Regaining Perspective #walking

2016-06-22 06.29.23Disturbed by the Referendum outcome unfolding overnight and now confirmed (that’s as political as I’m going to get, folks), I took myself out for a very early morning walk, to clear my head. I was out of the door at a few minutes past 6:00am.  I thought I’d share my walk – sights, sounds and smells – in case anyone else needs a shot of perspective. It’s just an ordinary walk, a circuit of 2.4 miles (so my Fitbit tells me) around my local streets and park, but this morning, it was a particular tonic:

Out of the house and everything looks and smells fresh. Torrential rain yesterday evening has brought all the gummy grittiness out of the air and the sun is celebrating. Everywhere pavements and roadways bear evidence of mini-floods – rivulets of dirt, gravel and leaf mould have settled into crevices and gutters. I dance over puddles (new trainers, don’t want to spoil them) and walk down the road instead of the pavement in places to avoid splashback. It’s quiet at 6:00am down the back-streets.

This road feels as if it’s out in the country, perhaps because for a stretch, it lacks a pavement, bearing just a painted line to separate vehicle from human traffic. A tall hedge leans, loaded with leftover raindrops; an old wall exudes rich, mulchy odour.  Climbing roses droop across the path and I have to duck to clear them.

A car whooshes by, and another.  Whooshes is naughty, as this particular stretch of road has a 20mph limit.

2016-06-22 06.32.14A house ripe for renovation, and the garden is overgrown. I can’t help but admire the architectural beauty of a clump of thistles. Onwards, and I pass the school, where a food truck is waiting to be let through the barrier. The driver, a Sikh, smiles and waves. I’m getting more of that sort of thing these days and I can’t deny, I appreciate it.  I smile back.

Down a smarter road now, bigger houses set back off the road. I pass a runner and a ‘serious’ cyclist (lycra, helmet, head down). The pavement is uneven, dipping and rising, and as the sun shines in my eyes, I have to watch my feet. I reach my decision corner – go left for a longer walk, right for shorter.  I go left.

A house on the corner which has had the builders in for months – I watched them arrive every day in the dark, back in the winter months – is complete, with a new contemporary façade.  It’s looking good.

2016-06-22 07.08.12The next road is busier – it’s a bus route and a cut-through. It too has been freshened by last night’s rain, which is a good thing.  Yesterday was Bin Day and I had to walk past piles of refuse sacks which ponged mightily. Some always get ripped open by foxes and magpies, and it’s never pretty. Shielding my eyes against the sun, now directly in my face.

I’m by the shops now, an arcade of perhaps two hundred yards, running round a corner. The first of two cafes is just opening up.  Already there are builders’ vans in the lay-by, workers waiting to begin their day with a fry-up.  Round the corner, the baker is open already, more workers coming and going with sandwich bags. The open door oozes the sickly-sweet odour of iced buns and pastries – it never used to tempt me, and it certainly doesn’t now.

The second café is in full operation, the scent of breakfast fry-up just a little more tempting than sugar icing, but stale fat… no. A man stands outside smoking, fiddling with his phone. More white vans and their branded brothers come and go – this is quite the place for building and renovation trades to congregate.

The all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant, even closed, is cloaked in the stale, sticky odour of sweet-and-sour and stir-fry.  Tatty paper notices advising prices and new opening hours cling to the insides of its windows.  I hold my breath for a few moments.

2016-06-22 06.38.22Traffic queues beside me now, for the next few hundred yards.  I pass my favourite honeysuckle bush, a heady counterpoint to the sweet-and-sour. Cut down a side street where the paving slabs are inexplicably… pink.

My ‘long’ route takes me through a corner of the park; the grass is in need of cutting and that’s unusual, as our local parks are impeccably maintained. The chicken-wire gate to the tennis courts hangs open. I pass through a dank tunnel of foliage and head towards the children’s play area, empty of course, at this hour. I’m even too early for the dog walkers.

As I emerge from the park, I almost bump into a man walking along the pavement. The last part of my walk is uphill, and it takes all my energy. I’ve been keeping up a pace with a fast playlist, and I’m struggling now, but just a few hundred yards to go. The pavement runs alongside the park, but it’s uneven, with big grass-filled cracks between the slabs, so once again, I have to watch my feet. I reach another favourite tree, which I’ve enjoyed watching flourish, from its barren winter state, through the first glimpse of leaves, then blossom, and now full summer greenery. Just a hundred yards to go. The fence beside me reeks of wet wood and creosote – I like it.

Back home, and the first thing I do is check how long my walk took. When I started this healthy lifestyle thing last September, this particular walk (which I took only rarely) would take me 60 minutes, and I’d arrive home with aching hips, pouring with sweat, good for nothing. Today it’s taken me 45 minutes.  I’m glowing yes, but it’s a healthy, exercised glow, not a sickly, unfit one. I’m bursting with endorphins, and even the Referendum and its unsettling implications won’t shift my feel-good.

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One Foot in Front of the Other #walking

2016-04-20 06.54.29With the proliferation of boot camps, gyms and celebrity fitness DVDs, one might easily imagine that exercise is hard work. But I’m getting healthier and steadily losing weight, on a very moderate exercise regime. I would hardly even call it a regime.

Chugging Along

Until the last decade or so, I’d been moderately but consistently active all my life. As a child, I swam (enthusiastically), played hockey (unenthusiastically), netball (defensively), tennis (ambidextrously) and rounders (exceedingly well, if I say so myself). I also walked everywhere, as young people used to do before parents became unpaid taxi services. In my twenties I bounced round a sports hall to the tune of ‘Cecilia’ (Simon & Garfunkel, great bouncy tune) in what used to be called Popmobility classes (that’s before aerobics was even heard of). Since then, over the years, I’ve been a member of no less than four gyms, including three stints with a personal trainer – and that’s not including the one I dated; I’ve cycled (including, just once, doing the London to Brighton Bike Ride), played squash on a weekly basis, gone swimming with the same frequency, walked a mile each way to and from the train station every day, and joined my neighbours for energetic Sunday morning walks.

Yikes - a #walkie #selfie !
Yikes! A walkie selfie – complete with bug-eye shades

My periods of supervision by gym-based personal trainers and the London to Brighton notwithstanding, my approach to exercise has been consistent; moderate in preference to extreme, and gently glowing, in preference to sweating-like-a-pig. But if I think back, I realise that over the years I’ve always done something, to aid my physical fitness and counterbalance my largely desk-based occupations.

Until, that is, it all stopped.

Grinding to a Halt

In 2001 I fell victim to a damaging personal relationship and in the middle of that chaos, I was made redundant; a double-whammy that spawned a crisis of confidence. Determined (that’s a bit of a theme in my life) not to let circumstances and my tattered self-esteem beat me, I joined Weightwatchers. Through 2002 I managed the biggest weight loss I had ever, to that point, achieved. But for reasons I don’t fully understand even now, I couldn’t sustain it and the weight piled back on with staggering rapidity.  That was when I lost the impetus to take proper care of myself – I gave up. Then the menopause showed up, slamming into me around 2007 and putting paid to what was left of my energy, motivation and self-discipline – and all bets were off.

I spent much of the next eight years sitting for endless hours on my ever broadening bottom, at one desk or another, in one car or another, or in front of the TV.  The fact is, when it comes to general fitness and wellbeing, the less you exercise, the less you want to exercise. And the more you sit, the more you need to sit.

Worth saying, the one thing I kept up, right through from 2007, was a weekly one-to-one Pilates training session, and the modest amount of Pilates I did at home, from week to week.  Pilates, whilst rarely aerobic, continues to make a vital contribution to my physical wellbeing. I got into it because of chronic back pain (brought on by carrying too much weight – duh); I stayed because I loved it. But more about Pilates on another occasion.

Cranking up the Engine

When I began my new healthy lifestyle last September, I sought help from a number of different sources. One of these was a Great White Elephant which had, a few years previously, taken up residence in my spare bedroom.

The White Elephant
The Great White Elephant

I had, in a moment of madness several years earlier, purchased a full-size gym-grade treadmill. I had, with a burst of good intention, converted my spare bedroom into a mini exercise studio, with wooden floor, a TV mounted on the wall, and a fan for comfort.  I installed a couple of pieces of Pilates equipment and a vibrating plate thing – and I bought the treadmill.  My rationale was, the easier I made it for myself to exercise, the more likely I was to do it. And you can’t get much easier than stepping on to a treadmill in your own spare bedroom, can you?

As it turned out, even that wasn’t easy enough.  But that was more about attitude of mind than anything else. And back then, I didn’t have the right one.

So last September, as I began to nourish my body with better food, I turned to my ignored and abandoned treadmill.  I couldn’t quite face walking outdoors. I felt enormous and lumbering and it took only a few hundred yards before my face turned blotchy red and oozed with perspiration. On the treadmill, I could begin gradually, walking slowly for a few minutes – 5 at first, but I got to 15 without too much trouble, and kept going. I gradually increased the speed and length of time I used this instrument of torture, until I became thoroughly bored with staring at the TV and going nowhere.

My local park earlier this week
My local park – not bad for London suburbs

I was deploying positive affirmations by then, which made me feel more engaged with the idea of getting out into the fresh air, and gradually I migrated my (nearly) daily walks from my spare bedroom to three or four circuits of my neighbourhood, varying distances depending on time and inclination, whether it was light enough to walk through the park, and whether I needed to pass by a shop.  A few months in, and I added a longer walk into town, which, when combined with a bit of wandering around the shops, got me to 10,000 steps for the day.

I know that’s not a lot – but that’s my point. [Yes… I got to it at last…]. I’ve been losing weight and getting fitter on a modest 6,000 or so steps a day, with maybe one day a week on 10,000 steps.  For a home-based worker, a 6,000 step day is a walk of somewhere between 2-2.5 miles or between 30-45 minutes, plus incidental wandering around at home. It’s really not a lot.

Once I got a taste for being outside (frosty, dark mornings in the winter, crisp springtime sunshine, now warmer lunchtime wanderings), I began to actually enjoy my daily walk.  Now sometimes I stroll – stop and smell the roses – and other times I walk as fast as I can, using an App to check my pace. Sometimes I rock it with an exercise playlist, and other times I immerse in an audiobook. I go first thing in the morning, or at lunchtime, or when I’m fed up with staring at my PC. I’m trying not to slip into any kind of routine, because I know how all-or-nothing I can be, and I know that the moment I fail at my routine, it will knock me off course – and I don’t want that to happen.  I’m just listening to my body, and making sure I enjoy what I’m doing, and never doing it under sufferance.

2016-05-16 06.58.25-1Now, with summer beginning to show up (odd days only, so far – this is the UK after all), I’m looking forward to getting the sun on my face and arms, to natural Vitamin D, to watching toddlers in the playground; to the scent of wisteria, honeysuckle and fresh mown grass; to the fact that I won’t be bringing in soggy leaves on my shoes, a curse to my cream carpets, for the next few months.

I have friends, slimmer and fitter than I, who regularly walk 5 or 10 miles a day – for fun. Imagine! I’m comfortably able to walk 3 or 4 miles with no undesirable outcomes, and I could certainly do quite a bit more now, though I haven’t yet had the occasion.  Later in the year I’m going on a healthy retreat which will involve much longer walks. Meantime, I’m being urged to do the ‘Couch to 5K’ App, and learn to run.

Maybe I’ll get there, I don’t know at the moment if that’s something I’m prepared to put my 56-year-old body through. But in the meantime, I believe the most important thing is not running, nor jogging, nor even how far you walk, but that you walk – every day, or as near as possible.  Because once you walk – once you enjoy the experience of putting one foot in front of the other outdoors, you can always walk more, or faster if you feel so moved, and then there’s no end to how far you can go.

Mea Culpa

I fell off the wagon today, and this blog post is my attempt to climb back on it as fast as possible.

I’ve had a bit of a discouraging week from a weight-loss point of view.  After the magnificent indulgences of Ragdale Hall (healthy indeed, but indulgences nonetheless), I decided to do the Easy Squeezy Three Day Detox which my vitality coach recommended when I was working with her late last year.  Check out the blog post on this detox if you’re interested. It’s quite simple, and the first time I did it, I lost four pounds in three days.  I’ve done it a couple more times since then, with less dramatic impact, but it’s still a good thing to do to bring your system back into line.

All was going well, until the evening of Day Three, when I accidentally made myself a lovely tomato, basil and mozzarella salad – gah!  Cheese!  I wasn’t supposed to be eating cheese! I just didn’t think. Still, as you can see, even with the dairy fail, the effects of the detox (Monday through Wednesday) were… pleasing.

2016-04-24 17.41.59

Sadly however, the feelgood didn’t last, and my morning weigh-ins have been up and down like the proverbial yo-yo all week. Even though I’m used to the way my weight fluctuates on daily weigh-ins, it was more than a little frustrating to reach a historic 14-year low – and then bounce right back up again.

Whilst I end the week just one-fifth of a pound below where I started, my weekly average tells me I’m just over a pound down on last week, which is exactly what I’ve been losing, on average, each week for the last several months. But the detox should have nudged that figure down a little, and it didn’t.

Maybe it was that moreish, melt-in-the-mouth mozzarella.

Or maybe it was the fact that I haven’t been walking much this week. I’ve been super-busy with work; starting early, finishing late and working through the day without so much as a loo-break for hours on end. I did my early morning walk only two days this week. I haven’t walked at all this weekend, and I usually do a decent 50-60 minutes on both Saturday and Sunday. Instead apart from the odd couple of hours, I’ve been sat at my desk, bum glued to chair, for days. No surprise, I’m feeling sluggish.

A couple of other things have knocked me off kilter too.  I went for a haircut on Thursday and when I said I wanted it ‘shorter and choppier’ than usual, I didn’t think I’d end up looking like… this.

I may be smiling but I'm crying inside. I'm also hiding the worst of it
I may be smiling but I’m crying inside. I’m also hiding the worst of it
One friend generously proclaimed it was a ‘Dame Judi Dench cut’. But with all due respect to this esteemed thespian, I’m not ready to be compared to any 81-year old.  Anyway, the haircut – my own misjudgement as much as my stylist’s over-enthusiasm with the scissors – has got me down.

So too the fact that I enjoyed a few so-called healthy snacks at a friend’s house yesterday evening. I liked them so much I went looking for them on Ocado this morning and found to my horror (well, dismay…), that they both contained significant quantities of… sugar. Quite how peanut and almond flavoured so-called ‘healthy’ popcorn can contain enough sugar to make it the third most significant ingredient in weight terms after popcorn and oil, is beyond me.  But it took the wind out of my sails, as I’ve been very, very good at avoiding sugary food, and I should have checked before eating these tasty treats.

So that’s two careless, accidental diet fails, a lapse of walking willpower, wobbly weigh-ins and a dodgy haircut. That all left me feeling deflated and unattractive for the first time in weeks.  And that was all it took. This afternoon, whilst busily engaged in summoning up excuses not to go for a walk in the park, I tumbled off the wagon.

Instead of taking time to plan and prepare a nice healthy meal for myself, I cracked open a 230g tub of houmous and consumed the whole thing (that’s over 350 calories, friends) with around two thirds of a packet of Luke’s Organic Gluten Free Chia & Seed Corn Chips (that’s around 100g, a whopping 486 calories and a stomach-churning 66g of carbohydrate).  Even organic, gluten free and sprinkled with chia seeds, corn chips are … corn chips. They weren’t even that nice. I am undone.

My humous/not-so-healthy corn chips binge ended at 5pm today.  Even though I don’t count calories, I know that cruising through nearly 900 of them for a ‘snack’ is heavy-duty. Add that to my breakfast (muesli with home-made almond milk, Greek yoghurt, mixed nuts and fruit, plus a few little slices of cheese and chorizo on-the-side) (well, it is Sunday…), and I’m done for the day.  I won’t eat again until tomorrow.

In fact, if I can do it… I won’t eat again in any meaningful way until Tuesday.

I’m thinking this might be a suitable time to try a one-day fast, to tell my body I’m sorry for this afternoon’s deluge of carbohydrate and bad fat.  My intention is to stick to plain water, my detox lemon drink (warm water, squeeze of lemon, ginger) and coffee (black, no sugar) for the day.  That’s for 24 hours, until at least 5pm on Monday, or longer if I can keep it up.  I will also walk tomorrow morning, whatever the weather (apparently it’s going to be cold and a bit drizzly, so cross your fingers for me, that I can dodge the worst of it).

Given that the whole point of this post is accountability (and always assuming there’s anyone out there who cares how I get on with my penance), I will report back.

Incidentally, I’m well aware that for many people, a tub of humous and a bowl of corn chips does not a binge/diet fail make. For many people, binges and diet fails are about sugar. The positive I draw from this is that mine… wasn’t about sugar.  My accidental consumption yesterday evening aside, I am very, very serious about staying away from sugar. I’ve just finished reading Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss. Reading books like this fuels my resolve – and makes it all the more annoying when my fails are accidental. But I remain quite pathetically grateful that my body does appear to be learning to live without this deadly, addictive additive.

I know I have to be able to cope with wobbles and disappointments. Part of falling down is getting up quickly and dusting yourself off.  So I put on some chillout tunes, lit an incense stick and fired up my laptop in pursuit of absolution and accountability.

Tomorrow is another day.

50 Losses – and 50 Gains

2016-02-13 18.30.55This weekend was a memorable one for me, in weight-loss terms. I’ve now shaken off 50 pounds since I begun my new healthier lifestyle last September. I still have a very long way to go (I’m not quite half-way to my most ambitious goal, since you ask). But at 50 pounds – that’s over 3½ stone or over 22 kilos, depending on your measurement of choice – I’ve just exceeded the most I’ve ever lost on any healthy eating campaign (note the absence of the word ‘diet’) before.

Weirdly, and I don’t want to labour this as it could easily depress me and I don’t want to get depressed… I’m now back to the weight I was when I started the weight loss campaign when I managed to shift what was until yesterday the most I’d ever lost before. But back then (2002) I had crawled to the upper 40’s and couldn’t keep it going.  It all went (excuse the pun) belly-up.  On that occasion, I’d gone to Weightwatchers, and it was good while it lasted. But as soon as I took my eye off the ‘points’ ball, my weight soared back on. Yes, soared back on at a rate which terrified me and which I could not even begin to understand. In all, I put on an average of 1 pound per week over the next 18 months (and then still more thereafter); a catastrophe from which, after several false starts in the mid noughties, I am only now recovering.

But I don’t want to jump aboard the trauma train. The whole point of this post is to mark an achievement, and highlight some of the many, many wins, gains and benefits that I’ve seen from the loss of this first 50 pounds.

So, here they are, in no particular order – all the ones that spring to mind at least:

  1. I’ve dropped 3 dress sizes
  2. I’m wearing ‘old favourite’ outfits that haven’t fitted me for 8 or 10 years
  3. I’m back to the weight I last carried over 14 years ago
  4. My ankles are pretty again, no more heavy, fluid-filled balloons
  5. I’m wearing high heels again and loving the increased stature and well-being
  6. I can go for a walk without pouring with sweat
  7. I’ve discarded a giant pile of ‘fat clothes’ that I hated having to wear
  8. I’m breathing more deeply, not catching my breath
  9. My resting heart rate has dropped over 10 bpm
  10. My nails are unblemished and healthy
  11. I haven’t had a cold all winter
  12. I can bend and touch my toes
  13. I can see my toes!
  14. My waist and once proud hourglass figure is re-emerging
  15. I’m wearing pretty bras again
  16. Yes, I’ll say it, I feel sexy again
  17. I’m standing straighter and taller
  18. When I pull my tummy in, it actually goes in a bit
  19. I like myself because I feel in control of my eating habits
  20. I feel good when I take exercise
  21. I feel good that I take exercise regularly
  22. I feel great when I get home from taking exercise
  23. I’m relishing many compliments from friends, family and colleagues
  24. I’ve surprised one or two people who haven’t seen me in a while – that’s been fun
  25. My feet have shrunk
  26. My boobs have only shrunk a little
  27. Pilates has become more fun again
  28. I can lie on my stomach and still be able to breathe
  29. I’ve rediscovered vegetables, nuts and seeds
  30. I’m looking forward to warm summer days ahead, not fearing discomfort
  31. I’ve eliminated 99% of added sugar from my life – and totally lost my sweet tooth
  32. I’m able to make healthy, balanced choices in restaurants
  33. I can fit into bucket seats without cutting off the blood supply to my legs
  34. I can sit on folding chairs without worrying they will collapse
  35. I won’t need an extender belt next time I fly
  36. I’ve learned to live without… toast
  37. I’ve discovered I can lose weight and still enjoy butter and cheese
  38. I can wear trousers that do up with buttons and a zip
  39. My favourite dressing gown wraps right around me again
  40. Tight toilet cubicles are no longer an embarrassing challenge
  41. I can buy ordinary clothes at Marks & Spencer
  42. I can buy actual sportswear
  43. I have swimming costumes which hold everything that has to stay… held
  44. My neck is slimmer and necklaces sit so much more comfortably and attractively
  45. My fingers are slimmer and I can wear rings I haven’t worn for years
  46. My wrists are slimmer and I can wear watches and bracelets again
  47. My hips no longer ache when I walk
  48. I can run upstairs
  49. I don’t get acid reflux after evening meals
  50. I no longer worry that I’m slowly killing myself

And a bonus ball…

“Hold yourself to a higher standard, and enjoy the self-esteem that comes with each single, small, disciplined act.”   Tony Robbins

… I am indeed enjoying the self-esteem that comes from ‘holding myself to a higher standard’…

What about you.  Are you, or have you ever been on a weight-loss, healthy lifestyle journey? If so, what were the most significant gains for you?

What we repeatedly do…

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I’ve come to appreciate that the weight-loss I want to achieve must be a by-product of whole-life lifestyle change. It’s not a project which has an end date, after which normal service (peanut butter on toast for breakfast, crisps and chocolate bars for dinner etc) can be resumed. I know that sounds obvious, but for lifetime overweighters like me, this change cannot be about being on a diet. This suggests that one day, one is no longer on a diet.

Whether we like it or not, our new healthy eating habits cannot be a temporary regime. They must become our permanent lifestyle – they must be what we do all the time, how we cook all the time, how we shop all the time, what we eat all the time, what we decline all the time.

So this time, rather than following rules, counting points and being on a diet, I’ve focused on layering on the healthy habits; nailing one habit, then adding another, and another, and another, and keeping at them until they become my normal, default position. For me, it’s not been an all-or-nothing game (which approach dieters are inclined to take, making massive changes all at once, often with disappointing outcomes). It’s been a measured, one-step-at-a-time approach.

It’s said, variously, that it takes 28, 60 or 90 days to embed a new habit. I don’t know which number is the right one but I do know that those good behaviours that at first require extraordinary reserves of self-control and self-discipline, do eventually seep into your psyche and attain the status of ‘habit’.

Like the 3-mile turning circle of an ocean-going liner, I’ve taken my time, but now I’m most assuredly going in the direction I want, with a host of healthy new habits on-board.

These are some of the habits to which I’ve laid claim over the last six months. They doubtless sound perfectly mundane to people of normal weight, but for me, each one has begun with a conscious effort, self-discipline and a determination to succeed, before it has become part of my new healthier lifestyle:

  • Cutting down and then eliminating added/refined sugar from my diet – this is The Big One, and I confess, I’m very, very proud of myself that I seem to have mastered this
  • Restricting my intake of pasta, bread, potatoes and white rice to very small portions and very rare occasions – after sugar, this is about restricting my intake of simple carbohydrates to a very minimal level. We can all live without so much of this pappy, bloaty dietary filler
  • Eating more, and a greater variety of vegetables
  • Incorporating nuts and seeds into meals
  • Cutting out processed poke-and-ping ready-meals
  • Taking the time to cook meals from scratch
  • Making healthy rather than indulgent choices in restaurants
  • Going for a walk outdoors at least 5 days a week
  • Taking every practical opportunity to walk rather than use the car.

Things I’m working on right now include:

  • Eating less cured meat and less cheese – my outstanding foodie weaknesses!
  • Standing up at my desk for periods of the day – following last week’s precarious tower of oddments, I’ve purchased a cunning device which raises my keyboard to precisely the right height whilst also folding up to nothing when not required.

Payoffs from my new habits have been immense. Quite apart from the 47 pound lost (so far), my resting heart rate has dropped by over 10bpm and my tolerance for exercise has risen; I no longer suffer from water retention due to sluggish circulation; I’m more alert and never bloated; night-time bouts of acid reflux are history; my posture is better, I’m standing taller, walking straighter and am properly aligned from foot to knee to hip, so all sorts of niggling aches and pains have gone.  I’ve dropped 3 dress sizes and I can wear killer heels again without my feet imploding. I don’t know about the state of my insides yet as I haven’t been to the GP for blood tests and all that stuff. I’m saving that one as a special treat for when I clear 50 pounds.

It’s hard, when you begin to make long overdue changes with a view to getting healthier, especially if this involves trying to lose weight. Everything seems so far off, and the challenges seem so towering.  The most helpful approach for me has been to not try and do it all at once, but to nail one or two habits at a time, gaining strength from small successes, which then power the next round of changes, where still more effort and determination is required.

It won’t be for everyone, but it’s working for me.

The Power of the Positive #affirmations

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In late 2001 a redundancy on top of a hideously damaging relationship caused me to stop and take stock of my life. Self-improvement guru Anthony Robbins was all over the place at the time and his book Awaken the Giant Within made a big impression on me. I invested hours in his audio programmes too – he’s a little OTT in places, but for me, it was a case of right concepts, right attitudes, right time.

As a direct result of the approach I learned and the self-improvement tools I took on-board, I took the plunge, stopped looking for another job and established myself as a freelancer – something I’d always thought I would enjoy (and still enjoy, 14 years later).  I made a commitment to business networking (which has proved to be a wise and fruitful engagement over the years).  For a while to supplement my income, I took up a direct/home-selling ‘business’ (Weekenders ladies clothing, now sadly demised), through which I learned how incredibly supportive my friends and family were prepared to be; I totally shook up my attitude to men and relationships too; I joined Weightwatchers – and I lost 50lbs.  Anthony Robbins – I owe ya!

I also signed up to learn how to be A Coach. Yes, I was one of those 40-something, change-your-life coaches who were spewed out of pseudo ‘colleges’ set up overnight to ride the crest of an undeniably profitable (for the ‘colleges’) self-improvement wave.  I bought the hype, I admit it – but on a personal level, it wasn’t a bad decision, just one which didn’t ultimately lead where I’d hoped it would.

Perhaps a little naively, I envisaged I would move away from marketing – a career I have some aptitude for, but in which I had arrived rather more by accident than design. When I stood up at business networking groups to try and interest people in coaching (just as the ‘colleges’ said you should), I would give my potted history, explaining I’d come from a background of sales/marketing and copywriting… I’d watch people’s eyes glaze over. Afterwards, every time, one or two would come up to me and quietly ask if I was still taking marketing work.  After a while, I stopped trying to swim upstream and concentrated my energy back where it would deliver the most consistent results. I left coaching behind – although if I’m honest its techniques still feature, if a little surreptitiously, in the way I work with some of my marketing clients.

But some valuable principles of coaching and self-improvement stuck with me. And one of these is the general point of this post: Positive Affirmations.

“Adopting healthy diet and exercise habits is exciting and fulfilling”

Yes, Positive Affirmations is my Thought for Today, and I’m sorry I took so long getting to it.  And I know some people think that affirmations are a bit kooky, a bit new-age (and that’s a really old phrase these days!), but I’m a believer.  Affirmations are all about adjusting your thinking – seeing yourself as the person you want to be. Affirmations help to remind your subconscious at odd moments throughout the day, that you choose to see yourself differently, and it had better start backing you up!

“I enjoy walking in the fresh air”

Affirmations, for those who don’t know, are short, positive phrases and sentences that are about the person you seek to be, and the habits and attitudes you seek to live by. When you write them, you word them in the present tense, as if you’re already there.  That’s the way they work. Then you post them in whatever place or places you pass through every day – maybe your bathroom mirror, your fridge, your desk, your car – places where they will catch your eye every now and again, but always, always be doing their work on you, whether you notice them or not.

“Preparing good and healthy food is a celebration”

I have four above my desk at present. I put them there when I embarked on my healthy lifestyle gig back in September. Yesterday as I read them, I realised how much they have altered my thinking and supported the changes I’m making.  A few simple words, that’s all – and their power is immense.

“I enjoy the feeling of getting moving”

Affirmations can help you think more positively and become more resourceful; they can help change your attitude to so many things, not just diet and exercise. If you ever want to try them yourself, you can find out more about writing good affirmations all over the internet or on the self-improvement bookshelves.

As a wordsmith myself, I love affirmations and I celebrate the life-altering power that their few simple words can have.

Plateau #frustration

cape-town-456754_1920I’m stuck.  For the last 2 weeks, I haven’t shifted a single pound. I appear to have arrived at a plateau and the frustration is immense.

However carefully you manage your consumption of food and drink, however diligently you exercise, it happens eventually.  The plateau.  The damned, excruciating, bloody-well-not-fair, I-must-have-a-sluggish-colon, oh-not-again-come-on-you-can’t-be-serious, my-scales-must-be-broken… plateau.

The unfairness of it all.

I’ve given up added/refined sugar – totally. I’ve had no potatoes and no bread so far this year, and only a few teaspoons of rice – the wild, brown stuff. I’ve had one tiny weeny alcoholic drink since Christmas. I eat seaweed instead of potato chips. I munch my way through a forest of greenery every week, with no mayonnaise. And I never, ever snack between meals. And yet… And yet…

Okay, so maybe I’ve become a bit lax on one or two little things.  Are my tiny slivers of cheese still a maximum of 20g? Has my little knob of butter in a scrambled egg lunch got a little knobblier than it should?   Was it really very naughty to put a tablespoon of half-fat crème fraiche in a home-made, pure and clean tomato soup? Guilty, m’lud. If that’s all it takes, mea culpa.

But then there’s the exercise. I’ve been building this up and now, instead of a lunchtime 30 minutes, I’m getting an early morning 45-60 minutes (temperatures close to zero) under my belt before I start work, almost every day. I know that’s not a massive amount, but it’s more than ‘Government recommendations’ and it’s about as much as my still ample frame and overworked joints can regularly tolerate. To that, I add Pilates and an occasional half-hour swim. When I weigh a little less – when I can push past this persistent pesky plateau – I will up my game again.  I will… I will…

But in the meantime, it’s a real punch-in-the-gut that this amount of pavement pounding on chilly mornings, and the seismic changes I’ve made to my diet, aren’t proving sufficient to nudge my weight down a notch or two past that horrible horizontal line.

I know. Sooner or later my constitution will reawaken. I might kick-start it with a fast-day. Or perhaps it will be one of those days (a little more frequent at the moment than usual) when emotional disturbance intrudes – the kind of thing that puts your gut through the wringer – but, oh, you know, every cloud and all that.

Eventually… it will pass. Meantime, readers, avert your eyes whilst I throw sugar-free yogurt at the wall and curse my weighing scales.