Excuses, excuses

I’ve got a confession to make.

I’ve been lying.

To myself.

It’s the big lie too.

The ‘I don’t have time to exercise’ lie.

Let me explain.

When I first got seriously into fitness, I found it fairly easy to fit it in. I had a short commute, and a job good enough to mean I could afford a cleaner and send out my ironing.  My time of choice to work out was in the morning before work.  Up at 5.30, in the gym for 6.15, a hard training session and then off to the office.  Weekends were dedicated to running, cycling and even longer gym sessions.

Fast forward to today, and I have a gruelling minimum three hour round trip to work. Layer on top of that the cooking, cleaning, washing and all of the other life stuff we all have to do. Trying to fit in family and some freelance work on top, exercise just kept getting pushed further and further down the priority list.

Exercise was important, but not urgent. Not in the same way that having clean clothes and food in the cupboard was.

Before I knew it, I was out of the habit. I didn’t have the time, or so I said.

Excuses are easy. But as with all things, it’s a matter of priorities. I have the same number of hours in the day as Beyonce (although probably less domestic help to be honest).

So I have had a long hard look at my lifestyle.

Last week, instead of driving to a few places that I needed to go, I took my bike.

I prioritised my health over the emails that I could do on the train later, and ran at lunchtime.

I ignored the ironing pile and went out for a late evening run. I couldn’t make a full gym session but I could do a quick jaunt near to home.  And let’s face it, I can always wear something with a few creases.  I ditched a TV programme that I normally watched and did some cardio instead.

We are all busy. No one just has the time.  You have to make it.

As the saying goes, if you want to do something you find a way; if you don’t you find an excuse.

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Power in the group

There’s something about having an exercise partner. On one hand, I don’t like it.  I like to do my own thing, at my own pace.  But that’s the thing.  Left to my own pace, that pace will be slower.  When I run in an event or in a group, I run faster than I do when I’m on my own.  When I don’t have a commitment to someone else, I am just that little bit more likely to stay on the sofa.  It’s a peer pressure kind of thing.

I’ve recently joined a lunchtime running club at work. Like many of us who work in offices, I rarely take a lunch break. Most days, you will find me eating a sandwich at my desk whilst scrolling Twitter.  But when there is someone counting on you, you go.

There’s just a couple of us. It’s a chatty, not too hard-core kind of thing.  It gets me moving, even if it does mean that some of my colleagues inevitably see me in lycra (sorry about that).  We do laps of the local park.  At this time of year its cold and muddy and wet and I like it.  Running with someone else makes me run longer and faster than I would if I was on my own.

So if you need a little more motivation, if you need that extra push, find someone to exercise with. There’s power in the many.

 

Good enough

We are coming up to that time of year again.

First we will have Christmas, and all of the indulgence it brings with it.

Then there will be New Year’s Eve, the final excess of the season.

And then…..

The guilt.

The resolutions.

The TV adverts for diets and detoxes.

The celebrity exercise DVDs.

The pressure – from external sources and from within.

Being hard on ourselves.

 

Anyone familiar with my story will know that I found losing weight and finding fitness hard. I still do.  I know that I always will.

I read this article at the weekend.  I wanted to share it, not just because I found it inspirational, but because it also echoes my own lived experience over the last five years.

I have learned that there is no end goal, no finish line. That the path is not always a straight line – sometimes you fall back a little and that’s okay.  I have learned that health and wellbeing is about caring for yourself and putting yourself first, something that many of us don’t do often enough.  I have learned that when it comes to weight loss and fitness, we have everything we need inside ourselves, we just have to believe it.  Most of all I have learned that there is no quick fix – there is only one race, and that is your own.

I am not perfect, but I am good enough.

 

The 9 kinds of people you always meet in the gym

The protein bore

Often found in the changing room discussing chicken, raw eggs and supplements. Bore off.

The selfie taker

It’s like, a thing in the gym today. Posing in front of a big mirror looking for the perfect shot to put on Facebook, smug model style. Did your workout really happen if you haven’t posted it on social media?

The one who looks done

Whether male or female, this person has the perfect figure and looks super awesome. Logically, we know that they probably got this from all the hours that they spent in the gym working their (tight) ass off.  But it is still okay to hate them a little bit.

The one who looks overdone

Usually a guy tbh. Often found bulging out of a very small vest.

The grunter

Found in the big weights section. Sound like they are trying to do a very big poo.

The one with the fancy, expensive gym gear

It always matches. Sometimes, even the bag and the trainers.  Mostly women, these people, never ever look like a sweaty mess.  They also usually have done their hair to go to the gym.  WTAF.

The one who is unnecessarily naked

You are in the changing room. There is, naturally, a requirement to change, wash, remove items of clothing and so on.  And yet some feel the urge to wander around the changing room as naked as they day they were born.  For ages.  Even worse, they engage you in conversation and you don’t know where to look.

The randomer

There is always one. Looks like they were intending to go for a nice day out and accidentally took a wrong turn.  Wearing a sweater and gardening shoes.

The person who doesn’t put their weights back

A special place in hell is reserved for these people.

Running, again.

Today, I ran.

It’s been a long time.

Months in fact.

Right now, I feel a long way from the girl that last year ran a half marathon, did a mud run and their first triathlon.

I’ve been quiet on this blog. Mainly, because there has been nothing new to say.  How many times can you write that you still aren’t getting your shit together with this stuff before it gets boring?

I know what I need to do, but somehow I am just still not doing it.  For months now, it has been excuses all the way.

But I remembered how I got into running in the first place. I joined a beginners group – and that started everything.  With the support of other runners, I found my running groove.

Where I work now, there is a whole running community going on. And they are have a beginners group.  I figured if it worked before, it might work again.

So I signed up.

I was nervous.  I wasn’t entirely sure I still knew how to do this stuff.  Physically, I am heavier than I was when I was running last.  I have a dodgy knee that I can’t quite get right.  I wasn’t even sure I had the breath (or VO2 max if you want the proper term) to sustain a run of any sort.

I carried my kit on the train this morning, still not entirely sure I was going to go. I’d lined up an excuse just in case (meetings, meetings).  Only they changed the time just for me and I didn’t have an excuse any more.

So I went.

Putting on my running shoes has always felt good. Wearing them after such a long time felt like coming home.

On the run itself, I was, if I am honest, a bit rubbish. But as they say (on Pinterest anyway), a bad run is better than no run.

The girl who once ran more than 13 miles without once stopping to walk is still in there.

And now she is running again.

Why diets suck

As a word, ‘diet’ simply means what we eat. But it has come to mean something else.  It has come to mean following an eating plan with a view to losing weight.

We announce that we are ‘on a diet’ to ourselves or to others.

Well of course we are.  We are all on a diet, even if it is made up of Pot Noodles and Big Mac Meals and Prosecco.

But with the more regularly understood definition of the word in mind, I am going to say….. diets suck.

Diets suck for lots of reasons.

First up, as soon as we think we are on a diet we feel deprived and want to eat ALL OF THE THINGS.

Second. Many of them aren’t long term sustainable in terms of having an actual life.

Thirdly, however they are dressed up, they are only telling us what we already know.

Whether you follow Weight Watches, Slimming World or the Body Coach, it all amounts to the same thing, right at the very core of it. Eat less crap, move about more.

We need to reclaim the word ‘diet’. A diet is what we eat.  Some are healthy and some are less so.  My diet recently has not been good enough.  I have not been eating according to my goals.  I don’t need to follow a plan to know this.  I know that if, like last week, we ate out several times and consumed a fair amount of wine along the way, the scales will tell their own story come Monday morning.

If you want to lose weight, create a calorie deficit. That is what every diet plan is fundamentally all about.  Whether you are actually counting calories or not, it’s about energy in versus energy out.  When you check out a class or a programme or a magazine article, there is no magic formula contained within.  At the core of it will be more fruit and veg and protein and water.  Less (unhealthy) fat and sugar in whichever guise it appears.  More exercise and movement.

So my suggestion is don’t ‘go on a diet’ if you want to lose weight. Just improve the one that you already have.

Delayed gratification v immediate cake

I am fascinated by the way our minds work. Especially when it comes to weight loss and fitness.  A few years ago, I made such a change to my approach and mindset that I lost six stone and got really quite fit, fit for someone who couldn’t walk up a few flights of stairs previously at least.

I thought I would never go back. That it was hard wired in me.  But that turned out not to be the case.

One of my lessons along the way has been this one.

Successful weight loss is about the ability to delay gratification.

If you ask many overweight people whether they want to lose weight, they will say yes. I certainly did, for all of those years that I was obese.  Why then, is it so hard?  Because really all you have to do is eat fewer calories.  An over simplification?  Maybe, but only a little.

But there is a disconnect. If you want to lose weight, they why is it so hard to do the simple thing that would enable it: resist poor food choices?

In my opinion, it’s all about timing. Weight loss takes a long time, especially when you have a lot of weight to go.  Cake is immediate.  So is chocolate.  And wine.  And crisps, and take-aways and all of the nice things.

If we stopped to think before we made the choice, we probably want the weight loss more than that individual piece of cake. But you can have the cake right now. The weight loss….. it’s abstract. It’s in the possible future.  It is too hard to equate one with the other.

You may be familiar with the leading experiment in delayed gratification at Stanford University. Researchers gave children a treat*.  They were told if they could resist eating it for a little while, they could have two treats.  Left alone, some children managed to resist and hold out for the greater long term reward.  Others just scoffed the first one.  Long term analysis of the group showed that those that were able to wait had better life outcomes in many ways….. including BMI.

No surprise to me.

I’d have been in the first group. Because one little treat can’t hurt.  Especially if it is right in front of me.

Until there are many of them, of course.

There are a few ‘secrets’ to weight loss. None of them come from a celebrity or a revolutionary new diet.  One of them is about shifting our thinking.  If we can focus ourselves sufficiently on the long term, on the bigger goal, on what we want most of all, then maybe we can resist the cake in front of us, right now.

 

*It was a marshmallow.  Now I want a marshmallow.

Thinking about exercise

The way you think about exercise is important. The framing of it in your own mind can be the key to doing it, or not doing it.

Take yesterday. I was working from home.  For me, this means I don’t have to spend two and a half hours commuting, time I usually spend on doing life stuff.  Yesterday, this meant washing, ironing, cleaning, cooking and the like.  By 8.30am yesterday I had a sparkling bathroom, washing on the line, and my OH had some crisp shirts for the rest of the week.  After then doing my contractual duties to my employer, I sorted the Tesco shop, did a nursery run, emptied the bins, cooked the tea and washed up.

So when it got to 7pm last night, frankly, the last thing that I wanted to do was exercise.

Two things made me go. First of all, I had set myself a target for the week. If I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t be letting down anyone but me.

Second, I decided it was my me time. All of the other stuff in the day was for someone else.  Bosses, trade unions reps, colleagues, family.  Exercise is when I get to be selfish.  Exercise is when I get a few moments to think about nothing but the sounds of the road, the next rotation of my bike wheel, my breath.

10K later, I was, as always, glad I had gone.

If you make exercise a chore in your mind, you will never appreciate it. You will never want to do it for its own sake. If you find your very own reason for doing it, reframe it from a must do to a want to do, it is ever easier to walk out the door

The Women’s Magazine Weight Loss Story Formula

I love a women’s magazine. Not the glossy ones full of adverts and expensive handbags.  Not the ones with worthy articles.  I love the real life versions.

These magazines have a formula. Problem pages and horoscopes.  Reader tips, letters and photos.  Ordinary people doing something different or over coming adversity.  And nothing says over coming adversity than a former Big Girl who has lost a whole load of weight.

The story goes a bit like this (all of them).

  • Before photos. The more unflattering, the better.
  • How they put the weight on. This is usually all about business of life, too many take-away meals and being slightly oblivious to the ever increasing waistline. There will be no attempt to really understand what makes people put on weight.
  • Their experiences of being big. People laughing and commenting, the acceptability of fat shaming.
  • The moment that made them change. Needing a seatbelt extension on a plane. Failing to fit in the seat in the rollercoaster. Breaking a chair. A terrible photo on Facebook.
  • A sidebar with before and after typical daily diets. TBH, I often prefer the first one.
  • A reference to their new love of (add to the list as you see fit: running, Zumba, weight training etc.).
  • After photos. The more glamorous the better.

I am not attempting to be critical in this post. Truly.  I wrote my own one of these stories after all.  I have also found it inspirational to read the stories of others.

But these magazines are hugely influential. Check out this piece here about how a leading women’s magazine has influenced our views on slimming for decades.  Flick through the pages in any of the magazines I’m talking about and you will most likely find a diet plan or some slimming recipes just a little further along.  Some of the approaches that the magazines tacitly promote aren’t necessarily health ways to lose weight – or sustain it long term.

We are fed a continuous diet (if you will excuse the term) of messaging about how terrible it is to be fat and how much more wonderful your life will be when you are thin.

For every person these stories inspire, there will be another who will be made miserable by it, should they find themselves unable to achieve the desirable ‘after’ photograph.

We need role models. But of health and wellness and not just thinness.  We really don’t need any more diet plans.  There is no ‘secret’ of weight loss or miracle plan, no matter what the articles try to tell you.

We also need to acknowledge that weight loss is not a panacea for a happiness. My life is better for losing all my weight in that I am healthier, more confident, and more capable of doing little things like walking up a flight of stairs.

But let’s stop pretending that it is the answer to everything. Let’s try and stop the quick fix, follow a magazine diet to lose weight instantly mentality.

Let’s stop doing this stuff to each other.

Feel the rhythm

On Monday, my OH and I had planned to go running. But he was late home from work, and we were tired, and you know… excuses.  So we promised to go on Wednesday instead.  Only when Wednesday came it was raining.  Heavily.  I looked at him and he looked at me and it was a close thing, but we had promised.  And so we went.

It was cold and windy and very, very wet.

I really would rather have done anything but run outside.  Only once you actually start to run, you don’t mind all that much. As a quote somewhere on Pinterest says, the hardest thing is getting out of the door.  But once you have, and your legs find their rhythm and you tune into the sound of your feet on the floor, it’s all good.

In all the exercise that I have done, events too, one thing is true. You never regret a workout.  You never come home and wish you hadn’t bothered.  Even those workouts that don’t work out.  There are times when I run or cycle that my legs just don’t feel it.  There are times when I am tired and I don’t perhaps push as hard as I could.  There are gym trips and classes that feel great and some that feel less so.

But you never regret going.

So to every runner that has gone out in the rain or the wind or the snow. To every gym goer that gets up early to go before work when you really want to stay in bed. To the person that does when their brain is telling them to do not.

You did it. You moved your body.  You did a good thing for yourself.

Don’t stop.