Back to the old me

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Swinging into summer with this crew.

As spring stretches into summer, and the longer days and warmer air beckon runners and outdoor enthusiasts alike, I have just wrapped up my second round of fitness camp at Third Degree Training Saint John. It feels bittersweet.

I’ll miss the accountability, the camaraderie and the excellent sweat sessions. I’ll miss having a guided workout four times a week, no two workouts the same, and I’ll miss having the chance to bring my little ones along to the Baby & Me classes — although, now that Callum is crawling it could have made for extra-challenging workouts!

Although I know I could have done better, especially during the past month, I also know I had a few first-world curveballs thrown in my direction, so it’s best to chalk it up to “life with kids” and move on.

After my stellar results last round, I think I actually gained a pound or two and an inch or two in the past month. However, my little family of five went on TWO week-long vacations during this time. (Neither of which were very relaxing with three under three in tow, but I still feel fortunate to have gotten away for a bit). And of course sandwiched between trips, we were all slammed with head colds, which meant little sleep and little volition to workout.

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An evening run on PEI’s north shore. Such serenity. beauty, and a good way to run off ice cream.

We actually called off our recent PEI trip early by one day, just because we were all tired and missing home, but that meant I was able to swing by Third Degree for the very last class of Week 8. This was good because I had intended on trying to make it to a class at the franchise’s Stratford, PEI location, however family life did not permit it. (And believe me, I tried!)

Overall, my nutrition was good for the first four weeks of this boot camp. I continued to follow the plan laid out for me (an active breastfeeding mother of twins), and stayed on course fairly well. During both trips away, I definitely indulged now and then, while continuing to ensure I ate plenty of protein and veggies. The rest of the time I found I would start off the day fine, then make excuses for why I could have a treat here and there… and before I knew it, I was treating myself every day! Bad, April (slaps own wrist). This has always been my Achilles heel.

I know I feel better and have better energy when I eat well, and this is especially true now that I have sub-optimal sleep. I am now back to eating clean, well a good three days of it, and hoping I can stay on the healthy train.

Following one round of fitness camp near-perfectly followed by another one that was less-than-ideal underscores a couple of important points:

  • Accountability under the Actual Nutrition program works! For the first 8 weeks, I emailed Kevin, who owns the Saint John facility, my food diary every single day. Just knowing he would be seeing what I ate automatically kept me on track.
  • Sometimes life does not allow you to make eating and working out a top priority. And that’s OK. What matters is that after the “event,” you can get back on track.

The high-intensity workouts at Third Degree – including movements such as burpees, squats, planks and dozens of variations interspersed with cardio – are so much fun and so effective. I love getting my heart-rate up but what I’ve really noticed is that my soreness after a workout is not as intense, and I feel stronger. Even after my slacker weeks. I’m definitely fit enough to crank out a 5K, which actually surprised me because I haven’t run much since having the twins.

In these respects, I have achieved my goal when I set out on this journey.

I wanted to become stronger, fitter and energized. Check! Losing weight, yeah that would be nice, but not a prerequisite to anything. Still I am down to my “normal” weight and fitting in my pre-baby jeans, so that’s awesome.

The best side effect of being in shape is how you feel. Feeling good, as a busy mother of three, including 9-month-old twins, is essential, not only for the sake of happiness, but for survival! Happy mom = happy kids = happy household.

I gave Catt a sweaty embrace as I left that Friday evening, endorphins rushing. I’m so grateful for this experience, I told her, and I only hope that I can inspire other mothers of young children to get out there and do something for themselves.

It doesn’t have to be the program at Third Degree, it may be as simple as doing lunges during a stroller walk, or turning walks into slow runs, or doing a few planks and push-ups beside your baby on the living room floor.

When I think back to how I felt when I embarked on this program four months ago, I can see that my mental wellness has shifted in a positive direction. Back then, I felt sluggish, overwhelmed and frumpy. Oh, and starving. I felt kind of lost in motherhood. And while it can take a few months for any mother to get her bearings after giving birth, the solution was simple: combining a wholesome diet with regular exercise. Now, thanks to the good people at Third Degree, I’ve been able to shift my habits back to a healthy lifestyle.

As I work towards my next goal of running my first postpartum 10K in August, I know I will be tackling it with a stronger body, with confidence and, because I’m so grateful to be back to the old me, with joy.

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Falling off the wagon on vacation

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Lion’s Head, Ontario.

When we packed up our family of five for a trip to Ontario last week, I was anticipating staying on track with my eating and writing a fabulous blog post about how I avoided temptation and kept on my Actual Nutrition program even while on vacation.

Wrong!

Instead, I got in zero runs, zero workouts (despite packing my running shoes). I ate homemade goodies galore, ice cream, wine, s’mores, probably not enough vegetables… the list goes on.

And do I feel guilty about it? Not one bit.

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No apologies.

I had a wonderful time with family and friends. And although I would like to believe I can eat perfectly 95 per cent of the time to maintain and continue making progress in my health and fitness after having twins, this is not reality. And I think this vacation provided a dose of “real life” in what has honestly been a pretty sheltered experiment the past few months.

I am on maternity leave and spend the vast majority of my time at home. While I am run ragged by my three little children most of the time, I do have the luxury of spending more time than most in my kitchen, which gives me plenty of control over what I consume. I don’t think this reflects reality for most people, who face temptations at work, at social functions and in their daily lives out and about.

I do want to continue with all of the great things I have learned: eating hearty breakfasts with protein, more veggies and healthy fats and avoiding sugar and junk food. But there will always be temptations wherever I go, so I think it’s ok to figure out when it’s fine to indulge and when it’s better to turn down a treat.

After returning from vacation, it was almost like I had to teach my body all over again how it didn’t need carbs as a night snack, or sugar after every meal. Another week on the healthy train and I am just starting to feel back to more stable energy (despite my children constantly robbing me of sleep!). So I know it’s definitely worth it to keep following my Actual Nutrition plan, while making it part of my everyday life.

Some people may find it easier to say no to all treats but I know I will need to find a happy medium. With another trip planned to PEI in the near future, I want to do a better job at eating well, but of course with the odd ice cream cone mixed in. But how does one ice cream cone not lead to just a small bowl of chips, to a tasty donut at coffee time?

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How do you say no to those homemade squares? Or a cake adorned with your twins’ names?

On the workout side of things, I believe the week off provided good rest for my body. I came back with no aches or pains and ready to go. I was able to pack in two short runs and four bootcamp workouts at 3rd Degree this week… which is good because this second round is already nearing its end.

 

Fitness for feminists

I was busy preparing lunch for my twin babies and I when I flicked on the radio, as I normally do during meal times. CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon was accepting calls about a topic close to my heart: women’s fitness at mid-life, and how we often struggle to balance the need to prioritize our health while feeling pressure to achieve the “perfect” body.

I have never grabbed the phone to dial faster in my life. I feel so passionate about this, because as a mom of three young boys, I have learned that the moment I tossed ideals around the number on the scale, clothes sizes and feeling the need to look a certain way out the window, and learned to enjoy fitness and enjoy healthy eating, everything started to fall into place.

LISTEN to the show at 38:20. 

The radio show was hosting Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs, authors of “Fit at Mid-Life: a Feminist Fitness Journey.” The women also blog at Fit is a Feminist Issue. In the book and on the blog, Sam and Tracy – academic deans at two Ontario universities – share their journey to reach peak fitness by the age of 50, all while challenging modern fitness culture from a feminist perspective.

I was fortunate enough to share my own personal experience with making fitness an important part of my life as a 35-year-old mom (does that make me middle-aged?!). I wanted to let listeners know that although my life is busy with three young boys, I have managed to return to a healthy lifestyle thanks to the workouts and nutritional guidance from 3rd Degree Training in Saint John.

The host asked if my goals have changed over the years, and since having children. Absolutely, I said. My first goal is so simple: to feel good. Secondly, I want to be in good enough shape to run half-marathons again, and hopefully another (injury-free) marathon one day. If my jeans fit better and I lose a few pounds and inches, I truly regard this as a bonus.

Tending to the needs of young children can be extremely tiring and at times exasperating. Carving out time in a busy week to exercise pays me dividends in so many ways. I have crept out of the fog of the newborn days and I now feel stronger, more energized and my mood is lifted up so I can better take on the daily challenges of motherhood and life in general.

As a woman, and a mother, I have a deep respect for my body and that fact that I have been able to carry and give birth to three beautiful boys. It’s easier to treat my body, which is both beautiful and imperfect, as a temple, when you think of it from that point of view.

Of course it helps that I honestly enjoy working out. I love it. If you can find something you love to do while getting active, it makes all the difference. Throw out the scale and focus on what makes you feel good, and the rest will come.

I have also noticed that once I started back down the healthy path and saw some results – whether it was attempting a full push-up or feeling less-winded after a sprint – it encouraged me to continue eating healthy, whole foods and continue challenging myself during workouts. I have also set myself some running goals for the summer.

It was so fun to share my thoughts on Maritime Noon (even though Callum was making his voice heard!) and lucky me – my name was drawn to win the book! I look forward to reading more about Sam and Tracy’s journey.

Working out is better with friends

Most of my friends know  if they are planning a visit to New Brunswick, they better pack running shoes.

For Miranda, my friend of 15 years and blogger of Thoughts and Pavement, this was a given during her recent visit here from the United Kingdom.

Since I have managed to get in four HIIT workouts each week since starting at 3rd Degree Training 11 weeks ago, I wanted to find a way to stay on track while enjoying her visit. So I signed us up for the weekly Co-Ed Weight Circuit on Saturday morning, a great way to try something new while taking part in a class that is open to non-members.

The weight circuit is different from regular classes because the workout includes the use of equipment, including kettle bells, battle ropes, a spin bike and weights. It’s a fun way to mix things up at the end of the week with a guaranteed sweat.

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Feeling badass on the battle ropes!

Miranda is always up for a challenge and totally killed this workout. My red face shows this was a good challenge for me as well.

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Seeing Miranda this past weekend was a reminder to me just how special it is to have friends who share this passion for health, wellness and physical activity. I am lucky enough to have many friends – both nearby and far away – who like to lace up and go for a run or try a workout class when we’re together.

There’s nothing better than getting lost in conversation on a run (even if it’s breathless, for me) or enjoying a feeling of tackling a tough workout together with a friend. I’m so grateful for all my workout buddies – you know who you are.

Exactly one year ago today, I was running the @geneva_marathon_for_unicef! Today, I’m in Saint John, New Brunswick hanging out with the amazing @aprilacunningham and her beautiful family. This one inspires me daily. Mom of three boys, she attends boot camp 4x a week and runs regularly. Yesterday she took me on a little jaunt around Harbour Passage trail. What a beautiful place to run with the brisk ocean air in our face! In a week, when I’m running the @rungatwick half marathon, I’ll try to remember that feeling. I’m undertrained and not ready, but I’m running for @neurokinex kids, a very worthy charity that provides rehab for children with spinal cord injuries. There’s a link to my JustGiving page in my latest blog post [Link in bio] Now, off to enjoy my last day with the fam! #friendswhorun #canada #saintjohn #harbourpassage #happyrunners

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Summer running goals

I’m now well into my second round of boot camp at 3rd Degree Training, and as I continue to work on my strength, the spring weather has me itching to set some running goals.

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It’s hard to believe I have only run a handful of times since having the twins – who are now 7.5 months old. When Silas was about nine months old, I ran the Lorneville Loop, a 13-kilometre race! I’m nowhere near ready to take on such a distance but I know once I start training, the running will come back to me before long.

With three young children, the days slip by so quickly, and I feel like I need to go ahead and set race goals so I have incentive to get out and run, or else the time will just float by and my mat leave will be gone.

St. Andrews Father’s Day 5-Miler – June 17 – I have run this challenging course twice before – once in blazing heat, and once in pouring rain. Maybe this will be my lucky year and the weather will be perfect. This gives me six weeks to train and lines up with the end of this round of boot camp. A great way to celebrate! Not to mention honouring my awesome husband and father to three under three.

Marathon by the Sea 10K – August 12 – I want to be good to my body and avoid jumping into distance running too quickly. Training for a 10K is a great way to continue to increase my mileage without sacrificing my weekends to long runs away from my kids. A quick look at the Marathon By the Sea website indicates this run crosses Saint John’s Harbour Bridge, which is an amazing experience. There are lots of hills, so definitely not expecting a personal best, but Marathon by the Sea is always a hometown favourite.

To get myself back in running shape, I need to start getting the miles in. Doing this while completing another boot camp may be a little challenging, but I hope to attempt 2-3 runs a week in addition to my 3-4 workouts at 3rd Degree. The great thing about this is my stronger body should make me a stronger runner less prone to aches and pains.

I’m also still following my custom Actual Nutrition guide and avoiding treats except for special occasions, so I am curious to see how this impacts my running.

I’m still breastfeeding the twins, although they continue to eat an increasing amount of solids. So I still need to consume plenty of calories to keep us all going. As I gradually start weaning this summer, my mileage will be increasing so I will be able to pare down the volume of food a bit, but probably not by a ton. Ah yes, one of the greatest benefits of running is the food.

 

 

How to change your life in 8 weeks

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Five months after giving birth to my twin boys, crawling out of the fog of survival mode, I was ready to get back to an active lifestyle. Caring for and nursing newborn twins and my three-year-old had left me perpetually tired, hungry and sluggish. Aside from occasional winter walks, I was not getting much exercise. And I was treating myself to plenty of take-out coffee, baked goods and fast food as a way to reward myself for getting through the long days.

As a runner and a fairly healthy person, I knew I needed to kick these habits – which had almost become crutches – before they became routine for me as a busy mom of three.

I partnered with 3rd Degree Training Saint John, with the goal of getting in 3-4 high-intensity interval training workouts per week, and to share my story to help others see what it is like for someone like me to take on their program. I followed a customized Actual Nutrition plan for an active, breastfeeding mom (so much food!). My goals were simple: to get “in shape” again and feel good about myself. I was honestly not sure if four workouts and eating clean would be enough to see a significant change in my body. And to be honest, I was OK with that because I didn’t have a ton of weight to lose and I knew once I returned to running, eventually, that weight would melt away.

By week four I was already seeing significant changes, not only in how my clothes fit but, more significantly, in how I felt.

I had so much more energy, I felt mentally clear and my mood was lifted. I felt like a better mom, a better spouse and closer to the old “me.”

The combination of cleaning up my diet, simply by eating whole, real food and eliminating junk (which I didn’t eat loads of, but I certainly indulged at least once a day), and blasting my body with quick, effective workouts, was a magic combination.

It was so perfect to end my first round of bootcamp as I celebrated 35 trips around the sun. In eight weeks, I lost eight pounds and nearly eight inches. I love the program so much I decided to keep going for another round, with the goal of improving form and continuing to get stronger while I ease back into running.

Every day is not a cakewalk – sometimes I find it challenging to focus on making healthy meals for myself as well as my family (moms are used to being last priority, eating the leftover Timbits and crusts of peanut butter sandwiches!). I often scarf down cold food while babies are screaming. And even though the 10:30 Baby and Me class (Mon/Wed/Fri) is the perfect way to get in a workout with kids in tow, it’s certainly tough to get two babies out the door, while balancing whatever my older son is up to that day as well. Sometimes I ask my mother-in-law to come by while I squeeze in an evening workout, or sometimes I set my alarm for 5 a.m., feed my babies and pray they go back to sleep so I can hit up the 6 a.m. class.

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My boys: Callum, Leo and Silas.

But the perseverance and consistency pay off in spades. It is so motivating to see results and see other members change, too. We are all just regular people trying to fit a healthier lifestyle into our already busy, challenging lives.

Actual Nutrition is not billed as a diet, it’s almost the opposite. By setting out a guideline of what are commonly known as macro-nutrients – carbs, fats and protein – the program provides ultimate flexibility and never leaves you feeling hungry or lagging energy. That means no calorie counting and no feeling of deprivation. Instead I look forward to every meal and snack and enjoy the taste of real food again.

After eight weeks, I have put myself back onto a healthy path. When I have treat days (Easter and my birthday), I immediately feel the effects… tired, headachy, and moody. I always thought I was the kind of person who could never eliminate sugar or treats because I love them too much. I thought I could always just run off the calories. But now I know I can save these things for every once in a while, knowing they don’t do my body or my mood any favours anyway.

I am so grateful to 3rd Degree for the opportunity to try their program. Witnessing the impact it has on its members has been truly inspirational. It’s more than about seeing results in your before and after pics, it’s about changing your habits, clearing your mind and treating your body with the respect it deserves.

#thisis35 #blinkandyoumissit #mamaofboys

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Breastfeeding twins as an active mom

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Photo by Amy Stewart Photography

When our twins turned six months old, it was supposed to be a joyous milestone. We kept these two little souls fed, happy and thriving for half a year! We made it through the toughest days and nights of our lives! And they have brought so much love and happiness to our home.

Instead, at their six-month appointment, we found out that Leo’s weight had plateaued at about 12.5 lbs. He weighed the same as he did at five months. Leo, who was my biggest twin at birth at 6 lbs, 15 oz, was dropping off his growth curve.

Leo and Callum are 6 months old #twins #twinsofinstagram #sixmonthsold

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A feeling of heat rose through my chest and into my cheeks. Most mothers know it: a wrenching combination of guilt and fear.

I automatically blamed myself and my new quest to clean up my health and my eating. I worried that my workouts at 3rd Degree Training may have depleted my milk supply. At that point I was about halfway through the eight-week boot camp.

My family doctor did not blame me (even though I didn’t mention I had started a new exercise program). She simply suggested increasing the amount of solid foods the twins receive to three times a day. We also talked about giving them a bit of formula at night, something my doctor said was entirely up to me.

I have continued with my nutrition plan and working out four times a week at 3rd Degree throughout the past month, and while I have lost a few pounds and inches, both Leo and Callum have porked it on. All the while, I have continued breastfeeding them, along with increased solid foods and a couple ounces of formula at bedtime (in addition to breastmilk). It was always my goal to make it to six months of breastfeeding, but all three of us enjoy it, and since it has become so ingrained in our routines, I really want to keep going.

Now I can say with confidence that I know I did nothing wrong. Exercise should not negatively impact the quantity or quality of supply (unless there is a serious calorie deficit or dehydration). Exercise is good for both mom and baby, in so many ways.

I have taken great care to ensure I am consuming plenty of calories (1,000 more than the average woman!) and three litres of water. I am eating whole, real food, and I eat six times a day. I still eat bread (whole grains) and dairy, and eat plenty of protein, fruit, vegetables and healthy fats such as yogurt, nuts and avocado.

I know Leo and Callum are thriving, happy babies. They are content, they don’t fuss while nursing, they sleep relatively well and they love to eat. After searching some mom forums, I have discovered that many babies go through a weight plateau just before starting solids. And I remember Silas going through something similar as well. I started running regularly when he was about five months old.

I want other breastfeeding moms to know that it is fine to exercise, so go ahead and do it. Don’t feel guilty. It is so good for you (improved cardiovascular health, feelings of well-being and reduced stress, to name a few) and your baby.

That being said, I think it is also good to take your time and ease back into an active lifestyle slowly after childbirth. Kellymom.com recommends waiting until your baby is two months old and you have established a good milk supply before embarking on a weight-loss program. Through both of my experiences nursing newborns, I always feel we have hit our stride by the 3-4 month mark.

After a few days of wallowing in guilt after that five-month appointment, I even started feeling as though breastfeeding our twins was a mistake and that I was holding them back from growing into healthy little babies.

Now I know that is foolishness, and that I continue to give them the very best start I can offer. For me, being an active, healthy mom is a part of the equation.

For more information on postpartum fitness, check out this previous q&a I did with Caroline MacKay, who offers mom/baby fitness classes.