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In which phase one of my challenge draws to an early close

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At the start of April I started my brand new shiny weight loss challenge with my very clever and not at all excessively convoluted plan to do lots of different diets for shortish periods of time to a) lose vast quantities of weight and b) assess which of them actually work.

Phase 1 of the plan was the 5:2 Diet. 5:2 is a form of Intermittent Fasting which is the idea that you eat very little indeed on some days and then normally on others. Intermittent fasting plans vary in how many calories they allow on fast days, how many fast days per week they recommend and whether those fast days should be consecutive or spaced out. The version of 5:2 I was attempting was to eat around 500 calories on two non-consecutive days each week, and then eat normally on the other five.

And so how did it go? Well, not that well. Over four weeks I lost precisely no weight. At one point I had lost 3lbs, but I put that back on again, so we can’t really count it. So what were the problems?

Well, I think, ultimately, 5:2 just doesn’t really suit me. And I think there are reasons, which are various and I shall attempt to enumerate for you now.

 

1. 500 calories a day is a fast track to moodiness

If you’re doing 5:2 prepare for the fact that on the 500 calorie days you will be Grumpy McGrumpitude, possibly not on all of them, but on most. It is possible that on your first and even second 500 calorie day you will find yourself thinking ‘Oh, this isn’t that bad. I am thinking about cheesecake but I can have cheesecake tomorrow, so that’s fine.’ Those feelings don’t last. By 500 calorie day 5 I was basically ready to start eating my own face, and the faces of friends, family and innocent passersby.

 

2. 500 calories a day isn’t great if you want to exercise

So we all know the basics of losing weight, don’t we – eat less, move more. The moving more part isn’t that effective on its own, but is generally A Good Thing To Do for all sorts of not simply weight related health reasons. Try and do exercise at the end of a 500 calorie day and the things you may experience include: dizziness, nausea, light-headedness, stopping for a little sit down, hating the universe, weeping and, ultimately, abandoning both fasting and exercise and inhaling a massive cake, which does feel sort of counter-productive from a diet point of view.

 

3. You still can’t really eat what you like on the non-fasting days

And there’s the rub frankly. 5:2 gets bigged up with the alluring idea that you can eat whatever you like on the other 5 days, but that’s not true. Dropping to 500 calories for two days a week basically gives a woman a 3000 calorie deficit over the week; eat 600 more than you should on the other days and you’ve wiped that out. So actually 5:2 is a diet with 2 days of evil fasting and 5 days of eating sensibly, and frankly if I had the eating sensibly thing down I wouldn’t need to lose 5 stone, would I?

 

4. You have to be really good at forward planning

5:2 might work quite well if you have a very strong routine and fixed schedule in your week. I don’t, so I have to sit down at the start of each week and work out when my fast days will be. Once I’ve ruled out days with exercise in them (see earlier references to dizziness and cake) and days with socialising in them and days with big dayjob stints of travelling and being on my feet, and then added in the complication that the two days can’t be consecutive, I rapidly found I was struggling to find options. That was made worse by…

 

5. It’s not great if you have other health problems

I suffer from IBS which means that every now and then I have phases where my stomach will really only tolerate beige food – pasta, bread etc – which tends to be dull and relatively high calorie. The problem is that those phases arrive quite unpredictably and if one crops up on what you’d intended to be a fast day, then that’s the whole week out of the window from a diet perspective.

 

So there you go. 5:2 is not the diet for me. It might work for you if you have quite a regular routine and can see where fast days would fit into your week, and if you’re ok already at eating in moderation. I’m not and so for me 5:2 gets Null Points on my dieting score sheet.

The next phase of the challenge is good old fashioned calorie counting, only it’s not that old fashioned, because like all modern endeavours there’s an app for that these days. I’ll update on how that goes next month.

In which I celebrate the wonder of Victoria Wood

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It seems to be generally agreed that in terms of cultural giants shuffling off this mortal coil, 2016 has been a peculiarly horrible year. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Ronnie Corbett, amongst many others, have left us, and now Victoria Wood has died of cancer.* Now up until last year, I used to be pretty dismissive of the outpourings of grief that grip social media whenever a famous person dies, but then in March 2015 I found myself checking twitter on my phone to discover that Terry Pratchett had died, and ended up crying on a bench outside TKMaxx, so my views on people grieving celebrities they never met have softened a little.

And today I find myself in the same position again. Not on a bench outside TKMaxx, but being moved to tears over the death of somebody I only knew through the TV screen, the stage and the written word. It’s difficult to put into words how much Victoria Wood meant to me, and probably to a whole host of other people a bit like me. She was a woman. She was Northern. She was funny. She loved to play with language. And somehow, just by existing and being brilliant, she made that an ok combination of things to be. She was, essentially, the person I wanted to be if I grew up.

She also never rested on her laurels. With most celebrities you can say ‘Oh he was an actor,’ or ‘She was a writer,’ or a musician. Victoria Wood was all of those things. She wrote sketch shows, theatre plays, sitcoms, TV dramas and musicals. She performed as a comic actor, a straight actor, a musician, a presenter and a standup comic. To be as good as she was at any one of those things would probably be enough to get you minor national treasure status. Victoria Wood was brilliant at all of them. Properly brilliant.

Her ear for dialogue was one of the best I can think of. There’s something infectiously joyful about lines like ‘I’m on fire, with desire. I could handle half the tenors in a male voice choir’ and there’s also something gloriously specific about the writing. It’s half the tenors, not all. All would be too much; half tells you something more about the curtailed ambitions at play in this relationship. And half is funnier. Don’t ask me why. It just is. It’s like how seven and eleven are funnier numbers than eight or twelve. I don’t know why. They just are.

I was really lucky to be around the place watching TV while Victoria Wood was writing. I was even lucky enough to see her stand up show live. I really hope that she knew how much joy she brought to so many people, but I realise that I never told her. I’m not really the fan-letter writing sort. It’s always struck me as being a bit weird and overly-familiar to just write to a stranger and tell them they’re awesome, but my resolution for today is to abandon that rather silly little insecurity. I don’t think it’s ever unwelcome to tell a writer, musician or performer that you think that what they do is awesome, so I’m resolving, right now, that the next time I love someone’s work as much as I loved Victoria Wood’s or Terry Pratchett’s I’m bloody well going to write to them and tell them, before 2016’s grimmest of reapers gets to them too.

In the meantime, let’s just imagine Victoria Wood singing The Ballad of Barry and Freda on the great big stage in the sky with Pratchett, Rickman and Corbett in the audience, and Bowie singing backing vocals.

*reaffirming cancer’s status, as if there was ever any doubt, as an entirely stupid and shitty disease

In which I have a new challenge

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Hello there. There has been a dearth of blogging recently because I have been away on holiday. But now I’m back and returning my attention to the important issues of the Real World. This has involved the important buying of a New Notebook in order to start work on the Next Book, a lot of answering email, and a bit of watching recorded episodes of The Good Wife.

In addition to all of that I’m also, as is traditional after holidays, returning my attention to the fact that I really really need to lose a shedload of weight. Now I’ve needed to lose a shedload of weight for ages, and I’ve got really really good at losing about 10lbs and then getting bored and putting about 12lbs back on again, so right now I need to lose 5 stone (that’s 70lbs if you prefer, or 32kg if you’re a fancy metric type) which is loads. And losing loads of weight is tiresome and very very dull, so I have come up with a plan.

Instead of doing 1 diet to lost 5 stone, I’m going to do 5 or 6 different diets to lose 10-12lbs each. This will a) hopefully stop me getting bored after 10lbs and putting all the weight back on again, and b) facilitate the interesting and enlightening empirical comparison of a number of different weightloss plans as applied to a single experimental body (ie. mine).

So here’s the plan:

Phase one: April-May 2016 – The 5:2 Diet

Phase two: May-July 2016 – Good ol’ fashioned calorie counting

Phase three: July-Aug 2016 – Low Carb (picture me weeping at the very notion of this one – do you know that Low Carb is basically a euphemism for ‘No Toast’? How am I supposed to live on No Toast?)

Phase four: Sept-Nov 2016 – WeightWatchers (or possibly Slimming World – you know one of those things we’re there’s a whole system and Other People to peer pressure you into actually doing it, unless I wimp out of the whole Other People section and just do it online, which is probably more likely given my general suspicion of Other People as a concept).

And then we’ll see how things are going, and probably revert back to whatever worked best for the last few months. The goal is 5 stone lost by the RoNA Awards next March – that’s 5 stone in 11 months. Or, if you prefer 1.45lbs per week for 48 weeks (or more like 2lbs per week with some weeks entirely written off for Christmas, and birthdays, and holidays, and generally needing cake.)

So that’s the plan. Watch this space for updates on how it’s going, otherwise known as me rocking gently and typing ‘No toast, no toast, no toast…’ repeatedly as a I weep into a lettuce leaf.

Jolly good. As you were people.

In which I express extreme gratitude, on behalf of all the ladies, at being permitted to act on our own will once every four years.

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Four years on… the (possibly one day to be traditional) reblogging of my 29th February post.

Alison May

Something has been bugging me this week. It’s not the fact that it’s February and the weather went all weird and beer-gardeny last weekend. It’s not the fact that lovely budget-conscious husband took this as a sign that it was spring and turned off the central heating, meaning that I’m typing this with my dressing gown on over my clothes because it all went winteresque again. It’s not even the revelation that wine is not my friend, which I noticed for the absolute first time this morning after going out last night and have never had any sort of prior experience of at all at all at all.

No. The thing that is bugging me is that every time I’ve turned on the tv, looked at a paper (or at least a news website, because, y’know, newspapers are so 2005), or fired up the interweb, people are talking about proposing…

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In which a fat girl thinks about fitness

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Fitness is a funny area for fat people.

I mean, I say funny. What I actually mean, for this person at least, is fitness is an area filled with potentially traumatising flashbacks to PE at school, where you’d get told off for being unable to hit a rounders balls, or throw a shot put, or serve in tennis, or shoot in hockey, but were terribly good at ‘fielding deep’, ‘fielding deep’ being the classic PE euphemism for ‘go and sit a long way over there and make daisy chains, and don’t get in the way of the sporty children.’ I was never naturally gifted in the areas that make for being good at competitive sport. I’m not naturally quick. I’m clumsy. I lack basic hand eye co-ordination. My first instinct when faced with a ball coming towards me is to get out of the way. My second instinct, unfortunately, is usually to stop the damn thing with my face.

And, under the age of 16, fitness and sport are treated as if they’re the same thing. PE stands for physical education, but the key piece of education that was never offered was the simple fact that if you’re no good at netball and detest long jump, it’s just as good for your physical fitness to just run about or go salsa dancing or learn to snowboard. For me it took about 10 years after leaving school to realise that being terrible at PE didn’t actually preclude doing exercise as an adult. Since then I’ve tried a lot of different exercise options outside of the world of competitive sport. I’ve been to gyms. I’ve swum. For one very bleak winter I ran. I’ve danced, and boxed, and lifted weights. I yoga’d and zumba’d. I’ve never managed to get consistently thin, but I have definitely got fitter, and as I’ve got fitter I’ve got more confident about what makes a good or a bad exercise instructor, and what makes an exercise programme something you’ll stick with or something you’ll give up, and given that I have a whole corner of the interweb set aside specifically for me to reckon things about stuff, I thought I’d share some of those thoughts with you.

Here comes the inevitable list-bit (it’s a bit fitness class oriented but that’s what I’m into so tough)…

  1. If the instructor makes you feel crap, they’re a crap instructor. Yes – they need to be motivating. Yes – they need to encourage you to work hard. But, if they make you feel like a big fat failure because you can’t do a move, they’re doing a crap job at both those things. There are other classes. There are other gyms. There are other instructors. Time to move on.
  2. Find something you like enough to still do when it’s raining and you’re running late and it would be easier to just go straight home. It turns out I really like dance-based group classes. I would happily zumba or bokwa for hours on end. I really really detest running – I wish I liked it. It’s so handy – a pair of trainers and a positive attitude and you can do it anywhere. It’s by far the easiest way to keep up a fitness programme if you’re away from home a lot or don’t have much routine in your week, but it’s just horrible on every level. It’s boring, and repetitive, and it makes me feel like I might sick up a lung. Find something that makes you feel better about the world, not worse.
  3. Be prepared to try stuff you don’t think you can do – a few weeks ago I tried a class called Metafit. Now Metafit is freakishly hardcore but super short in duration, and realistically I could only do about 50% of the moves, but I felt amazing afterwards – all achievementy and proud. And it was horribly hard work, but it was only horribly hard work for 20 minutes, so it didn’t have the never ending relentless quality of attempting to run 5 miles. I haven’t been able to go back yet, but I’m planning to make it a regular class.
  4. If you really can’t do something, be prepared to say so or do something different instead. If you’re used to being terrible at PE, it’s really easy to think that not being able to do a particular move is your fault, and to just hide at the back of the class not being able to do it and feeling a bit meh. Don’t. A decent instructor should be able to give you an option that works for you.
  5. If you don’t like a class, think about trying the same class with a different instructor. It’s incredible how much difference a good instructor makes to the whole tone and feel of a class. Instructors are individuals and their teaching styles, choreography etc. vary massively even in classes run under the same branding or title. There are types of instructor I know I just won’t get on well with – usually the very shouty, hyper-competitive ones. But there are plenty of other fitness fishes in the sea.
  6. Remember that your instructor or trainer doesn’t know what it feels like for you. A lot of fitness instructors have never been fat – that means that when you point out to them that their super simple ‘body-weight’ training plan is way way harder for you because you’ve got a lot more body-weight to heave about the place, it can, occasionally, be a revelation. That’s fine. Just embrace the joy of having shared some knowledge. Sharing knowledge is always a beautiful thing.

 

So there you go – six random thoughts about exercise, from the point of view of a fat person. And there endeth the lesson for today. Go forth and exercise, or if you don’t fancy that, snuggle down under blanky and read books. That’s always nice too.

 

In which I participate in a Lovely Blog Hop

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Last week I was tagged by Berni Stevens to take part in the Lovely Blog Hop. Normally I’m not very good at participating in blog hops. They involve remembering to post on an agreed day and only talking about the subject at hand, neither of which are my special blogging skills. In this case though, the blog hop is officially Lovely, and everyone likes Loveliness, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. It’s all about the Lovely things that have made me the person, and the writer, I am now. Aw.

So here are my thoughts on a number of areas of potential Loveliness.

First Memory

Now my first clear memory is very specific, but not particularly lovely. It’s of a family holiday in Oban where it rained a lot and, having walked boldly into town, my mum and dad decided to get a taxi back to our accommodation because of the downpour. I have a very distinct memory of the taxi driver being a middle-aged slightly balding ginger man – picture a Scottish Neil Kinnock with a taxi. So there you go – not a particularly lovely or unlovely memory, but true so it’ll have to do.

 

Books

An excellent heading for loveliness. I don’t remember ever not loving reading. Right from nursery school when that cat first sat on the mat, I think I was hooked. Although looking back now, the story of the cat lacks narrative drive. Why is it sitting on the mat? What impact does the mat have on the cat’s character arc? These things are never properly explored.

From then on I loved Winnie-the-Pooh, and later Enid Blyton – I always loved her boarding school books, whereas my sister was addicted to the ones where groups of small children catch smugglers. Then it was Sweet Valley High and Terry Pratchett, and then all the other books. All of them. So many books. So little time. Feels overwhelmed. Crawls back under duvet (with a book).

 

Libraries

The two formative libraries of my childhood were The Main Library in town where you would go with Mummy, and Scalby Library which my sister and I were allowed to go to on our own because it was nearer, and also, on the way to Grandma’s house. The Main Library had a children’s section that I remember as being massive. It almost certainly wasn’t. I suspect it was just a fairly normal sized room, but as Terry Pratchett fans know, books distort space and time, so that was probably what made it seem bigger.

Scalby Library was mainly notable for not having a public toilet, which for children who’ve walked there without adult supervision, could turn out to be problematic. On one occasion my sister, who was about 16 at the time, desperately needed to pee and persuaded the staff to let her go to their toilet by claiming that her little sister needed to go and might wet herself. I was 11. I did not need to go. This was most unscrupulous behaviour.

 

What’s your passion?

Writing (covered below). And reading (covered above). And education (covered below). And baking (not covered anywhere else, but it is an excellent way to achieve cake and so is therefore very lovely).

 

Learning

I love learning. Knowing more stuff is always excellent, and realising how little you know at the moment is excellent too, because it encourages humility and listening to other people, both of which are very very Lovely Things.

I think I’ve always loved learning, but I didn’t always love school. Secondary school, in particular, was fairly horrible, but I adored university so much that I went back and did an MA, and then a second BA, and then a teaching qualification. If tuition fees weren’t so prohibitively high I’d do another degree in a heartbeat. I fancy Law. Or maybe Politics. Or PPE. Or…

 

Writing

My earliest memory of writing was deciding, with a friend from school, that we were going to write, and star in, a satirical play about two rebellious schoolgirls who join a children’s choir. I definitely remember that we thought this play was going to be hilarious and would, almost certainly, change the world. We were about 10, and I don’t think we got past arguing over names for our characters.

So there you go – the important writing skills of a) having an idea and b) getting hung up on some tiny detail of the idea and never actually writing any words, were developed at a young age and have served me well ever since.

 

And that’s my Lovely Blog Hop Blogpost. Next week historical author Heather King will be taking up the baton on her own site and sharing her lovely thoughts and memories about what made her the writer she is today. You can also come back to this very blog right here next week to catch up on my 52 Weeks:52 Books progress with my update for March.

In which I make some new New Year’s Resolutions

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So it’s New Year’s Resolution time again. Traditionally at this point in the year I tell you that I’m going to lose weight, get over my terror of driving and probably do some writing. That’s pretty much what I did at the start of 2014, and 2013, and 2012. This year I’m going to take a different approach. Well slightly different. I shall still definitely do much writing, but that’s kind of what I do now (hurrah!) so it doesn’t merit a whole resolution, and there’s no driving resolution this year either. That’s not because I’ve got over the fear completely, but I’ve managed to dial it down from a fullblown phobia to a strong dislike.

 

So my All* New Resolutions for 2015 are:

1. I will read more books.

Something very distressing has happened to me over the last few years. I’ve found myself reading less and less. There are reasons for this. Partly it’s to do with writing more, which a) fills up the bit of my brain where stories live with the story I’m writing, rather than the one I’m reading, and b) means that I read much more critically. It’s also partly to do with twitter and facebook and smartphones and the general proliferation of stuff that you can read on the train or while you’re waiting for a bus, without opening a book.

Recently this has started to change though. I’ve read three or four books recently that have really got under my skin, and the love of reading is slowly coming back. My goal for 2015 is to read at least 52 books. That’s a book a week. You probably all knew that, didn’t you? You probably also know how many minutes there are in an hour and how many paracetamol you’re allowed to take in 24 hours. That’s just the class of blog reader I attract.

Anyhow – 52 weeks: 52 books – that’s the plan. It can include fiction and non-fiction, but not books that I’m reading for work (either as specific novel research or for other paid work). If I’m organised I shall blog from time to time about how it’s going and what I’ve read. But I’ve never really been organised before so don’t get too invested in that part of the plan.

There is one other thing, before we move on from this little resolution, and it involves me stating a slightly inconvenient truth. Picture me looking all like Al Gore, only being a lady and doing a bit more awkward staring at the floor. The other reason my reading stalled, was that my To Be Read pile got too big. Overwhelmingly big. Big to the point where I couldn’t even begin to justify buying more books until I’d started to make a little bit of a dent in the existing TBR mountain. I’d stopped looking at the book mound as a potential source of excitement and joy, and started seeing a task that had to be worked through.

Now here’s the awkward bit – a lot of those books in the intimidating TBR pile had got there because they were written by somebody I know, not because they were books that I desperately wanted to read. The reality is that writers tend to know other writers, and we tend to be supportive types who want to buy each others’ books. And that’s lovely, but doing this too much left me in a position where I felt guilty about my failure to read all the books by all the lovely people I’d met. That has to stop. In 2015 I’m going to get tough. There’s no way I can read even all the new releases from writers I know either personally or via the modern interwebs, let alone making a start on all their back catalogues. From now on I buy books only if I want to read them, and if you’re a writer chum and I don’t read your book, I’m sorry. You’re still marvellous. Your book is probably marvellous too. It’s just that there is so little time, and so many books, and I just have to accept that I may not actually manage to get through them all.

 

2. I will get fitter

OK – this is totally a variation on all the previous years’ fitness/weight loss resolutions. But this year I totally have a specific plan. It goes like this.

I will eat 7 portions of fruit and veg every weekday.

I won’t eat cake/biscuits/chocolate during the week (apart from super special occasions. Like a birthday party, for example. ‘Tis churlish in the extreme to turn down birthday cake).

I will work out at least 4 times a week.

And from these three simple steps, great health and fitness shall flow. Probably. If I actually do them.

So there you go. Those are my resolutions for 2015. Obviously I shall achieve them both in full and everything shall be peachy.

*partially