Ready.. steady.. IVF

I remember saying to Ross only a few weeks ago, “I don’t think I’ve ever felt so calm.” I had a glass of wine in hand, chilled tunes on and was feeling very zen. After the last course of treatment we packed up the car and took a trip to the West Coast for a week. It did us the world of good. The hormones, anticipation, frustration and tiredness to name a few, is a huge strain on your relationship (understatement). Timeout together is really important, whether it be before or after treatment. It’s an opportunity to talk through how you’re feeling and make future plans. I’m not sure why but I always feel like we can talk more openly and calmly out of our home environment. Less distraction.

Literally as soon as our IVF appointment and paperwork came through my nose started twitching. I have this annoying twitch that started during our first round of IVF. It’s like a tingly feeling over the bridge of my nose that comes and goes depending on my stress levels. It’s not visible to anyone else but to me it feels like my nose has a heartbeat. I felt like I had all of this under control, but the feelings quickly come flooding back. I kind of expected it to though, I don’t think you ever really rid yourself of anxiety, more keep it at bay.

We have two appointments scheduled in June. The first being a patient information evening, which is compulsory for all patients and partners that are embarking on the IVF programme. There will be approximately 30-40 in attendance for further information about the treatment and to meet the staff. This is a good opportunity to make some IVF buddies! When you’re in the clinic during treatment it will be nice to see a familiar face. Someone to make small talk with to pass the time whilst you wait to be seen. Warning: there’s so much waiting. The second is a consultation with the Dr/Nurses for initial tests. There are fairly strict guidelines in place for IVF treatment under the NHS. This includes being a healthy BMI and a non-smoker. You can find more info here: IVF criteria. Tests will be done to cover these (height, weight, smoking status assessed) and routine bloods to check my hormone levels. That’s what I expect to happen. Our first round of IVF was carried out privately in the States so protocol will be different I’m sure. We should receive our treatment plan and know our exact start date at that point. The butterflies are growing by the day!

During my first round, I gave it my everything and threw all my energy into being the perfect IVF candidate. I had to make it a success. But the reality is that it is out of your control. It’s down to science and luck. It’s not natural for your body to harvest multiple eggs, nor is it natural to be implanted with a fertilised embryo, so it’s not surprising that your body would reject it. I can’t solve my problem. My health has always been a priority of mine and I don’t think there’s anything else I can change or want to change that will actually make a difference.

If you are overweight, drink excessively, don’t exercise and your stress levels are high then yes there’s an abundance of things you can do. The majority of recommendations that I see for IVF patients regarding diet and wellbeing are those that I give to all of my clients. Eat a balanced diet, avoid processed foods, limit sugar intake and so on. There are several alternative healing therapies that are also recommended for IVF treatment that will help you throughout your journey. Acupuncture, Reiki healing and morning meditation all help me mentally and emotionally so they have become part of my life and routine.

My approach this time is a relaxed one! It actually makes me laugh (nervously) to think about how crazy you get from all the hormones. It’s so stressful. There will be no complete bans on things. Away with the no caffeine, no added sugar, no dairy, no alcohol, no high intensity training sIMG_6063.jpgessions, no heavy weights sessions. Undoubtedly my gut would be singing “hallelujah” if I stuck to the above, but mentally it’s too much. This doesn’t mean I’m going to drink a bottle of wine every night. Far from it. I don’t drink much anyway. But I’ll leave any alcohol for special occasions and during injections I won’t drink at all. I’ll continue to have my morning dark roast coffee until the day I’m pregnant because I enjoy it and I don’t want to deprive myself from life’s pleasures. It’ll only stress me out more.

In January I met with a Registered Dietician and discovered I had the following food allergens: eggs, wheat, carrots, cows milk, sesame, peanuts and hazelnuts. I’ve eaten eggs everyday for the last 5 years!! Initially I removed these foods completely and followed an elimination diet to reduce inflammation and heal my gut. My stomach troubles definitely improved. Secretly I hoped that a healed gut would lead to fertility. Sounds silly I know. But it was stressful to maintain and it affected social situations. 30% of the time I don’t worry about food intolerances/allergens and I enjoy eating out with friends/family. The rest of the time I cook from scratch and avoid them. Having a cream tea scone (my fav) will NOT be the cause of a failed round of IVF. If you have set some ground rules then I suggest giving yourself a break and stop being so hard on yourself. If you set too many boundaries you will fail. Feeling like a failure will only add to your stress.

Look at your work-life balance and how much time you’re taking out for yourself. A few months back I changed my working hours. Since I became a PT, I’ve trained clients from 6am. Early mornings have never really bothered me but this last year I’ve felt them taking their toll. Now I begin clients sessions from 8am and I’ve noticed a big improvement in the quality of my sleep, energy levels and generally I feel happier. I’m more in sync with Ross too. We relax in the evenings watching tv or workout together before dinner. I was always conscious I needed to be in bed for 830pm so I never fully relaxed in the evenings. I’ve no doubt lost potential clients because of this but I’m allowing myself to come first. Be selfish and look at your routine. Are you putting others before you?

Whatever the outcome of the treatment, I want to feel like I have given it my best shot, that I’ve given it my all. I don’t want to blame myself anymore than I already do. Spend time revelling in the positive things in your life in the lead up to treatment. Create a more calming environment and be kind to yourself because it’s having the mental power to get through IVF that’s key. Other than that you are in lucks hands.

Diagnosis:

As the Dr spoke, all I heard was that it was my fault. I felt ashamed. He told me my lifestyle was the cause. I was the reason we couldn’t have a baby. What was I doing wrong?

I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovaries (PCOS) at 20 after discovering cysts on my ovaries. I’ve had issues over the years but thankfully nothing too sinister. My lack of cycle (period) I assumed to be a side effect of the contraceptive injection, Depo-Provera which I had been using for 10+ years. When we decided to start trying for a family, I stopped the injections and waited for my cycle to return. I was advised that it could take up to 12 months after the last injection but it never arrived. To be honest I didn’t really know how conception worked. I didn’t know about the signs of ovulation. I didn’t know there was a tiny window (3-5days) during your cycle that you could conceive. I thought it would be easy. It appeared that people were ‘falling’ pregnant all around me. But the chances of conceiving in any given cycle is actually very low. I’ve learnt that pregnancy is undoubtedly one of life’s beautiful miracles. After 18 months of waiting and trying we met with the Fertility clinic.

After some simple routine tests for both of us I was diagnosed with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA). It is the technical name for when the hypothalamus stops sending “go ahead and reproduce” signals to the pituitary gland. There’s a disconnect somewhere! This results in absent menstrual cycles, along with other symptoms such as failure to ovulate, troubled sleeping, depression, anxiety, low libido, low energy and always feeling cold.

The crux of it is I have a hormonal imbalance. Medication can help to a degree but there’s an underlying problem that it won’t solve. That is why other types of fertility treatment don’t work for me. My hormone levels are hard to control and they can’t provide my body what it needs to conceive. I’ve researched both of my conditions and a common factor is diet and gut problems. This encouraged me to meet with a Dietician for food allergen tests as mentioned in a previous post. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) has troubled me for as long as I can remember. I do wonder how detrimental my early 20’s were to my health. For a few years I followed a scarily low calorie diet with very little carbohydrates. I couldn’t digest them so I avoided them like the plague. I was very thin and despite exercising alot I was probably very unhealthy. I didn’t know any better. The last few years my IBS has been at it’s worst. I believe this to be because of the stress of treatment, moving countries, moving house… lots of moving!

The Dr’s advice for HA was – “eat more and exercise less”

I looked at my life and panicked. My body fat percentage was low, but I never felt it was too low. Eating more sounds like a ‘fun’ prescription to many I’m sure. Who doesn’t want to eat more? But gaining fat as a Personal Trainer scared me. I had worked hard to get to the condition I was at. Add to this less exercise and I was having palpitations. Exercise is my life, it’s what I thrive on, it’s my medication. I looked at my regime and knew I could reduce the intensity and frequency of my training. I felt gutted that what I was doing was apparently wrong and damaging. But I focused on the bigger picture and made the changes as advised.

I follow progressive strength based programs to stop me from going hell for leather in sessions. I still push myself to a degree as I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t hitting goals. It isn’t about aesthetics anymore. I want to feel good and strong in body and mind. I am approximately 10lbs heavier than I was when we first started treatment. I don’t measure my body fat %. I don’t care. The less strenuous activities such as running or practicing slower paced yin and restorative yoga is a welcomed break from the gym. It enables me to focus on breathing, stretching and calming the mind. I watch my calorie intake to make sure I’m eating plenty for my activity but I am very aware of not becoming obsessive or overly restrictive with my diet. Initially I felt like my diagnosis sent me in a downward spiral. I over-analysed everything – food, drink, exercise, sleep. It was soul-destroying.

I gently remind myself that I’m not to blame for this. I live day to day as I know how. Knowledge is power and I feel I’ve learned so much about my body since we started this. I don’t know when doing everything at 100mph became a habit. Embracing peace and quiet has been nothing but good for me. I cook, bake, enjoy a glass of wine with a trashy book and more quality time with family and friends. I have bubbly aromatic baths which are definitely more enjoyable with a gin! I also treat my body to a relaxing massage every other week. Despite doing all of the above I still have no cycle. I try not to let this deflate me despite always feeling like I am waiting for something. I have read countless stories of women in the same shoes who haven’t successfully regulated their cycle. I take peace from that.

I have come to the realisation that it’s not in my power to reverse my diagnosis. The exact cause of my infertility as I see it is unknown. Maybe it’s not in my destiny to have a baby. I’m not being negative, I’m being realistic. Please don’t tell me not to give up because I won’t allow infertility to define me. I have the most wonderful husband, a loving family and a beautiful circle of close friends who all support me 100%. This may be what I choose to be my version of family. My diagnosis won’t dictate how I live my life anymore.

Menstrual Health

I’ve thought about posting on this topic for sometime but wasn’t confident about discussing something so personal. However I recently read a great article Fitness & Menstrual Health published on the Precision Nutrition blog and felt I should share and help raise awareness to all my female budding athletes and clients out there. What I’ve come to realise is that when you begin talking about fertility issues, you realise that you’re not alone and you can gain a lot of support from others experiences in similar situations. This brings so much comfort to what can be a very stressful time for a couple/family. 
If you are very active and you have an absent cycle I would encourage you to visit your Doctor. Don’t wait until you want to conceive to have the problem investigated. It is a problem. The difficulty with hormonal imbalances is that there are so many factors that can cause it – stress, lack of sleep, intense exercise, diet. How many of you when you look at that list have troubles with more than one of the above? I know I do. I exercise most days for an hour and 85% of the time it’s intense. I don’t always sleep as much as my body probably needs. I get stressed out quite easily. I get stressed if I have a bad weekend of eating!! I get stressed when I don’t exercise. I personally am doing what I can to control my stress levels and using alternative therapies such as acupuncture and mediation to de-stress. It’s very difficult as it’s a time when you want and need to be calm but the situation itself is stressful! Your mind is so powerful and without realising it you may be harming your body and how it functions. 
Read the article and take it seriously. Your fertility is so precious!! 
Click here to read the article.

Healing from the inside out

Reposting this article as anti-inflammatory foods are so important during the winter months when your immune system might drop. There are always lots of nasty bugs flying around too that you hopefully can avoid with some of these eating tips!!

The Provan Way

AppleAfter our trip to True Food Kitchen yesterday where the menu is based on the anti-inflammatory diet, it got me thinking more about the concept and how it could be beneficial to me and my poor strained groin. A muscle strain generally occurs when the muscle itself has been over-stretched or torn, damaging the muscle fibers. This can cause inflammation in the tissue surrounding the muscle. It’s inevitable that inflammation in the body will lead to ill-health and disease in extreme cases. Inflammation can be swelling, redness, heat and pain produced in the body. Your diet can change that. I’m a firm believer that your diet and the food you consume is the best medicine to better health. So why not consume more of those anti-inflammatory foods and speed up this recovery before I go potty from not working out!
Here’s my top tips for an anti-inflammatory diet:
  • Stuff yourself to the brim with vegetables at every…

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Thirsty?

It’s a common myth that thirst is a good indicator of your hydration.
When you develop a dry mouth and feel thirsty you are already DEHYDRATED and a glass of water is not a quick fix to rehydrating your bod. Exercising when you’re dehydrated can lead to headaches, dizziness, poor performance, tiring early and cardiovascular stress. It’s gonna be a struggle!
Water makes up approximately 60% of the adult body by weight and you can only survive a few days without it. NASM indicates that a fluid loss of even 2% of your body weight will affect circulatory functions.

TIP – IF YOU ARE TRYING TO LOOSE WEIGHT – Drink an additional 8 ounces of water for every 25lbs above your ideal weight. 

So what can you do to avoid dehydration?
  • Drink regularly throughout the day – get creative and add fresh berries or slices of lemon and lime to your water beaker for added flavour.
  • Eat an abundance of water-rich foods like fruits and veggies – watermelon, melon, pineapple, zucchini, celery tomatoes and spinach.
  • Studies have shown it takes approx 2 hours to hydrate. To avoid a heavy belly of fluid sloshing around during your workout DRINK 2HRS IN ADVANCE.
  • Drink 6-12oz’s of fluid for every 15 to 20 mins of exercise. Stick to water rather than a sports drinks unless you’ve been exercising OVER 60 minutes. 
  • Sports drinks are for endurance based exercise. If you need one, choose one containing up to 8% carbohydrates. Read the small print and watch out for added sugars.
  • Your hydration goal after exercise is to replace sweat losses! 
There is no one size fits all for water, but a standard guide recommended 3L for the average male and 2.2L’s for women. This is for the sedentary person. Therefore drink over and above this if you exercise regularly or live in a hot climate.

TIP – If you take your average daily weight and use this number as your euhydrated (NORMAL) state. Weigh yourself after exercise and ingest 16-24 ounces for every pound of body weight lost! This is a great method for any endurance athletes out there!

Sets & Reps – what’s right?

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Here’s a simple guide to follow when selecting the number of sets and rep ranges for resistance training. Ultimately the GOAL of your training will determine the number of sets, reps and rest time.
Building MUSCLE (Hypertrophy): 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps, resting 0-60 seconds between each set.
In order to increase the size of your muscle you MUST lift heavy. Aim for 75-85% of your maximum. The last three reps of your set should be really tough. No amount of body weight lunges will build a juicy butt!
Increasing STRENGTH: 4-6 sets of 1-5 reps, resting 3-5 minutes between sets.
Strength exercises should be performed fast and explosive at 85-100% of your maximum. So go heavier and do less!
Muscle ENDURANCE: 1-3 sets of 12-20 reps, resting up to 90 seconds between sets. 
To build endurance, keep the intensity lower than your strength and hypertrophy training at approx 50%-70% of your max. This will allow you to perform a higher number of reps. This is a good range for beginners to resistance training. Exercises should be performed slow and controlled!
BUT WHAT ABOUT FAT LOSS I HEAR YOU CRY!!!
Fat reduction is generally what the ladies are aiming for. Reduction of body fat will be a result of combining strength and hypertrophy training… and absolutely your DIET.
FAT LOSS: Aim for 4 to 5 sets of 12 to 15 reps of each exercise. Keep the intensity high with shorter rest periods of 30 seconds between sets. 
Incorporate circuit training into your strength-training program for increased fat loss. Circuit training consists of performing a series of exercises, back-to-back, with little rest. Because of its intense, fast-paced layout, circuit training can help your body burn calories throughout the day. Utilise a high rep range and multi-joint exercises for maximum caloric burn and efficiency. Try a full-body circuit-training routine.
Engage in resistance training 3-5 times per week with a couple of cardio sessions on your off days AND of course a rest day is compulsory! Do not forget that increasing lean muscle mass will result in more calories being burned during exercise and throughout the day, promoting fat loss. Do not be afraid to pick up some heavy weights and keep your workouts varied. Try alternating days between hypertrophy and strength using  the ranges described above to keep your workouts challenging!  I hope this helps!!

The doom of DOMS

unnamed-4We’ve all had those days where we’ve woken up the day or the second day after a heavy workout and can barely walk as your body is in bits. I used to like those days, not because I couldn’t move without wincing, but because I felt like I must have worked so hard to be feeling this way and I’m on a fast track to hitting my goals. Maybe not so wise.
That pain is known as DOMS – Delayed-onset muscle soreness. It can appear about a day or so after exercise and can last up to 4 days. A strong indicator of DOMS is extreme tightness/soreness in your muscles and joints – sitting on the toilet, walking down the stairs or brushing your hair can be a real struggle. Generally DOMS will occur when you’re new to exercise, trying out a new form of exercise, increased the intensity of your training or you’ve had a nice long break from your regular routine. What’s important to know is that it is NORMAL, however DOMS is not necessarily a sign of having had a great workout! The reality is that you’ve traumatised your body somewhat and it hasn’t been able to heal and repair itself. Muscle tears, tissue damage, muscle spasms or inflammation can produce DOMS. None of the above are favourable. At times it can be unavoidable as yes you should be ramping up the intensity of your workouts, switching it up and trying something new and obviously taking breaks to allow the body to fully rest. My point is that this feeling of soreness shouldn’t be something that you strive for after every workout. If it is, and you feel this way then it’s likely you’re overtraining. It’s completely normal and OKAY if you have an awesome session in the gym and then wake up the next day feeling great and not sore at all. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t work hard enough. NOT AT ALL. Your body can’t handle continuous stress (overtraining), at some point it will crumble under the pressure and you’ll injure yourself. We want to avoid injury at all costs as it only leaves you out of the game for weeks on end whilst you recover. If you’re a fitness junkie, taking time to heal an injury is SO FRUSTRATING! It feels like the world is going to end.
Here’s a couple of things you can do to either help prevent a serious case of DOMS or help with the aftermath..
* FOAM ROLLING – Get your foam roller out before and after your workouts. It’s a form of self massage that’s amazing for releasing tension in muscle tissue across the body. Here’s a good article on how – FOAM ROLLING
* PROGRESSIVE TRAINING – Take things slowly. If you are increasing the intensity of a workout, progress at a reasonable pace, introducing increases gradually. Rome wasn’t built in a day.. you won’t look like the Rock either after one big session lifting weights.
* EAT EAT EAT – Repair and recovery of the body will ultimately depend on what your feeding yourself! Eat a snack 30mins-1hr before your workout – click here for some ideas to FUEL YOUR WORKOUT. Post workout – eat a balanced meal as soon as you possibly can – ideally within 30minutes. Shakes are a convenient method of replenishing your muscle stores. Hit the gym prepared with a shake containing protein, carbs AND fats.
* ACTIVE RECOVERY – Yes you’re body needs to rest, but it can be worthwhile engaging in some form of active rest such as yoga, light jog or hike to loosen up some of the tension.
* SPORTS MASSAGE – A personal favourite of mine but it comes at a cost. Not only can they be expensive but they are painful and not for the faint hearted. The feeling afterwards however is second to none!
* STRETCH – It’s easy once you’ve finished a workout to want to get the hell out of there and relax.. I feel that way too. But it’s so important to allow the body to cool down slowly and take your body into a relaxed state. Stretch your major muscle groups, holding your stretches for 30secs min and then finish off with a blast on the foam roller to maintain and improve flexibility. 
SO take it easy, make sure that not all your workouts are hardcore and eat an abundance of unprocessed nutritious foods so that you body has a chance in hell of recovering from those sessions that you do end up killing it!!