Where have I been hiding?!

photo(2)I haven’t blogged since November. Partly because I’m lazy, but mostly because I’ve been anything but lazy. I’m a bit single-minded actually, and when I get on a roll with a particular project or mission, everything else grinds to a halt.

Are you dying to know what I’ve been up to that’s been keeping me away from the blogosphere? The answer is… LOSING WEIGHT!! 11kg in fact. You may have seen my previous posts about the quitting sugar business, and getting myself a personal trainer, Natalie Stiles from Stiles Training. It’s been a huge (pardon the pun) 6 months. I’ve been seeing Nat pretty consistently 3 times a week since last July, but didn’t really get serious about the dieting situation until about the beginning of November. I’m not sure what changed exactly, but something switched on, and I decided there was no time like the present to get really serious. In some ways I feel like I’ve spent my whole life mourning that ‘other life’ that I was actually supposed to be leading – you know the one where I was glamorous, successful, wealthy and SLIM?

Well, enough with the mourning, because at least one of those options is absolutely within my grasp, and here’s how I’ve been doing it:

Personal training. That’s an obvious one. I started out with just seeing Nat, and slowly building up my fitness and getting over the fear factor of training until I want to puke (haven’t actually puked yet, mind you). More recently, in the last couple of months I’ve been supplementing the training sessions with my own workouts. I have access to three gyms now – Nat’s studio, the gym at work and the gym in the apartment building I moved into in January. The gym at home is literally down the hall and across the courtyard, so I have NO excuses. If I’m feeling lazy I’ll just go in there and sit on the bike for awhile, but most nights I will do one of the home workouts that Nat has set for me, or I’ll kill myself doing interval training on the treadmill or rower. Not everyone can afford a personal trainer, but comparatively, Nat is very affordable. It costs me $60 a week for one one-on-one and 2 group sessions with her, and I am getting so much extra value from her in terms of nutrition and general wellbeing advice, and moral support. This is my one big investment at the moment. I have few other hobbies and tend to live pretty cheaply otherwise, so I figure it’s worth every cent.

Diet. Well duh. This is the biggest factor in weight loss, and no amount of exercise is going to shed kilos if you’re still shovelling crappy food into your mouth. I shouldn’t actually use the word ‘diet’ because what I’m doing is not particularly drastic or difficult. My hope, and intention, is that this is a genuine lifestyle change. I want to ‘live lean’ for the rest of my life. Basically I aim for about 1300 calories a day, and within this prioritise high protein, low carb, low sugar and plenty of good fats. A typical days eating will now look roughly as follows:

  • Breakfast: baked beans with some salami mixed through
  • Morning snack: a boiled egg and some cheese, or a thin rice cake with hommus or peanut butter on it.
  • Lunch: 1/2 a chicken breast with cucumber and tomato and satay sauce, or alternatively ham and avocado or tuna on rice cakes
  • Arvo snack: I’ll have two afternoon snacks in order to ensure that I’m eating every 2 hours or so and that I have enough energy to go to the gym when I get home before having dinner. The first snack will be cheese on a rice cake, or some grain waves chips, or a (small) handful of nuts. The second snack will be a protein bar – I’m a big fan of the Aussie Bodies Super Fruit Slams.
  • Dinner will be some sort of meat and vegies – often a stirfy with no rice, or sausages with steamed brocolli and sweet potato, or a spoonful of bolognaise sauce on a pile of zucchini.
  • If I’ve got enough calories left at the end of the day I’ll have half a cup of frozen berries with some natvia smashed in, or a Jarrah fat free hot chocolate.

So, nothing drastic, or fancy. I take a whole bunch of vitamins every morning, but not any form of meal replacement. Almost completely absent from my diet now are bread, pasta and rice. I miss it of course, but this is where the next secret comes in…

Cheating. I have an evening a week off, where I eat whatever I want, and in fact, often just binge for the fun of it. Naughty but I figure it’s justified for 2 reasons: 1. Gives my metabolism a little boost, a kick along if you like, and 2. More importantly, it keeps me sane and helps with not feeling deprived. If I am really craving something, I tell myself, ‘just wait until Friday’. And because it’s my ‘night off’ I don’t feel guilty the way I do when I cheat in the middle of the week. For those of us for whom food has been a source of emotional angst, I don’t believe that super restrictive deprivation works. It’s unsustainable. Of course as Nat says, just because it’s your night off is no reason to throw yourself under a bus. And as the months go I’m less and less inclined to want to do that. I’ll still eat a whole packet of lollies, or a block of chocolate, but this is now more likely to follow a dinner of steamed dumplings, or salad, rather than pizza or pasta.

My Fitness Pal. I really can’t rave enough about this iPhone app. I’m sure there are others out there just as good, but this the one I use. Every day I log my food, and calculate the calories, and I can then fiddle around and adjust the serving sizes to come up with a day’s menu that is appetising, nutritious and will keep my blood sugar stable. My blood sugar is still an issue – last week for example I probably had 6 or 7 hypos – but having my food diary religiously logged in My Fitness Pal means I can look back and find themes or patterns that map to good and bad days. I also have ‘friends’ on there, including my trainer who can log in and see my food diary and comment on it. I also log exercise in there, and it gives estimates of the calories burned, so I know what my deficit is, which brings me to my next point:

Research. Everyone’s different, but I like to have at least a bit of an understanding of the science behind weight loss. There’s a balance between too little and too much research. Too little and you’re uninformed. Too much and it’s overwhelming. I try to cut out the buzz and ignore anything that promises I can “lose a pound of belly fat a week!” or “drop a dress size with this one little tip!” I’m no expert but I have a working knowledge know of why proteins are so important, why strength training is better for you than cardio, and why you need a caloric deficit in order to lose weight. This keeps me a bit on track. A caloric deficit of 500 calories a day ‘should’ (with all the usual disclaimers about the impact of stress, hormones and illness) equate to half a kilo of fat loss a week. At my current weight of 69 kilos, my base metabolic rate is approximately 1450 calories a day. This is what my body burns with just its usual functioning. So if I’m eating 1300 calories a day, that’s a 150 calorie a day deficit. I therefore try to burn at least 350 a day in exercise. It’s not a perfect science because I really only have estimates to tell me how much I’m burning through various exercise, but it’s good enough.

Realistic goals. My goal weight is 60 kilos, and I was 80 at the start of November, so I’m just over halfway there. HOWEVER, I’m doing a lot of strength training (and getting some pretty shit hot muscle definition if I say so myself) so there is a chance that unless I were prepared to drop muscle, which I’m not, I may not get to 60 kilos. So as an alternative goal I’ll be happy with 20% body fat, which will be about half what I started with. If you google it you’ll get a pretty good idea of what that sort of body fat looks like on a female body. It’s low enough to be able to see abs, and I love the fact that I HAVE abs now, and can’t wait for that last layer of blubber to disappear so I can actually show them off.

The last, and probably most important thing, is supportive friends and family. As this blog post might hint at, I’ve done nothing but live and eat and breath my fitness and weight loss endeavours in the last few months, and I’m bore myself by having little else to talk about. And my friends just keep putting up with my evangelical zeal without nervously looking at the door. Or at least, not where I can see them 😉

Almost every night either before I go into the gym, or after, and when I’m feeling in need of more motivation, I google for it. There are some fantastic resources out there. I won’t bother to name them here, but I do urge you to just start browsing and see what you find. It’s a veritable treasure trove of inspiration. In the meantime, here’s a ‘before’ photo for you:

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Exploring Elegance

ImageI’ve just finished two weeks of blissful annual leave during which I did almost everything I’d been fantasising about in the lead up to the break, particularly reading. I read two books, Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, which is an exploration of the Mormon church (fascinating!) and a little book called Elegance by Kathleen Tessaro.

I found Elegance in an op shop in Northcote last week, when I was browsing around after having breakfast with a friend, and it’s such a gorgeous little book I had to share it with you. The plot is about a woman in her early 30s whose life is rapidly turning to crap, when she stumbles across a book called Elegance in a second hand bookshop in London where she lives. The book she finds was written by a French woman in the 1960s and is basically an A to Z guide on how to be elegant. Our protagonist, Louise, basically uses this book to remake her life. It’s just wonderful. The Bride Stripped Bare without all the sex (actually there’s no sex, so there you go). Eat Pray Love without all the first world problems.

I could relate to Louise on so many levels. Her penny pinching and self-consciousness were endearingly familiar and like her, I tend to jump on new manuals for how to ‘do’ life with ferocious enthusiasm. And of course I don’t think there’s a woman alive who isn’t just a little bit interested in uncovering the perfect recipe for an elegant wardrobe.

This quote, for example, charmed me.

Be strict with yourself. Save. Economise on food if you must (believe me, it will only do you good!) but not on your handbags or shoes. Refuse to be seduced by anything that isn’t first rate. The saying ‘I cannot afford to buy cheaply’ was never so true.

Now, I’m not going to eat 2 minute noodles for the next month so that I can duck down to Chanel for a handbag, or Hermes for a scarf, but the comment about not being seduced by anything that isn’t first rate struck home and has encouraged me to take another look at my budget. The philosophy in Elegance, while shallow and superficial on one hand, does encourage a timely reminder of the importance of quality and making wise purchasing decisions. I’ll never be Audrey Hepburn, but there’s no reason why I can’t try a little harder to dress like her, is there? 😉

My first Meetup

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On a beautiful Sunday in October, 21 strangers head off into the bush to explore a remote part of central Victoria. Sounds like the start of a horror movie doesn’t it? Well it wasn’t – it was my first Meetup experience 🙂 I’m sure I’m very late cottoning on to this, but I’ve just recently learnt how fabulous meetup groups are. I’ve joined three, one of which is a Young Hikers group (age cut off is 35), and yesterday was my first time hiking with them.

I may have mentioned in previous posts that I love hiking, and I may also have mentioned (or at least inferred) that I’ve come to the realisation I can’t always rely on FF or other friends to join in with my hobbies and interests. I need to find other friends to share them with, otherwise it’s too easy to sit at home and whinge, or even worse, not do the things that I really enjoy.

So yesterday I headed off to the Brisbane Ranges for an all day hike with the Melbourne Young Hikers group. Maybe it’s ironic that I’ve just blogged about being an introvert and here I was spending a whole day with complete strangers, but being introverted doesn’t necessarily mean being antisocial or shy. This was a diverse group of people and I knew there would be some kindred spirits among them. There would be no pressure to find a conversation starter because there were so many obvious choices. “So are you a regular with this group? Do you go hiking often? Where are you from? What do you do for a job? And so on and so forth.

I also made the strategic decision of picking up two other people who live nearby and driving them down there so we got to know each other in the car on the way.

It was such an awesome day – glorious weather, beautiful scenery and good company. I spent most of the day chatting with Sara, the half Malaysian, half English Physiotherapist, Edwin, the dutch medical student and Cecille, a French au pair, both obviously living in Melbourne. I was also really pleased to find that my six months of solid personal training is paying off – I handled the physical exertion so much better than I would have six months ago. 14km of scrambling over rocks in a dry creek bed and up and down gullies and I was only moderately sore by the end of it. Richard, the group’s organiser, is an experienced hiker, despite being only 19 years old (!!!) and it was great to be able to just put our trust in him and his map and compass to guide us through a completely unmarked part of the Ranges.

So with my first Meetup experience a resounding success I’ve rsvp’d for a couple of other activities coming up in the next few months and can highly recommend giving it a try, particularly if you have a specific hobby and are searching for new friends to share it with.

Check it out here – www.meetup.com.

The power of introverts

We’re having a team planning day at my work tomorrow, and in preparation we were asked to complete the Myers Briggs personality test. Mine came out almost the same as the last time I did it a few years ago, swapping from INFJ to INTJ. I think I’m a fairly self aware person so that doesn’t surprise me. What is interesting though is that I’m becoming much more aware of what the ‘I’ means in the context of my work.

I stands for Introvert. When it’s come up in conversation with friends in the past they’ve disputed that I’m an introvert because I “can” be very outgoing and am usually the one in a group cracking stupid jokes. But I understand better now that what being an Introvert means is that interacting with others is usually not where I draw my energy and inspiration from. Being introverted means that you do your best thinking and generate your brightest ideas and recharge your batteries being alone, not through interactions with others.

Where I struggle is how to overcome that natural preference for alone time at work. I particularly dread conferences and public events where I’m going to have to “network” with strangers. Actually dread is too strong a term. I love the intellectual stimulation of listening to conference presentations and participating in some of the group activities, but it’s the morning and arvo teas and the lunch breaks that have me squirming with discomfort. I’m the one concentrating way too hard on balancing my awkward little plate of sandwiches and my cup of tea and handbag waiting for someone (probably an extrovert) to come up and say hi. I almost never will initiate a conversation. Once the initial break has been made, I love to talk, and can ‘network’ a charm, but it’s getting the ‘in’ that I find awkward and painful.

I don’t particularly like this about myself. I worry that it’s career limiting, and there have been so many times I’ve regretted not having the courage to approach someone that I’ve always wanted to meet, or someone who is particularly relevant to me in a professional sense, or even rescue one of the other wall-flowers from their obvious misery.

I was moaning about this on Facebook the other day when a friend put me on to this Ted talk from Susan Cains – The Power of Introverts.

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It’s really good! In 20 minutes I think she nails what it means to be introverted and makes some savvy observations about the historical context of the shift from admiring people based on the essential qualities of their ‘character’ towards the current trend for lauding big personalities and advocating constant “group think”. Susan was basically advocating for leaving introverts alone to learn and develop in the way they do best.

Although she didn’t say this directly, I think there’s a definite paradox between the trend for constant external stimulation via open plan offices, ‘circle’ style professional development and meetings, and the idea that the team approach is always best, and the simultaneous understanding about the benefits of meditation and other sorts of introspective “me time”.

This doesn’t really help me out with my social awkwardness at conferences and professional events but it does offer a sort of validation, and some reassurance that it’s “ok” to prefer to spend large amounts of time alone, and not want to share my ideas before they’re at least part way formed. Introverted or extroverted, we all contribute.

The new science of skinny

A friend put me on to this little video tonight that I’ve just watched and I found it quite interesting. Much of what he said certainly resonated with my own experience of weight loss (and gain!) The trouble I have is not knowing who to believe. I could watch a video on the ‘calories in, calories out’ theory and come away just as convinced. Why is it so hard to know where to go for solid, evidence-based information?

Anyway watch and see what you think. I’m interested in your thoughts!

 

This time, cacti and succulents

I’ve been a bit quiet on this blog lately. There’s been a lot going on – two conferences two weeks apart (Perth and then the Gold Coast – could be worse) and the rest of my time has been busy with work and personal training (or spending money on treating the injuries caused by personal training – hmmmm).

Now that things are quietening down a bit I’m back to my usual musing about what my next project could be. Especially now that the weather is improving and daylight savings has started today (YAY), I’m in the mood to be all outdoorsy. My balcony is tiny – barely 2 metres across and loaded with pot plants that at the moment are more weeds than plants. At least twice a year I tear most things out and replant but, perhaps because it’s south-facing things struggle to grow well there. So, inspired by Pinterest and my own experience with succulents (I have several inside that I love), I’m going to spend next weekend turning the balcony into a succulent and cacti wonderland.

Bunnings here I come! It’s going to be awesome – I hope. Pretty, funky, colourful and low maintenance. As long as I don’t look out through the balcony doors and see death I’ll be happy.

Stay tuned. Next weekend it is ON.

And now here are some pictures to inspire you. Maybe.

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Suffering from socialconscienceitis?

ImageI’m having one of those weeks where my social conscience has been inflamed – socialconscienceitis. Everywhere I look I see causes, movements, hashtags, documentaries, etc, that seem to be demanding my attention. It started last week when I was in Perth for a conference. I’ve never been to Perth before. It’s a lovely city, beautiful gardens and cityscape, and because I was staying just off the street where all the designer boutiques are it was hard not to be seduced by the sensual hum of money that surrounds the place. Nice cars, beautiful people, etc. I did not fit in there, but I did spend a day sending FF texts along the lines of “pack your bags honey, we’re moving to Perth”. But as is the usually the case with me, I see money and I immediately start to wonder who’s missing out. We’ve all heard about the incredibly high wages and the growth that the mining boom has given WA, but not everybody is getting a piece of that and as the cost of living skyrockets, what happens to those who can’t keep up?

Then I came home and like half of all Australian women (and not just Australian!) who are active on Twitter I got caught up in the #destroyingthejoint phenomenon that started last weekend when our ole’ mate Alan Jones made some bullshit comment on air about women like Julia Gillard and Christine Nixon destroying the joint. Hey presto – social movement. It spread like herpes and it was a whole lot of fun to read women proudly tweeting about the havoc they and their vaginas were going to wreak – just as soon as they were done with the washing, the housework, the parenting, the partnering, and their paid jobs, that is. All this industriousness is clearly a sign that women are hell-bent on destroying everything that is good about our society! But of course it got me thinking anew about feminism, social activism, and how much good we can actually do from behind a laptop.

Fast forward a couple of days and I’m sobbing my way through episodes one and two of Go Back To Where You Came From – the reality tv show SBS screened the week I was in Perth, where the premise is that they take people on the journey of a refugee, and open their eyes to the misery that might cause someone to jump on a leaky boat to try and seek asylum in Australia. It is shocking. The sheer scale of the devastation and the poverty and the misery and the despair and the grief that is out there being experienced in the world right now as I sit in my comfortable lounge-room and write this, is overwhelming. You could see it on the faces of the six people who were participating in the show and I felt it with a visceral intensity.

There was one particular exchange between Imogen Bailey and Michael Smith (whose heartless callousness in the first episode of the show had me seething with rage) where she asked him if he really thought ‘we’ (Australia, society, the world) were doing enough to help. This is a question I ask myself all the time. How can I do my bit? Is it pointless to try when the problem is so immense, so seemingly impossible to solve? There are literally millions of people in the world who would sacrifice a limb for one hot meal a day, and here I am with every comfort available to me. I work in research administration, and I tell myself almost daily that I’m working ‘on’ the system, as much as in it, by doing what I can to facilitate research that could one day change someone’s life. I donate money when I can, and support causes in other ways if I feel I can but there is of course more I could do. I’m often torn between thinking that I’m doing more harm to my sanity than good by watching the news every night, paying close attention to the conflict and misery in the world, and not turning the TV off when ‘images that may disturb viewers’ are shown. I know people who, quite legitimately, decide to just ‘switch off’ and stop reading/watching the news because it’s too distressing and they feel helpless.

Something Catherine Deveney said on Go Back the other night – I can’t actually remember what she said, but it struck me and gave me a moment of clarity. And that is, surely our responsibility as human beings is to keep caring, keep watching, keep striving and trying, no matter how hard it gets, or how painful? If my piddly little donations and my constant trying can improve even one person’s life, then maybe that’s enough? If life has infinite, immeasurable value, then one human life is worth as much of my compassion as the millions of lives currently languishing in refugee camps around the world.

So until I get some kind of light bulb moment where inspiration strikes and I think ‘ah ha! That’s my life’s purpose’ it’s probably going to be business as usual. I’ll keep crying through shows like Go Back to Where You Came From, I’ll continue to think about the social side effects of things like the mining boom, and I’ll keep joining in with gusto with social media campaigns of all sorts. It might be a little bit taxing, but it’s not going to kill me.

Does anyone else have clarity on how they can be most effective? How do you choose to ‘do your bit’?