The lockdown has been a challenging time for everyone, but while we all get used to the “new normal”, we’ve learned to appreciate all those little things we usually take for granted. Here, two Unislim leaders and two members share their experiences since classes were put on pause mid-March … and the life learnings they’ll take with them when restrictions are lifted.

Riona Wise - Unislim member

Unislim Member and Primary School Teacher

Everything changed for me once the lockdown began. I’m a real busy body; I’m always on the go. My day was always very structured – I’d go to work, and then I’d sometimes go to the gym or might go shopping. So for everything to be put on pause was a massive change; to be told you can’t go anywhere, everything’s closed including your work was quite tough. It also made staying on track with my Unislim goals more difficult – to maintain a healthy lifestyle on top of everything else that’s going on was tricky. I just tried to find the balance.

I had just gotten back on track a couple of weeks before the lockdown kicked in. And then to be told that everything was changing was quite hard, but I just decided that I was going to stick with it and put all my focus into the routine of Unislim and focus on what I was eating and my exercise, and make a routine and schedule for myself. That helped a lot.

Trying to work from home was a massive change for me, teaching remotely, and making sure the students were well looked after – by me looking after myself, they’re getting the best from me that I can give. I live with my other half and he’s a frontline worker so he’s out working every day. I have Zoom meetings regularly with the school children and put a lot of time into maintaining contact with them face to face as much as possible. And we have a lot of calls with staff, and regular meetings online.

The accountability of being a member of Unislim online – that’s massive for me. To be able to log my weight every week is important, so is having an online leader – getting an email every Friday with tips and motivation – that really helps.

I also enjoy the weekly exercise videos and the plank challenge. I’m really competitive, so anything that’s a challenge is good for me. And just having the videos every week – because when you go to a Unislim class, normally face to face, you have that aspect of having a talk, and having a focus; you’re still getting that remotely, and it’s always different, so it’s a nice variation.

One aspect of my new routine that I plan to continue when the lockdown ends is exercising in the morning.

I never thought I’d be one to get up and exercise before breakfast, but I started doing that, and it became part of my routine. Now, I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do is go out and exercise, whether it’s a 5k run or walk. I hate saying “get it out of the way”, but technically you are getting it out of the way, and you’ve got the rest of your day to do work or whatever needs to be done. Before the lockdown, my exercise was always at around four o’clock, when school was finished and I got all my work done, which is an awful time to go because then the gyms would be really busy and everybody would be going. So maintaining exercise in the morning is something I’d definitely like to continue.

What I’m most looking forward to when the restrictions end is being able to see all my friends and family. That’s definitely number one. I have nieces and nephews I’d love to be able to hug. And then getting back to work and back to school. I miss it. I miss the routine, I miss the children… This experience helped me realise just how much I love my job; how rewarding it is to be able to work with children every day. We just take everything for granted, don’t we? You don’t realise how lucky you are to be able to see your friends and family as much as you want and be close to them. And sometimes you go to work and you dread going in and you’re like, “Oh I wish I had a holiday” or that there was a bank holiday coming up. You just really take the little things for granted – even meeting somebody for coffee or going to the shopping centre. So definitely, when I look back, I’ll think it’s important to realise what’s really important in our lives, and you don’t have to get all tied up in all the superficial things.

My advice to other Unislimmers is to remember that we’re all in this together, and everybody’s struggling.

I have days that I find really difficult as well. When you struggle with your weight, particularly for me, it’s a lifelong thing, it doesn’t just leave you, but it’s a choice that you have to make. Put your focus into your food and your healthy lifestyle. The healthier you are, the better your immune system is, you feel better, you can give everybody else more of yourself. The children I work with are getting more out of me when I’m healthier and when I’m feeling better in myself. Create a routine and try and stick to it as much as possible. Yes, you’re going to have days where it doesn’t work for you, but make little changes at the start – like aim to drink three litres of water every day for a week, and make that your one change. And when that becomes part of your routine, change something else, and just build it from there.

Andrea Bassett - Unislim Leader

Unislim leader and mum of 11-year-old twins

Once the lockdown began, we were all working from home and we kind of went into holiday mode at the start. All the routines went out the window, and that took its toll on all of us mentally. We had no set time for eating, for dinners; there were no plans. I would normally be a planning person – I like to know what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And when there is no plan, nothing is adhered to – we could be sitting down to dinner at 9 pm… There was absolutely no structure to our day. After a week or two, we put routines into place – we’re no longer staying up late, the alarm clock is set for 8.30 am, we get up and dressed before we come downstairs for breakfast at 9, and then work starts at 9.30.

I’m the franchise manager at Unislim, so when the lockdown hit, I took on the role of online coaching. Now, I’m helping everybody that’s online, supporting members, guiding them through, especially new members. We’ve had quite a few new Unislimmers come on board, and they’re not yet familiar with the plan, so I’d spend time going through the plan with them, showing them how the app works and where to access all of our online content. And I’m still mentoring my own members. I’d normally run groups twice a week, so I’m still mentoring them on Facebook and texting them. Once members are aware that it’s not a generic email that’s being sent to them, that there is a person behind it… That’s been a huge learning curve. I’d pick up the phone quite a lot, and once members get that voice at the end of the line, they feel a lot more comfortable and know there’s somebody there to support them. It’s not just a plan that’s stuck up in the middle of the internet with no feedback throughout the week. This is a lifestyle, not a diet. Once you implement those lifestyle changes, with a structure in place – I think a lot of us are very routine-based, even though we don’t feel we are. We need to be following a set routine; when you have your breakfast, lunch and dinner at regular times, the rest of the day falls into place.

The biggest challenge we faced during the lockdown was realising that this is a way of life. It was trying to come to terms with the fact that this is what we have to do now, and then when things go back to normal – whatever normal was – we can adapt to it.

My twins are very different to one another – my daughter is very sporty, so she’s happy going out for a cycle every day; while my son is very arty and really likes routine, so we’ve been trying to adapt to him and find ways to keep him active.

We have the park on our doorstep, so we’re very lucky. Every day, without fail, at 1.30 pm, the four of us and the dog walk the whole 5km around the park. I tried getting the food shopping delivered at the start, but it didn’t work for us. The kids might have been there when I was making the online order and treats found their way into the trolley. Now, I’ve taken back control and do a fortnightly shop. I make my list and meal plans, so I know what I’m shopping for and what I can allow for. And then we have a fresh fruit and veg delivery every Friday.

One thing that’ll continue after the lockdown ends is, on Fridays, we cook whatever the kids want – in a healthy way – and they get involved with the dinner. We play cards or a game – we’re not big into TV, but instead, we’d sit around the table and have catch-ups. So our Friday night special will continue.

There have been quite a few life learnings taken from this whole experience. One is that life doesn’t have to be as busy, and you can actually stand back and enjoy things.

I’ve come to the enjoyment part of lockdown now, where the self-pity is gone and I’m enjoying being with the kids, going out for our daily walks. Humans are very adaptable once we put our minds to it. We just have to flick that switch, and we can adapt to any type of situation that we have to adapt to.

I’m looking forward to hugging my mum. My folks are in their late seventies, so it’s been really hard not being able to sit down and visit with them.

My advice to Unislimmers at this time would be to show up for the day. My days of sitting around in stretchy pants have gone, and I’m putting on proper clothes. I get up, I put on my face, and I show up to the day in a positive manner.

It’s not for anybody else – I’m not seeing anyone, but it’s what makes me feel good. Once I approach the day in a positive way, everything falls into place. The day flows so much better, and I sleep better. Try to keep as much routine as you possibly can. Set the alarm, and show up for the day.

Loraine Smith - Unislim Leader

Unislim leader and mum of four girls – aged 11, 6 and twins aged 7 .

Since the lockdown started, we’ve been very busy in our household. My husband’s work would be classed as an essential service, so he’s out at work all day, from 8 am to 6 pm. I’m homeschooling the girls and also in touch with my Unislim members on Facebook and by text, offering positivity and inspiration and letting them know I’m here if they need anything. When the lockdown started, we did a 40-day challenge for Easter, which was great for keeping everyone motivated at the start.

I’m normally pretty good at keeping to a routine, but when the lockdown came in, our routine just entirely changed. It was such a shock in the beginning, and I think I put us all under a lot of pressure to the be up and starting school at a certain time. We were nearly staying at that fast pace we’ve been used to. Then I realised, we just actually need to adapt and make a new routine. It took me a little bit of time mentally to just switch into a different mode, and it’s actually working great for the family now. There is a set time we get up and the five of us (myself and the girls) sit down and have a leisurely breakfast – that’s something we’re enjoying now, rather than the usual breakfast rush on school days. Then we start school. I incorporate the normal break, we have more schooling, then have it all finished before lunchtime, so the afternoon is free. I’ve been enjoying doing PE with the kids, too, in the garden.

Prior to lockdown, with four of them involved difference activities – swimming, singing, gymnastics, you name it – we were on the road morning, noon and night, absolutely racing. It’s amazing to see how content everybody is now at a slower pace. We just struck a new balance and stuck to mealtimes and things like that. I’m now teaching the girls more life skills. They now know how to strip and make their beds. Before, life was so hectic that I just did all those things for them, but it’s amazing what they’ve learned to do. They love getting involved in the garden too. We’re nearly going back to how I was raised by my mother. Before the lockdown, I think they were oversubscribed to activities. At the time, I didn’t see that, but looking at it now, I think we were all going too fast and putting ourselves under too much pressure. Even the first two weeks of lockdown, I was going, “I thought I’d have the wardrobes cleared out by now.” And then a friend said to me, “Hold on, you’re now schooling your children as well.” I was putting that pressure on myself. The girls have also learned the joy of the postman bringing something and have started writing letters with drawings and sending them off in the post to their aunties. They’ve also been cooking and baking. Before the lockdown, my husband would be away at least two nights a week, and would also travel abroad, so the biggest change for us is that he’s now home every evening and we have a family dinner seven days a week.

I’m now doing a weekly shop. I go on a Saturday morning when my husband is home, and I’m shopping local and getting as much organic and local produce as I can.

That gives me headspace at the moment – it’s the highlight of my week, going to town to do the shopping. It’s really made me look at how I can plan the full week. And at the end of the week, you look in the fridge and go, “Yep, there are the makings for a dinner here.” It’s amazing what you can put together. Before, when I was free to pop down to the shops, if I fancied something, I’d go out and get the ingredients. So I think shopping habits have definitely changed for good now. Also, two of the kids had their birthdays in lockdown, and we baked the birthday cakes together. I love to cook, but I don’t love to bake, and I think that’s going to be something we’ll continue after the lockdown is over.

What I’m looking forward to most when restrictions are lifted is going out and social interaction with others. I’m still getting my exercise. We live in the countryside, so I have a lovely walk near the river in the mornings before my husband goes to work, and I’d do that in the evening too, for headspace. But I miss going to the gym for the interaction of classes – you know that buzz you get going into a class and meeting people. And I really do miss meeting my members. It’s so sociable – there’s a connection between you and your member, even though it’s only for a few minutes, but it’s in that frame of our class; you know when they’re struggling and where to give them that reassurance. I’m really missing that interaction, and I know my members have missed interacting with each other in person too. And of course, I’m also looking forward to going to the hairdressers!

Be kind to yourself. Take each day as it comes.

What I’m trying to get people to focus on is eating for their general health, which is so important, now more than ever. Take the diet out and just stick with what you know, which is balance. And just watch out for your relationship with food. Some people are struggling, without a doubt, and I’m here to reassure them that they’re actually not alone in all of this. And if a couple of days have gone bad, it’s not the end. You have the power to change it, and really it’s the mindset to change that around. Just stay positive and look after yourself.

Nicola O'Neill

Unislim member and mum of three kids, aged 14, 11 and 9.

I was working as a subbing SNA in a school before the lockdown, getting regular work, and then all of a sudden, the kids were finished up in school and I wasn’t working anymore. I have a girl who’s in second year, so she’s quite self-sufficient, and two boys who are in third and fifth class, so I became Mrs O’Neill, the teacher. In the beginning, they weren’t going to bed on time because they knew they weren’t going into school the next day, but I just tried to get them into a routine and pull the whole timeline back again. I was also trying to keep them occupied because they weren’t out on the road anymore with their friends. So we’d play board games and cards, we’d bake and just try and keep them entertained while off electronics – though, I’d let them play games for a limited amount of time each day to socialise with friends.

Food shopping has been a nightmare. I used to use the Tesco online delivery service all the time because I don’t really like shopping, but then all the time slots for two weeks were booked out, so I had to suddenly go food shopping. I’d go early in the morning, but that might impede then on the kids’ schooling because if I wasn’t there watching them, they mightn’t do the work. I recently discovered that Liffey Valley are now doing click and collect, though, so that’s what I’ll be doing from now on. If I just need a few things, I’d use it as a chance to walk with the boys on their scooters.

Finding motivation has been the biggest challenge. Every day is just Groundhog Day. Some days it’s harder to motivate yourself than others, but then you have to say to yourself that there are people out there who are really sick, and thankfully my family is okay.I’d always have a set time for dinner. Lunch is normally after the kids finish their homework. And we’d get out for a walk every single day, be it to the shops or the park.

US! online has really helped. You still feel like there’s somebody watching you. That’s why you’re in Unislim at the end of the day. Andrea, our leader, is always there when you need her – she goes over and above. We’ll post our dinners on the Facebook page and there’s a lot of support there.

The upside is, we’re spending more time together as a family since the lockdown began, doing things like watching a movie, or the kids will do arts and crafts at the table. That will all continue after the restrictions are lifted.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this experience, it’s to just be grateful for your family and friends and for all the things we used to take for granted. I think it will make us kinder people going forward. I’m most looking forward to the interaction with extended friends – going to their house and having a cup of tea, just doing what we used to do. And getting the kids back to their activities, which they really miss.

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