Pilates isn’t about sculpting body beautiful

I’VE been teaching Pilates for at least 10 years now and I confess, I look back at my early days and cringe a little at how I taught or what I focused on. Of course at the time, my theory and practical knowledge was up to date but modern science combined with Joseph Pilates’ original exercises, my own experiences and education (most recently from the brilliant JPilates) have created a very different ‘Karen’s Pilates’ from what I taught 10 years ago. I was also much more likely then to be swayed by the more vocal participants in my classes!

As in all professions, experience and training influences and shapes you. I believe that where I’m at now would hopefully let Joe P rest easy under his daisies. It’s true to me and to the participants I work with.

Of course as my experience evolves I get a bit ‘fussy’ about what other forms of ‘Pilates’ are out there. I don’t believe in one size fits all but I am in this profession to improve lives and health. Wellbeing.

So I’m penning a series of articles about what Pilates isn’t. That doesn’t mean if you enjoy your chosen class it’s wrong – it just might not be Pilates. And there is a brilliant magic and flow in the process of Pilates, which you, your body and your wellbeing might just be missing out on.

PILATES IS NOT ABOUT SCULPTING BODY BEAUTIFUL. PILATES ISN’T AESTHETIC LIKE A FIGURE MODEL’S GYM PROGRAMME. PILATES COMES FROM THE INSIDE OUT. PILATES WON’T MAKE YOU THIN AND IT WON’T WHITTLE YOUR WAISTLINE.

  1. THE FAT THING.

Fat is fat. No amount of roll ups, teasers or gym crunches will drop belly fat. Fat loss starts in the kitchen, continues in the gym (with weights or interval training), is massively complemented by Pilates and graduates with a happy symbiosis of all of the above.

  1. PILATES IS INSIDE OUT

If we focus first on the outside, we are likely to neglect the inside. By inside I mean back and joint health, muscle imbalances, pelvic floor health, hips, shoulders, breathing, stress and TENSION. In fact years of experience have shown me that the Pilates participant who comes from the physiotherapist, where pain has motivated them is generally much better at Pilates (if there is such a thing) and progresses quicker than the gym bunny who wants to get thin.

  1. PILATES ISN’T ABOUT BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE

You know what I mean. All those stock photos of models looking serene and just occasionally doing a bit of Pilates in a well lit studio without a squidge of fat or under-eye baggage in sight. Now I’m not anti-pretty (I should say I consider all my participants beautiful) but I am anti putting anyone off exercise. In my classes we have fat rolls, we have ‘retro’ workout gear and the occasional hairy leg (sometimes a little parp too) but we are all doing it. Striving to look after our bodies, not just to show them off.

Of course, I’m not ignorant to the fact that how we look is a driving factor behind exercise but let’s not lose sight of wellbeing and let’s not lose sight of Pilates.

Focusing on toned tummies to the detriment of our backs will not serve us long term. And when your motivation is looks over health you are far less likely to stick to exercise.

If you DO want to change the way you look, then yes do Pilates but do HIIT training, eat clean, cut out alcohol and processed sugars, sleep more, unwind, train with weights and have fun.

https://alittlefitter.com/2013/06/04/sit-ups-the-fastest-way-to-a-flat-tummy-after-having-a-baby-i-lied/

https://alittlefitter.com/2013/10/22/want-a-flat-tummy-my-top-5-dos-and-donts/

https://alittlefitter.com/2013/06/07/10-golden-rules-for-a-flat-holiday-ready-tummy/

Next up … Pilates is’t an ab workout.

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.

Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.

TWITTER: @fitschoolessex

FACEBOOK: ccfitschool

WEBSITE: http://www.fit-school.co.uk

Chocolate Polenta Cake

This cake evolved from a Nigella recipe and a rainy afternoon activity with Isaac, who is rather partial to chocolate cake and munching on walnuts while mummy mixes (many batches of banana cake from spotty bananas have meant walnut munching is now a baking staple).

I didn’t intend for it to be a polenta cake but had no ground almonds in (shocker for me) and was amazed by the result. I also didn’t intend it to be dairy free but my butter was in the fridge and I couldn’t be bothered to dirty a pan melting some.

So here it is. I just made a little cake which struggled to make it to day 2!

Naomi was happily sat in her chair watching proceedings so it is fully family proof!

Ingredients:

  • 30g cocoa (I used Green & Blacks)
  • 90 ml freshly boiled water
  • Generous tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g fine polenta (cornmeal) – Nigella’s original recipe uses ground almonds so you could try a mixture
  • 100ml olive oil (light – you could also use sunflower)
  • 1/3 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 100g coconut sugar (this is what makes it sugar free since coconut sugar is GI neutral but you could use unrefined sugar if you don’t have any)
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 large eggs

Method:

Combine the boiled water and cocoa in a small boil until they are a cream like consistency.

In a separate bowl mix together the polenta, salt and bicarb.

Whisk together the eggs, vanilla, olive oil and sugar for a couple of minutes until they are really thick and light.

Finally combine all 3 mixtures maintaining as much air as possible

I used an 8″ lined, round sandwich tin.

Cook at Gas Mark 3 (170) for 20-30 minutes or until just coming away from the sides.

Et voila!

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Sugar Detox: Starts this Sunday, 5th January

Happy New Year to you all. I hope you had a great Christmas, with a chance to relax, unwind and spend quality time with friends and family.

Seasonal excesses can leave many of us feeling a little bloated and lethargic. Not just because of too much turkey and Christmas pudding. Did you know that for the majority of us, a month of eating differently and a change in routine can alter the nutrient balance in our bodies. That, coupled with winter’s lack of daylight and less exercise, is a recipe for sluggish systems and often low moods.

So the Fit School team have created a Sugar Detox plan. It’s a 10 day, online plan and it starts this coming Sunday, 5th January (Sunday will be a bit of a preparation day so you can hit the ground running on Monday, 6th). It costs £15 for Fit School members and £20 for non members.

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Over the course of the 10 days, the plan will help wean your body and mind from the sugar hit over the last couple of weeks. For some, the increase in sugar started as early as December! So here’s why we have created a Sugar Detox.

The three main nutrient groups in our diet are carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

We consume these nutrients in varying ratios. Here are some common sources:

Carbohydrates

  • Fruit;
  • Vegetables;
  • Cereals;
  • Grains;
  • Milk;
  • Alcohol (see note below *); and
  • Anything containing sugar.

 Carbohydrates can be further broken down into the following:

  • Starch;
  • Sugar; and
  • Fibre.

*Alcohol is a separate group all to itself. You get all the calorific effects of a carbohydrate (the side effects of simple sugars) and none of the benefits (despite some blood thinning properties – although you can get these from other sources).

Here is a breakdown of how one Fit School member’s diet changed over the festive period.

Pre-Christmas Average December December with drinks/sugar
Carbs 45% 63% 62%
Protein 30% 12% 8%
Fats 20% 25% 30%

So the big change is increased carbs in the form of sugars, less protein (except Christmas day) and more saturated fats (from processed foods).

The calories in the three examples were roughly the same but to explain why counting calories isn’t always beneficial, below you can see the calories just from food.

  • Pre Christmas – 2000
  • Average December – 1750
  • + drinks and sugar – 1400

Even though the calories were roughly the same, up to 600 calories were now being consumed in the form of refined sugars or alcohol which you can’t readily use. In our experience, this kind of nutrient change tends to result in little actual weight gain you might grow a muffin top and feel generally flabby. If the ratios change as they have above and you consume more calories, you will put on weight as well.

We generally exercise less in the winter, since we are less motivated. So unless you adjust what you eat, you will put on weight. Christmas then compounds the issue. You’re feeling lethargic and your clothes are tighter by January.

So this detox is to get your body back to a point where you are looking and feeling great. It will require some will power and also some support. That is why doing it in a group will help you keep going. Our golden rule with trying to create a new habit is you must not take something out of your lifestyle without putting something back in. No doubt you derived some pleasure from eating or drinking the things that you did over the festive period. So it is essential that you replace the pleasurable part of these activities with healthier alternatives. For example, drinking nothing but water for a few days is probably okay, but by day three, you’ll find that every fizzy drink you walk past will be talking to you!

We will provide:

  • Low sugar recipes;
  • Protein rich meals;
  • Healthy carb recipes; and
  • Exercise guidance.

These will all be posted daily in our Facebook group. If you have any questions, we will also do our best to answer them so you understand what we are trying to do.

Want to sign up? All you need to do is email us at fitschoolessex@gmail.com and pay £15 (for members) and £20 for non-members before Sunday via our PayPal account: fitschoolessex@gmail.com.

See you there!

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool
WEBSITE: http://www.alittlefitter.com

5 steps to avoid Christmas over-indulgence

mincepiessleigh

IT’S such a lovely time of year. We’re all starting to feel warm and cosy, mince pies and drinkies are plentiful and the promise of Christmas lunch and trimmings looms – plus of course a few well earned days off.

But it’s really easy to overdo it, get out of your normal active routine and become surgically attached to a box of chocolates. So here are a few, I hope realistic, yet practical steps to ensure Christmas doesn’t push you off track and that a couple of days of over-indulgence don’t turn into a couple of weeks!

1. STAY ACTIVE. This doesn’t have to mean going to the gym or sweating it all out in a spin class but a walk on Boxing day morning can blast away cobwebs and keep your metabolism (and your system) revved. Plus you won’t have to experience sprout and turkey wind – let it all out!

2. FILL YOUR PLATE WITH MEAT AND VEG. The average Christmas dinner offers a feast of vegetable colour. Rather than filling yourself up on roast potatoes and sausages, go for a plate filled with meat and vegetables. You will find it  easier to digest your meal, without overloading on fatty carbs.

3. LIMIT YOUR OVERINDULGENCES TO A FEW DAYS. Christmas and New Year’s Day are great feasting days and a little feasting in moderation does not a wide girth make. But if you skip your normal routine for weeks and keep munching on chocolates and goodies, you will put on a few pounds. Chocolate is still chocolate, even if it comes from Father Christmas.

4. GET A WORKOUT IN BETWEEN CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR. Get your kit on and walk out of the door. You will be so grateful you did!

5. JOIN A GYM IN DECEMBER. If you know you want to join a gym in the new year, skip the rush and do it now! Why?December is the quietest month in the gym salesman’s calendar and they have targets to make. Get some free gym visits in between Christmas and New Year, then sign up before 31st, just make sure you play hard ball to get a great deal.

And finally … be prepared for the New Year.  At Fit School we’ll be running a 10 day Sugar Detox, a great way to start your year.

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The start date is the 5th January 2014, and the programme will guide you through the process of weaning the body off sugar. To help, we’ll provide low sugar recipes, exercises and a follow up plan. You’ll also be part of a closed Facebook Group so you can ask questions and get coaching through the whole plan.

If you want:
*More energy.
*To know how to reduce your spare tyre.
*To reduce your muffin top.
*To break the hunger-sugar cycle.
*To kick start your health for the year.
*To be generally less flabby.

You can register your interest by emailing us at fitschoolessex@gmail.com or by using the contact form below. The price is £15 for members or £20 for non-members.

We will limit this to 50 spaces as we will be providing a lot of content and we need to ensure that we can help as many people as possible. First 25 people get an early bird discount.

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool
WEBSITE: http://www.alittlefitter.com

Why can’t I stop eating sugar?

I know. It’s hard. Without decisive action I can quickly slip into a sweet and sugary space. Going cold turkey seems like the hardest thing to do. We are programmed with a sweet tooth (mother’s milk is slightly sweet) it gives us energy. In fact studies consistently show that sugar is a harder addiction to crack than cocaine. So why is it that we get so obsessed by the white stuff?

1. LOW FAT CULTURE HAS TAKEN OVER YOUR BRAIN.

Years of low fat diets have a lot to answer for. We used to think reducing fat in our food would reduce the fat on our thighs and consequently make us healthy. Research is consistently proving that this is absolutely not the case and far from making us healthy, removing the naturally occurring fats from food has led to a rise in the amount of rubbish taking its place. Including sugar. Take a Starbucks Skinny Stem Ginger Muffin. It has twice as much sugar as a standard Blueberry Muffin. A low fat or skinny label does not mean healthy – it’s a clever marketing tool to make you want to buy it.

2. YEAST OVERGROWTH IS FUELLING YOUR CRAVINGS.

Nice! Candida is a naturally occurring yeast which lives in our guts. Too much is toxic but really hard to diagnose. One of the key signs is the need for sugar. Candida thrives on sugar and needs it to grow. The more it grows, the more sugar it needs. Frequent bouts of thrush, digestive complaints (including lady pumps), headaches and rashes or itching are also common signs.

How to stop it? The best course of action is to go cold turkey. Cut out the hard stuff and see how your energy shifts.

3. SUGAR OVERLOAD HAS SWITCHED OFF YOUR BRAIN’S ‘I’M FULL’ MESSAGES

The past ten years have seen massive developments in the study of hunger hormone, ghrelin and full hormone, leptin. Scientists used to believe that one of the hormonal causes of obesity was a lack of the ‘I’m full’ hormone leptin but new research is suggesting that it could instead be a resistance to leptin. So your body produces it but the brain somehow bypasses the signals and instead sends out ‘I’m starving – feed me’ signals making you crave sugary, high energy food. Professor Robert Lustig (University of California) has recently found it could be sugar which is causing leptin resistance. Professor Lustig and his team have shown repeated sugar spikes cause insulin resistance (the body no longer responds to sugar in the same way) and in turn, leptin resistance, which means your brain simply doesn’t recognise the fact that you are actually full. The findings were published in his book Fat Chance.

4. YOU ARE SLEEP DEPRIVED

While we’re on the subject of ghrelin and leptin, your body resets itself over night. Too little sleep and your hunger hormones get out of whack, meaning you don’t get that full up feeling and just crave sugary, energy dense foods all day. This is one of the reasons why sleep deprived, new mums hit the biscuit barrel!

5. YOU’RE PREGNANT

Pregnant women are necessarily less sensitive to insulin. It’s the body’s clever way of ensuring enough energy gets to little bubba’. Also, pregnant ladies are growing a whole new person, which takes a lot of energy. When you don’t eat enough good stuff to fulfil your pregnant energy requirements, you crave sugar.

https://alittlefitter.com/2012/07/13/why-do-we-get-fat-when-we-get-pregnant/

6. YOU’VE GOT YOUR PERIOD

A bit like pregnancy, when you’ve got your period, you’ll be more sensitive to blood sugar highs and lows so it’s even more important to eat well and eat regularly. Some women swear by raw chocolate when it’s their time of the month to get them through. I love Om Bar coconut chocolate, it’s the least weird tasting raw chocolate I’ve ever eaten and there’s no sugar or dairy in it either.

7. YOU’VE GOT DIABETES

Craving sugar could be an underlying sign of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes happens when cells fail to use insulin properly or become insulin resistant. Some nutritionists, like obesity researcher Zoe Harcombe (author of The Harcombe Diet) believe type 2 diabetes is the result of your body no longer being able to process the levels of sugar you are pumping in. It just, gives up.

8. YOU ARE EATING SECRET SUGARS

So you don’t have sugar in coffee, you rarely eat biscuits but you still seem to want some of the white stuff. It could be those hidden sugars that are fuelling your sweet fire. When did you last check cereal packets? You’ll be hard pressed to find a commercial breakfast cereal which does not contain sugar or invert sugar syrup (don’t start me on that stuff – it screws your body’s system up on a whole new level to sugar) and yes, we like to feed this to our little babies too?!? Processed foods like soup, baked beans, or ready meals (yes the branded diet variety especially) all contain sugar too. And then there’s alcohol – which is sugar, refined to make you drunk. It’s everywhere!

What to do? Great piece of advice I recently heard, don’t eat anything that has a TV advert.

9. YOU ARE CONSUMING ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS

Ooh, now I’m not going to go deep on this one. There’s just too much science involved for a little blog (which is already pretty long). So aside from the whole heap of chemicals doing weird things to your body (like make you store fat) when you consume artificial sweeteners, eating sweet stuff that isn’t sugar confuses your body’s sugar response. It gets so used to expecting sugar when you guzzle diet drinks and then not getting it that it ultimately doesn’t respond as well to sugar when it finally comes. It gives up hope! So then you need more of the sweet stuff to get the hit etc etc… Just don’t do it. Aspartame is one of the worst culprits and oh, most artificial sweeteners will give you bad guts too.

What to do? The best replacement we’ve found is a product called Z-Sweet. If you really need the hit!

10. YOU’RE HUNGRY

I learned this the hard way before I was diagnosed with a thyroid disorder. When you are hungry, you crave sugar. If you eat refined foods when you are hungry, you’ll get a high, shortly followed by a dip, then want more refined foods.

What to do? Eat good food and don’t skip meals (yawn). But if you are stuck and starving, go for a piece of fruit with some sort of protein. Nut butter, cheese (a little piece) or nuts are a good option.

For more information on food to make you feel good take a lot at my other posts:

https://alittlefitter.com/2012/09/24/say-no-to-rainy-day-blues/

https://alittlefitter.com/2012/06/25/mood-food/

Sticky Date and Walnut Flapjacks

On Thursday evening, after I’d got back from my lovely pre and post natal Pilates classes I realised I needed to rustle up something tasty for our impending Paralympics adventure.

I’d wanted to make cashew and apricot oat bars but had neither apricots nor cashew nuts in the house. I could have gone with traditional flapjacks but I’m always searching for a non sugar alternative and felt the sweetness of dates should work as an alternative to all that sugar and syrup.

I did my usual Google search and discovered a few recipes for date and walnut flapjacks (which I had in plentiful supply). One on mumsnet and another from the luscious Nigella. The recipe that follows is a combination of the two with a little Karen magic thrown in.

I have included a little sugar in the recipe to help make the bars stick together but they don’t hold like a traditional flapjack. They are however divine! The combination of dates and butter gave me a real sticky toffee pudding hit which I wasn’t expecting.

You can tweak the recipe for yourself (you might want to try adding cinnamon) but this is the one that works for me.

Sticky Date and Walnut Flapjacks

Ingredients:

125g unsalted butter

1 tbsp runny honey

25g caster sugar

100g chopped dates

1/4tsp bicarbinate of soda

50g walnut pieces

1tsp vanilla extract

150g oats

2tbsp ground flaxseed (optional)

Method:

Grease and line an 8″ square cake tin (I’ve used two loaf tins).

Preheat the oven to GM4 or 18o degrees (lower for fan assisted ovens).

Put the chopped dates in a pan with just enough water to cover and the bicarbinate of soda. Heat them gently and let them simmer for 5 minutes. This will soften the dates and create a syrup. Take care not to heat to much or the syrup becomes dark and the bars won’t be as good!

Add the butter, sugar, honey, vanilla extract and walnuts to the pan and heat until the butter has dissolved.

Add the oats to the mixture and ground flaxseed if using. You may need more oats if there is lots of liquid remaining.

Push the mixture into the bottom of the pan and cook for 20 minutes. I set a timer for mine since if they catch they’ll be chewy and bitter.

When you take the flapjacks out mark into bars but leave to cool completely before taking them out.

And as Isaac would say … “mmmm … num num num.”

Let me know how your’s turn out x

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