The No Spend Month

I’m going to come straight out and admit it: my personal finances are not where I’d like them to be. I had hoped that by the age of 30, I’d own my own flat and have savings of more than £1.99. Instead, I have a credit card balance that never seems to shrink, no matter how much I pay into it. On the bright side, I’m on track to pay off my student loan… by the age of 110.

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The Student Loans Company in 80 years from now

 

There are both explanations and excuses for why my finances are f*cked. There were the factors that I couldn’t change. I graduated into a recession. My local branch of the Bank of Mum & Dad had collapsed. The field I wanted to get into was competitive, and doing unpaid internships was the only way in. I couldn’t live at home, so I interned in the daytime whilst waitressing at night. For a while, I struggled to pay rent. I paid for food with old-school cheques to cover up the fact there was £0 in my account.

There were also the factors that were pretty much my own fault. I ended up specialising in digital engagement for not-for-profits, which wasn’t exactly a path to endless riches. Once I’d managed to get to a stage in my career where I could afford rent and food, I began to feel entitled. I worked hard and told myself I deserved to have things. This is where I really started to dig myself into a shitpit. I wish I could tell you that I pissed all my money away on frivolous things: luxury travel, designer clothes, £20 notes to wipe my bum with. The truth is far more petty and boring: I compared myself to people with similar jobs and lives, and felt like I should have the things they had. Everyone else I knew seemed to be able to afford to go on holiday every year, to go out to restaurants every week, to buy lunch every day. Saying ‘no’ when you want to say ‘yes’ is never fun. My head became buried firmly in the sand. My ‘just-for-emergencies’ credit card became fixed in my wallet.

My family didn’t have much money when I was growing up. I was raised with a ton of cultural capital instead. I was taught to aspire. To embrace learning. To believe that I could achieve anything I wanted to, as long as I worked hard. I took this to heart, believing that an Oxford education and a professional career would mean I’d never have to worry about money like my parents did.

Every day, I’m grateful that I have enough money now to pay for rent and food. But I’m also angry with myself. I was deceived by an illusion: I thought that getting a good job would be my ticket to happiness, with a cushy lifestyle and financial security. My expectations were set too high. I chased the wrong things. And now I am 30. Many of my friends are getting married, having children, buying property. I would like to have the same things one day, but the £1.99 in my savings account just won’t cover the costs. I need to do something drastic if I am going to kill off my credit card and start saving for my future.

The solution?

In my attempts to discover the secret of money, I’d noticed a trend: the money-saving challenge. Bloggers and forum members have embraced periods of frugality, banning themselves from non-essential spending for a fixed period of time. Some of these periods are short: Members of MoneySavingExpert.com’s forums challenge themselves to have as many ‘No Spend Days’ as possible. Penny Golightly leads Tenner Week.

Other people have taken a longer-term approach. Anna Newell-Jones is an American blogger who put herself on a ‘Spending Fast’, severely restricting her spending for fifteen months to pay off her debts. Journalist Michelle McGath has quit spending for a whole year to get ahead on her mortgage. Her commitment is the strongest I’ve seen: as I write, she’s been over six months without spending anything at all. 

Perhaps the most inspiring story I’ve seen is from a blogger called Mr Money Mustache. He and his wife retired at 30 as a result of saving and investing the majority of their salaries. Not investment-banker or corporate-lawyer salaries, but the income from ‘standard tech-industry cubicle jobs’. They now live a happy life doing whatever they please.

Frugality had never looked so appealing. The issue was: I had lived on a low income before. It was no picnic. In fact, it was awful. Why would I choose to go back there? Was I romanticising the concept just because of a few success stories I’d read on the internet? Rather than embrace full-on frugality, I decided to dip my toe into the water by doing a No Spend Month.

 

The rules:

Things that were allowed:

  • Spending on food, bills and rent
  • Spending on things I’d committed to before June (a holiday payment and a hen party payment)

 

Things that were not allowed:

  • Spending on transport, eating out, booze, clothes or beauty products
  • Taking the piss by squeezing luxuries into the grocery shop
  • Accruing psychic debt by scrounging from my friends and boyfriend  
  • Becoming a hermit and being miserable

 

What I learned:

Alcohol and frugality don’t mix

I was determined to spend the month doing fun things with other people. So on the first day, I went to a free quiz night being held at work. The winning prize was a £100 bar tab for the team. I hadn’t told anyone at work about what I was doing, so only I knew what it really meant: not just free drinks, but probably the only drinks I would get to have out for a while.

When the quiz masters announced a tie break, which my team then won, it seemed like validation: the universe had my back. There WOULD be beer for me in June! Then, my hopes were dashed. It turned out that the tie break was for second and third place. Alas. Screw you, universe.

At a leaving do a week later, loosened up by free booze, I fell off the wagon and bought a couple of rounds. I ended up enjoying myself a bit too much that night. Woe was me. On the plus side, at least being too hungover to move stops you from spending.

 

Free culture comes at a cost

As London is full of free things to do, I resolved to take advantage of it. So my boyfriend and I went to see the new Yayoi Kusama exhibition at Victoria Miro, which had just opened. When we arrived, there was a queue of over 100 people. If we wanted to get into the exhibition, we faced an hour’s wait outside. It was grey and cold, so we turned back. The only thing we saw that day was the grim sights of the Holloway Road.

 

The ups and downs of frugal lunchtimes

Bringing my lunch to work felt hugely gratifying. There’s nothing to make you feel smug like knowing you’ve saved at least £5 a day on your lunch. Having your leftovers explode in the office microwave feels less gratifying. And your smug glow disappears once you’ve realised you’ve brought in something so inedible you have to choke through it. Who knew that twice-microwaved salmon could be so disgusting?

I saw this dude whilst running to the library. Added bonus of not spending money: you get additional joy from the small things.
I saw this dude whilst running to the library. Added bonus of travelling by foot: you see cool things

The ups and ups of ditching public transport

Getting around on your own steam is a total game-changer. If you are lucky enough to be able to cycle, run or walk to work, DO IT. Leave behind the annoying people playing shitty music on their leaky headphones. Avoid the social awkwardness that comes with being squished into a small space with 55 people you’ve never met. Save a fortune and get fitter at the same time. It’s a win all round.

 

Toughening up

The No Spend Month made me realise what a slave I was to cravings. Hunger was my default mode. It used to be that every time my stomach growled, a battle would begin in my head. I always knew that buying a second breakfast in the canteen at work was a bad idea. But at the same time I was hangry, and the thought of having to restrict myself PISSED ME OFF. The No Spend Month made it made it a non-issue. I just dealt with being hungry. It didn’t kill me.

 

Changing the plan

On day 17 of No Spend Month, I decided to ‘pivot’. (That’s tech company speak for ‘changing your mind’, by the way.) Some Really Bad Shit had been going down in the world at the time. The referendum campaign had become poisonous, stirring up fear and hate. Jo Cox MP had been tragically killed. I’d had a tough week at work. I needed to spend time with the people that I cared about.

Me, about to walk to work in torrential rain.
Me, about to walk to work in torrential rain.

I’d previously thought that because it was summer, I could see my friends for free whilst doing outdoorsy things: a picnic in the park, a walk down the South Bank. My daydreams did not account for the fact that it would be the wettest June on record. I couldn’t face becoming the person who sits in the pub drinking water whilst her friends pay for drinks. So I changed the rules to account for one socialising session every week.

 

What I learned…

My month of frugality was a surprisingly educational experience. I expected it to be uncomfortable. I expected to save money. What I didn’t anticipate was the sense of clarity it gave me. My emotions about money were a tangled mess. If I spent, I felt guilty. If I didn’t spend, I felt resentful.

Technically, I failed the challenge because I slipped up on socialising. But once I had allowed myself to spend on seeing my friends, something clicked in my head. In the past, saving money had felt like self-deprivation. It made me miserable. But by working out what made me happy and allowing myself to have it, I changed the rules of the mind-game I used to play with myself. Having enough money to spend on the things that make you happy is a privilege. I feel grateful for what I have, now that I know what to do with it.


In total, I saved £420.12 on top of my usual credit card repayment. I’m still a long way from where I need to be, but that’s OK. I’m on a mission now. I’m on a search for the secret of money, and I will try everything. I’ll leave no stone unturned until my debt is dead and my savings are sorted. Wish me luck.
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I’m not great at keeping secrets. If I find a way to rescue my finances I will almost certainly blog about it. Make sure you don’t miss a post by signing up to my mailing list:


 

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In search of miracles with Gabrielle Bernstein

It’s a fact of life that things aren’t brilliant all the time. Sometimes things are great, and sometimes things are a bit shit. As someone who puts a lot of effort into trying to be happy, it’s doubly disappointing when life isn’t coming up with sunshine, rainbows and glittery unicorns. At Easter, I hit one of these bad patches. Ground down by coursework and job-work, I felt like I was dragging a weight around on my back. I needed a miracle.

Therefore, I turned to Gabrielle Bernstein. She’s described on her website as a modern day spiritual leader. Bernstein’s best-selling books include May Cause Miracles and Miracles Now. Her photographs gleam with happiness, health and serenity. Just look at her! LOOK!

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She was the kind of woman I instinctively felt happy to follow. I signed up to her mailing list and eagerly started on May Cause Miracles. The introduction tells Bernstein’s story. By becoming dedicated to miracles, she became a best-selling author, improved her relationship with food, made a ton of money and found true happiness. I wanted a piece of that action.

Embracing miracles is about releasing fear and choosing love instead. I didn’t really know what that meant, but decided to roll with it anyway. Apparently, your ~ing (inner guide) will emerge to show you the way. The 40-day program takes you through a new theme each week, with a daily affirmation and a meditation or journalling activity. Here’s what happened to me, spiritually speaking:

The good:

Starting the day with a reflection and a minute of meditation was quite nice. It was like a little warm hug for your psyche.

Saying ‘I love you’ to the mirror was good for a laugh, once I’d got over feeling like a buffoon.

The bad:

I tried programming the day’s affirmations into my phone to go off every hour as Bernstein suggests. The problem came when I left my phone sat on the table at work. Without context, the affirmations could suggest to the uninitiated that you have joined some kind of weird cult.

As the days went on, I found myself forgetting what the affirmation of the day was. I realised that it was because I just wasn’t finding anything meaningful in them. So I abandoned May Cause Miracles after three weeks.

 

Miracles Now

Despite the fact that May Cause Miracles didn’t do much for me, I wasn’t done with Gabby. I was grimly determined to find a miracle, somewhere, somehow. Thankfully, she had another book! Perhaps Miracles Now would be the book to give me the hit I needed. Rather than giving you a structured programme, it provides 108 bite-sized ways to live a more miraculous life.

So I attempted to bust out a miracle on a Wednesday morning. It was humpday, I was a bit hungover, and I had been put into a bad mood by the tedious pundits arguing about Brexit on BBC Breakfast. I flicked to Miracle #46: Measure your success by how much fun you’re having. I thought about it. Truth be told, I had not been having much fun. When you work four days a week on your day job and three days a week on your MSc, there’s not that much time for it. Over the following few days, I let my hair down. It felt good. One of my bad habits is getting grimly wrapped up in my to-do list, to the exclusion of actually relaxing and enjoying my life. The idea of measuring my life by how much I actually enjoy it was something I needed to hear.

On a Sunday night, I needed a new and different miracle. It was 1am, my alarm was due to go off in five hours, and I had been trying to sleep since 10pm. Thankfully, Gabby has few miracles for that. Firstly, a Kundalini yoga breathing technique. Sleep still eluded me. Secondly, a Yoga Nidra meditation. I was too wound up to focus on it, and still could not sleep. Thirdly, another Kundalini practice which involved pointing your toes back and forth. My bed squeaked as I did this and I still didn’t sleep. Miracle fail.

At its worst, the book is ineffective (see sleep ideas above) and verging on silly (jumping on a trampoline without wearing a bra helps your lymphatic system). But at its best, the book is like a self-help Rorschach test: you see bits of advice in it that you want to see, that you may well be better off following. And a lot of the things in here make sense: true that happiness does not lie in how much you weigh, that if you want something; you should ask for it, and that doing a headstand can help bust you out of a bad mood (I tried it. It worked).

If you take ‘miracle’ in the literal sense, Miracles Now and May Cause Miracles both fail to deliver. However, this doesn’t make me angry in the same way that I was about I Heart Me. Bernstein does make it clear from the outset that when she talks about miracles, she means it in a slightly different way to you or I. My life hasn’t cosmically shifted, but I have picked up a few new helpful tips. I still don’t know what it means to choose love over fear though.

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I’m on summer break from my course; which means more posts. I may actually discover something revolutionary, and you wouldn’t want to miss that, right?! The good news is that I have a mailing list, so please make my day and get on it:


Also: this post contains Amazon Affiliate links, as I have a credit card bill to pay and I’ll pretty much try anything. I’ll never actively endorse anything I don’t genuinely like because I’m not a Kardashian. Thank you!

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I Heart Me: The Science of Self-Love

No matter how hard you try, not everyone in life is going to like or appreciate you. Other people’s opinions of what you do and who you are will always vary. Sometimes you’ll put everything into a piece of work and it’ll be trashed by someone whose opinion matters to you. When this happens, it can sting. I’d love to tell you that I always take criticism in my stride, but sometimes bad feedback shakes my opinion of my abilities to the core. This is not something I’m proud of.

After all, self-belief is important. If you believe in yourself, other people believe in you. It can make you famous for something as useless as taking selfies. It can make you the front-runner to win a Presidential race despite having no compassion or brains. Perhaps ramping up my own self-belief could do magical things for me as well.

I Heart Me: The Science of Self Love

Enter: I Heart Me: The Science of Self-Love. Written by a man with a PhD and promising to deliver the topic through a scientific lens, I presumed I would be in good hands. As a MSc student, I’ve been learning about the scientific method and now have decreased tolerance levels for fluffy crap. This is a problem when your blog is about self-help books. So bring on the science! Make me love myself using empirically based, peer reviewed studies! I AM READY!

Alas, it turns out I was duped. Here are some examples of ‘science’ from the book:

‘I asked my good friend Kyle Gray about it. He’s a highly accurate medium… Kyle asked his angels about my experience.’

‘Each of us is made of atoms. That makes us quite a large expression of love. Technically speaking, we’re made of love…. kind of.’

If self-love means believing this sort of stuff, perhaps I’m better off being insecure. I wanted to find something nice to say about this book. I tried, but I couldn’t. It recycles tired ideas from other self-help books, bunging on a ‘scientific’ label to try and disguise the fact there’s nothing original in it at all. For one thing, he claims doing the exercises in this book will work because they’ll ‘rewire your brain’. Not that he has any actual evidence for this, such as fMRI scans. I’m guessing he thought that ‘neuroplasticity’ was more exciting than plain old ‘learning’. Other scientific evidence in the book is scraped from TED talks that we’ve all seen before, such as Amy Cuddy’s ‘power pose’ work. Given that 32 million people have watched her TED talk, and the fact that it’s so famous it’s been parodied on Brooklyn Nine Nine, it’s a waste of paper to cover it again.

Unfortunately for me, the whole point of this blog is that I actually *do* what the self-help books I read tell me to do, even if the author is confused about atoms and does wee dances in his spare time. (I’m not kidding. There’s a whole section about the benefits of silly dancing, and describes how he once did a wee dance in an underpass). I decided to put Hamilton’s ‘self-love gym’ exercises to the test.

‘Blame the parents’

Hamilton’s first exercise asks you to think whether your parents had self-esteem issues. I have no idea whether mine did. They have both passed away, and as I don’t have any friends who are mediums, I can’t get in touch with them to ask.

The ‘I am enough’ pose + ‘love thy selfie’

Do you suspect that this exercise may be an appropriation of Amy Cuddy’s Power Pose research? You would be right. I decided to go for Kanye in the Power video, given he’s a man not short of self-love. Here are the results. Magnificent, yes?

KanyePowerPose kanye-west-power-video

‘Be a self-love Olympian’

This has nothing to do with sport, sadly. In this exercise, you visualise a situation where you would normally have low self-worth and imagine acting as if you didn’t. I imagined winning the Nobel Peace Prize despite the fact I’ve done nothing with my life apart from watch a lot of Netflix. It was a nice way to spend two minutes, but I didn’t feel any of my neural pathways changing.

‘Set them free’

Apparently, identifying the people you judge and the people you feel judged by helps you to set them free! I tried this on the Tube, because I am VERY judgemental of people who breach Tube etiquette. Sadly, identifying the people who behave antisocially on public transport did not set them free of the carriage. Probably just as well, given the dangers.

‘What do you like about yourself?’

I quote: ‘Most of us feel unhappy about some aspect of our body image; whether it’s our weight, […] breast size (women), hip size (women) or penis size (men).’ I’m glad he’s cleared that up for me. I’ve always been unhappy about my penis size and now I can be free!

Apparently the key to turning around poor body image and resisting the pressure of the media is this: focus on three things you like about your body and keep telling yourself why you like them. I choose my hair, my brain and my liver. All of them work bloody hard for me, after all.

Sadly, I cannot say I have felt any difference to my self-love levels after reading this book. I am the same as I have always been: a person who is sometimes unsure of herself, and who sometimes takes things to heart. I’m OK with this, so perhaps I’m richer in self-esteem than I thought I was. What I have learned is this: science sells; and scientists who write should never abuse the power and authority that the scientific label brings.

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The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: part 2

To recap on my last post: I had decided to give The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying a whirl. I mean, why not? I had an interview for a dream job coming up and I thought I could do with a bit of magic.  Also, it’s always good to have something to do whilst you’re procrastinating. Plus, THIS is what my dressing table looked like:

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Kondo’s method involves getting rid of everything that doesn’t ‘spark joy’. Everything. I decided to apply common sense to this: I can’t say that toilet paper ‘sparks joy’ but it is pretty essential. Because getting rid of things is difficult for many people, Kondo recommends going category-by-category, starting with clothes, then books, then random stuff, then papers and memorabilia.

As someone who has moved house nearly every year for the past decade, I thought I had become pretty minimalist. I’m not the kind of girl who ~loves to shop~.  So imagine my surprise when I’d filled three bin-bags with clothes that I just didn’t like anymore.

I said goodbye to some things that had served their purpose: a flammable Princess Ana from Frozen dress I wore to a hen party. Outfits that made more sense two years ago.

There were some clothes that I’d been holding on to for a while for emotional reasons: pajamas bought for me by my mother. I asked for some for Christmas ten years ago and she obliged in typical ‘My mum’ excessive style by getting me four sets of them, plus a dressing gown and more slipper socks than a small branch of M&S. Although the PJs are worn out now, I haven’t wanted to let go of them because my mum died three and a half years ago and it felt too much like throwing away the last act of love from her I have left. But four pairs of worn-out PJs won’t bring her back, so they had to go. I still have the dressing gown. I’ll probably never throw that away.

After I’d discarded everything, it was time to fold the few clothes I actually had left. Marie Kondo has a special method: forget folding everything and putting it in vertical piles. It’s ALL about folding things so you can see them all at once in drawers. Other people have videos that explain this better than I can in words.

Next was papers. This is too dull to talk about. Books and random stuff: likewise. Apart from the fact I learned that it IS possible to have too many bottles of nail varnish. But look at my dressing table now! IMG_2662

 

So: does The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying live up to its promise?

Firstly: Marie Kondo swears that by using her method, you will never have to tidy again. This sounds like your typical self-help ridiculous promise that borders on being an actual lie, but the strange thing is: she is mostly right. It is one of those things that sounds incredibly obvious, but if you don’t have tons of crap, and if everything you own has a place, then it’s not that hard to be tidy and stay tidy. It’s been a month since I had the clear out now and my flat is 99% as tidy as it was on the day I finished.

Secondly: Going through the process does help you reassess your relationship with ‘stuff’. If you are lucky enough to either love or need everything you possess, that’s a great position to be in. I’m not sure if it’s life-changing, but it has definitely made me a little bit happier.

Thirdly: I’m not sure if it’s magical, but I did get the dream job. I’m not giving Marie Kondo any of the credit, but I will say that clearing out my flat definitely encouraged me to think clearly and cut out superfluous thoughts, which didn’t hurt.

So far, I’ve taken on regimes designed to improve my finances, my diet, and my home. What should I try next? Any life-changing ideas appreciated – please leave me a comment!

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The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying

Over the summer, I made some big decisions about my life. I signed up for a Masters. I resigned from my job. I did a lot of thinking about what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go and how I wanted to live.

The only problem was that in the process of cleaning up my life, cleaning up my flat had fallen down my list of priorities. Tidiness was not a natural habit of mine. Clutter seemed to follow me around.

Time to try a new life-improving regime. I knew just the one: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo. If you’ve not heard of it, it’s one of 2015’s big self-help successes. It’s been in Amazon’s best-sellers for months now. Seems like I’m not the only one out there who isn’t naturally tidy.

Kondo’s angle goes beyond ‘a tidy home is good to have’. She believes that the process of tidying is transformational,  changing YOU as a person. ‘You will feel more confident, become more successful, and be motivated to create the life you want.’

If you don’t believe her, look at the testimonials from clients! Some seem more realistic than others.

‘I finally succeeded in losing three kilos.’ – very feasible, if you imagine that the tidying process involved throwing away all of your food, and potentially your fridge and oven too.

‘Someone I have been wanting to get in touch with recently contacted me’ – less feasible, unless the tidying involved getting rid of your writing paper by writing that person a letter and disposing of it in a postbox.

Obviously, I was skeptical about the concept of tidying bringing benefits that extended beyond just it being nice to have  an uncluttered home. But in the interests of properly testing this: I had a big, important job interview coming up. One that I was very keen on. Why not see whether the tidying magic would extend to getting me a dream job?

For those interested in the tidying method, here are the core components:

  • Have a big clear-out and do as much as you can at once – don’t do it bit by bit.
  • Touch every item you own and ask if it ‘sparks joy’. If you don’t love it, throw it away.
  • Once you’ve decluttered, that’s the time to find a space for everything.
  • Fold your clothes in the Konmari way. Forget about your clothes sitting in piles in your drawers: they should sit in rows where you can see everything. How to do the folding is best explained by YouTube.

So: how did I get on? Did it change my life? Did I get the job?!!! I’ll save that for my next post. Don’t want to miss it? Subscribe via email.

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How the Whole30 changed my life

IMG_2561No alcohol. No sugar. No grains. No dairy. No legumes. No artificial sweeteners or additives. No weighing yourself. For the month of September, this was my diet- and my life. Why would I willingly give up cheese and beer? Because I was road-testing the Whole30: a diet that promises that if you eat only healthy food for a month, you will be rewarded with a huge list of health benefits. Weight loss, more energy, improvement from medical conditions, and more.

But was it worth it? I’ve written extensively about what it felt like to do, so let’s cut to the top 5 end results:

  1. As if by magic, I became a morning person. This was the most surprising benefit. For the first hour after waking up, I used to be the sort of person who could only scowl and drink coffee. During Whole30, I was happily up and feeling clear-headed at 6am. It was WEIRD.
  2. I went through a brilliant phase of feeling invincible, like I’d been eating these: mario-star Sadly it didn’t last for the entire 30 days but I did feel good throughout.
  3. I saved money. Mostly because I didn’t really go out, I was so energetic I cycled/walked everywhere, and I didn’t spend any money on lunches.
  4. My skin became noticeably better – brighter and clearer.
  5. Oh, and I lost a lot of weight. 6 kilos, to be precise. One stone, if you are the imperial type. If you don’t know me in real life, I’ll say this for context: I’m a short person of average build. I wore a (UK) size ten before and I wear an eight now. I’m not doing before and after pictures. You can go to the Daily Mail website for that kind of thing.

On the flip side: this wasn’t without its sacrifices:

  1. My social life. Given that I’ve been really busy with other things, it was just simpler to focus on those rather than have awkwardness about the fact that restaurants and pubs are a minefield of things you can’t eat or drink.
  2. My ability to eat ‘normal’ food with abandon. I’ve been off Whole30 for three days and I completely ignored the instruction to reintroduce things slowly. I’ve had a few things like chocolate, a cheese toastie and beer because I am only human and I missed those things. As a result, I’ve felt noticeably worse (sleeping badly, less energetic, stomach aches) and I think I’ll need to do a bit of experimenting to see whether one or all of these things are the culprits.

The final verdict: The Whole30 makes huge promises to change your life. In many circumstances, people’s promises to change your life are complete rubbish. But I think W30 can justify the claim. If you’d like to learn about the impact the food you eat has on your body and your mind, this is a 30 day experiment you need to do. I’m not sure I’m going to think about food in the same way again.

Would you try a Whole30? I’d love to hear what you think. 

Now the Whole30 is over, I have been road-testing some new ‘life-changing’ programmes and tricks.  Subscribe to keep up with what’s coming next! 

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The Whole30, Week 3

New here? If so, let me bring you up to speed: I’ve been testing the Whole30, a 30-day diet that promises to change your life in more ways than one. Find out more about the Whole30, and see how weeks one and two went for me.

Day 15: I had a problem. After two weeks of Whole30, I’d lost weight and ALL of my clothes were starting to look ridiculous on me. My jeans looked like clown jeans. I know, I know, in terms of problems it’s on this scale:

… but at the same time, I didn’t want to go and buy new clothes when I was only halfway through, in case they wouldn’t fit by day 30.

Day 16: Doom. DOOOOM. Last week, fueled by Tiger Blood and feeling amazing, I really pushed myself in terms of exercise: cycling, running, yoga, weights, the whole shebang. I completely forgot that whenever I do this to myself, my body repays me by catching the nearest virus and taking me out for a week. Turns out Whole30 doesn’t guard against viruses.

Days 17. 18 and 19: Turns out, having a cold is having a cold, no matter what you’re eating.

Day 20: The cold has gone and the Tiger Blood is back. I feel happy, confident, and productive.  Also, my fingernails have gone weirdly shiny, like I’ve buffed them or painted them with clear nail varnish. I am by now so used to eating only ‘real’ food that it feels automatic, and I’m no longer spending half my life in the kitchen or the supermarket.

The end is in sight. Will the Whole30 live up to its life-changing promise? Subscribe to be notified of new blog posts when they appear, or follow me on Bloglovin’.

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The Whole30, Week 2

If you are new to this blog, I’ve been road-testing the Whole30, a diet which promises to change your life. To catch up, find out what the Whole30 is and how I’ve done so far

Day 8: I felt amazing. I. FELT. AMAZING.

I went for a run and didn’t have to drag myself out of the door. I didn’t have to force myself through it. I even stretched and used the foam roller afterwards.

I blogged! I tried to change the DNS settings on my other website! I hoovered! I GOT SHIZ DONE!

If you are familiar with the Whole30 at all, you will have heard of their concept ‘tiger blood’ (stolen from Charlie Sheen). This is shorthand for feeling awesome, like the world is yours and everything is yours for the taking (because of your healthy diet; not because of illegal substances like Charlie Sheen). According to the Timeline this usually comes in around 16-17 days but for some reason I had started to feel it prematurely.

HOORAY FOR WHOLE30!

Day 9: I was still feeling good. So much so that I cycle to work. I’m normally too lazy to do this. Not the cycling part- that’s the easy bit- but I  often can’t be bothered because of all the packing and preparation you have to do beforehand so you can shower and make yourself presentable at work. I usually forget something essential. Like underwear.

Of course, I forgot something that day: a comb. But because of the Tiger Blood, I was entirely unfazed. Even when I found out that there was filming in the office and my awful hair would be immortalised on camera. Who cares when you feel this good?

That evening, I had put chicken cacciatore on the meal plan for tonight. I was still cooking at 9pm. This is the downside to Whole30: your late nights are not because you are having fun. They are because you are cooking, eating and washing up til the small hours. (the Chicken Cacciatore was DELICIOUS though).

Day 10. Still feeling good. I go for a run, get excited about the possibilities of life, and then spend some time plotting world domination. My first step: making my own mayonnaise from scratch. It worked. Next step: maybe world peace.

Highlight of my day: I made my own mayonnaise and IT WORKED!!! #whole30

A photo posted by Kate Brennan (@katebrennan) on

Day 11: Not much to report. Surely any day following Mayonnaise Day was bound to be dull by comparison.

Day 12: Cooking and eating everything from scratch has become the new normal. My fridge and freezer are full of Whole30-friendly meals. I’m spending less time in Morrisons. I also feel entirely normal. No weird hunger or cravings. I almost wish more weird stuff was going on so I had more to blog about.

Day 13: So far, my Whole30 had coincided with a pretty quiet time in my life – I’d been focusing on Sorting My Life Out which meant that having fun and seeing people had taken a back seat. This had been fairly convenient as I didn’t want  to worry about finding Whole30-friendly food in public. Also: I didn’t want to make other people go out of their way to accommodate my restrictive diet. I was happy cooking food that has no grains, gluten, dairy, soy or artificial flavourings but I thought it was too big an ask to make other people do it, just because I was taking a personal challenge.

Anyway, day 13 saw me going out for the first time for a family event to celebrate my partner’s dad’s birthday. By the way, my partner’s dad and his wife are great at food. I always come away from their house excellently well-fed. Thankfully, Whole30 did not get in the way of this  – we had a buffet and there was loads of salad, so my life was made really easy. However, I could only look longingly at these delicious things:

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Ahh, carbs, sugar and dairy.

One of the things that has surprised me about Whole30 is that I was expecting it to be an epic battle: Kate VS Carbs. I mean, I had tried it before and caved in after a week or two.  This time, it felt easier. Much easier. For the first time, I could see myself actually getting to the end and achieving what I wanted from Whole30. And that felt good.

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The Whole30, Week 1

If this is your first time reading This will change your life, welcome! To bring you up to speed, I’m trying the Whole30 diet to see if it will live up to its promise to change my life. Read the first post about it here.

Day 1: I stepped on the scales to find out my ‘before’ weight. Weighing yourself is banned on Whole30, so this would be the last time in 30 days I’d know my number. I almost wished I hadn’t done it. It wasn’t good.

The thing is: I believe that we shouldn’t be slaves to the scale. I believe that we shouldn’t be subject to ridiculous pressure to be thin and beautiful. I rarely even notice if other people gain or lose weight. But when it comes to my own weight,  I do care, which makes me feel like I’m betraying the feminist cause. A double dose of feeling crappy: one for not having the same BMI as Kate Moss, and another one for betraying womankind. I’m not alone in feeling like this: there is an excellent article about it here.

Putting the scales away for a month felt like it could be a relief from this. Maybe.

Day 2: There is a Whole30 timeline that tells you what you might expect at different stages of the programme. It warns that things might get worse before they get better and that I will probably experience a hangover-like state on Day 2, despite the lack of alcohol. Perhaps it was just my body/brain being contrary but I felt fine. Perhaps a bit ’empty’, like I had forgotten to eat something (despite eating lots of food. Lots and lots of food).

Day 3: I went to the supermarket, again, because you need a LOT of fresh vegetables on the Whole30. I felt quietly smug looking at my insanely healthy shopping basket, especially when the people behind me at the checkout put three super sized packets of Doritos on the conveyor belt.

Day 4: I was walking through Covent Garden when a woman stepped on my toe outside The Lion King. The noise I made was halfway between a roar and a screech. Shortly after, it starts to pour with rain. The Whole30 Timeline describes this as the ‘Kill All The Things’ phase. I think they got that one right.

A photo posted by Kate Brennan (@katebrennan) on

Day 5: I could feel my willpower improving. I went to a conference about behavioural science, which I LOVED. They had a bookshop full of amazing books, many which I wanted to buy. But for some reason, I didn’t. I added some of the books I wanted to my Amazon Wishlist instead because I’m starting a Masters soon and changing career and I need to save money (I included the link just in case a generous stranger wants to add to my bookshelf or buy me a Roomba).

I was expecting to find doing a Whole30 difficult, but so far I had been unfazed. The side-effects weren’t too bad. I kind of missed Diet Coke and Hellman’s mayonnaise. But I was starting to feel better overall. It felt worth it.

Day 6: I was TIRED. Despite the fact it was Friday night and I should have been in a pub somewhere, I went home to sleep. I felt a vague impulse to go to the corner shop and buy ice cream, which I ignored. I was asleep by 8:30. Rock and roll.

Day 7: It was Saturday and I had a weird wobble. You see, I decided recently that I wanted to make a lot of changes to my life (hence the blog). It’s involved a lot of hard work, and a huge amount of putting myself out there. And there’s going to be a lot more hard work ahead. My to-do list was ENORMOUS and I had nothing to distract me from the fact my future is looking very unclear.

Normally I would make myself feel better by eating something sugary and delicious, or carby and delicious. But this was not an option. All I could do was talk it over and wait for the uncomfortable feelings to pass. I know that I will get to where I need to be, with or without chocolate.

Have you tried the Whole30? If so, how did it feel for you? If not, would you try it yourself?

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Can the Whole30 diet change your life?

When I came back from my holiday, I felt DISGUSTING. That’ll be what happens when you spend a week and a half eating whatever you want (chocolate), drinking whatever you want (beer) and doing whatever you want (eating chocolate and drinking beer, whilst sitting down).

My skin had broken out. I was grumpy and exhausted. I felt like I’d been run over by an Ocado van. I longed for a reset button that could restore me back to a healthier self.

Enter the Whole30.

The Whole30 is a programme that talks a big game about how it can change your life. In fact, the words ‘change your life’ are used approximately 192 times in its material, and its founders, Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, are pretty confident about the value of it. So are its fans. You can’t get too far into looking into it before you see enthusiastic testimonials from people who are surprisingly happy given they have given up nearly everything that’s fun to eat.

You see, the plan is notoriously tough. For 30 days, you can eat only meat, seafood, eggs, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and natural fats. You are not allowed anything else. No sugar. No legumes. No grains. No dairy. No alcohol. No sweeteners.

Why in God’s earth would you willingly give up Diet Coke, chocolate and pale ale for a whole month? Because the list of purported benefits is practically as long as the dictionary. To name a few: weight loss, higher energy levels, better sleep, a better relationship with food, improvement in medical conditions, improved mood, better skin. I wanted all of these things. Wouldn’t you?

I had tried to do it before, and never made it beyond two weeks. I had always succumbed to the lure of ‘YOLO’, or there was a special occasion, or my willpower just ran out. Now was as good a time as any: I had only one special occasion in September to navigate, I felt motivated to do it, and this blog would help keep me accountable.

You don’t need to buy a book or buy special products to do a Whole30, as all the info you need is freely available online.  But to make life easier, I have the Whole30 book and will be using this as my focus, as going through the information online can lead you down a terrifying rabbit hole (more on this later).

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What I liked about the book is that it focuses strongly on preparation and things you can do to set you up to succeed, focusing on your brain and habits as well as your fridge. As I learned before, following a plan that doesn’t take human nature into account is not going to work. The steps to prepare for a Whole30 are as follows:

1. Choose a start date

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Look: I wrote it in my diary and everything!

 

2. Build your support team.

I asked my partner the following

“Do you support me doing this diet?”

“Yes”

“Great, thanks!”

3. Get your house ready.

I’m ahead of the game on this one – I got rid of everything in the flat I can’t eat on Whole30 already. By.. erm.. eating it all on Day 0. *whistles*

4. Plan for success.

There are two parts to this: meal planning, and planning for what you will do if you overcome obstacles in your daily life.

I approached the meal planning part like this: I needed 90 meals in the next 30 days. I needed to have enough variety so that I don’t get bored of eating the same thing over and over again, but also be efficient enough so that I don’t spend all of my money and time on food. The Whole30 plan is fairly carnivorous and I live with a vegetarian, so I also needed to plan some meals that are veggie or can be adapted so that we could both eat together (i.e. I have meat, he has something vegetarian, and we both eat the side dish). I also wanted to do some batch-cooking and freezing so that I had something to eat on lazy days. This is what my plan looked like:

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The other form of planning is to overcome potential obstacles. This comes in the form of if/then statements. For example: IF I get stressed and want to dive head first into a packet of chocolate Hobbobs, THEN I go for a walk, read a trashy novel, talk to a friend etc etc.  I liked this kind of planning as it has been proven effective by psychologists – you are three times more likely to succeed in changing your habits if you do this. Therefore I was happy to write a long list of scenarios including what I’ll do if I forget my packed lunch, if someone offers me home-baked goods, and so on.

5. Get Rid of Your Scales.

Not weighing yourself is crucial to the psychological side of the plan. The Hartwigs maintain that letting your weight dictate your mood isn’t very healthy. While I could see their point, I didn’t want to take their suggestion of applying a sledgehammer to my scales, so I put them in a cupboard, out of view.

With that, I was ready to go. Day 1: bring it on.

If you’d like updates on how the Whole30 does – or doesn’t – change my life, you can subscribe on the right-hand side of the blog. 

Have you ever done a Whole30? Did it change your life? Please feel free to share your thoughts – and any advice! – in the comments.

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