Friday, 29 April 2011

Igniting passions... of interest!

I cannot remember the last time I was invited to a dinner party. Obviously, having children really does turn you into a social pariah. I think it's more to do with the fact that we're more likely to eat out at family occasions than anything. And the fact that most of the people we know are also parents and probably don't have the time or inclination to clean their houses, put away the toys, work out a menu, AND cook it whilst making sure babies and children are clean, fed and put to bed before entertaining other adults in the house, as well as the washing up afterwards. 

But still... 

The mystery blogger behind The Boy and Me tagged me in a meme started by Multiple Mummy, who wanted to know about our interests beyond our own families. Just the sort of thing that we could hold court about if we were to get that rare dinner party invite and the subject of our families was strictly prohibited. 

As I said when I was first tagged, I think the subtitle of this blog gives away a lot of clues as to my interests. I wanted my blog to be about those things I am most passionate about, as well as Monkey and Missy Woo, so perhaps I've had some practice at this. Still, that hasn't got me off the hook, so it falls to me to give you some more detail. 

Food - I love food. No surprise therefore that I've struggled with my weight! I love trying new things and I do get bored making the same things over so my meal plans do have a lot of variety, you may have noticed. I cook from scratch most days and my style is most definitely minimum effort, maximum flavour and effect. Whether it's appropriate to talk about food at a dinner party, I don't know but I guess I could talk about it. And food programmes like Masterchef, Great British Menu which I watch in awe of the effort and talent of the people who take part. Thinking about it, cooking it, eating it - I'll talk about any of it!

Football - again, no surprise really, though I don't blog about it as much as I thought I would. Right now, I'd rather not be reminded that my team has been relegated for the first time in the 16 years I have been following them. So, let's focus on the fact that we, as a family, have a huge interest in Spanish football and watch more La Liga games than we do Premier League ones. As you know from previous posts, we have been to the Nou Camp in Barcelona - several times in fact - but we've also been to the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona (Espanyol's old ground), the Mestalla in Valencia, the San Mames in Bilbao, and the Anoeta in San Sebastian. Much as I dislike them, I'd love to go to the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid and for good measure, one of the two grounds in Seville. I can be quite nerdy about it so be prepared to end up face first in your soup.

Competitions - Less so these days but I've been entering online competitions for about 3 years. I've won a few nice things - like a long weekend at Babington House, our Nintendo Wii, and £1000 to spend on a clothing website - and prizes can be few and far between. I am really less bothered about it at the moment but I still do it but restrict entry to competitions with prizes that I actually want to win. I really don't see the point of spending time on an entry of a promotional item I really don't want. The chances of winning a competition that will change your life is small but at the same time, you can win some nice things. I have to admit though, that I probably get more nice things sent to me through blogging than I do comping these days. 

Crime fiction - Children put paid to a lot of reading, but I have read a lot of whodunnits in my time, and still, if I get given one, I relish the chance of losing myself in a book over a weekend. I think I've gone through nearly all the Agatha Christies, and all of Dick Francis's novels too. In recent years, I've discovered Wallander and have been working my way through Henning Mankell's novels. I also watch discovered the Swedish language TV films, which are not based on the books largely. They are brilliantly acted and so poignant in lots of ways, not least because the actress playing his daughter committed suicide in real life after the first set of films were made.

Singing - I was going to say music but I think vocals are more fascinating for me in general. I used to be in a choir and I've sung the services in various cathedrals when the main choir is on holiday. It was challenging - partly because my sight reading of music is rubbish so I have to rely on listening and memorising what to sing! But it was a great buzz. I'm fascinated by the voice as a musical instrument generally. I could probably bore for hours about that. And the person with the most amazing voice? Youssou N'Dour. 

That'll do for me. There's enough there to send you all to sleep. Bet you're all falling over yourselves to get my invite in the post now, aren't you?

Now, this isn't the sort of meme that you tag people in but I'm linking this up to the original post. If you want to take up the challenge, just link up like I have and have a read of some of the other posts. Enjoy!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

My Fitness Story... - Side Effects

When today's poster first got in touch with me, I hadn't yet published this story. When she outlined her experience, I was struck by the similarities in the two situations and how much of a coincidence - because there was no way they could have known about the other person's experience. When she sent her story through, I realised that despite the similarities, the two stories are actually quite different but nonetheless, relevant to the nature of this series of posts. 

Like the previous poster, today's guest contributor has decided to remain anonymous. You will see from the story she tells that weight loss was the side effect of taking drugs, rather than the main motivation for taking them. She tells her story powerfully about the negative impact it had on her life and also how she overcame it. It is a personal experience of weight loss, which is what My Fitness Story... is all about. Please read it with an open mind, as I hand you over to her to begin her tale.

The first time I took cocaine was April 2005. It was my friends’ 21st birthday, we were going out with and her much older boyfriend and his mate, and they had got a couple of grams for the four of us to share. Up until that point, the strongest drug I’d ever taken was marijuana, and was not just anti-drug, but actually petrified of what drugs could do to me. But for some reason, something just ‘clicked’ and I decided that now was the time.  I don’t remember much of that night apart from spending all night snogging my friends, her boyfriend going home in a strop and then having sex with her in the taxi home and getting a free fare.

Skip forward a couple of months and I met my then boyfriend. He was heavily into the drugs scene and took just about any powder or pills he could get his hands on.  I started indulging in drugs every weekend, and didn’t even notice I’d lost weight until my favourite jeans literally fell off me. I’d never been slim before, hovering at about a size 16 since I left school, and it was a new thrill. I spent a lot of time admiring my new figure in the mirror. The drug taking got worse and I can’t begin to imagine what my workmates at the time thought of me, when I dragged into work after a heavy night doing lines of coke, still shaking and looking wide-eyed.

My life got more and more complicated, and after an abortion and splitting from my boyfriend, when a friend offered me a chance to move in with her and her boyfriend, I jumped at the chance. They were equally as embroiled with drugs and we’d have hedonistic parties, or spend all evening getting ready to go out, taking line after line of coke as we went. As my appetite for cocaine increased, my appetite for food curled up and died. I’d live on black coffee and actually remember congratulating myself one day as I’d only had one solid meal in the last week. To be honest, at this point, I couldn’t have afforded to eat anyway as I’d spend the month existing until payday (to which we referred as ‘Coke Day’), when I’d pay my rent, buy as much coke as I could afford, my monthly train ticket and spend the rest on clothes. For the first time in my life, buying clothes was a thrill as I’d be buying a smaller size each time I went shopping. In no time, my size 10 trousers were hanging off of me. I’m 5’4” and have a very large chest, broad shoulders and have always had hips, but looking back, I think I’d gone too far.

The last time I took cocaine was New Years Eve, 2005. In eight short months I’d gone from a healthy, reliable, kind human being, to a person fuelled by drugs, obsessed with image and who’d step over her sick grandmother to get the next line. Something in my brain seemed to click, in the same way that it had when it all started, and I knew I’d never take cocaine again. About a month later, I met my husband. It was love at first sight and we were married 6 months later. He’d already been there and done that, and had no intention of touching drugs. His attitude and together-headedness is what kept me resolute in my avoidance of drugs, though there were times at the beginning that I could have happily indulged. I think my wedding pictures are the healthiest and happiest I’ve ever looked, and even though I was a size 14, I look at them and wish for that figure, not the size 10 one.

Five years later, I’m bigger than I’ve ever been. I’m extremely unhappy with my weight; I don’t look in mirrors, hate buying clothes, and worry that I’m going to be an embarrassment to my daughter when she starts school. But I know that, this time, I need to do it right. I may have been slim, but I was never healthy. I’ve still never known what it’s like to put in a good, hard slog to lose weight, but this is what I need to do now. It’ll be hard, but at least I know I’ll never be that person again. Because, actually, I hated that person.

Huge thanks to my guest poster for recounting her experience so bravely and honestly. I think it took huge amounts of courage to recognise how drugs were blighting her life and just to stop outright. I wish her the very best of luck with losing weight the right way. I'm sure she is and will be an inspiration to her daughter, whatever she does. 

As usual, please do comment to show your support or share similar experiences below. If you would like to share your fitness story, then please contact me on Twitter or email me on the address on the About Me page. Posts can be partly or fully anonymous, or if you are happy to be named, I will link back to your blog. All contributions are really appreciated so do get in touch, even if you feel yours is not a worthwhile story. If it's a personal experience, it is. And I mean that even if you have failed at something, because it is still YOUR fitness story and you learned from it.

Thanks for supporting My Fitness Story... and do come back for another guest post next week.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

My tips for starting a diet

Back in January, I wrote a post passing on tips for starting a New Year fitness regime, which was well received. Nearly 4 months on, I hope you're all exercising madly and have progressed well. (Of course you have!)

Photo credit: elvinstar
At this time of year, thoughts turn to summer and baring parts of your body that have been covered up for a long time and so the summer diets begin. I've seen a few tweets about it sailing past in recent weeks and it struck me that I had never done a follow-up diet tips post. Then I got into a discussion with someone who wants to lose weight following the birth of her baby earlier this year, who said she had no clue where to start. Again, these are my tips and I'm not qualified in any way so please remember that.

1. Try not to get hung up on the scale. It is very easy to get obsessed by it but it is a number that can be affected by so many things. Drink a pint of water and you'll put a pound on; but you know it's not real weight gain. Knowing your weight is handy for working out calorie requirements but you don't need to weigh yourself that regularly. Try to focus on your measurements - record them at the start and do them about every 2-3 weeks. After all, would you care if you were 10 stone or 12 if you were still a size 10? It's size, not weight, that really matters. If you really must weigh yourself, do it no more than once a week, do it at the same time of day and preferably first thing.

2. Be realistic. Aim for an average loss of 1lb per week, although you may lose more than this in the first couple of weeks. Crash dieting will make you feel rubbish and the chances are you will fall off the wagon more spectacularly. It also messes with your metabolism for reasons I won't go into here. Aim to eat only about 500 calories per day less than you need. In some cases, some people find that their weight loss stalls if they eat too little.

3. Keep your fluids up. It's particularly important in the early days when you're hungry. Apparently, lots of people think they are hungry when they are actually thirsty. Drinking water in particular will help you over the early hunger when you get started and you're adjusting to having less food in your stomach.

4. Plan. Having a plan of what to eat will mean you have something to turn to when you're tired or don't want to think too hard. Consider forthcoming events that might involve challenges to your diet - like parties or social occasions - so you can plan ahead. Consider when you're going to start to get off to the best start - Mondays seem a good idea but it can be a hard day to get started so if it doesn't work for you, choose another day when you're in a more positive mood.

5. View this as a permanent change to your lifestyle, not a temporary stopgap to achieve your goal.

6. Try to build in as many unprocessed foods into your diet as you can. Processed foods have fewer nutrients in it, so when you eat, you get hungry and crave more food. Eating more healthy foods will make you feel bett

7. Write down everything you eat. Seeing it written down in black and white makes your food intake more real and you can see where you're going wrong. There are various websites - some with associated smartphone apps - that allow you to do this electronically.

8. Watch your portion sizes. Start by weighing everything. I remember seeing a programme a couple of years ago when a woman complained she ate heathily but couldn't lose weight. Then they showed the fruit salad she ate for breakfast. It was enormous and contained tons of calories. It also took her hours to eat! If you eat too much of anything, even "healthy food", you won't lose weight.

9. Banning foods makes you crave them. If you have a food nemesis, try to eat less of it or less often rather than cutting it out altogether - unless you have an allergy or intolerance to something of course.

10. Eat regularly, but make it work for you. Some diets say not to eat late - but if that's when you can eat, plan your food around it. You don't put on weight or fail to lose weight by eating late. It's just that you are less likely to make good food choices because of tiredness and more likely to eat something quick that is not so good for your diet. And whatever you do, do not skip meals - when you are really hungry, you're more likely to wreck your diet too.

11. Give yourself treats along the way regularly. It can be a day off, a treat meal, or more regular small treats that fit into your diet - whatever is best for you and keeps you going. This is where planning ahead will help you.

12. If you have a bad day, don't just give up. Be kind to yourself, accept that they happen and start again. One day will not undo everything, so don't let it drag you down. If you're looking at several months of dieting, then one day doesn't make a huge amount of difference.

13. Finally, be in the right frame of mind to start a diet. It's almost better not to start if you don't have the motivation to change and keep going. When I was talking about this on Twitter, Wendy from The MuTu System said this - the first step is to believe you deserve it. I couldn't agree more.

That's it. For more information, try looking at my friend Jo's site, in particular this post about diet and fitness myths and this one about very low calorie diets. Feel free to add your tips in the comments below.

The Gallery - Green

I must admit, I'd hoped that such a seasonal prompt would draw some pretty prose (I nearly said purple then, but that seemed wrong) but no, such verbosity seems to have escaped me today. I do know that the warmer weather and lighter nights when Spring comes around is greatly welcomed by me and the emergence of green everywhere nature acts as a reminder that it has finally arrived. In the last week, the garden has been glorious in the lovely weather but in need of a serious sort out in the veg patch, lawn and vine department.

Whilst clearing out the veg patch, something else green caught our eye. Well, he caught ours actually. My husband managed to get a shot of him holding court, looking imperious, wondering where the water is and where his kingdom had gone, before realising that he's not a prince, he's a frog.

He just needs a princess to come along and kiss him.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Playlist: A song I know all the words to

Hmm. What songs would that be for you? I could choose quite a few songs, but they are nearly all from the 80s, of course. (And would it be cheating to choose Blue Monday? There are hardly any words to that!)

But there is one song, that you all know the words to, probably; not just me. I dare say you probably know every single note; you'll know it from the start. And it's very up and cheerful, and I love the dance in the video, so I've had to give you the original video so you can see it. It's a great feelgood song, it just reminds me of sunny days. I bloody love Tears for Fears, as much now as I did as a teenager. Whilst I was searching for this on Youtube, I found them performing this live last year somewhere. Curt looks better than ever but Roland looks like he needs a good haircut!

Pop over to Mumra and see more entries this week. Or have a go yourself.

Mumra Playlist

Meal Planning Monday

Yet another week of meals! Last week's plan ended up altered slightly - the chilli bean bake got bumped when we went out on Monday afternoon and got home late, so we needed to have a quick tea. We also swopped a couple of things around - Wednesday, we ate a picnic in the garden for lunch and had fajitas picnic style for tea too. Lovely and totally unheard of in April in Lancashire!

So, onto this week, which I've planned on my child free Saturday afternoon, along with making a birthday cake for my husband. Yes, I do know how to live!

Monday - Chicken biryani bake
Tuesday - Moroccan spiced supper and couscous
Wednesday - Chilli bean bake and sour cream mash
Thursday - Sausage, bean and cheese pasties
Friday - Persian cauliflower kuku
Saturday or Sunday - Roast dinner (going to see what's best value)

No fish this week, but other than that, it's fairly balanced, I think.

Why not pop over to Mrs M's blog and check out more entries for Meal Planning Monday? You might get some fab new ideas. Feel free to join in if you like.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

I've been visited by a fairy...

Well, maybe not. You may have seen posts appearing over the last few months, mentioning how the blogger concerned has been sent a gift after commenting on another similar blog post. Back lost in the mists of time, I  may have commented on one such post and been offered the same. However, I'm not sure I took up the offer. Fast forward a few months when I started following the lovely Ian, who only turns out to be the one and only Fairy Hobmother. Or should that be Hobfather? Anyway, shortly after, Ian got in touch and offered me a small gift.

Ian is from Appliances Online, who sell cookers and other white goods. This is somehow appropriate, as he offered a book about baking. The original title he suggested I already own so I cheekily asked if he would send me this instead, and love that he is, he obliged.

This book is gorgeous. I thought the recipes would be too complicated but I made the banana and chocolate cupcakes from them to feature in my Gallery post this week and the frosting recipe was great and the cakes were dutifully wolfed down by the rest of the household.

I'm sure I'm going to enjoy looking at this book just as much as cooking from it.

Thanks to Ian and Appliances Online for the book anyway. Leave a comment here and who knows what might come your way?

Appliances Online sent me the book above free of charge in return for mentioning them in a blog post. 

Look what popped through my letterbox the other day...

Remember this post when I went to Joseph Heler cheese in Cheshire and made cheese with 5 other bloggers?

Well, on Tuesday, this arrived in the post:

My very own cheese. The cheese what I made. Well, not just me, but you get the idea.

It's a coloured Cheshire so a fairly young cheese. I've tried it and it's not bad for a first attempt. Heh.

Can I now add cheese-maker to my CV? I'm sure it would impress.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Competition winners

I've been a bit remiss and not announced the winners of my Blogoversary competition, nor the winner of the Right Royal Knees-Up CD set. 

The winners of the Blogoversary competition have all been contacted and their prizes sent. 

The winner of the Kitchen Chopper was Ashleigh Allan. 

The winners of the My Safe Cutters were: Heather Shaw, Rhonda Walker, and Kate Pollard. 

The winner of my other competition and who wins the Right Royal Knees-Up CD set is Phil Darling. 

Congratulations to all my winners. Phil, I'll contact you via email shortly to get your address. 

Supporting role

I've been a rubbish tweeter to follow just recently. If you do follow me on Twitter, then right now, I apologise for most of the last week. I don't tend to blog about it a lot tho I did post this last week when I was feeling a bit rubbish but things got worse. I really don't know why - well, not fully. I was feeling under the weather anyway, but sometimes, social media just doesn't help. A lovely friend of mine tweeted at the end of last week that Twitter brings out the worst in her, and to some extent, I feel that has been true of me recently. If I'm feeling down, and tweet about it, the kind responses I get from the supportive people who I'm proud to call my Twitter friends just make me well up. I guess I realise I am not being totally kind to myself in those moments and people being kind to me just bring that into sharper contrast than usual.

I'm feeling better now although I still have my moments. Some of the intervening time has seen me pondering what it is that is wrong. I've come to a conclusion and it's an uncomfortable one for me to make. It's this - I don't have enough real support in my life.

That sounds shocking and it sounds like I'm critical of the support that I do have, but it's not. The real life support I have is great. However, my husband works shifts, and I'm not particularly close to immediate family. My inlaws provide support of the childcare sort, but what they can offer is severely limited by the fact that my father in law is still recovering from an operation at the moment, meaning they are less mobile and less able to look after the children. In the current situation, I feel I should hold back from asking them unless I desperately need it.
Photo credit: asifthebes

That, still, is not the crux of the problem. This time last year, when I first started this blog, I was still in the NCT years. Whatever people think of the organisation, my local branch was a great source of support to me. I regularly attended coffee mornings, which might sound horrendous to you but were really just a group of other mums that became my friends who all had children of similar ages, who you could chat to about things and let off steam. All our children knew each other and we just met in each other's houses or at playcentres in term time.

Now, however, I am really beyond the target audience of the regular activities they offer because Monkey and Missy Woo are at school now and I miss that. Some of them do invite me to turn up to theirs on coffee mornings but their main sessions clash with my classes at the gym, and selfish that I am, I like to keep those up as I am working towards a goal. I have been to the odd coffee morning without children and it's odd (although slightly nice that you have no children to pester you for another biscuit or that would decide to fight with the other children over who's playing with a particular toy!). I'm still in touch with some of those mums but things are different now.  And the gym? Not really a source of support. I turn up, do my class and go home again.

Support just doesn't seem to exist for parents of school children who are at home during the day - or if it does, it's very rare or limited. I do know some other parents at school but there is no regular place for us to meet and chat. By necessity, a lot of them are working, either full- or part-time. I need to work too but what is best for our family is a job that is flexible and allows me to be around for the children which means working from home where possible. I've started a business recently and already have a client but it means that the business will, by necessity, mean being quite remote from my clients a lot of the time.

And what of tweeting and blogging? I've made some lovely supportive friends through doing both, and I'm very proud they consider me their friend too. I've been lucky enough to meet some of them in real life. They are there for me and I hope I'm there for them. But geography gets in the way as there's no-one nearby I can turn to and say "fancy a coffee?" at a moment's notice and meet for a chat. And, at times, when I've been busy toiling away on this blog, I jump back into twitter, only to end up feeling like I've turned up sober to a party late, everyone else is a little tipsy and having a great time and barely noticed I'm there. Then, more so than ever, I feel like the odd one out, a bit invisible and not sure how to join in the fun.

Although I'm feeling better now, I don't really know if there is a solution to the situation that I'm in to stop it happening again. My sounding boards aren't there. Sometimes, we all need someone that we can meet for coffee, let off steam, and share things. Much as I love my Twitter friends, and the comments from the lovely people that read my blog (ie you), I've decided the support I need most needs to be around me. And it's not there. I feel slightly sad about that.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this. Have you felt the same as me? Do you feel the same as me? Have you found the answer, and if so, what is it? 

Finally, I really do appreciate the support I get from everyone here and on Twitter. Some people have gone out of their way to support me this week and make sure that I'm OK. They know who they are, and I've said thank you to them all, but thanks again. If nothing else, social media HAS enriched my life.

I just want you all to move down the road so I can visit for a hug sometimes. I can make cake. Deal?

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Easter Baking Competition (for kids!) - Win a Kellogg's goody bag

You may remember back in January, I went to a Kellogg's event in Manchester and wrote this post about breakfast and the importance of it to children in particular. Since then, Kellogg's have kept in touch and recently, asked me if I would like to receive an Easter surprise. Last weekend, not one but two huge parcels turned up for me. Inside were two goody bags, containing nearly all you need to make some crispy Easter treats - Rice Krispies, marshmallows, dolly mixtures, recipe cards, gingerbread man shaped cutters, gel icing, chef's hat and aprons.

We had a bit of a play today with one of the bags. First Missy Woo dressed appropriately for the occasion:

Then, we set about melting 45g butter and 300g marshmallows (minus one or two the children may have taken) to make Easter Bunnies. The idea was to add 150g Rice Krispies to this mixture then roll into ball shapes. Well, now here's a thing - whatever we did to it, the mixture stuck to our fingers like superglue so I pressed most of it into a tin. Maybe we should have waited. We decided to use the gingerbread cutters to make Krispie men, which was also hard work but after cutting them out, the mix was easier to mould into ball shapes for the bunnies.

Missy Woo decorated the men with the icing pens first.

Then, I left her in the kitchen (yes, I did) to decorate the "Easter Bunnies" her way. And these were her babies.

(Several Dolly mixtures may have been consumed during the making of these bunnies. There are leftovers.)

As I have two of these fabulous goody bags, I've decided to give one of them away to one of you lucky lot. Well, actually, your children. What I want you to do is get baking or making cakes over Easter, then either blog about it, tweet a picture of it or just email pictures to me. You can make anything like you like, but the main rules are is it needs to be something sweet (so Krispie cakes are fine, but that won't win you brownie points) and it must be made by a child or children aged 10 years or under. They can have help from a grown-up, of course, but please ensure they have been involved in the making and/or decorating.

If you blog, please link back to your post with photographs in the comments below. If you tweet your link, feel free to add the hashtag #kidseasterbaking and mention me (@kateab) when you tweet it so I can see it.

If you don't have a blog, don't worry, you can still take part. Either tweet your picture, adding #kidseasterbaking to your tweet, and mention me (@kateab) when you do so that I can see it. Or you can just take a picture and email it to me at kateab65 [at] Don't forget to tell me the name of your creation, and the name and age of your child(ren). Leave a comment to remind me you tweeted or emailed so I don't miss any entries.

Entries will close at noon on 1st May so you have all of Easter week and Royal Wedding to make, bake, photograph, blog, tweet, email etc.

I will choose the best entry along with Monkey and Missy Woo. I'm the easiest to please here - to give you an idea, Monkey likes football and riding on his bike and his favourite colours are blue, red and Ben 10 green whilst Missy Woo likes princesses and colouring in and her favourite colours are pink and purple. (Gender stereotyping? I swear I tried not to!) We'll be looking for creative, colourful (and yummy!) entries.

The winner will receive the Kellogg's goody bag. The winner will be contacted by me and asked to provide a UK postal address (sorry, I cannot send this prize outside the UK). The prize will be sent via Royal Mail Special Delivery so you will need to ensure that someone is available to sign for the parcel, otherwise you'll have an annoying trip to the delivery office with photo ID to claim it.

My decision is final on all matters. Just because I enjoy the power, bwahaha. Happy baking... and good luck!

My Fitness Story - Laura S

Hello and welcome back to My Fitness Story... , my weekly guest post slot where people share their stories about fitness, diet, weight gain, and weight loss. This week's story is about the last of those - but it's not just about one person's battle with weight loss, it's about two people. Laura, who blogs at cakeandteablog, has agreed to tell the story of how both her and her husband lost weight (over 15 stone between them), their slide back down the slippery slope when a baby came into their lives (when doesn't it?) and how they have overcome it by fitting a healthy lifestyle around a baby. It's a really inspiring story, so please do settle down to have a good read as Laura takes up the tale.

David and I met in 2001, when I was 18 and he was 21. We were both morbidly obese, and had been heavy right through our childhoods. Through the next few years, we talked a lot about losing weight. We started diets for a couple of weeks at a time before getting bored and even had a couple of lapsed gym memberships. But nothing ever really stuck- life got in the way, motivation faltered, and somehow we just couldn’t get the momentum going to make any real lasting changes.

We got engaged in 2005, and set a date for our wedding in 2008. Finally, in August 2007, something clicked. With just under a year to go until our wedding, we both joined a gym. Coincidentally, our jobs were both changing around the same time. David was a salesman, on the road every day and living on junk food from service stations, but he was becoming more office based. I was leaving my prestigious, high pressure graduate training scheme which had me staying in random hotels for weeks on end, to work locally in a job with much more sensible hours. Suddenly, we had the time and the motivation to really do something.

This is us the month before we started out:

Looking back, I think it’s fair to say that we were both blinkered to how big we actually were. I was a dress size 26, David was struggling with size XXXL. We had fooled ourselves for a long time that everything was fine. It wasn’t.

We started slowly at the gym, beginning with some gentle cardio sessions, and upping the intensity gradually. David found the weight fell off him to start with, I found it came off slowly and steadily, which was frustrating because it felt like I was lagging behind! But the more we did it, the more it became part of our routine. We didn’t do anything special with our diet to begin with, we just started making healthier choices, and these eventually became normal for us.

By the time our wedding came around, I had lost 4 stone and David had lost 6. We looked and felt like different people. And when we got back home, we kept going. We started to do WeightWatchers online, which gave our weight loss a boost, and we looked for new fitness challenges to keep us interested, and started to run together.

To start with, that little voice in my head that said I would never run. It told me that people as big as me didn’t run. Eventually, I told the voice to shove it. So, here we are the start line of the Silverstone half marathon in March 2009. 18 months after starting to lose weight, I am about 7 stone lighter than the first picture, and David is almost 8 stone lighter.

And this is us in May 2009. Just before I got pregnant, and it all went a bit wrong! This is the lowest weight that either of us have ever achieved (so far!) in our adult lives.

When I got pregnant, very little changed at first. We didn’t change our diets too much, and I kept an eye on my heart rate when I worked out. Then I started making excuses... oh, I’ll just have this one takeaway, this one packet of Maltesers, this bucket of crisps, because I’m pregnant. That had an effect on David, who would help me with said takeaway/Maltesers/crisps. Then, as I eased off the exercise, so did he, because we just weren’t pushing each other anymore. Then it got even worse- I spent the last 2 months of my pregnancy going in and out of hospital with gallstones. I couldn’t really eat anything during that period, but David was stress eating- going back to an empty house with a convenient kebab, and worrying.

Just after I gave birth, I weighed 3 ½ stone more than at my lowest weight, and David had put on about the same. But of course, the last thing you can cope with through the sleeplessness and mayhem is of the newborn period is thinking about diet and exercise- thinking about basic personal hygiene was enough of a challenge! Plus, I had to wait three months to have my gall bladder removed, then it took weeks to recover from surgery enough to exercise.

We each had a few goes at losing weight at different times, but parenthood brought a new set of challenges. Every time we got some momentum up, something would happen, usually teething or a bug, that would disrupt sleep to the point that healthy living went out of the window. And where we’d always taken so much strength from exercising together, we now had to do it separately, so that there was always someone at home looking after the little one. With so much more to juggle, it was just harder.

Finally, we made New Year’s resolutions to start again in 2011. This time, it’s working. I have lost 1st 8lb since 1st January, and have 12lb to go to get to my pre baby weight, then another 2 stone to reach my ideal weight. David has lost 1st 11lb so far, with a stone and a half to go to his target weight. It’s slow, and it’s hard, but we are determined to get to the goals that we didn’t quite reach the first time around!

We make time for exercise - and sometimes that involves planning our evenings with military precision so that we both get to do what we need to. It’s tiring, but we are both happier, more confident, and healthier for it. We have learnt to stop making excuses and make time for ourselves, even when life is hectic. We have learned that losing weight is a long and frustrating process, but success will always come, as long as you never give up. And we have learned that getting fit alone is a hard and lonely battle - we need each other. Even if we can’t exercise together much anymore, the support is still there, and we keep each other going.

We have our son to set an example for now  - and if he has good role models, enjoys a healthy, active lifestyle, and never has to battle with weight like mum and dad, then it’s all been worth it.

Thanks to Laura for telling their fitness story today. Both David and her should be really proud of their achievements, even with their slip ups along the way. They have learned that slip ups happen, but the key is not to let it destroy your progress but to get back into it as soon as possible. As ever, and this is a common theme with the successful dieters who've written for me, they have made their regimes work for them, and found a way to build healthy eating and exercise into the lifestyle they have. I wish Laura - and David - the very best of luck in achieving their ideal weights. I'm sure that will happen very soon. 

As usual, please do comment to show your support or share similar experiences in the comments below. If you would like to share your fitness story, then please contact me on Twitter or email me on the address on the About Me page. Posts can be partly or fully anonymous, or if you are happy to be named, I will link back to your blog. All contributions are really appreciated so do get in touch, even if you feel yours is not a worthwhile story. If it's a personal experience, it is. And I mean that even if you have failed at something, because it is still YOUR fitness story and you learned from it.

Thanks for supporting My Fitness Story... and do come back for another guest post next week.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Gallery - My blog

When Tara says she's set a tough challenge, my heart normally sinks and I don't feel any better after I've found out what it is, spending the weekend scratching my head and then scrabbling around at the last minute to produce something. Heck, last week, it was so late, I didn't even start the post until Wednesday afternoon! Well, this week, for a change, I looked at the theme for this week and thought "I can do that!" straight away. It was a gimme - well, for me anyway.

For the theme is "My blog". In other words, I must produce one photograph that sums up my blog. With a blog name like mine, that's easy. The only problem was putting it together and making it work as a photo. That included making cakes! I really hope Tara appreciate the lengths I have gone to this week for her - no point and snap for me, this has taken a good hour or more of preparation. I think that demonstrates true dedication to the cause.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you my blog - The Five Fs.

To represent each of the five Fs, we have:

- Family - pictures of Monkey and Missy Woo at school and nursery respectively
- Football - one of my old Preston North End replica shirts
- Food - banana and chocolate cupcakes
- Fitness - my new trainers, which was a Mother's Day present from the children
- Fun - one of the toys we've been lucky enough to review recently

The Five Fs. The five things in my life that I am most passionate about. The five things that I (mostly) blog about. One photo, five Fs. Done!

If you have a blog, how would you depict yours in one photo?

Truly, MADly, Deeply

MAD Blog Awards 2011If you're a regular reader of this blog (and if not, why not?!), you will maybe have noticed a little badge that has snuck in on my sidebar in the last week or so. I've been wondering whether to mention it or not, because it feels very un-me - or should that be un-British? In one of those "oh, sod it" moments that we all have, I've decided to take the plunge and explain, in case you don't know what it's about.

The badge denotes that this blog has been nominated for one of the The MAD awards. These awards, now in their second year, celebrate the best of Mum And Dad blogging (hence the MAD bit - no, it doesn't mean we're all bonkers. Then again...). The awards recently opened for nominations. There are several categories, and weekly, lists of all blogs nominated in each categories are published on the site's blog. The five blogs with most nominations in each category will become finalists, and a public vote opened for all but the Blogger of the Year award. The winners will be announced in September, and there are some really brilliant prizes on offer.

To date, I have been nominated in five categories, which is just amazing really. Thank you to anyone and everyone who has taken time so far to nominate me for an award.

The categories I have been nominated in are:

Blogger of the Year
Best MAD Family Life Blog
Best MAD Food Blog
Best New MAD Blog (a category I qualify for by 4 days!)
Best MAD Blog Post of the Year for this post, that created a big reaction when I published it a few weeks ago.

If you would like to nominate me in any of the categories - there are others, but I don't qualify for some, like pregnancy blogs - visit the MADs website here to cast your vote. If you do, then thank you.

I couldn't have foreseen what effect starting this blog would have upon my life, as I noted in my Happy Blogoversary post last week. To be nominated for awards for my blogging as well is just thrilling.

I will now go back to being very British and not mentioning it at all. What's the MAD awards again?

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Playing for Parky

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you may remember this post from September about Gary Parkinson, who had a stroke aged 42 and is now suffering from locked-in syndrome. Since I blogged about his stroke, he's been moved to a specialist recovery centre in Bury and is undergoing treatment. The latest I can find is that he now has a wheelchair to allow him to go outside and is being fitted with a speech valve to help him make sounds, and he is also trialling electronic communication which reacts to his blinking and eye movement.

Back when I first blogged about it, I mentioned that I wanted to help with any fundraising event that is set up. Blackpool and Burnley have already held fundraising nights for his fighting fund, but this week sees Preston's turn. On Thursday 21st April, kick-off 6.30pm, there will be a Play For Parky international fundraiser held at Springfields (which is PNE's training ground off Dodney Drive in Lea, Preston) between Preston Supporter's Group (England) versus SIPS (Finland). The teams will be managed for the night by Graham Alexander and David Eyres, both former PNE players and team-mates of Gary. Entry is a suggested donation of £5. Afterwards, there will be an auction of memorabilia after the match at The Withy Trees in Fulwood.

Also, Middlesbrough, his home town team, are holding a charity match for him at the Riverside Stadium on Sunday 15th May, kick-off 4pm. The team of 86, which Gary played in, will play against other celebrities and household names. Gary's son, Luke, who has set up a website to keep everyone updated about his Dad's condition, is set to play in that game and wear the number 2 shirt worn by his Dad. If you want to buy tickets, please go here - tickets cost £10 for adults, £1 for children, with all proceeds going to The Gary Parkinson Trust. You can also buy tickets from usual Middlesbrough ticket outlets.

If you can make it to either, you'd be supporting a worthwhile cause. I'm going to try to get there on Thursday and live up to the promise I made in my original post. It's the least I can do. He may have been a football player, but he's also a father and husband. Quite apart from the impact this has had on him, I can only begin to imagine the effect on his family. They all deserve my support.

Monday, 18 April 2011

This song reminds me of you...

That's the theme of this week's Playlist and I admit to being stumped at first. I have commented on other posts that I tend to associate songs with times and places rather than people. I can remember, for example, being in a café in Somerset and hearing Tainted Love on the radio because it had just reached number one. Totally irrelevant but hearing it takes me back to that moment.

So, associating a song with a person for me is hard. But there is one song that I do associate with one person. My Dad. As you will have probably read before on this blog a few times, he died in December 2000. He missed meeting his first grandson by just over 4 years. He doesn't know I'm married with two kids, he doesn't know that my sister is married too. He doesn't know that he's about to become a step-great-grandfather.

I associate this song with Dad because my mum chose this to be played at his funeral and it made me cry. A few years later, I was watching High Fidelity because I am a big John Cusack fan. His character, Rob attends a funeral and he lists to camera the songs he'd like to be played at his funeral and this was included in the list. It brought it all back and I burst into tears. Even now, hearing this song makes me cry and, well, I just want my Dad back, if truth be told. I've got it playing in the background right now and I have tears in my eyes, but then, writing about Dad always does that to me.

I love you, Dad. And I miss you.

Mumra Playlist

Meal Planning Monday

Another week, another meal plan. Last week's went somewhat awry because a) we were late home on Tuesday and ended up having tea out in West Yorkshire having diverted up the M1 and M62 b) I wasn't well on Friday so the rest of the family went out to eat and c) I'd forgotten that it was Real Madrid v Barcelona on the telly on Saturday so I made tapas instead. So, one of the recipes I was planning has been shoved into this week.

So, here are the results from The Five Fs jury:

Monday - Mediterranean vegetables with lamb
Tuesday - Chilli bean bake with soured cream mash
Wednesday - Chicken and chorizo jambalaya
Thursday - Vegetable fajitas, sour cream, guacamole and cheese
Friday - Cheat's scampi with chunky chips
Saturday - Salmon with butterbean mash
Sunday - going out to eat, it is husband's birthday as well as Easter

Hmm, lots of meat at the start of the week but still plenty of veg in the recipes, then two days with fish/seafood. The children are still off school so there will be lunches to sort but we have plenty of leftover tapas, plus scrambled eggs and sandwiches also fill the gap.

Why not pop over to Mrs M's blog and check out more entries for Meal Planning Monday? You might get some fab new ideas. Feel free to join in if you like.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Think you know all about me? Think again!

Obviously, I haven't shared enough with you because three people tagged me to do this About Me meme before I had chance to write the post. It's a list of questions based on the Guardian's Q&A feature, and was started by Kerry Jean Lister. First, the lovely Jenn from Momma on the Rocks tagged me because she said she was really curious what I would say. Gulp. Then, my great friend Garry from The Blog Up North tagged me too and before I had chance to draw breath, so did my namesake Kate from What Katie's Kids Did Next.

So, they're curious which means I have to inflict you all with the answers to all these questions. I think there's 27 so this could take a while...

Which living person do you most admire, and why? Anyone who has overcome adversity.

When were you happiest? That's a tough one. I can remember times when I was unhappiest the most so perhaps I was happy the rest of the time. It was probably around the time we got married.

What was your most embarrassing moment? Oh God, there is only one that springs to mind. Last summer, I was catching up with doing some competitions and saw one on the MSE boards that was a totally bizarre prize - it was 24 carat gold plated butt-plug. I did a copy and paste and shared it with a friend, in a kind of "you're never going to believe this" kind of way. Around the same time, I finished a Gallery post and went to tweet the link to my newly published post. I pasted the URL into Tweetdeck and it shortened, mentioned Tara so she could see it and hit send. A few minutes later, she came back to me with "what in the hell". I'd tweeted a link to the competition. Oops. Cue lots of panic from me, deleting the tweet and starting again, whilst my mentions went mad. I blushed so hard, it took about half an hour to cool down again. I can giggle about it now but at the time, oh boy.

Aside from property, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought? Probably my car. 

What is your most treasured possession? I wear a ring on my finger that was given to me by a neighbour. She and her sister lived together after her husband died when I was quite small. She had married late in life and she was an invalid so neither had children. They kind of adopted our family - my mum lost her own mum around the time they moved into the road. As children, we would regularly visit them - we all had our own time to go to see them, and have tea with them. They looked after us and gave us cash gifts when I was in my late teens as they had no-one else to spend the money on. My mum found her dead on the floor one Valentine's Day and her sister insisted we all choose a piece of jewellery to keep. I found out afterwards that it's actually quite valuable cos it's antique but that was never the point. I'll never sell it.

Where would you like to live? Barcelona. No contest. If someone were to offer us a decent enough income, I would go without thinking about it. I feel at home there. I relax as soon as we arrive. 

What’s your favourite smell? I think it will have to be food-related. Freshly ground coffee, bread baking, bacon cooking in the pan, all for a start. Imagine if you were doing all three at once - the smell would be heavenly.

Who would play you in the film of your life? Well, Garry has told me I look like Allison Janney from the West Wing. But I think she's a bit too tall and sleek to be me. So, Christina Hendricks would have to play the rest of me. 

What is your favourite book? Either The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon or Possession by A.S. Byatt.

What is your most unappealing habit? Paranoia. Sometimes it's justified, sometimes it's not.

What would be your fancy dress costume of choice? Heck, I don't do fancy dress! Nell Gwynne perhaps? 

What is your earliest memory? I have blogged about this before. Either banging my head against a fence cos I had a migraine at age 2 (think this is a false memory) or looking through the fence at playgroup at primary school and wanting to be a schoolgirl. 

What is your guiltiest pleasure? Food probably, I like it way too much. 

What do you owe your parents? My independence.

To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why? Only my Dad, that he developed such a terrible illness that robbed him of everything over time. Alzheimer's is a terrible disease.

What or who is the greatest love of your life? Twitter?

What does love feel like? Your stomach churning but a feeling that you can't take the smile off your face at the same time. 

What was the best kiss of your life? A kiss in a car park once. 

Which words or phrases do you most overuse? "You know what the rules are". "What do we do in the morning?" "Come on chicken" and "Eating!"

What is the worst job you’ve done? I worked in a food factory for most of one day. I walked out when I realised we were being used as cheap labour and expected to put our lives on hold and the job first.

If you could edit your past, what would you change? Nothing. I can't think of anything anyway. My life is what it is. It made me who I am today, for good and bad. 

What is the closest you’ve come to death? I developed appendicitis when I was 4 and was rushed to hospital to have my appendix taken out . Apparently, it was taken out just before it burst.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? Still being in one piece by the age of 46. It's up there with giving birth to my children.

When did you last cry, and why? Yesterday, when I was feeling down about something. 

How do you relax? Tweeting and blogging. 

What single thing would improve the quality of your life? Having enough money not to have to worry about how the bills will get paid every month.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you? You never know when life is going to pull the rug from underneath you. Enjoy the now as much as you can because it can be taken away in an instant.  

That's me. 

I'm supposed to tag people so here goes: 

Sandy at Baby Baby

Silent Sunday

Silent Sunday

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Helping children through tough times

Children, during their early lives, undergo a huge amount of change but thankfully most of them are quite adaptable. Different children face a whole range of experiences, and some of them face tougher times than others. It can be really hard for children to talk about difficult things - like family break-up, bereavement, and bullying, for example.

Partnership for Children, a charity that promotes emotional and mental well-being of children throughout the world, has worked with Book Trust to produce two guides recommending story books to help children cope with difficult feelings or situations. Reading books about a relevant subject is a really good way to start a conversation with a child about difficulties in their life. A story can offer perspective on a child's own situation, open up to parents or carers and help them find a way to cope with it.

I've been sent both guides to have a look at. There's one aimed at children aged 5 to 8, and the other at children aged 9 to 12, and the books are grouped into sections relevant to the age range, with a brief review of each book, an indication of reading age and interest level. All books (in total, over 100 across the two guides) can be ordered from the Partnership with Children website. If you do that, the charity will receive a percentage of the sale price to help support their work with children. PDFs of both booklets are also available on the site,  and paper copies have recently been sent to 23,000 primary schools and over 3,500 libraries across the country.

I think the guides are a brilliant idea. I can see that talking about the story in the book rather than their own situation is likely to be easier for both parent and child alike, and a story about someone else going through the same things will help a child to feel less isolated. I feel grateful that my children haven't had too many difficult situations to cope with, but I'm thinking of getting one book for Monkey called Angry Arthur as we do have occasional problems with anger issues with him, and I'll know where to turn in future if either or both of them face their own tough times. Some of the books are great reads anyway - both Monkey and Missy Woo have enjoyed "I am too absolutely small for school" (a Charlie and Lola book) for some time and still enjoy reading it now.

We all want our children to have happy childhoods and protect them from harm and upset. That's not always possible. What we can do is support them through the tough times - and these guides will help parents everywhere to do just that. Please take a look at the guides on Partnership for Children and support this great project.

(I was sent both guides to review but I have not been paid to write this post. I have written this post because I think it's a worthwhile project that I'm happy to support on this blog.) 

Friday, 15 April 2011

The magic of knickers? A review

If blogging my fridge contents and the place I write aren't enough, I'm now going to talk about magic knickers. I have to be honest and say that I've never bothered with such things ever in my life. They are, to me, reminiscent of girdles worn by middle-aged women when I was small - restricting and uncomfortable.

When I heard about an opportunity to review some, my curiosity got the better of me and I asked if I could have a go. The range on offer was Trinny and Susannah's Original Magic Knickers Shapewear. Looking at the range, it struck me they looked very uncomfortable and I decided that I didn't really want the actual "knickers" because I didn't really fancy the practicalities of gussets etc so I asked for the All-in-One Body Smoother. However, what actually turned up was the All-in-One Body Shaper - that's right, with shorts! Hey ho.

The packaging claims that it will help you drop a dress size. It has various features that I won't list mostly, but it's designed to have no visible seams and has an "easy-to open gusset with double flaps that close automatically". The mind was already boggling.

I decided to do a comparative exercise with an outfit that could look a bit better. I have a lovely purple dress that I wear (Gok style) with an elasticated belt so that I have a waist. The dress is of a style and material that hides very little. I tend to wear it with a jacket etc to cover the nasty bits. I'm generally pear-shaped so anything from my waist to my knees could always do with some improvement.

Putting the shaper on was quite some fun. I reckon it took me about 3-5 minutes before I was totally happy with it! It felt like the band that should be accentuating your waist needs to be higher - but looking at the photos, it doesn't sit as high as that. I thought it was me as I'm quite long in the body. Once it's on, it doesn't feel restrictive at all and didn't cut into me anywhere. But still, it's shorts. I didn't like the gusset and I really wouldn't like to have to go to the toilet whilst wearing it. I would much prefer the body smoother for wearing under dresses for that reason. I realise the shaper would have its uses under jeans etc. I like the shoulder straps and the fact that it allowed you to wear your own bra. A built in bra would have just squashed my boobs and made me look ridiculous.

So here's my comparative photos. Please excuse the wet hair - I'd not long got out of the shower and was trying to get the photos done quickly whilst the children were out playing with friends which usually last 10 minutes!

So, I'm smoother with the body shaper on. The relative sizes are hard to gauge because I don't think I've stood the same distance from the camera and I used my phone on self-timer to take the shots. It certainly doesn't look like I've dropped a dress size - which is how it felt. I remained pretty much the size I was before (14), just smoother. It didn't remove all the bumps completely. There's only so much magic they can perform. 

Would I buy these? Unlikely. I think if it was really important to look perfect, it would be better to find a more flattering dress, or if you had THE dress that needed a few unwanted bumps addressing, it might be better to try and lose a small amount of weight in the weeks before an event. I can see it might be useful in an emergency - but how often do you get invited to emergency events? Ah well, only me then. It certainly would not be regulation underwear on a date if you thought your luck was in - it would be something like the big pants scene from Bridget Jones, they would be serious passion killers. In terms of price, they seem similar or cheaper to other brands so I guess they are fairly priced. I just know I wouldn't pay £41 for them. 

Maybe this would be a different review if I'd been sent the body smoother to try out. Thinking back, the shorts issue is the biggest one for me and the main reason I wouldn't buy this. However, I certainly wouldn't recommend this for dropping a dress size as I don't feel I did. If you do buy some, go for a style that works on your problem areas and consider practicalities with the outfit you want to wear. The natural colour looks best under white or light coloured clothes as it disappears whereas the black looks best under dark colours. 

The Trinny and Susannah Original Magic Knicker range cost between £26 and £41. 

(I was provided with a Trinny and Susannah All-in-One Body Shaper to review and have received no other compensation. The opinions stated are my own and not affected by any compensation. I have not been told what to write and I retain full editorial control.)

Thursday, 14 April 2011

My Write Room

So, earlier this week, I was challenged to show you the contents of my fridge. Now, Melinda at Her Melness Speaks has asked me to show you where I write. It's based on Mariella Frostrup's Book Show which has a feature where authors show you around the place or room where they write. I don't find this quite as revealing showing you my fridge, mainly because it feels so "normal". My writing place is like mission control! It's where I tweet, chat, do my comps, work, everything.

This is "my chair" in the living room. I don't like hiding away somewhere to write. The chair reclines so I often end up writing with my feet up and get settled in very nicely. I like the proximity to the radiator, particularly in winter - as you can see, it is also handy for placement of cups of tea (although I regularly forget to drink them), pen and any other blogging paraphernalia. The square stack you can see is actually a pile of CDs which are the prize for one of the competitions that I am currently running. My phone is normally attached to one of the cables, as it's permanently on charge in the evening but I used it to take this picture.

Out of shot, you can't see my diary with assorted useful things in it to help my blogging, the television which faces my chair directly, meaning that it's just behind and beyond my screen when I'm in position so my eyes can flick between the two, and the lamp just to my left which lights up my corner.

How about you have a go too? Just a take a picture of where you write, blog it and add it to the linky.

My Fitness Story... - Laura W

This week's story is a bit hot off the press! On Tuesday night, one of my Twitter friends, Laura, tweeted about her weight loss. I don't think it was just me that said "Wow!" when she said she'd lost ten stone. Laura then sent me a DM to tell me how she did it and I told her she should write her story. She was a bit reticent to do so but I talked her into it.

The reason for her reticence is that she had gastric band surgery which has helped her to lose weight. This is a controversial area; many people think that it is the lazy route to weight loss and she was worried of the reaction to her story. I hope that her story, which takes her from a weight of 301lbs and BMI of 42.14 to a weight of 160lbs and BMI of 22.40, demonstrates that it is far from an easy option, and you will give her your full support because it is an incredible achievement whichever way you look at it. 

Before - side view
Last night was the first time that I had weighed myself in a year. Sheer stupidity forced me to tweet about my weight loss but after a little natter with the lovely Kate, I agreed to share my story and dark secret…

At 28 years old, a mother of three, 6ft and weighing 300lbs, I was often referred to as 'the big one', ‘Hagrid’, 'fatty', 'gibblet' and 'her that looks like a rugby player’. At the age of 16, I thought I was sexy and had confidence in my body. I was never skinny but I was toned from playing football and had a great shape. However, this all buggered off when, aged 16, I became pregnant. I couldn’t decide what was worse; no football, getting fat, or both!

After my son was born, I managed to stick at Slimming World for many years, my weight yo-yoing up and down until I got married in 2004. After the wedding, I gave up; child number two came along and before long, number three too. I ignored what I looked like and never looked in the mirror. My confidence was low and paranoia developed every time I left the house. I tried to look for a new job to be closer to home but I felt that I was being penalised at interview for being fat. My husband suggested I speak to the GP about weight loss surgery, he had been reading up on it. The GP recommended the local Spire hospital as a good starting point. My hubby decided to foot the bill (he wanted a sexy wife, he said) and next thing you know, I was in for a consultation.
Before - front view 

The consultant wanted me to opt for a gastric bypass, but hearing so many horror stories, I opted for the gastric band. If Anne Diamond and Sharon Osbourne could do it, then so could I. I started the pre-op diet pretty quickly, which consisted of drinking Bovril, Bovril and oh, more Bovril for 14 days. The band was fitted under general anaesthetic using keyhole surgery so they had to ensure that the fat around the liver was non-existent, hence a liquid pre-op diet.

On 19th April 2008, I went into the Spire at Macclesfield not knowing what to expect. I was a scared young girl who just wanted to be thin. I awoke, still a fat person who wanted to be thin, with the additional bonus of being in absolute agony. I didn’t realise that they ‘jack’ your liver up out of the way while they stitch the band to your stomach. Gas is also used to inflate the chest cavity…painful. For days, I was walking like Nelson Mandela through pain and burping for Britain from the gas. Since the pre-op diet started, I had lost 16 pounds but I was still a fat person wanting to be thin. Two weeks after having the band fitted, I had lost 2 stone!I felt amazing, clothes were falling off me and I felt so confident and sexy; even at meal times when eating my baby food tubs of puree chicken and veg.

Since then, I have lost a whopping ten stone. Trust me, this was not easy. There have been days where I have cried over food, days where I have been so sick with every mouthful and days where I have just refused to eat. I guess the key to having a gastric band is to not rely on it to do the work for you. It took me over a year to work this out, maybe longer. Instead of building my repertoire of foods up from puree to more solid balanced meals, I was eating rice pudding, melted chocolate and angel delight. Well it was sloppy wasn’t it - the band won’t stop those foods getting through!

I went for regular band fills at the hospital and lied to the dietitian about the band not working. I wanted it tighter and tighter. Each time, they would pump more saline solution in to tighten it up (through a port under my skin) and each time, I would complain that it wasn’t working. It was only when I realised that I was cheating myself and not them that I kicked myself into gear and started eating a healthier, more ‘solid’ meal.

Doing the midnight walk
I also began to exercise. That first day when I mounted my new bike, I felt so proud. That was until I rode off the drive, big grin on my face, got past next door's drive then collapsed in a heap from exhaustion, turned around and hid the bike away. I told myself off. £300 on a bike and I wasn’t going to use it. The next day, I cycled for 5 whole minutes! The day after, 15! Two weeks later, I was cycling nearly 20 miles a day and loving being on the open road, the baby behind me in his seat and the biggest grin on my face ever.

If I couldn’t cycle, I would walk. I entered myself into the St Luke's Hospice Midnight Walk in June 2009 which was 13.1miles through Crewe and Nantwich starting at midnight. I could do that. I remember training for it, tweeting my friend Richard as I was walking through town night after night. I was so proud of myself. I raised over £400 and walked the 13.1 miles in under 2 hours (1hour 59 to be precise!). Unfortunately, due to illness, I couldn’t do the walk last year but I have signed up again this June. I’ve been advised to take it steady so I won’t be breaking the 2 hour barrier this time.
You see, it’s not that band that does the work. It’s the person inside. Mind over matter. Some days, I still cry when food makes me sick. I get angry when I’ve cooked Christmas dinner and can’t eat a forkful of it without dashing to the toilet to bring it back up. But what I remember is that at least I am eating ‘something’ and that ‘something’ is healthy (shhhh, don’t tell Kate I’m eating a Twix right now). I have days where I eat chocolate and nothing else, I am still human after all. But those days, I get up and get out and, rain or shine, I will walk the dog briskly or hop on the bike. I even bought myself a cross trainer last year that is fantastic for hanging clothes on (though I do use it at times).

Another thing I keep in mind is that everyone is different and that goes for band wearers too. I had a lovely message from Anne Diamond once (I was a regular on her website) telling me to stick with it and not give up. She said that what works for her might not work for me. It was these words from Anne that snapped me back into shape last year when I became ill. I couldn’t exercise as much as I wanted to and the weight was piling back on. If I wasn’t starving myself, I was making myself sick after every bite of food. It wasn’t good. I remembered Anne’s words and not only do I still believe that we are all different, but I also believe that for a band wearer, every day is different. Yesterday, I ate a party sized sausage roll; tonight, I tried one and it made me sick. Last week, an apple made me sick; today, it went down fine. It’s trial and error, like weaning really. Just stay relaxed and don’t worry if you have excess food left over - you can always feed it to the dog!

I've stopped fighting against food now and just accept that I can only eat what I can eat without making myself sick. If my children want a McDonalds, I no longer look longingly at the cheeseburger, instead I take a bite and feel satisfied that I've had a bite. OK, perhaps it's not the way that we've been taught to live with the band but it's worked for me - sometimes that bite is enough for my lunch and that suits me fine.

I'll leave you with my golden rules, none of which are any massive secrets.

- don’t drink for at least half an hour after eating
- chew food thoroughly
- drink plenty of water
- don’t skip breakfast

I hope you'll agree that Laura has been brave and honest in writing this post. I think that it demonstrates that it's not just a case of getting a gastric band and you'll be slim without effort. Like everything, you need to learn how to make it work for you. And work at it, you will - it still demands a healthy lifestyle to get the best results. 

Whatever you think of gastric bands and other forms of weight loss surgery, and whether it's for you or not, Laura's achievement is incredible. She's worked hard and is still recovering from illness, whilst trying to complete a degree as well as being a wife and mother. I wish her all the best with her recovery and at maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If you're interested, Laura has recently started a blog called Daydreams and Diaries, which is worth a visit too. 

As usual, please do comment to show your support or share similar experiences in the comments below. If you would like to share your fitness story, then please contact me on Twitter or email me on the address on the About Me page. Posts can be partly or fully anonymous, or if you are happy to be named, I will link back to your blog. All contributions are really appreciated and do get in touch, even if you feel yours is not a worthwhile story. If it's a personal experience, it is. And I mean that even if you have failed at something, because it is still YOUR fitness story. 

Thanks for reading and do come back for another guest post next week. 
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