New year, new approach

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Beach walks in my hometown Wollongong

2017 was the year I started to write more. I started the Australian Writers Centre Make Time to Write course which I’d discovered during our visit to Vietnam in July 2016 when I decided to write a book about our time there. The 30 day boot-camp was a great kick start, and helped me add about 12,000 words to the 8000 I’d written during Nanowrimo 2016. I got back into a routine with my blog, especially when the post I wrote about a photo-shopped school photo went viral. Once I decided to wind up my consulting business, I started a 5 week online course with the Australian Writers Centre, joining the Freelance Masterclass program when I finished. I did Nanowrimo for third time and finally succeeded in writing for the whole month of November, putting down 50,000 words and making a good start on a book I’m looking at returning to in 2018.

But as I focused on my writing, my fitness went downhill and as we emerged from the long winter, I could no longer ignore that too much chocolate and wine as rewards for writing had resulted in me feeling unfit, fat and unmotivated. I needed to commit to moving every day – even if just for a 30 minute walk.

So while the idea of making New Year’s resolutions doesn’t really appeal to me, I decided that commiting to 30 minutes of exercise – alongside 30 minutes of writing every day seemed like a reasonable goal. I also know that its long enough to be of benefit but short enough to fit it in around everything else I need to do. I know that putting on my exercise gear or sitting down to write is half the battle. I never regret a walk or a workout and some of my best writing sessions have been when I have told myself I’ll just write for 10-15 minutes before school pick-up. Often I’ve had to leave with ideas still flowing which might once have been frustrating but I now know means I’m much more likely to be excited and inspired the next time I sit down to write.

While 30 minutes of exercise or writing in and of itself is worthwhile, I do have some goals in mind. I want to lose about 15-20 kilos (which I did 6 years ago when we were first in Hanoi) and run a half-marathon non-stop. I’d also like to conquer some fears and reach some goals in the gym. When it comes to writing, the goals are simple – get my first freelance piece published, build a successful side-career (1-2 articles a fortnight) and finish my manuscript.

In 2014 I left a career, in 2015 I started a business and wound it up in 2017. 2016 was about starting a new job and then dealing with my husband’s cancer diagnosis and recovery – and buying a house. So many big changes and challenges.

A great quote from surfer Layne Beachley at the Australian Museum’s 200 Treasures exhibition

2018 is about taking the resources and tools I already have to achieve the goals I have set. I have a couple of great writing communities including the support and advice offered through the Freelance Masterclass program. I have a great gym, trainer and community. I know how to eat well. 2018 is not about finding “shiny new things”. Instead it is about commiting – on a daily basis – to doing what I know works and applying the skills and knowledge I already have.

As a mother and wife, I know that I’ll never be able to carve out all the time I want to do “my” things. The mental load is real and the reality is, we all have the same 24 hours. Sure I’d love to not get up before 6am, but I know I need to if I want to get healthy again and have the energy I need to reach the goals I have set. I’d love a whole uninterrupted day to write, but that is probably not going to happen this year, so I just need to make the most of the snippets of time I have. Nanowrimo taught me this and I’ve also been loving Nat Newman’s messenger bot that sends me a message at an allocated time reminding me to write – which then lets me set a timer for however long I have.

The focus of this post might have been my writing and fitness but I’d remiss if I forgot to mention my reading goals. I have no doubt my enthusiasm for writing has been improved by the goal I set to read more in 2017. Using Goodreads, I set a challenge to read 25 books, that I kept increasing until it reached 40.  I read 38 books – which is probably the total of all the books I’d read in the 2-3 years previously. So this year, I’ve upped the ante and I’m aiming to read 45 books and because I like to make life “interesting”, I’ve also decided to cook at least one new recipe a week from one of my many cookbooks!

It has taken me a few years to get into the groove of part-time work, a side-gig and school pick-ups and after-school activities, I really feel like this might just be the year that it all comes together.

My Whole 30 Experience

My Whole30 countdown. Felt so good to put that red cross through each day
My Whole30 countdown. Felt so good to put that red cross through each day – The green words reflect the Whole 30 “timeline”

I am the first to admit I suffer from shiny object syndrome. I get bored fairly easily and so while Michelle Bridge’s 12 week body transformation had worked for a number of years, it had lost it’s appeal (and let’s not even get into her recent ads about people growing their own stuff being freaks – what the?). I was really struggling to get my eating (and drinking) in the right place and to find the right balance with exercise. I’d beat myself for not exercising 6 times a week – by not doing anything. Exercise had also become more social for me  – walking a couple of times a week with different friends – which was far more interesting than just the gym. But then I’d feel like I was’;t doing enough and my weight wasn’t shifting.

I’d looked into the Whole30 earlier in the year but to be honest it all seemed too hard. No grains, sugar, dairy or alcohol for 30 days. It didn’t really sit right with the food lover in me and I have always subscribed to everything in moderation. It wasn’t until I heard one of the founders of the Whole30, Melissa Hartwig on my favourite Being Boss podcast (and learning that the podcast hosts Emily and Kathleen had both done Whole 30s) that I reconsidered giving it a go. I quizzed one friend that had done it, starting reading up and read the first book Melissa and Dallas Hartwig wrote called It Starts with Food. It was interesting to think about how our diet has changed and that perhaps especially as we get older, there might be some things that our bodies find harder to deal with. I’m no scientist, but a lot of their ideas made sense.

On the flip side, I really wasn’t keen on another “fad” diet or eating style. However, what I did like about the Whole 30 was that it is very much about giving up these things for 30 days and then reintroducing them and working out what works for you. I also liked that the focus was on 3 solid healthy meals a day, cutting the snacks and most importantly not replacing one less than healthy item with something made with supposedly more healthy items. If I’m going to eat cake, I want cake. If not, I’m happy to go without it.

For me, giving up alcohol was a big deal. Simon works in a tasting room, many of our friends work in wine, I live in a region that is sustained on wine production but I combined my Whole30 with the Ocsober fundraising challenge so it was a little easier. Looking back, I am surprised I took friends wine tasting, had friends come for dinner and celebrated our anniversary – without a drop!

In the weeks leading up to doing my Whole30, I started to eat as compliant with the Whole30 as I could – which made starting much easier. Day 1 was after we’d been out with friends for a 16 course, wine fuelled degustation at one of the Barossa’s best restaurants. I’d tasted the most amazing food, was still full and so it made it easier to start. I’d also prepped a few things like making my own whole egg mayo (so easy with a stick blender I will keep doing it – recipe here), as well as some other sauces. I’d also shopped and planned out a menu.

I’d signed up to a daily email from the Whole 30 which had lots of great tips and advice and it was motivating to click the – yep, I did it link each day. They have a pretty strong – if you slip up, go back to the beginning approach, so I was determined to stick with it.

A selection of my Whole30 breakfasts - eggs, mince, salmon, sweet potato and greens - and sometimes leftovers featured pretty heavily
A selection of my Whole30 breakfasts – eggs, mince, salmon, sweet potato and greens – and sometimes leftovers featured pretty heavily

They also have a bit of a “tough love” approach – this isn’t hard – fighting illness is hard etc etc. And to be honest, I had to agree. I focused on what I was eating (rather than what I was missing) and I gave myself challenges to come up with new tasty meals. Yes, I missed a glass of wine and there were times where I thought it would be easier to make a sandwich or a bowl of cereal but overall it wasn’t too hard. There is a Whole30 timeline on the website and I have to say it was pretty spot-on.

In the first week, I realised my bacon and cold meat weren’t really complaint (they are pretty strict on sulphites, sugar, additives etc) so I ended up eating a lot of chicken, mince and smoked salmon. Surprisingly, I didn’t get sick of eggs. I bought a new non-stick pan before I started and it was definitely my new best friend. While I like to think I’m fairly health conscious, and in recent years had done away with most processed, low-fat food, I was still amazed to realise the things that did contain additives that we could just as easily make at home. I made taco seasoning that the boys declared was the “best ever”. I started cooking with fat (olive oil, ghee or clarified butter) and I wasn’t hungry because I was eating a decent meal.

Whole30 lunches - lots of salads, chicken, salmon and grated vegetables with mayo or vinegarette a
Whole30 lunches – lots of salads, chicken, salmon and grated vegetables with mayo or vinegarette a

There is a lot on the various Whole30 Facebook pages and forums about how much time food prep takes on the Whole30. Given we were already pretty well eating food from scratch, it didn’t make much difference – and I have to say, it did get me thinking about the modern diet and sadly how much is pre-packaged. I decided during the whole30 if there ever came a time (and I’m not talking a few busy days here and there), that I didn’t have time to prepare a meal and sit down and eat it, something was definitely wrong with our lifestyle.

For me, one of the biggest challenges was having food prepped if I was going out, and it’s made me think more about having things like poached chicken, tuna, salmon or beef rissoles in the freezer if I do need something on the run. Improbably ate more nuts, date based bars and fruit for this reason.

Whole30 dinners - roast meat and roast vegetables, lettuce wraps, taco mince with sweet potato mash and bolognaise with zucchini noodles were some of the regular meals
Whole30 dinners – roast meat and roast vegetables, lettuce wraps, taco mince with sweet potato mash and bolognaise with zucchini noodles were some of the regular meals

Day 30 was last Sunday and it was also the day I helped run the major fundraiser for my son’s Kindy. I decided I would finish the day with some bubbles because for me, my Whole30 experience was more than just one day. In the last week I’ve had a couple of ice creams, some naan bread, put milk in my tea and had pasta. Given that I didn’t have any major health concerns before the Whole30, introducing these hasn’t been a big deal. That said, I proved I was happy to go without a lot of these things, so I see them being special occasion food. If I’m going to eat bread, it will be the once a week freshly made artisan loaf from the Farmer’s Market. Same for cheese – it has to be good. I’ll probably have a wine most days but I’ll go back to a chocolate as a special occasion rather than picking one up every time I shop. I’ve come to love my black coffee but I missed my morning tea with milk, so that will come back in some days.

Over the 30 days, I lost about 3 kilos and about 2 per cent body fat. But the big change was my shape. Most people I saw commented and most thought I’d lost more than I did. I lost about 6cm off my bust, 3 cm each of my waist and hips and a couple of centimetres off my arms and thighs.

The Whole 30 “rule” is that you don’t weigh yourself. I broke that rule and was happy to see how my weight (and body fat) fluctuated over the course of the month. But I can see why you perhaps shouldn’t be weighing yourself – especially as for some people, it might take a little longer for the benefits to come.

I definitely enjoyed more energy but I still probably wasn’t sleeping as much as they recommend, which was worse during the period where I found myself swapping the habit of an afternoon snack when the boys came home, for a coffee. And because I had so much energy, I found myself a little wound up at nights. So this month, while I’m aiming to continue to eat Whole30 most of the time, I am going to aim for more sleep and more exercise. I’ve got a new gym program to balance out my walking days and I’m trying to just focus on enjoying it instead of getting annoyed if I don’t hit 6 sessions.

Would I recommend Whole30? Definitely – if for no other reason that giving your body a change of scenery and forcing you to be more mindful about what you eat and drink.

Would i do it again? I’m not sure. As I’ve said, I didn’t really miss anything on a daily basis so I’m happy to continue to eat a diet based on lots of vegetables, fish, meat and eggs and some fruit and nuts plus lots of healthy fats. But there may well come a time, particularly after holidays or travel where sticking with the Whole30 – for a week or even the full 30 days is the right thing to do.

After my Whole30 - only 3.1kilos gone but the centimetres made the difference. I hadn't worn this dress in over a year
After my Whole30 – only 3.1kilos gone but the centimetres made the difference. I hadn’t worn this dress in over a year

Finding my running groove again

Yesterday I ran in my first big fun run in Australia. The annual City to Bay sees about 35,000 people run from Adelaide to Glenelg. There are options to run or walk the full 12km, 6km or 3km.

I didn’t think I was up to 12km so with some advice from friends, I decided to run the 6km route and to enjoy it. Unfortunately even once I had the goal, distractions of setting up house and study meant my training was still a bit hit and miss and one run with the fitness centre Friday running group had me really doubting myself.

And then last Thursday my Women’s Running magazine arrived and I started reading about people’s running experiences, great races and tips for revamping my running. I was reminded why I enjoyed running and the great sense of achievement on finishing a race. It made me think about the fact that until August 2011, I had been one of those people who said she couldn’t run and had even been teased for her bad running style. But signing up to Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation (12WBT) to lose the weight I had put on after two babies convinced me to give running a try.

My sister was also running and inspired by her, I moved on to the Couch to 5km app and soon I could run 5km. The chance meeting of some girls in Brunei via the 12WBT forums led me to completing a 10km race in Kota Kinabalu in May 2012. The following year, I was training for my first half marathon which was unfortunately canceled due to elections in Malaysia, but I pressed on and entered the amazing Angkor Wat Half marathon in November 2013, the first time I’d had the opportunity to run with my sister. I managed to run the first 12km, then run and walk the next 9km finishing in around 2.40 – and by no means last.

My sister and I after the Angkor Wat half marathon - an amazing experience running through there temple complex at dawn being cheered on my the locals and having kids grab your hand and run with you, November 2013
My sister and I after the Angkor Wat half marathon – an amazing experience running through there temple complex at dawn being cheered on my the locals and having kids grab your hand and run with you, November 2013
Starting a half marathon as the sun comes up over Angkor Wat is a memory I'll treasure forever
Starting a half marathon as the sun comes up over Angkor Wat is a memory I’ll treasure forever
Part of the race route - Angkor Wat
Part of the race route – Angkor Wat

From the time I arrived at the City to Bay 6km start, I was impressed by the organisation and atmosphere. There were lots of groups in matching gear as race is a great opportunity to race money, or promote a group or issue. There were also lots of people in fancy dress. I was at the start in time to see the fastest 12km runners and wheelchair racers come through which was amazing.

Start line of the 6km section of the City to Bay run
Start line of the 6km section of the City to Bay run

Despite a slightly slow start due to the number of people, we were eventually out on the road and it was the perfect sunny blue sky running day. There were people all along the route – from spectators and locals cheering on runners to businesses and organisations using it as an opportunity to promote themselves. The drink stops were regular which was good because it was slightly warmer than I’d expected. It was a real carnival atmosphere and I could help but enjoy myself, even though physically I knew I wasn’t in the best shape. Seeing young kids and people running in memory of a loved one or to support a charity provided that extra hit of inspiration.

I ended up making it to the finish line in under 40 minutes which was my goal. Not fast by any means, but I’d kept running and most importantly, I finished feeling inspired to start running again. Suddenly saying I was going to run the Barossa Half Marathon in May 2015, felt like a real goal and not empty talk.

So when I feel like skipping the training, I’m just going to remind myself what I love about running:

  • the friends I have made all around the world because of running
  • the fact that I’m keeping my body and my mind fit (read this great article on why women should run)
  • the amazing experiences of running in different, beautiful places
  • that awesome feeling coming through the finish line yesterday, knowing I had achieved something I had set out to do.
    Feeling happy after finishing to City to Bay, Glenelg, September 2014
    Feeling happy after finishing to City to Bay, Glenelg, September 2014

    Jetty at Glenelg - great spot to stretch out after a run
    Jetty at Glenelg – great spot to stretch out after a run