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Skipping Rope Not Just For Boxers

When is the last time you have been skipping rope? In your childhood? At school? When I was told to pick up a rope to warm up at the gym I joined about 9 months ago, I was surprised and scared. Surprised because I had not even thought about skipping rope for a very long time (since 3rd grade maybe?), and scared because I had no idea if I could actually still do it!

But, eager student that I am, I did as told and picked up a rope. But, indeed, it was hard. I found it hard to find a rhythm at all, and it definitely felt very hard to actually “jump”, with both feet simultaneously off the ground. Even worse, after a few jumps the rope would inevitably hit my toes, which really hurt.

In my defence I have to say though, that these ropes were proper Thai-style jump ropes. They have very heavy PVC cables that build stamina and strength. They get their name from the traditional jump ropes that are found in every Muay Thai gym in Thailand. And if that rope hits your toes, believe me, it hurts!

I ended up not jumping much at all, it was more like a galloping movement and I’m sure the trainers watching me thought I was the most uncoordinated and unfit participant they have ever seen. However, skipping rope is pretty much the standard warm-up and is also often used as “stations” in the circuit style training that I do at the gym.

To be honest, it took me a while to get better at it. I was quite proud when I finally managed to skip for a full minute, properly and not in my awkward galloping style, without hitting my toes once. And, as is almost always the case, the more you do something, the better you get at it and the more enjoyable it becomes. Over a few months I managed to build stamina and coordination. Now I manage to skip easily for 15 minutes and in all different kinds of style. However, I’m using a speed rope with a light cable and I’m still working on the double-unders. The next challenge would be using a Thai-style rope I guess (sorry, toes!).

The benefits of skipping rope are undeniable and enhance athletic performance. That is why it is so popular with athletes that require footwork, coordination, quickness and agility. Like boxers do – if you check out what Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr. or even Rocky can do with a rope, it’s amazing. Here is an example of Muhammad Ali on youtube:

Have a look at this great compilation of boxers jumping rope (check out Sugar Ray Robinson, his skipping is crazy!!! But apparently he was also a tap dancer, which would explain a lot!).

Here I compiled a long (but not complete) list of benefits of skipping rope:

  • Cardiovascular exercise

If you are skipping rope for longer sessions it can burn a lot of calories. Or, just as in my gym classes, you can add the skipping rope to a circuit and thereby increase the intensity of the overall workout.

  • Speed

As you get better at skipping rope, you can increase the speed. With speed you can increase the intensity, which makes you stronger and burns more calories. With improving coordination and balance you are able to increase speed and you become lighter on your feet. Lightness of the feet is what boxers and fighters are looking for. As you can see in above’s video, Muhammad Ali lands his feet softly and not hard on the ground.

  • Balance

Timing and rhythm are most important if you want to become good at skipping rope. You have to be aware (while jumping!) of the direction, the speed and the position of the rope and this forces your body to balance constantly. Balance is also crucial in boxing and martial arts. Keeping the balance when being hit or keeping balance if a punch or kick misses the target is crucial.

  • Coordination

As I experienced myself, skipping rope requires a lot of coordination! Rhythm and timing have to come together and arms and feet have to move in harmony. The cadence needs to be steady to improve the coordination between eyes, hands and feet. This takes quite a bit of focus and only if all parts work together will you be able to increase speed.

  • Endurance

Skipping can improve endurance. It’s just like running – you can do sprints or long distance and anything in between. And you can add fancy stuff! Double-unders are impressive for example. Even jumping jacks or side to side jumping can mix things up, but beware, it looks much easier than it actually is!

  • Strength and Elasticity

Skipping rope is not only a cardiovascular exercise strengthening your heart, it also is a full body workout as it is training calves, hamstrings, shoulders and arms. It improves the elasticity of the surrounding tendons and fascia. As with all weight bearing activities, skipping rope puts stress on the bones, which helps develop bone mass. Therefore, it helps minimizing bone loss and protects against osteoporosis. As I always say, ladies: lift weights – and start skipping!

  • Agility

Agility is the ability to move quickly and easily. This is very much enhanced with regular skipping and is one of the reasons skipping is so popular with athletes as in many sports the ability to change direction, decelerate and accelerate is so important (think basketball, soccer, rugby).

  • Proprioception

Proprioception is the sense of knowing where one’s body and its parts are positioned. For example, you know if you are standing straight or leaning to one side or you can touch your nose with your eyes closed. With good proprioception balance and coordination are improved.

  • Portability and Cost

A skipping rope is light (a speed rope weights close to nothing!), it fits in every bag and suitcase and it doesn’t have to cost much. It does depend a bit, obviously better quality ropes are more expensive. The cheap plastic ropes with a knot in the handle might be enough at the beginning. I am hooked on the Crossrope as the handles can be attached to ropes of various weight. And all you need is about 4 sqm of space. You can do it at home, at the park, at the gym and just about anywhere you like.

Here are some ideas of how to mix up your skipping rope exercise once you have mastered basic jumping:

Single leg jumping

Split leg jumping

Running

High knees

Jumping jacks

If you have watched the video of boxers past and present skipping rope above, you have plenty of inspiration for your next skipping session and ideas of what to try. I mean, seriously, Roberto Duran does like a double-under from squat position! Let me know how you are going!

As always after every workout – don’t forget to stretch and do a proper cool down after all this jumping (unless it is just your warm-up of course, then keep going!).

New US Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020

The US Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and of Agriculture (USDA) must jointly publish every 5 years a report containing nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for the general public. These guidelines influence policies and funding of schools lunch programs, federal nutrition assistance programs like food stamps and nutrition education.

The new guidelines for 2015-2020 were eagerly awaited and published in January 2016. However, they were met with much disappointment. It seems that many of the recommendations that were formed by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee were ignored, most probably due to politics and certain industry interests (meat and dairy come to mind).

Following are the five guidelines that are supposed to encourage healthy eating patterns:

  1. Follow a healthy eating pattern across your lifespan. All food and beverage choices matter. Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
  2. Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts.
  3. Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake. Consume an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.
  4. Shift to healthier food and beverage choices. Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages across and within all food groups in place of less healthy choices. Consider cultural and personal preferences to make these shifts easier to accomplish and maintain.
  5. Support healthy eating patterns for all. Everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy eating patterns in multiple settings nationwide, from home to school to work to communities.

These guidelines are accompanied by key recommendations that further specify healthy food groups and provide limits on components that pose health risks.

These key recommendations are:

Consume a healthy eating pattern that accounts for all foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level.

A healthy eating pattern includes:

  • A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oils

A healthy eating pattern limits saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium:

  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars
  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats
  • Consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium
  • If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men—and only by adults of legal drinking age.

Source: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/executive-summary/

As I have mentioned above, many of the recommendations made by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) were ignored. Some critics of the new guidelines even recommend to ignore these and instead follow the recommendations made by the DGAC.

One of the key recommendations by the DGAC – and an issue close to my heart as you know if you have followed my blog for a while – is, that we should eat sustainably. We should eat more of a plant based diet to reduce environmental impact of food production such as water and energy consumption, land use and greenhouse gas emissions.

“The global production of food is responsible for 80 percent of deforestation, more than 70 percent of fresh water use, and up to 30 percent of human-generated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It also is the largest cause of species biodiversity loss. The capacity to produce adequate food in the future is constrained by land use, declining soil fertility, unsustainable water use, and over-fishing of the marine environment. Climate change, shifts in population dietary patterns and demand for food products, energy costs, and population growth will continue to put additional pressures on available natural resources. Meeting current and future food needs will depend on two concurrent approaches: altering individual and population dietary choices and patterns and developing agricultural and production practices that reduce environmental impacts and conserve resources, while still meeting food and nutrition needs.”

As you can see from above statement, the DGAC says clearly that global food production has an enormous impact on our environment. It also emphasizes that current and future demand for food can only be met if our dietary choices change.

The DGAC continues to explain how sustainability was a topic, but not specifically addressed in the 2010 recommendations by the DGAC, and the 2015 recommendations would change that. I assume among the reasons is that many other countries have addressed sustainability issues in their national dietary guidelines:

“Although the addition of sustainability topics in the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is new in 2015 it was acknowledged as a topic of strong relevance but not addressed by the 2010 DGAC. It has been a widely discussed aspect of nutrition policy for the past decade in countries such as Germany, Sweden and other Nordic countries, the Netherlands, Australia, and Brazil. …. Nordic countries, such as Sweden, have been researching sustainability and dietary choice since the late 1990s with the most recent edition of the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations (NNR) including an emphasis on the environmental impact of dietary recommendations. The German Dietary Guidelines developed a “sustainable shopping basket,” which is a consumer guide for shopping in a more sustainable way. Overall, the environmentally sustainable dietary guidance from these countries includes elements identified in this DGAC report as consistent with the extant data: a focus on decreasing meat consumption, choosing seafood from non-threatened stocks, eating more plants and plant-based products, reducing energy intake, and reducing waste. Non-governmental and international organizations, such as the United Nations, the FAO, the Sustainable Development Commission in the United Kingdom (UK), the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the National Research Council have all convened working groups and commissioned reports on sustainable diets. Overall, it is clear that environmental sustainability adds further dimensions to dietary guidance; not just what we eat but where and how food production, processing, and transportation are managed, and waste is decreased.”

Source: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/10-chapter-5/ (Part D. Chapter 5: Food Sustainability and Safety – Introduction)

This sustainability aspect has not found its way into the actual 2015-2020 guidelines as they obviously have been censored by politics and industry interests. I would like to cite David Katz (M.D., MPH, FACPM, FACP, FACLM, founding director (1998) of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, and current President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine) here as he found the exact words to describe the guidelines:

“I won’t mince words: In my opinion, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, just released today, are a national embarrassment. They are a betrayal of the diligent work of nutrition scientists, and a willful sacrifice of public health on the altar of profit for well-organized special interests. This is a sad day for nutrition policy in America. It is a sad day for public health. It is a day of shame.”

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-katz-md/2015-dietary-guidelines-a_b_8930098.html

Apparently Congress had decided that sustainability is not within the scope of the guidelines. I find it very strange indeed that the ability to supply the food that is being recommended is not considered relevant.

In addition, the DGAC does not only recommend a plant based diet for reasons of sustainability, but also says that a diet higher in plant based foods is more health promoting.

“The overall body of evidence examined by the 2015 DGAC identifies that a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains. Vegetables and fruit are the only characteristics of the diet that were consistently identified in every conclusion statement across the health outcomes. Whole grains were identified slightly less consistently compared to vegetables and fruits, but were identified in every conclusion with moderate to strong evidence. For studies with limited evidence, grains were not as consistently defined and/or they were not identified as a key characteristic. Low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, nuts, and alcohol were identified as beneficial characteristics of the diet for some, but not all, outcomes. For conclusions with moderate to strong evidence, higher intake of red and processed meats was identified as detrimental compared to lower intake. Higher consumption of sugar-sweetened foods and beverages as well as refined grains was identified as detrimental in almost all conclusion statements with moderate to strong evidence.”

Source: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/02-executive-summary.asp

So as far as I am concerned I will tell my family, friends and clients to follow the recommendations from the DGAC and not the dietary guidelines. As David Katz says we have the choice to follow advice from scientists based on proper research and not guidelines which are not actually guiding but use the vaguest language:

“The good news — and there isn’t much this day — is that we don’t have to swallow this. Having chewed on it, and choked on it, we can just spit it out (aim carefully, please — there are nice shoes out there).

I call on you to do just that. The 2015 DGAC Report is in the public domain. Our hypocrisy, thank goodness, has not yet advanced to the level of expunging the work of true scientists entirely. So, ignore the DGs, and turn to the DGAC Report for guidance instead. It is accessible to you, and it is about you — not the wealth of Congressional cronies.”

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-katz-md/2015-dietary-guidelines-a_b_8930098.html

 

Spinning

As you may know from reading some of my blog posts I really love running. Nothing too crazy, anything between 5 and 10 km makes me happy. It gives me the chance to be alone with my thoughts, to clear my head, to focus on myself, my rhythm, my breathing.

But, I have to admit that lately I have really enjoyed some spinning classes, to the point that I am hardly running at the moment as I cannot fit both into my week besides my circuit and muay thai training.

Now, similar to running, I used to not really like spinning (I didn’t want to use the word ‘dislike’ or ‘hate’ here). Probably because I used to find it really hard. But since my gym here has this awesome instructor I decided to give it a go – and now I love it!

It is hard at the beginning. Literally. The spinning bike saddle is not exactly comfortable, it’s narrow and hard. However, it makes hills and mountains climbs appealing as you get to get out of the saddle and stand in the pedals. And as with everything, you do get used to it.

For many, the first challenge in a spin class is to set up the bike right. Now you can ask your instructor of course to help you with that. Here are some hints:

  • Standing next to the bike the saddle should be about hip height – i.e. when sitting in the saddle your leg should be almost stretched when the pedal is at its lowest point.
  • The handle bars should be at the same height as the saddle – unless you have back issues or a weak lower back. In that case lift the handle bar above saddle height.
  • And lastly, the distance between the saddle front and the handle bars should be approximately the length of your wrist to your elbow. Now you are ready to go.

The first class I took was hard. I couldn’t pedal as fast as the others and I suspect my dial was set lower than everybody else’s, but that’s the good thing about spinning. You can set the dial according to your level and gradually go harder, the fitter you get. But with everyone around you working hard and pushing themselves, and an instructor that tells you to go for it, I just work out so much harder than I ever would all by myself. And with music at bpms matching the cadence of your pedaling, you feel urged to stay in the rhythm and keep going, while your legs are burning and your heart seems to jump out of your chest.

In a 60 minute spinning class you can burn between 400 and 600 calories. And you use all of your leg muscles and core as you are stabilizing your upper body while your legs move – you should not be bouncing in your saddle. It also builds endurance and cardiovascular strength – as you can tell with your heart beating vigorously, your breathing hard and inability to speak. It’s also a great cardio workout for people who need to look after their joints as it is putting little strain on them – you can always do the whole workout in your saddle, you don’t have to get up to ‘attack’ a hill or mountain.

Since I’ve started doing spinning classes, once or twice a week, I have noticed an increase in my cardiovascular fitness. I can push myself harder now, I can go faster and my legs are stronger. I also noticed that my cellulite on the back of my legs has decreased, although this may also be partly due to countless squats and lunges. Cellulite gets reduced by decreasing the underlying fat stores (spinning) and replace lost muscle tissue (work the muscles).

Here’s a summary of the benefits of spinning:

  • Burn serious calories
  • Build endurance and cardiovascular strength
  • Work at your own level (you set the dial – and nobody can tell what you set it on!)
  • Enjoy the energy of the class and some great music
  • Little strain on joints
  • Shaping your legs
  • Work the core
  • Reduce cellulite

And I promise, it does get easier the more you do it. You may even get hooked like me!

spinning-studio-1

The Habits that Helped Me Lose 30 Kilos and Keep them Off

These are the habits that worked for me, and most of them I still follow to keep the weight off. Everyone is different and not all of these habits may work for you, but maybe you find some inspiration and ideas here.

Drink Water

I stick to still water and herbal teas most of the time. I have stopped drinking soft drinks, including the diet variety. A lot has been written about the sugar content of these drinks. That includes most fruit juices as they are made of concentrate. It is much better to eat the whole fruit as you get both the vitamins and the fibre that are good for your body. Diet soft drinks are no better, as some research suggests that the body still thinks it is getting sugar. I am no saint, however, I do like my glass of sparkling wine or a nice cold beer on a hot summer night. But they are treats, not a daily staple.

Fill Half Your Plate with Vegetables

This goes hand in hand with portion control. Since I started eating a plant based diet this is even easier. I always make sure that half of my plate is vegetables. And if I have seconds I make sure again. This way I can fill up knowing that I eat healthy and keep calories under control. And by vegetables I do not mean French fries or cauliflower in cream sauce with a ton of cheese on top. Just thought I mention it in case you were wondering.

Avoid Fast Food

I think everyone knows that fast food is bad for you. It is full of fat, sugar, salt and highly processed. For me, personally, it was much harder to give up the diet coke that came with the fast food, than the food itself. Some fast food chains do have healthier options these days, but avoid the salad dressing. Too much sugar, too much salt and I actually do not understand half of the names of the other ingredients, which is always a sign for “do not eat me”. Some chicken salads with dressing have more calories than a burger. So don’t be fooled by the advertised “healthy choice”.

Start Exercising

Well, I could write a whole book on this part. As you may know from my weight loss journey story here, I started to get back into exercising after having my children with yoga. It does not matter what kind of exercise you start doing, as long as it is something you enjoy and keep doing. Once you get fitter and you have established a habit of exercising, you may get more adventurous and challenge yourself to try something new! Start with walking your dog or using an elliptical machine or play football with your children. Whatever it is, aim for 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. And then go from there.

Run

I never liked running. I always had an excuse in PE not to participate in any running exercises. But I decided to take it up to see if I could maybe start liking it and lose weight doing it. After all, running is cheap, as it only requires some good shoes, does not require any equipment, and you can do it anywhere anytime. If you have read my story, you know that by now I am loving my 10k races and have been training for a half marathon. Running now is my refuge. I started slow with walking/running intervals and then very slowly building up distance and speed. Take your time doing this, so you reduce the risk of injury. And remember, the first five to ten minutes of every run are hard, as your body is adjusting. In the motivating books section below I have listed several books on running that motivated me to get into and keep running.

Keep a Journal

To be honest, to keep a journal can be a chore. But it can be very helpful and sometimes even fun. When I was trying to live healthier and keep track of my progress, I found a book called Adore Yourself Slim, which helped me a lot. The last chapter in the book is called “Write Yourself Slim” that contains not only a food log, but there is also space to write down your workout, your hypnosis session (see point 9), your daily reward, slip ups and what you are happy about. The book contains a lot of other fill-in sections, and I found this interactive approach very motivating.

I have also used the www.fitday.com app for a while, which I think can be helpful for people who rather use an app than write down on paper what food they have consumed. I found it easy enough to use, and the progress graphs and charts can be motivating, however, I also find it quite time consuming, as there are thousands of foods to choose from. And to be honest, I am not really into measuring and weighing my meals. Having said that, using it did help me become more aware of what I was actually putting into my mouth, and as a result made me think twice about mindlessly finishing off my kids’ plates.

Buy Clothes that Are Too Small

When you are unhappy about the way you look and you feel uncomfortable in your own skin, shopping for new clothes can be a nightmare. Squeezing into tiny fitting rooms that have awful lightning and unforgiving full body length mirrors can be awfully frustrating. I sometimes wonder how anyone can ever think that they look good in those cubicles!

When I was losing weight I found it motivating though to shop clothes that were slightly too small. I bought dresses that were too tight over my hips or trousers that gave me a slight muffin top. After a few weeks I would try them on again, and voila, they would fit better. That helped me track my progress, as on the scale I would often see no change at all. It also happened that I would buy a pair of pants or a dress just because it fit, and not because I looked particularly good in them! I must admit though that some of  these clothes ended up in the charity bin with their price tag still on….

Drink Less Alcohol

This was and still is hard. I just like partying too much! And once I have a glass of champagne I cannot resist a second one, and a third one…. So in general, it is easier for me not to drink at all than to stick to one glass. If you have read my weight loss story you know that I basically was not drinking for six months to lose my excess fat. And as we all know, alcohol is not just empty calories but is addictive and drinking raises health risks. So to keep it all in balance, I try to limit drinking to holidays, date nights and dinner parties. After all, I want to enjoy my life and you should enjoy yours. If it involves alcohol just try to limit it to those special occasions and ditch the glass of red every night habit.

Reduce Added Sugar

I love dessert, sweets, chocolate…. I simply cannot give up sugar altogether, although after having read several books on the topic – see below book selection – it probably would be wise. However, I don’t think a treat now and then does much harm, on the contrary, it can make you really happy! I can’t imagine celebrating my kids’ birthdays without enjoying a piece of cake with them! Or a whole summer without ice cream! Just don’t overdo it and make sure you have sugar for the right reason – i.e. not mindlessly stuffing yourself with cake or biscuits or chocolate, but to savour and enjoy every bite. Of course, if you can abstain, good for you!

Visualisation

The book Adore Yourself Slim got me into visualisation, which helped me a lot on my journey to a happier and healthier me.

Visualisation has a lot to do with your goal, i.e. your “why”. Whatever the reason you want to change the way you feel and look, visualisation is about thinking what you want to achieve. For example, if you want to look your best for your wedding day, visualisation is about picturing yourself in your wedding dress, dancing with your sweetheart, thinking about how you will feel and what you will do. I found this a very helpful tool to remind myself daily why I was eating healthy and exercising.

Read Motivating Books

Here are some books that kept me motivated (and still do!) :











This list of course could be going on and on. There are thousands of books on nutrition, exercising, healthy lifestyles and inspiring personalities.

Treat Yourself

I pretty much explained that above, with regard to sugar. But whether it’s a slice of pizza or a handful of French fries or a dessert – I believe in a healthy balance, so on occasion we can indulge ourselves and we should not feel guilty about it. I think it is better to have the occasional treat than trying to avoid a certain food, only to eventually give in and totally overdoing it as a result.

Believe in Yourself

This might be the hardest one of all. When the scale does not move for 5 or 6 weeks or more (as happened in my case many times), when the muffin top just seems to be glued to you, when you feel tired and exhausted, and you are wondering why you should go for a run despite the rain or the minus degrees outside, or everyone is tucking into their dessert while you are sipping hot tea and you wonder why am I doing this, it would be so much nicer now to eat chocolate/watch tv/drink a glass of wine and just give up – that is when you have to believe in yourself that you can do it. That you will get there. Don’t give up. Keep going. Be strong. Believe.

My First Encounter with Muay Thai

I joined my new gym here nearly five months ago. When we moved here I had a look around my new neighbourhood, to find out what gym would be most suitable for me. When my husband suggested Cobra Fitness I was reluctant at first. Checking out their website it seemed to be a proper fighter gym, offering Muay Thai, boxing and Brazilian jujitsu and everything else in order to get fit enough to practice these.

However, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to have a look, so I went in one morning to check it out. My first impression when I saw the main area covered with mats, and surrounded by a mesh wire fence with rows of punching bags, was that of a serious gym. Right at the entrance is a cage with about 20 spinning bikes. The weights area looked impressive too, there were rows and rows of free weights. And of course there was the boxing ring on a platform. Upstairs was a whole row of TRX bands and two treadmills. The predominant colours are black and “cobra” green. I could feel the testosterone in the air. Rap music was blasting through the speakers. To me, this gym seemed to scream serious workouts. No light pedalling on a reclining bike or endless hours on an elliptical machine here. I was hooked. I joined the same morning.

In the past months I have done countless classes in the gym. Spartacus training, abs destruction, legs, abs and ass classes, TRX classes and spinning classes. However, I didn’t have the courage to do any of the fight related classes such as boxing and Muay Thai fitness, boxing technique, Muay Thai technique or ladies Muay Thai. I casually observed them sometimes, but I felt intimidated by the sound of boxing gloves, shins and knees hitting pads. The one time we did some knees into the sand bags during a Spartacus class I ended up with a blue left knee for several days.

However, having the opportunity to practice boxing or Muay Thai is too tempting as not to try it. And what was I going to lose anyway by trying? So I decided to book some personal training sessions with one of the trainers to teach me proper technique. I don’t say that just because I am a personal trainer myself! I think it is very important to learn proper technique first before diving head first into a class, as it is very difficult to “unlearn” false movements, and it is safer for your body too, as the risk for injury is reduced. It is also far easier to learn in a one on one environment than to learn from a trainer who is looking after 20 or 30 people at the same time.

I was very excited and looking forward to my first session. To my delight we went straight into the ring. I had never been in a boxing ring before and I couldn’t help it – the “eye of the tiger” started playing in my head somewhere. The trainer helped me to put the wraps around my hands properly, folding it several times over my knuckles and then threading it between my fingers. Once the wraps and gloves were on, he showed me how to move my feet. Then we moved on to jab and crosses, hooks and uppercuts. It felt good to hit those pads.

And even though I was going at a slow pace in order to focus on my movements, I could feel my heart rate go up. And I definitely started to get out of breath once I was kicking and kneeing the pads! Doing half turns on the balls of one foot while the other leg kicks waist high from the side, having one glove on the chin while the other one gets pushed down, keeping the upper body straight at a slight backward angle and not forgetting to breathe – it is hard work! Working with a trainer means no taking turns, no downtime, no breaks. Just punch, kick, knee. It was hard, but so good at the same time. I felt strong and confident. I was soaking wet at the end of the session, so it was definitely effective in terms of a workout, but it had been fun. Really good fun. I felt the endorphins rush through my body all the way home. I will be back for more. And once I feel confident in terms of technique I will definitely try some of those fight related classes. I keep you posted how that will go of course!

Just a word of caution to all those ladies who love their perfect legs. Those kicks and knees will leave bruises on your shins and knees! Here’s a little shot of my legs the day after a boxing session with my trainer:

img_0689

So I think I will have to sit a few days out before a big event where a short dress or skirt is required. Otherwise, I am hooked and determined to continue with Muay Thai. It’s a fun effective workout, gets the heart rate up and will shape arms, abs and legs.

My Journey to a Happier and Healthier Me Part 2

Yoga and Less Sugar

In August 2011 I started with cutting out desserts. Somehow my husband and I had gotten into the habit of having desserts, daily, after our dinner. I guess it happens in a lot of relationships, you are comfortable with each other, you are happy, and you spoil each other. I loved to treat my husband to cake, and brownies, and cookies I baked. I decided that I could not indulge daily in sweets, and would save dessert for occasions when I wanted to treat myself. I started buying sweets that I did not like too much, so my husband could still enjoy them, but I would not feel tempted.

I also started watching how much I was eating. It had become a habit to eat two or three servings of a dish I had cooked, just because it tasted great. So I started to listen to my body more. I did not want to starve myself. I just needed to stop eating when I was actually full.

Exercise had been missing in my life since I had my children. I wanted to get back to the gym, but with a toddler and a baby, that was difficult. The only free time I had was in the evening, and I was just too exhausted then. In hindsight that may have been an excuse, but I was also very self-conscious of the way I looked and did not feel comfortable going to the gym.

Luckily, there are a lot of workout DVDs on the market these days, and I decided to ease back into it with a yoga DVD. Pre-children I had been more of a Pilates and Les Mills workouts type of girl, but I did Pregnancy Yoga, and I thought the meditative and calming aspect of a yoga routine would also help with the stress I was feeling. I bought Kathy Smith’s yoga DVD and started doing it almost daily, while my children had their nap. I felt great doing it, it was me-time, it was relaxing, but at the same time it strengthened my body and gave it some flexibility back.

Elliptical Trainer and Tracy Anderson Method

We also bought an elliptical trainer, which we put in our living room, so I would be able to do some cardio workout at home, while the kids were sleeping. It was shocking to see how unfit I had become. But it felt good to move my body again.

Then a friend of mine recommended that I try the Tracy Anderson Post Pregnancy workout. I quickly ordered the DVD and was hooked. It took all my willpower at the beginning to get through them, the exercises seemed very hard. But they seemed very efficient. So I kept doing my DVDs and my cardio workouts.

After about 5 weeks I went shopping and was very proud that I could squeeze into some clothes size XL of a high-street brand shop. They were still skirts and dresses, and not trousers, but nevertheless, I saw progress and was happy. With some shapewear underneath I felt quite attractive again!

I started browsing through home workout DVDs on amazon, reading reviews, and comparing workouts. I ordered more online: Dance workouts, Tracy Anderson workouts, Ballet Conditioning workouts, more Yoga. I loved how I could do these workouts in my living room at any time that suited me, with no spectators (except my children on some occasions!) and at my own pace.




I still paid attention that I did not eat too much, and not too many sweets, but I did not want to go on a diet, I wanted to lose weight long-term and not fall into the yoyo dieting trap.

However, I did not dare weighing myself. I was scared to see black on white how heavy I was. First, I wanted to feel better, I wanted to fit better into my clothes, wanted to lose some centimetres around my belly, hips and arms. I wanted to lose the chubby cheeks.

Online Journal

At the end of October 2011 I finally had the courage to step on the scales. I weighed 87.3kg. That is what I weighed at the beginning of my pregnancy with my son (88kg). Being 178cm tall, that resulted in a BMI of 27.6. That means I was overweight.

Having finally weighed myself, I started using an online journal, www.fitday.com. I would weigh myself regularly and record daily what I ate and what workouts I had done. It helped me immensely to see how many calories I was consuming, and how many calories I was expending. I was very motivated now, because I wanted to look great for Christmas. We were going home to see my family, and we would have my son baptized. I wanted to be on the photos and look good in them.

Alcohol

Having started the online journal, I decided to make the month of November alcohol free. I had always enjoyed a cold beer, a nice cocktail and most of all champagne. I loved to have a few drinks with friends, or in the evening with my husband. So it was not easy, but after a couple of weeks I got used to not drinking. And I felt so much better! I slept better, I felt fitter, and I felt lighter. And of course I was eating better, since without alcohol I did not crave crisps, or salty nuts, or a huge bowl of spaghetti!

I felt great. I felt so great at the end of November that I bought a pair of flare jeans in size 16. They did not look good on me, but I was so happy they fit me that I had to have them.

When we travelled home for Christmas, I was very proud. I felt much slimmer. Although nobody at home commented on my shape, and neither my family nor friends said anything about the way I looked, I felt much better. Only the following summer did I learn from my grandmother that she had thought I looked big. Luckily she had not told me during the Christmas holidays, or I would have been devastated.

I tried to eat well despite the Christmas feasts all around, and not to overindulge in sweets. But of course I had champagne.

Detox and Adoring Yourself Slim

In the New Year my husband and I followed a detox diet. My husband and I do this every year, but that was the first time we did it according to Patrick Holford. I was excited to read his books, I learnt a lot about detoxing, nutrition, and the Glycaemic Index. I also read Jillian Michaels’ books about boosting your metabolism after I had seen her on the Biggest Loser US show.


The Christmas photos were definitely better. Not great, but better. Thanks to detoxing, and renewed motivation after indulging over Christmas, I went down to 78kg at the end of February 2012.

I started to understand that in order to live a long, healthy, and “slimmer” life, I needed to do more. I would have to eat cleaner, drink less (alcohol), and exercise more intensely.

A book called Adore Yourself Slim showed me a new path to healthier living. Lisa recommends self-hypnosis and I found the visualisations very helpful. The book also gets you to measure yourself, to keep a journal, and to write down compliments you receive on your journey. I think the book is an excellent motivational tool, and I have read it many times.

It was motivating to see progress in the regular measurements, and it was very helpful to write down my goals, my inspiration, and even the occasional compliments I got from people commenting how good I looked. The self-hypnosis sessions were very soothing, and I must admit I fell asleep a few times during these visualisations, but I enjoyed them. And writing down the compliments showed me that people were noticing a change, and that motivated me to continue on my journey.

Running and Plant Based Diet

On February 27, 2012, I stepped onto the treadmill in the gym, which was located in the apartment block where we used to live. I did ten minutes of walking at a ten degrees incline. I hated it. Then I went on the rowing machine and did twenty minutes. I liked that better. The pace had been slow, but I felt accomplished, finally I had started going back to the gym and had even stepped on the dreaded treadmill.

While I was ‘adoring myself slim’, I started reading the China Study, The: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health. I read it front to back within a few days. I thought it was interesting as it promotes a plant based diet for health reasons. I had always thought that I would not be able to live on a vegan diet, that it would be very hard to cut out animal products. I had tried for a while to live on a vegetarian diet, because I think it is wrong how we treat animals. But I had failed, since all vegetarian food seemed to include cheese. And I have never liked cheese. Never. But having read the China Study, The: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health, I decided to give the plant based diet a try, maybe for just a month, and my husband was keen to try as well, and wanted to support me.

Right from the beginning the plant based diet felt perfect for us. The vegan cookbooks I had ordered were simply brilliant (thank you Isa!), the food was delicious, family friendly, healthy, and with simple ingredients easy to make. We felt better, had more energy, and we looked better. My husband suddenly lost his excess weight easily. He was amazed.


Eating a vegan diet and using self-hypnosis, I had a new goal now: I wanted to look fabulous for my 40th birthday in August. I wanted to be the best version of myself at age 40.

I got more and more compliments, from teachers at my daughter’s school, from other mothers and from friends. I wrote them all down. I even somehow learnt to love the treadmill, which was a really very unlikely development, but I did, and I have even run a few 10km races and trained for a half marathon.

Shrinking Clothes

From the start, when I had decided to cut down on sugar, and listen more to my body, I had been buying new clothes regularly to motivate myself. It was so rewarding to gradually try on smaller sizes. Sometimes I bought a pair of trousers or dress just because they fit, although they did not necessarily look good on me. Sometimes I did not buy anything, but just occupied a change room for half an hour, trying on various outfits. I also kept pushing myself by buying clothes that were slightly too small. And every few weeks I would try them on and see if I had made any progress. And every time a piece of clothing fit, I was ecstatic.

I felt that measuring progress with clothes was more motivating than looking at the number on the scales. As we all know, weight can be tricky. We all have different builds and different body composition. When you work out and try to lose weight, you may even gain weight, although you become slimmer! This of course is due to the density of fat and muscle, i.e., a pound of fat takes up a lot more volume than a pound of muscle. So for me, clothes were a better indicator of how I was going, and I highly recommend this strategy if you are frustrated with your scales.

New Me

In those 6 months leading up to the summer holiday, starting beginning of July 2012, I did not drink any alcohol, except on a couple of special occasions. I ran on the treadmill. I did my workout DVDs. And I ate a healthy, plant based diet. By the time the holidays started, I was 71kg and fit into size 12. I felt great. I had bought a fantastic outfit for my birthday, skinny white jeans, a silver armless top, and high heels.

That summer, all my friends and my family commented on how good and slim I looked. So many people told me that I looked younger than 40 years old. I felt wonderful, and confident.

After my 40th birthday I started doing Jillian Michaels workouts. I already owned some of her DVDs, and finally I had the courage to do them. I thought she was so intimidating, I had huge respect of her workouts! But to my surprise I discovered that I was ready for them. Then I ordered Tony Horton’s P30x programme. Together with a friend we both did our daily workouts independently and sharing our thoughts, progress, struggles, and frustrations. I had started participating in 10km runs. I had become a runner. I was addicted to it. Running was my time. The time to think. To dream. To let go.

I was not a different person. I was still me. The girl that likes to party a lot. That loves champagne and delicious food. That has an all or nothing approach to most things in life. But I had changed my lifestyle to achieve more balance. I changed some habits to become a healthy, and happy me.  Someone who is smiling into the camera on family holiday photos.

I decided to become a Personal Trainer, because I want to inspire and help others who might feel the way I did in 2011. Who feel as lost in that vicious cycle as I did. Who look at themselves, and their life, and decide it is time to make a change.

I also started this blog so I could share my story, my experiences, my tips for working out, and cooking healthy plant based meals.

I hope you find inspiration.

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March 2013

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April 2016