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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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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Food

Difficult Decisions – Lent

Ok. Confession time. I’m not a religious person. Despite attending a Roman Catholic school my religious beliefs are neither here nor there. For that reason alone primary school was a little weird and more alienating than it should have been. For all my pals celebrating getting confirmed, getting blessed during mass or even having the honour of becoming an altar boy I stood by and watched. I didn’t really mind, the experience as an outsider let me look in from a position of n0n-commitment and I never really understood the ceremonies.

To that extent the only occasions I have ever been barely considered religious are the holidays. When I was growing up there was never a furore over celebrating Christian holidays, no-one refused to attend the nativity play, no-one clamoured to rename the occasion and everyone made pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. It’s just tradition.

There was often noises about giving up something for Lent yet I’ve never really bought into it. The prospect of resisting chocolate or biscuits or wine never appealed to me. Sure, I could see the point of setting yourself a challenge but giving up treats seemed absurd. Something has changed and this year I have taken the very difficult decision of giving up cake for Lent. That’s right, CAKE.

Anyone that knows me should realise that this is going to be very, very hard. Part of the joy of travelling was sampling the local pastry delicacies and I adore baking. Lord knows how I’m going to make it to the end. During grocery shopping yesterday afternoon my sister decided to pick up my own Kryptonite, a pack of Jaffa Cakes. Even typing those two delicious words out makes me want to run downstairs and gorge down the pack. Still, I must stay strong.

So for anyone having a birthday, wedding or any other celebration that necessitates cake bear in mind that you will be driving me nuts should I have to stand there and resist taking a piece. We all have to take difficult decisions in our lives, this one may be just a challenge too far.

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Food

My Top Ten Biscuits

Due to a playful yet strenuous discussion over the merits of certain biscuits I have decided to come up with this, a definitive list of my top ten biscuits. This was difficult and there were some hard decisions and several compromises. Of course, this is wholly down to my opinion so feel free to nod in approval or hurl abuse in disagreement or even add your own top ten in the comments. There are some old-school favourites and some controversial choices (one goes against The Queen but sod it) yet top ten lists are never going to please everyone so here goes.

10. Malted Milk

A grossly underrated biscuit and one of my childhood favourites. Just thinking of them takes me back to wondering if my head would explode with joy if I dunked one in a glass of milk. It didn’t and it so worth the dare.

Malted Milk

9. Fig Roll

The first of a few controversial entries which ponders the eternal question – ‘What exactly is a biscuit?’. I shall give you a clue to my thinking, all of these entries can be found in the same supermarket aisle. Anyway, you could argue that this is actually healthy and constitutes one of your five a day yet after eating a pack in one go I doubt your doctor would agree. Still, I wouldn’t blame you due to their rich, sticky interior and modest, complimentary casing.

Fig Roll

Fig Roll

8. Fruit Shrewsbury

Another fruity favourite is the Fruit Shrewsbury which, unlike most of these inclusions, is actually a little posh and tricky to find. That sweet combination of lemon, rosewater, caraway seeds and raisins is well worth tracking down though.

Fruit Sjrewsbury

Fruit Shrewsbury

7. Oreo

Yes, there’s a zillion varieties. Yes, the Oreo is American. Yes, it is still a damn fine biscuit. Up until my recent trip to America I thought I had tried every variety available but how wrong I was. Thanks to my Auntie I am now aware of the Heads or Tails (one side is chocolate biscuit, the other is vanilla) and the BerryBurst Ice Cream which tastes as orgasmic as it sounds. For the sake of argument I am going to include the mere classic black and white version; perfect for splitting, licking and dunking.

Oreo

Oreo

6. Jammie Dodger

Another childhood favourite. I’m not sure if it’s the playful heart shape or the sweet, gooey filling that lures me in. Incidentally, one of the most difficult omissions was shortbread and since that is the biscuit used here this inclusion proves a compromise.

Jammie Dodger

Jammie Dodger

5. Ginger Nut Creams

Another near-miss for this list was the humble Ginger Nut which is such a favourite I have even tried to re-create my own. Still, it’s tarted up comrade does get in as proof that nearly any biscuit can be improved with a layer of cream.

Ginger Cream

Ginger Cream

4. Dark Chocolate Digestives

As with most foodstuffs, a layer of chocolate also elevates many a biscuit. The humble Digestive is a favourite of my parents as it remains a solid, dunking biscuit; unpretentious, dependable and you know exactly how long you can leave it in your brew. However, the dark chocolate simply adds a layer of sophistication to it.

Dark Chocolate Digestive

Dark Chocolate Digestive

3. Penguin/TimTams

The biscuit that began the debate. It was not until I arrived into Melbourne that I discovered just how amazing this chocolate sandwich is. One of my housemates, Zoe, got me a cup of tea and excitedly produced a packet of TimTams (basically the Australian equivalent of a Penguin) and asked if I had heard of the ‘TimTam Slam’. I had not so she instructed me to dunk the biscuit into the tea and suck through the open end. My mind was blown. Not only is this an improvement on dunking but shortly after sucking through a gulp of your beverage you know it’s exactly the right time to scoff down the moist biscuit. After all that, it is still only ranked third.

TimTams

TimTams

2. Jaffa Cake

Apologies Maam. The Queen will disagree yet as the Jaffa Cake resides in the biscuit aisle I am implored to include it. Those unaware of the historical debate of whether a Jaffa Cake is a biscuit or a cake will be heartened to know that this actually went to a court of law, I certainly was. Under UK law when a biscuit is covered in chocolate it becomes a cake and subject to the standard VAT rate. However, in 1991 McVities challenged this ruling and came up against Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise. The case went to the courts who were forced to settle the debate and they ruled in favour of McVities. One of the critical arguments being the difference between what happens when biscuits and cakes go stale. Of course, biscuits go softer yet the Jaffa Cake actually goes harder. Case closed.

There are few things I truly missed more than Jaffa Cakes when I was traveling, so much so that my Mum posted a few boxes across to Australia. It’s been well known that I can scoff a whole packet in one go and have even gone to the extreme of pimping it to a full size cake version. For the record, the jelly is not orange flavoured but tangerine.

Jaffa Cake

Jaffa Cake

1. Monte Carlo

Top of the pile is the Monte Carlo. Sorry. What do you mean you’ve not heard of it? Shame that. Australians are rightly mocked for their lack of culinary expertise yet in the Monte Carlo they have created a gem of a biscuit. Two oval shaped biscuits of golden syrup, honey and coconut are sandwiched with a layer of rich vanilla cream and raspberry jam. Every component compliments each other and having worked in several Australian offices I can vouch for it’s versatility in the dunking and splitting stakes. You can also gauge it’s popularity by the very fact that it’s own secret fan club would get to work early just to hoard a couple.

Monte Carlo

Monte Carlo

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