Letting Go of the Fight

I’ve decided that from now on, I’m going to put my body first, to prioritise it over my mind. I realised recently that I’ve never done this, not consistently. Everything I have ever desired I’ve generally succumbed to, and over the years I’ve not taken especially good care over my body.

Me graduating, amidst an ocean of booze.

Me on my graduation day in 2010 – the beginning of a massive drinking session.

The light bulb moment happened the other morning when it dawned on me that I’m not (oh God!) 38 years old, but am actually ONLY 38 years old! Wow, I’ve still got a lot of living to do and I’m not about to receive my bus pass any day soon. With this happy moment of clarity came the recognition that it is not yet too late to get fit, really fit; to push myself to see just how far I can go in the realm of physical fitness and optimum health.

In the last few days I’ve been aware of the flicking of a switch – I feel completely in control of my life; of what I eat, of achieving my goals, and of staying positive and focused. Everything seems to have fallen into place after years of trying (and failing) to really tone up, to really get fit and to reach the weight I have really wanted to be (but have nevertheless always remained just a few pounds above).

How did this happen?

First off, I read this article on MindBodyGreen – http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-14554/why-trying-to-burn-calories-is-a-waste-of-your-time.html

This made so much sense to me. How many times have I been running with the mind-set that it will get rid of the calories obtained via a bar of chocolate I ate earlier? How long have I held the belief that I can eat whatever I want because I run four times a week? And how many times have I been really cross that, no matter how much I run, I never seem to be able to get rid of those last few pounds? The MBG article really got me thinking – the food I’m going to eat from now on will be fuel; tasty fuel, but fuel nonetheless.

I've always loved my running, even when I equally loved the booze, fags and sugar

I’ve always loved my running, even when I equally loved the booze, fags and sugar

Then came the grasping of a very important concept (which incidentally I managed to get my head around eventually with alcohol but which has taken a little while longer re food); junk food, chocolate, white bread and other products which serve no nutritional purpose at all and contain high amounts of sugar (very addictive), never grant us the outcome we are hoping for when we select them for a meal or snack. They are emotional foods, and we crave them because we are striving to feel a certain way. Except these foods never deliver – that feeling we lust after is a delusion. Chocolate doesn’t make us feel luxurious and satisfied; it makes us want more and more, and then we feel a bit sick and gluttonous, wishing we hadn’t eaten any of it. Alcohol (at least, for all those of us who are devoid of the infamous off-switch) is exactly the same. The sexy, carefree and exciting social occasions I was seeking when I took a sip from the first glass of the night, very rarely materialised. All I usually got was the transformation from me to a wine-crazed idiot, followed by regrettable decisions and an almighty hangover the morning after.

Another massive realisation; all those good foods we are told we should eat, we can’t really fit them in ON TOP of all the crap. It’s not alright to munch through a pizza and garlic bread for dinner simply because we attempt to mitigate the situation by eating a handful of grapes afterwards. The thick-cut white bread cheese sandwich is not made less fattening because we have an avocado mid-afternoon. That just means we are eating MORE! We need to eat the healthy stuff INSTEAD of the rubbish.

Finally, and the most important, ‘OK, I get it’, moment that I have experienced in the last few days; if we perceive our changed behaviour as being positive, then it becomes EASY to maintain. I have spent decades fighting the booze, wrestling the bad foods, attempting to moderate this and that, squeezing in a bit of the good stuff to outweigh the bad, believing that ultimately, I can gain control over these addictive substances; that somehow I will emerge as the winner even though I am STILL smoking, drinking and eating a load of junk.

Here’s how I see it now – I have let go of the fight. I’ve put down my gloves and I’m not entering into the ring with addictive substances anymore. I get it; they are not controllable.

Alongside this understanding has come blessed relief – the same sense of freedom that I gained out of choosing to completely bypass alcohol has arisen out of this new decision to favour my body over my mind in terms of exercise and food. I think I did need some guidance, and I’ve found a degree of it in a brilliant running book (Runner’s World Guide to Road Racing by Katie McDonald Neitz) which includes information on the right foods to eat, and exercises to do with weights and a stability ball. I’ve also begun attending regular classes at the gym (something I have frequently avoided because ‘I haven’t got time’).

Me now, minus the internal struggles

Me now, minus the internal struggles

I know why I used to seek comfort in things that were bad for me, and it’s taken virtually my entire adult life to work it all out, but it feels amazing to know that I have finally gained a sense of control. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything, just that now I can stop fretting about how naughty I’ve been for eating a piece of cake. For me this is definitely an all or nothing game – with everything that is addictive. But it’s also about being able to perceive my new lifestyle choices as positive, as opposed to them equating to the denial of treats.

What I have realised (finally) is that eating well, exercising regularly, and not drinking or taking other drugs, is NOT about being some image-obsessed gym nut with an urge to transform herself into the body beautiful – it is about letting go of the fight. Plain and simple. Attempting to control addictive substances, whether alcohol, nicotine, cocaine or sugar is just crazy – it isn’t doable. At best we can impose a strict code of conduct which we then strive to abide by (only drink at the weekends, never more than one bottle at a time, only smoke when we go out, no cakes unless it’s a special occasion), but all this does is take up valuable and irreplaceable time, overthinking and worrying about whether we can live up to our own exacting standards (then beating ourselves up when we fail).

In letting it go, walking away, refusing to take part in this game, we are granted with our own freedom. Why fight against ourselves? Our bodies are designed to work brilliantly if only we steer away from the crap that messes us up. After 38 years on this earth, I do now get it. Everything that makes us feel bad, regretful, unhappy and guilty should be avoided completely. And the stuff that makes us feel the opposite, we should partake in – in abundance.

Cinderella in a Restaurant

Should children be tolerated, welcomed or banned from public places? So asks the Daily Post’s ‘Weekly Writing Challenge.’ Read on for my thoughts on the matter…

There is a little plaza in the village of Fornalutx, Mallorca, where an ancient fountain bubbles away, a backdrop to the sound of the local children’s high Spanish voices squealing and laughing as they play around the old tree in the centre of the square. Their parents sit outside the tapas bars, sipping a beer or café con leche in the shadows cast by the dipping sun, talking about grown up stuff and occasionally looking over to ensure everyone is safe and behaving themselves. The atmosphere is convivial and full of humanity, a hub of community life ticking along as it has done for centuries.

On holiday in Mallorca earlier this year

In Sheffield where I live, things are a little different. For the entirety of my eldest daughter’s life, I have eaten in restaurants with her on a frequent basis. Sharing a meal out is a great opportunity for families to spend quality time talking to each other and to escape the ubiquitous mobile phones, TV’s and laptops that encroach on almost every other aspect of our lives. Because I have taken her out to dinner from just a few months old, she has always displayed good table manners and knows exactly how to behave amongst adults in a busy restaurant. When she was smaller, she would dress up in a Cinderella or Snow White costume when I took her out; now she puts make up on, wears a dress and high heels (mine, usually) and looks stunning. I am always extremely proud to walk in to any restaurant with her, knowing that her behaviour will be nothing less than perfect.

Now that I have a six-month old baby, she joins us when we eat out at restaurants. Down the road from where we live, there are a few places to eat of Mediterranean origin, and we usually choose those over more English, traditional venues, owing to the fact that we are a family with a baby. Mediterranean cultures celebrate children, and include youngsters in the conversations and social interactions that take place in restaurants and other public places. One particular aspect that I love about those cultures and the way they embrace little ones, is how the men fuss over babies and young children in such a relaxed and comfortable way – a social norm that is rarely seen in English culture. Mediterranean men seem so at ease with their masculinity and place in society, that they have no qualms about cuddling babies in public, kissing their children openly and generally demonstrating their paternal love for their families whenever they see fit. I love that!

I have never witnessed a badly behaved, bored child who is desperately trying to seek their parents’ attention, when on holiday in Mallorca, Spain or Italy. The children there are a part of whatever is going on; they are valued participants in  social gatherings of any kind, and join in the conversations with adults as equals. Or they are just allowed to let off steam, chasing each other round a big tree in a plaza, or splashing water scooped up from a fountain, until they are tired and happy to join the grown ups and their more sedate chatter. Children who feel wanted and loved do not (generally) behave badly, and children who know that they are accepted and welcomed by society as a whole when they visit public places, usually meet the expectations they understand have been placed on them, and act accordingly.

Eating out should always be about friends and family coming together to share conversation and laughter, and to cement relationships. Children are as much a part of the social equation as adults and should be treated as such by everybody. When children are listened to and respected as human beings, they are a source of endless fun and interesting banter, often more so than many of the adults to be found in restaurants!

Being Good to Yourself

As a drinker, I never bothered too much about food. I ate complete rubbish whenever I had a hangover in a bid to satisfy my body’s desperate attempts to restore its blood sugar levels, or I would skip meals altogether, in an effort to counteract the number of calories I was consuming via my alcohol intake.

Now that I am a non-drinker, I have developed a keen interest in nutrition and try, wherever possible, to put back the goodness that I denied myself for so many years. And it is working; my eyes are bright, my skin is clear and I don’t look like shit anymore. And the food I eat is much tastier too.

For lunch today I had the following, which I can’t claim credit for, but would love to share with you because it was so damn tasty, and nutritious to boot; Grilled Prawns with Fennel Slaw. The recipe comes from the book ‘Contented Calf, Nourishing Recipes for Breastfeeding Mums’ (Elena Cimelli and Jassy Davis) but don’t let the breastfeeding bit deter you from rustling this meal up – the recipes in the book are basically just full of vegetables and protein, hence being good for promotingImage health.

200g raw, shelled king prawns, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 garlic clove, crushed, 150g fennel bulb, 100g red cabbage, 100g carrot, small handful of dill, 1 tsp fennel seeds, 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar, 1 tsp clear honey. Crusty bread to serve. (Serves 2).

Marinate your prawns in half the olive oil and all the crushed garlic, for an hour or overnight if you want to get ahead. Mix the shredded cabbage, fennel, grated carrot, fennel seeds and dill with an emulsion created from the white wine vinegar, remaining olive oil and honey (salt and pepper to taste). Skewer the prawns and grill for ten minutes. Serve with the fennel slaw and crusty bread.

Fennel has all sorts of health giving properties, as does red cabbage (antioxidants, vitamin C, cholesterol lowering, and many more). Make this delicious lunch and be good to yourself (we had a lovely sparkling elderflower drink with ours, and followed it by a white chocolate and cherry mousse – delicious!).