Finding Balance at Christmas

Finding Balance at Christmas - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

There’s so much noise at the moment about food and exercise at Christmas that I was actually reluctant to share this post. It feels like there’s so much judgement coming from every angle - train or don’t train, think about what you eat or indulge - it’s actually really tricky to work out where you stand and what works for you as an individual. At least that’s what I’ve found. I’m not mega into indulgence. I don’t like feeling really full, but I also have a sweet tooth and a tendency to eat anything that’s there almost on autopilot, so when there’s lots of treats around I actually have to be pretty mindful about what I eat if I want to avoid feeling really tired and sluggish (something I can struggle with at the best of times). For me personally the festive season is about balance and mindfulness. Enjoying food, feeling well and moving as I please.

Starving, sprouts and strolls: how to step into Christmas healthily

When an email falls into my inbox with this type of subject line I hit delete. Mostly because it’s probably going to be some PR promoting some weird diet food or silly transformation program, which are really not my thing. However, this one came from the guys at Warwick University so out of solidarity for fellow academics I figured I’d give it a read (plus I was fairly sure they wouldn’t be telling me how some weird tea would give me a flat tummy and a bangin’ booty overnight…).

Digging into the release it was clear that the message here wasn’t about cosmetic beauty or punishing yourself for eating, but rather about how to have a properly balanced festive season - just what I need! Yeah some of it was poorly phrased (‘you can offset some of the effects of Christmas overindulgence’ - I know what you’re getting at, but it could land better), but actually the tips seemed pretty sound and like they’ll actually help me enjoy food more over the festive period, without feeling like I’ve swallowed concrete blocks.

Finding Balance at Christmas - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

According to Dr James Gill, a GP and lecturer at Warwick Medical School (and a participant on The Island with Bear Grylls, although I’m not sure that really adds to his credentials), “the most common mistake [I hate that word in the context of eating!] people make at Christmas is trying to starve themselves before going into Christmas dinner”. Although this isn’t something I’m necessarily prone to (I will eat all day long!), it is something the clients I work with have mentioned - people fitting in extra workouts to offset Christmas dinner, or eating less now to save the calories for later. As James points out this can be false economy, “yes, you might save a fe calories…but you’ll probably be so hungry by the time dinner arrives you’ll eat more than you intended, and not taste it either!”. You know that feeling when you shovel all the food down because you are just that hungry? Where the food then sits like a brick in your stomach? Yep, me too. It’s grim, but it is avoidable, and simply by eating more consistently you’ll get more joy out of your food, which is what Christmas is all about! James suggests a healthy brekkie (bacon sarnies totally count) and snacks if you tend to have lunch later in the day - maybe crack open the fruit and nut mix your Mum always buys and no one ever eats, or snack on the satsumas from your stocking. Chocolate coins are also excellent.

Christmas walks are standard in my family. We have dogs who need to go and explore and the humans get ancy and need to be exercised, plus everyone in Oxford is out and we usually end up at the pub so it’s a pretty sociable thing to do! James is with me on this one, a festive walk is always a good idea, but he also expresses caution, “WHY are you exercising? Is it that you are trying to mitigate what you have eaten, or because you want to actually go for the walk?”. I totally agree with this sentiment, your Christmas walk should be a nice outing and definitely not something you do to either offset the food you’ve eaten. Movement shouldn’t be punishment, especially not at Christmas.

Finding Balance at Christmas - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

I don’t know about you, but at Christmas I tend to find that what I eat changes. Festive foods are rich and sometime a little beige, which in turn plays havoc with my stomach. Apparently I’m not alone, “at this time of year, people tend to wolf down foods which would normally never go near their plates at home” says James, and these exotic foods can make you feel gassy and bloated, which is no fun.

I always feel a bit funny writing posts like these. I genuinely don’t want to preach about food, it’s boring and really not my thing, but I do want to make sure I enjoy what I eat and James’ advice seems pretty valuable to me in that sense. I really hope this has come off the way I planned it to, as a piece reflecting on my own life and sharing what I’ve been reflecting on when it comes to eating at Christmas. As James says “ultimately when it comes to Christmas, yes it is important to look after yourself, but life is for living. For everyone out there…I would put forward the idea of ‘High days and Holidays’. If you want a piece of Christmas cake, then have some”.

** Dr James Gill is an Honorary Clinical Lecturer at Warwick Medical School and Locum GP in Warwickshire. He has a particular interest in educating people about lifestyle changes that can make their lives healthier, preventing conditions such as diabetes in the long-term. Thanks to Warwick University for sharing the insight for this piece, all opinions are my own unless otherwise stated.

Dealing with Concussion

Concussion - a temporary injury to the brain caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head.


Dealing with Concussion - A Pretty Place to Play, London running and fitness blog

Disclaimer, I wrote this while recovering. There are probably grammatical errors. #keepingitreal.

It’s funny how one trip can affect you. On Monday I was out walking the dog and took a tumble. Actually it wasn’t really a tumble, it was more like I went from vertical to horizontal in one swoop landing squarely on my chin. Adrenaline kicked in and when kind passersby asked if I was ok I assured them I was, and that the dog and I would be fine walking the 5 miles (!) home. It was only after the people dispersed and Hugo and I were gearing up to carry on our walk that I realised that all was not well. Luckily I was just around the corner from Mike’s office and was able to call him to come rescue us. As I took up residence on the couch in his office, drinking tea and holding ice to my sore chin (thank goodness for Christmas party season!) it was pretty clear things were getting worse. I was struggling to put sentences together. I was vague (more vague than normal). My head hurt. I was dizzy and felt sick. Concussion is always a topic of conversation in sport, trying to prevent it, trying to manage it, so I’ve learnt what it looks like. I knew I had a concussion.

Of course, me being me I didn’t go to hospital. I left the dog with Mike and called an Uber home, where I sat in a dark room and tried not to fall asleep, drifting between wooziness and acute awareness of how much my head hurt. I wasn’t so out of it I couldn’t check on the guidance for handling a concussion - it wasn’t like I was in a position to remember it off the top of my head - and was reminded not to take anything that could thin my blood. I was also reminded I needed to check where I should be concerned about taking my meds. Which led me to call 111, who told me to get myself to hospital. Probably something I should’ve done from the off, but at least I made it there eventually. A night in A & E and a doctor confirmed a concussion and sent me home to rest.

Dealing with Concussion - A Pretty Place to Play, London running and fitness blog

Concussion is really weird. For the first few days I felt so sick, dizzy and tired. It might’ve been the night in hospital (it’s never fun spending a night under bright lights when you’ve had a bang on the head) or the concussion or both. The whole of Tuesday was spent in bed in a dark room. On Wednesday I ventured out. I still felt pretty terrible but staying indoors wasn’t going to help that. The tube made me feel sick, so did escalators, but being outside and wearing something that wasn’t PJs. The distraction of a work meeting helped, although I’m not sure how much I contributed! Day by day my head has become less cloudy and the headache has eased up gradually. Slowly my sentences have formed and I’ve been able to communicate more clearly, which is a relief because working in customer service and not being able to speak clearly or think on your feet are pretty major impediments to doing your job.

One of my biggest questions for the doctor was when could I train again. I’d already had a couple of weeks off because of my workload at uni and I didn’t really want to miss any more. What really surprised me was how enthusiastic she was about me getting moving again! Running and swimming (with supervision) were more than ok as long as I didn’t do anything stupid and stopped if my symptoms got worse. Weights were out because I couldn’t be trusted not to drop them on myself. Yoga wasn’t really discussed, but I figured a hot room probably wouldn’t help things.

Dealing with Concussion - A Pretty Place to Play, London running and fitness blog

Falling really rocks your body. Turns out I’m relatively ok at it, I avoided putting my arms out and didn’t do too much damage beyond my head, but I had the worst DOMS. Like I’d run a marathon. The mixture of everything tensing up with the shot of adrenaline you get after a fall had sent everything into a tail spin. A very achy tail spin. I needed to move, and thankfully one of the yoga teachers at work was happy for me to slip into the back of her class and do what I could. My balance was so off and my muscles so tight, but moving through a gentle flow got me, well, moving. And that felt good. It was the gentle introduction back to my body I needed to brave going on my first run. Run Namaste Eat are training me for The Speed Project and have been awesome at dealing with this curveball, switching up my training and making sure I’m not getting too carried away! 30 minutes easy was a tough challenge. My head hurt the whole way though and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a great idea to eat two cheese scones right beforehand, but it was still nice to get out, and it was an even nicer surprise to see my easy pace creeping up! Little wins!

By Saturday my head was feeling so much lighter. I could focus. Nothing hurt and the only angst I felt was about jumping in Brockwell Lido when it was 2 degrees out. But that’s another story for another time.

The doctor thinks it’ll take 4-6 weeks for me to fulling recover from this little blow. I am so glad I’m making progress and feeling more like myself, it is no fun feeling really out of odds.

*images: Anna Rachel Photography

Unpolished Journey

It’s nearly two years since I ‘came out’ about my mental health, and one of the most amazing outcomes of being brave and speaking up is that people have started to approach me to share their stories. It’s an amazing privilege when someone tells you their struggles, that they trust you to open up to you. Not too long ago I got an email from Emily and Morgan, the creators of Unpolished Journey, an e-commerce platform specifically for creators who’ve used their art to manage their mental health. Morgan in particular was keen to share her story of using creativity to share how creativity has, in her words, defined her recovery journey. Of course I couldn’t refuse…

Unpolished Journey - creativity and mental health recovery - A Pretty Place To Play

I spent a lot of time in the dark. Dark rooms filled with Kleenex from tears releasing years of suppressed emotions, dark bathrooms purging out those feelings in attempt to numb them once again, and dark headspaces filled with hopelessness and exhaustion from the years of fighting my mental illness. I was sick, head sick with an eating disorder and PTSD, and at the time I felt like there was no way out. I felt trapped in a tunnel of darkness with no ladder or rope. I was just there floating in my pain, feeling alone and forgotten.

Art is unique in so many ways. I am convinced that art comes straight from a person’s entire body’s experience. It tells a story of where each person was at a moment in time - their thoughts, their desires, their fears. It is a compilation of everything within that person being purged out for the world to see. Art is personal. Writing, painting, photography, dance, drawing, videography, textiles, and so many other forms of creativity have literally been created from someone’s mind.

Did you know that listening to music is the only time that you use your entire brain? Your whole mind is consumed with the melodies and lyrics. It is a deeply personal experience, which is why I never critic anyone’s music preferences. Those songs are theirs. They speak to them in a way I’ll never understand, which is beautiful and something I don’t feel worthy to have an opinion on. In the same way that music is uses your entire brain, I have a theory that the creation of art uses your entire body.

I came up with this theory through the evidence spilling across the pages of my sketchbooks. I spent a lot of time in the dark and my artwork reflects this - scribbles of dark images, filled with red monsters, and terrifying compositions.  I look at these images and my body remembers. It remembers the pain, suffering, and struggle that I was consumed with during that time in my life. I used every part of myself to purge creations onto those pages. It was my release, my singular way of documenting to the world what it was like to be trapped inside my brain. As the years past and I began to receive help for my mental illnesses a narrative of healing began to unfold.

Slowly those images began to gain color. The black and white scribbles starting taking shapes. Birds symbolizing a reach towards freedom, water symbolizing renewal, and trees symbolizing growth became common motifs among my work. I gained strength both physically and mentally as I began to nourish my body and mind with words of hope and meals of kindness. My artwork reflected this. As the years of recovery would pass, my artwork became more and more free. Rainbow colors and playfulness entered into my sketchbook as I fell deeper into the person I was created to be. This became my evidence that my creativity matched my body’s experience. As my soul grew healthier so did my artwork. My body remembers. It remembers everything and the artwork that spilled out of my soul throughout the years documents my body’s narrative.

Art is unique in this way. It is a deeply personal act of vulnerability as it documents a person’s journey through life. My evidence comes from my own recovery journey. My creativity is a full body experience, leaving behind stamps on the world defining healing and change. Art became my unique means of sharing with the world what my recovery actually looked like.

Unpolished Journey - creativity and mental health recovery - A Pretty Place to Play

Unpolished Journey is a community of artists seeking to share their stories of recovery from mental illness through art. Unpolished Journey has launched a marketplace where artists of any medium who have a story of recovery can sell their work to the world and share pieces of their journey along the way.