Saturday, June 28, 2014

Preparing for Travel

I love traveling. Travel was my time to escape and explore, leaving the errands and to-do lists behind ... what freedom!

Lately, however, as I've gotten more and more into fitness, I've had to add a different element of concern to my travel plans -- how will I stay healthy during my trip?

The last thing I want to do is undo all the hard work I've put into living a healthy lifestyle. Let's face it, a lot of times the last thing you want to do is hit the gym when you're abroad (especially because at one time I was barely hitting the gym when I was at home)!

There have been many trips where, with the best intentions in mind, I've packed my workout clothes, only to return home with them still neatly folded in my suitcase plus a few extra pounds attached to my waistline.

So, is it possible to stay healthy while on holiday? Does it mean sacrificing touring time and culinary delights or can you have it all?

I think with a bit of planning, it's possible have a fabulous holiday without sacrificing your waistline.

1) List the things you refuse to compromise
You've got to choose what you absolutely want to do (notice that it is want to do and not have to do) and what you're willing to sacrifice. Is there a particular food that you have been waiting to try? Do you want to drink wine with every dinner meal? Is there an all-you-can-eat buffet you've been waiting years to try? Figure out what you absolutely want to have - no negotiations - and then recognize all the other things you're not as crazy about.

For me, especially when heading to Vegas where there are so many great restaurants, I've chosen the few that I want to try. For my other meals, I know that I'm going to have to be extra conscientious about what I choose. I know that I have to watch my portions. I know that I should ask for dressings on the side. I know to ask for things that are baked/steamed vs. fried.

These are things I know -- and they're easy to do.

2) Plan to do something active at least every other day if not daily
The main thing that has changed as I've gotten healthier and more into fitness is that I actually look for training opportunities. Lately, my gym clothes are the first things I set aside for my suitcase because I know that I'll want to get a few workouts in (plus working out does wonders for jet lag). Aside from using the hotel gym (and I do choose hotels that have a decent gym), since I've gotten into CrossFit and MMA training, I've looked for places where I can go to train - sometimes the first visit is free, other times there's a nominal amount to pay for a day pass to try out a gym. It's intimidating at first, but I've always felt welcome wherever I've gone.

If going to the gym or training center is not your thing, try to find some activities that you will enjoy. If you're on the beach, take half an hour to go for a stroll - I found that walking in the water is really challenging. Rent a bicycle, choose a hike, go on a walking tour --- there are so many opportunities out there.

3) Make a list of exercises you can do in your hotel room
Even though I love to exercise, I do find it difficult to motivate myself to do an in-room workout. I can go to the gym or training center, no problem -- but to get out of my comfy bed in order to do push ups or squats -- ugh, it does take motivation.

However, again, it is possible, and I have done it. Last year, when I knew I would be traveling for 7 weeks, I write down 20 different bodyweight workouts that could be done in my hotel room. They're different circuits that I can do each day - not requiring any equipment or much space. Even though it takes a bit of motivation to get started, having the workouts already written out for me definitely helps. I just choose a card and get to it. Usually I'll be done within 20 minutes -- and then I have the rest of the day ahead of me to enjoy.

two things I never travel without -- my list of workouts and my jump rope

4) Do a bit of research
It seems like breakfast is always a challenge for me -- what do I eat? It is so easy to grab a coffee accompanied by a pain au chocolat .... but I know I don't want to do that. Last night I spent time looking at the room service menu and checking out the menus of nearby restaurants. I've found that there are plenty of choices out there. Some places will require me to made a few modifications, but still, I know where I can go to enjoy a healthy meal.

The bottom line is -- it all depends on how badly you want it. Take a bit of time, figure out all the healthy choices you've got, and build your holiday around them. It doesn't mean you can do the fun things you wanted to or taste the foods you've been looking forward to ... just be sensible and stay active.

some of my training gear for this holiday

Friday, June 27, 2014


I't s been one month since I've moved to the UK. The month has flown by and I can't recall a single day when I have not been busy. In terms of relocating to a new country, it has all gone quite well. It's been tedious, but thankfully there haven't been any major mishaps or problems -- it's just all been exhausting.

Last week I had movers bring some of my boxes and furniture from the storage unit to the house. I tell you, I am so tired of looking at boxes and dealing with trying to get rid of the packaging material. Then of course there's trying to figure out where to put stuff in the new house. It's coming together ... but boy has it been a lot of work.


I've survived my first month, and I am happy to say I have absolutely no regrets moving to London. It's so very different from Kuwait -- but I'm enjoying all the new changes.

I'm loving the fresh air, shopping for fresh protein and produce, and walking everywhere instead of always driving.

As I said, considering that I've moved to an entirely new continent/country/culture, it has all gone very well.

Celebrating my first month in England with a mini getaway to Oxford

One thing that I think has surprised a number of people - including myself - has been my attitude.

Despite the changes (and some of them have been big ones, particularly downsizing the house and simplifying our lifestyle to some extent), I've chosen to see only the positives. If I wanted to, I could spend each day lamenting over the things that I don't have anymore, the things that I'm not doing anymore, the people that I'm not seeing anymore ... it is so easy to get caught up in that type of cycle of negativity and depression. I think that if this move had happened 3 years ago, I would have been caught up in that kind of a funk.

I firmly believe that this positive attitude has transferred from the lessons I've learned in trying to live a healthier lifestyle.

Conceptually the general concept of living a healthy lifestyle is not difficult or complicated -- eat healthy food and exercise regularly.

However, to really succeed at it, you need to look at the details. You need to be patient through the trial and error process while figuring out what foods suit you best and what type of exercise will benefit you most. You need to accept the fact that you may be spending hours each week at the gym but the progress may not show until months later -- and despite that lack of instant gratification, you need to dig deep and believe that all the things you're doing will pay off in the end ... that what feels like a sacrifice now will be a rewarding experience later.

I feel like I have spent too many years of my life being sad, frustrated, and bitter (at myself, other people, the world). It was silly. However, I guess for my life experience, I had to go through that. I needed to go through the difficulties in order to find my strength ...

... and that really is the the biggest lesson/reward that has come through for me: the realization that I am strong - both physically and mentally. I still find it challenging to remember this, but having gone through so many different struggles in my life and surviving them, I know that I can get through anything. It may not be easy, it may not have a quick solution, but I have seen how dedication, patience, and hard work really does pay off.

It may seem like a silly correlation to make when I'm associating it with something as basic as moving house -- but I think that's the best part. I've learned such an important lesson and I can apply it to even the simplest thing. It really makes it all worthwhile.

I'm still working on myself. I'm still learning, still growing, still struggling ... the important thing right now is to continue to have a positive attitude and keep at working to reach my goals.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Regardless of my schedule, I've found that if I can hit the gym regularly, my life begins to feel 'normal.' I still have a lot of house stuff to deal with, but I feel like I finally have a bit of a routine. My main goal right now is to wake my body up! I'm happy with the weights program I have for myself. I've mixed in both my own workout plus the one set up by one of the trainers at the gym -- it feels great. I'm not lifting heavy, but I am challenging myself with every rep. I can't even put into words how good it feels to get back into it!

On top of weight lifting, I've started doing one more thing -- MetaFit class.

Metafit actually originated at the gym that I go to. It's a circuit of body weight exercises, choreographed to specific work/rest intervals. Here's a link to a brief intro video -- MetaFit Class. The class reminds me of CrossFit, just minus the weights.

When you hear the description of 'bodyweight' exercises and 'no equipment' and '30 minutes' -- it can raise a lot of questions.

How difficult can it be?
Will it be effective?
Will it be interesting enough to keep me motivated?

It all boils down to one basic answer: It depends on you.  

It is very, very challenging. As with anything, it all depends on how much effort you want to put into it. The good thing about the class is that you can adapt it to your physical capabilities -- there are always ways to modify an exercise if you need to and there are always ways to turn it up a notch (or two) if something is easy.

As with any type of HIIT training, I think it is very effective. Again, it also depends on what you put into it -- not just in class, but after class. The workouts get your heart rate up, they really push you, and the effects are long lasting … however, if you leave class and eat unhealthily, it can negate the positive impact of the class.

In terms of being interesting -- I've gone to 5 classes so far and I've only had 1 repeated workout. It really depends on your attitude towards the exercises. There are so many bodyweight exercises that I dread -- mountain climbers, burpees, explosive jacks -- but if you take it as a challenge to get at least one more rep in each time or at least improve your form, then it keeps it interesting. Add to that the dynamic of the class and the coaches motivating you and I think you've got a winning formula. Let's put it this way, it's no more monotonous than going to a spinning class or a Body Pump class -- you know what to expect, you have your basic set of moves, but somehow each class is different.

While you can do all of the exercises at home with no extra equipment or the need for much space, it's not the same when you don't do it with the class or with a trainer. You know that you'll push harder when somebody else is there with you -- that in itself adds to the perks of the class.

So that's what I've been doing here. I've really been trying hard and I can feel it in my body. I've got that good kind of sore feeling going on all the time and I love it. All I need to do now is fit in some proper MMA training and I'll be set!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Cooking Adventures

One of the things I have loved the most about moving to London is the groceries. I know that sounds weird, but the local produce in Kuwait was of questionable quality, and the imported goods were rather expensive. However, more than the cost, imagine how much freshness is lost after the produce has been packaged and shipped from abroad -- by the time it has docked in the ports, been cleared through customs, and shelved in the supermarket, you can imagine the state it is in …

Here, I have 4 different supermarkets within a ten minute walk. I have a local butcher just a few minutes away. I am thrilled!

Now I know that all the labels and marketing - fresh! no preservatives! 100% natural! organic! - can be misleading, but I finally have so many items to choose from. All the labels are in English and the nutritional values are clearly marked. It's been fab!

Here are a few things I've cooked for dinner recently - recipes to hopefully follow soon:

simple chicken stir-fry 
chicken breast, onions, a variety of bell peppers, and peas 

almond crusted cod with roasted vegetables
(a recipe to add to my whole life challenge stock)

my post-workout omelet with tomatoes and half an avocado 

this is my favorite dinner so far -- baked salmon with broccolini, carrots, sugar snap peas, and mushrooms stuffed with tomato ratatouille 

I'm having so much fun grocery shopping and cooking these yummy meals! I think I need to start trying some new fruits and vegetables. There are quite a few things in the produce aisle that I've never tried. It's time to be adventurous -- and keep it healthy!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Back at the Gym!

How is it Thursday already???

It has been a busy, busy week - more furniture deliveries, more appointments, more errands ... but my biggest achievement this week was finally joining a gym!

As I mentioned a couple of times in my recent blog posts, there's a little gym close to my house. It's nothing fancy at all, but it's got everything I need.

What makes me happiness is that the first thing I see when I enter is a couple of boxing bags and several tires -- how perfect for me!

So, on Monday and Tuesday I went to the gym early in the morning. Early mornings really do work best for me, especially because at the moment I'm not working so I have no job to anchor my daily routine. It's so darn easy to just get stuck on the couch watching episodes of Come Dine with Me and Hoarders (2 shows that I've been watching a bit too much lately!). Anyway. On those two days I kind of just warmed my body up to doing exercise again - dynamic stretches, weights, some cardio, and then a cool down. I did my usual weights routine but with lighter weights than normal. It just felt good to get back in the gym.

Although I had my basic routine, I wanted something a bit more - so I decided to meet up with a personal trainer. I had my personal training session today. When I told the trainer about my normal routine, she was a bit unsure as to what to do with me. She said that I already had a good routine and that I looked like I knew what I was doing (which is the same comment the owner of the gym made the first day I went to workout). I told her I did know what I was doing, but I wanted something a bit more. I feel like she was a bit hesitant to give me something too challenging. I know she was getting to know me and she really didn't know my background so she needed to be cautious, but when she handed me a 4 kg dumbbell I had to kind of giggle as I handed it back and told her that I needed something heavier.

My main goals at the moment are to build up my strength so that it's back to where it was when I was doing CrossFit. I know it'll take some time, but I need to be sure I'm working in an environment that will support my desire to lift heavy (eventually). They definitely encourage weight lifting so that's not an issue, but I have a feeling that if they saw me load up the squat rack with 80 kilos (175 lbs), they'd freak out. Anyway.

She gave me some new challenging exercises to do and I'm happy to incorporate them into my routine. I was a bit surprised that she only gave me one routine - I'm used to doing 2-3 different routines a week partly to keep challenging myself but also to keep me from being bored. I think I'm going to take what she's given me and continue my own routine.

In addition to joining the gym, I went and checked out London Shootfighters - one of the top MMA gyms in London. Wow! I was so impressed. I didn't join them, but I did hang around for a couple of hours and watch a class plus watch some of their fighters train. Seriously jaw dropping amazement at the calibre of these fighters -- and this was just practice! The trainers were great - very warm and welcoming. I had such a great time.

As much as I would like to immediately jump in and join, I'm not 100% sure about it at this time. There are a few issues - particularly the commute there. Plus I'll be traveling soon so I don't know if I want start paying only to miss 3 weeks ... but it's something that I'm seriously considering. At least I checked it out and I know what I want to work towards -- very exciting stuff :) In the meantime, check out this fight featuring Michael Page (one of the guys I watched train at the gym) -- amazing!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

One Size Does Not Fit All

Eat Clean? Paleo? Gluten Free? Everything in moderation?

CrossFit? Run? MMA? Yoga?

The Internet is incredible because there is so much information out there. With that much info, inevitably you're going to run into ones that say X is good for you and others that say X is bad for you. There are arguments for all sides - things you should/shouldn't eat, exercises you should/shouldn't do -- there's no one right answer.

Just like years ago I had to make peace with the fact that my size 0 best friends could eat burgers and fries and not exercise and still not gain weight -- and I couldn't, I have made peace with the fact that not all food and fitness suggestions will work for me.

When people ask me how I managed to lose weight (mainly due to weight lifting/CrossFit plus doing the Whole Life Challenge - no dairy, no sugar, no preservatives etc.), they react in horror thinking that it's all too extreme.

I have a friend who eats clean (includes dairy and legumes) and only walks, but walks regularly and vigorously, and she manages to lose weight and keep it off.

Another friend of mine follows a Paleo lifestyle (no legumes, no sugar, no dairy) and runs (no weights). She is also very healthy and is able to maintain her weight loss.

Yet one more friend eats whatever she wants in moderation and does general aerobics exercise and still manages to lose weight.

We're all different. We have chosen to follow an eating method that suits our bodies and to do exercises that suit our interest levels as well as have a positive impact on our body.

Following the Whole Life Challenge guidelines work best for me -- however, even though legumes are allowed, I found that legumes don't suit me well at all -- therefore, I have practically eliminated them from my diet. I found that dairy doesn't bother me, so I am ok with having a bit of milk, some Greek yogurt, and even some cheese (not Paleo or WLC friendly, but alright under 'eating clean' guidelines).

As much as I would love to run, it just hurts my knees too much. However, intense weight lifting and MMA suit me just fine.

I find it amusing that more people react negatively to CrossFit than they do when I mention MMA training - I would think that being punched in the face would be more alarming on the injury scale than doing heavy squats -- but everyone has their own opinion and their own preference …

In the end - one size does not fit all.

You have to figure out what works best for you. What decisions are you going to make for your health and fitness that will allow you to comfortably include them in your lifestyle as an actual lifestyle (vs a diet or a phase)? What will you enjoy doing so that the tasks don't feel like a bore or a chore?

These decisions are all up to you.

The articles out there are often interesting and informative, but I would strongly caution about following something blindly and expecting the results to work with universal success. Build your knowledge base. Be patient through the trial period. Find out what works for you -- and don't judge others for what they have chosen to do.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Stop the Freak Out

I've been meeting up with a few friends here and one question that they've all asked me is: Have you found a place to train yet?

The answer is No.

There is a small training place close to my house - it's got everything I need, a free weights area, some HIIT/CrossFit style classes, and a few cardio machines. It's conveniently located and it is affordable. Most likely I will be joining them very soon. The only reason I haven't done so is because I've been a bit disorganized with my time. The move has kept me very busy - and the furniture delivery has kept me relatively housebound. Still, things are falling into place so I really don't have an excuse not to join and start really burning those calories. All the walking has been great, and I totally see a difference in my legs, but I know the lack of resistance training and really pushing myself with regular intense workouts is having an impact on my overall flab factor! I need to change that.

One thing that I have noticed is that I haven't freaked out about not going to the gym. In the past I would be so obsessed with my schedule and making sure that all the timing and planning falls together perfectly that I would often overwhelm myself to the point where nothing really happened.

The biggest lesson that I learned with my fitness was just learning to let go. If you've been reading my blog for the past year or so, you know that there's been a lot going on. I've accepted that my life is chaotic and things always come up -- that is my norm. So, the only choice I have is to go with the flow. Accepting that reality has made such a big difference.

I've come to realize that being healthy doesn't depend on a certain time, place, or circumstance.

You're either making a healthy decision or you're not. The choice is mine and the consequences are mine. I understand and accept that the choices I make will have an impact on my health/my weight/my life.

The bottom line is that I will not freak out.

I am confident that I have developed a healthy lifestyle. I am ok in knowing that I still have work to do. I realize that I have to deal with life on a day to day basis. Taking it one step at a time has been so helpful. It keeps me from being overwhelmed and losing focus on the bigger picture.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Finding My Footing

I've been in London for just over a week now. I'm quite familiar with London because I've come here many times for vacation and stayed for an extended period of time. However, it's completely different now that I'm actually living here.

The past week has been spent getting to know my new little neighborhood, unpacking, getting the house sorted, figuring out where to buy things for the house, and getting over the general exhaustion from travel/packing up in Kuwait.

In addition to that, I've got to figure out my training and eating schedule.

In general things are falling into place; however, I don't have a set routine yet. Looking back at my blog posts I find that this has always been the downfall to my summer holidays. Even though I have plenty of time, it seems to get lost amidst the lack of structure (and of course the travel).

I still haven't found my footing.

One of the good things is that I've been doing a LOT of walking - much more than I would have normally done in Kuwait. I'm not driving here, so that means that I have to walk everywhere - grocery store, errands, etc. Of course there's public transport which I'll use when I'm leaving the neighborhood, but in general, I'm on my feet and I'm loving it.

The main thing that has thrown me is the weather. It is much colder than I was prepared for and it is rainy. Yes, I know that these two things are typical of England, but still - my Wellington boots and my sweaters are all in my cargo (which arrived today incidentally, but going through the 100+ boxes to get my warmer stuff out will take some time).

In any case, I'm working on my plan and I hope to start following it soon. I really do need to join some sort of gym for my strength training. I'm totally dreading starting over again, but I hope that with the right schedule and with discipline I'll be well on my way.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Saying Goodbye and Saying Hello

The past few months have been a total blur. So much has been going on in my life, but I'm happy to say that it's all been going well.

After living in Kuwait for the past 14 years (and for 27 years in total), I finally packed up my bags for my big move to London.

Aside from being very stressful, hectic, and emotional, I ended my time in Kuwait on a high note -- here are a few pix of my last few weeks in the country I called 'home' for most of my life.

Emptying my gym locker and returning the keys felt so strange! 

My final workout at the gym -- I was still really sore from my last Kajukenbo class so I ended with 10 km on the cross trainer.

Saying goodbye to my Hummer was hard!! I loved every minute of driving it! 

I had a lovely farewell do at work -- can't believe I worked there for 14 years! 

Certificate of appreciation from Kuwait University

Lots of farewell gatherings -- I'm so happy that I'm smiling in these photos as they really were wonderful times. Many of these pictures were followed by hugs and tears, but it's all because of the great love I have for my friends. 

Now here I am in my new home -- Hello London!