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.
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:
I burn less energy simply existing, so I do need to consume a little less fuel
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.
Last 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.
I 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.
Don’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.
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.
We wandered… Foliage… water… lovely.
No idea what this structure is going to be when it’s finished, but it looks interesting.
A nice view down towards the River Thames.
A very ancient oak tree – apparently a favourite for people who come to meditate beneath its boughs.
Another tree (you can tell I’m not an arboriculturist, can’t you?) Not so ancient, but well-dressed nonetheless.
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.
Half 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.
Children in particular were loving the chance to look down through the glass floor.
A final look at the borders from the meadow and our walk took us further on, past the Palm House with its precision planting…
And the Japanese Garden and Gateway…
Which afforded another nice glimpse of the Pagoda…
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!
Disturbed 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.
A 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.
The 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.
Traffic 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.
With the proliferation of boot camps, gyms and celebrity fitness DVDs, one might easily imagine that exercise is hard work. But I’m getting healthier and steadily losing weight, on a very moderate exercise regime. I would hardly even call it a regime.
Until the last decade or so, I’d been moderately but consistently active all my life. As a child, I swam (enthusiastically), played hockey (unenthusiastically), netball (defensively), tennis (ambidextrously) and rounders (exceedingly well, if I say so myself). I also walked everywhere, as young people used to do before parents became unpaid taxi services. In my twenties I bounced round a sports hall to the tune of ‘Cecilia’ (Simon & Garfunkel, great bouncy tune) in what used to be called Popmobility classes (that’s before aerobics was even heard of). Since then, over the years, I’ve been a member of no less than four gyms, including three stints with a personal trainer – and that’s not including the one I dated; I’ve cycled (including, just once, doing the London to Brighton Bike Ride), played squash on a weekly basis, gone swimming with the same frequency, walked a mile each way to and from the train station every day, and joined my neighbours for energetic Sunday morning walks.
My periods of supervision by gym-based personal trainers and the London to Brighton notwithstanding, my approach to exercise has been consistent; moderate in preference to extreme, and gently glowing, in preference to sweating-like-a-pig. But if I think back, I realise that over the years I’ve always done something, to aid my physical fitness and counterbalance my largely desk-based occupations.
Until, that is, it all stopped.
Grinding to a Halt
In 2001 I fell victim to a damaging personal relationship and in the middle of that chaos, I was made redundant; a double-whammy that spawned a crisis of confidence. Determined (that’s a bit of a theme in my life) not to let circumstances and my tattered self-esteem beat me, I joined Weightwatchers. Through 2002 I managed the biggest weight loss I had ever, to that point, achieved. But for reasons I don’t fully understand even now, I couldn’t sustain it and the weight piled back on with staggering rapidity. That was when I lost the impetus to take proper care of myself – I gave up. Then the menopause showed up, slamming into me around 2007 and putting paid to what was left of my energy, motivation and self-discipline – and all bets were off.
I spent much of the next eight years sitting for endless hours on my ever broadening bottom, at one desk or another, in one car or another, or in front of the TV. The fact is, when it comes to general fitness and wellbeing, the less you exercise, the less you want to exercise. And the more you sit, the more you need to sit.
Worth saying, the one thing I kept up, right through from 2007, was a weekly one-to-one Pilates training session, and the modest amount of Pilates I did at home, from week to week. Pilates, whilst rarely aerobic, continues to make a vital contribution to my physical wellbeing. I got into it because of chronic back pain (brought on by carrying too much weight – duh); I stayed because I loved it. But more about Pilates on another occasion.
Cranking up the Engine
When I began my new healthy lifestyle last September, I sought help from a number of different sources. One of these was a Great White Elephant which had, a few years previously, taken up residence in my spare bedroom.
I had, in a moment of madness several years earlier, purchased a full-size gym-grade treadmill. I had, with a burst of good intention, converted my spare bedroom into a mini exercise studio, with wooden floor, a TV mounted on the wall, and a fan for comfort. I installed a couple of pieces of Pilates equipment and a vibrating plate thing – and I bought the treadmill. My rationale was, the easier I made it for myself to exercise, the more likely I was to do it. And you can’t get much easier than stepping on to a treadmill in your own spare bedroom, can you?
As it turned out, even that wasn’t easy enough. But that was more about attitude of mind than anything else. And back then, I didn’t have the right one.
So last September, as I began to nourish my body with better food, I turned to my ignored and abandoned treadmill. I couldn’t quite face walking outdoors. I felt enormous and lumbering and it took only a few hundred yards before my face turned blotchy red and oozed with perspiration. On the treadmill, I could begin gradually, walking slowly for a few minutes – 5 at first, but I got to 15 without too much trouble, and kept going. I gradually increased the speed and length of time I used this instrument of torture, until I became thoroughly bored with staring at the TV and going nowhere.
I was deploying positive affirmations by then, which made me feel more engaged with the idea of getting out into the fresh air, and gradually I migrated my (nearly) daily walks from my spare bedroom to three or four circuits of my neighbourhood, varying distances depending on time and inclination, whether it was light enough to walk through the park, and whether I needed to pass by a shop. A few months in, and I added a longer walk into town, which, when combined with a bit of wandering around the shops, got me to 10,000 steps for the day.
I know that’s not a lot – but that’s my point. [Yes… I got to it at last…]. I’ve been losing weight and getting fitter on a modest 6,000 or so steps a day, with maybe one day a week on 10,000 steps. For a home-based worker, a 6,000 step day is a walk of somewhere between 2-2.5 miles or between 30-45 minutes, plus incidental wandering around at home. It’s really not a lot.
Once I got a taste for being outside (frosty, dark mornings in the winter, crisp springtime sunshine, now warmer lunchtime wanderings), I began to actually enjoy my daily walk. Now sometimes I stroll – stop and smell the roses – and other times I walk as fast as I can, using an App to check my pace. Sometimes I rock it with an exercise playlist, and other times I immerse in an audiobook. I go first thing in the morning, or at lunchtime, or when I’m fed up with staring at my PC. I’m trying not to slip into any kind of routine, because I know how all-or-nothing I can be, and I know that the moment I fail at my routine, it will knock me off course – and I don’t want that to happen. I’m just listening to my body, and making sure I enjoy what I’m doing, and never doing it under sufferance.
Now, with summer beginning to show up (odd days only, so far – this is the UK after all), I’m looking forward to getting the sun on my face and arms, to natural Vitamin D, to watching toddlers in the playground; to the scent of wisteria, honeysuckle and fresh mown grass; to the fact that I won’t be bringing in soggy leaves on my shoes, a curse to my cream carpets, for the next few months.
I have friends, slimmer and fitter than I, who regularly walk 5 or 10 miles a day – for fun. Imagine! I’m comfortably able to walk 3 or 4 miles with no undesirable outcomes, and I could certainly do quite a bit more now, though I haven’t yet had the occasion. Later in the year I’m going on a healthy retreat which will involve much longer walks. Meantime, I’m being urged to do the ‘Couch to 5K’ App, and learn to run.
Maybe I’ll get there, I don’t know at the moment if that’s something I’m prepared to put my 56-year-old body through. But in the meantime, I believe the most important thing is not running, nor jogging, nor even how far you walk, but that you walk – every day, or as near as possible. Because once you walk – once you enjoy the experience of putting one foot in front of the other outdoors, you can always walk more, or faster if you feel so moved, and then there’s no end to how far you can go.
This weekend was a memorable one for me, in weight-loss terms. I’ve now shaken off 50 pounds since I begun my new healthier lifestyle last September. I still have a very 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:
I’ve dropped 3 dress sizes
I’m wearing ‘old favourite’ outfits that haven’t fitted me for 8 or 10 years
I’m back to the weight I last carried over 14 years ago
My ankles are pretty again, no more heavy, fluid-filled balloons
I’m wearing high heels again and loving the increased stature and well-being
I can go for a walk without pouring with sweat
I’ve discarded a giant pile of ‘fat clothes’ that I hated having to wear
I’m breathing more deeply, not catching my breath
My resting heart rate has dropped over 10 bpm
My nails are unblemished and healthy
I haven’t had a cold all winter
I can bend and touch my toes
I can see my toes!
My waist and once proud hourglass figure is re-emerging
I’m wearing pretty bras again
Yes, I’ll say it, I feel sexy again
I’m standing straighter and taller
When I pull my tummy in, it actually goes in a bit
I like myself because I feel in control of my eating habits
I feel good when I take exercise
I feel good that I take exercise regularly
I feel great when I get home from taking exercise
I’m relishing many compliments from friends, family and colleagues
I’ve surprised one or two people who haven’t seen me in a while – that’s been fun
My feet have shrunk
My boobs have only shrunk a little
Pilates has become more fun again
I can lie on my stomach and still be able to breathe
I’ve rediscovered vegetables, nuts and seeds
I’m looking forward to warm summer days ahead, not fearing discomfort
I’ve eliminated 99% of added sugar from my life – and totally lost my sweet tooth
I’m able to make healthy, balanced choices in restaurants
I can fit into bucket seats without cutting off the blood supply to my legs
I can sit on folding chairs without worrying they will collapse
I won’t need an extender belt next time I fly
I’ve learned to live without… toast
I’ve discovered I can lose weight and still enjoy butter and cheese
I can wear trousers that do up with buttons and a zip
My favourite dressing gown wraps right around me again
Tight toilet cubicles are no longer an embarrassing challenge
I can buy ordinary clothes at Marks & Spencer
I can buy actual sportswear
I have swimming costumes which hold everything that has to stay… held
My neck is slimmer and necklaces sit so much more comfortably and attractively
My fingers are slimmer and I can wear rings I haven’t worn for years
My wrists are slimmer and I can wear watches and bracelets again
My hips no longer ache when I walk
I can run upstairs
I don’t get acid reflux after evening meals
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?