I went for a jog this morning. I’m determined to complete the Great North 5K at a jog next month, so am pushing myself to get fitter. (More on that here).
Up until now my running had been done on a treadmill at the gym. I’m doing quite well there, up to 2.5k at a run, or 3k if you include the cool down. But as my free training plan has me running 3 times a week I decided it was time to venture out into the real world to run too.
It turns out the real world is much harder than a treadmill. There’s the obvious hazards: hills, puddles, dogs, pedestrians, traffic, uneven surfaces etc. all of which I was prepared for. What I hadn’t realised was how hard I’d find it to control my pace. My body just kept speeding up to a pace I couldn’t maintain, and I ended up having to slow to a walk to get my breath back several times.
I managed 1.3 miles in 17 and a bit minutes, which is distressingly close to my fast walking pace, and a fraction of the time I can manage on the treadmill at the gym. But the race is in the real world, so I need to get used to running in the real world.
I wish I enjoyed it more. My body doesn’t naturally move in a running stride, and I’m more looking forward to it being over than enjoying the moment. I’ve been watching some of the athletics from London and marvelling at what the human body can do. I saw Usain Bolt’s final race last night and wished I had just a smidgeon of his effortless grace when running. I saw Jessica Judd interviewed after her race saying how much fun she’d had and wished I had a tiny part of her attitude to and enjoyment of running.
All the advice on getting fitter and more active says to find something you love doing, but I love curling up with a good book and a cup of tea rather than anything energetic. As well as training my body to move more I’m having to train my mind to enjoy it. So far my body is responding better than my mind, but I’m determined!
I went into a high street clothing store, found something I liked, tried it on, and bought it.
If this doesn’t sound that amazing to you it’s likely that you’re lucky enough to be what most retailers consider average sized. I haven’t been for years, and have had to skulk around the plus size sections, buying clothes based on being able to get into them, not whether or not I liked them. If you’ve never had to do this you’ve no idea how soul destroying clothes shopping can be. Even if you don’t already hate your body an afternoon of struggling to find anything you can squeeze into can leave your self esteem badly bruised. Society has raised us that appearance is everything, especially for women for whom clothes shopping should be a treat and indulgence. When you’re too big to fit into the majority of what’s on offer it can be hard to convince yourself that appearance isn’t important. Being able to choose something I like, and buy it from the general stock not a separate range, feels like a massive positive change.
This is an indication of how the changes I’ve been making this year are making a difference. That small, sustainable changes to my life style do have a big impact on my health and my life. It’s motivation to keep going.
I’m now down to a UK 18, which is at the large end of what most shops consider average size. Although of course all shops vary, I’ve found the difference in waist size between different 18s can be as much as 4 inches, so for every store I’m an 18 in there’s one I’m in a 20. And I’m still too tall for most stores, for trousers or long sleeves I have to go to the special “tall” ranges.
And of course there are the ethical issues. Refusing to participate in throw away fashion is much easier when none of it fits you! The first things I bought in my new size were pre-owned from charity shops, a lot better for the environment and my bank balance! When I do shop on the high street I try to be aware of the ethical standings of the stores and avoid the worst offenders. I’d recommend checking the Ethical Consumer website to see how your favourite store scores.
For me plastic free July was not about completely avoiding plastic, I knew that was too much to attempt in one go. It was about becoming more aware of the plastic I was using and finding ways to begin reducing it. I decided to focus on reducing my use of single use plastic. Here are some of the things I found out:
Three easy switches:
Hand wash – Easiest of all. Instead of plastic bottles of hand wash I now have a soap dish at each sink, although finding ceramic rather than plastic soap dishes was a challenge in itself.
Toilet paper – To economise I usually buy whichever multipack is on special offer, different brands but always wrapped in plastic. I scoped out various local supermarkets and couldn’t find any paper wrapped rolls. So I ordered from Who Gives A Crap whose recycled toilet paper is paper wrapped. The rolls are also double wrapped so they last longer than the big brand ones I used to get, the box I ordered is going to last us ages and work out an even better bargain than the special offers I used to get.
Peanut butter – I use a lot of peanut butter and usually buy the larger plastic containers which work out cheaper. Switching back to glass jars is easy, but more expensive. And other ethical choices I make are also more expensive, organic fruit and veg, farmers market instead of supermarket for meat and so on. All those little additional costs add up and my budget doesn’t have a lot of leeway.
Plastic Bags – I always have at least three reusable shopping bags in my handbag and take extra when I know I’ll need them. So this was an area I’d thought I was doing well in. I realised this month I’m not doing as well as I’d thought. I buy organic veg from local producers, and a surprising amount of it comes in plastic bags. When I buy additional fruit and veg from the supermarket there’s very little of it not prepacked in plastic. When I shop at the farmers market everything is either in plastic bags or clingfilm.
Bread – As far as I can tell there is no way to buy bread at the supermarket without plastic. Even the paper bags my supermarket uses for the store baked loaves have plastic panels. I can bake bread at home, plastic free, but I don’t have the time to do that every time. I tried a couple of the more upmarket supermarkets, plastic everywhere. Eventually I found a small bakery in the city centre which doesn’t use plastic. And more importantly they make fantastic bread. So now I either shop there or bake my own.
Three I’ve not yet solved:
Toiletries – other than soap everything comes in plastic.
Pet food – wet food now comes in plastic trays rather than tins as it used to, and the dry food comes in plasticised sacks.
Cleaning products – my only success here was finding a shop that will refill washing up liquid bottles, so I’m still using the same plastic bottle. Other than that all my cleaning products come in plastic.
I’m glad I’ve taken part in plastic free July, its made me a lot more aware of what I’m using and what the alternatives are. Hopefully I’ll keep on being a more aware consumer, and build on the changes I’ve made so far.
Until yesterday I hadn’t run much further than the bus stop at the end of my street in decades. Today I signed up to the Great North 5k. I’m slightly terrified.
I know many people who are doing the entirety of the Great North Run, who think nothing of running 5k before work as a warm up, or in the evening as a stress buster. I don’t have that sort of a relationship with running. I’ve been throwing the odd minute or two of running into my exercise routine more out of duty than enjoyment.
I’ve been struggling to remain as enthusiastic about my health kick since my weightloss stalled, and I’ve been feeling like I need a new challenge. I’d had an email from Newcastle Can about the Great North 5k and was toying with the idea of signing up. I know I can complete 5k at a brisk walk, I did it for International Women’s Day (see This Woman Did! to find out how I got on), and that was before I started my regular gym sessions. I wondered how much fitter I was now, how to increase the challenge. Could I run 5k rather than walking?
Feeling the buzz around the Newcastle Can Wake and Shake event on Northumberland Street this week made me more confident about joining in and pushing myself. Seeing all those people enthsiastic about getting healthier energised me. It’s easier to make lasting changes together rather than struggling alone.
At the gym yesterday I tried running on the treadmill rather than fast walking. To my surprise I managed two lots of 15 minutes. A sign of how my fitness has improved so far this year. And I decided if I can do 15 minutes now I can build up to 5k by September.
So thats the plan. 5k at a run (jog!) on 9th September. Wish me luck!
It’s 6 months, near enough, since I signed up to Newcastle Can, a local initiative to get people healthier, more active and losing a combined total of 100,000 pounds this year. You can read the various posts I’ve written about it here. I thought 6 months in was a good time to look back and review my progress.
I feel healthier. I am healthier. I’ve upped the amount and intensity of my exercise. Prior to Newcastle Can I was generally managing 10,000 steps a day, but a brisk walk was the nearest I got to cardio. These days I’m at the gym at least once a week, building in weights as well as cardio. When I first started, in April, I struggled to manage 10 reps with the smallest weight on any machine. My arms are still not as strong as my legs, but I’m upping the number of reps and the weights and its definitely working. My body is changing shape, my stamina has improved and I come out after 90 minutes feeling more energised than exhausted. I have Newcastle Can to thank, their open day got me through the doors and showed me the gym was not the terrifying torture chamber of my imaginings.
I’ve had to cry off my Saturday Dancercise class over the summer due to family commitments, so I’m wondering if I can find another class I enjoy or whether to add another gym session to my routine. I don’t want the gym to become a chore, but as cost is a definite consideration it may become the choice of necessity.
During the first couple of months the weight dropped off quite quickly, and Ive lost over a stone. Although recently the weight loss has stalled I’m definitely continuing to change shape. My clothes are hanging off me and I’ve had to start buying things a size smaller. People are noticing and complimenting me on how much slimmer and healthier I look, which is lovely.
I’m not kidding myself. I was clinically obese when I started and despite all the weight I’ve lost I’d have to lose another stone or two to get anywhere near a healthy BMI. People are really complementary when they hear how much I’ve lost, but as a percentage of what I need to lose it’s not that great. I need to keep going. I know now that it’s not just possible, it can be fun too!
I’m cooking from scratch more, and I’m far more aware of what I’m eating and the impact it has on me. I’m not dieting. I don’t have a calorific value I’m strict about not exceeding, or any foods I can’t eat. I know from past experience that would just make me feel frustrated and craving “banned” foods. But I am far more mindful of what I eat, portion sizes, additives, fat and sugar contents. Nine times out of ten I will choose the healthy snack, but I’m not going to beat myself up the day I go for a cookie instead of an apple. And by making my own cookies I can be sure I’m not getting any hidden extras when I do indulge.
I think it is this mindfulness, this drip drip drip of small changes that I can keep to rather than unsustainable massive changes that’s made Newcastle Can a success for me. I don’t know if I’ll hit the very optimistic weight goal I set when I signed up. If I did it would see me in the middle of the healthy BMI range for my height. I do know that I’ve made permanent changes for the better in the way I live my life, and that’s worth celebrating.
What small changes have you made that have made a big difference to your life?
Yesterday I had one of those days. You know the ones. Every door I went through I bashed into the door frame. Every cuppa I made I spilt part of. Every task I undertook seemed to take twice as long as it should due to piffling little errors. One of those days.
It started with an argument with my son, who was upset I wouldn’t let him microwave an aluminium foil food container.
I couldn’t get a parking space, so parked a ten minute walk from work. So of course a large and heavy parcel I needed to bring home arrived.
Mid morning I discovered my insurance company had mistakenly taken my annual car insurance payment twice. From an account with no overdraft set up. It got sorted out quickly, but felt like a lot of stress and hassle. Particularly when I should have been working.
And so it carried on. A day of frustrations, bruises and bother.
These days can leave me feeling very negative, as if I’ve achieved nothing all day. It’s easy to remember the things that didn’t go according to plan, rather than the things that did. I’ve been trying to challenge this way of thinking, and over the past couple of months have been keeping a kind of minimalist journal.
To be honest it’s barely even a journal, just a notebook in which I jot down a list of things I’ve achieved each day. The achievements might be small and routine (washed dishes) or big and challenging (went back to work after sick leave) but they all add up to challenge my feelings of uselessness. I write it at bedtime, and I’ve found the focus at the end of the day on what’s gone right has helped my mood. And I have a physical record of achievements that I can look back on when my mood does dip.
I’ve often struggled to keep going with journalling. And although writing things down can feel therapeutic it can also lead me to dwell on things best let go of, and to decend into spiralling negative thought. But I’m finding this quick listing of achievements is easy to keep up with. If you’re naturally disposed to negativity I’d recommend giving it a go.
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A brief public service announcement for parents of small children.
Don’t be tempted to buy the character elastoplasts/Band-Aids. Unless you have exceptionally accident prone children they will grow into sullen teenagers before the packet is finished. Rather than waste them you, like me, will become a grown adult who ends up walking about with Barbie/Peppa Pig/Mr Men plasters on when you’ve had one of those days!
This week I returned to work after six weeks off sick due to mental health issues. I’ve been here before, but previously it didn’t go well.
I have a tendency to get myself back to work as soon as I’m well enough to force myself through a day, which leads to me burning out again quite quickly, and needing more sick leave in the long term. It had become a pattern, and was having a negative impact on my health, my work and my employers.
This time feels better (so far.) So what’s changed?
I’ve been more honest this time. Not just with my boss, but also with my colleagues. I know I’m lucky to work somewhere that recognises the impact of mental ill health, where it won’t be held against me or used to guilt trip me. I’ve worked places in the past where any sick leave, physical or mental, was treated as dereliction of duty. So it’s taken me a long time to be able to open up to other people about my mental healh. The first time I was on long term sick I asked my boss not to let other staff members know the reason. I was ashamed of it and wanted to keep it quiet, but that caused speculation among my colleagues and an occasional feeling of treading on egg-shells in their interactions with me which made me anxious.
So this time my colleagues know I’ve had mental health problems. Everyone welcomed me back, and knowing they know has meant I’ve felt able to acknowledge being up and down. There was an incident this week with a missed deadline which would have had me in tears and panicking a few weeks ago. I was able to say “I can feel myself getting wound up, so I’m going to stop, make a cuppa and come back to it in a few minutes.” My colleagues were really supportive of that, and we got it completely sorted without my anxiety getting the better of me.
I’ve also been more honest with myself this time. I’ve accepted that returning too soon compounds the problem, tried to limit my worry about how my colleagues are coping without me, and instead looked honestly at how I’m feeling and whether I am fit for work. I’ve allowed myself to do nothing some days, just gradually let myself see what I can manage.
Then there’s been the planning. I like to plan. To quote one of the TV icons of my youth…
… although unlike the A Team I don’t cope well with the unexpected. Unfamiliar places, unknown people and sudden changes of plans unnerve me at the best of times and floor me completely when my mental health is bad. So I plan.
But I have to stop myself over-planning. While having a plan in place eases my anxiety, trying to plan every scenario in minute detail can set me into a spiral of worrying that is incredibly difficult to get out of. Again this trait is worse when my mental health is bad. It’s a balancing act.
While I was off my boss has been working with me on temporary changes to my role which acknowledge my mental health may take a long time to return to “normal” and limit the pressure on me while that happens. My hours have been reduced and my role changed slightly. I’d rather continue with a job I enjoy in a limited capacity than end up jobless because of my fluctuating mental health. And my employer benefits from my experience and commitment, rather than having to find and train a new worker. Win win.
In addition to these changes we’d agreed a phased return, with a detailed plan for catching up over the first month back. This meant I went into work on Monday knowing exactly what was going to happen, rather than feeling panicked about everything I had to catch up with. That really helped reduce my anxiety.
Of course I work in the real world, so already my plan has notes and edits, things that need slotting in. When I’m not too anxious, as now, this feels like necessary flexibility, rather than impossible demands.
So I had a good first week. There were a couple of wobbles but I was able to identify and address them before they grew, with the support of my colleagues. Certainly I coped with things this week which would have had me in bits a few weeks ago. That success has increased my confidence, I feel like I was a useful part of the team, and I’m looking forward to doing more next week. I can see how my mental health has improved over the last few weeks, and I can acknowledge that I did that! I recognised the self care I needed, I let myself rest, I knew I was unwell and gave myself permission to get better.
I still feel partly broken, but now I feel like I’m holding the glue and carrying out the repairs rather than just crying in the shards.