Sunday 25 September 2016

How I do it: Dr Fionnula McHale

If you’ve ever wondered about the existence of a real life Superwoman, we think we’ve found her — Dr Fionnula McHale. She’s a GP, a functional medicine doctor, a professional weight-lifting champion and a rising social media star. She talks to CAROLINE FORAN about her approach to fitness and nutrition.

Caroline Foran

Published 04/04/2016 | 02:30

Dr Fionnuala McHale
Dr Fionnuala McHale

The exercise programme: For this highly qualified individual, it’s all about preparation and planning. “I always begin my week by making a plan. I plan how many training sessions I need to do that week and schedule them in. I do the same for my food. I calculate my requirements on Sunday and have the maths done for each day that week and put all the numbers into MyFitnessPal so it’s easy for me.”

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Easy, she says.

Alongside her demanding work schedule, Fionnula keeps herself motivated by taking part in contests. “At the moment I’m preparing for my first physique competition, so I have 7 weight-based sessions per week, 2 High Intensity Interval Training sessions and 1 Low Intensity Steady State session this week.” Does she ever take a break? “Right now, I take one full rest day per week. And if I’m not prepping for anything specific, I’ll only do 6 sessions of weight training per week.”

To many of us, this might sound like torture; for Fionnula, it’s a passion. “I feel euphoric after training. I just absolutely love every single second of being in the gym. I love the pain, I love the pump, I love the heat and the sweat. I love that it makes me feel powerful and confident. Honestly, nothing can replace that feeling. It’s a high like nothing else.”

Fionnula doesn’t bother with cardio – she’s found what she likes and focuses on that. “I don’t enjoy cardio so I don’t do it! I do, however, walk absolutely everywhere. It usually works out quicker and more enjoyable to take a brisk walk to wherever I need to get. It’s also incredibly de-stressing for me, especially if it’s during the day. It forces me to take a mental break.”

The food programme: As with all athletes, clean eating is the name of the game. “I eat simple whole foods 90pc of the time: chicken, beef, cod, salmon. Lots of green vegetables like broccoli, spinach, kale. I prefer a higher carb eating regime rather than high fat as it means I can perform better in the gym, so rice, oats and sweet potatoes are a staple.”

When it comes to coping with the sugar cravings so many of us grapple with, Dr McHale doesn’t have to worry: “Keeping foods simple means I’m less likely to crave sugary or processed foods. I honestly only crave meat when I’m eating well. I do enjoy a good burger and chips every so often. I also love chocolate. But only when I’m not on a strict nutrition plan for anything in particular.” Thankfully, she is human after all: “I can’t just have one piece of chocolate. I’ll eat the whole bar so it’s best just to avoid it altogether if I’m on a strict regime, as hard as that often is.”

Dr Fionnula’s top 3 tips

* Mindset is key. Approach a lifestyle change with positive vigour. Remember you’re the only one who has made this decision to change so embrace it and enjoy the challenge. I highly recommend reading Mindset by Carol Dweck

* Decide why you want to make a change. Why do you want to feel better? Is it to feel more confident? Is it so that you live longer so you have more time to spend with your children? Whatever it is, write that down on your phone and look at it every day

* Keep it simple. One small step per day. It might just be dropping calories by 100 each day that week, which really is nothing over the course of the day, but that’s 700 per week. And last but by no means least, eat real food and avoid fad diets.Decide why you want to make a change. Why do you want to feel better? Is it to feel more confident? Is it so that you live longer so you have more time to spend with your children? Whatever it is, write that down on your phone and look at it every day

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