As I shuffled down to the school gym in my enormous winter coat, the lie was already forming in my head. It was fucking freezing and I really didn’t want to get changed out of my warm winter uniform and into the awful maroon tracksuit we had to wear for PE. I also hated exercise of any description. It was uncomfortable and it hurt. ‘Why does anyone participate in this idiocy?’ I thought to myself. It’s madness. I walked up to my PE teacher and said ‘I can’t do PE today it’s the first day of my period.’
She raised an eyebrow and pursed her lips and replied ‘Are you sure? You know you’re only allowed to use that excuse twice a term.’
Without thinking of the future consequences I said ‘Yep. I’m sure.’ as I watched her put a little red mark in her roll book next to my name and the date. I knew in a week or two when I actually got my period I was going to regret that but in that moment I didn’t care. My chubby, pale body didn’t have to go on display that day and I got to sit next to the heater on the stadium seating while everyone else had to run laps around the gym.
I spent most of my childhood and adolescence avoiding exercise. I favoured indoor activities like craft, watching movies and reading. If one of my friends suggested going for a bike ride I’d almost always try to talk them out of it. ‘Why don’t we bake a cake or something instead?’.
When I was about 16 years old, I realised I wasn’t very healthy. I barely moved, I ate whatever I wanted and I wasn’t super fond of the idea of leaving the house. At the time I worked in a newsagent and at the end of every month I took home a big stack of unsold magazines and I’d devour them. One weekend I found an article that said something totally naff like ‘Fall in love with that healthy feeling!’ Back in the early 00s we were all obsessed with Kate Moss’ figure so most of the diet and exercise advice went along the lines of ‘Stop eating food, don’t exercise, cigarettes for breakfast, shag Johnny Depp. Repeat.’. This article was preaching the exact opposite.
It listed out some research on exercise endorphins and focussed on how you feel when you exercise and eat a healthy diet rather than on the way you look. This was an unbelievably shocking revelation. The article suggested going for a jog every second day that week and noting how you felt before and after each jog. I’ve always loved to document things so I bought a diary and a new pen from my newsagent and diligently started my exercise program. I soon realised, I felt fucking amazing on exercise days and pretty bloody average on non-exercise days. On the days I went for a run, my head was clearer, I was in a better mood, I was able to concentrate for longer. After two weeks, I started exercising every day. I’d take our little Jack Russel cross Maggie with me and we’d run all the way around the golf course near where I lived.
After three months of daily runs, I didn’t lose a single kilo. Not even a gram. I was devastated. I was doing the experiment to fall in love with exercise but I was certainly expecting to lose weight in the process. How could I possibly have run 5km a day and not shifted any weight? In that moment, I realised that was exactly what the experiment was supposed to teach me. I felt amazing, my legs were strong and toned, my clothes were fitting better despite the scales not budging, I was sleeping well, my moods were elevated and my skin was clear and bright. For me, exercise and weight loss just weren’t correlated. And they never would be. Over the next fifteen years, I tried all different kinds of exercise. Gym classes, yoga, dancing, boot camps, heart rate training, personal training. Since I was 16 years old, I’ve exercised most days and I can say with absolute certainty, it does dick all for weight loss for me and I’m so glad I figured that out when I did all those years ago. Otherwise, it would have been over a decade of me torturing myself through exercise classes and being constantly upset that I haven’t lost weight. Armed with the knowledge that (for me) exercise has no effect on my weight, I can concentrate on what it DOES do for me. It improves my mood, helps me live longer, makes me more productive and keeps my body functioning effectively and free from pain. It was so easy to talk myself out of going to the gym when weight loss was my focus. ‘Oh it won’t matter if I skip this one day!’ but when the question is ‘Do I want to be flat and unproductive today?’ it always gets me out of bed.
This is one major life hack that has totally changed my life and I thought it would be interesting to list out my top 5 life hacks. These may or may not work for you but if you’re looking at shaking things up a little, here some things you could try…
5 life hacks that have totally changed my life…
1. Intermittent fasting combined with LCHF eating
I’ve been exercising almost daily and eating a low carb diet for 15 years but thanks to my totally shit metabolism, that’s not enough to keep me at a healthy weight. Last year I went back to fasting and managed to lose 11 kilos throughout the course of the year. I didn’t cut out KFC, or stop drinking alcohol, or give up my morning muffin with my coffee because I wasn’t doing any of that anyway. Want to know the two things I DID do? Stopped eating from 8pm to midday and adopted the low carb, high-fat way of eating. That’s it. The only way my diet changed was that I stopped having porridge with fruit for breakfast. The rest of my diet was already totally low carb, I just added good fats and ditched that last bit of carbs I was still eating. I’m not saying this is the right diet for everyone but I’m straight up gobsmacked that giving up my breakfast porridge made such an enormous difference. Note: Porridge is an EXCELLENT food source and it’s only because my body is a freaking princess that I can’t eat it. Most people are totally fine to eat porridge and should eat porridge because it’s delicious, healthy and amazing. It just happens to not mesh so well with me and I only figured that out through a lot of experimentation.
2. Changing my exercise mindset
As I mentioned at the start of this article, I don’t exercise for weight loss and I haven’t for most of my adult life. I do it to feel good and to live a long and healthy life. What better reason is there to exercise? I honestly, honestly enjoy exercise now. It took a long time to get there and the fitter you are the more enjoyable it becomes but changing my mindset around exercise is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I never resent going to the gym and I never dread it. It’s just a part of my day, like brushing my teeth or eating dinner. If exercising doesn’t come naturally to you, believe me when I say you can turn that around.
3. Being extremely selective about friends and letting go of toxic people
Life is short and I don’t want to waste it spending time with people who don’t bring me joy. I’m not saying I need my friends to be a constant source of happiness. They’re human and if they have shit times I’ll obviously be there for them but I find that if I’m constantly dreading spending time with a particular person, I’ll stop hanging out with them. It’s also important to remove sentimentality from friendships. Just because you’ve been friends with someone forever doesn’t mean you have to stay friends with them. Habit and nostalgia are not worth being miserable for and if it’s been years since you’ve genuinely enjoyed the company of a particular person in your life, you don’t need to feel guilty about spending less time with them.
4. Locking down my daily routines and being unapologetic about sticking to them
Back when I was a hardcore exercise hater, I’d jump at the chance to skip the gym. Now if someone asks me to have a drink with them at the pub on Friday afternoon I say ‘Sure! I’ll meet you there after my gym class.’ If they try to get me to skip it, I say no. I unapologetically own my routines and I don’t alter them. I don’t let myself get talked into ordering dessert when I don’t want it and don’t indulge food pushers. I used to apologise to people for not drinking when I put myself on alcohol bans until I realised how fucking ludicrous that is. I don’t owe it to anyone to break my good habits, so I don’t. If I’m going to break a good habit, I do it on my terms.
5. Really listening to my body and paying attention to what happens to it when I alter a behaviour
I discovered a few years ago that when I eat dairy free, it greatly reduces my period pain. I read about this in a magazine and decided to give it a try. I cut out all dairy for a month and when my next period rolled around, I was like a different person. The trick is, that was the one thing I concentrated on that month. I dedicated 30 days to figuring out if this was a thing for me and it turns out, it was. I did the same thing with cardio vs weight training. I read somewhere that cardio training can hinder your ability to lose weight and you should stick to weights. So I did one 8 week challenge at my gym doing resistance training only and the next I did resistance training AND cardio and there wasn’t even a shred of difference. I lost the same amount of weight both times. Rather than just believe what this magazine said, I experimented and realised cardio was fine for me. Also I enjoy it, so I’m pleased I don’t have to give it up.
This week on Straight & Curly, Kelly and I are talking about the ultimate life hacks we’ve tried and what has changed our life.