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.

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Back to the Future #eighties #boots

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I’ve never felt able to wear leggings of any kind. I haven’t had the right legs for them, not since they were invented. My calves have been far too big; my thighs elephantine; my bum… well, the less said about that, the better. I’m not perfect yet – not by a long way – but lately I’ve been converted. With my steadily diminishing frame, I’m embracing the leggings culture.

A Kind of Magic

It turns out, that with the modern-day application of hefty doses of elastane/spandex, good-quality leggings are tough, really tough.  It turns out they can constrain my wobbly bits quite adequately, with no challenge to fragile seams. Elastane is truly a miracle fibre. Careful selection of tops can minimise the look of my far-from-flat stomach, and the overall result is… not bad.

Mirror Mirror 

Do I sound vain? If I do, I make no apology. For years, I’ve stared at myself in the mirror, overwhelmed with defeat and negativity. For years, my response to my own image has been ‘that’ll have to do’. I’ve always dressed carefully, presented well… for my size. But big, is big. And in the privacy of your own bedroom mirror, you can’t escape it.  So, as my size continues to diminish, work-in-progress though I still am, allow me the thrill if you will, of looking in that mirror and… feeling good about what I see.

West End Girl(s)

Back in the day, in the eighties, when I was in my twenties and hovering around the 11-stone mark (that’s 154 pounds/70 kilos), I had a wardrobe full of what we used to call stirrup pants. The forerunners of leggings, these were stretchy, up to a point, but instead of tightly gripping the calves, they were held in place by the addition of elasticated stirrups, which hooked around your heels.  Pop these on and pull on a pair of knee-high boots, and the effect was exactly like you see today with leggings. I loved my stirrup pants – I had several pairs. I worked ‘Up West’ (London’s West End). I went out a lot in those days – and I wore them all the time.

Here Comes the Rain Again

2016-11-21-18-39-20But as my calves expanded over the ensuing 25 or so years, knee-high boots became impossible to wear. If I could get the zips up, they would cut off the blood supply to my feet, but more usually, the zips wouldn’t even meet.  I went into my new favourites – calf length ‘slouchy’ boots. These look like boots that are meant to be knee-high, but are slouched, ending just below the widest point of the calf. As the leather around the ankles is rumpled, the look, even for someone with fairly large calves, is quite nicely balanced. They’re also pull-on, no zips. I wore these for years until… yes, you guessed it, my calves expanded beyond the fit of even this style, and I could no longer pull them past my widening feet.

I’m Still Standing

I ended up in ankle boots, as I could usually get the zips up. When I could no longer achieve even this, there were stretchy pull-on ankle boots, which looked okay, so long as you covered them with boot-cut trousers, which I always did. Eventually, with ankles permanently puffy and the zips on even these short boots straining, only shoe-boots, which finish below the ankle, would achieve anything like the boot look for me.

Alive and Kicking

With the arrival of leggings in my wardrobe over the last month or so, I realised that in my transitional (and still quite cuddly state), the leggings-and-ankle-boots look preferred by the slender ones and teens, wasn’t going to work for me. They seemed to magnify the proportions of my calves and thighs – the opposite of what clever styling is supposed to achieve.

I found a pair of flat suede booties, loose fit, Ugg/Emu style, which worked ok with leggings, but only in a very casual, outdoorsy way. But earlier this week… I tracked down a pair of old-style slouchy calf-length boots at John Lewis. They fitted!  They pulled on easily; they slouched stylishly around my ankles; they even reached the right point of my calves, balancing the look just as it should be. Better even than that, I had £80 worth of John Lewis vouchers squashed into my purse, itching to be spent.

I bagged my prize boots and hauled them home.

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Forgive the vanity of this very modern in-the-mirror selfie. I may be embracing the trend, but I refuse to pout.

Walking On Sunshine

I can’t describe how comfortable I felt, trying on my leggings with these new boots; trying on a variety of tops and jackets, just to see what worked with what.  It all felt so… natural… harking back to the type of outfits I would put together in my twenties and thirties; things I would wear all the time, modified just a little for the few more pounds I still carry, and for the extra two or three decades I’m also wearing.  I felt more confident, more poised, more relaxed, more… sexy.

Never Gonna Give You Up

I spent the rest of the day breaking-in my boots at home, and they were immaculately comfortable and supportive for hours – I just didn’t want to take them off.  Every time I passed a mirror, I stopped to reassure myself I wasn’t just imagining it.

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

And with those wonderful slouchy calf-length boots, my winter wardrobe… is complete.  Now all I need is to take my worked-in-the-eighties-but-is-somehow-also-weirdly-on-trend-today look for a rocking good night-out.

Yo-Yo is a No-No #yoyo #diet

weigh-689873_1920I’ve been a yo-yo dieter all my life – here’s my story of the ups and downs.  Every time I lost weight, I put more back on.  This perpetual state of failure took me to the point of total despair. I decided a few years ago that I wouldn’t try to diet any more, as I always ended up worse off.  I actually came to fear weight-loss, because of the inevitability of the weight-gain which would follow.  I’m not alone – a survey in 2014 found that 60% of yo-yo dieters will try up to 20 diets in their lifetime.

What changed for me in September 2015, was that I found a way to alter my mental attitudes towards food and health, to make a holistic change to the way I live.  This has underpinned not a successful diet, but a total change of lifestyle which happens to have led to weight-loss; one which I ultimately believe is sustainable in the long-term; and one which carries with it the promise of not regaining that weight, but instead successfully breaking that yo-yo cycle.

So, I read with some interest a few of the articles which have been appearing in the press recently, about a study presented last week at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions, which is bad news for the yo-yo dieter.

Yo-yo dieting has long been associated with a range of health issues, including hormone imbalances, arthritis and osteoporosis.  But from this study it appears that yo-yo dieting is harmful in a potentially much more serious way – it harms your heart.

What goes down, comes back up – faster

When you diet, your body thinks it’s being starved.  It will protect itself, as anyone staying on a weight-loss programme for any length of time will tell you, by holding on to those pounds for all it’s worth.  Eventually though, you will lose weight, and your body will get used to functioning at a lower metabolic level. But when the diet ends and normal eating resumes, with this new slower metabolism, you will gain weight rapidly. It’s happened to me, again and again. The last time, I put on a pound a week for over 18 months – I just couldn’t seem to stop it.

Yo-yo dieting is more harmful to the heart than obesity

The AHA study analysed data from over 158,000 women over the age of 50. It found that over 11 years, women of normal weight who confessed to yo-yo dieting more than 4 times in their lives, were 3.5 times more likely to die from a heart attack than women whose weight stayed stable, even if they were obese.

Losing weight, it appears, is all very well, but it’s the regaining weight – which has that yo-yo inevitability about it – that stresses the body, increasing heart rate, raising blood pressure and elevating blood sugar levels. The problems accumulate, as these elevated levels do not fall back down during the next yo-yo cycle, leading to worsening health and elevated risk over time.

And that’s not all…

The articles about this study cover other issues too, including problems with bone density, fertility, skin elasticity, hair condition, gum disease… and possible correlation to some cancers. If you’re a yo-yo dieter, even if you’re not obese, it’s not a pretty picture.

I wasn’t just a yo-yo dieter, I was obese too.  I still am, according to the BMI charts. I came to fear dieting, for the yo-yo factor – and many others will understand that fear. The way to break the cycle is not through the food you eat, or the exercise you do.  Well, it is, but it doesn’t begin there.  Those are just the tactics. The way to break the cycle begins in the mind.

Success starts in your head – that’s where you can learn to tap into your motivation, positivity and resourcefulness.  It’s where you can flick the switches that mean it’s not all about willpower – which eventually fails – but about designing a different view of yourself, and creating a different and compelling vision for your future; one which puts the wind beneath your wings.

I’ll be writing quite a bit more about this in the coming weeks.

The Peril of #Plateau

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I’m stuck.  Again. I’ve been up and down the same three pounds for 10 weeks. I made it to 200 pounds, hit my 70-pound loss marker (a very big deal for me), squeezed out another pound, drifted back over 200 pounds, then back down, back up again, sticky for a week, then down again, dancing around and about the same three frustrating pounds.  And it’s gone on for… weeks.

I decided I might try and go back to the way I was eating this time last year, when I was comfortably losing between one and two pounds a week. I hadn’t revisited my food diary for this far back before. So what did I expect to find?

To be frank, I thought I’d be reminded that I was eating a bit less back then than I am today; I thought I’d be forced to face an uncomfortable truth. I expected to be jogged into some kind of ‘fair enough, I get it’ response; I thought I’d be forced to admit that as time has gone on, I’d let things slide a bit.

But I hadn’t.  Back then, so it seems, I was if anything eating more – and a little more indulgently –  than I am today.

I was still making my breakfast Bircher muesli with sweetened yoghurt (horrors!). I had a couple of favourite pre-made salads and even one or two less processed ready-meals (I hadn’t yet got properly to grips with a change in my cooking habits). I was snacking on cashew nuts and rice crackers, toasting soy and linseed bread. I was tucking into mixed Chinese starters and crispy duck pancakes. I was treating myself to cheeses and pates on a regular basis. I was getting away with all of this, and still losing a comfy pound or more every single week.

So I already eat less. I eat better too; more ingredients, fewer processed items, almost no bread, rice, pasta or potato, no added sugar.  But somewhere in there, if I’m to chip away at the remaining 30 pounds or so, adjustments must be made.

When you think about it, it makes sense. I’m hauling around the equivalent of two well-packed medium-sized holiday suitcases LESS than I was this time last year.  Logically, it’s taking me less energy to simply… exist; and when it comes to any level of physical activity, I’m expending less energy there too.

When I think back to last year, a simple 40/50-minute stroll was quite an exertion, resulting in me returning home with rather more than a gentle glow about me.  I would need to go out on any kind of walk in exercise clothes, and with time for a shower once I got home. My heart-rate from such a walk would be high, my sweat-glands over-active, my muscles twitching from the efforts. Today, a walk is… just a walk; executed in any old clothes, at any old time of the day, and without the need to carry a pocket full of kitchen towel for brow-mopping purposes. The first time I realised I needed to put a jacket ON to go on a walk (rather than strip down to a sleeveless vest, even on the chilliest day), was a joy.

So… two things:

  1. I burn less energy simply existing, so I do need to consume a little less fuel
  2. Without going all gym-bunny (never gonna happen) I need to up the ante a little in the exercise stakes. Walking still, but faster; maybe try that ‘Couch to 5k’ App I’ve been threatening to deploy.

Nothing stays the same. You have to adapt, modify, re-calibrate. Whilst, like last time, it’s been frustrating, getting plateaued, I’m also pleased, as it’s telling me positive things about the impact my lifestyle changes have had on my health and fitness over the last year and more – and that’s all good.

Wrapping up Warm

frost-1149002_1920Last autumn I was just a couple of months into my new healthy lifestyle programme. I’d lost perhaps 20 pounds – not that much off what was, back then, a very ample frame. This autumn, with over 70 pounds having relinquished their fleshy grip, I’m feeling the cold more than I’ve done for almost two decades.

For the last several years, I’ve needed nothing more than a scarf about my neck on all but the very coldest days. For the last three years my favourite winter outerwear was in fact a sleeveless waistcoat (big buttons, asymmetrical – I love weird clothes). I never wore hats of any kind (in fact the only one I own is an aritsan bobble hat that I keep in the car in case I break down and have to sit out a frosty night at the wheel). My fingers hadn’t seen the inside of a pair of gloves since those ones you used to get sewn on to a string and threaded through your sleeves as a small child.

So it’s come as some surprise – in a good way – that this autumn on frosty mornings and blustery afternoons, I have been properly, seriously chilly, right into my bones. My built-in duvet – those flumpy folds of laid-down fat – has shrunk from a heady 13-tog to a lightweight 5 or 6.  My internal central heating appears to have shifted to an economy setting.  In short, I need winter layers like never before!

Yes, friends, that means… shopping (see – there’s an upside to everything).  I reason that in the long drawn-out autumn/winter/spring chilliness that we get here in the UK, I’ll get probably 6 months wear out of my purchases, even if I am still on the way down the size ranges. So I’ve gone to town a bit. I’ve treated myself to a faux-fur jacket (sublime and tactile to the point of naughtiness), a leather jacket (my first in thirty years, buttery soft and the colour of a Werther’s Original – sorry!) and a slate grey padded high-neck wind and shower-proof zip-up thing (stylish enough for my vanity, but practical for windy walks). Add a snug pair of woollen gloves (which wouldn’t have squeezed over my chubby digits last winter) and I’m all set.

2016-11-08-16-52-44I have the scarves already, you see, a whole drawer full…

Oh, but there’s still the question of my ears; I seem to have what I can only describe as… delicate ears; they’re temperamental, capricious… unsupportive. As a child I remember being prone to ear infections. As a grown-up I’ve had occasional problems when I went swimming or took a long flight. That was all, until I started walking more regularly.  Now I find that if the cold gets into my ears, they protest and deliver me days on end of painful gumminess; and when they’re really playing up, I get bouts of vertigo. In the summer, it’s sufficient to plug in my headphones and walk to music or an audiobook, but the colder weather demands a little extra protection. So I’ve invested in a pair of earmuffs.

2016-11-08-17-08-12Don’t laugh – they’re not the fluffy ‘Princess Leah’ kind, but far more workaday flat-to-the-head ones which hook around the back of my neck.  They do the job, even if they do look a wee bit silly. My vanity can bear it if it means my fragile ears stay toasty (but before you ask, that same vanity won’t allow me to upload a photo of me actually wearing the darned things).

Anyway, with my new outerwear, my old scarves and the pragmatic application of silly earmuffs, I’m all set for the cold months ahead and I’m looking forward to my winter walks.

It’s not always about… me #self-esteem

Thought Verbs Show Not TellI’ve spent far too many years interpreting certain events and experiences in my past in a way which allows me to heap blame, reproach and criticism (and a whole lot more besides) on to my own shoulders. But as I lose weight, I’m gaining back my self-respect, and with it, a little perspective.

I’m a work-in-progress as much with this as with the weight-loss, but with my diminishing physical burden has come the ability to see emotional things differently; to acknowledge that certain situations and the outcomes that wounded me, were not my fault, or my doing; they were not about me being weak or careless, stupid or naive; they did not come about because of some failing in me, something I did, or didn’t do, some expectation I failed to meet. Those situations were not, in fact, about me at all.

I make no excuse for speaking in general terms. Blogging is a very public thing, and the events and experiences to which I allude are intensely personal in nature. They involve a thankfully small number of people who have passed through my life and who have, in one way or another, wreaked some degree of havoc for me – physically, psychologically, emotionally.

On those occasions, my default position has been this: That I had somehow brought this problem, situation or person’s behaviour on myself; that it was something about me that caused this or that reaction or behaviour.

On one level, when you think like this it makes you feel weak and pitiful. It’s like in a violent relationship where the victim accepts the rationale of the bullying partner when they say, ‘you made me angry’ or ‘you made me do this to you’.  Within the diminished self-esteem that characterises such situations, you let yourself believe that your weakness, contemptibility, failing or fallibility, your unique propensity to irritate or anger, somehow brought about whatever happened.

On another level it makes your own indignation and anger rise up, sometimes in quite uncontrollable ways. Here’s the thinking that has sent me into palpable (but so far private) rages; has seen me ranting at the four walls of my house, bashing out blistering pages of irrational fury on my keyboard (well, I am a writer, it’s the natural place):

“What is it about me, that makes you think it’s ok to do this to me?”

“What is it about me, that makes you behave in this way?”

“What is it about me, that makes you take advantage of my kindness/generosity/… etc.”

“What is it about me, that makes you have so little thought for my feelings?”

Thankfully those perverse pages, filled with purple prose, pouting and profanity, rarely see the light of day – though it has happened once or twice. When I calm down, perspective rebalanced, I see them for what they are, and delete them. Maybe the process of writing is the exorcism of emotion that I need.

The thing is, when people hurt you, behave badly towards you, steal from you, take advantage of you, manipulate you, treat you dismissively, patronise you, bully you, lie to you, cheat you, let you down – it’s not about you. It’s about who they are or the situation they’re responding to. It’s about them.

Bad people do bad things to others; the narcissists, the sociopaths, the liars, the feckless, the cheats, the lazy, the ruthlessly ambitious, the dishonest, the selfish. That’s easy enough to understand, once you realise what you’ve been dealing with.

But good people do bad things too, and that’s a little tougher to handle. Good people can be thoughtless, come under pressure, get stressed, make poor decisions, judge situations wrongly, let stuff overwhelm them, prioritise other people and things over you. When these situations arise, normally good people can inflict hurt, damage those they would normally treat with far more care. But even then it’s still not about you – it’s about them.

So this is my thought for the weekend; a healing and calming mantra, for when you’re tempted to feel indignant, hurt or angry when someone’s actions wound you, or their behaviour falls short of what you hoped it would be – it’s not about me.

Dietary Heresy – or New Wisdom? #functionalmedicine #sugar #fat #carbs #cholesterol

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A quickie post today: I thought I’d share a few of the websites and influences that I’ve found helpful in shaping my attitude to food and health in recent months.  One or two of the understandings I’ve arrived at, having read some of the material available on the internet and in books, are beginning to catch a wave – it seems they’re not such crazy notions after all.

Sugar – what people generally call either free sugar or simply added sugar (ie, not the sugar found naturally in whole fruits, for example) – is an unhealthy and unnecessary dietary additive and the root cause of the so-called Obesity Epidemic. It may be tasty, but it’s addictive, it brings long-term harm and lifelong weight challenges, and we don’t need it.

Simple Carbohydrates – I’m thinking pasta, white rice, bread – should not be the foundation stones of the average meal. They convert to sugars far too quickly and mess with the body’s insulin regulating mechanisms. Particularly if you’re overweight and want to lose excess pounds, or you have type two diabetes, or are pre-diabetic, ditch those simple carbohydrates.

Fat – is not the enemy. In many, many forms, fat is more friend than foe, and should be an essential component within a healthy diet. The food industry has got rich persuading us that low fat products, processed and stuffed with additives and sugar, are healthy. This is more than misleading.  Dairy fats have much to commend them, and so-called healthy fats in nuts, oily fish, olive oil and avocados, for example, are an absolute must.

Cholesterol – which Big Pharma has gone into overdrive to persuade us is killing us – is natural and normal and for the vast majority of us, does not need to be controlled by drugs.  Statins are a con being perpetrated against vast populations of healthy people, for profit.

Great reference sources and health heroes

Action on Sugar http://www.actiononsugar.org  is a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health. It is working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high sugar diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of sugar in processed foods.  Spearheading Action on Sugar is one of my dietary heroes, Cardiologist, Dr Aseem Malhotra http://doctoraseem.com.

Diet Doctor https://www.dietdoctor.com seeks to promote natural health. Focused on LCHF (Low Carb High/Healthy Fat) approach, the website is an enormous practical and inspirational resource, particularly for those battling weight issues and diabetes. It promotes what began as a revolutionary approach a few years ago (carbohydrate reduction, the happy consumption of fats), but which is gaining considerable credibility in the medical community and beyond.

Dr Mark Hyman http://drhyman.com is a practicing physician, prolific author and advocate of the power of Functional Medicine. It seeks to identify and address the root causes of disease, and views the body as one integrated system, not a collection of independent organs divided up by medical specialties. It treats the whole system, not just the symptoms. Dr Hyman has written extensively on issues around fat and sugar.

Dr Malcom Kendrick https://drmalcolmkendrick.org Practicing GP and author of ‘The Great Cholesterol Con’, Dr Malcolm Kendrick throws light on the lies, damned lies and statistics that surround the demonization of cholesterol, the pushing of statins to almost anyone over the age of 50, and the ways we are made to fear eating just about any foodstuff you can contemplate. Great blog and real insights into how statistics can misdirect, and the difference between correlation and causation.

Insightful videos, podcasts and films

The Big Fat Fix

http://www.thebigfatfix.com

Addresses the issue of how recommended but misguided dietary advice over the last 50 years has spawned the obesity and diabetes epidemics.  It looks at the role of healthy eating – based around what’s become known as the Mediterranean Diet – in treating and preventing these and other diseases.

That Sugar Film

http://thatsugarfilm.com

In this revealing film, Damon Gameau embarks on a unique experiment to document the effects of a high sugar diet on a healthy body, consuming only foods that are commonly perceived as ‘healthy’. The results are shocking.

The Truth about Sugar (BBC Documentary)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4LzSH9qU_Q

Even-handed documentary on how much sugar there is coursing through our everyday foods.

Dr Mark Hyman on Eating Fat to Get Healthy – with Lewis Howes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgWBKJsJtk0

An interview podcast, Dr Mark Hyman talks passionately about why eating fat is the key to weight loss.

That’s by no means an exhaustive list, and remember, I’m hardly the expert. But I personally have found each one of these websites (and their wealth of resources and links), health heroes and videos an excellent source of information and insight.  They have shaped my new eating and lifestyle habits, helped me towards a weight-loss of over 70 pounds in the last 13 months, and helped me to become healthier, happier and more energetic than I’ve been in almost two decades.