Is this a Metaphor?

So… it’s a lovely, warm autumn afternoon, and I thought I’d go out for a little stroll, just to get some air. I’d seen workmen in my local park recently, and it looked like they were laying a path.  ‘Yippee!’ I thought. They laid a path half way around the park a couple of years ago, which I’ve been enjoying several times a week. I have a nice circuit, half way round inside the park perimeter, and the other half out in the street. Now I’d be able to walk all the way around inside the park, and I wouldn’t need to go on the streets at all.  Three or four circuits would make a great little walk, and so close to home.

So I set off, in a more cheerful mood than is apparent from this picture…

The path looked interesting… promising, wouldn’t you agree?

It wound steadily downwards, following the shrubbery at the edge of the park.  Previously this area was boggy and sludgy – good for dog-walkers with wellies but not for me in my trendy, porous Skechers.

The path, I was already thinking, was an excellent addition to an already very pleasing local amenity.

Further along there are fifty yards of blackberry bushes.  I wondered if there would be anything left on them, musing that I should have brought along a tub or a bowl.  Foraged food…. nice.

But then…

Ah…

It’s back to the roadway then.

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Ten Values-Based Life Lessons from a Tough Year

This year is turning into a strange one – unexpected, disrupted, traumatic, overwhelmingly sad, but ultimately… reflective. First the discovery of my mother’s advanced brain tumour in February, an intense period of illness, and her death in May. In the midst of caring for her and trying to prepare, emotionally, for the absence of her, a couple of minor medical issues of my own. Since May, the seemingly insurmountable challenge of sorting through my mother’s mountain of paperwork, treasured collections, historically significant archive material, miscellaneous oddities, personal possessions and general stuff-of-life. And another personal issue forcing its way into my head and my life; a piece of my history returning to bite me, painfully, defiling the period of my mother’s passing and my grief, bringing a layer of stress I could have done without.

But I said… reflective. And this is the subject of my post. These are some of the life lessons I’m learning from all of this, in this most unsettling of years.  These are my lessons. I know I’ve used the word ‘you’ right through, but I really mean ‘I’… Oh, and… you… too, if you like.

(1) Resilience

You are as strong as you need to be, and you always have been. You can deal with your stuff, take difficult – and sometimes seemingly impossible – decisions. You can rise to challenges, do more than you think you’re capable of. You can get up and do what needs to be done, even when you think your bones won’t carry you. You can put on a brave face when all you want to do is crumple and weep. You can push through grief, manage stress and bounce back after pain, deceit and rejection. You are… resilient.

(2) Standards

Hold yourself to a higher standard. Whether that’s about establishing better habits, being more selfless, working more diligently, being more honest, having more compassion or empathy, exercising more self-control or developing more self-respect – you have a right to expect big things of yourself. And when you hold yourself to a higher standard, you reap the benefits – in self-awareness and self-esteem.

Conversely, don’t allow yourself to become disappointed or disheartened when others don’t behave, or treat you as you hope they will, or as you would do in their place. Your standards are yours, and theirs are theirs. Only they can manage their behaviours, not you. You have no influence, other than your own good example, and that is easy for those with different standards to overlook. Don’t let lies and mistruths go unchallenged.

(3) Live in the Moment

Live the life you have TODAY. Stop waiting for things to be better when this or that happens, or when you achieve a certain goal, income level, relationship status, weight, or whatever. Burn your favourite candles, use your nicest sheets and your best crockery. Wear your prettiest underwear, your best shoes and your most prized shirts. Don’t save them for a special occasion – today is special. And if you want to ‘dance naked in the rain’, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. Just do it.

(4) Integrity

Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Stop dropping hints and feeling let-down when they pass unnoticed. If you want somebody to help you or do something for you, ask them directly. The men in your life especially, will welcome the absence of ambiguity.

Don’t let misunderstandings fester. If you’ve been misunderstood, offer clarity. If you can’t do what someone wants, for whatever reason, tell them. Be a person that others can trust.

(5) Forgiveness

Make peace with your past. This is first about learning to forgive yourself. We all make mistakes, but it doesn’t help to look back with regret. Instead, understand, recognise what happened and what has changed – about you, about others, about circumstances – and let the mistakes go. They are a weight you don’t need to carry.

Forgive others too. They may not seek your forgiveness – they may not even be remorseful for the harm they did you – but their intransigence shouldn’t stop you from letting-go whatever anger and pain you feel. Time is a great healer. But so too is the realisation that you are bigger and stronger, and you have more personal power when you let what others may have done fade into insignificance.  Nobody says it’s easy, but it’s infinitely better for your spirit to look forward, not backward.

(6) Forbearance

Whatever it is, this too will pass. Whether it’s work or family pressures, relationship challenges, grief, sadness, regret, memories coming back to haunt; whether it’s financial challenges, personal problems or health issues. We all have stuff sometimes, which we simply need to bear with calmness and restraint. These are loads that we carry for a while, until their time passes, or until we are ready or able to deal with them or set them aside. There is peace in exercising patience and cultivating inner strength.

(7) Positivity and Mindfulness

Be mindful. Notice what there is in every moment of life. Celebrate the dawn, a rain shower, a field of sunflowers, a canal-side walk, the sight of a bee collecting pollen, the taste of a good cup of coffee, the loving support of a friend or relative. Whatever is going on in life, there is beauty and positivity in it somewhere – and you don’t have to look too far to see it.

Appreciate your world and the beautiful people within it. Focus your attention on what you have, not on what you lack. Wherever you are in life, whatever the state of your finances, social life or domestic situation, there will always be things beyond your reach. You could be a multi-millionaire, in your dream home with your ideal partner, and still be chasing after something you don’t have. Ambition, plans and goals are fine, but don’t let your sights become so firmly fixated on some perceived deficit, or some distant future gain, that you forget to appreciate your now.

(8) Organisation

Overwhelm comes from disorganisation. When life gets chaotic, it’s easy to spend more time worrying about how busy you are than actually accomplishing the things you need to do. This is where practical planning comes in, along with task prioritisation and letting go of what you know in your heart you will never get around to.  It means handling each piece of paper only once – doing rather than shuffling the paperwork and the tasks.  It means focusing not on all the things you haven’t yet done, but each day acknowledging the things you’ve accomplished. Appreciate the progress you’ve made. That way lies a calmer spirit, the best preparation for tomorrow.

(9) Be You

Whoever you are today, wherever you are, whatever you want in life, whatever your personal priorities and preferences, you are fine, just as you are. You don’t need to pursue things you don’t really want, just because people like you expect you to be pursuing them. That means it’s okay not to want a career trajectory any more. Yes, it’s ok not to be ambitious. It’s okay to go for softer goals too, or no goals at all. It’s okay to be on your own if that’s how you like it. It’s okay to wear whatever you want to wear; it’s okay to shun social media or not drink alcohol; it’s okay to walk rather than run; it’s okay to cry, or not cry. It’s okay to break whatever rules you’ve made for yourself, whenever you damn well like. Whoever or whatever you think people expect you to be, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you be you. Those who care about you will love you for it.

(10) And lastly… Follow your Dream

If not now, then when? If you want to change your life, change it. Do you want to travel the world, live in another country, or become a writer? Do you want to work for yourself, become fluent in another language, play a musical instrument, foster a child, learn to draw? Do you have a ‘bucket list’? Whale watching… a parachute jump… see China’s ice sculptures… the Northern Lights…? Don’t wait. You don’t know the length of your days – they may be shorter, or longer, than you imagine. However it turns out, don’t have regrets about what you didn’t do.

Some things are simpler than others to begin. A writer writes. An artist paints. If you want to be a writer, write something. If you want to be an artist, get out your paints.

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.