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Finding my balance with food

Finding my balance with food

I am writing this post with a white wine hangover, the wine that also accompanied a side order of cheese burger and chips. So if you’re looking for a post on a strict no-sugar regime this isn’t the one for you. However after limiting my sugar considerably over the last four weeks, what I realise this post is all about is finding your balance with food and, most importantly, enjoying your food with no guilt attached.

I don’t know about you, but I am an emotional eater. Accomplished something good? Have a treat. Have a shit day? Have a treat. The only problem was that every day something was going on and the treats became less treat-like and more everyday. Coupled with a stressful Christmas, and a need for food to just be quick and easy, I had found I had fallen into a trap of over-eating fast convenient food on a daily basis. I no longer felt comfortable in my own skin and I was exhausted and sluggish.

By the beginning of January, I had bread sauce coming out of my ears and I knew it was time for a change. However in order for me to really make strides with something, I often need a plan. So I bought The fast 800 calories recipe book for inspiration. I had no intention of limiting my calories to 800 as I have three small kids to run around after, but I have found the insights in the book very interesting and I have tried out quite a few of the recipes too.

The big takeaways being that food high in fat is no longer a sin, so high fat dairy products are all good in the hood – within reason of course. However the sweet stuff, including refined white carbohydrates is not. So this is what I have dramatically reduced. This is where the recipe book in particular came into its own, as I could follow their meal suggestions. Carbonara with courgette spaghetti and cottage pie with a cheesy cauliflower topping being my favourites. After all, anything mixed with cheese and cream has to be a winner. Although obviously not suitable if you’re a vegan or allergic / intolerant, but this is just what made it more palatable for me. With a load of fruit and veg for good measure.

A big game changer was also upping my water in-take. We all know we need to be drinking roughly 2 litres of water a day, but how many of us actually do it? Certainly not me very often. But keeping a litre water bottle in my car and taking regular swigs really helped, and I wonder now whether the sluggishness was actually dehydration.

After a few weeks eating this way I started noticing the benefits and feeling better. However I love food, no I REALLY love food. And I wanted to still have the occasional treat and enjoy it without feeling guilty as soon as I’d eaten it. I didn’t want to watch my family tuck heartily into Grandma’s apple crumble and custard and sit on the sidelines salivating. Life is just too short for that. So I did indulge, and it was delicious. But instead of throwing in the towel as I may have done previously, breaking into the biscuit tin, I just carried on with my new habits the following day.

I have been a yo-yo dieter all my life, trying to manage my weight to meet a skinny ideal. And I would be lying if I told you that losing the Christmas bulge didn’t hold an appeal. But actually, I am happier with my body now than I ever have been, despite the crinkled mum tum, raging cellulite and pendulum boobs. Because I’m past just eating Weight Watchers zero point foods and other such bollocks. I feel healthier inside and I’m enjoying my food again, without guilt or feeling unrealistically restricted by calorie counting.

Obviously I’m only a month in of my new eating habits, so it’s hard to say whether or not they’ll stick. But I hope that by finding my food balance I can continue to feel healthier and happier, and I indulge in a beautiful cheese burger for good measure.

Please note; I am not a nutritionist or a trained professional in any way, so please seek the correct advice when it comes to your diet. Especially if you suffer from any medical problems.

Top tips for a Calm Christmas

Christmas can be magical, but it can also be bloody hard work, requiring both military precision, and the enthusiasm and resilience of Challenge Anneka. But there are ways in which we can keep calm(ish) and survive silly season with our families. Here are my top tips:

KEEP IT SIMPLE

The pressure to have the BEST CHRISTMAS EVER can be immense. But it doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive. Get outside for long walks, play some board games (bracing yourself for a few tears first) and give the kids some time to play with their new toys.

DON’T FORGET IT’S YOUR CHRISTMAS TOO

There is a notion nowadays that Christmas is all about the kids, but it’s your Christmas too and it’s important to factor in your wants and needs. The temptation in our house is to throw any routine out the window, but actually it’s crucial for me to keep a reasonable bedtime in place so the kids are rested (and less of a nightmare!) and we have a much-need break before the next day.

GRAB DOWN TIME WHEN YOU CAN

Christmas is FULL on so grab a guilt-free 10-min breather when you can to relax and reset. Read a book or a mag, listen to a podcast or hide in the loo if necessary (let’s be realistic!)  The Nourish app also has some amazing relaxation advice and short meditations from self-care gurus such as Suzy Reading and Nikki Wilson, which will definitely help you feel calmer amongst the Christmas crazy.

BE KIND & BITE YOUR TONGUE

Christmas has all the perfect ingredients for bickering at best, or a big old barney at worst. Try and remember to be kind to your partner and bond over the boring-ness of Aunt Brenda’s stories and the kids bouncing on the walls, rather than taking it out on each other.

PLAN FOR 2020

There is probably the only time of year when most of the world stops for a few days, so make the most of it.  Reflect on how you would like 2020 to pan out, and what small changes you can make to improve your life.  For example, next year my plans are to start regular Pilates to build up my knackered body and to start journaling. How about you?

Make, breathe and smile…

Written by Jenny Hopps – www.jhpottery.co.uk

Crafting has changed my life. This may sound like a bold claim, but crafting consistently eases my anxious mind and puts a smile on my, often very tired, face. I make pottery, and working with clay and its earthy texture has had an incredibly positive impact on my daily life.

So what is it about crafting? Maybe it’s the distraction from the norm, or the sense of creativity. Maybe it’s concentrating on something that focuses the mind. Whatever it is, craft has the power to sooth and relieve anxiety in the most effective way.

I am a Mum to 3 kids (1, 5 & 7) and have struggled over the past 2 years with anxiety and feelings of sadness. 

Cancer can do that to you, it can take away your sense of control, and of course it can make you feel very, very sad. But it wasn’t my cancer; it was the cancer attacking the body of my 3-year-old daughter. 

The white blood cells in her skull had started to malfunction, eating away at her tiny bones. We embarked upon a year of heavy meds. I say we, because as any parent of a sick child knows – it feels as though you take the meds too. Chemotherapy and steroids caused her little body to swell as her resilience was tested to its limits. 

I was also 20 weeks pregnant when we got her diagnosis at Great Ormond Street Hospital, and I wondered just how on earth we could welcome a new baby into our lives now. 

I don’t know how, but we did get through that year somehow. The challenges of a new baby, chemotherapy, lengthy hospital stays and virtually no sleep, were a concoction that inevitably took their toll on my mental health.

A wonderful nurse at my daughter’s local hospital referred us for some sessions with a specialist cancer therapist, and she helped our little family unit to unpick a variety of messy tangled emotions.

My husband and I started gradually finding our feet again, emerging out of the state of trauma. Day by day things seemed a little brighter and our daughter was recovering well. We were incredibly lucky to have a support network around us of family and friends; something I know not all families in our situation have the fortune to rely upon.

It was around this time that I stumbled upon my craft, which very swiftly turned into a second form of therapy for me. One morning I randomly happened to pick up some craft clay that had been gifted to my girls at Christmas. I made a few bits and pieces with the clay, and it made me smile. The naivety of it, and the feel of the clay between my fingers was so joyful. I decided to buy some inexpensive proper mud clay, and this is when it clicked for me. The earthy organic nature of the material in my hands was just so calming. Every day I tried to sit and make something while the baby napped, no judgement, just to make something. 

I began to delve more deeply into the craft of pottery, and after watching hours of YouTube videos when the kids were in bed, I decided to take a leap and purchase a bargain battered old 1980s pottery wheel on eBay. I quickly fell in love with it and decided to do a short intensive course at Turning Earth Studios in East London. This course gave me the confidence to take my hobby to the next level. 

Thankfully my daughter is nearly one year clear since the end of her treatment, and we hope for the best going forward. I still suffer with bouts of anxiety and the constant question of – will everything be ok in the future? My craft gives me a focus, it calms my mind, makes me smile and assists me in navigating the web of complex emotions relating to our experiences these past couple of years. I grab blocks of time to myself when the baby naps and the kids are at school, or when my husband is at home. I nip out to the shed (my studio) and create.

I get that crafting might not be for everybody, but if you are curious then just give something a try. There are so many wonderful crafts out there, and so many day courses or free lessons online; you don’t necessarily need to spend much money. You can often pick bits up for free on the web, or inexpensively second hand. Be it knitting, woodwork, clay or good old colouring in, it is good to focus the mind and get the brain working on something positive. Just dip your toe in and give something a go. I did and it’s been one of the most positive decisions I have made.

To purchase a piece of Jenny’s beautiful pottery, please visit her website where her collections are now available for sale www.jhpottery.co.uk

To be in with a chance of winning the stunning Nesting Bowls featured in this post in Satin Aqua & Satin Cloud glazes, please check out our competition featured in the Calm Mamas Club Instagram page.

De-clutter and De-Stress: How my Home Affects my Anxiety

De-clutter and De-Stress: How my Home Affects my Anxiety

It is by putting one’s own house in order that one’s mind-set is changed”
Marie Kondo

I must have spent the first four or more CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) sessions I attended for generalised anxiety disorder, discussing the dire state of my house.  Obsessed with the never-ending monotony of tidying away toys, emptying dishwashers, and loading washing pile after pile, only for the house to look in a worse state than I first started.  I was never able to make any progress, and there was never a reward.  No sense of satisfaction that lasted beyond a few minutes, before the tiny tyrants were un-doing all my hard work and the washing pile was back to Mount Everest scale proportions. To say it was soul destroying felt like the most major of understatements, and there days when there was just no end in sight.

After several months of therapy I now recognise the state of my house as being one of my main triggers when it comes to my anxiety or feeling out of control, and my biggest red flag as to when I need to take some time out.   

But it’s just a few toys on the floor?  Some loose change and old receipts piled up on the side or a collection of dirty shoes at the door? Right?  Well yes and no. 

Of course I needed a change of perspective.  Number one, I have three small people at home who quite literally couldn’t give a monkeys that there is yoghurt on the walls or that mummy has picked up the pens and the paper for the fifth time that day.  They just want to have fun, and rightly so.  They are just kids after all, and I would hate to think their little lives had been peppered with mummy’s daily outbursts because milk had been spilt on the sofa…again. 

Number two, I’m pretty certain that on my death bed I’m not going to wish I had made time to clean out the fridge that summer back in 2019, or that I somehow magically found a way to make the kids keep the toys “in the bloody play room!” As far as I’m aware, the world hasn’t stopped turning because the dried washing remained on the sofa for a week, or the kids’ happiness hindered because I hadn’t found time to put away the winter coats. 

However, I truly believe that when the stars align and the house feels clean and tidy (be still my beating heart) I really do feel happier and my mind feels clearer.  I feel calmer and more organised, and much more productive and ready to face the day. And I don’t think I’m the only one (am I?)  What do they say; a cluttered house equals a cluttered mind?  

As I’m learning, with most things in life, there has to be a balance.  When it comes to nap time, and you have one blissful hour to yourself, do you reload the dishwasher or relax with a good book (or an episode of Made in Chelsea?) #MiC every time!  The dishwasher can wait and that hour has to be about you and whatever allows you to refill your cup. 

But can we learn a few simple systems to help reduce stress, or dedicate a couple of hours to de-cluttering that will pay dividends in the long-term?  Not to try and create a show home (it’s never going to happen), but to help improve our mental wellbeing and mind set?  Hell yes!

This is why I am super excited to be working with Organisational Guru and all round lovely lady Sheila Azouji-Benjamin, founder of Tidy Me Please, who will be co-hosting my next Calm Mamas Brunch Club on Monday 24thJune at the yummy Salway Cookhouse.  Tickets cost just £25 each and include a delicious brunch and hot drink or juice, the workshop with Tidy Me Please, an exclusive Calm Mamas Club goody bag, and a 10% donation to the PANDAS Foundation UK – who provide crucial support to parents who are suffering from pre and post natal mental illness. 

To purchase your ticket simply visit www.calmmamasclub.co.uk and while you’re there, why not sign up to our newsletter to be the first to find out about Calm Mamas Club events, offers and discounts. 

Finding your new “normal”

Finding your new “normal”

Don’t worry, you’ll get back to normal soon.”  Said a well-meaning relative a few days after having my first baby. Only my “normal” pre-pregnancy meant working past 8pm most evenings in my fast paced PR job, and if I managed to get out any earlier, bashing back a couple of bottles of Sauvignon with friends and doing pretty much whatever else I fancied. 

The reality was that my life was going to be nothing like my old “normal” for quite some time, and that is, in fact, completely normal.  After all, I had just squeezed a human being out of my body and my husband and I were now solely responsible for keeping that tiny being alive. In my world, there was nothing normal about that, but something quite extraordinary.

Yet it didn’t stop me striving for my old version of “normal.”  It didn’t stop me walking miles to a local café with my family literally the day after I gave birth and had an episiotomy, because everyone else wanted to get out and about.  Leaving me with weeks worth of antibiotics for an infection downstairs, and developing a particularly stubborn case of nipple thrush to match. 

It didn’t stop me piling the pressure on myself as I desperately tried to get my baby to take a bottle, even though I had thankfully established breastfeeding, because I felt like if I didn’t go out with friends for a boozy night out I would be forgotten.  

It didn’t stop me lining up a PT exactly six weeks to the day after I had my second 9lbs 7 ounce baby because I wanted to get my “body back,” leaving me with weeks of back pain and a hefty physiotherapy bill to boot.  

As with most expectant parents pre kids I had perhaps naively imagined that the new babies would just slot into life, as I knew it.  Not that my life would be turned upside down, and that I would spend the next six months and beyond trying to turn it right side up again.  Never quite realising that the old life I was so desperately trying to cling onto, as I had previously known it, no longer existed. But little did I know this was no bad thing. 

I should have allowed myself to fully float in the beautiful baby bubble, rather than worry about what others were thinking and allow the weight of that worry to hold me down.   To concentrate on my new “normal” and what I needed, as a mother.  Rather than solely focus on the baby and getting her into a routine so I could try and reclaim my life and time as my own again.  After all, let’s be honest, it was a battle I was never going to win.  In the last six years, it has been rare for me to visit the loo without a companion. 

However, third time round, I’ve become much more accepting of life as a new mother and all that it brings – both the baby joy and the inevitable, but temporary, limitations.  Self-care has been crucial in retaining some balance, particularly carving out time for myself in a noisy house of five, and taking note of what my mind and body need. Whether it’s escaping for a few hours to go on a solo-shopping trip, or inviting a friend round for that bottle(s) of Sauvignon and a takeaway, when going out for an evening feels impossible.   

But despite all of this, retaining a sense of self and who you were pre-kids is also incredibly important.  Remembering all the things you enjoyed before the stoppers were temporary put in place, and finding time to do them again as soon as the time is right, is vital in order to retain our sense of identity, which can so easily be lost under a pile of pampers and nipple cream.   

I guess what I’ve learnt is key is to listen to myself more, and to try and switch off the outside noise and influences.  To even out the priority list, with myself at the top alongside my partner and babies, and to find your “new normal” once you’re ready. 

How to find your squad as a second-time mum

How to find your squad as a second-time mum

Ever since Swifty’s Bad Blood music video was released officially featuring her ”squad”, women everywhere have taken the opportunity to praise their own tribe/squad/pack of pals. Photos have been tagged, features have been written and female friendships have been celebrated (and Amen to that). But what about those who are yet to find their tribe, or in my case, are having a tricky time finding them second time round?

Before I continue I have to say I have the best NCT group a girl could ask for thanks to baby number one. As with all the finest mummy mates, it wasn’t long before we were sharing birth horror stories in much the same way I used to divulge my drunken antics to my bonkers work buddies. We overtook cafes in a pack – buggies parked, breasts out – and it wasn’t before long we were meeting on a weekly, if not daily basis. These women, who I would have walked past in the street just a few weeks before, suddenly became my lifeline and the saviours of my increasingly delicate sanity (mummy meltdown anyone?)

But as the babies got bigger, our little group got smaller, as one by one each mum finished her maternity leave and returned to work. As the only stay-at-home parent in the gang I suddenly found myself alone with a small person to entertain and a lot of time to do it in. One baby soon became two (very thankfully) and once again I was up to my eyeballs in crappy nappies and coffee cups, but this time with a toddler who could suck energy more efficiently than Dracula can suck blood, and none of my squad on hand to save me.

Being brave enough to bounce up to other parents and make friends when you have one kid is hard, but meeting mostly new mums on maternity leave when you have a loud, scream-y toddler in tow, that’s nigh on impossible. Of course there are my fellow stay-at-home mums to hang with but its not as easy to form friendships as some may think. Much like the early days of dating there is certain etiquette to be followed and pulling a Sharon from Catastrophe simply won’t do. There are also the mums who are lucky enough to still have their squad, who appear in playground in pairs or more, deep in conversation and as likely to share a friendly word, as theyare to share their hot Starbucks.

They’re even up to it online. Social media suddenly became awash with women celebrating other women whether it be their friends or other females they admired. Of course women should be bigging up other women (I am a big believer in this), but for all the lovely ladies out there feeling lonely who AREN’T included in these lists, these features can only serve to make them feel a little bit sad and their day a little bit shit.

But I’m not quite the Belinda-no-mates I have painted myself out to be. Whispered chit chat with other mums whilst singing Old MacDonald has turned into real friendships, which now involve nights out and wine (hallelujah). The old NCT bunch are now pushing out their second sprogs, meaning a whole new wave of maternity leave fun and frolics to enjoy. The work buds are still bonkers and I have my very best pals from university, school and beyond. So what I am trying to say? I’m saying that not everyone is lucky enough to have a Swifty style squad to rely upon. That being a mum is a bloody lonely business. That even if a mum appears to have their shit together,they probably don’t, and at some stage they would have felt the same crippling loneliness to some degree too. So the next time you’re in the playground with your mate, sipping your hot Starbucks (and screaming at little Jimmy to stop jumping off the top of the bloody slide), try and say hi to that mum on her tod with her toddler and new baby. At worst, you would have made her day a little better, and at best? A new mummy mate to hang out with, and we can never have enough of them.

Anxiety & Me: How Self-Care Saved My Sanity

Anxiety & Me: How Self-Care Saved My Sanity

“I can’t do this.” 

This thought ran through my head over and over again for years, but particularly the months after the birth of my three amazing babies.  Interspersed with feelings of unparalleled love and deep devotion, came waves of frustration, of being overwhelmed, unable to cope. Then of course came the inevitable exhaustion, irritability and the all-consuming guilt for not being “fun mum,” “happy mum,” “care-free, easy-going mum.” 

I had more “Arthur Fowler” moments than I care to mention.  After leaving a fast-paced career in PR, being a mum was my full-time job.  But even the long hours I had previously ploughed into my career had nothing on this new 24/7 role.  Every day was devoted to providing my children with, what I considered to be at the time, the best possible care.  But amongst this almost obsessive need to tend for my growing family I had forgotten one person that also needed looking after.

Me.

Not only had I lost sight of who I was, but I had also started finding it impossible to dedicate any time to myself.  Instead I tortured myself with never-ending to-do lists and impossible expectations. No wonder I felt like a failure, I had raised the bar so high it had become unreachable.

I am thankful to say that through the fog I had a moment of clarity and reached out for help, and this has been in the form of regular CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) sessions.   This has been a game changer for me.    I had first become aware of the term after a friend had undergone treatment herself, and after confiding in her, she recommended I self-referred.  I have now had eight sessions with my therapist on a weekly basis. I had suffered from anxiety and depression before and had sought help, but this form of therapy was different.  Rather than delve into past experiences and spend hours unpicking childhood events, CBT was able to give me clarity on my core beliefs, which helped to explain why I was feeling the way I did.  Finally I could truly understand that in order for me to look after my family, first I had to take care of myself.  Whoever said, “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” was in fact bang on.   

Over the course of the last few months I have made significant changes to my lifestyle, which I want to share with you today.  Now I have to state here that other than a very basic counseling course back in my 20s, I have absolutely no psychotherapy training and I am not in a position to treat anyone suffering from mental health issues.  Please, please contact your GP or an appropriate advice line such as the Samaritans or PANDAS Foundation if this is the case. 

But for those who are perhaps feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, these tips have really helped me and I hope they help you too.

Sod the housework – this sounds ridiculous, but at the beginning of my treatment I could not stop banging on about the state of the house. Nothing set me off into a rage quicker than stepping on a piece of Duplo ten seconds after clearing it away. Often I would spend every spare minute in my day, of which there weren’t many, tidying and cleaning, only to find the house in a worse state post teatime than it had been in the morning. Soul destroying.  Now, if my baby gives me a half decent naptime I watch Grey’s Anatomyand inhale a sarnie on the sofa. Instead I do the tidying at the end of the day – if I can be bothered.  Yes my house isn’t a show home but I’m a darn sight happier for it.

Give permission to enjoy yourself – Ah mum guilt, we’ve all felt it. But loving your kids does not mean having to spend every minute with them.  You’re entitled to a girls’ brunch, a date night or simply an extra half hour in the bath to read your book.  In fact, it’s vital.  Book yourself that trip to the cinema or cheeky massage and give yourself permission to enjoy it.  You really do deserve it.

You’re not surviving, you’re thriving – I’ve often walked into a therapy session and declared I’m in survival mode, particularly after a crap night with the baby.  First off, survival mode is just fine.  Of course you want to sit on the sofa and eat biscuits whilst the kids watch a Nick Toons Loud Housemarathon when you’ve had bugger all sleep.  But chances are, you’re not just surviving, you’re thriving.  Are you kids loved and safe?  Are they happy, warm and well fed?  Examine the evidence and you’ll find you’re doing a stellar job.

Postpone your worries – When my anxiety is particularly bad, I can lose days worrying.  I just can’t shake it.  Obsessing about hypothetical ‘what if’ scenarios that most likely will never happen. I have learnt (although it is never easy) to postpone my worry by writing it in a notebook, distracting myself with something different, then dedicating a quiet time, when the kids are in bed, to concentrate on my worry later.  If it’s a genuine problem, I will try and tackle it in a practical fashion. If it’s a ‘what if’, the distraction has often worked and I have moved on.  Although nothing is a fail-safe method, this has saved me from reaching fever pitch a few times.

Don’t search Google – Name a mum who hasn’t googled their baby’s symptoms late at night, bleary eyed, desperate to find a solution or answer. Only to be scarred witless by what they find.  For someone who is also prone to a bit of health anxiety, Dr Google is the devil’s work. Be kind to yourself and trust your own judgment and intuition.  A mother’s gut is rarely wrong.

Talk – Anxiety can be so isolating, and it’s so easy to believe the voice that tellsyou everyone else is coping apart from you.  It’s lies. And this is from someone who has spent far too long listening to my own internal critic.  Please talk to your friends, partner or parents, or GP if needed.  You shouldn’t have to suffer in silence and sometimes just voicing these concerns out loud can help relieve some of the worry.  Please believe me when I say you are not alone, and talking is thevery first step to feeling better

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