Running for the reluctant. 

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! 

My Gemma Correll water bottle sums up how I feel running! Pic from, and bottle bought from https://m.ohhdeer.com/collections/gemma-correll

Pondering clothes shopping, expectations and ethics…

I did something amazing yesterday.

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. 

Can I run 5k? #NewcastleCan

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! 

6 months in #NewcastleCan

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? 

Book Review: Unprocessed by Megan Kimble

Megan Kimble was a twenty-six-year-old living in a small apartment without even a garden plot to her name. But she knew that she cared about where her food came from, how it was made, and what it did to her body — so she decided to go an entire year without eating processed foods

Unprocessed: My city-dwelling year of reclaiming real food by Megan Kimble (from back cover blurb)

It has taken me too long to read this book. That’s not down to the book at all, it’s well written, and informative without being dry or excessively technical. I started reading it a few months ago before my current bout of anxiety and depression. 

One of the first indications I’m getting ill is when I struggle to read. In general I’m a real bookworm, flying through book after book. But when I’m ill I struggle to concentrate for a paragraph let alone a chapter. Reading just becomes impossible.  

Contrawise it’s a good sign I’m on the road to recovery when I feel like reading again. Last week I read two pages. Over the weekend I read six pages. Yesterday I sat down and read the two and a half remaining chapters and finished the book. The return of my concentration is hopefully a good indicator that I’m on the mend. 

I spotted this book in the wonderful Quaker Centre Bookshop last time I was in London. It leapt out at me. I’ve been worrying about the amount of processed food my family eats for some time, both in terms of its impact on our bodies and in terms of the environmental impact of its production. Yet it seems impossible to avoid. Then here was someone who had avoided it, for a full twelve months, I could read about her experience, and possibly pick up some tips. I had to buy it. 

I enjoyed it from the start. It’s clearly well researched and referenced, without the level of excruciatingly complicated scientific detail which puts casual readers like me off. The style is chatty and cheerful. While I try and avoid processed food by avidly studying labels Megan Kimble actually visits food producers, from massive industrial dairies to small breweries and distilleries. She finds out more about how labels can mislead us than I’d ever have known without her. 

I hadn’t started the book with the intention to dramatically change the way I eat. One of the things Megan demonstrates is how much work an unprocessed diet is. I knew that for me completely cutting out processed food wouldnt be practical. But it did get me thinking differently. 

Some of Megan’s conclusions shocked me. Considering dairy for example:

I try to consume less, but better. By better, I mean whole — I eat eggs with all their yolks, milk with all its fat, cheese with all its curd. Not only do fat molecules help your body to absorb the nutrients in mill, but also fat is delicious. Fat fills you up, so its easier to eat less of it. 

Unprocessed: My city-dwelling year of reclaiming real food by Megan Kimble

 This is so counter to everything I’ve been told about low fat that it seems positively revolutionary. And I don’t know if I could do it. I’ve never had whole milk, unless they gave me whole milk at school in the 1970s (until it was notoriously snatched by Thatcher.) Its been semi-skimmed or skimmed all my life. Maybe I should give it a try?

In other areas her experiments in processing he food herself led her to realise why communities and eventually big corporations developed, as the time and effort taken to produce food was better spent when sharing roles. But the soullessness of these massive corporations is evident, churning out bland additive-filled food, caring for their own profits over their customers health, causing damage to the environment and seeing animals as commodities rather than living creatures. There are lots of good reasons to avoid processed food.

One of the compelling reasons for Megan, which she quotes more than once in the book, is the realisation that we as consumers have power, and can make changes. In the UK free-range eggs and various Fair Trade products are now generally available, all due to customer pressure. 

For me, living in the north east, one of the most deprived areas of the country, the argument about investment in the local economy also resonated. If I spend £100 on food at one of the big supermarkets most of that money will leave the region, going instead to shareholders and parent corporations. If I buy locally produced food with that £100 much more of it stays in the region, supporting the local economy. 

Unprocessed food is more expensive though, and we all have to decide where we spend our money. Whether its £5 or £50 it will make a difference. I try to buy organic and unprocessed, but its a fine balancing act between what I want and what I can afford. I often have to compromise.

If I had to have a negative, and its a very unimportant negative, the book was very much embedded in the American systems of agriculture and processing. This is only natural, it’s where it was written and the audience it was initially written for. But it let me wondering whether things are the same here, and how I would find out. And she just did food, a mammoth task in itself, but what about the chemicals we have around us all the time? Toiletries, cleaning products, plastic. I had unanswered questions. However I think inspiring me to look further into something is the mark of a good book, not of the author missing something out. 
All in all a good read, and one I’d recommend. 

You can visit Megan Kimble’s website to find out more about her year unprocessed. 

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. 

Resetting My Brain To Battle Anxiety.

When my anxiety becomes so chronic and debilitating that I can’t hold it together for a couple of hours, let alone a full shift, as happened last week, I retreat. 

For ten days I’ve hardly left the house. I did a supermarket shop, but used the ‘scan as you shop’ so I wouldn’t have to interact with anyone. I did make it to Dancercise on Saturday, but drove there and back to minimise the potential social contact. I was glad I got there, it does me good mentally as well as physically. Other than that I’ve only spoken to my family and left the house to walk the dogs. Where I’ve had to communicate with people I’ve done it in writing.

The last few days I’ve felt slightly less anxious. Its come and gone, rather than the constant barrage of catastrophising thoughts they’ve ebbed and flowed. In the gaps between the anxiety there’s been nothing. Numbness, inertia, nothingness. 
Despite a million things to do I’ve struggled to move off the sofa. Getting dressed has seemed a monumental challenge that requires several hours of sofa-sitting before I can attempt it. While on the sofa its been hard to concentrate on anything. I’ve played repetitive games on my phone or spent time colouring (another of my many u-turns, I was convinced it was just a fad, then tried it and found it helpful.) I’ve thought about how thirsty I am but not managed to summon the energy to get to the kitchen to make a drink. 

I think this is my brain resetting itself. As if my subconscious has noticed the state I was in and decided the only way forward is a reboot. 

Image from quickmeme.com

Yesterday, after a morning of inertia and numbness, I suddenly felt alive. Like I needed to do something. I baked, I tidied, my daughter and I sorted out some clutter. I made a new meal and wrote a blog post. I didn’t feel anxious. 

Of course it’s not as simple as that. No magic fixes. If the secret to mental wellness was to reset your brain by taking a few days feeling numb, well, Britain wouldn’t have the epidemic of mental ill health we seem to at present. 

This morning I was numb and unable to motivate myself again. 

This afternoon I had to go out, and I had to speak to people. I was slightly afraid that I was only feeling a bit better (numb does feel a bit better than anxious) because of my voluntary isolation. What if I fell apart again the moment I got near people?

I did OK. 

The anxiety tried to make an appearance while I was shopping with my daughter (I refused to ask a sales assistant for help finding things) but I was able to overcome it (I did ask about a discount we’d heard we might be entitled to). 

It tried to appear again when on the way to my son’s youth club (we were running very early) but again I overcame it (better early than late, right?)

Anxiety tried to appear a third time when I got to the gym (everything had been moved around) and for a third time I overcame it (I want and asked when I couldn’t find one of the machines I wanted to use.)

So for today I’m beating anxiety, 3 – 0. 

Managing a few hours active a day is not the same as being recovered, but its a step in the right direction and I’m celebrating the achievement. Hopefully I can keep building on it.