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.

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.

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.

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 lifestyle coaching sessions. 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).

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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 go sugar-free 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 too.

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. 

A Walk on the Wild Side #KewGardens

On Friday I awarded myself an unscheduled day off and joined a friend for a walk around Kew Gardens. The weather was not fine, as predicted by the morning forecasts (no surprise there, today’s high-tech meteorological meta-analyses are rarely more than in the general ball-park). Drizzly showers came and went, grim clouds loomed – but the sun broke through often enough to make it a very pleasant few hours.

My friend is a member at Kew and knows her way around, and we were aiming for a walk of up to 3 miles. We entered by Lion Gate and very effectively avoided the queues (useful tip, that).  Within a few minutes we got our first view of the Pagoda.  See the glowering clouds?  The Pagoda was completed in 1762 and is undergoing a bit of restoration over the coming months, so it’s not open at present.

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We wandered… Foliage… water… lovely.

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No idea what this structure is going to be when it’s finished, but it looks interesting.

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A nice view down towards the River Thames.

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A very ancient oak tree – apparently a favourite for people who come to meditate beneath its boughs.

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Another tree (you can tell I’m not an arboriculturist, can’t you?) Not so ancient, but well-dressed nonetheless.

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After a break for coffee (and to dodge a rain shower) at The Orangery, we came upon one of Kew’s new features for this summer.  The Great Broad Walk Borders is a truly stunning layout of garden flowers interspersed with seating areas.  True, it would have benefitted from a blast of sunshine, but you can’t have everything.

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2016-07-29 13.24.102016-07-29 13.25.35Half way down The Great Broad Walk, we came across another of Kew’s newer installations – The Hive – an intriguing and enormous metal frame representation of a beehive, designed into a meadow environment and meant to teach us all about bees. We listened to a talk about how they communicate about where to find the best flowers, then took the meadow walkway up into the fascinating structure.

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Children in particular were loving the chance to look down through the glass floor.

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A final look at the borders from the meadow and our walk took us further on, past the Palm House with its precision planting…

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And the Japanese Garden and Gateway…

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Which afforded another nice glimpse of the Pagoda…

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Before we found Lion Gate again and… home.

I just went to walk, but Kew Gardens is a lovely day out, with plenty for all the family from seriously horticultural stuff, to entertainments for children, treetop walkways, installations, sculptures and much more.  They’re great at continually updating, finding different ways to engage. In early summer they do outdoor concerts, and I’ve also enjoyed their winter illuminated walk too.  Worth a visit if you like your greenery!

 

Regaining Perspective #walking

2016-06-22 06.29.23Disturbed by the Referendum outcome unfolding overnight and now confirmed (that’s as political as I’m going to get, folks), I took myself out for a very early morning walk, to clear my head. I was out of the door at a few minutes past 6:00am.  I thought I’d share my walk – sights, sounds and smells – in case anyone else needs a shot of perspective. It’s just an ordinary walk, a circuit of 2.4 miles (so my Fitbit tells me) around my local streets and park, but this morning, it was a particular tonic:

Out of the house and everything looks and smells fresh. Torrential rain yesterday evening has brought all the gummy grittiness out of the air and the sun is celebrating. Everywhere pavements and roadways bear evidence of mini-floods – rivulets of dirt, gravel and leaf mould have settled into crevices and gutters. I dance over puddles (new trainers, don’t want to spoil them) and walk down the road instead of the pavement in places to avoid splashback. It’s quiet at 6:00am down the back-streets.

This road feels as if it’s out in the country, perhaps because for a stretch, it lacks a pavement, bearing just a painted line to separate vehicle from human traffic. A tall hedge leans, loaded with leftover raindrops; an old wall exudes rich, mulchy odour.  Climbing roses droop across the path and I have to duck to clear them.

A car whooshes by, and another.  Whooshes is naughty, as this particular stretch of road has a 20mph limit.

2016-06-22 06.32.14A house ripe for renovation, and the garden is overgrown. I can’t help but admire the architectural beauty of a clump of thistles. Onwards, and I pass the school, where a food truck is waiting to be let through the barrier. The driver, a Sikh, smiles and waves. I’m getting more of that sort of thing these days and I can’t deny, I appreciate it.  I smile back.

Down a smarter road now, bigger houses set back off the road. I pass a runner and a ‘serious’ cyclist (lycra, helmet, head down). The pavement is uneven, dipping and rising, and as the sun shines in my eyes, I have to watch my feet. I reach my decision corner – go left for a longer walk, right for shorter.  I go left.

A house on the corner which has had the builders in for months – I watched them arrive every day in the dark, back in the winter months – is complete, with a new contemporary façade.  It’s looking good.

2016-06-22 07.08.12The next road is busier – it’s a bus route and a cut-through. It too has been freshened by last night’s rain, which is a good thing.  Yesterday was Bin Day and I had to walk past piles of refuse sacks which ponged mightily. Some always get ripped open by foxes and magpies, and it’s never pretty. Shielding my eyes against the sun, now directly in my face.

I’m by the shops now, an arcade of perhaps two hundred yards, running round a corner. The first of two cafes is just opening up.  Already there are builders’ vans in the lay-by, workers waiting to begin their day with a fry-up.  Round the corner, the baker is open already, more workers coming and going with sandwich bags. The open door oozes the sickly-sweet odour of iced buns and pastries – it never used to tempt me, and it certainly doesn’t now.

The second café is in full operation, the scent of breakfast fry-up just a little more tempting than sugar icing, but stale fat… no. A man stands outside smoking, fiddling with his phone. More white vans and their branded brothers come and go – this is quite the place for building and renovation trades to congregate.

The all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant, even closed, is cloaked in the stale, sticky odour of sweet-and-sour and stir-fry.  Tatty paper notices advising prices and new opening hours cling to the insides of its windows.  I hold my breath for a few moments.

2016-06-22 06.38.22Traffic queues beside me now, for the next few hundred yards.  I pass my favourite honeysuckle bush, a heady counterpoint to the sweet-and-sour. Cut down a side street where the paving slabs are inexplicably… pink.

My ‘long’ route takes me through a corner of the park; the grass is in need of cutting and that’s unusual, as our local parks are impeccably maintained. The chicken-wire gate to the tennis courts hangs open. I pass through a dank tunnel of foliage and head towards the children’s play area, empty of course, at this hour. I’m even too early for the dog walkers.

As I emerge from the park, I almost bump into a man walking along the pavement. The last part of my walk is uphill, and it takes all my energy. I’ve been keeping up a pace with a fast playlist, and I’m struggling now, but just a few hundred yards to go. The pavement runs alongside the park, but it’s uneven, with big grass-filled cracks between the slabs, so once again, I have to watch my feet. I reach another favourite tree, which I’ve enjoyed watching flourish, from its barren winter state, through the first glimpse of leaves, then blossom, and now full summer greenery. Just a hundred yards to go. The fence beside me reeks of wet wood and creosote – I like it.

Back home, and the first thing I do is check how long my walk took. When I started this healthy lifestyle thing last September, this particular walk (which I took only rarely) would take me 60 minutes, and I’d arrive home with aching hips, pouring with sweat, good for nothing. Today it’s taken me 45 minutes.  I’m glowing yes, but it’s a healthy, exercised glow, not a sickly, unfit one. I’m bursting with endorphins, and even the Referendum and its unsettling implications won’t shift my feel-good.

50 Losses – and 50 Gains

2016-02-13 18.30.55This weekend was a memorable one for me, in weight-loss terms. I’ve shaken off 50 pounds since I begun a new healthier lifestyle last September. I still have a long way to go (I’m not quite half-way to my most ambitious goal, since you ask). But at 50 pounds – that’s over 3½ stone or over 22 kilos, depending on your measurement of choice – I’ve just exceeded the most I’ve ever lost on any healthy eating campaign (note the absence of the word ‘diet’) before.

Weirdly, and I don’t want to labour this as it could easily depress me and I don’t want to get depressed… I’m now back to the weight I was when I started the weight loss campaign when I managed to shift what was until yesterday the most I’d ever lost before. But back then (2002) I had crawled to the upper 40’s and couldn’t keep it going.  It all went (excuse the pun) belly-up.  On that occasion, I’d gone to Weightwatchers, and it was good while it lasted. But as soon as I took my eye off the ‘points’ ball, my weight soared back on. Yes, soared back on at a rate which terrified me and which I could not even begin to understand. In all, I put on an average of 1 pound per week over the next 18 months (and then still more thereafter); a catastrophe from which, after several false starts in the mid noughties, I am only now recovering.

But I don’t want to jump aboard the trauma train. The whole point of this post is to mark an achievement, and highlight some of the many, many wins, gains and benefits that I’ve seen from the loss of this first 50 pounds.

So, here they are, in no particular order – all the ones that spring to mind at least:

  1. I’ve dropped 3 dress sizes
  2. I’m wearing ‘old favourite’ outfits that haven’t fitted me for 8 or 10 years
  3. I’m back to the weight I last carried over 14 years ago
  4. My ankles are pretty again, no more heavy, fluid-filled balloons
  5. I’m wearing high heels again and loving the increased stature and well-being
  6. I can go for a walk without pouring with sweat
  7. I’ve discarded a giant pile of ‘fat clothes’ that I hated having to wear
  8. I’m breathing more deeply, not catching my breath
  9. My resting heart rate has dropped over 10 bpm
  10. My nails are unblemished and healthy
  11. I haven’t had a cold all winter
  12. I can bend and touch my toes
  13. I can see my toes!
  14. My waist and once proud hourglass figure is re-emerging
  15. I’m wearing pretty bras again
  16. Yes, I’ll say it, I feel sexy again
  17. I’m standing straighter and taller
  18. When I pull my tummy in, it actually goes in a bit
  19. I like myself because I feel in control of my eating habits
  20. I feel good when I take exercise
  21. I feel good that I take exercise regularly
  22. I feel great when I get home from taking exercise
  23. I’m relishing many compliments from friends, family and colleagues
  24. I’ve surprised one or two people who haven’t seen me in a while – that’s been fun
  25. My feet have shrunk
  26. My boobs have only shrunk a little
  27. Pilates has become more fun again
  28. I can lie on my stomach and still be able to breathe
  29. I’ve rediscovered vegetables, nuts and seeds
  30. I’m looking forward to warm summer days ahead, not fearing discomfort
  31. I’ve eliminated 99% of added sugar from my life – and totally lost my sweet tooth
  32. I’m able to make healthy, balanced choices in restaurants
  33. I can fit into bucket seats without cutting off the blood supply to my legs
  34. I can sit on folding chairs without worrying they will collapse
  35. I won’t need an extender belt next time I fly
  36. I’ve learned to live without… toast
  37. I’ve discovered I can lose weight and still enjoy butter and cheese
  38. I can wear trousers that do up with buttons and a zip
  39. My favourite dressing gown wraps right around me again
  40. Tight toilet cubicles are no longer an embarrassing challenge
  41. I can buy ordinary clothes at Marks & Spencer
  42. I can buy actual sportswear
  43. I have swimming costumes which hold everything that has to stay… held
  44. My neck is slimmer and necklaces sit so much more comfortably and attractively
  45. My fingers are slimmer and I can wear rings I haven’t worn for years
  46. My wrists are slimmer and I can wear watches and bracelets again
  47. My hips no longer ache when I walk
  48. I can run upstairs
  49. I don’t get acid reflux after evening meals
  50. I no longer worry that I’m slowly killing myself

And a bonus ball…

“Hold yourself to a higher standard, and enjoy the self-esteem that comes with each single, small, disciplined act.”   Tony Robbins

… I am indeed enjoying the self-esteem that comes from ‘holding myself to a higher standard’…

What about you.  Are you, or have you ever been on a weight-loss, healthy lifestyle journey? If so, what were the most significant gains for you?