Top tips for eating more fruit and vegetables

A few weeks ago I wrote about trying to up-spec my eating game to include at least 30 different varieties of fruit and vegetables a week, and I’m still doing it!

layered salad bowl

Obviously there are plenty of items that repeat weekly, but I’m trying to add in a few newbies each week too. Across the last four weeks I have eaten 50 different fruit and vegetables in total, which is probably four or five times more varied than in the four weeks before that! As an example, the salad above included mixed lettuce leaves, pea shoots & spinach as a base, topped off with olives, garlic, lentil sprouts, avocado, pickled red cabbage, tomatoes, hummus and sesame seeds – 9 veggies added to the list in one meal!

I’ve bought myself two sprouting jars and I’m really enjoying growing my own vegetables in miniature. Favourites so far are sprouted sunflower seeds and lentil sprouts (below), both of which work well in cold or hot dishes. Sprouted pulses and seeds taste amazing, add texture and colour and a whole heap of nutritional value and they are super-simple to grow.

lentil sprouts

Two jars allows me to stagger them and keep a continuous supply, or sprout two different things at once. I currently have lentils and broccoli sprouts ready to eat and I have sunflower seeds soaking in a separate pot ready to add to one of the jars when the sprouts have been moved to the fridge/eaten. Of course you don’t need to buy a special jar to sprout seeds and pulses but it makes the process very easy. And also I felt that having invested in the jars I might be more likely to keep using them long term…?!

Since the first week of doing this, I have found a few things which help me to stay on track:

  1. keep a pencil and paper in the kitchen to write everything down on a meal-by-meal basis
  2. start the week well – by bedtime on Monday this week I had already eaten 17 different fruit and vegetables, so I felt like I was winning right from the start
  3. make up batches of meals which contain a lot of different vegetables so I have them in the fridge or freezer when I need them
  4. use different fruits to make up fruit compote to go with porridge/chia pudding/granola/etc (frozen fruit is great for this)
  5. make use of what you have around – I cut down the last of my tomatoes at the weekend and made a jar of quick pickled green tomatoes
  6. collect windfall apples, pick damsons or forage for sweet chestnuts if you see them while you’re out and about (I’m not sure whether sloes for sloe gin counts but I guess you can decide for yourself!)
  7. don’t forget to include frozen, tinned or bottled fruit and vegetable options to your list – sauerkraut is one of my favourite fall-backs when I don’t want to cook but I need to up the veggie-quota
keeping track

Now that I’ve started, I’m going to keep the momentum going on my #30fruitandvegetables mission. It makes sense on so many levels – upping nutrition for heart, hormonal, bowel & cognitive health; promoting a feeling of self-care; managing energy levels; and creating a better connection with & enjoyment of eating.

You may already be far more evolved than me on this issue, but if not, and even if you don’t want to go for the full 30 in one go, why not start by adding one extra portion of vegetables to each meal or try buying one new vegetable ingredient each week. Small changes really do add up over time…

Do you eat 30 different varieties of fruit and vegetables each week?

Did you know that eating a broad range and number of fruits and vegetables each week can support your hormonal health?

Last week as part of a course I’m studying, and with my own health in mind, I felt inspired to see if I could follow the advice to eat 30 different varieties of fruit and veg in one week.

home grown!!

The aim is to use dietary measures to naturally support the body in processing & managing oestrogen levels, which in turns supports us through times of hormonal change, such as peri-menopause. In addition to eating a range of plant-based foods (including legumes, nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables) and brightly-coloured foods, the goal is to broaden the range of fruits and vegetables we consume.

I am vegetarian so in theory it maybe shouldn’t be that hard. But I’m also lazy about cooking for one and a bit of a fussy-eater after a childhood of strict ‘eat what you’re given’ parenting, so I was really intrigued to see how I would get on.

I started last Tuesday and tracked back over the previous day to start my count. I had also recently done a good food shop so I already had a few different options available to get me started.

I arrived at 17 different items quite easily and really enjoyed challenging myself to fit extra vegetables into my meals:

  • cavolo nero
  • mushrooms
  • green beans
  • sweetcorn
  • tomatoes
  • spinach
  • sugarsnap peas
  • apples
  • blueberries
  • red grapes
  • leeks
  • red lentils (not sure if legumes count but I counted them anyway just in case I fell short!!)
  • kiwi
  • nectarines
  • carrots
  • avocado
  • broccoli

At this point I realised that back-up supplies would be needed so I trawled the supermarket for as many different things as I could find, including some things I had forgotten about & some that I don’t really like.

I added a few ‘deli’ items:

  • olives
  • artichoke hearts (I’d forgotten how much I love these)
  • sauerkraut (love this and eat it often but had run out)

Some vegetables I normally avoid:

  • brussels sprouts (which were better shredded and pan-fried than any other way I have ever eaten them)
  • parsnips (I don’t mind them but wouldn’t usually choose them)
  • mustard cress (tasted way better than I remembered)
  • celery (I hide it in ragout-type recipes)
  • cauliflower (I had some in the freezer so I used it to make cauliflower, parsnip and garlic mash)

Some basic extras:

  • potatoes
  • butternut squash
  • garlic
  • onions
  • white cabbage (I made coleslaw with added apple and sunflower seeds)

And, last but not least, some lovely additions:

  • pea shoots (such a great flavourful addition to a salad)
  • mango (post 10-mile hike purchase)
  • blackberries (picked en-route)

So I finished my week on 32 different kinds of fruit and veg (33 if I include the red lentils, but in that case I can also include butter beans and cannellini beans so 35!) I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t really more on fruit (as I am a bit of a fruit-bat) and actually I really enjoyed finding new ways to include more vegetables into my meals.

brussels sprouts made better

One of the things I learned from this (which came as no surprise but all the same it was a good reminder) is that I basically eat the same ingredients nearly every week. Probably many of us do. Food shopping can become a bit of a chore and I think I have been following the same path through the shop each time, so that I buy food without ever needing to veer off-course. I really enjoyed thinking about what I could eat to increase my veggie uptake and it was good to look along shelves that I normally by-pass.

The best thing I gained from doing this, was a stirring in my soul – a little bit of excitement about my meals, a joy in new found flavour (& texture) combinations, and a better connection with what I was eating. My meals are usually ‘bistro bowl & single utensil’ options so that I can eat without thinking, mostly sat on the sofa, distracted by a bit of catch-up TV. Last week I think I used two utensils together more than once, I sat at a table to eat more often and I actually took notice of what I was eating.

I felt like I was bathing my body in nutrients, colour, flavour and a big dose of self-care.

breakfast favourite – chia pudding, fruit compote, ground flaxseed, soaked sunflower seeds, organic yoghurt

I ate (& craved) less chocolate & consumed significantly less cheese-as-a-meal-substitute last week. Interestingly I don’t think I spent any more than usual on food because I didn’t buy snacks or lots of cheese like I might usually do. I guess time will tell how much it costs but I plan to do lots of batch-cooking of dishes which include as many vegetables as possible. Yesterday I made a green lentil ragout with eight different veggies in it – knowing that I have portions of this in the freezer will be a real bonus when I’m short on time and need a veggie-boost.

There was a downside…I used the dishwasher more than usual, but I guess that’s just part of being a grown-up & cooking actual meals?!

fresh supplies

One week on and I’m still going with the goal of 30 but I’m trying to make some changes from last week so that I don’t stick with the same 30 each week. So far I’ve added in beetroot, spring greens, pomegranate & raspberries; I’ve grown broccoli sprouts and I’m sprouting some sunflower seeds; and I have pak choi and sweet potatoes lurking in the fridge. I think the key is to layer in a couple of extra veggies at every meal – so instead of a meal consisting 3-4 ingredients, I will bump it up to 7-8 different ones, so that every meal makes a contribution to my total count (and more importantly my health!)

broccoli and friends!

So how about you? Do you (or could you) eat 30 different varieties of fruit and veg in one week? If not, might you give it a try?

If you are a way off to start with, you might not want to make such a sweeping change all in one week so perhaps start by gradually adding in a few new items each week until you get there.

Please let me know if you give it a try – would love to know how you get on and what differences you notice, particularly if you are also trying to balance your hormone levels.

(cont’d)

updates to online classes

And just like that we are 7 weeks in with online classes! I think we have all adapted so well to this significant shift in how we exercise, together-apart.

Thank you so much for staying with me as we have navigated through the technology along the way. For those of you that prefer to follow the videos rather than joining live, I miss seeing your face but I’m so happy to hear that you’re still moving.

For me, this is about so much more than keeping my business afloat. In the early days I felt like I wanted to offer something to the world without knowing how to offer it. I soon realised that the best help I could offer was to keep doing what I do, supporting you with fitness and movement to help keep you well. On one level it is a relatively insignificant thing, but actually I believe it is important for us all to keep active and keep some sort of routine in place. The enormity of the current situation is too huge to process and I hope that ‘coming’ to class helps you to step-away from it all for a while and re-connect with yourself on a regular basis.

Revised online class timetable:

Our online class timetable has evolved gradually over the past few weeks (and will probably continue to evolve) and I have made a few more changes this week. Classes on Mondays-Wednesdays are unchanged but I have changed things on Thursdays & Fridays (see details below).

online timetable

The 7am classes are designed to give you the chance to fit in some movement before you get busy with your day – if you are working from home or home-schooling, I hope it is early enough to fit around your working/schooling schedule, and if you’re not currently working, I hope it gives you a hint of a work-day routine and something to get up for.

Do please let me know if there are any other class formats or any one-off sessions that you would like me to add.

How to book:

All classes are booked online.

Payment can be made as a one-off booking or via a monthly class pass subscription which gives unlimited access to all sessions.

  • class descriptions can be found here
  • subscription details can be found here
  • classes can be booked here

When you book a one-off class, you will also receive a link to access the live recording afterwards so that you can ‘attend’ at a later time if your prefer. Live recordings will be available for 7 days after the class.

If you have a monthly class pass subscription, you will have access to recordings of all classes via your membership area, as well as all the ‘live’ sessions.

Let me know if you have any questions at all – I look forward to seeing you in the taylor-made fitness virtual studio very soon Jx

If you need to set yourself up for home exercise, read my guide about what you might need here

COVID-19 updates

(updated 21st March 2020 – changes in purple text)

Please find details below regarding changes being made to taylor-made fitness in light of the current situation with coronavirus COVID-19. For the latest Government advice on coronavirus, please click here

I am currently in the process of updating my website to reflect the changes that have been made to taylor-made fitness with regards to coronavirus COVID-19. Please bear with me until everything is fully functional again!

Fitness Pilates and Hi-Li fitness circuit classes:

With effect from Monday 16th March, all in-person group classes have been temporarily suspended and will be delivered as live-streamed or pre-recorded sessions. I have set up a virtual studio in my home so everything is good to go. I will be adding a variety of class options in the coming weeks – please let me know if there is anything you would like me to include.

Please try to carry on with your regular movement practice at home – even if we can’t be in the same space, we can still be collectively exercising at the usual times – physically distant but socially cohesive!

I am going to make a change to the way class bookings are made during this period, so that you will have more flexibility while your finances may be less certain. With effect from April 6th, I will offer monthly subscriptions which will give you access to all my live-streamed and pre-recorded online classes. I hope that you will be in a position to continue supporting me during these changing times, so that taylor-made fitness can still be there to support you once everything is more settled.

I had planned to take a week off 6-13th April but this is currently under review as I’m not sure where I’d go!! I will keep you posted nearer the time and set-up the classes accordingly.

Wellness walks:

At present, I am planning to continue with the Wednesday morning walk as usual and will add an extra walk session on Fridays (details below). In these difficult times, assuming we are not symptomatic, we can all benefit from getting outside and breathing fresh air.

Managing our mental health will be even more vital over the coming weeks and walking is my favourite way to do that. I will be walking and you are welcome to join me if you’d like to.

  • Wednesdays 9-10.30am – meet outside The Old School Hall, Back Road, Sandhurst, Kent – wear wellies or suitable walking boots as all potential routes from here are muddy at present! Dogs welcome.
  • Fridays 9-10.30am – meet by Iden Green pavilion – this will be a circular loop along the quiet lanes; less muddy but also less off-lead options for dogs.

We are lucky to live in a rural setting where we can be outside and away from direct contact with others, even if we are walking in a small, spread-out, group. Here is an article about whether it is still safe to walk, in case you have any concerns: coronavirus and walking

Please note a change to the start time on Fridays (9am instead of 9.15am)

Please do not attend a walk session if you have any COVID-19 symptoms as outlined here or have been in contact with anyone who has these symptoms

There is no charge for these sessions but if you’re planning on joining us please email/text me on the day so that we know to wait for you before setting off. For your own peace of mind, please bring hand gel if you have any as there are no hand-washing facilities available (except puddles perhaps!)

Personal training:

Personal training sessions will continue to be delivered in-person although the following processes will be followed:

  • clients will use their own mats and equipment for their sessions – I will no longer be bringing any items with me and will build sessions around whatever equipment clients have access to
  • I will use hand gel before and after each session as well as using anti-bac wipes on the controls of my van
  • sessions will take place outside at safe distance; where this is not possible we will need to move to live-streamed sessions

PT clients must notify me if they have any COVID-19 symptoms as outlined here or have been in contact with anyone who has these symptoms.

I will be in email contact with individual clients to agree how to proceed and we will continue to review as the situation develops. In the event that clients think they have been potentially exposed to the virus, personal training sessions will need to move to live-streamed sessions. Obviously the same applies if I think have been exposed to the virus.

Sports & clinical massage:

We now have guidance from the Sports Therapy Association which is as follows:

“After spending most of the night reviewing the current Governmental guidance, I have arrived at the conclusion that now is the time to cancel all non urgent appointments and unnecessary social contact , as we are not classed as Allied Health Professionals – that means all clinic appointments, home visits, pitch side commitments and training nights. I’ve shared multiple sources of information over the past few days all of which classifies our role as high risk. I hope that we can look back in several months and say we were wrong and guilty only of overreacting.” Gary Benson Founder of STA

In line with this guidance I feel that my decision to stop offering hands-on treatments from Monday 16th was the best one to take.

Please rest assured that even though I cannot treat you in person at this time, I am still available to offer help as required via online and telephone contact. As well as creating some general self-care release videos that you can use at home, I am also able to offer individual guidance via Skype or Zoom so please reach out if you need my help.

If you have an existing massage voucher, the expiration date will be extended accordingly.

My commitment to you:

This business is my livelihood and my only source of household income, so for sure these are scary and worrying times, as they are for many of you I know. But, more than being my income, this business represents my heart & soul and I am feeling very sad and worried about what might happen to it right now. I know I’m not alone. I know we will get through this. But I’m taking a moment to acknowledge the sadness too.

Today I have been lifted up by the emails & texts of support from all of my lovely clients – thank you so much, it means the world to have that contact. Thank you for your on-going support in uncertain times.

Please keep in touch. Please keep walking. Please (if you can) keep to your usual class schedule at home. Please look after yourselves and your loved ones. Please take time to look up at the sky and plant your feet in the soil. Please take time to lie on the floor and breathe deeply.

I am going to try to keep myself busy creating class content for you and I’ll send regular emails so that you have plenty to keep you busy too. I also plan to complete my L4 Sports Massage course (which is all online) so that I’ll have new skills to share soon. If I get really stir-crazy, I might pack up my dog and a tent and go off-grid for a while…

Hopefully I will see some of you on walks but if not I am here if you need anything – fitness ideas, massage self-care advice, online support, virtual cake & coffee mornings, shopping errands…please shout if you need anything from me at all Jx

How to start journaling

After a few years without a writing practice, I decided that 2020 was the right time for me to begin journaling again. But I didn’t know where to start!! I posted the question on Instagram and here is a collection of the beautiful advice I received and the approach I have decided to take.

Journaling ideas:

how to start journaling

The simplest advice I had was to use a journal firstly for dumping any feelings that came up whilst writing & secondly for noting down any feelings of gratitude. This is a great place to start as it helps us to observe our thoughts and feelings as well as letting go (or parking) anything that we don’t want to keep carrying around all day, whilst at the same time seeking out some positives from our day.

Someone reminded me that there are no bad feelings, just interesting information so I made a note of that in the front of my journal before I got started.

Other suggestions that I found helpful as ideas for journaling, included:

  • writing down positive affirmations (did you know that even if you don’t actually believe them, writing or saying affirmations has an impact on how we feel; take though because this works if we tell ourselves negative affirmations too!)
  • noting down visualisations for how we want to feel, even if we’re not there yet and not sure how to get there either
  • adding some art – flowers, tickets, photos, doodles… whatever works for you (I really like this idea as I’m quite a visual person)
  • setting intentions for the day/week/month/year/life…

And then someone gave me a brilliant list of suggested questions or prompts that we can use to shape/review our day – these can all be present or past tense depending on where you’re at in your day. There were lots but here are some favourites:

  • what am I struggling with today?
  • am I being true to my values?
  • what do I need to take time with?
  • what brings/brought me joy?
  • what would I do if I wasn’t scared?
  • what makes/made me laugh?

Interestingly, this list brought to mind a fabulous poem by John O’Donohue that I had recently found so I printed off a copy and stuck it in the front of my journal. The poem invites the reader to review their day – you can find it by clicking this link: At The End Of The Day – a mirror of questions

My journaling process:

writing a journal

I started my journal with two words for the year. I had been thinking about them for a few weeks, weighing them up and deciding if they were right for me. Having decided that they were, I wrote them on the second page (the first page was filled with my journaling ideas) as an intentional focal point. A benchmark I could come back to when I needed to.

I chose two words – ‘heart’ and ‘connect’ – and added notes about what they mean & why they matter for me.

My journaling practice so far has been split into two points in the day – when I wake up & when I go to bed. I keep the journal (and a purple pen) on the floor by my bed (because that’s how I roll!!) so it acts as a gentle prompt to connect when I’m in that space.

When I wake up:

I have been starting the day with some intentions and some positive affirmations as I find they give me a focus for the hours ahead. Some of them have a personal focus and some are business-related and I really just observe how I’m feeling about the day and note down things that I feel will guide me through it.

It feels really good to stop for a moment before the day gets going, which sounds a bit mad after doing nothing but sleep for a few hours, but I’m finding it really useful.

Some days I set myself defined goals for the day. Usually there’s a reminder about eating well or going to bed early because those are my weak areas…!

When I go to bed:

I have been ending each day with a review of achievements (checking-in with any goals I set myself that morning), things I’ve loved that day, moments that made me smile and how I’m feeling in myself (mentally and physically)

It is so easy to forget to celebrate ourselves and I find this process really helpful. I probably have a tendency to carry around or pick over things I didn’t do well and a few moments doing the opposite has proved really beneficial so far. I go to bed feeling much more positive about myself which funnily enough results in me waking up much more positive about myself – who knew!!

Some nights I also add in a focus for the next day too. For example, I have got into the habit of spending time on social media when I first wake up, which sometimes steals the time I need for a pre-work walk or a relaxed breakfast.

Last night my final journal entry reads as follows: “NO social media in the morning until I’m up, dressed fed and walked” And because I saw that first thing this morning, I got up and did some work, had a shower, ate my breakfast at the dining table and went to work without looking at social media… Proud moment right there!!

journaling

Thank you to everyone who gave me the inspiration to get started. If you’re new to journaling I hope some of these ideas help you to get started. & if you’re already journaling, I’d love to know what works for you Jx

Read my top five wellness tips here

unfurl gently into 2020

I’m really excited to offer you the chance to unfurl gently into 2020 in collaboration with Sally of Wild Orange Yoga and Sharon of Cosmic Healing.

We have put together a beautiful afternoon event combining Pilates, Yoga and Sound Bath with tea & cake!

After the hibernation of winter, and with Christmas behind us, we can start to think about emerging into spring and that will be the focus of our afternoon. As nature begins the process of gently stirring and awakening, we are creating the perfect environment for you to do the same.

I like to think of it as ‘un-hibernating’ – gently opening and releasing the body with Pialtes; waking up and stretching towards the lighter months ahead with Yoga; and relaxing deeply to the sounds and vibrations of the sound bath.

pilates, yoga & sound bath event Saturday 8th February 2020

We look forward to welcoming you on Saturday 8th February. We will provide mats and all the equipment you need for the three sessions, along with a choice of refreshments and cake, and a goody bag for you to take home at the end. You may like to bring a cushion (or two) and an extra blanket so that you can create your own cosy nest for the sound bath session.

If you have any questions at all, or to book your space, please email Sally at: info@wildorangeyoga.co.uk

My top 5 wellness tips…

I’ve had several really interesting conversations this week about weight loss, hormones, wellness, men(!) and life in general! It got me thinking about my top 5 wellness tips, so I decided to share.

kindness
  1. weight loss has come up in conversation with clients a few times this week following some recent coverage in the news. Last week James Corden spoke out against ‘fat-shaming’ on his show (see it here if you missed what he had to say) and earlier this week the topic of obesity hit the news, with psychologists calling for a change in the language used by health professionals. We all know that weight loss can be a complex issue. We eat for many reasons apart from needing to satisfy hunger, and making changes to long-term habits is never easy to start with. However, here are some simple strategies that might be helpful if you are struggling to get started:
    • switching to a smaller plate helps to reduce portion sizes – your body will only take a few days to adjust to smaller meals
    • avoiding foods and drinks which contain artificial/zero calorie sweeteners will help to adjust your palate, so that you gradually stop wanting sweet foods
    • taking more time to chew each mouthful of food not only slows down the rate at which you eat but also promotes better gut health
    • swapping out energy-dense foods for less energy-dense options will reduce overall calorie intake – eg. replace some of your pasta with an extra portion of vegetables
    • making choices, rather than denying yourself everything, will help you to create new habits which are more easily sustainable – eg. choose a glass of wine or a pudding, not both; share a piece of cake rather than having a whole piece
    • focusing on one strategy at a time, and getting good at it before you add another, is sometimes easier than making lots of changes all at once
  2. hormones have been fairly high on my agenda recently and several female clients have chatted with me this week about their own situation. Until I needed some hormonal support myself, I had no idea how complicated it can be finding the right guidance. I am very fortunate that my GP practice has a gynaecology specialist available (only 2 hours per fortnight, but still better than not at all) but I know that option isn’t always available. My advice would be to keep asking for help until you get what you need! If your surgery doesn’t have a specialist on site, ask for a referral. And keep asking until you feel you have everything you need. And go back if things change (which they will!) None of us need to put up with feeling ‘less-than’ just because our bodies are changing, and there are so many potential options out there. In particular, if you need help with pelvic floor issues book yourself an appointment with a Women’s Health Physio who will be able to advise you in much more depth than your GP. You may need to pay privately for this, but there is help available if you need it.
  3. wellness is a generic term covering a whole multitude of health & well being-related issues but one thing that came up for me recently is how much I have been judging myself. Over the past 3-4 years I have been experiencing some anxiety symptoms in certain situations. Without realising it, I have been running an internal dialogue on repeat, telling myself how stupid/weak/silly/pathetic/blahblahblah I am for having these feelings… And then last week someone suggested that maybe I could just accept the feelings for what they are (a small part of where I am in life right now) instead of giving the feelings all of my focus and attention. And a week later I already feel different about the anxiety. It may still rise up but I’m not searching it out or expecting it. And when it comes, I think I’ll be better able to let it go by me. I am not those feelings. I just have those feelings sometimes. And that feels ok. Maybe you have a negative conversation looping around your head too? Maybe you could let them go a bit by accepting them as a small part of a much bigger and more glorious you…
  4. men have been a source of much chat this week too! I have absolutely no tips about men at all – not for nothing am I a very single person!! And I don’t want to spark a sexist debate, because there are always two sides to every situation. And I know that not all men are the same. BUT I will say to the women reading this: don’t let anyone stop you shining your light…none of us need to feel ‘lesser’ so that someone else can feel ‘more’. For any men reading this, the same applies. Let’s all just be great at being us & keep shining!
  5. life in general – this is a big area to cover in one bullet point but here goes:
    • do what makes you happy
    • be kind
    • walk somewhere everyday
    • find exercise that you enjoy and do more of that
    • shop local
    • buy yourself a shower squeegee!
walking

That’s it – everything I know all on one page!

I hope something was helpful for you Jx

Gathering in & letting go

Happy Autumn Equinox!

On Saturday I attended a beautiful sound bath (with Sharon of Cosmic Healing) in celebration of the autumn Equinox. The focus was on gathering in the energy we had enjoyed over the summer months, in readiness for the shorter days & longer nights ahead.

I have been to a few sound baths with Sharon, but this was for me the most relaxing yet. I think my soul felt truly ready to gather itself in and I feel much more settled since the weekend. There have been some unexpected feelings of anxiety for me of late, but I feel that I turned a corner this weekend. I feel that I was able to gather in a positive energy, wrapping it around me like a blanket. And at the same time, I felt that I was letting go of some of the jangly, nerviness I have been noticing. I know it might sound a bit ‘out-there’ but I really felt something shift – and I liked it!

As well as gathering in my personal energy, I have been literally gathering in everything I can find in the hedgerows! I had a weekend of jam-stirring.

On Saturday I noticed some gorgeous rose hips on a local walk. Determined that there must be something good to be done with them, I found a recipe for rose hip and apple jelly, and set to work. An hour later I had filled one (clean!) dog poop bag with rose hips and another with windfall eating apples. A few hours later I was chopping and cooking and straining the juice, ready to create the most beautiful jewel-bright jelly…

On Sunday it was the turn of the dark fruits – blackberry and damsons. I have been gathering these in over the past weeks and freezing them until I was ready to jam. I just love the colour:

And a final word on letting go, because sometimes I think it is even more important than gathering in:

Wishing you a fabulous autumn – lots of gathering & just the right amount of letting go Jx

Walking poles – some pros and cons…

Obviously I’ve been walking pretty much all my life, and I walk the dog every day, but I’m a relative newbie to full-day-walking and have just completed my first long distance walk. To start with I was a bit self-conscious about buying walking ‘gear’ – I felt like an imposter – but over recent months I’ve started to see the benefits of having the right kit.

outdoor clothing
it didn’t take me long to start wearing all the colours!

One of the things I knew I wanted to try was walking or trekking poles. I had previously enjoyed some Nordic Walking sessions from a fitness perspective, and was keen to feel walking as a whole-body (and a mind-body) process, rather than just being all about my legs and buttock muscles. Luckily I have a trekking friend who kindly lent me her poles for a prolonged amount of time while I was training, and I acquired my own poles just before I set off to walk the South Downs Way.

pacerpoles & trig points
Pacerpoles & trig points

Over the course of a week filled with some long & challenging walks, I weighed up the pros and cons of walking poles as I see them. These are my thoughts as a walker (carrying an 11-12kg pack over 8 continuous days), but also as a fitness professional and massage therapist with a good anatomical knowledge-base and a sound understanding of posture & movement. These observations are not scientifically tested, and you may not agree with all of them, and I’m OK with that because you can write your own blog if you want to!!!

The pros:

  • using poles creates less muscle tension in the legs and buttocks because the body is working as a more integrated system, which incorporates more core & upper body engagement. I got back from eight days walking an average of 18 miles a day with no aches and pains at all in any part of my body and I think the poles are largely responsible for that
  • there is less load on the hip and knee joints, because the impact is absorbed through four points of contact (rather than two) and comes into the body via the deeper core (postural) muscles and then to the limbs of the upper and lower body
  • walking poles remind me to walk with a tall, open posture which means that all the systems in the body (muscles, connective tissue, joints & circulatory system) are in the optimal position to work well with each other
  • the poles give extra drive on uphill sections and added stability/deceleration on downhill sections, enabling the body to maintain this open, upright posture even when the walking becomes more challenging
  • as someone who experiences vertigo, I found that walking poles gave me a greater sense of connection to the earth on high and exposed areas, and they especially gave me the confidence to stand, catch my breath & enjoy the view when my brain was yelling at me to keep moving in case I fell!
  • even without vertigo, I feel that walking poles give a feeling of confidence in relation to balance in general, and particularly on loose scree or where there is a noticeable camber – they don’t take away or reduce your body’s natural ability to balance, but I think they definitely enhance it
  • I find that the rhythm of walking with poles is quite meditative – it actually helps me to get into a smooth striding pattern and also helps me notice if I’m not walking evenly on each leg
  • although not something I can personally vouch for, I understand that using walking poles can help to reduce oedema (swelling) in the hands and forearms over prolonged walks, which makes sense because they keep the arms active rather than passive
  • walking poles are also great for bashing nettles, moving brambles out of the way, testing the depth of streams, checking the stability of stepping stones, propping up lightweight canopies and redirecting spiders & caterpillars that are descending from the trees and floating across your path …

The cons:

I had to wrack my brain for these as there really aren’t many negatives – here’s what I came up with:

  • poles are another thing to carry in your kit (even though they don’t weigh much) and if you find yourself not using them for long stretches of your walk I guess that could become annoying (although my preferred poles have found a genius way around this)
  • if you’re walking a dog on a lead it is much harder to get the benefit from walking poles – you can make do with one pole but I think many of the benefits are lost in this instance; I tend to stow them when the dog is on his lead and use them while he is running free, but will also look into a lead for the dog which goes around my waist so that I can keep poling …
  • they can become a potential trip hazard… more than once, on tired legs, I have almost caught myself on one of my poles, but it is usually a case of not focusing on what I’m doing at the time
  • it is harder (but not impossible) to check a map/phone/watch, blow your nose or eat a snack while walking with poles in your hands – I get round this by either stopping and resting my poles against a fence or tree or by tucking them under one arm (like an army sergeant!) while I walk, until my hands are free again
  • using poles can leave your hands & forearms more exposed to the weather conditions (sun, rain or snow) but sunscreen, sleeves & gloves will obviously help you to get around this issue

Which poles are best?

There is a wide range of walking poles available to buy, to suit different needs and different budgets, and I don’t pretend to have tried them all by any means! I have however tried two different styles and have found a firm favourite.

Most poles have a foam, upright grip with a webbing wrist strap. With this style of pole, you slide your hand through and over the strap, and rest your wrist onto it whilst lightly holding the handle. As you walk your grip stays light and you keep the weight of your wrist on the strap.

I used this style of pole for nearly all of my training and had only one problem with them – on longer walks (bearing in mind that it was spring so I wasn’t wearing gloves) I would start to find that the strap irritated the heel of my hand and my wrist and this would gradually niggle me more and more as the walk continued. On a positive note, there are many brands that offer this style of pole and they are easily found in outdoor shops so you can have a try before spending your money.

Once I started researching my options, I saw lots of positive reviews for Pacerpoles but wasn’t entirely convinced that they would be better, until I tried them. They arrived a few days before I set off on my first long distance walk and I was slightly anxious whether I would get to grips (no pun intended!) with the slightly different technique in time. On the third practice day I felt much more confident with them, but in hindsight I realise that actually I didn’t fully find my rhythm with them until a couple of days into my walk. And then there was no going back!

Pacerpoles ergonomic handle design
the handles are left and right-handed

These Physiotherapist-designed poles have a unique moulded handle which is fantastic. Pacerpoles rely on the angled, shaped handle rather than a webbing wrist strap, and as a result they feel really light to hold and much more comfortable.

Pacerpoles unique handle
Pacerpoles unique handle design feels light and comfortable to hold

The handle is held between the thumb and first finger and the heel of the hand then comes to rest on the ledge of the handle as you move forward. The idea is to move from the elbow, lifting and lowering the forearm with each step, rather than swinging forward from the shoulder. It is hard to describe the movement but once you try Pacerpoles you’ll get it!

me and my Pacerpoles at the end of the South Downs Way
done!

I honestly believe that I couldn’t have walked the South Downs Way without poles and I firmly believe that Pacerpoles were the best choice for me.

There were sections that were so steep (up and down), and sections that were so windswept, that I would not have felt safe walking without my Pacerpoles. Even more importantly though was the fact that I never got tired heavy legs – even on days when I felt mentally fatigued and close to exhaustion, my legs never struggled. My pack was heavier than I would have liked (about 12kg with enough water for a full day) but my posture still felt great. Every time I put my poles in my hands I remembered to ‘walk tall’ so they acted as a great prompt as well as a physical support.

Is it ‘cheating’ to use poles?

A few months ago, I had a conversation with someone who said she would never use walking poles because she liked to feel that she was using the strength of her own body for balance and support. She suggested that for her it would feel like ‘cheating’ to rely on poles.

This conversation was a real turning point for me early in my training, when I was still undecided about using poles, because it had me really pay attention to what difference (if any) they made.

I honestly believe that poles help me to walk further (and faster) without any muscle or joint pain. I can feel that my core muscles are providing me with stability and that my leg muscles are then able to work efficiently without any tension. I also no longer feel a long-term persistent niggle in the attachment point of my left hamstrings. (I hadn’t realised that this had stopped being an issue, until it cropped up again when I walked without poles one day after having used them for several weeks)

My goal when working with my fitness & pilates clients is to have them experience movement which is generated from their core and then outwards into their peripheral limbs, without holding tension in any area of the body. Using the core muscles as the base for stability, allows the arms and legs to move more freely, and so it seems natural & obvious to bring this principle to my walking as well. I think this is where Pacerpoles make the difference.

Anything that helps the body move well is definitely not cheating in my eyes! I don’t think using poles is cheating any more than wearing walking boots or waterproof clothing is cheating…it’s just sensible.

Conclusion:

My body simply feels stronger and more efficient when I’m walking with poles. I walked a total of 146 miles over eight days, with a pack, at an average pace of about 2.6 mph, and didn’t feel the need to stretch out my legs more than once in that time. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have been true if I’d been walking without Pacerpoles.

pack, poles & Kendal mint cake
pack, poles and a little Kendal mint cake!

Of course we are all different so I will leave you to make up your own mind about what equipment to use for day- or long-distance walking. But if you are a regular walker and you haven’t tried walking poles, I would suggest that you borrow a pair (preferably not mine because I will be using them!) to see how you get on…you might be surprised at the results.

If you want to read more about my adventure on the South Downs Way, start here with my notes from day 1

[In the spirit of openness, I want to let you know that I was gifted my Pacerpoles, for which I am truly grateful. However, in writing this post, I have been entirely honest in my appraisal of them and other walking poles. If anything, I have been more analytical in my assessment of them, to satisfy myself that my views have not been unduly swayed as a result]

Random ponderings from the South Downs Way…

walking on the south downs way

I never listen to music, audio books or podcasts while walking because I just love the connection with all the sounds in nature and the chance to let my mind gently process thoughts as I go. I have to admit though, that before I set off to walk the South Downs Way, I did wonder if eight days alone with my thoughts would drive me mad!!

I started to notice what I was thinking about while I walked and there were definitely some recurrent themes:

1) Not surprisingly I thought about my Mum a lot, still processing my grief for her and trying to understand the huge shifts in my family since she died. I think that her life outside her career was quite ‘small’ which is not intended as a criticism of her choices, but more an observation that she perhaps wasn’t a brave woman and never sought adventure. I honestly don’t know if this was her choice or just how life turned out for her. Realising this about her over the past 18 months, has made me very determined to not live small – I do want to have adventures, I like to feel challenged, I’m ok with feeling a bit uncomfortable or scared (within reason!) and when my time comes, I want to know that I have lived before I die. I thought about this probably every day as I walked – in fact, I’ve probably thought about it every day since she died. I didn’t reach any earth-shattering conclusions about how I’m going to live a bigger life, but I definitely made a bigger commitment to doing so…

my Mum

2) I thought every day about vegetarian food!! I was astounded how difficult it was to find good vegetarian food options along the South Downs Way. Admittedly I don’t eat out very often at home so maybe it is the same in pubs everywhere, but the lack of choice or the lack of simple meals was really bizarre. Even shops didn’t seem to stock vegetarian sandwiches, which isn’t exactly hard! One shop had eight sandwich options, all of which included meat or fish. Unbelievable!! One pub had the choice of potato & aubergine curry, vegetable chilli or teriyaki salad – ie. two versions of sloppy spicy stuff or the most disgusting salad imaginable (I know, because that’s what I ordered and it was truly vile). I will happily admit that I’m a tad fussy about food, but a range of options isn’t difficult – something spicy, something bland, something with pastry, something light, something traditional, something exotic… exactly the same as you could reasonably expect for non-vegetarian options. And my biggest gripe was this: if you are a pub serving a (meat) burger in a bun, with fries and salad, why on earth can’t you keep veggie burgers in the freezer and offer a vegetarian version of the same thing??? You already have the other elements of the dish, there is nothing extra to make and zero wastage – so SIMPLE!!! There were of course some exceptions along the way, but they were few and far between and the lack of good nutrition made a significant impact on me. If you’re a pub on the SDW, please add a veggie burger option to your menu…

simple vegetarian food is good…

3) I also wondered every day why the ‘downs’ are called ‘downs’ when clearly they are higher up than nearly everything else and when walking it seemed that I spent far more time going up than down!! I Googled it when I got home…apparently the name comes from the Old English/Gaelic/Welsh name for a hill or hill fort – ‘dun’. So now you know…

high up on the downs

4) Whilst walking, I was surprised to see so few other walkers (it was mostly cyclists) and then it occurred to me that there were even fewer women. I felt like I had entered an alternate universe – a giant boys playground! I did see women walking their dogs but it took until day 4 to see another woman hefting a backpack. There were sometimes female cyclists, but always in the minority amongst a pack of male riders. Is it just that women generally don’t want this kind of adventure or perhaps were they at home enabling the men to enjoy a few days of testosterone-fuelled escapism?? I honestly don’t know the answer but as a lone-walking woman I would just say to other women that the South Downs Way is too beautiful not to get out & enjoy, that it never felt anything other than safe and that adventures are not just for the boys. We need to even-up the numbers ladies – let your men stay at home while you go out to play!

5) My final ponderance came after a great meal in a pub, which was then sadly followed by one of the worst chocolate brownies I’ve eaten…why is it so hard to find a really good, made-for-you chocolate brownie? I’m not the best at baking by any means but I think I can make an ok brownie. It’s not really rocket-science after all… The one in question was too light and sponge-cakey, with no chocolate chunks (or actually any real chocolate at all) and it tasted a bit plastic and burnt. I think it is true of chocolate brownies perhaps more than any other cake-thing, that they so often look really tempting, but nearly always fail to deliver – and yet I can’t seem to stop myself trying them out. But not any more! I hereby swear that I will not eat another chocolate brownie unless I know that it has been home-made (not necessarily by me) and has real chocolate incorporated beneath it’s soft delicate crust…

homemade chocolate brownies from now on…

So there you have my top five thoughts-while-walking. You probably didn’t even want to know what they were, but if you’ve read this far, you do anyway – and at least you now know why the ‘downs’ are called ‘downs’ Jx