I was away last week – did you miss me? I went to Spain, to a beautiful healthy retreat up in the hills over the town of Calpe. Check out D-Toxd here.
D-Toxd is a very level-headed Body|Mind|Life experience; not spiritual, but very contemplative, and very real; a well thought-out and balanced blend of juicing, healthy meals, walking, exercise classes, yoga, creativity time, motivational talks, mindset sessions and practical advice. Nobody corrals you into participation – you do only what you want to do. I spent plenty of time reading by the pool, swimming and even catching up on sleep. I’m not a big fan of yoga so I dropped out of a few sessions. I also… um… bypassed… the available colonic treatment, but I found time for a blissful Ayurvedic Massage.
Ah, the juicy detox experience. I’ve juiced intensively before, courtesy of a Jason Vale retreat in Turkey several years ago, so I knew what to expect of the detox element and I knew I wouldn’t be hungry. Three days of juicing is a wonderful way to flush out – as it were – your internals. And it clears your head as much as it evacuates your intestines. On day two I suffered an hour or so of caffeine withdrawal headache, which is quite normal apparently; but that was the worst of it. We were treated to a rainbow of juices, and always a choice between a sweeter/fruitier option and a less sweet version with the emphasis on the vegetables. Every vegetable imaginable, and plenty of fruit, found its way into five juices a day, along with ginger, milled flaxseed, bee pollen, fresh mint and more. My body rejoiced!
After three days of wonderful, vibrant juices, and three days of colourful and delicious vegetarian meals, the holiday rounded off with a celebratory fiesta meal and both the first meat, and the first (and only) alcohol of the week. A grand time was enjoyed by all.
The Social Introvert (with the sensitive skin) goes Walkabout
An aside: I’m not generally shy, and I don’t lack confidence; I interact perfectly comfortably with friends and strangers alike. But I learned long ago that I’m some kind of introvert – I restore my energy by withdrawing, and being by myself. I only became aware more recently that there’s a name for people like me – we are social introverts. That means that whilst we’re cool with social situations and groups, we gain our energy from within ourselves. We love people – but we need solitude too.
A week in the company of a group of like-minded people is very enjoyable on many levels, but it can be a little challenging for the social introvert. As the days pass, I seem to notice noise and chatter, more and more – it’s like the volume gets turned up in my head. Sooner or later when this happens, I have to listen to my protesting psyche and seek solitude.
And something else… The combination of 32-degree scorch, sun, sea-breeze, sweat and suntan oil on the mid-morning walks had been a little harsh on my English Rose complexion. By midweek my face was puckered, sensitive and overheating.
So it was, for those two reasons, that for the last couple of days, I pulled out of the big walks and instead trundled off for a stroll (along the only path I could be certain I could follow there and back) at 07:30 in the morning, just as the sun began to peek over the hilltops. This served both my tortured flesh and my solitude-seeking introvert.
Those quiet early-morning strolls in the cool air, accompanied by nothing more than birdsong and the hum of waking insects, were blissful.
Refresh | Recharge | Refocus
I’d booked D-Toxd to coincide with the first anniversary of my not-so-new healthy lifestyle, and I envisaged it being of value in refocusing me and strengthening my resolve as I continued into my second weight-loss year. It did the job magnificently.
It served to remind me why I had embarked on this path at the end of August 2015, and how far I’ve already come. It helped to jog me out of a few lazy habits which have crept in over recent weeks, and energise my attitude. And (woo hoo!) the juices, salads and regular exercise nudged my system into releasing an additional four pounds – taking me over my next big milestone (70 pounds / 5 stone and 25% of my starting weight – gone).
All in all, it was exactly what I needed.
Gareth, Jeroen, Louise and the rest of the D-Toxd team go out of their way to deliver a multi-dimensional health and vitality retreat experience, with care and sensitivity. Their philosophy is worth sharing – see the poster which adorns their wall. They walk their talk, and D-Toxd has bucket-loads of integrity and passion as a result. I could not recommend it any more highly.
Following on from my one-year post, here are my personal tips on achieving sustainable and healthy weight-loss. I stress personal, because I’m not a nutritionist or a medical professional, so I’m not qualified in any way to offer advice. These are simply some things that have worked for me over the last year.
I’ve already written about a few of these, and I’ll be covering the rest in more detail in due course. But for now, in no particular order, these things made the greatest difference to me, and contributed to my success-to-date, over the past year:
(1) Build your support network
A coach, a nutritionist, your GP, a slimming club, a friend on the same journey, an on-line community, supportive friends and family. Doing this alone is tougher, so develop your network of supporters, who will guide, encourage and motivate you. People who care about you will want to help and encourage you. They’ll want to see you succeed.
(2) Keep a food diary
A full-disclosure, honest account of everything you eat; not to show anyone, but to acknowledge to yourself what you’re doing. Raising your own awareness of your consumption does, weirdly, help you to avoid the ‘bad stuff’ – even though it’s only you that sees your diary. You can’t kid yourself that you’re staying on-message when your food diary says you munched through a whole bag of tortilla chips for the third night in a row.
(3) Weigh yourself daily
Going from weekly to daily weigh-ins was a big breakthrough for me. You become aware of how your body behaves – and misbehaves. Days when you think you should have lost, you gain; and days when you’ve scoffed like a pig, you lose. But however those scales confound you, you only have 24 hours to go until the next weigh-in – that’s not a lot of time to go off-the-rails, definitely salvageable. Take your 7 daily weigh-ins and divide by 7, for a weekly average. If you’re generally staying on-track, even if the daily chart looks like a roller-coaster, your weekly average figures should be heading steadily and encouragingly downward.
(4) Give up sweet stuff
I’ve said a lot before about giving up added sugar – check out the post and the links. It’s made a huge difference to me, in so many ways. I’m not just talking about sweets and cakes either; I’d urge you to become more aware of how much sugar (in all its guises) is hidden in the everyday products you consume. I guarantee you’ll find it where you don’t expect it, and you’ll be surprised – shocked – at how much you get through without realising. If you’re diabetic or pre-diabetic, this is a particularly vital step.
(5) Minimise simple/white carbs
I haven’t gone totally low carb, but I have dramatically reduced, to almost zero, my intake of bread, pasta, white rice and potatoes. I thought it would result in extremes of hunger, but it doesn’t – really doesn’t! You lose the insulin/glucose ‘spikes’ which kick-off the hunger pangs. Your body rebalances, and your gut is grateful. I waved a not-so-fond farewell to bloating, heartburn and acid reflux too, when I ditched these lumpen ingredients.
(6) portion control
Whatever you think you should be eating, reduce it. Portion sizes have exploded in recent years and we’re all far too accustomed to accepting huge plates, stacked high, and ploughing our way through obscene quantities. The easiest way to lose weight is to eat less. If smaller amounts of food look meagre, serve yourself on a smaller plate, or a bowl. Serve half of what you believe you want, and return to the pot only if you are genuinely still hungry when you’ve finished your smaller portion.
(7) Plan an exercise schedule
Time does not automatically free itself. In ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ world, tomorrow never comes. If you struggle to commit to exercise, as I do, you’ll appreciate the structure of a schedule. I recently came across a neat idea – the ‘3, 2, 1’ approach. You pick three types of exercise; one you do three times a week (for me, that’s a good long or fast walk, for cardio, general wellbeing and the pleasure of fresh air); one you do twice a week (for me, a serious Pilates session for core strength and posture), and one you do once a week (for me, swimming with a friend, cardio again, also sociable). The idea is to inject some variety, to exercise your whole body, and keep you engaged with the whole idea of exercise. I’m far from perfect when it comes to exercising regularly, but I take the view that whatever you do, it’s better than doing nothing. We don’t have to all be gym-bunnies and marathon runners, do we?
(8) stop EATing YOUR EMOTIONS
One of the first things my Vitality Healthy Lifestyle Coach helped me with, was learning to reward myself – and conversely, comfort myself – with things that don’t involve food. I used to eat for comfort, and eat for reward, neither of which was helpful. Find things you appreciate – a massage perhaps, fresh flowers for your home, scented candles, an hour browsing a magazine, a film or DVD, music, a cosy curl-up in an armchair with a good book, a chat on the phone with a friend – just a few which work for me.
(9) Acknowledge your achievements
I’ve blogged about mini-milestones before. When you’re on a long weight-loss journey, it’s important to acknowledge your progress towards the bigger goal. Seeing yourself tick these milestones off, one by one, is very motivating. Learn to appreciate the benefits you’re experiencing beyond pounds/kilos too. Compliments from friends, the pleasure of buying clothes a size smaller, how your more slender body feels and moves – all these things and more can gift you energy and positivity for the next phase.
(10) POSITIVE VISUALISATION
It’s a powerful motivator, when you can visualise yourself as the more slender, more active, more energetic, more toned, healthier person you seek to become. I couldn’t do it at first – it seemed so far away and… impossible. But as the pounds began to fall away, and I began to imagine I might actually stay with my new healthy lifestyle, not fall off the wagon for good and all, it began to be easier to see myself as the person I wanted to become.
When you visualise, make it very real. Imagine not just what you look like. Focus on what you feel like, what you’re doing, how you’re moving, what you’re wearing, what you’re eating, where you are, what work you’re doing, who you’re with, and how happy you are. Make a home movie in your head and let the picture become very vivid and colourful, full of energy and vitality. If you’re a writer – write it! Write the story of your future self. It’s a bit of a psychological exercise, and it doesn’t come naturally for most of us, but it is worth doing. I wrote my visualisation and it sounded crazy, months ago. Not so crazy now though.
Like I said, I’m not qualified, and I’m not an expert. These approaches have become part of my healthy/weight-loss strategy, along with great bucket-loads of patience. Weight that’s taken two decades to arrive, doesn’t depart in a few weeks. But it does let go eventually – so don’t lose faith in yourself.
I began my new healthy lifestyle – falteringly – exactly a year ago, on Wednesday 26th August 2015. The day before, I’d had my first of eight sessions with my Vitality Healthy Lifestyle Coach, Pranita Salunke.
I say falteringly because I note, with a degree of embarrassment, that my first few days of so-called healthy eating weren’t oh, you know, actually all that… healthy. They included:
50g bowls of sugar-loaded Honey Nut Shreddies for breakfast
Leftover spaghetti carbonara (white pasta, shop-bought carbonara sauce, leftover chicken pieces and a dollop of double cream)
A meal of crackers loaded with butter and seafood cocktail
Clearly I had a lot to learn about healthy eating, and many, many adjustments to make.
On my first day, I managed two 15-minute slow walks on my treadmill. The second day, I noted a 20-minute round-trip walk to the post box – a circuit which would take me half that time today, if I ever went on a walk which was quite that short (it is, literally, just to the end of the road and back).
My lumbersome weight on that first day was 270 pounds, or 19 stone 4 lbs (that’s 122.4 kilos in new money). Yet despite the Honey Nut Shreddies and spaghetti carbonara, I must have done a few things right; I lost 6 pounds in my first week, and a further 8 pounds over the next 4 weeks, which was a big boost.
I see from the notes alongside my food diary (which I have kept in detail every day since then – it helps to keep me accountable to myself), that in those first few days, in addition to my coach, I drew support and positivity from a variety of sources:
The encouragement of several lovely friends
Positive feedback on my work from a couple of clients
Some time spent reflecting on the comfort and calm of my home and garden
My Pilates habit and the gains I’ve seen from embedding this in my life, and sticking with it even when I got very overweight
A personalised hypnotherapy/relaxation tape given to me a couple of years ago by a hypnotherapist, whose help I had sought with my menopausal/health anxieties
My twin nephews, so happy, positive – and very, very active
I didn’t get on to the sugar-free thing until the middle of October 2015. I gradually stripped away the more obvious treats (biscuits, confectionary etc), but until mid-October I was still making my breakfast Bircher muesli with Rachel’s Coconut Yoghurt, which is very, very highly sweetened. Pranita had visited my home and we’d done a helpful store-cupboard and fridge audit, which had made me think about why I was holding on to this last sweet-treat. My rationale – that it was an organic yoghurt, and therefore healthy – was all wrong. Yoghurt of the right kind is indeed healthy, but sweetened yoghurt, bio/organic or not, is… dessert.
That was a huge turning-point for me, finally acknowledging and then laying my sugar compulsion to rest. Once I replaced the sweetened variety with natural Greek yoghurt – bio, full-fat and proud, since you ask – I didn’t even miss the sweet taste. And the die was cast. Today, at a guesstimate, I would say I am 99% added sugar free. The odd microgram creeps in here and there, usually when I don’t read a label carefully enough. That’s about as much of a success as I can claim – but I’m more than happy with it.
Giving up added sugar was… massive. It freed me from hunger pangs, insulin spikes and a mass of barely controllable temptations, requiring extremes of willpower which I struggled to muster. In the weeks and months since then, I have read voraciously about the sugar-free and LCHF (low carb healthy fat) approaches. Whilst I haven’t gone 100% for LCHF, I totally bought the sugar-free message and I’ve succeeded in abandoning not only added sugar in all its many guises, but processed ready meals (where the sweet stuff hides in quite astounding volumes) and big stomach-stretching bricks of simple carbohydrate – bread, pasta, white rice and potatoes. I’ve lowered my general carbohydrate intake very considerably – and I feel so much better for it.
Not only that, but it’s extraordinary and thrilling to me that the sweet stuff is now… too sickly sweet. My taste-buds rebel when in the vicinity of anything remotely sugary. And unless you’ve been released from sugar addiction yourself, you’ve no idea how truly magnificent that feels!
Exercise is… Hard Work
Ah… exercise. I have tried hard to exercise more often, but even after a year, I still struggle with this. Simple walking, the odd bit of swimming and of course, my Pilates, form the lion share of my exercise habit – but even now, I have to push myself out of the door.
I’m told there should be a joyous shift towards actual enthusiasm for exercise at some point, but all I’m experiencing so far is an ebb-and-flow. Some days or weeks are better than others. I hired a Personal Trainer to come to my home for a few weeks, and that has propelled me into episodes (whole minutes at a time!) of laboured jogging, and some more constructive cardio and strength exercises. I swim, usually once a week, with a friend. I enjoy walking more than I ever have before, but it’s still a big heave-ho to get myself out of bed for a walk at 6:00am, and I don’t always manage. I make that effort more frequently, I seek out opportunities to leave the car behind and walk instead, and I’m definitely more active than I was; but exercise is something I fear may never come easily or naturally to me.
I do it though, I do it – and it’s helping me become fitter. My resting heart rate has dropped more than 10 BPM, as my stamina, flexibility and general energy level has improved. All these are great rewards in themselves, and they contribute to a significantly diminished experience of health anxiety, which was quite the thing for me through my menopause years.
A year down the line, and the weight-loss component of my new healthier lifestyle is a little over half done. I’ve lost 65.5 pounds (that’s over four and a half stone, or 29.7 kilos). I wanted to be under 200 pounds by now, and currently at 204.5 pounds I’m not quite there (until the last few days, I’ve been frustratingly plateaued for nearly two months – like my body was trying to sabotage my ‘anniversary’); but I’m not far off. I last saw this weight in 2002, but only briefly, and before that, it would have been around the early 1990’s.
I’ve dropped 5 dress sizes, a shoe size, 3 ring sizes and 2 bra back sizes (but not even one cup size – hurrah!) and lost at least one chin. And there have been many other payoffs so far too (see past posts here and here) – with many more to come, I’m certain of it.
Indulgence – Just Modified
Don’t run away with the idea that I’m living some sort of parched, fat-free existence, devoid of culinary interest. I enjoy all sorts of indulgences. I still eat butter (although without bread/toast in my diet, a packet of the stuff lasts me weeks and weeks); I still eat cheese almost daily (limiting quantity – mostly – to a few slivers). I choose full-fat over low/fat-free options, which I’ve always done, but it’s interesting to note that opinion is swinging towards this as the healthier choice these days; I eat plenty of eggs (another healthy foodstuff, long demonised). I try new recipes regularly and have added several healthier, more nutritious meals to my repertoire in recent months.
I still snack on savouries every now and again, but having lost my taste for crisps (USA: potato chips) I’ve found one or two alternatives which don’t press my guilt-button. The beauty of these is that they’re not addictive in the way that old style crisps are. I make my own toasted and seasoned seeds, crispy seasoned kale and small bowls of lightly salted air-popped corn.
I still enjoy the odd dessert-like treat too. I’ve made added-sugar-free banana and almond cake; I even (very) occasionally make an unbelievably indulgent ‘ice cream’ from frozen banana, organic (no-added-sugar) peanut butter and Greek yoghurt. There may be substantially more vegetables and a broader spectrum of nutrients in my diet than ever before, but my taste-buds have not been utterly deprived of naughties.
Onward and Downward
So to the year ahead. I have another 30-50 pounds to go. I’m deliberately vague about this, as I shall see how I feel about it as I progress. But the big change for me – re-educating my taste-buds and my insides to welcome healthy food and reject sugar and processed junk – is something I now dare to feel confident I have nailed. I’ve dieted before, but I’ve never felt this lifestyle victory until now.
I’ve been so very grateful for all the support and encouragement I’ve received through my blog. It’s clear that my experiences have inspired others to keep going with their own healthy changes, and that thrills me. I cannot imagine anything more positive (apart from the fact that I’m improving the quality, and perhaps even length, of my own life) than to inspire others to do the same for themselves.
So the journey continues. Stay with me, if you will – and I hope you do. It won’t be dramatic, but it will continue to be frank and honest – a true account of a very ordinary battle to re-establish good habits, achieve a healthy weight and – hopefully – set myself up for a longer, healthier and more active middle- and old-age.
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I love hearing from people who follow my blog, and respond to every comment. If you have any questions on how I’ve gone about my first ‘healthier’ year, please post them through the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.
Coming next: My Top Ten experience-based tips for sustainable and healthy weight-loss.
I’ve realised lately that I’ve lost touch with what size I am – but in a good way.
I ordered some workout gear from Marks & Spencer online the other week. That in itself is quite an achievement, as it wasn’t that long ago that nothing in M&S fitted me. When my purchases arrived, I realised I’d ordered them in a size too large. As I pulled them on, they gaped around the neckline and sagged across the shoulders.
I was thrilled.
So on Wednesday, I walked (walked!) into town to exchange for a smaller size. I browsed too, and found some more tops and t-shirts I couldn’t live without. But I wasn’t convinced that my need for a smaller size in those online purchases wasn’t just a fluke, so I went to the changing room with everything in two different sizes. And then my happiness was complete, because in every case, it was the smaller size I needed.
I realise that being a size 16 (that’s a US size 14, by the way) isn’t something that everyone would be proud of. There was a time that I was horrified to be a size 16 – but then that was over three decades ago. At the time, I hit size 16 on the way up from a modest size 12, through 14. At that time, in my early twenties, size 16 felt enormous and disastrous, and I felt positively gross.
This time around is an entirely different matter. To have come down from size 26/28 (at that size, they don’t even bother to separate out the two sizes – if you get that big, you’re not supposed to care), through 24, 22, 20, and even 18… to the point where that bright little yellow ‘size 16’ tag dangles from the garments that fit you. Well, it’s… huge.
Even though my weight-loss has slowed, the journey continues and my body is still changing shape, sucking in here and there, from my ankles and knees to my thighs, waistline and even my neck. I fancy even my bingo-wings are a little less… flappy. So even though the scales have confounded me, this has been an uplifting week. Onwards and downwards – next stop, size 14. Then I really will feel properly normal again.
I lugged my haul of size 16’s to the counter. I came away with more than I intended (what can I say – it’s a girl thing); a heavy bag, but a light, fluttering spirit.
I’ll be taking a break for a couple of weeks as the online universe has gone very quiet in the silly season. But look out for my next post on 26th August – that’s the anniversary of the day I started on this healthy lifestyle weight-lossy business.
On Friday I awarded myself an unscheduled day off and joined a friend for a walk around Kew Gardens. The weather was not fine, as predicted by the morning forecasts (no surprise there, today’s high-tech meteorological meta-analyses are rarely more than in the general ball-park). Drizzly showers came and went, grim clouds loomed – but the sun broke through often enough to make it a very pleasant few hours.
My friend is a member at Kew and knows her way around, and we were aiming for a walk of up to 3 miles. We entered by Lion Gate and very effectively avoided the queues (useful tip, that). Within a few minutes we got our first view of the Pagoda. See the glowering clouds? The Pagoda was completed in 1762 and is undergoing a bit of restoration over the coming months, so it’s not open at present.
We wandered… Foliage… water… lovely.
No idea what this structure is going to be when it’s finished, but it looks interesting.
A nice view down towards the River Thames.
A very ancient oak tree – apparently a favourite for people who come to meditate beneath its boughs.
Another tree (you can tell I’m not an arboriculturist, can’t you?) Not so ancient, but well-dressed nonetheless.
After a break for coffee (and to dodge a rain shower) at The Orangery, we came upon one of Kew’s new features for this summer. The Great Broad Walk Borders is a truly stunning layout of garden flowers interspersed with seating areas. True, it would have benefitted from a blast of sunshine, but you can’t have everything.
Half way down The Great Broad Walk, we came across another of Kew’s newer installations – The Hive – an intriguing and enormous metal frame representation of a beehive, designed into a meadow environment and meant to teach us all about bees. We listened to a talk about how they communicate about where to find the best flowers, then took the meadow walkway up into the fascinating structure.
Children in particular were loving the chance to look down through the glass floor.
A final look at the borders from the meadow and our walk took us further on, past the Palm House with its precision planting…
And the Japanese Garden and Gateway…
Which afforded another nice glimpse of the Pagoda…
Before we found Lion Gate again and… home.
I just went to walk, but Kew Gardens is a lovely day out, with plenty for all the family from seriously horticultural stuff, to entertainments for children, treetop walkways, installations, sculptures and much more. They’re great at continually updating, finding different ways to engage. In early summer they do outdoor concerts, and I’ve also enjoyed their winter illuminated walk too. Worth a visit if you like your greenery!
I’m going to use this week’s post to promote a crowdfunded film I’ve just watched. It’s called The Big Fat Fix, and you can stream or download it here.
The Big Fat Fix is an independent co-production between former international athlete Donal O’Neill – the Producer of Cereal Killers (2013) and Run on Fat (2015) – and UK Cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, who is one of my lifestyle-as-medicine heroes.
The film addresses the issue of how recommended but misguided dietary advice over the last 50 years has spawned the obesity and diabetes epidemics. It looks at the role of healthy eating – based around what’s become known as the Mediterranean Diet – in treating and preventing these and other diseases. And it examines the way we can and should exercise for optimal health.
At around 1 hour and 20 minutes it’s a long-ish film, and it begins at a leisurely pace. But stick with it, as you’ll find a wealth of advice which dramatically contradicts traditional dietary recommendations – advice which is gathering momentum and credibility at an exciting pace these days. It addresses issues around obesity, diabetes, stress and heart disease.
Milestones come and go. I’ve just said a not-so-fond farewell to another ‘stone’ marker, and I’m heading for a couple more significant milestones in the next few weeks. But healthy weight-loss rewards in many different ways, not just on the scales.
A short post today, with a few reflections on the things I’ve noticed lately. Whether you’ve lost a lot of weight or not, I wonder if you identify with the joy I’m getting from any of these.
I can cross my legs again
I can rest a tray on my lap – yes, my lap has reappeared!
I jogged for a total of 9 minutes on my treadmill today – 3 lots of 3 minutes, within an intense hour-long session with my Personal Trainer. It might not seem like much, but it’s 9 minutes longer than I could jog two weeks ago. Along with the rest of the session, it nearly killed me, but even that felt good
I can talk about confectionary, desserts, sweet-treats and biscuits without even the slightest hint of longing entering my mind
My knees look and feel slimmer – great blobs of fat around them are melting away
Bits of my midriff are starting to pull inward – is that actual abs beginning to appear? Wishful thinking, possibly
A dozen pretty items of lingerie I haven’t worn for twenty years, yet never had the heart to discard, fit me again. Happily, I had stored them with care
I am stronger, physically speaking, than I realised
My neckline has totally altered – flatter décolletage, narrower shoulders, fat melting away from my neck, making necklaces hang lower, sit flatter, and look prettier
I’m breaking-in a new pair of very tall shoes at home today – it’s lovely feeling and walking taller again, now that my feet and knees can tolerate a few elevated hours.
Once things slow down a little in terms of weekly weight loss, it’s great to be able to draw motivation for continuing the journey, away from the bathroom scales. I know I still have a long way to go, but it’s so, so wonderful to put clothes on, look at yourself in the mirror, and actually feel good about what you see. Having got used to “that’ll do”, I’d forgotten how great it feels to like your reflection – and more than that, appreciate the ways it’s changing.
I know others might look at the same figure and feel disgusted, but it’s all relative, isn’t it?