Meet Rachel McGuinness

2020 has been a funny old year indeed, with many of our routines being shaken up and leaving us feeling a bit out of sorts. Having spent a large amount of her career working in marketing & telecoms, Rachel McGuinness now dedicates her work to helping people get healthy and reclaim their energy! 
What she recommends to her clients is based on her own personal experience. She was leading a self destructive lifestyle, and realised she needed to make a change. Now 20kg lighter and 4 dress sizes smaller, she is fitter and healthier than ever and bursting with energy! 
Rachel is trained in cognitive behaviour therapy for insomnia, mental health first aid, nutrition, personal fitness training, stress management, neuro-linguistic programming and hypnotherapy, typically working with forward-thinking businesses and organisations who understand the benefits of looking after the wellbeing of their employees. We caught up with her to get some expert advice on how we can be getting ourselves back on track after a year that has turned many of our lives upside down... 
With everything going on in the news and online, it’s become impossible to ignore the analysis of whether our changing diet – due to food availability and lifestyle shifts – is impacting our weight. Is gaining weight really a big issue?

Ah yes, those Pandemic Pounds! We all had to adapt very quickly to a different way of living and working when the virus struck our shores. We’re all experiencing varying degrees of stress, and for a lot of us we comfort eat when we’re stressed. Then there is the temptation of having easy access to a fridge full of food if you were new to working from home. And also you may be drinking a bit more alcohol during the week. So, to answer your question is gaining weight really a big issue? I’m all about reducing the risk of getting ill and of course all the nasties – cancer, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, auto immune diseases – so the healthier you are, the more you can your reduce risk. 20 years ago I was 20kg heavier than I am now, and I feel so much better for having lost the weight. So much more energised, fewer back problems, fitter and just look healthier.

How can we address our diet in a healthy and maintainable way? Going into the winter months, we all know this is the time of year when we can let it slip a little!

I used to be someone who was permanently on a diet and it took me 22 years to realise that diets made me fat. As soon as I swapped to eating healthily, the weight dropped. So, how do you eat healthily and either lose weight or maintain weight. First of all – NO DIETING! For the last 20 years, the way I eat and the way I teach my clients is to follow the 80/20 rule. Eat healthily 80% of the time and you can have treats for the other 20%, which means you can still have what you want, but in moderation. If you need to lose weight then may be do 90% healthy eating, but you should have a treat meal once a week.

Carb is a killer for weight gain. Avoid bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, cakes during the week and have them for treats at the weekends. Eat lots of healthily protein – meat, fish, seafood, poultry, nuts, seeds, pulses/beans, dairy and plant based dairy. Plus lots of lovely colourful veggies and fruit. Limit your fruit to only 3 pieces a day because of the sugar. Drink lots of water, at least 1.5 litres a day.

During winter months – lots of roasted veg, soups and casseroles.

How much does exercise help? For those of us that are used to going to the gym or classes, how can we motivate ourselves to workout at home and make the best use of what space/equipment we have there? 

Exercise is very important, especially at the moment. You should be aiming to do 5 sessions a week, however, even though I’m a qualified personal trainer, I’m very lazy – so I love HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts because they’re short and you get a lot of bang for your buck! I’ll work out between 7 – 30 minutes and I get all my workouts off my Zest Wellbeing Hub or off YouTube. Of course Joe Wicks is a favourite in our household and most of his workouts are HIIT.

Just make working out a part of your daily routine – you feel so much better for having done something rather than nothing.

The workouts I do don’t require any equipment, as you use your own body weight. The only thing you need is an exercise mat.

I also use a standing desk, which means I can still clock up steps during the day – I don’t even notice that I’m standing up all day! We all have 2 ready-made standing desks in our homes already – your kitchen counter top or your ironing board (the benefits of using your ironing board is that it is fully adjustable!) Or may be take your calls standing up.

Humans aren’t designed to sit all day. They’re designed to move between 3-5 miles a day, which is around 10,000 steps. So make sure you get outside for a walk or run every day to keep your steps up.

 

For those of us who don't want to spend a lot of time working out - especially as the days are getting shorter (and colder!) - how do we make sure to still get our fix? 

Do short workouts whether they’re HIIT, aerobics, yoga, Pilates etc. – there are loads on YouTube free of charge. You really don’t need that much room – I work out in my kitchen! Just make sure you do something.

 

 

Periods of uncertainty increase anxiety for those who have an unhealthy relationship with food. If you're struggling with negative self image, what can you do? 

For years I had a negative self-image which meant the weight piled on. I know that if I look after myself, I will both feel good and look good. The trick is to make self-care a part of your way of life without being obsessive about it. Know that you can eat what you want in moderation, but not all the time.

 

Many of us have had our daily routines turned upside down since the start of the pandemic. How can we develop good habits that are in line with fulfilling our goals, while helping to ditch habits that do not serve us well?

Good question! It’s all about have a great routine and structure to your day. It’s very easy to slide into bad habits without realising it. What perhaps was a treat, suddenly becomes an everyday occurrence because your routine has been disrupted. Our habits are ingrained into our unconscious mind, so we have to make those unconscious automatic behaviours conscious so that we can do something about them. Think about what you want to stop doing and what you want to start doing. You need to replace a bad habit with a good habit. You don’t want to fill the void with another bad habit!

 

We associate drinking with relaxing and making ourselves feel better, however it's widely known that alcohol can actually act as a depressant and is associated with weight gain. What's the best way to make sure we aren't drinking more than we should during this time? 

Unfortunately alcohol has no nutritional value and is full of empty calories, but we still love it! In my corporate days before I got into health, I used to drink a bottle of white wine every evening to relax and make me feel better after a stressful day. Not only does alcohol pile on the pounds, but it also messes up your sleep. It is initially a sedative, but when that wears off you wake up feeling dehydrated plus it is also a diuretic meaning that you are more likely to want to make nocturnal visits to the loo. It also messes up your brain’s ability to take memories from short term storage to long term storage. Alcohol is a toxin so I very rarely drink during the week and save it for weekends. I can no longer drink wine in the evenings as it completely trashes my sleep, which is why I will stick to gin and tonic.

 

For people who feel stressed or anxious, what kind of techniques can we adopt that don't involve turning to food or drink?

First of all, you need to change your physiology. You need to move. Whether it’s stretching, shaking out your arms and legs, jumping around, walking or running – just move! It will change your state getting rid of negative energy.

Then breathe…

When we’re stressed, we shallow breathe and don’t fill up our lungs with enough oxygen. Learn to breathe from your diaphragm which means your lungs will fill with more air – breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth.

Here are a couple of techniques to try which are good for both anxiety and help you relax to get to sleep.

Just count nice and slowly to 10 – put your hand on your diaphragm and breathe in for 1, out for 2, in for 3, out for 4… keep going until you reach 10, and then keep repeating.

The other one is called the 4-7-8 technique. Breathing in for a count of 4, holding for a count of 7 and breathing out for a count of 8. Repeat this 3 – 4 times and you will feel so much better.

Secondly, remove any food or drink that’s going to tempt you into emotional eating or drinking. I buy my treats for weekends and then they’re out of sight and out of mind during the week, which is good habit I’ve created and learnt. I know the consequences of emotional eating or drinking, so I just don’t go there.

 

We all know how important sleep is, but it can be tough to get the zzz's in when things are so uncertain. How can we make sure we get a good quality nights sleep? 

The number one thing I say to everyone who is having difficulty sleeping is to have a good sleep routine. Your brain loves routine – it’s actually quite boring! So make sure you are going to bed and getting up at the same time more or less every day - including weekends.

Also, make sure you give yourself an 8 hour window for sleep.

Switch off your tech at least 90 minutes before bedtime to give your eyes a rest from screens (we’re doing a lot of screen time at the moment!) and to allow your brain and body to relax.

Please make sure all your tech is out of the bedroom including TVs. No sneaky Netflix watching in bed! Looking at screens really does disrupt your sleep.

If you wake up in the night, don’t look at your phone and start working or going off down the rabbit hole of social media. Social media is like an amusement park for the brain!

If you can’t sleep – try deep breathing and using the techniques I explained earlier. Don’t think about trying to get to sleep, as the more you think about it, the more you won’t.

If you really can’t sleep, then guestimate 15 minutes and get up, make yourself a hot milky drink or a herbal tea and sit read until you feel tired, then go back to bed.

 

It's easy to start a new routine, but often it's even easier to fall out of it! What's the best way to keep consistent? 

A change in circumstances will definitely do it. Holidays are the worst. However, lockdown and the pandemic have really messed up our routines.

I guess when it comes to health, I have to walk my talk, so I make sure I do a workout most weekday mornings or get out for some fresh air every day. It all comes down to planning and making sure that you made the time to schedule in exercise.

You’ve planned what you’re eating for the week and bought the food.

You know what time your regular bedtime and wake up time is.

You know what to do if you can’t sleep.

Have a planner on your wall to follow or schedule health activities in your diary.

Have a list of the breathing exercises on your bedside table. Just be aware any changes may mess up your routine. Christmas will be the next one that leads into a bit of tailspin! If you’re aware that you might go off track, then it’s easier get back on it again.

 

You do a lot of work with forward-thinking businesses that understand that looking after the wellbeing of their employees brings real business benefits. If someone is struggling at work and feel it is impacting their mental health, what is the best way to approach their boss to resolve this? 

It's important to communicate with your boss or someone within your organisation that you trust or if you have a Mental Health First Aider speak to them if you don’t feel comfortable speaking to your boss straight away. Most employers are a lot more understanding about employee mental health issues than they used to be. But you have to feel you can trust who you are speaking to so that you can be open and honest.

If you are struggling at the moment, you are not alone. It’s important to talk and get help if you need it.

 

Do you think that a lot of corporations should use this time to enforce positive change and more flexible ways of working? 

Definitely. The world of work has changed. Some really struggle working from home, as they miss the interaction and the buzz of a busy office, whereas others have thrived and love it. In a recent survey done by a tech company, they found that most employees wanted to work from home 60% of the time and be in the office 40% of the time when things return to ‘normal’ or whatever that looks like.

This also means that people can work more flexible hours. However, the downside of this is employees working too late and it then impacting on their sleep and health. For some the inability to switch off in the evenings has become a problem as the boundaries between work and home life have become blurred.

Organisations now realise that they need to look after their employees’ mental and physical wellbeing, by offering an employee wellbeing resource together with talks and webinars from health experts.

 

You've been a longstanding Sarah Haran fan for quite some time now! What is it you love about the bags? 

I love the quality, the style and the accessories! I love the fact they are so functional and you can change the look of them.

 

You're also an integral part of our Bags of Joy club. What have you enjoyed about being part of the club? 

I just think it is genius – I love to see what the BOJ ladies are doing with their bags. I’m obsessed and have got a wish list on the go. I’m in the group several times a day to see what everyone is up to! I think I suffer from FOMO!

 

What 3 things will always be in your handbag?

Lipstick, debit card, and sunglasses

 

Finally, leave us with one sentence that will give us a confidence boost for the day! 

Look after your health and it will look after you.

 

You can find out more about Rachel and the work she does for Wake Up With Zest here