Random Musings: The bad daughter

“When your mother asks, “Do you want a piece of advice?” it’s a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.” (Erma Bombeck)

The UK is currently basking in a mini heatwave. It is glorious. All around me women are casting aside their winter boots and snuggly jumpers in favour of linens, colour and shades. I have cast aside my cardigan. Being overweight I do not have the luxury of selecting from the new spring ranges as they are rarely made to sit well on someone of my bulk. Frustrating though this may be I dare not complain. After all, I only have myself to blame for my excess weight.

Next week I will be flying to Belfast to visit my parents. I am not looking forward to it. My mother has been unwell and I have not been across the water since the summer of 2012. I know that a visit is long overdue but I have been putting it off, mainly because of my weight.

The last time I visited I was a UK size 12. Now I am a UK size 16. It took me nine months of severe food limitation and strenuous, daily exercise to get to the size I was then. When my mother saw me she was so happy, delighted that I had become the shape that she thinks a woman should be. She congratulated me on my weight loss with more enthusiasm than she had offered when I graduated from university or gave birth to my babies. She reflected on how pleased my husband must be to have a slim wife. My husband knows me better than to comment on my weight. I am what is inside.

That is not to say that I did not enjoy being slim. It was a revelation to be able to go into clothes shops and easily buy almost any outfit. I had so much more energy, understandable as I no longer had to carry around a 30lb sack of fat wherever I went. The problem was that I could not maintain that weight. As soon as I started to eat more normally or neglected to spend two hours a day at the gym the weight crept back on, slowly but incessantly.

Yes, I now eat too much of the wrong sorts of food but in the early stages of my weight gain I was simply eating what was recommended rather than subsisting on one small meal a day. With a little self discipline I could be less fat but it takes a huge amount of effort to be slim. It takes over my life.

I feel sad that I avoid my mother. I know that she loves me but looks have always been important to her, much more so than they have ever been to me. She wants only what is best for me but as a means to this tries to mould me in her image. I resist as I have always done. She believes that I am being difficult, feels hurt that I will not agree with her point of view. It is easier to stay away.

The easy option is not always the right one. My mother is elderly and has many health problems. It is right that I, as her daughter, make the effort to visit. She is, however, also a worrier. I wonder if seeing me as I am now will trigger ongoing concerns that negate any good that my visit may do. I wonder if her well meaning comments, the inevitable but unasked for advice, will trigger my own anxiety.

In the middle of all this is my sister who, as the only sibling now living nearby, shoulders the burden of care for our parents. She is good to them in a way that I could never be. I am not a good daughter but this does not make me a bad person, just not the person that the family I grew up with wants me to be.

Families are tricky because we care so much; the hurt we can inflict cuts deeper. If I could easily lose the weight for my mother then I would do so. Perhaps this is why I have stayed away for so long. Perhaps I wished to give her that gift and have been avoiding facing up to her reaction to my failure.

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Good intentions

This week I am taking part in a new Blog Hop hosted by Perfection Pending

Perfection Pending

I am going to talk about my legs. Yes, I know, this link up is supposed to be about parenting challenges. On a Monday morning though? I am generally thinking about my legs.

My three kids are teenagers so getting them to school on any day of the week means little more than ensuring that they wake up on time. They sort themselves out. If I try to help then they become truculent. Don’t you just love that word? When I discovered it I decided that it fits with teenagers so well that I needed to use it more often. I may overuse it a bit. Sorry about that.

Anyway, my legs. They are big. Some women put on weight in the tummy region or a bit higher up or a bit lower down. I do all that as well; actually, maybe not so much the higher up bit, but I digress. When I eat that extra bit of hot, buttered toast (I do so love hot, buttered toast) it immediately expands and settles on my legs. They are huge. So is my consumption of hot, buttered toast.

A couple of years ago I saw some photographs of myself that stopped me in my tracks. Then they started me again, really fast, on the treadmill, the bike and the rowing machine at my local gym. The blob I had become had to go. I cut out carbs and visited that gym every day of the week. I walked, cycled and swam for miles and miles and miles. I lost 20kg in nine months.

Woo hoo! I loved the look of the new me, and I felt gooood. I was fit, I felt fine and I could wear the clothes I wanted.

In fact, I felt so good that I once again allowed myself a few little treats. So maybe the weight loss stopped a little earlier than I had hoped, but that had to happen sometime, yes? Perpetual diets are Boring! I was loving my new look and living it up.

You can guess what happened next can’t you? Gradual increase in weight, gradual return to those comfort breakfasts of hot buttered toast. And each slice expanded and settled on my legs. Which are, once again, huge.

Which brings me, if you have stuck with this post, to my Manic Monday. The start of each new week sees me wake up with fresh determination to return to my low carb, high exercise regime in an attempt to sort out this self inflicted problem. I skip breakfast, visit the gym and work my butt off in an attempt to shrink those pesky legs. Except then I get hungry. I don’t like being hungry.

I eat a lot of salad. I like salad, but it doesn’t fill me up. I eat a lot of eggs. I like eggs, but they taste so much better when accompanied by hot, buttered toast.

I did it before and I can do it again. Probably not this week though. Monday has been and gone and I didn’t quite do all that stuff I was totally determined to get done.

Still, next week is a whole new week. I WILL do better, honest. Now, let’s just have a slice of toast to celebrate…

Toast, toasted

To read the other posts in this Blog Hop click on the link below 

Happy Birthday to me

Today is my birthday. I now have exactly one more year to sort myself out before I reach my first half century. I am not bothered by the ageing process; the adventure of life continues apace and I am learning from all my experiences. I have no wish to be a different age or to relive a time that has gone before. Neither do I harbour any massive regrets for decisions made; I am okay with where I am today apart from a few issues around the edges that only I am capable of dealing with. So that is what I need to do.

For today though, I will do my best to enjoy what I have got. Life has as many special occasions as we choose to celebrate and I will mark this day in a low key but celebratory manner with my family. I was surprised to see that the Google Doodle has been changed in my honour (everyone is seeing those cakes, right?). I rather like that.

I have plans for the next year. One of the issues I have struggled with through spring and summer is how to cope with truculent teenagers. My children are growing up, asserting their independence, and I am not dealing with this as well as I would wish. I need to shift my mindset and allow them to make the mistakes that they will learn from. I need to find my own way again after years of living for them.

I also need to get more comfortable with how I see myself. Three years ago, when I was feeling settled in a sort of comfortable, middle aged, cuddly mama look, I took the decision to home school my youngest son (Why I became an amateur teacher). Over the course of that fabulous year, as I watched my insecure little boy blossom and grow in confidence and ability, I had little time for myself. I was preparing lessons, pouring my heart and soul into his development, and with the remainder of my waking hours making sure that my husband and other two children got enough attention not to feel sidelined. There was no time for me; none at all. I ate, slept and functioned. I put on a huge amount of weight.

When my son returned to mainstream education I decided to deal with my lack of self care. I joined a luxurious gym and made sure that I went out for long walks and cycle rides. I gave myself lots of time for me. By watching what I ate I managed to lose the weight I had gained and a lot more besides. Within nine months I was slimmer and fitter than I had been in twenty-five years. I felt amazing.

I have long passed the window of opportunity to look fabulous, but what I loved about this transformation was the fact that I could put on the clothes that I liked and feel that they suited me. No longer was I trying to hide the bumps and rolls; I could wear close fitting clothes without feeling suffocated or worrying that I resembled the michelin man.

Much as I felt good about the way that I looked, the way that that I felt was cathartic. The improved fitness gave me energy that I hadn’t possessed in more years than I could remember. I was fitting in all of my activities, keeping the house running as it should and not suffering that feeling of everyday exhaustion that had become a fact of life.

I do not know how much of this was down to improved health and how much to the psychological benefits of feeling good about myself. Although my friends and acquaintances were making many complimentary remarks when they saw me, my family did not see the change as either necessary or beneficial. My daughter was not happy with my strict eating habits which worried me; I know that parents must be careful not to instil negative body image issues in their children. My elder son, who had taken to insulting me with the phrase ‘Du bist eine gross und dicke mutter’, was persuaded that this was no longer appropriate which was an achievement, but complements from teenage boys to aged relatives are an expectation too far.

Not that I felt any need for complements; in many ways those I received made me feel uncomfortably exposed. I was happier that my family had accepted me whatever my size and did not see me being larger or smaller as noteworthy. This has been particularly important in dealing with what came next. Having worked so hard to achieve the changes in my body shape I then, very gradually, allowed the weight to return. Not all of it and not so quickly as to be immediately obvious, but an insidious increase of a pound here and a pound there until I am now, once again, trying and failing to hide the rolls of fat under loose clothes.

Well, this won’t do at all. I know that I can do better and fully intend to sort myself out. Just as I gained time for myself when my youngest son went back to school, so I intend to use more of my time for myself when the summer holiday finishes for my teenagers in a couple of weeks time. They have shown me quite plainly that they prefer, nay demand, more space and freedom. I need to start looking at this as, not a rejection, but an opportunity for me to take the same freedom for myself.

Last time I did this it took nine months; this time I give myself a year. By my next birthday I aim to have lost the excess weight that is both physically and mentally dragging me down and to have found whatever it is that I am to become beyond being a mother to my children. I have allowed myself to live my life through others. This is  a deflation of my potential and places unnecessary and unreasonable demands on them. I can be more than that.

I have so much to be thankful for and so much to look forward to. For today though, I will do what I can to make this a happy birthday for me.

Birthday Cake

Self help

Between aches and minor injuries I have been feeling rather battered since I returned home from our camping trip last week. This could be a hangover from sleeping on an air bed and sitting on uncomfortable chairs for five days, although I have not suffered in this way after previous trips. Perhaps the aches have been my body fighting some minor illness; perhaps it is just a sign of old age.

I rarely consult a doctor when I feel unwell. The human body is such an amazing thing and most infirmities will self heal given time. Doctor’s seem to think that, if they are consulted, then they have to offer some sort of medicine to relieve symptoms during the time it takes for the body to sort itself out. Given the cost of a prescription, I prefer to cope as best I can without.

To clarify, I am not talking about serious illness or injury here, but rather the minor ailments that can cause misery and inconvenience only for as long as it takes the body to mend itself. Science has shown time and again that the placebo effect is as powerful as drugs for these sort of complaints. I believe that I will recover without medication so it is as likely as not that I will.

None of this helps me to feel less bothered by my aching shoulder muscles, tired legs and damaged foot. Having spent too much of this week resting up and comforting myself with food, I now feel bloated and cross with myself for the unnecessary indulgence. I may not be capable of tackling an invigorating walk in the countryside but I do not need to remain quite so sedentary.

I rather like this quote: ‘You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.’ It reminds me that we have a responsibility to look after the vessel in which we exist. When people complain about how they look (and yes, I have been known to do this too) I am reminded that, whatever we have been given, it is all we have and we should be looking after it and appreciating the wonder of the way it operates. There is an implicit ingratitude when we obsess over how others view our vessel’s external appearance.

I have lost count of the number of days I have woken up determined to do better; this is another of those days. The sun is out and I am once again determined to show my body a little more respect. I do struggle with self control as regards food. I mean, I derive so much pleasure from just eating. If I am to regain my feel good self then I need to show a little more sense in this area.

It is tempting to consider all the people I know who suffer from illnesses and issues that cannot be cured by lifestyle changes and positive thinking, and to try to pull myself up on the fuel of guilt. I have never found this to be very effective. Sure I can be grateful for what I have, but guilt is a destructive emotion. I have found that persuading myself to change because it is right for me will lead to longer lasting and more effective results. I guess this shows me up to be a selfish creature.

Perhaps for the same reason I do not read self help books, which tend to focus on how amazing someone else has been at orchestrating change in their life. You know what? That is their life, not mine. I need to work this one out for myself.

Just as advice for mothers is too often veiled criticism of how they are behaving, so lifestyle advice can too often come across as blame. Knowing that I put on weight because I eat too much is not going to help me to lose weight; I already know this is my fault. What I need is a strategy that will work for me, that will allow me to live my life while eating less.

I have no idea if I will manage it this time. Whatever the outcome, I will not beat myself up over failures, I already feel battered enough. From past experience I know that my general health and well being improves when I am fitter and leaner; that is my focus. If I am to recover from these aches and pains then I need to show my body more respect, but I need to do this in a way that suits me.

Onwards and upwards then; wish me luck!

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Weight a-gain

So, here we are at the beginning of another new month. Those of you who read my blog regularly may recall that, at the beginning of last month, I decided that I was going to try to lose a bit of weight in preparation for a few events I am looking forward to attending in the coming weeks. You will be pleased to know that I have been successful in my attempts to shift quite a few pounds. Unfortunately I did not manage to lose them, merely to set them aside only for them to find me again. My weight loss has been impressive but my weight gain has countermanded all the good effects. I will not be as svelte in my appearance as I had envisaged.

I see no point in beating myself up over this sort of thing. Life is too short and I am already within a healthy weight range for my age and height. I will tell myself that women are supposed to have curves and be grateful that my party dresses are made of stretchy fabric. It would have been nice to have flattened out a few of the bulges but I only have myself to blame. If I controlled my eating more effectively I would lose the weight.

I find it much easier to eat sensibly in the summer than the winter. We have had what feels like a particularly wet and cold summer, autumn and winter in this part of the world, and this has proved too strong a disincentive to venturing outside. I am a fair weather cyclist but would usually walk in most conditions. However, I have found it difficult to wrap up effectively against the wet and cold in recent months so have not been getting out and about as much as I would wish. Staying home, so close to our food stores, has not proved beneficial to my waistline. I find this lack of self control more disappointing than the effect it has had on my size.

Despite my failure to change my appearance as I would wish I am still very much looking forward to the events I have been invited to. I do not tend to socialise regularly so the novelty will be enjoyed. I sometimes feel as if I am taking a role in a play when I go out for the evening. I act my part and hope that I remember my lines. Much of the pleasure that I get from these occasions is in people watching and mulling over the experience afterwards. My hope is that I will remain largely invisible to the crowd; a bit part or background filler merging into the scenery. Whilst I would not wish to be ignored, I crave no particular attention.

In many ways this is reminiscent of my life. I wish to live away from the gaze of others; to do my own thing quietly and peacefully without fuss. I enjoy catching up with friends and hearing about their lives and news but rarely choose to join in with their exciting activities. It is good to have an occasional celebration to look forward to, but I have no wish to regularly party.

I had a telephone conversation with an old friend from my home town yesterday. Since we last talked her family has celebrated a wedding and a birth – sometimes I realise that I have left a catch up too long. When we were teenagers we used to go to parties together, dressed outrageously as our protest against the prevailing need to dress fashionably and in something new for each event. We could not afford to keep up with such frivolity. These days I would not wish to draw such attention to myself so try to dress to fit in although still rarely in a new outfit. I do not attend enough parties to justify the purchase of more dresses, however tempting it may be to conform.

I still have a little time before I must pour myself into whichever dress I choose to wear to the next event. Perhaps I shall manage a few more visits to the gym and a few less to the food cupboard in that time. I have left it too late now to make a significant change to my size, but perhaps I can manage a very slight improvement. It would feel good to be able to prove to myself that I can ignore the inner voice telling me to eat, drink and darn the consequences!

Party

Conforming to type

If media stereotypes are to be believed then I am not a typical woman. I do not enjoy shopping, own very few pairs of shoes, rarely wear any make up and seek the attention of a hairdresser about once a year for a simple trim. I am aware that my choices mean that I do not look as good as I could. When I see how well groomed my friends are I do wonder if I should make more of an effort. Perhaps I am just too lazy; I guess the way I look to others is just not important enough to me. In one area though I am all too predictable. I am constantly trying to be just a bit thinner. Those media images of what is supposed to look good have obviously had an impact.

Yesterday a new month started and I had a 9am appointment with my Personal Trainer. I wished to set up a new program with a new target – to lose fourteen pounds in six weeks. This is pure vanity. I have a couple of events coming up in mid March and want to look better than I currently do in my party dresses. Nobody is saying that I don’t look good already but I don’t feel good. This is all about me. My Personal Trainer explained about how the body metabolises food, how it reacts to exercise and how it copes with sudden change. If I am to lose that amount of weight in that short a time then I need to be radical. He set up a challenging exercise program and explained what I needed to do with my diet. Now it is up to me.

I like to consider myself a fairly optimistic sort of person. When I disappoint myself I believe that I will do better next time. I try to take my life one day at a time. When I let myself down I think, ‘I will do better tomorrow’. I like new beginnings. New Year is, of course, the big one. Whilst I don’t make specific resolutions, I do start each new year with high hopes of achieving personal goals. New months are also times when I look forward to what lies ahead and think about how much better I will make myself be; putting a whole month behind me and reinvigorating my plans and goals.

The gym that I belong to is always busy first thing on a Monday morning. Like me, there are so many people determined to start their week well. Whatever they did in the previous week or month or even just over the weekend, they are going to make this week better. They are going to work out on at least three days this week and every week from now on. They are going to shift that weight, improve their fitness, feel better about themselves. Of course I know that this whole obsession with weight loss is a bit sad. We have been conditioned to aim for trim, slim bodies yet so much of the fun stuff that we do involves food. We celebrate by eating out in a restaurant; we meet up with friends for drinks and a bite to eat; we welcome guests to our home with a carefully prepared meal. As parents we are told that happy families eat together. Good times equate to consumption; good looks to denial.

When I managed to achieve significant weight loss last year I was amazed at how much healthier I felt. Losing the weight was as much about looking after my body (we only get one) as about improving the way I looked. My current desire to lose weight is, however, pure vanity. It is not necessary. I am torn between wanting to do it because I know it will make me feel better about myself and not wanting to conform to a media induced stereotype of how I am supposed to be. I blame the media for a great deal of social engineering and misinformation but on this issue I am aware of the facts and am still choosing to conform.

Trying to lose weight just to look better is such a frivolous issue – a first world problem that will not make me a better person. What I am hoping to achieve, though, is to feel better about myself. If I can be comfortable in my own skin, if I am happier with any part of myself, then that is worth striving for. Self improvement comes from within.

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Working out

I consider myself fortunate to be a member of a small gym and health spa attached to a local hotel. Several times a week I will walk through the impressive gateway, along the tree lined drive and avail myself of the facilities. It is a lovely, friendly place, a pleasure to go to, and it has helped turn me into someone who is now reasonably fit for my age.

This is the third gym that I have belonged to. The first was many years ago. It was linked to the social club of what was then my place of work. When I joined the gym I bought myself a selection of  the latest gym gear of the time and enjoyed going along a few evenings a week to work up a sweat on the bikes, rowing machines and stair climbers. After a couple of years though the site was sold for redevelopment so it had to close.

The second gym I belonged to was in my local leisure centre. Joining this seemed like a good idea at the time. I took advantage of an offer which gave me fifteen months for the price of twelve and waived the joining fee if I paid up front. Not being one to waste money I did the maths and worked out that, if I went three times each week and swam as well (at a cost of only £1 a swim if taken after a gym workout), then the membership would cost no more than swimming a couple of times a week and attending an aerobics class – my usual exercise of choice. The leisure centre is about three miles from my home; it seemed daft to me to drive somewhere in order to do some exercise so I would cycle there and back. The village I live in is on a hill so I could whizz there in next to no time; getting back was not so easy. Are you keeping up? I struggled to. For fifteen months, three times a week, I cycled six miles; did a gym workout; and swam half a mile. I was very glad when that membership expired. It put me off gyms for a long time.

I was tempted to join my current place by a friend who is a bit of a serial spa member. She belongs to at least three spas in our area and was kind enough to take me along as her guest to try a couple of them. She does not use the attached gyms so my visits with her were indulgences – a few lengths of the pool and then long chats in the hot tubs and saunas – lovely. I was tempted by the gyms though. Compared to the leisure centre facility they were small but looked so clean and quiet.

I decided that it would do no harm to get some information on the cost of joining our nearest facility. It was not cheap but it did offer a lot more than just use of a gym and pool. What swung it for me was the location (less than a mile away and no big hills!) and the inclusion of the services of a Personal Trainer. This, I thought, was what I needed; someone to motivate me, who would make sure that I was doing the things I needed to in order to achieve my goals; someone who would put me on a set of scales where I would feel embarrassed if the numbers were not heading in the right direction.

And it has worked. Within a year I had lost twenty kilograms in weight, was going on twenty-five mile cycle rides, walking in excess of ten miles regularly, and I could run a couple of miles without having to stop too often to catch my breath. Most importantly, I felt so much better about myself. I was in better shape than I had been in a lot of years and it felt good.

That was last summer. Since then I have regained a little of the weight (I am rather too fond of my food) and lost some of the fitness, but I continue to make an effort and the gym remains a lovely place to be. The cardio equipment is located by floor to ceiling windows that look out over a small golf practice course so, as I run or cycle or climb, I can watch the golfers. On a quiet day there may be a herd of deer grazing. There is a lake where all manner of birds feed and flirt and fight over territory. Perhaps a gym workout can never be described as relaxing but it does leave me feeling at peace. When I have time I will swim a mile after my gym workout and then rest my weary muscles in the sauna or jacuzzi. The latter looks out over a driving range where the deer sometimes congregate. It doesn’t seem like a very safe place to graze but thankfully I have yet to see any be hit by a golf ball.

My original Personal Trainer left just before Christmas so I am now working with a new one to get back on track. I know I can do it with the right motivation. I need to get back to eating a bit less, which is hard, but I am determined to feel good about myself again. The gym has a wide variety of members of all ages, shapes and sizes and they are generally a friendly bunch of people. I decided when I joined that I did not need the latest, technical workout clothes so I look more frumpy than sleek in my cotton t shirts and trackies. Perhaps if I ever manage to achieve my ‘ideal weight’ I will treat myself to some new gear and start to feel like a real gym bunny rather than a middle aged mum indulging herself. Not that I mind that really. A little bit of indulgence from time to time is no bad thing.

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