Learning to make healthy choices, for life

Ask anyone if they have a problem with food, and the honest answer will probably be ‘yes’. Whether its to lose weight or tone up, to meet society’s expectations or just to get a decent Instagram photo, countless numbers of people will have issues with food.

My issue isn’t environmental. It found me.

I’m lactose intolerant, and whilst this may seem pretty run of the mill nowadays given loads of people have some kind of GI, FODMAP, celiac problem, let me tell you it was not easy growing up with it. Being lactose intolerant was just not a ‘thing’ in the 90’s.

I started to become sick at the age of 3 from something as mundane as a bowl of cornflakes. For the following 7 years I would vomit approximately 3 times each evening, 4-5 evenings a week or more. That means I’ve been physically ill more times that many people will be in the course of their whole life times. The doctors thought my mother had munchausen by proxy syndrome because they couldn’t find anything wrong with me and that my mother was on some kind of attention-seeking trip. Just before my 10th birthday and very much a last ditch attempt, my mother took me to a see a private consultant miles away from our home. I can vaguely remember his kind face, crinkling with a smile as soon as he saw me. Before I had even sat down he told my mother that I was lactose intolerant and, sure enough, he was proved right. The doctor was Indian and I’m quite olive-skinned for an English person (more so when I was younger than now); nearly half the Indian population have some form of lactose intolerance and the doctor had recognised the sallowness in my skin.

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My modified carbonara. Find a way to work around your hangups to enjoy the food you love

It was remarkable and the diagnosis literally changed my life. Of course, now I don’t remember much of what my diet was pre-age 10, but I do know it included the usual milk on cereal, milk in tea, etc.

My mother and I were fascinated that a food could do this to me.

If I have a milk product, my body starts to shut down; within 20 minutes I will become very heady, soon after I will start to sweat and then the tummy ache kicks in. Its not like being sick from a hang over or  a tummy bug – then you are only sick from your stomach. With my intolerance I am sick from my small intestine which can be excruciating – everything basically has to go back the way it came from, re-enter my stomach and pick up stomach acids before coming out. Once the tummy aches start its hard to say how long it’ll be before I’m physically sick, each time is different, but I will know in myself whether it will be a short process or if I’m in it for the long haul. The tummy aches cause all the energy in my limbs to be sapped and to be ‘re-directed’ to my digestive system. I’ve lost count of the number of times I don’t have the energy to get out of bed, or have been slumped on the bathroom floor pressing my forehead against the cold tiles. The amount of times I’ve cried for a towel, some water and for my hair to be tied back.

My mother and I started looking into other food groups and were surprised that the power of food can have on our bodies. This was still back in the 90’s and our general understanding of food and how to stay healthy has vastly improved since then, but its always something I find myself coming back to. I watch every episode of the BBC Superfoods series with Kate Quilton and anything else that investigates the pros and cons of eating a particular food. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a health freak, but at the back of my mind there is always this subconscious nagging to eat well and to eat healthily.

Earlier in the year when I first started blogging I wrote about how I was having a bit of a health and fitness overhaul, the primary objective being to lose some weight.

I’d noticed in August 2016 that I was getting rather tubby and felt increasingly uncomfortable in my clothes. I’d put on so much weight that my work wear was straining on me and that made me lack confidence.

I joined the gym in September and just started doing some basic work outs (I used to really be into fitness so I have some idea of what to do). I admit I wasn’t 100% committed, partly because, with hindsight, I was doing the same thing, day in, day out.

I would rush from the office to the gym, do 20 minutes on the cross-trainer, 10 minutes on the bike and then use some really easy assisted weights to improve muscle tone on my legs. Occasionally I’d use the rower.

Than about November time I got Instagram and came across a fitness fanatic called Kayla Itsines who advocates a wellness lifestyle, but from the comfort of your own room. I don’t particularly like paying for someone to tell me how to exercise and what to eat so I’ve never downloaded her program, but there was enough information and videos on her Instagram feed for me to take away a few pointers. The concept of exercising without having a gym membership or running (though I am partial to the odd run) was intriguing. Although, as I understand it, Itsines builds up the intensity of her programs, it starts by telling you to do a round of exercises that involve no equipment and could be done from your living room.

I carried on with my gym membership, but decided to build in some ‘floor work’ to my routine. I felt so self-conscious using the mats at the side of my gym, in full view of everyone, that I started using the area where they hold classes. I quickly realised there are a lot of people like me who feel uncomfortable struggling to do a sit up in front of everyone else! I started doing a mini-round of basic exercises: 10 squats, 25 sit-ups, 25 Russian twists, 10 leg lifts, 40 cycle sit-ups (I don’t know what they’re called!) and some stretches.

The sit-ups were the killer. For as long as I can remember I’ve never been able to do a sit-up without feeling faint or sick. But I persevered and after two weeks I could do 10 sit-ups without feeling like I was going to black out and that was a real achievement for me. I would still do my time on the cross-trainer and some assisted leg weight lifts, but otherwise I focused on my abs.

Our office Christmas party was in December and I remember being able to buy a size 10 skirt because my waist had gotten smaller. I was so chuffed, even though I had not lost  much weight from anywhere else. But it gave me the boost I needed to see me through Christmas and into the New Year if nothing else. From January through to June I was desperate to get back to how I’d been at university. I didn’t set myself any unrealistic goals, just a target weight that I knew was achievable whilst still allowing me to have the occasional treat. I bought a couple of new figure-hugging dresses ready for our holiday in June and I was over the moon that not only could I fit into them, but I actually looked good. I was proud to be me and, for once, wanted to show off my figure rather than hide away in jeans and baggy jumpers.

I must confess that I haven’t been to the gym much since we came back from holiday in July, and I stopped going altogether in August. I realised that it wasn’t the fitness that I was enjoying (though being half-way toned was quite pleasing!), but rather what I was fuelling my body with. I LOVE food and I could never restrict myself from eating carbs, or having no sugar or doing some weird paleo-diet. I’m a firm believer of everything in moderation.

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Food should be an enjoyable social occasion, not something to begrudge

I’ve always enjoyed cooking and I’m not afraid to throw a few odd ingredients into a meal to make up for an ingredient I’m lacking, but I think I became stuck in a rut. Do you buy the same items in your food shop every week? I was. Do you cook the same meals most weeks? I was. I was watching cooking programmes and thinking ‘that’s great, I’ll do that’, but would then never get round to it. And after over-analysing my food habits I’ve come to the conclusion that its all to do with vegetables.

I’m extremely partial to some mushrooms, garlic, chilli, red peppers (not any other colour), green beans, a cabbage and leek mix, a few potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, tomatoes etc. It sounds a fair amount, but when I look around the supermarket shelves I realise just how many different types of fruits and vegetables are out there that I don’t even consider. So, I still buy the same vegetables, but now I mix it up a little bit each week – substitute some potatoes for a butternut squash. Simple changes, but ones that excite me to come into the kitchen at the weekend to make something slightly different. I put whatever meat, fish or carbs I want with it, but planning a meal around a particular vegetable really makes it the centrepiece, rather than the add-on because I feel obliged to eat my 5 a-day!

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PYO blackberries were a hit at the end of the summer

So since August I’ve focused on what I’m putting in to my body and I’m hoping to maintain the weight I lost for our holiday. I’ve put on a couple of pounds since July, but as I’ve been under the weather and I was away for a week with an extremely bad diet during that time, I think that’s understandable.

My parents are both vegetarian so although they allowed me to eat meat, I didn’t eat very much of it and even now I probably only have meat once or twice a week, and sometimes not at all. Its just not a big part of my life.

I’m also not a pudding person. Sweet treats just don’t grab me as much as the smell of a pie baking! My distaste for puds is mostly down to my intolerance as it can be very hard finding a sweet after-dinner treat that doesn’t involve some form of milk, cream, custard or the like. After years of not being able to have it, I honestly don’t really miss it.

I feel that I have reached a place of contentment in my life, with my food choices and with my body.

I hope to continue like this for many years to come. The satisfaction of eating right far outweighs the few minutes of eating too much cake! I’m not disillusioned – I know that life has its ups and downs and that my weight will fluctuate from over indulging some months, but I do believe that awareness is key. After all, how can you keep something in check if you don’t recognise when its going wrong? I’m excited to buy vegetables and that is something to be proud of in my book. For now, I just want to focus on making my body as healthy as it can reasonably be, without denying it anything. A balance: enabling your body to let you live life to its fullest.

We move house in a few short weeks and I’m going to start growing my own vegetables. I sincerely hope this will keep me on track but as I’m not a budding gardener it might be a bit trial and error for a while!

My body: coming to terms

A few weeks ago I posted about a calorie-tracking app that I was testing and my struggles with weight-loss generally.

Last year I put on a few pounds in the lead up to my wedding, and then more than half a stone after the wedding. It wasn’t until late August when were having a weekend break in Paris did I feel truly uncomfortable and decided to do something about it.

I joined a gym. Standard, I know. But I’ve always been ‘in’ to exercise – cardio mostly. But exercise doesn’t help you lose weight. It makes you feel better about yourself initially because you are doing the right thing for your body. But then after a few weeks you get quite despondent because you aren’t seeing results, or the results aren’t as quick as you would like. And then you slip up, eating junk food you’ve been desperately trying to avoid and before you know it your diet is over and its not even been a month. Your gym membership feels like a burden – a monthly cost you can’t afford and time out of your day when you’d rather be at home. You know the drill. The circle. The ups and downs. Call it what you want but most people, no matter where there are on their weight loss / healthy lifestyle journey will have been there.

You need to address your diet. And that is the biggest change you can make, I think. If you are very overweight and have had a truly bad diet then its going to feel like you have to traverse a mountain. For others who are looking to shift a few pounds or a few stone, its possible, but you may not know what is wrong with your diet in the first place. Too much food, obviously, but what changes do you make? And where do you begin? Do you reduce your carbs, increase your protein intake, cut out alcohol/sweets/takeaways?

I started using a calorie tracking app because even though I’m fairly savvy and know roughly how many calories are in many foods, I think there are a lot of hidden calories in things you don’t really think about: cooking oil, ketchup etc. And my first discovery? 1,600 calories (my daily number of calories to lose a pound a week apparently) is LOW.

1,600 calories looks like this.

This is a typical ‘good’ day for me:

Breakfast: wholegrain toast with butter and a cup of tea [total calories 204]

Snack 1: banana [103 calories] and a KitKat [106 calories]

Lunch: Slim Fast shake [203 calories]

Snack 2: pear [103 calories] sometimes I have a nectarine instead and these are slightly lower in calories

Dinner: Spaghetti Bolognaise [spaghetti [249], quorn mince [150], chopped tomatoes [47], mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes and courgette [101], grated cheese [82]. Total calories 630

Evening snack: chocolate biscuit x3 [240]

TOTAL FOR DAY: 1,589

As you can see, I am having at least two pieces of fruit and vegetables with my evening meal. Yes, I have had a chocolate bar in the morning but I get up very early and have a long commute so 10am is middle of the day for me! Plus KitKats are the lowest calorie chocolate I can find.

Many will say a Slim Fast shake for lunch I shall neither healthy nor sustainable, but I find it help she me monitor my calories to keep them low during the day.  I am very much an evening eater so if I didn’t restrict my calories at lunch time I’d be gaining rather than losing weight.

Having recorded my calories every single day for 60 days, I realised that seeing it all written down really encouraged me to eat better. But just half a biscuit or one more piece of fruit on top, and I’d be over my total for the day. Its hard especially when you see how little you are eating but how many calories are in those items!

I haven’t made a huge overhaul to my diet as I eat fairly healthily anyway. My downfall is portion size and snacking. Swapping unhealthy items for fruit has been hard because I never used to like fruit, and even now there are very few fruits I will eat. But I’m getting there and, more importantly, I’m enjoying it.

Reducing my portion sizes has been the biggest lesson. Pasta or rice the size of my fist on a plate rather than taking up most of the plate :/ I still look down and think “the plate is half empty”  but after a few days and weeks your stomach muscle starts to shrink so you don’t feel as hungry and get full up on less.

This makes me sound like I’m starving myself – I’m not, I just had huge plates of food before.I come from a family where finishing everything on your plate is encouraged and piled high. Not stop when you’re full up.  I now try to only put on the plate what I want to eat and I think is a reasonable amount to eat and that takes time to learn. You really have to listen to your body.

So, after trying my damned hardest and some 9 months after I first decided to make some changes, I reached my ‘goal weight’. I did have some problems with my scales (they kept saying a different number every time) so I can’t be sure exactly how much I’ve lost, but I think it is about a stone. I’m pretty pleased because I’ve lost it in a sustainable way even though its taken far longer than most other people.

Here are the things I’ve learnt along the way:

  1. Look at your portion sizes. Your stomach is supposedly the size of a grapefruit. Imagine it stretching with too much food!
  2. Carbs are good in moderation. Everything is good in moderation but carbs are not evil. Eating pasta or rice will not make you put weight on unless you are eating to excess.
  3. Introducing fruit and more vegetables is not hard; add an extra vegetable to your evening meal and swap a snack for fruit during the day.
  4. There are a lot of calories in meat! Having meatballs instead of quorn mince adds an extra 400 calories to your spaghetti meal! Plus there is more fat. I’m at an advantage in that my parents are vegetarian and I’ve grown up familiar with meat alternatives, but I would definitely recommend making a swap once a week.
  5. Exercise helps maintain your weight, but does not help you lose it. You have to change your diet too.
  6. MOVE MORE. Take the stairs, not the lift. I’ve started taking the stairs at the train station instead of the escalator (about 2 floors’ worth) and I feel much better in myself.
  7. There will be foods you love but which you realise are not good for you. Bread does not agree with me. Just making a simple change from white to whole grain has been astronomical. I don’t feel bloated, lethargic or uncomfortable. Listen to your body – you don’t have to cut it out just find an alternative.

This is old news, I know that. But it’s not a fad diet, just simple obvious decisions to lead a more healthy lifestyle. Find something that motivates you; an outfit, an old picture, anything. Don’t be negative if you take your time to get there like I did, enjoy the journey and think about what you’ve learned. Try to make those little changes last a lifestyle and maybe you’ll never need to crash diet again.

Ive only lost a stone and could do with losing more, but I’m happy where I am at the moment. I’m now turning my attention to the outside of my body and to firming it up. I’ve been doing a basic routine of sit ups, crunches, leg lifts, russian twists etc at the gym plus my usual short run, and my tummy has become much flatter as a result. I’m going to try and improve my legs now and get some tone. Wish me luck! I have no idea what I’m doing and only bought kettle bells the other day, but its the trying that counts.

And whilst doing that, focusing on eating right; not clean, but healthy nutritious food with the odd naughty treat!

Everyone is in the same boat; just because they don’t talk about their body hang ups doesn’t mean they don’t have them. Stay positive!

On the road to achievement; maintaining a positive mindset

A few weeks ago I posted a brief blog about my battle with the bulge. Four weeks on, my weight has not changed much. Maybe one or two pounds, but that’s it. Having made a significant effort since the New Year to eat healthily and really focus on my food choices, I’ve been quite deflated at the minimal weight loss I’ve achieved.

I first realised I need to shift at least half a stone in August/September 2016. I joined a gym and started having a Slim Fast drink for lunch and only two healthy snacks during the day. Slim Fast has been the only way I can limit my calorie intake during the day and still feel full; I lost a stone in 6 weeks a few years back so I know it works if I put my mind to it. I kept my usual wholewheat toast for breakfast and would eat a balanced evening meal. By Christmas I was feeling much slimmer and fitted into sparkling pencil skirt for my work Christmas ‘do. In reality, I’d only lost about 4 pounds, but my tummy wasn’t bloated as much.

So, in the New Year I tried to stay positive. We booked a holiday to Greece for the summer and I suddenly thought “that’s 6 months away. That’s enough time to do something about my weight. I want to be slim and [foolishly], I want an ‘Instagram’ body”. So I carried on at the gym but started doing some floor work as well as using the cross-trainer; I did my first ab crunch in January and haven’t looked back! I can now do 40 ab crunches quite quickly, plus 40 bicycle ab crunches as well as squats, a plank and Russian twists.

My waist has slimmed down – and I’ve put this down to the Russian twists which really work my oblique muscles.

But I have only lost a couple more pounds to be my current weight. The problem I have is that I found out my scales were broken in February 2017 so its actually quite hard to work out how much weight I have lost. On the basis that my previous scales were slightly light, I was probably far heavier than I thought last August. So in all, I have probably lost about half a stone.

I really struggle to lose weight – it takes me ages to do it properly. A pound a week never mind a month is hard. My weight seems to stabilise for weeks on end, then suddenly drops a pound. Then stabilises, then drops a pound. I wouldn’t mind but when you are limiting your calories, working out 3 times a week and recording all of your food in an app, you’d think you’d lose weight faster. Feeling deflated is an understatement. On a couple of occasions I’ve had a chocolate biscuit after dinner or a slice of cheese when I get in from work (my days are long from commuting) and feel guilty, but on those days I’d already weighed myself and knew I hadn’t lost weight from being good!

I’m not a secret eater. I can remember everything that passes my lips for the last week and am honest about my calorie intake and if I go over.

I follow a couple of high-profile fitness fanatics, who I won’t name, on Instagram. The intention was to feel motivated during the day by seeing lots of ‘before and after’ pictures in the hope that it would keep me on the straight and narrow. The strange thing is, it has.

Although my body hasn’t changed much, my mind set has. I feel I am coming to understand the ‘love your body’ mantras the health and fitness world talk about all the time. Keep positive. Focus on the end goal but enjoy the journey in between. Goal posts move. Instead of just wanting to lose a few pounds (and, I admit, still wanting an ‘Instagram body’), I wanted to be fit. Strong. Toned.

So the last 6 weeks I have focused on trying to be strong. Well, as strong as you can be from just cross-training and doing squats and sit-ups without any weights! And then this week I thought, why not? I see people at the gym who are of a similar build to me – slightly overweight but not majorly – and they seem to be able to do it. Granted, I am worried about hurting myself but I have always been into fitness so I’m not stupid and know that form and technique are important. So, I’m buying some kettlebells this weekend! I’ve looked up 3-5 simple exercises I can do with them at home and I’m hoping they will help me tone up. If I can get toned I wouldn’t need to lose much weight at all.

I guess I feel like I’ve turned full circle. From enjoying sport and team games at school to joining various gyms and running as an adult. Now I realise that running is not sustainable for me long-term as a hobby (my knees are ruined to put it lightly), so whilst I may train for the odd charity run, I can’t do too much more than that. But suddenly the focus isn’t on just doing something to say I do it. Its about me. About feeling strong and able. I want to be one of those 50 year-olds who are trim and exude a classic, healthy wellbeing. This isn’t short-term. I want to keep this mind-set my whole life.

So, the scales may not be moving much, but I figure that life is about balance. I do eat a healthy diet full of fresh vegetables and fruit. I don’t drink much, I don’t smoke. The odd biscuit and toast is not going to hurt.

I feel like I can do this. Its only 6 weeks until my holidays (I can’t believe it was 6 months not long ago!) so these kettlebells had better have some effect! And, even though it is only likely to be a minimal change, any change is good and hopefully I can build on this and achieve the body I know is there, just hidden from view.

My reference to an ‘Instagram’ body may seem immature, but its not about the look. Its about feeling healthy and I guess I attributed that to being slim (and in a glossy picture). I feel like I’ve learned a lot in the last few months. Not necessarily things I can put into words but how I feel about myself and how I want to live my life. I think the next year will be the hardest as I try to achieve my goals, but then I have countless years ahead of me to (hopefully) maintain that. I’m actually excited.

I’m going to post occasionally about how this health and wellbeing journey is going for me; it won’t be all smooth-sailing but I figure that as long as I cling on to the positives I can make it there, no matter how long it takes. The feeling that you’re trying is far better than that of regret.