In Conversation With... Women's Health Editor-in-Chief, Claire Sanderson
Claire discusses exercise for mental health, imposter syndrome, the menopause, mum-guilt and battling body embarrassment…
A girl from the valleys, Claire is now settled into life in Winchester enjoying its balance of city living with countryside charm. With a busy family life, a high-profile job in London, social commitments, house chores and her wellbeing to think about, Claire admits that it’s not easy to keep all the plates spinning…
What first brought you to Winchester and what encouraged you to stay?
We first moved to Winchester when I was pregnant with my eldest, Zak, as my husband grew up here and a lot of his family live in the area.
At first, I missed my London life, and for a time we did move back to London, but when I had my second child, Nell, we came back to Winchester because the school options were so great and having a network of family to help with childcare has been so valuable.
Winchester is a great split between city living, with the restaurants and coffee shops and, the countryside and I also get to be a bit closer to Wales where my parents live.
As a working mum of two, with an intense London job, how do you manage to be such a ‘master juggler’?
With great difficulty. Sometimes it does get on top of me and if I’m honest, I feel that at the minute. The juggling takes a lot out of me. I’m very fortunate to have a nanny which I know financially isn’t an option for everyone.
My husband works long hours in London, Monday to Friday, so stays up there, ultimately making me feel a bit like a single mum through the week.
I thrive off working hard, so I manage it. I have an enormous amount of respect for stay-at-home mums but I’m just not built that way. I feel that my job identifies me, in a way.
However, the ‘mum-guilt’ is real and sometimes I feel like I’m not doing anything well; as a mum or in my career.
“The first thing to do is put your kit on. Years ago, a friend told me this and it really stuck. Once you’ve got your kit on, you’re less likely to back out of activity.”
What did the journey to ultimately getting your dream job look like?
I went to university in London, did some work experience with the Daily Mirror and worked hard to make myself indispensable and in doing so, got a place on their competitive graduate training scheme in 1999.
I was a news journalist in my 20s, at a time when there was a lot of money in newspapers which allowed some fantastic travel, however, the tabloids in those days were places where at times, I felt my personal ethics were compromised which led to the start of my battle with serious anxiety and depression.
When I felt ready to jump back into newspapers, I was very lucky to be offered a part-time role at The Sun. Four days into this, I was headhunted for the Women’s Health Editor job. Ironically, in the Summer, I had applied for the Deputy-Editor job, got down to the last two candidates but didn’t get it.
Months later, I got the call to ask whether I would be interested in the Editor role, it was a huge compliment!
Did you ever suffer from imposter syndrome?
Oh definitely, although I was passionate about my own health and fitness, my initial career wasn’t in wellness, it was as a ‘slam-dunk’ news journalist. And when I was offered the Editor job, despite it being a dream job for me, my first instinct was to say that it was too big for me, that I’d just come back from having my second baby and I wasn’t ready.
But my one piece of advice to everyone is to always go to the meeting. You never know what will come out of it.
I’ve since been promoted to Editor-In-Chief, so now my job is the whole brand; the magazine, the digital and social, the events, the commercial partnerships… it’s a big job, a steep learning curve and my days are filled with constant decisions but I love it.
What message are you trying to get out to your reader?
We empower women to be the best version of their healthiest self.
We’re empowering women with credible health information, cutting through the wellness noise and click-bate headlines. We tell an authentic message of health and wellness whilst being sensitive to the fact that women are all wonderfully different and that should be celebrated.
And how does your passion for exercise fit into your busy schedule?
I’m obsessed with exercise but nowadays I train more for my mental health than anything else.
Last year, I was getting really run down and I couldn’t continue the way I was going. I was running the Cardiff Half Marathon as part of a BBC documentary, captaining a team of 100 novice, female, runners called the Run Wales 100 Club.
So, on top of everything else I was doing; Orangetheory, strength training, CrossFit… I threw in a half marathon.
It was too much and I got really ill just before the race; bed-bound with a temperature and unable to eat. Amazingly, I did the race…mainly because I had to, because it was a TV commitment, but I realised that something had to give.
I’ve reigned back my training to two strength sessions with my PT, Alice Liveing in London during the week and two HIIT workouts at Orangetheory Winchester at the weekend. This works really well for me as I’m time-poor and my favourite way to workout is to really go for it, feel like I leave a workout having given it everything.
I’ve also learnt the importance of strength training, especially now that I’m going through the menopause. As your oestrogen levels start to drop, so too does your muscle and bone mass, making strength training so key to future-proofing your health.
Nutrition is also integral. Bad nutrition sparks a spiral of low mood, anxiety and negative body image.
Have your motivations to exercise and eat healthily changed over the years?
I’ve always enjoyed being active, I rowed competitively at university and spent my 20’s running marathons and triathlons, but I have always been self-conscious about the way I look.
When I joined Women’s Health, I really educated myself on strength training and am very clued up now on the benefits, especially for women.
My goals have evolved from exercising for aesthetic reasons to the long-term benefits activity has on health and wellbeing. I’m proud that I am fit, not just for my age, but just as an individual.
Sadly, a standout barrier to exercise that the HerHampshire community report, is embarrassment. Do you have any words of wisdom to the women feeling this way?
The first thing to do is put your kit on. Years ago, a friend told me this and it really stuck. Once you’ve got your kit on, you’re less likely to back out of activity. And if you can afford it, buy some activewear that really makes you feel good.
High-street brands and supermarkets now do lovely, affordable activewear and a stained old t-shirt isn’t going to give you the confidence to go into a gym.
My second piece of advice, which came out of the #ProjectBodyLove research we did recently with Women’s Health, was that the biggest saboteur of our self-esteem is our own inner critic.
You would never look at someone else and comment on their appearance in the negative way in which you would harshly judge yourself.
When you’re looking in the mirror saying all these horrible things about yourself, just stop and question whether you would ever say those things to someone else.
Finally, stepping into a gym can be intimidating but as someone who has trained consistently for 25 years, I promise you that no one is looking at you. They are all focused on their own journey and if you do face any judgement from anyone, they are not worth a moment of your breath.
If you’re feeling inspired, Claire will be at Women’s Health Live, 3-5 April 2020 at The Business Design Centre, London showcasing world-leading health experts, workouts, shopping and an impressive line-up of international fitness stars, sports personalities and celebrities. Tickets on sale now.
Did you enjoy this? Check out our chat with Dame Kelly Holmes on mindset and exercise, here
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