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.

Advertisements

My 3 R’s of Ragdale 2017: Rest, Recuperate and Reflect

My first solo trip to Ragdale Hall, a place I enjoyed for years with my mother, was a bittersweet experience.

Every year since 2010, my mother and I have taken a 4-day spa break at the wonderful Ragdale Hall Health Hydro and Thermal Spa, tucked away in the Leicestershire countryside. I blogged about my 2016 visit here.

When my mother fell ill in February 2017, our April trip to Ragdale had been in the diary for several months. I rang to cancel, promising myself that I would return in due course, even though it was clear by then that we had made our last visit.

The months that followed were intense and exhausting. For several weeks I spent hours almost every day at her bedside in hospital. Then, when she was considered sufficiently stable to return home, I stayed with her, spending every day and many nights helping to keep her comfortable, and making her feel safe, secure and loved. After she died, a different kind of work began; firstly the organisation of her funeral, the management of her correspondence, and advising friends all over the world; then, and for the last four months, my brother, sister-in-law and I have faced the almost overwhelming task of clearing her house of the stuff of a long and busy life, that of a woman who came from a generation who never threw anything away in case it might come in handy later; that of a woman who wanted to be known, and for whom recording history, activities and accomplishments, and accounting for life and all its significances and insignificances was  paramount.

There were cupboards so tightly packed you could hardly imagine the quantity of things which emerged from them. There was paperwork going back decades; important archive material, the history of a family caught up in every aspect of the Holocaust, requiring careful and responsible handling; a mass of writings – published and unpublished articles, accounts of trips and holidays, study output from numerous courses, personal and emotional, factual and fictional pieces – dating back to the 1970’s, letters dating back to the 1950’s, thousands of photographs, greetings cards and postcards. There were brochures, maps and guide books, cruise, exhibition, festival, event, theatre and concert programmes; all records of a life spent travelling, absorbing history, art, music and culture around the world.  And books, books, books… and more books. And there was more – our battered old toys, shelves of unwanted gifts, oddments and ephemera, souvenir trinkets and costume dolls from far-flung places. And on it went…

From the outset we took the approach that we would minimise what went to landfill, so we’ve been diligent in rehoming, recycling and donating the kinds of things which would otherwise end up in a skip. That has meant a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, calling and emailing, lifting, carrying and hauling about, to say nothing of the hours and hours spent shredding, whilst carefully checking each file to ensure we weren’t inadvertently disposing of anything of significance. It’s not over either. There’s the house to sell, and the auctionable ‘house clearance’ stuff to see to in due course. Oh, and because it’s been summer, we’ve been trying to keep the gardens looking tidy too (nowhere near the way mum used to do, but passable).

So… it’s been a hectic time, respectful and conscientious too. A doing time, rather more than a thinking time.  And I confess, I was beginning to feel that I hadn’t done nearly enough thinking about my mum.

I had the idea that Ragdale Hall might be a good place to make the time and space to do a little thinking, as well as afford me the opportunity to release my weary body from some of the tension that had built up over recent months. So a month ago, I called and made my booking.  I knew exactly what to expect – care, comfort and service, experienced professional therapists, restful lounges and conservatories, yummylicious food, and the combined indulgences of sublime treatments and a multi-zoned spa and pool area. What I didn’t know, and feared just a little, was how it would feel to be there without my mother.

Ragdale had been our break. It was intended as a one-off, and it was an inspired suggestion – my mother’s, I should add – back in 2010 when she was about to turn 75, and I was heading for my 50th birthday. Our activities and interests were generally quite disparate, and it would be hard to envisage a holiday that could meet both her needs and mine.  The idea of a spa break, where we could spend personal time indulging ourselves with therapies, exercise classes, swimming, relaxing and reading, and yet come together for lunch and dinner, evenings and a lovely, companionable walk each day, was just about the perfect solution. And we enjoyed our 4-day break so much that we booked for the following year. And the next, and the next…

The lump rose in my throat as I pulled up outside the main entrance and the porter came out to pick up my luggage and park my car. The warm smile and friendly recognition I received at reception very nearly finished me off. I checked in, filled in my breakfast menu card, slurped my welcome coffee and high-tailed it to my room, to regroup.

Mum and I had stayed in every one of the spa’s small number of single rooms over the years. When I called this time around, none was available, so I booked a double room for single occupancy on the floor above. It was a very different experience, quite a bit more luxurious if I’m honest. I was, I confess, relieved that I wouldn’t be sleeping in a room previously occupied by either of us. Even the décor was different – and very pleasing.

At dinner on my first evening, I began to wonder if I’d made the best decision for myself.  It was very, very hard, sitting across the table from an empty chair. I’d chosen not to join what Ragdale calls its ‘social table’, as I didn’t want to chat with fellow guests. Nevertheless, that empty chair was very… empty.

I don’t know if it was anxiety or what, but I’d developed a tight knot in my stomach on the drive up to Ragdale. The result was a nasty bout of acid reflux across the next couple of nights, something that hasn’t troubled me since I started eating more healthily. I slept fitfully and uncomfortably as my stomach twisted and ached. More than once I wondered if I should call it a day and return home.

But the intense soothment of the Ragdale experience eventually worked its way in.  I swam and steamed myself… I enjoyed what was intended to be a gentle massage, where the therapist, noticing the crunchy tension across my neck and shoulders, offered to apply her skills more vigorously to the task of un-knotting me, to my delight and appreciation. The next day I had a lovely reflexology session with a kind and compassionate therapist, who didn’t mind in the least that I burst into tears as I tried to explain what had brought me to the session. Later, Jon, Ragdale’s exceptional shiatsu therapist was subjected to the same tearfulness, and he too delivered a superbly effective treatment to, apparently, liberate my gallbladder meridian. The expert pressure-point massage and stretching did wonders for my taut, twisty frame. That evening, the restaurant manager, on duty for the first time since I had arrived, recognised me and noticed the absence of my usual companion, which resulted in a gentle conversation as he took my order. I was struck by his kindness and his thoughtful yet unsentimental words. It meant something me that he had noticed my mother’s absence and taken the time to stop and talk in a very hectic service.

The next day, I received an extraordinary deep-tissue massage, and made time for more swimming and steaming. By the end of that day, I was significantly unwound, relaxed both physically and emotionally, and firmly persuaded that in making this visit to Ragdale Hall at this point in time, I had done a very good thing for myself.  I’d also given myself some much-needed time to simply be still and remember my mother.  On my last day, I let more thoughts and tears come, in Ragdale’s dry flotation tank in a semi-darkened room. By then, I was ready to be home again – just as well, as all that remained was an indulgent buffet lunch, before I packed my bag and got on my way.

When it comes to death and bereavement, it’s easy to be busy – because there’s so much to do. It’s easy to fill the hours and days with must-do’s, dutiful activities and responsibilities. It’s all too easy to let them clutter the space where silence and stillness has an important healing role to play. By the time I went to Ragdale Hall, my mind and body were clamouring for the silence and stillness and my tears were very close to the surface. Now that I’m home, I feel a calm that wasn’t there before, and I know my mother would have been proud of me, that I took myself away to do this, for both of us.

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.

The Peril of #Plateau

cape-town-456754_1920

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.

My Top Ten experience-based tips for sustainable and #healthy #weightloss

2016-07-14 19.11.30Following on from my one-year post, here are my personal tips on achieving sustainable and healthy weight-loss. I stress personal, because I’m not a nutritionist or a medical professional, so I’m not qualified in any way to offer advice. These are simply some things that have worked for me over the last year.

I’ve already written about a few of these, and I’ll be covering the rest in more detail in due course. But for now, in no particular order, these things made the greatest difference to me, and contributed to my success-to-date, over the past year:

(1) Build your support network

A coach, a nutritionist, your GP, a slimming club, a friend on the same journey, an on-line community, supportive friends and family. Doing this alone is tougher, so develop your network of supporters, who will guide, encourage and motivate you.  People who care about you will want to help and encourage you. They’ll want to see you succeed.

(2) Keep a food diary

A full-disclosure, honest account of everything you eat; not to show anyone, but to acknowledge to yourself what you’re doing. Raising your own awareness of your consumption does, weirdly, help you to avoid the ‘bad stuff’ – even though it’s only you that sees your diary. You can’t kid yourself that you’re staying on-message when your food diary says you munched through a whole bag of tortilla chips for the third night in a row.

(3) Weigh yourself daily

Going from weekly to daily weigh-ins was a big breakthrough for me. You become aware of how your body behaves – and misbehaves. Days when you think you should have lost, you gain; and days when you’ve scoffed like a pig, you lose. But however those scales confound you, you only have 24 hours to go until the next weigh-in – that’s not a lot of time to go off-the-rails, definitely salvageable. Take your 7 daily weigh-ins and divide by 7, for a weekly average. If you’re generally staying on-track, even if the daily chart looks like a roller-coaster, your weekly average figures should be heading steadily and encouragingly downward.

(4) Give up sweet stuff

berliner-17811_1920I’ve said a lot before about giving up added sugar – check out the post and the links. It’s made a huge difference to me, in so many ways. I’m not just talking about sweets and cakes either; I’d urge you to become more aware of how much sugar (in all its guises) is hidden in the everyday products you consume. I guarantee you’ll find it where you don’t expect it, and you’ll be surprised – shocked – at how much you get through without realising.  If you’re diabetic or pre-diabetic, this is a particularly vital step.

(5) Minimise simple/white carbs

I haven’t gone totally low carb, but I have dramatically reduced, to almost zero, my intake of bread, pasta, white rice and potatoes. I thought it would result in extremes of hunger, but it doesn’t – really doesn’t! You lose the insulin/glucose ‘spikes’ which kick-off the hunger pangs. Your body rebalances, and your gut is grateful. I waved a not-so-fond farewell to bloating, heartburn and acid reflux too, when I ditched these lumpen ingredients.

(6) portion control

2016-04-03 12.18.36Whatever you think you should be eating, reduce it. Portion sizes have exploded in recent years and we’re all far too accustomed to accepting huge plates, stacked high, and ploughing our way through obscene quantities. The easiest way to lose weight is to eat less. If smaller amounts of food look meagre, serve yourself on a smaller plate, or a bowl.  Serve half of what you believe you want, and return to the pot only if you are genuinely still hungry when you’ve finished your smaller portion.

(7) Plan an exercise schedule

Time does not automatically free itself.  In ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ world, tomorrow never comes. If you struggle to commit to exercise, as I do, you’ll appreciate the structure of a schedule. I recently came across a neat idea – the ‘3, 2, 1’ approach. You pick three types of exercise; one you do three times a week (for me, that’s a good long or fast walk, for cardio, general wellbeing and the pleasure of fresh air); one you do twice a week (for me, a serious Pilates session for core strength and posture), and one you do once a week (for me, swimming with a friend, cardio again, also sociable). The idea is to inject some variety, to exercise your whole body, and keep you engaged with the whole idea of exercise.  I’m far from perfect when it comes to exercising regularly, but I take the view that whatever you do, it’s better than doing nothing.  We don’t have to all be gym-bunnies and marathon runners, do we?

(8)  stop EATing YOUR EMOTIONS

massage-therapy-1584711_1920One of the first things my Vitality Healthy Lifestyle Coach helped me with, was learning to reward myself – and conversely, comfort myself – with things that don’t involve food. I used to eat for comfort, and eat for reward, neither of which was helpful. Find things you appreciate – a massage perhaps, fresh flowers for your home, scented candles, an hour browsing a magazine, a film or DVD, music, a cosy curl-up in an armchair with a good book, a chat on the phone with a friend – just a few which work for me.

(9) Acknowledge your achievements

I’ve blogged about mini-milestones before.  When you’re on a long weight-loss journey, it’s important to acknowledge your progress towards the bigger goal.  Seeing yourself tick these milestones off, one by one, is very motivating. Learn to appreciate the benefits you’re experiencing beyond pounds/kilos too. Compliments from friends, the pleasure of buying clothes a size smaller, how your more slender body feels and moves – all these things and more can gift you energy and positivity for the next phase.

(10) POSITIVE VISUALISATION

It’s a powerful motivator, when you can visualise yourself as the more slender, more active, more energetic, more toned, healthier person you seek to become. I couldn’t do it at first – it seemed so far away and… impossible.  But as the pounds began to fall away, and I began to imagine I might actually stay with my new healthy lifestyle, not fall off the wagon for good and all, it began to be easier to see myself as the person I wanted to become.

When you visualise, make it very real.  Imagine not just what you look like. Focus on what you feel like, what you’re doing, how you’re moving, what you’re wearing, what you’re eating, where you are, what work you’re doing, who you’re with, and how happy you are. Make a home movie in your head and let the picture become very vivid and colourful, full of energy and vitality.  If you’re a writer – write it! Write the story of your future self. It’s a bit of a psychological exercise, and it doesn’t come naturally for most of us, but it is worth doing. I wrote my visualisation and it sounded crazy, months ago.  Not so crazy now though.

Like I said, I’m not qualified, and I’m not an expert. These approaches have become part of my healthy/weight-loss strategy, along with great bucket-loads of patience. Weight that’s taken two decades to arrive, doesn’t depart in a few weeks. But it does let go eventually – so don’t lose faith in yourself.

One Year On… #weightloss #healthylifestyle #positivechange

At the Bloggers Bash June 2016 (photo credit: Suzie Speaks)
Getting there: At the Bloggers Bash June 2016 (photo credit: Suzie Speaks)

I began my new healthy lifestyle – falteringly – exactly a year ago, on Wednesday 26th August 2015. The day before, I’d had my first of eight sessions with my Vitality Healthy Lifestyle Coach, Pranita Salunke.
I say falteringly because I note, with a degree of embarrassment, that my first few days of so-called healthy eating weren’t oh, you know, actually all that… healthy. They included:

  • 50g bowls of sugar-loaded Honey Nut Shreddies for breakfast
  • Leftover spaghetti carbonara (white pasta, shop-bought carbonara sauce, leftover chicken pieces and a dollop of double cream)
  • A meal of crackers loaded with butter and seafood cocktail

Clearly I had a lot to learn about healthy eating, and many, many adjustments to make.

On my first day, I managed two 15-minute slow walks on my treadmill. The second day, I noted a 20-minute round-trip walk to the post box – a circuit which would take me half that time today, if I ever went on a walk which was quite that short (it is, literally, just to the end of the road and back).

Screenshot 2016-03-28 11.22.46 copy
Same event, different body: One year earlier, Bloggers Bash summer 2015 (photo credit Geoff le Pard)
My lumbersome weight on that first day was 270 pounds, or 19 stone 4 lbs (that’s 122.4 kilos in new money). Yet despite the Honey Nut Shreddies and spaghetti carbonara, I must have done a few things right; I lost 6 pounds in my first week, and a further 8 pounds over the next 4 weeks, which was a big boost.

Think Positive

I see from the notes alongside my food diary (which I have kept in detail every day since then – it helps to keep me accountable to myself), that in those first few days, in addition to my coach, I drew support and positivity from a variety of sources:

  • The encouragement of several lovely friends
  • Positive feedback on my work from a couple of clients
  • Some time spent reflecting on the comfort and calm of my home and garden
  • My Pilates habit and the gains I’ve seen from embedding this in my life, and sticking with it even when I got very overweight
  • A personalised hypnotherapy/relaxation tape given to me a couple of years ago by a hypnotherapist, whose help I had sought with my menopausal/health anxieties
  • My twin nephews, so happy, positive – and very, very active
  • A few days on a writing retreat in France; restful, and abundant with good, healthy food.

Sweet enough: Kicking the Sugar Habit

I didn’t get on to the sugar-free thing until the middle of October 2015. I gradually stripped away the more obvious treats (biscuits, confectionary etc), but until mid-October I was still making my breakfast Bircher muesli with Rachel’s Coconut Yoghurt, which is very, very highly sweetened.  Pranita had visited my home and we’d done a helpful store-cupboard and fridge audit, which had made me think about why I was holding on to this last sweet-treat.  My rationale – that it was an organic yoghurt, and therefore healthy – was all wrong. Yoghurt of the right kind is indeed healthy, but sweetened yoghurt, bio/organic or not, is… dessert.

That was a huge turning-point for me, finally acknowledging and then laying my sugar compulsion to rest. Once I replaced the sweetened variety with natural Greek yoghurt – bio, full-fat and proud, since you ask – I didn’t even miss the sweet taste.  And the die was cast. Today, at a guesstimate, I would say I am 99% added sugar free.  The odd microgram creeps in here and there, usually when I don’t read a label carefully enough. That’s about as much of a success as I can claim – but I’m more than happy with it.

Giving up added sugar was… massive. It freed me from hunger pangs, insulin spikes and a mass of barely controllable temptations, requiring extremes of willpower which I struggled to muster. In the weeks and months since then, I have read voraciously about the sugar-free and LCHF (low carb healthy fat) approaches. Whilst I haven’t gone 100% for LCHF, I totally bought the sugar-free message and I’ve succeeded in abandoning not only added sugar in all its many guises, but processed ready meals (where the sweet stuff hides in quite astounding volumes) and big stomach-stretching bricks of simple carbohydrate – bread, pasta, white rice and potatoes. I’ve lowered my general carbohydrate intake very considerably – and I feel so much better for it.

Not only that, but it’s extraordinary and thrilling to me that the sweet stuff is now… too sickly sweet.  My taste-buds rebel when in the vicinity of anything remotely sugary. And unless you’ve been released from sugar addiction yourself, you’ve no idea how truly magnificent that feels!

Exercise is… Hard Work

Ah… exercise. I have tried hard to exercise more often, but even after a year, I still struggle with this. Simple walking, the odd bit of swimming and of course, my Pilates, form the lion share of my exercise habit – but even now, I have to push myself out of the door.

I’m told there should be a joyous shift towards actual enthusiasm for exercise at some point, but all I’m experiencing so far is an ebb-and-flow. Some days or weeks are better than others. I hired a Personal Trainer to come to my home for a few weeks, and that has propelled me into episodes (whole minutes at a time!) of laboured jogging, and some more constructive cardio and strength exercises. I swim, usually once a week, with a friend. I enjoy walking more than I ever have before, but it’s still a big heave-ho to get myself out of bed for a walk at 6:00am, and I don’t always manage.  I make that effort more frequently, I seek out opportunities to leave the car behind and walk instead, and I’m definitely more active than I was; but exercise is something I fear may never come easily or naturally to me.

I do it though, I do it – and it’s helping me become fitter.  My resting heart rate has dropped more than 10 BPM, as my stamina, flexibility and general energy level has improved. All these are great rewards in themselves, and they contribute to a significantly diminished experience of health anxiety, which was quite the thing for me through my menopause years.

Half-Cooked

A year down the line, and the weight-loss component of my new healthier lifestyle is a little over half done. I’ve lost 65.5 pounds (that’s over four and a half stone, or 29.7 kilos). I wanted to be under 200 pounds by now, and currently at 204.5 pounds I’m not quite there (until the last few days, I’ve been frustratingly plateaued for nearly two months – like my body was trying to sabotage my ‘anniversary’); but I’m not far off. I last saw this weight in 2002, but only briefly, and before that, it would have been around the early 1990’s.

I’ve dropped 5 dress sizes, a shoe size, 3 ring sizes and 2 bra back sizes (but not even one cup size – hurrah!) and lost at least one chin. And there have been many other payoffs so far too (see past posts here and here) – with many more to come, I’m certain of it.

Indulgence – Just Modified

Don’t run away with the idea that I’m living some sort of parched, fat-free existence, devoid of culinary interest. I enjoy all sorts of indulgences.  I still eat butter (although without bread/toast in my diet, a packet of the stuff lasts me weeks and weeks); I still eat cheese almost daily (limiting quantity – mostly – to a few slivers). I choose full-fat over low/fat-free options, which I’ve always done, but it’s interesting to note that opinion is swinging towards this as the healthier choice these days; I eat plenty of eggs (another healthy foodstuff, long demonised). I try new recipes regularly and have added several healthier, more nutritious meals to my repertoire in recent months.

I still snack on savouries every now and again, but having lost my taste for crisps (USA: potato chips) I’ve found one or two alternatives which don’t press my guilt-button.  The beauty of these is that they’re not addictive in the way that old style crisps are.  I make my own toasted and seasoned seeds, crispy seasoned kale and small bowls of lightly salted air-popped corn.

I still enjoy the odd dessert-like treat too. I’ve made added-sugar-free banana and almond cake; I even (very) occasionally make an unbelievably indulgent ‘ice cream’ from frozen banana, organic (no-added-sugar) peanut butter and Greek yoghurt.  There may be substantially more vegetables and a broader spectrum of nutrients in my diet than ever before, but my taste-buds have not been utterly deprived of naughties.

Onward and Downward

So to the year ahead. I have another 30-50 pounds to go. I’m deliberately vague about this, as I shall see how I feel about it as I progress. But the big change for me – re-educating my taste-buds and my insides to welcome healthy food and reject sugar and processed junk – is something I now dare to feel confident I have nailed. I’ve dieted before, but I’ve never felt this lifestyle victory until now.

I’ve been so very grateful for all the support and encouragement I’ve received through my blog.  It’s clear that my experiences have inspired others to keep going with their own healthy changes, and that thrills me. I cannot imagine anything more positive (apart from the fact that I’m improving the quality, and perhaps even length, of my own life) than to inspire others to do the same for themselves.

So the journey continues. Stay with me, if you will – and I hope you do.  It won’t be dramatic, but it will continue to be frank and honest – a true account of a very ordinary battle to re-establish good habits, achieve a healthy weight and – hopefully – set myself up for a longer, healthier and more active middle- and old-age.

 *  *  *

I love hearing from people who follow my blog, and respond to every comment.  If you have any questions on how I’ve gone about my first ‘healthier’ year, please post them through the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

Coming next: My Top Ten experience-based tips for sustainable and healthy weight-loss.