Bang, bang

If you run in the same virtual circles that I do, you’ll have noticed “trigger warnings” popping up more and more often. These are typically then given a specification like “sexual assault”, “eating disorders”, “abuse”, or anything else that is described within the video or article that may have a triggering effect on somebody who has dealt with similar issues in the past.

This is much more than a simple movie rating; while there may be some overlap, the latter are often aimed at not causing offence whereas “trigger warnings” are specifically looking to avoid causing anyone any direct or indirect harm from the nature of the content.

The First World War brought “shell shock” into our vocabulary a century ago; soldiers witnessing atrocities on the front line were literally unable to get those memories out of their heads. Now, we talk about post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Having a couple of family members battling PTSD themselves, I have witnessed the trouble they have garnering support from other family members and friends; when a disorder is “invisible” and usually entails withdrawal from the outside world, it can be confused with moodiness, irritability, or selfishness.

So it’s not surprising that very few people really think about the impact of their words, attitudes, or actions on another person’s emotional wellbeing. From what I have seen, it seems that a lot of us aren’t really in tune with our own emotional wellbeing, blocking out any issues any way we can (keeping busy, surrounding ourselves with people who don’t notice or care, getting intoxicated, etc).

Personally, I was pretty much in the same boat until I read Gena‘s post about “Tuning Out Food Noise“. I had often had to leave the office lunch space to finish lunch at my desk when conversation would turn to the latest fad diet my colleagues were on or had read about, and I find it emotionally draining to hear people brag about their intense training regimens. For a long time I put it down to having had that conversation a few too many times and just not wanting to bother with it yet again, but now I realise it was genuine (albeit mild) anxiety – a combination of wishing I could educate people on respecting their bodies and minds whilst knowing I would never be taken seriously, but also an undertone of wishing I was still the one who trained the hardest and ate the healthiest. There was more than a hint of “If these people can do it, why can’t I?”.

That realisation really opened my eyes to the power of triggers.

Previously, I had thought them the reserve of individuals who had experienced or witnessed an intensely traumatic event. I didn’t really think that a comment, opinion or attitude could bring back negative thoughts or emotions that one used to experience, but it completely makes sense; competitiveness and perfectionism are traits associated with eating disorders, so if an individual with a history of disordered eating encounters another individual exhibiting signs of an eating disorder, it does create a pull back to those old habits, the ones that in an odd way felt safe and reliable in their extremeness.

So now you get my beef (uh… tofu?) with “fitspiration” and pretty much all things fitness-related online.

But then, how to avoid triggering others? We can hardly start censoring the #cleaneating hashtag, partly because censoring is not an adequate long-term solution to any problem, and partly because Instagram would simply cease to exist and who knows what that would do the world. Nor can we realistically start banning casual conversation about diet and exercise, and while initiatives like the “No Diet Talk” badge are great ways to create safe spaces, they don’t really solve the issue that many of us are being triggered into self-punishing thoughts and behaviours without even being conscious of it.

Obviously, the ideal scenario would be that we eradicate eating disorders, abuse of any kind, and all traumatic situations and replace them with endless compassion and consideration for fellow living creatures. But in the interim, here are some ways we could avoid unwittingly pushing anyone into dark head spaces (I am keeping these specific to health and fitness as I don’t feel that I know enough about other mental health conditions):

  1. There is no need to brag about one’s extreme training or diet regime. If it comes up as a natural part of the discussion, explaining elements that are relevant should be fine (e.g. “Might go for a run today, what are you up to?”, “No thanks, I’m not actually in the mood for anything sweet right now”).
  2. There is no need to express judgement towards somebody else’s lifestyle choices (e.g. “So when are you going to take up running?”, “Wow, you really do have a sweet tooth!”) – remember that raised eyebrows and smirks all count!
  3. There is no need for extremes when discussing fitness, diet, or lifestyle (e.g. “Running really is the only way to burn body fat”, “Added sugar is so bad for us, it has absolutely no place in our diet ever”), and remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

I hope that just being aware of the impact of triggers can help everyone be a little more conscious of what they’re saying and how it might affect the person they’re saying it to. As the internet is a big wide-open space, I guess that’s why I post far fewer nutrition and training tips than you might expect for a health and fitness blogger.

These apply to anyone in the fitness industry, too, no matter how much it has become the norm for us to Instagram photos of our healthy Tupperwared lunches and let the Twittersphere know just how wrecked our legs are from that plyo circuit. I constantly question myself for giving very vague diet advice, showing no evidence of training myself to the brink of collapse, for not blogging more about my latest healthy eating find or sharing my high-intensity workout. But I believe the risks outweigh the rewards.

As well as taking responsibility for our words and actions towards others, we more than ever need to take responsibility for our own psychological wellbeing. So if you do feel that you come across anything that may be triggering, click right away from it or politely steer the conversation away. And if I have ever dodged your questions or ignored your comments don’t take it too personally… but, maybe, ask yourself why.

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Sunday thoughts: 26th October 2014

It seems there is a fine line between being on top of things and being very much swamped by things, and it is not one I tread with much agility these days. At times somersaulting past it, before swiftly being dragged back until it looks further away than ever, I seem to have gone from being on top of emails and caught up with family and friends with a freshly laundered wardrobe, clean house, and fully stocked fridge to… well, none of those.

In fact, this is the first time I have turned on the computer since about fifteen minutes online early yesterday afternoon! But distance makes the heart grow fonder and what sometimes feels like a chore now feels like a real treat.

It helps that this has been a fun week where everything has fallen into place smoothly and efficiently. Food has been good, training has been just about back on track, the weather has been just about acceptable, sleep has been adequate, and life has been easy.

Food for thought

  • Yet again, Examine.com have published an interesting piece on “The Shady Underbelly of ‘Evidence” Based Medicine“. It won’t take you long to read, but it is a valuable reminder that just because something is published (or just because someone has a bunch of letters after their name, or just because anything), doesn’t mean you should accept it at face value. Question authority.
  • Likewise, Doctor Skeptic shares another example of inadequate medical testing procedures: “Surgery for High Blood Pressure“.
  • I might be alone in thinking this, but I found this collection of legislation regarding street harassment (catcalling and any other unwanted attention from strangers in public) really interesting and useful: “Street Harassment: Know Your Rights” by Hollaback!.

Thought for food

  •  After having noticed it on the first day we viewed our flat in Kingston, I finally made it to a table and an order at the Healthy Cook Company just down the road. I started with a soy cappuccino which was just what I needed to start the day having woken up with an intensively unforgiving headache, and after tossing up the vegan brunch (carrot and coriander sausages, homemade soda bread, sugar-free and salt-free baked beans, hummus, and spinach pesto) and the vegan toastie (hummus, spinach pesto, sundried tomato), I went with the toastie. It was just right to start off the day without detracting from the conversation, though I can’t say it was bursting with flavour. For £3.95 though, it was a perfectly adequate choice!
  • Ben’s client showed up on Friday with a box of Ms Cupcake goodies which he had picked up for me whilst buying his brother some vegan birthday treats. I couldn’t help but break off a chunk of this on the bus home and turned out to be the perfect post-gym snack that I was looking for – peanut butter rice crispie base with a thick chocolate topping. Now, I am not normally a fan peanut butter-flavoured sweet treats, nor do I have much time for puffed cereal-based treats, and I normally find Ms Cupcake treats too sweet and cloying for my tastes… but these really hit the spot!
  • On Friday, I returned to The Gate for the first time in four years, invited by a couple who used to attend our running group. I didn’t have particularly stellar memories of the place; small portions, limited vegan options (where there were vegan options, it usually meant they had just omitted the cheese or cream which I always find a bit lazy), overpriced. So whilst I do think the vegan options are still slightly more basic than the cheese-laden options, I was very pleasantly surprised! My starter of a Raw Pad Thai salad was delicious but much more salad than Pad Thai, but my main was unforgettable; a generous mound of creamy, hearty mushrooms atop a crispy garlicky potato rosti, in perfect proportions. My Pineapple, Pear, and Chilli Crumble dessert may have been missing the chilli and was seriously imbalanced in favour of fruit, while the crumble topping was more reminiscent of a crumbled biscuit than a buttery flaky crumble. With all that said, however, it was a gorgeous evening and everyone enjoyed themselves!

Happy thoughts

  • Starting with the simple pleasures: lie-ins on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were beautiful and much needed.
  • All of Wednesday just worked; a cancellation, followed by a quick turnaround translation request which was super easy and quick and even quite fun, receiving my new sim card for my new phone, followed by finally having a bit of time to write up a post on my birthday fun, then in to work to do some training before a client, then home to a lovely dinner cooked by Ben. A perfect flow.
  • Meeting the wonderful Mel of Shrewd Health, after months of social media communication, at the Healthy Cook Company. I had such a lovely time chatting away to her and really didn’t see the time fly, and I can’t wait to see her again hopefully in the company of some more London vegans that I know from Twitter and Instagram. London vegans, making social media social!
  • We trekked all the way out to our old corner of London for a burrito party last night at Hombres. The food was great (I couldn’t choose between fillings so I had a burrito with both pulled jackfruit and the mushrooms and spinach option), and company was just as good. Worth the fairly epic journey from Kingston, even with an achey neck and sore head.
  • Luckily, the neck pain had totally vanished by this morning so we could totally enjoy our day our with Ben’s family at Chessington World of Adventures! We didn’t get to go on any of the fast and famous rides because of the kids and ridiculously long queueing times (60 minutes!) but we actually had heaps of fun.

Now, though I am exhausted and my cheeks are slightly wind-burnt, and the lovely curry that Ben has made us is begging to be eaten – have a lovely Sunday evening and a great week! xoxo

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Vegan birthday cake (and other stories)

I remember, years ago, having a conversation with one of my best friends about whether birthdays or Christmas were better. I preferred my birthday – a random day just for you, where you can do what you want – while she preferred Christmas, where there is less attention focussed on you and more general fuzzy happy times.

For the last few years, however, I have become less and less fond of birthdays. Not because I am worried about getting older (though no longer being able to tick the 18-24 bracket is a bit of a shock), but because more than ever I shun the pressure to have fun, making the decisions because it’s your birthday and you have to have the most fun. Continue reading

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Monday thoughts: 20th October 2014

It has been a while since I was unable to make Sunday thoughts happen on a Sunday! I can’t say I have missed the feeling of playing catch-up, but there was no way I could actually have written these any sooner; being out and about for most of Saturday, after having had some time to consider drafting this post on Friday but using the time to optimistically start drafting two other posts (I now have three half-written posts in my drafts folder – which will be great for everyone when I actually just find a chunk of time to sit down and concentrate on one of them!), and yesterday coming home much later than planned after a client’s birthday celebrations. Continue reading

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Sunday thoughts: 12th October 2014

I’m going to have to come out with a cliché again, but it really does seem like only a couple of days ago I was hurriedly putting together some thoughts on the preceding week, Sunday having once again snuck up on me.

It came as no surprise, then, when I accidentally booked some clients in for Wednesday, which is my birthday and a day I had planned to take off for, well, pretty much ever as I have yet to work on a birthday. Luckily my clients are all wonderful people who had no problem rescheduling when Ben, thankfully, double-checked with me that I had remembered to take the day off. Continue reading

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Sunday thoughts: 5th October 2014

Welcome to October!

If like me you follow a number of blogs, your inbox or reader will no doubt have been full of autumn (or fall)-loving bloggers lamenting the lack of sufficiently crisp weather, alongside a generous handful of those struggling to wave goodbye to summer.

And if like me you live in London, you’ll have been forced to accept the arrival of the new season with a brutal drop in temperature and a washout of a Saturday morning. I’m finding it hard to function swaddled in multiple layers, and trying to recall whether my feet always feel this cold through winter or whether I adapt throughout autumn? Continue reading

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Great Vegfest Expectations (part 2)

Sorry for the abrupt break in what was otherwise a pretty stream-of-consciousness recollection of the sugary highlights of VegfestUK – if you missed Part 1, start here and then come back to read on and see what treasured goodies I came home with!

After all the sweet sampling, I was pretty thirsty! I had a hankering for lemonade for the first time in ages, and as luck would have it The Electric Lemon [from the VegfestUK site: "Brand new and solar powered mobile drinks business, bringing freshly mixed home made cordials, chilled by power from the sun, straight to the heart of the UK's festival scene"] were selling lemonade out of their custom-built shiny yellow trailer, complete with automatic control panel and whooshy noises. Smiles were abundant and free, and the lemonade was refreshing and zingy! Continue reading

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