Things I Can And Can’t Blame My Children For

It’s Monday evening 9:30pm and I’ve just come back from the gym and had a shower. My day has felt full, very full, satisfying full but also exhaustingly so. I’ve fed my children, dressed them, kissed them goodbye, tackled a full day of data analysis, gone home to cook dinner, fed the… Oh, you all know what happens in a house with small children during our daily “peak hour”. After my four-year-old finally went to bed after insisting she needed another snack, another story, another snuggle, I dragged myself to the gym for a half-hour on the spin bike. On my way out, I started to feel that familiar sense of pity. “It’s so hard fitting everything in when you’re a working mother,” I said to myself, sounding very trite. “I just can’t do everything in one day. I can’t have it all”. And so on and so on until I suddenly stopped in my tracks. I was doing it again. I was blaming my children. For things. Things that may or may not be due to me being a mother. Some are and some aren’t. Some shouldn’t be blamed on parenthood at all, and some are definitely due to being a parent.

You see, as a GP I get the opportunity to talk to people from all stages of their life. Something that strikes me is the same conversation I keep having over and over again. It goes something like this

“Do you do any exercise?”

“No,” (sheepish look from patient). “I just can’t seem to fit it in.”

And you guessed it – it doesn’t matter if the patient has children or not. In fact, sometimes parents seem to take more action in terms of their physical health. People, not parents, struggle to find the time and energy to do the things they know they should. Anyhow, it struck me that there are some things I can (and will!) blame my children for, cheerfully, and some things that I resolve I will not blame them for. I want them to know I can prioritise what’s important for my own wellbeing, so that they can learn from me. Because my daughter said a very important thing to me today – “I’ll do what you do, Mummy”, meaning when she is an adult and has her own babies. And that only makes me want to manage my own health and happiness well so that she’ll have the tools to do the same when her own children come along, or better still, get into a good routine of self-care before she becomes a mother.

So here are the things I will and will not blame my children for. At least, on a good day. When I’ve had enough sleep. And chocolate. And coffee.

Things I can blame my children for

  1. Grey hairs
  2. Forgetting things (aka “Mummy Brain”)
  3. An obsession with sleep
  4. My “scary mummy” voice
  5. Inability to stop doing laundry
  6. Recurrent nightmares of being stuck on a ten-hour plane flight with a toddler
  7. Raucous behaviour when on a “night out” without the kids (okay, maybe I can’t blame them for this…)
  8. Having the theme song to “Octonauts” play over and over again in my head, or suddenly bursting out a ditty that goes “Book-aboo!! A story a day or I just can’t play!!”
  9. Sand all over my floor. (What is with that?!)

Things I will not blame my children for

  1. Being physically inactive.
  2. Poor food choices.
  3. Neglecting my relationship with my partner.
  4. Drinking too much alcohol.
  5. Staying up too late after the children have gone to bed and missing out on sleep.
  6. Being too hard on myself.
  7. Not following my dreams.
  8. Feeling negative.
  9. Not having fun.

What are some of the things you won’t be blaming your children for? What’s important to you that you will fight to preserve, in amongst the chaos and the time pressures? x



Some thoughts on hand-held devices for children

By Intel Free Press [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Intel Free Press [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

A recent article on HuffPo slammed the use of hand-held devices for kids and called for a complete ban. The article was sensationalist, and has been called out by a number of other authors, including in this very balanced reply. Here are my thoughts, as a mother, re the debate about “whether iPads are evil”.

These new digital tools are simply that – a tool. They encourage sedentary behaviour, yes. Does this lead to obesity? In some cases, yes, but in most cases, I believe they don’t encourage obesity inasmuch as reading books does or drawing does. If a child sits and draws or colours or does homework for hours, everyone praises her and says “What a good child!” but if that child is seen to be using a digital device, it’s automatically branded as a terrible thing.

One caveat here – I believe that developing motor skills is essential, and touchscreen use needs to be balanced with developing pencil skills, learning to throw a ball, generally running and climbing etc. Somewhere in the deep dark recesses of my mummy doctor brain I remember reading or hearing something about how these skills enhance literacy. So, limiting motor skills to wiggling your index finger around a touchscreen is not a great thing.

But, as the reply I have posted points out, the majority of families use iPads wisely, and children don’t spend all day with them. Children still enjoy using crayons, running around a playground, and reading physical books.

Technology bring a wide variety of positive experiences to families, including playing interactive games (such as the fantastic ones by Toca Boca like Toca Tea Party), learning the alphabet, learning how to read, laughing over YouTube videos of cats on Roombas together (something my four-year-old and I really enjoy doing). We also use technology as a learning tool. If our preschooler suddenly shows an interest in the solar system, for example, we’ll talk about the planets, find amazing websites for children that explain the solar system, and watch the YouTube video of the Solar System song. To facilitate this experience without technology, we would have to remember that she is interested in the solar system, make a trip to the library, and take home a few books about the planets which are probably out of date. Which of course is a very fine thing, and we still do visit libraries regularly, but my point is that learning can be enhanced with technology if used in the right ways.

Digital tools and technology are here to stay. Adults are at a disadvantage currently if they are not tech-literate, in terms of employment options. Learning how to navigate the new digital world and use the tools that technology provides is essential for children. We aren’t going back to the days of horse and cart and homing pigeons, ever. It’s a fact. But when I go to playgrounds, I still see loads of children running around, and parents enjoying the sunshine. All is not lost. Let’s use our own judgement here, and use our tools wisely.

Addendum. The author discloses no financial interests in Apple or any tech companies. Her children have inherited their “own” iPad, but this often sees weeks of disuse, although she admits to resorting to the use of Toca Band during long plane flights and tetchy moments in restaurants when the four-year-old is eating painfully slowly and the toddler wants to throw all the crockery on the floor. 

Pimp My Workstation – or How Not To Have A Pain In The Neck From Work

Do you have a sedentary, desk-based job like I do? Do you suffer from neck pain and stiffness? Chances are you’re like me – always battling neck tension and its inevitable consequences. My recent adventures in physiotherapy, as a result of my hip, have led to some very positive outcomes, including redesigning my workstation. My physiotherapist worked out, very cleverly, that part of my hip problem was from stiffness around the gluteal region which was indirectly related to my stiff neck. When she treated my neck with gentle manipulation, my hip was more flexible. The next step was to correct the postural problems that were affecting my neck for the 35 hours a week that I spent at the desk.

The Problem
I work from a laptop, which is apparently one of the worst things to do. The screen is far too low, causing the neck to bend forward, which results in neck strain even after a short period of time (e.g. half an hour). Any forward-bending work like reading a book will also result in the same problem. Hunching over the iPhone while on public transport exacerbates the problem. Have you ever noticed the posture of everyone on a tram or bus? Of course, we can’t simply blame our digital life for this, because reading a paper book or newspaper will essentially cause the same posture.

The Solution

I had to raise my laptop screen to eye level, so I investigated laptop stands and bought this awesome brushed stainless steel foldable stand from JAS PRO. To kit out my workstation properly, I also needed an external keyboard and a mouse. Here’s my new workstation now:

photo-2I’ve noticed a huge difference with raising the laptop screen, and am trying to minimise use of my iPhone at other times. Taking regular breaks from sedentary work is also helping, and whenever I can I look upwards to stretch my neck – at the ceiling or at the sky, depending on where I am. I’ve also attempted to reposition my chair so that my elbows, hips and knees are all at 90 degree angles. Here’s a useful article on office ergonomics, which can help guide you as to how to pimp your workstation.



A Letter To My Daughter About Her Future As A Woman And As A Mother

My dearest little girl

You are only four years old but already you’re thinking about the future. Sometimes you say you’ll be a ballerina when you grow up; sometimes a doctor, like mummy. The thing is, you can do anything you want to . You’re lucky, like me, to be born in a country with excellent living standards and educational opportunities. So you’ll go on to kindergarten and school, and after school, wherever your heart and mind take you. Maybe you’ll go to University, maybe you’ll learn a trade, maybe you won’t do any further study at all but start a thriving business selling soy candles, maybe you will be a ballerina or some kind of artist after all. Who knows. You really could do anything.

I know you’ll grow up feeling like there are no limits, no question about your abilities, and definitely no question because you’re a girl. I know you’ll believe you’re a strong, independent girl or young woman, who will be financially independent, and intellectually equal if not superior to males her age. I know you’ll feel confident and have a badass swagger about you. I know because this was the way I felt as I grew up. Your grandparents never put limits on me and always believed that I could do anything I put my mind to.

So you’ll feel this way until the day you see those two pink lines, and go on to feel the nausea, then the first tentative kick. You’ll rub your belly fondly while you work or study. You’ll pick out a cot, a pram, blankets, and tiny baby clothes. And the day your baby is born, or well before, you’ll face the decision that all working mothers have to make: do I stay or do I go? (I hope you will have a choice. Some women don’t).

At this point, I hope your confidence stays, and does not crumble. I hope that you’ll know that you’ve suddenly earned a new role, and one of your most important ones, one that will last your entire lifetime, but one that might not define your entire being. Unless you want it to be that way. You may decide that you want to stay, forever. And this is a very wonderful thing, and one option that my supervisor offered me when I took a break from my research to have you. “If you decide to stay at home and not come back, that is absolutely fine,” she said. I’ll never forget her generosity of spirit. If this is what you want to do, then I hope your circumstances will allow you to follow your heart. 

If you feel you have some work you need to do outside of the home, I hope you find the courage to find your way back. You see, raising children is not just about physically being at home with them. I stayed home for seven months with you and your brother and I worked part-time until you were almost four. We had lots of wonderful times together, you and me, and then with your baby brother. Really magical, tender times. But I knew when the time came to return to the other part of my life’s work. So I went. But my heart always stayed with you, and I was there every morning and every evening, and for many months I was there all day for some days of the week too. I knew that we were doing ok because you were both happy with your carers at daycare. You would snuggle up to me at night and say “You are the sweetest mummy. I really love you”. I felt fulfilled by my days spent doing research, and when I came home I really relished being with you and your brother. I felt like we really connected on a deep emotional level. So I want you to remember that being a mother comes down to this. You love your children, and you demonstrate this to them, unequivocally. You teach them. You comfort them. And then you let them go. Quality, not quantity. Don’t let anyone tell you that the only place mothers should be is at home with their children, that you shouldn’t work when your children are not yet in school. Sometimes another mother will make a comment like “You’ll never get this time back again”. Sometimes there’ll be messages from the media. If you don’t wish to stay full-time, let these messages wash over you and disappear. Be strong. Many years ago, women were told they couldn’t vote, and couldn’t attend University, because their place was in the kitchen. Women have since made incredible contributions outside of the home. Scientists, astronauts, CEOs, Secretaries of the State. We’ve come far since then, so don’t let these messages take you back to the 19th century.

The important lesson is, you must align your work with a higher purpose. You must feel as though you’re adding value to other people’s lives. You don’t have to be a HIV scientist. You simply have to dedicate that part of your life to bringing happiness and ease to others. It musn’t be about your ego, or personal ambition, although I have to add that there is nothing wrong in finding immense satisfaction in what you do. You are entitled to feel fulfilled outside of the domestic sphere; you must never, ever feel guilty about this. You must love what you do or you will not be happy, at home or while you are working. But if you are focussed only on inflating your own ego, you will come to grief.

If your workplace does not support what you need to be a working parent, I want you to fight for what you want. Create change. Create a new workplace culture. Do it for your daughters (and sons).

You have so many wonderful choices ahead of you. Don’t ever feel as though there is only one choice.


Mummy xo

Confessions of a Recovering Runaholic: Reinhabiting a New Body, and Letting Go

I’m still officially in rehab, but in a much better place. Two weeks in Bali is the ideal way to kick the running habit. I did look longingly at the treadmill in the gym while I was using the elliptical, but the change of scenery certainly helped me refocus. I have returned a slightly different person, one who has embraced a life without running (for now). Which is a very good thing as my physio made it quite clear this week that I am still in rehab, and running plans are for the distant, not near future. But I’m ok with that.

(I wrote previously about how and why I was told to stop running and how I initially felt about it).

I discovered the meaning of the word “rehabilitation” this week. It means to relive, or reinhabit, your body. I want to reinhabit a new, transformed body – one without the aches and pains and asymmetry that I had been ignoring. And I’ve learned three very important lessons about health.

Lesson Number One. Respect your body.
It is not cool to push your body through its imperfections. I was all gung-ho with long distance running and bodyweight HIIT. It was all those endorphins. I felt great, overall. But deep down I knew I had been physically “unbalanced” for a long time. Being pregnant twice has exacerbated those little imbalances. My physio has managed to drill it down into individual muscles – gluteus maximus, deep rotators, multifidus. I have new exercises to do to train the weaker muscles and have come to the realisation that I pushed my body too far with the training I was doing. Most likely, I’ve overdeveloped the stronger muscles in order to compensate for the weaker sides. Time to even things out now. I’m fully committed to my “rehab”. As my physio bluntly put it, it may seem like I’m doing “two-fifths of bugger all” but it’s the most important work of all. I simply can’t go back to running until I fix what went wrong. I spend almost half an hour on my rehab every night and consider this my main form of training for now.

Lesson Number Two. I am resilient. I am flexible.
I’ve found a new strength in letting go. Before I stopped running, I was a bit more Type A than I am now. I hung on to running with a death-like grip, telling myself I wouldn’t cope if I had to stop. I allowed being a runner to dominate my identity. Now, I am a much more flexible person. I’ll find a way to keep fit. It doesn’t have to be running. It just needs to be something that gets my heart rate up for an extended period of time. I’m actually feeling a little bit relieved, as my running schedule was getting a bit exhausting. And with that relief comes a new openness, a new sense of calm. I’m feeling liberated by letting go of my fixed ideas of myself, and excited by the possibilities as I reinvent myself.

Lesson Number Three. Everything is connected. So fix everything.
My holiday melted away the chronic neck pain I had been suffering from, and on my return I’ve been in the process of “pimping my workstation” to make it more ergonomic. This is worthy of a blog post on its own so stay tuned, but it’s made an enormous difference to my neck. When you spend hours at a desk (and using a laptop) every day like I do, neck pain is pretty much inevitable – unless you pay attention to ergonomics. I’ve also stopped stooping over my iPhone all the time – have you ever noticed how everyone using public transport is hunched over a phone?

Every day I try to do something aerobic – at the moment using the spin bike and walking is all I am managing. The bike is becoming more tolerable with loading up a video or talk to watch – the time flies by! And this week, amazingly, my hip is improving. I don’t have pain, I have more movement, and I can feel my left glute getting stronger. I see my physio again in two weeks and we’ll progressively work on more stabilisers – including the transverse abdominus, which is probably very weak after two pregnancies. I’m looking forward to inhabiting a better, stronger body than ever before. And I have no doubt that this will make me a better runner.

What I Am Dreaming Of For All Mothers

I dream of the day when becoming a mother does not come with impossible expectations and an inevitable guilt trip.

I dream of an evolving view of motherhood that retains the tenderness and wish to nurture together with an honest recognition of the pressures of being a parent.

I dream of the day when new mothers are not told to “enjoy the newborn days – they go so quickly” but instead are told that amongst the difficult times there will be moments of magic to keep them going. A day when new mothers do not feel guilty for not enjoying the first weeks, months or even the first year of being a mother.

I dream of the day when women are no longer told that “the best place for them is to be at home with their children” and are told instead that the best place for them to be is wherever it is that they feel they should be.

I dream of the day when being a parent is not about spending all your time with your child, giving in to all their demands, and shielding them from all frustration and disappointment, but is instead about raising a child to be a decent human being, including developing the abilities to contribute to society, cope with difficult emotions, manage anger and sadness, empathise with fellow humans, and control impulses and delay gratification.

I dream of the day when becoming a mother is not all about breastfeeding, when there is support for mothers who were unable to continue breastfeeding and recognition that this beautiful function of our bodies does not always work out for everyone despite the best efforts.

I dream of the day when society recognises that becoming a mother does not automatically gift a woman with the infinite patience that a mother is reputed to have, and of the day when mothers learn to look after themselves first in order to be more patient with their children.

I dream of the day when being a good mother is not about creating elaborate artworks for school lunches, but is about instilling (by example) the values of respect for others, honesty, gratitude, a positive attitude, hard work, self-sufficiency, and nurturing relationships with others.

I dream of the day when being a mother is just one of the roles a woman may have, and that she has adequate time and energy to keep cultivating her other roles as well.

I dream of the day when removing the burden of  societal pressures and “mother guilt” frees women to become even better mothers than they were before.

Reasons Why I Am No Longer A Stay-At-Home-Parent

We’re holidaying at the moment – staying with family and enjoying the benefits this brings, including the many extra pairs of (very willing) hands with our two small children. And even though travelling itself can be stressful with children, as many parents know, I’m feeling terribly relaxed. I’m reminded of the adage “it takes a village to raise a child” and it reminds me of why I am no longer a SAHP (Stay-At-Home-Parent).

It’s fairly obvious that I have chosen to be a working parent for many reasons, from my blog posts, and I have been criticised for making this choice seem like it is a natural one for all working mums. I do acknowledge that I did not include mums who have to work out of financial necessity in my post, but then again my post was not meant to be all-inclusive. I work because I feel I have a vocation. I find meaning, intellectual stimulation and satisfaction in what I do. But ask me to be a SAHP again, especially to young children? Here’s why I don’t enjoy it (There! I said it. Prepared for the barrage of criticism now. A mother not enjoying being at home with her kids? She must be an evil witch!). There are many, many mummy (and daddy!) blogs out there who tell it like it is for SAHPs – some of whom, like working parents, remain at home not out of choice but because of their family situation.

Children are an incredible paradox. They bring so much joy, so many tender moments, so many blissful times when you’re just enjoying them, and they’re enjoying you, and you’re laughing at something funny your toddler said, or something adorable your baby did. And then there’s the other 23 hours and 30 minutes of the day you have to get through. “Why is being at home alone with children all day like heaven and hell?” I asked my mummy friends on Facebook. Why is it that it can seem like a Huggies ad one moment, and a nightmare the next? You know the scene – the baby starts fussing over something, the toddler starts whinging, or maybe having a tantrum, you haven’t had a bite to eat yet, the laundry is still waiting to be hung up, you’re exhausted from being up all night with the baby, you have to clean the mess off the floor and get dinner ready, and you suddenly want to pack in the whole SAHP thing NOW. You think about putting the television on again but you’re starting to feel guilty about using it too much because you’ve read that it’s “bad for children”.

I used to think it was just me. If I could just change the way I saw things, reframed my thinking, it would all be fine. It dawned on me one day not too long ago that maybe it’s not that I don’t want to do the SAHP thing. I just don’t want to do the SAHP-alone-with-children-all-day thing.

Seriously. Ask many working parents why they go to work and the reply is commonly “For my sanity”. Alone, in the house, with no support, with small children all day? With no breaks? No adult contact? Nothing to hear but whining and Peppa Pig? Why do modern SAHPs think this is how things should be? How can one person be expected to run the household, do all the chores, get dinner ready, entertain the children, stimulate their intellects, and do this all with minimal use of the television? On their own? Oh, I know it’s possible. And I am sure there are many parents out there who are incredibly proud of being able to perform these feats day after day. I honestly think they must either have magical powers, an impossibly large store of patience, or lots of vodka in the pantry (kidding about the vodka but you know what I mean). And I know children are beautiful, precious fruits of your loin that you should enjoy cherising and nurturing. But why does it have to be such a feat?

I am not suggesting that it’s not a wonderful thing that SAHPs are doing for their children. I think I made my admiration for SAHPs very clear in my post. My question is, is it reasonable for SAHPs to do it alone?

Some people have moaned about losing the “village” – the support system that existed prior to our nuclear families. The thing is that we have traded in the traditional village for our privacy and our independence. We want to raise our children our way. We don’t want relatives living with us. And this can be a very good thing. Having extended family in your house can be a source of intense stress. Also, our village has evaporated on its own. We are increasingly mobile, choosing to live far away from family for various reasons. Our parents are also increasingly mobile compared to older generations – they’re off travelling to Europe and Alaska for weeks on end. And families are getting smaller, so there are fewer older siblings to rely on.

I don’t know what the answer is. I just know this. Being at home all day with my children had its glorious moments. I don’t regret that time at all, and often look back very fondly. But I also remember feeling stressed, and getting angry when I shouldn’t have felt angry. I should have been able to enjoy them more. But I know now that spending more time with them that is in the presence of another adult has vastly improved our relationship. Maybe it’s just me – that I’m an impatient, uncaring person deep down. But I think that it’s because we’re just not meant to raise children all on our own. And I hope that the next generation will find some innovative ways to bring back the “village”.

Confessions of a Recovering Runaholic

My name is Carolyn and it’s been one week since my last run.

It’s the first time in years that I haven’t been running at least every few days, bar being pregnant. And even so, I ran up til 28 weeks with my first. (Oh the arrogance! With my second pregnancy, I rekindled my relationship with the couch).

I am literally in rehab. Funny isn’t it? Rehab conjurs up images of Robert Downey Junior in some magical faraway place that looks like a fancy retirement home, where you sit and drink tea and play cards with fellow celebrity rehabbers. But no, my rehab is different. Life goes on but I must rest my hip and cease the running. For, oh, 8 weeks.

Other runners have been very sweet to sympathise with me. My research assistant was more blunt – “But that will kill you!!” she exclaimed when I told her the news. I love her for telling it like it is. Boy does she know me well. But it certainly wasn’t encouraging.

And here’s the thing – life is different without running. I have to find a new home, a new way to keep the endorphins and dopamine and serotonin pumping through me. I need new ways to move my body that don’t stress my sad hip. Because I have discovered, again, just how important it is to keep moving.

It now seems strange that I thought I was a really fit and healthy person. I thought I had it all worked out. But life has a funny way of making you wake up to yourself. My physio palpated about 100 spots on my body, from head to toe, that made me yelp like a kitten being strangled. I have trigger points where I didn’t even know muscles existed. That ain’t healthy, my friend.

It’s all good, I tell myself. I’ve wanted to fix my niggles for a long time. My neck aches. My shoulders are stiff. My TMJ is out. My glutes are crying. My calves are too tight. I’ve known, deep down, that i should have paid attention to my whole body instead of focussing solely on one activity, as blissful as that activity is. Now I’m learning the hard way that everything is connected. Health doesn’t just depend on one aspect of your lifestyle. You can’t cheat Nature. You must, humbly and respectfully, work with the whole system. Legs are connected to butt to lower back to mid back to neck and beyond. I couldn’t keep cheating forever – just running without any thought to the rest of my body.

It’s not easy not being able to run. I feel the familiar tension rising and I need to take off. But I can’t. So I hop on the bike or jump into the pool. The water brings me some relief. I feel like I’m washing myself of my sins. I also feel like a fish out of water – gasping in the middle of every lap. But I persist. And anyway, I’m grateful. For still being able to move, for still having my legs, no matter how sore they are.

I am respecting my body by fixing all the things in my everyday life that make my aches and pains worse. Starting with my neck. I’m finally creating an ergonomic work station. (I blame my extremely short stature for this! A super tall footstool will be needed!) and doing other things that I’ll be blogging about, because no doubt they will help others too in sedentary desk jobs.

I’ve also discovered that I can live without running. And this has brought me a new sense of freedom and confidence. The first few days was pretty strange, like living without an amputated limb. But they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And I’m committed to this rehab so I can get back out there one day – my trainers crunching on the gravel track, a podcast in my ears and a song in my heart.

How To Lower Your Cholesterol the Healthy Doctor Way

I’ve been a bit cheeky this week. My GP wanted me to repeat my cholesterol tests after 6 months but I had made some changes and wanted to know if I was on the right track. One of the advantages of being a GP is being able to order your own pathology tests, so voila… I tested myself for cholesterol! I’m celebrating because my cholesterol is now the best it’s ever been, and the changes I have made have been sustainable and enjoyable. I’m going to share with you what I did.

But firstly, the question is, will these changes make a difference? There is some controversy over this, as the evidence that low-fat diets reduce the risk of having heart attacks is mixed. There’s a lot of talk about how we’re allegedly eating less fat than ever and heart disease and obesity rates are rising – this is simply untrue, as American data shows that Americans are eating as much fat as they were in 1963 and this has remained consistent for decades. What we do know now that it’s not just a low saturated fat diet that makes a difference, but it’s a low saturated fat and high mono-unsaturated fat diet with high fruit and vegetable intake that probably makes the most difference. Low-fat diets have consistently failed to show appreciable benefits on heart attack risk, unless they were Mediterranean style diets that included olives and other sources of mono-unsaturated fats. In one randomised study, the participants consumed a diet of 10% saturated fat and 22% mono-unsaturated fat.

So, does high cholesterol lead to heart attacks? The answer is a bit complicated. From my (somewhat limited) understanding, cholesterol is not the cause but perhaps the straw on the camel’s back. The underlying cause is damage to blood vessels (from trans-fats, high blood pressure, diabetes). The damaged blood vessel lining kind of looks like a graze. Cholesterol is the stuff that patches up this graze – kind of like using putty to close up a hole in a wall. Trouble is that it can be too good of a plug, and causes narrowing of the vessels, which then leads to complete blockage. High cholesterol levels are linked to heart disease, especially at very high levels, and lowering cholesterol with statin drugs does lead to a reduction in heart disease risk. Dr Dean Ornish also demonstrated that a very low fat diet plus stress management program and regular exercise can reverse the blood vessel damage seen in heart disease.

Despite the controversies surrounding cholesterol, I have chosen not to adopt a cavalier attitude and instead chose to change my diet. I didn’t have a terrible diet but I was having a lot of eggs, red meat, and the occasional ice-cream. I was training for a race so I was actually losing weight, but it certainly didn’t help my cholesterol levels. I have no doubt we’ll continue to discover more about cholesterol and heart disease risk.

There is also some evidence that a high-fat diet may also be linked to breast cancer, and that it may change the gut microbiome adversely.

My approach was to focus on restricting saturated fat (note: not all fat; I didn’t pay any attention to the other fats apart from eliminating all trans-fats) and increasing plant foods. I used a combination of a Mediterranean diet and an Ornish diet. I didn’t read any books, just some websites and guidelines, and used Myfitnesspal and/or read nutrition labels. I immediately got to know the foods high in saturated fat – these are full fat dairy and certain meats such as bacon, sausages, chicken thighs, and lamb. All fried foods like chips were also high in saturated fat. I learned that chips were 6g of sat fat a bucket, lasagne was 8g a serve, and Magnums were a whopping 18g a serve!!! (a Mini Magnum, however, was a more modest 6g a serve).

So my diet guidelines were something like this:

Saturated fat: Less than 10% of daily calories, which for me was about 13g per day. (To calculate your daily caloric requirement, go to the Eat for Health website). The good protein choices were low fat yoghurt, low fat cheese, chicken breast (a third of the fat of chicken thighs), lean red meat such as eye fillet steak (only 4g saturated fat per small fillet!), nuts and fish. I could eat normal amounts of these foods with a minimum of saturated fat, so I never felt hungry. I found that having other fats such as the mono-unsaturated fats from nuts helped with satiety. I got a bit peckish if I had a completely low fat diet.

Vegetables: Heaps and heaps of vegetables at every meal; if I didn’t fill my vege drawer up in the fridge I knew I wasn’t going to be having enough. Vegies have lots of fiber which helps you feel full and also soaks up cholesterol so you poop it out. I made at least half my plate veges. I ate vegie sticks as a snack. (Seriously! I love celery!)

Photo: Andy Wright,

Photo: Andy Wright,

Legumes: I introduced one or two meals with legumes every week. Sometimes I would mix this up with some animal protein as well. Some days I got away with a completely vegetarian meal!

Very few eggs: I sadly gave up my two egg a day habit, and only had two eggs a week. I quickly forgot about the eggs and now I don’t miss them. Could the 14 eggs a week have been the sole reason for my high cholesterol? Quite possibly, but there is no harm in changing other parts of my diet.

Oats: Every. Single. Morning. Sometimes I had Bircher muesli. Usually I had oats with honey or banana, and sometimes I added Nutella. (Only 1.4g sat fat per serve!) Sometimes I even had Bircher Muesli as a snack!

Portion control: Occasionally we would have a high-fat meal – like when my partner feels like having chorizo, or we eat out, or at a friend’s house. Portion control was my friend – I learned that you can have a small amount of said foods and load up on other foods like veges instead. And of course, once or twice a week I would forget about my sat fat allowance and have whatever I wanted. The first couple of weeks were difficult, but I soon adjusted to not having as much saturated fat in my life and I felt fantastic. I also found that by keeping things flexible this way (not making a big deal about food) I could eat normally, and the family was happy.

I was also careful not to replace the saturated fat with sugar, so I stuck to low glycemic index foods only and very little sugar. I wasn’t aiming to lose weight but I’m definitely leaner and have lost 1 kg.

Looking forward, I’m now going to focus on having more mono-unsaturated fat in my diet (avocadoes, nuts, fish and olives) and perhaps introduce more eggs into my diet, as they are an excellent source of protein and nutrients (I could have the whites only for example; the cholesterol is contained in the egg yolk). My family and I seem to be enjoying the new way of eating, and I now include more of what they enjoy in our meals eg sausages, but I’ll make this as a sausage and chickpea stew and they have more sausages, I have more chickpeas.

What I did wasn’t rocket science; it is basically removing the stuff we don’t need heaps of and replacing it with stuff that we should eat plentifully. I believe that it is this substitution that is the key – you can’t remove saturated fat and replace it with high GI carbs or trans fats and expect to live a long and healthy life. You can’t “cheat” on this stuff. More plant, less animal. And a little bit of Nutella every now and then ;)

Nutella...only 1.4g sat fat per serve (and lots of sugar...) Photo by Rainer Z taken from Wikimedia Commons

Nutella…only 1.4g sat fat per serve (and lots of sugar…)
Photo by Rainer Z taken from Wikimedia Commons


On Being Told To Stop Running (And Breathing)

Just bear with me for a moment or two. I need to be a little bit dramatic to express my grief. Let me be a dying swan for a minute. I promise you I am moving on. But yesterday I was told something I had been fearing, but which I thought wouldn’t happen til I was 75 years old and hobbling around a retirement home. I was told to stop running. For a while. For now. Until (insert question mark).

It’s hard for a non-runner to understand, but imagine you were told to stop breathing. Running is my reset button. It’s a place, not an activity, for me. It’s where I get my calm, my resolve, my sense of purpose, my joie de vivre. I run to keep going in life. I run because at one time I couldn’t run for five minutes without feeling like I am dying, and now I run distances that I never dreamed were even possible. (They’re not long distances for a marathoner, but hey. It’s all relative). So running makes me feel strong, and reminds of what is possible out of the seemingly impossible. I ran in my first pregnancy until 28 weeks. Even my mum, who is not an active person, will ask me if I want to go for a run when she comes over to look after the kids. I’m one of those annoying people who does get an undeniable “runner’s high”. I tear up when I remember those cold crisp mornings when I set off on my long runs, listening to an inspiring podcast, the autumn leaves under my feet, the sky blue, my heart soaring and filled with bliss. As soon as I hear the crunching of my feet on gravel, left, right, left, right, I know I’ve come home.

(Enough of the rhapsodies now, woman!)

But it seems my left hip doesn’t like the left, right, left, right and the impact of those feet on gravel. It’s been niggling since my first baby was born. I was told it was a hip flexor tightness and glute weakness. The physio then didn’t know what we know now – that it’s likely I have something called Femoroacetabular Impingement. There’s probably some developmental problem with my hip where the ball bit of the hip joint doesn’t fit well with the cup bit. So there’s a bit that rubs, over and over again, when the hip moves. Hence the hip/groin pain. It’s interesting that I ran a 15km race without too many problems. I’m hopeful.

So for now, I am to stop running. There. I said it. Last night I read a chapter from my “Train Like A Mother” book which is written by two “badass mother runners”, Dimity and Sarah. Dimity describes sobbing as she pulled on her boot when she was diagnosed with a stress fracture and had to stop running for 7 weeks. I sobbed too. Then she talked about a cycling program to train for marathons. Yes it’s possible. And deep water running. And I stopped sobbing.

As I said, I’m moving on. Not being able to run (for now) isn’t something I can change. What I can change is the state of my deep hip rotators, apparently. So I’m doing these funny exercises every day that isolate these little suckers that haven’t been externally rotating my hip enough, causing some instability. I’m rolling around on my little spiky ball which my four-year-old has nicknamed “Thorny”. Thorny gets into the sorest tightest spots around my hip and back to loosen up those naughty muscles. I’m sore today but I’m taking that as a good thing! I’m doing pilates. I’m finding the stationary bike extremely boring, but I’m going to download audiobooks, movies, box sets… whatever gets me through a session! If I’m to stop running for a longer period, I’ll take up deep water running. I can also do spin cycling or zumba or yoga at our Uni fitness centre or local gym.

I’m going to do whatever I can to maximise my chance of getting back to running, and in the meantime, I want to discover that place again, outside of running. I may be giving up running for now, but I’m not giving up on that feeling – the fist-pumping “AWESOME!!” feeling when I’ve moved my body and exceeded my own expectations. No way. And yes, I do know that in the big scheme of things, having a minor hip problem and not being able to run, but still being able to walk, work, pick up my children, and do other physical things is not a huge problem. (Unless I’m talking to a fellow runner!) I need to get some perspective. And get my Zumba on! Who knows what will come from this new phase. Hopefully a brand new hip (please send me some hip love!!), maybe a new-found love of another activity that can sustain me in the times when running takes a back seat. Another place that I call home.