Busily Doing Nothing #NewcastleCan

I’ve had a week off work this week, and I had such plans. I was going to take the kids for a day exploring Cragside, I was going to beat my Wednesday Walk record of four times round the stair circuit, I was generally going to move more, walk for miles and take advantage of my time off.

What is it they say about the best laid plans? 

First scupperance was my daughter’s leg injury. She’s recovering from an Achilles’ tendon problem and there was no way she could clamber around Cragside

Second scupperance was my own health. A migraine put paid to my Wednesday Walk, and a three days and counting IBS flare up meant I was happier curled up on the sofa with a hot water bottle than out and about. 

Third scupperance was my inability to get out of bed first thing. I slept in every morning. My alarm went off as usual and I switched it off, rolled over, and slept some more.

I’m trying not to beat myself up about my failure to do what I’d planned. 

It’s not that I’ve done nothing. Me and my son took my dogs to explore Wallington and Plessey Woods, had a dog free Quayside walk and explored Bessie Surtees house

Walking at Wallington

We went to Life Science Centre for the Lego exhibitions. I got my son to his hospital appointment, my daughter for her vaccinations and all of us to have our hair cut. 

Science at Life, in Lego

I cooked from scratch, met my step goal every day, and only went into the red zone in my food journal once. Despite the IBS I lost a pound (I’ve been static or gained weight other weeks of the Newcastle Can challenge when my IBS has flared up.)

So I didn’t do extra. So what? It doesn’t mean I’ve given up or backslid. I’m keeping up with the changes I’ve already made. Sometimes I’ll be able to push myself beyond that, and sometimes I’ll need to rest and recover, to curl up with a hot water bottle or to sleep in. 

It’s about knowing my limits and recognising what my body needs. This is comparatively new to me, until recently I’d had confidently said that what my body needs under any circumstance is chocolate or pizza or possibly cake. Food was my coping mechanism in stressful situations, my shield when things were bad and my first form of celebration when things were good. It’s a hard pattern to break, but I’m making progress.

I’m learning to recognise the difference between stressed and hungry. I’m learning to let my body rest when it’s tired rather than fuelling up on sugar or caffeine and forcing myself on. I’m learning that just because there is cake available does not mean I have to eat it!

I didn’t do the extra I’d planned, but I had a good week with my kids and I feel better for it. And maybe I’ll make up for it tomorrow at the Newcastle Can free activity day, when I hope to try some new organised exercise! 

Walking, with and without dogs. 

There’s much out there about the benefits of having a dog for increasing your health and fitness. Having a dog means you will walk more, and pet ownership has proven mental health benefits. Seeing all this sets me off a-pondering though. 

I am a dog person. I’ve always had pet dogs, both in the family home growing up and in my own home as soon as I had one. Currently we have two dogs. 



HoudiniDog
is getting elderly and slow now and no longer makes her trademark escape attempts. She’s your typical Heinz 57 mongrel. 



DaisyDog
is much younger, and is the first dog I’ve ever had that is clearly a specific breed. As my vet commented “She’s pretty much 100% typical greyhound. Except for those ears!”

My dogs are great for my physical and mental health. They get me out of the house in all weathers and they make me laugh frequently. I know, having owned several dogs before these two, that they will also make me cry in time, but I think the years before then will make it worth it. 

Here’s the thing though – in terms of exercise, physical health, I get more benefits when I walk without my dogs. Not to say I don’t have wonderful walks with my dogs, and I’m sure I’d do a lot less steps overall without them. But…

Walking alone I don’t have to stop every so often to allow the dogs to investigate smells/do their business/meet other dogs/get their leads untangled.


Walking alone I can get up to a good speed without the risk of a dog stopping suddenly at my feet and tripping me up.

Walking alone I can add stairs to my walks. Non dog owners might wonder why I can’t do that with dogs, anyone who’s tried to get one slow elderly dog and one young leaping dog up the same flight of stairs while on leads will understand! 

My Fitbit shows that I burn more calories and work at a higher level when I’m walking alone compared to when I’m walking with my dogs. 

Walk with dogs.

Walk without dogs. Note average heart rate.

There are places I can’t go with my dogs. Both were adopted as adults from local rescues, and we suspect HoudiniDog was not socialised as a puppy. She’s fine with dogs and humans, but any other animal from pigeons on up she hates. She barks and growls and tries to leap at them. This time of year especially we need to avoid any fields with sheep. And we can’t go over the Town Moor when there are cows. 

I’m used to dogs. I don’t mind picking up after them, even when they’ve eaten something particularly stinky. I know how much they cost, and prefer their company to the foreign holidays we could probably afford if we didn’t have them. I do my homework before rehoming them. 

What worries me is that people who aren’t used to dogs may be tempted to get one as a fitness aid. I know many people who’ve got and then had to give up dogs. They weren’t bad people, they had good intentions, but in the main they were people who got the dog not because they wanted a dog, but because they wanted the dog to be something. Company, a reason to get out of the house, a treat for the kids, a fitness aid… 

Having a dog is a bit like having a toddler. They’re dependent on you for food and cleaning, they’re enthusiastic about everything and they don’t mind doing the same things over and over. Having a cat, on the other hand, is a bit like having a teenager. They’ll turn up when there’s food, treat you with distain and just occasionally they’ll let their guard down and show you affection. 

But that’s only partially true. In fact a dog is exactly like a dog, and a cat is exactly like a cat. 


I’m not going to stop walking my dogs, but I no longer think of it as my main exercise. I wouldn’t have got to the level of fitness I’m at without them. And I love having them. But it’s not for everyone. So please don’t get a dog unless you want a dog, for the glorious creature that it is, smells, hair and mud included. 

There will be unexpected vet bills.

Be prepared for all the costs it entails – it may be insured for veterinary treatment but you still need the cash to cover an unexpected vets fee until the insurance pays out. Include food, kennels while you’re away, poop bags, everything in working out of you can afford it. 

Know that it will take time for it to get to know you, and for you to get to know it. Non-dog owners express horror when I’ve told them that in the first three months DaisyDog was with us I ended up at minor injuries twice with damage to my neck and shoulder!

“Why did you keep her after she’d injured you?” 

Well, because it wasn’t her fault. She’s a greyhound. Bred for centuries to chase anything small, fluffy and running away. Both times she saw a cat, she lunged, and as I was holding her lead when she lunged I took the full force of it. Now I know her body language. I can spot the second she sees something she might lunge at, and I’m ready for her. We needed to get to know each other. 

Try before you buy. There are many wonderful animal charities who would love you to volunteer as a dog walker, check out what’s local to you. Plus there are websites like borrow my doggy. If you’ve never owned a dog this is a great way to get to know what’s involved before you make the commitment.

Do your homework. Different breeds have different traits, you need a dog that suits you. Also consider rescuing. There are loads of dogs who’d really benefit from a second chance and a loving home. Check your local rescue centres, and talk to them about your circumstances. They’ll have a good understanding of what their dogs need. If you do want a puppy be careful where you get it from. The RSPCA are warning about puppy farmers selling poorly treated unhealthy pups.


Consider whether you’ll stop at one. It’s true what they say about dogs keeping each other entertained. At the moment my two are keeping each other entertained with a challenge to see who can make me scoop poop from the most dangerous/precarious place. HoudiniDog specialises in the middle of the road or Metro line, whereas DaisyDog has perfected the very top edge of a steep slope technique! 

Seriously though, DaisyDog was very nervous when we first got her, and having an existing, confident dog here helped her relax. She’d look to see how HoudiniDog reacted to loud noises, other dogs, people etc. and if Houdini was OK Daisy would be less worried.

I love dogs, and mine are definitely part of the family. I hope everyone who takes on a dog does so well prepared and gets much joy from it. 

And laughter.

True story!

Getting more than 5 a day – Sausage One Pot #NewcastleCan

When I tell people that I’m taking part in the Newcastle Can challenge and making small, sustainable changes to eat healthier and lose weight, the most common question is “What small changes?” Well, there are a few, but one of the easiest was adding more vegeables to my meals.

Rather than try to add to my already stressful life by learning a whole raft of new, healthy recipes and, possibly even more stressful, persuade my partner and teenage children to eat and enjoy new things, I’m revamping the recipes I use regularly. Upping the healthy stuff and leaving the unhealthy stuff alone. Since starting this I’m regularly getting more than my 5 a day. 

Since people have been asking about it I thought I’d demonstrate.  This is an adaption of the Sausage and Lentil One Pot recipe in Jack Monroe‘s A Girl Called Jack cookbook. It’s my go to recipe when my daughter’s out (she hates sausages.) Jack’s recipes are generally pretty healthy anyway. When you’re managing on the sort of budget she is there’s not a lot of room for luxurious extras. But this challenge is all about making the recipes I regularly use healthier, so here goes:

You’ll need:

  • 6 sausages
  • At least 6 rashers of streaky bacon (I threw a whole packet in last night as it needed using up)
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 large carrots
  • 3 medium potatoes
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1 tin white beans (I used haricot)
  • 2 tins chopped tomatoes
  • A handful of fresh herbs (the original recipe says thyme or rosemary- I used oregano because that’s the nearest I had in the garden that had survived the winter.)
  • 250g red lentils
  • 800ml vegetable stock

Serves 6-8 depending on how generous the portions are! 

Put a large pan on a medium heat. Chop the bacon into small pieces and add it and the sausages to the pan. If you like you can add a spoonful of oil at this stage, but I tend to think the bacon’s fatty enough not to need to. 


While the bacon is crisping and the sausages are browning peel and chop the onions, carrots, potatoes and sweet potato. The sweet potato will cook quicker so needs to be in bigger pieces than the carrot and potato to cook in the same time. (That might seem obvious, it wasn’t to me and led to unpleasantly mushy sweet potato the first time I cooked this!) Chop the herbs.


Add the chopped veg to the pan and stir well. Leave for a couple of minutes then add the herbs, tinned tomatoes and lentils. Stir again before adding the stock. Increase the heat and bring it up to the boil. Once it’s boiled for a couple of minutes reduce the heat and allow it to simmer, stirring occasionally.


After 20 minutes of simmering fish out the sausages and cut each one into four pieces. Drain the tin of beans. Put the cut up sausages back into the pan and add the beans. Stir again and simmer for another 5 minutes. 


It should now be ready to serve. I get six generous portions out of this, three for when I cook it and three to box up for another day. I prefer to cook in bulk like this, but you could reduce down the ingredients to make a smaller amount. 

You can mix and match the vegetables too. I’ve used parsnips as well as carrots before, sometimes spinach added near the end. It depends what I have in and needs using up.

A note on herbs

For years I used dried herbs bought in the supermarket, and for many things I still do. But for the last couple of years I’ve been growing my own herbs in pots in a corner of my garden. I’m not the worlds best gardener, so it tends to be the hardiest ones that survive but I’d recommend giving it a go. Food really does taste better when there’s something you’ve grown yourself in it. 

Mostly herbs.

Fighting with myself.

“I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never going to keep me down”

Chumbawumba, Tubthumping

I’ve had a couple of bad days this week. Flare ups of poor mental health, which scares and infuriates me as I’d been doing quite well.

It can hit me in two ways and I’ve had both this week. The first is feeling completely overwhelmed by everything, like I can’t do enough and whatever I do is wrong. I feel worthless and useless. I stare into nothing, unable to do anything, while my thoughts tell me how bad I am, that nothing I’ve ever done matters, that I wouldn’t be missed. I interpret anything said to me as a justified criticism. 

The other type is more anxious, terrified of something happening to someone I love, desperately repeating irrational actions to try and keep them safe. This feels as if it has the most physical impact, heart hammering, head thumping, shaking and nauseous. 

What they have in common is that I’m fighting my own catastrophising mind. I know the only person putting pressure on me is me. I’m the only one who expects me to be perfect, to solve everything, to never say no. I’m the one who’ll beat me up and call me names if I get something wrong. I’m the one who doesn’t forgive, and brings up past transgressions as I’m trying to get to sleep. It genuinely feels like a battle, I’m telling myself I’m behaving irrationally, I’m listing all the times everything has been fine, I’m trying to calm myself down, but another bit of me is insisting that this time it will be a disaster. And that bit of me seems to control my body as well as part of my mind. 

It’s exhausting to carry on these arguments with myself. And then there’s the guilt afterwards. Feeling like a failure. I know mental ill health is a real and genuine thing, but that doesn’t stop me feeling like I should be able to stop it, snap out of it, do better. 

As chance would have it I came across two things that helped when I was feeling like a failure today. The first is an article in the Metro When you’re working on your mental health one bad day can make you feel like a failure which ended with something I really needed to hear. 

“Bad stuff will still happen. I’ll still feel sad sometimes…

That doesn’t make me weak, or a failure. It makes me a human that sometimes has to face challenges. And it means I’m making a genuine effort towards getting better.”

Read more: http://metro.co.uk/2017/04/03/when-youre-working-on-your-mental-health-one-bad-day-can-make-you-feel-like-a-failure-6549419/#ixzz4dhujCmOT

The second was a post by the marvellous Mindfump on Dealing With Failure, and the difference between failure as a lack of success and failure as something we are personally. This gave me something to strive towards:

“You can opt out of this cycle, if you follow a strict diet of ‘not giving a shit’ ”

Read more: https://mindfump.com/2017/04/08/dealing-with-failure/

I need to learn to do that. I need to stop caring what the angry dictator that lives in my head is saying. I need to trust myself. Because I am doing better. I’m recognising when downward spirals start happening and seeking help. I’m talking to people, and I’m doing that as soon as I recognise I’m thinking irrationally, rather than when I’m at breaking point. I’m giving myself space to recover. 

I need to acknowledge my progress. I need to breathe and pause and let go of the guilt. 

I need to stop telling myself how many things “I need” to do. 

It’s harder with mental health because I can’t see the progress. Physically I know I’m getting fitter. I can measure my weight, heart rate and blood pressure. It’s not like my brain will drop a dress size as it gets healthier. Which is why it’s so important to keep acknowledging my progress. I will keep on getting up again. 

It’s Official! 

I’m just back from seeing the nurse, and it’s official – I’ve lost 1 stone and 5 pounds since my last health check. That was back in November, but I know I’ve lost most of that since I signed up to #NewcastleCan, 1 stone 1 pound since late January. 

I knew I’d lost weight, my clothes feel bigger, and my scales at home were telling me my weight was dropping, but having it confirmed feels good. A small paranoid part of me wondered about faulty scales or stretched fabric. In fact the official scales had me 3lbs lower than my scales at home!

My blood pressure is down. I don’t get the cholesterol results until next week but I’m hopeful that’s also moving in the right direction. While I was there I also had a smear test, which I only mention because I know lots of women either don’t go at all or put it off, so I’m reminding you it’s a normal thing to do and it’s important. 

So how have I made and stuck to healthy changes?

Going slowly and making small changes
  • Cutting unhealthy snacks, first at work and then completely. If I’m hungry now I have fruit or nuts.
  • Limiting treats, e.g. one cake a week and one take away a month.
  • Cooking from scratch as often as possible rather than buying heavily processed food.
  • Upping the vegetables in recipes and reducing the other ingredients.
  • Reducing dairy, a maximum of one milk based drink a week and much less cheese.
  • Walking as much as possible and pushing myself with stairs and hills.
  • Telling people, so I feel more compelled to stick to my new rules.
  • Recording what I eat, honestly including all snacks, and understanding better how many calories are in my food.
  • Allowing myself exceptions, but being mindful about them, e.g. It’s fine to eat out with friends but I try to pick something small, or salady, or I exercise more that week to work off the extra calories. 
  • Reminding myself of my success and not stressing out of the scales don’t move one week.

I feel physically healthier, and I want to celebrate that and keep improving.

As today is World Health Day 2017 with a focus on depression and mental health I’ll be honest and say that despite my physical improvement I am still very up and down with my mental health. In general I think I’m better than I was, but the lows are very low when they come. I do recognise them now, and try my best to give myself some space and time to myself to recover, which is movement in the right direction. I wonder if the lows seem so low because my general mood is better? I’m not sure. 

What I am sure of is that physical health and mental health are linked. So I’m hopeful that the more I improve physically the less frequent the lows will be. 

A like this video from MIND recognising the importance of exercise to mental health:

Wednesday walk. #NewcastleCan

My son and I have a deal. If I walk at least 10,000 steps after dropping him off at youth club I can have a piece of cake before I pick him up. 

I’m trying to make my walks more strenuous. I don’t have a lot more time I could give to walking each week, so to try and get fitter I’m trying to make the walking I do have more impact. I suppose I could join a gym, and I know many people who have done so and love it, but for the moment I’m too nervous, too used to exercising alone.

So, how to add impact to my stepping?

I’m doing it with stairs and hills. I go along the Quayside, up one flight and down the next. I have a little circuit that I challenge myself with. It’s a flight of approximately 80 steps up, a little hill, a flight of 30 or so steps down, then along the flat to get my breath back before I go again. I’m up to four loops now, and this week for the first time I managed to run up the entire first flight. Definite improvement. By the fourth circuit my legs feel like jelly and I’m dependent on the handrails to reach the top. Maybe next week I’ll manage five times round.

Made it!
Would I get this view at a gym?
 
I’ve started throwing a little jogging into my walk. Very little, with long walks in between, and only on the flat, but it’s progress. I’m also still nervous about being seen exercising in public. I walk past the pubs.
Exposed by low tide.

The Gateshead side of the river has a fantastic walk. I do the hilly side heading out and then back along the flat of the riverside. There are hidden artworks and more daffodils than I’ve ever seen in one place before.

Is this enough to count as a host of golden daffodils?

As I head back towards town I hear, over the sound of traffic, river and birdsong, the unmistakable roar of a St James’ Park home crowd. Back over to the Newcastle side and I have so many stairs to choose from, Castle Stairs, Long Stairs, Dog Leap Stairs. I can’t run up them by now but I keep going.

I’ve done over 14,000 steps since I dropped my son off. Time for my reward! 

Worth every step!

In praise of giving it a go. #NewcastleCan

One of the benefits of taking part in NewcastleCan’s campaign to get healthier and lose weight is that I’m getting braver in the kitchen. 

For years I’ve had a shelf full of beautiful recipe books which sat on the kitchen shelf exuding cooking vibes, hardly ever used. I found them intimidating, often full of ingredients I’d never heard of, and so prescriptive that I was terrified of deviating from any step. There were a couple which were friendlier, but only a handful of recipes I used regularly.

For NewcastleCan I’m trying to avoid processed food by cooking more often, and I’m trying hard to make what I cook healthier. I’m deviating from the recipes, trying new things with less worry about how it will turn out, and getting an understanding of the impact of the food I make on my body. I’m not resorting to takeaways as often, I am eating more fruit and veg, less dairy and carbs. 

Cooking from scratch.

If I don’t have an ingredient I substitute. Sometimes it works. Usually it works. Sometimes it doesn’t, but I learn from that (learning sweet potatoes don’t take as long to cook as regular potatoes is a case in point.) Occaisionally something unexpected happens. I learn from that too. Tonight the egg in the fried rice I was making went green due to the green peppers and spinach creating excess liquid in the pan. It tasted fine, and luckily I have a family who’ll pretty much try anything! 

As well as feeling healthier and losing weight it’s saving me money. There’s less wasted food, bought with good intentions but never used. More homemade lunches taken in to work, and so less cash on lunches. And making sure I make filling meals is helping me snack less too. 

I’m hoping these are habits I’ll stick to. Of course I’ll allow myself occasional treats, but I’ll make sure they are just occasional. So far so good.