Month: October 2012

A Halloween Horror Story; or, What’s Really in a Happy Meal

A Halloween Horror Story; or, What’s Really in a Happy Meal

Even though I’m open to a bit of a cheateroo from time to time, generally, I try to avoid eating processed foods where I can. Don’t get me wrong – I’m nowhere even approaching perfect – but as a rule, most of the stuff I […]

The Battle Pose

The Battle Pose

I like to think I’m pretty confident. Most of the time, I’ve got no issue with meeting new people, and I love a good chinwag – so outwardly, I’d say I’m pretty outgoing. Plus, I did post a series of photos of myself in my […]

Why It’s Okay to Just Do Okay

Why It’s Okay to Just Do Okay

As the wise man Mr T. once said, it’s not where you come from, it’s where you’re going. And I’d be inclined to agree, especially on this whole health business. I don’t think it’s ever too late to make a difference to your lifestyle, regardless of where you’re starting from – and I think aiming high is important… Just so long as you don’t aim too high.

Yep, that’s right. I’m suggesting you aim for okay. Mediocre. Alright. And I’ll tell you why.

I am the absolute queen of a very special form of self-torture known as Unrealistic Goal Setting. Say I’ve got a day off work dedicated to my PhD – I’ll start out expecting to read six books cover to cover, and write 10,000 words. Or, say I’ve got guests for dinner – I’ll expect to be able to whip up a three course gourmet meal in just under an hour, usually whilst consuming the best part of a bottle of wine.

Needless to say, neither of these things ever, ever turn out like I’ve planned – usually the former turns out to be 6 hours on Twitter and a quick flick through a magazine, and the latter a last minute trip to the chip shop – and as a result, for a long time, I was a consistent source of disappointment to myself. And so I’d eat to cheer myself up. And then I’d gain weight, and then be even more annoyed at myself, so have to work even harder, and… You get the idea. It’s bad juju.

There’s one notable exception to my unrealistic goal setting, though, and that’s my weight.

When I first started out, at 290lbs, I didn’t expect to ever see the 160lb mark. I didn’t expect to succeed at all, let alone drop almost half my body weight, fix my own broken knees and end up running a weight loss blog. That stuff wasn’t on the agenda. At that point, I’d have been happy to lose ten pounds, but I had my doubts as to whether that would happen at all.

Maybe it’s because I’d always been a fat girl, so I couldn’t imagine a life where I wasn’t overweight. Or maybe I just didn’t have the confidence in myself to believe that would happen. I certainly didn’t feel like my body was something I could control. The constant knee pain and illness; the gnawing discomfort of wearing a belt or trying to find a bra that fit; the sense of despair on encountering stairs; these were all things that seemed inevitable. I didn’t dwell on them, because they were just a part of life that I thought I’d be dealing with forever – so my expectations on joining the gym were very low indeed.

When I lost the first 5lbs, I was shocked. And so I aimed for 10lbs, reached it, and was stunned. 15lbs came and went, then 20, 25 and 30. I’d need to use every word under “amazed” in the thesaurus to explain how each of these felt.

Bear in mind, even having lost, say, 60lbs, I didn’t expect to get to where I am – but each time I hit a new goal, another one would crop up along the way. Getting to 200lbs was a huge one for me; and 195 was, possibly, even bigger, because it gave me a fairly decent buffer for those everyday fluctuations where I’d still be under 200lbs. Happy days.

I didn’t begin to expect success until I reached about 180lbs, and even then it was because Matt had ironed out the programme by this point so that if I did everything perfectly, I’d be near enough guaranteed to reach all my goals. And that expectation comes with a disclaimer that I’ve had to remind myself of a lot. If I’d been perfect, I’d be at my target weight right now – but instead of being perfect, I’ve been living.

In the last five months, I’ve been to a festival (something I never thought I’d do because I couldn’t sit on the floor for fear of not being able to get back up); I’ve had many, many big nights out (and in) with food and wine aplenty; I’ve had patches where I’ve been resting bad shoulders and knees; and in the last fortnight I’ve eaten such a lot of cake at endless birthday parties that I’m thinking of auditioning for a guest judge spot on Cupcake Wars.

In that time, I’ve also lost almost 40lbs, reduced my body fat percentage by 10%, and gained a whole load of muscle.

Traditional diet logic would say that I’ve failed on multiple occasions – but remember, this is a long term process. Being able to live – and live damn well, if you don’t mind me saying – whilst steadily losing weight, in a healthy, consistent way, has to be the big goal here.

So many of us set ourselves unrealistic goals, usually with unrealistic deadlines attached – especially in the weight loss arena. Expecting to drop ten pounds in a week, for instance, is wholly unrealistic, unless you’re either very, very overweight, or using the dark arts of the diet world to make that happen.

With weight loss, if you aim for good, or okay, or even mediocre, you’re far more likely to achieve a huge success than if you set yourself unrealistic goals. Not only that, but you’re more likely to amaze yourself at every milestone because you made it there whilst living your life to the full.

So just on this one thing, I suggest a revolution in thinking. Don’t aim for a perfect existence. Aim for good life, well lived. If you can eat well, and stick to your workouts most of the time, but give yourself a break now and then, you’ll give yourself the opportunity to be happy, and really, truly well.

And that, my friends, is why it’s okay to just do okay.

An Open Letter to Minnie Mouse

An Open Letter to Minnie Mouse

Dear Minnie, I know it’s been a while since we last spent any quality time together. We used to have a great time when we were younger, but then we grew apart. I went to college, moved away, got a job, and I’ll admit – […]

Think Positive… Lose Weight?

Think Positive… Lose Weight?

When I was fat – or fatter, given the enormous chunk of birthday cake I unashamedly devoured at the weekend for my sister’s 21st that I’m pretty sure weighed at least 10lbs and may have single-handedly given me diabetes – I was still… Me. I was […]

What 60lbs Looks Like in Mismatched Undies

What 60lbs Looks Like in Mismatched Undies

It’s been an exciting week for me, because I finally hit the 160lbs I’d been aiming for for the last two years. Now I’m here, I realise I’ve still got some work to do, and my target weight has shifted a bit now I’m here – but when I started out, at 290lbs, it seemed like an impossible dream, so to finally reach it was very, very exciting. If anyone wants to send me streamers and a party hat, I could really use them. Also cake. Always send cake.

It did make me think, though, how little the scales relate to what goes on in the mirror – especially if you’re aiming to improve your body composition, rather than just losing weight. On the 28th February this year, when I went “Round Two” on the whole programme thing, I remembered how hard it was to stay focused when I was fixated purely on lowering that number at any cost. I knew that there had been times where I’d felt like my body was different – better, even – but I was so disappointed that the pounds didn’t seem to be dropping that I’d end up getting back into bad habits and chowing down on my body weight in pizza.

In case we’re not clear on that, that’s the wrong thing to do.

So, in a moment of despair, or something like it – this time, I took a photo of myself in my pants. At 220lbs.

I have to say, that’s served me well. I then took a photo around every month between then and now… And here’s what that looks like. I have no idea why it’s coming out slightly yellow on here – but you get the idea:

That’s eight months of change in eight photos.

Now, my reasons for posting this are pretty varied. They’re not just to show off – although needless to say, I’m pleased with the results so far, and I feel a whole lot better in my skivvies now than I did when I took that first photo. That said, I’m also fully aware that I’m probably somewhat narrowing my market on the man front by exposing myself on the internet. So be it. I have a few points to make.

Firstly – let’s talk about the photos second and third from the right. Between those two photos, I hadn’t lost any weight. At all. I’d gained muscle, and I’d lost fat – but as far as my bathroom scales were concerned, I had made absolutely no progress whatsoever. That’s why the scales really, really, really don’t matter. The change in my body shape tells the story for itself – I lost a significant amount of belly fat, which, as far as I’m concerned, is like discovering the Holy Grail.

That’s right guys: I am the Indiana Jones of weight loss. ‘Scuse me while I go rescue my hat.

Secondly – patience really is a virtue with this. It might look like a significant change now, but every day I’d go work out, and then the next morning check myself out in the mirror expecting a huge, immediate difference. That just doesn’t happen. Each of these pictures was taken around a month apart – but on a day-to-day basis, I wasn’t really noticing a difference. You have to give your body time to change, and trust in the process – because change does happen, as long as you give it time.

And finally – you can see, I’m not perfect now. Far, from it. My stomach still needs work, and I’m pretty sure there’s a map of the London Underground etched out in my stretch marks. As much as I’ve had a slight fear of putting these photos out there, I outright refuse to photoshop or adjust them in any way, because I think it’s important that we stay realistic here. When you look in magazines and spot celebrity weight loss stories, where they go from a ‘flabby mess’ to a perfect photoshopped bikini model, that’s another example of being sold an unrealistic expectation. I know I say I’d like to look like Beyonce, but you and I both know that’s not really going to happen.

And that’s the point I’m making here. You might be under the impression that losing weight will make you perfect. It won’t.

Above everything else, this whole journey is about self-acceptance, not weight loss. And yes, it’s easier to accept my flaws now I’ve lost the weight – but that’s because I’m able to see them as a pretty reasonable trade-off for my much-improved health and fitness levels that have reduced my risk of diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease, and will probably mean I live longer. All of which are things I count as a win, personally.

But tere are so many things that can disillusion you if you set out to lose weight and you don’t come out the other end totally perfect. Stretch marks, shrinking boobs, those bits of cellulite that just won’t go… Our whole culture – the diet industry being just one part of it – is targeted at achieving total perfection, and tells us that we’re failures if we don’t quite reach it. That’s wrong.

Don’t get me wrong – I am very, very happy with what I’ve achieved. I’ve got swagger now, apparently, although I’m not quite sure what exactly that is. And clothed, I look awesome. I’m happy. But far more important than that, for me, has been the fact that I can now accept my faults and see myself as pretty awesome regardless. I can improve some bits, certainly – but now, I’m doing it for my health more than ever.

And so, again, I say – emphatically – it’s not just about weight loss. Learning to be happy with yourself, even though you’re not perfect, is far more important – and I’d wager more satisfying – than actually attaining perfection. And that’s why I’m now on the internet… In my pants.

Y’all best appreciate this point. Seriously.

An Honest Post for World Mental Health Day

An Honest Post for World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Day – an initiative by the World Health Organisation which is designed to “raise public awareness about mental health issues. The day promotes open discussion of mental disorders, and investments in prevention, promotion and treatment services.” This year, the theme […]

Stress, and How to Escape the Slump

Stress, and How to Escape the Slump

I’m not really sure of the reasons behind it, but for the last few days I’ve been feeling a bit… Blue. That happens to everyone from time to time – even fine upstanding wellbeing-ers like myself. I’ve been a tad frazzled – it’s been a […]

That Time When Jennifer Livingston Kicked Everybody’s Butt

That Time When Jennifer Livingston Kicked Everybody’s Butt

I’ve been sent this by quite a few people over the last 24 hours – so thanks to Jen, Sarah, Maggie (and Maggie’s sister!), Maria, Marina and Catherine for sending it my way. Keep the good links a’comin’!

You might have seen it already, but if you haven’t – this is a US news anchor basically kicking more ass than I realised it was possible to do:

She was sent an email from someone who purports to watch the show all the time… Oh, wait, never, and so obviously knows a lot about her and is in a fine position to dole out advice. Clearly. The email, with the subject line of “Community Responsibility,” reads as follows:

Hi Jennifer,

It’s unusual that I see your morning show, but I did so for a very short time today. I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition has not improved for many years. Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain. I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.

You’ll have to excuse the brief lapse into swearing, but this guy is evidently an asshole. Oh, hang on – he’s interested in her health. Because a surefire way to improve someone’s life is to say something cruel to them that will no doubt hurt their self-esteem and confidence, and probably give them a negative body image that will stick with them for years to come. Of course! That’s where I’ve been going wrong!

Ouch. Just burnt myself with my own sarcasm there.

Anyway, as I pointed out here, people receive mean messages/emails/comments all the time. I’ve had a very, very brief experience of that myself, and it sucked. But what makes this instance different is that Jennifer just went ahead and kicked ass. I know, I’ve said that already, but it’s the only term I can think of to describe it.

In a moving and articulate, well-worded and thoughtful response, she pointed out a few things that I’d like to elaborate on a little bit more. Because this girl is now my hero.

Firstly, she goes right in there and faces the fact that she’s overweight head on. “Don’t you think I don’t know that? That your cruel words are pointing out something that I don’t see?” I have to say, that really hit home with me, and I’m sure it will with you guys too – because let’s face it, if you’re overweight, you do know it. Deep down, it’s something you know, even if you’re not ready to acknowledge that yet. But I am pro-body-confidence no matter where you sit on that BMI scale, because – as Jennifer rightly pointed out – we’re all “much more than a number on a scale.”

Nobody should ever, ever feel defined by their weight. Ever. It happens – I’ve said before that I played into the idea of acting like a “bubbly, fat girl” because I didn’t know how else to act, but that is wrong. There is no reason that anybody, anywhere, should have to do that. You should be you, regardless of your BMI, your waistline, or anything else – and the idea that you have to fit into a certain stereotype to escape from all these other conceptions is a fundamental issue that is making between one third and half of young girls fear becoming fat and engage in dieting or binge eating.

And if she’s being held up as someone lacking in community responsibility – what about the fashion designers that insist on using emaciated models from magazines to the catwalk? Or whoever it was that decided “Photoshopped” was the new normal?

It’s wrong. And it’s screwing us all over, from one generation to the next. So says Jennifer:

“This behaviour is learned… If you are at home, and you are talking about the fat newslady – guess what? Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat.”

This lies at the heart of the body image problem, and it’s why I keep saying – probably annoyingly often – that if we’re going to stop the snarking culture, we all need to make the choice to step back and just stop doing it. Because we might not mean, deep down, our snide comments – in fact, I’m willing to bet that most of the time, we’re just doing it for laughs – but that stuff can hurt, and it can ruin lives, and it can influence other people, including children, to perpetuate the same cycles of assholery that brought that guy to write that letter.

Everyone, the second they step into the public eye, opens themselves up for criticism. I have no idea why that absolutely has to be the case, but apparently this is gospel about our society and – supposedly – it’s something we cannot change. And that’s why this sort of smackdown needs to happen. Because if we’re going to keep doing the Heat-magazine fat-watch, or pouring scorn on the people we see on TV, then we’re going to need things like this to put it back into perspective and remind us that we’re all – all – people who deserve to be treated well, and to be happy, regardless of how we may look on the outside.

I don’t have a huge amount more to add on this topic, really, because I can’t put it any more eloquently than the woman herself, who said – beautifully:

“We are better than that email. We are better than the bullies that would try to take us down… Do not let your self-worth be defined by bullies. Learn…that the cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many.”

Preach it.

Jennifer, I salute you. You’ve given the world a timely reminder that bullies are assholes by responding to them with dignity, not shame.

And by completely, totally, kicking butt in the process.

Fat Politics: Obesity, Health & Getting a Job

Fat Politics: Obesity, Health & Getting a Job

Yesterday, I read this quote reported to be from Christina Aguilera (it’s since been denied – but bear with me on this), who said she told her record label the following when working on her new album – because apparently, no amount of talent will […]