Body Image, Weight Gain and COVID

Oh hello, it’s been a while.

Apologies for the radio silence on here! I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t posted in over seven months.

Why not, I hear you ask?!

Self-doubt, angst, social anxiety, the usual. Fear has been holding me back, and we all know that the biggest obstacle to success is fear. Luckily, I am now fearless like a lion (I’m not, but I have missed blogging, so here we are). Without further ado…

Weight gain has been a focal point of the COVID lockdown; you’ve probably heard jokes about the “quarantine 15” or terminology such as “lockdown bod”. Unsurprisingly, I don’t find jokes with underlying messages of fatphobia particularly amusing.

I have previously written about why you shouldn’t comment on someone’s weight (whether that be weight loss or weight gain), and this is relevant now more than ever.

Not only have the jokes about weight gain (i.e. fatphobia) increased considerably over recent months, the COVID lockdown has seen a sharp rise in eating disorders. Humour that relies on weight stigma masks diet culture’s connection to body shame, misogyny, and classism. “I need to socially distance myself from the kitchen LOLZZZZZ” might seem like a light-hearted, throwaway comment, but it further stigmatises weight gain and is highly triggering for many.

I’ve experienced varying levels of negative thoughts about my body for as long as I can remember, and like many, this has been amplified over lockdown. Every anxiety has been intensified, and comparison is at an all-time high.

It takes time, patience, and conscious effort to undo the body shaming that has been picked up over the years. Having previously been diagnosed with potential hypothalamic amenorrhea (potential as my contraception at the time may or may not have been masking an underlying abnormality), consistently working on my relationship with food, exercise and my body is a priority.

I know that I’m happier and healthier at my current size vs. four years ago, but the constant influx of “quarantine 15” posts have brought up old insecurities and shame.

As always, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this (unless your thoughts are steeped in fatphobia, in which case I would kindly ask you to bugger off).

Has lockdown had an impact on your body image? How have you dealt with this?

Mell x

Oversensitive

‘I don’t want other people to decide who I am. I want to decide that for myself.’ *

“You’re oversensitive, and other people (men) feel the same way about you”; I recently received this feedback from a colleague, and I have been mulling over it for a few days. This was delivered under the guise of ‘constructive feedback’, and my first reaction was to take this criticism on board and change my behaviours accordingly.  

After some contemplation and conversations with others, I’ve come to the realisation that this was not constrictive feedback – it was an accusation.

Women are soooOOOOOooooOOOOOO

Oversensitive

Crazy

Hysterical

Irrational

Dramatic

Etc. Etc. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before – I certainly have.

There are many confusing contradictions when it comes to women’s behaviour and emotions, and sometimes bringing up issues of oppression can feel overwhelming and exhausting. What we really mean by oversensitive or crazy is “she displayed some form of emotion, and this made me feel uncomfortable”.

Accusing someone of being too sensitive is not only patronising and dismissive, it’s downright manipulative.

The comment that my colleague made sparked feelings of uncertainty. It made me question myself, and the validity of my emotions. Essentially, I was letting somebody dictate how I was supposed to feel.

Your feelings are your feelings and being sensitive is not a character flaw. Your emotional state won’t magically disappear because a man has advised you to modify your reactions – in a way that suits him and his disposition, of course.

So, the next time someone accuses me of being oversensitive, I will take this as a compliment.

“I’m too sensitive”

I am empathetic.

I am compassionate.

I feel things deeply.

I am assertive.

I have strong and healthy boundaries.

*Emma Watson

A Time to Reflect

I wrote this blog over a month ago, but I was too scared to post it! I wondered whether it was too ‘deep’ or perhaps too personal. However, a wonderful friend convinced me that it could be a useful read for others – I hope you enjoy it, and apologies for the delay!

2019 was the most challenging year of my life with regards to my mental health (I won’t go into detail as I have written a couple of blogs about this). I feel incredibly grateful to be at a stage where I am now managing my PTSD and anxiety a lot more effectively, using a combination of therapy, medication, exercise, and having open, honest conversations.

I’m oddly grateful for my mental health struggles. I have gained strength and resilience, and a fierce determination for the year, and decade, ahead.

I have also seen the dark side of our mental health system, subject to brutal cuts, huge demand and dangerously long waiting times. This has pushed me into becoming a mental health advocate, sharing my story and fighting against an underfunded system.

I’m writing this from a pretty good place (mentally, not physically, as I’m currently writing this sitting on a bench just round the corner from Sam’s 99p store). I still experience some intense periods of poor mental health, but they are far less frequent and significantly easier to deal with.

So, my key learnings and general thoughts from the past year are as follows…

1. You can take time for yourself. You SHOULD take time for yourself and stop feeling guilty about it.

2. Saying that… self-care, as a concept, is becoming increasingly problematic.

Self-care has become commercialised, and this commercialised self-care tells us to spend £50 on a face cream or buy a vanilla latte with soymilk.

We need to take a step back and think about what self-care is and what self-care is not. For me, self-care is any activity that has a strong focus on my mental and/or physical health. It isn’t a complex morning routine or a 2-hour meditation session. It’s the simple things; trying to get at least 8 hours sleep, taking my medication, running, swimming, cycling, eating ridiculous amounts of peanut butter.

3. ‘Toxic’ friendships can be avoided/terminated/managed.

Side note – Toxic was Oxford’s word of the year in 2018, and it’s still a massive buzzword. The phrase ‘toxic friendship’ is overused, cliché and quite frankly irritating – but I can’t think of a better way to capture what I’m trying to convey!

These types of friendships can be detrimental to our mental health, and it’s important to remember that not all friendships are obligatory. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’ve had any ‘toxic’ friendships, but I’ve certainly had (and still do have) troubled friendships.

I think this ultimately boils down to respect; if you do not have mutual respect for one another, you may not have a healthy friendship. Some friendships require physical and emotional boundaries, but when you realise that a friend doesn’t respect you it may be time to walk away.

4. On a more light-hearted note, over the past year I’ve discovered that I’m pretty good at baking! I make a banging lemon drizzle cake. And a banging madeira cake. AND a banging raspberry bakewell cake. (Thank you, Delia, for all of the above).

I’m not going to sugar-coat it – 2019 was challenging and beautiful and rewarding and terrifying. I’m proud of my achievements, particularly buying my lovely little flat and running a sub 4-hour marathon – but most importantly, I’m just grateful to be surrounded by so many wonderful, inspirational people.

Alllllll the gratitude going into 2020!

My Top Three Podcasts of 2019

Back by popular demand (not really), this was one of my favourite posts to write last January, and 2019 turned out to be an even more nuanced year of podcasts.

I thought I’d share some of the podcasts that I have consistently enjoyed over the past year – let me know if you give any of them a listen!

1. The High Low

Launched in 2016, I was a little late to the game with this one. Piers Morgan described The High Low as “a couple of braying posh girls talking gibberish”, which obviously made me want to listen to it even more!

The High Low explores and combines ‘high-brow’ and ‘low-brow’ culture; Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes discuss current affairs and pop-culture in a way that really resonates with me.

Some highlights include:

  • Instagram’s Proposed Removal of The ‘Like’ Counter
  • We’ve Only Gone And Done It: A Deep-Dive Into Wagatha Christie
  • Why Mental Health Is Nothing To Do With Wellness, with Author Bella Mackie

2. Football, Feminism & Everything in-between

In this podcast, Grace Campbell (comedian and feminist activist) and her father, Alistair Campbell, (yes, that one) discuss…well, football, feminism and everything else in-between.

Part of the magic of this podcast is how varied each of the guests are, from Ed Miliband to Joey Barton; thus, their views of football and feminism are rarely the same.

I am, of course, a feminist, but I wouldn’t put myself into the football fan category (sorry Dad), therefore initially I was unsure whether I would be able to appreciate or relate to the conversations surrounding football. However, some of these discussions have been so thought provoking, and I’m beginning to understand how football can open up broader discussions around important topics – human connection, race and mental health to name a few.

Some highlights include:

  • The Scarlett and Richard Curtis One
  • The Julia Gillard One
  • The Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce One

3. Happy Place

Fearne Cotton’s podcast now plays a significant role in my morning routine; it’s so relaxing and easy to listen to.

Fearne interviews an eclectic line up of guests, sharing how they find joy and how they deal with some of life’s challenging moments. A lot of the conversations are around mental health and spiritual strength; ultimately, each episode explores what happiness means – which of course is highly subjective.

I won’t pretend that I’ve loved every episode, as some of the guest speakers have been a litttttttle (extremely) irritating. However, overall, this podcast is a true celebration of life; it feels very authentic, and unsurprisingly Fearne is an excellent podcast host.

Some highlights include:

  • Mary Berry
  • Matt Haig
  • Dawn French

And so the rise of the podcast continues, as does my podcast obsession… please do let me know if you have any recommendations!

Body Image in Running, Inspired by Mary Cain

* Disclaimer – I wrote this a few weeks ago but wanted to hold off posting until my blog revamp was complete. However, my blog still looks like a dog has vomited all over it, and the revamp is taking longer than expected, so here you go. *

The notion of ‘smaller is better’ and ‘thinner is faster’ is nothing new when it comes to long distance and middle-distance running; however, Mary Cain’s recent statement has really got me thinking about how body image in running is portrayed.

If you haven’t already, have a watch of Cain’s video for the New York Times, in which she speaks about the emotional and physical abuse she suffered as a result of constant pressure to lose weight whilst training with Alberto Salazar at the Nike Oregon Project. Cain didn’t get her period for three years and she broke five bones. She went on to become depressed, and experienced suicidal thoughts.

Whilst Cain’s story is horrifying, it’s not particularly unusual; it’s a narrative that I have heard numerous times. “I got caught in a system designed by and for men, which destroys the bodies of young girls”; one of the main problems is that females are being trained in the same way that men are being trained – it goes without saying that this is insane. I have many issues with Nike, one of which is the brand’s treatment of its female athletes – but that’s a story for another time.

Women are praised when they work on their bodies, and the myth that intensive exercise creates the ‘perfect’ body shape is still prevalent. I mentioned in a previous post that I have been congratulated (on multiple occasions) by other runners on my weight. HOW is this still happening, and WHY does anyone think that this is acceptable?!

There’s no denying that body weight is one of multiple factors that affects performance, and for high-level athletes this is heightened. However, mental and physical health should be by far the most crucial factors.

It’s not surprising that many women go on to develop a dysfunctional relationship with food and training. My own relationship with food has been complicated, and comments made by friends and family have contributed to certain patterns of disordered eating that I now recognise as being unhealthy and unsustainable. Saying this, body confidence is a complex issue; you don’t simply wake up one morning and decide you are 100% comfortable in your own skin.

Sport-related body image issues can lead to amenorrhea, poor mental health, osteoporosis, infertility… I could go on. Managing this issue in the female running community is a huge task, and we have a long way to go. However, Cain’s video (alongside statements from other women who have shared their experiences) is a step in the right direction.

One major change that I have implemented is really focusing on the type of content that I’m exposed to – although of course, this is sometimes beyond our control. I personally find body positivity accounts unhelpful, but diversifying my feed and following accounts of a wide array of people who inspire me (rather than encouraging feelings of self-doubt) has been an overwhelmingly positive move.

There is no single acceptable body type when it comes to running – or when it comes to anything, obviously – so let’s keep the conversation going. Slow progress is better than no progress!

72 Days Meat Free

The decision to end my consumption of meat was not quick or impulsive (unlike most of my decisions). It is something that I have been working towards for almost four years, with periods of great success and periods of complete and utter failure.

A key learning it that the worst way (for me) to cut down on animal product consumption is by making a sudden switch to a fully vegan diet. I have tried this approach multiple times, lasted a couple of months, and then gone on a mad weekend meat binge (not a euphemism).

About a year ago, I decided to try a different tactic; I ate a plant-based diet Monday – Friday. More recently (72 days ago to be precise) I stopped eating meat completely, although I am still currently eating fish twice per week.

As mentioned in previous posts, my reasons behind this lifestyle change are NOT health based – I don’t believe that veganism or vegetarianism are necessarily healthier lifestyle choices, nor should they be used as a weight management tool. I have many issues with ‘documentaries’ such as What the Health and Cowspiracy (don’t even get me started on The Game Changers) as I do not support proselytizing by pseudo-Science and spreading ridiculous misinformation.

HOWEVER.

To put it bluntly, we are destroying our planet. There is a clear link between food and the climate emergency, and we are all aware of this; the consumption of meat is one of the most environmentally damaging actions that we carry out. That, alongside the fact that I simply enjoy eating a plant-based diet and it makes me feel GOOD (plus plant-based food was already making up 90% of my diet) are compelling enough reasons to commit and make the change.

I want to re-emphasise my initial point; from an ecological and ethical standpoint, it’s clear that a plant-based diet is the way forward. My issue is the pseudo-science behind the so-called nutritional and health benefits of following a plant-based diet (for example, The Game Changers conveniently omits the fact that the majority of vegan athletes supplement heavily with protein powders), and an unhealthy obsession with the all or nothing approach.

Food is an extremely multi-faceted and complex topic, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Whilst I can’t see myself eating meat again, I would never shame anyone for doing so. You can care deeply about humanity, the environment etc. without devoting all your time and energy towards pursuing the perfect plant-based diet.

Hever Castle Triathlon – I DIDN’T DIE

A couple of weeks ago, I completed my first triathlon and I didn’t die! However, I did contract norovirus, so there was a point post-triathlon where death was a real possibility (not really, but it felt like it).

Apart from the norovirus, I enjoyed my first triathlon a lot more than anticipated. The event was well-organised, the staff and marshals were ever so helpful, and the course itself was beautiful. The race commenced with an open-water swim in Hever Castle Lake, transitioning into a veryyyy hilly cycle through the High Weald of Kent, and finishing off with an off-road run.  

Now that I have stopped vomiting my guts out (you’re welcome), here’s a little breakdown about each stage of the race:

Pre-Race

I spent at least half an hour laying out all my equipment and kit – in fact, I spent so long arranging and re-arranging everything that I almost missed the final call for my wave and had to sprint down to the start line!

When it came to T1 (for those new to triathlon, T1 is the first transition from swim to bike) and T2 (the second transition when you switch from biking to running), I thanked organised and obsessive Mell. God bless her soul.

Swim

This is the discipline that I was dreading; up until recently open water swimming has been a big fear of mine.

However, the swim was surprisingly pleasant! I took my time and just enjoyed it, alternating between front crawl and breaststroke. I was slow, but I was steady and controlled, conserving my energy for the bike and run.

Bike

Much to my astonishment, I located my bike quickly and had a pretty smoooooth T1.

This was my first time taking part in a group ride, and my biggest challenge was adhering to the strict rules around drafting. Whilst I have enough self-awareness not to position myself ludicrously close behind someone’s rear wheel, it was unavoidable when taking on some of the sharp, narrow turns. I hope this will get easier as I become more experienced!

Another issue was my reluctance to take my hands (even one hand) off the bars. Although I had a quick drink in T1, I decided to be brave and reach down to my water bottle. I panicked, dropped the bottle immediately, and made the quick decision to carry on cycling rather than stop suddenly and potentially cause a crash.

Although obviously this was the right decision, it did mean that I became uncomfortably dehydrated – any tips on riding no-hands would be much appreciated! I actually did fall off my bike when it came to the dismount, but that’s a story for another time eh.

Despite the mishaps, I loved riding through the High Weald of Kent; it was the strongest I’ve ever felt on the bike, and my best discipline by quite a long shot.

Run

At T2 I ate two clif bloks, contemplated having a swig of somebody else’s water because by this point, I was parched, then decided that would be completely unacceptable so proceeded towards the run with a mouth as dry as the Sahara Desert.

I had been looking forward to the run – this was my time to shine! Conversely, this was my least favourite of the three disciplines, and I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed with my time. This was 100% my own fault; the fact that I didn’t partake in any form of brick session (this is a workout that combines swimming, cycling and/or running into a single session) left me feeling unprepared for the imminent heavy legs and general fatigue. Moving forward, I will definitely be incorporating some bike/run brick workouts into my regime!

Post-Race

Overall, I finished in 281st place out of 465, and 86th female out of 199. I think that’s pretty good for my first triathlon, particularly given the standard of the competitors (there were some absolute BEASTS in the first few waves!)

Have I caught the bug? Yes, both metaphorically and literally (thanks norovirus). Whilst I would like to pretend that Hever Castle Triathlon was a bucket-list thing, I enjoyed it far too much not to come back for more.

So, what’s next? I found out yesterday that I got a place in the London Marathon ballot, much to my surprise/horror/excitement/confusion. I would also like to do a couple of Olympic distance triathlons next year, eventually building up to an Ironman 70.3.

EXCITING TIMES. Annnnd I must conclude with a quote from the Queen (Michelle Obama, not Beyoncé. Or the actual Queen):

There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.”

Three Things I’ve Learned in the lead up to my first Triathlon

In precisely 11 days, I will have (hopefully!) completed my first triathlon.

I haven’t stuck to my training plan; in fact, I haven’t even looked at my training plan. I could potentially regret this when it comes to triathlon day, and in general I would always advocate following a structured training plan.

However, the reason I’m taking part in this triathlon is purely to see whether I enjoy it. I don’t have a goal in mind; therefore, a plan isn’t necessary for me right now. Please don’t mistake my lack of structured plan as a lack of motivation, as that is definitely not the case! This is also not to say that I haven’t but the work in – I have, but in my own disjointed, unscheduled, rather messy way.

So, here are a few things I’ve learned over the past few months…

  1. I don’t dislike cycling (i.e. I really like cycling but don’t want to admit it)

Whilst running will always be my one true love, I am beginning to find an unexpected joy in cycling.

There is something liberating about riding through the spectacular Surrey hills. Running up and down a hill is challenging, but it’s just not as exciting because you will never achieve enough speed – and, unless you run ultramarathons, you will never go as far.

Unlike running, cycling is a low impact sport; it’s easy on the joints and great for building muscle, especially in your quads, glutes and calves. This has been great post fibular fracture, and I have generally felt stronger since incorporating cycling into my workout schedule.

2. The cost of running vs. triathlon

As a sport, running is relatively accessible; compared to triathlon (and pretty much every other sport), you need a lot less equipment.

I have been ever so lucky as I’ve borrowed some key items including my wetsuit, tri-suit and race belt – plus my bike and helmet were hand-me-downs. If I did not have access to these, the cost to train for my first triathlon could easily have been in the thousands!!

This does not even take into the consideration the cost of the triathlon itself, which is (understandably) pricier than any running race I’ve ever participated in. The triathlon that I am taking part in is a large-scale event, taking place in historic grounds. It’s also in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – it’s no surprise that these events are so expensive to organise and execute. However, it’s still a barrier to entry which I cannot simply disregard.

Whilst there are alternative methods to getting hold of lower cost equipment (e.g. buying second hand or hiring out kit), I would still argue that triathlon is not an accessible sport. I believe that participating in sport should be available to all those who wish to partake, not just those (like me) who are privileged.

3. I am good enough

Although one of my goals for this year was to be kinder to myself, I often let negative thoughts take over.

‘I’m not strong enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not good enough’; this is an unhelpful internalised message, but unfortunately it’s a thought process that I re-visit time and time again.

I have been experiencing a fair amount of triathlon related imposter syndrome, and whilst training for a triathlon has not miraculously changed my mindset, it has made me re-think the way that I speak to myself.

‘I CAN’.

‘I WILL’.

*Insert other melodramatic goal orientated statement/positive mantra of your choice*

But in all seriousness, two months ago I refused to get on the bike unless someone was riding with me, and the thought of swimming in open water terrified me (it still does, but less so!)

Stop doubting yourself. Take a deep breath. You are good enough. YOU ARE BEYONCE**

**Don’t follow Beyoncé’s ridiculous 22-day diet plan though. Still disappointed in you for promoting this Queen Bee.

End of Summer Anxiety

I’ve recently heard a lot of people use the term ‘August Anxiety’; this describes the panic/dread associated with the thought of summer coming to an end. I can relate to this, having experienced similar anxiety around this time last year.

Before delving into this, I want to touch on the difference between feeling anxious and having anxiety.

I have a real issue with people using the term anxiety lightly. Feeling anxious or worried about something versus suffering from anxiety are two VERY different things. I could write a whole post on this, but to summarise, feeling anxious occasionally is natural and healthy. Anxiety becomes more problematic when it is not just an occasional occurrence, but a mental health condition that needs to be treated as such.

I’ve read an abundance of articles comparing end of summer anxiety to ‘back-to-school blues’, which once again I think undermines what anxiety actually is. ‘Back-to-school blues’ and anxiety are NOT the same thing! However, I thought it would be helpful to share a few of my tips on dealing with end of summer anxiety – whatever your definition/concept of this may be!

  1. Embrace new challenges

I will be taking part in my first triathlon at the end of September which is a completely new challenge for me. I’m dreading it a little due to the swim (and the cycle. And the cold water. And the transitions. And everything but the run), but I know that the sense of accomplishment will be incredible.

Try something new that keeps you active/something that energises you!

2. Enjoy the sun

I try to spend as much time as I can outside; I swear by a lunchtime walk every weekday, no matter what the weather. The extent to which daylight exposure impacts mood is something that I’m not going to delve into, but I have experienced some of the short-term benefits.

Plus, my anxiety will often become worse when I don’t exercise (to clarify, the only reason I wouldn’t exercise is due to injury/illness); walking is a fantastic form of exercise, and there is an abundance of Scientific research to back up the effectiveness of adding walking to your daily routine.

3. Take a technology break

Whilst I cringe at the (ever so) millennial term ‘social media detox’, taking a break from technology has been key.

Apart from sending the odd message, I put my phone in airplane mode an hour before I go to bed. I muted all group notifications manyyyy years ago, and as of this weekend I’m going to turn my phone off either every Saturday or Sunday from 9am – 6pm.

This has been beneficial for my mental health in a variety of ways, a key one being SLEEP.

4. TALK

I’m aware that I’ve mentioned this on multiple blog posts, and I will continue to highlight it in future posts. Talking about your thoughts and feelings is a fantastic coping mechanism; your feelings are important, your feelings are never insignificant, and opening up about your struggles will (hopefully!) make you feel a bit better or at least remind you that you are not alone.

Talking about your feelings allows you to take control of them, which determines how you feel, think and act.

5. Journaling

I have previously written a post on the health benefits of journaling. Check it outtttt.

I hope that this was helpful – I know that end of summer anxiety or any form of anxiety is a lot more complex than this, and there are a wide array of treatments and coping mechanisms that I haven’t touched upon. These are just a few things that have helped me.

How do you deal with end of summer anxiety? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Is Carbon Offsetting Worthwhile?

Firstly, I wanted to apologise for no longer blogging on a weekly basis – SO many of my fans have been asking why this is the case (two people have asked me). I only want to blog about topics that I feel passionately about, and by committing to blog on a weekly basis, it was reaching the stage where some posts just didn’t feel quite right – thus I may be blogging less frequently, or perhaps more frequently, who knows!

Blogging aside, I have been wanting to write this post for a while…

We’re all aware that flying is terrible for the environment; flights account for 2.5% of the world’s carbon emissions, and the industry is growing. As carbon offsetting becomes increasingly popular, I wanted to share my honest thoughts on whether paying a company to offset your emissions is a beneficial way to approach the issue (spoiler alert – it’s not. It’s really not).

What is carbon offsetting?

There are two types of carbon offsetting schemes, corporate (directly through the airline) and personal, which allow people to ‘balance’ out their carbon footprints by making a voluntary financial contribution towards projects that help to reduce CO2 emissions. It is based on calculating how much CO2 is emitted by an activity (predominantly flying), and then funding a project designed to reduce carbon emissions such as tree planting or clean-energy projects.

It’s great that carbon offsetting is raising awareness of the environmental impact caused by our lifestyle choices – when I say lifestyle choices, I don’t mean this in a condescending way – of course some flights are unavoidable due to a variety of reasons. It’s also great to support credible initiatives that increase energy efficiency and contribute positively towards aiding the climate crisis.

Other than the importance of raising awareness, I am sceptical about carbon offsetting.

It seems like carbon offsetting is being used by many, particularly irresponsible influencers, as an easy way out of taking real responsibility. You’re not ‘neutralising’ the damage that you have caused by going on multiple press trips to Bali and Thailand in order to promote poor quality teeth whitening toothpaste. You’re simply appeasing your guilty conscience with little interest in improving your carbon footprint.

The ethics of carbon offsetting are complex, and this post is not about shaming anyone for flying (tomorrow I will be flying with a budget airline, so who am I to judge?!) It’s unreasonable to ask people to stop flying, but it’s perfectly reasonable to ask people to think about a major reduction. The simple and most effective solution is to reduce your own emissions.

If you do choose to offset, please do so responsibly; the programmes that I have been recommended are Gold Standard, Climate Care and My Climate. However, this is not a route that I wish to go down – I fly a lot less than I used to due to the nature of my job, and the fact that I often choose UK based holidays over travelling abroad.

I believe that ‘carbon neutrality’ does not exist when it comes to flying. Carbon offsetting is obtusely class blind, and in my opinion, not something that you can buy your way out of. Please take some responsibility, please look after our planet, and please excuse all my clichés.

How Will Instagram Hiding ‘Likes’ Impact Our Mental Health?

Instagram recently launched a test to hide the number of likes a post has received. This is currently being tested in seven countries including Australia, New Zealand and Canada, prior to potentially being expanded to a wider audience. The idea is that the number of likes will only be visible to the user who posted the photo, allowing one to focus on the content (side note – I cannot stand the word ‘content’) itself.  

Instagram have stated “We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love”. Supposedly, the purpose of this new approach is to improve users’ mental health, and I really wish this was the case. These changes aren’t being implemented due to mental health concerns; it’s simply about money (it’s highly likely that Instagram’s ad revenue will increase).

Regardless of Instagram’s intentions, this feels like a step in the right direction. According to research carried out by The Royal Society for Public Health, Instagram is the worst social platform for mental health. ‘Worst’ in this context is subjective (plus I don’t want to neglect the positive impact that the platform can have) but ensuring that Instagram is a safe a place as possible is crucial.

By removing likes, users can seriously think about the type of content that they are creating. This could completely change the way that we interact with Instagram, removing the pressure to gain ‘likes’ on your posts.

Of course, it’s not that simple. There are numerous studies that highlight a link between the amount of time spent on social media and poor mental health, and simply removing the ‘like’ function is only a small piece of the puzzle. The Royal Society for Public Health has made some great recommendations, such as the introduction of a pop-up heavy usage warning. They also recommend that companies find a way of highlighting content that has been digitally manipulated, alongside asking for the government’s help in teaching safe social media use in schools.

Personally, I (speaking as a ‘normal’ person as opposed to an influencer with 86,275,380 followers) don’t feel any pressure to gain ‘likes’ on my posts; I genuinely post the content that I enjoy posting – much like my blog, where I no longer focus solely on running related posts because my interests branch out further than that. I want to talk about mental health and wellbeing, feminism, fitness, diet culture – all things which come under the health umbrella but ultimately, these are the things that I want to share with others. I would hope that a like-free Instagram encourages others to share a similar mindset.

Steps Towards A More Sustainable Lifestyle (I Failed Plastic Free July)

For the second year running, I am attempting plastic free July.

Plastic Free July is a global yearly campaign which promotes the refusal of single-use plastic during the month of July. Last year, I think I did a pretty good job. This year, I failed miserably. I’ve chewed gum daily, I’ve purchased food wrapped in plastic, I’ve forgotten my reusable coffee cup, I’ve smothered glitter on my face and 80% of my tea consumption has not come from loose leaf tea. These are just a few obvious examples; undoubtedly, I have also consumed single-use plastic unknowingly.

Rather than making excuses or stating that there’s ‘no such thing as failure’ (there is – I’ve failed plastic free July due to my own lack of planning), I thought this would be a good opportunity to focus on the positive changes I have made in reducing my carbon footprint since completing plastic free July last year.

  1. Eating more sustainably

I have drastically cut back on my meat consumption over the past year, and I reduced my dairy consumption about five years ago. We all know that eating a more plant-based diet is one of the best ways of supporting the planet; if we all made some minor adjustments to our diet (and they really are minor!), we could make a huge difference.

I also buy staple foods in bulk (e.g. pasta and oats) which wastes less packaging and requires less transportation.  

Whilst ideally I would purchase local food and support local businesses (I most definitely do not want to be supporting huge companies that already make millions of £££), the truth of the matter is that I don’t currently have the budget to consistently shop at my local farm shop, or to always buy organic and sustainable foods.

2. Consuming less

I simply buy a lot less STUFF. I rarely buy new clothes, and when I do, it is with the intention that it will last me at least a decade. This is not an exaggeration – my favourite coat is one which I purchased when I was seven years old.

Without trying to come across as a pretentious moron, I generally purchase from mid-tier brands (i.e. I buy fewer things of higher quality), charity or vintage shops.

Being an ethical consumer simply comes down to wants vs. needs. It’s about making informed decisions every time we purchase something. It’s about treasuring and valuing our possessions. Marie Kondo sums this up perfectly; “I believe that owning only what we love and what we need is the most natural condition”.

3. Washing less

I know this sounds a little gross. However, there is simply no need to wash multiple times per day. In fact, if I didn’t run so frequently, I would probably view daily showering as being unnecessary.

Unless it’s hair wash day (which takes approximately 86 hours), I spend no longer than two minutes in the shower, usually less. An average shower uses about five gallons of water per minute; therefore, two minutes is more than enough!

4. Creating a sustainable home

As a first-time buyer, I still have a lot to learn about sustainability in the home. There are some elements that I have very little control over with it being a new build – for example, I may have opted for better quality doors, and I most definitely would have installed underfloor heating.

A few simple things that I have implemented are:

  • Limiting water waste and using cold water in the washing machine
  • Having the curtains open until the moment I go to bed. Sunlight is free!
  • Monitoring my electricity consumption (I am the Queen of this)
  • Using microfibre clothes instead of paper towels

5. Educating myself

This one is self-explanatory.

A couple of ethical and sustainable living podcasts that I would recommend are The Minimalists Podcast and Sustainababble. I would also recommend reading ‘On Eating Meat’ by Matthew Evans (although I wouldn’t bother with this one if you follow a vegan diet!)

Any other recommendations do let me know!

So, whilst I am fully aware that this year’s attempt at plastic free July was poor, overall, I’m happy with the positive changes that I have implemented over the past year. It is impossible not to end this post with a cliché, so I might as well just go for it; if we all make small changes, it will make a big difference. Don’t be lazy, don’t be complacent!