Monday, November 18, 2013

Beware the Snake Oil Salesman

...if you're thinking about getting fit and healthy.

You think that there's conflicting "facts" about food? Hah! Wait till you try exercise! There's all kinds of sneaky ways to part you from your cash, without it ever making much of a difference to your fitness or general health.

To be fair, part of it is caused by consumers' apathy and fear.

As I meander around the internet and try to get to the bottom of how to move my bottom better, so it's not sagging towards the floor, I realised that PT Barnum was right. There really is one born every minute.

The sad fact of the matter is exercise is hard. It's called a workout because you have to "work". There's no magic pill, no magic fruit discovered by a botanist in the Amazon you can sprinkle on your porridge, or electrodes that you can attach to your wobbly tummy - they don't work. There's no quick fix. No fit in 4 weeks. No fit in 4 months, even.

The trouble is, people want to believe this magic quick fix works, and when it doesn't, they give up.

Fact of the matter is: want to stop smoking, put the cigarette out and don't put another in your mouth; want to lose weight, make better food choices - not so much, more fruit and veg; want to get fit for life. Put on the shoes and work. 

Harsh, but perhaps it's time we talked straight. Yes, I know there are thousands of reasons for that other slice of chocolate cake, that last, next last fag, the pint...well, it was a hard day and it's genetic. The reason I know this, is because I've said them all.

The changes to my behaviour came about because I really wanted to be a non-smoker. I really wanted to be under 9 stone. And I really wanted to be able to say YES, when Dave asked if I wanted to go out on a bike ride.

You know me. I'm the laziest so and so this side of the Atlantic. My favourite position is horizontal. Preferably with a bowl of crisps and a glass of naughtiness within arm's reach. I'm not a morning person. I've never met a calorie I didn't like. A glass of something naughty? Why yes, I'd love another.

I made a choice. I chose now to do things that feel good. 

Not comfort-good, or stress-good, or lonely-good. But proper good.

And it seems that exercise helps me feel good. Even when I can barely walk down stairs because of the squats. Arrgh!

I've said this before, I'll repeat myself to save you having to look up my words of wisdom. You don't need to spend a huge amount of money to be fit. By all means, do get a personal trainer and 2 chefs to prepare your nutritious and delicious meals. If you want to and can afford it - go for it. I've met some incredibly committed exercisers who've got PTs and swear by (at?) them. You just don't need to. 

I can't abide gyms. I hate them. Perhaps it's because I've only walked into the ones with the women putting on their make-up before they workout. The one filled with the really skinny, ecstatic fitness buffs. You know, white smiles, orange skin? I'm told that there are proper gyms out there, full of sweaty, blobby people focused on what they're doing and aren't at all interested in what everyone else is doing in there. 

Until I find the sweaty gym, I'll do my workouts at home. I'm not blessed with cash. I spent on good shoes and when I could, I bought my gear from M&S during their sale. I have enough space in my front room. Just. I started out with a selection of DVDs, but I stick to Davina McColl's simply because she and her personal trainers are fun to workout with. I started on her 3x30 minute workouts and this morning, I've upped the pace. I'm now on her Superbody it's 40 minutes long with extra sessions if you've got the time and energy. It's also got a low impact version of all the exercises. 

It has taken me 3 months to get to this point. I'm taking it slow. I have a dodgy lower back and a knee that bitches at me. I've been in an abusive relationship, I don't need someone in my face, shouting at me, even if they say it's for my own good. Dave is worried that I do it on my own. He thinks I should get a workout buddy to push me to do more. I will eventually, but at the moment, I'm enjoying sweating on my own. If I'm tired, emotionally or physically, I rest. My aim is to do a workout every weekday morning. However, if I need to insert a rest day or a rest week, so be it. Because in the long run it won't matter. I do this because it feels good. When it doesn't feel good, I'll stop.

Nerd Fitness is a website I really love. I know, I'll stop going on about it. I love it because they say women should train like men. Strength training won't build bulky muscles. Lifting weights is good for bone density, stamina and is better for weight-loss than hours of cardio. It means there's no need to take notice of the scales, strength training leads to increased muscle density which is heavier than fat. You've got to eat properly in order to strength train. None of this carrot juice 3 times a day nonsense. They also advocate heavier weights and lower reps. Frankly, that's heaven to me. Who wants to count 50 bloody bicep curls with 1 kg? Bored now.

I've got the urge to build up my strength and do it properly - in a sweaty gym with a punch bag. I want to start landing my punches. I want to get a barbell and learn how to deadlift. I've realised that there just isn't the time to do everything I want to do. I keep looking at my running shoes and my Shiny Bike. I have friends who I want to go swimming with. There just isn't the time to fit all of the fitness things in! Arrgh!

Perhaps it's just a question of going with the flow? As it's all winter-bleak-bleugh, I could stay in and do my DVDs, build up my fitness and strength and then in the summer, switch to outdoor-focused stuff. That sounds like fun to me.

Did I really write that out loud? 

Who, the bloody hell have I become? 

I want to do it. In my very gut I want to do it. And no, that's not this morning's smoothie acting up.

Do I expect to increase my life-expectancy? Will I get a body like Davina's? Do I expect that by loading up on these happy-exercise hormones that I will never experience lows again?

Hell no. 

I'm doing it now, because it feels good. I'm sure the evangelical stage will exit stage right as the habit beds in and go back to blogging about coffee, perfume and how much I hate the festive season. Don't even be thinking that I'm buff and fit and toned and bouncy. I'm struggling with my 1.5kg weights. I've got a long, long way to go...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Weights and Measures

As you know, since April this year I've been steadily increasing my physical activity. I've wanted to exercise regularly for many years now. I used to start and stop. This has been the longest time I've ever stuck with the programme.

It started because I wanted to be fitter so I could cycle with Dave. I like workout DVDs and so I dusted them off and started from the beginning. Seven months later, I'm still committed to being leaner, stronger and fitter.  

I also started to think about what I ate.

If you do a search on fitness and health, you will come up with a mind-boggling number of websites and resources. All saying they have the answer (the only answer) to good health and fitness. Some of them come with science, some come with "common sense", some with a double dose of snake oil. 

I can't say that with all my research that I'm any better informed. I wish I was. But I'm not. In fact, I'm probably more confused now, than I was when I started. Trust me when I say, that's a good thing - it shows I'm paying attention.

What gets put in your mouth, ends up going round your system and affects how you feel, your energy levels and where it ends up hanging out. Makes sense, doesn't it? If I were a computer programmer, I'd be tempted to say 'garbage in, garbage out.'

So, what constitutes a 'good' diet? Let's crack this can of worms open.

Over the summer I tried the 5:2 diet. Intermittent fasting lead to me losing 6lb. I ate 500 calories twice a week on non-consecutive days. It wasn't particularly hard going until the weather turned cool. I run cold anyway, with the lack of calories in my diet, I couldn't cope with it. I stopped doing it. In the September when I stopped, I was just under 9 stone. 

I've read a lot since then. There's a massive three-way fight going on between fat vs sugar vs carbs, all with fairly compelling arguments. I'm still no wiser.

Fat - it makes you fat. That seems to be the perceived wisdom of most medicine. Cut out the fat, it won't clog your arteries. How's your cholesterol? Bit high? Hello statins. Go low fat.

Except I really, really love fat. Butter, double cream, crackling. Yum yum yum. Bring it on. Low fat stuff, tastes diabolical. It's nasty. And furthermore, none of the food scientists I've met eat margarine. They all have butter.

Sugar - empty calories. Rots your teeth. Makes you fat. Makes things taste good. We have evolved to like sweet things, because sweet things are likely to be calorie rich which is just what a hunter/gatherer needs to survive. I do have a sweet tooth, but not for chocolate or sweeties. 

Sugar hides in plain sight in low-fat foods and other processed foods. Don't believe me? Check out the difference when you're next shopping. 

Carbs - since the Atkins diet caught on early in the naughties, carbs are the enemy. Eating too many carbs causes insulin sensitivity and immense weight-gain. I've seen people on the Atkins lose a helluva lot of weight, though I certainly didn't want to get up close and personal, because their breath smelt like decomposing dog feaces. It turns out that Atkins long-term is a very bad idea for one's health and wellbeing. Nasty side effects include kidney stones and increased incidents of osteoporosis.

There's also the traditional calorie counting. I've given it a go before I did intermittent fasting. I can tell you, it sucks arse.

Firstly, because it's easier to go ready-prepared, because the calories are all laid out. You cook a home made meal, that's you with scales and a calculator. 

Secondly, all calories are not created equal and the healthy option does not always equal low calorie. 

Oh yes, I also looked at the Low GI Diet. The premise of this diet ranks food according to their Glycemic Index. This refers to the scale against which a food is broken down by the body, into glucose. It limits carbs and the way they are cooked. I liked it fairly well, up until I got to the low-fat mantra. And as far as I am concerned, mashed potatoes is Food of the Gods. I don't care what anyone else says.

After all of that, what do I believe is the best diet to go on?

I call it the Balanced Diet. I eat a little of what I fancy, when I fancy it. I am eating a heck of a lot more fruit and veg. I stop eating when I'm full. I've gone from 0-2 portions a day to around about 9 or 10 portions of fruit and veg.

I am also being more mindful of processed foods. I do still have ready prepared foods, but they now make up a much smaller percentage of what I eat. I enjoy cooking and like to know what ingredients are going into my dinner. I figure if I can't pronounce it, I shouldn't be eating it.

Water is now my drink of choice. There are still squashes in the house, and I still have a weakness for Elderflower cordial. But I go days without drinking them.

How do I feel? I feel okay. 

Interestingly, I haven't gained or lost any more weight, I'm still around about 8 stone 12 ounces. But I have dropped a dress size.

My goal is to continue to be mindful about what I eat. I will continue to cut down on sugar and processed foods, but I'm also changing the numbers I focus on. I do still like scales, but my attention is now on how well my clothes fit me. Tomorrow, I'm going to measure up properly. Tomorrow, I'm going to take my training up a level.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Too Much of a Good Thing...

It started in the summer when I was considering colours for The Flat. The front room has two fairly neutral colours: Dusted Damson and Malt Chocolate. When I was looking for new curtains, the only ones I could endure were the purple faux silk ones. I thought nothing of it. And then I needed to buy a bin for my study area and that was purple.

In the Devil's marketplace, otherwise known as Dunelm Mill I then had to purchase a couple of blankies, one of which absconded to Lincoln with Boy. Yes, they were purple too. I then bought new kitchen bits and won't get any good odds if you like to gamble...yep, you guess it. Purple.

Then there's my lunch bag, microwavable lunch pot (for hot food) and sports bottle (that I use for my morning gritty). 

So, I'm in Sainsbury's on Sunday and they've got a sale on - 25% off all clothing. There was this fabulous jumper. 

It was only when I got out the car and headed into the office building that I realised I'd gone too far. My nails are sparkly purple and my pendant is amethyst. 


I have no idea why I'm into purple right now. It makes no sense to me. But it seems suddenly I'm surrounded by purple things I have to buy.

Perhaps it's the Jenny Jones poem?

Perhaps it's the Universe trying to tell me something?

Purple is a royal colour. It's the colour associated with the Crown Chakra and is all about meditation, peace, intellect and imagination. It's the colour associated with spiritual fulfilment and peace. It symbolises magic and mystery.

It'll be interesting to see what occurs in the next few months as to whether my Life's Path travels down the road suggested. Or not.

Who knows? I don't. I just know I really like it at the moment and want to indulge.