Guest Blogger: Davey – Learning to Live Life

IMG_0995This week’s guest blogger has a truly inspirational story – and I’m so glad he agreed to venture on to my blog to tell it. Davey has turned his life around with a quite phenomenal weight loss – and he’s still going.  I stumbled across Davey’s blog by accident a couple of months ago. He’s been documenting his life-changing transformation (more than that, I’ll leave him to explain) and his incredible attitude to walking off his surplus pounds.  I commend Davey’s blog to you – he writes with emotional intelligence, insight and honesty. He speaks right to the heart.  Without further ado…

DAVEY – LEARNING TO LIVE LIFE

When Julie asked me if I’d like to write a guest post I was extremely flattered – but also suddenly a little overwhelmed. I looked at Geoff and Ritu’s excellent pieces – and realised that in order to be a passing contributor I’d have to explain who I am – which is something that sometimes I’m still honestly not sure about myself.

The reason for this is that I’m still very much in transition as far as weight loss goes – and I still have a long way to go. At my last reckoning I still have lose the weight of a fridge freezer.

However, let me wind the clock back to January 2016 where, in a period of personal crisis surrounding the death of my mother I had received a stark wake up call.

My mother was a committed smoker and a stubborn lady. She’d never even tried to stop – or for that matter wanted to as far as I can remember – and even when she knew it was killing her she carried on regardless. Over several months I sat and watched her tied to oxygen tubes and slowly drowning in her armchair – yet even this failed to dampen her resolve to have a cigarette.

I wasn’t angry with her though – and it was this realisation that proved to be my turning point.

I understood her. 

As I sat and watched my mom trying to breathe I realised that I was doing the same to myself with alcohol and food. My drinking had always been generous. I’d over imbibed as long as I can remember – and by the time she passed I was (in part due to the increased stress surrounding this event) regularly consuming three bottles of wine in an evening.

I later worked out that my food and drink intake back then was around 8000 kcal a day.

I did no exercise, had a sedentary lifestyle, oedemas in my feet and lower legs, sleep apnea, continual bouts of cellulitis, high cholesterol, borderline high blood pressure, type two diabetes that was spiralling out of control and I was becoming practically immobile. I only moved between my living room and my office (with my car this was probably less than 100m a day) and everything else in my life required home delivery.

A number of things happened in those moments sitting at her side.

Firstly I decided to give up drinking. This was pretty much immediate. The last one passed my lips on the 26th January 2016.

Secondly I decided to give up my job – which oddly enough worked out quite well because I was unexpectedly made redundant.

Thirdly I needed to get fit and healthy – but this would be a long road. I’d tried exercise very early on after giving up alcohol but it was a massive struggle. I couldn’t walk to the end of my road (around 200m) and back without being in agonising pain. When I did so the first time I tore both calf muscles and ended up with long term plantar fasciitis.

By the time April rolled around I was still alcohol free and my clothes actually felt a little looser. I decided it was time to join some form of group and happened to notice that my old next door neighbour was running a Slimming World meeting nearby. I went along, and listened to the plan and the group talk. Then – when everyone had left the room – I stood on a pair of scales capable of weighing me for the first time in about 8 years.

The consultant quietly read out my weight.

I was 34st 8.5lbs (approx 220kg).

When I arrived at the meeting that day this is roughly how I looked and these were also the clothes that I was wearing. The waistline of my jeans was 66 inches and my shirt was an 8XL.

most hated photo 2 (1)

In order to reach my ‘healthy’ BMI (12st 7lbs) I would need to lose 22st.

I went home and cried. I honestly couldn’t believe how bad things had managed to get and how low I’d sunk.

Although I had a slow start with Slimming World I eventually got my head around the plan and started to embrace their approach to grouping foods as ‘speed’ ‘free’ and ‘syns’ (amongst others).

I – like many others had tried a lot of diets over the years – and in all cases had lost weight, but then almost immediately regained it and more. I’d been to Weight Watchers (twice), followed the Atkins plan (twice), did the Cambridge Diet (twice), the Harcombe diet, Juicing diets, NHS healthy eating plans, Slim-Fast (on this one I lost count of the number of times), and I’d even been to Slimming World before.

Any progress I made was destroyed when I stopped dieting.

Although I can’t claim to have arrived at my current approach immediately I began quite quickly to treat my new membership in a slightly different way to previous attempts. This couldn’t be a diet. It had to be a wholesale lifestyle change. I had to develop a new way of living.

I wanted ‘a new normal‘.

Slowly but surely I began to view all pre-prepared meals and the vast majority of processed food as the enemy. I have either completely stopped eating it or have it very occasionally. I don’t do ‘fakeaways’ (SW friendly versions of takeaways) which are a big thing in my group – because a fake kebab or a fake pizza just reminds me of all the bad things I used to like to eat and maintains my taste for the types of food that got me into trouble in the first place.

I don’t want to crave them in any form any more because if I at some point ‘fall off the wagon’ I want to have re-trained my palette so much that when I falter – I reach for cottage cheese and olives rather than calling for a Dominos Pizza delivery.

For this reason I also don’t do snack food like crisps or chocolate, and I usually (but not exclusively) use my syns within my cooking instead of on treats. If I feel like adding avocado to a salad or a drizzle of olive oil to a vinaigrette then thats where my points for the day normally get used.

As I started losing weight and began to feel more active I started trying to walk around my local park – which has lots of benches, a flat circuit and is exactly a mile long.

The first few times I did this resulted in way more time sitting than standing – and a lap took over an hour. I used to refer to my early attempts as ‘bench pressing’ – because sitting down to recover occupied the lion’s share of the time I spent there.

Gradually however things improved and bit by bit my recovery time (I was continually struggling with injury) got better and better. After a while I was able to walk seven miles in a week – but still couldn’t do a whole mile in one go without resting along the way.

As time went on and I lost more and more weight I found that I sat less, and my recovery time increased. I could do more things in a day and my sleep was improving. I felt better all the time. Before I knew it in the space of a few months I could walk seven miles in a week, then 14, then 30!

It was still hard going – but I had started to really enjoy walking.

Oh – and remember the fridge freezer? Due to all the activity I’d lost the seven stone that this item represented by October.

img_9104

It wasn’t until I got out and about that I truly appreciated how small my world had become.

I can now walk over 70 miles in a week – and have been plotting my cumulative distance travelled on foot since last April. By the time December had rolled around I’d walked further than the distance from Land’s End to John o Groats (it’s 847 miles or thereabouts according to Wikipedia).

Now, nearing the end of March 2017 I’m probably about a month away from having walked back again and I can do a mile in around 16.5 minutes.

As an added bonus while my exercise levels went up my blood sugar levels went down.  Previously I had to take five tablets a day to control my levels, but gradually I’ve managed to bring my HbA1c readings under control. They’ve dropped from 94 mmol/mol (the stratospherically high level I had when I was first diagnosed) to 30 mmol/mol at my last test.

Currently I take no medication and can manage my condition by diet and exercise alone.

My blood pressure has also massively improved. Previously I was on the cusp of it being classified as high but now it’s now 124/70. This is less than the level of a man of a lower age group than me (the 25-34 bracket is expected to be 131/72 and I’m in my mid 40’s.)

I still have the clothes I was wearing in those earlier photos (in case you wondered) but they now look a little different on me. I currently weigh 22st 5lbs and I’ve lost over 12 stoneThe waistline of the jeans I’m wearing as I type (which are also under my old clothes in this photo) are a 50 inch waist and are falling down. I’ve ordered some 48’s.

My shirt size is now 4XL and I’m able to get into some larger 3XL tops, depending on the shop.

img_0811

It’s not been an easy road though, and while I can say that I am now both the fittest and healthiest I have ever been in my entire life there are other emotional and mental hurdles to overcome related to this massive change.

My journey has made me question everything about my life, and examine every decision that I make now and also made in the past.

I’ve made choices in my life for so long with weight and mobility as my primary motivator that I’ve not stopped to think before what I’d do if they were no longer a problem.

The worry that’s always with me though is will I manage to keep off all the weight I’ve lost?

I have to believe I will. I can do anything I want to do. All I have to do is want it enough.

Now I can sit in restaurant booths and normal cinema seats, I can wear a seatbelt in other people’s cars, I can sleep on my back, I can stand for hours rather than minutes, I can wear the upper end of clothing from high street shops, I can put my socks on while I’m standing up, I can get into my bath and have a soak, I can cross my legs while sitting in my armchair, I can use a laptop on my lap, I can walk further and for longer than a lot of my friends.

IMG_0995

So what do I do with all of this? Who do I become? Who will I love, what will I do for a living and what will I learn about my new life?

I honestly don’t know – but I’m currently very much enjoying trying to find out. If you want to figure it out with me then pop over to my blog (link) and say hi!

Davey

Guest Blogger: Ritu Bhathal – Positively Poetic

It is my great pleasure to introduce you to prolific blogger and the cheeriest, most up-beat and positive poet I’ve ever encountered – Ritu Bhathal.  Ritu finds so much to smile and be positive about. Her blog is a wellspring of optimism and good cheer, liberally sprinkled with her delightful poems, stories of her life, family and friends – to say nothing of the spiritual musings of Spidey and her cat, Sonu Singh.

But the reason I asked Ritu to guest on my blog is that she has recently been – yes, you guessed it – losing weight and getting healthy. I hope you enjoy Ritu’s inspiring post, lovely photographs and intriguing breakfast recipe, which I shall be trying very soon (though, I have to say, without the sweetener or the chocolate sprinkles).  Ritu – it’s over to you…

Ritu Bhathal – Positively Poetic

Hi there!

Thank you Jools for welcoming me to your amazing blog for a post!

For those of you that don’t know me, I am Ritu, of www.butismileanyway.com

A happy go lucky blogger, who like to find things to smile about in life. I might even be classed as one of those annoying people who seems to be perpetually happy.

And you know for the best part of life, I am. There are, of course, times when I can’t be smiling, like when I wrote my car off on the motorway the other week… but other than that… no, I generally will try and see the brighter side of situations, and smile through them.

What does this have to do with weight loss, I hear you ask? Well, there was one other time recently when I felt my smile melt away. We had planned a surprise family trip to Finland for my Pop’s 70th birthday, and part of his surprise was a whole family photo shoot. This was a brilliant idea, and we got lots of pictures. My brother arranged that we all get individual photos taken too, as he suggested they could be used for my author profile. Great job!

So off we went, posed for photos and created some lovely memories for that week.

Fast forward a month and the photos came through. They were lovely… but I was horrified! My face looked so puffed up, compared to how I usually look. I was actually disgusted with myself. How had I managed to let myself go to that extent?

I mean, it was a perfectly lovely photo, just not what I thought I looked like.

My mum politely confirmed my own thoughts, telling me to try and do something now, while still young and able. As age creeps up, it becomes harder to shift, she knows…

It was the kick up the backside that I needed to be honest.

A few years previously, I had tried the JuicePlus+ diet system, with some form of clean eating, and shakes for a couple of meals for three months. I did amazingly! Lost lots of weight, and was weighing in at 9½ stone for the first time since before I had married in 2001. There was a wedding I attended, and I felt amazing. All those compliments… What girl doesn’t like to be told she is looking good?

But let’s get realistic for a moment here. Reduced calorie intake, shakes twice a day… it’s not sustainable, is it? Unless, of course you’re made of money… (these plans can cost quite a bit too…)

It didn’t take long for the weight to pile back on… and oh my, did it pile on. I stopped standing on weighing scales, but I knew things were going backwards.

After the photo shoot realisation, I had a Doctor’s appointment to get my pill prescription. The obligatory weigh-in was done, and I left that surgery red faced. For the first time since I’d been pregnant, I was over eleven stone. That was… awful!

Something had to be done. So I started the school holidays with a plan. I would lose two stone. Somehow.

I don’t mean that I was going to lose it in six weeks. No, I knew I needed to take my time, be sensible and aim to get there, slowly but surely, and in a manner that I could maintain the lifestyle and eating habits after hitting my self-imposed target too.

I went for walks, was very conscious of my food intake and I even included exercise. My exercise bike and the walking track near our house got used plenty. Five weeks in, I’d lost around five pounds. Not bad.

But I was starting school again and I knew how easy it was to fall into bad, convenience food habits. Plus, exercise, aside from running around the nursery after 20 3-4 year olds, was pretty hard to fit into my schedule too.

So, I took a step I hadn’t planned on taking initially. I joined Slimming World. Several of my colleagues were following their eating plan, and my best friend had also been losing weight with them, so I figured it was worth a try.

I signed up on my 41st birthday, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Having a target to aspire to was one thing, but my written promise to myself, and the fact that I was blogging about my Healthy Eating Journey every week, gave me the added boost to do something properly, and not to fall into the weight gain swamp again. #icandothis

I’m not going to sing the praises of Slimming World too much here, after all, this post isn’t sponsored! However, it is a fantastic plan, and way of eating, and it has helped me to reach that target of mine in six months.

There is a lot of common sense in the plan, with regards to the good foods you should use, and reach for. But you are allowed your ‘naughty’ treats too, referred to as ‘Syns’. Each day you’re allowed 5-15 syns. And you HAVE to eat them! That can include certain chocolates, crisps, cakes, alcoholic drinks, and anything not included in their ‘Free Food’ lists. But guess what…? You can eat potatoes and rice and pasta! Also you are to eat most proteins, as long as they’re lean, and all fruit and veg. In fact, there’s no reason you should ever feel hungry, as there’s so much you can eat.

It’s very much about how you cook and prepare meals too. Less eating packaged meals and more preparing them yourself, so you know what you’re putting into your cooking. It may sound like a faff, but cooking from scratch means you can bulk cook and freeze meals for another day. It’s also good as you plan what you’re going to make for the week so you don’t over shop.

Here are some photos of examples of breakfasts, lunches and dinners I have eaten over the last six months.

I’m a bit of a chocoholic, so I checked the Syn values for the treats I could have, and made sure I had everything handy, for those craving moments.

Did I manage to exercise? Well, the running around after my class and family tended to be my only form of physical exercise still, but I also started a Bhangra Dance class (which I can’t attend at the moment, due to my whiplash). I’ll get back onto it as soon as I’m able.

And now? I’m 9st 3lb. Exactly two stone down from where I began.

I feel so much better in myself; my clothes fit much better, and I think I may have to give my wardrobe a complete overhaul, getting rid of some of those larger sized clothes. People really notice the difference, which feels good, and makes me know I’ve done the right thing.

But now the hard part starts… that’s maintaining the loss.

My next goal is to keep the weight off, and not stray above 9½ stone at the very most. I think it’s always good to have a little goal in your mind, nothing too crazy, but something to keep you on track. I know I’ll be seeing many of my dear Blogily in June, at the Annual Bloggers Bash in London, and I want to be able to show my newly-svelte self off to everyone. That’s one reason to keep to my target!

I think it wouldn’t be fair to not share a recipe at least, for something that feels rather naughty, but is a wholesome, healthy breakfast, that I love to make. It can be kept simple, or you can ‘syn’ it up a bit, depending on how you feel!

Baked Oats

Ingredients

  • 40g porridge oats
  • 1 tspn sweetener
  • 1 small egg
  • 85g (½ pot) Vanilla Muller Light yoghurt, or fat free vanilla yoghurt
  • (I sometimes use the vanilla with dark chocolate sprinkles)
  • Selection of fruit or berries
  • 12g chocolate chips (if you fancy being a bit decadent!)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius
  2. Combine oats, egg, yoghurt and sweetener
  3. Pour into small oven proof dish
  4. If you wish, sprinkle chocolate chips on top
  5. Place in oven and bake for 20-30m minutes until golden brown on top.
  6. Place cut fruit on top and serve hot!

I tend to not cook the fruit as once cooked, the fruit takes on a ‘syn’ value, but if you wanted to, you could combine the berries into the mix and bake them too. Either way, a yummy breakfast!

And I am a poet, so I’m leaving you with a little poem, penned about my struggle with the belly.

Middle-aged Spread

Oh my God I can’t stop eating
My waist-line’s seriously taking a beating!
Last year I got myself so slim
In fact I’d never been so trim!

I exercised, I dieted
My stomach fat, oh I got rid!
Bye bye size 14, hello size 12
Into my old clothes, did I delve…

Then something happened, I began to relax,
Enjoying my life to the max.
Exercise? Sorry what was that?
I’d rather sit and have a chat?

So happy was I, that I began to eat
I ate a lot, it’s no mean feat!
And then the pounds, they crept back on
Oi ! You! Waist-line! Where’ve you gone?

The jelly belly from days of old
Is, not so firmly, standing bold
And no amount of hula hooping
Will, back to me, my waist-line bring.

You see, in order for that to work
In the kitchen I mustn’t lurk
This snacking, oh I’ve got to quit,
And I really must get fit!

This, along with other verses, can be found in my poetry anthology, Poetic RITUALs, available from Amazon. myBook.to/PoeticRITUals

My author page: Author.to/RituBhathal

Guest Blogger: Geoff Le Pard – The New Me

May I introduce you to Geoff Le Pard, humourist and witty raconteur, entertaining, informative blogger, writer extraordinaire, esteemed Bloggers Bash committee member and baker of… added-sugar-free cake. It was my huge pleasure to meet Geoff at the first Bloggers Bash in summer 2015, at which he took possibly the worst fat photo ever, ever taken of me. Ever. For this, I am extraordinarily grateful. It set me on a path, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Geoff has the dubious honour of being the first in a short series of guest bloggers taking up residence at julielawford.com over the coming weeks, to share real, inspirational stories around weight-loss and lifestyle change.  Geoff has lately got to grips with the product of a career’s worth of lawyer’s lunches. But I’ll let Geoff do the storytelling from here…

The New Me – Geoff Le Pard

Some years ago, a birthday card did the rounds. It showed two woolly sheep with one saying to the other ‘Ewe’s not fat, ewe’s just fluffy.’ That became something of a family joke as I began to add pounds to my waist and my forties slipped past into my fifties.

I was still active but not as active as I had once been; I cycled to and from work daily, I walked at the weekends and I had personal training sessions twice a week. But I also developed a chronic back complaint in my late forties that took time to deal with and my job left me prone to neck and back spasms from too much sitting in meeting rooms, too much hunching over computers. I grew from 12 stone 10 to 14 stone 5 and while I stayed there (mostly) it didn’t go either. I was fit, to an extent, and fat. In clothing terms my waist went from a comfortable 34 inches to a cosy, muffiny 36 inches (and beyond).

There was a brief interval when things changed radically. We got a dog and I began jogging with him round the block and beyond before cycling to work. The dog loathed it. My father became ill and then died inside a year. And I remember talking to a work colleague who had lost weight on the Atkins diet, raving about the benefits of taking carbohydrates out of his diet. Stress, I think, was the precipitant but not eating bread – a lawyer’s lunch usually comprised sandwiches – and the running combined to see me shed a stone.

It didn’t last. The dog’s sour face told me to stop torturing it at 6 am; you can only deconstruct so many sandwiches in a negotiating meeting, eating the cheese and pickle fillings and transferring sticky goo onto draft documents. And I came to terms, after a fashion with my dad’s untimely departure.

I have a bi-annual medical, given my family has examples of both most cancers and heart problems. Latterly the BMI and chest/waist ratios have been going in the wrong directions. But being given numbers and seeing statistical likelihoods doesn’t cut it if, like me, you think of yourself as fit; it’s an ‘increased’ risk of this and that, not a certainty. Then I needed an operation – a hernia – and had a scan. The fatty deposits were only too plain. The surgeon talked candidly about how they might attach to organs so we don’t see the damage they can do. I had to do something but I needed a trigger.

Last summer I had a shock; it was dreadful and I lost my appetite for a while. When I found an equilibrium, I realised I’d lost a bit of weight. So, I reasoned, now was as good a time as any to start a healthier eating and lifestyle regime. I sort of knew, and if I didn’t, Jools’ blog has brought this home to me in a big way, that any changes had to be both incremental and permanent.

I introduced the following:

  • Once again, all bread came out of my diet; I have no meetings now, no need for sandwich lunches; the odd thing is that white flour does not appear to be a problem, it’s the yeast/flour combination that leaves me feeling bloated and sticks to my sides;
  • I eat earlier, no main meals after 7pm and usually at 6;
  • I’m more careful with portion sizes but I still indulge in some seconds;
  • I try and avoid snacking between meals;
  • I reduced the amount of meat I eat;
  • And I’ve been teetotal for 27 years.

I don’t eat as much cake as I did, but I still eat it. I still have puddings and chocolate and they don’t seem to impact my size. Similarly, I drink no less milk than I did, though my breakfast is usually porridge made with coconut or unsweetened almond milk.

Are these sacrifices difficult? Hardly, because there aren’t many. Yes, I miss bread but not so much. It makes it easier that my lifestyle – based at home rather than in an office – lets me both choose when I eat and gives me a greater selection to choose from. And virtue breeds virtue; I eat more vegetarian food, more fish.

The result of all this is that I’m back to just under 13 stone. My clothes don’t fit so I’ve had to buy 34-inch waisted jeans – indeed 32 might be the real size – and I’ve started borrowing my son’s T-shirts. When I went skiing recently I wore his ski gear – it made me look a prannock, but I’m not forking out on yet more stuff.

I worry it won’t stay off but Jools is right when she says you have to assume this is a permanent change. I never had a particular goal in mind and I don’t have a target, so the trap of hitting a goal and slipping back isn’t one I fear especially. I rarely weigh myself but realise one needs to have the evidence if things are slipping, rather than go into denial. So, I’ll be doing that.

And the benefits in terms of being easier to exercise and feeling better how I’m treating myself (and even though I’m 60 now I’m not beyond a little light vanity) make it worthwhile.

  *  *  *

I mentioned Geoff was a writer extraordinaire… Here is his writerly biography:

Geoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls. He also cooks with passion if not precision.

My Father and Other Liars is a thriller set in the near future and takes its heroes, Maurice and Lori-Ann on a helter-skelter chase across continents.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

 

Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle is a coming of age story. Set in 1976 the hero Harry Spittle is home from university for the holidays. He has three goals: to keep away from his family, earn money and hopefully have sex. Inevitably his summer turns out to be very different to that anticipated.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

This 30 story anthology covers many genres: fantasy, romance, humour, thriller, espionage, conspiracy theories, MG and indeed something for everyone. All the stories were written during Nano 2015

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

Salisbury Square is a dark thriller set in present day London where a homeless woman and a Polish man, escaping the police at home, form an unlikely alliance to save themselves.

This is available here

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

When Everything Changes

I’ve started this post a dozen times now, each time with a few words, a sentence, a line or two. Then… delete, delete, delete. Truth is, I have no idea how to appropriately express what’s going on at present.

But I’m going to try one more time, and I hope you’ll forgive the lack of detail… Someone extremely dear to me has been admitted to hospital and is in a serious condition. Beyond that, until there is detailed feedback from the specialists and an indication of possible next-steps, all there is, is uncertainty.  I am bereft, and overwhelmed, and doing everything I can for the person I love.

There’s another thing too. By inconvenient coincidence, I was scheduled to have a growth (a disruptive but nothing-to-worry-about growth) excised from my lip, for which objective a minor operation took place last Wednesday evening, involving local anaesthetics and lasers and a wasted hour in bed, when my blood pressure shot through the roof (hardly surprising, considering). Since then I look like I’ve been in a fight. I have four stitches in my lip and for a few days at least, this most fragile flesh blew up like a puffer fish, then oozed and bled a little (keeping me from the hospital for a day) before at last settling down to a raw, then crusty blob. I would be hibernating under normal circumstances, though I guess the one place where you can actually blend-in with stitches and bruising… is a hospital.

If you will allow me a moment’s wry observation, there’s nothing like a personal crisis to disrupt a weight-loss plateau. Whether it’s stress, distress or anxiety, lack of sleep or loss of appetite, disruption of routines, tail-chasing or all the above – I don’t know. But in the first two days, I dropped four pounds and almost three more since then, in just over one week. If I took the time to breathe, I would be weirdly appreciative of this.

I’ve lately been thrilled to be picking up new readers every day for this blog. It seems to have caught a wave with people at last, some maybe seeking inspiration for their weight-loss journeys or support in making lasting lifestyle changes; and others, well, just… people of the blogosphere, engaging, connecting.  Now I need to ask you, readers new and old, to bear with me please. I may be gone a little while, or sporadic in my blogging. I certainly won’t be my usual chippy self.  Someone recently suggested I might invite a few guest bloggers, so you might see one or two strangers taking up temporary residence in the coming weeks. Those I have in mind have inspirational healthy/weight-loss stories to tell, so they’ll be worth the read. One or two have already indicated their willingness to pen a few lines for me – you know who you are, and I am very grateful.

I’ll be here, now and again, or in a while, or posting ‘lite’. I’m not sure yet. But I do so hope you will stay with me. For what it’s worth, I’m firmly and resolutely in my healthy zone, and very determined that this disturbing turn of events and disrupting period won’t upset the ‘new normal’ of good eating habits I’ve established over recent months. (Not so sure about the exercise though, unless you count power-walking a hospital corridor every day.) I know I’m already coping better with what’s going on than I would ever be, were I still hauling around those surplus 70+ pounds.

Special Places – Part Two #inspiration #reflection #nurture

ece-sovalye-sunset-2

Welcome to Part Two of my journey through a few of the places which have special meaning for me.  Here’s Part One if you missed it, in which I picked out a few places from my childhood and career. In this second geographically inclined post I’ve focussed places which have connections from a relationship or social perspective. This was meant to be just one post, but the more I thought about it, the more places I found.

Fleet Services, M3 (Northbound), Hampshire, UK

2016-07-17-15-14-52How shall I put this? I once made a connection with someone at Fleet Services on the M3 motorway (northbound). It was very many years ago. It was one of my earliest experiences of that beyond exciting realisation that someone I was attracted to, was attracted to me too. More than that, I will not share, as it’s too private a memory. Save to say that much water has passed under the bridge since then, and that life can have a funny way of coming full circle.

For several years, I would avoid this motorway pit-stop as it held the first fragment of what had started in a thrilling way (for the guileless adolescent girl I was), but become a bad memory. But I had cause more recently to review my negative emotional response to it, and the bigger story, and armed with a little more awareness and understanding, I dropped in and took this photograph one day when I happened to be passing by. Yes, I know, it’s a motorway service station.  But meaningful personal landmarks aren’t always about quaint streets and sumptuous scenery. Sometimes they’re about perspective, empathy and closure.

Beer, Devon, UK

One place that is all about quaint streets and sumptuous scenery is the pretty village of Beer in Devon. Here I took my first grown-up holiday with a steady boyfriend (who, a few years later, was to become my husband). We paid a thrifty £10 for a week’s hire of a static caravan with no umm… facilities (for these we had to stumble down the hill to a communal toilet/shower block – not much fun in the dead of night).  So small was this caravan that we had to fold the bed away every morning (and whenever we wanted to take a photograph that our parents might see). We fed a very hungry electricity meter with absurd amounts of coin and charcoaled the rear-end of a chicken in an oven the size of a matchbox. We walked a few miles of the Jurassic coastline each day, found delightful pubs to sit outside, ate our fill of crab sandwiches and cream teas, and had the best time.

scan-2017-2-14-0010

My husband is now my ex-husband, but we are fortunate to remain good friends. The village of Beer is intimately entwined in my mind with simpler times, and an enduring connection, which is very important to me. I’ve been back once or twice – it seems hardly to have changed, and that is much to its credit.

Lycian Coast, Turkey

I started going to Turkey around the early 1990’s – mainly on singles holidays (which I’ve written about here). Are you seeing a connection already?

img_2312I’ve loved every minute I’ve spent in Turkey; I’ve never had a bad holiday there. It’s a beautiful country and a wonderful place to relax and revive. On my first trip, I spent a week in the hectic port town of Kusadasi, but thereafter I picked small towns and villages along the Lycian coast and Gulf of Fethiye, and around the Bodrum and Bozburun Peninsulas. I also took a couple of week-long gulet cruises, which cannot be beaten for away-from-it-all bliss.

When I came to fulfil a long-held ambition to write fiction, I decided to follow the ‘write what you know’ principle, and located my psychological suspense story on a singles holiday in Turkey.  I began writing in 2010 and wrote about the process and what I was learning about the art of writing fiction, in the earlier posts in this blog.

I set ‘Singled Out’ in a fictional village – it’s a fusion of several of the places in which I’ve stayed. I had this idea that I wanted the story to immerse the reader in the setting – make them feel as if they were on the holiday themselves – and to do that, I drew on all my recollections of those earlier holidays. In 2013, I made a special trip back to Turkey for research purposes, to update and refresh my memories and gather some specific sensory data to ground my story. I visited the ancient city of Ephesus, just as my characters do, and I took a day-trip on a gulet; not the same as a week drifting the sea with no shoes on and nights lying under the stars, but not bad, given the time constraints.

img_2408‘Singled Out’ was, I now realise, my practise novel.  It explores the dark side of the kind of holiday where not everyone is who they seem. I think I’ve made a decent fist of it, but now, when I dip into its pages, I can see the journey I’ve been on and the things I’ve learned in its shortcomings. A few agents expressed initial interest, but it never made the cut, so I self-published in 2015. Readers have so far been extremely kind in their feedback.  You can check it out here, if you feel so inclined.

Sanibel Island, Florida, USA

img_2812

In January 2015, after having prevaricated, pushing back on her generous invitations for three years, I went to Florida to visit my cousin Martha. The reason for my prevarication was my grossly overweight state and the simple fact that I couldn’t face the discomfort of a nine-hour transatlantic flight and all the other fun-and-games of a transit into the USA. As it turned out, and entirely to my expectation, the journey was a gruelling one, as I was at my very heaviest (it would be nine months before I began to get to grips with my healthy/weight-lossy project). But I’m so very glad I bit-the-bullet and overruled my fears.

img_2824

Martha was a New Yorker, lately moved to Connecticut. On retirement, like others with sufficient funds for a holiday home, she began to fly south, to Fort Myers, Florida, for the winter. There she made a beautiful second home to which she welcomed a seemingly endless succession of guests. My visit began a day late (I wasn’t joking about the gruelling journey), but it was sunshine and smiles from the moment I arrived. Martha was the most wonderful, thoughtful and generous host.

Spot the basking alligator
Spot the basking alligator

One of her favourite places was Sanibel Island, and she treated me to a day trip. We crossed the endless road-bridge and drove on down to JN ‘Ding Darling’ Nature Reserve, where I got a little too close for comfort to a basking alligator. We dined on fresh seafood at Traders Gulf Coast Grill and Gifts (yes, and Gifts – those American’s never miss a retail opportunity).

img_3592Then we mooched around taking photographs in the botanical gardens and on the beach at Sanibel Moorings and stopped by the lighthouse before heading home. It was a special day, as everywhere we stopped was either a favourite place for Martha, or it harked back to holidays of her youth.

My lovely, wonderful cousin was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer just six months after my visit. She died in September 2016. I can never express how glad I am that I made that trip when I did, and was able to spend such special time with my ‘sister of the heart’.

Home, Greater London, UK

Talking of hearts, home is where the heart is, so they say. Cliches notwithstanding, I love my home. It’s just an ordinary suburban house in a quiet street, with a small courtyard garden. As well as being my home, it’s my workplace – and it’s my sanctuary.

img_3544

Over the years I’ve renovated and redecorated, so now the whole place reflects my personal style.  It’s calm, neutral (too neutral for some) and uncluttered. It’s geared around my needs and activities too. I have a room set aside for my Pilates and exercise equipment, and another which is my workplace and writing space.

fullsizerenderI like things just-so (call me obsessive if you will), and nothing pleases me more than to arrive home after a busy day with a client or up in London, to leave the world on the other side of my front door, and sink into my comfy curly-uppy chair in front of the TV.

I have a personalised relaxation recording prepared by a hypnotherapist a few years ago. In it, she urges me to picture the safest, most relaxing place I’ve ever been. For ages, I would try to picture lovely beaches where I’d been on holiday – they’re relaxing, after all, aren’t they? But it was when I realised that the place where I feel safest and most relaxed was my own home, that I began to use this recording most effectively. I would lie on my sofa, or recline on a chair in my garden, and I wouldn’t have to imagine myself anywhere, because I was already in my safest, most relaxing place.

Super Slimmers: Did They Keep the Weight Off? #diet #healthylifestyle

Photo credit: Channel 4
Photo credit: Channel 4

Last week, Channel 4 in the UK put out a documentary about Super Slimmers – people who had lost huge amounts of weight.  All had achieved recognition of one kind or another for their dramatic weight-loss; there was a US winner of ‘The Biggest Loser’, a Slimming World ‘Woman of the Year’, a Rosemary Conley ‘Slimmer of the Year’, a Lighter Life ‘Wall of Fame’ loser and a couple of others.

The question in the programme title was always rhetorical – you knew that, didn’t you? Because, like 95% of dieters, all but one of these poor ‘losers’ had put masses of weight back on again.

My heart sank for the men and women whose undeniable dieting efforts had come unstuck.  I felt their pain, because I’ve been there too. In 2002 I dieted with WeightWatchers. I lost 50 pounds. Then I put it all back on again – and more – in the two years that followed. And that wasn’t the first time that had happened. So I know what it’s like to lose the plot, to see a pound, and another, and another pile back on, until you stop weighing yourself because you don’t want to face what you know is happening. I know what it’s like to swell up through the dress sizes, feeling utterly bewildered by the speed at which the weight is stacking up, when you’ve hardly changed your eating habits, and only slipped every now and again… or so you tell yourself.

Getting to Goal

I can’t claim to understand the personal journeys these regained Super Slimmers have been on, but it seemed to me that in being awarded recognition for their success in reaching some predetermined goal, they were considered to have reached an end point. Perversely, the recognition and reward they received reinforced the perception that their weight-loss journey had now reached a conclusion – in effect, a point where old/bad habits could be allowed back in again. Why? Because the job of dieting was done. And because don’t we all secretly want to consume really unhealthy stuff that clogs up our digestive system and dulls our mind, all the time? Hmmm.

Responsible diet programmes usually promote some kind of maintenance plan for once goal is reached, and that’s what is supposed to help dieters keep the weight off. But the very fact that 95% of dieters regain lost weight is testimony to the inadequacy of the diet-and-maintenance approach. I speak from personal experience here and I can tell you, the difference between eating for weight-loss and eating for maintenance is infinitesimally small – much smaller than you think.  Much.  Most people (myself included) assume all sorts of tempting foods they had foresworn for the duration of their diet, can be welcomed back for first occasional but then, inevitably, regular consumption.  Not so, friends. SO not so.

As many of you will know, my weight-loss – 70 pounds to date – was until recently frustratingly plateaued for several weeks. But in a weird way, I’ve been quite happy about this.  That’s because, beyond see-sawing within a three pound threshold, I didn’t put any weight back on.  I continued weighing myself every day (and, now I know it works for me, I always will) and eating for my new healthy lifestyle, with all habits established over the last few months still in place. I feel as confident as I can be that these habits are my lifetime habits, not something to cast aside in a fit of self-destructive pique when I’ve a bad day or feel weak-willed. They are, perhaps surprisingly, not habits which demand vast reserves of willpower from me any more (though they did at first), just a generally positive attitude (which I can summon up most of the time) and a constant refocusing on how much healthier, happier and more energetic I’m feeling overall, than I was two years ago.

To lose weight is one thing; but to keep it off, one needs to have changed the habits of a lifetime – food habits, exercise habits, stress habits, sleep habits, social habits.  Yes, all of them. To keep the weight off, those changes have to be permanent, not temporary. They have to be about not simply squashing your overwhelming desire for a biscuit with your cuppa, but altering altogether how you think about food and exercise – and yourself. They have to be about changing mindset, so you find yourself wanting to go out for a walk, not forcing yourself to do it. They have to be about loving how the changes are making you feel, so much that you never, ever want to go back to your old ways. They’re not about resisting temptation, they’re about never feeling tempted. When this is how you feel, the chance of you keeping the weight off significantly increases.

Change is for Life

Of the six Super Slimmers, which one had successfully kept the weight off? What do you know, it was the only one who hadn’t actually been on a diet.  Daniel Wheeler, the very picture of male physical health and fitness, today makes his living helping others achieve their weight loss and fitness goals by… yes, you knew it was coming… changing lifestyle and adopting healthier habits, not for a few extreme dieting months, but for LIFE.

There were some other points touched on in the programme too, to which I want to turn in future weeks… the drastic nature of powdered meal replacement programmes, the role of exercise, and overcoming the challenge of a slower resting metabolism (something called persistent metabolic adaptation). But the concept of being on a diet versus developing a healthier lifestyle for life was top of my list, as it’s very dear to my heart.

Special Places – Part One #inspiration #reflection #nurture

In the last few months I’ve reconnected with a couple of people I used to know well, but had lost touch with. As a result of this and other things, I’ve been in a reflective mood. I was talking one evening about a particular place l had visited only once, but had loved for its raw, natural beauty.  It made me think about other places which have special resonance for me – some because of the things that happened there, others because of the way they made, or still make me feel, or the associations and emotions they bring to my surface. I thought I’d share them in a post (but having got to writing, it’s turned into two posts). Maybe it can encourage you to think about your own special places too.

‘But what’s this got to do with healthy lifestyle, Jools?’ I hear you ask. For me, it’s about a healthy mind. And what could be more healthy than to feel connected to places which hold meaning for you, or put you in touch with your memories and emotions, or speak to your soul?

So to the tour of the first few of my special places – these ones from my childhood and career days:

Church Stretton, Shropshire, UK

Even in England, many people don’t quite know where the county of Shropshire lies. Well, it’s a little to the left of Birmingham but if you get to Wales, you’ve gone too far. I spent my childhood mid-term holidays in Shropshire, in the small town of Church Stretton, where lived my great-aunt. She had arrived in England a refugee from Hitler’s Holocaust, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. Arriving with nothing, my great-aunt made Church Stretton her home, providing a haven for her extended family and other refugees for many years.

Carding Mill Valley in 1975
Carding Mill Valley (1975)

By the time we visited in the 1970’s, she was widowed and lived in an apartment in an old house on the outskirts of the town, a few minutes’ walk from the beautiful Carding Mill Valley, on the edge of the Long Mynd. We would walk there whenever the rain clouds parted for long enough. In her 80’s by then, my great-aunt was nearly blind, and I remember walking with her into the town centre, stopping time after time as people greeted and conversed briefly with her, only for her to say every now and again as they walked on, in her still richly accented voice, ‘Now you must help me, Julie, who would that be?’ before demanding a detailed description of the mystery acquaintance.

… And again, little changed but for a few extra cars (2011)

Years later I returned to the area for a family reunion with several relatives of my generation now scattered across the world, all of whom had holidayed with my great-aunt at different times. We visited familiar haunts and shared memories of our childhood holidays and my wonderful great-aunt, and it was a thoroughly life-affirming weekend.

Whitstable, Kent, UK

I lived in Kent, in one of the Medway towns, as a young child. Cousins lived further along the coast in the seaside town of Whitstable. Even the name is quaint, isn’t it? We would visit several times a year and I remember the excitement on the journey as we got our first glimpse of the sea (we knew exactly the place along the route where that distant strip of blue-grey appeared), and as we traversed the landmark bridge and spotted the red post-box that stood on the corner of the road to which we were headed. I remember a cavernous outbuilding and a giant weeping willow half way up the garden; there were extraordinary ‘eggy sandwiches’ (made, apparently with salad cream – try it) on every visit, and I especially loved those days when we made it down to play on the pebble beach at Tankerton.

I’ve been back, or passed through, several times since those days. The town has swelled with the addition of several housing developments around its fringes but it remains, by the seaside at least, quintessentially and quaintly English.

Chateauneuf du Pape, Provence, France

We holidayed just once as a family in Chateauneuf du Pape, deep in one of France’s premier wine-producing regions. At a guess, I’d say this may have had something to do with my parents’ enthusiasm for the area, as there was much ‘tasting’ going on throughout our stay.

© Coll. Fédération des Producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape
© Coll. Fédération des Producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape

We bought blocks of ice and French bread in the village every day and enjoyed picnics of luscious French cheeses, charcuterie and spit-roasted chicken. And whilst said ‘tasting’ took place in the wineries and caves nested in nearby hillsides, my brother and I spent contented hours at the village swimming pool (that would be in the days before Health & Safety would have had a fit at the idea of two pre-teens playing in water, unchaperoned).

My father, who sadly died many years ago, loved the area for its climate, its wines, and the gentle pleasure of sitting outside a bar sipping aniseed Ricard made cloudy with a jug of water, and watching old men play boules. He was an accomplished choral singer too, and participated in numerous concerts at the Roman Amphitheatre in the nearby city of Orange, all of which added to the richness of his experience of the area – and in turn to mine.

I’ve not yet revisited Chateauneuf du Pape, but it was a special place to him, and thus it became special to me too. Today, at Christmas, we always toast my father and other loved-ones no longer with us, with a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape.

Tiffany’s, New York City, USA

I made my first and so far only visit to New York City in the mid-1990’s, staying with my cousin at her home in what is known as Peter Cooper Village. These distinctive apartment blocks were built for soldiers returning from the Second World War, of which her father had been one. Every day I would grab my roll of quarters and jump on a bus, heading south to the financial district, or north to theatreland, retail nirvana and the kind of landmarks you see every day in the movies. I went to the top of the World Trade Centre and the Empire State Building; I walked Wall Street and Times Square and I crossed Delancey Street in honour of one of my favourite films (that would be Crossing Delancey); I dodged noisy Yellow Cabs and I listened to a choir sing in St Patrick’s Cathedral; I bought lunch at a Subway (long before they appeared in the UK), so bewildered by the infinite choices that I just ordered the same as the guy in the queue in front of me; I ate it on the hallowed steps of the New York Public Library.

New York City from the top of the Empire State Building (1996)
New York City from the top of the Empire State Building (1996)

But before all that, on my very first day in the city, I had got off the bus for the first time and found myself outside Tiffany and Co’s flagship New York store. What could I do, but wander in for a green-eyed look around? At the very first counter, rings of course, I overheard a brash young man addressing his girlfriend with the words, ‘Honey, you can have whatever you want!’ and I felt the vibe of Fifth Avenue. I didn’t have an affluent city slicker waiting to spoil me, but so help me, I’m a shopper. I spotted a pretty ring – probably the lowest-value item of jewellery in the whole store – and, dressed in my tourist scruffies, I asked to try it on.  The sales assistant was curt to begin with, no doubt imagining I would waste her time; but she must have seen how my face lit up when it slid on to my finger. It was a sublime gold band with a smooth ‘infinity’ loop.

Probably the least ostentatious ring Tiffany's has ever sold
Probably the least ostentatious ring Tiffany’s has ever sold

I bought it because I could – and it is this feeling that I remember. After my divorce I’d made a significant career transition (mainly because I couldn’t bear to spend the rest of my life making coffee and running the diaries of stuffed-shirt executives) (and because I needed to earn some real money). For the first time in my life, I had a little spare cash. Not only that, but I was beginning to see myself differently. So I saw a ring, I liked it, and I bought it. At Tiffany’s. That meant I got the full Tiffany’s treatment, and I remember how it made me feel to this day; how the sales assistant first polished the ring, then inserted it into its silk and suede box, then wrapped the box in tissue paper, and slid it into the duck-egg blue Tiffany’s box, then bound it with blue ribbon, tied into a neat bow, then dressed a duck-egg blue mini Tiffany’s bag with more tissue paper, before nesting my perfectly wrapped purchase in the middle.  What a treat, that wrapping ceremony!  Though as I exited the store, I immediately realised I needed to shove my conspicuously crisp duck-egg blue bag with its white cord handles and silk ribbon deep into my rucksack, to save telling the whole world I was carrying something in a flimsy carrier, which might have value on the street!

Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Ah… Hotlanta… I made several trips to Atlanta in the 1990’s, as I worked for the UK arm of companies which were based there. Atlanta was a significant feature in my expanding career horizons. My overriding impression was how incredibly friendly and hospitable everyone was. I was invited into homes, taken out to parties and barbecues, escorted around sights and landmarks and guided to the best retail emporia. I made friends on my visits that remain friends to this day.  Being the ‘Deep South’ and at the centre of the American Civil War, Atlanta has history as well as a certain style – it’s an energetic blend of its elegant if uncomfortable past and high-tech present.

Atlanta, from Overlook Parkway, Vinings (1990)
Atlanta, from Overlook Parkway, Vinings (1990)

Incidentally, the New York Tiffany’s story has an Atlanta connection… A few years after my ‘infinity’ impulse purchase, my beautiful, simple ring was stolen in a burglary. As I still had the receipt, the insurance company let me replace it, which I managed to do during one of my business trips to Atlanta. Shopping at the mall (even the posh one) wasn’t quite the same experience as stepping inside Tiffany’s flagship Fifth Avenue store, but that identical repurchase cemented the connection that this ring has always had for me, with my hard-won career shift.

Hong Kong

I will never forget how it felt to enter my room on the 32nd floor of the hotel and look out through floor-to-ceiling plate glass across Hong Kong Harbour.

Hong Kong - in the days before panoramic photographs (1992)
Hong Kong from Victoria Peak – in the days before panoramic photographs (1992)

An unexpected and hastily organised business trip had taken me on my one and only visit to this unique region in the years before it was handed back to China. I spent days in business meetings and evenings being treated to delicious though frequently unidentifiable food. I had enough time-out in my short trip to get a couple of made-to-measure suits and take the vertical cable car up to Victoria Peak and enjoy the magnificent views. Barring the streaming cold I got from the incessant transitions from humid outdoors to chilled, air-conditioned offices, it was a invigorating and exciting experience on many levels.

*   *   *

Next time… A little more family history, a village that sounds like a drink, a motorway service station and the setting for a certain psychological suspense novel… 😉