15,000 steps and a slice of cake before lunchtime. #NewcastleCan

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.

Ford Prefect*

Last night I set my alarm for 8am, which is not usual. For me Saturdays are a time to catch up on the limited sleep I get through the week. 

My partner is the sort of person who can say “Goodnight”, roll over and be snoring within 10 seconds. Sleep doesn’t come that easily to me. I toss and turn, my brain spiralling through repeated anxieties, until finally I fall asleep. I usually get about 5 hours on a weeknight, and that’s since an increase in medication made me sleep noticeably heavier. 

I know this pattern of little sleep on weeknights and long lie ins at the weekends isn’t healthy. I know lack of sleep can contribute to poor mental health. In my case I’m not sure whether the poor mental health causes the problem sleeping or vice versa. 

Anyway, none of that lounging in bed til lunchtime for me today. It turned out my 8am alarm was optimistic, as the dogs decided at 7.30 that they needed to go outside urgently. When my alarm went off I was already eating breakfast and drinking tea.

The reason for the uncharacteristic early rising is that, following last weekend’s Newcastle Can taster sessions, I have signed up for a Dancercise class. And because I had a poor week in exercise and healthy eating terms I’d decided to challenge myself even further, by walking there and back. 

It’s not a particularly exciting walk, mostly through housing estates except for a brief spell across the Town Moor, but its one I’d done before and was confident I could manage on top of an hours dancercising. My map app said it would take 55 minutes, but the app creators have a very poor understanding of how fast a fat lass can walk when she puts her mind to it, so I allowed 45. 

I threw in a couple of short bursts of jogging and made it there in 40 minutes. I’m fairly sure jogging isn’t for me, it takes all my concentration and I can’t keep it up for any length of time, but I persevere because I know it uses different muscles to walking and I reckon every little helps. (Other inspirational supermarket slogans are available!)

The class was small and friendly, and as it was the first we were all newbies together. There was shimmying, hip swinging, bhangra, rock, charleston, lindy hop and even jazz hands. Something for everyone. I struggled to get my arms and legs doing different moves at the same time, but it didn’t matter because I kept moving.

I think part of why I enjoy the Dancercise is that it doesn’t come naturally. While my peers were learning to move to music I was listening to Metallica and Megadeth, neither noted for their dance moves. So it takes all my concentration. And that means those spiralling thoughts, the worries and anxieties that have dragged my mood down this week, have to stop. There’s no room for them when all my concentration is on getting my body to move to the music.

It didn’t feel like an hour. It didn’t feel like a class either. It felt like relaxing and having fun, while at the same time moving and exercising.

Afterwards some of us went for a cuppa and a cake, because, as I’m learning, getting healthy isn’t about never having treats. Its about adding to what you already do, little changes which build and grow. You need to enjoy it, not feel its a chore you’re obliged to undertake.

I walked back, with occasional jogging, and realised I didn’t feel as anxious as I had earlier. On the walk there my brain was doing its anxious, spiralling, hamster-in-a-wheel thing which I’ve struggled to control this week. On the way back I was noticing the sunshine, thinking about exercise and movement, feeling energised. That hour of concentrating on movement had stopped the spiralling. It’s an unexpected way in which improving my physical health can improve my mental health, just giving me a break from my bullying brain.

Before I signed up to NewcastleCan I’d have laughed if you suggested I join an exercise class. I’d have given you loads of reasons why it wasn’t for me, why I didn’t have time, why the very idea was absurd. If youd said I’d be up early, and have done 15,000 steps by lunchtime, I’d have laughed too. And if you’d said I could get healthy and still eat cake I just wouldn’t have believed you!

I’m almost 3 months into my journey of getting healthier, body and mind, and I know now I’d have been wrong back then. I wonder which of my other assumptions about myself will be challenged along the way? 

* In Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. But you knew that, right? 

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:

Let me eat cake! 

Don’t ban any foods from your weight loss plan, especially the ones you like. Banning foods will only make you crave them more.

From NHS weight loss tips http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/weighti-loss-guide/Pages/successful-diet-tips.aspx

This makes sense to me. 

It works psychologically: If I ban myself from eating cake and succumb by Wednesday I’ve failed, and may as well give up. Whereas if I allow myself one cake a week and succumb by Wednesday I try extra hard not to have any more cake that week.

It also works practically: It allows me to plan ahead. If I know I’m eating out at the weekend I’ll try harder to avoid cake through the week. I find it easier to try and behave healthily when I set myself targets and limits, whether it’s one cake a week, 10,000 steps a day or at least five portions of fruit and veg a day. 

I’d previously decided to allow myself a day off from my healthy eating today, having planned to take my mum out for afternoon tea. The day got even less healthy when my children woke me up with the most amazing cake they’d made.

“It looks wonderful. Thank you. I’m going to have to scrap the one cake a week rule!” 

“Ah, but it’s only one cake. We knew about the rule so we didn’t make cupcakes.”

I love kid logic. 

I decided to go with it for one day. I mean there’s no point even pretending to be healthy after chocolate cake for breakfast! 

So I also had afternoon tea. It was wonderful.

I made sure I got my 10,000 steps in, so not everything healthy stopped. I’m going to be trying extra hard to be healthy this week to make up for it. And I’m not going to beat myself up about it, even if my weight goes up a bit this week. Because I had a fabulous day with my family and enjoyed my treats immensely. I recognise how one day full of treats in many weeks is a massive improvement on the several cakes a day I used to have. And how sweet it all tasted now I’m used to eating less sugar. One sugar filled day is a sign of flexibility not of failure.

If you decide to eat sugar, choose a REALLY nice cake or similar and REALLY enjoy it. Do not feel guilty about it, just plan to eat less or less often next time.

https://marionated.wordpress.com/2017/03/15/sugar/

When the scales don’t move. #NewcastleCAN

Things went a bit wrong last week. There I was all proud of myself for cooking instead of getting a takeaway, hitting my 10,000 steps target every day, avoiding sugar, doing well. Right up to the point where I stepped on the scales and they hadn’t shifted. I was still exactly the same weight I’d been two weeks before. 

My mind went into overdrive trying to rationalise this. Could it be a side effect of my medication? The result of an IBS flare up? Fat turning into muscle? A fault with the scales? 

But I have to be honest with myself. And, being honest, I had to admit that I’d probably given myself a few too many ‘special dispensations’ to eat unhealthily. A colleagues birthday, biscuits someone brought specially, a funeral… When I really thought about it I realised I had probably had more days with unhealthy snacks than without.

This led to a wobble. A couple of days where I thought “I’ve failed at this, I may as well eat what I like.” 

But I pulled myself around. Reminded myself why getting healthy is important to me. Decided what to do next.

One of the bits of advice on the Newcastle Can website is

Keep a food diary – of EVERYTHING you eat. How much, what time you ate it, how you felt after you ate it etc. This is the best way to find out where you could cut back or where your problem areas are and what causes you to overeat. 

https://www.newcastlecan.com/articles/healthy-eating-hughs-top-5-tips-on-how-to-get-started

Its something I’ve resisted. I wanted getting healthier to be about small, sustainable changes, not about counting calories. I didn’t want to worry about it so much that I was weighing everything I ate to calculate whether I could eat it or not. 

But given my apparent ability to justify unhealthy on offs, and the way all those one offs add up without me noticing it, I decided I’d give it a go. I started Monday, using the Fitbit App for tracking, and My Fitness Pal for working out the total value per portion of home made meals. 

So far it’s going OK. It’s sometimes a bit approximate. If I eat something that’s not listed I guess at a similar item and hope the calories are within the range. And when I’m making something homemade the portions we have for tea will be slightly larger than the portions I save for lunches but I just put the same for both. Generally I think it’s in the ball park even if it’s not exact.

Its a good discipline. I’ve felt more aware of what I’m eating and less tempted to have treats. Its been reassuring to see that in my usual eating pattern my calories in are fewer than my calories out. Using the tools available in the apps it hasn’t been as complicated as I’d feared it would be. Even though it’s early days I am hopeful that I’ll persevere it.

And hopefully next time I step on the scales it will make a difference.