New Year, Same Trousers

This was the first January I’ve managed not to feel guilty in possibly my entire adult life (the exact beginning of this is debatable, but still).

Having said that, in previous years, my guilt was always tainted with annoyance. It is grossly unfair that merely days before the very same media who were shoving cake, cream and alcohol down our necks are suddenly chastising us for being fatties. Christmas and the surrounding months are such a strange time of year – maniacal enthusiasm, sparkly tinsel and the mulling of everything (of which I am most definitely a fan) followed by complete abstinence and endless adverts for gym membership. In this most schizophrenic of seasons, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and constantly lagging behind.

But not this year. At the risk of sounding smug, I actually went for a run on Boxing Day morning. Admittedly, my good deeds didn’t go as far as restricting my cheese and wine consumption that evening, but at least I started out well. What I might finally have achieved (it has only taken 34 years) is sustainability. Because ultimately, that is the issue. I read this week that over 50% of people gave up on their healthy resolutions by this week, with another 20% predicted to fall off the wagon next week. These are not encouraging statistics, particularly given the UK’s standing in terms of obesity across Europe. The most cited reason for giving up was the lack of ‘difference’ it made. For this, part of the blame has to go to Reality TV shows like the awful Channel 4 series that pits fat people against each other, or the endless weight loss foods and programmes we are bombarded with on a daily basis. It’s all quick fixes and fad diets, many of which I’ve tried over the years. I had to stop the 5:2 fast diet because I was so irrationally grumpy on fast days. Not only were they unsustainable, they also ceased to have any effect as soon as I stopped.

My other concern is that they mostly focus on diet food. I’ve long been dissatisfied with the low-fat diet products available on the market. The fact is that if you take the fat out of something like cake or yoghurt, you have to replace it with something. Usually, it’s sugar, or artificial sweeteners. But then no-one is going to tell you not to eat processed food, because they make billions in taxes each year. The world’s healthiest diet can apparently be found in Iceland. Not because of a magic ingredient or biscuits being illegal, but simply because they mess around with their food a lot less. It’s simple – from food to mouth, the less that’s done to it, the better.

That’s not to mention the fact that the main focus is more often than not, only based on diet. Of course, what you eat makes a massive difference, but the impact exercise has on your entire body and mental health just can’t be substituted. So what’s my secret? It is beautifully summed up in a conversation a friend of mine had in the gym:

“You look great. What’s your secret?”

“I don’t eat a lot of junk food and I exercise regularly.”

“Oh.”

Exactly what people don’t want to hear. Ultimately, only a change in lifestyle will lead to any lasting effect on your body.

About seven years ago, I started running. My family was never particularly sporty, so I basically gave up all forms of exercise after PE stopped being compulsory. Also, as I’m incredibly competitive but pretty unskilled, I quickly got frustrated with squash, netball, hockey, or anything where I couldn’t quickly get to a level where I at least had a vague chance of beating someone. With running, I’m only competing against myself. Which I do. Having an app that measures distance and speed, and sends me little encouraging emails, I can easily improve on goals and set targets. Interestingly enough, I haven’t lost that much actual weight. Probably less than a stone. I’m still a size 12. I am however, very differently shaped. Much more toned, leaner and stronger. Also, FYI, going for a long run on a Saturday morning is a great way to pre-emptively avoid a hangover, and makes a Sunday roast not just appealing but necessary to replace lost calories and proteins. It’s also changing the way I see my body. I’m losing the association of lighter=thinner=better. I love that I’m able to run for the bus, play netball with my nieces and nephews and have an impromptu game of badminton without getting out of breath. I finally see what my PE teacher at school was talking about! I am able to see my body as an amazing, strong tool for achieving things, not just something to look good.

For some people, the idea of taking up regular running is about as appealing as pulling out your toenails. And hey, a few did drop off when I had shoes that were too tight. But the boring news is, a healthy, fit and fabulous you will not emerge in three weeks. Or even three months. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, or that it isn’t worth striving for. It’s difficult, it takes practice, but it feels pretty amazing when you get there. If you need motivation, check out this fantastic campaign: http://www.thisgirlcan.co.uk

What are the things that help you feel strong and healthy? Post below!

Running

I’ve been running for many years now, and have completed an array of distances in events, including a marathon in Dublin. Nothing takes me away from myself quite like it. Here’s a poem I wrote to try to capture that feeling:

Ephemeral

Gallant swathes of sky,
Searing,
Lending majesty to the mundane.

Breathless, glowing ache,
Glistening of sweat on skin,
Delirious, heady,
Steady, thumping.

Union of body and sky,
Lifting above the worldly,
Euphoric,
Fleeting,
Rooted in the earth,
Bodily.