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.

The BLECH Factor #fat #fryup

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Or… when fatty food doesn’t feel like it used to

I don’t eat out these days as often as I used to, which was at least once a week in the good old days of indulgence. I haven’t ordered a takeaway (also at least a weekly occurrence) or been to a fast food outlet (ditto) for over a year either.

When I do go, my strategy for restaurants nowadays is to take a look at their menu online beforehand and decide ahead of time, what is the best (ie, healthiest) choice to make. That way, when I sit down to eat, I don’t taunt my taste-buds. I know what I want, so I don’t tempt myself the way I used to do, into picking the dish, or dishes, which most excited my imagination. I’m not saying that wholefood salad and grilled salmon doesn’t excite my taste-buds, but… but… when hungry, and faced with acres of scrummy-yumscious descriptions designed to make you drool, it’s highly likely I would choose something altogether more… decadent.

However… on Friday evening, I had failed to prepare.  And by the time my friend and I got to the restaurant, I was also more than peckish.  And very susceptible to those drooliscious descriptives.

It was a seafood restaurant, so the potential for disaster wasn’t enormous.  It wasn’t a total tumbling off-the-wagon either, and certainly not a culinary crisis of the kind I’ve been so familiar with in the past. It was a short-lived, giddy overbalancing; but one from which I’ve learned an interesting lesson.

I began my meal with one single oyster. How about that for self-control, even when it wasn’t needed?  I just wanted the aroma of the sea, and a solitary slippy little creature dressed with a squish of lemon did the job. Happy days.

But then the proper starter.  And… oh… when you haven’t had a Chinese meal in over a year, and your seafood restaurant menu tantalises you with their version of Salt and Pepper Squid… Just the once, I thought.  Just the once, wouldn’t it be lovely?

Well, it was ok – not lovely – but ok.

Actually, it was greasy. It was properly yukky yuk-yuk greasy. 

If I’m honest it was just like Salt and Pepper Squid always is. But to me, whose palette rarely experiences deep fried anything these days, it was swimming in the stuff.  Ikky and claggy, it clung to my mouth.  It wouldn’t wash away – a glass of cold water served to set the grease, rather like when you leave a frying pan full of fat to go eat your breakfast and when you come back, it’s all congealed. It wasn’t pleasant.

But I pressed on.

Next came the main course. I know… I should have chosen a nice piece of poached white fish, grilled salmon maybe. But I was choosing with my taste-buds. I picked mussels, poached in cream, white wine and garlic. You see what I mean? This wasn’t a total crisis.  Mussels is not a bad choice, as such.  But I’ll admit, the creamy poaching liquor was less than prudent.  Oh, and I mustn’t forget the tiny tin bucket of French fries.  I probably ate about half of these microscopic and not in any way delicious little sticks of fry-up.  I eat almost no potato these days, so I was going carefully – at least I thought I was. But I can’t remember the last time I ate chips in any form – and their greasy coating settled all too quickly, like a second skin on the layer of greasy batter residue already lining my mouth.

To be fair, the mussels were delicious and I slurped about half the creamy, white winey jus.  I slurped until I began to feel it might be wise to stop.  My stomach, you see, had already begun to protest the slippery onslaught of batter, chip fat and lastly, that admittedly tasty slew of unctuous yummyliscious cream.

You can see I’m torn by this experience, can’t you? Good in parts, bad in parts. But with a claggy, fatty yuk yuk payload.

I had a great night out – I enjoyed it, I really did. The ambience, the company, the laugh we had, all perfect. But as I lay awake for almost the whole night, taking too many trips to the bathroom, feeling the silt swill around my stomach and occasionally wash high up my oesophagus (I haven’t had acid reflux in ages), I did indeed wonder, was it worth it?

I’m glad I had this experience though, as it’s shown me how far I’ve come since the days when I could happily put down platters of deep fried squid, fried pancake rolls, fried crispy seaweed, sweet and sour chicken fried in batter, fried rice and any amount of sweet, sticky sauces. It’s reminded me why I no longer buy and eat crisps (USA: potato chips) in epic volumes. It’s shown me how my sense of taste has adjusted, how I no longer crave the mouthfeel of those fattier, richer foods.

I do eat fat, just not deep-fry fat. I celebrate healthy fats like olive oil, oily fish, avocado and brazil nuts. I enjoy full fat yogurt, too much cheese, a little butter here and there. I love chicken skin and salmon skin (weird, I know). I leave the fat on meats likes steak or chops when I grill them and I relish the taste of it. I’m not against fat.

But I have left behind the deep-fry fatty mouthfeel sensations.

And yes, that would be yet another payoff of my new healthier lifestyle.

I’ve been D-Toxd! #healthy #retreat #juiced

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I was away last week – did you miss me? I went to Spain, to a beautiful healthy retreat up in the hills over the town of Calpe.  Check out D-Toxd here.

D-Toxd is a very level-headed Body|Mind|Life experience; not spiritual, but very contemplative, and very real; a well thought-out and balanced blend of juicing, healthy meals, walking, exercise classes, yoga, creativity time, motivational talks, mindset sessions and practical advice. Nobody corrals you into participation – you do only what you want to do.  I spent plenty of time reading by the pool, swimming and even catching up on sleep.  I’m not a big fan of yoga so I dropped out of a few sessions. I also… um… bypassed… the available colonic treatment, but I found time for a blissful Ayurvedic Massage.

Drinking my greens
Drinking my greens

Juiced!

Ah, the juicy detox experience. I’ve juiced intensively before, courtesy of a Jason Vale retreat in Turkey several years ago, so I knew what to expect of the detox element and I knew I wouldn’t be hungry.  Three days of juicing is a wonderful way to flush out – as it were – your internals. And it clears your head as much as it evacuates your intestines.  On day two I suffered an hour or so of caffeine withdrawal headache, which is quite normal apparently; but that was the worst of it. We were treated to a rainbow of juices, and always a choice between a sweeter/fruitier option and a less sweet version with the emphasis on the vegetables. Every vegetable imaginable, and plenty of fruit, found its way into five juices a day, along with ginger, milled flaxseed, bee pollen, fresh mint and more. My body rejoiced!

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A rainbow of nourishment

After three days of wonderful, vibrant juices, and three days of colourful and delicious vegetarian meals, the holiday rounded off with a celebratory fiesta meal and both the first meat, and the first (and only) alcohol of the week.  A grand time was enjoyed by all.

The Social Introvert (with the sensitive skin) goes Walkabout

An aside: I’m not generally shy, and I don’t lack confidence; I interact perfectly comfortably with friends and strangers alike. But I learned long ago that I’m some kind of introvert – I restore my energy by withdrawing, and being by myself. I only became aware more recently that there’s a name for people like me – we are social introverts. That means that whilst we’re cool with social situations and groups, we gain our energy from within ourselves. We love people – but we need solitude too.

Yours truly doing the early-morning no make-up no hairdryer wonky baseball cap selfie thing
Yours truly, doing the early-morning no make-up no hairdryer wonky baseball cap solo selfie thing

A week in the company of a group of like-minded people is very enjoyable on many levels, but it can be a little challenging for the social introvert. As the days pass, I seem to notice noise and chatter, more and more – it’s like the volume gets turned up in my head. Sooner or later when this happens, I have to listen to my protesting psyche and seek solitude.

And something else… The combination of 32-degree scorch, sun, sea-breeze, sweat and suntan oil on the mid-morning walks had been a little harsh on my English Rose complexion.  By midweek my face was puckered, sensitive and overheating.

So it was, for those two reasons, that for the last couple of days, I pulled out of the big walks and instead trundled off for a stroll (along the only path I could be certain I could follow there and back) at 07:30 in the morning, just as the sun began to peek over the hilltops.  This served both my tortured flesh and my solitude-seeking introvert.

Vineyards and olive groves in the early morning
Vineyards and olive groves in the early morning
My early morning walk, the retreat and pink-tinged mountains behind
The retreat at sunrise,  pink-tinged mountains behind
I've always wanted longer legs
I’ve always wanted longer legs

Those quiet early-morning strolls in the cool air, accompanied by nothing more than birdsong and the hum of waking insects, were blissful.

Refresh | Recharge | Refocus

I’d booked D-Toxd to coincide with the first anniversary of my not-so-new healthy lifestyle, and I envisaged it being of value in refocusing me and strengthening my resolve as I continued into my second weight-loss year.  It did the job magnificently.

It served to remind me why I had embarked on this path at the end of August 2015, and how far I’ve already come. It helped to jog me out of a few lazy habits which have crept in over recent weeks, and energise my attitude.  And (woo hoo!) the juices, salads and regular exercise nudged my system into releasing an additional four pounds – taking me over my next big milestone (70 pounds / 5 stone and 25% of my starting weight – gone).

All in all, it was exactly what I needed.

The D-Toxd Philosophy
The D-Toxd Manifesto

Gareth, Jeroen, Louise and the rest of the D-Toxd team go out of their way to deliver a multi-dimensional health and vitality retreat experience, with care and sensitivity.  Their philosophy is worth sharing – see the poster which adorns their wall.  They walk their talk, and D-Toxd has bucket-loads of integrity and passion as a result.  I could not recommend it any more highly.

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Just another sublime sunrise

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).

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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 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.

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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. 

On getting away with it

diabetes-528678_1920Several people in my circle and my general age-bracket, are in a poor or deteriorating state of health at present. There’s cancer, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, a stomach ulcer, the after effects of blood clots, ulcerative colitis, diabetes, high blood pressure and even heart disease. I don’t have an enormous circle of friends and acquaintances, and that’s a lot of un-wellness; a combination of the diseases of middle-age, auto-immune conditions and the impact – physical, psychological and emotional – of modern living.

And that means… stress.

Stress brings with it a heavy payload of physical and psychological symptoms (just Google ‘stress symptoms’ and check out some of the lists). But chronic stress also opens the door for some far more serious conditions and diseases to enter. Who knows whether it actually causes them, but it certainly makes you more vulnerable.

Stress is about helplessness and feeling out of control.  It’s not, as some people assume, about having too much to do.  It’s far more about the feeling that, for whatever reason, you can’t cope with what you have to do or deal with. It’s about feeling ineffective, pushed around by others, powerless to influence your circumstances, or spiralling into some kind of a hole that you don’t feel able to climb out of.

Stress… actually weighs you down

Interestingly, stress is also an inhibitor to weight loss, as cortisol, the hormone produced in circumstances of stress, causes the body to hold on to its fat stores. The more chronic your stress, the harder it becomes to lose weight. And of course, the harder it is to lose weight, the more out of control the overweight person will feel. It’s one of those cruel vicious circles of life.

A contributor, for sure, to my yo-yo-ing weight and its gradual upward trajectory over the years, was the level of stress I lived with, mostly through the sort of work I used to do (which was wrong for me in many ways, but well-paid, so I pushed myself onward), and occasionally in bad relationships and their fallout too.  Divorce, financial pressures, unsatisfactory living arrangements, poor relationship decisions, work related anxiety including two redundancies and striking out as a solo-preneur, a problematic menopause, and a constant, gnawing sense of being not quite good enough at everything I tried to do. All these things contributed to a fluctuating but ever-present level of stress throughout my thirties and forties and right through until a couple of years ago. And all the while the weight piled on.

Until such point as it was no longer a product of stress, but one of its causes.

Fat stresses

Yes, fat itself became the stressor.  Here’s how it gets you: You stress about what people are really thinking of you. You see a bucket chair in a cosy coffee bar or gastro pub and wonder if you’ll be able to squeeze into it.  You see a different kind of chair in a school assembly hall, at the end-of-year stage production starring your young nephews, and wonder whether it will hold your weight for a whole two hours.  You worry about getting too hot or sweaty when you go out somewhere, to meet clients or be social. Wherever you go, you worry you’ll be the fattest person in the room.  You stress about being out of control, about your excess weight being so overwhelming that you’ll never feel normal again. You stress about never having something comfortable or stylish to wear for an important event. You become acutely aware of heaving yourself about, hoping others will not notice the effort.  When your well-meaning friends ask kindly if you’re OK to walk a few steps, or climb to the second or third floor, and you realise they think you’re almost disabled, you stress about it. You stress about weight limits on fitness equipment and spa facilities, because you exceed them.  And that’s just where it starts…

Health anxiety

This is the next layer of fat-stress. Health anxiety, or hypochondria, is a fearful thing.  Health anxiety surfaced for me as the menopause kicked in, and a confusion of symptoms became very unsettling. Beneath my intellectual appreciation that I was immersed in the time-of-life experience, lay an occasionally paralysing fear – because I was fat – that there was somehow something far more serious going on, that I had brought upon myself by being overweight. The sense of impending doom I would eventually learn to manage as I tried to calm my palpitating heart in the wee small hours, was frequently overwhelming. I called an ambulance on two occasions (and nearly called them on a dozen more) and once spent the whole night in A&E wired up to heart monitors as stress and anxiety exacerbated those all-natural hormonal misbehaviours.

Statistically speaking

And health anxiety isn’t just an internal thing – it’s fed by the media, in their pursuit of emotionally-charged headlines. The voices of statistical authority would have me believe that my excess weight (well over 100 surplus pounds when I started this healthy lifestyle thing last September) made – still makes – me a candidate for all manner of disease, including most of the conditions my circle of friends and acquaintances are suffering.  Obesity, so say the statistics, puts me at significantly elevated risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer of numerous kinds, high blood pressure, high cholesterol (whatever the implications of this are supposed to be) and diabetes – and that’s just for starters.  Add osteoarthritis, sleep apnoea and asthma, gout, gallstones and fatty liver disease. Oh, and anxiety and depression too.

All in all, it’s a misery-laden feast, particularly if you’re inclined to let scary headlines get under your skin.

A matter of time

But despite those 100 or more excess pounds, I’m one of the fortunate overweighties not eating at this misery-laden table.  I wasn’t at 270 pounds, and I’m still not at 207 pounds either. In fact, notwithstanding the 50 pounds or so of excess weight I still have to get rid of, and the anxieties related to my state-of-weight that I carried for years, my health is very good. I’m through the menopause (hurrah!) so I’m even feeling like an actual human being again, no longer screaming at the universe whilst sweating from every pore.  As I shed my surplus tonnage, I’m getting fitter and healthier by the day.

Believe me when I say I’m not in the least bit smug about my current state of health and wellness. And things could always change, I know this; I’m only 56 years old after all. But at the moment I suffer none of the ailments that should, if the statistics are to be believed, be my misfortune.

I changed my lifestyle last September because I finally acknowledged I was getting away with it.  The slew of disabling and depressing ailments within my circle of friends and acquaintances had made me realise this, and want – at long last – to do whatever I could to avoid these conditions becoming part of my lot in life.

I know no amount of healthy living can guarantee this, but common sense tells me that it must help, to manage my weight better, eat more healthily, improve the state of my heart, lungs and circulation, and exercise regularly.  I just finally got to the point where the push to do something was greater than the pull of the sofa, the packets of crisps and the ready-meals.

Now my stress level has dropped to a record low. I’m handling work better as my brain is more alert and I no longer suffer the 3pm slump. I am calmer, more relaxed, less easily provoked to irritation. I have energy to enjoy more social activities. I have self-respect again. What little disquiet as I may occasionally feel, as anyone does, is counterbalanced by a growing sense of confidence and wellbeing which has come from looking better and feeling healthier and knowing that at long last, I’m doing right by myself.