At the end of the last academic year I was standing on a precipice. I was overweight, was suffering from insomnia and was developing anxiety when going to work. I was one step away from ending my teaching career and handing in my resignation. Work had become an unhealthy obsession where every waking moment and even those pitiful moments when I did sleep where spent thinking about it. I sought comfort in food, which added to my weight and health problems. I sought comfort in alcohol, which reduced my sleep further and added to my poor state of mind. I made excuses not to exercise.
I was 36 years old, had been teaching for 14 years and my lifestyle choices had begun to take its toll. It was my fault that it had reached that point. There is no one else who is responsible for your own body and mind than yourself. What is more, I had turned into the monster I had always promised I would never become. The fat, unhealthy and hypocritical PE Teacher.
Something had to change – and thankfully it has….
1. 5:2 Diet
I had to reduce my calorie intake. Every other time I had started a diet, it was about denying myself what I wanted. I craved unhealthy comfort food, especially during a tough, busy and stressful week. I came across the intermittent fasting diet, also known as the 5:2 diet. Rather than denying myself the treats that I wanted, which ultimately failed, I am able to eat how I want. However on two days in the week I have to have less than 600 calories. I decided to give this ago. The first few days I fasted were tough, but after a month it got considerably easier. It also had a knock on effect on the days I didn’t fast. All of a sudden I was thinking about what I ate, rather than a subconscious comfort mechanism of reaching for cake. This was the same for alcohol consumption. Everything has reduced. I eat my food more slowly. I have begun to savour things again. What is also great about it, is that it is flexible around your lifestyle. I can move my fasting days around if something social comes up or I have a heavy load. If you are interested in this further then check it out at thefastdiet.co.uk
2. 25 minutes of HIT Training, 3 times a week
Just reducing calorie intake is never enough to lose weight, you also need to increase the calories burnt. As a PE teacher I’m quite active during the day, but it obviously wasn’t enough. My injured body prevents me from playing the sports I grew up playing and that I love. I needed to find something else that grabs me as much as rugby, football, hockey and basketball. Until then I needed to stay healthy. I had previously watched a Horizon Documentary about HIT (High Intensity Training) and investigated this further. I now do running HIT training three times a week. The sessions involve me running at maximum for 60 seconds, with 90 seconds rest. I repeat that up to 10 times on a good day (the first month I couldn’t get past 2). My exercise is over and done with in 25 minutes and it fits into my busy lifestyle. I then go for a long slow steady run, about 10 miles, with my partner on a Sunday out into the hills and forests nearby. In August I could only run for just over a mile. I believe the HIT training has really improved my aerobic ability and helped with me losing weight.
3. Yoga before bed
I’ve always been a little dubious of yoga. However, after my partners insistence, I tried it (but without the leggings and spandex). I now perform a 20 minute routine every night before I go to bed. Whilst it’s not increasing my flexibility, it is quite clearly calming my mind down. My average nightly sleep has gone up from 4.1 hours in August to 7.2 hours this month. I use an app called Yoga Studio. There is a programme called Beginner Guided Meditation, where a soothing voice with calming music, takes me through the routine. I actual have begun to look forward to this part of the day. No phone, email or distractions, just my mind preparing for sleep.
The advice from my GP was to keep a diary. She suggested that writing my thoughts and feelings down would help unload some of the stress and worry that I took home. She felt that I hadn’t found a way to leave school behind and that writing about it, would allow me separate work from home. I looked at a number of different options, and decided on blogging. In the past few months, a few of my blog posts have been rants. However being able to share them online has been hugely therapeutic and cathartic. For some reason writing my thoughts down online, keeps them there. This has helped a huge amount to sort out my thoughts in a manageable way, whereas before they would constantly just swim around in my head at all times of the day or night.
5. Time for partner with no electrical devices or school talk
As we are both teachers, we are both guilty of this one. However we have tried to make times where when are together that we are not on electrical devices like laptops, phones or iPads. Breakfast and Dinner have become sacrosanct. As has our regular Sunday morning runs together or date night on Wednesday. Making time together, which isn’t about work, has made the time we spend together deeper and more meaningful. It also means there are now times in the week where work isn’t at the forefront of my mind.
Don’t break habits, make habits
Sometimes school workload is responsibile for the poor quality of life teachers have. Sometimes though it is our lifestyle choices. Mine in the last few years meant I couldn’t cope, either physically or mentally, with a job that I love. When I tried to remedy things, I always looked to change bad habits, but this takes exceptional time and energy. This is something as teachers we don’t always have to put into our own lives, when we are constantly pouring it into to our students. Instead it might be better to make new habits. Better habits. Stronger habits. Habits that then take over and replace the old ones. It is easy to do this in the holiday, and far tougher to keep going during the hectic maelstrom of normal school life. However I feel I have started to make better lifestyle choices, that will allow me to have the energy and enthusiasm to confront what challenges may come in education in future.