Enablers and Detractors

If you want to lose weight or to get fit, there is an important but uncomfortable issue that you may need to confront.

Who around you is helping you to eat? And who around you is not helping you to make the changes you want to make?  The people around you can impact either positive or negatively on your weight loss journey.  I’ve experienced some of the negative, and a fair few folks with an opinion too.  See earlier blog post on that.

First things first. You are 100% responsible for every single thing that you put in your mouth – every single food choice you make.  Believing otherwise is the key to either never losing it or putting it all back on again. There are some things that make sticking to a diet harder.  For me, it is travelling with work, conferences or training courses where there are biscuits at every break, or just simply, the weekends.  But you are still responsible for all of the choices that you make. You are equally responsible for whether you get out of bed and go to the gym, go out for that run, take that Zumba class.

Only sometimes there are people around you who are either activity encouraging you to make bad choices, or helping you closer to them. When you lose weight, you find that other people share their own stories with you, whether those are stories of success or failure.  I’ve heard plenty of examples of enablers and detractors, as well as experiencing my own share too.

Some people are out and out feeders. You may well have seen the slightly strange TV programmes.  Often feeders are men who like a larger lady; they are both actively engaged in a consensual feeding relationship.  Weird?  Maybe.  But it is only an extreme of something that is often much more subtle.

It might be someone telling you that you look beautiful when you are overweight, because they don’t want to hurt your feelings by telling you the truth. It might be someone who is also fat, who wants you to say just as you are because they then don’t have to face their own issues.  It might be an insecure partner filling your plate with giant portions, telling you that he likes you ‘just the way you are’.  It may be someone who uses food to show their love and care for you.  It might be someone making you feel guilty if you don’t want to go out for a meal, eat what they are eating or drink a bottle or two of wine.  Maybe you get called ‘boring’ and it is supposed to be a joke.

Whichever category these people fall into, there is one similarity. This is their issue.  Not yours.  As the saying goes, you cannot change someone else, you can only change the way you react to them.  You may need every reserve of inner strength.  You may even need to remove yourself from these people as much as you able to.  You may need to call it out.

If you have an enabler or a detractor in your life, you will have to face up to it and deal with it in whatever way is most appropriate.

As I have blogged before, I have a rule about those that have an opinion on my weight loss. Those people that have waved chocolate at me or made fun of me.  If the person sharing their views also had a well-intentioned conversation with me about my weight gain, when I was obese and sad, then I will listen to what they have to say.  If they didn’t then I will take no notice.  And for the record, this adds up to precisely no people.

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No Control

After the Christmas holidays, I had to face the horror of being weighed by my Personal Trainer.

He saw the number. And he asked me a question.  ‘What exactly did you eat?’

I thought to myself that this was a very stupid question. Because the answer was simple. ‘All of it’.

I mean what other answer is there?

Quality Street, mince pies, sausage rolls, Christmas cake, buffet food, chocolate orange, marzipan fruits, pigs in blankets, selection boxes, canapés, turkey dinners, pudding with custard, chocolate coins, crisps, dips, mashed potatoes, cheese. Chocolate for breakfast.  Chocolate for elevenses.  Chocolate just for the hell of it.

I ate all of it. Everything.

Oh, and the wine. Don’t forget the wine.

Because it was there. Because it was Christmas.  Because I wanted too. Because I was sick of eating clean, drinking vegetable juices, eating protein, protein and more protein.  Just for once, I wanted to eat whatever I fancied, without compromise.  Without making the sensible choice.

I worked out every day, only taking Christmas Day itself off. But you can’t out exercise a crappy diet.

And now I am paying the price.

This is, in truth, a form of self-sabotage.  Choosing the short term quick fix over what you want the most. Undoing all of your good work.

Things that I know:

  • It will take longer to get rid of this weight than it took me to eat all of the strawberry creams in the Quality Street tin.
  • I went too far. I ate too much. I told myself that I was having a treat, and in doing so lost control and set myself up for failure.
  • I will probably do it again, next year.
  • I will put this right, no matter how long it takes.

 

And if you too are still dealing with your Christmas indulgences, I wish you all the very best!

Mr Above Average

Today I am handing the blog over to my friend Gary Cookson, who  as well as being a fellow HR blogger (you can find his blog here, is a triathlete and fellow fitness fanatic.  But like many of us who enjoy exercise and competitions, he has overcome many challenges to get there.

Over to Gary…….

I am a big believer in having a sense of pride in ones physical wellbeing. I don’t think you need to be an Olympic athlete or a bodybuilder, you can be whatever shape you want to be as long as you are proud of that shape and your overall wellbeing.

In this blog I’ll talk about how I have lived my entire life not being proud of my sense of physical wellbeing, and what I do about it.

It’s both a curse and a blessing, the constant strive for improvement and sense of dissatisfaction with who I am.

 Obviously in my own blog, The Power of Three, I make reference to the fact that I am a triathlete, and how I place great emphasis in my work on physical fitness as well as mental resilience and career satisfaction. This blog post in particular focuses on the first, physical fitness, but the three are linked.

Anyway, for those of you who have only got to know me in the past few years, you may be surprised to learn that I used to be very fat and very unfit. Just 7-8 years ago I couldn’t go up two flights of stairs without getting out of breath, and couldn’t walk far without sweating. I ate wrong, very badly in fact. I drank heavily. I did hardly any exercise.

And now I’m the opposite. This is part of a cycle in my life of being thin and fat, fit and unfit, with each cycle lasting several years. As a child I was thin, but as a teenager very fat and unfit. At university and in my early to mid 20s I was super fit and thin but was doing so just to attract the opposite sex and once that happened and I settled down and had a family, I went back to being fat and unfit. Then my divorce happened and the cycle changed again to what I am now. Thankfully the cycle seems to have been broken despite me once again settling down, so I hope this time I stay fit and healthy.

And yet the dark times are never far away.

I have an unhealthy obsession with food dating back to my childhood. I’m well known for being a big eater, piling my plate high at buffets and the like and it’s a common joke amongst people I know. Sadly, I have no willpower when it comes to food. Put me in front of a buffet and I will overeat because it’s there for me to take. But serve me correct portions and I’m happy, because there’s nothing else for me to take. Leave me in the house with lots of biscuits and chocolate and I will eat the lot, but if there’s none there I’m not bothered or hungry either.

I have struggled with this throughout my life and I hate it when I work in open plan offices where there are lots of available snacks. One office I currently work in has regular snacks people bring in and it seems to be part of the culture that there are always chocolates etc on the table to help yourself from.

And I do.

But if they weren’t there I’d not miss them. In the other office I work at these days there are none, and I don’t mind. When I had my own office I was fine too. But put food in front of me and I have to eat it. I have to finish my plate, and I have to have a big plate if I can too.

No willpower.

Even though I know a lot about nutrition and what I should eat, I have no willpower.

Put that together with my pre divorce poor diet in general after marrying someone who had no pride in their physical appearance and who didn’t care what I looked like either, and no exercise at the time, and heavy drinking (4 pints a night every night) and it’s no wonder I was unfit and headed for an early grave.

Seriously.

Some of my health check indicators at the time were scary reading for someone in his early 30s.

But then I got divorced and suddenly had to cook all my meals myself, so found myself buying more healthy food. And I had time on my hands so joined a gym and started exercising. And the weight started to drop off alarmingly, and my health indicators started to improve.

And I realised I liked being fit.

To help me through the stress of divorce, and to find somewhat of a new identity, I started setting myself targets and challenges. Initially these were just to keep myself motivated, and to make myself feel better about myself, but they grew.

I started walking The Pennine Way with friends in stages and in the first couple I was embarrassed at how unfit I was, lagging behind, complaining, out of breath and looking a mess. So I started focusing my training on being better at this, and it worked.

Then I started making links between how I could train in certain ways and improve my performance in certain challenges. I was using data to improve myself and analysing things, stuff I’d been doing at work and in coaching sessions for a long time.

I did the Yorkshire Three Peaks (26 miles walking) in 9h11m and learnt how nutrition forms a vital part of performance in sport and fitness. I then did the national Three Peaks Challenge, solo but in an ever so slightly longer period than the standard supported challenge, and learnt the importance of proper planning, setting objectives and practicing.

I then did the Lyke Wake Walk (40 miles in 18 hours) and learnt the importance of having a support team and how to pace oneself in a long gruelling competition. I did the Isle of Man Parish Walk (80 miles in 24 hours) and got disqualified halfway through, learning the importance of knowing the rules.

All of these things were helping me become a better competitor, a better athlete, and a better all round person.

And they contributed to me having a lifestyle change. And to me that was a revelations. It’s not about diets. It’s not about going to the gym for a few weeks. It’s not about New Years Resolutions. None of these things have anything more than a short term effect. But a long term lifestyle change does have a long term lasting effect. I find too many people, myself included in earlier attempts, give up because they don’t see overnight changes in themselves.

You see, my problem is with body image. No matter what shape and weight I actually am, no matter how fit I become, I look in the mirror and see someone who is horribly overweight and out of shape.

All the time.

And I know others don’t see the same when they look at me, but I think I’m fat. I think I’m overweight. I think I’m unfit.

And whilst this is a curse in that I am never happy with myself, it is also a blessing in that it always, always, motivates me to keep my fitness training going and to always strive for more.

I don’t have a problem in motivating myself as I know all I need to do is look in a mirror.

And I find myself occasionally motivating others in an informal sense. I’m not a personal trainer, and yet I think there are enough overlap areas between that and HR and in particular leadership coaching, that I would make a good personal trainer.

I know I’d love to run a spin class. Or a boot camp.

A few people have asked in the past if I would give them some personal training advice, and I have. And strangely when I was talking earlier this year about going self employed, a few people thought that I was doing so to become a personal trainer.

Maybe there’s something in that.

And that brings me to triathlons…the ultimate Power of Three!

I decided to do my first triathlon in 2010 as just another challenge. I knew little about them. I could only swim breaststroke and had never swam in open water. I didn’t own a bike and borrowed a friends mountain bike. And I had never run as much as 5k without stopping ever. I had no clue about how to transition, and didn’t know what I was doing at all.

And yet I did it and found it exhilarating. I made loads of mistakes (including thinking I would be able to dry off and get changed after the swim in a private changing room) and walked most of the run course, but I did it and signed up the same day for my next race.

And here I am, 31 races later and with 7 more entered this year. I love them.

I like the fact that I’m wholly dependent on myself and not on team mates. I like how there is an abundance of data about my performance to help me analyse and improve. I like how there is always some new piece of kit or tech to try. I like how I can choose to race against the clock, my PBs, or against others to benchmark my performance.  And I like the variety they bring to my training, effectively training for three sports instead of one.

They’re very addictive.

I’ve been forced to integrate all of my learning from all of my challenges into one. I need to be very careful on nutrition. I don’t drink alcohol for a clear week before a race as it just fatigues me (meaning in summer I barely drink alcohol at all), or within 24 hours of any training session (meaning I must have at least 5 or 6 alcohol free days a week). I know how and when to carb up, and for how long to have the best effect on my performance. I avoid takeaways and overly fatty food for a clear week pre race also, and my final 36 hours is spent carb loading (pasta mainly). I know how much and what I need to the days before a race, and what I need to have inside me on race days to fuel me up. I know whether I need to intake food or drinks during a race. I know what food and drink I need immediately post race to aid recovery. I know the importance of tapering my training in the immediate pre race week, and only gradually increasing it post race. I know how to plan my training so that I reach race day in peak condition.

I also know what time of day I prefer to train and when I’ll find it hard going due to my body’s natural cycle and rhythms.

I have race week routines and I stick to them. It may drive my family mad but it works for me. I know what support they can give me and am pleased they do. 

I know during the race how I’m doing, thanks to the tech I wear. This helps me maintain focus and motivation.

And yet I’m only just above average for my age group.

Could I be better? Yes. If I worked less hours or spent less time with my family I could. But I am happy with my balance.

Ultimately, if you’d said I could be an above average triathlete 8 years ago I’d have laughed at you, as would everyone who knew me. It’s a good place to be, above average. I’m no Brownlee Brother, and will never win a race, but I’m ahead of 50% of my peers and ahead of 100% of those who don’t try at all.

And I get to see the impressed looks on people’s faces when I say I’m a triathlete. It’s awesome.

Above average in physical fitness is achievable for most people. Olympic standard isn’t. If I do ever dabble in personal training, I’d want to work with clients who aren’t happy with who they are and want to change. Those clients who recognise they could be better and want to learn all the various things that need to happen to be better, from nutrition, to focused training and objectives, to understanding physical limits and work life balance issues, to understand the rules and the need for support, the need to make lasting lifestyle changes. Those who want to be “above average” and harness the Power of Three.

I think I’m well placed to help such people as I’m Mr Above Average. I’ve made loads of mistakes but learnt from each one.

I can relate easily to Gem’s own journey as much of it mirrors my own, and I can sense she’s happier than she used to be about herself but still not satisfied. Like me. Like anyone who wants to change and embed improvements.

If you want to know more about anything I’ve talked about, please contact me.

Till next time.

 

Gary

You got this.

I can see you, out of the corner of my eye. Wearing the baggy t-shirt and joggers and the bright white new trainers.  Looking like you aren’t really sure what you are doing here.  Trying to figure out how to work the machines.

You are new here, aren’t you?

I saw you having your induction the other day.

It’s a strange place isn’t it? Full of people drinking protein shakes and talking a foreign language full of terminology and wearing tiny gym clothes.  Then there are the big scary muscly guys grunting in the squat rack.  Not to mention the superfit skinny folks sprinting on the treadmill.  Then there’s the first time you walk into a class and everyone else has been going forever and knows the routines and each other.

It’s hard at first, isn’t it?

Do you know something? I used to be you. Not all that long ago.  I might look like I know what I am doing now.  I might have all the workout gear and the expensive trainers and I like to hang out in the weights zone.  But I used to be ever so slightly intimidated of the fit people and the machines that I didn’t know how to work.  I used to be the one wondering if anyone, maybe everyone, was looking at me and thinking that I shouldn’t be here.

So don’t give up. It won’t take you long to figure it all out. To stop feeling out of place.  I believe in you, if you believe in  yourself. You have taken the first, and probably most difficult step, by just walking through the door.

You’ve got this.

 

One dark rainy morning.

During a moment of wakefulness in the night, I could hear the wind and the rain lashing against the windows. Falling back into a deep sleep, the alarm sounding a shock to the system.  Dark outside, still raining.  My bedroom, cold.  The bed, warm and snug.  It is disgustingly early.  And I do not, really, really do not, want to go to the gym.

Easy to hit the snooze button. To pull the covers back up and hide amongst the warmth.  To ignore those gym clothes, laid out ready the night before.  I am tired. The urge to just take the day off is overwhelming.

But somehow, I don’t. When I step outside, the cold morning takes my breath away.  The cold car is unwelcoming.  Even the gym when I arrive, lately bursting with January joiners full of new year resolution fervour, is almost empty.

For a moment, I wonder. Why do I do this?  And then I remember.

Because every workout counts. Because I didn’t like myself all that much when I didn’t do this.

And because these are the mornings that define you. When you push yourself to do what you don’t want to, when you push yourself to do what others will not.

Because this is what will make all the difference.

#DietFail

Over the years, I tried diets. Lots and lots of diets.

Well, I pretended too at least.  For many years I was partial to a dramatic announcement that I was, sound all of the klaxons, ‘GOING TO LOSE SOME WEIGHT’.

I joined Weight Watchers once. I went to my first meeting held in a local school hall near where I worked. Paid the money, had my initial weigh-in, got the books and the points calculator and listened to the motivational speech.  I joined in with applauding those who had lost weight since the previous meeting.  It all sounded excellent.  I’m not sure I was entirely committed to the process though.  One of the colleagues that I went with is fond of reminding me that on the way out of the meeting I telephoned my husband and told him to put a steak pie in the oven. I hadn’t even made it out of the building before I was cheating on myself.  I preserved with the points system for a while, but it didn’t work for me.  The problem was that the book gave you the points value of all the really bad food too.  So I very quickly figured out the points value of everything from a Mars Bar to a McChicken sandwich.  I’d usually have eaten my entire permitted points amount (mostly in chocolate) by say, 11am.  It was my only trip to the school hall.

Then there was the juice detox diet. This was sure to work. After all, didn’t all the celebrities do it?  So I ordered from a juicing website three days’ worth of juices, to be delivered frozen.  I figured that even I could stick to three days of just drinking juice.   They arrived.  Juices made with broccoli and spinach.  Others based on carrot or beetroot.  And every, single one tasting like the devil himself had invented a drink for the sole purposes of torturing the souls of the unworthy.  Imagine drinking thick, gloopy, cold carrots.  I drank each one with a receptacle on hand to throw up in, so sure was I that my stomach would never tolerate such foulness.  By day two, the vegetables were fermenting in my stomach.  Certain lower bodily emissions were a regular occurrence.  I looked like I had a beach ball up my shirt so swollen was my belly.  On day three I decided I would rather be fat forever than drink one more bottle of frozen green sludge.  The rest of the bottles went in the bin.  Which is where I might as well have put my £120.

Then there was the 5:2 diet. With the enticing promise that if you could just restrain your piggy little self for a 24 hours period twice a week, you could eat what you liked the rest of the time.  The unintended consequences of this diet were a vile headache and even more vile temper.  The day following a fast I felt sick and faint all day.  I’d lose a pound of so, but then put it straight back on once I returned to more typical eating.  I tried for a week or two but I gave it up before all my friends gave up on me for being so unpleasant to be around.

I also tried drinks that were intended to fill you up, to help you eat less. They came in sachet form and cost me the best part of another £25.  You mixed the powder with water and then drank it – three times a day.  In terms of taste, I would rather clean my toilet bowl with my tongue.  One day I made a sachet at work, and before I had chance to drink it headed off to a meeting, leaving it on my desk to ferment.  An hour later I came back to find it had expanded right out the plastic cup, and was now a fluorescent pink thick goo that looked something like ectoplasm.  If you ever watched Ghostbusters you will know exactly what I mean.

These weren’t the only diets and quick fix solutions I have tried over the years. I know that some of these diets have worked very well for people, and they have found them of much greater benefit than I did.  But here’s the thing.  Every single time I had tried one of these diets, I hadn’t changed my underlying beliefs or behaviours.  I wasn’t committed to making lasting change. With the WeightWatchers attempt the hoped for behavioural change didn’t even last as far as the car park.  If you change how you think about food and exercise, then you can lose weight and achieve your dreams.  If not, you will just be going through the motions.  I can remember talking about going on a diet, and following it up with an additional comment along the lines of ‘only it never works and I never stick to it’.

So I got exactly what I subconsciously expected.

Nothing.

Change you thinking, change the size of your trousers.

New year, new you, and other crap.

It’s that time of year again. Where every magazine, blog post or clickbait link is trying to sell you a whole new you.  Someone promoting a particular diet or evangelising a whole new approach.  Many of them are of the quick fix variety.  Many others celebrity endorsed, alongside the traditional post-holiday DVD release.

Books, magazines, blogs, articles. Juice cleanses, detox plans, 5:2, WeightWatchers, Slimming World, Atkins, protein shakes.  Are you beach body ready?  Loose seven pounds before your holidays on our detox diet!  Beat the bloat. 7 ways to burn that belly fat.  How to get a thigh gap, fast!

And so on.

Photoshopped models. Impossible ideals.  Unachievable images, everywhere.

Here’s the thing.

A whole heap of it is utter rubbish.

The diet and exercise industry comes with a built in probability of failure. If any of these diets truly worked, then the industry would cease to exist.  You would only need to go along to a class once or twice to learn the basics and that is all you would ever need.  We’d all be rocking those skinny jeans forever more.

Instead, many people find themselves trapped in a cycle of weight off, weight on, and yet another new year resolution.

This ‘new year, new you’ ideal is a magic wand version of health and fitness. An illusion.

What I have learned, more than anything is this. Weight loss is both terribly hard, and incredibly simple.  The belief that you can, is hard. Sticking to it when you really want a curry followed by a family size bag of Malteasers, is hard.  Exercise, especially at the start, is very hard.  Fighting against years of failures, against all the people who don’t believe you or would like to secretly see you fail, is hard.  Diets fail, exercise programmes fail, because people give up. Sometimes they give up because they expect too much, too soon, or the change they try to make is simply too big.  And giving up is a mental process, just like weight loss is.

The most important thing that you can do if you want to lose weight, is give up the totally unrealistic notion that you will be an entirely person different tomorrow.  Instead, begin with believing that you can. And then set yourself some small, achievable goals.

There are no quick fixes, only long term lifestyle changes.

Sorry about that.