Have yourself a better breakfast

It’s not easy giving up your favourite cereal. That is no accident of course, as breakfast cereals are designed to be addictive. These sugar-laden processed foods are designed to be hyper palatable, triggering the a surge of hormones that make you feel good, and leave you wanting more. As I discussed in my previous post, cereals are far from harmless, and I make the case for dropping them from your diet altogether. I can attest, as a past three-bowl-a-day cereal eater, when you kick the cravings, they eventually lose their appeal altogether. So what should we eat for breakfast? There are loads of quick and easy options to swap in for your soggy Cornflakes. There are three questions I would ask to help choose a better breakfast for yourself: 1) Are you using single ingredient foods to prepare your breakfast? Each food on your plate should contain one ingredient only, the food you are looking at. Let’s do a dummy test run..Banana. Ingredients? Banana. Nice, okay..Egg. Ingredient? Egg. Excellent. How about..Kellogg’s All Bran. Ingredients? Wheat Bran (87%), Sugar, Barley Malt Flavouring, Salt. Oh, no. But it says on the box here ‘Heart Healthy’, and ‘Fibre’? Sorry, doesn’t pass the test. (Incidentally, did anybody put their bowl of All-Bran with milk in the microwave, or was that just me and my Granny?) 2) Do you want your breakfast to consist of carbohydrates, protein, or fat? The macronutrient content of your breakfast will depend in part on your energy requirements for the day. Especially for athletes. If you are going to be taking part in an intensive training session a few hours after...

Breakfast cereals are highly-processed, junk-food, crap

Getting up in the morning during my school days was never easy, but I knew that if I could roll out of the bed and into my school uniform, a great prize awaited downstairs. A big bowl of cereal. Weetabix, or Wheat Biscs as the case may be. Cornflakes. If we had both in stock, a Weetabix-Cornflakes combo. On the weekends, we would raid my Granny’s cupboards for the serious stuff. Rice Krispies, Coco-Pops, plenty of milk of course, so that we could guzzle that chocolatey liquid-gold down at the end. During my college days, it was a free for all. Cereal for breakfast, cereal for lunch, and cereal before bed. And the best thing about it? This stuff is good for you! Heart healthy, whole wheat, part of a balanced diet, fortified with vitamins. A win-win situation. Or is it? To get to the truth about cereals we need to dive into the dark and murky world of Big Food. Nestlé is the world’s largest food company, which in 2018, spent €6.7 billion on marketing worldwide, with a net profit of around €13 billion. Kellogg’s marketing spend in 2019 was €625 million, with a profit margin of €1.3 billion. The bottom line for these giants multinational companies is financial profit, and they spend billions to make us believe that their products are good for us. They are not. They are highly-processed, junk-food, crap.The marketing strategies of companies such as Nestlé and Kellogg’s are so effective (and well they should be for the money poured into it) that their brand and products are universally accepted as part of a...

Finding the motivation for training

The world has effectively ground to a halt in a bid to contain the spread of Covid-19, disrupting our usual way of life. We are all getting used to a different way of living, and in light of the closure of all gyms and restrictions on group gatherings, this includes our exercise behaviours. This poses not only a logistical challenge to our training routines and habits, but also a psychological one. For many, exercise is a social activity, and is rarely a solely individual pursuit. We go to gyms and fitness classes, we meet up with walking groups, or are members of athletic or sports teams. And for good reason. Relatedness, or perception of personal connection with others, is a highly motivating factor to sustaining behaviour. For those in sport, the health benefits are often more of a by-product of training rather than a goal in and of itself. And there-in lies the challenge. What happens when we remove that this supportive environment that many rely on? The answer in part, will depend on what motivates people to exercise in the first place. Motivation can be defined as the degree of determination, drive, or desire with which an individual approaches or avoids behaviour (1), and it is an extensively researched topic in the field of sport and exercise psychology. We can explore what motivates people to exercise engagement by looking at the goals on which individuals focus their efforts. Self-determination theory, a framework which helps us understand the elements of human motivation, distinguishes goals based on their intrinsic or extrinsic content. Intrinsic motivation refers to taking part in activity...

Meditation for sport and for life

Meditation is the original self-improvement practice, standing the test of time since its prehistoric origins in the East, with the earliest documented evidence of meditation found on wall art in India from 5,000 to 3,500BC. Written records from around 1500BC from the Hindu traditions of Vendatism in India refers to the practice of Dhyāna, the training of the mind. Meditation seems to be coming around again, and as often is the case, science is catching up, with tons of evidence now supporting the ancient wisdom of meditators.  With everything we know about meditation, and especially in the world we live in today, here is a bold sweeping statement. You should be meditating. You can dress it up or down, you can take it whichever way you like, but the fact remains that daily meditation should be viewed as essential as daily sleep, a daily meal, or daily exercise. The extensive benefits of mindfulness meditation are as well-evidenced as physical activity. It has been shown to lower stress and anxiety, improve chronic pain management, improve sleep, improve the immune system, improve performance, improve relationships. If it was a pill it would cost a fortune. If everyone was meditating, the world would be a better place to live. There would be less reactivity, better decision making, more productivity, more compassion and a calmer collective consciousness. Interest in mindfulness meditation in the mainstream of society is growing rapidly, yet not everyone is meditating. So let’s take it back a few steps and see if we can get there together. What is Mindfulness? Does meditation and mindfulness mean the same thing? The terminology can be...

Slowing Down to Catch Up

The blog is back up and running after a lengthy hiatus and a personal transition. This time last year I was in London, working with the Arsenal Women’s football team. After spending three great years with Arsenal, I decided to come back to Ireland, and took on the role of Strength and Conditioning Coach with the Tipperary Hurling Team. Now, I find myself living in the Tipperary countryside, far from the hustle and bustle of London, and we are looking forward to kicking off the Munster Hurling Championship this weekend against Cork in Pairc Uí Chaoimh. The change in environment presented a perfect opportunity for me to take stock and to recalibrate the system. Taking a step back to reflect, I could see that I have been caught up in a hyper-active and hyper-connected form of living over the past number of years. I felt constantly busy yet never on top of things, often overwhelmed and exhausted. I was speeding up to try and get to the end-point where I could finally relax. The true cost of this scramble being a lack of appreciation for the present moment and in the relationships with the important people in my life. Frank Forencich perfectly summed up this vicious cycle in Beautiful Practice, describing what he calls a sense of temporal poverty: ‘We constantly talk about being ‘behind’ as if life is nothing but a race…We place ourselves at the mercy of the flow of events. We become increasingly reactive and soon we’re scrambling to catch up with everything around us. We get swept up in the contagion of other people’s activity....

30 Lessons for 30 Years

On the day of my 30th birthday, feeling reflective, I sat down to ponder thirty lessons that I have picked up in my thirty years of life. As good a time as any to take stock and see where we’re at, I thought. But I thought too much, and spent a whole year mulling over my thirty lessons, as if I were now writing a definitive guide for living or something. So, I started again and here we are. These are just some things I have learned, among many others, that would have been handy to know ten years ago. Most of them are a work in progress.   1. We shouldn’t over-think things If you’re going to write a post for your blog just write it. It doesn’t need to be perfect, there’s no such thing anyway. The perfect moment to take action never arrives. The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed. Steve Pressfield, The War of Art 2. Other things we shouldn’t do all the time: Worry, Feel guilty, Beat yourself up, Compare yourself to others, Care what people think Although these thought patterns are human nature they can lead to internal strife and hold us back. We should certainly hold ourselves accountable for or actions, and we can use the negative feelings we have as motivation for positive change, but our sense of self-worth should never be on the line. This can trigger shame; the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed...

Top 10 Books for Personal Development and Growth

I do enjoy a good self-improvement book. Some people throw their eyes up towards the heavens when it comes to self-help, seeing it as a space full of charlatans whose success is built upon telling other people how to be successful. There is a certain amount of truth to that. One can also fall into the trap of becoming a self-help junkie, consuming lots of material without necessarily implementing these great ideas (I put my hand up on that one). There are more self-help books out there than the world will ever need, it is a multi-billion dollar industry, and most of them regurgitate the same messages in different ways. We have the most popular self-help book of all time in The Secret, telling us that if we just think positively enough about something, the universe will provide. And then there’s Tony Robbins, the guru of self-help, roaring and shouting in your face, being all motivational. The illusionist Derren Brown criticised the self help-industry upon release of his own book Happy, in 2016. “Clearly, some people adhere to The Secret, and that works out well for them. I don’t think that’s because the universe cares what they think. Having a dose of positive thinking and all that of course is helpful to a certain extent, but the universe doesn’t give a fuck.” Derren Brown Sure, being skeptical helps us filter out a lot of the shit, but that’s not to say that there isn’t a lot that we can learn from a good book, with genuine wisdom and an authentic message. Tony Robbins, as he says himself is not everyone’s cup...

Mantras to Get Out of Your Head

Strength of mind is as important as strength of body, and we like to feed ourselves both kinds here at Feed Me Strength. Mantra’s are a powerful and underused tool that can rewire our brains and our belief systems. As with most things, smart people have figured this out a long time ago, with the earliest mantras composed by Hindus in India at least 3000 years ago. Mantras can take the form of affirmations to prime the brain for positivity and success, with research exploring how resultant neurophysiological reactions act to shift mindset and behaviors. They can also serve as reminders that snap us out of self-destructive thought and behaviour patterns. I recently enjoyed Mark Sisson’s article ‘7 Primal Mantras to Drive your Success’, and it got me thinking about the mantras that I use in my own life. Here are 6 that have come to my aid in situations that include: when I am stuck, when I mess up, when I am overwhelmed with information, when I get caught up in cycles of negative thinking, when I am faced with self-doubt, and when I am feeling rushed or stressed. ‘Just get started’ This one mantra is the key to overcoming the beast that is procrastination. It is the consistent message of award-winning educator and University Professor Tim Pychyl in his mission to help people who postpone acting on their intentions. He makes the point that our feelings don’t have to match the task at hand. Social psychology has shown that our attitudes follow our behaviour. So rather than waiting on feeling like going training, practicing your instrument, writing...

Self-awareness – How well do you know yourself?

People often run away from psychological concepts such as mindfulness or self-awareness, as they exclaim, it’s not for me! But as humans living in this world, psychology is relevant to all of us so you can choose to stick your head in the mud or take advantage of it to grow as a person in all facets of life. So if you usually take comfort in reading about things that are easier to conceptualise, such as sets and reps of squats, take a deep mindful breath and bear with me. Tasha Eurich, a psychologist who has researched self-awareness and recently published a book on the subject, reports that 95% of people think they are self-aware, but that only 10-15% of us really are. As the Guardian writer, Oliver Burkeman, points out, this isn’t surprising as we can assume that one thing people who are lacking self-awareness are going to be unaware about, is their lack of self-awareness. We can all relate to someone who lacks self-awareness. There are those who are oblivious to the fact that in conversation they only every show interest in themselves, often coming to the party with a deluded sense of superiority. There’s the know-it-all who doesn’t take anything on board because they know everything already. Or maybe it’s someone you love who tends to overreact and lash out angrily when they feel threatened. Or maybe its you or me, beating ourselves up with negative inner dialogue, or showing impatience. What exactly is self-awareness? Being self-aware is being conscious of what makes us tick and of how we come across to others. It is the...

Complaining: Why, why not, and how to give your head peace

Moaning, whinging, and bitching. It comes in many different guises, but one thing is for sure, we do it a lot. Giving out about things is a habit so engrained in us that we are not even aware of the extent to which we complain. It may seem harmless enough, but chronic complaining has the potential to be self-destructive, priming your brain towards the negative. And if positive affirmations have the potential to create a successful reality, chronic complaining may conversely set you up for a lifetime of being pissed off about things. On the other hand, complaining in many instances is a necessary strategy and if used effectively can help solve problems and create worthwhile change. It’s worth exploring this phenomenon to better understand the different types of complaining and the motivations behind it. Lisa Juliano, Psy.D. on her Psychology Today blog, puts complaining into three different categories: 1) The Active Effective Complaint An active complaint is directed at whoever is responsible for the dissatisfying situation or service. In this case, the complainer is actively seeking a solution to the problem. This can be constructive and is an important skill to develop. A lot of people, particularly in Ireland it seems, bottle up their dissatisfaction about something in order to avoid causing a scene. For instance, being overcharged at the supermarket or a meal being served cold at a restaurant. This in turn may perpetuate internal turmoil and distress. Active effective complaining means not being afraid to speak up. I need to battle my Irish genetic predisposition on this one and take after my mother who has never been...