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The IIFYM Diet – My Review

I’d noticed a hashtag floating around on social media, and I was curious what it stood for. IIFYM is short for ‘If It Fits Your Macros’ (macronutrients), also known as flexible dieting. The concept is you have daily targets for fat, protein and carbohydrate intake based on your goal – whether it be weight loss, weight gain or muscle gain. There’s less focus on the actual food you eat (hence the flexible part) as long as you strictly adhere to those numbers, and an overall daily calorie intake. 

The diet was appealing for a few reasons. I’d been influenced by programs like Eat to Perform, which has a philosophy of ‘Athletes don’t starve themselves – neither should you.’ I’m not an athlete but I’m active, and in particular I wanted adequate fuel for my weekly 10K run. While I’d gotten great weight loss results with the 5:2 Diet (a form of intermittent fasting), it was a struggle to lift weights or run the next morning – essentially leaving me with indoor cycling. Combined with the busy Christmas period, it became near impossible to schedule a fast day that fit with my gym routine and end of year commitments.

In all honesty, the photos of athletic women talking about 1800 calorie a day diets were pretty influential too. Having largely restricted myself to 1200 cals/day for the past five years or so (a number I pulled from Michelle Bridges’ 12 Week Body Transformation, without ever doing the program), I was curious whether I too could eat that much and still lose weight. 

My guiding principles for any diet are you should be eating a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, quality protein, whole grains, nuts and seeds (unless allergy prevents you). I’m lactose intolerant but dairy is also good source of nutrients. In that sense, flexible eating seemed to tick a lot of boxes. I could eat whatever I wanted and enjoy a higher calorie intake, provided I balanced the carbohydrates, fats and protein in my foods. In mid-January this year, I decided to give IIFYM a go!

calculating my macros

Typically I’d see a professional before embarking on a new diet, but IIFYM was hardly drastic – I was just going to increase how much I ate and ramp up the protein. After spending some time researching macronutrient calculators, I decided on this one from HealthyEater because it factored in age, gender, height, weight and different goals with a good amount of detail. There are some scholarly references below it, but the website is essentially one guy.

My data of 31 years old, female, 162cm (5′ 3″), 63kg (138 pounds) in “lose” mode (20% calorie deficit) resulted in this:

  • Sedentary (basic day): 1250 cals, 124g carbs, 114g protein, 35g fat
  • Light Activity (200-400 calories female): 1450 cals, 158g C, 114g P, 40g F
  • Moderate Activity (400-650 cals): 1650 cals, 193g C, 114g P, 46g F
  • Very active (650 cals +): 1800 cals, 228g C, 114g P, 51g F

I typically burn 130 calories in a yoga class, 250 in BodyPump (weights class), 350 in RPM (indoor cycling), 400 in BodyAttack (cardio) and 650 cals on a 10K run. I burn an extra 200 daily walking to and from the gym. In essence, most days are ‘moderate activity’ but running or my Super Saturday of BodyAttack and BodyBalance were ‘very active.’ Explains why I was always ravenous on a Saturday evening! 

I was already tracking my calories using MyFitnessPal, so that was nothing knew although anyone trying this diet who hasn’t kept a food diary before might find the task onerous at first. Below are my notes from from day one to today, two months later.

week one

Day 1

I struggled to hit 100g of protein as my leftovers of stuffed capsicums only had 8g protein in total. I ate half a Clif Builder’s Bar (10g protein), four tablespoons of PB2 (10g), and a protein shake (22g). Made it to 105g for the day, when I rarely have more than 80g! I was very full. I couldn’t believe how much I was eating. Today’s exercise: BodyPump and yoga, plus walking (approx. 500 cals).

Day 2

I’d logged my food for the day the night before to ensure I’d hit my targets. Unfortunately, I woke up feeling constipated and I had a breakfast date to go to. It was a hot day too. I skipped my usual mushrooms on sourdough and matcha latte for the smoothie bowl. While I had to guess the calories and macros, ingredients included avocado and peanut butter which used almost my entire daily fat allowance. 

I changed my planned meals to stay on track and went to work. I felt really drowsy but it may have been the humidity than overdosing on protein. I got home, had dinner then before bed realised I hadn’t had my textured vegetable protein (TVP) snack or protein shake! I consumed 46g of protein  at 10pm, and my fat intake for the day was 55g, 20g over! I was missing chocolate, nuts and oatmeal. And it was only day two! I cooked lupin flakes to add to tomorrow’s lunch. I was starting to realise why body builders eat all the time. 

Day 3

My first day of IIFYM without any events or leftovers to use up, yay! I had a great night’s sleep and felt challenged but strong at my 6am gym class. I was still only eating when I was hungry, but my tummy was rumbling much less than I was used too. A side effect so far? A bit of unpleasant gas. 

Day 4

Today was going to be challenging. I had already booked into a beer event that night and would be likely having dinner out. I allowed for a burger and two pints, then built the rest of my day’s meals around that. Lupin oatmeal with apple and walnuts, Asian tofu salad, a protein shake – and I’m hitting 105g protein! My first estimate for fat came in 30g too, the first time it was below my goal. The beer event turned out to be a brilliant night, and while I consumed too many overall calories – I met my macros. I drank more than I’d planned for and couldn’t resist the beer nuts, but it was somewhat offset by an extra 20 minutes walking on top of that day’s workout (RPM and CXWorx), putting me into the ‘very active’ allowance of a bonus 200 calories! I could get used to this.

Day 6

My biggest challenge yet… a daytime house party. I definitely felt like drinking. I had sour beer and a bunch of snacks, but somehow I didn’t blow my macros too badly. I didn’t quite meet my protein goal and I was over my calories limit by 200 or so. But in the scheme of a day’s drinking – it was minimal damage! It helped the hostess had vegetable sticks and low calorie dips like salsa, and the crackers were healthy, wholegrain ones too. 

Day 7

This was the first day I couldn’t eat enough. I felt so full. I almost wished for a fast day, just to give my stomach a rest and feel empty for a while. I managed to eat 1400 cals when aiming for 1600 as I’d done BodyPump, yoga and 60 minutes of walking. I was drinking a lot of water but still felt thirsty all day. I drank more than three litres (100 fl. oz) plus tea that day. I was worried about what would happen when I stepped on the scales. 

Week 2

Day 8

It was rest day! This was definitely the most challenging day to hit my protein goal without blowing other macros, and stay under my 1250 calorie limit. It took careful calculations, but as long as I prepared in advance and all my favourite high protein, low carb foods, I could do it. I had to keep urinating today – I wondered if body was holding onto fluid yesterday for some reason? My stomach and body were feeling much better, I wasn’t as full as previous days. I decided I’d weigh myself the next morning, as try to avoid the scales when I’m feeling down. I’d almost gone through an entire bag of lupin flakes in a week! Being rest day, I finally had some time to do solid meal preparation too – I made a warm broccoli salad (there’s 5g of protein in half a broccoli head!) and a tempeh vegetable curry. I’ve been missing big, vegetable packed dishes. 

Day 9

I put my gym clothes on and prepared to weigh myself. My pants felt tight around the waistband and I wasn’t feeling optimistic. I’d been eating so much more than normal. I felt this had been a bad idea. I waited for the numbers to show… I’d dropped 0.5kg! I was 62.2kg! I couldn’t believe it! I was eating so much food, I was never hungry and I’d lost weight. Hallelujah, church of IIFYM!

That day, I even balanced my macros in anticipation of eating gnocchi at an Italian restaurant that night. Except the restaurant messed up my dish, telling me the white sauce was ‘definitely’ vegan. A few mouthfuls, and I knew it was cheese. I felt sick. I was worried about the effects. I didn’t feel like eating afterwards and for the first time in 10 days, I didn’t hit my protein goal (only 78g). I decided to persist with flexible dieting for two straight weeks.

Day 11

I’d been hungry on day 10, probably because I didn’t eat much after my dinner time dairy encounter. I was craving salads and I made a huge one – three quarters of a can of lentils contains 12g of protein for only 150 cals. Add some roast pumpkin, leafy greens and cherry tomatoes – it was huge! But my lunch made up only a fraction of my overall food intake.  Crisis struck when I forgot to take protein bar to work (Clif’s Builders Bar contains 22g!). Soy yogurt and peaches kept me full until dinner time but again, I had to eat 20g of protein before bed to reach my target. I’ve stopped waking up hungry. In fact, I’m rarely hungry in the truly empty way I’d felt during fasting or after a big morning workout. I still miss my daily handful of nuts, but it’s been impossible to include those without blowing my fat or overall calorie limit. Need to work on my macros better to incorporate them – they’re too healthy to exclude in your diet!

Day 13

I FELT SO STRONG! I thought I’d picked up the wrong weights in my Pump class, I was lifting them so easily! Don’t get me wrong, I was cooked by the end of it. But wow, I felt good! I was beginning to think this ‘eat to perform’ and ‘fuel your workout’ thing was a winner.

Day 14

I wanted chocolate. I wanted nuts! But a 1/4 cup serve of almonds contains 14g of fat when my daily allowance was about 40g. Even 1tbsp of flaxmeal contains 3g of fat! And who knew my nightly square of 90% Lindt dark chocolate had 6g? Sure, they were all healthy fats. But avocado, nuts and chocolate were not going to happen in the same day on this diet.

Week 3

Day 16

I blew my calorie limit at an function. I was having so much fun, I stuck around for an extra glass of wine… and when I found out the gelato was chocolate AND vegan, I wasn’t going to miss that chance! Again, I wasn’t drastically over my calories. It’s scary how gelato is only 90 cals or so, low-ish fat and then just pure sugar. 

Day 17

I was missing fats so much! I wanted a big avocado fix and a raw ball – I planned to have both in the morning (pre and post-workout) and have a low-fat, high-protein tofu quiche for lunch. I was lovely my afternoon tea of soy yogurt (with 2tbsp of lupin flakes!). Just 80 cals and 8g of protein, and lots of healthy bacteria. 

I had another event that night, but I was grateful for a vegetarian protein option of Indian chickpea curry. Between my RPM class, CX Worx (core work) and walking, I’d burnt more than 650 cals so I increased my daily calorie intake to 1800. Normally I would’ve freaked out at eating so much, but I felt reassured knowing I was on target. My weight had unfortunately gone back up to 62.6kg, making me think the precious half a kilo loss was a fluke. I considered returning to fasting, but I want to see what results I could get after a month. I was eating so much, it was impressive I hadn’t gained any weigh! 

Day 18

A day later, my weight back was back to 62.2kg. Thank goodness! I may have been imaging, but I thought my arms looks just ever so slightly more toned. My skin, however, had broken out. I made a note to eat more vegetables, even though my stomach was full from protein all the time!

week four

Day 21

I was still aiming for 114g protein each day and mostly reaching it, now that I’d figured out my rough daily eating plan (lots of tofu, legumes, greens, daily protein powder and lupin flakes). I figured my breakout must’ve been caused by the desserts (refined sugar) which I never normally have. However, I thought my stomach may be showing the slightest hint of definition, despite drinking on the weekend and a bit of late night snacking (thanks shift work) – but all within my macro and calorie limits.

Day 23

Maybe it was the previous day’s stand up paddle board yoga class, but I swore my abs were changing, very very slightly. I felt incredibly strong during my BodyPump class, and have sustained my heavier weights for triceps. I wasn’t being as strict with my macros as the first fortnight where I gave myself just 2-5g leeway. Today I was 20g over for carbs but still achieving about 110g protein daily. I decided to give IIFYM a full month.

one month in

After four weeks of trying IIFYM, I was largely enjoying it. I was hungry before meals but not constantly feeling underfed like I was with a 1200 calorie limit. I used to eat lunch then grab my afternoon snack 90 minutes later. Not so with IIFYM! I wasn’t sure if it was the protein or simply eating more. I’d had some slight weight loss (0.5kg/1 lb) but gained a little bit of definition on my quads, arms and abs. I took some photos but it’s so slight, I’ll keep them on my own camera reel. I figured I’d stick with IIFYM for another month, despite going through protein powder and protein bars like crazy. 

2nd month

The first two weeks were filled with birthday celebrations and visitors, and my macros largely went off the rail. I still exercised daily and hit my protein target, but I exceeded calorie and fat limits. The following two weeks were messy too – I worked long and irregular hours before taking a five day holiday interstate to Sydney and didn’t log my food at all (nor the cocktails). But I defaulted to my usual vacation strategy – be active, eat only when hungry and enjoy yourself – with minimal damage (I came back weighing 62.5kg). I returned to the gym and resumed eating my prescribed macros. And now, here I am after eights weeks of very flexible dieting. Here are my reflections: 

Pros 

  • I thought I’d have to give up bread and banish all other carbs from my diet. But the HealthyEater formula above was actually quite generous, and I realised I’d unknowingly been following a low carb diet for years already. I was relieved I could still enjoy oatmeal and my post-workout weekend brunch of avocado on toast! 
  • I was rarely hungry. As mentioned, I wouldn’t eat lunch or dinner until my tummy rumbled. But I felt satiated for hours and could often forgo my afternoon snack of fruit and yogurt, because I was still so full. I did often eat later at night though, which I didn’t like.
  • There were several workouts, weight training especially, where I felt stronger. I could push myself harder. Running wasn’t easy, but it was at times easier than I was used to. 
  • I never felt socially deprived, as I could attend dinners or events and not limit myself to salads or other low-carb options. 
  • I could still drink alcohol (this may be a con!). While I don’t drink often, the nights where I wanted a glass or two of wine or drank a few pints of cider at an event – it was no problem if I’d met the activity level! 
  • The changes to my diet weren’t drastic, in that I still bought the same foods at the grocery store and farmers market. However I did buy a lot more protein and protein products each week (see cons, below).
  • I lost a little bit of weight (0.5kg/1.1 lbs) and saw some very slight improvements in toning in my arms, abs and legs. Whether this can be attributed specifically to my macro formula, eating 50% more protein or simply eating more calories, I’m not sure. I certainly feel like a larger but stronger person overall, compared to the peak of my fasting days.  

Cons

  • You need to keep a meticulous food diary, and pre-planning my meals was essential on lower activity days. It was frustrating when I couldn’t balance my macros for the day, but for example I had high-carb leftovers that needed eating or a brunch date with limited options.
  • It was a daily struggle to get enough protein and keep my fats down. I had to eliminate my daily treat of dark chocolate in order to have a tablespoon of nuts or seeds, and my paper thin slices of avocado were depressing. I eventually managed to balance these better, but restricting such healthy foods didn’t feel right.
  • Similarly, I was determined to eat real, whole foods wherever possible but it was tough. My occasional Clif Builder’s Bar became an almost daily snack on top of a protein shake. I attempted to make a TVP porridge (it was vile) and if it wasn’t for lupin flakes, I would’ve struggled to meet the targets on a mostly vegan diet. This wouldn’t be an issue for anyone eating eggs or meat, as even a small can of tuna would get you 17g of protein for under 100 calories, with zero carbs and little fat too. 
  • I also felt my fruit and vegetable intake was lower because there simply wasn’t room in my stomach. On 1200 cals/day, I’d become skilled at eating high volume, low calorie foods (hello zucchini) to feel full. I just couldn’t fit an entire carrot, tomato and roast pumpkin as well as 200g of tofu or a can of beans – so the vegetables were cut back.
  • I ate all the time. I packed snacks and often realised I’d forgotten to have that protein shake or yogurt as I’d gotten busy and my tummy didn’t rumble. Not a bad thing, but at times I actually longed to feel that hollow, deep sense of hunger I got during fasting. 
  • What I really disliked what that this diet doesn’t provide any guidance on sugar (in fact, on any actual nutrition). I try to limit my sugar intake to naturally occurring ones such as fruit, and rarely use honey or maple syrup. But unfortunately, sugar is a low fat ingredient, and I found myself using it as a shortcut in some recipes (such as honey in my lupin mug cake) as it didn’t blow my fat content. Dried fruit too was an easy but risky way of meeting my carb intake – although it was usually limited to sprinkling raisins on my oatmeal (and I’d forgo them on a low activity days).
  • This diet also became quite expensive. I was eating more than double my usual amounts of yogurt and tofu, plus going through protein powder like crazy. Protein bars weren’t cheap either, but maybe I’d been previously underspending on groceries. 
  • Did I mention I had to restrict avocado, nuts and dark chocolate but wine and gelato weren’t macro-speaking a problem? 

What helped

As a vegetarian (and dairy-free), the biggest struggle was hitting my protein target without blowing my carb or fat limit. Here are a few things that helped me get over the line: 

  • Protein powder: For 100 calories, I get 22g of pure pea protein. My favourite brand is The Healthy Chef’s vanilla protein powder with nothing nasty or stomach upsetting. I had it in smoothies, added it to turmeric lattes and made the occasional late night protein mug cake.
  • Lupin flakes: Possibly my favourite health food discovery of 2017! Lupins, from the legume family, are high protein, low carb, low fat and packed with fibre! Four tablespoons contains 16g of protein for 130 calories. It’s affordable too! Read more in Five Ways with Lupin Flakes
  • PB2: I’ve been a fan of this low fat, low calorie peanut butter substitute for years. It’s great on toast or crackers, in a satay sauce or (confession) just off the spoon. A 2 tbsp serve contains 50 calories and 5g of protein. Read more in My Favourite Protein Products.
  • TVP: Textured vegetable protein may not sound attractive, but it’s a very affordable and easy meat substitute. It works well in any dish that uses mince meat, such as lasagna, burritos, spaghetti or meatballs. A 1/4 cup serve contains 80 calories, 12g of protein and almost zero fat or carbs. It’s only about $5/kg too from bulk food stores and still good value from iHerb
  • Nutritional yeast: The most unappealing name for a food item, but give your dishes a cheesy but vegan flavour with 1tbsp of this (20 calories, 2g protein and a host of vitamins, including 40% of your vitamin B12 intake). The small amounts of protein add up! 

will i continue?

There are some aspects of IIFYM I want to continue. It’s helped me to eat more so I have the energy to work harder at the gym, and therefore get better results. But I disliked my reliance on processed protein to hit my daily quota, and I longed to just have a rich pumpkin soup for lunch with (gasp) no added protein. If you read last week’s post 15 Ways to Measure Your Health, you’ll know I planned to have a body composition test to analyse my slightly heavier, tighter clothed self. And guess what? Since my last assessment at the naturopath about 15 months ago, I’ve gained 2.5kg (5.5lbs) of weight overall but wait for it – I’ve lost 2.8kg (5.2lbs) of body fat and gained 5.5kg (12lbs) of muscle! I’m going to be still hitting the gym at 90, hoorah! 

But the main reason I’m hitting pause on flexible dieting? My naturopath, who I’ve seen for years and is continually studying, cautioned me against a high protein diet. He said the latest evidence in tests of worms, rats and other animals is that while a high protein diet makes you leaner – it can cut your life expectancy by 30 per cent (which equates to 30 years for humans!). You may look better, but you won’t live as long. It’s the last thing I want my healthy, active life to achieve. So for now, avocado and nuts are back on the menu and I’ll stick with my daily protein shake. I’m even going to eat a bit more each day (1400 cals), and I’ll eat a lot more when I run 10K (1600 – 1800 cals). But the processed bars and late night lupin mug cakes can go. It’s timely, as I’m about to have surgery on my finger that will unfortunately keep me away from the gym for a few weeks. Rather than worry about weight gain, losing fitness or counting carbs – I’m simply going to give my mind and body the best recovery it can get. Sleep, vitamins and glorious walks by the beach!

QUESTION: Tell me about a diet strategy you tried – what was it, and what were the results? 

15 Ways To Measure Your Health

I’ve been beating myself up over my weight lately. I’m only 2.5 kilograms over what I feel my ‘ideal’ weight is (where I feel lean but strong) but damn, it’s like I’m carrying a layer of Jell-O around my stomach. A trip to China (hello noodles), Christmas and last month’s birthday celebrations have been a series of wonderful but unfortunate events for my waistline. I’m hoping (okay, praying) that the weight gain is actually muscle thanks to hill running, heavier weights and increased protein intake. I plan to book in for my annual body composition assessment in coming weeks, but in the interim I’ve been reflecting on other ways to measure my health. 

For example, I can recall a time when I was a few kilograms lighter but I was sleep deprived, my skin was inflamed and my nails were constantly breaking. I also remember a time when I had a smaller build but I was injured, almost anaemic and my emotions were all over the place. A friend of mine has bemoaned her apparent recent weight gain but her energy levels and vitality are the best I’ve seen in years. Her face no longer looks drained. 

Below are 15 ways to measure your health, both inside and outside. I’m not saying to keep a diary of each of them, but by scanning through old photos or reflecting on recent months you may remember a time you felt your strongest, prepped meals brimming with fresh produce or simply slept through the night. Regardless, this list may just make you realise you’re doing better health-wise now than you think.

1. Weight

I’m putting this at the top of the list to get it out the way. Weight is a big part of your health, although it’s by no means everything. Ideal weight ranges differ based on your gender, ethnicity and stage of life. However, occasionally standing on the scales (or trying on those old jeans or a particular dress) can indicate whether you’re losing, gaining or maintaining weight. Increasing your muscle mass will lead to weight gain (it’s heavier than fat), as will water retention (hello, flying) and some medications. Your weight is just one measure of health, but it’s an easy one to track.

2. Waist

A better indication than weight perhaps, but still not flawless, is your waistline. Measuring your waist (and wrists if you’re really keen) is an effortless way to check your risk of obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. I use the tape measure from my sewing kit to keep an eye on my waistline (currently 67 centimetres/ 26 inches). The Australian government guidelines are:

  • For men, have a waistline below 94cm (37 inches)
  • For women, below 80cm (31.5 inches)

3. Blood pressure/cholesterol/blood glucose

Unless you or a relative is a nurse, it’s unlikely you can assess these in your own home. However you can head to a pharmacy or local doctor to get them tested! Similar to your waist measurements, these tests help identify your risk of developing certain diseases. I’m able to get a free test each year through my private health insurance, but some work places also offer free testing. Ideally, your assessor will make recommendations (such as diet or lifestyle changes) based on your results if needed. 

4. Diet

A sign that I’m having a hectic week? I’m eating baked beans on toast, buying sushi and drinking Diet Coke. When do I feel at my best? Giant salads, stir-fries, fresh fruit and wholesome dinners brimming with vegetables. Of course, diet is linked to time – getting to a grocery store then also preparation – but setting aside an hour each week to roast some vegetables or make a curry will save hours during the week! If I’m having two serves of fruit, a giant plate of vegetables and avoid processed foods each day, I’m happy. 

5. In the bathroom

If you’re regularly running to the bathroom or feeling backed up – it’s not a great sign for health. There are plenty of charts on the Internet indicating what your toilet business should look like (and checking the colour of your urine will show how hydrated you are). Normal will differ from person to person, but if your bathroom habits in line with medical guidelines – give yourself a healthy high five! 

6. Skin

I’m no dermatologist or beautician – but my skin will tell you whether I’m refreshed, sleep deprived or eating too many store granola bars. I can recall a particularly stressful time in my life where I was a few kilograms lighter than now, but my face was inflamed and infected. It took a lot of courage to walk five minutes down the road without make-up to visit a beautician, who was shocked when she saw me (I haven’t gone back). When I was seriously overweight, I had acne as well. My skin isn’t flawless now but reducing stress, eating of a variety of fresh foods and having flaxseed each day have done a lot more than that once-off facial. 

7. Nails

In recent months, I’ve noticed my nails are much stronger than they used to be. They used to flake and break almost daily but the only change I can think of is that I’m actively eating more protein and trying to reduce stress. I suspect my calorie restriction (which resulted in successful weight loss) had a side-effect of inadequate nutrient which manifested in poor skin and nails. You could probably include hair in this category too – is it strong and shiny or dull and breaking? My hairdresser has noticed an improvement in my hair too. 

8. Immunity

If you’ve ever been seriously ill or injured, you probably didn’t care about how your jeans were fitting. You wanted to recover, be pain-free, regain strength and mobility. On a lesser note, you may have had times where you were just plagued by cold, flu and infections or generally felt rundown. But perhaps a virus went through your office and you escaped it? Or you’ve been injury free for 12 months! Immunity and resilience are a sure sign your health’s on track.

9. Sleep

How much sleep are you getting and how good is it? My New Years’ resolution in 2017 was to get seven hours, seven days a week. It didn’t always happen (and sorry to any parents reading this) but I try to go to bed at least seven hours before my alarm. A good nights’ sleep changes everything and I’ve invested in good quality sheets, duvets and pillows to try make that happen. I’ve also promised myself ‘don’t fight the tired’ – if my eyelids are drooping, abandon the task and go to bed. Yes, that’s why this blog post is late and there are piles of laundry strewn across my apartment. 

10. Energy

Closely linked to sleep, but worthy of its own category. Do you feel charged up or lethargic? Alert or hazy? Another measure: how often do you grab chocolate at 3pm? Again, parents and shift workers are likely to have tough days. The time I crawled back into bed after a Spin class (sweaty shorts and all) and slept for two hours or nearly concussed myself on my office keyboard are not good indicators. But I feel most energised when I’m fuelled by adequate sleep, good nutrition and exercise. 

11. Strength

If you lift weights, strength is an easy measure of health to track. I’m definitely lifting the heaviest weights of my life (although nothing compared to CrossFitters). Maybe you’re doing push ups on your toes, lifting groceries more easily or carrying a child for longer? Can you squeeze harder or lift higher in Pilates? If you’re in any way stronger than you used to be, congratulate yourself! 

12. Endurance

For runners and cyclists, endurance is another aspect of health that’s easy to track. I’m running 10K weekly post-injury and am increasing the intensity by including more inclines. You may be a regular walker and noticed you’re less puffed or walking for longer than when you first started. Your dance class might leave you less exerted, or you’ve doubled your treadmill time. Your ability to do an activity has improved, and therefore so has your health! 

13. Flexibility

This is perhaps my most valued measure of health. One of the main reasons I hit the gym is to future-proof my body against ageing. I want not just strength and endurance now, but I want to be agile and mobile in my old age. I did yoga yesterday for the first time in two weeks and was shocked when I attempted a deep Hindi squat – my hips refused to lower or loosen at all. Whether you’re a yogi, do Tai Chi or just occasionally stretch, are you gliding or grimacing? 

14. Stress

I could dedicate an entire post or even a blog to stress, but I’m not qualified or overly passionate on the topic. We’ve all had times in our lives where we’re waking during the night, running on adrenaline or feel sick to the core. It could be a specific problem – money, relationships or health – or sometimes it’s simply a build up of being busy. No task is stressful on its own, but the quantity can seem overwhelming. My solution is having a ‘GSD’ (get sh*t done) day, where I power through every essential or irritating errand on my to-do list. Otherwise, I generally try to reduce stress by making time for things that I know calm me – getting my nails done, baking, spraying a scent or even just breathing while a cup of tea brews. There will be calm and chaotic flows in life – but you’re no doubt in better health during the more restorative times. 

15. Emotions

This is related to stress, but I think it’s worthy of its own category. You may not be stressed, but how often do you feel peaceful or joyous? Are you more confident, less anxious or feeling better connected to people or communities around you? Can you recall the last time your face hurt from laughing so hard? Are you proud of yourself? Sure, I want those extra kilos to leave my body. But I haven’t seen a counsellor for two years, my skin is no longer a horror movie and I hiked a mountain last year with the man I love. That sounds pretty healthy to me, although I’m still going to have my annual health check – because while I know my body, I don’t have a medical degree. It’s all about balance! 

QUESTION: How do you measure your health? 

The Great Wall of China – Jiankou to Mutianyu

When planning our three week trip to China last year, some sights were an absolute given. The Great Wall of China was a must-see for both my boyfriend and I, and as we were flying into Beijing, it was one of the first things we would do on our journey across five cities. 

We soon realised, however, that it wasn’t a case of just ‘seeing’ the wall. The UN World Heritage Listed site spans more than 20,000 kilometres (12,427 miles) and comprises walls, watch towers and shelters. There are different sections ranging from a 40 minute drive from Beijing to more than two hours away, and the type of wall differs from fully restored to completely inaccessible. 

Which Section?

So you’re going to visit the Great Wall, but which section is best? There are at least 10 options from Beijing, but here’s an overview of the most popular parts: 

  • Badaling: the most touristy, completely restored. Avoid if you can, according to locals.
  • Mutianyu: restored, but slightly less crowded than Badaling. You can walk a distance then turn around, or continue to Jiankou. 
  • Jiankou: wild, unrestored wall with challenging hiking. Going from Jiankou to Mutianyu is a popular (but not busy) route.
  • Jinshaling: minimally restored, less crowds but further away.
  • Simatai: a mix of restored and wild wall, night tour options.

*Note: The path between Jinshaling and Simatai was closed when we visited in September 2017 and it’s not clear if it’s reopened. 

The section you choose will depend on how much time you have, your fitness and personal preference. Badaling is the closest to Beijing so great if you’re pushed for time – it’s also the best option for anyone with limited mobility. Mutianyu is a bit less touristy and well restored, but not for those wanting to see original wall. Jiankou has been dubbed the most dangerous section, completely untamed and requiring a hike through a village. Some say Jinshaling is the most beautiful but it’s two to three hours from Beijing so you’ll need a full day. Others say Simatai is the most peaceful. Tour company China Highlights, with whom we booked unrelated train tickets, has a good overview of the different sections.

My boyfriend and I read various blogs and Chinese tour company websites to try decide which section to choose. We wanted to avoid crowds, hike a section, we had a full day available and we wanted to see unrestored wall. As the Jianshaling to Simatai section was closed, we chose Jiankou to Mutianyu. 

Tour group, guide or solo?

When it came to the Great Wall, my boyfriend wanted a guide while I wanted to do it solo. I figured with enough research, printed maps and allowing lots of time, we’d be fine. My boyfriend, on the other hand, said it was the first day of a three week trip in a country neither of us has been to before. We’d chosen a wild section of the wall that was reportedly the most dangerous and if we got lost or injured, it could set us back for the rest of the trip. He had a point. I reluctantly agreed to a guide, although I resented the extra cost and sharing the experience of seeing the wall with a stranger when we were both fit and seasoned travellers. 

On the plus side, we would had a private vehicle, could choose our departure time and didn’t have to use our brains on the first day of vacation. After reading some TripAdvisor reviews, we emailed a few companies for quotes and availability before booking Beijing Walking. It cost US$300 for two people, payable in cash on the day. 

Hiking Jiankou to Mutianyu

Here’s what to expect specifically on the Jiankou to Mutianyu route. You could hike in either direction, but as Jiankou is higher, it’s easier to start there and go downhill. The path is about 9km (5.5mi) and can be broken into three sections:

  • Xizhazi village to Jiankou Tower 
  • Jiankou Tower to start of Mutianyu
  • Mutianyu to cable car/exit 

1. Xizhazi village to Jiankou Tower 

Our guide Joe met us at our Beijing hotel precisely at 7.30am. It took nearly 2.5 hours to reach Xizhazi village thanks to traffic, but we weren’t on a deadline. The drive was mostly highway, but became mountainous and jungle-like in the latter half. Both my boyfriend and I fell asleep at times, still recovering from our red-eye flight.

Our vehicle stopped at Xizhazi village, but there was no obvious town centre. We used restrooms next to some old exercise equipment before driving for another few minutes. We arrived at a small car park, although the area looked more like small farms than the start of a hike. Choosing the Jiankou to Mutianyu route for the least tourists, I was disappointed when another car pulled up next to us. It was a young couple with a baby and they didn’t have a guide. They set off while we got our backpacks ready and put on sunscreen. As soon as I got out of car, I noticed it was harder to breathe. It was a warm day too.

 Xizhazi Village: the start of our one hour walk to reach Jiankou Tower.
Xizhazi Village: the start of our one hour walk to reach Jiankou Tower.

From memory, we took off about 9.45am. We began our walk at good speed, following our guide along the zig-zagging, uphill path. It wasn’t long before we caught up to the couple, who’d stopped at a fork in the path. Our guide pointed the way and they continued, while I paused so we’d get some distance between us. My legs were fine but I was puffing and panting, and felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. I was really surprised, as my fitness levels are good and I hardly felt like we were high up. But I was dripping with sweat within 20 minutes.

We saw the couple again, once more uncertain of the way. Their baby started wailing and they followed us for at least another 10 minutes. I was so mad! They’d saved a few hundred dollars by just hiring a taxi – then took advantage of the private guide we’d paid a premium for. Their child’s screams were destroying the serenity. My heart began to sink. 

 Hike from the village: the first glimpse of the wall feels incredible!
Hike from the village: the first glimpse of the wall feels incredible!
 Jiankou Tower: you'll need to pay a farmer to borrow a ladder.
Jiankou Tower: you’ll need to pay a farmer to borrow a ladder.

I was still stopping every 10 minutes or so to try catch my breathe. There were at least three times when the path forked with no signage about where the Great Wall was. It was getting increasingly humid in the trees and behind my knees was getting itchy. There were bugs too. But finally, we lost the couple and their screaming infant. And after 45 minutes, my boyfriend and I got our first glimpse of the wall! I was so excited! We wound our way up the steepest part yet, then we were suddenly at the base of tower. Exactly as we’d read in other blogs, there was a farmer with a ladder. We paid him 5¥ each and voila – we had reached the Great Wall! 

There is no way you could climb up the tower without the ladder, unless you maybe had a few people and could climb on each other’s shoulders. The farmer had a selection of beer, Red Bull and water for sale too. I was grateful to have a guide for this part of the hike only, as there really was little signage or clear paths to reach the tower. 

2. Jiankou Tower to start of Mutianyu

Standing on top of the tower was an extraordinary moment. After spending almost an hour hiking uphill in jungle, it was incredible to emerge in an open space and witness the Great Wall for the first time. I looked out in all directions, admiring the Chinese ingenuity and remarkable history before me. It became clear what an impressive defence structure the Great Wall once was. 

 Jiankou Tower: you'll have a 360-degree view on top.
Jiankou Tower: you’ll have a 360-degree view on top.

After a good amount of photographs, water and towelling down, we began hiking the Jiankou section. There’s only one direction you can go – towards Mutianyu – as the other way is completely inaccessible. The path, while overgrown and a bit uneven, is easy to follow. Trees and shrubs will brush you constantly. The wild section didn’t last long though. We weaved up and down but the wall was mostly downhill from Jiankou tower. That didn’t stop my legs quivering and turning jelly! There was no shade either, except in towers. For perhaps an hour, we had the wall largely to ourselves and I felt reassured we’d chosen the best route after all. 

 Jiankou: it's called 'wild' wall for a reason - it's unrestored and trees are unkept! 
Jiankou: it’s called ‘wild’ wall for a reason – it’s unrestored and trees are unkept! 

About halfway on the Jiankou section was the Ox Horn, a very steep part that goes up and down the side of a mountain. Our guide told us 10 people fall to their death each year, which I can only assume is fall and slip as there was no cliff face as such. Our guide took on a detour, saying the Ox Horn section was closed as the downhill part was too dangerous. We left the wall for the first time, heading slightly south then parallel to the wall through light forest. Again, there was no signage or paved path so this may be difficult if attempting to do the hike on your own. It was maybe 10 minutes before we resumed walking the wall. 

 Jiankou: the steep loop is called the Ox Horn - our guide took us on a detour slightly south and off the wall. 
Jiankou: the steep loop is called the Ox Horn – our guide took us on a detour slightly south and off the wall. 

3. Mutianyu to cable car/exit 

The end of the Jiankou section and the start of Mutianyu was marked by two men with umbrellas selling snacks and drinks. We’d hardly seen another soul for an hour but the crowds started here. Hilariously, tourists were posing with a sign that said ‘I Climbed the Peak of the Great Wall’ despite that spot not being the highest (Jiankou Tower is the highest point). From here, the walk was simply down a lot of steps. I felt for those who were travelling in the opposite direction to us, as the staircases were steep and still no shade. People were wearing fashion boots, sandals, jeans, and even summer dresses. I was still sweating just going down steps, and my legs shook whenever we stopped at a flat section. The last 10 minutes or so was particularly picturesque – it was every image of the Great Wall you’ve seen come alive! 

 Mutianyu: the restored path is much more even and clear than wild Jiankou. 
Mutianyu: the restored path is much more even and clear than wild Jiankou. 

Our party of three reached the Mutianyu cable car at 1pm, and I was surprised we’d gotten there so quickly.  We’d hiked quite fast, which I assumed was necessary to cover the distance but I didn’t expect our Great Wall experience to end so early. I would’ve rather have slowed down, and perhaps stopped for 10 minutes somewhere to have some water and take in the views. Our guide gave us the option to either take the cable car down down or walk another 40 minutes to the bottom. However he explained the local restaurant he intended for lunch wasn’t near the Wall and stopped cooking at 2pm. 

 Mutianyu: Our guide Joe said Chinese tourists were to blame for this trash, but I wasn't so sure. 
Mutianyu: Our guide Joe said Chinese tourists were to blame for this trash, but I wasn’t so sure. 
 Mutianyu: a restored section and the most popular with foreign tourists. This is near the cable car. 
Mutianyu: a restored section and the most popular with foreign tourists. This is near the cable car. 

Part of me was sweaty and thirsty, and my legs were stiffening whenever we went uphill. But I also hate taking shortcuts. My boyfriend felt the same. We decided to take the cable car down, given we’d covered a good distance, the rest of our holiday would be quite physical and also, we wanted to experience a good local restaurant on our first day! 

The cable car cost 100¥ and took three minutes. It was nothing special, convenience only. I was surprised to see how touristy the area was at the base was compared to the seemingly empty village where we’d started our journey. Here, there were restaurants, market stalls, even a Subway and Burger King. There were busloads of tourists, especially those who were older, likely retired, and had little desire to walk far. I cringed at the long line for the restrooms – only to realise the women were waiting for a Western toilet rather than use the squat toilets. I walked past all of them, shaking my head, used the bathroom, and remembered why I prefer independent travel. 

We took a shuttle bus down to the car park, met our driver, and then drove to our lunch venue for an incredible feast and a few beers. We arrived back in Beijing around 4pm, giving us enough time to shower before heading out in the hutongs that night! You can read more in My Must-Do in Beijing

It was absolutely surreal seeing the Great Wall in real life and the best thing is, I can do it all again with another section! While I don’t think a guide was necessary for the main Jiankou to Mutianyu route, there was no way we could’ve identified which paths to take from the village to the wall. The Ox Horn detour may have also been proved tricky, based on the lack of clear paths or signage. 

Was it Dangerous?

Not at all. The greatest dangers on the Jiankou to Mutianyu route were getting lost on the village trail, sunburn or chaffing. That said, we didn’t do the Ox Horn section and the September weather, although warm, was ideal as there was no wind or rain. If this was reportedly the most dangerous section, it’s a very tame wall indeed! 

 Jianko (immediately after the Tower): far from feeling like 'the most dangerous' section.
Jianko (immediately after the Tower): far from feeling like ‘the most dangerous’ section.

What to Bring

Bring sunscreen, water and a hat (I accidentally left mine in our vehicle). We visited in early September and it was 31°C (75°F). I’m not usually a big sweater and I’m from Western Australia, known for its hot climate, but I sweated! The only shade is in the towers and you’ll be walking steep hills, steps and/or long distances. I would also bring a small towel to wipe off sweat (a hotel hand towel would be perfect). By chance I had some baby wipes, and thank goodness because there was nothing else to soak up the sweat. 

What to Wear  

It was a warm day so we both wore active wear (okay, I wore a Lululemon runsie but it’s so comfortable!). Part of me wished I was in crops or a t-shirt to give better coverage from shrubs and branches but it was the trade-off to stay cool. If the forecast is cooler, bring layers. I had a light, long sleeve shirt but I left it in the car as it was obviously going to be a warm day.

 Mutianyu: you'll walk down this coming from Jiankou.
Mutianyu: you’ll walk down this coming from Jiankou.

While some blogs recommended hiking shoes, this was absolutely not necessary for Jiankou to Mutianyu . Given this was meant to be the most dangerous route, it’s safe to say you don’t need them anywhere on the wall. Sneakers were perfectly fine, although I’d avoid tennis shoes or Converse for example, as you want something that will absorb the impact of all those steps. 

Next Time? 

When I next visit China, I’d absolutely return to the wall! I would love to see some water or lake areas, see the wall at night or even camp there. I’m hoping the Jinshaling and Simatai sections will an option, as these are reportedly the most beautiful and peaceful parts (although I wasn’t at all disappointed with our views). It’s unlikely I’d do the Jiankou to Mutianyu route again, but only because I like to experience new things. However, as mentioned, I’d probably go slower and stop for water and snacks somewhere just to take in the views. 

QUESTION: If you’ve visited the Great Wall of China, please add your experience and tips below! 

Five Ways to Use Lupin Flakes

Health foods have come a long way since I first went into a dedicated store in my teens. From the emergence of smoothie and salad bars alongside fast food at shopping malls to the explosion of alternative flours and milks, there has truly been a nutrition revolution. As someone who still remembers their first glass of watery, bitter soy milk and trying carob chocolate – these are good times. 

I love finding new health products to add variety to my mostly vegan diet. Buckwheat and quinoa are a lovely alternative to oats and I’ve recently been making the Italian flatbread farinata, which uses chickpea flour, for weekend brunches. I’ve also been trying to boost my protein intake from 70 grams a day to 110g/day. It’s been challenging but achievable, partly thanks to lupin flakes.

What is Lupin?

I first spotted lupin at one of my favourite health food spots The Clean Food Store and soon after I received them in a health foods subscription box. Lupin (also called lupini beans) is a legume that’s been used as animal feed for decades, but it’s only recently been widely marketed for human consumption. My home state, Western Australia, produces 85% of the world’s supply! The nutritional profile of lupin what impresses me most – it’s very high protein, low fat, low carbohydrate, and relatively low in calories. 

Specifically, one 40g (4 tablespoons) serve of lupin flakes contains:

  • 130 calories | 16g protein | 2.6g fat | 1.6g carbs | 14g fibre
  • It’s also gluten-free and has a low glycemic index (GI)

If that’s not attractive enough, lupin flakes are also quick cooking, fairly easy to find in Australia and only around AU$9 for a 400g bag (or about 90 cents a serve!). So how exactly do you use them? Read on. 

1. Soak

I received my first bag of lupin flakes about the same time I had an ageing orange in my fruit bowl. I grabbed a jar, some oats and had this delicious, high protein breakfast the next morning! 

 Lupin Bircher: high-protein and effortless.
Lupin Bircher: high-protein and effortless.

Lupin Bircher muesli (serves one)

  • 1/3 cup rolled oats
  • 1 tbsp lupin flakes
  • 1 orange, juice only 
  • 1 tbsp raisins 
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup milk (soy, almond, dairy etc) + extra for the morning
  • Optional toppings: yogurt, walnuts, pepitas, flaxmeal 

METHOD: Combine all ingredients except toppings in a bowl or jar, cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, add extra milk for a thinner consistency if desired. Otherwise, add toppings and enjoy!

2. Sprinkle

Sometimes the simplest things are the best. I’ve been sprinkling 1-2 tbsp of lupin flakes on my Greek soy yogurt and fresh fruit most afternoons. It’s so filling! There’s something about the nutty flavour of lupin with the sharp taste of natural yogurt that I’m hooked on too. This combination packs 10g of protein with the probiotic goodness of yogurt for just 130 calories – and still under 200 cals with berries or a slices of fresh peach. You could also add a tablespoon as a salad topper, although I’m yet to try this. 

3. Absorption/Boil

If you like Middle Eastern foods, you will love lupin! I tried substituting lupin flakes for quinoa in several dishes, but I find it works best as a replacement for cous cous. To quickly cook in the microwave, mix 4 tbsp of lupin flakes with 1/2 a cup of water on HIGH for three minutes. Cover for a few minutes and then fluff with a fork to enjoy as a side dish with a Moroccan tajine or stuffed capsciums. I want to try lupin in this way with a spicy Indial dal too! 

 Moroccan tagine: cooked lupin flakes taste sensational with Middle Eastern dishes! 
Moroccan tagine: cooked lupin flakes taste sensational with Middle Eastern dishes! 

4. Just Add 

In the same way I like to add flaxmeal to my breakfast and general baking, the neutral flavour of lupins means you can simply add it to a dish for a protein boost. One tablespoon in a bowl of oatmeal almost doubles the protein content, and you could similarly add a few tablespoons and lower the flour when making muffins or bread. It does have a slightly bitter, nutty taste so  I find just one tablespoon in a single bowl of oats is a good balance. For other cooking, start small and increase over time until you find the right balance. Or check out my lupin cake recipe below! 

5. Bake

When I got home late last week and hadn’t reached my protein target for the day, I had to get creative. I experimented with a lupin chocolate mug cake with surprisingly good results! This is not a rich, sweet mud cake. Rather, it has a denser texture more like polenta but it’s wholesome, chocolately and still a satisfying high-protein snack or dessert!

My Lupin Chocolate Mug Cake (vegan) 

  • 2 tbsp lupin flakes
  • 1 tbsp spelt flour
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tbsp cocoa
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup milk (soy, almond, dairy etc)
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • Optional: 1 tsp maple syrup

METHOD: Combine all ingredients in a mug and microwave on HIGH for 2 minutes. Check and microwave for another minute if needed. Eat with a spoon straight away or top with berries, peanut butter or coconut yogurt. 

More ideas 

I’m in the process of testing some high protein, vegan lupin cookies and plan to do a fruit crumble with lupin topping too. Like almond meal, you could also use lupin flakes to crumb meat, tofu or vegetables. When winter approaches, I’m going to try topping cauliflower cheese with lupin for a delicious crunch! 

I did attempt a lupin porridge but I found there wasn’t enough starch to make it very creamy, even when cooked with grated apple, soy milk and vanilla. I also added cooked lupin flakes to a bean salad but they soaked up moisture from the beans and tomatoes, resulting in a soggy lunch. Both meals were edible, but I prefer the recipes above. 

QUESTION: What’s your health food of the moment?

Your First SUP Yoga Class

For the past few months I’ve been trying to simplify life. It started when I watched a Netflix documentary about minimalism and I later read the excellent book Goodbye Things by Japanese author Fumio Sasaki. I was inspired to reclaim time and space by living more simply, and while I won’t share my decluttering efforts on this blog, I wanted to make decisions quicker. Instead of weighing up pros and cons, researching for days or analysing a menu for 20 minutes, my mantra became ‘if you want it, get it’ and ‘if you’re interested, do it’. I’ve regained so much time by thinking less. It’s incredible. 

This ‘do what you’re drawn to’ mindset is how I found myself at a swimming pool at 7am on a Tuesday, about to do yoga in my bikini. I love the water and had been interested in trying stand up paddle (SUP) boarding for a while. When I saw Precious Breath were offering a three week SUP yoga course at a local aquatic centre, I knew I had to give it a go! I usually workout with my mum on a Tuesday morning so I asked if she wanted to join me. She loves a fitness challenge too so we paid our AU$120 course fee and a few weeks later, we were poolside.

Class Overview

As the name suggests, SUP yoga combines stand up paddle boarding and yoga. You’ll do a range of yoga poses while balancing on a paddle board, with the class duration typically 45 minutes to an hour. There’s no paddle! The sequence can vary but as a guide, most classes will have the standard yoga format of a gentle warm up, sun salutations, warrior poses and then perhaps some inversions or hip opening stretches followed by shavasana (meditation). If you’re confused, terminology is covered below. The challenge of SUP yoga is moving between poses while keeping your centre of gravity, or you’ll topple into the water! 

Before you leave home

As with a traditional yoga class, it’s best not to eat for at least an hour beforehand or you may get an upset stomach. If you must have something, keep it small and energy-dense such as half a banana, a handful of nuts or my favourite – a raw ball. Ladies, you’ll be in swimwear so make sure you’re happy with your hair removal situation. Put on suncream, bring a towel and a water bottle. Consider a hat but it’ll likely get wet. It’s best to leave valuables at home unless you know there are lockers available (unlikely at river or beach locations).

What to wear

I had no idea whether I should wear a swimsuit, yoga clothes or both but thankfully I got an email before our class. It said to wear swimwear underneath yoga clothes in case we got wet. As the pool was chlorinated, I wore my oldest gym shorts and tank rather than damage my latest Lululemon, with a bikini underneath. I’d regrettably tossed my old one-piece out in a recent clean-out, but thankfully my bikini top had a high neck. As for footwear, I wore sneakers for the 20 minute walk from my apartment to the pool but flip-flops are a better idea.

On arrival

Ideally you’ve been given a good description of the class location, whether it be a public pool, lake or at the beach. It shouldn’t be too hard to spot the boards and cluster of people. Find the instructor and if it’s not specifically a beginner class, let them know your experience with SUP or yoga so they can give guidance throughout. 

 SUP Yoga: the paddle board was much sturdier than I expected.
SUP Yoga: the paddle board was much sturdier than I expected.

Equipment

Your paddle board will probably be supplied, otherwise you may need to collect a hire board. Inquire beforehand! Yoga paddle boards are wider than regular boards, giving you more space and stability. Getting onto the board can be difficult but look for a handle (a deep groove) in the centre. Then you’re set! 

Terminology

Your instructor will guide you through a range of poses. If you’ve done yoga before, you’ll be familiar with them. If not, here are some basics:

  • Child’s pose: A resting pose with knees and toes on your mat, chest on your thighs and arms stretched in front. A great option to do anytime during the class. 
  • Downward dog: One of the foundation poses in yoga. Hands and feet on the mat at least one metre apart, with your bottom in the air like an upside down “V.” Over time, your heels will touch the ground. 
  • Shavasana or “corpse pose”: Meditation. Five minutes at the end where you lay down and relax your mind, letting your body absorb the work you’ve just done. 
  • Sun salutations: A flowing sequence involving downward dog, lunges, some planking, upward dog and mountain poses. Usually repeated at least four times (twice on each leg). 
  • Warrior poses: A set of strengthening poses, with Warrior 1 facing frontwards, Warrior 2 your chest and hips face the side, and Warrior 3 a bit like a one-legged aeroplane. 

During the class

I quickly realised I’d be doing the class in my bikini, as we needed to swim a short distance to reach our boards! It’d been years since I’d been to a public swimming pool and the water was mild and refreshing. I felt genuinely excited I’d made this experience happen. I got on the board without any grace, and our class began.

Your main focus will be staying on the board, but honestly, it was much sturdier than I expected. From the first minute, I felt my legs and core instantly engage as if I was balancing on a beam. But I moved through child’s pose, cat-cow pose and to downward dog without any problems. It was 20 minutes later during a Warrior 2 pose that I toppled into the water! It resulted in lots of laughter and others fell off later too. Apart from being a little cold when the sun went behind clouds, I felt peaceful and lucky to have such a unique experience in my hometown’s warm climate.

Our instructor Claudia was fantastic, guiding us through poses with a headset microphone as she stood on the edge of the pool. She had a great teaching style, moving around the pool so our class could still see her when we were facing the side and demonstrating moves where needed. Throughout the class she congratulated us on accepting a challenge, getting out of our comfort zone and choosing to start our day with yoga. As a regular yogi, I was comfortable with the poses but I did regret throwing out my one-piece when my stomach sagged while planking. I told myself it’s just a body – and any onlookers were probably more interested in our unusual activity rather than critiquing my lack of tone. 

The highlights were doing ‘wild thing’ pose and flipping into the pool – what a sense of freedom! I also enjoyed bridge pose and hope to make it to wheel pose by the end of the three week course. I’d earlier joked with my mum that I couldn’t possibly imagine doing ‘happy baby’ pose in a bikini. Well, I did it – until I realised the school group next to us probably didn’t need to see that view! 

The next day & beyond

Forget the next day, my quads were stiff when I stood up after breakfast that morning! I woke up with stiff quads the next day as well as well, and my mum text me she had the same feeling. We must’ve worked harder than we realised. If you’re not a regular yogi, you may also find your hamstrings a little tight. Go for a gentle walk or try repeat some of the poses to loosen your muscles. 

In subsequent classes, have fun exploring and developing your practice. Maybe you lunge deeper, twist further or challenge your balance by closing your eyes. While I was slightly hesitant SUP yoga may be a fad, it was actually a perfect union of two different workouts. The flow of yoga and the movement of the water was calming and they absolutely complimented each other. The feeling must be heightened in natural water! If you get the chance, take your practice outside the studio – and get on board SUP yoga! 

QUESTION: When did you last take your fitness out of your comfort zone? 

My Must-Do in Beijing, China

My boyfriend and I’s arrival in China was far from glamourous. We’d caught a red eye flight from Perth, Australia, had a layover in Singapore and upon landing in Beijing, I raced to find a toilet due to – I suspect – some artificial colours and flavourings in the Singaporean Slings we’d had on our flight. Beijing Airport was hot and busy compared to the wintery scenes we’d left in Perth.

We reached our hotel in the central and touristy Wangfujing area via the airport train and subway, and took in the sunset from the rooftop club lounge. Sure, there was smog on the skyline – but we were pretty damn excited to start our three week adventure. I’ve travelled to Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and India but China was different. Its capital of 21 million people was modern, organised and clean. You can read more in 10 Things I Didn’t Expect in Beijing

The city is also flat, meaning you can easily get around on foot or use the excellent subway system to explore. Even if you only have two days in Beijing, you can make a day trip to the Great Wall of China and then spend a day taking in the city. For a suggested plan, check out Our Three Week China Itinerary which includes four days in Beijing. Remember, you won’t be able to Google addresses, entrance fees or opening hours unless you have a VPN. I simply switched to Yahoo search and used the excellent offline map app Maps.Me.

Here’s my list of my must-see places in Beijing!

1. Tiananmen Square

This is probably the most well-known landmark in Beijing, the city square infamous for the student protests of 1989 dubbed the ‘Tiananmen Square Massacre.’ When visiting the square, it’s hard to imagine the scenes that played out almost 30 years ago, as it was seemingly spacious when we were there on a warm autumn day. 

While the city square is public space and therefore open all the time, there was strict security and road blocks when we accessed Tiananmen Square from the southern point at Qianmen E St. It wasn’t always clear which line to join, there are large tour groups and I felt like we kept showing our bags and passports at various checkpoints. But once you reach the actual square, simply walk around and observe.

  • Cost: Free. 
  • Tip: If you see large lines and barricades, it’s people lining up to visit Mao’s Mausoleum. Check your bag before lining up at the facility across the street. We did it, and it’s pretty special – but be prepared for a 1-2 hour wait for just seconds of viewing time. 
 Tiananmen Square: the infamous site of the 1989 student demonstrations, facing the Forbidden City.
Tiananmen Square: the infamous site of the 1989 student demonstrations, facing the Forbidden City.

2. Forbidden City

You must see the Forbidden City when you visit Beijing! This world heritage listed site is an extraordinary testament to Chinese civilisation, spanning 130,000 sqm (32 acres). Now officially called the Palace Museum, it was an imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the Qing dynasty (1368 – 1911). It’s literally like stepping into another world, and it’s incredible such a huge space survives unchanged in the heart of the city. 

If you arrive at Tiananmen Square from the south, simply head north and you’ll reach the entrance to the Forbidden City. While some reviews said to pre-purchase tickets and allow six hours, my boyfriend and I had two hours spare and decided to chance it. We reached the entrance on a Saturday about 3pm, kept walking and reached the ticket area at 3.15pm (yes, the site is that big). There was a sign saying to buy tickets using a QR code but it was no problem to buy tickets the traditional way, although you’ll need to show your passport (do this everywhere in China). There was a short line but it only took a few minutes. We also rented an audio guide at a separate station (to the north) for 40¥ (AU$8), which helped us learn about the significance of each building and notice some features we would’ve otherwise missed. 

 Forbidden City: it's truly like stepping back in time
Forbidden City: it’s truly like stepping back in time

We walked slowly, took photos and went into a gift shop, although we didn’t see the west palace as it was closed. The imperial garden is stunning and busy, but not shoulder to shoulder. Its greenery was a welcome respite from the barren concrete of the main areas. You could buy food and drink too and rest if you need, although seating may be difficult to come by. After an hour, we’d reached the end of the Forbidden City (4.15pm), although you could stay much longer if you have a particular interest in Chinese architecture and artefacts or stopped for lunch. Again, we didn’t rush – we just kept selfies to a minimum and didn’t study every single building and object.

  • Cost: 60¥ (AU$12) high season (April – October), 40¥ low season (November – March).
  • Opening hours: 8.30am – 5pm (4.30pm in low season), closed Mondays except July – August.
  • Website: The Palace Museum
  • Tip: go later in the afternoon if you can, for fewer crowds.
 Forbidden City: the gardens offer some shade and respite from the concrete areas, but are still busy.
Forbidden City: the gardens offer some shade and respite from the concrete areas, but are still busy.

3. Jingshan Park

Why must you visit this park in Beijing? To get panoramic views of the Forbidden City and beyond! If you’ve walked through the Forbidden City from south to north, the park entrance is literally across the road when you exit. The main lookout was signposted, and you’ll need to walk up a lot of steps but only for a few minutes. Then join the crowd and enjoy the views! The remainder of the park looked lovely too, but we’d skipped lunch and it was approaching 6pm so we left. We exited the less-busy west gate and got a taxi straight away (38¥ to Beijing Railway Station, as we had to collect train tickets). The image at the top of this post is the main lookout at Jingshan Park!

  • Cost: 2¥ (AU$0.40!)
  • Opening hours: unsure, but they were still selling tickets at 5pm. 
 Forbidden City: as viewed from Jingshan Park (the smoggy skyline is real)
Forbidden City: as viewed from Jingshan Park (the smoggy skyline is real)

4. Great Wall of China

I’ve done a separate post about hiking the Great Wall of China, but honestly – go there. It’s a day trip from Beijing, with many different sections ranging from 45 minutes away by car to more than two hours. We chose the wild Jiankou section to the restored Mutianyu path. It was like stepping into a photograph and having a 360-degree view! If you only have a day in Beijing, you could always visit the wall early, return mid-afternoon then explore the city in the evening. 

5. Hutongs

When I was researching Beijing, I read about ‘old laneways’ and knew I had to visit! My boyfriend and I were lucky that my sister had lived in China and organised for us to meet one of her friends. He suggested we visit the hutongs for dinner and drinks, and boy, did we drink! The alleyways were like a dark concrete maze of houses, eateries, bars and strong-smelling public toilets. While I can’t give any reliable details about where the hutongs start and finish, I can recommend heading to Peiping Machine Taphouse and The Tiki Bungalow to get your party started. The tiki bar isn’t easy to find, but just get to Jiaodaukou Street near Beixinqiao subway station and explore the area from there. For those who prefer, there are plenty of organised hutong tours too. 

  • Cost: Free.
 Hutongs: Houses, courtyards, restaurants and bars are hidden behind the walls. 
Hutongs: Houses, courtyards, restaurants and bars are hidden behind the walls. 

7. Wangfujing Street

Every city has its main shopping street and in Beijing, that’s Wangfujing Street. I love shopping – not so much buying as looking, exploring and people watching. I always dive into book stores and stationery shops, and shoe stores. On Wangfujing Street, you’ll find the usual international clothing chains like H&M, Zara and Gap, along with MAC Cosmetics. But there are also lots of Chinese confectionary stores (great for random snacks or to take home as gifts), a good food court in the ground floor of the book store and designer stores. It’s also home to the famous Wangfujing Snack Street – marked by a large gate and the smell of food wafting down to the main street. More for novelty than serious eats, you can find bugs on sticks, noodles and what I called ‘swirly potato sticks’ – essentially skewered, home style potato chips. If you need a SIM card, head to the small China Unicom stand inside the mall closest to the snack street. 

  • Cost: Free
  • Tip: The snack street closes at exactly 10pm – don’t be idle! 

7. Temple of Heaven

It was a rainy old morning when we walked from our hotel to the Temple of Heaven, but that meant less crowds. We reached Tiantan Park about 12pm and followed the signs to the temple. It was built in 1412 and I found the architecture so striking, especially when imagining royalty travelling from the Forbidden City to the site for ceremonies. The main attraction is The Great Hall of Prayer (north) with nearby buildings containing various artefacts and information, although from memory only some of it was in English. We walked south to reach The Circular Mound Altar before exiting. We spent just over 90 minutes there altogether, but you could take some time to explore the park surrounding the temple – it’s a beautiful place to read a book, do tai chi or have a picnic.

  • Cost: Park entrance 15¥ (AU$3), extra 20¥ for the temple (buy outside the temple).
  • Opening hours: Park 6am-10pm, Temple of Heaven 8am-6pm in high season (July – Oct).
  • Website: Temple of Heaven (map)
 Temple of Heaven: The Great Hall of Prayer is its most iconic structure 
Temple of Heaven: The Great Hall of Prayer is its most iconic structure 

8. 798 Art District

After being immersed in imperial culture, it was refreshing to see a vibrant, youthful side to Beijing in the 798 Art District. My boyfriend discovered the area when he was researching drone stores and it looked really cool. We had limited time so took a cab there from the Temple of Heaven. We showed the taxi driver the name in Chinese using Maps.Me, and the 40 minute journey cost around 50¥ (AU$10) with Sunday traffic.

 798 Art District: You'll find large sculptures throughout the streets. 
798 Art District: You’ll find large sculptures throughout the streets. 

798 is an old factory area that’s been converted to artist studios, cafes, galleries and stores. The neighbourhood is big – not quite Forbidden City size, but definitely big enough to spend a few hours walking the streets and admiring the art, grabbing some street food and going into studios. I highly recommend heading here to check out Beijing’s art scene, and even if you’re not into art, the huge street sculptures and people watching are sure to entertain you for a few hours. 

  • Cost: Free.
  • Website: 798 Art District
  • Tip: If you see bags of rolled up, wafer-like sweets, buy them. They’re delicious! 

Next time

While we saw a lot in our three days (including a day trip to the Great Wall), we couldn’t fit in the imperial garden Summer Palace, a Beijing brewery tour or visit Hou Hai (Back Lakes) which is meant to be most impressive at night I would also love to return to the hutongs and see more of Beijing’s neighbourhoods too. It’s no problem, because I know I’ll be returning to Beijing as soon as I can! 

Where to stay

We stayed at New World Beijing, a five-star modern hotel in the Wangfujing area, Chongwenmen in Dongcheng district. It was perfectly located in the middle of all the attractions we wanted to see, only 15-20 minutes to Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven and Wangfujing Street. The club room was excellent value at AU$210 per night, including a sizeable breakfast buffet, generous evening drinks and canapés and most of all, a spacious rooftop for drinks or relaxing. Staying in a club room means you can also request a 4pm check-out.

 New World: the club lounge is excellent, offering breakfast, evening canapes and drinks.
New World: the club lounge is excellent, offering breakfast, evening canapes and drinks.

At the end of our trip, we stayed at Park Plaza Beijing (AU$114/night). Located at the opposite end of Wanfujing Street to New World, the hotel was older but still perfectly fine. The area was much more business-like, surrounded by other hotels and high-rise buildings. If you can afford it, stay at New World! 

Getting there

Beijing is well served by air and train. The airport express train was 25¥ (AU$5) and took about 30-40 minutes to Dongzhimen, the main subway hub. From there, we took the subway to our hotel (Dongzhimen to Chongwenmen station, 20 minutes) followed by a short 10 minute walk. Our departure flight was early so we took a cab – from memory, it was maybe 120-150¥ (AU$24-30) from our Dongcheng hotel heading into peak hour.

There are five main train stations in Beijing, namely Beijing Railway Station, the West, North and South railway stations and Badaling station. Be sure to closely check which one you’re arriving or departing from! 

Getting around

  • Subway: It’s fast, reliable and cheap. It was just 3¥ (AU$0.60) for most of our short, one-way journeys. Note the subway isn’t 24 hours, with most services stopping at 11pm-12am.
  • Taxis: They’re cheap, plentiful and professional but communication can be difficult. Always have your destination in Chinese, even for a big hotel. I used Maps.Me for directions when our cab driver mistakenly took us to New World apartments instead of New World Hotel (thankfully only 10 minutes away on foot).
  • Foot: It’s really easy to get around Beijing on foot. We walked 7 to 13km (4.5 – 8 mi.) most days we were in Beijing. It’s flat, and footpaths or roads are mostly wide and level (making them fine for luggage and baby strollers too).
  • Buses: We didn’t use these as subway, taxi and foot were adequate. But there were English numbers on the front and bus stops were obvious because of shelters.

Currency

The Chinese Yuan Renminbi can be expressed in a number of ways, from ¥ to CNY or RMB. It’s all the same. While we could use our credit card at major hotels, most attractions and transport were cash only or if they did accept credit card, it was only locally-issued ones. Bring lots of cash otherwise there are ATMs available. As a rough guide, 100¥ = AU$20, US$15, £11 and €13.

QUESTION: What are your Beijing highlights?

Perth’s Healthiest Restaurants

It’s never been easier to get a healthy breakfast and restaurant lunches are typically lighter and brimming with salad options. But when it comes to date night, catching a friend or a group event, dinner is a time where good intentions can be derailed. I love going out, exploring new venues and drinking a good glass of wine – my fitness routine is never going to stop that! But I don’t want to undo all my efforts at the gym by overindulging when I’m dining out. I don’t feel good after I eat greasy or carbohydrate-heavy meals (hence the lack of pizza or pasta in my posts – gnocchi with lots of tomato sauce excepted!) and too much wine makes my 5.30am alarm a struggle. 

While the definition of healthy food is subjective, I consider it as anything that’s minimally processed and eaten in moderation.  I try to avoid anything from a packet and instead eat a variety of fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables daily with nuts, wholegrains and proteins. Dark chocolate and occasional home-baked treats like banana bread are all the sweetness I need. Thankfully, perhaps in reaction to fast-food and convenience meals, restaurants are increasingly focusing on fresh, seasonal produce. Whether you have specific dietary needs such as gluten free, follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, or simply want nutritious yet delicious meals, these restaurants are for you! Options range from casual to special occasion, and all but one venue serves meat and alcohol.

1. DeJa Vu tapas restaurant, Northbridge

Comprising a rooftop venue and a restaurant, a first glimpse of Dejavu‘s menu reveals cocktails, sliders, and pizza  – where’s the healthy you ask? Look closer. The pizzas are on activated charcoal bases. The hummus is made from carrots and served with vegetable sticks. Slider options include free range chicken and shredded jackfruit (vegans rejoice!) on house-made buns. There are also distinctly Australian flavours – think lemon myrtle, macadamia and damper. As for the cocktails Dejavu uses essential oils and coconut sugar syrups, and you’ll again find activated charcoal… in its tequila! The romantic rooftop setting and stunning service make this a magical night out. 

Cost: Tapas plates $8-16, sangria $8 and cocktails from $17.
Address: 2/310 William St, Northbridge | Website 

 Dejavu Rooftop: charcoal damper, sriracha hummus and vegetable sticks with a cocktail. 
Dejavu Rooftop: charcoal damper, sriracha hummus and vegetable sticks with a cocktail. 

2. New Normal, Subiaco

From the outside, this venue doesn’t look overly healthy. You’ll see wine, a rooftop bar and waitstaff with plates of delicious looking food. But on closer inspection, New Normal completely embodies my idea of healthy eating. The focus is on fresh, seasonal produce and it’s entirely sourced from Western Australia’s South West (drinks menu included). The menu changes so often, they don’t have paper copies (but if you’re shortsighted like me and can’t read the blackboard, you’ll be kindly given a chalkboard at your table). My boyfriend and I dined just before Christmas, choosing plates of tomato, golden beetroot, octopus and rosemary potatoes. I felt like we were in a renovated farmhouse, eating exceptional flavours picked straight from a garden. The atmosphere was intimate, wholesome and just lovely. Don’t wait another minute. Book your table now! 

Cost: Approx. $60 per person, including a bottle of wine. 
Address: 2/23 Railway Rd, Subiaco |  Website

 New Normal: golden beetroot and pumpkin with cranberries (goats cheese on the side).
New Normal: golden beetroot and pumpkin with cranberries (goats cheese on the side).

3. The Raw Kitchen, Fremantle

Remember that time before bliss balls and coconut wraps were widely available in supermarkets?The Raw Kitchen opened in Fremantle eight years ago, pioneering healthy eating in Perth. Today, it’s evolved to beautiful warehouse venue that offers yoga, healthy living workshops and even a zero-waste store. But back to the food. Despite its name, not everything is raw. Think yellow tempeh curries, raw nachos with ‘cashew cheese,’ and a ‘live’ pizza with dehydrated buckwheat base. There’s no dairy, gluten, refined sugar or additives. The wine list has preservative free, organic and biodynamic options too! Eating out never felt so good. 

Cost: Entrees/shares from $7, mains from $19, wine from $36 per bottle. 
Address: 181A High St, Fremantle | Website

 The Raw Kitchen: raw tacos filled with fresh salad and herbs, topped with cashew cheese sauce.
The Raw Kitchen: raw tacos filled with fresh salad and herbs, topped with cashew cheese sauce.

4. Post, Perth CBD

I’ve only been to Post for breakfast but it’s open for lunch and dinner, so it’s going on this list. Set in the city’s stunning State Buildings, the menu features several dishes designed by its Como Shambhala spa, aimed at being light and nutritious. Enjoy dishes such as quinoa spaghetti, salads with carrot top pesto and plenty of local seafood in a beautiful heritage setting (how long can you stare at that ceiling for?). I’ll be returning for Post’s Champagne brunch served Sundays from 11.30am – nut seed ‘real toast’ with avocado, buckwheat cannoli cacoa dessert and a glass of champagne of course! Post perfectly captures indulgence without excess and you can even get a spa treatment before or after, if you wish. 

Cost: Starters from $18, mains from $24. 
Address: State Buildings, corner of St George’s Tce & Pier St, Perth | Website

 Post: Dining feels like a spa experience with its nut and seed 'real toast' with avocado.
Post: Dining feels like a spa experience with its nut and seed ‘real toast’ with avocado.

5. Hanami, Mt Lawley

With a focus on simplicity and minimal cooking times, Japanese is a great option when looking for healthy dining options. But I specifically keep coming back to Mt Lawley’s Hanami because it’s always so fresh. Sure, there are spring rolls on the menu and you could choose fried chicken with a pile of white rice. But there’s also edamame, endless seafood, cold tofu, and the option to have 5 or 10 pieces of sushi (thumbs up for portion control). The ambience is lively and casual, the food is delicious and you can’t beat the prices. Japanese is also the perfect opportunity to skip the beer or wine and drink green tea all night too. 

Cost: Starters from $6, sushi from $6, mains from $17. 
Address: 685 Beaufort St, Mt Lawley | Website

Want More Healthy Dining?

If you’d like breakfast or brunch ideas, check out Perth’s Healthiest Cafes! There are so many new venues opening, I’ll be doing another post soon showcasing the latest additions. Subscribe to my e-newsletter to get an alert. 

QUESTION: Where do you go for a healthy dinner out? 

Overcoming an Injury

It’s been six years since I suffered a serious sports injury. It was completely self-inflicted – in my quest to lose weight, I was exercising 10 to 12 days straight without a break and doing minimal yoga or stretching. I was typically doing two gym classes a day, running 10 kilometres weekly and walking anywhere I could to burn extra calories. My body was constantly sore which I took as a sign I was working hard. 

It’s little surprise that after increasingly upping the intensity and frequency of my workouts, my body began to protest. I rolled my ankle in a boxing class, I was waking during the night with restless legs and eventually, my right knee buckled. You can read the full story in The Dangers of Overtraining, but essentially I was left limping, depressed and completely depleted. I finally accepted I needed help. 

The months that followed were painful, frustrating and expensive. I was in such denial about my injury, it took two attempts to address the problem as I rushed my recovery. The second time round however, I was determined to get stronger and rebuild my fitness. There were several things during my recovery that helped me progress and stay positive. Here’s how I overcame my injury: 

Initial assessment

The first step was booking a physiotherapist appointment. She identified my knee pain as coming from a tight ilitibiol band. The ‘IT band’ runs along the outside of the thigh, connecting your butt to your knee. IT Band Syndrome is a common injury among runners, especially from overuse. I was actually relieved to get a diagnosis. I had private health cover, so appointments only cost me around $40 or so after rebate. I got massages on my leg every few days and felt relief almost immediately. I also learnt to use a foam roller to loosen my IT band, and the physio even did some acupuncture. She told me to take it easy at the gym, so I kept going daily but just used lighter weights.

Changing footwear

I also saw a podiatrist based in the physiotherapy complex, who, identified I had flat feet and overpronated my foot – meaning it rolled inward when I walked and put additional stress on my knee when running. I got custom-made orthotics, which set me back around $400-500. Thankfully, I again got a part rebate through private health insurance. On the podiatrist’s recommendation, I also changed my sneakers to Asics’ Nimbus range, which is designed for runners and has a neutral sole (so would fit my orthotics). While orthotics felt strange at first, my feet quickly adapted to the new support and cushioning. I even started running again, although I did one minute of jogging and one minute of walking which I could sustain for 7km. Believing I was cured after new shoes and a few weeks of physiotherapy, I quickly increased intensity on everything. 

Don’t rush recovery

My symptoms rapidly returned. I tried running after work one day and couldn’t even do 2km before I limped home. The outside of my knee again felt like it had a burning gumball inside it. I was upset, angry and refused to do anything that involved eating or drink because I had no way to burn off the calories. Apart from my morning oatmeal, I wasn’t eating any carbs for fear of weight gain. I’d invested so much time and money in trying to fix the issue which made my failure all the more frustrating. At this point, I knew my injury was serious and needed more than massages. 

Second assessment

I saw a different physiotherapist, recommended by a friend of my boyfriend’s who’d also had knee problems. My new physio (Phil at Energise Physiotherapy) said if he couldn’t fix my knee after three appointments, he’d refer me to a specialist. I appreciated the honest and upfront approach. I had more massages, was given some stretches and exercises to try strengthen supporting muscles and felt optimistic but ultimately, I didn’t recover as much as either of us would’ve liked. True to his word, Phil referred me to a specialist sports doctor. 

Seeing a specialist

The sports doctor didn’t mess around. He did a quick assessment, poking my knee and asking how painful it was. He recommended I stop all exercise immediately apart from brisk walking – he was the first professional to ask how I felt about that. I was petrified. If I didn’t cry during that appointment, my eyes certainly filled up with tears. He then recommended I get a cortisone injection to help reduce the inflammation and kickstart recovery.

Cortisone injections

I was warned that cortisone is a semi-serious treatment, with injections limited to three per year. I did research online about the procedure – there was a lot of discussion about side effects, how effective the treatment was and the risks. But I trusted my doctor and having had little results with less invasive options, I went ahead. From memory, it cost around $300 which was almost as painful as the actual injection.

Getting a cortisone injection is like shooting adrenaline directly into your body. I hate needles and having one go into the side of my knee was awful. I was told to limit movement for 24 hours to maximise the drug’s effectiveness but I should otherwise feel an improvement within a few days. I went to work, I went to an end-of-year function, I went out for Chinese food after the function and then rested later that night. 

Guess what? The injection didn’t work. My knee was in agony (a cortisone ‘flare up’ I later learnt) and when that subsided, the same old pain remained. I had a follow-up appointment with the specialist who arranged for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to pinpoint the exact problem area.

MRI scan

If you haven’t had an MRI, it resembles something from a 1950s sci-fi movie. Think a tiled room with a tunnel-like machine in the middle of it. You’ll lay on a bed, be given headphones and the body part being scanned will be wedged into place with cushions or foam. You’ll be gently slid into the machine and then everyone leaves the room. For the next 30 minutes, you’ll hear loud, unsettling sounds akin to an electronic jackhammer, but with varying pitches. You absolutely cannot move or the scan will need to be redone. My experience was uncomfortable but overall, not too bad apart from the $700 price tag. I got about half back from Medicare. 

Just three weeks after my first cortisone injection, I had a second one. I began crying as soon as I walked into the room, knowing how vital it was this one worked. If not, would surgery help me? The man administering the injection saw how upset I was and asked if I had a competition or event coming up. “No,” I told him. “I just really want to exercise again.” He was puzzled. The injection was extremely painful and all I could do was wipe away tears. 

I was determined this second injection would be the last. I’d stocked my fridge, my sister drove me to and from the appointment, and for the next 48 hours I didn’t move. When I did get up from the couch to go to the bathroom or make some food, I winced. At the time, I described my knee as feeling like a burning hot chopstick had been driven into the side of it. Every time I moved, it burned. I discovered insomnia was a side effect of cortisone too. But eventually, the pain subsided and even better – my knee finally felt relief.  

Support & strengthen

I wasn’t going to mess up my recovery the second time. I followed everything the doctor recommended and returned to physio, diligently doing every exercise he’d prescribed to strengthen supporting muscles. I’d been so worried about gaining weight by not exercising – but I actually found I wasn’t constantly hungry like I was when training. I was surprised how little food my body needed when I was only going to the bus stop and my desk job. 

I’d already changed my footwear and gotten custom made orthotics which had made a huge difference. I bought a foam roller and used it almost daily to massage my IT band at home, which was extremely painful but effective. I hadn’t worn heels in months, but I bought some semi-wedge shoes I hoped to wear for special occasions. 

Gentle exercise

My permitted exercises were walking and light activities that didn’t involve my knee. That didn’t leave me with a lot of options, but I developed a newfound love for power-walking on flat ground. In my supportive sneakers, I’d walk as fast as I could around a lake for an hour. Just months before, I would’ve deemed the exercise wasn’t worth my time – burning a measly 200 calories. But now, it felt like liberation and victory. I was out of the house, I could wear my gym gear and I could get my heart rate up without pain. I was also doing basic exercises such as clam shells and squats against a wall to try strengthen my glutes. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. 

Personal trainer 

While I was grateful to be pain-free, my newfound passion for walking and at-home exercises quickly waned. I wanted to do more and felt my body could handle it – but I was too afraid to try anything else on my own. By chance, I met a personal trainer who’d had the same injury as me (although her’s wasn’t from overtraining). I had PT sessions with Sharon from Uplifting Wellness once a week, and I was surprised how much I could do at a gym without using my knee. She showed me low-impact options such as the cross-trainer (elliptical machine) and seated leg press machine, which would help strengthen my glutes. I did body weight exercises, used free weights and other equipment like kettlebells, fitballs and TRX suspension. 

I really encourage anyone with an injury to consider a personal trainer. On top of the physical benefits, having a positive, qualified professional guide my recovery was invaluable. Sharon helped me focus on what I could do, referring to my ‘stronger leg’ rather than my ‘injured’ leg. It was empowering to learn new things at the gym and while my lower body activity was limited, my upper body became the strongest it had ever been! Having a coach truly helped me develop and maintain a positive mindset. 

Slowly increase intensity 

It felt agonisingly slow, but in coming months I increased the intensity of my workouts. For example, I returned to BodyPump but did the squat and lunge tracks without any weights. I didn’t care I wasn’t working out as hard before – I was simply grateful to be back in group fitness classes. Around this time, I rediscovered my passion for the indoor cycling class RPM. I was able to get a cardio fix with far less impact than running. 

I started doing one of my all time favourite classes BodyAttack again, although initially I marched instead of jogging and I did slow, body-weight lunges instead of the plyometric kind. I even returned to running, but with extreme caution. I would alternate between jogging and walking, and slowly increased the distance I ran. My first non-stop, one-kilometre jog felt like a bigger achievement than the 12K City to Surf I’d done two years prior. My boyfriend was extremely patient and supportive throughout this time, and I recall how happy I was when we ran 4K non-stop together (of course, he could’ve run much further). Little by little, I slowly returned to where I’d been been when I was forced to stop exercising. It probably took me around 18 months to fully recover from my injury, whereby I could comfortably run 7K – although this probably would’ve been quicker if I could’ve afforded more coaching. 

Ongoing management

Six years on, I still see my physio every couple of months – not because I’m in pain, but to prevent it. I’ve fully returned to my fitness routine and feel even stronger than before. I lift heavier weights, incorporate functional training like CXWorx, and I do a lot more yoga to loosen my muscles – especially my hips. I force myself to rest one day a week (even though I still don’t usually want to). I still hate walking downstairs as this one of the main triggers of pain when I had my injury. This is still true of recent hiking trips in Italy and China, when despite the exertion, I preferred going upstairs! 

New mindset

I still push myself physically almost daily but the difference is I no longer work through pain. If I set off for a 10K run and feel a tinge in my knee at 6K, I’ll stretch, try again, but stop if the pain persists. Particularly if I’m tired, my form slackens and my IT band inevitably gets a little tight. I massage it, stretch it and most importantly – I don’t push it. I’ve accepted there’ll be times in my life where I won’t be in peak form (illness, holidays or shiftwork) and that’s okay.

The lessons learnt from my injury will be particularly relevant in about two months’ time when I have surgery on my little finger. I’m told recovery should only take two weeks – and while the prospect of a fortnight without the gym would’ve previously been petrifying, I now know to focus on the movements I can do and show my body some sympathy. My attitude now days? When I’m at my best, I’ll give my best – and when I’m not, I’ll give it what I’ve got.

QUESTION: What did you do to manage an injury?

10 Things I Didn’t Expect in Beijing, China

People had mixed reactions when I told them my boyfriend and I were going to China. They ranged from congratulatory and enthusiastic, to puzzlement and even cautionary. My sister, who’d live in China for a year, was predictably the most excited for us along with a colleague who’d also visited some years ago. But more commonly, people either perplexingly asked why we wanted to visit China or worse still, told us how much they disliked the country. The descriptions ranged from “dirty” to “it’s like India, but without the warmth of the people.” Ouch.

I wasn’t deterred by the negativity, in fact, I got even more excited as the trip got closer. While my boyfriend and I had been to Europe just five months earlier, it was more holidaying than travelling. This time, neither of us had been to the country before and we had no idea what to expect. Our first stop was Beijing, which I’d been told represented old China. Just weeks before we departed, television screens were filled with a city glowing orange with pollution. Media portrayal included mass population, poverty and a dismal human rights record. 

Our flight from Perth, Australia to Beijing via Singapore landed around 3pm and by 5pm, we were exiting a subway station and walking along a footpath to our hotel in the Wanfujing district. The atmosphere was peaceful, with only a few cars and people around as the sun began to fade. The street names were in English, and we easily reached our hotel after 10 minutes. It was nothing like India.

The four days that proceeded were incredible. I didn’t fall in love with Beijing immediately, but I quickly absorbed and enjoyed all that was around me. History, culture, food, excellent transport, bikesharing, art, the absence of Western media (a true holiday when you’re a journalist), the open spaces and public places. It didn’t resemble anything I’d imagined from television or people’s stories. Many of these themes continued throughout our three week China trip, and I loved the country even more than I’d anticipated. 

Here’s what struck me most in Beijing, to the point where I began this blog post on our journey because I wanted to counter the narratives I’d heard before we left. I’ll concede we stayed in the central tourist areas, did a lot of research and preparation before we left (such as downloading city and subway maps), and also love being out of our comfort zone. But even without these things, it’s hard not to be impressed by China’s capital. 

Things I Didn’t Expect in Beijing

1. It Wasn’t Crowded

Were there a lot of people in Beijing? Yes. Train stations were busy, and roads were filled with vehicles often coming to a standstill. But I never truly sensed I was in a city of 21.5 million people (almost the entire population of my home country Australia). I didn’t see any exceptionally large crowds and never felt boxed in. Beijing was far less busier than New York for example, and train stations were no different to London’s Kings Cross. The most common question when I returned from China was “It was really crowded, right?.” No, it wasn’t. This is probably linked to my next point. 

2. Sprawling but Not Dense

While my boyfriend and I flew into Beijing, our journey into the city centre was by train. Departing the airport, there were masses of tall apartment buildings but sprawling areas of greenery between them. This became less so as we got closer to the city, but it was immediately evident Beijing is a city of highways that has developed outwards rather than upwards, much like Los Angeles or Paris. Even in the central tourist area we were staying in, our hotel only had 12 floors and was one of the taller buildings in the area. The city was also very flat, making it the perfect concrete jungle to explore on foot. 

3. Organised

Beijing had a level of organisation that rivals Ikea or The Container Store. Many places had a clear entrance and exit, even in a small area like bag check or cloak rooms. This may partly be because of security checks at the entrance (see my next point), so wanting to control the flow of people. But the subway system was excellent. Exits are clearly marked A,B, C and so on (identical to Hong Kong) and often divided further into B1, B2 and so forth so you have an exact reference point to meet somewhere or reach a location. If only more cities would adopt this system! Traffic is mostly cars with a few buses, tuk tuks and scooters. The scenes got a little hairy at some intersections, but drivers largely followed the rules. 

4. Security

I’d expected the military presence we saw around tourist locations like Tianamen Square, but I didn’t anticipate the level of other checks. Our hotel had a passport scanner and staff checked our visas, we had to show our passports when entering the train station, staff scanned my body with a hand-held metal detector at most checks, and sometimes my handbag would go through an x-ray machine only to be scanned again five minutes later. There were security cameras across the city, and I later saw a news story about how China is introducing live facial scanning technology. 

5. Lack of Pollution

There’s no denying pollution is a huge problem in China and Beijing is no exception. However, I was surprised (and somewhat concerned) that at no time could I sense it. I could clearly see the dull, hazy grey band of smog across the horizon, but I could never smell it and my breathing felt the same as it did in Australia. After a day of sightseeing in Beijing, I didn’t feel any dirtier than after a day walking around New York City. When my boyfriend and I tried to raise the topic of air quality with our Great Wall tour guide, who’d quit journalism over having to write pro-government stories, he told us Beijing simply had ‘fog.’ 

 Beijing: the pollution was visible on the horizon but my breathing didn't feel affected.
Beijing: the pollution was visible on the horizon but my breathing didn’t feel affected.

6. English Prevalence 

One of the biggest shocks in Beijing was seeing numbers in English! Everything from platform numbers to bus numbers, times and prices. I felt ignorant but then recalled my experiences catching local buses in Thailand. As mentioned, we did largely stay in the tourist areas of Beijing, but the prevalence of English continued throughout our trip. It gave me confidence we could catch buses across China. Many street names had English and Chinese characters too. Spoken English was a different story, ranging from fluent to none at all. A few times we asked for help with directions, and young people would apologise for their ‘bad’ English before clearly explaining where we needed to be. My Mandarin comprised hello, thank you, water and cheers. 

7. Punctual 

As well as the clear organisation of train stations, roads and attractions, much of Beijing operated like clockwork. Trains departed to the minute, our hotel breakfast closed exactly 10.30am, lights went off in market areas at precisely 10pm and our tour guide for the Great Wall of China met us at exactly 7am. For the rest of our trip, it became a game to see whether boarding for a train opened exactly 20 minutes before departure (in almost every case, it did). A friend of my sister’s, living in Beijing, warned us that planes in China were often heavily delayed but of our four internal flights, we only were late once departing 15 minutes after the scheduled time. 

 A Beijing train station: Trains left to the minute and the train number was easy to identify, thanks to English characters. 
A Beijing train station: Trains left to the minute and the train number was easy to identify, thanks to English characters. 

8. Clean

I didn’t expect Beijing to be like walking in a trash can, but the absence of litter was noticeable. Roads, footpaths and public spaces were clean and tidy although – as with most capital cities – I suspect this wanes further away from central areas. The notable exceptions were public toilets (see below) and The Great Wall of China, which in some areas was littered with plastic drink bottles and empty food wrappers.

9. Public Toilets

I relax my obsession with staying hydrated when travelling but it wasn’t a problem in Beijing or the rest of the five cities we visited in China. Public toilets were everywhere and well sign-posted. As a local resident told us, you simply need to follow your nose. And bring toilet paper if you want some. Like the extensive labelling of exits at train stations, I wish other cities in the world had as many public toilets as Beijing did! 

10. Accessibility 

Beijing deserves a solid congratulations for having accessibility that, in parts, is better than my home city. I know this, because I’d debated whether to take a backpack or suitcase to China and I was glad I chose the latter. It was effortless to walk along footpaths, get around train stations, and enter accomodation. The prevalence of ramps and lifts was impressive and I recall hauling my suitcase up a lot less stairs than I did in Europe just five months prior.

When we left Beijing after four nights for Xi’an, I felt like I’d just begun to discover a city. I wasn’t ready to leave and was glad we’d return for a final night at the end of our trip before flying home. My expectations certainly weren’t low, but I was surprised by just how much I liked Beijing. It set the tone for the rest of our trip, which my boyfriend and I consider is one of the best we’ve done to date. Are you considering a trip to China’s capital? Check out My Must-See Attractions in Beijing.

QUESTION: Which place has surprised you most in your travels?

Perth’s Best Food & Drink Events in 2018

A new year. A new calendar. A lot of empty spaces… for now! Perth’s glorious sunshine and mild winters means there’s never long between food and drink events. I love checking out new festivals but there are some events I look forward to every year. They’re consistently well organised, have a great range of stallholders, a good atmosphere and don’t cost a fortune. Grab a pen or for digital types, grab your smartphone and save the dates for my favourite food and booze events happening in 2018!

February

Araluen’s Chilli Festival, Perth Hills

This festival has travelled around, appearing at Fremantle’s Esplanade and last year taking over McCallum Park in Victoria Park. In 2018, Araluen’s Chilli Festival returns to where it all began – Roleystone’s Araluen Botanic Park. I love chilli and my man does too, so the festival is a great day for sampling chilli-flavoured sauces, snacks, baked goods, and alcohol! If you (or your mate) can’t handle the heat, there’s typically a few ice cream trucks and plenty of beer to cool things down. 

  • Date: 3 – 4 February 2018
  • Tickets: $22 + booking fee, kids free | Website: araluenbotanicpark.com.au
  • Why I love it: A diverse range of stallholders and punters, united by their love of chilli.
  • Tip: Check out the chilli plant displays to learn about some seriously hot and rare varieties.

 Chico Gelato: get the scoop on chilli desserts, from mild to the Grim Reaper! 
Chico Gelato: get the scoop on chilli desserts, from mild to the Grim Reaper! 

June

City Wine, Northbridge

Winter in Perth can be pretty miserable. It rains, it’s dark by 5.30pm but it’s never cold enough to snow. So it’s always a magical time when City Wine takes over Northbridge’s Urban Orchard. Rugged up with a wine glass in hand, you can wander from stall to stall and experience the best of West Australian wine. Tastings are free but wine is also available by the glass or buy a bottle to take home. The green surroundings, live music and of course, the vino make it the perfect catch up with friends or solo night out.

  • Date: TBC, usually a Friday and Saturday night in June.
  • Tickets: $28 pre-sale (2017) | Website: www.wineandfood.com.au
  • Why I love it: It’s like visiting Margaret River, but with one metre between wineries.
  • Tip: Stallholders will look after any bottles you buy so you don’t have to carry them all night. 

 City Wine: producers from across Western Australia take over Northbridge.
City Wine: producers from across Western Australia take over Northbridge.

August

Good Food & Wine Show, Perth CBD

Don’t let memories of your last work conference put you off heading to the Perth Convention Centre. The Good Food and Wine Show is the biggest event of its kind in Perth, with food stalls covering everything from cheese and antipasti to desserts and health food products. There are huge areas dedicated to wine, beer, cider and spirits too. There’s also a strong local presence – last year I discovered Noshing Naturally vegan cheese and also met the founder of Turban Chopsticks meal kits! Tastings are free and there are plenty of bargains if you’re buying products to take home.

  • Date: 24 – 26 August 2018, various day and night sessions.
  • Tickets: About $25 – $35, depending on session (2017) | Website: goodfoodshow.com.au
  • Why I love it: One ticket, hundreds of exhibitors. I’ll be honest. It’s pretty boozy. 
  • Tip: Bring a reusable bag for all your shopping, or buy a trolley from the merchandise stand.

 Good Food and Wine Show: get your map, grab your glass and go! 
Good Food and Wine Show: get your map, grab your glass and go! 

October

Beauvine, Highgate

This is hands-down one of the most organised and well-curated events in Perth’s food and drink scene (congrats JumpClimb!). Held at Birdwood Park near the Brisbane Hotel, your ticket includes four hours of beer, wine and cider tastings. Each year I discover a new winery or find a new beer at an old favourite stallholder. There’s a big emphasis on local producers with a few east coast surprises too. Food options are equally boutique, with pop-ups from some of Perth’s best eateries. It’s outrageously good value if you get pre-sale tickets. 

  • Date: TBC, usually a Friday night, Saturday day/night and Sunday day in October.
  • Tickets: $29 + booking fee (2017) | Website: www.beauvine.com.au
  • Why I love it: Meet the smaller brewers and producers in a hip but not too crowded space.  
  • Tip: Bring a hat and sunscreen, as there’s serious competition for shade during the day.

 Beauvine: the most organised, well-curated food and drinbnk festival in Perth! 
Beauvine: the most organised, well-curated food and drinbnk festival in Perth! 

November

WA Beer Week, various locations

 WA Beer Week: celebrate the best of the state's brews!
WA Beer Week: celebrate the best of the state’s brews!

This massive celebration of WA craft beer has been happening since 2002. I’ll confess, last year was the first time I got involved with WA Beer Week but I’m already excited for 2018! This 10 day festival features events across the state, including beer launches, masterclasses, dinners, quizzes and even a beer run (yep, the exercise kind). It’s a great chance to visit bars and breweries beyond Perth too, with events held in regional Western Australia too. 

  • Date: TBC, late November 2018.
  • Tickets: There are free events! Others are ticketed | Website: www.wabeerweek.com.au
  • Why I love it: It’s a huge celebration of WA’s beer industry, no suits or heels required.
  • Tip: Get your tickets early! Events will sell out. 

Ones to watch…

  • From the team behind Beauvine, Kegs by the Quay gets underway at Elizabeth Quay next week featuring more than 20 breweries and cideries. 
  • Seafood lovers can rejoice as Fish and Sips Festival makes its debut at Port Beach in early February. If you prefer sweets, De Lish Expo takes over Crown Perth the same weekend. 
  • South West in the City was a huge success on the South Perth foreshore in 2017 and has promised a return in early 2018.
  • I’ll be closely following Perth Craft Beer Festival, which last year swapped the awful token system at Northbridge for the much friendlier PayPass at Claremont Showgrounds. 
  • I’m still yet to make it to the Margaret River Gourmet Escape, but with the State Government renewing funding for another year and the promise of it expanding to Perth’s Swan Valley – 2018 may finally be my chance!

Stay up to date with all of Perth’s food and drink events with my dedicated guide Perth Food & Booze Events or sign up for my e-newsletter. Got an event? Get in touch.

QUESTION: What’s your favourite food or booze event in Perth?