The exercise-hater’s guide to loving the gym


For the majority of my 40 years I’ve loathed any form of physical exercise — its just not in my DNA to move my body in a way that will create sweat (okay, there is one way, but my mum is reading this…) I was the least sporty girl at school, the one who always sat on the sidelines with her “period”. I was useless at netball and tennis, not the best swimmer and forget about any kind of gymnastic ability — a head-over-heels was about my limit.

In my teens, 20s and early 30s I was fortunate to have a slim-ish figure that didn’t carry too much weight, and thanks to never owning a car I’ve always done a lot of walking. But in the last few years things have changed. I remember writing the chapter in This I Know where I share my thoughts on my body — back in 2011 I was at my heaviest and the sedentary nature of being self-employed and writing a book meant I reached for carbs to give me “energy” (this didn’t work) and got through far too many jars of Nutella. Having never had any issues around food and weight, it was quite a shock to realise my body had changed. What I thought was a slowed-down metabolism and the effects of getting older was being exacerbated by my comfort eating and lack of movement. It seemed the 20-something who could eat whatever she wanted had gone forever.

In the book I squared up to the idea that this was how my body would look as a woman slouching into my 40s. But what I’ve discovered over the last year or so is this isn’t actually the case. That’s what I look like after 30 odd years of not consciously looking after my body. Being slim didn’t mean I was particularly healthy.

It’s all the rage these days to drink green smoothies and bang on about yoga/gluten intolerance/maca powder/etc, and there’s a part of me that wants to ignore the healthy-preachers and snack on a plate of fries. Yet the more I pay attention to my body and listen to what she needs, the better able I am to look after myself. All those years of digestive problems? Turns out I was gluten intolerant myself, I just didn’t know that was a thing. Now I’ve tried cutting it out the effects have been amazing. Nothing that you’d notice from the outside, but how I FEEL inside, how much better my body works, is changing my world (and I know that’s a big claim but it’s true).

So with all that said, I shall now become the annoying person who tells you how great the gym is.

Okay, that’s a lie: the gym is still as horrendous as I always feared it was, but I’m finding ways to learn to like it. Because now I’m feeling better internally, i want to feel better externally too. This has got nothing to do with losing weight (though fitting into my clothes comfortably would be aces) and everything to do with wanting to feel STRONG. Energised. Powerful. I want this body to last another 40 years and I’m accepting that in order for that to happen I have to put a bit of effort in to its maintenance.

Having tried, and disliked, all sorts of sweat-inducing activities over the years, no one is more surprised than me to discover that THE GYM is the place I hate the least.

Here’s how I make it bearable:

1. Wear the right clothes

This, my friends, was the real game-changer. Before I’d wear my saggy-arsed jogging pants (that had never been used for actual jogging) and a baggy T-shirt. I basically wanted to cover up and be invisible. Then one day, on a whim, i took myself to Sweaty Betty and bought a pair of proper exercise leggings and some running tops, all made of techy-sounding fabric that wicks the sweat away, holds you in, yadda yadda. This outfit, plus an extremely robust exercise bra, has made exercise so much more…. enjoyable might be pushing it, but I feel and look the part. And psychologically this has helped enormously.

2. Book a few sessions with a trainer

The first trainer I worked with showed me how to use all the machines and set me up with a fairly basic routine. We only had a couple of sessions and while it was enough to get me started, I soon slipped back into my old ways (read: not going to the gym). This time I’ve been having a single weekly session with Carrie, my new trainer. Each time she teaches me something new (she prefers to use weights and the mat over the machines, which means I’m learning stuff I can do at home, too) which I then incorporate into my other solo gym sessions. I can’t afford to train with her three times a week, but once a week for the next few months is keeping me motivated. She’s also hilarious, so while she makes me do stuff I don’t like, I’m laughing all the way through it. Winner!

3. Wear lipstick & waterproof mascara

I accept that an hour of working out is going to leave me a sweaty red-faced mess, but my lipstick and mascara give me the illusion that it’s not so bad when I look in the mirror doing my arm-curl-things… and when you’re surrounded by glowing 20-somethings, it really helps your 40-year-old self esteem.

4. Make killer mixtapes

I usually find the treadmill excruciatingly boring, but it’s fast becoming my new favourite thing thanks to my killer mixtape. I miss my old clubbing days so this way I get to dance/walk on the treadmill to some epic euphoric house — I also listen to it on the *way* to the gym, thus motivating me to walk fast and get there sooner so I can get home sooner. Finding new tracks to add to the playlist makes me — wait for it — excited to hit the gym and listen to them. I know!

5. Find the things you like and ignore the rest

The very last thing I want to do is take a spin class, so I don’t. On the other hand, I like using the free weights so I use them a lot. It sounds so obvious, but figuring out what I like to do is helping me do it. When I have a session with Carrie she also takes this into account.

6. Go at the right time

My gym is not very big so I tend to avoid the busy times and go when I know there’ll be less people there. Weekday lunch times and Sunday mornings are the best times for me, so that’s when I go. I can use the machines/mat space I want without having to wait, there are plenty of weights available and I get to share the air with a more diverse group of people. I always give a nod to the woman in her 70s who has a gentle walk on the treadmill, and am fascinated by the teenage boy whose trainer is 4 times his size, bless him.

Getting to the gym is by far the hardest part of the workout. Every single time I have to battle with my head and have yet to wake up raring to go. It’s always a struggle. But there’s yet to be a time when I get home regretting that i went. Usually it just feels like a little victory, and who doesn’t need a few of those?

I’m not trying to evangelise the benefits of a gym membership, and believe me, every time somebody told me I “just had to find the exercise I like” I wanted to punch them in the face. But I will grudgingly admit there’s some truth to that — forcing myself to go to a yoga class when I don’t gel with yoga was never going to work. Trying to jog round the park didn’t work either. The structured nature of the gym — go to a specific place, work out for specific amount of time, use specific things — seem to work best with my brain, the brain that’s usually filled with so many ideas (and so much clutter) it gets a break while I sweat my lumpy Lycra-clad arse off.

Historically, every time I’ve blogged about my new fitness resolve something has happened to bugger it up. But I felt compelled to share this because it really does feel like something has shifted. And it’s partly down to me turning 40 and becoming more sensitive to how my body is changing. But it’s mostly because I’m reaching a place where the best way I can show self-love and self-compassion to myself is to look after the body that so uncomplainingly ferrys me through this life. Moving my body doesn’t feel like the torture it used to: it feels like an act of love.

Not Father’s Day


I hear it’s Father’s Day today. Might even be in the UK as well as north America, but I can’t be sure as it’s not on my radar. For the last 29 years I have not had a relationship with my father, ever since he emigrated to Australia from England when I was eleven-years-old. I wrote about him in my book; I’ve blogged about it here; I’ve talked about it at length with two therapists and I’ve even written an article about it for a national newspaper and Cosmopolitan (of all places). I’ve looked at it from all angles. I’ve put myself in his younger shoes. I’ve acknowledged how it’s affected me as an adult woman. I sat with my younger self, feeling what she felt. I’ve witnessed friends’ relationships with their fathers and marvelled at them. I’ve flirted with the idea of forgiveness. I’ve had actual conversations with him in the handful of times we’ve met — last time was over 10 years ago. I’ve listened to him apologise to us and admit it was a shitty decision. I’ve also heard him talk lovingly about his children — his Australian family. Moments before he’d stumbled over my name, unaccustomed to using it.

I have no idea what it’s like to have a man in my life who loves me unconditionally, like a father would. I’ve never had anyone to send a Father’s Day card to. It’s all very normal to me now, just another part of the story, but for some reason, this afternoon, after seeing yet another ‘I love you, dad’ status update on Facebook, I felt a sadness I haven’t experienced in a long time. The sadness of a little girl who didn’t have a daddy anymore. She had no idea how to process it, so she turned into a needy teen who wanted so desperately to be loved she’d settle on the first guy who paid her some attention. And my thoughts then turned to my nephew, as they so often do these days. I trust that HIS daddy will be there for him. I love my brother-in-law and I know he’d always do right by my sister and Noah (and he knows I’d kneecap him if he didn’t ;-)

……

To be honest, I don’t know how to end this post. I guess I just wanted to put some words down, and give a shout out to all of you out there who don’t have someone to send a Father’s Day card to either.

xo

Panning for gold


I’ve joined a couple of dating sites. It’s been a year since my last (rather botched) attempt at online dating, and while it isn’t my first choice of how I’d like to meet the right guy, it’s my signal to the universe that i’m open to moving into the next stage of my life. You’ve got to be in it to win it, right?

Of course, lately I’ve been feeling increasingly content with how things are. I’m in love with my little flat and so happy I made the move to this part of London. Work is bubbling along, and I’ve got some big plans for 2014 that I feel ready to tackle. I see my friends and family enough to feel connected and loved but not so much as to feel overwhelmed — i’m happiest in my own company, and more importantly, I’m okay with that! I’ve been having actual conversations in my journal about whether I really want to “give up” all this calm contentment for the potential rollercoaster of a relationship. But the wiser more evolved part of me knows that there’s so much more I could learn about myself in relationship to/with another. That being on my own for the last eight years has been the most empowering period of my life, and now it’s time to see what other magic can be made walking the path alongside another person.

The naughtier less evolved side of me knows that when i’m lying in bed alongside my beloved after not a single wink of sleep all night, I’ll be smiling and thinking “giving up” the calm contentment was totally worth it. This girl cannot survive on bread and water for another eight years, let’s put it that way.

So I’ve pinned the available sign on my door and so far it’s been what I was expecting. Several messages from twentysomething guys asking if i’m up for “a bit of fun”. A handful of messages from gentlemen who were clearly absent the day they taught punctuation at school (no judgement there, just the acknowledgement that these things matter to me). A note from a man who seemed polite in his message but upon reading his profile i discovered he was The Angriest Man in the World. I’ve read profiles written by married men openly admitting they are looking for affairs. There was a guy fishing for a BDSM partner. A cross dresser. And several rugby team’s worth of blokes who are “easy-going and laid back”, like to eat out at restaurants and whose favourite film is The Shawshank Redemption.

I’ve also had a peek at some of the ladies in my age group — interestingly, i thought all of them looked lovely.  I could see the beauty in every single photo I saw. We girls certainly know how to a) pick a nice photo and b) make the best of ourselves (the majority of the boys, however, look like serial killers. What is it with blokes and photos?) I’m happy to report that I didn’t feel any competition with the women on the site — it was just reassuring to see i’m not the only single 40-year-old out there. Part of me actually wanted to write to them and suggest they check out some of the nicer guys I’ve spotted. I think I may have missed my calling as a matchmaker.

It’s far too early to know if this is going to be a successful mission and I know I’m going to have to pan through a lot of silt to find the gold, so I’ve signed up for six months with the intention of staying open and not taking it too seriously. The right guy for me might not be on the site(s) yet. In fact, he may never be and we’ll bump into each other outside my local supermarket. Who knows? What I do know is so many of my friends have found love this way it would be silly not to at least give it another try.

There’ll definitely be a few more dating posts in the future as frankly, some of the messages i’m getting are just too hilarious not to share :)

Coming up for air


I’ve been deep in the creation cave for the last six weeks and as my journalling course draws to an end this week I’m finally peeking outside and reflecting on all that’s gone down. It’s been intense, people. INTENSE. I’ve chalked up about 25,000 words for this course which is half the length of my book, so it’s no wonder my RSI has flared up and I’m feeling rather drained. But oh, it’s been glorious too! Periods of such intense creative work may take me away from this blog (and I’ve missed you so much, I’ve been counting down the days till I could write here again) but it also opens up my brain to new ideas and connections. While I’ve been birthing Journal Your Life I’ve had so many ideas for new courses, new possibilities, new directions I want to take. I’ve had a new book idea. I’ve dreamt up a line of products I want to create — actual physical things to send out into the world. I’ve had new ideas for my magazine column (hello Simple Things, I’m looking at you). And I’ve been plotting some deliciousness to celebrate my book’s one year anniversary in June (you’re going to love it :) So while being in the creation cave is full-on, it’s also incredibly fertile.

It’s important to me to create a new course in real time. I have the structure and content plotted out beforehand and get the first two weeks written before the class starts. But I like to create the rest of the course as we go along so I can listen to feedback and do the exercises right alongside everyone else. This is what makes the course come alive. Once or twice I’ll hit a day when I’m not sure I have anything to say, so that’s when I go out for a walk with my notebook to get some new perspective. And sure enough the lesson gets downloaded into my brain and I know what I’m going to write. Every time I run a course it gets tweaked and perfected as there are always new insights to add and better ways to share information. That’s why i love to run these classes — they change and evolve just like we do.

I am so proud of Journal Your Life, and as I said to my peeps in a video last week, I could so easily keep writing this baby. It’s made me realise that at some point in the not-too-distant future I’d like to create a much longer course or program. Six or eight weeks is great for an intense journey into a topic, but I can see how beneficial a three or six-month program would be, taking you so much deeper into the material with breathing space woven throughout. I’m working on it…

When I entered the cave it was winter outside my doorstep, but now I see that spring has finally — miraculously — arrived in Londontown. I have ideas blossoming and stories I want to share here. It feels so good to be back xo