How Pets Can Significantly Improve Your Mental Health

how pets can improve our mental health

We all know how lockdown has affected people’s mental health this year and pets may have played a key role in our wellbeing. Pets could indeed be lifesavers through a period of social loneliness, but not only then. In so many ways, they can help us live mentally healthier lives! The healing power of the human-animal bond is real.

My story

I was only 22 and still a student when I adopted Miko (the tabby cat in the picture below). I was in the middle of a crisis in my life: I was just back from Australia (I lived 6 months in Brisbane), feeling nostalgic about my experience over there and started to question some of my life choices: Was I studying at the right school? What exactly did I want to do with my life? Where did I see myself in the upcoming years? I didn’t have the answer and I felt lost. Suddenly, the opportunity presented itself to adopt a cat, a friend of a friend didn’t know what to do with their new litter of kittens. We had cats in my family when I was younger so I felt educated enough on the matter, I didn’t hesitate and decided to adopt one of them.

miko and luna in their cat tree

It gave me stability

Another living being was now depending on me and I had no choice but to be responsible and take ownership of my life decisions. Since then, Miko has been the stability I didn’t have with my nomad life: I’ve moved 9 times in France and England within the last 13 years. Cats are creatures of habit and don’t usually enjoy changing their territory so regularly, but he has never seemed too bothered. Or maybe he knew it was my style. He’s the one who picked me after all, not the other way around, and that makes a huge difference.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France

Two is better than one

Now that he’s a senior cat (13 cat years is equivalent to 68 human years!), I thought it would be nice to give him a feline friend… A human’s company doesn’t always compensate the special bond they develop with each other. If you think cats are solitary animals who enjoy spending time alone, you couldn’t be more wrong.

I had to separate him from his sister when I adopted him, because I couldn’t afford both of them at the time. She was all black, that’s why I started to look for a similar cat online and found our second cat Luna. Sometimes I wonder if he knows exactly why I picked her. These two are so happy together now, it fills our hearts with joy every time we look at them. Of course they also fight sometimes (like siblings would do) but I know it was meant to be. Do you also believe everything happens for a reason?

miko and luna on the sofa

How pets help you make healthy lifestyle changes

Among all the things I can think of, they:

  • encourage you to exercise and help you lose weight (in case of dogs)
  • encourage playfulness and laughter
  • can make you socialise with other animal lovers (I strongly believe someone who loves animals can’t be a bad person)
  • give you a healthy routine (I have to wake up every day at the same time to feed my cats – no matter what my mood is…)

How pets impact your overall health

And they also:

  • are a great motivator
  • relax and calm your mind when you stroke them
  • can lower your blood pressure in stressful situations
  • are great company and give you a sense of security
  • fulfil the basic human need for touch
  • make you feel needed
  • increase our sense of self-esteem and wellbeing
  • teach you how to live in the moment (they don’t worry about the past or the future)
  • teach kids empathy and sense of responsibility, as well as building better relationships with other people
  • are great help to people in later life, but also to children with ADHD or autism

Note: By no means I recommend you to adopt a pet as the solution if you’re temporarily feeling anxious, depressed or lonely. An animal is a huge responsibility and it’s important not to take this decision lightly. A good animal charity would ensure your home is suitable for them. They’re not “just for Christmas”, or “just for lockdown” either.

Do you believe in the pet effect and the human-animal bond? You can get involved, support HABRI (the Human Animal Bond Research Institute) by: donating, becoming an advocate or simply staying informed!

Big Girl x

Why I Decided to Adopt Intermittent Fasting

intermittent fasting

When it comes to weight loss, it’s important to choose the right diet for you. I mean “diet” in a broad way, the kind of eating habits that will not frustrate you or make you feel miserable. You get it, the best way to succeed and reach your goals resides in the “how” you’re doing it.

Intermittent fasting doesn’t focus so much on what you eat but more on when you eat and how your insulin levels respond to the voluntary abstinence of food. It doesn’t mean you can binge-eat during your feeding window though. I still stay on top of my calorie budget because it’s an easy way for me to control my intake, until I’m able to listen to what my body needs without checking calories. I’m on my fourth week and the adaptation period is roughly 4 weeks so I’m already nearly there. I haven’t found it hard at all so far, but I’m staying home without any obligations to go out so that probably helps a lot (thanks covid).

What is intermittent fasting and how does it work?

There are different ways to fast, here are seven methods of intermittent fasting but I’m going to focus on the 16:8 method as it’s the most popular and the one I’m doing myself. I only eat between 12.00pm and 8.00pm, fast for the remaining 16 hours of the day (I sleep during most of the fasting window and I’ve never really felt I needed breakfast to kick start the day anyway).

I like the fact that no food group is banned and the restriction resides mostly on the eating pattern. You can adapt your feeding window based on your own lifestyle but it’s best to stay consistent every day as much as possible if you don’t want to confuse your hormones and make it harder for you to stick to the program. While you’re fasting, it’s very important to stay hydrated. Some say you are allowed diet soda and sweeteners in your tea/coffee but if you want a clean fast I would recommend to only drink water, tea or coffee and nothing else.

What are the health benefits?

Fasting increases the body’s responsiveness to insulin, which regulates blood sugar and helps control hunger. Lowering levels of insulin dramatically when fasting makes stored body fat more accessible, improving fat loss and limiting the loss of lean body mass. It also gives more time to body cells to initiate important repair processes, reduces the risk for type 2 diabetes, stroke, and certain types of cancers. Many studies have been done and if you want more information I suggest reading this article from Huel or this article from Healthline which explain further the evidence behind these benefits. Fasting works better when you eat the right food and get the right amount of sleep.

Are there any side effects?

Well, if you’re used to eat “breakfast like a King”, you may experience excessive hunger before lunch time, which is not a pleasant feeling. Fasting can also trigger eating disorder behaviour, and binge-eating during your feeding window will not give you any benefits. It could also give headaches, light-headedness or dizziness, but it should be temporary as your body needs some time to adapt your new meal schedule. I’m unsure how fasting would work with intensive workouts, I haven’t tried it myself but the type of food you consume would have an impact on your energy levels. Also, a number of studies have suggested that intermittent fasting doesn’t work as well for women than for men (especially those trying to conceive) with a risk of irregular periods or even infertility. Here’s some advice especially for women who want to try intermittent fasting.

Is it a good method for everyone?

Shall I start by saying it’s not suitable for children, teens or anyone underweight? It’s also not recommended for anyone who has history of eating disorder, as well as pregnant women or breastfeeding mums. If you are diabetic or require medication at specific intervals with food, this is also not for you. Intermittent fasting has been studied mostly for overweight or obese adults who are otherwise healthy. I’m not a doctor so you should definitely seek professional help to find out what would be the best weight loss program for you.

Have you ever tried any Intermittent Fasting’s method? What do you think about it?

Big Girl x

Weight Loss Tips: How to Stay Motivated

you got this motivational quote

Yesterday I went just under 75 kg on the weight scale, which means I lost 10 kg since I decided to be healthier, 3 months ago. It’s an achievement in itself but it’s always easier to lose the first kilos when the motivation is at its peak. How do you stay motivated all along? It’s too easy to give up before you reach your goal, and even when you reach it, it’s quite hard to maintain your healthy weight in the long term. Look at me, I failed at it 3 times already. This time I won’t, but I still need to get there first.

1. Keep in mind why you’re doing it

It’s ok to want a slim body but a “healthy” body is more important in my opinion. Do you want to decrease your risk of getting type 2 diabetes? You know someone who suffered severe health conditions because of their weight and it made you realise how important it was to take back control? Do you want to achieve something that requires you to be fit, like running a marathon for example? Are you getting married and you want to look good in that dress? List all reasons you want to lose weight and write them down, keep them in mind at all times.

2. Have realistic expectations

If your goal is “I want to lose 10 kg in a month”, it would not only be unhealthy but you would go straight to failure. You can make small changes in your diet and lose easily a few kilos without making much effort. But if you want to aim to lose 1 kg a week, it will require more substantial changes in your routine so you need to know if they are sustainable in the long term for you. Losing more than 1 kg a week is probably not recommended anyway as you would put your health at risk.

3. Break it down to smaller goals

If you have a big amount of weight to lose, it could seem a bit daunting at first so it’s better to break it down to smaller goals and achieve them one by one. Look, if Adele did it, so can you! My ultimate goal is 60 kg but my next step is being under 70 kg by the end of November. I’ll focus on that mini target first as I know the ultimate goal is still a few months away.

4. Involve your partner

Or a friend, a roommate, a family member… Anyone who would support you and make sure you stick to it. When you’re in a relationship and you’re the only one who needs to shed some weight, it could be trickier. He eats breakfast, I don’t. He needs roughly twice the number of calories I need just to maintain his weight. There are other ways to support you than sticking to the same weight loss journey.

My fiancé is terrible with gifts for example… Rather than being upset about it, I choose to have a laugh and use it to keep me motivated in this journey. I like useless stuff anyway, so we agreed he would buy me a small gift each time I lose another 5 kg. It’s a bit like when I was a kid at school and the teacher gave me a gold star sticker when I did something good. It’s not about the quality of the reward, but the fact that you’re getting one. I still have 15 kg to lose, which means another 3 rewards to look forward to!

rewards for weight loss

My rewards so far: Bath bombs, Bear Hugs photo holder, “How to be British” guide *

* Slightly out of topic but this is an interesting and funny little guide, I will most probably come back to it in a future post to share some tips about “How to be British”. This culture fascinates me and clearly my fiancé still thinks I have some efforts to make in that area…

5. Document everything

Personally I keep track of everything, every week. I record not only my weight but also other important data such as: % body fat, % body water, % protein, muscle mass and metabolic age. I measure all this with a smart fitness scale that logs everything into an app (I use VeSyncFit but there are plenty of options out there). Finally, I also measure my waist and hips every week as they are also good indicators I’m heading in the right direction. Sometimes I look back at these graphs and it helps me realise everything that I’ve already done so far!

6. Choose the best way to achieve your goal

It’s probably a good idea to list all the things you’re doing wrong and what you think you can change easily. Sometimes it’s not about eliminate some foods or drinks completely but just limit their consumption, or find a good alternative. Based on your answers, consider what’s the best diet for you and commit to it. I’ve decided to go for intermittent fasting because it suits my lifestyle very well, I can stick to it easily and it’s also something I can keep doing permanently thanks to its many health benefits. This is absolutely not for everyone though, I’ll go through it in more details in tomorrow’s post.

7. Talk about it

You may think people don’t care about anyone else’s achievements but you would be surprised how many people are going through the same thing at the same time. You will also find a valuable source of information online by talking to people who will give you interesting advice. Don’t keep it to yourself, share it, talk about it positively and embrace it. If you were running a marathon, would you keep it to yourself? Well this is also a serious commitment that requires the same qualities to succeed: determination and discipline. And if you feel like you can’t do it all alone, seek professional help.

8. Be kind to yourself

Even if you fail, don’t be too hard on yourself. Failure is often part of the road to success. My Japanese mum raised me with this proverb from Japan that says: “If you fall down 7 times, get up 8”. It says it all, what matters is the final result. If one day, you really crave a big fat burger that contains more calories than your entire daily allowance, don’t punish yourself with low self-esteem. If you’re changing your lifestyle with the aim to better listen to your body needs, chances are your brain is going to deter you from the idea anyway. But remember it can take some time to adopt a new positive habit.

Do you have any other tips? How do you stay motivated yourself?

Big Girl x