We never know where life is going to take us or what challenges it brings. In January 2010 I was happy, so happy I wanted to stay that way for as long as I could. I realised that if Ali and I wanted a long and healthy life together, we had to change. I was clinically obese, had a bad back and my knees were feeling the strain. I had various health problems and I was ageing faster than my years. I looked ahead to a life I did not want. It was time to change. By the end of the year I had lost 4 stone - 56lbs. My confidence rocketed - I had taken control and it had worked. I was exercising, enjoying buying clothes, speaking up for myself.

I began to believe in myself again, I began to dream. For years I had watched marathons with admiration and a lump in my throat. In April 2013, I ran my first marathon.

This blog is about living life as a slim person, staying slim and fulfilling my dreams. Come and join me, support me, advise me!

Take care, Sue

Friday, 23 September 2011

Licensed Self Indulgence: The Psychology of Cake

Isn't it great when all your favourite things come together. I love reading research studies, especially psychology ones. See the The BPS Research Digest (http://www.researchdigest.org.uk/blog).  It's definitely worth a read and covers reseach on almost anything you can think of. I found something that made me think.

There's a body of research on licensed self indulgence. This is a well kent phenomenon to runners, triathletes, walkers. After a session of hard work in the gym or on the road, you're quite likely to feel you've earned the right to a treat. Often that treat happens to have one or two calories attached. Often that treat is cake, or beer. Using all that energy and getting healthy gives you permission to self indulge a bit. Fair enough!

Even though running is, of course, a massive treat in itself, there are times when I have to admit that the running shoes go on because I'm on a promise of pizza or cake.  Treats can sometimes be a motivator and a bit more solid than hoping to have a long, happy and healthy life! But they only count as a treat if you've earnt them. That's the whole point for me.

But what counts as earning your treat? In a research study, people who thought they'd taken a vitamin pill were more likely to agree that 'nothing can harm me' and this led them to some unhealthy attitudes and some unhealthy behaviours. They were more likely to choose a free coupon for an 'eat all you like' meal rather than a healthy organic one. Taking that vitamin pill also meant they walked shorter distances. It was like the vitamin pill had done all the hard work, so they could just relax. Taking a vitamin pill counted as justifying (I cannot say earning!) a treat, the pill licensed their self indulgence.

I don't know about you, but my treats are best earned. That post run cake tastes miles better than any other cake you'll ever eat. You know that you've earned every crumb and that licenses you to choose the perfect reward and savour it, guilt free, knowing that your body can process it. One of my favourite memories is the cake stop in Fife on the Edinburgh to St Andrews Cycle Run. We walked into a church hall full of the finest cakes and buns you have ever seen. We'd cycled about 60 miles, walked like John Wayne after a long day in the saddle, and no one was counting calories, it was pure indulgence, no holding back. I remember every mouthful (oops, just drooled over the key board).

Treats are great, but they're not the main reason for running. I don't run to eat cake, I run to get fit, to feel good, to be the best I can be, to challenge myself. Being able to have that slice of cake or glass of wine is part of the package, an enjoyable perk, but not the reason for pounding the pavements. Apart from anything else, eating too much cake would undermine the important things I want to achieve. 

Of course you can earn treats in other ways.  For a brilliant or rubbish day at work; for caring for the people you love; for playing nicely and not punching folk.  But they deserve a different treat.  Cake just doesn't taste as good without that physical effort  After physical exercise, eating cake feels good because you've looked after your body.  Eating cake after a brain scrambling evening with Mum trying to explain Deal or No Deal, feels a bit sad.  I feel guilty, knowing that cake without the exercise has in the past made me fat and ill.  It's like having more than a run's worth of treats,you just don't feel right.  Don't ask me how it works, that's just how it is.   I can't imagine enjoying cake after popping that vitamin pill, it would definitely feel like cheating!

Cake tastes better without a side order of guilt, and that includes the guilt from not taking care of ourselves and our bodies. So license yourself to self indulge and do it properly. Get out your running shoes, pump up the tyres on your bike, get that cossie on and get out there and earn your cake: you know you're worth it!



Sunday, 18 September 2011

Big Dreams and Small Steps: why the small things matter too

Today I've been thinking a lot about running. Watching everyone heading off for the Great North Run brings a tear to the eye every time. It was very special today because Katie my cousin was running her first ever half marathon and lots of twitter friends were running too.

I've never worked out why I am often don't know things that everyone else on the planet is aware of.  As one of my favourite bosses used to say, 'I think I missed school the day Peking became Beijing!' (younger readers, please replace with your equivalent).   I eventually catch up, but it can take time.  Learning about running is teaching me an awful lot and is fertile ground for learning about life.

The other day I was on the treadmill  running as fast as I could. It was during that really windy weather and I took a notion to run like the wind. Off I went, low resistance, high speed, no timer. Five  minutes in I realised I hadn't thought this through, what was I trying to achieve in this session? Was I going to run as fast as I could for as long as I could? Was I going to do speed intervals? Was I going for a faster 5K? Each  goal required a completely different approach. My usual 'go with the flow' wasn't working.

I just couldn't decide what to do! I swithered. I recorded 5 minute splits; I sped right up towards the end of the splits. I ran as fast as I could now and then. I sort of had a recovery between bursts, but tempted by fast times and speed, I didn't recover properly before I went haring off again. Every now and again I'd go for a 5K fastest time. I was all over the place and I couldn't make a decision.

Result? I ran my fastest top speed ever, but I have no idea for how long. I did an okay 5K time, but not my fastest, even though I'd run my little legs off. My average speed was low because I had sort of done half hearted recoveries which meant I didn't recover, but I did slow down.  I'd definitely had a good work out, but I was disgruntled and dissatisfied that I'd worked so hard but hadn't achieved as much as I could have. It makes improving really hard too - what am I improving on?

A quick sun salutation and the healing waters of the Virgin Omni shower worked their magic. It gradually dawned on me that my love of life and enthusiasm for almost everything and anything are great. But having a dream is not enough. You have to commit. You have to focus and get down and serious about the details of what you want and and concentrate on the small things, the baby steps that get you there.

I know I can achieve really difficult things if I set my mind to it, I've done that. I lost a shed load of weight. I changed my life to care for Mum and Dad. I did a half marathon. I know sooner or later and with some luck I can finish a marathon.  But I'm now wondering if I can go further? faster? Can a focus on the small things give me bigger, bolder dreams?

The saying goes that the longest journey starts with the first step. After that treadmill session I realised that whilst dreams will inspire you to great heights,  the teeny tiny steps can get you to places you've never dreamed of.  If I can work consistently and in a disciplined way, using every step to get me there, I'll run those 26 plus miles and maybe I'll challenge myself to more.....  I don't know quite where this will take me, but I'm going to explore.  Watch this space!

Take care