Fitness, Food, Health, Opinion

“You really should watch your weight”

“You should really watch your weight”. Six words that really should not be uttered in any social setting.

That statement is such a malicious thing to say. Directed at someone who has suffered from weight issues it is a heavy statement to endure. 48 hours later and it is still weighing heavy on my conscience.

I have always been conscious of my weight, likely over-conscious. Back in school I was a fat child and was teased largely until sixth form. It was tough and the emotional trauma stuck for a good few years after. Gradually I would learn not to give the taunts much shrift though occasionally I would bite and get involved in a slanging match. Once you get through that you develop a thick skin and learn not to get emotionally attached. Kids say things without thinking then they grow up and grow out of it, they learn that to get through life you need to show respect.

When I arrived at university I decided to do something, went on a diet and lost a considerable amount of weight. The feeling I got was one of accomplishment, that I had finally joined some sort of an exclusive health club. My weight has fluctuated since then, I have always carried some bulk but have built up a core fitness over time and watch what I eat. Right now I feel comfortable with my weight, well, I did until someone told me I really should watch my weight.

You do not expect to hear any grown adult come out with those six words. People past the age of 16 should know better than to mention someone’s weight. It is such a heartless, brainless, malignant, venomous statement that the words hit me like a sucker punch to the stomach. Did the person who dealt such a blow know the damage they could cause? Did they care?

I knew I should have put down the cake and walked away. I knew I should have walked outside in silence, partly out of shame that someone could say such a thing. I returned fire, insinuated that the commenter was all mouth and really did not handle it well. I simmered when I should have let it blow over me. I reacted when I should have shamed him. I should have made sure everyone knew what the troll had just said and see how it went down. Let the audience decide how odious a statement it is.

Bullies and trolls need to be ignored, starved of the oxygen and hate that fuels them. I have options. I can ignore the troll or I can make the statement come back to bite. Better still, I can use the statement whenever I grab some food in their vicinity. If the troll really meant what they said they won’t mind when I utter it amongst others, because you cannot take those words back. You should really watch what you say.

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Thai-infused haddock
Fitness, Lifestyle

New year, new diet. Is the Harcombe Diet ‘the one’?

Guess what. It is the start of the year and like so many others I have decided to go on a diet. This is not as daring as you may think, over a decade ago I did the Atkins diet and lost a couple of stone. This gives me prior experience into the rigours of a high protein, low carbohydrate regime and this year’s diet du jour seems to be the Harcombe Diet.

After half a bag of Haribo, a bottle of treacle toffee stout and a hot chocolate to keep me awake on Sunday night for the Superbowl, my diet started in earnest on Tuesday. A mere five days in and I have already experienced a few positive changes from Phase 1. Increased energy levels, few hunger pangs, few cravings and, more importantly, looser clothes. That is the main reason we diet, isn’t it? To simply lose weight. Whether it is to lose those Christmas pounds or fit into a wedding dress, it seems pretty endemic of society to wish you looked better than you do. But what if you wanted to lose the weight and feel better as part of a healthier lifestyle. You know, keep the weight off and function better, that is what I am hoping for with the Harcombe Diet.

At the start of every year it is hard to ignore the fad diets; the soup, milkshake or cabbage plans. The quick fix diets that shed the weight yet leave you starving. In short, they seem like a one night stand when you really want a marriage. Thanks to my Auntie I have been made aware of the benefits of keeping food simple; of adopting wholegrains and avoiding processed foods. Anyone that knows me would likely say I’m a food snob, I’m not, I simply enjoy making my meals from scratch knowing full well what goes in. In this sense, the diet isn’t that drastic a change, it is simply a case of buying different foods and putting others to the back of the cupboard. I have always tried to watch what I eat, now I am really paying attention.

That is what makes the Harcombe Diet so simple. Instead of calorie counting you work out what you are allowed and eradicate what you are forbidden. Every human body needs energy and the genius lies in knowing what the body requires to function, primarily in this case protein from meat and eggs. Also, instead of largely drawing your calories (arguably as much as 70%) from carbohydrates and vegetables you demand that your body extracts the energy from fats. Let it be known, ‘five a day’ is propaganda. While it remains important to eat your greens, the body can function on less than what many would want you to believe.

Aside from the weight loss one of the bonuses I have noticed is an improved brain function and this is no coincidence. The brain is composed of 60% fat yet it still needs energy. This can come from two sources; glucose from sugar and carbohydrates (BAD) or glycogen from fats broken down by the liver (GOOD). You can argue that a diet mainly composed of meat and vegetables is how a caveman would get his fill yet maybe, just maybe, this is ultimately how our bodies have been designed.

It is only in the last couple of centuries or so that we have adopted more extravagant means of cooking which, in turn, has introduced processed foods and a higher intake of sugar. Incidentally, today’s society is not only nutrient starved but time starved. Without distractions we could find the time to cook a meal from scratch yet we now grab ready meals and cereal bars. These may fill us up but soon enough we get hungry again and snack away, riding the emotional highs and lows of a sugar rollercoaster.

It may just be the pleasing glow that looser clothes gives anyone yet I feel calmer, more emotionally in control. I doubt that this is a coincidence either as only so much quickfix joy can come from a pack of Haribo before your mood turns as the sugar hit fades away. During the past five days I have strolled past open packets of biscuits in the office, added Stevia to my brew with no real qualms and decided against a bag of popcorn to accompany a Friday night film. Even my beloved weekend beers and spirits haven’t really been missed, even if it did mean turning an invite down on Friday evening. One thing I have noticed is that falling asleep has been harder yet with lesser kip I am yet to notice a drop in alertness.

The last few days have been difficult but not as tough as I imagined. Once you have got through the first day you know you can do it again. Once you have dismissed the easy option of a chocolate bar you know it is doing you good. I even managed a boxing class on Wednesday night and could have gone longer. Yet it has not been plain sailing; I have noted that the black coffee from the vending machine at work is barely fit for human consumption and I have really missed fruit and dairy. Apart from that, it is relatively simpler to follow. Just remember, stick to eggs, meat, vegetables (apart from white potatoes and mushrooms), natural live yogurt and a portion of oats or rice. I know what you are wondering so here is what I have had during Phase 1.

Green salad with salami and honey mustard dressing

Green salad with salami and honey mustard dressing

Day 1.
Breakfast – Porridge with water and cinnamon
Lunch – Salad of little gem lettuce, baby tomatoes, red onion, red pepper and salami coated with a honey mustard dressing (yogurt, honey, wholegrain mustard and lemon juice). Half a carrot, cut into strips, and a pepperami
Dinner – Gammon steak with brown rice and steamed red cabbage. Six tbsp. yogurt

Lamb chops with rice and wilted spinach

Lamb chops with rice and wilted spinach

Day 2.
Breakfast – Two rashers of smoked bacon with a fried egg
Lunch – Same as Day 1
Dinner – Two lamb chops with brown rice and steamed spinach

Scrambled Eggs

Scrambled Eggs

Day 3.
Breakfast – Two scrambled eggs (oil instead of butter)
Lunch – Same as Days 1 and 2
Dinner – Chicken breast with steamed spinach, red cabbage and roasted sweet potato. Six tbsp. yogurt

Chicken breast with steamed red cabbage, wilted spinach and roasted sweet potatoes

Chicken breast with steamed red cabbage, wilted spinach and roasted sweet potatoes

Day 4.
Breakfast – Porridge with water and cinnamon
Lunch – Salad nicoise (green salad with a tin of tuna and olives). Half a carrot, cut into strips, and a pepperami
Dinner – Chicken breast with steamed spinach, red cabbage and roasted sweet potato. Six tbsp. yogurt.

Thai-infused haddock

Thai-infused haddock

Day 5.
Breakfast – Two rashers of bacon and two fried eggs
Lunch – Small green salad with a balsamic vinaigrette and a pepperami
Dinner – Thai-infused haddock, steamed with lemongrass, chilli flakes, soy sauce, ginger powder and lime juice.
A glass of red wine

And on the sixth day, Lord Harcombe said let there be fruit and low fat dairy and there was. Hallelujah.

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Fitness, Food, Football, Health

Shedding some light on Seasonal Affective Disorder

It’s that time of the year again. No, not Christmas but when winter begins to set in and around two million people in the UK start to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

I first realised I suffered from SAD back in my freshers year of university. Thinking it was homesickness or just a case of stress I dismissed it, then I spoke to my mother. My second assumption was that she was just missing her firstborn until her nursing expertise kicked in and she confirmed that I had SAD. Personally, I still think there is a lack of awareness of the condition which can be argued for mental illness in general. I want to tell people why I don’t want to come out or why I look so morose at work yet saying that I suffer from SAD seems like a way out. There is a worry that colleagues think I am being dramatic or friends perceive that I am suffering from the ‘winter blues’. Anyone who has admitted that they suffer from a type of depression will relate to how difficult it is, helping people understand the effects will hopefully help.

While an increase in ‘melancholia’ during the winter months has been recorded throughout history, this specific type of depression was first noted in 1845. An example would be a ship’s doctor who would observe that the crew were becoming lethargic during the shorter days and treated this with bright artificial light. It was not until the 1980’s that the condition was formally recognised as a disorder. Little of the condition has changed since then.

The symptoms remain the same; that of a low mood and a general lack of interest in life. From personal experience I can note that the condition does not just hit you, it can take weeks before you realise you have not been acting quite like yourself recently. On this occasion I thought I was simply pissed off with friends letting me down yet this heightened irritability was my warning sign. Alas, I have already begun my few months of hibernation and started to withdraw socially.

I find myself hiding from public view, not out of a want to save money but from a perpetual sense of worry. Specifically, I worry about my mood swings and how I might react to an off remark made in jest. Whereas before I could quip back, now I react; whether spitefully or just by wanting to make a quick exit. I simply do not want to put myself in a position where I will behave ruefully. Put simply, I cannot trust myself.

My judgement remains clouded throughout the day, from headaches to feelings of hopelessness and pessimism. From the moment I wake up I overthink; shall I shave today? What tie shall I wear? Is that jacket the most suitable for the short walk to work? My job necessitates that I make around 50 judgement calls daily. While I used to find that quite easy when I started anxiety, a sense of doubt and difficulty concentrating makes me over-analyse every single one. Are you sure about that? I ask myself the same question so many times during the day that I wonder whether simply staying in bed is a safer way to spend the day so I don’t make any mistakes or create any more problems for myself.

Apart from the nausea and the perpetual dull ache in my head there are more generalised symptoms. One of them is an emotional displacement, I simply do not feel much these days. Jokes that would normally make me laugh fail to register and I genuinely find it harder to see the bright side of life. I try to aid this by doing things that usually cheer me up. For example, I bought two pairs of trainers this week which would tend to brighten my mood yet I have simply worried whether they actually fit me. It becomes very difficult to find enjoyment when doing the same things that you thought you enjoyed.

I have tried to plan activities to give me something to look forward to yet I then worry whether friends will be able to attend or if the weather will behave or if I can afford it. In the next few weeks I have Royal Blood to look forward to, Halloween, Bonfire Night and The Good Food Show yet at the moment I simply look at them as scribblings on a calendar. However, I need distractions, I need things to take my mind off this overall sense of meh.

There are physical symptoms as well. Despite my reasoning that longer nights pre-empted my going to bed sooner a tendency to oversleep is another symptom. There is also the threat of insomnia to consider which makes waking up a whole lot harder though a light box does help mimic rising with the sun.

My 10k run was a couple of weeks ago yet a general lack of energy means I have bought myself winter running shoes in an effort to get more exercise. A weekly parkrun is not enough, I need to spend more time outside which will mean getting up for a run before work as soon as the clocks change, perhaps before then.

My diet is also affected. Yes, I am aware that Christmas is coming so there will be more treats in the office and a general inclination to eat more which makes SAD more potent. Another symptom is overeating, specifically carbs, that coupled with a lack of energy means putting on weight becomes a whole lot easier. A decreased sex drive is another symptom but I currently don’t have to worry about that…

There is some science behind all this, mainly due to the reduced exposure to sunlight. At last check, the condition affected 12 million across Northern Europe with long winters being a contributory factor, and maybe why I barely noticed SAD while in Australia. You see, light stimulates the hypothalamus; the part of the brain which controls mood, appetite and sleep. This effects the body’s circadian rhythm (internal clock) as well as the production of the hormones melatonin and serotonin.

However, there are means of combating the condition. The light box I mentioned earlier is one yet concentrated light therapy (sitting in a room full of bright light) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy have also been found to help. Antidepressants, such as St John’s Wort, and Vitamin D supplements due to the lack of sunlight are recommended.

Like mental illness in general, SAD is not something that can be switched off or swept under the carpet. It is a condition that pervades nearly every thought and has a markedly detrimental effect on the physical health of a sufferer. Though there are pills that can help sometimes the best therapy is simply making people aware. Writing this has proved cathartic, not just from setting out what it is I am suffering from but to try and shed some light on it, when sunlight is what I am missing. Roll on Spring.

Mama and More

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Fitness, Lifestyle

“I’m a lover, not a fighter”, Part 2 – Stepping Into The Ring

As I type this my ribs ache, my legs struggle to move and I am currently constructing a den on the sofa so I don’t have to move much, all I need is a catheter and I’m sorted. This is all due to yesterday morning when I did something stupidly daring, I stepped into a boxing ring.

For the past month or so I have been attending a boxing class designed to boost my upper body as opposed to simply running for exercise. Apparently it’s working, last week I was told I had ‘beefed up’ by a girl who hadn’t seen me since I left Sheffield for Sydney.

While it has been difficult the rigours of the class have improved my pain threshold to the point where after five minutes recovery yesterday I was watching lads sparring against each other in the ring. Apparently my endurance could last a while longer and I was invited for a bout with a friend’s housemate to which I politely smile then decline. It takes some balls to go into the ring and after some mild coercing I have plucked out my gloves from the bin, my head ducks under the ropes and panic sets in.

Boxing rings are horribly lonely places. There are no places to hide, no-one to call for help and no policemen at hand should someone punch you square in the face. For such a confined space it feels a whole lot emptier when you are inside. A few steps back and you know your next will find the rope and that is the last place you want to lean. You feel naked by exposure as your body is a wandering, dancing target. This is not a place to hide but to man up and face confrontation.

I have never been in a fight in my entire life which is as remarkable as it is mystifying. By now my razor sharp tongue should have led to fisticuffs but now I am tapping gloves and dancing around the ring trying to work out how to land a punch. It looks so easy on the telly yet when you are eyeballing someone who wants to hit you there are so many things to consider –

1. Position

Try to keep your opponent guessing and move in anticipation. Your left foot should lead while your right needs to keep in step and planted should you try to land a telling blow.
2. Anticipation

Which areas of my torso am I exposing and how is my opponent going to hit them? How can I manoeuvre my body to ensure any punches do not land full and true? Questions, questions, questions.

3. Reaction

If my opponent decides to attack I have to be ready but this is also a great opportunity to get in my own attack. If they aim for my chest I can turn and land a blow to their exposed ribs.

4. Judgement

Size up your opponent. Judge their movement, reach and position early on. Try to spot their exposed areas and work out their combinations so you can work out how to combat them and land your own blows.

5. Concentration

The clock is ticking and every movement matters. One step in the wrong direction and your opponent could spot a chance to land a telling hit so you have to keep focused. Keep your eyes on your opponent and react to every movement whether defending or moving in to attack.

6. Movement

Work around your opponent and resist taking a step back. Try to stay on your toes but do not knacker yourself out by simply moving to evade punches, that allows your opponent to reserve their energy and catch you when you are weary.

We only go for one minute rounds yet a combination of dancing feet and throwing punches has knocked me out after three. Still, at least I have thrown a punch.

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Fitness, Lifestyle

“I’m a lover, not a fighter”. Part 1 – The Boxing Class

“I’m a lover, not a fighter”

Now that is a mantra to live by but not one that is going to help when someone is aiming their fist directly at your jaw.Like everyone, occasionally I find myself in situations where I wish I knew how to diffuse a situation without panicked rage peeking inside. As a human being I find it hard to hide my emotions, if something is annoying me it does not take Sherlock Holmes to deduce that I am pissed off. My face scrunches up, my eyes turn into slits and I emit a deep sigh which really does not help when confrontations occur. If a situation ever came to blows I wouldn’t know how to defend myself.

Since returning to Sheffield a few weeks ago I have sought new ways of staying fit. This is partly caused by leaving my gym shirt and shorts at home yet after a couple of months I was already bored of the gym circuit punctuated by a midweek Kettlercise class. However, I was feeling the results but wanted to do something different, something challenging. On the weekend of my return a good friend persuaded me to come along to a boxing class with a housemate of his and I had nothing else on.

First impressions are… disconcerting. The gym lies in a rundown part of town with a door you can easily walk by. After watching various boxing films (Rocky, that one with Robert De Niro) I was well aware that boxing gyms are not glamourous buildings. They do not tempt you in with £10 first month offers or bevies of tightly wrapped girls. There is no water cooler or soft, white towels to soak up your sweat. They are invariably built and maintained by men concerned with an arena to endure in, this one was no different.

The walls seem soaked in sweat, old posters and newspaper clippings are yellowed and peeling. There are shrines paying homage to the greats with elaborate pencil drawings and warnings of how to correctly throw a knock-out punch. This is also a place of discipline, of course there is banter yet there is a whole load of underlying respect. Pay your dues, be gracious, choose the right kit, work til your body can take no more and everything will be fine.

Five minutes before and laughs are aplenty. Apparently I am supposed to ‘duff up’ my good friend Miles as we work for rival banks. My garish red t-shirt is drawing unappreciative glances in what could easily pass for a work environment. Swearing is frowned upon and black is a favoured uniform with pastel colours just about excusable. Lord knows why I decided on this t-shirt, this is certainly not the place where you wish to draw attention to yourself.

For a few spare minutes I work on my technique, specifically on my feet and learn a quick tip of keeping my feet grounded when landing a punch for maximum power. I try various combinations, keeping my hands up, facing forward and keeping side on. These are the building blocks that everyone needs to know.

At 11:05am Andy announces we are to start and half an hour of pain begins. After a minute of punching a bag there are ten Jumping Jacks then two of any sets ranging from Mountain Climbs (holding your body up on your arms then pushing one leg up after the other), deep squats, full burpees, the plank followed by holding up one side of your body then the other, press ups (Andy’s personal favourite) and sit ups. There are also stomach exercises which always cause me considerable pain. One is balancing on your arse and holding your feet up six inches off the ground, at a 45 degree angle then 90 degrees. Another is holding your feet six inches off the ground then rotating to touch your gloves on one side then the other. Suddenly that extra hour in bed seems criminal, especially when I should have been eating a banana in preparation. My stomach aches and refuses to hold up, the mind is willing but the body is not.

There are ten rounds of this cruelty before Andy tells us it’s over… after 50 press ups. It isn’t all that brutal, we are allowed ten seconds to catch our breath between rounds and he appreciates that ten ‘really good’ press ups are better than 50 rubbish ones. By the end I’m dripping in sweat and gleefully taking any liquid refreshment on offer. Apparently I’ll soon feel the benefit yet right now a sofa seems like bliss.

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Fitness

Gym Buddies #1

1. The Balding Show-off

He announces himself with the cataclysmic noise of weights crashing against each other. After 30 seconds he has moved on to another piece of equipment. There is no time to catch breath, nor to take a gulp of water or even wipe his own sweat off the faux-leather covers. Rules mean nothing to him. A comfortable position merely translates to the amount of reps he can complete without boredom setting in. 

He goes his own renegade way, stalking the tight spaces as if a tiger on the prowl. Equipment is chosen on a whim and woe betide anyone that happens to interrupt his show. No-one wants to stare yet he loves the attention. The tight, black lycra costume shouts, ‘I am Adonis. Worship me and feel privileged to bear witness to such a perfect physical specimen’. Only, he’s bald and sweating profusely. 

 

2. The Eastern European Model

She’s a temptress. With her long, bleached blonde locks hanging loose onto her sticky back she craves the attention. Gyms are practice rooms, not for mastering the equipment but perfecting her pout. Every move is calculated, equipment is chosen stealthily and based on prime position. Arse facing walk-ins, full reflection in front, whole torso exposed on either sides.

‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?’ Such a silly question. Every second glance is eying up the competition and catching whoever is eying up her. With her hands locked on the handlebars she is in her comfort zone as her icy, blue eyes dart around. No-one cares and the mirror fails to respond. 

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