A Lucky Break
Thursday, December 26, 2013
In the run-up to Christmas of 2010 I managed to break my ankle.
I'd love to be able to say I did it whilst doing something a bit adventurous or exotic like skiing in the Alps or abseiling down a cliff-face, but the mundane truth is I did it slipping up on the ice on my own front path. Ironically whilst walking out to the gate to greet my just-arrived brother and his family and to warn them to mind their step on the path as it was a bit slippery. Well if you're going to prat-fall in your own front garden who better to do it in front of than your family, especially when your brother's a nurse.
Anyway, a trip to A&E and an x-ray later there I was with a nice cosy below-knee cast on my left leg. Actually it was a very cold winter by English standards so the the cast really did feel rather cosy - I think my right leg was a little jealous.
Even at the time I took the view that if I absolutely positively HAD to break my ankle I'd picked the right time to do it. While other poor souls were struggling into work through the kind of ice and snow that we rarely see in my part of England, I was tucked up in the warm with a cup of tea catching up on all the books I'd been promising myself I'd read.
However, in a roundabout sort of a away the experience turned out to have an even shinier silver lining than I initially thought because it led to me putting on a fair bit of weight.
Now I appreciate that on the face of it that hardly sounds like a good thing, but bear with me.
At the time all this happened I was forty-two, and through no virtue of my own had never been overweight. And this really was due entirely to dumb luck, essentially a combination of fortunate genetics (my family all tend towards fast metabolisms and being slender) and my mum (another nurse, and a pediatric specialist) getting me off to a good start with what she fed me as a child.
Then for the next twenty years or so I always ended up working in places that were close to where I lived and so my commute to work consisted of a walk rather than catching the bus or driving. I had no idea at the time how much that bit of daily moderate exercise contributed to me being able to eat what I fancied without worrying about any consequences for my weight.
As is sadly so often the case with good luck I took it entirely for granted and didn't really think about my weight at all beyond feeling that as long as my clothes fitted it wasn't worth worrying about. I didn't even own a set of scales and for most of my twenties and thirties could not have told you what I weighed.
But that insouciance came back to bite me in the backside when I hit my forties.
In my late thirties I moved home and job, and my new workplace was seven miles away from where I lived, so far too far away to consider walking.
This meant that my little bit of daily moderate exercise was gone, replaced with two bus journeys each way. And as I'd never thought of my walk to and from work as exercise I never thought in terms of needing to find something to replace it.
Then, at about the time I hit the big four-o, my employers decided to go "paperless" and have the contents of our paper case files scanned onto computer. It made the job a lot faster, but also meant that I was spending a far greater chunk of my day just sat in my chair, no longer needed to get up to walk to the filing racks and get a (sometimes quite hefty) case file out in response to a phone call or a colleague's query. My life was becoming even more sedentary without me realising it.
Over the next couple of years I evidently put on a bit of weight as my clothes seemed to be getting a little tight, but as I've always bought my clothes a bit on the baggy side to begin with they weren't unwearable, just not as comfortable as I'd have liked them to be.
I still didn't seem visibly overweight, and whenever I bought new clothes I just bought a size larger and told myself it was an inevitable consequence of middle age.
And then I broke my ankle and spent seven weeks sat on my behind.
In January 2011 the cast came off, and a couple of weeks later I was visiting a friend who'd been given a Wii Fit for Christmas. Naturally she was keen to show off her new toy and I was equally keen to have a play.
As you'll know if you've ever had a go on one of these, it begins by setting up a profile for you, in the course of which you are weighed and your BMI assessed.
I was slightly disconcerted to discover that I was now "officially" overweight at just over eleven stone (154 lbs if you're outside the UK). I knew I was, well chunkier than I had been but I was still refusing to see this as actually overweight.
However, I told myself weight gain was inevitable after seven weeks of forced inactivity and just assumed I'd shed a few pounds once I got back to a more active lifestyle. Yes, I'm afraid I genuinely did think at that point that I had a reasonably active lifestyle.
However, another year went by, during which my slightly too close-fitting clothes became uncomfortably tight and I was seriously having to consider going up yet another clothes size when buying new ones.
Finally I realised there was a problem here that wasn't going to magically fix itself. I had to do something about it myself.
Decision made, I proceeded to put it off, make vague half-hearted efforts and generally do nothing of any practical use whatsoever for the next few weeks.
The final kick up the behind that I needed came in the form of my friend and her trusty Wii Fit.
I was round at her house one evening, and mentioned that I needed to lose weight but that I wasn't really making much of a start on it. She half-jokingly suggested I hop on the Wii and play some of the games on there to burn off a few calories.
More because I thought it would be fun than anything else I duly got on the board, and the system weighed me.
And blithely informed me I'd put on nearly a stone and a half (about 20lbs) in the year since I'd last got on the machine.
Before that I'd seen myself as someone who'd put on a bit of weight and needed to lose it. Now I could see I was someone whose lifestyle was resulting in a constant weight gain, and if I didn't commit myself to making some serious changes I was going to put on another stone and a half, then another, then another.....
I am a dreadful procrastinator and can take an age to get around to doing things, if I don't avoid doing them altogether. But one thing I will give myself credit for is that if I absolutely positively HAVE to get something done I will throw myself into it wholeheartedly.
And so I put the internet to good use, including finding Spark, and realised that the key for me as someone who's always had to budget fairly strictly to make ends meet financially was treating my calorie intake the same way.
I've always kept a record of my outgoings and tried to minimise what I spend on stuff that doesn't matter too much to me in order to have some spare money left over to treat myself to the things that do.
Over the months I discovered the vast amount of really appetising food around that uses up very little of your calorie "budget" and found it wasn't nearly as much of a hardship to stick to 1500-1600 calories a day as I had anticipated and there was sometimes still enough left in the budget for a small treat.
On the other side of the equation I also discovered, much to the surprise of someone who thought she'd been put off physical activity for life by being forced to play sport at school, that exercise does not have to involve slogging away in a gym for hours at a time at activities that you hate. Whilst it does of course require effort (or by definition it isn't exercise) short bursts of exercise indulged in daily can have just as beneficial an effect as an hour of exercise a couple of times a week, and it doesn't have to feel like hard work to actually....well, work.
I took to doing a cobbled-together fifteen minute session of low-impact aerobics every day - first thing in the morning and thus before I could have a chance to talk myself out of it.
I rediscovered my enjoyment of walking. It had always been my chief way of getting to and from work of course, but I suddenly remembered that in my twenties I would often hop on a bus or train to some of the beautiful countryside we're blessed with in my neck of the woods and spend a day striding happily about taking in the scenery. I couldn't really understand, thinking back on it, why I'd ever stopped, so that was another avenue of not only exercise but also pleasure that opened up (or re-opened I suppose) for me.
Slowly but surely the weight came off. A pound here, two pounds there. The occasional static week, and a week or two when I put weight on, but what pleased me as much as the weight loss was the fact that I felt I was in control. That treats could still be a part of my life as long as I budgeted for them with particularly healthy and low-calorie eating the day before or after.
It gave me the confidence that once I hit my target weight I was actually going to be able to keep myself there. The exercise I was doing had become habit I felt I would have no trouble sticking with, and as I didn't find it any hardship to eat the kinds of food I was during weight loss and would be increasing my calorie budget a little once I hit target I felt I could stick to eating in a way that would keep me on an even keel.
I hit my initial target in November 2011, and as it took another couple of months of tinkering with my calorie intake to work out what it ought to be to maintain weight rather than keep losing I did go down another six or seven pounds before I levelled out. As that was still a healthy BMI I decided there was no point putting weight on for the sake of it, and so I've been at nine stone (126lbs), give or take two or three pounds, since mid-January of 2012.
The maintenance pleases me more that the initial loss, and I think once I realised that I really could lose weight, maintenance was the aspect that had me the most worried.
I did not want to end up on the treadmill of losing weight than regaining it, then trying to lose it again. In fact when I finally knuckled down and started working on my weight loss I promised myself I was only going to do it once and if I put the weight back on it was going to have to stay there and I would just learn to be happy with my weight rather than make myself miserable with repeated unsuccessful attempts to lose it.
My first few months of maintenance I was checking my weight daily and constantly anxious that I was going to mess this up. The Spark boards and teams (chiefly At Goal & Maintaining + Transition to Maintenance) were invaluable in reassuring me that my anxiety was not unusual and that I just needed to stick with it and let my confidence grow. The maintenance challenges on At Goal were especially useful in both keeping me on the straight and narrow and reassuring me that I had control over my weight.
Thanks in no small part to their support I've grown more confident as time has gone on and the weight has stayed within range.
In fact I grew confident enough with my food choices and the amount of activity worked into my daily routine that I felt able to stop logging either about a year back. For a while now I've only stepped on the scales once a week.
Don't get me wrong though, I'll be back to logging in a heartbeat if I stray more than a few pounds (I wouldn't be surprised if I need to after Christmas as I've definitely been more naughty than nice this year) and will stick with it until I feel I have every thing back under control. Over-confidence is as potentially damaging as a lack of confidence.
But the whole process of trying to lose weight has given me so much more than just shedding the pounds.
I'd always lived near or in city centres before moving to my current home in the suburbs, and I think without me realising it I'd become a bit more insular after moving here. Because of the tricky commute home every day (a bus from work to the city centre then a second from the centre to my home) I just wanted to get home every evening and not stir out again.
Now that I have my walking legs back I realise that the journey from the city to home is only a forty-minute stroll, or a 35-minute brisk walk if it's raining, and that I really don't NEED to catch a bus to town at all. Happily the two best cinemas and a lot of the restaurants are all situated at the end of town nearest where I live, so the walk back from them is barely half an hour.
That makes life a lot easier when planning how to get home from a night out and consequently makes me more inclined to go out in the first place. Happily it's a pretty safe neighbourhood so I feel perfectly comfortable walking there at night.
And now I see the fact that I break my journey in town as an advantage. I often arrange to meet friends there on a weekday, or go to the cinema or late-night shopping . Luckily my employers have a smart-casual dress policy rather than making us wear formal office gear, so I don't even need to worry about bringing other clothes to change into.
Weekends that might previously have been spent slobbing around the house putting off doing the housework are now more likely to be spent going for a long walk, or jumping on a bus or train to take me somewhere new to explore (I do still tend to put off the housework though).
In a lot of ways my middle-age is a lot more lively and fulfilling than my thirties and I find myself in the odd position of almost being glad I put the weight on. Having to lose it made me realise that there were some major problems with the way I was living my life, and I have no doubt I would have carried right on with those behaviours and unknowingly getting a lot less out of life quite aside from the weight gain if my body hadn't forced me to face up to the facts.
I suppose pinning all this on a broken ankle seems a bit odd, but I just feel that those seven weeks in plaster are what pushed me into the overweight category that I was slowly but surely heading for anyway, and thus started me that bit sooner on my weight loss and maintenance adventure, even if it did take another year and my friend's Wii Fit to really get started on it.