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Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini


People have been telling me about this book for years, but I just never got around to reading it until very recently. First published in 2003, it was a New York Times best seller for over 2 years before being adapted in to a widely successful film in 2007 (which again I haven't gotten around to seeing!).

Here's a short plot introduction from Amazon:
Afghanistan, 1975: Twelve-year-old Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament and his loyal friend Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can foresee what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that is to shatter their lives. After the Russians invade and the family is forced to flee to America, Amir realises that one day he must return to Afghanistan under Taliban rule to find the one thing that his new world cannot grant him: redemption.
This story picked me up and dropped me in to the middle of Afghanistan to stand alongside Amir during this story set between 1975 and 2001. It really opened my eyes to the lives of the ordinary, once happy and thriving, people who lived there under Taliban rule and who are still living through war in a country so unrecognisable from the one that once existed.

Guilt and redemption are the key themes featured throughout the book, which focusses on a friendship between Amir and his fathers house-boy Hassan. I found it slow going at first, but as the story builds to a key event that goes on to shape the rest of the story, I honestly couldn't put it down.
"I want to tear myself from this place, from this reality, rise up like a cloud and float away, melt into this humid summer night and dissolve somewhere far, over the hills. But I am here, my legs blocks of concrete, my lungs empty of air, my throat burning. There will be no floating away."
There are some uncomfortable scenes - this certainly isn't a light hearted read - but if you enjoy books that force you to open your eyes a little wider and in the end perhaps even change your perspective on things, The Kite Runner won't disappoint.

If you have read it already and are looking for something similar, I'd suggest giving Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie a go. Set in Nigeria during the Nigerian civil war (which ashamedly I didn't know anything about until I read this book), Half of a Yellow Sun is similar to Kite Runner in it's rawness and focus on normal people dealing with life in unimaginable circumstances.

If you liked this mini review, why not share it or comment below!

Monday, 24 November 2014

Why You Should Love Dark Chocolate

Ok I don't want to get your hopes up so I'll start off with the bad news: I'm not about to tell you to go and stuff your face with chocolate.

BUT you can enjoy dark chocolate in moderation whilst maintaining a healthy nutritious lifestyle, and it can even be good for you!

When I say dark chocolate I'm talking about the deep dark stuff, ideally around 85% but at least over 70%, and ideally organic. My absolute favourite is this Green & Black's chocolate which is amazing and not too bitter.

So what are the benefits?

Dark chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, phenylethylamine (the 'love' chemical), iron, magnesium and theobromine (similar to caffeine). It also relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow to the brain and heart.

Long story short, it can help you reduce your risk of:

Heart attack
Stroke
Cancer
High blood pressure
Skin UV damage
Premature signs of aging
Depression

Research has shown that both dark chocolate and cocoa actually have more antioxidant activity and more flavonols than fruit (including acai berries). Whaaaaat.

This doesn't mean you should head out to the nearest store and devour a huge slab of the stuff, but a square or two a day is definitely good for you.

You're welcome.

Kayla Itsines BBG Review - Week 3


Monday: Resistance (cardio and legs)
Tuesday: 40 minute fast walk, 10 minutes Bikini Abs
Wednesday: Resistance (arms and abs)
Thursday: -
Friday: Resistance (full body)
Saturday: 50 minutes fast walk
Sunday: 4 hours of Christmas shopping (that counts right??)

The week 3 resistance sessions are a repeat of week 1 (week 2 & 4 are the same too) so I knew what I was getting myself in for this week and could compare strength progress. I've noticed an increase in strength with the weighted step ups and the push ups (although I'm still fairly useless at the latter I'll admit). I'm also starting to get a bit more definition on my arms - miracle of miracles - after months of battling away at them, so thank you Kayla!

I put my Polar heart rate monitor on this week to see what the calorie burn figures were like. The cardio and leg session was the biggest burner at 398 calories burnt, followed by full body at 337 calories burnt, and then arms and abs at 270 calories burnt. Walking 6kpm for 50 minutes resulted in 325 calories burnt, which is more than I thought.

I'm a bit obsessed with wanting to see results in my mid section, so I threw in a small extra Tone It Up ab workout this week in addition to the suggested Bikini Body Guide workouts. If you're looking for a quick abs fix then I'd definitely suggest the little routine I did (link above) which is one of my favourites.

To be honest, I didn't LOVE this week. I'm really looking forward to next week and doing the week 2&4 workouts again which I find a lot more satisfying. Don't get me wrong, the week 1&3 workouts are challenging (especially leg day!), but I don't feel the effects the next day.

I haven't seen any visible improvements in my results picture this week, I actually think I looked better at the end of week 2. I could put this down to it being the week before my period, so I've ended the week feeling bloated and lethargic, but I also know that my nutrition wasn't as good as it could have been over the weekend and I'm feeling the effects.



I'm going to be taking my own advice this week to keep on track as my period approaches. Follow the link for my tips on how to beat the bloat and deal with those sugar cravings.

If you're enjoying these reviews I'd love to hear from you! If there's anything you would like me to address specifically next week or if you have any questions I can answer for you, let me know below!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

How to Commit to Getting Fit


If you're not a naturally sporty person, it can be hard to stick to a fitness plan or an active lifestyle, especially in the first few months.

So how do you learn to love fitness?

If you're struggling to commit and sick of starting over, here are my top tips:

Find what works for you. 


Do you prefer the privacy of home, the atmosphere of a gym, or the dynamics of a class? Do you want to get fit through strength training, sport, dance, Pilates (etc)? Do you want to plan your own workout schedule or do you need someone to structure it for you?
Everyone is different, so don't be disheartened if you've tried a few things that haven't worked out for you. It is important to do just that - try a few things. Suss out what interests you and suits your lifestyle BEFORE you commit any large sums of money to a gym membership or equipment!

Set a goal.


If you haven't got something to aim for, you can lose sight of why you're bothering to get tired, sweaty and sore on a regular basis. It's important to set a goal, and to make that goal realistic so that you CAN reach it. Put a time frame on it, and once you hit it, just keep setting new goals.

It doesn't just have to be weight loss on the scales (waaay too much pressure), but can be anything from improving your level of confidence, running that 5k, feeling great in that new dress, toning up that trouble spot, feeling healthier, getting that glow... I could go on, but I'm sure you catch my drift.

If your goal is physical, make sure you take pictures and measurements to get a satisfying record of your achievements.

Make a plan.


Help yourself reach your goal by getting a plan down on paper. Use a calendar to plot out your workouts, mid point goals or results days. Create weekly workout schedules or aims. Do whatever works for you but plot it out in some way or form and put it somewhere you'll see it regularly. Don't forget to stick your goal in there!
 

Make the time.


When I first started, I couldn't understand how people had 30-60mins every day to work out. Did they not have full time jobs? Were they not busy and tired? Didn't they have social commitments?
 
I asked someone on a forum - HOW? And the answer was obvious: if you want it enough you don't find the time, you make the time. So I went to bed an hour earlier than night and got up an hour earlier the next morning to exercise before work - so simple.
 

Prepare.


Make sure you have clean workout clothes ready when you need them. If you go to the gym, pack your bag in advance. Don't leave everything to the last minute and associate your workouts with getting stressed out.

If you're trying to clean up your diet too, preparation is the key! It's hard to keep eating right if you don't spend a bit of time preparing, because life is unpredictable and bad habits are easy to fall in to.
 
Do your weekly shop, roughly plan your meals and snacks, and then spend a bit of time prepping for the week. If you chop all of your veg in one go for example, it makes life so much easier when you're tired and late home from work. Or cook twice as much of your healthy dinner and freeze the other half or eat it for lunch the next day.

 

Make it routine.


To have any chance of sticking with it long term, this all needs to become part of your routine.
 
I get up at the same time every day whether I have a longer workout planned or not. I do something every day even if it's just a 30 minutes walk or a bit of yoga - if you say you're going to exercise 3 or 4 times a week, you'll find yourself waking up every day and wondering if today is one of those days. Commit to getting yourself moving daily, and it becomes routine.

and finally...

 

Go public!


Tell people what you're doing, or ask a friend to join you. Get involved in social media to find inspiration and have a place to be accountable. If people know what you're doing then it's not so easy to just throw in the towel when you're having a bad day, and you'll get fantastic support from old and new friends alike. Demo forum

Monday, 17 November 2014

Delicious Protein Pancakes


Who doesn't love pancakes?

I want to share with you my favourite not-so-naughty protein packed treat that you can enjoy any time, guilt free.

Tone It Up's Protein Pancakes

1 scoop of vanilla protein (preferably gluten free, plant based protein such as Sun Warrior or Perfect Fit)
1/2 banana, mashed
1/4 cup egg whites (whites of 2 eggs)
1/2 tbs almond milk (or any other milk)
1 tsp cinnamon

Mash the banana with the milk before adding the rest of the ingredients and working out most lumps (you can use a blender for this but it's not essential).

Poor the mixture in to a frying pan and cook on a gentle heat for a few minutes (or until bubbles form), and then flip and cook for the same time on the other side.

Top with fruit, yoghurt, maple syrup, organic peanut butter - anything you want!

Here's a handy little print out from Tone It Up:



Enjoy!

p.s. please note that as these are flour-less, they will not go fluffy like regular pancakes - but I hope you still find them as delicious as I do!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Kayla Itsines BBG Review - Week 2



Monday: Resistance (cardio and legs)
Tuesday: 10 minute run (paaaain) and 20 minutes fast walk
Wednesday: Resistance (arms and abs)
Thursday: 50 minute fast walk
Friday: Resistance (full body)
Saturday: -
Sunday: 1 hour woodland walk

Another week of butt-kicking resistance sessions, seriously love them.

The main difference between week 1 and 2 for me has been the muscle ache in week 2, which I'm glad about. I used to be pretty sore when I first started working out in the summer, but it seemed to go away as I got stronger and got in to the habit of foam rolling and stretching regularly. I'm glad that the BBG is pushing me harder and bringing back the pain! (...weirdo?) I seriously felt my inner thighs and glutes on Tuesday, and my abs were that kind of 'hurts when you cough' sore from Thursday - Friday. Fab.

I have upped my hand weights this week from my usual 3kg to 4kg (still a bit light - but i'm getting there!), and am using a 8kg medicine ball, so I'm sure that's made the difference this week too.

If you read about my knee issues in the week 1 review then you'll know that Tuesday was the first time I was giving running a go after a bit of a rest. Unfortunately it didn't go well and I was in quite a bit of pain within about 5 minutes. I slowed it down to a fast walk instead, and am going to rest it again this week and continue with icing and foam rolling. I imagine I'll have to go down the physio route soon. I had only recently learnt to love running so am a bit gutted that I might be out for a while.

I am really enjoying the resistance sessions, although maybe you shouldn't ask me when I'm midway through one. They are challenging - I'm sure my boyfriend has heard me shouting at myself ("COME OOOON EMILY YOU CAN DO THIS!!) and thinks I've completely lost the plot, but I love it. One thing I'm really struggling with though is push ups... I honestly don't know why I find them so difficult! For some reason I can't get myself all the way down so I end up doing weird half push ups... my goal is to be able to do a full set of decent push ups by the end of this thing!!

Here are my results from week 2:



These images were taken at different times of day so the light is hitting me very differently, but I'm still so happy with my results even at this early stage in the plan. I am feeling stronger, and am getting used to the change of pace that I talked about in my week 1 review.

Until next week - xx

Monday, 10 November 2014

Kayla Itsines BBG Review - Week 1


I survived the first week!

So far, loving it. Here's a quick run down of how my week looked:

Monday: Resistance (arms and abs)
Tuesday: 50 minute fast walk
Wednesday: Resistance (cardio and legs)
Thursday: 50 minute fast walk
Friday: -
Saturday: Resistance (full body)
Sunday: -

The resistance sessions are definitely a step up from the workouts I'm used to, but so satisfying once that last buzzer goes off. I'm using an interval timer app on my phone which is perfect for this. I was sweating so much throughout each session and found that the structure of 4x 7 minute intervals with 30 second rest kept me focused and pushing hard throughout.

I found it really weird not doing a full hour workout every morning though, which is what I have been used to from following the Tone It Up weekly schedule since the summer. The intensity of the resistance sessions with the BBG however is higher than I am used to, and so perhaps a more effective use of time, but it just feels a bit odd at the moment...

The first 4 weeks of the guide suggests 2-3 resistance sessions (detailed in the guide), 2-3 sessions of LISS (Low Intensity Steady State) which is defined as any moderate or long duration cardiovascular exercise that maintains the same intensity throughout, plus a stretch session. 

Kayla suggests 35-45 minutes of walking 6kph for LISS, but I love running so was planning to swap this for light runs. Frustratingly I've picked up an overuse injury on my knee, so have had to take a week off and finally get myself fitted with some supportive (but ugly) new trainers. Joy. This probably didn't help that weird feeling that I wasn't doing enough, but it had to be done.

As part of trying to heal my knee, I've been stretching and foam rolling daily which I think has also really helped with sore muscles and is something I'm going to try and keep up throughout the plan.

The resistance sessions aren't easy, but it's become clear immediately (and somewhat obviously) that I'll only get out what I put in. If I didn't keep pushing hard throughout the intervals, no one else would know, but I'd only be cheating myself.

The scales say I'm down 1lb this week (woohoo!) but I don't expect to see any physical results so quickly... I will be posting results pics weekly regardless of results as I review. So here is week one:



Am I crazy to see a TINY difference?

So on to week 2! I hope to up my LISS a bit now, and will be hopping on the treadmill for a run on Tuesday morning - hope my knee can hack it! If I'm still in pain I'll have to go and see a physio which could really stuff things up with the plan, but is too important to ignore!

Bye for now x

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Rating: 4/5


As it's the first book related post, I thought I'd quickly explain that I don't intend to write long, detailed book reviews as that doesn't really interest me, and more importantly I don't want to bore you! I just want to let you know, in short, what I think about books that I enjoy, with the hope that if you're ever stuck for a read, it might help you to head over here and discover something to keep an eye out for!

So let's start with The Descendants. You might have seen the film of the same name that came out in 2011 staring George Clooney and the lovely Shailene Woodley.


Personally I haven't seen the film version of The Descendants, but I picked the book up from my local charity shop for 50p (winner) and thought I'd give it a crack. I've read a lot of heavy (but brilliant) books lately so I needed something a bit lighter, and this was perfect.

Let's start with a little plot summary from good old Wikipedia:
Matthew King was once considered one of the most fortunate men in Hawaii. His missionary ancestors were financially and culturally progressive–one even married a Hawaiian princess, making Matt a royal descendant and one of the state’s largest landowners.
Now his luck has changed. His two daughters are out of control: Ten-year-old Scottie is a disrespectful troublemaker with a desperate need for attention, and seventeen-year-old Alex, a former model, is a recovering drug addict. Matt’s wife, Joanie, lies in a coma after a boat-racing accident and will soon be taken off life support. The Kings can hardly picture life without her, but as they come to terms with this tragedy, their sadness is mixed with a sense of freedom that shames them–and spurs them into surprising actions.
Before honouring Joanie’s living will, Matt must gather her friends and family to say their final goodbyes, a difficult situation made worse by the sudden discovery that there is one person who hasn’t been told: the man with whom Joanie had been having an affair, quite possibly the one man she ever truly loved. Forced to examine what he owes not only to the living but to the dead, Matt takes to the road with his daughters to find his wife’s lover, a memorable journey that leads to both painful revelations and unforeseen humour and growth.

For a story that revolves around a coma victim, this book is not as depressing as you'd think. Joanie is presented as an unlikeable character from the get go, so her fate never really bothers you. That's not to say that there aren't heartbreaking scenes in this book, because there are, and I did well up once rather embarrassingly in public on my commute to work.

The gold in this story though is the unexpected humour. I picked this book expecting a generic, easy read, but was completely sucked in. It surprised me how strong and complex the characters were, and how funny and sharp the dialogue is throughout. It's these two things that give this book it's edge.

For a debut it's great - I'll definitely be reading more from Kaui Hart Hemmings!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Cheat Meals

It's a topic that everyone seems to have a different view on... cheat meals.

Some people embrace them, some people turn them in to cheat days, and some people think they are the definition of failure.

 
I embrace them, sort of.

If you're in this healthy lifestyle for the long run, I don't think it's realistic to assume that you'll always be in a situation where you'll have lean and clean options available to you, and it's completely ridiculous to opt to skip a meal and starve just to stay on plan.

Also, of course, if you enjoy something (pizza, ice cream or a glass of wine for example) and you spend all week working really hard, a small indulgence once a week or so will not undo all of that hard work. Get rid of the guilt!

Eating one healthy meal didn't make you fit and healthy, so eating one bad meal won't do the opposite.

I mean my god, if you told me I wasn't allowed to have a bowl of cheesy pasta EVER AGAIN, I think my head would explode. A girl's gotta live a little!
 
There is a big 'however' to this though, and that's with cheat DAYS. They're just stupid. Ultimately they undo your hard work and risk affecting your long term goal. Plus really, it goes from enjoying something that you've been looking forward to, to simply committing to 24 hours of poor choices. Obviously I'm referring to your normal day to day routine life here, not your once in a lifetime trip to Italy or India or something.

There are a load of resources on the internet that have scientific reasons why cheat meals can aid or hinder your fitness goals, but I don't know or care about all of that. I've settled on my feelings towards it simply because I do it and still see results that I am satisfied with, and for me, it stops this way of living becoming a 'diet' and turns it in to a lifestyle.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Frisky Fall Results

Today was the final day of this years Tone It Up's Frisky Fall 8 week challenge!

This was my second challenge this year (for the full story check out my first post) and I've been working so hard. I get up every morning at 5.30am and work out for about an hour before getting ready for work... I found it hard initially but now I really value that hour to focus on my own goals and think about things before the crazy day starts. I also started the Nutrition Plan on the first day of the challenge, and I've learnt so much in the past 8 weeks when it comes to how to properly fuel my body for the shape I want. I love it!

I'm not completely strict with my nutrition, although I'd say I stick to the plan 90-95% of the time. Life is too short not to have the odd treat and enjoy it, and I'll be doing a post on my attitudes to 'cheat meals' at some point I'm sure.

So anyway, here are my results:



It's not a drastic change, but I'm pretty happy with my results. I feel like I've got myself back to (and slightly better than) where I was at the end of the Bikini Series challenge. I didn't realise how much I'd let it all go in the month after that! Now I'm feeling strong, healthy and happy.

The Tone It Up community have been incredibly supportive, as have my friends, my boyfriend and my work colleagues. It really helps to push through the hard days when someone tells you how much they value what you're doing, or that they actually notice a difference in you physically or otherwise. So if any of you are reading this - seriously, thank you so much.

So what's next? 

I'm ready to step it up a gear now. I want to see what more I'm capable of, and I've been obsessing over Kayla Itsines' Instagram page lately. If you don't follow her yet, get over there! So tomorrow I'll be starting the Kayla Itsines Bikini Body guide - check out the post I wrote about this earlier in the week here.

I'll be posting my weekly progress and reviews of the guide here, no matter how ugly it gets, so wish me luck!