Category: Health

Aims not goals

I’ve already stated that my main resolution for 2020 is to be more mindful when I use social media. My reasoning is that I want to waste less time aimlessly scrolling, to give me more time to do other things that I get more personal value from, things that I know are good for me but which get pushed aside far too easily.

Which begs the question, what are these things I want to do more of? Well, broadly speaking there are three areas I want to focus on, all of which will make me a happier me. So, in the name of accountability, they are (in no particular order):

  1. Writing
  2. Meditating
  3. Exercising

I’m trying to be sensible about this, so I’m setting myself one primary aim for each of these areas whilst allowing for a couple of additional hopes as well; activities I’m hoping to pick up (or do more of) with the time I’m ‘getting back’ by spending less time on social media.

I’m also being very deliberate with my language here, these are not goals I’m setting with specific targets that I may not achieve, these are things I’m aiming to do (with some level of accountability) and which I hope to build new habits for along the way. It also means I’m not being too prescriptive as I want these things to find a natural place in my life, and I’m willing to concede that there will be changes along the way but ultimately the end point should be the same.

The use of language is a subtle but important difference and I’m hoping it reduces/removes my fear of failure.

Writing

Primary aim: Write in my journal every day.
I’m not bothered about the volume of what I write, it doesn’t have to be much, it just has to happen every day*. It’s been useful to me in the past as a way to process thoughts and emotions, and also (more often) as a way of remembering the good things that happened.

Additional hopes:

  • Write two blog posts a week. One fiction (from weekly prompts), plus one other on any topic. This sort of happens already but every time I sit down to write I want to focus on it properly.
  • Write/read/edit the novel I have in progress at least once a week just to keep it alive. Some days I’ll get an idea and sit and write for a couple of hours, others I’ll re-read and edit, move things around. I’m sure there is a finished novel in there somewhere.

Meditating

Primary goal: Meditate for 10 mins every day.
I pay for an app called Calm for this exact reason but the habit fell away in December as varying work hours/holidays kicked in and I didn’t dedicate the time to it.

I got into meditation a couple of years ago, attending some meditation classes after work with my good friend Andi, and it’s stuck with me it just doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. I always feel better, lighter, calmer, and more aware of living in the present, when I meditate no matter how long for. I’d like to feel like that more often.

Additional hope:

  • Attend some more meditation classes again, it’s a different experience and I think Andi and I would benefit from making it a regular thing!

Exercising

First things first, I can’t really get moving on the longer goal (be able to run a 5K again**) until I get my crappy knee sorted, but there is plenty I could do until then, but I’m going back to some basics.

Primary aim: Stretch every day.
My intention is to build a morning habit to increase my lower back/hip flexibility. 7-10 mins each more, and I’ll incorporate whatever physio exercises I need to do as well. I sit at a desk most of the day and in the last couple of years, specifically since I stopped going to the gym 3 days a week, I’ve really noticed the difference, feeling much stiffer and sorer than I used to (plus, I’m getting old!).

Additional hope:

  • Walk Dave and listen to podcasts. I’ve stopped listening to Podcasts as I don’t really have an hour to dedicate to them so I’m invariably left part way through and don’t revisit them. So I’ll double up on this one and listen to them whilst walking Dave which is always a good way to get a little exercise!

So there you have it, three areas, some gentle achievable aims and some additional hopes.

The next trick is to make these things habits, time will tell if I succeed.


Caveats
* I’m presuming I’ll be able to hit the primary aims every day but I know that won’t hold true. Life will get in the way at times and that’s ok, I’m just going to go with the flow and see what happens.
** My long-term aim to run 5KM is just that, long-term, it may take me all year, or it might not happen until 2021. I am not putting a time scale on it, but it is where I want to get back to in time.

Same hae meat

Welcome to the year 2020! A new year has arrived and with it a new resolve is found and plans are forged; a time of personal goals and improvements, a time to re-invent, to start over, to become a better you!

To help you in your quest you’ll be pleased to find there are many new methods and approaches that will happily take your money to help you achieve (or at least make a start on) your goals, get that shiny new day planner, or a sumptuous new journal, or perhaps take a look at the myriad of apps to help you better yourself, all for the low low price of a tiny piece of your soul! BUY NOW!

Ohh hark at me, on my high horse already. I apologise, I don’t mean to be so pessimistic but it’s hard to avoid the onslaught of such things, with nary every advert that pops up on every website and in every social media feed proclaiming how you truly are only a 6-step plan away from your new perfection! Sign up now and download our app (only £5.99 per month (billable at a discount of only £70.20 per year!)).

And, of course, I really shouldn’t rant and rave against such things, it’s more than a little hypocritical of me given I’ve already, recently, shared my own resolutions for the year.

I am nothing if not inconsistent.

Yet with all that said and done there does seem to be a subtle shift in the focus of these things, it certainly seems like I’m seeing more goals prompting a focus on mental health, alongside the general view that we need more positivity throughout our lives, and I believe this is very much a good thing.

Regardless of what science tells me (a new year is just another revolution of our little planet around the Sun), it still feels particularly prevalent to focus on messages of love, of self-care, of moderation and tolerance in the month of January as so many people are setting themselves up for new challenges, new goals, new words to live by, and it’s easy to get swept along by the volume of people stating they are trying to change.

So much the better, what does it matter if it’s an arbitrary date change that helps give people a push to try something new? I sincerely hope that if you have made any resolutions this year that you are successful with them, and if you aren’t, I hope that you learn and maybe grow a little because of the experience, just don’t give up, you can try again any time you want!

These days January is no longer only about new gym goers, but is also the haven for those going dry, or vegan (Veganuary) both of which are laudable goals, and one of which I’m already part way into myself.

Last year, around late November, I watched the documentary “The Game Changers”. It’s largely about proving whether or not a plant based diet is a good thing and the bulk of the content focuses on elite athletes (the documentary is also backed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lewis Hamilton and others) and how the ‘eat meat to get protein to build muscle’ is a myth.

Now, I know you are all more than capable of googling facts about the documentary, some of which supports the evidence shown, some of which doesn’t, and for the most part it was just an interesting watch. I found myself watching it with a sense that, sure, if you are an elite athlete and that is your life then adjusting to a plant based diet is just one facet of what you do every day so is certainly more achievable (and measurable). For the rest of us mere mortals, the ones who work in offices and don’t exercise twice a day (twice a week?) just how applicable is it?

Those were the thoughts in my head while I watched, after all this is a production backed by people who likely have some vested interest in furthering a particular view?

And then it got to the section with the New York Firefighters.

Here was a group of 40-something men, mostly over weight, who have a high stress, physical jobs. What would eating a plant-based diet do for them? Measurements were taken at the start of a week long test, and again at the end and one set stood out. Each man who had switched to a plant-based diet lowered their blood pressure, fairly dramatically, in one week.

I have high blood pressure. I’ve been on medication for it for about 10 years. One of the drugs will, eventually, start to damage my liver (so I’m on a second drug to counteract that). It’s been my reality for long enough now that I stopped thinking about it and just accept it’s part of who I am and I’ve let my focus be more around losing weight/fat as that’s what the doctor – when he’s not banging on about leptins – keeps telling me would be the best thing to do; lose weight and lower the dosage of the drugs I take to give my liver a chance.

Watching that section of the documentary made me realise that, whilst I’ve never really been one for diets in a ‘lose weight’ sense, I’ve long known how to eat a balanced diet but I’d never considered it as a specific way to tackle my high blood pressure. It really was a light bulb moment for me.

I live with a vegetarian, she’s been one for a while now and she has a lot of working knowledge on the topic, so we discussed it, and what challenges it might throw up and the next day I decided to give it a shot.

That was 6 weeks ago and, despite the festive season of over-indulgence being slap bang in the middle of that period, I’m happy to say I’ve stuck with it throughout.

My weight has fluctuated a bit, mostly because for the first few weeks I was very focussed on what I was eating and also cut out a lot of snacking, no more sneaky KitKats for me, and so it wasn’t a massive surprise that I also lost weight. That said, I wasn’t really doing much more than that, I was still eating loads, and I was starting to feel the benefit, starting to feel less bogged down and sluggish each day.

More importantly my blood pressure has dropped. Because I’m on medication I take my blood pressure every month and, on average over the past year it’s around the 138/96 mark. After four weeks of eating a mostly plant-based diet it had dropped to 116/84. In other words, it’s dropped from being in the upper regions Mild High Blood Pressure range (and remember this is WITH medication), to the mid regions of the High-Normal range. In less than a month.

A few other things on this then.

  1. I don’t think I’d be vegan. I have switched from cows milk to oat or soya milk, but I still eat eggs occasionally, and have butter on toast most weekends. I’ve never been a big cheese eater anyway so the occasional chunk is about all I’d have anyway.

  2. I take a supplement to make sure I’m getting some of the basic vitamins I might be missing (B12 being the main one) but I did that when I was hitting the gym and lifting weights so that’s not a big deal.

  3. No, I’m not a vegetarian. At least I’m not in my head, it’s more that I’m just unlikely to eat meat again any time soon but I’m doing it primarily for health reasons, not because I think meat is murder. It’s very rare that I buy into one thing so utterly and completely that it becomes canon and I don’t see this being any different.

  4. I don’t like bell peppers (the big red/green/orange/yellow ones). If you don’t either, be sure to check what you are buying if the food is already prepared, they get shoved in a dishes they have no place being.

  5. I am exercising as well, mostly dog walks at the moment (physio on my knee commences tomorrow!) but that has been fairly constant through the last few months so I’m putting the lower blood pressure and weight loss down to the change of eating habits.

I understand this is a hot topic for many people – some people oppose meat eating due to the impact that cattle farming has on the environment (that is part of my thinking as well), others follow the meat is murder mantra – but for me it’s a personal choice, and not something I’ll be crowing about, or nagging anyone else about (yes, I realise I’m writing a post about it).

And, for the complete avoidance of doubt, no I was not made vegetarian by my partner, far from it! She still forgets I’m not eating meat at the moment and points out tasty things in the supermarket or on a menu for me, “Ohhh that chorizo dish looks tasty… oh wait!”

I guess the clearest way to state what I’m currently doing is that I’m making a conscientious decision to eat less meat and have a mostly plant-based diet, with the aim of reducing my biologically high blood pressure enough that I can lower my potentially liver damaging medication intake.

But I guess saying, hey I’m vegetarian at the moment, is a bit simpler.


And for those wondering, post title courtesy of The Selkirk Grace by Robert Burns.

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be Thankit!

Renovation

The title of my blog has been Happily Imperfect for some time now. I’ve written about this before but since then, things have changed.

The name came about because I am, on the whole, happy with who I am, where I am in my life, and where my life is headed. If anything, the past year or so has made me even happier but ‘Happier Imperfect’ doesn’t really scan… and there’s the rub, since I last wrote about this, almost five years ago, I’ve found myself at place that could simply be described as ‘Happy’ but, again, it’s not the best title for a blog…

Yes, I am happy. Happy with my life. Finally. It feels good to have gotten here, after all it’s taken me a long time, but I guess that’s what life is all about, getting through things, learning, growing, and accepting who I am. And I have.

But there is still a part of me that, whilst I can acknowledge how happy I am these days, is always wondering about a tweak here and there. If anything my advancing years are pushing me towards this as well, my health will become increasingly important as I head towards 50 years old (wow that’s so weird to write yet it’s not that far away really) and so I still find myself looking to make small changes and tweaks. I’m also happy that that is also part of who I am.

I’ve always thought this way, I accept that life is what it is, that I’m not perfect and that no-one is, but I don’t ever want to stop trying to make things better for myself as I know that makes things better for my loved ones. A wonderfully virtuous circle, no?

I am happy where I am today, I am at my happiest, my most content, my most comfortable, and it feels like the jigsaw pieces of my life have all neatly slotted into place again. I feel whole and complete.

But life continues to move forward and give us challenges. Yesterday my doctor confirmed that the pain I’ve been experiencing in my lower stomach was a mild Inguinal Hernia, it’s not serious and will heal itself with a little gentle help from me, but it reminds me that my body needs to be taken better care of or such things will become all the more frequent as I head into the next, exciting, decade of my life.

I thought that turning 40 would be the kick in the pants I needed to get my health sorted out and, thinking back, I probably thought the same when I turned 30. Neither happened, and even more recent efforts and dedications at the gym were never fully committed. Looking at this body though, and it’s growing list of aches and pains and I know it’s time to renovate as best I can.

I’m not quite sure what that means just yet, as ever I know the basics but finding the constant commitment is always a balance and it’s here I’m focusing. How can I maintain the effort needed for, say, six months (and why am I starting now, with the decadent indulgence of Christmas ahead of me!)? I don’t know yet but that’s half the fun. Figuring it out.

And it’s much much easier when you are already happy.

So this is not going to be a renovation project of a sad dilapidated body, rather it’s just a few tweaks on what I hope are some good solid foundations.

Fingers crossed.

Back to fitness

I’ve not been to the gym for a couple of months whilst I get my hip and ankle issues sorted. Shockwave treatment worked a charm, and physio is going well so far which leaves me confident of getting back to some level of fitness sooner rather than later.

I don’t do New Year resolutions but will admit I did have some soft goals for the year around shifting a little weight; specifically with a trip to New York in June and my sisters wedding in August as milestones so as I hadn’t been able to exercise as much as I wanted, I was starting to feel a bit meh about myself.

And now it’s March (March!) and with a tentative all-clear from my physio to start doing more exercise, with strict instructions NOT to do any dead-lifts and if I want to run to TAKE IT EASY! the time to give myself a kick and mix things up a little has arrived.

And, with a level of accountability in mind, here is what I’m thinking.

Step 1: Quit the gym.

I know, it sounds counter productive but my enthusiasm had been waning through the latter part of 2018 anyway. I’m very goal focused and after achieving and bettering my 1RMs I could feel myself losing interest. I know I could keep going and set new/different goals, but I’ve lost my enthusiasm for it. I’m also going to be movement limited until I get through a few more weeks of physio so this way I can manage it myself.

(There is a LOT more behind this decision, but for now it’s the right thing to do).

Step 2: Set a new goal.

I was out walking Dave (the staffy) last Saturday at a local park and we happened to be there at the same time as a ParkRun. I watched all the people, of varying ages, abilities, sizes, and speeds, and it took me back to my days at jogScotland.

I miss running.

I don’t want to run marathons, but a 5km run each Saturday morning feels like an attainable goal over the next couple of months. 5km by the end of May at the latest.

Step 3: Get a new routine!

Quitting the gym means I have two evenings spare (the third session was a Saturday morning… see step 2 above!).

Weather permitting I can walk home from work in just over an hour, and this’ll allow me to revisit some podcasts that have dropped off my radar. I’ve always enjoyed walking and it’s always nice to wander home and unwind from the day.

And I have the option of picking up a NextBike from right outside my office, and cycling most of the way home before dropping it off. Again, weather will dictate, as will remembering to take my cycle helmet with me!

And, oddly, I have just joined another gym, so at least I have some options (and being a chain, it’s a lot cheaper per month). It also means I can hop on a treadmill to get to my 5k goal.

All change then.

It feels good to be moving on and trying something new, even if I’m not fully sure how it will shake out. When I first signed up for a boot-camp a couple of years ago I didn’t think I’d last more than the 12 weeks it ran for, so the fact I made it past two years is great! I may venture back there in the future, but for now it looks like 2019 will be a year of trying a few different things in the hope that something new ‘sticks’.

Wish me luck!

GTPS

Picture the scene, I’ve stripped down to my underwear, I’m lying on my left side on a bed. A man enters the room, consults some notes, eases down my underwear to expose my right hip. Spots the X that was marked on my skin by the first guy I saw, murmurs “OK…” and then, as he dollops some gel on my exposed hip, tells me it might be a little cold.

It was.

He then proceeds to say, “So, basically, this little gun has two metal plates, one at each end of the.. .eh.. barrel, and trapped between them is a ball bearing which is, kind of, repeatedly fired at one of the plates, so, aye, it’s called Shockwave treatment… it’s a little noisy but let me know if it’s too sore or uncomfortable.”

With that, he applies said ‘gun’ and turns it on, triggering a loud fast metallic clacking noise and instant vibrations into my hip joint. I can feel them vibrating down my leg and into my pelvis. It’s not sore, but it isn’t comfortable. It is a very odd sensation.

And not just because I didn’t even know his name.

I’ve had the pain in my hip for a while now, on and off. It’s gotten worse over the past few months but I’m not sure why, perhaps the change of routine at the gym triggered it, or maybe it’s just old age catching up on me. It’s highly likely that it all started back when I was running, my knee still suffers if I spend too much time on my feet, but this new pain in my hip has been a couple of years developing. Regardless, it hurts.

I’m being treated for what has been diagnosed as Trochanteric Bursitis (also referred to as Greater Trochanteric Pain Syndrome (GTPS)). I’d previously been diagnosed with inflammation of my ITB (the ligament that stretches from your hip down the outside of your thigh to your knee), but after an initial period where it seemed to be healed, the pain came back and then wasn’t responding to the treatment. The pain itself isn’t debilitating but is enough to make me wince, and as it comes and goes at random – some weeks I’d be fine, other weeks it’d be there almost permanently – I’d largely learned to live with it and manage my life around it.

I guess part of my thinking was that this was all part of getting older, so what’s a few aches and pains, life could be a lot worse, etc etc.

But I was getting fed up of it, and it was starting to stop me doing things I enjoy, simple things like, you know, walking and stuff like that. So I did some research and booked myself in with a local practice that includes a chiropractor and physio.

The diagnosis was pretty quick, and since then I’ve had three treatment sessions, including the initial consultation. They all follow the same process starting with the chiropractor who checks my lower back and hip then contorts me and literally jumps up to apply weight down onto my twisted torso to ‘open up those hips’. This is followed by a concentrated set of massages around the affected area, some skin scraping, and then it’s off to the shockwave room to have a metal ball bearing repeatedly fired at the tender spot on my hip.

Apparently the thinking is that because it’s a localised pain that wasn’t produce by trauma, the body adapts to it rather than trying to heal it. The skin scraping, which breaks up the tissue and muscle over and around the hip, followed by the shockwave gun working on deeper tissue and ligaments, is all designed to deliberately damage that area of my body so it will start to repair itself.

And it’s working. I’ve definitely got less pain, and even the pain I have isn’t as wince inducing as it was. Admittedly, moving out of my flat, and into a new home with Becca, probably didn’t help what with all the lifting and shifting of my belongings but hey, needs must!

Hopefully the next session, the fourth, will be all I need. Which is good as I’ve not been at the gym hardly at all through January and I really REALLY need to get back on it; my sisters wedding is in August and I need to look good in my skirt…

Fit and fat

I stepped out of the shower the other morning, dried myself off, wrapped the towel round my waist and turned to face the sink. I reached up to retrieve my electric toothbrush from it’s charging point and caught my reflection in the mirror.

I don’t really look at myself all that often, I’m not exactly my greatest fan in that respect; I’m all too aware and disapproving of my shape so I don’t tend to dwell on my appearance as all I ever really see is a fat man staring back at me. I know I’m not as fat as I think I am, but there’s one part of my body that I struggle with, all the more now that I’m seeing the difference that a year at the gym has brought to the rest of my body.

So let’s focus on that for a minute, the good stuff, if you’ll excuse the vanity (and believe me, this is more of an effort for me to write than it is for you to skim-read).

For one thing, my arms have definition; my forearms actually have visible muscles, and my neck and shoulders have some new lumps and bumps. I can see the difference in my back and my legs, that walking challenge earlier in the year has definitely helped with the latter (1 million steps in two months, boom!).

Mind you, I’ve always been happy with my legs and still have fond memories of being complimented on them when I was at school (I can’t remember who said it but I’m sure it really did happen). It’s perhaps telling that the last compliment on my physique that I have stored is from when I wasn’t even aware of the term body dysmorphia. No doubt there have been other compliments, but they’ve never ‘landed’ with me which is an issue and part of my problem.

A few years ago I was at a charity burlesque/cabaret show. I knew many of the people there, both performing and attending, and felt comfortable in that company. As it was for charity there was a raffle and I won a prize. A pair of sequinned nipple tassles no less! As I walked up to graciously accept them, someone shouted that I should put them on, specifically that I should take my shirt off and put them on. The terror that gripped me was immediate. The thought of taking my shirt off was too much, I tried my best to laugh it off but it ended up ruining the rest of the evening for me and I left early.

I always knew my weight was an issue, a burden on my mental health, but that was probably the most visceral example of how much it preyed on my mind. And looking back from that point I realised that it’s ALWAYS been ‘a thing’, even as a kid I knew I was fat, or at the very least chubby. Other boys in gym class had flat chests and stomachs, some had definition in the arms and chest. I had neither, I was always a little heavy around the middle. Yet looking back at photos suggest I was pretty average size wise but my (self sabotaging) memory suggests I was, and always have been, fat.

With a father who was a PE teacher I had plenty of resources available to try and understand why my body looked a little different to so many of my friends. In one school of thought my body is a classic Endomorph; “Big, high body fat, often pear-shaped, with a high tendency to store body fat.”

And where does my body store all that fat? Around my belly. No getting away from it, no matter how I try and hide it, I have a classic ‘beer belly’. I am fat. I am fat and no matter what I try and do, how I try and shy away from it, how I try to cover it up, it’s immediately what I think of when anyone asks me to describe my body… right before I change the subject completely.

My self-image has been present so long that I barely even register it as something I can change. It’s who I am, after all, right? I’m fat, always have been, always will be? Yet I go to the gym, I try and eat better, I know that more calories out than in will help me lose weight, I know the benefits of building muscle, the benefits of cardio, the best way to perform exercise x, the proper technique for exercise y (regardless of whether I can actually do it or not), but always, ALWAYS, in the back of my brain I’m just that fat kid that got picked on (ohhh did I not mention that bit?).

Having this as a constant state of thought permeates everything, every single day. From the clothes I wear (shirts that bulge open mean I’m more frequently found in shirts that are a size too big or t-shirts), to what I eat (look at that fat guy eating THAT, no wonder he’s so fat!), to how I hold myself when I walk (if I stand tall maybe people will notice my height first?).

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not debilitating, it’s not stopping me living my life but it is always, ALWAYS there.

And believe me, intellectually, I’m aware my entire body image is skewed. Take, as an example, this question Lynsay poses at the end of her post “what is your favourite body part?”. My first answer, the one that popped straight into my head was ‘my legs’. Which is a great answer, until you ask me why.

“Because they aren’t fat”

Ugh.

Walking home through the parks of Glasgow this past summer, I saw plenty of men employing the now popular vernacular ‘taps aff’ approach to the sunshine. I envy them their freedom and ease, their glib disregard of what others think as they are safe in the knowledge (presumably) that they conform, that they are the “right shape”; there is no shame in their smooth hairless stomachs.

That’s another thing, hair. I don’t really care that I’m balding, nor that I have a hairy chest, but a hairy back seems to be a bad thing and whilst it doesn’t bother me day to day, I wonder how much of my dislike of that aspect of myself is borne from hearing and seeing reactions to it on TV or social media.

But hey, I could shave my back, right?

Equally I could just lose some weight, right? It’s not like I don’t know HOW but in the litany of failures that make up my life, it’s the one that has remained for the longest time. I don’t mind that I’ve failed at many things in the past as I’ve learned a lot about myself by doing so, but being fat is a permanent state, a futile exercise (pun intended).

And so it starts to self-perpetuate. I get upset and annoyed that I’m fat and turn to food for solace. What harm is a bar or two of chocolate, or a share bag of Doritos… and is it really bad if I have pizza for a dinner twice a week?

And there you have it, my body confidence is low all the time, not because I’m bald, not because my beard is more grey than any other colour these days, not because I’m getting an inordinate amount of hair growing out of my ears (why!), not because I’m unfit and can’t touch my toes, but because I am and always have been fat.

It doesn’t seem to matter that I go to the gym three times a week and push myself hard, it doesn’t seem to matter that I can see the progress I’ve made there, that I can lift more, do more, push myself further than before.

All I have to do is look down at my stomach. I am fat.

Body positivity is a wonderful WONDERFUL thing, and some days I will say that I don’t care I’m fat and almost mean it, but not quite, not completely. No matter how many calories I burn at the gym, no matter how many compliments are given, none of that will really matter until I’m happy with me. I’d love not to care, but I do.

My body is weird but I’m not quite able to admit that it’s cool.

Not yet.

But that’s changing.

Ultimately I want to learn to be comfortable with my body, I want to get to a place where I can look at myself in the mirror and be happy with what I see and for me, that means losing some weight. I’m never gonna be the type of guy who is ‘ripped’ with a well chiselled 6-pack, but I’m pretty sure I can at least be a guy who isn’t ‘fat’ (for my own interpretation of ‘fat’ obvs).

On the flipside, why is being ripped and toned with hardly any body fat the image I have of a ‘healthy’ me? I know it’s not realistic for me, but that is the image being pushed and peddled by Mens Health and the myriad of health based adverts thrust into my social media feeds – ever seen an exercise app advertised by someone who clearly already spends most of their life working out? Show me a fat man doing the exercises suggested please. ‘Now bend and touch your toes’… I can’t my belly gets in the way, gahhhh!!!

When I first started going to the gym it was to lose weight and to ‘get fit’ (whatever that means), I set out a long-term goal to hit my target weight and a short-term goal to be able to do 10 push ups as I couldn’t even do 1. Pretty good goals, right? Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and loosely time based.

Well perhaps not as, over a year later, that long-term goal is still there I’m still not getting close to it. I’ve gotten close before, just by reducing my calories and I’ll be the first to admit I could be better with my diet but my weight remains roughly where it is despite all that effort at the gym, and generally being way more active this year over last. Mind you, I can now do 10 push ups, so that’s good!

Let’s look at the facts. I currently weigh about 107kgs (16st 8lb). That target was 95kg (just under 15st). The lightest I’ve ever been is 96.6kg for reference. Looking at the trend of my weight over the past two years is pretty much a flat line. So clearly focussing on my weight isn’t working, so maybe it’s time for a new long-term goal.

Ultimately I want to look in a mirror and be happy with what I see. And truth be told, aside from that fat beer belly, I can see that my body is changing. I can see the muscles developing on my arms, shoulders and neck, I can see my face is less chubby, my man boobs are now starting to look more like pectoral muscles than A-cups.

Additionally I know my overall fitness is improving. Sure I still get out of breath climbing the stairs but I recover a LOT faster. 10 push ups? Easy! I can deadlift and squat more than my bodyweight, and my bench press is getting close to that ‘bodyweight’ goal as well.

On top of that I feel healthier, I don’t really get ill too much, I’m more flexible and I’m generally starting to feel a lot more positive about this weird body of mine, starting to accept it a little more, starting to appreciate it.

AND – hold the front page – I’m getting the odd compliment here and there so I guess I must be doing something right.

Yet that fat belly remains but it is going. Slowly, for sure, but it’s going.

I’d love to be able to accept my body as it is today, and I think that time is getting closer but it’s not quite here yet. Somewhere there is a graph that charts my changing physique to my acceptance of my body as part of who I am but I can’t quite see where those points cross so, until they do, I’ll just continue to keep on working on it.

Perhaps it is those little changes and the work I’m putting that is actually what is important, perhaps the fact I’m still going to the gym, and still working on ‘me’ is actually more important than the end result itself. I’d like to be the case but it isn’t yet, not quite. But that’s ultimately the goal, to get to a point where I accept my weird body, to get to a point where the end result isn’t what matters, where I’m looking after myself well, eating well, exercising enough and enjoying life to the fullest.

The good part is that it finally feels like that time is getting closer. I don’t think it’s anywhere near. Realistically that target weight is still in my head so until I get to that I won’t be able to know if it’s enough, or not. Yet the signs are there that things are changing.

I’ve not been at the gym this past couple of weeks as I injured my back, nothing too serious but it needs rest. I’m annoyed and frustrated that I can’t work out. That is not the Gordon of a few years ago. Equally in the past I’d have reverted to my comfort eating habits but that doesn’t seem to be happening this time. I’m far more conscious of eating healthily whilst I recuperate, which is not something that would have happened in the past.

Baby steps perhaps but it makes me believe that one day I won’t see myself as just that fat guy in the mirror. One day I’ll see myself without quite so many flaws.

There is one final thing, one final realisation I’ve had recently, that suggests that my own internal thinking may be changing, that I might be starting to feel more confident about my body, that I might be making my peace with it. It’s something I know has helped me with other things in the past, helped me process them. I do a lot of it, but not all of it is shared here; the simple act of writing down your thoughts and confronting them is one thing, sharing those thoughts with others is quite another. So the fact I feel comfortable doing the latter means, hopefully, things are changing.

Thank you for reading.

45 miles

My first bike was a Boxer. It was royal blue, with chunky tyres and these days would probably be called a mountain bike (for kids, it was tiny). It was the smaller version of the Grifter, which itself was a BMX/off-road kinda thing with the most totally awesomest twist-handle gear shift just like an actual motorbike! My best mate’s big brother had a Grifter and ohhh how I would covet that bike. Not that I’d ever have touched it, he was a bit scary…

I can’t remember learning to ride my bike beyond vague memories of my Dad running along behind me telling me to pedal faster, nor can I recall when the stabilisers first came off and I flew solo for the first time. No doubt there were scraps and cuts and bruises but I didn’t lose any limbs so it can’t have been that traumatic. But that little Boxer was just the stepping stone to my first proper grown-up bike; The Enterprise (note: I am not a Star Trek fan so this wasn’t as big a deal as it may sound).

The Enterprise was a black behemoth with straight handle bars. I desperately wanted a racer (drop handlebars) but no, it was the touring bike stylings for me. I’m still not sure why my parents bought me it, probably because it was cheaper, but I have a sense that I was a bit disappointed by it, such was my desire to NOT have a BMX like all the other kids. I’ve always been contrary that way, and is largely why I have no fashion sense at all because going WITH the crowd is so dull! The Enterprise was the first bike I had that had gears, all three of them, and that opened up an amazing realisation.

Gears mean you can go faster, and going fast is FUN.

The first time I did Pedal for Scotland, some 8 years ago, I had no real idea what I was letting myself in for. I’d done some training, and my friend had done it the year before so I felt that it was at least achievable. And I finished it with tears in my eyes as I rolled through Murrayfield Stadium but my god it was a bit of a slog at times. And that’s before you get to the hill on the way out of Avonbridge; a never ending beast with a sharp incline at the start (8%), which eases off to a mere 6% as you climb to false summit after false summit. But it did not defeat me! and hey, thigh muscles are SUPPOSED to feel like they are on fire, right?

I don’t get out on my bike often enough, and it’s been a few years since I attempted cycling from Glasgow to Edinburgh but a year or so in the gym had me feeling reasonably confident about tackling it this year, despite having only managed to get my bike out for three short training rides.

I was right, being a bit fitter this year definitely helped and made the good bits of the ride, and there are many, all the better. For all the hills you climb, you are rewarded with some stellar views and the best bit of all…

Free-wheeling downhill.

Going fast is fun.

And being a fairly large chunk of human being, with thanks to the laws of gravity and some reasonably slick tyres, I reckon I was easily above 25mph at some points, including one utterly glorious section where I didn’t pedal for about 5 mins, carrying enough momentum to coast up the small crests on the way before gathering speed again on the next downhill section.

It was utterly joyous; out in the fresh air, whizzing down a long straight and when I started absent-mindedly weaving to and fro across the road I realised that this is why I like cycling and I silently admonished myself for not doing it often enough. For all the painful hills, the rattling vibrations through your hands (that no gloves seem able to quell), the accidents, punctures, and aching legs, those moments, when the sun breaks through the clouds as you coast magnificently along are magically carefree and childlike.

As we neared the finish the sun started to break through the day long grey, a last hurrah for a fast fading summer. We crossed the line, collected our medals, then found a quiet spot to rest our weary bones. And what better way to end a day out than collapsing in a sweaty heap on the grass, lying there as the sun shone through the endlessly scrolling clouds. A rare indulgence, and yet another forgotten childhood pleasure.

Team Training at the gym

Gym wanker post alert.

Last year I started going to the gym. I was doing a ‘BootCamp’ which was less ‘being shouted at by angry army types’ and a lot more ‘encouraged to push yourself during HIIT sessions’. There were two sessions at week, including a 9am start on a Saturday, and once I got into the habit, I got used to and, SHOCK HORROR, started to enjoy myself!

This year, they’ve changed the format and the name. Now it’s all about Team Training, which still includes HIIT within each session but with the addition of more ‘lift heavy stuff’ type training. It’s also moved to three sessions a week, and joy of joys we don’t start until 10am on a Saturday morning!

I’ve done a little bit of the ‘lift heavy things’ training in the past and each session is focused on a different discipline; Tuesdays are for deadlifts, Thursdays are for squats, Saturdays are for bench presses. Each coach has taken the time to make sure our technique is right (so we don’t injure ourselves) and the challenge each week is to add a little more weight; around 2.5kg is all they are looking for which is very do-able (so far!).

To keep track of our progress we are logging what weights we are lifting so it’ll be interesting to look back in a few months and see some difference as we start to build more and more muscle tone. We are already a month in and it’s been good to mix things up a bit.

It’s also been interesting over the past year to look back at my original goals and see what matters to me now.

When I signed up for the first BootCamp it was all about losing weight. I was sick of being 17st (almost 18st at one point). In the first couple of months I lost some weight, but since then I’ve plateau’d but importantly, I realised I didn’t care. Whilst my weight has remained about the same, my trouser size has dropped from a ‘tight’ 40″ waist to an ‘almost there’ 36″. Ohhh and I can do press-ups now, like, more than 1.

I still weigh myself, just not every week, and the less I care about that number, the more I seem to be noticing other changes. As new muscles develop and my body slowly changes shape I can start to focus in on the main goal; goodbye beer belly!

I have quieter aspirations for my fitness – get to the gym 4 times a week if I can – and I’ve also signed up for Pedal for Scotland again so I’ll need to juggle getting out on my bike for some training runs (and yes, I’ve no doubt I’ll be cycling to and from the gym at some point too).

As a baseline then, I’m hoping that attending Team Training three times a week should help me break the current plateau I appear to be stuck on. I’m eating better and, as part of the Team Training classes includes help with Nutrition goals then in theory all bases are covered.

And yes, I’m deliberately posting this in February because this is not a New Year resolution, this is a journey that I started last year and which, by this time next year, I’m hoping still to be on.

I wonder what my goals will be then?


If you are interested in attending a gym that is focused on inclusivity, has no mirrors, no grunting muscle men, and supportive, friendly, realistic trainers then I can highly recommend AG Fitness.

BootCamp is Dead

My third (and final) BootCamp is over.

That’s 10 weeks, two sessions a week, of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

DONE.

No longer will I be getting up and going to the gym at 9am on a Saturday morning!

This was my third BootCamp in a row and I’ve been lucky enough to meet some amazing people who have inspired me along the way and kept me motivated to turn up. Safe to say that the camaraderie is what kept me going back and that is down to the atmosphere of the gym and the trainers. I WANT to go this gym, even after the very first, nervous, BootCamp session I knew I would be back.

This is not a place full of people pounding treadmills (there aren’t any) or GETTING PUMPED at Spin class (there are no bikes). And despite the fact that the gym is more focused on lifting and mobility, there are no gurning, muscle bound idiots, slamming weights around and staring at themselves in mirrors (because there aren’t any mirrors). I hadn’t fully realised just how much of an intimidating and ‘not nice’ place a lot of gyms can be, and whilst some are now countering these with women-only areas (which is great) it leaves guys like me who also have body confidence issues feeling isolated and awkward.

So whilst there is no more BootCamp, a change of format and name means I’ll be doing three sessions a week as part of the new Team Training sessions. There will be a little more focus on lifting than solely HIIT, and I cannot wait to get started. To prepare I’ve been going to an additional class which is structured a little more that way and there is something oddly satisfying at raising a proper barbell over your head! (and it had 5kg weights on it too!).

I’ve been thinking ahead to 2018, not in a resolution kinda way, more just pondering a few things to try (more on that soon) but, for once, one thing that isn’t part of that thought process is ‘exercise’ because, somewhere in my brain, it’s just part of who I am now. Even typing that sentence still feels a little weird!

And, because I am now ‘one of those’ people who go to the gym regularly, I think I’m allowed to pass on my wisdom in a slightly preachy manner (exercise is a religion after all!). So, to those of you who are ‘resolved’ to exercise more, maybe don’t plan to focus on anything other than finding a place/people that fit what you want. Finding somewhere that isn’t full of the uber-fits or the muscle bound twats clanging weights around has made such a huge difference to my desire to be at the gym, as is the knowledge that when I go I know I will be spending time with some truly lovely, supportive, powerful and uplifting people.

For the record, the gym I go to is AGFitness, they have a variety of sessions, and Personal Trainer options as well.

Focus needed

With no apologies whatsoever, I’m gonna talk about going the gym. Again.

The next block of ‘boot camp’ sessions starts on 4th October. It’s the third time I’ve signed up and have to admit I’m looking forward to it starting, and it’s got me thinking about how I can make it successful.

The first time I did boot camp I went all in; I tracked my food in MyFitnessPal, tracked my weight, slept better, and was focussed on using the 10 weeks as a way to kick start a healthier lifestyle. As a result I lost weight, and my body changed shape enough that people noticed. I noticed too because my belts all had to be tightened in a new notch, and my shirts didn’t gape open quite as much when I sat down.

The second time I did boot camp I started with similar intentions but then my knee started playing up, then I had a joyous few days with a noro-virus type bug, I missed a few sessions here and there and, well let’s be honest, I used all of that as an excuse to relax my focus. I stopped tracking what I was eating, my sleeping patterns started to fluctuate and whilst, overall, I still went to a lot of the sessions and my eating habits didn’t slip ALL the way back to where they had been, it’s been noticeable that I didn’t make the same type of improvement as I had previously. In fact I put on a little weight this time around.

But this time around I’m back on it and I’ve been quietly making adjustments.

I’m getting physio for my knee, which is definitely helping, and if I can avoid the usual spate of autumn illnesses that flow round the office then bar a couple of calendar clashes, I should make every session. I’ve been attending some other classes at the gym to keep things ticking over and, if I can, I’m planning on being there 3 times a week throughout the 10 week block; two Boot Camp sessions, and a Conditioning class, and there is a possibility that I might end up doing a yoga starter course as well but I’ll decide on that sometime in November.

Which is all well and good but I think the key, for me at least, is to go back to tracking my food again as it’s the one area of accountability that I need. I’m more aware of what I eat these days but I’m still too quick to give myself the ole ‘I’ll do better tomorrow’ pass. Plus, given my goal is to lose weight I really should be more focused on the consumption/expenditure equation!

I’m not quite sure what it is about boot camp that I enjoy so much. I think I physically and mentally respond better to the HIIT style sessions more than anything else I’ve tried recently so it might be the fact that I can feel and see the improvements in my physique and fitness. Or maybe it’s the camaraderie – borne from our common enemy (burpees) – or maybe it’s the format of the sessions and the fact every one is different (in horrible and cruel ways!). Whatever the reason is I’m not questioning it, just going with it.

I think there are still spaces available so why not come along, join the fun, and try it, I mean what else are you gonna be doing at 9am on a cold winter Saturday?

Check out the AG Fitness Facebook page for more details.