Tuesday, 17 January 2017

What if?

This is a few days late...I've been struggling with migraines and computer screens are not my friend right now.

Anyhoo. I had the idea for this blog post about two weeks ago whilst I was washing my face. It suddenly occurred to me 'I wonder what would happen if I actually kept up this routine all year rather than forgetting a month in?' And that simple thought expanded into 'I wonder what would happen if I built a healthy lifestyle and stuck to it?' Suddenly my lifestyle change became so much more than simply 'drop pounds, lift heavy things, run faster' and became an experiment of what my life would actually be like. This got me thinking about how I'd thought about these things before and I realised that, overwhelmingly, my thought process has been retrospective rather than forward thinking. And honestly, I've DONE the past. I don't want to waste today thinking about yesterday when I can be working towards tomorrow.

I know this might seem painfully obvious but I can honestly say this is the first time that this kind of thought process has occurred in terms of lifestyle change. I've never been particularly positive when it comes to my what ifs. Usually it's 'what if I hadn't done X? I might be so much further along', 'what if I'd kept up with ballet as a child? I could be a prima ballerina by now' or just 'what if I hadn't been too embarrassed by my weight, body or just had believed in myself more? I might have gone to that party or told that guy how I felt or...' And when I realised this, I was struck by how disappointing this was and ultimately how negative my world view has been well...forever.
Motivational things! (http://hub.n2growth.com/the-power-of-what-if/)
In rediscovering the idea of the 'positive what if' I felt like I'd (re)discovered that quasi-childlike wonderment. What happens when I get to the top of that tree, I wonder if I can do a cartwheel or what happens if I mix the yellow and the purple play-doh (don't, it turns shit brown). And actually that really excited me. Because humans, whether we like to admit it or not, are curious animals. It's the reason that our ancestors spread out from Africa and came to live in just about every part of the globe (whether it's strictly habitable or not). It's the reason that one of our ancestors went 'I wonder what happens if I squeeze that cow's udders to collect milk?' (That literally makes my mind boggle, someone decided to milk a cow). Every scientific discovery has come from a simple question of 'what if?'

Now, I'm not suggesting that my 'what ifs' are particularly profound but in a world where we are bombarded with negative media, negative marketing and attitudes and approaches that are purely here to exploit our lack of confidence and human weaknesses; we have to cling on to anything that presents itself in a positive way. For me, this is especially important when I'm losing weight, upping my fitness or simply just trying to create a more balanced lifestyle. I do not do well with negativity. Being made to feel inferior, whether by my own mind or by others, is a sure fire route to failure. Of course, there might be SOME successes along the way- I know that I have had some exceptional weight losses when I feel awful about myself because I am at my most restrictive and most punishing in terms of calorie counting and activity- but it is certainly not sustainable and you end up far worse off than you may have started. For me, it presents as a significant drop in weight followed by a plateau which frustrates me into a) overeating b) purging or c) excessive exercise to the point of injury and illness. As if those three things weren't bad enough, you're left with the negativity meaning that absolutely nothing good has come from it. No. Thank. You.

I really just wanted to share this particular thought process because I know that there are people who will have thought about change the same way I was. I.e. thinking about it in terms of what has already happened (something we no longer have control over) instead of what could happen. Too often we live in the past at the risk of missing the present. I, for one, intend to make a change in my thinking by simply asking 'what if' more often.
Erin Hanson. Courtesy of pinterest...woohoo motivational quotes!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Please...don't lie to me.

Okay chaps, so we've made it through our first week of 2017. Now, if you're like me (and unless you've just got married or had a child or anything like that) the first 8 days of January have not been life changing. We have not woken up on January first; fresh faced, bright eyed and bushy tailed. If you're like me, you probably didn't wake up TODAY at all like the above either. Change takes time, and honestly, change takes serious struggle. It takes continuous effort to reinforce new habits, to limit the power that old habits had over you and your decision making abilities. This applies to ANY change. Even if you are told 'YOU HAVE TO CHANGE THIS THING OR YOU WILL DIE' that doesn't mean that you won't still have to actively say to yourself, no I can't do that or yes I must take that medication. No matter your reason for change, it doesn't stop it from being a challenge.

Okay, I think you've got the point. Change = hard.

So, imagine me- if you will- last night scrolling through Instagram  and seeing a sponsored post by Weight Watchers UK. FULL DISCLOSURE: I am still an adherent of Weight Watchers, it has worked for me thus far and I like the flexibility of not having to count things like fruit and veg. I understand it does not work for everyone and even I don't like some aspects and have modified the plan to suit myself...back to post. This Instagram post was an advert. I know, surprising considering it's January and most of us still have a box of mince pies left over from Christmas. This year's Weight Watchers celebrity is Oprah Winfrey. I am not by ANY stretch of the imagination criticising Oprah or her efforts to lose weight and feel better for it. ALL I will criticise is the simple line 'I can honestly tell you I struggle no more'. Literally the first thing that came to mind, totally involuntarily, was 'Oprah! Don't lie to me!' Because that is what it was. A LIE. 
Pretty self explanatory...
Let me lay out my evidence for this. I'll go off my own experience firstly. I have 26 years of unhealthy habits with food to break. I know that even when I am 'done' with the weight loss element of this journey I may well still have a daily battle fighting for moderation and stopping my emotional relationship with food from sneaking back in. Weight loss is one battle. Maintenance is a whole other battle. Having sat in countless Weight Watchers, Lighter Life and Cambridge Diet Plan meetings over the last few years never once has a leader or a member on maintenance said that they don't still struggle. Certainly it gets easier as new habits become a part of your day to day life but that doesn't mean that if you've been an emotional binge eater for decades that you won't have that moment after a shitty day where you go 'f*** it, just give me the sodding crisps'. Regardless of the 'real life' community of people changing their lifestyle that I have had the fortune of meeting and getting to know over the last 4 years, a quick glance at before and afters on Instagram itself will show just how much effort, CONTINUED effort, anyone who has lost/ is losing weight must commit to.

To suggest otherwise is to discount the extraordinary effort of anyone who has ever undergone serious change. To suggest otherwise is like saying 'but weight loss is easy. Just eat less and move more and there you go'. I don't think that there really are THAT many people who hand on heart truly believe that weight loss is easy, but Weight Watchers' own marketing strategy is telling people the wrong thing. That if you DO continue to struggle after losing weight or whilst losing weight or during whatever change you are undergoing in your life right now that you are somehow a failure or not doing it as WELL as Oprah (who, let's be honest, can afford to have someone cook her meals and make her work out every day if she wanted to). It's not realistic, it's not supportive and actually I think it's damaging. A quick read of the comments under this post and I saw people talking about how they DO still struggle but they're trying really hard. Like they were trying to explain away naughty behaviour to a disappointed parent. And this is the thing. I get what Weight Watchers are trying to do here. They're saying this is an easy program, it's flexible, it's doable, you can eat what you want (in moderation) and still lose weight. But what they've done is set the bar for weight loss attainment far to high for the average person trying to lose weight. And for a system that is trying to be increasingly supportive and aware of how emotional health feeds into relationships with eating, to my mind, it's undone a LOT of its good work. 

So to anyone who was in anyway downcast by last night's Instagram post, or simply feels like they're finding this too hard, it IS a struggle. You are NOT achieving less simply because you do find it challenging. And never NEVER let anyone, not even the company that is meant to be supporting you, make you feel inferior or incapable. You've got this. 

Monday, 2 January 2017

2017...believe it or not. (Part two)

Okay, so I'm organised. I've sorted through my possessions, have the beginnings of a weekly fitness plan and my laundry is well underway. Yay! So now it's time to think about actually making it happen. It's all well and good saying 'on Monday, Wednesday and Friday I go to spinning, Tuesday and Thursday Weights and ballet both evenings and yoga at the weekends' and quite another thing to get those things into practice. I'm also aware of the fact that I'm contending with about ten days of overindulgences and less than beneficial habits so I'm actually very grateful that the way the New Year has fallen means that there are bank holidays and I get another day to sort myself out before regular scheduling activity returns.

So without much further ado.

Stage three: Think about positive habits.
Kind of related to getting organised but more focused on the end goal. So for me, I want to get back to running fit this year- I'm not suggesting I take on any marathons any time soon (perhaps never- I may simply not be built for long distance) but I want it to become a habit that I stick to again. I'm at a weird period where I remember the endorphins and fun that came with my runs; being outside, taking in the fresh air and just reaping the benefits of the greater cardiovascular health; but I know the pain and lack of capacity that will come from starting again. But no matter- every expert was once a beginner. With the knowledge of your goals, you then have to think about how to make it happen. So, running- crack out the Couch to 5K app and do it. I want to make sure I have a greater variety of fruit and vegetables so produce a list of seasonal fruit and vegetables and try and increase my intake so that where I had one type of vegetable at lunch I now have two, where I had two at dinner I now have three OR take the time to find an interesting use of a vegetable so that's it's not just the same boiling, steaming, roasting that happens day in, day out. My family have decided to split meal production a bit more evenly so now my family get to experience my weird and wonderful dreams for vegetables too! (Mwahahahahaha). Drink more water, download a water tracking app or tick your glasses off on your calendar every day. (Most importantly for me) Sort out my atrocious sleep schedule. I'm writing this at 01:44...I should be in bed and I should not then be waking up at 10am (if I'm lucky) and repeating tomorrow evening. Nope. Must stop. I think it's much easier to try and do something new rather than STOP doing something you used to do and the logic is that you're actually adding something to your life rather than restricting yourself or denying the way you feel. But with the knowledge that the healthier I eat, the less I crave the things that make me feel unwell. All I need is some consistency (which is what is so great about a New Year) to let these new habits sink in and chances are I won't think about pick n mix or if I do I'll be able to approach it with the clarity and perspective I need to say 'no, you're not 15 any more. You cannot eat that without impunity and wake up feeling fine the next morning'.

Which brings me on to:

Stage four: Create a rewards scheme.
For most of us, we prefer the carrot over the stick. If you're like me (or the whole world...let's be honest now) our single most reliable reward is food. That stick of chocolate after a job well done, a piece of cake on a birthday, the unacceptable number of sweet treats that oozed from every corner of my house over Christmas given as a reward for...something. I've said it before and I'll say it again, from cradle to grave food is there. Now, if you've had an unhealthy relationship with food, like I have, food can no longer be your reward system. It just can't. Now (this can take some imagination) it is vital you find something you love that you can reward yourself with for hitting a goal or a target on the way. Not only that, you need a variety of different rewards at different levels of rewardiness to delineate between 'I went to the gym today' *well done me, I'm going to crack open the Laura Mercier bubble bath* and 'I annihilated my second tough mudder' *well done me, I'm off to the spa to have someone soothe those aching muscles*. Having these mini rewards keeps the steps along the way attainable, and when you have a longer journey ahead of you, you NEED something that can keep you going when it honest to god feels like you're just trudging along. Hard work will (maybe) eventually be its own reward but even then it can be extremely hard to see your own progress. When I was at university, progress was easy because I was surrounded by loads of people who could tell me I was looking better/ behaving differently. When I looked in the mirror and saw no change, people I hadn't seen in months would walk past me at the train station because I was that much slimmer. That's a heady feeling. It keeps you motivated even when motivation is hard to come by. Obviously when you don't have a cohort of students to inform you of your progress you need to become your own monitor and do it in an objective way. Keep a diary detailing your weight loss or your inch loss, or better even how fast you ran that kilometre or how much of a heavy thing you lifted. Write down personal bests and take stock of things that are easier now than they have ever been before. Celebrate every victory no matter how insignificant it may feel now. 

And finally.
Stage five: Be kind to yourself
I have not been very nice to myself in the last trip round the sun. Honestly, if I saw a person saying some of the things I've said to myself to any other person I'd give them a strong piece of my mind. So why can I say it to myself/ about myself? Be kind to yourself. Accept that there will be days when you're not feeling up to much or your motivation cracks and you feel bad habits slipping back in. We're only human. So, I'm going to be kind today and bring my old progress jars out of retirement. I've spent far too much time feeling like there was no point dealing with them simply because I didn't feel like pounds I'd already lost was progress. I'm going to release my jars from their prison, give them a clean because they're a bit dusty, and take all the beads back out and put my current total back in. It may not be as high as it was, sure, but it's still a hell of a lot of hard work and determination and I'm done seeing the negative instead of the positive. 

Sunday, 1 January 2017

2017...believe it or not. (Part One)

So everybody, somehow it's 2017 today. I'm not going to agonise over all of the awful stuff that happened last year. I will just say this. 2016 was simultaneously the shortest and longest year of my life.

But. We move on.

Now, obviously the year has only just begun. So I can't tell you exactly how it's going to be different, I'm just telling you that I'm going into this year with all the optimism I can muster. So today, just to ease back into this whole 'being on top of my life thing' I want to lay out some of the things I plan on doing with my optimism.

Organisation is great because it means new stationery...
Stage one: Get organised.
This is somewhere where I often fall down and being organised applies to the small things just as much as the big things. If I haven't done my laundry my motivation to go to the gym disappears because I know I have to move into the 'uncomfortable' segment of my workout gear. Should I just get rid of that stuff? You know what...yes. In fact, LET IT BE SO. Today, Sunday, January 1 2017 I shall finally go through my gym kit and pack up the things that are uncomfortable, that are too short, too long, etc. If I take them to a charity shop, especially since some of the half length capri pants (mistaaaaake) have only been worn once, maybe someone else can get use out of them and I'll have to remember to do my laundry regularly.

Taking the last few days of my Christmas study break to really think about the time I want to dedicate to fitness, followed by the amount of time I'm ACTUALLY ABLE to commit to fitness will help no end. Actually making a date with yourself that 'on Tuesday morning between 10-11 I do circuits at the gym' and then slotting the other stuff around it is not going to prevent you from giving the sufficient amount of time to the 'more important things'. No, you'll know when you go to the gym, when you study, when you practice a language or pick up an ageing instrument and chances are you will be giving yourself MORE time to do it and LESS time worrying about ‘whether I should go to the gym today'. Trust me. If you work best with a full schedule like me, this is the way to go.

Stage two: Just, stop and think.
Hello, my name's Florence and I'm addicted to pick n mix. There. I said it. I would love to say that I don't think about what I'm doing when I'm digging into the self serve Candy King and missing the days of Woolworths Pick n Mix stand but that would be a lie. Not only do I think about it. I fantasise about it when I DON’T have it to the point that I can almost taste those pink and blue fizzy bottles and then the inevitable 2am raid of Tesco's happens and...yeah, it's not pretty. Do you know what I SHOULD think?! 'This shit physically hurts you'. I am NOT joking. Sugary sweets of any type, no matter how small a portion causes my body physical pain. And yet, whilst it's happening I'm not thinking about that. I'm thinking about how good it is, how tangy it tastes and how tingly it feels. I'm not talking about guilt. Sure, I've had moments when I have eaten SO MUCH pick n mix, pizza, Chinese food etc. that I feel guilty about my behaviour and that is no good in itself.

But loving yourself means taking care of your body and I HAVE to realise that when I eat certain foods my body simply is not happy. So step two is mainly about thinking about the things that are harming your interests- really having an actual concerted think about it rather than just a cursory 'that makes my tummy hurt' or 'following this person on Instagram makes me feel bad' and really stop and think. Make a list of the bad stuff and then, I don't know, burn it or physically destroy it and just get that shit out of your life. Or, alternatively think about the positive things you can bring IN to your life. My immune system has been barely functional this year and scientists are increasingly telling us that our gut health is crucial to maintaining a healthy immune system. So I'm going to stop and think and research the kinds of foods and habits that will positively impact my health so that going forwards I don't have any 'I ate too much sugar, I think my stomach is about to explode...send help' moments in 2017.

The main reason I’m banging on about this now is that year in, year out I have seen people (myself included) start the New Year with all these great schemes but with no forward planning. Failure to plan is planning to fail. What is the point of saying ‘New Year, New Me’ if the new you only lasts a month and a half? I have known for the last few weeks that I was really going to pull the finger out after the New Year. I’ve been back on track more or less since Thanksgiving (26th November in my house) but I knew that it was going to be primarily damage limitations before the Christmas period. But NOW is the time that I get back to building the habits and behaviours that will hopefully stick with me for good. That doesn’t mean it will come easily, I’ve been so haphazard with my attitude towards nutrition and activity over the last year, but I know that it will be worth it. So today’s post is about how I’m organising myself. Tomorrow will look at how I’m going to make the things I’m organising happen and how I’m going to keep them happening. And then, well, I just have to get on with it!

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, New Year!