Thursday, 30 June 2011

My Fitness Story... - The story so far, and a plea for more posts

I'm writing this late in the evening when for the first time, I've had to admit defeat. This week, I have no lovely guest post to share with you. I'm quite sad about that because until now, I've always managed to convince someone to tell their story.

If truth be known, I didn't know if it would last more than a few weeks so to get this far is fairly impressive. I've had 23 posts so far and they've ranged from light-hearted to deadly serious, those making small changes to those transforming their lives and coming back from the brink. We've had life-saving surgery and
gastric band surgery - which, let it be said, is by no means the easy option for losing weight.
I admire the bravery of those who have chosen to tell a story of which others might not approve. The determination of those overcoming serious illness to become fit and healthy people again, and those who have had large amounts of weight to lose and achieved it.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Coconut & Lime Cake

As you know, I was away last weekend. It's been booked for months, and so felt a bit bad when I realised the school summer fair was on the same day. Never mind, I thought - I'll make some cakes for the cake stall.

Then, I get a note saying that school was having a competition to see which class could make the most cakes. Which meant I needed to make the same number of cakes for each child. Oh, and I promised someone else I'd make a cake for an NCT fundraiser too. My first idea was to make my usual chocolate cake in loaf tins so I could make two cakes in one go. And then I made a coconut sponge cake, my absolute favourite. Having made golden banana cake from Nick's book for the NCT, I still needed to make one more cake so each child had two cakes. Why do I do this to myself?

I realised I still had coconut milk left over. I didn't want to make the same basic cake so I decided to adapt it and add another flavour. I remembered I had some limes lurking in the fridge- and came up with the idea for this. It's based on the original recipe. I kind of made it up as I went along - I decided to add the lime syrup after I'd baked the cake then add the usual buttercream with a bit of lime juice. This is a really easy recipe but the syrup adds another step.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Fancy a Meal Planning app? Then vote for us!

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a Mums On Three event in Manchester. Three are working to try and help mums save time. Apparently, they discovered from a survey that mums think that they could save themselves around 135 hours a year by using their smartphones more. At the event, we designed an app to help mums save time. We're up against 4 other teams from around the country. The winning app will be designed and available for download (for free). The lovely Sandy led our team and made a video detailing our idea.

What we came up with was a meal planning application. It was a popular choice and several people had the same idea as me. What we envisage the app doing is allow you to make a weekly meal plan from popular choices of meals - it will be preloaded initially with some popular family recipes - and plan your week's meals. You'll be able to scale up or down according to the size of family that you have and allow you to set preferences for dislikes or allergies etc. And then, when you've planned your meals, it will create a shopping list. We see this as a great timesaver so that you can get your meals planned in one go and hopefully all your groceries bought in one trip to the supermarket.

If you would like to vote for us, please go to the Three UK page on Facebook and like it then go to the Mums On the Go Mums tab and like our video, which is, of course, Weekly Meal Plan.

If we win, we'll be credited in the app and will win a slap up meal but that's all that's in it for us. As you know, I really rate meal planning as a way to keep your food bills down as well as saving time, and helping you to eat a more varied diet as a family. Obviously, I think this is the best idea.

So please, vote for us!

Monday, 27 June 2011

Meal Planning Monday

Time to get back on the meal planning wagon! Everything went well last week - I've now made that Italian Meatloaf twice and still not actually eaten it as it's good for making ahead and leaving for the rest of the family to eat later. One day.

25 things I learned over the Cybermummy11 weekend

1. The Travelodge on City Road was even noisier than I thought it would be.

2. If you sleep in a noisy room, you sleep much better on the second night.

3. The Travelodge is also around the corner from a building I used to visit for meetings regularly nearly 20 years ago. I only realised this on Friday.

4. A maxi dress was a damned good choice of outfit. Nothing to ride up, nothing to slide down and comfortable for everything. And I found a dress that didn't make me look like a pair of curtains!

5. Meeting so many people that you've known for months but never met before is not only weird, but overwhelming. Had I been at a conference with over 400 real strangers and only a few people that I knew before, I don't think it would have been quite so overwhelming.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Competition: Win tickets to Pandamonium in the Park at Althorp House

The lovely people at Kellogg's offered me some tickets to an event taking place on Saturday 9th July called Pandamonium at the Park at the Althorp Estate in Northamptonshire. I can't go but Kellogg's have said I can give away tickets to some lucky readers.

Review: Wii Zumba­® Fitness

If you've been near a gym or a sports centre in the last two years, you can't fail to have heard of Zumba. If you don't know what it is, it's a fitness class based on the Latin American dances of salsa, merenge, cumbia and so on.

When I rejoined the gym towards the end of last year, I discovered that Zumba classes were almost taking over the old favourites of Body Pump, Body Combat and Body Attack. Having heard various good reports from friends, I decided to give it a go.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

My Fitness Story... - Ian

I've lost track of the number of weeks this has been running but welcome back to My Fitness Story... anyway. This week's guest contribution is by Ian who blogs at Northern Blokes Ramblings and his tale of how he motivated himself to train for the Liverpool marathon. So, here is Ian with his tale, which he has called:

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

3 Word Gallery

That is the prompt that Tara from Sticky Fingers has set for us this week. It's based on the three word summaries that Simon Mayo asks his listeners to contribute to summarise their day which he then reads out on his Drivetime show on Radio 2. I follow Simon on Twitter and have contributed if I see his tweet. I don't often listen to that particular show; I listen to the Mayo and Kermode Film Review on Friday afternoons as it's the best radio programme on air.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Toyologist Competition - Win a Webkinz

During the Toyologist programme, I will be running one competition each month to win toys so you can join in the Toyology fun.

This month, you can win a Webkinz, worth £5.99. These are cute soft toys which come with codes that you enter on the Webkinz website to play with the online version of your toy.  

If you'd like to take part in the competition, first make sure you like the Toys R Us Facebook page, then leave a comment below. Please ensure you leave a valid email address or means to contact you (eg via twitter) so you can be contacted easily if you are a winner.

Good luck!

Terms and conditions

To enter, like the Toys R Us Facebook page, then leave a comment below, along with a contact email address, which will be used to contact you if you win. (If you set up a Disqus profile before commenting, this information won't be  displayed.)
The prize is a Webkinz. The winner will be sent a Webkinz selected at random.
The competition closes on Monday 27th June 2011 at 8pm. 
The winner will be drawn at random from all valid entries. 
The winner will be contacted that evening and asked to provide a postal address and a contact telephone number within two days or the winner will be re-drawn. 
The contact telephone number will be used by the courier to confirm ETA of deliveries.  
Facebook have no affiliation or responsibility for this competition. 
UK entrants only.
There is no cash alternative. 

A return to Toyology with another review: Silver Cross Classic Deluxe doll's pram

If you've hung around this blog long enough, you'll know that last year, we were invited to be Toys R Us Toyologists, testing and reviewing toys. Monkey and Missy Woo absolutely loved this and the parcels were greatly anticipated. Excited little faces would implore me to open the box from "the Starman" - as they came to believe that such a person existed as the tape used to seal the boxes had the Toyologist star on it.

Anyway, we were very excited to be invited to be Toyologists for a second year, hence the shiny new badge in the sidebar. The excitement built to a fever pitch until last week, the Starman sent us a new box of toys to try. And so, it's time for another review.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The day I went to Blogcamp

Tots100 BlogCamp
As you probably already know, I'm off to Cybermummy next weekend, thanks to my sponsors Seaworld Parks. It's a huge event with hundreds of bloggers attending. But last Friday, I travelled a much shorter distance to a much smaller event aimed at bloggers called Blogcamp in Manchester. The organisers are running events in different locations around the country to allow bloggers to meet up, chat and perhaps listen to a few experts.

Meal Planning Monday

I can't believe it's another week gone by. Last week's went very well, with more meals from Nick's book My Daddy Cooks. The creamy mushroom and parma ham pasta bake was a particular hit with everyone.

So, time to plan some more meals. As I'm away at Cybermummy this weekend (all thanks to my sponsor Seaworld Parks, I've planned in a few things I can prepare ahead and leave in the fridge. The Italian meatloaf is particularly good for this as it's made in 5 minutes.

Monday - Ham and sweetcorn pizza, carrot sticks, cucumber and tomatoes
Tuesday - Oven baked risotto (from Nick's book)
Wednesday - No cooking
Thursday - Goulash (from Nick's book)
Friday - BBQ ribs (from Nick's book)
Saturday - Italian meatloaf
Sunday - Kept free (possibly takeaway)

A reasonable mix, I think - but no fish! I really must rectify that next week as the children do actually love fish. And of course, I shall not be eating some of those meals - on Friday, I will be eating Italian at Sandy's Meet, Greet and Eat and on Saturday, curry in aid of Gemma's birthday.

Why not pop over to Mrs M's blog for more meal planning entries?

Friday, 17 June 2011

The Karaoke meme

So, I got tagged by Garry over at The Blog Up North to do a karaoke meme. I've written about music a few times on this blog but never about karaoke. There is a reason for this.

I don't like singing in public. Solo, at least. That sounds mad for someone who's sung in a choir but really, there is safety in numbers. I couldn't do it by myself so thank God I was never good enough to be given a solo. Generally, I need to follow someone else who can sight read or know the line I'm supposed to be singing better than me. Even then, I can sometimes get stage fright - I went to a rehearsal once and there was only two of us in my part. I was terrified.

Karaoke, therefore, is my idea of hell. But, were I to overcome this stage fright, possibly with the aid of some alcoholic beverages and an offer of half a million pounds a heck of a lot of persuasion, I'd probably be in a partay mood anyway. And so the song I'd make a fool of myself to would be this one:

Possibly with the help of a random passing male - my voice isn't deep enough for some of the bits. Or not - I might not care by that point. I just love this song anyway. It has formed part of the playlist of many a good night in my life. If a DJ hasn't got this, well then, he doesn't know how to get a good party going, does he?

And now it is my duty to tag some others to continue this meme. There's not many as it was late when I remembered this post so there's only one. If you want to join in, feel free to consider yourself tagged and get blogging.

My willing volunteer today is:

Dave at The Big Div

And if you don't blog, feel free to leave a comment instead.

ShowOff Showcase

Thursday, 16 June 2011

My Fitness Story... - Paula

This week's guest post is Paula, who doesn't have a blog (at least one that she's told me about anyway!) but is a friend and follower on Twitter. Paula's post is quite different to the usual because she only a few weeks into a diet and fitness programme. Here she tells us what motivated her to start her new regime, the approach she's taking and her progress so far. So, without further ado, Paula takes up her story, which she has chosen to call... 

Going it alone

I blame Facebook.

I've always been big. I lived my life, I kept fairly active and felt OK about myself. But that all changed with the invention of FACEBOOK!! It's the photo thing, y'see. When I look in the mirror, I see an twenty-three-year old with a smooth, wrinkle-free face who could stand to lose a few pounds. In reality, what's staring back at me is an almost-forty, "homely" mum, with love-shelves instead of handles and an ass that turns tides instead of heads! When we used to take photos, they were lovingly stored on the PC with the exception of the vast amounts of cute pictures of the lads and the odd flattering one of me, which were printed, framed and hung for all to see. But Facebook hates me... It allows ANYONE who takes a photo of me to upload it and tag it! And, like a Magic Eye picture coming into clarity, I could see what was really there. And so I decided I needed a change.

I'm quite an extreme person, I never dip my toe in - just jump and suffer the consequences. I gave up smoking four years ago, cold turkey. No patches, no gum and not a cigarette since. So once I made the decision to lose weight and become fitter, I knew it was all or nothing. I stopped drinking, I gave up bread and vowed to exercise 5 and a half hours a week. I wasn't going to take on a faddy diet that I couldn't stick to. I needed a lifestyle change, I needed to rethink how I was living my life and make positive, healthier alternatives. However, I'm a big, middle-aged woman, not exactly at her physical peak! I think it's so much harder to take the first step when you have a bigger hill to climb. I envy people who tweet about a 5km run or 20 lengths of the pool. I'm not ready for that yet and it's going to be a while before I am. So it's baby steps till then.

And so for the last six weeks, this has been my life. Once the men are off to work and school, I do my Wii Fit workout. I try not to weigh myself every day because it gets me down when I haven't lost anything. I do a combination of Yoga, Muscle and Aerobic exercises. Three or four times a week, my other half and I will also walk in the evenings. I'm still not able to manage a jog yet, but I'm surprising myself with how quickly my body is adapting to exercise. When we started, I could just about manage two circuits of the park walking. Now I can do some short jogging bursts in between the walking strides. We're lucky enough to live close to some beautiful spots to walk, with some steep inclines to get the heart pumping! I eat so much better than I used to. Ryvita instead of bread. No butter, no sauces. Plenty of fruit and vegetables. Skimmed milk with everything. I eat little and often in an effort to stop myself feeling hungry. I did originally set out not to waiver from the plan for at least a year, but I've found that this is unrealistic and treating myself isn't the end of the world.

So no Zumba classes, no personal trainer and no Weightwatchers for me. So far, it's working - I've lost 16lb since I started. I know that seems a lot, but I have a LOT to lose and I know the weight loss will slow down. I've set myself a goal of my 40th birthday, which gives me 15 months. I need to do this for me and no-one cares more about me succeeding than I do.

Wish me luck!

Good luck indeed to Paula, and thanks go to her for telling her story so far today. Losing more than a stone in 6 weeks is a great start. I think she generally has the right approach - build up slowly and try to stick to the plan as much as possible, but be realistic and not fuss about the tweets. If I could pass on any advice to Paula, it would be this: don't get hung up on the scale. Weighing yourself is such an unreliable indicator of your progress sometimes as it's affected by so many things (drink a pint of water, and you'll gain a pound, for example) and you're unlikely to see a change from day to day. At the very most, weigh yourself no more than once a week. 

Feel free to share experiences, as always, in the comments below. My guest posters really do appreciate the messages of support they get from readers.

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. 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. I am particularly short of posts at the moment. Do please join in - or ask your friends if you know someone has a story to tell, even if they don't blog.

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

Wednesday, 15 June 2011


I've written about my Dad before, and I feel I've written about him enough. I've probably bored you all rigid talking about him in previous posts. So, today for the theme of Dads at the Gallery, I'm going to talk about another Dad - my husband's dad and Monkey and Missy Woo's granddad, my father-in-law.

At the end of last year, he was diagnosed with a bowel tumour. The prognosis was good but he had to have radiotherapy followed by an operation. The operation was either going to be keyhole surgery - for which a short hospital stay would be needed - or more invasive surgery, requiring a stay of one to two weeks. The irony for me was that he was having the operation on a day significant to me - the tenth anniversary of my Dad's death.

The operation didn't go well, requiring some quite major surgery. What we weren't prepared for was what happened afterwards. He moved wards several times as his condition dictated and sometimes to get the care he needed (sad but true), gradual improvement followed by relapses, and a lot of frustration. He managed to have a trip home one weekend to see how he got on, only for him to become really quite ill a few days later, extending his stay even further. The children weren't allowed into the wards he was on quite a lot, so they saw him a few times when they were allowed to visit but not half as often as they would do normally. Quite difficult for them as they love seeing Granddad (and Granny).

Finally, he left hospital, in mid-March. That one or two-week stay had become 3 months. Christmas didn't really happen. New Year was a blur. He went in during midwinter with snow on the ground and came out as spring approached.

Since leaving hospital, he's continued to improve - he's had regular visits to hospital for ongoing treatment, including one further overnight stay, but was soon home again. He's gradually become more mobile, although he's still walking with a stick. He's been back to see Blackpool play again (poor thing) and they even finally went on a Baltic cruise that they had previously had to cancel because of his illness.

The day after they came home this weekend, we held a family party. The weather was rank. The lady delivering hotpot managed to get lost coming from about two minutes away and someone had to be sent to help her find the house. It didn't matter. Everyone in the family made it to the party, except one grandson who had university exams. It was a lovely afternoon. One of those slightly chaotic but fun family parties.

There was a cake, which we put candles on and my brother-in-law made a speech. It took about 10 minutes, with various people cracking jokes and interrupting him; partly, I think, to relieve the tension. Because, by the end of the speech, everyone was in tears. After a difficult few months, it was truly a cause to celebrate that this Dad is still around for this year's Father's Day.

So my picture today was taken at that party. My father-in-law surrounded by his family.

Dad of five. Grandfather of fourteen. Great-grandfather of two. Happy Father's Day.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Meal Planning Monday - & how my week of My Daddy Cooks meals went

You may remember that last week, I planned a whole week of meals from My Daddy Cooks by Nick Coffer. I'm pleased to report that they mostly went down well - I might make a few tweaks for family tastes. The big hits were the Singapore noodles and the burgers and chips. I've done you a little slideshow of all the meals bar the lentil curry so you can see how they turned out.

So, time again to plan another week's meals. I'm trying to balance everything with a bit of convenience this week as on Friday, I'm going to Blogcamp in Manchester so I will have to make something ahead of time. And I'm in Manchester the day before too! Some of the meals are still from Nick's book, some are not as I've got some things I need to use up and Monkey has a friend coming to tea on Tuesday and they have requested pizza. Here's the list:

Monday - Chicken and spinach curry (from Nick's book)
Tuesday - Cheese and ham pizza (no recipe!) and salad
Wednesday - Sausage jambalaya (from Nick's book)
Thursday - Sandwiches
Friday - Wild mushroom and parma ham pasta bake (from Nick's book)
Saturday - Salmon with butterbean mash
Sunday - Roast pork with all the usual stuff.

Looking at this, there's lots of pork in its various forms this week. Oops.Will have to be slightly more balanced next week.

Why not pop over to Mrs M's blog for more meal planning entries?

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Review: Hotel Chocolat Everything Selection

There are some things you should just not turn down when offered them. When you're offered the chance to try some of the best chocolates around, you just don't say no. Now, I will be honest and say I am not a chocolate addict at all. In my childhood, I had to avoid it because chocolate was one of the things that could trigger the migraines I had back then. Luckily, I grew out of them but it meant I never really crave chocolate. That's not to say I don't like it because I do; it's just I am not one of those people who HAVE to have chocolate daily.

So when Hotel Chocolat offered me the chance to try something from their birthday range, I didn't hesitate to say yes. I've always wanted to try their chocolate. Hey, it's not my birthday but we can pretend, can't we? It's nearly my half birthday anyway. I deserve a treat.

I say I, but once Monkey and Missy Woo got a sniff of chocolate, they wanted in. I chose the Sleekster Everything Selection to try so, well, we could try a bit of everything! The chocolates turned up well packed and can include a gift card with message if you wish.
This is what we got - 30 chocolates in a smart gold box; the Sleekster bit refers to the shape, rather than the chocolates in the box. There were caramels, truffles, pralines and a few liqueury type chocolates. My absolute favourite was the Brownie - the square one with the little square of white chocolate on top. Unfortunately, Monkey had the other one and there were only two in the pack! The pralines were my favourite sort but the children were game for all types although we tried to keep them off the liqueur ones! Needless to say, the chocolates disappeared quite quickly over a couple of days. Although these are rather grown up chocolates, they are sweet enough for children to enjoy on the whole. They're not fussy anyway but they would reject things they don't like (yes, even chocolate!) but these all got wolfed down.

These would be a lovely present for a real chocolate fan, but if you have kids, you may struggle to keep them to yourself. At £20, they are rather pricey to be sharing with your offspring, however much you love them, but these are special treats, so if you want to keep them for yourself,  I'd recommend keeping them under lock and key. Or fitted with an intruder alarm.

Silent Sunday

Silent Sunday

Saturday, 11 June 2011


Sometimes, I wish I was brave. There are some things I just could not ever do because fear would overtake me and paralyse my limbs, robbing me of my ability to move or even speak. I shudder at the thought of throwing myself out of a plane for example and am in awe of anyone that can. And don't expect me to enjoy rollercoasters. I cannot think of anything worse. In that respect, I'm a coward.

I know that sometimes, it's good to push the boundaries. From time to time, I've done things that are, quite frankly, terrifying but I've taken the plunge, closed my eyes and gone for it - and it's worked out OK. Stepping into the void has turned out OK - but then, they haven't actually involved potentially falling at 100 feet per second with a cold, hard ground waiting to meet me. Although I learn to fire eat once, which was both fantastic and empowering and that didn't seem to bother me one bit. Odd.

Twelve years ago, I took what seemed to others to be a brave decision - to move, lock stock and barrel, 200 miles north to Lancashire, knowing very few people in the area and no family to turn to. My Dad was ill at the time and barely knew my name, but in a way, I did it for him. I know that, as a child, he had wanted to move from the town where I grew up, maybe to a new life. He didn't. The house where I grew up is still the family home. He lived the last years of his life in a home 7 miles away. That's the furthest he got to move. Maybe it's no coincidence that both his daughters moved away - my sister lives in Devon, whereas my two half sisters live much closer to "home".

I took a risk. It worked out. The job I took to move here didn't. It lasted just over 3 months and it made me so stressed that I dreaded work every day and it made me ill. I had to take another risk, go unemployed and work casual until I secured a contract for several months and then got a permanent job - although for a while, it looked as if my new life would be over shortly after it had begun. Of course, it worked out. I took a risk but it came good for me and I love my life here now.

That's what courage is, isn't it? Everyone has limits. Things they would never do. They are just different for everyone. I lived in Hampshire for 7 years and although I decided to move away for other reasons, I loved living there. I knew I could make my second move work for me. Perhaps I wasn't quite so courageous - although it was double the distance from family and friends, and what I knew. Relocating was still part of my comfort zone. Isn't courage about going beyond that? I don't see what I did was brave.

As I said, I'm a coward. I don't think I've ever risked life and limb to save someone. Perhaps I never will. I've never done anything particularly remarkable in my life. Maybe I've just hit upon the answer.

Those who demonstrate true courage to make a difference, they're the ones that get remembered.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Building bears for charity

So, last Sunday, we were invited to an event at Build-A-Bear Workshop at the Trafford Centre to a meet-and-greet customer event which was going to benefit the Manchester Research Centre of Tommy's Charity. I deliberately didn't tell the children until that morning where we were going so we didn't get too excited. Missy Woo is a fan after getting a bear from there as a treat last year. We're forever being dragged into there to stare wistfully at the bears.

Maxine Clark and us
This was a bit different. We arrived and whilst we were waiting to go in, Missy Woo got to hug Bearemy, the Build-A-Bear mascot who was there with Pawlette. After being ushered in, we were given bears to build which were going to be passed onto sick or ill babies. The children liked this although the store was busy and there was quite a bit of waiting. And then, as we were doing this, a lovely lady came and told us that the children could go and choose a bear to take home. Any bear, any outfit. The children, who had been very good and not asked for bears as I had told them not to expect anything to take home, were besides themselves with joy.

Bears were duly selected and we waited to get them built - although Missy Woo then spotted the Hello Kittys and insisted on changing her mind. Outfits were chosen - ballerina for Hello Kitty - as Missy Woo has recently started ballet lessons; and Monkey picked out Darth Vader costume for his bear. And then we had to dress them. I then discovered how bad my bear dressing skills were, but then, I did have to put a tight rubberised outfit, facemask and wellies on a camouflage bear and tutu and ballet shoes on a kitten with an oversized head. Then we had to print "birth certificates" for our bears - of course, I did all the typing on the computers, especially as the barcode scanner wasn't working on ours and I had to type a very long code in to make it work. Hello Kitty was duly named Butterfly, and Darth Vader was named, well, Darth Vader!

Proud owners of Darth Vader and Butterfly
As we were leaving, we met Maxine Clark, founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop and "chief executive bear". She was amazed that Missy Woo was only 4 as she is so tall for her age. But then, she is quite small herself as you can see from the photo we had taken.

The children are very pleased with their new bears. They've been taken to bed most days and Missy Woo had a minor meltdown yesterday when she was feeling sensitive (she'd been watching High School Musical 2 and had got to a sad bit) and one of the reasons she gave me for being upset is that she wouldn't be allowed to sleep with her Hello Kitty when she grows up! Assuring her that she would, if she wanted to, be allowed to  take Hello Kitty to bed - but that she might not want to when she grows up - seemed to cheer her up. But I think we can say that the bears are a bit of a success and we'd all like to thank Build-A-Bear Workshop for inviting us and giving us a great afternoon.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

My Fitness Story... - Sarah

My guest poster today is Sarah, who blogs at The World According to Sog. Since the start of 2011, Sarah has lost an incredible 50lb, or around 3.5 stone if you think in those terms and so today, Sarah is telling her story of how she lost her baby weight and reached her goal. Sarah has chosen to call this post...

Inspired to run

Ever since I gave birth to my daughter in 2007 I've been trying to lose the "baby weight" I gained while pregnant. My motivation received a kickstart after my son (then age 3) told me very innocently that I was fat. I started going to aerobics with a friend once a week, and 6 months after that I began a weekly circuit training class. I began to tone up in my arms and my stamina increased slightly, but I never lost any weight because I wasn't dieting and I was drinking a lot of alcohol too.

Around September 2010, I got hooked on The Biggest Loser. It's a TV show from the USA where very obese individuals are given the chance to turn their lives around, with professionals overseeing intensive exercise routines and giving excellent nutritional advice. I was inspired: seeing these people who could hardly walk become lean, fit, and diet-aware individuals was amazing. I was determined to make changes to my lifestyle and finally shift my excess weight. "If they can do it, so can I!"

A friend suggested I join the local running club. I was hesitant and postponed joining for several months. I "didn't think I could run", although actually I was kidding myself (I had run years previously and loved it). I worked freelance in the evenings so didn't think I could spare the time. Then, it was "too cold"! I was just scared of failure.

So, with New Year approaching I made my resolutions: to join the local running club and go every week; and to eat healthily. (I might as well make the pain of running count by dieting properly!). I weighed myself and was ashamed that I was over 13 stone, with a BMI that put me in the obese range.

My first ever run was 2.5 miles, a mix of 5 min running and 1 min walking. I was elated! The diet kicked in too: I cut out bread, cheese, alcohol, chocolate, and unhealthy snacks. That first week I lost 7 lb!

By the end of January, I was running (with short 1 min walks every 10 min) twice a week, just a couple of miles each time. The weight loss was continuing well, giving me much needed visual reward for my hard work: I was seeing losses of 2-4 lb every week. Finally, my resolutions were working!

By March, I had lost 21 lb and was running four times a week, distances of 3-5 miles (still with a walk every now and then). I felt confident in my body and with my abilities, so I made a big decision: I entered a 10K race! It was tough, and I admit now, I was terrified. But, I completed the race in under an hour and I was so pleased (and relieved!). I'd run 6.6 miles with no walking breaks and achieved a time I could only have dreamt of in January.

Where am I now? With respect to my weight, I've lost 50 lb and reached my goal (under 10 stone with a BMI in the healthy range). I'm very aware of what I eat, I try to keep portion sizes small and avoid eating carbohydrates such as pasta or potato in the evening. I do drink alcohol, but very infrequently, and I sometimes eat bread (although not too much).

And, I'm still running four times a week; I usually run 4-5 miles with the local club and then go for one long run (7-9 miles currently) on my own at the weekend. You see, I'm in training for another race: a half marathon at the end of August! I think I might be addicted to running!

Thanks go to Sarah for contributing to My Fitness Story... this week. It's certainly an amazing tale and demonstrates what can be achieved in a relatively short time. I'm glad that she has found the thing that works for her - running is not for everyone but finding the regime - whether it is exercise or diet - that works for you and your lifestyle - seems to be the key factor in success. There seems, to me anyway, little point in enduring a diet that doesn't work for your lifestyle and that you don't enjoy - because it's not sustainable in the longer term and you're more likely to go back to old habits. 

Feel free to share experiences, as always, in the comments below. My guest posters really do appreciate the messages of support they get from readers.

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. 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. I am particularly short of posts at the moment. Do please join in - or ask your friends if you know someone has a story to tell, even if they don't blog.

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

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Poor Kids - shame on them? Shame on us!

I watched a programme tonight that made me stop literally. There I was, tweeting and thinking about writing a blog post, when a programme came on BBC1. I hadn't planned to watch it but I did. In fact, I couldn't stop. I'd go so far as to say it is the main cause of the blogger's block I've had ever since. Right now, this is all I can write coherently.

The programme was a documentary called Poor Kids, following the lives of children living in extreme poverty. Not in Africa, but in the UK.The conditions the children lived in were pretty shocking. Every time you saw the inside of a fridge, there was barely any food in it. The children understood how desperate things were but were, for the most part, incredibly matter-of-fact about the conditions they lived in, in a way that only children can be. Judging by the number of tweets about it on Twitter, the programme had an impact and reach greater than you might expect for a programme with that timeslot. Quite clearly, people were gripped, and horrified.

Of course, in some cases, it brought out the benefits bashers. Some people commented on Twitter that the fridges were probably empty but that they bet that the parents still drank and smoke. I'm not sure that those people were watching the same programme - I never saw one cigarette or alcoholic drink and the only cigarette stub I saw was when some of the children were playing in a playground.  I read the blog post written by Jezza Neumann who directed the programme. One of the interesting points he made was how he too sometimes questioned what he saw. You only had to ask the right questions and the answers became obvious. For example, he wondered why one of the single mums had a dog when she struggled to feed her kids. The answer was for security - people stole the children's bikes from the garden and with many addicts living on her estate, people had tried to break into her house. It was the only way to keep her and her family safe.

I guess you'd like to think that the children weren't necessarily aware of how bad their lives were but once they reach school age, they're going to meet children and not all of them are going to be as deprived as them. And you know, children aren't stupid. They often understand far more than you give them credit for.

What got to me the most was how articulate these children were. Heartbreakingly so. One teenager, Kayleigh, talked about how bullying at school destroyed her already poor self-esteem, and then how she had considered killing herself, considered not being there anymore. This girl, on the threshold of being an adult, sees no hope. No way out. And then, right at the end, one of the younger children said she didn't want to grow up. She knew she had no future and that her life was blighted before it had begun.

How could we let this happen? I can't believe watching the programme that these people actually want to live the way that they do. That they want to live with empty fridges, topping up their electricity keys, turning the heating off in winter and wearing coats inside. Having to walk to the shop because they cant afford taxis or public transport. Where their children have little chance of living a better life than the one they live at the moment because hardly anyone has a job and little prospect of finding one. Sure, there may be a few people who choose to live that way, but all of them? There's 3.8 million children living in poverty in the UK. I can't believe the parents of all 3.8 million children seriously want this for their families.

There is more we could be doing to help these children. UNICEF ranked the UK 18th out of 22 countries for child poverty levels. That means 17 other developed countries do it better than we do. That means it can be done. There's no point in throwing our hands up in the air and say we can't help them, because in other countries, they are doing a better job, and we can learn from them. Should learn from them in fact.

We need to do before it's too late and we lose another generation to a life of dependency on benefits. I was ashamed tonight. There are plans to cut benefits to save money, but UNICEF claim that investing in children through effective financial support, social protection and early years policies goes a long way in reducing child poverty. (See here) It's the old adage of speculate to accumulate - we invest in those children and they will pay us back.

They are not poor because they are stupid. They are not stupid because they are poor. The situation they find themselves in is not their fault. Society owes it to them to help them to look forward to growing up. And any money we spend to take them out of poverty will be worth every single penny.

PS If you want to see the programme and missed it last night, you can find it here)

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

In case you haven't seen it, here it is...

My children's starring role in the Sainsbury's ad that was on ITV last week.

They are the two children sat at the table near the end, sitting down to eat. Earlier in the ad, you can see my hands (and the children's!) rolling sausages into meatballs and you can clearly hear Missy Woo say "It's a bit gooey".


Tips for starting Body Pump classes

Following on from my post giving tips for starting a New Year fitness regime and then my post giving tips for starting a diet, I thought I would do another post giving tips for starting at Body Pump classes. I love Body Pump and I currently go three times a week. If I can't go to my usual class, I find a way to go to one at a different time. It makes such a difference to my fitness levels and I really work hard without having to jump up and down or have that much coordination. I blogged back in November how I thought strong is sexy (my most viewed post - wonder why?) and it's still true.

If you don't know what Body Pump is, it's a workout with weights to music. For most of the class, you are using a barbell with adjustable weights. Occasionally, you might use dumbbells. The routine is done in a specific order, working one or two muscle groups at a time. You are usually stood up or lying down with no dance steps to learn. Only certain gyms or leisure centres do classes - the instructors have to do special training which is quite rigorous and they have to attend regular workshops to learn new routines. Routines with new music are released quarterly.

Photo credit: tome213
Before you start, don't even think about starting if you have any major joint or muscle injury. This is particularly true of knee injuries so you might want to get medical advice before you start - although you might be able to modify some of the exercises. I'd also be wary of back injuries.

This set of tips comes with the usual proviso that this is written by me and I'm not a qualified fitness instructor. I did Body Pump for about 3 years before children, then on and off for a while, and I've been back regularly for about 8 months. I've been to classes by a whole range of instructors and have probably been there and done that. So, here we go.

1. Don't be intimidated by the class. Just because you think it's full of lots of fit people, you might think it's not for you until you're fit like them. The class is like that because it makes you fit. Everyone can work at their own level at Body Pump - it is one of its great strengths - and seriously, no-one cares if you're using the tiniest weights or the biggest weights. Take the plunge and give it a go.

2. Make sure you start by learning the techniques. Most places run a clinic or technique class about 15 mins before the actual class starts. Make time to get there for that and introduce yourself as new to the instructor. They will take you through the correct techniques, show you how to change weights, that sort of thing. If your centre doesn't offer these classes, be proactive - get to your first class early and tell the instructor that you're new. It's all about the technique - getting it right will reduce the risk of injuries and ensure you're working the parts you're meant to be working! Whatever you do, don't turn up late to your first class.

3. Position yourself where you can see the instructor easily at your first few classes. You don't have to be right at the front but don't take a gamble on the person in front of you having good technique or staying in time. There are always people who may do a particular move incorrectly or do everything too fast. You want to concentrate on the instructor(they may have another person at the front with the instructor sometimes, they'll be fine to follow too). Remember you will be lying down for some of the time and you'll still need to be able to see them.

4. If you've been doing weights in the gym, don't fool yourself into thinking you can use the same ones for Body Pump. Most people do weights for short sets with breaks in between. Body Pump tracks last between 3 and 5 minutes, and maybe one or two short breaks. You'll need a smaller weight for Body Pump. Trust me.

5. Don't worry about using light weights at first. It may take you a few classes to work out what is right for you. You want to be able to complete the track with good technique but the last few should feel hard (and probably hurt, but in a good way). If it feels too easy, try to make a mental note to use more weight the next time. Or you could be really nerdy and write them down so you know but you soon get a grasp of what weights are right for each track.

6. Use the mirrors if you have them. I know that a lot of people don't like looking at themselves in the mirror but it's really useful to check that you're doing the moves the right way. Personally, I don't think it's any coincidence that you see more people with bad technique at classes in halls where there are no mirrors.

7. Listen to the teaching points. They are given for a reason. Sometimes, the instructor is just giving out general points for you to check your technique. Sometimes, without actually saying, they'll be saying it because they have seen one or more doing it wrong. Always assume it's you until you've checked what they're saying. Some instructors will walk around a class to check technique and speak to you individually. Don't be embarrassed - they want you to get it right.

8. Leading on from points 1, 4 and 5, don't compete with the other participants in the class. This is one trap a lot of men fall into - they see a woman stack weight on for a track and think they have to do more, then can't complete the track. Remember it's about you and what you can do, not whether you're lifting the same weights as someone else. We are all different and have different strengths and weaknesses- literally. If you do go regularly, you will improve and most men progress more quickly than women.And don't do the routines faster because your weight is too heavy - just take some weight off, goddammit!

Photo credit - ayeyah
9. And if you do put too much weight on, don't be afraid to take some weight off in the middle of a track. It's better to finish a track with less weight on than have to give up.

10. Do what works for you. Just because everyone else is doing it, it doesn't mean you have to too. Most people lie on a step for the lying down tracks; I have to lie on a mat on the floor. There is more than one way to hold the bar for squats and lunges(I cannot for the life of me do lunges with the bar on my back - and I need to put my back leg up against a wall). If it doesn't feel right, speak to the instructor or watch to see what others do. If you're scared about changing weights between tracks, and there is ample equipment, you can always have two bars ready to avoid this.

11. Listen to your body. I won't lie - it will hurt as a track progresses if you're doing the exercises correctly, but in a "feel the burn" kind of way. Any sharp, sudden pain should not be ignored. And if it really hurts too much, do stop.

12. Afterwards. Yes, you will be sore the day after and probably a couple of days after that. If you start to go to Body Pump regularly, it will stop happening. If you're suffering from DOMS, baths often help. (As do a couple of painkillers!). More exercise may also help too - but again, listen to your body on that one. Some people say stretching helps with this but I think the jury is out on whether they actually make any difference. By all means, do any stretches the instructor suggests between tracks and during the cooldown at the end.

13. Expect to progress (by increasing your weights) about every 4-6 weeks at first. However, if the routine changes in that time, this might throw you off as some tracks are harder than others in different releases. There is no shame in moving back down or taking weight off mid-track if it's suddenly too hard - or even if you're just having a bad day which we all have occasionally. You will know when it's time to go up - it will suddenly feel a ton easier. Do it track by track - there is no point putting up your weights for all of the tracks if only one routine suddenly feels easier.

14. Finally, enjoy it. Don't give up if it feels like too much after one class. Give it a few weeks; you'll probably start to see some results after about 3 weeks.

I have probably mentioned technique a lot in this post, but please don't be fazed by it. Body Pump is all about the technique, but the moves are not hard to learn. It's just worth spending a bit of time learning the right way to do it when you're starting out.

A final point  - if you really want results, you'll still need to watch what you're eating. It won't make up for you eating too much!

Do give it a go, won't you? If you have any questions about Body Pump, feel free to ask me and I'll try to answer them as best I can.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Meal Planning Monday - a week of My Daddy Cooks meals!

If you read this feature weekly, you'll know that last week, I used the Sainsbury's Feed your Family for £50 meal plan after they kindly sent me a week's shopping to test out the meal plan. It went pretty well, although we didn't use all the lunch stuff, partly due to the others going camping. The meals were pretty good on the whole - some could have done with a little more flavour, but the frittata and "carbonara" were gorgeous. The sweet and sour was the only dish that was not nice at all - but it used a jar of cooking sauce and I'm never a big fan of those. The breakfasts were a bit basic in the week, but I found that using yogurt with the muesli, for example, made it more palatable. Some of the portion sizes were HUGE - the tuna pasta bake, for example, was enough for 8 meals, not 4!

We did film ourselves cooking and the children appeared in an advert! It was on Wednesday night during Britain's Got Talent. I would have missed it were it not for Twitter as I got a few "was that your children?" tweets. Thanks to ITV+1 and Sky+, I managed to record it for the children, who were, of course, away camping at the time. You could also see my hands and hear Missy Woo saying "It's a bit gooey" as we rolled sausages into meatballs. So thanks very much to Sainsbury's for giving us the opportunity to try out the meal plan - and for turning my children into stars for 5 seconds.

So, onto this week and again, I'm doing something different. You see, I've been inspired. The other day, I received a copy of My Daddy Cooks by Nick Coffer. Nick is a Twitter friend whose blog - also called My Daddy Cooks - became a runaway success when he started it in late 2009. Nick films his son Archie and himself cooking in their kitchen. Nick's recipes are always easy to follow, great family food and accessible to cook with children around - exactly what I like. And now he's written a book containing 100 recipes.

Photo - Veronique Leplat
When the book arrived, I had a quick flick through and I loved the layout and style of the book - easy to read and follow, with some nice pictures, both of the dishes and of Nick and Archie going. Then I sat down and read through the book - and I read and read and kept reading! I started to make a list of all the recipes that I must cook as soon as possible - and the list ran over two pages. So then, I had an idea to plan my week's meals around recipes from the book. To be honest, I could be planning meals from the book for weeks given the length of the list - this doesn't even scratch the surface of it. Needless to say, I loved the book - it's full of great family recipes that you'll enjoy cooking, with children or without. I cannot wait to try this week's recipes.

So, here we go. This week's meals are going to be:

Monday - Minty lamb and butternut squash tagine
Tuesday - No fry Singapore noodles
Wednesday - Turkey and cranberry meatloaf
Thursday - Chickpea and chorizo soup
Friday -  Burgers and chips
Saturday - Lentil curry with cauliflower
Sunday - Family party so no cooking for me!

And I shall report back next week on how it all went.

Why not pop over to Mrs M's blog for more meal planning entries?

( Sainsbury's sent me a week's shopping so I could try out their £50 weekly meal plan and a camera so I could film making one of the meals. I was also sent, separately, a copy of My Daddy Cooks to review and keep. I have not received any other compensation in either case; I have not been told what to write and all opinions are my own.)

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Saying it with flowers

We all like getting little surprises. I guess that's why I do competitions as sometimes things turn up totally without warning and however small, it's always welcome. The best surprise of all, in my opinion, is hearing a knock at the door and finding that the person on the other side of that door has flowers in their hand. And they're for you!

That happened to me yesterday, when said knock arrived - of course, just as I'd gone upstairs for the first time in a few hours - and as I descended the stairs, I could see a man stood there with flowers in his hand. And it wasn't my husband. And not just flowers, oh no. Take a look at this: 

The flowers came from Interflora who sent them to me to review their service. The flowers are really lovely and bonus, they came in their own glass vase, meaning I don't have to trim everything and find a suitable vase. Bonus! I love the sisal collar, although I suspect that, given the colour, Missy Woo might have designs on that when the flowers are long gone. 

As well as flowers, they also deliver gifts and have a new section devoted to Father's Day gifts, mostly non-flowery - largely food, wine, whisky and a lucky bamboo plant too. Whatever that is. Handy if you need to get organised.. (Father's Day is 19th June by the way, if you weren't sure..).

Although these flowers aren't from that range, I noticed that Interflora have recently introduced a range of Fairtrade Flowers featuring flowers from Fairtrade certified flower farms, which is really nice to see, especially as the flowers are not significantly more expensive than the rest of the flowers. 

Finally, Interflora allow you to search for florists by county. For instance, here is the link to florists in London - if you send flowers anywhere in the country, a local florist will make them up and send them, so they arrive as fresh as possible. Mine certainly look stunning. 

(I was sent some flowers and a bottle of sparkling rosé wine for the purposes of writing a review. I have not received any further compensation and all opinions are my own. I was asked to include some links to Interflora websites within the post, but I have not been told what to write beyond that. )

Friday, 3 June 2011

It's oh so quiet...

Something is not right in the house. The house, once tidied,. has stayed tidy. Toys have been returned to the playroom and stayed there, instead of reappearing when I turn my back to litter the floor. The carpet, once vaccumed, has stayed clear of crumbs (I wouldn't go so far as to call it clean...). The kitchen is clear of detritus and everything has been put away soon after it's been used. The noise levels have reduced to a minimum - for a change, I can hear myself think.

Not only that, I have raced through to-do lists like there's no tomorrow. Items that often take me days to tick off have disappeared. Used to finishing only a few tasks each day, I write a to do list for each day but yesterday, I ran out of tasks to do - and managed to find two more to finish instead. My to-do list for today, whilst short, was completed early.

This is unheard of. This is unprecedented. So what has given rise to this new, organised, domesticated calm that has descended upon this house? Have I been reading self-help books on how to organise my life? Have I been offered money for every task I get done? No.

The answer is quite simple: I am the only person here. The rest of the family have gone camping. They left on Wednesday for a holiday park somewhere near Southport. Not far away if things go horribly wrong, but far enough away to be not here. They're coming home sometime today - although they were already contemplating a late departure, so it's unlikely I will see them much before teatime. And let me tell you, it's bliss.The space in my brain normally reserved for working out what's next is free to do what it wants. Mostly, it's been focused on getting my jobs done. Oh, and maybe watching a bit of tennis. Maybe.

Instead of sitting down, and a voice piping up "Can I have a drink?" the second my backside hits the chair, I've sat in peace. Jobs have been done quickly because there have been no interruptions. No constant questions. No answers to questions that take five minutes instead of a few seconds.

A long time ago, I used to live in this house alone. It almost seems weird that I ever did - just me in a big four-bedroomed house; but I did. I think that it's actually way too big for one person but maybe, just maybe, I was just a house-sitter for a few years until we grew into it and made it a proper family home. And yes, it does feel odd being here for so long completely alone now. But, for a couple of years at least, this was my life.

So, as you might have guessed, I'll be more than happy to see them again when they come home. It's been lovely to get things straight once and know that they'll stay that way. It's lovely to have space and only work to one timetable - mine. But it's also lovely to have a house full of mess (sort of) and laughter. Full of random utterings, giggles, cuddles with a large dose of frustration thrown in. My God, I've changed. I'd have never thought I could enjoy the chaos that is family life. But I do. It's been blissful to have space and peace for a couple of days but I'll be ready for them when they return. The children will get a huge hug when they come back. I might even make them a cake. It's just the washing I won't look forward to.

And you know what? For all the peace and quiet, I still can't drink a whole cup of tea hot. Perhaps that's not the children's fault after all...

Thursday, 2 June 2011

My Fitness Story... - Tracy

I'm very grateful today to my guest poster because she wrote this for me whilst away from home. I had no post lined up until I put out a request on Twitter on Monday for some new contributions - or the series would have had to take an enforced holiday. I know Tracy has been thinking of submitting her story for a while to me, and I'm glad she took the time to write all down for me. Tracy struggled with her weight after having children, suffering the cumulative effect of weight gain that successive pregnancies can bring, until she resolved to lose the weight for good last year. In total, she lost 5 stone in 8 months, which is pretty incredible - especially as she did it all by myself and all for herself, which is great. This story cannot fail to inspire you if you're struggling in any way with a diet or fitness programme. Over now to Tracy to take up her tale. 

My “struggle” with my weight goes back to my early twenties. I had been a size 8 – 10 and put on weight after university having money, driving a car and eating out. I increased to a size 14. When I look back, this seems like nothing, but I felt bad about myself. My self-esteem has always been related to my size, and I didn’t feel good. So I read a book, “Stop the Insanity” by Susan Powter and I followed it. It was a way of thinking about food and exercise. It motivated me and I stuck to it. It was mainly about watching the percentage fat content of food and increasing your exercise. I became obsessed, both with food and exercise, until I lost lots of weight and got down to a size 8. I felt great about myself, but I couldn’t maintain it. I was exercising before work, running for 40 minutes, then swimming 30 lengths, and doing classes after work. In all honesty, I got too thin and I don’t think I am meant to be that size. My weight started to increase again, but stabilised at a size 10 – 12. I still felt good about myself at this weight.

Me in 2007
I was this size when I met my husband, 11 years ago. I was just under 10 stone when we got together. We met and married in the space of 10 months, but in that time I went from a size 10 – 12 to a size 16. My wedding dress was a size 16. A couple of months after the wedding, I became pregnant. I saw this as an excuse to eat, and put on 4 stone during the pregnancy. I had a difficult and traumatic delivery with my son and it took me a long time to recover, physically and emotionally. It wasn’t until he was 3 years old that I felt able to do anything about the weight. But, in 2004, I got a new job and decided I wanted to make a new start so I began the Atkins diet. Once again, I was obsessed. I followed the diet to the exact letter. It worked. I lost weight, and fast. Within 3 months I had lost over 4 stone and I felt good again. The feeling I got when everyone asked how I had done it, commented on how good I looked and complimented me on my achievement was wonderful. But it didn’t last for long.

Christmas Day 2009
I maintained for 4 months but became pregnant with my second child. I immediately started eating whatever I wanted again, and of course the weight started to pile back on. I put 3 stone back on during the pregnancy, and 8 months after the birth of my second child, I was pregnant again! This time, there was no time for weight loss and I just carried on eating, putting on another 2 stone. I was now a size 22 and 15 1/2 stone. I did not know what to do. I lacked motivation to do anything about my weight and suffered from post natal depression. It wasn’t until I resolved some of the issues relating to the birth of my children through counselling that I felt I was in a place where I could do something to tackle the weight again.

Christmas 2010
I was at work New Year’s Eve 2009, wearing my size 22 uniform and could not do up the trousers. I made a New Year’s resolution. In 2010, I was going to lose the weight. I was determined. I had been given a Wii Fit for Christmas and I intended on using this to keep me on track and hopefully be a fun way of exercising. On New Year’s Day, I stepped onto the Wii Fit for the first time. My BMI was right at the top of obese. I was mortified. I weighed 15 stone 8 lb. However, instead of feeling depressed, this motivated me, I had to do something! I started doing Wii Fit every day. For the first time, I was able to exercise with the children around because they enjoyed watching me do it, which resolved a major issue for me. I had found it very difficult to exercise. I couldn’t fit it in during the day, and was too exhausted by night. The Wii Fit resolved this. I know it is very low impact, but I was so unfit and lethargic, it got me moving more than I had done in years. I started to follow my own diet plan. Not as radical as I had been before, but combining things I had learnt in the past. I had porridge and juice for breakfast, chicken and salad for lunch, fish and vegetables for dinner. It was low carb again, but not in the extreme way that I had been with Atkins. I had “bad” days, particularly around my period, when I would lapse and have chocolate and wine! But this time, instead of thinking that I’d failed and blow the diet, I would get back on the Wii Fit the following morning and carry on. Pretty quickly, I saw results. The weight started coming off and my BMI started coming down. I carried on wearing baggy clothes and didn’t talk about what I was doing to anyone because I was doing this for myself. By August, I had lost 5 stone and my BMI was 24.6. I was thrilled. I started dressing completely differently and my work uniform was no longer the size 22 that wouldn’t fasten, but a size 12 that was a bit baggy. I felt so much better about myself.

After my 10K
I set myself a new target and entered a 10K race. This was my next challenge. I had lost the weight - now I wanted to improve my fitness. I had never done any running before, but I entered the Tatton Park 10k in September 2010 to raise funds for the Bobby Moore Fund for bowel cancer research. I enjoyed training - it gave me a real sense of motivation, having something to aim for. As a complete beginner with asthma, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I tried to follow a training schedule and enjoyed going out from my front door for an hour, exploring the local area doing run/walks. I did the route in 1 hr 16 minutes but the time wasn’t important, it was just doing it. My children looked so proud, and I felt a real sense of achievement. I couldn’t have imagined, only 9 months before, that I would’ve been able to run for a bus, let alone a 10K.

9 months later and so far, I have managed to maintain. I fluctuate a bit, and I have to watch what I eat, but I still feel good about myself. I am a size 12 – 14, and I am OK with that. I know, if I pushed myself, I could get down to being a 10 – 12 again but in my heart of hearts I don’t think this is where my natural weight should be. I am stable where I am, I don’t want to get big again, and I am happy to maintain where I am now. As I sit here, I am on holiday, and I have a glass of wine. I am planning on getting back to “sensible” eating again next week, after my holiday. Until then, I will not be worrying about it. The next challenge? Who knows. Maybe a marathon for my 40th birthday next year?!

What a great story. I'm sure lots of mums (including myself) went through similar experiences after they had children. I think Tracy's success can be summed up in this sentence: "instead of thinking that I’d failed and blow the diet, I would get back on the Wii Fit the following morning and carry on". We all have bad days - it's just how you react to them that decides if you succeed in the long run. I think it's an important lesson for us all - failure on a diet/healthy eating plan is not about one day. 

Feel free to share experiences, as always, in the comments below. My guest posters really do appreciate the messages of support they get from readers.

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. If you want to read previous posts in this series, click on the My Fitness Story... tab above and they are all linked on that page.

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

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Kate goes to London part 2 - Start More Live and an amazing food experience

Hopefully, you'll remember I wrote about the first part of my trip to London the other day, in which I visited the new Disney store on Oxford Street the day before it opened. I've meant to get around to blogging about the second part before now, but you know, life and other blog posts got in the way. Let's hope I can remember all of it.

The main reason for my visit to the smoke was because I won a prize. I do a lot of competitions, you see, and occasionally I get a nice win. This particular prize, I don't actually remember entering the competition but an email arrived informing me I'd won tickets to something called Start More Live, an event hosted by Tim Lovejoy to promote  the new Ford Focus. Not only had I won tickets, it included accommodation and travel to London. Initially, I thought I couldn't go because it fell on the same day as school sports day but my husband suggested I went because it was always possible that sports day would be cancelled. So, arrangements were duly made for me to go to London and someone to have the children before school on Thursday. And off I went, calling into Disney on the way.

After arriving at the hotel, enjoying a room of my own and time to think for myself, I met with a group of other winners in the hotel foyer who bussed us to the "secret location" where the event was to take place. In truth, it had a name (The Sorting Office - guess we all know what used to be), but really it was just a vast empty space. Inside were a couple of cars, a stage for a private gig by The Enemy, a bar (free drinks!) and five separate zones.We were all encouraged to swipe in at all five zones to enter another competition. There were different things to do in the different zones - play with gadgets, do a bit of "driving", learn or attempt some trick shots at golf. And I got to sit inside aforementioned new car. It wasn't mine to drive away, more's the pity.

But the thing that interested me the most was the food. And I don't just mean the canapés they kept bringing round. No, there was a food zone with some presentations by Stefan Gates, the TV presenter and food writer. Now, I love his children's programme Gastronuts so I went and had a quick chat to him whilst he was getting ready for his first presentation. Unfortunately, I wandered off and lost track of time, missing the very start of the presentation, so I watched from the sides and was intrigued enough to hang round, get a place nearer the front and go through it all again a little while later.

Now, I've seen some food demos in my time. This was nothing like them. Stefan's philosophy is to make food exciting and extraordinary. The first thing he did was to cover cocktail sausages in 24carat gold leaf. As I was near the front, I got to have a go - and managed to cock that up as the stuff is very fragile and goes all over the place. I got to taste it - it tasted like sausage. The gold leaf has no taste and no nutritional value - which begs the question why do it? But people do it, for the decorative aspect.

Gold leaf
Me failing to wrap a sausage in gold leaf
We also got to try some things I don't think I would ever get to eat. Insects. Firstly, there were mealworms, mixed with a bit of garam masala and some salt. There were some fly eggs, and then there were fat bottomed ants. They tasted like smoky bacon! And yes, I did try - as much as I don't think I would have done otherwise, I trusted that Stefan wouldn't make anyone eat something that tasted awful.

We also got to try instant jellyfish, which really didn't taste of very much until it was made into a salad with some seaweed and some fungus (sorry Stefan, I've forgotten the name of it), with a sesame oil dressing.

Fruit spaghetti
And then we made fruit spaghetti - orange juice, apple juice and ribena mixed with sodium alginate, squeezed out of a syringe into some water and left to set. And yes, it tasted like the juices they had come from with a slightly odd chemical taste when you first placed it in your mouth.

Next was the tour de force. Lamb's testicles. Apparently, it's all the rage in Afghanistan. Who knew? Stefan had prepared some earlier and cooked slices in butter and garlic - which as he says, can make pretty much anything taste nice. I tried some, and I can report.... it was reminiscent of chicken. Sorry, I know it is a cliché but it didn't have a strong taste or distinctive texture and all I could equate it to was chicken.

And I almost forgot - he made musical instruments out of carrots by drilling into them. Basically, a big hole at one end, a small one at the other, which meet somewhere in the middle and a reed that was made out of a plastic drinking straw and we were away. A quick but rubbish chorus of Baa Baa Black Sheep - the finalists on Britain's Got Talent can rest easy that we've not found the winning formula.

Carrot instruments!

The whole point of Stefan's presentation was to make food memorable. It certainly did that! It turned food into a real adventure, which is pretty much as it should be. I tried things that I had no idea that I was going to try before I turned up at the event. I'm not even sure I wanted to. That is, to some extent, down to Stefan's presenting style - his enthusiasm, passion and knowledge of all things food related draws you in, and carries you along. I figure I don't allow my children to be picky and my rule with them is that they must at least try things before saying they don't like them. I tried them, and mostly, really liked them. They're not necessarily every day things, but nonetheless, I can say I've eaten insects and jellyfish.

Oh yes, and testicles. Thanks Stefan!
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