Fat & Fit? #NewcastleCan

It’s been a while since I posted a Newcastle Can update. My mental health wobble has been of more focus lately, but this isn’t because I’ve forgotten my physical fitness. 

An explanation for new readers: Newcastle Can is a local project to get my city working together to change the way we live and become healthier. Their website is here, and you my previous posts about it are listed here.


I’ve been signed up to Newcastle Can for four and a half months, and I’m seeing significant progress. My weight loss has stalled, which is disappointing, however my body shape is definitely changing and I’m feeling fitter. I’ve lost 17cm off my waist, my skinny jeans are far less skinny than they were, and I’m going to have to start investing in new clothes soon! Its made me realise that weight isn’t the only way to measure progress. 

While I’ve been off work I’ve been doing significantly less steps each day, rarely hitting my 10,000 daily steps total. I’ve also been eating more unhealthy snacks, because the link between stress and food is one I’ve not been able to completely sever. I’m nowhere near the volume of sweet treats I used to eat, but over my self-imposed one a week limit. I’m not stressing about this, because at the moment getting well is the priority. I’m still doing a lot more cooking from scratch, of healthier meals.

I am proud that despite how unwell I’ve been I’ve kept up my regular additional exercise. I’ve made it to Dancercise every week, and only missed my weekly gym session one time, when I was in bed with migraine. It’s at the gym in particular that I’m really seeing the improvements. A few weeks ago I struggled to do 10 reps on some of the machines, now I’m up to 30. When I first went I struggled to do 3 minutes on the elliptical trainer, now I’m up to 15. 

I had worried that only being able to go once a week to the gym would mean the results were limited, and am happy to have been proved wrong. Would I get better results if I went more often? Probably. But the whole point of the Newcastle Can challenge is making sustainable changes. I usually get a 90-105 minute session, enjoy it, and leave feeling energised. That’s good. I don’t want to force myself to do more than I can manage, getting to a stage where fitting it in becomes something else to stress about. It’s about making the most of the time I have.

So it’s going well and I feel fitter. But I’m still a long way off a healthy weight. So am I healthy? There was a lot in the news last month when scientific research debunked the “Fat but fit myth.” You can read what the Guardian wrote about it here. I found it disheartening. And I also think it over simplifies it. Fit/unfit isn’t a binary thing, getting fitter is a gradual process, not a sudden thing that magically happens when you hit your ideal BMI. I am certain that I’m physically fitter now than I was when I joined Newcastle Can. I’m not yet the healthiest I could be, but I’m making gradual improvements and heading in the right direction. And the important thing is I’m keeping up the changes I’ve made, which will benefit me long term. Yes, I may be more at risk than someone with a healthy BMI, but I’m sure my risk levels are dropping as the weeks of healthy eating and more activity go on. 

I’m interested to hear what’s working for other people. Are you trying to get fitter, and have you found something that works for you? Can someone be fat and fit, or at least fat and fitter? Let me know what you think. 

Dancing without Drinking.

For many years I went out several times a week, dancing and drinking til the early hours. I’m not claiming any especial dancing skill, it was more rocking out than rhythmic, with pogoing and headbanging as required. So not particularly aesthetic, but still movement and exercise. Its no coincidence that I was at my thinnest then. 

But life happened. First work that required getting up early in the morning, then children limiting my ability to get out. But on the rare occasions I did get out I still liked to dance and drink. 

Then I had to give up alcohol. This was due to the various medicines I have to take, not any moral opinion on the evils of drink. But I went from being a typical British occasional binge drinker to tee total. And it was quite a shock to the system. Not least because the majority of my social life revolved around drinking. 

It’s not a lot of fun being the only sober one among a mass of drunken people. Especially if you struggle with anxiety. I found I couldn’t relax and enjoy myself because I felt responsible for everyone’s safety, like I had to be constantly alert because I was the only one who wasn’t drinking. 

I also lost my confidence. Sober I was well aware that I was now a fat, middle aged woman, and who wants to see a fat, middle aged woman leaping about when they’re out for a good night? 

It’s that wierd depression contradiction of feeling worthless and useless, and at the same time self-centered enough to be assuming you’re the most important person there, the one everyone is looking at and judging. 

I became paranoid that people would judge me if I danced, if I relaxed. I was hyper alert whenever I was out. My anxious brain never let up… Why does that person have their phone out? Are they taking my picture? What if they make me into some body-shaming meme? Why are those people laughing? It must be at me. How can I make myself less visible? 

For several years now I’ve gone out less and less often. People have stopped even inviting me to the boozy nights out I used to enjoy. I miss it, but I feel I can’t risk the anxiety such a night brings on. 

However over the last couple of year my partner and I have started going to gigs. We still don’t get out often, but its rekindling a love of live music I thought I’d buried in the 1990s, along with my student ID and dreadlocks.

Last night we went to the gorgeous Wylam Brewery to see the London African Gospel Choir perform Paul Simon’s Graceland. It’s one of my most loved albums and I’d bought tickets on the spur of the moment when they first went on sale, not realising that by the time the gig took place I’d be in the middle of a real battle with my anxiety. I wondered over the last week if I’d be able to go.

Wylam Brewery, a gorgeous venue.

We walked across the town moor to Wylam Brewery, which is now housed in the Palace of Arts in Newcastle’s Exhibition Park rather than in Wylam. Walking rather than driving or getting the bus is a useful way for me to manage my anxiety, the extra time travelling helps me get my head in order. 

I did have some moments of anxiety over the course of the evening, mainly when alone if my partner had gone to the bar or wherever, but I was able to keep it under control. The music was fabulous. And I danced all night, for the first time since giving up alcohol. I shut out worries about how I looked or what people would think and I enjoyed the music and relaxed. I sang at the top of my voice, I cheered and whooped, and I kept on dancing.

Since I started my efforts to get healthier my stamina has definitely improved. We went to see the Levellers a few months ago and I could only dance for the odd song, not all the way through. Dancercise has honed my rhythm and taught me new moves, not that I was doing a full on lindy hop or Charleston!

I don’t know why I was able to relax last night when it’s been so difficult other times. I dont know what let me ignore my anxious brain. My mood at the moment is still zigzagging all over the place, so it was probably equally likely that I didn’t make it at all. But I’m determined to make the most of the up moments when I have them.

It was a wonderful night. 

Admitting I’m wrong. #NewcastleCan

So far it seems my journey to becoming physically healthier and losing weight has featured more u-turns than government politics. 

I was adamant I didn’t want to have to write down everything I eat, then I realised without doing that I was letting too many snacks sneak through. I monitored my eating for several weeks, until I had a good idea of what calories the things I eat most often contain. I’m not recording everything I eat now, but I am checking calories when I eat something new and keeping a checklist of any unhealthy snacks, aiming to just have one a week. 

I was certain that exercise classes weren’t for me, then I went to a NewcastleCan Dancercise taster session and ended up signing up for a weekly class. Despite my lack of coordination, my fear of being seen exercising in public, and the many, many years since I last did any aerobic exercise I’m enjoying it. Each week I see an improvement in what I can do. 

As recently as the beginning of April I was absolutely sure that gyms weren’t for me, that I could get enough exercise by increasing the impact of my regular walks. The NewcastleCan open day got me through the gym doors, which made me realise how much of my body didn’t get a work out through walking. So the latest u-turn is that I’ve joined a gym! I’m working mostly on cardio and including some resistance. I’ve found my legs are strong, but my shoulders and arms are a long way behind. I can only get to the gym once a week, but even that is helping, every week I can do a little bit more than the week before. 

Why so many u-turns? Over years of inactivity I’d built up a web of logical excuses for not exercising or losing weight. I’m too busy; my tablets increase my appetite; exercising in public isn’t for me etc. I’ve wanted to get healthier, I’ve known what I needed to do to make it happen, but I’ve kept making these excuses many of which are just covering up more complicated reasons for my inertia. I find change to my routine challenging; new places make me anxious; I’m scared I’ll be the only middle aged fat woman in a room full of young, lean, healthy types etc. 

I needed support to get out of that rut. I needed to be shown I could do it. I was lucky that the NewcastleCan project started up when I needed it and is giving me the opportunity to challenge all those excuses I’d made. Without the open day I’d never have tried an exercise class or gone to a gym. 

The exercise added to the healthier eating is working. My body shape is gradually changing, to the extent people are noticing now, and I may have to go clothes shopping soon as many things are too big for me now. My weight loss has slowed, but I’m less worried about that than I would have been earlier as I feel healthier, I know I’m improving even in the weeks when the scales don’t budge. And the more I do the better I feel. 

It’s not easy to admit I’m wrong, to challenge the excuses I’ve believed for so long. But each time I do, and it works, it makes it easier to challenge the next excuse, and keep on moving in the right direction.

Image from http://www.newcastlecan.com

—–
More about my u-turns.

  • I wrote about deciding to keep a food diary here
  • My post from 5 April, declaring gyms weren’t for me, is here
  • My review of the activity day which included the gym and exercise class taster sessions here.

Dancing, Memories, Exploration, Cooking – a good weekend.

Saturday morning was my fourth Dancercise session. It seems I can still get either my legs or my arms moving in time, never both. Despite that I am improving. Certainly I’m managing more of the high impact moves now, and feeling confident enough to sing along. Its doing me good at many levels.

After a shower and change my partner and I headed off across the Pennines for a night away, a much needed break. Our destination was chosen because I wanted to visit my dad’s memorial bench and the place we scattered his ashes. 

I like to think I’m all scientific and logical, I know he isn’t really there. I believe he’s still alive in our hearts and memories more than in the place we left his physical remains, but science and logic can only get you so far. Sometimes I need to be in a place he loved, to take a few moments to be quiet and remember him, away from the busy, challenging turmoil of everyday life. 

It’s changed, but everything changes. His bench had been revarnished and repositioned to face the meadow where his ashes were scattered.

The view from dad’s bench.

The tree that used to stand in the meadow is long gone, but a darker patch of grass showed me where it had been, and closer examination revealed some remaining bits of tree stump. I felt a connection to how it had been when my dad knew it, despite the changes. The bee hives were busy, the sun shining, the gardens beautiful. It was evening and felt like summer. I was glad I’d gone.

We had dinner in a local pub. My tactic to try and eat healthily when eating out is to go for either fish or salad, and the red snapper was delicious, but the meal was considerably less healthy than it could have been due to the marvellous dessert! We had a long walk through the town, possibly confusing the folk outside the local pubs as we walked through the market square several times in an hour, from every possible direction. 

The following morning we decided to set off early but stop and explore Kendal on the way back. Despite confusing signage (one signpost directed us down a back alley at the end of which was the river and no further directions!) we eventually reached the castle, glorious in the sunshine and well worth the climb up the hill. We could see for miles.

Kendal Castle.

Home and back to reality. Dogs to walk, family to feed, all the everyday things to do. I didn’t want to spend a long time making tea, and after the indulgences of the weekend I definitely wanted it to be healthy. Our veg bag this week included cabbage, so I decided to have another go at this Garlicky White Beans and Greens Pasta recipe. Last time I tried it I hadn’t cut the greens small enough, so it had a slight raw cabbage vibe which wasnt exactly appealing. This time I was without beans, which I replaced with chickpeas, and rosemary, which I replaced with oregano (that and mint seem to be the only herbs flourishing in the garden at the moment.) It turned out well, definitely better than my last attempt and I’ll certainly be using the recipe again. 

All in all a good weekend. If I could only have stopped my anxious mind worrying about the week ahead it would have been perfect. Howeve there were times over the weekend when my brain was still, and that’s an improvement on recent weeks, so I’ll take it. 

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! 

These boots were made for walking #NewcastleCan

In 2014, hoping to get healthier, my partner and I signed up to September for Scope. This was the first time I’d really heard of the 10,000 steps a day target. It was a massive challenge, my legs ached, I struggled to find the time to fit such a huge number of steps in. 

Stepping out.

I decided to try to keep it going after the month, and have done so fairly consistently right up to now. The physical change in me has been considerable. My walking pace has sped up considerably. I no longer have to pause to catch my breath on hills. I can run up a flight of stairs. My legs no longer ache the day after walking 10,000 steps, in fact I routinely get around 12,000 a day and more on the days I push myself. What used to feel like a long way now feels like an average walk. Where I used to drive everywhere I now think nothing of walking if my destination is a half hour or so away.

There have been other benefits. I’ve explored my community and city and found fascinating places, routes, alleys, patches of nature, public art, staircases and so on that I didn’t know existed. When I can I walk in more rural settings, where I feel even more connected to nature. I’ve never learned to read maps, but am lucky enough that many public footpaths nearby are well signposted. I said in an earlier post that walking hard challenges me physically and soothes me mentally, and this sums up for me why I’ve been able to keep going with this. 

Exploring and making friends.

The times I haven’t kept it up have been when I’ve been unwell, either physically or mentally. And I need to be kind to myself and not beat myself up for missing my step target when I’m unwell. I wouldn’t expect myself to walk 10,000 steps with a migraine or stomach bug, so why do I think I should do it when my depression and anxiety is at its worst? I was pleased to read this article which reflects my feels about this more eloquently than I could.

I saw a physiotherapist recently. She told me increased walking is one of the most sustainable increases in exercise you can do. While people drop out of gym sessions, or can’t always get to the swimming pool etc, people who walk more are likely to keep walking. To anyone struggling to get more active I’d recommend giving it a go. 

A few tips to get started:

  • Many smartphones have built in pedometers which can give you a good idea of how many steps you’re already doing.
  • Start small. If you’re only doing 3,000 steps a day an increase to 5,000 will have significant benefits, you don’t need leap straight to 10,000.
  • Make sure you have supportive comfortable shoes. Definitely don’t try to walk 10,000 steps in brand new Dr Marten’s- I did once, never again!
  • Take the stairs not the lift. When I first started I needed to stop for a breather halfway up the stairs to my son’s youth club. Now I can run up them!
  • Walk short journeys, and build walking time into your planning.
  • If you sit down all day at work go for a walk in your breaks.
  • Walk with other people. Whether for companionship or competitiveness will depend on you, but I find it does make a difference when you’re not doing it alone!

This may all seem obvious, often the hardest thing is getting started. But it does make a difference. Good luck! 

6 weeks in #NewcastleCan

[L]ets come together as a city to change the way we live, work and play, and help make Newcastle the healthiest, happiest city it can be.

https://www.newcastlecan.com

Its six weeks since I joined the Newcastle Can campaign, which seems like a good time to reflect on how its going. So, in no particular order, so far I have:

  • Tried to eat healthily rather than dieting.
  • Upped the vegetables in most of the meals I prepare, increasing the number of portions and reducing the number of calories per portion.
Adding vegetables
Pushing myself

That looks good, it is good, but I want to record the pitfalls as well as the successes. It hasn’t always been easy. I’ve:

  • Binge eaten half a box of fudge because I hadn’t had any sweets for weeks and just couldn’t stop myself.
  • Had several weeks with several portions of cake, and needed to impose stricted limits on myself.
  • Had 2 weeks where I lost just one pound, followed by 2 weeks where my weight stayed the same, before I gave myself a metaphorical kick up the backside and began taking it more seriously.
  • Had several days where a busy life intervened and I didn’t do as much physical activity as I’d wanted.
  • Really struggled with my anxiety, because I’m forcing myself out of my comfort zone.

So, not always easy, but going well. Which makes me wonder why I’m sticking to this better than previous fitness attempts? Six weeks, for me, is a long time! 

Adding hills to my walks.

I think its because its part of an organised campaign. I’ve committed to doing this, I’ve stated so publicly. And that means I’m not alone. The emails and updates from the campaign team motivate me if I’m finding it a struggle. The articles on the website give me ideas of how to make positive changes. People ask me how its going and if they’re taking part too we share what’s worked and what hasn’t.

Physically I feel there hasn’t been a dramatic change yet. But dramatic change isn’t necessarily sustainable, so maybe that’s a good thing. Mentally its been a challenge. I feel less depressed but more anxious. One of my major anxiety triggers is change, and this whole campaign is about making changes. I know I can get through the anxiety, and each time I do the next time becomes a bit easier, but that doesn’t make it any the less unpleasant at the time. 

I’m doing this for me, and it means facing up to my anxiety and getting through it. I can do that. Six weeks is nothing compared to the year I’ve signed up for, but if I break the year into months, the months into weeks, the weeks into day and the days into hours I can do this. One hour at a time.