titles include ‘what happens when you live with your personal trainer’ ‘why are we all so goddamn impatient?’ and ‘why we can’t just be happy with our wobbly bits’. Or words to that effect.

If you’re one of the six, then thanks for the prod, if you’re not and you’re still reading, then thanks for catching back up with me. I’ll try and stay interesting!