Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Brain vs Computer

Due to unforseen circumstances, I have found myself cleaning up my computer. ITunes rebelled, wiped my Ipod and it is taking forever to fix the problems. Needless to say, when I get to fixing things or cleaning I can see ALL the dusty places that I knew needed some work, but kept putting off. So I find myself scanning and deleting and looking for all the nasty computer viruses that may or may not be present. It has got me to thinking, wouldn’t it be wonderful if my brain operated like my computer, or better actually. If I could do a scan and get rid of malicious threats aka negative thoughts. Or maybe a could just pop the infections (aka self doubt, over analysis) into quarantine. Well at least until I figure out if they are actually destructive or protective. Oh and I would love to be able to download updates for my brain too. That way I could intrinsically know stuff without having to go through the painful experience of learning. But at the same time I shudder to think of all the hackers out there working to install into my brain all the nasties computers get. Actually, it probably isn’t that different from what the advertising industry does already. Except at least they can’t actually connect to my brain and I’m the one in charge instead of a crazy user who randomly installs, uninstalls and scans without being sure of what they are doing.

Anyway, while on the support forums, I found this quote:

“The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.”

I’m not sure what to make of that thought. The message does sound familiar, but it definitely shouldn’t be. Any ideas?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Brilliant idea #408 975 271 – Adventure racing

There have been many changes over the last few months, some of which I have written about, some not. Many have crept up on me stealthily and I have wondered where they came from, like the exercise lover in me! The experience has been very positive, except for one thing, which I just can’t shake. I still dislike certain parts of my body a lot. As a whole, I feel strong and healthy, but the bits that store my fat, just aren’t as popular as they ought to be. This was especially clear the week before we went to the beach, when the bikini ready body just hadn’t transpired. I began thinking that perhaps instead of focusing on weight loss, I would be better off setting a challenge for myself. Something that would be good for the mind, strengthen the body and be beneficial for weight loss, but not be the aim.

Everyone, please say hello the fun run idea. I searched over the weekend with the aim of finding a 5km or perhaps a 10km fun run. I certainly wasn’t disappointed with various opportunities almost every month. Of particular interest was the Queensland Half Marathon, which has a variety of lengths. I figured the half marathon would be stretching my current good humour towards jogging, but perhaps the 10km would be an option. Enthusiastically, I downloaded a training schedule to RUN 10km. Yes, this was my first step towards madness. By the end of half an hour, I had fun runs lined up (theoretically) for June, July and August, with plans of starting off at 5k and moving up to 10k by the last one. Until I stumbled on this little gem – the Anaconda Adventure Race at the Gold Coast.

My first introduction to adventure racing was during a marathon of tv watching while making a model for uni for 2 days straight. The Discovery Channel had a program about a team in an adventure race in New Zealand, that lasted for 48 hours. The mountains cradling clear blue lakes captivated me and the single track mountain bike trail over the grassy ridge lines made me dream of adventure. The competitors were pushing themselves to the limits, both mentally and physically racing through night and day. I felt a sense of understanding towards the team although my marathon of model making was perhaps a little less physically demanding, although my back would disagree. Still, they were in one of most beautiful places on earth and I was in the lounge room about to face a critique so at that moment I would have happily traded places with anyone of them.

Since then adventure racing seems to have become more popular with regular local events. Without the clouded judgement of sleep deprivation I’ve always brushed all knowledge of this sport aside with a ‘you would have to be totally crazy to enter something like that’ thoughts. Except I let my guard down and somehow adventure racing has snuck up, blindfolded me and whispers in my ear that I would love it if I gave it a go.

I brought the idea up with my husband, because naturally if I enter he would be involved also. The conversation went something like this:

Me: So, I was on google looking for a challenge like what we talked about and guess what I found?
Husband: *Hesitantly * What? (Thinking, I know this tone of voice. Begins mentally locating exits)
Me: Well, down at the Gold Coast, they are having an adventure race and I had the brilliant idea that maybe we could enter.
Husband: *Unconvincingly * Yeah……(Thinking: Oh great brilliant idea #408 975 271. Maybe if I don’t say anything she won’t notice and I can change the subject)
Me: You don’t seem too convinced!?! Is there something you are worried about?
Husband: Ahh….no….it’s just that……(Thinking: damn, I’m trapped what do I do now!?!?!)
Me: Yes?? What are you worried about?
Husband: Well….it’s uh…just that whenever you get an idea like this you get really enthusiastic….but uh….it doesn’t happen.
Me: What?!?! Like when?!?
Husband: Like ah….hiking in Nepal….but you always say you hate bushwalking. Or cycling in New Zealand.
Me: *With great embarrassment* Oh yeah, New Zealand…..sorry about that….

Ah yes, cycling in New Zealand! Back when we were young – under 21 that is – we decided that our first holiday together would be skiing in New Zealand. Everything was planned, except that we wanted to travel around and see a little of the South Island for the week after skiing. But we were too young to hire a car, so I came up with brilliant idea #406 812 023, we could cycle! I bought the Lonely Planet guide to Cycling New Zealand and enthusiastically started planning our trip. Husband, who was then boyfriend, liked the idea being an avid cyclist and happily embraced it against his better judgement. Against mine, I chose the Western Otago circuit, a 200km loop starting from Queenstown done over 3 days. The ‘highlight’ of the first day is a ‘challenging’ climb of 1100m vertically over the Crown Range Road that is the highest highway in the country (and New Zealand is far from flat). That trip was utter torture and I am amazed that boyfriend actually still chose to become husband, albeit a few years later.

I wasn’t able to cycle up the Crown Range. Prior trip preparation had included no training for the ride and I had to push my loaded bike uphill for about 10km of the 70 we did that day. But that side of the mountain wasn’t the problem. In fact reaching the top was one of the most exciting things I have ever done and I will never forget flying downhill for the next 15km. It was the other side that was the problem. What looked like a flat road in the guidebook, turned out to be undulating. I was at the end of my strength and I could barely manage to keep peddling my heavy bike over each of the hills. Additionally it had taken so long to get up over the Crown Range, that we were running out of daylight and couldn’t stop to eat. That afternoon, I behaved so viciously and angrily that I have blocked it out of my memory. All that remains, is the realisation that I married the most patient man on the planet.

So, I was not surprised that my brilliant idea was not embraced with wholehearted enthusiasm. Although a very cautious person generally, I apparently have this tendency towards cooking up brilliant ideas that may or may not be well outside of my limits and then jumping into them without any judgement. But I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Every moment that I had this weekend I was scheming about how I would train, if I would try it as part of a team and who else would be interested. I dreamt about kayaking and I have woken in the morning with my mind whispering softly ‘adventure race’. I even took myself to the pool on Saturday to see if I could swim 1.2km in under an hour, the disqualification time. After a mind numbingly boring 36 minutes, I had done the requisite 50 laps, conclusive evidence pointing to the fact that the idea isn’t as stupid as it seems.

I have plenty of time to decide if I want to participate in any case, but my insanity begs the question; have you chosen any absurd physical challenges with a good outcome? Do you like just jumping in any seeing how far you can push yourself? Have you ever completed an adventure race or thought of doing one? Feel free to point out any obvious flaws in this plan also!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Turning back time

If I could turn back time, I would know that losing weight isn’t so much about cutting energy and expending more, but about confronting the issues that keep me living in the body that I have.

If I could turn back time, I wouldn’t have bought fitness magazines or read MSN so often looking for diet tips. I would have known that health isn’t about following someone’s program but listening to myself – my likes and dislikes, what my body is telling me.

If I could turn back time, I would have the self respect for myself to accept my shortcomings. I would have confronted them with love and understanding and worked towards moving forwards rather than hating myself more.

If I could turn back time, I would have started exercising a long time ago, so that I could participate with a smile on my face in all the activities that I have had the opportunity to do over the years.

If I could turn back time, I wouldn’t give up so easily. I would push past the fear and doubt, the lack of obvious results and the uncomfortableness associated with starting something new.

If I could turn back time, I would have an appreciation for the body I have.

If I could turn back time, I would have tried to live the wisdom that I already had inside of me, but refused to listen to by seeking answers from others.

If I could turn back time, I wouldn’t. I am who I am because of this journey and I’m having the time of my life.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Finding the right role model

I think I have come to terms with the fact that my thighs just aren’t going to look like those of the fitness magazine models. Now the fact that I actually compare my thighs to those of fitness models as opposed to catwalk models is a step in the right direction. It’s taken years for me to accept that very thin just isn’t going to happen and I began dreaming more of strong, hence the fitness models. Except I have hips and the aforementioned thighs which don’t grace the pages of the glossy magazines very often. A heavily pregnant friend said on the weekend that at this point she has come to accept her hips after hearing about the complications that her more petite friends suffered during natural childbirth. I can definitely see that at 8.5 months pregnant I would also accept my hips as a blessing rather than a curse! But what about now?

On Tuesday for the second consecutive week (pat on the back given) I went to the body balance class at the local gym. The usual trainer appeared but instead of yoga pants she wore a tiny tennis skirt with shorts underneath. At that point I thought of what the guys who think that body balance is ‘for girls’ were missing out on. Now this woman has muscles everywhere and these were emphasised like never before. Having realigned my thinking over the years to ‘strong is good’ I was impressed but figured that being a personal trainer she had probably always been into exercise hence the muscles.

After the class I went up and asked a question about technique and we eventually got chatting. It turned out that this trainer had joined the gym a few years prior overweight and desperate to get fit. At some point she got hooked and began working at the gym. Seeing her enthusiasm the staff suggested that she become a personal trainer. Fast forward a few years and we see a woman with unlimited enthusiasm for health and fitness. In my own experience of the last few months I can definitely see the spell that exercise and health can weave over your body. So I found her story inspiring on account of her transformation, which provides hope that a person can walk away from what they once were. But this is supposed to be about role models right? So despite the loftier ideas that can be taken away, I’m going to point out the more shallow ones – muscles.

A male colleague of mine was absolutely obsessed with muscle. He only had one problem, the fact that no matter how much he lifted he struggled to create the bulk that he dreamed of. His reasoning was that because his metabolism was so fast, he couldn’t store fat that is required for muscle bulk. By this reasoning, I am much more likely to end up with a pronounced muscular body which is the way it’s going. I have no trouble building muscle, hence the size of my thighs.

So how does this relate to the trainer? In what is an unfortunate reality, the trainer doesn’t have the physic that is so typical of fitness magazines, even though her strength is what I admired so much. For me, this highlighted the importance of finding the right role model that reflects what I can realistically achieve in a healthy way. As far as I can see this is the only way I can be happy with my body at the end of my own transformation. Finding the right physic to emulate can be very difficult because the ideal is so generic and my body, no matter how well trained will most likely lie outside of that ideal. I like that I now have a clearer picture in my mind that a strong muscular body can be beautiful while being outside of the ideal. I will probably always have bigger thighs than my husband but after that body balance class, I’m beginning to think that maybe that’s ok.

How about you, do you have great role models? Where did you find them? Or do you know anything further about the fat/muscle thing? I would love to know more.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Portion control

Actually, this post has nothing to do with control, because in my experience that just doesn’t work, at least not for me. I am absolutely hopeless with portion control. In fact although I eat almost no processed food, cook most things from scratch (even some types of cheese! Sorry, I’m just proud of that) and eat lots of veggies, I have never been able to control how much I eat. Eating is one of my greatest pleasures, which is why I have never risked my love for food by counting calories or analysing macro nutrient quantities (unless it was meat, because that was out for about 3 years). In fact, because of this love of food, I have felt entitled to eat as much as I pleased, even though my weight was constantly on the increase. The problem was that even if I tried to ‘trick’ myself by eating on smaller plates, I would feel deprived, especially as I watched my husband scoff down seconds and sometimes thirds (claiming he was still ‘hungry’ and sucking up by telling me how good my cooking was!)

I began practising the whole concept of intuitive eating whilst travelling through France using some of the ideas from "French Women Don’t Get Fat" after my grandfather told me that I had a weight problem and would probably struggle with it for the rest of my life. Funnily enough, despite eating baguette with butter for breakfast each morning and a selection of cheese and half a bottle of wine each night (as well as dinner) I actually lost weight. I wanted to continue when I got home, but my usual eating patterns returned as soon as the plane touched down. That’s when at the start of this year, I took the bull by the horns and decided to change my regular habits for good, without needing to rely on willpower for the rest of my life. These were the steps I took to learn to eat the ‘right’ amount.

Stage 1 – Put enough food on my plate that I acknowledge that it is too much for one sitting. Focus entirely on eating and how that feels as food enters the body and how hunger slowly diminishes. Stop when I feel satisfied and push the plate away. The rest can be eaten later if hungry or the following day for lunch or another meal. The key at this stage is to the sensations associated with not being stuffed immediately after a meal and throughout the evening or day. I found that I felt lighter, less tiered and satisfied with myself for not overeating.

Stage 2 – After a few weeks, I began to recognise what a ‘portion’ size suitable for me was so I decreased the amount on my plate to be what I thought appropriate. I still continued to be conscious, but it was less of an effort than in the first stage. At this point, I was still regularly over eating, but less than what I would have defined as stuffed in the past.

Stage 3 – I realised with shock, horror and delight that I could choose to eat less because it felt better, even when the food was on the table in front of me and my fellow eating companions were going back for seconds (and usually commenting that I didn’t eat much any more although I would be hungry again quicker than everyone else). At this point, overeating is fairly rare and when it does happen it’s not in excess.

Why do I think this has worked for me? Positive reinforcement. Every time I didn’t overeat I would think to myself how nice it felt to eat just the right amount rather than commenting that I couldn’t move, or feeling sleepy because my body was so busy digesting it was shutting down none essential functions – like my brain! Slowly but surely, I began being able to make the choice to eat less, because there was something that could weigh up against seconds – feeling good. What made it work was that it wasn’t external thoughts like ‘I shouldn’t eat any more because I’ll get fat’ or ‘Everyone is looking at you fatty, do you really need another piece?’ or ‘you’re going to eat HOW much…you’re trying to lose weight…no wonder you ALWAYS fail….you MORON’. These days, the internal dialogue goes more like:

Stomach: I think I’m full.
Brain: What already?!? You’ve only eaten half of what’s on your plate, are you sure you’re full, I think that the tastebuds are really having fun tonight.
Stomach: I know, but I’m definitely full. If I change my mind you can have more later.
Brain: I just have one thing to say to you stomach – you’re eating like a girl!
Stomach: Ahh brain, you and I are a girl! And you will be the first to complain that you feel so sleepy if you keep shoving food in me.
Brain: I know, I know you have reminded me 3 times a day for the last two months!
Stomach: And do you FEEL better when you aren’t drowsy because you didn’t eat too much and you can go and do fun things because of it? Besides in a few hours you will be complaining that I’m ALWAYS hungry!
Brain: Hey who do you think you are stomach!?! The brain or something!?! I know what’s good for me and I say you are full. Dinner’s over, but I’ll be back!

And my friends wonder why I occasionally space out during dinner! In case you are wondering, the only part of my body other than my brain that talks is my stomach! So that is how I have succeeded in reducing my portion sizes. For me, this is has been the only long term option that I can take anywhere because it is determined solely by the capacity of the stomach and doesn’t involve any tricks or willpower to make me eat less, just a warm satisfied feeling when I know I will feel good!

So I wonder, what are your strategies for reducing how much you eat? What about if you have never had to think about it because you just ‘know’ you’ve had enough and can stop? Any other suggestions for how this could work when there are chocolate coated macadamia nuts in front of me (intuitive eating doesn’t work then)? Do any of your body parts talk to you?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Beaches, nudists and energy

What do all of the above have in common? They all featured as part of my looong weekend. We had a great time at the beach chilling out by the pool or walking on the beach. It was lovely to get away from the renovation for a weekend, even though we spent about half the time discussing ideas for our own spa and surrounds!

Around the same time last year, my parents went up to the unit for a week and we joined them for one weekend. Being close to Noosa, we always go there for half a day, to walk around the boutiques, eat gelati and enjoy the relatively calm beach. What makes Noosa beautiful is that it is set in a sheltered bay overlooked by a tree covered peninsula that rises to Noosa Hill. The area forms a part of Noosa National Park with unspoilt sandy bays that are a hit with surfers and accessed by a scenic track that winds its way around the headland to the best beach in the area, Alexandria Bay.

Last year after a tasty gelati and some window shopping my sister proposed walking around to Alexandria Bay, a walk that is neither long nor difficult. For some reason I got angry. The last thing I wanted to do was expend energy on a walk, so I got left behind reading a magazine while the rest of my family and husband walked. A year on I can’t explain why I got angry at the idea of walking, but I know that for a very long time I have felt sluggish and lethargic. It’s not that I wasn’t fit enough to walk but I just lacked the energy.

I always thought that I would be fit and healthy if I lived at the beach because there are so many fun ways to exercise by the sea. In retrospect, I could never muster the energy in the past to do much of anything while on holidays at the beach, so I was wondering wether my place of residence was just an excuse for my lack of exercise. Yesterday, I was bursting at the seams and in a good way! My energy never ran out and I was ready for more all day long. Which was a good thing, because talk about cross training! Cycling, walking in the National Park, laps in the pool, (attempting to) boogie board in the ocean, romantic walk after dinner along the beach, we just kept going all day and I have never felt so alive.

I know I’m turning into a walking advertisement for exercise and mostly my husband just looks at me and goes ‘duh you didn’t know that!?!’ But I have to confess that I didn’t. I know that regular exercise increases your energy levels. I know that regular exercise makes you feel better about your body. I know that regular exercise makes your body strong and fit. But apparently I don’t learn from knowledge but from experience. Now that I have felt the way I did yesterday there is no turning back.

So where do nudists fit into all of this. Well, the very first time we went to Noosa, my mom and sister were very attracted to the idea of walking through the National Park to the secluded Alexandria Bay. I, grumpy as always about bush walking got dragged along being at the tender age of around 9. We walked the inland route meeting the odd occasional thong clad (the footwear), friendly faced individual who’d give us a passing ‘G’day’ and a smile. If my memory serves me well, the walk seemed to go on forever until we saw the glimmer of light reflecting off the ocean and the sound of waves crashing against the surrounding rocky headland. The path began to steeply descend to the beach and as we emerged we saw a beautiful secluded bay where everyone in sight was nude! Yes, we had found the unofficial nudist beach in the area. The track had come out in approximately the middle of the beach. On the left there was just the odd person walking down the beach, it was to the right where the majority of the group congregated. To my mom’s dismay the track continued to the right, so with eyes fixed on the ground she marched us through the nudists who were leisurely enjoying the sand and sea. I can remember how much her friends laughed when she told them the story. Most locals know about the unofficial status of that beach, but we had only recently moved to Australia, so we found out the uhh, hard way. And I think she is still embarrassed to this day about taking her two young daughters to a nudist beach!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Surprising myself

Thank you for all the fabulous suggestions from the last post. Here is how they have played out.

Things that make you go Huh?
It’s normally your partner or a close friend that surprises you. Sometimes they say things or do things that you just wouldn’t expect and you think to yourself ‘wow! I thought I knew them’. Rarely do you expect that from yourself, but it turns out that this week has been full of it!
  • On Monday, I figured I’d give the jogging thing another chance. So I started and at first it was hard but then I just kept going. For 15 minutes until the destination I had set myself. For someone who hates jogging and doesn’t consider herself very fit, I was shocked. When I got home, I felt this incredible sense of empowerment and calm. It was so bizarre.
  • On Tuesday, I went to a Body Balance class at the local gym. Walking away after the class I was disappointed that it wasn’t a whole body workout because everywhere north of my belly button didn’t get worked. So before dinner I grabbed some weights and finished off what the class had started.
  • And this morning, I awoke at 5:30am (an hour earlier than usual) bouncing off the walls so excited about going interval training. When I came home, bathed in sweat I proceeded to grab some dumbbells, my yoga mat and started strength training. I thought ‘who is this person?’

On interval training
I was usually totally put off by the idea because the instructions were always so convoluted. They either changed from day to day or week to week and I have no idea how you are supposed to walk effectively with the instructions in one hand, stop watch in the other, whilst monitoring you heart rate. So I never bothered. I was intrigued when I read about using the outdoors to create an interval course and I figured that would suit me perfectly. So I embraced stairs, park benches, the timber rails along the sides of bike paths, dirt patches, surface changes, hills and any other thing that got my attention. And I had a wonderful time! It got me out of my head (apart from the occasional ‘who is this person’ thoughts) and focused on how I could push my body. I made up little ‘rules’ like every time I saw a dirt patch on the oval I would skip really fast or when I left the bike path I had to jog or I would jump over all the timber rails in one section or run along them in another. Each time I caught my breath after these bursts I would find a new activity to amuse myself and get my heart rate up. I presume that that is the idea of the usual instructions, but this was so much more natural and in tune with my environment which dovetails neatly with my cardinal rule of listening to my body and responding.

The other thing that worried me was not working hard enough both during cardio and weights. I am usually the first to go ‘too hard, I’m outta here’ but the class on Tuesday showed me how great it felt to push your limits. So what I found worked for me was:

  • set goals based on landmarks like ‘I’ll jog the length of these rails’ or skip fast until I get tangled up 5 times.
  • when doing yoga standing poses (or something where there isn’t a particular number of repetitions) play music that has regular changes in it like long rifts of music with no lyrics so the goal might be to hold the pose until the singing starts again.

I had so much fun pushing myself that I can’t wait to do it again. And when I reflect on my sore muscles I keep asking myself ‘who is this person’?

All of this has made me wonder about the person I actually am. If this peculiar being inside of me who is loving pushing herself physically really is me, then where has she been hiding for the last 15 years? Can we really hold ourselves back this much based on our beliefs of ourselves? Before I started walking regularly, I was sure of two things about myself; I don’t like pushing my body hard physically; I need to exercise because it’s healthy and has weight loss benefits but I may never love it. Two ideas that I have held for a long time, shattered in just one week.

I am really interested to see how my love of exercise develops especially over the coming days. We are spending a long weekend at the beach and I’ve always said I would be fit and healthy if I lived by the sea. But when on holidays I usually have to drag a very grumble bum out the door to do anything physical except for soaking in the ocean or pool. Is this the end of lazy me? We shall see. In the meantime on a very philosophical note, I’m curious to know are humans really the empty vessels that can be anything we want to be? Are our dreams are reflection on what is within us even if it seems distant from reality?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Is it a cop-out to not jog?

I bumped into my neighbour the other day at the shops and she asked if it was me she had seen out walking. She mentioned how she has just started her own walking routine and that although her body feels awful afterwards she can feel improvements. My neighbour is about 10 years older than me, but fit and trim looking and I always thought she was a gym junkie, so I was floored when she said that walking is tough. From the first day I have walked, I haven’t felt any real difference in my fitness despite subtle changes in energy levels, alertness and a vague general feeling of ‘well being’.

With all the recent talk of plateau’s I think my body has jumped on that bandwagon and I’m there staring at the very flat, seemingly endless plain with a dead straight road and barren fields that look so drought stricken they could suck the blood out of your veins if you got too close. Actually I lie, this plateau is a tropical rainforest and there are lots of beautifully coloured birds and butterflies and I am really quite content here. That’s probably the problem with this plateau because it’s not the dread barren place as in the first description but the second one and so my motivation to leave is low. Except of course I still have that image of those pants and the fact that I don’t fit them.

So this all got me to wondering about fitness and how much is enough. After a month of daily walks, I think it is time to increase the activity level a bit but I hate jogging which is the logical step up from walking. My whole premise to get myself to start exercising regularly what to do something I enjoy. This I have done with great success. But is it a copout to whine about not wanting to work harder? Do I just bite the bullet and workout wether I enjoy it or not because it’s good for my body and will help with weight loss? And how much is enough? Should we always push our bodies to work harder and get fitter? Is it enough if you have the fitness and strength to get through the day and the activities you enjoy doing?

Yes, I have doubts. I am beginning to clarify my thoughts on this which I will write more about (once they start sticking together a bit better rather than just floating around in my brain) but in the meantime I am curious to hear what your thoughts are and how you act on these.

Monday, March 16, 2009

No sugar challenge and the aftermath

So here was the plan. Sagan at Living Healthy in the Real World took on the challenge of a week with no added sugar. When I read her first post about her intentions I thought ‘wow that’s so cool, I always wanted to try that’ and what better incentive than when someone else has set the guidelines! I figured I could manage a week, from Sunday to Sunday without too much trouble. And true in spirit to limiting anything in life, on Saturday I indulged guilt free in a delicious dessert figuring that I will more than compensate with a whole week of no sugar.

Sunday morning clicked around and what was my first thought when I woke (apart from ‘I wonder what’s for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks today, tomorrow and the rest of the week’)? ‘Hmmm no sugar for a week…that’s gonna be tough….that means like, no chocolate powder on my cappuccino at breakfast….or cranberry juice…or piece of chocolate at random intervals throughout the day!!! But I NEED sugar…..my cravings…..think of my cravings…..I’m going to turn into a deprived lonely….probably today….or definitely tomorrow…’ So within about 30 seconds of waking I decided to ditch the sugar challenge! The same thing happened on Monday morning and then Tuesday came around.

By Tuesday I was equally freaked out by the idea of limiting my sugar intake, but at breakfast I figured I would survive without the aforementioned chocolate on my cappuccino. So, one meal down 20 to go. With lunch fast approaching, I again convinced myself that I could go without any sugar for this meal and again succeeded. Finally, after dinner I declined dessert, instead opting for a rooibos tea, which is quite a sweet tasting tea so it was moderately satisfying. In any case, I was proud that I had made it through a whole day with no sugar!

After the usual panic on Wednesday morning, I attempted the same approach, dealing with the sugar issue at each meal and not focusing on a whole week or even a whole day without sugar. Little baby steps took me through that day, Thursday and Friday. The challenge was going well, albeit a little delayed, until Saturday unleashed the three year old in me.

Weekends always take my best laid plans down and this one was no exception. It was a friend’s three year old’s birthday party. I was most impressed that all the party food was really healthy (think little dark bread sandwiches with veggie toppings) and I thought that with a bit of determination I could even turn down the cake. Until it came out that is. It was a volcano shaped cake with ‘lava’ pouring down the side and little chocolate coated ‘rocks’ at the base. I should’ve planned ahead better I know, because the cakes at this kids parties are always so awesome that the three year old in me shrieks with delight (on the inside of course!) and crowds in with all the kids watching hawkeyed to make sure I get my fair share. Well, chocolate cake with chocolate covered rocks was no exception. And that was how my sugar challenge ended after only 4 days! Just to remind me of my broken promise to myself, I had a bad headache for the rest of the day and some of the following and I was utterly exhausted. Hello sugar hangover….again!

Nonetheless, I have been very pleased at the good humour I have displayed toward myself when in breach of the goals I have set for myself and this weekend was no exception. I think this stems from the fact that I aim to learn something each time I fall down. This has been really helpful whenever a similar situation has come up because I have acquired some piece of wisdom previously and therefore been able to better deal with the situation. So what did I learn through this sugar challenge:

  1. Break down each new habit I want to form so that progress can occur in little steps rather than focusing on the enormity of the change required
  2. Find a healthy replacement for your cravings if possible
  3. Learn something each time you fall down
  4. Volcano shaped chocolate cake is beyond my powers of self control

This week I am planning to take this step by step approach in limiting the amount of wine I drink. I spoke with my mom about the study indicating that women increase their chance of cancer by drinking alcohol. Despite the study she has come to the conclusion that perhaps she should drink less and as she said this a tiny voice inside my head screamed ‘no this can’t be happening….if my mom believes that she should drink less, that means I should too….and I know I should study or no study. At this point I do feel the need to clarify that I only have ½ to 1 glass of wine per night. The problem is that wine drinking is a very powerful habit that means I drink every night despite the fact that alcohol free days are advised. In her very healthy approach my mom decided that she simply needed to replace wine with another drink and changing her habit wouldn’t be a problem. I’ve thought the same, however I hadn’t found a healthy alternative. In her all knowledgeable healthy ways, she suggested mineral water which she has already used to decrease her wine intake. Some people make it look so easy! So cheers to a week with no wine.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Hooray for Friday

In my household that can only mean one thing – it’s washing day. At least it will be washing evening. We don’t have a washing machine at our house at the moment since we are in the middle of renovating, so we pop over to my Mom’s house each Friday evening to do a load while they are out to dinner. Sad? Yes I know.

The other appliance that my Mother has that I don’t is an electronic scale. So recently, Fridays have also become ‘casually step on the scale’ days. This may or may not be the perfect way to start a weekend, but it has certainly provided lots of laughs while I have experimented with rapid weight loss. I’ve learnt some truths through these experiences that I am compelled to share, not because they are funny but because I’ve come to realise how inaccurate the scale actually is. Like they say, the best judges of weight loss are your clothes.

So to get to the point, shortly after putting the washing on the first week, I jumped on the scale, you know, just to see if I was making any progress with my conscious eating. I was shocked, that little number that hadn’t changed (much) in previous months had dropped by over 1.5kg! I was so pleased that by the time the washing was done, I had to check just to make sure I had read the scale right. To my stunned surprise, in the space of time it takes to do I load of washing I had dropped another 0.5kg.

The following week, I proceeded with the same exercise, except in the space of the hour I actually gained 0.5kg. Now that created a conundrum since I couldn’t work out which to use as my ‘official’ weight.

Third week in and I repeated the exercise with the best results to date, I could drop a whole kilogram in one hour! I did mention I was trying to lose weight slowly right? The trick to my magic weight changes?
1. Go for a walk and sweat a lot – 0.5kg
2. Drink over half a bottle of mineral water in 1 hour +0.5kg
3. Bowel movements – 0.5kg
4. Removal of clothing – 0.5kg

Ok, the clothing is obvious but it is summer here so I wasn’t exactly cuddled up in a winter jacket and woolly socks. But combine all the other factors together and how can you actually gauge if you have dropped a kilo in a week or not? More importantly, it raises the biggest question of what then becomes your official weight? Is it fair to weigh yourself after a bowel movement or is that cheating? Is dehydration prior to stepping on the scale a good idea?
Yes, I’ve pondered these questions and I really can’t help but laugh at myself. It is just a touch obsessive is it not? In any case, I haven’t come up with any answers to these but I do know, that no matter what, the scale is lying! Have a great weekend :-)

Friday, March 13, 2009

What did you learn from your mother?

It’s said that your mother can influence the way you feel about your body. If she openly criticised hers then her daughters are more likely to feel bad about theirs. But what about food? Does the way your mother eats impact you also? From my experience I would have to say yes. I know I didn’t get my body image issues from my Mom, but I do know that her eating habits have rubbed off on me. Well, at least in my dreams they have. See, I truly believe that losing and maintaining weight isn’t about counting calories, points or even attempting to balance carbs and proteins. I believe in earnest that a healthy diet (and by that I don’t mean dieting) can incorporate all food without needing to label it as bad or naughty. So where did I get my attitude towards food from? My Mother.

She is a woman who I have never seen refuse any food because it might be ‘fattening’. She has never dieted before or controlled what she eats. She regularly enjoys a little sweet treat, a glass of wine or some creamy cheese. What she does do is stop eating when she is satisfied and only eats when hungry. She will regularly save a bit for later and guard it closely if by chance its cake. Getting outside and being active is something she does for the love of it rather than to work out. I am totally in awe of my Mother as she is a perfect role model for how I want to live. It helps sharing the same genes, body shape and knowing how she does it!
For better or for worse, looking to our mother’s may just be the place to find out a bit about ourselves wether it’s attitudes to our bodies or food or what may be ahead of us as we age. What have you learnt from your Mom?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Veggies can never be boring

I love having a big snack around mid morning. Allegedly I shouldn’t be hungry 3 hours after a satisfying breakfast, but alas my belly screams each morning. So my snack of choice – a huge plate of veggies and a little fruit so I can make it until lunch time (almost). Last week I made some Baba Ghannouj from home grown eggplant to dip my celery sticks but now I’m out of tahini J Don’t you hate that when you plan what you will eat, get excited and then realise you don’t have the ingredients!?! Well in the name of improvisation, here is what I made instead, so my veggies need never be boring or feel lonely.

Yoghurt and harissa dip! Simply mix some yoghurt with a dap of harissa (depending on your hotness threshold) and presto a dip so tasty and spicy you’ll want to eat the whole bunch of celery. And just in case you want to make your own harissa (because the additives they put in pre-made stuff is mind-boggling. I mean really, put chillies in a jar and the stuff is indestructible. It took me a day to get the burn from my fingers!) oh yes, here’s the recipe I used. It’s typically served as an accompaniment to Moroccan food, but tastes lovely with soups as well. Store covered in the fridge for up to two weeks.

What's your favourite veggie snacks?

250g fresh birds-eye chillies
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
4-6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon dried mint
1 teaspoon salt
125ml extra virgin olive oil

1. Wearing rubber gloves (ignore this at your peril and if you do go here) remove stems of chillies, split in half, remove seeds and soften in hot water for 5 minutes.

2. While chillies are soaking, dry-fry caraway coriander and cumin in a pan until seeds become aromatic, about 1-2 minutes. Drain chillies and place in a food processor. Add seeds, garlic, mint and salt to food processor and slowly adding olive oil process until a smooth thick paste forms.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cooking on a La Cotta

I don’t think I would normally be inclined to tell you what I had for dinner (I prefer not to make people jealous ;-) But this dinner was both special and peculiar. A few months ago, in an antique shop in a little Queensland country town, we bought an odd looking Italian cooking implement. At least that’s what the instructions said it’s intended purpose was! Basically, it’s two oval shaped, shallow clay pans wired together and is operated with plastic handles. I’m not sure what actually possessed us to buy it but we brought it home, admired it some more and stuck it in a drawer where it has remained until last night.

La Cotta (or La Bisquera) is a cooking implement from Italy made from volcanic rocks that promises to remove fats and harsh acids. It claims to transform economic cuts of meat to create a tenderness and flavour that would only be achieved through slow cooking. This is good news since slow cooked meat is supposed to be a healthier alternative to barbequed. Additionally the instructions sold it as ‘one of the world’s best cooking utensils’ that our cooking would ‘rival anything prepared in the haute cuisine kitchens of the world’ and we would be cooking on a ‘natural material’ that is ‘compounded from a secret formula of five volcanic rocks’. Sounds interesting doesn’t it?

So we followed the instructions, rinsing the pan then placing it on a low gas flame and adding the steak that had been seasoned with a herb rub. After the blood had risen to the surface on one side, I flipped it until the same appeared on the other side and voila the meat was cooked.

Given the odd smell that was coming out of the contraption during cooking I was very dubious. Actually I expected the steak to be dry so I made a mushroom sauce to go with it. To my surprise, the steak was juicy even though it had been dry cooked and it was very tender. I’m not sure wether to attribute that to La Bisquera, a good cut of meat or just my cooking prowess, but I suspect that this secret volcanic rock is doing something, because I really haven’t come across a thick piece of beef that was cooked just right in about 10 minutes. But one test is never enough, so over the coming weeks we shall have to repeat this experiment with various cuts.
Now if you are interested in obtaining your very own La Bisquera, there seems to be heaps available online. Apparently there are many in closets around the world, owned by people scratching their heads and going ‘what do I do with this?’ If that’s you, I have attached the instructions that came with ours so that you can give it a go yourself. Or perhaps you already knew how great this hunk of rock was and you wouldn’t mind sharing your experiences and allowing us a glimpse into your world of haute cuisine!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The story so far

My main goal with exercise was to make it a regular occurrence, a healthy daily habit. I figured the only way to do this was to choose something I like doing. I did wonder how long it would take for exercise to become a habit since the opinions out there vary from 21 days to 6+ months. It’s now been 3 weeks and I have gone for a walk, cycle or played tennis almost every day. Each week I skipped one day, wether I was too sore, too busy or too upset. Either way, although I am enjoying it and seeing the benefits I don’t think it is a habit yet. Even though its mostly a matter of putting on a pair of running shoes and walking out the door, it’s far from automatic and many days I have to convince myself that now is the right time. On the other hand, if I don’t walk in the morning I think about it all day and try to plan it into the evening activities, so I would have to say my body likes it.

Normally the moment I told my body it would have to lose some weight, it would rebel. “I’m hungry,” my stomach would moan and unquenchable hunger pains would start. “Enough is enough body, you can’t keep eating like this,” I would say. And in response it would demand sugar, the irrational part of the brain complicity reminding my body of the cake in the fridge whilst my rational thoughts tried to persuade me to ignore it.

This time I told my body it could have anything it craved even reminding it of the sweets. At first it thought that this sounded great and my stomach began to moan, but soon when it realised it could have anything it wanted, it became disinterested. It choose a healthy snack instead of cake, which wouldn’t have made it feel good.

The last few weeks, the more I have listened the more, my body has spoken to me. My mind has complicity tempted me with various treats but the body has casually responded that it wasn’t interested and that perhaps I should find something to do if I was feeling bored. My intense carvings have disappeared as well as the pre-mealtime madness. This isn’t to say the temptation hasn’t been there. But it was my body that said it had had enough, rather than my self discipline berating me that I would be fat forever if I ate another bite.

Although I committed to keep a food diary, I haven’t even written a single word. Interestingly, I haven’t had too much trouble most of the time in listening to my body. At times I have even become totally obsessive watching friends and family eating unhealthy food or worse still drinking soft drink and thinking how could they put that stuff in their bodies. At the same time I’ve come unhitched too, but by accepting it I was able to stop and move on instead of continuing the habit. The downside of not keeping a diary is that I have no idea how to tweak my eating as I slowly lose weight. So, for the next 3 week period, keeping a food diary is the goal.

Body Image
After making my initial commitment to improve my health in 2009, I started off by analysing all the reasons why I was physically where I was, before delving into setting the boundaries of my healthy living approach. But in retrospect, I think I probably took the wrong approach. I thought that I could work on my body image as I went along, but it should probably be the very first thing that I thought about. After all body image influences our goals probably more than anything else. Just watch an episode of “How to look good naked” and you realise women don’t have an accurate image of the way they look. For me, body image has usually been my derailing factor also.

Thankfully because I bumbled along in starting this blog and making a firm commitment I spent countless hours analysing how I actually felt and if anything I wrote could actually be of use to anyone in the bloggoshpere (or random, hapless person who stumbled onto my blog). I was very scared that my contribution would be worthless seeing as I was staunchly against the idea of loving my body as it was now. The good thing was that this challenged me to really think about how I could feel better about myself in order to be able to document it, which I sub consciously started doing well before writing about it.

In part this was actually frustrating because by the time I came to really starting to exercise regularly and eat consciously I already ‘felt’ smaller even though volumetrically my body remained the same. I heard a brilliant quote on this ‘reduce the amount of space they take up in your mind’, with ‘they’ referring to breasts. Ah, it was relevant to the tv show about women unhappy about the size of their breasts because they were too large. But it’s equally applicable to our bodies, as I was experiencing. So for me, improving my body image has been very positive – I feel smaller, I am more conscious of looking after my body for it’s sake and I’m obsessing over the way it looks less.

So far, my ‘plan’ and attitude shifts have been very successful. I am particularly delighted that I am seeing volumetric changes in my body (which at this stage is a big motivator) without much effort. I won’t kid anyone and say it’s been fast by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve actually enjoyed myself and feel a lot better about my body. And apart from speed, isn’t weight loss mecca the place where losing weight isn’t hard?

Friday, March 6, 2009

It's ok to fail

A perfect life is something that we strive towards, after all isn’t that what New Year’s resolutions are; changing something you don’t like about yourself. And if year after year we tell ourselves that we need to change then we carry over to our daily lives that feeling that we need to be perfect and aren’t. When we decide that this year will be the year we become healthy (guilty!) we strive towards control over ourselves. We set boundaries by defining what health or a weight loss program is for us, even if we don’t follow a traditional diet. And while we are in control, everything is ok, but when we lose that control, we feel like we failed, fell off the wagon, sabotaged ourselves. We have all experienced what happens next – throwing in the towel, saying that this diet isn’t for us, feeling like a failure and so eating even more and saying horrible things to ourselves.

Now if you are reading this, then you are probably a human being like me. You are probably living a life that isn’t perfect, because unfortunately life just doesn’t happen that way. No matter how annoying or painful that is, it’s a good thing, because the challenges in life are what make us grow and come to realise what is most important to us. It doesn’t really matter what the original reason was either, wether an event that was out of our control, throwing our emotional state out, time pressure which meant we weren’t able to follow through with our resolve or self sabotage. Any situation that throws us off course requires the same response, accepting ourselves.

Eventually our lives return to an equilibrium where we must face up to the choices we made in dealing with our crisis and the impact they had on our goals. In the thick of it, the easiest answer is to give up, but when we simply accept that we aren’t perfect, that things happen in our lives and sometimes our response is not ideal, then it’s easier to return to our good habits. This is part of the process of learning to love and respect yourself and providing room for failure to enable growth and learning. The worst thing we can do is punish ourselves for being human and for being imperfect. Here are a couple of strategies that might be helpful:

  1. If you are breaking one of your boundaries, realise it, decide if you still want to keep going and if you do, accept that that is the choice you made. Making a conscious decision is very empowering because you give yourself permission to proceed rather than feeling out of control when you realise halfway through a 2L bucket of ice cream what you are doing. Which brings me to point two.
  2. Avoid negative self talk and if you don’t know how the strategies invest some time into learning them. It will probably be the best investment for your mental health and self esteem you can make. Of course, apart from the theory you need to apply it – that’s the bit I always struggle with (read: don’t do) but just the knowledge has helped.
  3. Keep asking yourself, gently, if you are still making the right choice based on how you are feeling.
  4. Don’t vow to make up for the episode. Perhaps you’ve taken a step backwards if you are trying to lose weight, that’s a part of life and aiming to work harder to make up for it is more likely to be a discouragement to a return to a healthy lifestyle. The problem is that it’s like punishing yourself because you are a human being. If you manage to graciously accept your failings then you have learnt a whole lot more than what sticking to your course might have done.

At least this is what I have come to realise, over the last few very sad days. Between tears, I would gobble up bowls of ice cream, chocolate covered honeycomb and hot chocolates. While I knew that this wouldn’t make any difference to the hurt inside and I would probably even feel worse from a sugar overdose, I still did it. I accepted myself while making those choices and today when I feel better I’m still ok with my response (despite the added kilo’s that I have no desire to check on) and am returning to the healthy habits that I’m creating. It actually makes me happy to realise that this is in stark comparison to what would have happened in the past.

But I’m curious if there is anything I could have done differently or is occasional emotional eating just a part of life as much as emotional experiences are? It’s the classic female cliché, reaching for a block of chocolate and a chick flick to unburden our feelings, but is it really ok or is there a better option? Would we be better off to deal with our feeling the way men do? Have you found a good way to deal with emotions without reaching for the freezer door?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

'Before' pictures that say a thousand words

Repeatedly health experts have suggested taking ‘before’ photos at the start of a new exercise and diet regime. These photo’s serve as a testimony to progress, when after weeks or months the newly slimmed down exerciser can compare the body they previously had to the one they have today. When presented in a before and after format, someone elses success can be motivation in itself to begin our own transformation. Alternatively before photo’s can strengthen a commitment to a program by showing the magnitude of the problem from all angles. They no doubt be a powerful tool as part of a weight loss program, but they can also be part of the reason for failure.

Take a close look at some of the before photo’s. Look carefully and consider what you see. Do the people carry themselves well? What’s is the expression on their faces? Do their eyes sparkle? Take a look at your own before photos if you have ever taken them. How do you feel looking at yourself? Do those images represent people who are happy with their bodies regardless of the way they look?

The road to failure of a health regime is paved amongst other things with a lack of self-esteem. It’s without an appreciation for the marvel that the human body is that we can harm them so much by not exercising, eating junk food or berating them and then justify our behaviour. It’s not surprising because we are taught to believe that an ideal body can be achieved through willpower rather than through gentle care and nurturing tenderness. Eventually everyone falls off the wagon of a healthy lifestyle, but it’s much easier to get back on if the underlying reason is a respect for your body. But why would you want to nurture an ugly body? It’s like learning to love spiders, some people do, but most think they are best dead.

It is difficult to appreciate your body the way it is today regardless of shape or size. But learning to love your body makes sticking to a healthy lifestyle and losing weight easier because the motivation isn’t based on appearance alone. By appreciating the body you have, the effort you put in to caring for it is worth it regardless if it’s reflected in the way you look. And generally by eating well and exercising your body will reflect the level of care you give it.

So forget about the before photo or hide it somewhere well out of sight and photograph instead the parts of your body you do like. Stick these on the mirror so each time you walk past you are reminded of what you like about yourself. Eventually, your might finding that your love sneaks away from just the bits you like to all of you.

Have you learnt to love your body despite its imperfections? What helped you along the way? Or do you still struggle to accept yourself as you are?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Teaching children

Many of my friends are pregnant or have newborns. Children scare me, because I don’t understand them as I have had little to do with them in my life. For me, each meeting is a moment of learning – how small they really are, what makes them cry, seeing them grow, begin to smile, feeling peaceful when they fall asleep in my arms. I look down on their tiny little bodies, perfect hands, scrunched up faces, curled up legs. All they seem to want is to be held, close to the heart, warm and secure. They feel pain and they don’t understand it. Their body isn’t quite under their control – those arm things flinging around grabbing some hair, a poke in the eye, but mostly just air. Then they become conscious of this strange body, they can roll, then crawl, walk, and soon run. Every time I see these tiny little people I wonder if one day they will look down and think ugh. Look at those hips or those thighs or that belly. Will these little bodies, that seemed so perfect to their parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts and all those who cared about them become an object of self loathing? Will these kids cry in the arms of those who love them, bewildered at how anyone could find their bodies anything but repulsive?

Part of the reason I decided that I desperately needed to improve my own body image and habits were for my children. Since all my friends began conceiving my husband and I have talked a lot about our own future babies, he dreams of them and I don’t. Looking at my friend’s children I became fearful of the thoughts about body image that I may pass onto my own kids in the future. I worried about teaching them how to have an unhealthy relationship with food, exercise and how to go through life always unhappy with your weight. I shudder to think bringing a baby into this world and teaching them to create the same suffering for themselves as I have made for me.

I realised that although the baby plan may be at least a few years in the future, improving my body image and creating healthy habits was something I needed to start doing now. So here I am, working on becoming a healthier happier person, so that one day I can lead by healthy example. I just wonder, is it enough? Since I didn’t get my self-esteem issues from my mother, so what else needs to be done to raise children with a positive self-image?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The city of no excuses

Imagine a gym, where from all around you can hear bird song instead of the pumping beats of questionable singers in questionable music video clips. Imagine a gym, where the cool breeze carries with it the sweet scent of flowers instead of the sweat of the guy next to you filtered over and over in dirty air conditioning ducts. Imagine a gym, where you can go any time of day and you don’t have to wait for the machines. Imagine a gym where you don’t listen to the grunts of the person next to you, because your cardio is the long walk between the machines. Just imagine a gym where the ceiling is tree branches, the floor is grass and the view is flowering shrubs and dogs playing in the creek. Just imagine a gym in a city where there are no excuses. This is my city.

Presumably in order to combat obesity in this city, the Council is constantly providing fun ways to get people active. We are already blessed with a sub-tropical climate so the outdoors beckon at any time of year. On top of that the Council provides us with bike paths that run for over 500km, free activities in local parks where we can learn anything from rock climbing to tai chi, grass ovals with 400m running tracks and now a gym that is the stuff that infomercials are made of.

Bright, colourful gadgets in the park where every piece of gym equipment is the type you see on tv. Well, used to see on tv anyway, from that disk that you spin on to work your core to that funny bike looking thing that you pull towards you and even the cross trainers where you feel like each body part is flailing in a different direction. All the moving parts are simple, even the strength machines where normally you adjust the weights work by lifting your own body weight. They even have a rowing machine, although it’s a bit clunky.

So does this sound like the city of no excuses? I think so and I am really loving being able to mix it up and do what I feel like wether it’s fulfilling my infomercial dreams (I always had a secret desire to try one of those disk spinning things, although I suspect it doesn’t actually do anything) or decide that even going to a ‘happy place’ doesn’t work when jogging around the oval. And scaring people by whizzing past on the bike ways is also a lot of fun.
I wonder if other cities in the world are working as hard as the Council of the city of no excuses to get residents active? Is it something the residents can ask for themselves? Does it help to get people active if they are provided with facilities?

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