20 Questions on Health & Fitness: Belfast Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Belfast Lord Mayor, Nuala McAllister

Belfast's Mayor Nuala McAllister is a fan of "collective efforts to inspire fitness as part of everyday life", like Belfast Bikes.
Belfast's Mayor Nuala McAllister is a fan of "collective efforts to inspire fitness as part of everyday life", like Belfast Bikes. Belfast's Mayor Nuala McAllister is a fan of "collective efforts to inspire fitness as part of everyday life", like Belfast Bikes.

1 Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

I'm usually up somewhere between 6am and 6.30am for my baby son Finn's early morning feed. He is not one of those babies that sleeps throughout the night, unfortunately, but occasionally we'll get a lie-in until about 8.30am – but it's not very often.

After I feed Finn, I'll have a cup of tea or coffee in bed. He usually has about three breakfasts, so mum and dad can go hungry quite often. We begin each morning with baby play– it's a fun start to the day.

2 What might you eat in a typical working day for... breakfast?

Breakfast is usually a bowl of cereal followed by some toast, or else just toast on its own.

Lunch? At lunchtime, I might have soup or falafel – usually something quick.

Evening meal? Our main meal of the day will be pasta or a stir-fry on weekdays, as it's quick to make, but something more adventurous at weekends – and always a roast on Sunday.

3 Is nutrition important to you?

Yes, nutrition is important as I want my son to eat healthily, so it is important that we, his parents, do the same. However, we do sneak in the occasional takeaway when Finn is in bed. I'm quite proud of the fact that Finn hasn't had anything unhealthy (except jam from our toast) yet. No chocolate for him.

4 Best meal ever?

That is the most difficult question, ever... I love slow, home-cooking and baking. Sam, my partner, does the cooking and I bake. I am signed up to the New York Times cookery section which is brilliant and I have recipes regularly emailed to me. They really are the most delicious meals and we have tried quite a few of them.

When eating out though, my favourite restaurant is the Mourne Seafood Bar in Belfast and I am also partial to a little Nando's now and then. I just recently discovered seafood – I have become a real fan and will try anything.

5 Do you have a guilty pleasure?

Crisps, crisps and more crisps... oh, and the odd Mexican meal from Boojum.

6 Have you ever been on a diet? If so, how did it go?

I haven't really been on a diet, as I'm very much lacking in willpower and find it hard to resist temptation. I've cut down on unhealthy snacks quite often, but I haven't been on a proper diet.

Also, I think society puts a lot of pressure on women to get their old body back after having a baby and I didn't want to feel that burden. I embrace my new body and love it for what it has done – for giving me Finn.

7 Do you take health supplements?

No, I don't generally take them, but I did take folic acid and iron when pregnant.

8 How do you relax?

With a book or my favourite TV show. When pregnant, I re-watched the entire Buffy The Vampire Slayer series – yes, I'm a BTVS nerd – no apologies needed.

Sam and I also relax by just spending time with Finn and reading him lots of books. We are both massive readers.

9 Teetotal or tipple?

Teetotal mostly; I'll maybe have a glass once or twice a year.

10 Stairs of lift?

How many stairs are there? I'm joking; I do take the stairs – 95 per cent of the time.

11 Do you have a daily exercise regime?

I walk with Finn in the pram most days and that is my daily exercise at the moment. Also, running around after a one year-old keeps you fit.

12 Best tip for everyday fitness?

Walk during your lunch break – I used to walk around Stormont grounds and it was just lovely. I also like walking at Cavehill and, over, last few years, we have taken to hiking in the Mourne Mountains.

We took Finn for his first walk in the Mournes in the baby carrier last weekend and ended up getting lost. We made it to Newcastle and had to get a taxi back to Sam's parents' touring caravan.

We did follow directions, but I think the signs were hundreds of years old. It was a funny experience, but one I don't want to repeat.

13 On a scale of one to 10, how fit do you think you are and how fit would you like to be?

I'm a 4 to 5, so I need to get fit again – the incentive to push Finn in the pram has encouraged long walks, so that's a start.

14 Have you tried, or would you try, alternative therapy?

Probably not, to be honest. Self-relaxation works for me. There is currently a lot of interest in hypnotherapy for birthing, but I wouldn't have tried it in in a million years. I was happy to go straight for the pain relief.

15 Were school sports happy times or do you have a memory you would rather forget?

I did karate outside of school for years and loved it. I was quite good at it and reached a high level of competence and was even allowed to skip grades because I trained so hard.

I trained four nights a week between the ages of 13 up until nearly 18 at the Central Dojo in College Street, Belfast. I went back there recently as Lord Mayor to hand out prizes which was a strange experience.

As well as self defence, it teaches self discipline and respect. I did my karate at the same time as my GCSEs and I'm convinced it helped academically as well because it teaches you to work hard.

I was gutted when an accident forced me to give it up.

16 Did you ever have a health epiphany which made you change your lifestyle? Definitely having a baby – it taught me that sleep is instrumental to feeling healthy. Unfortunately, I cannot change that...

17 Best health/lifestyle advice you were ever given and would pass on to others?

Everything in moderation – including exercise... I really wouldn't cut everything out completely; I want to enjoy food.

18 Who inspires you or who would you try to emulate in terms of fitness/attitude to life?

I am inspired by collective efforts to inspire fitness as part of everyday life – such as Belfast Bikes. Suzanne Wylie is a great example, she is such a busy person but manages to cycle to work each day.

19 What time do you normally get to bed and do you get enough sleep? I try to go to bed before 11.30pm but often it doesn't happen. I most certainly do not get enough sleep.

20 Would you say you have a healthy attitude towards your own mortality?

I believe I have a healthy attitude towards life. I have a son and want to be as healthy as possible for him and I want be a good role model, but that doesn't mean cutting out everything 'bad' for you.

You only live once, so I enjoy the odd treat and takeaway without feeling guilty.