Last week was Mental Health Awareness week
This might seem an odd introduction on a blog post entitled 'Your best fit'. But what is the best fit for you, if not a balance of movement, nourishment and wellness, to ensure you function as well mentally as you do physically?
The stats on mental illness, specifically the prevalence and effects of depression, are stark. 4 - 10% of people in England will experience depression in their lifetime and a quarter will suffer from some kind of health problem in any given year.
And it's not just an issue for the UK. Major depression is thought to be the second leading cause of disability worldwide and mental health problems are one of the main causes of the world's overall disease burden.
So, what can we do about it?
The wealth of information provided by mental health champions this last week highlights the positive impacts of exercise and diet on some of the symptoms of milder forms of depression. Whilst there is clearly no 'magic pill' that will work for everyone all of the time, it's universally acknowledged that an active lifestyle, a well-fuelled and nourished body coupled with a positive, grateful outlook can make a huge difference.
The unhelpful side of health and fitness
But what happens when the pressure to exercise in order to look 'bikini body ready' leaves you overwhelmed? When the instagrammed #clean breakfasts and #fitfoods suppers make your own attempts at healthy eating feel seriously lacking?
The constant onslaught of information about how we "should" exercise and what we "must" eat can leave us feeling worse about ourselves, not better, and negatively affect our mental health as a result. We have 9 to 5 (or 6, or longer) jobs, businesses, children, pets, relatives who need care or support, limitations - whether perceived or actual - and a million and one other commitments that mean the 'glossy wellness woman' lifestyle is pretty unrealistic.
So what do we do? Well, if you're anything like me (obviously we're all different - that's kind of my point - but you may recognise a few similar traits!) you:
Try out different 'diets'. Prescriptive, restrictive and unsustainable. You endure rather than enjoy them and fall off the wagon regularly
Do a juice cleanse to kick start the weight loss. Don't. Get. Me. Started...
Measure your self-worth by the number on the bathroom scales, despite the fact that it fluctuates almost daily due to factors outside your control
Attempt every hot new exercise class and feel let down when your body can't make it through the hour. (Although trying lots of different classes isn't necessarily a bad thing - bear with me on this one)
Make a commitment to do yoga, meditation, journaling or some 'mindful colouring in' every day, becoming so overwhelmed that you just end up watching TV for 3 hours
Having battled mental health issues myself, it's my personal view that the kind of 'one size fits all' approach pedalled by some sectors of the health and fitness industry can have a detrimental effect on those who are already struggling with a number of negative feelings.
I found the onslaught of six pack gym selfies, programmes aimed at everyone yet no one in particular and the message that you have to look a certain way to have a shot at happiness overwhelmingly... well, depressing.
None of them seemed to recognise that I can't always exercise at the same time each day, prep a week's worth of meals in advance or follow a prescriptive plan that takes no account of my individual circumstances. And when I inevitably couldn't keep them going, it made me feel like a failure.
We're all unique, so why are we conditioned to think that the route to our own health and wellbeing should be the same as anyone else's?
A different approach
I firmly believe that:
your workout, whatever it is, should leave you feeling empowered and smiling, even if it was a toughie
there are a hundred and one ways to move your body and you can find the one (or many) that work best for you
what you put in your mouth should nourish your body and make you feel good, not deprived
you can fit your exercise and wellness practices around your personal circumstances, not the other way around
being kind to yourself is an important part of protecting and improving both your mental and physical health
My mission is to give you the tools, information and inspiration to work wellness into your life, with all its commitments an uncertainties. Use these pages to understand how you can make life easier for yourself, not harder, when working to function at your physical and mental best.
Do what's right for you to find YOUR BEST FIT.