And breathe

swimA long commute.

Working on the journey.

Five meetings, in four different buildings.

Dragging a bag on my back.

Thoughts of the never ending to-do list.

Calls in between.

Keeping up with the emails and the voicemails.

A dash for the train. Which is of course, late.

A long commute, all over again.

Tired. Legs aching.

This is my every day.

So there is only one thing to do.

Swim.

I could go home and clean the bathroom or hoover the bedrooms or tackle the ironing pile or empty the dishwasher or start cooking the dinner.

But.

The fluff on the floor can just stay there. No one will die from a crinkly shirt crisis.  The Queen is not coming for tea.  The dishwasher can stay full.

I choose to stretch my tired body. Rest my racing brain through slow, calming repetitive strokes through the water.  I choose exercise and health.  Movement.

I choose me.

 

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The Celebrity Weight Loss DVD Phenomenon

A wellbeing expert I know has several definitions for what amounts to a fad diet. One of them is ‘a celebrity has done it’.

He’s got a point. Every year, we see the same thing happen.  Someone in the public eye will lose a lot of weight and then produce a weight loss DVD (plus additional magazine articles and the like) sharing how they did it, their secret, how you can get the same results.  Etc.  The cynic in me says the weight loss and the DVD deal are not separate events.

The magazines queue up for the relevant article. The celebrity concerned is praised for their amazing new figure and all their hard work.  Fast forward a month or two.  The poor individual has put some of the weight back on. So the narrative turns to their ‘weight hell’ and their fall from skinny grace.  It’s only the beginning of February and a particular example from this year (DVD still available) is already been picked apart in this week’s magazine rack.

I am deliberately not naming anyone. There is enough fat shaming and female shaming (because they usually are) taking place without me joining in.  I don’t blame any of the individuals involved.  If someone offered me a DVD deal along with support to lose some weight, I’d sign on the line in a heartbeat.  And you could call me what you like once I had spent all the cash (on chocolate probably).

Instead, it is the system I don’t like. Building someone up and then knocking them down.  Rinsing the general public for their cash with another story, another gimmick.  The tantalising potential of easy weight loss.  After all, an ordinary girl off the television can do it – so why can’t you?

Here’s the thing. Weight loss is hard. Maintaining it is harder still – and I should know.  I did the former and I am struggling with the latter – and I know that I always will.  There are no quick fixes.  But that’s not a popular story.  So instead, we will just keep buying the DVDs and perpetuating the cycle.

The diet class trap

I was recently chatting to someone about diets. They told me that they were a regular at a well-known slimming club.  They’ve been attending for eleven years.

Eleven years.

I’ll just leave that there for a minute.

And here is the problem with much of the diet industry.

It’s not about helping you be really successful. A bit successful perhaps.  Successful enough that you will be happy with some changes, successful enough that you attribute those changes to a brand, successful enough that you will keep buying their products and paying the weekly meeting charge.  But not so successful that you reach all your targets, change all of your unhelpful behaviours…..  and then stop going.

I know clubs and groups can work for some people. The weekly weigh-in can provide some focus, and the group support can be helpful. But never forget they are not in it for you. They are in it for your cash.  They need to lock you in to the cycle of seeing this way is the only way and purchasing their products is better than finding your own type of healthy eating.

And if you have been going for eleven years and you are still not where you want to be, just maybe it is time to try something else instead.

The detox myth

Anyone who reads my blog (hello mum) will know that I am highly sceptical about some elements of the diet and fitness industry, especially those who have a vested interest in selling you stuff and more stuff – stuff that you don’t need.

As ever at this time of year, the marketing of health and fitness products is at a high. As we lament the festive excesses, the relentless new year new you message encourages a turn towards a healthier lifestyle – for a while at least.

And what we want most of all, is a quick fix.

When I lost my weight, I was asked over and over how I did it. No one wanted to hear the real answer: I ate less junk and exercised more.  At little over simplistic perhaps, but true all the same.

One of the quickest alleged fixes, is the miracle detox. From cleanses to teas to foot pads (yes, really) there is a company ready to take your money with little, if any, evidence to back up their claims.

Here’s the thing. Our bodies are built to detox themselves.  The function of the liver and the kidneys is to rid our body of toxins.  You can treat these organs badly, but most of the time they will bounce right back.  They don’t need juices or stick-on patches or specific aids to assist them in doing their jobs.

Outside of specific medical terminology (eg, detoxing from hard drugs via a controlled programme) a detox means, well, pretty much nothing.

But it is worse than just marketing and sales. It’s something more than that too.  The detox myth is dangerous. It encourages the idea that you can do what you like to your body, and balance it out with a couple of days of abstinence.  It is the encouragement too of the notion there are quick solutions to this difficult stuff, as opposed to choices to be made every day, for life.

These ideas are that also lead people to embarking upon unhealthy diet plans and schemes promising quick results but which are impossible to sustain. And I should know; I’ve tried most of them.

If you want to be a little kinder to your body, to those organs performing such vital functions, then go right ahead and do so. More fruit, vegetables, water.  A little less alcohol. And so on.  You know the drill.  But a detox?

Your body has it covered.

Dry (ish) January

The first (and so far, only) time I completed Dry January, was in 2016.

Now I am known as a girl who likes a glass (or five) of Prosecco. Or a nice crisp, cold French white.  But that year, I was preparing for a number of key events, including my first triathlon and half marathon.  So it seemed like a good way to start my training.

Although if I am completely truthful, that wasn’t the only reason. Over the Christmas holidays I’d seen mention of Dry January on the telebox.  I half-heartedly suggested I might take part.  And my then husband had hysterics at the very idea.  There was no way, in his mind at least, that I could achieve such a thing.  So that became the main aim: prove him wrong.  There is nothing like someone thinking that I can’t to ensure that I can and I will.  Stubborn should have been my middle name.

After the month was out, I got it. I understood why a month of abstinence can make you change your habits for the longer term.

I did miss having a glass of wine. Especially when I went out for a meal.  But, you know, not that much.  And as the month went on, I missed it even less.

After Dry January my drinking habits changed considerably. Where in the past I’d quite often have a glass in the evening or finish off a bottle on a Saturday night, without any real effort or fanfare my drinking dropped down to a glass or two a week.  Add that to the days of abstinence before one of my many events that year, I was barely drinking at all. As a result, I lost weight, had more energy and my skin was better.

But of course, you slip back into bad habits oh so easily. I’ve found of late that it’s getting all too easy to open a bottle mid-week….. and finish it.  One beer with our Friday night pizza becomes two.  From a calorie point of view it all adds up.  From a nutritional point of view, well, there isn’t any.

So it’s going to be another Dry January in our house.

Or maybe just a slightly damp one………

Mince pie lethargy

The last couple of days, I’ve had no energy at all.

It’s hard to wake up and get going in the morning, even though I’m getting more sleep than usual. The lure of the sofa is just too strong, even when there’s plenty of stuff I should be doing.

The reason is pretty obvious when you think about it. I’ve been eating crap, so I feel like crap.

Since just before Christmas, my diet has been made up almost exclusively of three key food groups; sugar, fat (not the good kind) and grapes. By which I mean wine.

There has been some protein (turkey, Christmas Day), some healthy fats (olive oil, Greek yoghurt on top of pancakes plus syrup) and I did manage some fruit (the orange creams in the Quality Street).

But a few vegetables aside, the bulk of my food has been highly processed food, with low nutritional value. And there has been too much of it.

All of this equals a very lethargic, smudgy, lazy Gem.

There are plenty of ways to approach eating, especially when you want to lose weight or simply feel in yourself. One of them is to focus on eating food as close to its natural state as possible and with high nutritional value.  Good food that contributes to feeling good, rather than detracting from it.

The overall amount of food you eat, including the total calories within it, are important. But there’s more to it too.  That’s one of the reasons I can’t get on with many diet plans.  You can limit yourself to a 1600 calories a day, but there’s 1600 healthy calories and 1600 calories of crap.  You might lose some weight, but not necessarily in a way that will make you feel at your best.

Today, to get over my lethargy, I went to the gym. It’s true that exercise gives you more energy. I nourished myself in a better way too.  Protein, fibre, fruit, salad.  And only the one mince pie…….

After the excesses, the guilt trips

Encouragement for weeks, from every angle, to indulge yourself.  TV adverts, magazine articles, food pictures, special offers, biscuits and chocolates in every work place.  Mince pies, mulled wine, Christmas cake, marzipan fruits, After Eight Mints, cheese, chocolate tree decorations, a cheeky little glass of fizz.

After the excess comes ta new message.  To do, to be, something else instead.

Just because it is January. 

The new year, new you pressure. 

Blatant fat shaming. 

Adverts everywhere, for a quick detox, weight loss clubs, gym memberships. Celebrity exercise DVDs.

10 Steps to this, that and the other.  All the clickbait.

Shiny and bright white new Christmas trainers, waiting in the box. 

It’s all just marketing.  Much of it promoting quick fixes, doomed to fail.

 

There is a reason that many diets and big life-style changes fail. 

They are just too big.  Too much change all at once.  It’s cognitive overload.  

There is nothing wrong with making some new resolutions for the new year.  They can be a positive thing, providing focus and helping to create new habits (or tackle unhelpful old ones).  But instead of deciding to change everything, all on one day, choose something else instead.

Choose small changes.  Doing one thing at a time. Small steps. 

If you have never even run for a bus, deciding to go for the marathon in a matter of months is probably setting yourself up for failure.  Aiming, just to being with, to go for one single parkrun is more doable,  more real.  Then when you have that achievement ticked off, take the next step.  And the next one. 

If you want to improve your wellbeing in 2018 (and not just the first week in January), take just one action, make just one change.  Today.  Stick with it for a while.   And then think about making another.  It’s tortoise, not hare, time.  And while you are at it, ignore the marketing and the clickbait and all the other stuff that just makes you feel like crap and simply wants to part you from even more of your money. 

Make your wellbeing changes manageable.  Make them count.  Make them today.

 

The Christmas Quality Street Grief Cycle

Promises self not to eat any Quality Street

Decides that some Quality Street might be acceptable.

Limits self to one strawberry cream and one orange cream.

Actually eats 12 strawberry creams and 10 orange creams.

Decides might as well eat entire tub now.

Opens wine to go with it because, well, Christmas.

Goes to bed drunk with chocolate still smeared on face.

Wakes up and promises self not to eat any Quality Street.

Repeat.

 

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.

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.