What’s scarier than lockdown?

There are few things scarier than this endless isolation but, collectively, as a nation we have probably experienced all of them.

As we’re anxiously awaiting the announcement on Sunday, which will bring the first few relaxations to our strict lockdown (or so we hope), I want to have a look back at the last 7 weeks and how it’s affected me. I have spoken to many of you about your individual journeys and never before has it been more obvious how, despite a pretty obvious common denominator, the isolation, we all have been living completely different realities. Talking about mental health has never been more important and it’s time to stop pretending that we’re unruffled and completely fine with our worlds shrinking to the size of our living spaces. It really is okay not to be okay and we should never be ashamed for our struggles but proudly own them and grow from them.

“Together apart”

On Monday, 23rd March, as a nation, we all suddenly entered a state of grieving. Grief is explained as “intense sorrow” and it does not only occur when someone has died. Of course, we must remember those who have lost their lives or loved ones during this time as that is the greatest grief of all and my heart breaks a little every time the death toll is updated. For the rest of us, we have grieved first and foremost the loss of personal freedom and autonomy. Collectively, we were feeling incredible sorrow for suddenly having nowhere to go and nobody to talk to. The elderly in care homes would suddenly have nobody come visit and I cannot think of anything more heart breaking than that. Since the lockdown began, unspeakable amounts of people have grieved the loss of their job, relationships, friendships, the feeling of being needed and making a difference. So we all entered into the era of video calls and online friendships in an attempt to thrive in the new “normal”.

Do you still remember life before lockdown?

Try to think back to the time when we were all still simply discussing the virus and how serious it was elsewhere in the world yet musing as to how relaxed our country was amongst all this chaos. It almost felt like we were untouchable. Meanwhile, UK was being made fun of everywhere and the countless memes will live to tell the tale. The most apt (dare I say amusing?) image to describe this stage must have been the one where the virus outbreak was compared to a hazardous investigation scene. In the photo, you could see other countries such as Italy, France, Spain and US depicted as people dressed in hazmat suits investigating something on the ground while UK was merely a clueless onlooker in his summer hat, flowery shirt, shorts and flip flops with his hands in his pockets. And that was the truth – while some countries had already announced lockdown to flatten the curve, we were simply being told to wash our hands and sing the Happy Birthday song.

Shock, horror!

Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, the schools were announced to close with a couple of days notice. Companies were sending their staff to work from home, businesses were closing one after another, finishing with anything from gyms to beauty salons and clothing stores. Fulham & Hammersmith council even closed all of their parks on Sunday 22nd March at 7pm (but thankfully reopened them again 5 days later, which was an incredible relief). That week was probably the strangest week of my life. Every day I found myself saying goodbye to friends as nobody had a clue whether we would meet in two days or two weeks. To make the most of my days, I made sure I went to every yoga and dance class that I could to support my friends as they were about to lose their income for an uncertain amount of time. Every day I left the house, feeling positive, almost exhilarated to still be able to do things that we normally take for granted. And every day, after a productive day full of uplifting interactions, I went home and felt my spirit break a little. I would cry on the phone to Milly and she reassured me everything would be okay and that together we’d tackle anything, which always helped.

Why was it so hard for me? From Monday 16th to Friday 20th, I noticed how every day London got quieter and quieter. The gyms and studios were draining empty of people, classes were cancelled and it was all starting to feel so lonely and eerie. I love London for its people, the hustle and bustle and suddenly it was all gone, there was barely anybody left – a true ghost town. As you remember, this was also the time that all the stores were experiencing stock shortages due to the restaurants closing and people panic buying food to prepare for weeks of isolation. There was also no toilet paper. (We will never crack the code of that mystery!) All this was unnerving enough but I had no idea it was about to get a whole lot worse.

Nothing stops the Amazon! (Or so I thought)

As a busy Personal Trainer and Nutritionist, I am used to always being on the go.  My ever changing schedule would see me leave the house anywhere between 6am and 8am and return in the late afternoon, having been out all day, seeing different clients and friends depending on which part of London I was visiting. I need variety and change to my days or I’ll get stuck in a rut and get stressed. Being my own boss for all these years has been great as it allows me to dictate where my days would take me. I’ve always been headstrong and a free spirit, I hate being given “NO” as an answer and have therefore been constantly readjusting my course in life, which had so far made me relatively unstoppable. Well, surprise-surprise, the lockdown sure did stop me in my tracks!

When lockdown was imposed on the evening of Monday, 23rd, I was feeling very vulnerable after a stressful day. I actually already knew that lockdown would be announced as I had received information from a reliable source, yet I was living in deep denial. “How are they going to take our freedom away like this?” At that point I was trying to stay calm and tell myself everything would be okay but I could feel this deep anxious feeling building up inside. The days were still rather short two months ago and the dark evenings didn’t exactly help me feel more positive about the impending doom and gloom. I was aware of army controlled lockdowns in other countries and the thought of it potentially happening in London made me feel dizzy and nauseated. In my head, the thought process kept going back and fourth between “it’s going to be okay” and “I won’t be able to deal with isolation” until the latter thought won and I had a panic attack. I couldn’t stop crying. My inner child did not understand why I was suddenly no longer allowed to go outside. Milly cried with me because she didn’t know how to help me and all she does is help people. She’d never seen me like that and neither had I.

Our new life

The following 5 weeks were the toughest weeks that challenged both of us to no end. I was trying to adjust to my new life. I had to accept that I was only allowed to step out to train and shop, which would give me an hour or two outside and then would try to fill the rest of my day with relaxing or meaningful activities. There were days were I was extremely productive and I cleaned the house, windows, did my taxes etc and then on others I sat on the sofa for 7 hours watching movies. I had also suddenly become an online PT, which actually worked out very well and I will be eternally grateful for the loyalty of my clients as having daily sessions allowed me to maintain some bit of normality as I knew it. Outside of those sessions, I was restless and stressed and was only ever entirely relaxed if the three of us were doing something together. Meanwhile, Milly saw a rise in very distressing calls and incidents at work as a result of lockdown’s effect on the nation’s mental health, which left her affected for days if not weeks and the strain of it all was getting to her as well. We didn’t see each other for up to 4-6 days at time and it was all pretty lonely. Meanwhile, Silver and the cats were truly unbothered by the whole chaos going on outside and life couldn’t have been sweeter for them. Oh how some realities can be so completely different!

Cooking healthy meals for the whole family was one of my favourite ways to take my mind off the unknown and to focus on what I could control. Training also made me feel better but I couldn’t do it consistently as my motivation came and went as it pleased. Still, since we were eating good fresh food, I didn’t need to train daily to keep working on my strength, it was to simply improve my mood. We also watched movies and played games to pass the time and to keep busy. But we couldn’t ignore the fact that nothing was the same anymore. We were so used to being out of the house for the better part of our days, always doing something, training, shopping, going to restaurants and suddenly we were stuck between four walls and couldn’t recognise ourselves anymore. For two spontaneous people who never stay put, this was an enormous strain personally and together. Although we had so much planned for ourselves and you guys, this lockdown took its toll on our relationship and nearly two weeks ago we called it quits.

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

So, to answer my own question – for me, having to go through heart break while on “house arrest” is definitely scarier than the lockdown itself as I never expected my relationship to crumble during this time. But, in the words of Steve Harvey: “If you’re going through hell, keep going. Why would you stop in hell?” It can’t get any worse, so it can only get better. Ironically, the isolation itself, which broke me, is also a silver lining of sorts as it has provided me with the time and space to begin to heal. I sit, think, journal and feel all these uncomfortable feelings and I’m trying to allow them to teach me something.

In case you needed a reminder – don’t be ashamed for any of the emotions you have felt or difficulties you have faced during these two months. Yes, somebody somewhere else might have it worse but you don’t have to downplay the importance of your individual reality and experience during this time. Your reality is 100% relative to you and you have the right to feel all the feelings that visit you.

Although it is obvious that this pandemic is not over yet and the road to recovery will be a long one, I am very much looking forward to the easing of some of the restrictions being placed on us. I believe we have all spent enough time in isolation, hopefully having broken away from the habits that weren’t working for us before, in order to to return to the outside world with clarity and strength to become the next level versions of ourselves.

Rx

Christmas: Food, Training, Alcohol – what to do before, during and after.

Just two more days until the big day!

Christmas is such a lovely time of the year. People travel within the country or fly overseas to spend time with their loved ones; others fly in from abroad to visit family and friends. However, when it comes to food and drink, Christmas has a big problem: there’s just too much of everything. This is where we tend to trip up since the majority of dishes are only consumed once w year, it’s like going to a new all-you-can-eat restaurant: you’re going to want to try a bit of everything.

Over the last two weeks I have been asked for healthy eating tips for the festive period. Without telling you exactly what to eat, I will give you a few handy pointers on how to make better food choices over the next few days.

Most importantly, I would like to say please do not stress yourself out too much about how many calories you’re going to be consuming. We don’t want it to take the joy out of Christmas. Enjoy the time with your family and friends and make the most of it.

However, here are a few tried and tested methods.

My advice for clients before big dinners or events is to prepare by leaving “calories in the bank”. This means increasing the intake of healthy, highly nutritious food beforehand to be able to enjoy the time off without overly worrying about calories and the ratio of macros. By consuming highly satiating, low calorie foods, which provide quality nutrients, you can improve your digestion. Plus, should you have time for a workout or two beforehand, you will also boost your metabolism and increase your body’s ability to process the energy consumed.

Here’s what to do today and tomorrow:

FOOD:

In the run up to Christmas Dinner, eat an abundance of green vegetables and lean protein. Per meal, I recommend at least 2 servings (160g) of vegetables and 125g of lean protein such as chicken or turkey or about 200g of white fish or seafood such as prawns, scallops, mussels etc. Out of green vegetables I recommend broccoli, asparagus, all types of green beans, courgette and cauliflower (although not green, it acts like a green vegetable when it comes to satiety and fat loss) and of course Brussels sprouts are ideal on Christmas Day. If you like kale and spinach, aim for up to 200-300g in the same meal. On top of that, add some rainbow coloured vegetables for a variety of vitamins and minerals.

TRAINING:

I highly recommend at least one whole body resistance training session: one exercise per muscle group with 2 sets of 12-15 repetitions each. This workout could include lunges, squats, press-ups, tricep dips, bent-over or seated rows, shoulder press and some abdominal work followed by a lovely stretch. Should you have time for two sessions, do upper body and core today and leave lower body training for tomorrow.

Either option will increase your body’s insulin sensitivity and uptake of glycogen (carbohydrates). This way you’ll ensure the energy consumed on Christmas Day goes to good use.

On Christmas Day:

ALCOHOL:

Refer to my previous blog post or YouTube/IGTV video on alcohol and all facts on its consumption.

FOOD:

First and foremost, enjoy yourself and remember that no food is inherently bad or good. The problem is the quantity, so go by “everything in moderation”. If you are a healthy eater who trains regularly throughout the year then a single meal will not tip the scales. It’s been scientifically proven that the amount of body fat stored from a single overindulgent meal is negligible and following a phase of dieting and training can actually boost your weight loss and improve performance in the gym the next day. Still, I would encourage you to listen to your body and not to force yourself to eat more should you feel stuffed up to the eyebrows. 🙂

TRAINING:

Maybe grab a smaller relative and do a couple of squats if that makes you feel better. Otherwise, don’t worry about it.

From Boxing Day onwards:

FOOD:

Reverse dieting – repeat what you did before Christmas Day. Lots of greens, lean protein and an increased water intake. Do not restrict your food intake to “balance out” the calories – our bodies don’t work like that. If you feel a bit heavy, reduce your starchy carbohydrate intake for a couple of days or until you start to feel lighter again. Allow yourself to feel hungry before eating and savour your meals. Do not weigh yourself as it’s pointless. The scales will simply reflect the total of your bodyweight plus gross weight of all foods and drinks consumed. It’s helpful to remember that your body will store 3 grams of water per every gram of carbohydrate consumed, which can lead to bloating and water retention. If you must, please allow yourself 2-4 days before weighing. If you had been following a calorie controlled diet beforehand, you’ll still stand a good chance at having lost some weight by your next weigh in.

TRAINING:

Do not punish yourself with exercise. However, to improve both mental and physical wellbeing, you have two options. Either opt for a light cardio session (cycling, running, swimming) or go to the sauna to sweat out the toxins from alcohol. Or do another whole body session to utilise the excess energy from carbs and fats. As a bonus you will feel a lot stronger, so I do encourage you to put that to good use.

I hope this handy little guide will have given you some peace of mind before the festivities and you feel better prepared.

Once more, please don’t forget to have a great time!

Merry Christmas!

Rahel x