I hope you’ve had a great summer. September is a lovely month here in the country. The days are still long enough to enjoy any good weather. The nesting season is over, so the garden and wood is full of youngsters finding their way about. Some of them are still at the fluff-ball stage. It’s cute to watch the new generation of blue tits and long tailed tits discovering how to use the bird-feeders.
Every year there’s one big baby who refuses to grow up. Buzzards nest in our wood, and from August onwards their latest brood are turfed out to make their own way in the world. There’s always one who hangs around its parents’ territory. It shrieks to be fed from first light until dusk. The cries ease off once it has learned to find food for itself. Some of them aren’t too quick on the uptake, so the racket can persist for weeks.
It’ll be back to university for me soon. I’ve got two induction sessions next week. After that, I’ll be doing two modules before Christmas, my final two after Christmas and rounding off the 2019/2020 academic year by submitting my dissertation.
I can’t wait to get started. I’ve already bought a season ticket for the Dean Heritage Centre. It’s packed with artefacts and records that can help me in my work on the way small advances in technology had huge effects on the lives of ordinary people during the twentieth century.
There’s one last holiday treat before I start running round the education track between lectures, workshops, archive and library. The York Chapter of the Romantic Novelists’ Association are holding their annual afternoon tea this Saturday. This started as a local event but they now kindly extend invitations to lovers of York. This year I’m taking my husband Martyn as my guest, to show him the city. Fingers crossed for good weather—it bucketed down with rain last time I went!
I’ve written before about trying out Paul McKenna’s I Can Make You Thin. I’ve been listening to its self-hypnosis CD to help me lose weight. It has been working almost too well. The CD runs for about half an hour, and is so relaxing I usually drop off to sleep.
The subliminal message must be sinking in, as I feel more positive about reaching my goal. I want to weigh 9 stone 12lb (that’s 138lb, or around 63kg) by the time the new university term begins. That’s on 23rd September—only six weeks from now!
I’ve lost six pounds already, but I still have nearly twelve pounds to go. Losing 2lb per week will be tough. I love my food. If I can stick to eating smaller portions than usual that will be fine. I’m working on the basis that there’s no such thing as a forbidden food, only forbidden amounts. Doing plenty of exercise to make sure I expend more calories than I take on board should help shift the extra weight.
The problem with that is I already spend a couple of hours each day walking Alex. Add on the forty minutes of running I do on the treadmill every other day, and that’s quite a chunk of my working week accounted for already. I still have to fit in doing the washing, cooking—not to mention eating and sleeping—as well as earning my living.
Good food is one of my hobbies. Writing is supposed to be my job, although as I scribble in my spare time, it’s a hobby too. Writing as a career has one big downside— I’m constantly searching for opportunities. Research and promotion take big bites out of my working time, too.
I’m already racking up between 12,000 and 17,000 steps each day on my pedometer. Much more legwork, and I’ll have to be resoled (I already have a spare tyre, thanks!). I decided to use a combination of the CD and the mindfulness and meditation app Headspace to double my chances of achieving my weight-loss goal.
After trying it out for a while (you can read about that here) I took the plunge and subscribed. That costs around £72 per year. It is a lot of money, but that fact acted on me as an incentive. I want to lose pounds in weight, not waste pounds in money! I’ve meditated with Headspace at least once a day for several weeks. It’s helpful that the app has varying lengths of meditation. If I can’t manage a twenty-minute session, I can squeeze in five-or-ten minutes, instead. There are also short animations and films, which are fun to watch as well as informative.
When I’m trying to plan projects for my next year at university it’s tempting to spend hours each day sitting in front of my computer. That will lead to me putting on more weight, rather than taking it off.
To give myself an added incentive. I’ve booked my hotel and train tickets ready for the York chapter of the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s afternoon tea in September. I’ll need to have reached my target weight before sitting down to a wonderful spread like the one we had last year (the picture shows only one of several cake-stands delivered to our table!).
The McKenna CD at night gives me a good night’s sleep. Headspace’s Mindful Eating sessions in the morning is a lovely way to ease myself into each day. You’re talked through a ten-to twenty-minute session (you choose the length) of relaxation. It has encouraged me to think about my relationship with food. That may sound snowflakey, but as it seems to be working I’m not too bothered about that.
Any spare time I have now involves either losing myself in a fantasy inspired by Paul McKenna’s improving talks where losing my excess weight sees me beat my personal best time for running a mile. If I’m not doing that, I’m planning meals so I never become desperate enough to snack on something sugary.
It’s made me think hard about whether I actually want to eat something, or whether I’m simply bored (answer: get working instead!), feel in need of a treat (get out into the garden, away from the cake tins!) or thirsty. That last reason, suggested by Headspace, surprised me. To test it, the next time I had the urge to eat I drank a cup of tea instead. It worked. From now on, there’ll be more tea, and less food. More tea can also mean more exercise. While the kettle boils, I’ve got time to fit in a few lunges and squats!
Looking back on my long and loving relationship with food reminded me of those endless, school holidays in summer. When it was too hot to work in the garden I’d take a book and hide in the shade of our big old Bramley apple tree. Its branches swung so close to the ground I could climb out of sight without much effort. I would lose myself in something like The Once and Future King or The Goshawk (both by T.H.White). Mealtimes were feasts of home-grown new potatoes, carrots, peas, beans or cabbage, with lamb chops, sausages, or bacon and egg on top. At this time of year, there were big bowls of stewed blackberry and apple with custard for pudding. It was all delicious, and we had to sit to the table until it was all finished. That was never a problem for me—but in those days I was still growing upwards, rather than outwards!
What’s your best memory of those long summer holidays?
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 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.
That’s right, this week it’s everyone else’s fault but mine!
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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”.
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!
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!
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…