Top Ten Tips: The Writer (and Mother) as an Athlete

Written on my fridge right now. Remind yourself--you are an athlete!
Written on my fridge right now. Remind yourself–you are an athlete!

I have often been heard to say that I feel like I’m running a marathon every day. And I hear a lot of other mothers say it too. What can we do? Here are some thoughts.

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I am an unashamed ‘Swiftie’ (that is, a fan of Taylor Swift), and I once heard her say how much time she spent at the gym. Now, I’ve been to a Taylor Swift concert and trust me that entire performance is more than any gym work out could be. Why on earth did she need to go to the gym as well? I asked this of my husband, who is a physiotherapist.

‘It’s a huge misconception,’ he said. ‘I see it a lot in guys who work in labouring jobs. They think that because they’re active all day that they don’t need to do any more exercise. But what they don’t understand it that to work continuously at their optimum performance, they actually need to be fitter and stronger than what they are required to do.’

Big. Lightbulb. Moment.

To get through everything in my life I need to think of myself as an endurance athlete.

A green smoothie I made with a stick blender - banana, flaxseeds, spinach leaves, fresh mint, parsley
A green smoothie I made with a stick blender – banana, flaxseeds, spinach leaves, fresh mint, parsley

It’s not okay to be just fit enough to do our jobs. We have to be MORE fit so we can do it easily AND have energy left over to play with our kids and have quality time with our spouses and make awesome food and maybe even play and have fun.

‘Writer’ and ‘athlete’ don’t normally conjure up similarities. In fact, most writers I know complain about how sedentary their job is and how much weight they’ve gained and how unfit they’ve become. It’s not even just that we’re sitting at a computer for many hours a day, as many people do who work in an office. It’s also that we don’t have to leave the house, so there’s a serious decrease in all the incidental exercise you get if you have to walk to and from a bus or a train, or escape outside the building for a walk during your lunch hour, or have to walk from one side of the building to the other to talk to a co-worker. I noticed this dramatically when I gave up work that required me to leave the house. My weight bloomed, almost overnight.

After writing for thirteen years through full-time jobs, part-time jobs, and even unemployment, I finally got my agent just five weeks after my son was born, and three book contracts very soon after. Suddenly, I had to juggle first-time new motherhood with serious contractual requirements, severe sleep deprivation, renovating a house and moving, and living in the country and driving obscene hours in the car with a newborn. I coped, but only just. And with a lot of coffee and chocolate.

I’ve come to understand that if I’m going to have longevity in the game of being an author, and be energetically and emotionally present for my child, husband, family and so on, AND look after my self, my animals, house, friends and all of that, then I have to think of myself as an athlete. I need to train regularly — and yes, I do mean with physical activity. I need to fuel my body with the best resources possible: protein, vitamins, juices, power smoothies, organics, fresh produce. I need to put energy IN in order to get energy OUT.

It’s so simple, isn’t it? And yet it’s so easy to overlook. And the more tired we are, the easier it is to reach for coffee and a bowl of cereal for dinner rather than juicing vegetables and cooking energy-enhancing foods. It becomes a vicious cycle, one that’s very hard to break.

This is still a work in progress for me, but I’ve been steadily improving for the past couple of months. And here are my Top Ten Tips for what’s worked for me. Maybe some of them will help you too.

  • Design a daily checklist of everything you feel you need to (or want to) do to help your body. Most of the time, I get so lost in the work I’m doing that I truly and simply forget to take my vitamins, get on the cross trainer, do my physiotherapy exercises, make a fresh juice, defrost something from the freezer. Checklist. Get one. Leave it on the bench in the kitchen and tick it off over the course of the day. Write down everything you eat. You’ll start to see patterns and it helps keep you on track.
  • You don’t need an expensive juicer! You can do almost anything with a stick blender. I was feeling blocked about juicing because we didn’t have a juicer (cheap or expensive) and have no cupboard space or bench space to have one. Then I worked out that you can do almost anything with a stick a blender. Throw ingredients in and whiz. Simple. The only things it will struggle with are really hard vegetables, like beetroot or carrot. BUT, if you want them, grate them first and throw them in. Simple.
  • Protein for breakfast. Salmon, eggs, protein smoothies (as supplements, not as replacements), steak, baked beans, mushrooms. Get your high quality protein in early in the day (rather than at the end). It reduces sugar cravings and keeps you going longer.
  • Grow some leafy greens. Seriously, spinach, kale and chard are SO simple to grow (I’m growing them in styrofoam boxes), so cheap and quick to sow from seed, and so fabulous to pick fresh and throw into a juice or smoothie for some LIVING food that is packed full of vitamins and energy boosting goodness. IMG_3178
  • Start the day with a fruit bowl. In our house, as I know is true of many others, we have resistance to eating fruit unless it is chopped up. So we now start the day with a fruit bowl of freshly chopped fruit. We take turns at making it in the morning while the other person is generally tending to our toddler. Your fruit is done for the day and it is yum yum yummy. (We also like to top the fruit with extras like chia seeds, flaxseeds or goji berries — you can buy in advance and store in jars or paper bags and throw them on).
  • Exercise. 20 minutes. Any time, any where. Every day. There is always something you can do. Personally, I am challenged with multiple (and complicated) rheumatic conditions, I’m always carrying at least one severe injury at any given time (which usually lasts a good six months or more) and have to be so careful about how I exercise. But I married a physio. And what I discovered was that it is a (good) physiotherapist’s job (and calling in life) to find a way for you to move. And they will. Example, if I lift even 1kg weights, I sprain my wrists. So, my husband bought me strap on ankle weights and strapped them around my forearms so no load goes through the joint. Presto. Problem solved. Find yourself a GOOD physio (because, like all things, they aren’t all created equal).
  • Stop drinking coffee. Oh boy, this can be hard. I never really drank coffee until I had a baby. (True story: My husband had never had a coffee in his life until we walked into the hospital to have our baby and he decided that it was going to take a while so perhaps he should start. It took him the next two years to give up.) After I had Flynn, I was shattered, in every way. Coffee became the only thing that would keep me safe on the roads and even vaguely able to do my job. But by the time Flynn was two years old, I realised that I couldn’t keep drinking coffee. It stimulated my adrenals and gave me a false sense of energy when really it was just draining me even more. Now, my rule is that if I think I need coffee, I will make a chai. And if I still feel like having coffee after the chai, then I’m allowed to have one. But I never do.
  • Spirulina / Power Greens. When all else fails, throw a teaspoon of high-density greens in powdered form into a juice. You’d be amazed.
  • Vitamin B. You burn lots of vitamin B when you’re stressed. Make sure you’ve got enough, are getting enough, or supplement with enough. Iron. Same goes there. I’d fallen into a false sense of safety with iron. I used to have to take it all the time but I thought things had changed. Wrong. I didn’t even have a clue until a GP randomly tested for it and phoned to tell me it was below the line. Wow. What a difference to your life iron will make.
  • Dark chocolate! Oh yes indeed! Dark chocolate is good, good, good for you. It’s a power food, people. Eat it. (But it has to be dark! I can eat up to 85% cocoa quite comfortably, but if you’re just beginning, try something around 40 or 50% and build up.)
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