Action before Belief?

Jen's juicy quote yesterday got me thinking about self-belief. I agree with her sentiment that when you truly believe that something is a top priority, nothing can get in your way. It's simple, but as some of you said in the comments: "it's not easy". As Jen herself said, "I'm not there yet either… I'm talking theoretically here".

So how do you get to that point of believing?

I tend to find that action comes before belief. If you're not someone with confidence on tap, I find it useful to do what the lovely LBTEPA said in her comment, "acting as if you believe it". I interpret this as "performing the desired actions as if you believed in yourself" as opposed to pretending you believe. If that makes any bloody sense at all. For example, at this start of this year my self-belief levels were at a dark and skanky low. Even as I started doing tiny, positive things (keeping my food journal, small amounts of exercise, listening to my hunger signals) I had no real conviction that they would do any good.

But I vowed to keep plodding along regardless of what the brain was telling me. So even when the Voice of Doom was whispering, "Wow, you used to be able to do this easily!" in the middle of kickboxing, the idea was to keep going and focus on the action.

Slowly the balance has started going the other way. Momentum is building. The more tiny, positive things I do, even with teeth gritted, the more my brain seems to link the actions together and conclude, "You are capable of good stuff."

I'm noticing this with some of the Up & Runners. The more training sessions they string together, the more positive they feel and the more they start to believe they will get through the eight weeks. This is regardless of how good or bad the session itself was – the victory is simply in the doing. I can see them starting to believe in their own power and it is so, so inspiring.

I find the action-before-belief thing applies to many aspects of life, in large and small ways. Like every time I make an effort to hang up my coat instead of dumping it on the floor, I am slowly changing the tune of "I'm a slob" to "I'm quite a tidy person".

The only exception might be writing. No matter how much action I take on the writing front, the self-belief doesn't come. But I reckon that might just be a writing thing. Maybe if you allowed yourself to believe in your own abilities too much you'd get cocky and a piano would fall on your head. I think with writing you need that wee bit of terror and doubt in your guts to keep you motivated. Hehe ;)

What works for you? Do you have any tips or tactics for cultivating self-belief?

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Sermon on the Blog

Sermon Last week I got emails from three different people saying they'd dug up an entry from four years ago called Things I Have Learned.

I re-read it myself and found it very reassuring, like the Ghost of Shauna's Past telling me DUDE we've been here before so don't you worry bout a thing!

In light of the aforementioned mushy brain I thought I would re-post it today for the new-school readers.

2006 Disclaimer:  This is not smug lecturing or advice or a dietary Sermon on the Mount. It's just a wee list of lessons learned over the last five years. And so many of em took almost all that time to learn. I'm a bit slow.

Disclaimer Update 2010:  Yep. Still learnin'!

  • Laugh at yourself. Especially when you screw things up!
  • Don't compare your progress to other bloggers, instead be inspired by them (ie. steal their ideas!)
  • Try to reduce the self-loathing. I'm not saying you have to look in the mirror and chant, "YOU ARE A WINNER!", but it really doesn't help to stand around yelling at your thighs.
  • Remember that the weight loss industry exists to make money, whether it's Weight Watchers or Slimming Magazine or the CSIRO or Dr Gillian McKeith. Even though they all help in their own ways, they don't have all the answers and they really want you to buy the Choco Crisp Bars or send away for the Pilates DVD. Take bits and pieces from what they tell you and clobber it together to make your own way of doing things. Don't let anything be a substitute for thinking for yourself.
  • Don't put things off until you Get Skinny. Try something crazy and new. If you fail, just don't blog about it!
  • Deal with The Past.
  • Look at the Big Picture or look at the Little Picture. Whichever is easiest to stomach at the time!
  • Don't disappear up your own arse. Losing weight seems to bring a lot of introspection and lightbulb moments, but don't let this journey take over your life.
  • Accept that you are moody, inconsistent and full of contradictions. What worked for you yesterday may shit you to tears tomorrow, and for no reasonable reason!
  • Never eat lentils before you do squats or lunges.
  • Just because you think everything is about your weight, don't assume everyone else sees it that way. Often other people are much better at seeing past your fat than you are.
  • Just because you lose weight doesn't mean your old fears and problems will disappear. Example: If you were scared of rollercoasters when you were 350lb you may still shit your pants at the thought of them 160 pounds later!
  • Total Greek Yogurt is the best thing to come out of Greece since Plato.
  • Things won't change overnight. It takes time, trial and error to forge a healthy lifestyle and figure out what works for you. The difficulty of this task increases by tenfold increments depending on how many times per week you used to visit McDonalds Drive Thru.
  • Don't let the fear of loose skin, belly rolls or flabby arms stop you. Do you think Oprah worried about her bingo wings? No. She just flap-flap-flapped and flew away to world domination!
  • If you're still worried about your flabby arms, move to Scotland. You can get away with long sleeves for about 364 days a year.
  • Even when you royally screw up – over and over and over again – you can pick yourself up again. As long you never stop believing you will get there in the end.

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What is the right way to run?

RunThis post was imported from the Two Fit Chicks and a Microphone podcast blog.

Linda had a running question for Ms Julia Jones:

I've been reading and watching You Tube videos on running. It seems there is a wrong way to run and a right way. They say once you start running incorrectly it's hard to adjust. What is the right way to run? Do you have any tips or links I can follow up on? 

Forwards! I say. But the wise Julia has a better answer:

I wrote a book in Italian on women's running and I just translated the first section: running style! The english has not yet been corrected but it's still readable :-)

Running Style – A first approach

One of the most frequent questions asked by beginners is: how should I run? A lot of people compare themselves to elite runners they see on television (no matter what the specialty is, from the 800 metres to the marathon) or to a friend that already runs, without realizing that the way they move is very, very different.

They want someone to watch them run correct any errors that they’re making. They want to know if their feet should be positioned further ahead or if their shoulders are too far back. They think that with a couple of suggestions and simple corrections they’ll be able to run perfectly.

The human body is amazing. It adapts perfectly to whatever environmental conditions it’s give, using whatever available resources it possesses. Even though as human beings we’re very similar to one another, in reality we are all very unique in our physical and mental characteristics. The way we move, even while running, is influenced by our body proportions, any physical activity done during the years, by mental models that each one of us constructs and builds through our own experiences. In running, the way you place your feet, the position of your upper body and your stride length are all regulated by inborn and acquired qualities. What has to be looked at is whether what you think is a incorrect way of running (compared to an ideal model) should be corrected or just left alone.

Have you ever seen the British World Class athlete and marathoner Paula Radcliffe run? Every four steps her head inclines forward as if she’s nodding. The faster she runs the faster she nods. Look out when she has to sprint to the finish! And yet she’s declared that it would cost her more energy to work on modifying this “defect” rather than try and live with it to her best ability. With her “wrong” way of running she holds the world record time for the Women’s marathon distance!

My advice to beginner runners is not to concentrate too much in the first few months on your running style. Initially, it’s more important to build an aerobic base and be able to “move yourself” for many miles without stopping. Once you’ve reached this goal you can read the next chapter and concentrate more on how to improve your running technique and style. For now you can just follow these four tips to achieving a natural running style:

Look straight ahead.
Don’t put your focus on the the ground or on your shoes. Look directly in front of you with your head straight. Enjoy your environment, you can look left and right, or concentrate on a focal point or the general view in front of you.

Keep your shoulders straight and relaxed.
Be careful not to tense up in your shoulders or hunch over while leaning too far forward. It might help stretch before starting your run with your hands high over your head. Another trick is to left and then release your shoulders six or seven times in a row. Sometimes when I feel a lot of tension in my shoulders I’ll slow down my run for a few minutes and do these same exercises while I’m running.

Your elbows should be at a 90° angle.
Your arms should be relaxed and follow the natural rhythm of your legs. Make sure to keep your hands relaxed, with your fingers slightly closed but not in a tight fist.

Mid-foot striking and landing
Not on the tips of your toes, not on your heels. Your feet should cushion your land and roll as you push off, trying not to brakes the movement. Landing with your heels makes you brake sharply and thus puts a lot of traumatic strain on the lumbar region, which is when you hear complaints about back pain.

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Tips for running in winter

This post was imported from the Two Fit Chicks and a Microphone podcast blog.

Listener Tessa from the Netherlands had a question for our running guru Julia Jones:

Could Julia give some tips about what to wear in autumn/winter? I live in the Netherlands and, like Scotland, it's possible to experience all 4 seasons in one day… At the moment it's mostly (cold) rain, a little sunshine and freezing gusts of wind.

I've tried running a long time ago (also in winter) and I usually ended up then freezing because my 'warm' clothes got dripping wet. I have some 'quick dry' fitness clothing but those really are not warm enough when I start my workout. I could start out wearing a vest but where do keep it when I start to get warm?

Money is an issue for me so I would rather not buy expensive 'professional' runners clothing. At least not until I know if I want/am able to keep running. Could she give some cheap but brilliant tips?

Here's Julia's answers:

Hi Tessa,

You need to dress in layers that you can take off as needed during your run, here's my suggestions:

  • Running tights. In winter I always use capris unless it's below 0°C/32°F, then I'll go for full length.
  • Top, to about 4°C/39°F:  The first layer (closest to your skin) should be a short sleeve Dri-Fit shirt. The second layer should be a long sleeved Dri-Fit shirt. 
  • Top, below 4°C/39°F: Make the first layer a long sleeve Dri-Fit shirt and the second layer a long sleeve Polartec type sweatshirt. 
  • This is the only thing you might have to buy: an all weather jacket with removable sleeves. This is something I LOVE and totally recommend to everybody who runs outdoors in the winter. I actually don't use the jacket as a jacket that much, but rather use it as a vest. If it's raining the vest keeps my body dry and warm but doesn't overheat me since the sleeves are off. Then again, you could start out with the sleeves on and then take them off if you get too hot. Make sure you get a jacket with pockets so you can stick the sleeves in. 
  • Polartec gloves. I start out most of my winter runs with gloves on. Once I'm warmed up I stick them in my jacket pocket or down my sports bra.
  • Hat or head wrap. – If it's really cold out I  wear a Polartec hat, otherwise I love wearing cotton wraps around my head. You can actually make them yourself out of cotton-like elastic fabric. Just sew a tube about 8 inches long. While running outside you'll want to cover your ears. If you get hot with it on, just roll it down and it can cover your neck for the rest of the run.  If it's really raining and I'm determined to run anyway I use a cap with a visor so the rain stays out of my eyes.

With all of these layering elements you can just play around with them and see what is most comfortable for whatever temperature Mother Nature hands out for the day. Mix and match and see what works best for you!

Happy Winter running!

Julia

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Review – Cathe Workout Downloads

CatheDo you like working out at home in your pyjamas? Good news – home fitness queen Cathe Friedrich has just launched Cathe Downloads.

Her entire 150+ workout catalogue is now available in digital format, so you can watch your downloads on any computer or video-enabled mobile device, like an iPod.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post or a PR conspiracy. I wanted to share this as I know many of you are fellow home workouterers. Cathe doesn't even know I'm alive! Sniff sniff.

I wasn't terribly excited by the Download idea at first – what's wrong with old-fashioned DVDs? But it's proved to be very, very handy:

  • No more shipping or customs fees – more affordable than DVDs, especially for non-US residents.
  • Extra lazy option – When I work out at home I usually play the DVDs on my computer, and cranking up a DVD takes so many seconds, man. Downloads are a mere double click into action!
  • Good for travel – a couple of workouts stored on my laptop squashes those feeble dang I left my DVDs at home! excuses.
  • Tailored to your taste – all Cathe's multi-disc series are broken down into the individual workouts – you don't have to purchase the whole set. I can skip stuff I don't dig (like high-impact Step) and just buy the bits I enjoy.

For example:

  • I got a fab 15-minute Stretch routine for $3.97 that is a wee component of her massive Shock Training System series ($299 for 40 DVDs). I like Cathe stretches when I'm not in the mood for proper, la-di-da yoga. Also good for a quick stretch when I get home from kickboxing.
  • I got the Kickbox part of her 4-Day Split series, $15.97 – I've wanted this one for ages but wasn't willing to fork out $79.99 plus shipping/customs fees for the entire 4-disc series.

image from www.dietgirl.org Shopping
You can browse all the workout categories via the Products menu. There's sample video clips too. You can purchase with PayPal or a debit/credit card. To download the workouts you need a good internet connection.

Viewing
To view the downloaded files you need a computer or a video-capable mobile device, like a phone or MP4 player. Apparently you can watch them on television too if you have an iPod/Phone and an AV cable. There's plenty of support and tutorials on the website.

Quality
I'm not a technical person but the video and audio quality was great on my MacBook and Gareth's aging PC laptop. The workouts have chapter points like the DVDs, so you can skip past any too hard bits.

I haven't tried them on my iPhone yet – I don't know when or why I'd need that. Perhaps if I could listen to a weights workout while I lifted at the gym? Or watch a workout on the train and wiggle my feet around a bit?

Conclusion
I like my Cathe downloads – they're more affordable, convenient and ideal for trying out something a different, since you don't have to buy a bigass DVD series.

If you'd like some ideas, here are my favourite Cathe workouts:

And some ideal for beginners:

UPDATE June 2010: I've now become a Cathe Downloads affiliate, so if you purchase any Cathe workouts using this link, I'll receive a small commission. Any sales will go towards hosting fees for this blog so if you fancy supporting Dietgirl.org I will love you for life. Thanks for your consideration! :)

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Why gardening is like weight loss

Wee-greensWhile shoving a few seeds in pots and washing bugs from the crevice of lettuce leaves hardly qualifies me as a gardener, I’m finding this growing malarkey so addictive and relaxing. With all that learning and bumbling error, gardening is a great metaphor for life. But I know most people come here for the lard busting chat, so it’s time for another episode of… Dodgy Weight Loss Analogies!

It’s best to start small
I nearly went beserk on my first visit to the garden shoppe – OMG obscure berries and fancy tomatoes and potatoes with girly names! We should get chickens too! And keep a goat in the bathroom!

It was just like the old dieter’s mindset: Must lose 2 kilos, revolutionise lifetime of crappy eating habits and do 5 gym visits by Sunday!

So I slowed down – starting out small meant less chance of falling into a defeated heap two weeks later. I internetted “easy plants for absolute beginners” and settled on salad leaves and herbs for my debut.

Knowledge is power
If you’re out of your depth you can’t be afraid to ask for help. In this case it’s been my father-in-law, gardening blogs and “The Kitchen Gardener” by Alan Titchmarsh – a very straightforward book that explains the basics in gentle, encouraging tones. Whenever a plant does something weird or looks close to death our mantra is, “Ask Titchy!” The good thing is, the more you learn the more confident you become and eventually/hopefully you’ll get bold enough to test your own thoughts and ideas.

You gotta get dirrrrty
You could shove seeds in the ground then admire a la distance while hoping for the best. But if you want sexy results you have to get mucky. You have to nuture your babies, water them regularly and patrol for snails. As with lard-busting, it all boils down to time, sweat and toil.

From little things big things grow
At first it looks so pointless and insignificant – a broken pot, some dirt and £1 packet of seeds. Then you spy a tiny hopeful shoot pushing through. Then suddenly a few weeks later you’re greeted with a lush spray of poncy salad leaves. Just like when you start your healthy quest, a brisk walk and forsaking Pop Tarts for porridge can feel like it will never amount to anything. But give it time and patience and those small efforts sprout into bigger rewards.

Mind your own business
It’s easy to get Garden Envy when the neighbours are retired and have more time and fancy equipment and fancy flowers and whatnot and all you have is a rusty spade and a half-dead strawberry cutting. I was no stranger to lard-busting jealousy either – She’s losing weight faster than me! She’s got a personal trainer! She doesn’t have to work! Rah rah rah!

But you have to focus on your own situation and budget and channel that energy into making the most of the tools you have to hand. You might have a second-hand DVD instead of a personal trainer… but you still have YOU and your own imagination.

PERFECTIONISM IS FUTILE
Holy moly this is a lesson I need to learn. So often I’m frozen into inaction for fear being undeserving or doing something wrong or rubbishly. But the gardening is showing me that it doesn’t bloody matter if you cock up. It’s more fun to let go of the outcome and plunge your hands into the soil. What’s the worst that could happen? The plant might cark it but you only lose a few hours of your time or a few pennies for the seedling. Failure is your friend. Embrace ineptitude!

Some things are beyond your control
You can be diligent with your diet or pamper the hell out of your plants, but sometimes the weather turns nasty or a pheasant craps on your head or a snail gnaws away at your resolve. But at least you’re DOIN’ IT, baby.

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Moonwalk Tips

Here's a great idea. Let's gather up 10,000 of us and stay up until midnight, then take off our tops then parade around the streets of Edinburgh in our bras for 26.2 miles. C'mon! Where's your sense of adventure?

A year later the painful sweaty memories of the Moonwalk marathon have mellowed. Except for the part with the 13 miles of leg cramp and turbulent stomach. Apart from that it was a pure magic.

Since that fateful night lots people have arrived at this blog by Googling "Moonwalk training tips" or "Moonwalk training plan" and I thought, "Yeah! I should write about that!". But I've faffed around for so long the 2009 London walk has already been and the Edinburgh one is next weekend! Let's get on with it anyway and we can help Saturday's ladies and the Googlers of the Future.

I canvassed some of my teammates for their hot tips too, so it's not just whingy me hoping others might learn from my mistakes. And I know there's some fellow Moonwalk Veterans out there, so if you've got any wisdom to share please feel free to join in in the comments!

Moonwalk

Moonwalk Training Tips

  • Above all, start with good shoes! You're going to be doing a lot of walking so start with a fresh pair or ones that haven't already done many miles. Make sure they're not too tight because your feet can swell up.
  • Double skin socks can help prevent friction
  • Coat your feet with Vaseline before putting your socks – feels like you're walking on air and helps prevent blisters
  • DO YOUR STRETCHES from Day One! This is my biggest regret. Take ten minutes after every walk while your body is nice and warm to thoroughly stretch your legs. Follow the stretches in the Moonwalk booklet, do a leggy section of a yoga DVD or search YouTube for stretching routines.
  • Try to do other kinds of exercise as well so that you don't get totally fed up with walking. Spinning, weight training, yoga – just try and schedule it so you "save" your legs for the long walk on the weekend!
  • This goes against the Official Moonwalk Training Schedule but all my teammates agreed on this one: don't fret if you don't get all the short walks done, if you're someone who already does a lot of incidental walking (such as walking to work) or non-walky exercise. Just make sure you ALWAYS do the long ones.
  • Audio books help the time pass on longer walks. You could get through War and Peace quite easily. Sometimes I'd get so caught up in the story I'd be almost disappointed to finish. Almost.
  • Podcasts of radio shows are also great – the variety of segments stops you from getting bored. I liked The Bugle, This American Life and Jillian Michaels.
  • Start your long walks either early morning or late afternoon/evening (hooray for long summer nights) so you don't get too hot. You'll be walking at night for the real thing so may as well get used to cooler conditions.
  • Vary your walking routes so you don't fall asleep on your feet from boredom! If you do most of your walks in town, try a country jaunt or catch a train to a nearby town for a change of scenery.
  • MapMyWalk is a good free website to log your walks, map your routes and feel smug about how many miles you're racking up
  • Be careful not to overestimate how many calories you're burning with the training. Another of my biggest mistakes! I overcompensated at dinner time quite a bit :)
  • Don't eat too much junk on your longer walks. You will need to eat to keep your energy levels up but don't go too crazy with chocolate bars or jelly babies. Most us walked better when we ate "real" food – a banana, a handful of dried fruit, or a wholemeal peanut butter sandwich (easy to break chunks off as you walk)

Moonwalk bra decoration

  • Dying a plain white bra itself is a good base for decorating – it looks more interesting by default and you don't need as many dangly things to make it look jazzy.
  • Make sure you bra decorations don’t chafe.
Brahat_2

The week before

  • Preserve your energy – get plenty of sleep every night in the leadup.
  • Don't vary your routine too much – don't introduce anything new that might throw your body out of whack. For example, don't eat anything unusual. Check all expiry dates!
  • Eat as wholesomely as you can – avoid processed food, potentially dodgy takeaways…
  • Drink lots of water
  • Try on your Moonwalk outfit and make sure it's comfortable and that you look racktacular!

The night before

  • You do need to "carb up" a wee bit but try to keep your food plain and simple – nothing too spicy or exotic. You really don't want any stomach dodginess :)
  • Lay out all your Moonwalk outfit and make sure everything's in its place
  • Pack your Moonwalk gear – make sure you've not got too much stuff to carry because it will annoy you on the night. Can your phone double up as a camera? Do you really need four different kinds of snack?
  • Don't forget to charge your camera.
  • Make sure the fridge is well-stocked with something delicious for when you eventually recover from the ordeal on Sunday afternoon.
Tent

On the big day

  • Have a very very quiet day. Try to sleep in as late as you can and/or have an afternoon nap – you're going to be awake all bloody night.
  • Put lovely clean sheets on your bed so you'll have something nice to collapse into tomorrow.
  • Put your nicest bubble bath and fluffiest towel right next to the bath tub because you won't have any energy to go hunting for them when you get home!
  • Don’t arrive too early – sure the atmosphere is great but if you're too early you're just sitting around on the ground in a very crowded area getting cramped and grumpy. If I had my time again I'd have rocked up at 10PM and chilled out more at home!
  • Enjoy the official Moonwalk flapjack; it's dead tasty. Dunno about that pasta they give you, though.

During the Moonwalk

  • It will be painfully slow and crowded at first and you'll probably not be able to walk at your usual pace. Don't panic and don't waste energy weaving in and out of the crowds. Once it thins out a bit you can get into a more regular pace.
  • Stay hydrated – small regular sips. It's easy to forget to drink once you start trudging along
  • Don't drink anything you wouldn't normally drink – like if you only drank water during your training don't suddenly start on the energy drinks, your stomach will rebel!
  • If you need a quick pee look out for some discreet trees. We know they tell you not too but you'd be walking til Tuesday if you waited in the port-a-loo queues.
  • Do some stretches during your loo breaks
  • Try to enlist a Support Vehicle – kind friends or family to pop up at various points on the night to give you a snack and/or words of encouragement! They can also carry more water so you don't have to. Particularly great at the halfway mark and then again at around mile 18. Just when I wanted to throw myself into the Forth River our friends appeared with this amazing platter and really boosted our morale.
Silverservice_2

Afterward

  • Even if you're too shattered to feel any sort of joy for finishing, be sure to take lots of photos so you can admire your achivement in retrospect.
  • Don't park too far away from the finish line! You are going to be KNACKERED like you've never known knackered before.
  • Have a pair of slippers ready in the car to ease your tortured tootsies into for the journey home
  • Have something nice for brekkie when you have finished
Whinge1   Whinge2

Check out all the Moonwalk training posts and reports from the big night in the Moonwalk category archive.

GOOD LUCK to any Moonwalkers out there!

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How do you fight cravings?

Cravings are best fought off with a stick. Preferably a big one, with metal spikes all over it.

The dictionary says a craving is, "an intense, urgent, or abnormal desire or longing."

That doesn't necessarily sound like a bad thing. I like intensity; I love to long. But your questions have been about the food-related cravings – the ones that possess your brain and make you want to eat way more than you need to.

Personally I've found that prevention is the best cure. As with many things, the key is to know thyself and be prepared…

(You know I really squirm writing this stuff sometimes. I mean what a lucky western world dilemma to have; the struggle not to eat too much food. Crikey.)

… It's much easier if I don't give the cravings a chance to start. This takes a lot of planning and forethought.

My appetite is a demanding toddler; it's first words were I want. It likes to throw itself down on a supermarket floor and make a scene. My brain is the appetite's weary mother. She carries a Handbag of Anticipation, bulging with tricks and treats and distractions. She tries to be ready for any stunt the little monkey might pull.

It all starts with breakfast. If I don't get that right I screw up the whole day. During the week I don't eat until I feel the first rumbles of hunger; between 10-11 AM. If I eat first thing as convention dictates, I'm munchy again by 10. So I figured I may as well wait until I'm properly hungry in the first place. A nice bonus is that this is the time when colleagues tend to make tea and open the biscuit tin. If I'm tucking into my breakfast then that's one Biscuit Battle that I don't have to worry about.

The breakfast itself must be good and satisfying. Right now I'm running on porridge/oatmeal. I zap it in the microwave before I leave the house and put it in a wee Thermos flask, so it's still hot when I eat it a couple of hours later. I pour it into the lid/cup with some tinned pears then sprinkle it with 10g muscovado sugar and 20g of almond butter, then stir it all up so it's nice and melty and dessert-y.

I could be sensible and just have the porridge and pears, but the extra 160 calories for the sugar and almond butter are well spent. That "hit" of caramelly sweetness and crunchy saltiness, is enough to keep me happy. I can get on with my work and ignore those chocolates sitting three feet from my desk that someone bought back from vacation.

I generally eat a late lunch, around 2 – 2.30PM, that way I've only got 2.5 – 3 hours to get through until home time (how bloody sad does that sound!?). If I make it a good one – last nights leftovers, a really interesting salad, or a baked potato with yummy toppings – then I'll cruise through with no urge to visit the biscuit tin or vending machine.

But as another layer of prevention I've always got snacks if I need them in a range of tastes and textures – savoury (a Babybel cheese), sweet (fruit or a cereal bar), crunchy/sweet (oatcakes with banana) and so on. So if I do start hankering for something I have all these levels of negotiation at my fingertips.

Dinner requires just as much thought. It works best if I plan a week in advance – what's happening this week? What evenings will I be out or working late? How energetic will I feel?

If I know I'm going to be tired and crabbit (which is 95% of the time at present) then I pick the easiest yet most satisfying meals. For example, tonight we are having these lovely huevos rancheros a la Smitten Kitchen. Easy to make, healthy enough with sufficient Delicious Factor to be looked forward to throughout the day.

If you don't have Food Issues that must sound so pathetic, but today sometime between 3 and 5PM I know I will think, "I can't be arsed going to Spinning, maybe I'll go straight home and stop into the shop for a wee bag of Kettle Chips". But since I am organised for once, I will be able to talk to myself: "Whoa there! You have huevos rancheros coming up! Melty cheesy goodness awaits. Go forth and spin!"

Evenings are another tough cookie; the post-dinner wilderness hours. Again, planning a satisfying dinner helps kill that off. If I make a "Communist dinner" as Gareth calls them – you know the more diet-y kind of dinners like stir fries that are very light and vegetabley – I try to make sure I've got something ready for when the kitchen-roaming feeling kicks in – a small chocolate bar, an individual portion of Nutella, etc etc. Anticipate, anticipate, anticipate.

If I think about it honestly, aside from when I'm pre-menstrual, most of my "cravings" are because I've let myself go too long between meals; or I'm stressed or cranky and convinced that food will make it better. It's when I've pulled back too far on calories and/or flavour in my general everyday eating, so it feels like I'm missing out on something. When I take the time to plan meals that soothe and satisfy my many teeth (sweet tooth, savoury tooth, sour tooth etc etc etc) and plan yummy things into my calories, then I don't feel so obsessed by food. The cravings don't have a chance to build.

So in summary this is what I find helpful:

  • Know your moods and vulnerable times and try to anticipate/plan around them
  • Plan meals that focus on satisfaction just as much as nutrition
  • When a craving hits, try to listen to your body and figure out what's really going on
  • Talk to yourself like a loony, all day long
  • Accept that some days none of the above will work and you'll scoff everything…

(Like last week there were Viscount biscuits at work [the UK's noble attempt at a Mint Slice]. I did the talking to myself thing and chose the Healthy Option oatcakes on my desk. But then I ate three sodding Viscounts as well. Why oh why. Reboot computer, try again tomorrow. Pfft.)

… but that's cool as long as you move on as soon as possible.

As always the key is getting to know yourself and finding out what works for you. A spoonful of sugar in the morning might prevent my cravings, but it might trigger you to eat rubbish all day. It's taken me eight years to realise what works for me, with lots of failure along the way. And now that I reckon I've figured it out, I struggle every single day to actually put it into practice.

But it's worth the effort and almost fun putting yourself under the microscope, studying your habits and patterns. Once you know the beast you're dealing with, it's easier to work out how to tame it.

See also: Tricks and Treats – Guest post on Limes & Lycopene from last year

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How to eat less meat

There's been a glut of vegetarian questions lately…

(Edit: Well there WAS a glut of questions, back in freakin' May 2008 when I started writing this entry. Slackarse! I'm determined to finish today!)

… You've shacked up with one, you want to be one, you want to be a part-time one, or you just want to beat gas prices and find out if you can propel yourself to the office with your very own wind power.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to eat less/no meat – economical, ethical, environmental – your questions were about how to put that desire into practice:

  • how do I change my diet?
  • how do I make non-meat meals tasty and satisfying?
  • what do I do with all those beans? 
  • what about the FARTING?

As always I can only offer my own experiences and hope you might find something helpful there. Also, in the eons that have passed since I started this entry, I've noticed lots of bloggers talking about decreasing their meat consumption – so if anyone out there has some tips, feel free to join in!

I grew up on a farm where it was blasphemy not to eat meat every night. There was always half a cow in our freezer at least. I only knew one vegetarian, the lovely Carrie. We gave her a lot of hell about it at school. There was a range of vegetarian products in Australia that were all called Not-something. Not Burgers. Not Bacon. Not Dogs. Every time the poor girl grilled one up for lunch we'd all cackle, "How's your Not Burger?… NOT BAD?"

My meat consumption decreased sharply when I moved to Scotland, firstly for financial reasons. Then I hooked up with Vegetarian Gareth and when I moved in with him, he insisted I shouldn't change my diet on his account. But I found it more practical to cook one meal and enjoyed the culinary challenge. I also liked how vegetarian cooking usually resulted in less skanky pots to clean!

These days I treat meat and fish like I do chocolate  – they're Sometimes foods. I go for the best quality I can afford and try to be mindful of sustainability and origin and all that stuff.

So here's the step-by-step meat-reducing process I went through:

1. Adapting old meaty recipes
Back when I first shacked up with Dr G, I started by taking my old standard meat recipes and finding veggie substitutes. This meant lots of beans and lentils. Mostly from cans (with no added sugar or salt) because I couldn't be bothered soaking dried ones and our unreliable stove meant you'd have to stand beside it for hours making sure the little beans didn't stick to the pot.

Some favourites:

  • Canned green or brown lentils – great sub for minced beef in spaghetti bol. Once you add some herbs, vegetable stock and wine and simmer for a good while, it gets nice and rich and you don't miss the beef.
  • Borlotti beans – these ones are the ones they use in baked beans. I love them for bean burgers – just mash up a tin of beans, add some fresh herbs, some chopped onion, maybe some pesto, or some nuts and seeds, roll into balls, oven bake or pan fry. Ace.
  • Butter beans – Dr G makes this great butterbean mash – just sautee an onion, add the butterbeans and a dash of Tabasco then squash with a stab blender. Sometimes he adds chopped herbs or a sprinkle of cheese.

2. Dabbling with meat substitutes
I went through a phase of trying lots of vegetarian products, particularly Quorn. What is Quorn? It's mycoprotein… fungi sort of thing, flavoured and formed into various shapes – sausages, burgers, mince. Like the Not range back in Oz. I tried it all, baby. It's quite tasty, but the Quorn "bacon" did me in… it tasted nothing like bacon and it had the most creepy texture. I decided I'd rather have some REAL bacon every now and then instead of a pretender.

3. Getting big and bold with flavours
Once I got bored with faux meat I thought about flavoursome ingredients that would jazz up plain veggies and beans. Olives, capers, sundried tomatoes, chilies, feta cheese, lemon, lime. Lots of fresh herbs too. Trying new spices with weird names. It's lovely how a sprinkle of this and that can make a vegetable sing.

4. Putting the veg centre stage
For a couple of years we got a vegetable box delivery. For £10 per fortnight all sorts of weirdo veggies would show up on our doorstep. This forced me to get more imaginative and build the meals around the vegetable, whereas in the old days it revolved around the meat. I found Leith's Vegetarian Bible and the Riverford Organics recipe pages great for those "What the HELL do I do with this leafy thing?" moments.

5. Finding some new old standards
I was cool with the veggie thing once I had a couple of recipes for that worked every time and pleased a crowd. I always trot out Sophie's Comforting Butternut Squash Dal that I have linked to 27 times before. Sooo soothing and filling and tasty, it would never occur to you that meat was "missing". Plus if you do the spicy onion garnish and yogurt and naan bread, it looks like you've gone to lots of fuss. Hehe.

I'd also be lost without Delia Smith's vegetarian shepherds pie. It is the Friends For Lunch standard – although I make it with about 75% less butter than Delia. It's one of those dishes that make you sigh, "Ahh… lentils rule". It showed me that the beans and lentils can be flavoursome in their own right. They are such great "carriers" for other flavours. It's a very adaptable recipe – I like it with sweet potato or butternut or parsnip mash instead of plain potato. I also swap out the goats cheese coz Dr G is freaked out by goats cheese (I just asked him again why he hates it and he said, "URRGH! Coz it just tastes of goats." Righto then.)

6. Devouring food blogs
There's no better way of getting ideas than from snooping at what other people do. Here are some of my favourite food blogs that are either vegetarian or just have some great vegetable recipes:

Oh yeah… the farting. Your body does adjust! I've eaten beans for lunch every day this week and I've not issued a single trumpet. My colleagues will be pleased to know that.

Further reading:

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Why blog?

How boring would lard-busting be without blogging? Pretty bloody dull, I tells ya. I've had emails from new folks who saw my Early Show appearance and asked how they can start blogging, and also why one would want to pick up such a nerdy habit in the first place. I thought I would answer that here!

The how is easy – you can create a blog in minutes at Blogger or Typepad or WordPress or BlogToLose or SparkPeople. They're very user-friendly so don't worry if you're not geekily inclined!

There are many reasons why – such as accountability to yourself and others, putting your hopes and fears and goals in writing, and having a place to celebrate and/or whine about the process. A blog can be whatever you want it to be – anonymous or exhibitionist; soul-searching essays or just jotting down your lunch. You don't even have to write one at all – reading blogs can be equally rewarding.

Personally I reckon without all the friendships, ideas, recommendations, advice, recipes, comments, challenges, support, insight and inspiration I've found from this blogging caper, I might still be plodding along on the treadmill yelling, "BORRRRRING!" at quarter-mile intervals. It's the spice, it's the flavour! There are so many things that are now fundamental parts of my life I might never have otherwise discovered. I've listed just a few at the end of this entry.

I think you need to have many different tools in your Toolshed o' Healthy Living, but blogging is one that won't just collect dust on the shelf. Ho ho ho.

  • Wendy linked to Krista's Stumptuous site in 2001 and I discovered the concept of chicks lifting heavy objects.
  • Nessajane blogged about Body Pump classes and got me thoroughly addicted.
  • Robyn blogged about the mighty Enell sports bra in 2004 and I could finally do cardio without clutching The Girls in agony. It's the ugliest garment known to mankind, but so effective.
  • Marla mentioned Cathe Friedrich fitness DVDs and turned me into a slobbering fangirl.
  • Wilma emailed out of the blue with knee-healing advice just when I was ready to stab my faulty joint with a pen.
  • Mistress Julia kicked my arse with her running expertise.
  • Kathryn wrote about her boxing classes and intrigued with the idea of punching real people.
  • I'm pretty sure it was Smaller Sue who blogged about low fat cream cheese and fruit spread on toast circa 2005, just when my breakfasts were getting batshit boring.
  • Jen got me hooked on the Jillian Michaels podcast.
  • Argyro introduced me to the wonders of Fage Total Greek Yogurt. I wish Argy would start blogging again!
  • In 2006 Elise of Simply Recipes blogged this recipe for a sauce with cilantro, lime and chili that we have made almost every week since (with less oil)
  • Mary got me onto Om Yoga DVDs and the brilliant The Low GI Vegetarian Cookbook
  • Sophie mentioned in passing that she puts porridge/oatmeal in a thermos jar for her commute. I promptly copied and can now have piping hot porridge at my desk at 10AM!
  • I wish I could remember where I first read about a spoonful of peanut butter in porridge. So good!
  • Bex blogged about the 30 Day Shred DVD which is great when you want your arse kicked in just 20 minutes.
  • Her royal buffness Kek gave endless weight training and healthy eating advice
  • Maggie at Caustic Musings mentioned Cardio Coach MP3 workouts which made gym cardio far more bearable
  • Kim reviewed the rockin' Element Pilates which is now one of my most beloved workout DVDs.

There are so many things. This is a work in progress, but will add more when as I think of 'em. It's nice to remember.

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