Are you sure you’re okay?


Is what a friend said to me recently,  when I said I didn’t want to go out to eat at one of my former regular haunts.

I’ve now been trying to change what I eat for around four months and thought I might share some of my thoughts and observations. As ever, before putting pen to paper, I can hear the supportive words of my sister, the ones she said when I sent her my first attempt at writing about this stuff. Not another bloody diet blog, no one wants to read that.

Thanks Juliet, but for those of you interested, I’m still going and here’s the latest. Oh yes, and for one of my other friends, I think it’s fair to say that I probably am a diet bore at this point.

It’s interesting how changing your diet seems to bring out the inner lecturer in so many people. Don’t cut out carbs, they say. Eat breakfast, it’s really important. Don’t be too restrictive. Don’t get too thin. Don’t be so rigid. Thanks everyone, but please let me do this my own way. I am a moderately intelligent person who wants to eat well and be healthy. Everyone is different and what works for you may not work for me.

One of the things I’m always being told is the importance of exercise to weight loss. I’m not sure. I think it’s really important for many other reasons but I’m not sure how much difference it makes to my own weight.

For the last 18 months, before starting this, I was all about the walking. This was because I’d had a bad back, of which more later. After a slow start to to strolling, where the boredom overwhelmed me until I downloaded a load of podcasts and audiobooks to relieve the tedium, I walked, on average, 15,000 steps a day.

I know that because I measured myself by way of a Garmin, then a Jawbone and finally a Fitbit. I resisted buying an Apple watch, mostly because it was just too big and I didn’t want to be bothered  by work emails, on my bloody wrist for god’s sake. Bad things can happen. Like the time on of my assistants showed his watch to me and an email from a recruitment consultant came up, trying to headhunt him. That was a consultant who we used to send us candidates and to whom we had paid large sums. What the lord giveth he taketh away and I took away our arrangement with his firm.

The variety of tracking devices I purchased bears testament to my tendency to convince myself that just buying that new shiny thing, with one more feature will COMPLETELY CHANGE MY LIFE. I am, sorry to say, eminently suggestible. Of course, my rational head knows, even as I am buying whatever it is, that it is all kind of bollocks, but I still do it, convincing myself that this will be THE ONE. It never is. This works across the board, not just for gadgets. I can easily convince myself that a particular pair of shoes is all I need to pull together my whole look for the next season. I’m going to have to think about that character trait at some point but I haven’t got room for that right now.

I’d started the walking because I’d had all sorts of back issues for the previous two years, culminating in an operation which finally sorted it. Turns out, amongst other things, a piece of ligamentum flavum had wrapped itself round my sciatic nerve, like a cleat. Ligamentum flavum. Who knew?

The walking didn’t have any noticeable effect on my weight, although it is difficult to tell, because much of the time I was too frightened to get on the scales, but I always know what I weight without getting on the scales. A lifetime of yo-yo dieting does that.  I hadn’t really expected it to do anything dramatic weight-wise, but over a period of about a year my resting heart rate went down from 85 to 62. I used to check it about five thousand times a day, obviously. I was more toned than I would otherwise have been, but that is all. And my diet wasn’t quite as appalling as you might think from my Instagram feed.

I took the Fitbit off in October, because, like the scales, it was yet another way of beating myself up if I didn’t achieve my daily target. I have no idea how many steps I average in a day anymore and even better, I don’t really care. I now try to walk instead of taking taxis and Google maps is incredibly accurate in anticipating how long any walk will take, so I just build walking into my day. And sleep tracking?  I don’t want to know that I only had an hour’s deep sleep, because it will make me feel even more crap than I already do after a poor night of rest. And it’s too self-obsessed. It’s bad enough with the food thing, I don’t want every aspect of my life monitored and measured. I’m my own Big Brother.

We digress. Four months into this change, not weighing, not tracking, not being quite so hard on myself about myself generally, I have observed the following:

I have more energy. I’ve noticed that in the last month or so that I feel a lightness in my step that is unfamiliar; a feeling that I want to move more quickly and that I’m not dragging my limbs. It’s odd.

I wake up feeling less tired. I’m still waking up too many times but I think that’s related to other things. When I get out of bed, I no longer ache in any of my joints and don’t have to sort of “unfold myself” slowly and work out which bit aches. My left knee was stiff and painful for the last two years. It isn’t now.

I am not craving sugar or sweet things. I am not craving bread in the way that I was. I can actually say no to bread in restaurants or I can just have the crust. I do miss it. I prefer the feeling of full, not stuffed. I’m never bloated. I have fewer cravings generally. I have more self-control around food and I don’t have to shove it in at speed, as if it is all going to disappear. More self-control? It was a low bar.

Alcohol: I am drinking far less (maybe 2-3 glasses a week) and I am really noticing the difference in terms of concentration the day after drinking. That is something I’m going to have to live with, as I’m not prepared to give up alcohol altogether and I suspect that I will increase that amount when I get to my goal.

Restraint: I am able to choose the healthier options on a menu and not feel that life is not worth living because I’m not having what I really want. I  would be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted by the syrup sponge pudding with cold custard, but for now I’m just going to avoid it, because it’s not worth the guilt/negative self talk that eating it will provide. Because I also know that I’m not yet able to do real moderation.

Ah, moderation, the ultimate goal of the yo-yo dieter. I am not, as is often recommended,  eating everything in moderation. I am eating in moderation generally, for an extended period, for the first time in my life and  the things I eat are  limited, but honestly, I don’t feel deprived more than, say, 10% of the time.

I am spending some time trying to understand what a balanced diet means and working out what works for me. I am experimenting quite a bit as I go along rather than sticking to an extreme plan. I am not someone who generally likes a cult and I will never be a #rawvegan, fruitarian, or worship at the temple of  Paleo.   I abhor the modish #cleaneating movement, with its untrained cheerleaders, influencing the lives of impressionable girls (for it is mainly girls) with images of impossibly perfect lives and making those girls feel inadequate, rather than empowered;  feeding them a lot of trendy nonsense alongside their gluten-free brownies.

I am seeking a sustainable, scientifically sound way of losing my excess weight and then keeping it off.  I’m 54. I don’t want to reduce my chances of a healthy and fit old age. My parents both did. I won’t.

This is not a diet, it’s a life-change. There is another way. I’m still finding mine. And yes, I’m sure I’m okay, thanks for asking.

Oh and here’s some things I’ve been eating. I take my hairshirt off occasionally.