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.

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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.

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

The acceptable face of addiction? #sugar #sugarfree

berliner-17811_1920I attended an industry awards event this week with a client. For a large-scale ‘rubber chicken’ lunch (500+ seated) the food was unusually good. We began with a delicious sweetcorn soup accompanied by a delicate and tasty crouton dressed with sour cream mousse, chives and a sprinkle of popcorn flavoured with lime (very imaginative). That was followed by succulent suckling pig with all the trimmings, including a piece of very nearly crispy crackling (quite the achievement for a large-scale service).

Dessert was offered – another pretty plate of some kind of mousse and sorbet mix, with shortbread. I don’t know what it was precisely, because I didn’t eat it.  When coffee arrived, it came with a bowl of unctuous looking chocolate truffles, which I duly passed around the table.  There were puzzled glances as I not only refused dessert, but passed the truffles around without dipping into the bowl. When I explained, I don’t eat added sugar, which rather excludes me from mousses, shortbreads and anything coated in chocolate, jaws dropped in amazement and breaths exhaled in uncomprehending awe.

That’s the kind of response to which I’ve become accustomed over my added-sugar-free months.

It didn’t happen over this particular lunch (probably because my dining companions were clients and their business associates, several of whom I was meeting for the first time), but in addition to stunned silences and sharp intakes of breath, what usually follows is The Temptation Game.

It’s that moment when the sugar-eater needs you to join them. They need you to succumb; they need you to be powerless to resist temptation.  Because that’s the whole point of sugar – isn’t it?

Typical Temptation Game responses to my too-restrained (in their opinion) added-sugar-free status include:

Just this once won’t hurt.”

“Oh, go on, just the one – treat yourself!

“It’s only got a little bit of sugar in it”

“It’s not sugar, it’s honey/agave – that doesn’t count!” (Yes. It does.)

If anyone used those sorts of phrases to encourage a drug addict to score, or an alcoholic to hit the bottle, we’d be horrified. But sugar is the acceptable face of addiction – and that makes it okay to push it.

I know, not everyone regards sugar as physically addictive, but just try and give it up yourself before you take issue with me.

One day I might (but only might) let a very, very little of the sweet stuff back into my diet, slowly and very, very carefully. But for now, with at least 30 more excess pounds to deal with, and a compelling desire to do whatever I can to limit my risk of type two diabetes, I’m quite happy with my uncompromising approach to desserts, confectionary, cookies, cakes and other sweet-treats.

And whilst I don’t at all mind the looks of uncomprehending awe, I’d be happier if I didn’t have to keep on justifying myself and politely rebuffing the tempters and temptresses, when a platter of what other people think I should be incapable of resisting, lands in front of me.

There you go. Grumpy Old Added-Sugar-Free Woman signing out for the weekend.

Anatomy of a #Plateau #weightloss #frustration

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I’ve lost 38 pounds in the last four months… Don’t get too excited for me though – because it’s been the same three pounds over, and over, and over… and over, and over again.

I made it to 70-pound/5-stone weight-loss whilst I was away at D-Toxd in Spain in September. But I’ve been bouncing up and down through three maddeningly obstinate pounds ever since then. As a word, frustration doesn’t even begin to cover it.

There are a few reasons why this may be happening – and all except one of these are totally or largely within my control:

Eyes off the Ball

2016-07-14 19.11.30I’ve been working on my health/wellbeing and food habits since September 2015.  Healthy is how I eat now.  I’ve given up 99% of added sugar and simple carbs (I have an occasional small portion of potato, the odd piece of bread in a restaurant, a microgram of sweet here and there when it sneaks into a sauce, but no cakes or cookies, donuts or desserts, ever).  I don’t eat ready meals any more, or takeaways, or fast-food, or chocolate – or any confectionary. From where I was, these are all massive changes and I’m sticking with them, because they’ve made me feel healthier and more energised than I’ve felt in two decades. But… … I think I’ve let too many exceptions creep in.

By exceptions, I mean things like:

  • Too much fruit (I know fruit is healthy, but it’s also full of natural sugar and when you’re trying to minimise sugar, there is such a thing as too much fruit);
  • Too much… cheese.  I love cheese. Enough said.
  • Dips, such as hummus, taramasalata and tsatsiki (again, I know these aren’t essentially bad, but they are the kind of foods which you dip, and dip, and dip, and if you’re me, you spread them on crackers too – and that does not a healthy meal make);
  • A few savoury snacks here and there (baked not fried, but these are processed and they are criminally moreish).

Stress and Anxiety

eye-catcher-74182-pixabayStress, anxiety and the associated sleep-loss problems all inhibit weight-loss in a number of ways. Firstly, in times of stress, we turn to food for comfort (and whilst I’m better at not doing this, I still have moments). Then, on a chemical level, physiological and hormonal responses lead to us storing or holding on to fat.  Stress fuels the release of adrenaline (for a fight or flight response), and cortisol, which instructs the body to replenish energy (ie, fat) stores, even though they may not actually have been used for a fight or a flight.  Weary after a night of interrupted or disturbed sleep, it’s all too easy to excuse yourself from early morning exercise. And with lethargy comes the temptation to snack.

I don’t lead a stressful life these days. However, there is something stressing me at present, causing anxiety and disturbed sleep that I could do without, and it’s possible this is impacting my ability to shift from the plateau. It might just be an excuse, but then again… the stressor surfaced in late summer, and that’s exactly when my plateau problem began.

Portion Control

2016-04-03 12.18.36I’ve mentioned this before, that I’m eating a little more, here and there, than I know I should. Still healthy food, but I’ve let a bigger serving, one more spoonful, an extra slice… creep in. I can even see myself doing it, and then I do it anyway. I rein it in, and it creeps back up again – nothing outlandish, but enough to turn a downward sloping graph into a horizontal line, for too long.

Weigh Less, Eat Less

the-suitcase-811122_1920I weigh 70 pounds less than when I started. Yes, that’s great, really, really great. It’s the equivalent of two full-sized holiday suitcases jam-packed with clothes, shoes, accessories and jollops. It stands to reason, I need – in very simple terms – fewer calories of energy, to drag my reduced frame around. So I should be eating less than I was eating when I weighed two suitcases more.  Or…

Move More

… I need to exercise more.  For a while, I’ve been trying to give my gentle exercise regimen a kick up the proverbial, without it taking up too much more time. (I’ve mentioned before, I’m not really in my natural space with exercise – it’s still a chore.) In reality though, with the arrival of winter weather, I’ve probably been doing less, not more, exercise. I know exercise, per se, doesn’t make that much of a dent in matters, but moving more boosts your metabolism and pumps those feel-good endorphins around, which fuels positivity and deepens motivation.  And I could do with a serious injection of motivation just now.

That Extra-Sticky Mid-Life Midriff

We’re told how much harder it becomes to lose weight once those mid-life hormones erect their defences. Men get the beer gut and women just lay on padding all over. My weight has long been high, but it was steady until I hit the menopause and put on a disastrous 20 pounds from one year to the next. I’ve dropped back now to a weight I last carried for any length of time in the last century. But what’s left of the surplus (at least another 30 pounds, perhaps more), seems determined to stick around.

I’m not giving in to the plateau, but I can’t deny, it’s frustrating in extremis, to see the scales bobbing up and down through just THREE stubborn pounds.

The good news is that I’m not on a diet; this is how I eat these days. I just need to tweak the edges, eat off smaller plates, refocus, up the exercise quotient, sleep better, not sweat the small stuff, inject a little positivity and keep things moving, don’t I? Simple.

Darn, but it’s proving harder than I’d like.

Ideas anyone? Any tips and tricks? What do you do to overcome a plateau and kick-start your weight-loss? How do you regain lost motivation or re-boot your exercise regime? 

New Year, New Vision #2017

My 2017 Vision Board
My 2017 Vision Board

With the quieter days between Christmas and New Year comes a great time for reflection and planning, and I’ve been using those days as best I could (through the brain-fog which descended on me along with a nasty winter virus). I thought I’d share something of how I’ve gone about this, in case it’s useful for anyone else.

My Vision Board

Have you ever done a Vision Board? I hadn’t until this year, but, inspired by a friend, I gave it a go. It’s basically a collage, a visual representation of the things you want to welcome into your life, or make the most of, or channel your energies into, in the coming months. I created it on a whiteboard which is around 60cm x 40cm. The pictures come from my personal collection, and from magazines and the web.  They may look random to you, but each one means something to me – be it a goal, a mood, a theme, or an intention.  Look closely and you will see my board includes references to family and friends, to health, to writing, to work plans and projects… and there are one or two other more obscure references (for me and my private headspace!). I was quite pleased with how it came out although since I completed it, I keep finding other pictures and words I want to include, so it may be an evolving thing.

The Big Question

Imagine it’s the last few days of 2017.  You’re sitting in your favourite armchair, looking back over the year. The question is this – what needs to have happened, what do you need to have achieved, or brought about, or changed, in order for you to feel satisfied, fulfilled and above all else, happy with the year? You can have any number of statements (write them down…), which will begin with “I will have..” or “I will be…”. They will not be things which you cannot influence. These will be your most important projects, missions, goals – and pleasures – on which you’ll focus your energies in the coming months.

My vision this year includes continuing my healthy lifestyle changes and losing another 30 pounds, achieving clarity on some personal issues, maintaining my client work at a specified level, learning to jog (and getting into 5k Parkruns), getting back into writing fiction, being more socially active than I was last year, embarking on my new coaching venture… and a few other oddments. When you take the time to visualise, it’s surprising how quickly the thoughts begin to flow.  My statements are all precise, not woolly, which is all about committing to them and more importantly, calibrating success and achievement.

Themes for the Year

Lastly, I choose a few themes for the year ahead, usually something between three and six words. Last year, my themes/words were: Health, Vitality, Self-respect and Connection. For 2017, in line with my ‘Big Question’ thinking, I’m going for: Health (again, for obvious reasons), Inspiration, Renewal, Social, Creativity and Love.

Maybe this has given you a few ideas for yourself. If you’re looking for more kick-start inspiration, let me guide you to the three New Year posts on the blog of my favourite healthy/lifestyle retreat, D-Toxd, here:

https://dtoxdliving.me/2016/12/31/things-you-need-to-get-for-a-health-and-happy-2017/

https://dtoxdliving.me/2017/01/01/the-happy-and-healthy-2017-list-completed/

https://dtoxdliving.me/2017/01/02/6-ways-to-find-inspiration-for-change/

Happy New Year to all, and I wish you success in all your goals and ambitions, for health and beyond, in 2017.

Have yourself a merry… sugar-free Christmas #weightloss #healthylifestyle #positivechange

christmas-card-2015

Christmas presents all sorts of challenges for those of us in the midst of a healthy weight-loss campaign.  This is my second such Festive Season…

This time last year, I was looking forward to my first healthy lifestyle, sugar-free Christmas with some trepidation, wondering how I would cope. I’d been working on my mental attitude and better dietary and exercise habits for four months and by then I’d lost 33 pounds – not bad going, if I say so myself. But… Christmas is Christmas, and when it comes to food, the temptation factor is off-the-scale.

Checking back in my food diary, I can see I ate well on Christmas Day:

  • For breakfast: Homemade Bircher muesli; a slice of cheese
  • For lunch: Six mini savoury oatcakes with cream cheese and smoked salmon; Roast turkey with roast potatoes, roast parsnips, Brussels sprouts with chestnuts and pancetta, broccoli, carrots, red cabbage
  • Evening: A little leftover smoked salmon
  • Drinks: Black coffee (copious!), a half-glass of Prosecco; a half glass of red wine.

But there was self-restraint too, I’m happy to report; I didn’t partake in Christmas pudding and mince pies, with their layers of sugar, fat, alcohol, sugar and more sugar. Nor did I drink except with the main meal. Nor, so it seems, did I trough my way through mountains of nibbles whilst watching TV. You know, that mindless time when you seem to have one hand permanently in the confectionary tin or the bowl of nuts; when you say yes to everything – sandwiches and dates, canapés and cake, jelly fruits, chocolates and a tsunami of the sort of icky, syrupy snifters you never partake of at any other time of the year, but somehow can’t get enough of at Christmas – even when your stomach is fit to burst.

My Christmas Day 2015 was still a good day’s eating by anyone’s standards (and cooking too – for it was me taking care of the day’s big feast for the family). My diary says I even made time for a good walk; 50 minutes, first-thing, whilst it was still dark outside.

The rest of the week involved a couple of meals out and, as far as I can make out, an ocean of turkey and vegetable soup.  But at the end of that week, I’d lost weight – an unexpected but joyous 1.7 pounds.

A few things have occurred to me as I look back. I was thoroughly in-the-zone then, keeping an uncompromising tight rein on my eating, planning all meals and being rigorous about regular exercise – even on Christmas Day. I know I’ve become a little more lax lately on both food and exercise fronts. I know this is why my weight loss has levelled off at 70 pounds, and I’m struggling to get it moving again.  To be perfectly frank, there are too many days when I excuse myself from exercise, too many sneaky (though still sugar-free) little treats, and some questionable portion control.

So I’m reapplying myself, as of now. I still have at least 30 more pounds to go and I’m eating for maintenance at the moment, not loss. Keeping on keeping on is the only way to succeed at this game; one day at a time, one pound at a time, until it’s all gone.

When I reflect on my first healthy lifestyle year and reconnect with all the benefits I’m already enjoying (here and here), I kick myself for stalling, as my life, health and wellbeing can only go on improving as I shed the remaining excess. But I’m also going to congratulate myself for having made it this far, because beating-up on yourself, anything more than momentarily, just isn’t helpful.

Happy Festivities and…. THANK YOU!

So it only remains for me to wish all readers and followers of my humble blog every happiness at this festive season, good health and contentment – and success in pursuing your goals, whatever they are – in 2017. Thank you all so much for reading my blog posts, being interested in my progress, commenting, supporting and encouraging me throughout the year.

YOU have all been the wind beneath my wings throughout 2016.