Blog, Dieting, Food

Can Listening to a CD Make You Lose Weight?

Sitting around, eating too much cake and not taking any exercise wasn’t doing me any good at all. I started using music to nibble (!) away at the problem, as you can find out here.

The second reason I couldn’t lose weight was outrageous. Over the centuries and around the world, people have killed over a “problem” like mine. Eating when I wasn’t hungry was a luxury that not many people can afford. My weight wasn’t anybody else’s problem. I had nobody but myself to blame. If I wanted to shift those extra pounds, I’d have to take responsibility for doing it.

I began by eating smaller portions. This was tricky. The truth is, I hate being hungry. When I was a child, there wasn’t much money to spare. Our household operated on the army principle that you got just enough food. The idea was that you always got up from the table thinking you could eat more. Blow that for a lark, I thought when I left home. Food—both cooking it and eating it—has been one of my hobbies ever since.

Using a smaller plate restricted my intake. There simply isn’t enough room for a big meal. That didn’t help with the food I was eating after my last meal of the day, though. Sitting in front of the idiot lantern was a time for eating straight out of the bag, tube or box.

It took me a lot of nerve to enrol here as a mature student…

It took a personal development course offered by the University of Gloucestershire (you can find out more about that here) to persuade me to change my habits. One of the group exercises involved brainstorming our personal problems. My team gave me some great ideas for low-calorie TV snacks. For instance, an apple sliced very thinly takes a long time to eat. It has fewer than 100 calories. Contrast that with the 300 calories or so in the amount of Pringles I could shift in half that time!

It was a start. Then I remembered how shy, retiring me found the confidence to apply for a place at university in the first place. I used Instant Confidence by Paul McKenna—and it worked. You can read my review of that here. There was clearly a link between the success of that self-hypnosis system and my lack of willpower over food. That should make McKenna’s I Can Make You Thin the perfect weapon in my weight-loss campaign. Its subtitle; Love Food, Lose Weight appealed to me, too.

I sent off for it and set aside half an hour each evening to listen. My heart sank with the opening words. It was a warning not to listen to this “eyes-closed process” while driving or operating machinery. I had no complaints about that—only the ridiculous way it was delivered. It was read out by an American man who must earn his living announcing programmes such as Are aliens living among us? or Was this teenager eaten by Bigfoot? on cable TV. He bellowed it with such excitement, it made me want to switch off.

Luckily, I didn’t. Paul McKenna’s I Can Make You Thin follows the same pattern as his Confidence CD. McKenna lulls you into a state of relaxation which makes you sensitive to his suggestions for regulating your appetite, and improving your lifestyle. I’d like to tell you what those suggestions are, but McKenna has such a restful voice I can’t remember what he said. As I soon began to lose a little weight without consciously dieting, his system may well be working. It’s going to take time, though—and my weight loss could be due to replacing those starchy evening snacks with fruit.

The big advantage of I Can Make You Thin are that it takes absolutely no effort at all. You just lie there, and let Paul McKenna’s voice wash over you. It’s lovely—which is my only problem with it. Every time I’ve tried it, I’ve fallen asleep. That’s fine, but then I wake up a few hours later in the middle of the night and have trouble getting back to sleep. If that happens, how can my brain take in the information? The only way to tell is to see if I keep on losing weight.

I’ll let you know, so follow my blog to find out!

Blog, Food

My Weight (is a First-World) Problem…

That’s right, this week it’s everyone else’s fault but mine!

This isn’t me, needless to say! Pic via Pixabay.

I wrote here about one way I tried to lose weight. Running is brilliant at keeping my weight under control, but that’s all. Exercise alone couldn’t shift my excess poundage. To put it bluntly, I was living an eleven-stone life in a 5’4” body. That was never going to work. I needed to find some way to whittle away at the—ahem—curves I’d spent years building while I sat in in front of a computer, writing.

I had to face the fact that my increasing chubbiness was a problem manufactured (in all senses of the word) by first-world living. I’m lucky enough to be able to choose my own food from a whole range of possibilities. As I said last time, I prefer to eat homegrown, organic food which I cook from fresh—but even virtue signalling has a drawback. It’s portion control. When it comes to food, restraint isn’t my strong point.

It’s an age thing. Anyone under the age of about forty will think what I’m about to write is fiction, but I can assure you every word is true.

Home made and healthy doesn’t mean calorie-free. Unfortunately…

Until I was eleven, I lived with my maternal grandparents. Everyone of that generation lived through the Hungry Thirties, and wartime rationing. We had neither fridge, nor freezer. The food was good, but economical—roast on Sunday, the cold remains on Monday with potatoes and veg, soups from the bones on Wednesday, bacon and egg on Thursday, and fish on Friday. Portions were small. You never got pudding until you’d finished your first course, and you never left the table until you’d eaten all your pudding. Chips were a real rarity, as my grandmother had been a professional cook. She never cut corners. They were blanched in hot fat in small batches, then cooked a second time before serving. The beef dripping had to be brought back up to temperature in between each batch. It took forever!

Nobody grazed. There were set mealtimes, no snacking, and no such thing as McDonalds in the UK back then. If the local shops didn’t sell it, then we didn’t eat it. We sat to the table together, and nobody got up until everyone had finished their meal. The same rules applied at my schools, with the addition of Grace before meals. This was normal. My friends all lived similarly regulated lives.

Hard to believe that a sight like this was once unimaginable luxury!

And then, like millions of other people in the late 1970s, I went abroad for the first time—and discovered Carrefour. It was like walking into heaven. I’d never been in a supermarket before. There was only a greengrocer, butcher, baker, newsagent, grocers, and fishmonger in our village.  That soon changed.

By the time I married and left home, I could load my trolley with convenience food and ingredients from all over the world, at any time of year, and at most times of the day or night.  George Bernard Shaw saw marriage as the maximum of temptation combined with maximum of opportunity. That quote now applies to eating. For me, as a writer working from home, this freedom of choice has been disastrous. As we live some way from town, my kitchen cupboards are always well-stocked. I can’t afford to run out of something while I’m cooking. This means every minute of every day I’m face with maximum opportunity to over-eat.

I have tried to resist. I’ve vowed to eat only home-made cake. The thought of having to get out the tins, prepare them, make the mixture, cook it then wait for the resulting cake to cool down usually kills my craving in seconds.

Then at Christmas, someone fancied a custard slice. That’s one (among many) of my favourite cakes. My recipe, however, makes 16.

I am guilty of making these custard slices. And yes, they DID taste a whole lot better than they looked!

I thought I could eat one, and let my family eat the rest of my share.

I was wrong.

And then there is pizza. We all love the stuff. I make it once a week, for the whole family. Then it dawned on me that the amount of pizza dough each of us was eating in one sitting was the equivalent of a quarter of a loaf of bread! And that was before I’d added an ocean of home-made tomato sauce, half a ton of sliced vegetables and topped it all off with grated cheese.  Oh, yes. Plenty of grated cheese…

One day on a whim I bought ready-made pizzas from the supermarket. They are about the same size as the ones I make, but only have a fraction of the topping. Yet according to the boxes, they contained almost 800 calories each!

Until that day, I couldn’t understand why I was doing so much exercise but not losing weight. Now I knew. A daily diet of organic oatmeal and fresh fruit, with a wholemeal sandwich or jacket potato for lunch, and pizza for tea might be healthy —but not in the quantities I was eating them.

There’s worse to come. Once the TV goes on at teatime, it’s the perfect excuse to sit down for the rest of the evening. Once I tried to cut down on what I was eating, I realised that food is in shot on TV almost all the time. If it isn’t being advertised directly, then people in adverts and programmes are meeting over coffee, making meals, or sitting in pubs.

“Did somebody say J*** E**?” Yes, but it’s usually far more subtle than that. It’s subliminal advertising to the weak-willed, like me. For instance, I’m a career tea-drinker.  Show me someone with a cup, and I want one too. And as McVitie’s used to say about their digestive biscuits, “A drink’s too wet without one.”

I used to make biscuits, but they were too much of a temptation. I switched to muesli. It’s far healthier…but dried fruit and nuts are loaded with calories.

An apple and a book, in the fresh air. Much better than TV and crisps!

Luckily, the weather over the past few weeks has been too good to waste in front of the TV. This has meant I’ve been doing lots of gardening. I’ve slipped in an extra dog-walking session each day, too.  My step-count target has gone up from 10k per day to 12k, and I usually beat it by a long way. Portion control has been even more useful. I’ve cut down on the amount of pizza topping I apply, and keep in mind that huge evening calorie-load when I’m deciding what to eat earlier in the day. Thanks to my team on the Sprint sessions, when I do get the urge to snack I cut an apple into the thinnest slices I can. This gives a satisfying crunch, while taking ages to eat. Add a teaspoonful of peanut butter, and it keeps me busy until bedtime.

The good news is, reducing the amount of time I spend in front of the TV (and snacking), together with portion control has shaved two pounds off my weight in the past week.

Unfortunately, I know my body. It will soon get used to those tactics. My weight loss will stop, and may even go into reverse. There’s only so much time in the day I can devote to exercise, after all. If I try to cut down my portion sizes too much, then a sneaky inner voice will say ; “You didn’t have much for lunch. You can afford to put a bit more on your dinner plate…”

I have a tactic to beat backsliding. It is hypnotism. Paul McKenna’s Instant Confidence worked a treat for me, as I wrote here. Could his I Can Make You Thin live up to its title? I’ll let you know how I get on!

Blog, Dieting

Three Good Reasons Why I Couldn’t Lose Weight…

Number One: It’s A Health Thing…

I NEVER buy cake. I make it instead…

One of the many reasons I became a writer was because it involves a lot of sitting around. To a chubby child who was always last to be picked for sports teams at school, it sounded like the perfect career. It has turned out to be my dream job, but the biggest advantage I saw in writing as a child is actually one big drawback.

Once I left school and began life behind a different sort of desk, I started piling on the weight. “If I eat a 200g bar of chocolate, I put on a kilo of weight. Anything that goes into my mouth heads straight for my hips, and stays there. It must be genetic, Doctor!” I wailed.

“Rubbish!” he snapped back, for this was in the days before fat-shaming was A Thing, “I know your family. Keep them away from cake and they’re built like whippets. And don’t bother saying you’ve got a slow metabolism. The bigger you are, the faster it has to work.”

I was given all sorts of tests. The only thing wrong with me was a marginally under-active thyroid gland. I was prescribed tablets. I started taking them, and sat back expecting the weight to fall off. It didn’t. The clue, although I didn’t spot it at the time, was in those two slender words, “sat back”.

Wholemeal bread, cheese and home-grown salad. What could be healthier? Er…

I didn’t think my weight problem could be my fault. A lot of people expand because of poor nutrition, but I knew that couldn’t be the case for me. I’ve always grown as much of my family’s food as possible, and to make sure we all get our “five-a-day”. I cook meals from fresh ingredients almost all the time, conveniently forgetting that organic doesn’t mean “non-fattening”. I love food almost as much as I love writing, and that’s the problem. If I’m idle, tired, bored or unhappy, I eat. Like the workhouse boys in Lionel Bart’s Oliver! I love that full-up feeling.

The only way to enjoy that, and not become spherical is to use more calories than I take in. I bought a cheap pedometer, and started walking 10,000 steps per day. That was easy when the children were at our local village primary school. I was walking a minimum of two miles per day each working week during term time (and avoiding all the school-gate squabbles over car parking).

Then I was struck down with a bad reaction to an insect bite. I went from walking miles each day to barely being able to hobble as far as the garden gate.

My husband bought me a treadmill to help my recovery. Slowly, I built back up to being able to reach my target of 10k per day again. Then DD borrowed Running Made Easy by Susie Whalley and Lisa Jackson from the library. After reading only a few pages over her shoulder, I sent off for my own copy. I’d never run before without a ferocious PE teacher snapping at my heels, but I wanted that book. It had charts to fill in and boxes to tick, and I can never resist a progress chart!

On the single occasion I’ve run outdoors, this is my time for 1500 metres.

I worked through the book, then discovered the NHS’s Couch to 5K programme. Working on my treadmill because I was afraid of falling on the uneven forest tracks, I went right through the programme. I now exercise for half an hour, every other day. My sessions are made up of five minutes walking, twenty minutes running at a speed that leaves me just about able to hold a conversation—as long as it’s simple!—then a five-minute cool down walk.

If I’m honest I find running both a chore and a bore, although the high I get when I finish a run is fantastic. The trouble is, I have to do it all over again, forty-seven and a half hours later. I run as soon as I wake up, before I can think of an excuse not to do it. I can’t write while I run, so that’s annoying. I find even thinking about work difficult while I’m running. Having the radio on full blast so I can hear it over the sound of the extractor fan and my pounding feet is not an option at 5.30am. I had to wait until I got an i-phone before I discovered a way of bringing some fun to running. I made a playlist specially for my sessions on the treadmill. It definitely speeds things up.

Here it is…

  • Lawrence of Arabia (Main Theme) by Maurice Jarre —This is loud, evocative, and perfect for my warm-up as the march section is just over 5kph—my walking speed!
  • The Trap (Main Theme) by Ron Goodwin—For as Dr Sheldon Cooper said, “What is life without whimsey?”
  • Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash—When I saw Walking the Line, my joints were so painful I could only sit and watch other people moving, and that definitely tortured me!
  • Chariots of Fire by Vangelis (Main Theme) See The Trap above!
  • Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (Main Theme) by John Williams—this was playing on the radio one day when Number One Son walked in and saw me flagging during my run. “Just pretend you’re being chased by a big boulder, Mum,'” he said.
  • Spitfire Prelude and Fugue by William Walton—I used to work for Rolls-Royce Aero, in Filton. The staff there had seen it all, and done most of it, too, but at the distinctive sound of a display Spitfire coming in for a service they’d all drop everything, and rush to the windows to watch it.
  • The Great Escape (Main Theme) by Elmer Bernstein. When I first put my playlist together, this was the final track. The title says it all! Unfortunately, this collection turned out to be a couple of minutes too short when I tried it out. I needed one more track. The Magnificent Seven was too long, but
  • The Dambusters March by The Central Band of the RAF is exactly the right length to complete my sessions. The speed matches the last part of my run and cool-down, then during the last moments I walk down the drive to our front gates and do my stretches. Perfect!

While I haven’t actually lost any weight through running, as long as I keep doing it regularly it stops me putting any more on. Which is progress, of a sort.

Next time: The Second Reason Why I Couldn’t Lose Weight…

Blog, self help, stress-busting

Meditation, Mindfulness and “Me-Time”…

After diagnosing us all with raging Imposter Syndrome and then trying out the cure, I’m returning to another subject covered on Sprint, the women students’ empowerment course provided in June by the University of Gloucestershire—stress busting. Making time for yourself is important whatever your age or gender .

Hobbies, especially sport, are a great way to either relax or burn off tension. But what if you need something more reflective? What if you can’t, or don’t want to, go out and about in search of “Me-Time”?

This is what happens if the boar get into your garden . Talk about stress!

Scroll back through my blogs and you’ll see we live in the middle of an ancient Gloucestershire wood. Sometimes it feels like we’re in one of those old black-and-white Western films. Tottering Towers is our Conestoga Wagon, circled not by furious landowners but by noisy boar and deer! It can be pretty stressful when the deer eat my plants and the piggies plough the footpaths. Days here are peaceful compared with the city. That doesn’t mean they are any less stressful.

Power cuts and the broadband going into trickle mode cranks up the tension. I’m studying for my Masters, my husband works from home several days each week, and our children are still living with us here. We all get on really well, but this is not a large house.

OH’s work also includes frequent conference calls. I prefer to work in silence, beyond birdsong and the occasional Noisli track. And there’s the problem. Much as I love my husband, his deep, booming voice can be heard for some distance through the house.

Several women I met on the Sprint course suggested meditation could help my stress levels. They introduced me to the Headspace app. I was sceptical about something which sounded so intangible, but this app appealed to me from the start. On their webpage Headspace makes a thing about being …committed to advancing the field of mindfulness meditation through clinically-validated research on our product. That sounded good to me.

Pic by Gerd Altmann

I got my first smartphone only a few days before starting the Sprint course. I loaded the app straight away and started using it. I found it attractive, and easy to use. There’s a free introductory course of meditation sessions which takes you through the basics. You can also sample short sessions of between one and three minutes to give you a flavour of the many things with which meditation can help, from anger management to attitudes to food (I’m working through that one myself at the moment).

You can use a certain amount of Headspace content for free but to get the most benefit from it you can subscribe. You can pay either by the month, or annually. Like many subscriptions it will renew automatically until you stop it. If you subscribe to Headspace, take care to make a diary note a week or so before your renewal date. Then you’ll have time to decide if you want to cancel it, before you’re charged.

I love Headspace. There are meditations in differing lengths to help with all sorts of situations. It teaches useful skills in a restful delivery style, with meditation sessions of varying lengths to suit the time you have available. There are mini videos, animations with cute graphics, and lots more.

I enjoyed the free introductory course and some taster sessions so much, I signed up for a paid subscription. This gives you access to tons more content: courses for anger management, sleep problems, stress, and ways to become more comfortable inside your own skin. These are all delivered in handy, bite-sized sessions.

My “Mindful Eating” will meet its match at the RNA York Tea in September!

The best thing of all is that the Mindful Eating course seems to be making a difference to me, although I’ve only been doing it for a couple of weeks.

I’d love to say I’ve gone right off cake and crisps, but that isn’t how meditation works. It guides you towards eating more mindfully. You are persuaded to consider how and why you’re eating. This can help to stop you not noticing that you’ve been continuously picking at food while watching the television (one of my worst sins).

Headspace explains that it’s important to set aside time to eat without any distractions from phones or screens.

Pausing for a few seconds before starting to eat, considering each mouthful in silence, and pausing for a few seconds at the end of the meal makes a real difference to the enjoyment I get from meals.

It felt weird for the first few days—like being back at school dinners. We always said Grace at my secondary school, and there was a strict “no talking” rule at mealtimes. We sat at tables of eight, and nobody was allowed to get up before everyone on their table had finished eating and all the plates and cutlery were stacked. I’d like to see teachers try that these days!

Blog, Book Review, self help

Is This A Self-Help Book That Actually Works?

I wrote here about a course provided by the University of Gloucestershire to boost the self-esteem of women post-graduates. Every one of us who attended the course learned we suffered from so-called Imposter Syndrome to a greater or lesser degree.

Imposter Syndrome is where you live in fear of being discovered as a fraud. For example, you believe you can only have been given your job or promotion through luck, because your face happened to fit, or the boss felt generous that day. It surprised us all to find out how common this feeling is. That’s because to sufferers, it’s a guilty secret. If nobody ever lets on to experiencing this, how will any of us discover that we aren’t alone in the way we feel?

We’re all in this together…

There was a resource table available during the course. It was full of articles and books about successful women, their career tips and research. There was also plenty of information about improving self-confidence and getting that dream job. The Imposter Cure by Dr Jessamy Hibberd was on the table, and it proved a popular choice.

I can never resist a self-help book. My favourite is The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. It’s the book that persuaded me to start writing again, when I had run out of inspiration and was feeling really fed up. The Success Principles put me back on the road to, well, success!

After flicking through The Imposter Cure , I ordered it straight away. The book didn’t disappoint me. Dr Hibberd is a fellow stationery fan. Anything that includes the instruction buy yourself a notebook to use alongside this book sounds good to me. That sentence on its own promised three enjoyable experiences. I had the fun of selecting a new notebook, using it, and then checking my progress against my notes afterwards.

This book is in three sections: Understanding Imposter Syndrome, Why You Are Not An Imposter, and How To Say Goodbye To The Imposter For Good! Part One reassures the reader they are not alone, and explains how and why Imposter Syndrome takes hold. Your definition of competence has an impact on what you expect of yourself, says Dr Hibberd.

She then goes on to outline the five accepted patterns of perfection which torture us all. These are; The Perfectionist, The Natural Genius, The Soloist, The Expert, and the Superwoman/man. Most people have problems under combinations of more than one of those headings. It was fascinating trying to decide which nagging perfectionist had its claws in me. Actually, I have one perched on each shoulder! I’m a combination of Soloist (unless I’ve achieved something completely on my own, it doesn’t “count”) and Superwoman (multi-tasking to exhaustion because I can’t bear to delegate).

A notebook, some resolutions, and off you go!

This is a chatty, informative book. The text was easy to read, and included plenty of real-life case studies, flow charts, bullet points and chapter summaries. I found it useful, and learned strategies to disarm the symptoms of my own Imposter Syndrome.

The most important thing is to remember that everyone feels insecure and uncertain at times. Study your own reasons for thinking you’re an imposter, one by one. Dr Hibberd has a cure for them all. For example it wasn’t “only luck” that got you that dream job. Luck might have played a small part, but think: you did the work to get the relevant qualifications and experience, sent in the application form, and turned up for the interview. Hundreds of others never got that far. You then went on to be the best candidate on the day. That’s not simply luck. It’s a winning combination of determination, forward planning, ability and charm.

Earlier on I said this book opened with a suggestion which gave me three enjoyable experiences. There was another one waiting for me at the end. I had the satisfaction of discovering that The Imposter Cure really did help me stop being so self-critical. I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever felt insecure. And remember, as Dr Hibberd states on Page 253:

There’s a reason you haven’t been found out so far: there is nothing to find out.

Have you ever found a self-help book that worked for you?