The Amazing Adventures of Svava – Part II

image from Ahoy there! Here is Part II of my chat with the Amazing Svava. You can read Part I here.

7. Your number came up on the random number generator and you won a place on the UAR Summer 5K course. Had you been thinking about running before you entered? Did you have any concerns/fears about running before you started?

Thanks again for that one! I had tried Couch to 5K but got stuck on a certain point and just never managed beyond that. I did participate in a 5K event in Race for Life and managed to run most of that and that was one of my proudest moments yet. But I never managed to get running to be a part of my routine.

I have wanted to be able to run since I started changing my lifestyle. It is such an accessible sport and I have serious logistic issues with getting to a gym. But most of all the allure for me lies in the image I have of runners, they are everything I am not – long, lean, lithe, naturally sporty. Whereas weight lifting is my natural sport running feels like a real challenge; and I can't resist a challenge.  

8. It’s no exaggeration to say you have become a running MACHINE during the Course. I knew you were one seriously determined woman when your wrote in your Running Diary that you went out for your first run at 4.55AM! What are your impressions of running so far?

When I first started all this lifestyle changing I needed to coax myself to go and do every session. Now I've managed to make it a natural part of my day to the point where I feel uncomfortable if I don´t exercise. It was the realisation that it just didn't matter how I felt before hand, that the rewards would always be worth the work that changed my attitude.

Running is pure joy now. Julia (the coach) has created a course that is going at a pace that I can manage and I can feel my progress every time I go out. I marvel at myself every time I run. I can't believe that I'm actually doing it. And not dying. That this body that used to just be a mountain of flab is now strong enough to propel me at a speed that is nothing to be ashamed of. Or that my lungs are strong enough to give my muscles enough oxygen to continue for extended periods of time. I just let my body take over.

My thoughts vary from day to day. Sometimes the run is difficult and I need to make up stories about winning the lottery, sometimes it feels just perfect and I use the time to just turn off my brain and think of nothing whatsoever. Bliss.

The feeling afterwards is what I exercise for. It has become my drug of choice and I am addicted to it. The feeling of achievement, of elation and happiness is just awesome. And to think that this is how I start most my days! No wonder I'm happy all the time!

Svava-runSvava after finishing her 5K at the end of the U&R Course. Dig that grin!

9. You mentioned on the Forum that you recently finished your Masters degree. You’ve been juggling full time study with full time work, parenthood and “full time lifestyle changing” as you so nicely put it. Are you a natural born multi-tasker or is this another skill you have taught yourself? How do you stay organised and fit in the things you love/need to do without going bonkers?

I haven't quite finished it yet; I'm finished with all the exams and assignments. I've still got to hand in my thesis. I am insanely organised. I make lists for pretty much everything and tick things off. And then just let the things that don't matter slide. I wake up early and I organise things into priorities. I take time on a Sunday to write a menu for the week and cook as much as I can ready for it. I make ready baked porridge and egg muffins for my breakfast and cook lots of chicken breast and make sure that grabbing lunch and snacks is a quick and easy thing to do.

10. What strikes me from reading your posts is your positive attitude and ability to keep things in perspective when a training session don't go quite as planned. You don't dwell on things too long or give up, you learn a lesson and move on. Now how the heck do you manage to do that? Are you generally a positive person or again is this something that you have learned over time?

Many years ago I mentioned to my friend in a conversation that my "strip light of positivity" wasn't as bright today as normally. She looked at me funny and asked me to explain. "Well," I said, "the light that we've got inside us that makes us feel positive and happy, mine isn't shining today.” She explained to me that this was not a common thing; that not everyone had a strip light of positivity inside them. I was flabbergasted!

But I have held on to my shining light and I use it. I probably sound as mad now as I did to my friend all those years ago but I can't help but thinking that perhaps life would be easier for a lot of people if they could have my light installed and turn it on when things get tough. It makes it easier for me to just move on from things that would maybe stop other people.

11. How long have you lived in the UK? If you could create a SuperCountry with the best bits of the UK and Iceland in one place, what things would you take from each country?

I've lived here since 2003. I would have to say that apart from friends and family I do miss the Icelandic attitude that says that things will work out somehow and I really miss the just going out and getting things done. However it could sometimes be mixed in with the British cautiousness. Icelanders sometimes act without thinking of the consequences. And I would keep the British sense of humour.

12. Finally, could you sum up your Healthy Living “Formula” in ten words or less?
Organisation, planning, consistency, moderation and make it fun!

Thank you Svava!

The Amazing Adventures of Svava – Part I

Svava Everyone, meet Svava. She hails from Iceland, lives in Wales and is one kick arse woman. I started reading her Icelandic blog via Google Translate after her number came up in the Summer Up & Running giveaway. Despite the mangled English I was instantly intrigued. It was clear from her Before and During photos she had made some massive changes in her life.

During the Summer 5K Course Svava hooked me even more (in English!) with her determination, radiant positivity and never-give-up attitude.I'm so chuffed that she was up for this interview so I can share her story with you all…

1. First of all I have to ask about your blog title Salvelinus Alpinus… what does that mean?

I'd like to say something intelligent but really it's a joke whose origins are now lost in time. Salvelinus Alpinus is the latin name for a type of fish called murta in Icelandic. Which is a sometimes joke name for me.

2. To set the scene for the statistics lovers out there, can you tell us your before and current weight and/or clothing sizes?

When I first weighed myself just over two years ago as I started my lard busting escapades I owned scales that stopped at 130 kilos (287lb). And I could not get any numbers from that scale. So I know that I was over 130 kilos at that stage. I then first logged my weight in march 2009 at 126 kilos (278lb) and I was wearing trousers UK 24, tops in UK 26 (I'm top heavy).

I now weigh 86 kilos (189lb) and am a size 16. I set myself the goal weight of 71 kilos although I must admit that as I progress in the mental side of "fixing" myself that goal has become less and less important.

Svava-before  Svava in January 2008 before her adventures began

3. What prompted you to decide to lose weight? Had there been previous attempts?

I don't remember myself as anything but fat. And I don't remember a time when I've not been on a diet. I have always been confident and happy and I have never let my weight hold me back. However as my weight crept higher up the scales I started losing my natural confidence until I just didn't feel like me anymore. I was no longer in control of my addiction, it controlled me. I remember having panic attacks if there weren't any sweets in the house. Or if I foresaw that I wouldn't have private time to stuff my face.

It got to the stage where I was waiting for an appointment to see my GP about weight loss surgery but then lost my nerve. It felt such a big operation and with such massive possible complications. I thought to myself that I needed to give myself one last try, one last go at losing the weight. But I also knew that I needed to approach it somehow differently than normally.

So I sat down and reviewed every attempt I'd had at losing weight in the past, found the common denominator and then did away with that. It turned out that I had always set myself far too lofty goals in a far too small a timeframe. This time I set a much smaller goal. Instead of saying "I am going to lose 50 kilos (110lb) in a year", I said "Im going to lose 10% of myself in 4 months." 13 kilos (29lb) was so much easier to think about than 50. And then in the same way as you would climb a mountain, I set off, one bleeding step at a time.

4. What tools/methods are you using for your weight loss? How did you decide on this particular method(s)?

I have tried every diet under the sun. If it's been invented I've tried it. And diets work – it's humans that don't work. I am no exception to that; I have never been able to stick to a diet. So armed with that knowledge I sat down and thought about what would work for me. I understood that I would have to eat less and that I should choose my calories more carefully. I also knew that I would have to make some serious changes.

At first I just counted calories but then started being more mindful of what I ate. I am now aiming at eating clean for the most part. I believe passionately in moderation and would like to be able to live according to that. I do stumble all the time and I know that sugar is a massive trigger for overeating for me. I have managed to imprint in myself now that the occasional overindulgence does not have to lead to extended periods of overeating, I can always stop myself before it spirals out of control.

This has lead me to being hopeful that I will be able to live in mindful moderation sooner than later. I don't allow myself to feel guilty when I stumble. I choose to analyse those occasions to better understand myself and how I can then either avoid the situation or better control it next time. I aim for consistency rather than perfection.

Svava-pants The Svava and Big Pants Photo – it has to be done!

5. How did you get started with exercise? Have you always been into fitness or has this developed during your weight loss journey?

I have never been athletic or exercised. And I do not believe that exercise is necessary for weight loss. I am however convinced that exercise can be the difference between simply being on a diet and making a permanent change in your lifestyle. For me it is the thing that I use to set myself goals to achieve when the scales aren't moving.

I was too heavy to do much when I first started, but instead of doing what I'd normally do; go to an aerobics class, feel fat and incompetent, get breathless and wish for death and then never go again, I decided that exercise would now be on my terms the same as my diet. So I got a Pilates DVD and just did that at home until I felt ready to try more energetic moves on Wii EA Active. I then got a book on weightlifting, joined the gym attached to my workplace and started dabbling with running as well.

As I get fitter exercising cements my new lifestyle. I feel that goals such as being able to run 5k or deadlift 80kg are much more sustainable goals than wanting to reach a certain weight. It all holds hands; I am now a healthy person, not just because I mostly eat clean but because I am fit and strong.

And I think that the most important changes I have made to my mindset come from exercising.  In all honesty it has been a fun and relatively easy adventure in the kitchen, I love cooking and I have made it a fun assignment to create healthy, appetising recipes that I enjoy eating. But exercising did not come naturally to me. That was the aspect of my life that is new and changed for me. It is the aspect where I continue to amaze and astound myself with my achievements.

6. I’ve read on your blog you can lift some seriously heavy weights! Has weight training played a role in your weight loss? What’s your favourite move?

I love all the old school "proper" weight lifting. I firmly believe that you should lift as heavy weights as possible with few reps. Squats are by far my favourite move. When I rack up 70 kilos of iron, put it on my shoulders and then squat down and stand up again… the feeling of strength, invincibility and achievement is indescribable.

Discovering weight training was a pivotal point in my weight loss. And I would recommend it for anyone who is overweight. Most of us fat people are already strong from carrying a lot of extra weight. It doesn't involve hopping about and doesn't leave you breathless and uncomfortable. You can wear much looser fitting clothing that in most other sports and you don’t have to be in a class full of nimble beings.

All this adds to building up confidence. This feeling of being strong gives such a positive body image and when you are used to thinking of your body as a useless lump this feeling is invaluable. Starting lifting was the point where I became serious about exercising and made it a real part of my life.

Check out Part II of the interview when Svava talks about her running adventures, her "striplight of positivity" and her formula for healthy living.

Svava-iron Svava at the gym

Pilates with the birds

Last night was Pilates. Did I tell you I'm in the intermediate class now? Woohoo! Definitely shuffled to the "back of the pack" now. I need more modifications to the exercises than the 70 year old lady. She's very cute and whenever she says something funny she does the same bashful little shrug as my grandmother. She is also kicking my arse at Pilates, dammit.

I waste a lot of energy surreptitiously looking at my classmates. I'm busting to see who can do the hundred with their legs fully extended (I can't); who has the strongest bridge. Sometimes I just watch the teacher and wonder how it is humanly possible to be so buff and beautiful. But really, I need to focus more on my stuff. As The Mothership would say in her best teacher's voice, Eyes on your own work please, Shauna!

There was a moment of zen during the relaxation bit. You don't expect moments of zen in the cavernous sports hall of a primary school, but it happened, flopped out on on my mat staring up at the ceiling. There are big windows in the roof, so I was looking up at dark rain clouds and dozens of swifts, you know those lovely pointy birds. Normally I close my eyes and think of dinner, but I was totally hypnotised by the swifts swirling and diving, so dainty and… swift.

Then a fat seagull landed on the roof and totally ruined the vibe. It was so peaceful while it lasted. Ahhhhhhh.

(I took his pic of the ceiling after class but the birds had gone by then, so have added an artist's impression of them)

Right where I am

"I have come to believe that there really is no such thing as a backslide. It's all part of moving forward, even when it doesn't feel like it.

There are many clichés in the dieting world: Get back on the wagon, Get back on track, Start again tomorrow (or on Monday,) and so on. I like to think that it's more a matter of continuing from right where I am."

A nice wee quote for the weekend, from an interview with the smokin' Karen Anderson.

Cycletta: 7 weeks to go!

Time flies when you're huffing and puffing up hills in the very lowest gear… only seven weeks til the Cycletta bike ride!

There is now route information on the website:

Cycletta North's 38.5km route is somewhat deceptive. Unlike its sister in the South, Cycletta North is a series of gradual inclines and declines, turns and straights, so you'll have to keep your wits about you and push throughout.

Dagnabbit! I swear I'd read before, "gently undulating hills". It must have been either wishful reading or I'd read the Cycletta South blurb by mistake. Oh well. There's still seven weeks to go. And 38.5km is a whole 1.5km less than originally thought, even if it the route requires wit-keeping and pushing throughout.

Besides, there is a refreshment stop half way round the course. It's not the Olympics! It is a fun and friendly event. And so far the training is doing exactly what I was hoping it would do – making me not dread getting on the bike. It can be quite exhilarating at times… the wind in my hair, the pollen up my nose; eyes blurry with hayfever tears…

Aside from being unable to get up a hill without using all the gears, the descending also needs work. Braking the entire way down can't be doing the brakes any favours. And my right calf is forever streaked with grease as I seem to press it into the chain on the way down, as if that will stop me flying over the handlebars. No matter how many times Gareth tells me this will not happen ("You are not above the laws of physics!") I can't let go!

Winners of the Up & Running Fall course giveaway

Up & Running e-courses for runners Thanks very much for your entries in the Up & Running giveaway. All that chat about crisp air, crunching leaves was very comforting since Summer seems to have completely vanished from Scotland this week. Booooo.

The random number generator has spoken and the lucky winners are…

#17 – Sonja

#58 – Tamara

Here are their comments:



Congratulations Sonja and Tamara. I've emailed you both so please get in touch to claim your prize.

If you missed out this time round there's still time to join us for the FallToday the Summer team are running their first 5K… just think, it could be you by November! Then you could feel smug for whole the holiday season 🙂

Thanks everyone who entered and hope you have a great weekend.

Beetroot Baby

For me a big key to not eating when not hungry seems to be keeping busy. But not just any kind of busy. When in the throes of Workplace Busy, my brain still reserves a sector for perhaps this would be better with chocolate thoughts. No, the most effective kind of busy is absorbing, interesting, hands-on busy.

Yesterday afternoon I got home in a munchy mood, ready for some mindless spearfishing in the fridge. I was interrupted by Gareth needing a hand with a ladder (a gutter was blocked). It was pouring rain and miserable, but once I was out there it felt good after zombie-ing at the computer all day. I splodged on over to the veggie patch and saw that the beetroot and garlic were ready to harvest. Next thing an hour has passed. I was covered in mud but had a big pile of veggies and no d'oh feeling for eating a bunch of food I didn't want/need. Instead I felt relaxed and calm. And just a little bit proud of this fella…

222. Homegrown beetroot! :)

On Saturday night I was full from dinner but could not stop thinking of biscuits. I thought I'd try a distraction technique. I'd been asking Gareth for about seven years to teach me a bit of bass guitar and he always said When? and I'd say I dunno. Righto then. No time like the present!

Three hours later I was slowly, paaaaiiiinfully plonking out about five notes from each Smells Like Teen Spirit, Everybody Hurts, Seven Nation Army, Walking On The Moon and Day Tripper* thanks to Gareth's improvised Bass for Dummies curriculum. Sure it sounded bloody terrible but the time flew and it felt so good to exercise the brain instead of the outer limits of my stomach.

Of course it's not possible to spend all day every day doing absorbing, interesting, hands-on things. You gotta scrub the loo and pay the bills. But I reckon making time for things that make you feel happy, alive, challenged, busy… there's less room for mindless eating. Interesting!

* That one was my request and proved too much for the Dummies curriculum. Hehe!

WIN! A place on the next Up & Running 5K or 10K Course

image from www.upandrunningonline.orgIt is all happening at Up & Running! We've got two e-courses on the go this Fall, or Autumn if you prefer, or Spring if you're from the Southern Hemisphere…

  • First there's the third session of our 5K Beginners Course
  • Then there's our brand spankin' new 10K Course!
  • We also have the new Bridge to 10K programme – a series of self-paced downloadable training plans
  • Phew.

The Fall 5K Course starts on Monday 5 September and the 10K Course starts on Thursday 8 September. Both courses run for eight weeks. Right now I'm slightly emotional as it's the final week of the Summer 5K and despite all warnings I've become attached to the runners again. But you'd have to have a heart of granite not to feel something as you watch people go through the journey and learn so much about themselves. I'm a fool for a tale of personal growth! I'll miss them big time. Although I cannae wait to meet the Fall folks 🙂

Anyway, enough of my emotional interludes. You can read more about the ongoing awesomeness that is the 5K Beginners Course or the shiny freshness of 10K Course over on the Up & Running website. Coach Julia and I have been slaving over 10K and it's a cracker! She never ceases to amaze me with her coaching creativity and expertise… who knew there were so many ways to make people trot around in public? There's so much variety in the training, lots of conditioning exercises and drills to strengthen all the muscles used for running, plus loads of great content on the Course blog to help you, such as yoga for runners, running anatomy, inspiring interviews, exercise demos, race tips… you can read more about the course and recommended running experience for participating here.

So… fancy joining us? There are still four-and-a-bit months left in 2011. Plenty of time left to KICK SOME ARSE and do something wonderfully fun and kind and challenging for yourself. And meet some new pals. I'm giving away one free place on each course. All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post and tell me, What's do you like best about Fall/Autumn?

  • Entries close 11PM UK time this Friday 12 August
  • There are two prizes: one place on the Fall 5K Beginners Course and one on the 10K Course
  • One runner up will receive a Bridge to 10K download 
  • The winner can give the prize to a friend, so you can enter if the thought of running makes you stabby but you know someone who would dig it!
  • Winner can be from anywhere in the world. Remember the Course is for women only.

Winner will be announced on Saturday 13 August. Go for gold, baby!

Mindful, intuitive eating and/or just plain helpful books

Holy slackarse, Batman. I was digging around in the archives looking for an old post when I noticed I'd said last September that I would write a post "later in the week" about the books that had helped me with my mindful eating/living experiments.

Rather than faffing around for another eleven months I thought I'd jot down a few of them RIGHT NOW. Action woman! Kapow!

When You Eat At The Refrigerator, Pull Up A Chair: 50 Ways To Feel Thin, Gorgeous, And Happy (When You Feel Anything But) When You Eat At The Refrigerator, Pull Up A Chair by Geneen Roth

A good Gateway to Geneen book. I read her mega famous Oprah-blessed Women, Food And God but the writing style didn't gel with me as much as this one. Refrigerator consists of short essays written with humour and straight-to-the-guts-ness. There's a nice mix of insight and practical ideas. I was chuckling throughout, "Geneen you crazy cat! I do that shit too!". I went a little crazy with my yellow highlighter pen.

Memorable quotes:
"There is no right way. What works for one person may not work for another. What works at one time in your life may not work five years later. It's important to honor all the paths you've taken, the cures you've tried, the efforts you've made, and to let go of them when they stop assisting your growth."

"If you start eating when you are not physically hungry, it is very difficult to stop when you've had enough. It is like pouring water into an already full glass. There's no space for the food to fill."

Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful: How to End Your Struggle with Mindless Eating and Start Savoringfood with Intention and Joy

Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful: How to End Your Struggle with Mindless Eating and Start Savoring Food with Intention and Joy by Susan Albers

This book is a follow-up to another Albers book with an equally unwieldy subtitle, Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating and Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food. I skipped straight to this one as it's a workbook full of quizzes and practical exercises and I really love writing inside books. With pen! Naughty naughty.

Seriously, I enjoyed Eating Mindfully. It's practical and the exercises ask some very insightful questions. And just when you're feeling rather raw and vulnerable having learned a lot about why you go crazy with the chocolate, there are practical steps to help you move forward, from setting up your environment, mindful shopping and how to let go of old habits.

Beyond Chocolate

Beyond Chocolate: How to stop yo-yo dieting and lose weight for good by Sophie Boss & Audrey Boss

I mentioned Beyond Chocolate during the 10th Birthday Sell Out earlier this year. Here's what I said:

"… I like that Beyond Chocolate is not written by doctors or scientists. It's about two ordinary women who got fed up with dieting, worked to find a new way of eating without going bonkers, then shared their learnings with others. The book has a good balance of "the deep stuff" and practical tools and information, to make the book both useful and enlightening.

What I like most is that Beyond Chocolate stresses the importance of "being your own guru" – that you can have all the information in the world but only you know what is best for you and your body. They don't pretend to have all the answers for you, just tools and ideas to get your started on your own path. At first that can be a scary concept – especially if you've been following other people's diet rules all your life. But it's so empowering when to realise (re-realise, in my case) that you know yourself better than anyone else, and treating yourself with kindness and respect gets far better results than punishment and deprivation."


Feed Me!: Writers Dish About Food, Eating, Weight, and Body Image edited by Harriet Brown

This collection of essays offers a great variety of perspectives – women of diverse sizes, cultures, backgrounds and ages. There's some fantastic raw and honest writing; I particularly liked the essays by Wendy McClureKate Harding and Joyce Maynard – you can read her essay Pie online. The book left me thinking, Dang, we all got issues. That might sound a depressing thought but it was kinda reassuring and I felt more peace and perspective on my own body image niggles. Thanks again Nikki for kindly sending this book!

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown

Brené Brown is a research professor who has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. I'd watched her TED talk (a great place to start to see what Brené is all about) but I didn't order the book until Jen of Perfect in Our Imperfections wrote about it. Jen is my personal barometer of good things, you see 🙂

It took me three months to finish the book. At first I thought, "I'm cool with me these days, I don't feel unworthy and I'm no perfectionist!". But one phrase in the book kept singing out: hustling for worthiness. To quote from her DVD of the same title: "If we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and have to hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving."

The Four P's of the human doormat! Anyway… I think I'm still digesting this book, but parts of it really resonated. I've since noticed since that so many times when I reach for food it's triggered from uncomfortable feelings of shame or unworthiness. It's been very helpful to recognise that. Interesting stuff!

So there's a wee sample of books that have got my rusty brain cogs working! Note: As always the book links are affiliate links. I make a small commission from any sales made via the links. As a non-US resident I am rewarded in gift vouchers, and have use them to support my workout DVD and almond butter habits. A huge thanks to everyone who has purchased via these links over the years 🙂

New Years Goals Check-in: July

I'm doing monthly updates on my New Year Goals.

July highlights

  • Exercise consistency – giddyup! July's initial motivation was a slight SHAME JOB! feeling – the Summer Up & Runners have been busting their arses 3x week and I didn't want to feel slack! But the motivation is now, "coz it feels good and it makes me less grumpy". Can't go wrong with that.
  • Cycletta training – I had a few weekends away so alas it was mostly on the spinning bike, but I was consistent and I can feel my fitness improving.
  • Seeing a lovely osteopath about my dodgy knee and lower back – after "working around" the pain for about five years. Good to finally understand what's going on.

July lowlights

  • Feeling rotten after the first osteopath visit due to these humbling realisations:
    • the obesity/weight loss/regain rollercoaster has taken its toll on the bod
    • denial/"working around" the problem for years made the knee so much bloody worse than it had to be
    • kickboxing is off the cards for now.

But I got past the gloom pretty quick, and now focusing on what I CAN do. It doth suck that kickboxing and kettlebells are out for the momemnt (all the squat-esque kettlebell moves anyway)… but Pilates, cycling and upper body weights are IN, baby!

I might look into a punching bag to help with the kickboxing withdrawals. Or just gently clobber Gareth to save money. Not really. Don't call the cops!

August plans: Cleaner eating. There's no getting round the fact that my joints would be happier if I was 20 kilos lighter. I've held steady the past two months and I'd like to make some more progress now. No crazy schemes, just making sure I check in with those portion sizes and hunger signals. I slackened off with that a bit in July.