Her.ie Chats to Gym Bunny Blogger Orla McDonagh On Gym Motivation, Healthy Eating And Keeping A Balance
There’s been an explosion of interest in health and fitness over the past few years, but with new diets, exercises and trends in the industry, sometimes it’s hard to know what really works.
Whether you’ve tried your own transformation, or have been working on building up your fitness levels, it can be difficult to stay motivated if you feel you’re on a constant ‘diet’.
We caught up with Gym Bunny Blogger Orla McDonagh at the launch of the SKINS DNAmic launch – where as well as being put through our paces to test the new sportswear range, we chatted about diets, keeping a healthy balance, and how to stay motivated to get out of bed and into the gym.
Here, Orla gives some insights into her fitness life…
On getting into fitness:
Well first of all, I was never interested in team sports, which I kind of thought meant I didn’t like sports at all. So when I was younger I tried a few things – ballet, karate, water sports with my aunt, but nothing really seemed to appeal.
I did love ballet, but I didn’t like the discipline involved where you had to be very quiet. It just doesn’t suit my personality at all!
It really all started when I was 21. I was coming back from college one day when I collapsed and I found out I had a perforated ulcer. It was from stress, from doing too much, from eating the wrong foods, going out all the time – typical college student life in Ireland. For me, I was getting pains in my stomach every day and I didn’t really think anything about it it was my kind of ‘normal’ feeling I suppose.
Just one day, I realised this is it. It’s physical now. It’s not something I can see, but I can feel it. I didn’t feel well, I wasn’t sleeping right and I had to take medication- this made it all sink in and gave me the kick I needed to get myself in line.
In and around then, I decided I needed to do something and it was just before I was set to move to Spain for my job. So I started working with a trainer outside in the park two to three times a week, cleaned up my diet a bit – didn’t make drastic changes, and just took it all very much step-by-step.
And for once I just felt amazing. It was like for the first time I realised that I’m not supposed to feel tired all the time. I’m not supposed to feel a 3 o’clock slump, an 11 o’clock slump, craving sugary or oily foods all the time.
All of that stopped because when I cleaned up my diet, I was getting the right calories. When I first moved abroad I found it harder to eat in the sun which had some bad side effects for my metabolism. So I kept tweaking my diet and finally found what works for me. Maybe it won’t work for everyone else.
On trying to ‘diet’:
I eat quite a low carbohydrate diet but for me that’s not to do with weight loss. If there’s a slice of cake being offered around the office and I feel like it- I’m going to have it, but I know that eating certain foods really affect me – and they can make me feel really grumpy about at an hour later. I get a very bad sugar crash.
Alcohol is just not for me either. I just don’t feel good the next day. It’s not just the hangover for me, but I feel really down, have zero energy and just don’t feel like myself the next day. So for me, if I weigh up the pros and cons, I’m happy to go dancing with the girls without beer or wine or whatever else.
I might have a few drinks the odd time, but it’s really not something I look forward to or think about too often.
Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the odd night out, but I prefer to do something different. Like on a Friday night, I do a gymnastics class now.
On training schedules:
I was training for a couple of years with a trainer in Barcelona, and that was a combination of kickboxing, kettlebells and high intensity training. Then when I moved back to Dublin six years later, I started training with The Edge in Clontarf. I’ve been training there ever since actually.
I do what’s called buddy training – where you partner up with somebody else – which helps cut down the cost of personal training but you still get amazingly personalised plans tailored to your personal goals. You kind of have to pick someone who is of similar strength, interest and ability, as well and fitness level.
So we train three times a week, and then I also do a gymnastics class once a week as well.
For me it’s weight training, heavy-lifting, we do lots of squat jumps – a lot of body weight exercises. It’s really anything that gets the heart racing, balanced out with some heavy weights as well.
You just get really competitive with yourself. You just want to lift heavier, bigger – to do more reps. It’s a really good feeling.
On trying to keep up a ‘clean eating’ routine:
Well for anyone, my friends and myself included, I think it’s important to note that I don’t have the perfect diet- They always laugh when people think i don’t eat a lot as typically I enjoy my cheat meals with them, so they know how often the beast needs to be fed! I don’t think a perfect diet exists – it’s about finding out what works for you.
The one thing I would say is, try to change bad habits slowly. It doesn’t have to be something you go after aggressively.
I think so many people pick January and New Year’s Eve as this is a time for change to lose weight and change their bodies–They think ‘I have to get married, I have to get a ring on that finger, I have to get a better job, I have to lose weight’– They put unnecessary pressure on themselves when really, it’s just another day, and you can choose any one of them in a year to start making small changes.
For me, I look at smaller goals. I look at Monday to Sunday, or Monday to Friday. I take little breaks. An evening over the weekend, I might go for sushi, grab a burger, head to the cinema and let my hair down and eat whatever takes my fancy.
But at the same time, you have to find out what healthy foods you like. I think that’s the part that people get wrong. I think people think it’s just chicken, rice, broccoli – and actually, if you’re sticking to that, you’re probably not getting enough healthy fats for example.
People tend to go for the egg-white only omelettes, or the low-fat yoghurts, where everything I eat is full-fat.
On making sure you eat enough:
I’m probably half a stone heavier than when I started training, but my body fat has been replaced by muscle, so I weigh more than I did when I first started training.
So in my personal experience, I think you need to work out what’s good for you and then make sure you’re eating enough calories. If you don’t eat enough calories, chances are you’ll start feeling tired, craving foods and you’ll end up binging on pizza.
Make sure you’re eating enough fat too– and don’t be scared of it. Fat burns fat. I’ll always add olive oil to my salads or coconut oil to my pre-workout coffees.
On trying to eat out and ‘stay good’:
I would typically buy my lunch out at least three times a week at the moment. I usually go to the likes of Fuel in Clontarf or Borlottie in the IFSC and I’ll ask them to make me a salad but with no dressing.
I’ll have the leaves, chicken and whatever else I want and take a little portion of olive oil to take-away. That way I can add as much, or as little, as I want.
But I know that fat is not the enemy.
On staying focussed:
I’d start by telling someone to download a free app – like MyFitnessPal. I use it quite regularly, so that anything I eat, I track.
Like yesterday, for example, I didn’t eat enough calories, so today I know I need to eat 2-300 more calories just to keep my energy level really good. I woke up this morning feeling shattered and I couldn’t work out why.
Then I checked out my calories from yesterday evening, and I was down 300 calories. That’s almost a full meal so I should’ve eaten more. I was running around with work, which isn’t a good enough excuse, but it’s important to know why sometimes you’ll be short and will need to ensure the next day you stay on track.
I’d also recommend you always bring snacks with you wherever you go. Like today, I have a protein shake, I have some almonds and Brazil nuts, and I’ve a small salad as well.
I’ll be going back to the gym after this, so I’ll need to grab another small meal on the way.
I think it’s a common misconception that people who are into clean eating or healthy living don’t eat a whole lot, but instead of reaching for a slice of cake, I’m eating food regularly that keeps me full and I won’t have as much cravings as the next person who may've skipped breakfast or lunch.
And finally, I’d say surround yourself with like-minded people. My boyfriend would also be quite into healthy eating and exercise, so that makes it easier to stick to goals and plans.
If you know your friends love to go out Friday, Saturday and Sunday to have a few drinks, you might want to sit down with them together or separately, and tell them you’re working on making a few healthy changes and, perhaps even say something along the lines of ‘Look, I’m really trying to get on a healthier path here, and I really need you to be supportive’.
I think most people are uncomfortable at the idea of saying that.
I know that I’ll be going away for a week with the girls in the summer, which I’m really looking forward to, but I’ll look for a resort that’s near a gym that I can go to. So I’ll go to the gym for an hour in the morning, and I may be a little more careful when it comes to choosing food or drinks than the girls, but only because I know it affects me more than it affects them.
I’m studying nutrition as well, so I know the effects of drinking alcohol on your hormonal profile. If you’re looking to lose weight as a long-term goal, one weekend drinking isn’t going to derail you, but if you’re going out every weekend, that’s when your hard work Monday to Friday goes out the window.
What people tend to do is they keep a close eye on their calories, but alcohol messes with your body in so many ways. If you’ve been drinking, your blood sugar levels are all over the place and you’re not doing your body any favours in terms of achieving any long-term goals.
On easy tips to start your health kick today:
My tips to help someone feel some immediate benefits now would be to swap their regular tea or coffee for green tea, try and add some good fats to your diet, try cut down on the likes of bread or porridge to twice a week and try eat a high protein high fat breakfast instead so you’ll crave less during the day. For lunch and dinner think lean protein and lots of greens, veggies and nuts, seeds, oils. Think colour and crunch and keep it varied each day.
There’s nothing wrong with having a salad and chicken for breakfast, we just need to change how we view food and meals.
On motivation to get you up out of bed and exercising in the morning:
Try and give yourself a regular check-in. I get my body fat taken every two weeks on a Saturday morning, which kind of keeps me in check on a Friday night. Don’t use a scales, because they won’t be accurate. Things like your period and hormones can mean your weight fluctuates, so it could end up leaving you feeling deflated if you are solely focused on the weighing scales.
So I go to the gym early on a Saturday morning, have my body checks, train and then treat myself to a nice healthy breakfast. It’s all about balance and fitting things in around your lifestyle.
We spoke to Orla at the launch of the SKINS DNAmic range – sportswear built from 3 technical fabrics, providing focused support and stability to active muscles, and features 4-needle flat lock stitching for durability. The range is further supported by BMI (Body Mass Index) sizing matrix for a comfortable fit.