The Combined Importance of Your Core and Pelvic Floor

As a pre and post-natal exercise specialist it is my job (or at least I see it that way!) to check the condition of each new clients’ deep core muscles and pelvic floor strength. This assessment tells me exactly where to start with our training journey together and if further assistance may be needed, in the way of a women’s health physiotherapist.

DSC_3525Why am I writing about the pelvic floor when there are other fitness tips I could be sharing? Because I passionately believe that people are greatly undereducated in the role of the core and pelvic floor. If your pelvic floor is not functioning well, this can and does massively affect one’s confidence and overall sense of self. We’re talking about a matter of continence and confidence. — Imagine having the constant worry that if you laugh, cough or sneeze you will not be able to control ‘down there’ and leak a little/pee yourself. This is a regular occurrence for many, because these natural functions of the body put pressure on the core and pelvic floor. If your pelvic floor muscles are weakened for whatever reason, this can easily happen. Many women I have spoken to nod their head in recognition of this and think it’s just normal after having a baby. Well listen up all, you CAN change this.

The pelvic floor comes under a large amount of stress through pregnancy and giving birth. NOTE; NOT just vaginal birth but caesarean deliveries too. Believe me, I know from having a caesarean myself. It isn’t just at this time though; also during the menopause, post hysterectomy and similar invasive surgical procedures. Men can also suffer from the side effects of a lack of conditioning of these deep, internal muscles e.g. from acute IBS or digestive issues as well as heavy weight training.

I have a great book called ‘Pelvic Floor Secrets’ by Jenny Russell, which I have not yet finished but have already learned a great deal from the first half. This information benefits both my clients and me, therefore I recommend this book to anyone experiencing/familiar with sub-optimal pelvic floor function.

Another useful bit of advice is to really think about your breath. Focus on what you feel internally when you exhale deeply. Whether you can feel it or not, (this will come if you continue to practice) this action connects to the deep core musculature and pelvic floor.

I am no longer surprised, yet still disappointed to hear from the new Mums that I train, that in their post-natal check up, they have been given the go-ahead to exercise with no actual physical ‘check’. As a result many women are sent away ready to train without knowing that they are already starting on the back foot. Pelvic floor and core connection and re-strengthening is fundamental before doing sprints/burpees or whatever high impact exercise one wants to do to help shift excess fat. Not only will results be hindered, but these problems left untreated could cause further damage if expert advice is not sought. I’ve seen too many ladies with abdominal separation, and continence issues training unwisely (for healing their body after giving birth), so please speak up if this is you, so you can feel better in more ways than one!

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Sweet Potato and Squash Soup

This soup is delicious, speedy to make, really simple and seasonal too! Serves 6

  • Ingredients
  • 50g coconut oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 600g squash, such as butternut or pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1.5 litres hot vegetable stock
  • fresh coriander to garnish

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the onion gently for 10 minutes, until softened. Add the coriander and fry for another minute. Add the sweet potato, squash and stock. Season with salt to the boil and simmer gently for 25 minutes, until the chunks of squash and sweet potato are completely tender. Cool slightly, then whizz the soup in batches in a food processor until smooth. Heat gently until piping hot and check the seasoning. Serve sprinkled with fresh coriander leaves.

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Sweet Potato Cakes

These are very good and healthy too!

from Yotam Ottolenghi’s book ‘Plenty’ (with my alterations in brackets) Serves 4

  • 1kg peeled sweet potatoes, cut into large chunks
  • 2 tsp soya sauce
  • 100g plain flour (or wholemeal/spelt)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp caster sugar (optional)
  • 3 tbsp chopped spring onion
  • ½ tsp finely chopped red chilli (or more if you want them hot)
  • (some coconut oil for frying)

Steam the sweet potatoes until completely soft, then leave in a colander to drain for at least an hour. Once the sweet potatoes have lost most of their liquid, place them in a mixing bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Mix everything together, preferably by hand, until the mix is smooth and even; do not over-mix. The mixture should be sticky; if it’s runny add some more flour. Put a small amount of oil in a non-stick frying pan. For each cake, use a tablespoon to lift some mix into the pan and flatten with the back of the spoon to create a not-too-perfect disc that is roughly 5cm in diameter and 1cm thick. Fry the cakes on a medium heat for about 6 minutes on each side, or until you get a nice brown crust. Place in between two sheets of kitchen paper to soak up any excess oil. Serve hot or warm. Enjoy!!

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White Bean & Artichoke Dip

From Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book ‘River Cottage Veg Every Day’

This rich, creamy, deeply savoury dip is wonderful with crudités, or dolloped on to a warm flatbread. It also works well served on some crisp lettuce, as a salad. Serves 4-6

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 200g artichoke hearts in olive oil, drained, oil reserved
  • 3 garlic gloves, finely chopped
  • A few sprigs of oregano, leaves only, finely chopped
  • 400g tin cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 2 tbsp thick, plain yoghurt (I didn’t use this)
  • 25g walnuts, toasted (optional)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a frying pan over a medium-low heat and sauté for about 10 minutes, until soft and translucent. Meanwhile, roughly shop the artichoke hearts.

Add the garlic to the pan and stir for another couple of minutes. Tip in the oregano, cannellini beans and artichokes and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes, until everything is heated through. Tip the mixture into a food processor and add the lemon juice, chilli flakes and yoghurt. Blend to a coarse purée. Add salt and pepper to taste and thin with a couple of tablespoons or so of the olive oil from the artichokes, until you have the texture you like.

Serve the dip warm or cold, trickled with olive oil, and scattered with toasted walnuts if you like.

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Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Fresh Figs

Recipe taken from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ebury Press).

‘This unusual combination of fresh fruit and roasted vegetables is one of the most popular at Ottolenghi. It wholly depends, though, on the figs being sweet, moist and perfectly ripe. Go for plump fruit with an irregular shape and a slightly split bottom. Pressing against the skin should result in some resistance but not much. Try to smell the sweetness. The balsamic reduction is very effective here, both for the look and for rounding up the flavours. To save you from making it you can look out for products such as balsamic cream or glaze.’

Serves 4

  • 4 small sweet potatoes (1 kg in total)
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 40ml balsamic vinegar (you can use a commercial rather than a premium aged grade)
  • 20g caster sugar
  • 12 spring onions, halved lengthways and cut into 4cm segments
  • 1 red chilli, thinly sliced
  • 6 fresh and ripe figs (240g in total), quartered
  • 150g soft goat’s cheese, crumbled (optional)
  • Maldon sea salt and black pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 240°C/220°C Fan/Gas Mark 9.
Wash the sweet potatoes, halve them lengthways and then cut each again similarly into three long wedges. Mix with three tablespoons of the olive oil, two teaspoons of salt and some black pepper. Spread the wedges out on a baking sheet, skin-side down, and cook for about 25 minutes until soft but not mushy. Remove from the oven and leave to cool down.

To make a balsamic reduction, place the balsamic vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 2–4 minutes, or until it thickens. Be sure to remove the pan from the heat when the vinegar is still runnier than honey; it will continue to thicken as it cools. Stir in a drop of water before serving if it does become too thick to drizzle. Arrange the sweet potatoes on a serving platter. Heat the remaining oil in a medium saucepan and add the spring onions and chilli. Fry on a medium heat for 4–5 minutes, stirring often, making sure not to burn the chilli, and then spoon the oil, onions and chilli over the sweet potatoes. Dot the figs among the wedges and then drizzle over the balsamic reduction. Serve at room temperature with the cheese crumbled over, if using.

Enjoy!

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Spinach and CoYo (Coconut Milk Yoghurt) Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

So, my boyfriend cooked this last weekend. He seemed very dubious about my idea of cooking with plain coconut milk yoghurt but I said I thought it would work. So experiment he did and it was DELICIOUS! Thanks Mr Mahil 🙂

Wilt a couple of handfuls of fresh spinach with a little water in a pan, stir in a small amount of olive oil and a clove of crushed garlic, add two teaspoons or so of CoYo and season to taste.

Stir for a about a minute then take off the heat. Place into two big, juicy Portobello mushrooms and serve.

Simple but so tasty! Give it a try and let me know what you think 🙂

I should have taken a pic but forgot to. I will post one here when I make it again soon!

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Broccoli Salad with Sesame Dressing

from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book ‘River Cottage Veg Every Day’

Serves 4

  • 1 large head of broccoli (about 500g)
  • ½ garlic clove
  • 1cm piece of root gingerA pinch of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar or cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
  • 2-3 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the broccoli into small florets and steam, or cook it in some lightly salted boiling water, until just tender but still a bit crunchy — about 4-5 minutes. Meanwhile, crush the garlic and ginger with the sugar and some salt and pepper to a paste, using a pestle and mortar. Combine with the vinegar, soy sauce and sesame oil. As soon as the broccoli is cooked, drain it in a colander and leave for a few minutes so all the moisture can steam off. While still hot, toss with the dressing and put into a serving dish. Set aside to cool. Lightly toast the sesame seeds in a dry frying pan until fragrant. When the broccoli has cooled to room temperature, scatter over the spring onions and sesame seeds, and serve.

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Why Alcohol Makes & Keeps You Fat!

Alcohol has a two-fold negative effect on our ability to lose fat:

1. Alcohol is highly calorific and easily over-consumed. Compare its calorific value with the other components of our diet: Alcohol is 7kcal/g, fat is 9 kcal/g, both protein and carbohydrate are roughly 4kcal/g).

2. The simple presence of alcohol in your system has a hugely negative impact on your ability tometabolise fat. Period!

This was illustrated by a study where 8 men were given two drinks of vodka and lemonade separated by 30 minutes. Each drink contained just under 90 calories. Fat metabolism was measured before and after consumption of the drink.

The reason why alcohol has this dramatic effect on fat metabolism has to do with the way alcohol is handled in the body. Rather than getting stored as fat, the main fate of alcohol is conversion into acetate and the presence of acetate in the system puts the brakes on fat loss. The greater the quantity of alcohol, the greater the quantity of acetate created, the less likely fat is metabolised.

In other words, your body tends to use whatever you feed it, and after a time becomes adapted to the macro nutrient intake. Unfortunately when acetate levels rise, your body burns the acetate preferentially. So the body simply burns the acetate first, this basically pushes fat oxidation out of the metabolic equation.

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Lemon Courgettes, Feta & Watercress Salad

Here is a fresh tasting, flavoursome recipe by Silvana Franco. (I didn’t use feta cheese and it was amazing without, so use or exclude as you fancy.)

Serves 4, Ready in 20 minutes

  • 50g couscous
  • 4 medium courgettes, cut into thick slices
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon
  • 3-4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp toasted cumin seeds
  • 400g good quality feta, cubed
  • 80-100g watercress or various other salad leaves
  • Handful fresh mint leaves

Put the couscous in a small heatproof bowl. Pour over 75ml boiling water and set aside.
Put the courgettes on a large plate, sprinkle over 1 teaspoon sea salt and leave for 10 minutes. Pat dry with kitchen paper, then sprinkle with the rosemary, lemon zest and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Mix well.
Put a griddle pan over a medium-high heat and cook the courgettes for 2-3 minutes each side, until golden.
Meanwhile, make the dressing. Whisk together the lemon juice, 2-3 tablespoons of the olive oil, the cumin seeds and some black pepper.

Toss together the feta, watercress, mint, courgettes and the dressing. Sprinkle over the couscous and serve while the courgettes are just warm.

Enjoy!

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Tahini-dressed courgette and green bean salad

I’m a big fan of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s! His recipes are colourful, inventive and straight forward to follow. Try this tasty, refreshing salad. It’s easy to make and delicious!

From Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book ‘River Cottage Veg Every Day’

Salad

  • Serves 4
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 medium courgettes (about 400g), sliced into 3mm rounds
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • About 125g French beans, trimmed
  • 4 good handfuls of salad leaves
  • 12-18 oven-dried tomatoes or semi-dried tomatoes (optional)
  • A handful of mint, finely shredded (optional)
  • For the tahini dressing
  • ½ garlic clove, crushed with a little coarse sea salt
  • 2 tbsp light tahini (stir the jar well first)
  • Finely grated zest and juice of ½ lemon
  • Juice of ½ orange
  • ½ tsp clear honey
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the tahini dressing, put the crushed garlic into a small bowl with the tahini, lemon zest and juice, orange juice, honey and a grind of black pepper, and stir together well. The dressing may thicken and go grainy or pastey, but don’t worry. Just thin it down by whisking in a little water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you get a creamy, trickling consistency. Finally, gently stir in the olive oil. Taste and add a little more salt and pepper if needed. The dressing is now ready to use.

For the salad, heat the olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan over a fairly high heat and cook the courgette slices in batches, tossing them occasionally, for a few minutes until tender and browned on both sides, transferring them to a bowl once cooked.
When the courgettes are all cooked, season generously with salt and pepper, add the lemon juice and chilli and toss together well. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Tip in the French beans, return to the boil and blanch for 1 minute. Drain, then dunk in cold water to refresh. Drain again, pat dry with a clean tea towel and toss the beans with the courgettes.
To assemble the salad, spread the salad leaves in a large shallow serving bowl and scatter over the dressed courgettes and beans, tomatoes and shredded mint, if using. Trickle the tahini dressing generously over the whole lot and serve.

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