weight loss

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 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 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

In which I crawl blinking into the light and try to do a shoulder stand

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So as discussed in last week’s blog I have just undertaken a little writing hermitage in order try to break through the great Novel Two Impasse of 2014. I didn’t quite manage the 25,000 words I was aiming for but think I ended up on around about 22,500, and more importantly I got to the bit where you get to type The End. I didn’t actually type The End. I never do, personally, and weirdly the discussion of whether you should is something that can get writers quite astonishingly hot under the collar. Some are adamant that you should mark the end of your manuscript with the words The End. Others are definite that the definite article is unnecessary and one should simply type ‘End’. Others still declare that you should never mark the end of a manuscript in either way – if it’s not clear that the story is finished, they opine, then your ending isn’t good enough. I hold to a fourth school of thought – one that says, ‘Oh ffs, you know you could have sent the bloody thing off about eight times in the time you’ve spent debating whether to type The End.’

Anyway, I digress. The point was that I got to the end of the final chapter. Unfortunately, the end of the final chapter isn’t anywhere near being the end of the book, partly because first drafts are always horrible (at least for me), but mainly because I’m about 20-25,000 words short of a full length novel. Now if this was going to be another digital only release, that wouldn’t necessarily be a huge problem. Ebooks can almost be any length you like, but a print book has to be economical to print, and realistically that means it needs to be somewhere around 100,000 words. Less than about 80,000 makes for a very slim volume, and more than about 140,000 leads publishers to worry about the commercial viability of such a tome (at least in women’s fiction -some genres, like sci-fi, tend to run a bit longer.) Now some of those words will come from adding depth to the first half of the story. There’s lots I didn’t know about the characters when I wrote the earlier chapters, that I’ve learnt as I went on, and that all needs layering into the early sections, but even then I think I’m going to be a bit short, so that means I need to feed another subplot into the novel. I have a very clear idea of what that plot will be, and now it’s just a question of writing the thing. So all in all, after last week’s bonkers level of word production, I need to do pretty much the same again this week. Happy days.

The other main work-in-progress chez Alison is the ongoing project to decrease the general Alison-girth. I won’t lie. Recent attempts at weight loss have mainly fallen down as a result of the combined problems of a) a deeply sedentary job, b) IBS leading to a tendency to mainly eat beige foods (bread, pasta etc), and c) cake being really really nice. However, last Friday I weighed myself and discovered that a line in the mental sand had been crossed. I was 95.3kg. (Yes – I weigh myself in modern money. I find it oddly less emotive than stones and pounds.) Anyway 95kg is A Lot. It’s nearly 15 stone, which is also A Lot. It basically means that a person my height needs to lose 5 stone which, again, is A Lot.  Those of us who are not naturally skinny minnys often have personal mental cut off points for what is Too Fat. The transition from a size 18 to a size 20 is a common one. Something about being ‘out of the teens’ in dress size terms can be a tad depressing. Well I just hit mine. 95kg was a shock. So 1300 calories a day – there’s an app for counting it and everything. Zumba or Bokwa four times a week. Yoga once or twice a week. And the exercise regime is for life not just for diet time. Because coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes are Bad Things are one should not inflict them on oneself.

Which brings me to the shoulder stand. I went to yoga for the first time in six months on Friday, and my friendly local yoga instructor has starting incorporating a shoulder stand section in her class. This is a new development. Not a problem I thought. I can do a shoulder stand. Shoulder stands are easy. Only it turns out, they’re not if you’re nearly 15 stone and really out of shape. I incurred the humiliation of the of the yoga lady offering me a big cushion to put under my bum. Now I know that yoga isn’t supposed to be competitive and all that, but the only other person who needed a cushion under their bum was about 80. Not great. So since Friday I’ve practised my shoulder stand at home every day, and now, with a bit of a comedy rocking motion to get started I can just about do it. First main achievement of Operation Reduce Girth and Improve Health achieved.

So that’s me for this week. Basically – more words, less girth. So what’s anyone else been up to?

In which I undertake the traditional resolution making for the year ahead

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Hello. Good morning and ahoy there my hearties. Welcome to 2014. I trust you have found it to be conducive to good cheer and ever so lightly flavoured with cinnamon so far, apart from the thing about it being flavoured with cinnamon. It’s a year. Years don’t really taste of anything, with the exception of 1994, which I think we can all agree was a more than a little bit minty.

Anyhow, given that that whole train of thought had somewhat got away from me, I’ve made the executive decision to start a brand new flavour-free paragraph so that we can all just move on. It is, as I believe I may have been wending my rather circuitous way towards saying, a whole new year, and traditionally at this point in the calendar I make a number of resolutions. Broadly speaking they are threefold:

1. Lose weight

2. Get over the driving phobia

3. Write more/better/more profitably/preferably all of the above.

And all three of those resolutions definitely apply this year, on account of how I totally failed to achieve 1. and 2. last year, and although there were some definite writing achievements in 2013, there is always further room for improvement. That means that my resolution making is a rather quick and speedy process. I’m pretty confident that I’ve got those resolutions locked down to come around every year for at least the next decade, which is marvellous because it frees up time and head space to get on with doing and achieving random things that you’d never think to aim for at the start of the year.

Last year, for example, although I had definite good intentions in the area of writing, I hadn’t thought of ‘Become the Cliff Richard of the kindle novella market’ as a specific aim, but I still managed to tick it off, when my little Christmas romance novella, Holly’s Christmas Kiss, went to no 1 in the Kindle short story chart and stayed there until Christmas Day. I had an actual Christmas Number 1. I shall now mainly be hanging out with the previously mentioned Sir Cliff of Richard, Noddy Holder, and that prison guard lady off of X-Factor.

Having your basic resolutions nailed down also gives you plenty of spare brain-time to really finesse your plans and systems for how those resolutions might be achieved. So far as the losing weight goes, I have constructed the most marvellously convoluted diet plan which involves dieting for 6 months in 3 week bursts over a 2 year period. And the worrying thing is that I totally have a rationale for why that is a good idea, based on actual science (or at least on things I have heard actual scientists say on telly, which I suspect might not be quite the same thing, but still, a plan is a plan so I’m sticking with it).

I also have a plan for the writing stuff to be done this year. It involves finishing one and a half novels and a novella, and getting back into teaching creative writing and offering workshops, and possibly a critiquing service for new writers. It’s almost certainly completely unrealistic, but I have a spreadsheet with all the different things I’m going to do marked on it and highlighted in a range of pretty colours, and making the spreadsheet was useful and not really procrastination at all.

So that just leaves the driving phobia, which is the only one where I don’t have a plan, beyond ‘try to sit in the driver’s seat without crying.’ Oh well, there’s always next year.

So, as I always ask you at this time of year, what are your resolutions? (And also, any of you who are budding writers please feel free to wave a hand via the Contact Me page if you’d be interested in workshops or courses at all.)

In which I look forward to yet another new year

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So it’s January again. It seems, dear reader, to have come round a bit quick, but the calendar never lies. Actually that’s rubbish. My calendar says it’s 2010, so can’t really be trusted for anything very much at all anymore. But, depsite my calendar’s confident assertion that it is eternally December 2010, it is, quite clearly, January all over again, and time to do the whole resolution thing once more with feeling.

To get me in the mood for this I had a little lookie back here to see what I’d resolved last year. I won’t lie. It was a tad disheartening, because basically I’m going to be resolving all the same stuff again. I still need to lose weight, about half a stone less than I needed to lose at the start of last year, but the bigger picture is still rather unhealthily hefty. I still need to focus more on writing, and I still need to get over my utter phobia of being in control of a moving automobile.

Now that realisation might give the impression that 2012 was not a successful year. That would not be true at all. 2012 was great. I went to the Paralympics. I gained a very gorgeous niece.  I went to Venice (and Venice is, in my humble opinion, amongst the very best of the good places on the planet). I won a short story competition which earned me a year’s guardianship of a little cup. I saw a panda in Edinburgh Zoo on my 10th wedding anniversary. I joined a tiny little writer’s critique group all of whom say fabulously useful things, and frequently offer me cake. I spent time doing things with people I like.

It wasn’t a year into which no rain fell. My incredible, irrepressible grandmother died at the age of 97 in June. I was poorly for a slightly disappointing proportion of it (rather inconveniently I seem to have developed IBS). And, as we’ve already noted, I didn’t really achieve my stated goals for the year at all.

So maybe that should tell me that resolutions really are a waste of time. Maybe I should stop aiming for things I’m probably not going to achieve, and concentrate on enjoying whatever comes my way. Well, partly. The “enjoying whatever comes my way” sounds good, but I still think the resolutions are worthwhile too. Because, somehow, I absolutely believe that this year will be different. This year I will do better. I think it’s good to believe that – it makes us keep trying. I don’t really do bumper-sticker wisdom. The cute sayings and affirmations that people post on their facebook statuses leave me befuddled, but here’s one I do believe. I believe that it is, pretty much always, better to try and fail, than not to try.

So in a spirit of trying, and embracing the risk of failing, here are my resolutions for 2013:

1. Lose weight – 3 stone 10lb to be precise. And keep it off.

2. Finish writing a second novel, start a third, and submit a competition short story at least once per month.

3. Get over the driving phobia.

4. Get back to blogging every(ish) week. On that note – the all new blog day for 2013 is Wednesday. Mark it on your (possibly decades out of date) calendars – Wednesday. Wednesday. Wednesday.

You never know – this might be the year I stick to all my resolutions. And if not, I’m sure the failing will bring it’s own joys along with it. See y’all back here for a review in 2014?

In which I look forward to the shiny new year

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So this is 2012. It seems perfectly resonable so far, although it was trailed as a bumper exciting year, what with Olympics and Diamond Jubilees and The End of The World. Compared with the spoilers the opening week could be seen as just a tiny bit dull.

To brighten up the boredom, it is traditional, at this point in the calendar, to take stock of one’s life and make resolutions for its improvement. Now, lots of people don’t hold with resolutions. They point out that you always end up breaking them by about mid-January and then you get downhearted and end up doing worse that you were before you made the resolution. These people think they are being mature and sensible, when actually, they are fools. They are allowing their experience to override their hope. Hope should always be allowed to win in these little internal debates. Hopeful people may be disappointed more often, but I suspect they are still happier overall, and they’re definitely more fun to be around.

So, supressing my inner Eeyore, I have made three resolutions for 2012.

1.  Get fit. Get thin.

I’ll not bore you with this one. If you’ve read the blog before you’ll have heard all about it here. If you’ve not read that already then just click back there, where it said here and away you go.

Being fit is good. Not having a heart attack when you’re 40 is good. Not having to buy a whole new wardrobe every year because you’ve gone up another dress size is good. Being able to walk up small hills without turning blue and making death noises is good. For all these reasons and more I’m very focussed on losing weight this year.

My aim is to get down to somewhere below 10.5 stone by summer, and (and this bit’s important) still be the same weight by the end of the year. I’ve managed the losing weight bit before. The big challenge this year is staying at a healthy weight once I’m there, but it needs to be done, and so it shall.

2. Get some writing (apart from this lovely blog) out there into the world

There are two parts to being a writer pursuing publication. There’s the writing, and then there’s the pursuing publication. Sadly, the two activities don’t really require the same skills. One is all about sitting in a lonely garret and trying to type more words into Word than onto Twitter. The other is about venturing out into Big World and thrusting your precious manuscript into the hands of agents, publishers, publisher’s cleaning ladies, agent’s manicurists, and any other poor sod who gets in your way. That part of the deal is all about covering letters, having a killer synopsis, networking and the truly horrendous sounding Elevator Pitch.

This year I’m going to be getting my increasingly svelte derriere into gear on both fronts. The novel-in-progress which has already been in progress for far too long will get it’s final spit and polish and will be winging it’s way out to be rejected by Easter. My second novel will also be completed and out there landing on slush piles by the end of the year. And finally, I’ll have written a first draft of number three before it’s time to get all Auld Lang Syney at each other again. Oh yes I will.

3. I’m going to learn to drive.

“Hang on!” Some of you are probably shouting (those of you who know me in the Real World TM and are also odd enough to shout at your computers without shame), “You can already drive.”

And the weird shouting people are correct. I passed my driving test in 2008, at a very respectable second attempt. Admittedly the first attempt wasn’t that respectable and did involve a certain amount of trying to pull away in 3rd gear, but no-one normal passes their driving test first time, so that’s all good.

Unfortunately, since then very little actual driving has occured, to the point where I now don’t think I’ve driven for over a year. This is largely to do with the driving terror. I properly detest driving to the point of almost being phobic about it. I get genuinely scared at the idea. If I think I might have to drive the next day I won’t sleep the night before. Add that fear to a lifestyle where I live within walking distance of a city centre, do most of my paid work in central Birmingham where it’s much easier to get the train, even if you like driving, and you end up with a girl who has never got over the initial driving nerves.  

This is silly. I know that I’m a perfectly reasonable driver. A little inexperienced, but still less scary that lots of other people who hop in their motorised vehicles without hesitation. So this year, I am going to get over the driving fear, even if that does involve going back to the driving lesson stage with all the irritation and expense that entails.

This, I suspect, is the resolution I’m most likely to break. The first two are things I desperately want to achieve. This is one I’d quite like to achieve, but mainly is something I think I ought to do. And I can be a pig-headed little madam – being told I ought to do something (even by myself) rarely works as a motivator. Nonethless, I will try.

So those are my resolutions. They probably should include something about increasing my amount of paid work, but I’m responding to the low levels of freelance work out there on the horizon by making a happy face and hoping something turns up. (Anyone looking for a adult trainer in the Midlands area and/or online, please do get in touch though… I can train on advice skills, managing volunteers, welfare benefits, employment law, social media, training skills…)

Any thoughts on my aims for the year? Any resolutions of your own you’d like to share? For example, you might want to resolve to stay up to date with lovely Alison’s lovely blog by following or subscribing. I think that would be a very good resolution indeed.