Happiness, Healthy living, Well-being

What happens when you stop?

What happens when you stop?  When you take time to slow down? 

For a long time I’ve been too scared to stop.  When I finished work 6 years ago I filled the time with stuff.  Rather than stop.  I tried everything to fill the time and to give my life some sense of purpose.  Because I felt it was the right thing to do.  But largely because I was too scared to just stop.

A friend of mine has recently retired and I’ve watched her going through the same process.  Many people have said that once you retire you shouldn’t rush into things, you should take time to decide what it is exactly that you want to spend these years of your life doing.  I didn’t take that time.  I couldn’t possibly take that time, because I was terrified of what I would find there in that quiet.  I was terrified of the void, of the unknown and so I filled it with stuff.  Stuff that I imagined was leading me to finding purpose in my life – because what purpose could a middle aged childless woman possibly have in this world and so I started to create something.  Anything.  But it increasingly made me tired and anxious.  Worst of all, it stopped me enjoying the time I had to spend with my husband.

I think I knew I really needed to stop when I went on yoga retreat earlier this year.  I knew then that I was pretty much at the end of my tether – but the yoga retreat was something else that I believed would help.  And I think, in a way, it did, because I recognised at that point that something had to change.  I couldn’t carry on the way that I was.

Although I did.  Until a couple of months ago.  When I finally stopped, or should I say, was forced to stop.  I’ve been studying for another degree with the Open University because I do just love learning.  I’d signed up for an English Language course based on grammar and how we use it in the world.  I really was not enjoying it.  I thought I was good at grammar – but it seems that I am not.  I was struggling with the way the course was structured, I was struggling to keep up.  Largely because I didn’t really want to keep up, because I didn’t really want to be doing the course.  In the other modules I’ve done I’ve really enjoyed the assessments throughout the module.  I hated this one and decided that I needed to withdraw before I got too far along with it.  And so I did.

This happened to coincide with various other things.  I’d planned and hosted a party for my parents 60th Wedding Anniversary.  I’d set up and opened a pop-up Christmas Card Shop in Bristol.  Nothing particularly major, but a flurry of things all happening and finishing at the same time – including the deadline for my first assessment. 

When I withdrew from the course I had nothing.  Nothing at all.  There is not one thing in my diary for 2023.  Normally by this point there are several things in our diary that help us to structure our year, but there is nothing.  Normally I would be utterly horrified by the prospect of there being nothing, but something inside me realised that it is finally time to stop.  Just stop.  Stop trying to fill my time with meaningless stuff that I imagine I need to do to give my life meaning.  Just stop.  Take time to chat to husband, to friends, to write to people, to go for walks.

Just a few weeks in I have discovered:

There is a really annoying voice in my head that keeps telling me I should be doing things.  I now recognise this voice and appreciate that it is just an urge, it is just a voice and actually I don’t have to listen to it. I don’t have to sign up for a course that will fix me, or will help me structure my life. Not acting on what it is telling me to do is really difficult and really uncomfortable, but eventually the voice quietens down a bit.

I do really enjoy walking.  If I’m having a moment, going outside for a walk really does help and there are some beautiful places to walk not very far away from where I live.  I especially love Nordic walking because that gives me a combination of walking, being outside and having a good old chin wag along the way.

Walking on Durdham Downs
Nordic Walking on Durdham Downs

That my faith is more important to me than I had appreciated.  I’m not going to go all happy clappy any time soon, but I realise that the quiet faith of my grandparents is actually quite strong and quite important to me.  Helped in part by the Christmas Card Shop which was hosted in a beautiful Baptist Church, which wraps it’s arms around you in a wonderful warm bear hug.  It’s a place where I feel safe, normal and truly accepted and there’s not too many of those in the world. 

I love being with people.  I love volunteering in the local St Peter’s Hospice shop.  I love chatting to the volunteers at the Christmas card shop.  Generally, people have lived such fascinating lives and it is so interesting to find out more about them.

Out of all the things I enjoy doing, making things is probably top of the list.  Since I’ve stopped, I’ve been churning pom pom hats like they are going out of fashion.  Knitted hats, crochet hats.  I’ve sewn some Christmas pyjamas for myself and husband.  I’m making things at a rate that I have never managed.  Largely because all I am thinking about is what I am making, not thinking about what is happening next, or where I should be next, or how I should be. I’m just focussing on what I am making and actually completing things! I have a very long list of things I’ve wanted to make but have been putting off.

I’ve started to read fiction books again.  Partly to help me decide which OU module to study next year, but at least it’s prompted me to read fiction again.  That creative part of me that has been put to sleep for far too long is coming back to the fore.  Instead of seeing a void in the time ahead of me I see opportunity to make things and there is also a little voice in my head that things I might want to try painting sometime soon – or at least embroidery! 

I’m also finally beginning to understand what is going on in my body.  I do yoga when it feels right, I sit when it feels right.  I walk when it feels right and I am sleeping better than I have for a very long time.  I’m finally feeling like I am in a place when I can tackle my diet, making healthy choices, being interested in food rather than just eating what is put in front of me.  I’ve even been in coffee shops and declined cake.  What is the world coming too!

It’s proving to be very difficult, but I am also trying to stop second guessing where I am headed, or wanting answers, or wanting to know now what I should be doing and why, or worrying about what might happen tomorrow, or the next day. It’s hard.  I’m not really a go with the flow kind of person, not in the least, but I am beginning to understand the benefits of moving through life more slowing.  Of appreciating what is here and now. 

For the first time in a very long time, I just feel content.  And that’s a great place to be. 

The windows of Tyndale Baptist Church
3 Principles, Happiness, Healthy living, Well-being

Food and the 3 Principles

About 12 months ago I discovered the 3 Principles of Sydney Banks, which I have mentioned briefly in previous posts.   I engaged with them primarily because they helped me to understand that my feelings and thoughts come from the inside-out rather than the outside-in as I had been led to believe.  So, when I was feeling anxious, which was most of the time, those feelings were coming from inside me.  Whilst I might want to blame the person or the event for causing my anxiety, it was, in actual fact, all being triggered from within me.  I was thrilled that I had found something that helped me with my anxiety and that’s where I really expected it to end.  But it hasn’t.

I wouldn’t say I’ve struggled with my weight.  I’m probably not as slim as I’d like, but equally I could be a lot bigger.  

I know I have an issue with cake.  In fact, I think the world knows I have an issue with cake, but in the past, I know I have also had an issue with sweet treats in general.

I have been that person who eats packets (yes, more than one) of Haribo on the commute home from work.  Because, obviously, that was going to fix my stressful day!

I’ve been that person that goes to fill up with petrol and sneaks a chocolate bar.

The person that sneaks an ice-cream when I’ve ‘popped’ to buy a pint of milk.

The person who eats a chocolate bar in the middle of the night then stuffs the evidence as far down the bin as it’s possible to go.

Photo by Marta Dzedyshko on Pexels.com

So, I’ve not always had a great relationship with food, especially sweet snacks. I’ve tried slimming world and weight watchers. I did once go to a nutritionist.  And I have to say, that was when I was at my slimmest and my healthiest, but slowly the bad habits crept back in.  Not because I was eating unhealthily at home, not in the slightest.  But because of the Haribo on the commute, the daily Twix at break-time.  Slowly, over time, coping mechanisms became habits.  Habits that I struggled to do without.

However, this increasingly seems to be becoming a thing of the past.  And it is quite the tragedy!

Recently I was visiting my parents, which I do struggle with.  Square peg, round hole and all that. Anyway, after leaving my parents I found myself in a hotel room with a few hours to kill, a bit peckish with a Lidl supermarket across the road.  So, what did I do?  I popped to Lidl to buy some nuts and a banana. Some nuts and a banana.  You see, although I’d got myself in a dither over my parents, somewhere, I made the connection between, dither, feelings and thoughts.  I realised that the haribo was not going to fix that and that actually I was just a bit peckish.  

So I took my banana and nuts for a bit of a stroll to get some fresh air.

I know that I felt a million times better for this healthy choice than I would if I’d eaten the haribo.  I’d have felt dreadful physically, and I’d also have been in the guilt spiral because I’d given in to the haribo. What saddens me most is I cannot think of one reason why I would ever need to eat another haribo – except on special occasions – like Halloween!

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

Apparently, this can be a thing after connecting with the 3 Principles.  It becomes easier to spot haywire thoughts and feelings in the moment, including those related to habits.  And rather than blindly reaching for the biscuit tin to gloss over the feelings and thoughts, I stop and notice and think, well I never.  There’s a haywire thought there.  The moment passes, along with the need to eat the thing I thought would help.

This has also started to filter over into other areas of my diet.  I’ve never been a massive chip eater, but it has become more and more infrequent.  I’ve started to question why I might be eating something.  Is that the best food for me in the moment.  What really seems to have clicked is that my body is fueled by what I put in it, and if I put foods into it that aren’t good for me or largely chemical based, I start to feel a bit rubbish.  Obviously, the big contenders for me are alcohol and chemicals found in low fat alternatives, but I’ve also started to engage with my body a little more and notice foods that make me feel uncomfortable, or even the sizes of the portions I’m eating.  I’m noticing if I’m full, or if I’m about to eat for the sake of it.   Just this past week I declined a trip to one of my favourite restaurants because I just wanted to eat a simple meal at home.  My body had just had enough of eating out for the moment.  Within 24 hours it felt a million times better. But how often in the past had I ignored these signals and put my body through the stress of digesting yet another large meal.

Rather than finding this restrictive I’m actually starting to enjoy eating, possibly as much as I have in my life.  I’m enjoying trying new things, finding and trying new recipes.  Some are great, some are dreadful.  I’ve even tried cooking a few things myself.    

I am really enjoying going to restaurants and picking new things off the menu that previously I might have ignored.  By way of an example, we went to a popular chain of French restaurants in Bristol.  They had a bean stew with roasted duck.  I’d never have considered that before.  I’d have stuck to my usual choice – but I thought, why not?  Why not try something new?  What’s the worst that could happen, I don’t like it and don’t order it again.  It was quite possibly one of the nicest things I have ever eaten and was devastated when it was taken off the menu.

Another big change is stopping eating starters and desserts when we go out to eat.  Usually, a main course is just fine and two courses leave me nicely full.  Three is a bit of a stretch.  In the past I would have eaten the three.  With little or no thought, just blindly put the food into my body and repented at leisure.  There is no more of that.  Instead, I notice the thoughts that are saying I ‘should’ have 3 courses because we’re out a restaurant.  Or the thought that says I’m a pudding person and so I must have a pudding.  I’m not a pudding person, I’m just a person that in the past has thought that she should eat a pudding.   Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t

It’s been nice for me to appreciate that my diet and food doesn’t have to be that difficult, that I don’t have to be restrictive, that I can eat a bit of what I want, when I fancy.  The key thing is that I am noticing more often when urges to eat are coming from thoughts or feelings, or whether I am actually hungry, or whether or not my body feels yummy or not after eating something.  It’s actually quite a nice change.  I still love cake.  I will always love cake.  But now I eat cake as a treat and I love it all the more.

Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com
Healthy living, Well-being, Yoga

My First Yoga Retreat

So, I have finally made it to a yoga retreat.  It was a Kundalini Yoga retreat, but as it’s the first retreat I’ve been on I couldn’t tell you how it compares with other yoga retreats, but from my perspective it is everything I hoped it would be.

Having said that, there are aspects that I didn’t find easy, but in the end it was worth the trials and tribulations along the way.  I learned a lot about myself and I learned a lot that I can take away into my every day life.

As with everything I signed up without really thinking things through.

The last time that happened I found myself parasailing with a family friend.  

Vila Uma, Quarteira

So, here I was going along to a retreat with yoga instructor I had only met online and I had met none of the other participants before I arrived at the villa. Initially I hadn’t intended to stay over as it was so close to home and that may have impacted the room I was given to stay in, twin beds with a shared bathroom.  I hate shared bathrooms and would never ever choose to stay in a room without an ensuite.

My first night wasn’t great.  

First of all I had to take on a massive scorpion / spider combo that had decided to make itself at home on my pillow. And then I had to wait for my room mate to come back from a night on the town. She arrived back at 4am. At 5am I was sitting on the toilet in the shared bathroom crying because I wanted a cup of tea and there was someone sleeping in the lounge and so I couldn’t get to the kitchen without disturbing them. Husband told me to just go and get the cup of tea!

That’s when I realised the problem was me.  It was all coming from inside me and it was my thoughts creating the situation. It was my anxious thoughts about man eating spider-scorpions, being in a strange bed, in a strange villa, with 9 strangers.  It was me that believed I couldn’t get the cup of tea. Nor did it matter what my room mate was doing, I would not have slept that night.

So I did what I do best, and legged it back home for the next couple of nights.

That’s when I learned the first thing about myself. It’s OK to be anxious and afraid and vulnerable. And it’s OK to rely on the support of strangers to get you through.  I’ve had my fingers burned a few too many times on that one so I do tend to keep people at arms length for what is probably more than a realistic length of time. I don’t like to ask for help and try to help myself as much as I can, often spurning the help and support of others. All of the other participants were there for the same reason, for yoga in a beautiful location.  To relax, recharge and rejuvenate away from home.  But in order to me to do that, I needed to trust and put my faith in people I had never met before.  Something that I evidently find very difficult.   

The instructors running the retreat were amazing and it was their encouragement that enabled me to go back to the villa to complete the retreat.  I’m really glad I did. I also realised that I’m more than happy to share a room with twin beds with a bathroom the other side of the hallway and I wondered where on earth the belief that I couldn’t ever came from.  

It wasn’t the last time I had to rely on the support of the others during that week.

They got me on to a boat trip that I REALLY didn’t want to do.  I could have quite happily walked away at the last minute.  Which is very unlike me.  Usually, like the parasailing, if I’ve signed up to do something, I’m doing it. They got me swimming in a very rough ocean that resulted in my face planting my way out in the most ungainly fashion.  It was neither smooth, nor cool. But I did both of those things and I loved them both and will do them again. I’m hoping my experience in the rough ocean will be enough to finally get me on that paddle board! 

Boat trip to Benagil Caves

I learned that I could go on another yoga retreat, stay for the whole week (without having to make a run for home) and even contemplate travelling a further distance too.

I learned that there are people like me.  There is a place where I belong and I do fit in.  It was so lovely to feel happy and at peace with where I was.  I didn’t once feel like I had to look over my shoulder, or check myself to make sure I was doing all I could to fit in, or not ruffle any feathers.  It was the first time in a very long time that I was able to just be me and that was enough.  

I didn’t have to drink more.

Or be more.

Or be less.

I could just be me and people seemed to like me.  I didn’t have to change in any way shape or form.

I learned about healthy eating, which is something I really struggle to get my head around. Most of all I learned that actually it’s really straight forward and nothing like as complicated as everyone would have you believe. All you need is good simple, healthy food.  Cooking meals from scratch with the best quality ingredients you can afford. You don’t need to cut things out, or add things in straight away.

I came away with a bit of a saying in my head – is this real food? When I look at something and am thinking of eating it.  Is that real food?  Is that something that I want to eat now?  Or something I will enjoy?  Will it make my insides smile?  It’s scarily straight forward.  It’s also surprising how much food isn’t actually real food, but processed stuff that looks like food. The key thing for me is for the first time I’ve not rushed home and thrown everything out of the cupboard.  I am making small daily changes that I can maintain over time.  

I learned more about Kundalini Yoga.  And I love it.

I ended the retreat with a 40 day practice and I am really enjoying the challenge of completing it every day.  It’s the first time I’ve found a yoga practice that I felt was sustainable and that was appropriate for my body and my needs at this time. It’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but quite frankly I’ve re-connected with that part of me that really doesn’t worry too much about other people’s thoughts or opinions.  Unfortunately, it might have unleashed that part of me that challenges back, which is always a tricky place to be! 

I learned that you really do need to know the yoga instructor that runs the retreat. I am pretty much a beginner when it comes to Kundalini Yoga and not once was I made to feel that I was not competent enough to complete one of the sessions, but I knew that would be the case because I’d been to lessons prior to the retreat. There were times when I really struggled.  I struggled with anxious thoughts a few times throughout the course of the retreat, but because I had that prior experience I knew I would be held and supported through my moments of crisis.  I’m not sure that I’d feel so comfortable or at ease with someone I knew nothing about or who I hadn’t met before. Going away with a group of strangers was a huge step for me and so to know nothing about the practicalities of the yoga sessions on top would probably have been far too much for me to manage. And I would have been devastated if I didn’t enjoy the yoga sessions.

I also learned to think through practicalities which has never been a strong point of mine!  I was thrilled when my yoga instructor was hosting a retreat just a short distance away from my apartment in Albufeira. I did not think through that those people coming along would want to take advantage of everything that the Algarve has to offer.  They wanted to go to the beach.  They wanted to experience the nightlife.  Both of those things are perfectly normal.

What I was looking for was a break from that. An escape from the madness of living in a busy tourist resort in the summer. Fortunately the villa was set in beautiful grounds with a swimming pool so I was able to get my escape from holiday madness, but it still highlighted to me what to look for in a retreat.  I realise now that at that time I needed wooded glades in a secluded forest! There was a tree.  A beautiful tree which provided shade for the morning and evening yoga sessions.  That was enough for me to feel like I was a million miles away from the touristic chaos of the Algarve in July.

What I learned most of all is that my life has become to safe.  To easy.  Too routine.  I need to shake things up a bit, push myself more and seek out opportunities that may scare me, as the benefits far outweigh the anxious anticipation.  There is still plenty of life left in me and I came away with determination to take advantage of all and every experience, or friendships that come my way and to embrace those things that bring me joy.  It’s also given me a renewed strength to say no to those things that bring me down.

So.  Would I go on a yoga retreat again?  Definitely.  But next time I’d be armed with more information on which to base my decision and a lot more confidence to know I’d be able to embrace the opportunity it offered me.

I went on yoga retreat with http://www.inner-temple.com/ and http://www.lovingtheyoga.com/

Food and drink, Healthy living, reflection, Well-being

Lent 2022

So, Easter has arrived and Lent has come to an end.  And I have largely given up cake and chocolate for 47 days.  I say largely because there were some special occasions when I did have cake:

For example:

  • A friend came to visit me in Albufeira and we always celebrate with a visit to the fabulous Riviera cake shop.
  • Another friend came to visit and we also met up for a walking tour around Faro followed with a coffee and a Portuguese tart
  • We went fo a couple of nice meals which came with dessert included
  • My sister came for a visit.  I’ve not seen her in person yet this year and we went for a walk with a cake stop.

What has gone by the wayside is the following:

  • a daily biscuit, chocolate bar or piece of cake at around 11.00 am
  • a nightly bit of chocolate watching TV
  • having a cake every time I go to a coffee shop to meet a friendIt meant that I was usually having chocolate and / or cake at least once a day.  That was what I wanted to stop.  And I have.
  • Sneaking a bit of chocolate out of the fridge

What I am learning about giving things up is it comes with a raft of questions surrounding the behaviour in the first place, which I do find quite fascinating.  Why do I drink wine when I know it will make me feel awful? Why I feel the need to eat chocolate and cake every day?  What need was it fulfilling?  What factors are affecting the choices that I make? Thinking about my childhood I can’t really identify any connection with comfort eating, or chocolate as a reward.  We did always get a finger of fudge and another bar of chocolate on Tuesday and Thursday when our Grandparents came to visit.  But beyond that, I can’t really say that there was ever any emotional attachment to cake or chocolate that I was aware of.  I just liked it.  Better than anything else – or so I thought!

I also can’t really say that anything ever triggered a real desire or need to eat chocolate or cake once I’d left home.  I suspect that more than anything there have just been ‘things’ that came up over time that created habits that then became ingrained.

I do know that there was an association between break time and eating a snack when I was teaching.  I do quite genuinely struggle to get timings of food right sometimes.  This has always been a feature of my life.  I remember sometimes at school as a child I’d ask to go to the toilet during lessons, when in actual fact, I was going to get a biscuit off my mum in the office because I was having the shakes through hunger.  When I went in to teaching I became conscious of the fact I could only eat at specific times of the day and if I didn’t eat then, there was potential for it to go wrong later in the day.  The only problem was I got caught up in a habit of eating something with a cup of tea at 11:00am.  That something was usually a chocolate bar.  Everyone in my last school knew I had a latte and twin during morning break – to the extent that sometimes a kind student would buy them and deliver them just as be bell for break was sounding.  Unfortunately, when I was working in a school where I was unhappy, I did start the habit of a sneaky bag of Haribo Tangfastics in the car on my way home.

Photo by Alena Koval on Pexels.com

Then, I do also know that our nightly habit of eating chocolate in front of the TV was a consequence of lockdown.  We lived very close to an M&S food hall and they had some seriously cheap chocolates during the first lock down.  We had the mother of a chocolate stash!  Unfortunately, once lockdown was over we carried on the habit of eating chocolate every night.

So.  Back to Lent.  I have managed to break these two habits and can see now that they were primarily habits.  There is no real emotional attachment, just habit.  I make a cup of tea at 11:00 (ish) and reach for a chocolate biscuit or three.  I sit down to watch TV after dinner, and my brain equates that with chocolate time.  During lent husband has also cut down on his chocolate consumption.  Not because I asked him to join me in lent, but because he’s realised he too is bored of chocolate every night.  It’s no longer a treat.  Eating chocolate and cake to this degree cannot be good for you.  

I have, however, discovered that there is a emotional element to my eating habits – even though I hadn’t thought there was one.  At the beginning of lent it was really hard.  At those habitual times I struggled not to eat chocolate or cake.  But the emotional eating was hard too.  I realised just how much I did turn to chocolate, cake and biscuits for every emotion.  If I was happy, sad, irritated, cross, tired, bored, if my hormones were raging – every time my first instinct was to reach for a sweet treat.  But there wasn’t one to be had.  There was no sneaky pieces of chocolate, no sneaky jelly babies.  The options available were few and unappetising!  I found that most often I reverted to:

  • A walk
  • Sitting and meditating for a while
  • Sitting and watching the feelings and letting them subside
  • Having a cup of tea
  • Doing another activity I do enjoy, like writing or knitting.
  • The occasional meltdown!

All of which worked.  All of which made me realise how much of an emotional eater I was.  Never did I eat something else instead.  You see, I wasn’t really hungry, I just wanted the emotion to go away.  I wanted to feel better and I was forced to find alternative ways to achieve that.  I realised that the chocolate and cake was never making things better, it was just putting them off for another day.

Sadly, I have not lost one pound in weight as a consequence of giving up chocolate and cake, on top of the wine I had already given up.  Husband says that I have been eating far more than I usually do at meal time – which I hadn’t realised – and which provided another  opportunity for pondering and reflection.

Photo by PhotoMIX Company on Pexels.com

With each passing thing that I’m giving up, it brings other behaviours and habits into the spotlight that I hadn’t appreciated were there. I realised I don’t enjoy wine and prefer being able to do other activities instead of drinking and that I don’t need the wine to enjoy socialising.  I have also realised that I don’t need cake or chocolate.  When we have been out for dinner during Lent I’ve not actually wanted desserts that have been offered and it’s made me consider why it was I always ordered one.  I’ve registered that I am full.  Previously, I would always have managed three courses.  It turns out I don’t have a pudding stomach after all. This has gone a bit further when I realised that I am never hungry.  I rarely wake up hungry, I rarely eat a meal because I’m hungry. I certainly don’t eat snacks because I’m hungry.  Most of the time I eat because a meal has been placed in front of me.  Because it’s time to eat.  

I realised I no longer recognise hunger signals.  I am so used to just eating that I don’t know what a hunger signal feels like.  Sometimes I skip straight from not hungry to too hungry and so then have to eat something relatively quickly.  Between the two is a point at which I must be hungry and I need to recognise that.  I realise that I rarely stop eating when I am full, I eat the plate of food in front of me – not because I have to – not even because I want to much of the time, but because it’s there.  I went out with my husband for our wedding anniversary earlier this week, and it’s the first time in a long time that I registered that I was too full – and that I wasn’t actually happy with the amount of food I had eaten.  The food was beautiful and we’d go back to the same restaurant again, but the portions were just too big and I really didn’t enjoy the over full feeling I came home with.  In the past I would have carried on regardless and eaten dessert as well, and repented at leisure the following day!  

So.  Over the last 3 months or so I have cut out wine, cut out chocolate and cake – to the extent that I don’t actually want to rush out and eat cake and now I am starting to recognise that I over eat and am starting to be more mindful of portion sizes and when I am actually full. I have become aware of the emotions and habits that lead to me choosing to eat chocolate and cake – it’s habits that have been formed over the years that I hadn’t realised were happening. I can understand more fully how it is that people can turn down cake, or how my sister can just eat a few squares from a chocolate bar.  It’s just chocolate. 

For the foreseeable future I will continue as I am, and pay closer attention to what I’m eating, why and when.  Am I hungry?  What does that feel like? It’s actually quite exciting to learn to understand my habits and find ways to improve them, or in some cases get rid of them completely.  This is a very welcome side effect of Lent that I had really not anticipated and I look forward to finding out more about myself and enjoying food again. 

Photo by George Dolgikh @ Giftpundits.com on Pexels.com
Exercise, Healthy living, Well-being

It’s not OK, I’m not ‘just fit’

Recently, whilst at a Nordic Walking class a fellow walker was commenting on how much the Nordic Walking was hurting their arms.  So we discussed why that might be.  Then they said ‘It’s OK for you, you’re fit’.

I suppose compared to the average person I am quite fit.  On the scale of fit people, I’d put myself towards the lower end.  But that’s not the bit that struck me.  It was the whole ‘It’s OK for you, you’re fit’.  Is that generally what people think – that fitter people are just fit?  Do they not realise the level of effort involved in being ‘just fit’?  Do they not understand the choices that fit people make on a daily basis?  There is no fit person I know that is ‘just fit’. I can’t imagine that there are many people who are and is this generally a myth that people believe, that some people find being fit and healthy an easy choice.

Taking myself as an example.  Everyday I try to complete some form of exercise.  Even if it’s a short walk and a bit of stretching, a short fitness class, or doing exercises from the physiotherapist.  Because that’s what I need to do to keep the pain at bay, to manage a prolapse, to keep my body moving as best it can as I mature.  I am (hopefully) doing the best that I can to enable me to continue to be fit and active for the next 20 years.  This does not come easy to me and it never has, I am not a natural athlete.  I would very much like to be able to sit all day and not have to bother with exercise.  But I must.  How I would love not to.  I also make choices everyday about what to eat and drink.  Again, these are not easy choices.  How I would love to eat as many crisps, chocolate, cake as I liked.  Or drink as much alcohol as I liked.  But I can’t.  It’s not good for my physical and mental health and impedes the exercise I need to do to keep me moving freely and keep my brain sane.  These are not easy choices.  They do not ‘just’ happen.  I am not ‘just fit’.  This is a daily commitment to my health and well-being. 

Walking in Clifton, Bristol.

During the past week I have carried out some very low-scale market research to find out if anyone would consider being fit to be an easy option.

Looking at my husband, he will be the first to admit that he is at the obese end of the weight scale.  But what people don’t see is he is currently at the lowest weight he has been for over 20 years.  What people also don’t see is the 12,000 steps he takes every day.  They don’t see the food choices he makes every day.  They don’t see the level of effort he puts in to make sure he doesn’t move further towards the obese end of the scale.  They make judgements based on his appearance and assume that he  must be fat and lazy – he is neither.  He is currently struggling with a problem with his hip which has impeded his ability to complete his steps.  This has been devastating for him, both mentally and physically.  Not being able to achieve his daily step count has knocked his mental health and he is becoming increasingly frustrated at his inability to maintain what fitness he had.  Like me he makes daily choices around food, exercise and drink.  This does not ‘just’ happen.

For the last 6 months or so I have been doing online fitness sessions with Fitter Food Lover.  Slowly I have increased the weights that I use and am seeing improvements in my strength, fitness and general well-being.  I asked the personal trainer and other members of the group if they would consider being fit an easy choice.  Not one said that it was.  Each one makes a daily choice around diet and exercise and each one has their own reasons for doing so:  to maintain fitness and flexibility as they mature, to be fit and active parents to their family, to feel better about themselves generally.

I asked members of the Nordic Walking group that I belong to.  I even asked two women who had just finished a run and were heading to the café for a well earned cup of tea if they found being fit easy or enjoyable. It was a resounding ‘no’.

I also asked my sister if she would consider herself just fit.  She is a physiotherapist and works alongside Help the Aged running fitness groups for the elderly, enabling them to maintain their mobility, and therefore, their independence as they age.  She cited many reasons for maintaining fitness including building core strength and keeping your pelvic floor as healthy as it can be.  But no, she agreed that it’s not easy. It’s a choice people make and a commitment they make to themselves – to be the fittest version of themselves they can be – for as long as they can.

I asked each of these people five questions:

  1. Do you consider yourself to be ‘just fit’?
  2. Do you look forward to exercising?
  3. Do you enjoy exercise?
  4. Do you enjoy the benefits of exercise?
  5. Do you find any aspect of diet and fitness easy?

No one really considered themselves to be ‘just fit’.

Some did look forward to exercising.  Some less so.  Personally, I rarely look forward to exercise.  It’s always a challenge for me to drag myself to classes, to the swimming pool, or out for a walk. I would always choose staying at home and doing nothing.  It helps me if I know there are other people expecting me to turn up and it also helps if I have paid for the sessions in advance as that forces me to go along.

Most people said did enjoy the exercise once they got going and once they got there and that the biggest battle was getting to the class, or stepping out to run in the first place.

Everyone that I asked said they did enjoy the benefits of exercise.  They enjoyed the feeling that being fit and exercising gave them and it’s this that spurs them on.  Personally I love that when I have exercised I feel tired in a ‘worked hard’ sort of way and not a ‘lethargic about life’ kind of way.  I love the way I can feel my body toning up and that my core is getting stronger.  I love that I am able to manage my prolapse through exercise and haven’t, as yet, had to resort to other more invasive methods.  I like waking up having enough energy to make it through the day without having to have a ‘Nana Nap’.  I really enjoy not being in pain and want to maintain that for as long as I possibly can.

Nobody really found it easy.  Some found it easier than others, largely dependent on other commitments that they needed to fit around their exercise. Some found it easier the more consistent they were and if, for whatever reason, they had fallen off the exercise or diet wagon found it hard to get back up again.  I know that this is true for me.  The more consistent I am, the easier I do find exercising.  I also find it easier if I have a specific goal, which is why I tend to like a challenge of some kind. My personal trainer did say something which I found really interesting.  ‘If it was easy there wouldn’t be an obesity epidemic.  It’s our nature as a species to conserve energy and take the easy route.  Our ancestors were fitter and healthier because they had to do things to get food.  Now all we need to do is press our phone screens and it’s there’.

I found this really thought provoking and it made me think about my own Grandmother.  She didn’t drive.  She lived a good 15 minute walk away from the nearest food shops.  She walked far more than I have ever had to in order to complete basic chores throughout the day.  The diet that she ate was generally healthier then the diets that people eat today and it took time for her to cook a meal every evening.  Fast food and convenience food didn’t exist – there was not alternative choice.  Even if I think about how things have changed during my life, I can see how much more I sit still every day than I did 20 years ago.  There is increasingly no real reason to move and so it’s even more important to create times in the day when you do.  This is not an easy choice.  I recently listened to an episode of ‘Happy Place‘ podcast where Rangan Chattergee raised the point that people who do choose to make healthy choices are increasingly considered outcasts, the ‘not-normal’, despite the proven benefits of a healthy diet and daily exercise.  Where along the line did it become unusual to live a healthy life-style? Or unusual to include exercise in our daily lives? We have more free time than our ancestors, so at which point did we choose to spend that time doing as little as possible? Apparently this is part of our genetic wiring, to conserve energy for when we need it. The problem is that nowadays we are conserving energy for a danger that we are unlikely to face and the consequence is a population that is becoming increasingly sedentary and finding exercise to be something for other, fit, people.

I concluded that being fit is a scale.  Some people are naturally more predisposed to exercise and have a natural talent for different types of exercise.  Some people do enjoy exercise more than others and find it easier to fit into their daily routine.  Some families are more exposed to exercise than others – and an active family will more than likely produce children who enjoy exercising, or taking part in team sports.  But I’m not sure than anyone would say that they find exercise easy, whatever their level of sporting prowess, nor would I say that anyone is ‘just fit’, it’s a daily choice they make to include fitness as a part of their lifestyle.  The one thing they would all have in common is the benefits and rewards they enjoy in return for the effort spent in exercising.  

Cycling in Albufeira, Portugal