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Becoming fit and healthy

Disclaimer: I am not a scientist, or a nutritionalist, or a chemist, or a pharmacist, or any kind of health care professional. So in this context, it’s safe to say that I do not know what I’m talking about.

I’ve been dieting for two months now with great results. Alas, yesterday at my weekly weigh-in I gained half a pound, but considering a lack of activity all weekend I wasn’t too surprised. A bit disappointed, but as I keep having to remind myself – losing weight takes effort. When I look in the mirror I can see huge changes – there’s still a way to go, but I look and feel more and more like me.

Yet while I’m feeling fittier and happier, I’m not sleeping well, and I’m having some killer headaches. I don’t know which came first, but now I seem caught in a vicious circle of causality – I can’t sleep because I have a headache, and then I’m sleep deprived so my head aches. And so on and so on until I lose my mind. Yesterday my headache became a full-on migraine and James and I decided to investigate the cause. One possibility I’m currently investigating is my increased intake in aspartame.

Image: Aspartame structure by Yikrazuul via Wikimedia Commons

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener found in many ‘no added sugar’ or ‘diet’ foods and drinks. Although when metabolized aspartame does produce calories, because it is about 200 times sweetener than sucrose, it only requires teeny tiny amounts to produce a sweet taste. Aspartame tastes different to sugar and the sweetness lasts longer, but it can be blended with other artificial sweeteners to imitate the real taste of sugar more closely.

Because of this effectiveness to simulate sugar, aspartame is widely used – after a quick hunt in my kitchen I discovered it listed as an ingredient in Diet Coke and 7Up Free, all the ‘no added sugar’ squashes in my kitchen, in ‘sugar free’ gum, Weight Watchers chocolate bars and Hartley’s ‘sugar free’ jelly mix. Aside from the squashes, these things are all new to my diet since I started Weight Watchers two months ago. Before I’d have gone with more calorific aspartame-free options.

Unfortunately aspartame has been the focus of many hoaxes and conspiracy theories. I don’t believe them all. But I do know that my mum suffers from migraines when she drinks more diet drinks than usual, and a friend from back home gets bad headaches which she blames on aspartame. I’m not pointing any fingers just yet, but it’s made me cautious and careful. For now I am cutting way back on unnecessary aspartame and cutting out caffeine, which will hugely affect what I drink in particular. I’m swapping tea for green tea with lemon, and diet fizzy drinks for water.

Hopefully all of this will help with my self-appointed task for today’s list for 30 Days of Lists: Reasons to start… sleeping more.

Weekly weigh-in number seven, and it turns out that five is the magic number. I lost 5lbs. In one week. And that quickly and unexpectedly brought me down to meet, even pass, my 5% goal.

I am so pleased to have achieved such weight loss in less than two months. I do feel like this is some kind of temporary glitch – like maybe the scales weren’t configured properly or I accidentally forgot to wear any clothes or I only had one foot on? And so next week I’m bound to go straight back up again. But fingers crossed that 5lbs is gone for good.

In the meeting afterwards we talked about what I did differently this last week, and to be honest I don’t know. Gaining last week, even a little bit, made me realise that weight loss takes a conscious effort, but this last week didn’t feel much like work. Ultimately I am less hungry, and my eating habits are changing. My fridge is stocked with zero point vegetables and fruit and my ‘treats’ drawer is all Weight Watchers bars and separately bagged biscuits – 2 Malted Milks per sandwich bag!

The annoying thing is that without any effort, as a consequence of the healthier dinners we’ve been eating in the last couple of months, James has lost half a stone. While continuing to eat chocolate and crisps, second portions of dinner, beer and Irn Bru… how do men do that?!

So now I have to revise my goals. I’m 1.5lb off my first stone, then I’ll be aiming for my 10%, and then thinking about what weight my final goal will be – the weight I want to stay at. For the short term though, my most pressing goal is to get into this dress within three weeks.

Last week, I missed my weekly Weight Watchers weigh-in (wow, the alliteration). And it’s amazing what a difference missing that one brief meeting made to my whole outlook over the week. I went running, but I didn’t track my eating and I didn’t weigh a single thing. I told myself that I was still making sensible choices, but most of the time I was kidding myself.

SO last night was the moment of truth. And when I stepped up to the scales, I discovered that I’d only gained half a pound. It could have been a lot more. But it should have been a lot less. When focussed, I’d been losing an average of 2lbs a week. I’ve been enjoying sharing that news each Tuesday or Wednesday with James, friends, family, workmates, blog readers, or anyone in the street who paused for too long. I don’t like telling people I’m going the other way.

So, I’d rather have lost this week. But at the same time, I’m glad that I gained. Because I haven’t worked at it for the last fortnight. If I had lost this week, I might have continued kidding myself. But gaining weight has been the slapped wrist that I needed to drive home the reality that if I don’t make the effort, I don’t lose.

For a little perspective, we had a stand-in leader this week who seems to be famous amongst the slimmers’ community around Leith and Portobello. Famous because she went away for a one week holiday, exercised and made sensible eating choices, yet still returned to the UK only to discover she’d gained a shocking 19lbs in one week alone. Compared to that my half a pound seems really quite insignificant.

I weighed and then tracked my breakfast this morning. I think I’m back in business.

PS. I can’t believe that just one day after I posted a round-up of cool font-related stories, Design Milk publish this brilliant series of illustrations by Matthew Olin personifying various typefaces as superheroes. I love them all, but especially the Flash. Weird that when I think of this, I can’t stop picturing Dr Sheldon Cooper though.

I ran in public again yesterday. The sun shone on my face, my legs felt good, and I was breathing loud enough to scare the groups of young boys in football training. After about half an hour of running and walking, I was probably like a Pantone 1788. It was a great reminder that getting fit and healthy doesn’t just mean losing weight, but improving my physical fitness too.

Earlier this year I ran the Resolution 5k in Edinburgh, a route that ran up, around and back along Cramond Foreshore, which was a nice route because a) it was flat and b) the last couple of kilometres faced towards the bridges, which is one of my favourite views out of Edinburgh. On the other hand, the fact that the route looped back on itself meant that the quickest runners (including a couple of my workmates) passed you on their way to the finish line while you were just starting out.

In preparation for the last 5k I tried to up my fitness with interval training on the treadmill and outside. But I was lazy, then I panic trained, and then I got shin splints. They were so intensely painful and made running  (sometimes even walking) difficult. I stopped all my training a week before the race and despite my workmates/running partners telling me to man up, decided just to walk it. In fact thanks to the week off training my legs actually felt fine on the day of the race, so I combination ran/walked, and finished the 5k in 36.58 minutes – not award winning, but I was so pleased to finish it running.

This blurry photo shows a very triumphant-feeling me on the very last stretch.

Following that I naturally stopped all forms of exercise.

And so, months later, when the same workmates have suggested the Bupa 10k in October, I am again trying to get fit enough to run a 5k. But this time, I’m going to do it properly. I have good supportive trainers, I’ve bought a sports bra that doesn’t make me feel like I’m wearing the tightest Elizabethan corset to jog in, and I have a schedule.

The couch to 5k method below is all over the Internet and many people seem to swear by it. So, here goes. This weekend I will begin week 1, workout 1. I will, I will, I will.

Week

Workout 1

Workout 2

Workout 3

1

Brisk 5 min warm-up walk. Then alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes. Brisk 5 min warm-up walk. Then alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes. Brisk 5 min warm-up walk. Then alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes.

2

Brisk 5 min warm-up walk. Then alternate 90 seconds of jogging and 2 minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes. Brisk 5 min warm-up walk. Then alternate 90 seconds of jogging and 2 minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes. Brisk 5 min warm-up walk. Then alternate 90 seconds of jogging and 2 minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes.

3

Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then do two repetitions of:

  • Jog 90 seconds
  • Walk 90 seconds
  • Jog 3 minutes
  • Walk 3 minutes
Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then do two repetitions of:

  • Jog 90 seconds
  • Walk 90 seconds
  • Jog 3 minutes
  • Walk 3 minutes
Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then do two repetitions of:

  • Jog 90 seconds
  • Walk 90 seconds
  • Jog 3 minutes
  • Walk 3 minutes

4

Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then:

  • Jog 3 minutes
  • Walk 90 seconds
  • Jog 5 minutes
  • Walk 2-1/2 minutes
  • Jog 3 minutes
  • Walk 90 seconds
  • Jog 5 minutes
Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then:

  • Jog 3 minutes
  • Walk 90 seconds
  • Jog 5 minutes
  • Walk 2-1/2 minutes
  • Jog 3 minutes
  • Walk 90 seconds
  • Jog 5 minutes
Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then:

  • Jog 3 minutes
  • Walk 90 seconds
  • Jog 5 minutes
  • Walk 2-1/2 minutes
  • Jog 3 minutes
  • Walk 90 seconds
  • Jog 5 minutes

5

Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then:

  • Jog 5 minutes
  • Walk 3 minutes
  • Jog 5 minutes
  • Walk 3 minutes
  • Jog 5 minutes
Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then:

  • Jog 8 minutes
  • Walk 5 minutes
  • Jog 8 minutes
Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then jog 20 minutes with no walking.

6

Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then:

  • Jog 5 minutes
  • Walk 3 minutes
  • Jog 8 minutes
  • Walk 3 minutes
  • Jog 5 minutes
Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then:

  • Jog 10 minutes
  • Walk 3 minutes
  • Jog 10 minutes
Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then jog 22 minutes with no walking.

7

Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then jog 25 minutes. Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then jog 25 minutes. Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then jog 25 minutes.

8

Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then jog 28 minutes. Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then jog 28 minutes. Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then jog 28 minutes.

9

Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then jog 30 minutes. Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then jog 30 minutes. The final workout!Brisk 5 min warm-up walk, then jog 30 minutes.

As modern day poet Shawn Corey Carter once so eloquently expressed, “Can I get a woop woop”

Week four of my healthy eating expedition and at last night’s weigh in I was down another pound and a half. This puts me at 8lbs lost so far, at a pretty healthy average of 2lbs a week. My first silver seven is now proudly affixed to the front of my book and I’m back to the weight I was two years ago, the last time I decided to start Weight Watchers. Still some way to go but I’m feeling good about this.

Yesterday I was sent a link to a video in which I’m being interviewed at a conference. It was filmed in May and I first saw it in early July. Then, it prompted me to get off my arse and do something about not just my weight, but all the other things I’ve never started, never finished, or never really committed to.

 

Making some of those changes is also what prompted me to start a blog and explore new ideas.

So I watched the video yesterday and was pleased to see that I’ve changed already. My face looks more like me now. I have some cheekbones. And a chin is emerging. One day I’ll show people my before and after photos and they’ll gasp and say “wow, what a difference” and I will smile, pause for dramatic effect, and say “can I get a woop woop”?!

I started Weight Watchers a few weeks ago after seeing a video of myself being interviewed at a conference. You can never trust a photo – a bad or good angle makes all the difference – but with a video, you realise exactly how you look when you talk, smile and laugh. And so I realised that the double chin is always there.

It was week four this evening and weigh-in number three. So far I’ve lost each meeting, with 6.5 lbs in total – just a tiny half a pound away from my first silver seven! Weight Watchers is a system that works for me – it fits with my day to day life but means I can go crazy at the weekend if I want, which so far seems likely!

Three things that I’ve discovered so far:

Fruit. Using the ProPoints system, most fruit and vegetables are point free. This has made such a difference to my eating habits – I’m still grazing throughout the day, but it’s on a variety of different interesting fruits. I’m typically at 5 a day by lunchtime.

Portion control. For these first few weeks, I’ve been weighing and measuring almost everything. I’m starting to get an idea of what a tablespoon of mayo looks like or how many Blueberry Wheaties is a normal portion. Moving in with my boyfriend was definitely a major cause of gaining weight – I started cooking larger portions and then just split everything by two. This has been a great reminder of how much food I actually need to fill myself up.

Tracking. This is pretty much Weight Watcher’s core method – write down every single thing you eat or drink. I have to do this on the go or I forget things, so the WW iPhone app is brilliant. Only available if you sign up to monthly pass though, but well worth it.

Three things I’ve heard and want to try:

Red plates. The colour red is so hardwired into our brains as ‘STOP’ that apparently eating off a red plate encourages you to stop eating when you get fuller and start seeing more and more of the plate. I hate chucking food away but I guess it’s better to do that than eat more than you need to. Just need to buy some new crockery now…

Chickpeas. A gold member who attends my meetings used to swear by dried chickpeas on nights out. She’d put as many chickpeas in her bag as she had points to use, and then as she drank throughout the night would throw out a chickpea for each point. When she ran out of chickpeas she knew she’d had enough. I really like this idea but seem to find myself at events with limited booze options lately – only realising when I go to point up that the Rekorderlig I’ve been drinking is a massive 8 ProPoints.

Make your own chocolate box. I love this one – a woman who loved to indulge in boxes of chocolates used to regularly buy selections of the different Weight Watchers low points bars, chop them up into bitesize pieces, and refill a chocolate box with them. She could scoff a whole box of chocolates and it was still only a few points.