Friday, 18 December 2009

A new style of teaching

Well, as if I haven't already transformed my life enough this year, I have had another big change. This time with my teaching. I teach antenatal classes for those that didn't know. It's my profession and obsession and the best job in the world.

Recently I had been hearing rumblings of a different approach, called "Concept Bases Courses" or CBC. A friend of mine was doing it and I went along and watched. I couldn't see a huge difference in the approach but something was different because the group were responding very differently. I booked myself onto a study day.

That was in November and was the catalyst for my knitting renaissance as the tutor taking the study day suggested that we bring some knitting. I can't thank her enough for that, but there was more to come. I'll try and explain the CBC concept, or how I see it:

Most antenatal classes are currently centred around giving information - on the stages of labour, interventions, risks, benefits etc. This is the model I have been working to since I started teaching 5 years ago. Recent research has shown that those who go to antenatal classes are not making different choices to those that don't go - the informed choice we are trying to give them is not changing their experience of childbirth. Some more research has shown something more alarming: that we are making the experience more stressful for the people in the group who prefer not to have all the information beforehand. The research calls these people 'blunters' and suggests that they are less satisfied with their experiences in labour if they have been given more information than they wanted at antenatal classes.

So, what is the solution? Lots of people do want information and you can't fail to give them what they probably came for. Alex Smith has been pioneering a new approach for which she has coined the expression CBC. This is based on a lot of theories, the blunters research is just one. Another is Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) which suggests that the words we use to say something have a lot more significance than we might think. For example, the CBC approach would favour phrases like "dealing with intense physical sensations" rather than "pain relief". To some this might seem to be just a matter of semantics, or worse, giving unrealistic expecatations to clients. This is one of the reasons that CBC is contraversial at the moment.

Personally, I feel that people already know that labour is considered to be painful in our culture, and don't need an antenatal teacher saying the word all the time. After all, if we talk about pain, see pain written down, think about how to relieve the pain and cope with the pain, what are we focussing on, expecting and possibly bringing about? PAIN. If we focus on intense sensations we are already expecting to be able to handle them. This opens the client mentally to means of coping - massage, breathing, positions, mobility, water, support etc. But is this enough? In reality most first-time mothers use more than that so are we setting them up for failure? I don't think so.

I think that colluding with the rest of society in making women expect intense pain is setting them up for failure. A client recently told me that she didn't have choices in labour. After her induction and failed epidural, the doctor told her that she needed to have a caesarean and it had to be under general anaesthetic. My course had not shown her that it was her choice to book for a hospital birth, to accept an induction, to opt for an epidural, long before the caesarean was offered. Who can say how much each of these decisions contributed to the eventual situation where she didn't have a choice, but I think it is clear that she made choices. So what did my class do for her? Gave her enough information to feel informed when agreeing to interventions? Was that my intention? How are my classes serving my clients? Giving them what they wanted, or giving them what will actually benefit them? Whose place is it to decide what the clients need?

All of this is so complex and variable that I could talk myself round in circles but at the end of the day, my classes are not helping people to achieve a normal birth, which we all know is the best possible start for a new family. So, I changed.

It happened quite quickly. I don't remember making the decision to teach my first CBC - I just noticed one day that I was doing it. (A bit like pushing in second stage!) I hadn't observed a CBC or talked about planning one in the study day, so I was unfettered by other people's ideas. It was just me and the concept, and what came out of it was great. My first class was scary - I almost lost my nerve the night before. How was it different? I had no projected durations for the activities, no firm idea of how many of them I would get through, I had all new teaching aids and activities, I wasn't using the things I had used regularly for months or years, I didn't give the information I usually do, I used different terms. Basically, everything was different and it was very unsettling.

But that first class was magic. I was sat there at one stage looking at the group. One group of 4 were sat on the floor around a piece of flip paper drawing with charcoal and pastels, another group of 2 women were sat at a table making a list together on A4 lined paper and the rest of the group were sat on chairs around a piece of flip paper where one of them was making a list. They had all chosen to do it their own way, something I have been trying to encourage for years. One of the men was holding a massage ball later and said that he hadn't even thought about any of this stuff (massage, touch etc.) and I said I was glad he came. He looked me in the eye and said "So am I, I genuinely am". This was 2 hours into the course.

I was worried that because there wasn't so much information, the men wouldn't be as keen to book a day off work to attend so I was delighted when all of the men came to at least one session and one of the men told me he was so impressed after the first class that he had rearranged things at work to make sure he could attend all the classes.

Then came the second class. This one took me totally by surprise. The group had mostly opted for the low-information sessions in the first week which vindicated my new approach. On the second class they all decided they wanted information and lots of it. They wanted to know all the risks of caesarean section, for example. I gave them the information, but they didn't want to know much about assisted birth and hardly anything about induction. Was this unconcious incompetence - they didn't know what they didn't know - or just them asking for what they wanted?

One of the reasons that the CBC approach is contraversial is that it is believed to be about not covering interventions. The knee-jerk reaction to this, which I had myself, is negative and I understand that. But that is not what CBC is about. If the group want to talk about interventions, then we talk about interventions. Alex speaks of giving the "homeopathic dose of information" - a snippet that will either satisfy or prompt further investigation. Those for whom the snippet is sufficient are happy with the response. Those who want more have avenues to get it, either in 1-2-1 time with the teacher or through e-mails or handouts. No-one is left wanting information, but no-one is given more than they wanted.

After getting halfway through this first CBC I started an evening course that I intended to be more like the old-style but I found on the first night that I couldn't do it! The group read a pack of quotes from women about contractions and the first 3 compared contractions to period pains. I have used these quotes for years and never realised that to spend so much time talking about pain is not helping them at all, it's just focusing them on the negatice aspects of labour rather than what they can do for themselves. I won't be using those quotes again. I found different ways of doing what I had planned and got through. The second class was more CBC and the remainder of the course is likely to be less and less information-based.

When it came to the second half of the daytime course, which I use for the postnatal activities, there wasn't much to change. I already use activities which promote the clients' belief in themselves as experts on their baby. I tweaked some things, though, and added in some new stuff. I had the same absence of time projections and moved through activities as seemed appropriate at the pace dictated by the group. It felt lovely and the clients enjoyed it.

I don't think I will be looking back, but where does this sit with my assessing career? I will be assessing teachers doing Topic Based Courses and those doing CBC and can I keep my feelings about information overload in check? I know the answer to that, but it is an issue. The movement toward CBC is gaining momentum, particularly among students. Maybe I am going to be in demand as an assessor who understands the CBC appproach. I hope so!

This was a long blog entry, and one that has been brewing for a while. I would welcome comments from the teachers who read this. Comments about the blog, about the approach, about the way I have done it, about your thoughts and plans.


Thursday, 3 December 2009

and another thing about kinitting....

It occured to me today as I sat with a friend, listening to her talk and knitting my daughter a duck, that I have a productivity issue.In common with many people who work from home, I have a problem knowing when to stop working. I work until 10pm several days a week and often later. I try to make every moment productive, which is one of the reasons that I struggle these days to do things with the children.

So, when my children are elsewhere, (school and nursery or playgroup), I am working. I might be teaching or preparing class plans, or keeping in contact with clients and colleagues and sometimes playing on the computer to escape but always alone. I have found it hard to share that time because I feel it needs to be productive.

Previously, I would have found it hard to make time for a friend during child-free time for this reason. But today, I was sat there happily listening, giving my friend the ear she needed although my children were all happily busy somewhere else. The difference was the knitting. Although I wasn't working, I was doing something productive. Not only was I producing something physical, I was also relaxing my mind. I arranged today to see another friend during child-free time for Stitch and Bitch as she calls it. I prefer Knit and Knatter! So I am more sociable now because of knitting.

And one more thing before I stop typing and start.... guess what...... knitting. I was sat with a group of women last night. They were here for a class I was teaching. There were 5 heavily pregnant women, one woman with her 6-week old baby, and me. The urge to knit was overwhelming. I did resist, but only just. I got my knitting out to show them but managed not to actually put needle to needle. It must have been the oxytocin in the air.

I am going to meet the knitting group next week. I am so excited - it will be combining 2 of my favourite things: knitting and wine.

I finished Annie's rabbit today. She was delighted and took the thing everywhere with her. She even sat in the bathroom while Annie had her bath. Then disaster struck - after bedtime, with Lily (the rabbit) tucked up in bed with her, and being slowly chewed, her pom-pom tail came off in dozens of little pieces. Annie was distraught but we managed to settle her again. To be honest, it wasn't a very well made pom-pom. I just hope the head doesn't suffer a similar fate tomorrow.

So, it's on with the duck for Lexxy now. It has come on leaps and bounds - it gained a back, a bottom and a front this morning and is now about to get a head. The slightly secret elephant for Dave is coming on well too and if I can get some yarn on Saturday, I will be able to start the jacket for Lizzy. I am starting to understand why everyone on Ravelry has several projects on the go at once.

Goodnight all,

Mel x

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


It's ben so long since I posted - not really grasped the idea of a blog, I fear!

The mid-life crisis has continued but has taken a couple of new directions, one of which is knitting. I used to knit when I lived with my parents and I don't remember doing any since leaving home more than 20 years ago. Then someone suggested I bring some knitting to a study day I was going to and I did. I quite enjoyed it and found it enabled me to listen in a different way to usual - without the background noise. A friend explained it to me tonight but I don't expect I will explain it as well. It's about the act of knitting occupying the neo-cortex, the thinking brain, and allowing the more instinctive brain to function without interference.

Regardless of why it happens, it certainly happened for me. I had dug out my old knitting bag which had my once-treasured bamboo needles in as well as a pattern book and some yarn. I had knitted a toy bird for my sister and the pattern was in the book, so I decided to knit one for a friend's little girl. By the time I had finished that bird, I had another 3 projects on the go and was hooked.

I hadn't realised that there was a gap in my life until it was filled and I began to feel more content than I ever remember being. Although my teaching job is creative, there is no physical product from it and that is something knitting gives me.

The children love it. My second project, which is almost finished, is a pink rabbit for Annie. Waiting in the wings is a duck for Lexxy, a cable cardigan for Lizzy and an orange elephant for Dave (long story). They often ask if they can have something knitted - another toy or a piece of clothing and I can happily say "Yes". They love the finished bird, which goes to its new owner tomorrow. They are fascinated by what I am doing and like to have me sitting near them when they are playing. It is something I can do around them that I enjoy and is productive, and yet can easily be broken off from to talk, look at things or give cuddles.

Then I found an amazing community - Ravelry. There are hundreds of knitters and crocheters (spelling?) around the world on there, each recording their current and finished projects, their queue of projects waiting to be started and their stash of yarns. I found there is a knitting group that has been meeting at least twice a month in the pub in my village. How amazing is that? Unfortunately, they meet on the night I teach but I know one of the group moderators and that might be more flexible soon. I am so excited about getting more into that site and the people on it.

When the people I know talk about getting together now, I have 3 words for them: "Do you knit?" I have had a knit and chat meet-up tonight and have another planned for 10 days from now and another before Xmas. Who knew that something you do on your own would be so sociable? I think I feel justified in spending an evening sitting with a friend if we are knitting and producing something, rather than just sitting and chatting.

Knitting fills in little gaps in my day when I don't want to get into anything big but I don't want to twiddle my thumbs either. Knitting enables me to think about things in a different way, without my brain intruding, if that makes any sense. I look forward to having a few minutes to knit at the end of the day to help me wind down. I am excited about getting the yarn for Lizzy's cardigan and getting going on something bigger than a toy. I am excited.

This Xmas my parents are coming to stay and for most of her life, my mum has been an avid knitter. She stopped knitting quite suddenly recently but doesn't know why. I am hoping that between now and Xmas she will dig out her knitting bag and we can recreate a family memory of mine: sitting in my family home knitting with my mum and my Grandma. Lizzy is just learning to knit so the 3 of us can do women's things together - a bit of a Red Tent experience.

My goals for 2010 include relearning to crochet. I did it as a teenager and made a very wonky giraffe for my brother, but my skill level was never very high and I am looking forward to working on it. There is so much to look forward to.

Another goal for 2010 is to blog more!


Saturday, 25 July 2009

Children and intuitive eating

I raised my children with strict rules - they could only eat chocolate after tea and only if they had been good, they could only eat sweets after tea at the weekend and only if they had been good. They were allowed fizzy drinks once a week, never allowed lollipops and no cereal with more than 20g of sugar per 100g. I wanted to give them eating habits that would keep them healthy. And then I realised that I was giving them attitudes to food that would ruin their relationship with it: food is a reward, some foods are bad and shouldn't be eaten, some foods are good and have to be eaten before any bad food can be eaten, food is an emotional issue. So after much careful deliberation, I decided to change.

The switch from heavy regulation to intuitive eating could not be done slowly - it had to be done all at once. We told the girls, aged 3, 6 and 8, that they could now eat anything they wanted provided they were hungry, they sat down at the table and concentrated on their food and they stopped when they had had enough. We asked them what foods they wanted to eat and we bought them in abundance. And then the binge started.

In the first 2 days they ate more sweets than they would have been allowed to eat in a month. They ate coco pops, chocolate brioche, marshmallows, chocolate digestives and turkish delight. They didn't eat any bread, fruit, vegetables or cheese. In short, they indulged their food fantasies.

As they started to realise that this was a permanent change, they slowly reduced their bingeing and started to eat more of the foods they had enjoyed before. My biggest challenge then was getting them to understand what 'hungry' meant. How often do any of us actually get hungry before we eat? How do you explain to a child what hunger means? They wanted to eat again 30 minutes after a big lunch, and said they were hungry. Is this what it is like being a growing child, or were they just bored and saying they were hungry? Was it a big lunch for me because I had eaten too much and they had only eaten just what they needed? I had to trust them and allow them to eat.

3 weeks on things are really settling down. They eat what they want for breakfast but if they aren't hungry, they don't eat and I put a snack in their coat pocket on school days for break time. We still sit down for family meals but they don't have to eat if they aren't hungry. If they prefer, they can get something else out of the fridge or the cupboard if they aren't hungry for what I have made. I put the main course on the table and allow them to help themselves. At the same time I put any cake we have, yoghurts, fruit and puddings on the table. They can move onto sweet whenever they want, or even start there.

The discussions about what they can and can't have have stopped completely. They know that if they are hungry, they can eat and they don't bother me with the details any more. I don't have to consider and agree to or turn down their requests any more, or deal with their pleading or complaints. I don't have to decide if they have had enough main course to have pudding, or remember if they have been good enough to have their treats. For them, food isn't an emotional issue any more - it has nothing to do with their behaviour, their previous eating or the time. It is just about whether they are hungry or not, and what they are hungry for. Exactly what it should be about.

My only remaining concern is their teeth. We have always tried to keep their eating of foods containing sugar to 4 occasions a day and most days it is now more than that. I will be taking them to the dentist in August and will see if there has been any change in the state of their teeth.

Although I am aware that their diet is not as 'healthy' as it was, I believe that a daughter is for life and not just for childhood. Although I was controlling their food intake now, I was setting them up for eating problems as adults. Taking their whole lives into account, their new beliefs about food will give them a healthier overall lifestyle and a good relationship with food and their own bodies.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

on alcohol

Sitting here with a glass of wine, I think it is time to talk about alcohol.

My family has a tradition of over-use of alcohol so I have always known that I have to be careful . I do have a lot to thank alcohol abuse for - I started seeing my husband because I had heard that he needed a drink at lunchtime and decided to go and save him. I didn't know at the time that he had a similar family history and was well aware of where he was heading. But I did save him, and he repaid me by becoming the love of my life.

In my late 30s I had come very close to being dependent on alcohol. I spent 2 months of the year abstaining completely, which is widely acknowledged to be a sign of dependency problems. Outside of those months, I usually had a set of rules to stick to: sometimes I only drank at weekends, sometimes I limited myself to 2 units in any one day, or 14 units a week. I never allowed myself to drink until Dave was home or the children were in bed. None of these rules did anything to curb my desire to drink.

I had my first memory blackout on my 19th birthday. I remember sitting in the bar in the early evening and telling the people I was with that I wasn't drunk enough to get on my chair and dance yet. That is the last thing I remember until the morning. Apparently, I was dancing on my chair before the end of that song, and was found wandering around at 2am, but I remember nothing of it. These memory gaps have been a regular occurence since and always caused a huge feeling of guilt - we all know that we get sentimental and over-emotional when drunk but not to even know what I did or said was quite embarassing and sometimes frightening.

After a few weeks of following the principles of Beyond Chocolate, I decided to apply them to alcohol. I got rid of all the rules with one new addition - as I couldn't really equate being hungry to alcohol, I made a different stipulation: if I 'needed' a drink, then there was something I had to address, and I found a different way of doing that. If I wanted a drink, then I had one. Often the need would subside if I just waited and then I could enjoy a drink later.

The difference this made was huge. Firstly, because I didn't drink out of a perceived need, I drank much slower. Previously, I had got past that 'I think I have had enough' stage, because by the time I felt it, I had already drunk enough wine to put me past it into the 'lets have lots more' stage. Drinking slower allowed me to notice this warning and stop when I had had enough. Much like food, I was no longer using alcohol as a way of expressing or supressing my emotions.

When I limited myself to drinking at weekends, Friday to Sunday for example, I always drank on those days. It would be a waste otherwise. When I could only have 2 units a day, I had those 2 units every day. Now I have as many units as I want and some days I have none. The most solid behaviour - not drinking when alone with the children - has remained. When I want to drink at these times, it is always out of 'need' rather than desire.

I have used the same approach to wine as I did to chocolate - I started focusing on quality rather than quantity. We are paying more for our wine now, but drinking less. I always look forward to a glass of wine when I have finished teaching and felt quite deprived when my rules didn't allow that. Now I can have one and yet I don't always. Perhaps the most exciting change is that I haven't had a memory blackout since I read the book. I haven't had a bad hangover either.

I don't think I have it cracked - I still feel that I am parked at the top of a slippery slope and will always have to be vigilant, but now I am static and not concerned about sliding down.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

On depression

I used to think that The Rolling Stones song "Paint it Black" was about life after the Vietnam war, maybe because it was the theme tune to Tour of Duty. More recently I think it feels a lot like depression.

I woke up one day last week and depression descended on me like a soggy black blanket. "I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes. I have to turn my head until my darkness goes". As I walked to school I felt physically weighed down by the grief and blackness I felt. I could feel the dread of the coming day pushing on the back of my neck. "I look inside myself and see my heart is black".

I know that people who have never had depression can't truly understand what it feels like, but I think listening to this song is a good start. When I am feeling this way, there is no joy in the day. Every day has its ups and downs but when I am depressed there are no ups. What I found a happy thought last week is now a grim one, what I was looking forward to I know is going to be miserable.

Then people on the way to school smile and say "hello, how are you?" and I stick on the smile I made at home and give them the stock answer. I can't bring myself to lie but I know they don't really want to hear the truth so I settle for "OK. You?" and hope that they are as keen to move on as I am. If one of my friends notices that I am not myself then my cover is blown. She'll ask what's up and I will look at her and wonder how I could possibly answer that question. Then my eyes will fill with tears and I will try to get away before I make a fool of myself in the playground. I then hurry back home where I can hide.

Despair is an almost physical emotion. It weighs on my head and makes me look down. When I do look up, it is from that position which gives me a permanent frown. I just skulk through my day hoping it will end quickly but knowing that tomorrow will be no better.

Then suddenly, or slowly, it lifts. I start to find I am looking forward to something, or I enjoy something and I know things are going to get better. This week it all happened so quickly that I was quite shaken by it. I felt the deep despair almost from waking and then when I dropped off my littlest at nursery it lifted in a matter of minutes. As soon as I was back in my home alone I started to feel positive and relaxed. I wonder what that says about me. I daren't think. I just know that I need time alone to feel grounded.

Don't really know how to finish this section.

Monday, 15 June 2009

A landmark weekend

We've had last weekend planned for months. Since before I read Beyond Chocolate. I've imagined it so many times that I didn't think it could possibly live up to expectation. But it did. In fact, it exceeded expectation.

We left the children at home with my parents after lunch on Friday and drove to a spa hotel. We settled into our lovely room and then went down to the bar we saw on the way in - sat at tables outside in the sun, doing the things that people without children do. We lazed about drinking beer and chatting all afternoon and then had dinner in the hotel's restaurant.

We had £25 each included with the cost of the break and it was very easy to get 3 courses for that money. So, there I was, pretty merry after 5 bottles of beer and a cocktail, eating delicious food with my lovely husband. A recipe for over-eating, but I didn't. I ate all my starter and about half of my main course. Then I had the best cheesecake I have ever had - white chocolate with strawberry sorbet. I savoured each mouthful slowly with my eyes closed, and then left half of it on the plate.

The following day we had breakfast included in the cost. I wasn't hungry so toyed with the idea of having just one sausage and just one hash brown, but instead I went and got some yoghurt, some mango puree and a bit of honey. It was lovely and all that I needed to keep me going until lunch. On Sunday I had nothing for breakfast except a few cups of peppermint tea, because that is what my body wanted. £12.50 worth of breakfast available and I had a cup of herbal tea. I could never have predicted that.

So, after a weekend of eating and drinking exactly what I wanted, I felt on top of the world. Last time I stayed in a hotel where the food was all included, I ate so much that I was sick in the night when I had rolled over onto my stomach. This time I left the hotel 1lb lighter than when I arrived. I had the energy to visit the gym twice while there, which I was surprised to really enjoy, and I did plenty of little bits of swimming. I did lots of reading (Breaking Free from Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth) and a fair amount of quiet reflection.

Altogether, a totally perfect weekend and the most relaxing one I have had for years. And a triumph of Intuitive Eating over Bingeing.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Eating what I fancy

For any serial dieter, the concept of eating what you fancy is an exciting but all too short-lived one. It's not for life, it's just for Christmas. In many ways, it's what we do when we are in between diets. But are we really eating what we fancy? It feels like it is, but what we are probably eating is the foods we know we won't be able to eat when we are back on our diet.

Anyone who has ever done the Atkins diet will know how quickly you start to crave fruit and veg once the diet says you can't have it. This is the very food that you didn't fancy when you were on the Slimming World diet and it was 'free'. As soon as something is banned, we want it.

Every day I sat and watched the kids eating fun size chocolate as their treat after their evening meal, and wished that I could have some with them. When I started Beyond Chocolate they weren't banned any more. It didn't take me long to realise that I didn't actually like them very much. In fact, I eat them less often now than I did when they were banned, and it's not will power: I just don't fancy them,

I still eat chocolate, but probably no more often than I did before. What's changed is the amount and the type. I used to shove it in, mouthful after rushed mouthful, usually when no-one else was looking, usually standing up or hidden in my bedroom. Now I eat it slowly and enjoy it. My favourite at the moment is praline shells - I bite half of one and let it slowly melt in my mouth. I usually close my eyes at this point and enjoy the smooth velvety feeling. When it has all gone I eat the other half the same way. When that one is finished, if I fancy it I have another one. So far I have eaten no more than 3 in one sitting - I have had enough by that point. This isn't will power, I am just eating what I fancy. It amazes me how much I thought I loved chocolate, and yet I never allowed myself to sit and enjoy it. It's as if I was trying to get it in and eaten as quickly as possible.

When they hear the title Beyond Chocolate, a lot of people seem to think it is about stopping eating chocolate. That couldn't be more wrong. Those of us who have read it celebrate chocolate and the eating of it. We look for more ways of enjoying it all the time, and new sources to buy it. What we don't do is hide it, crave it, stuff it in or allow it to take control of our lives. We are in control.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

and today...

I thought it was about time I wrote something about what is happening now. It was a great day for food, and lazing about. Dave and I didn't wake up properly until after 9am - the kids were downstairs playing. The we lazed about in bed reading and dozing until about 11am. This is heaven as anyone who has had small children will know. I was hungry when I got downstairs but Dave had already been down and put a leg of lamb in the oven and I knew that would be ready at about 1pm. So I had a banana to keep me going and went out into my veg garden to plot the death of some slugs.

We both busied about the house making food and getting software onto my netbook. I made cheese sauce for the cauliflower and we made some decisions about how we are going to work with the Beyond Chocolate approach for the children. Instead of putting the cheese sauce on the cauliflower, we served it on its own so anyone could take it in the proportions they wanted. We didn't serve the kids food at all. They served themselves so they could choose what to have and how much. We didn't say they had to finish what they had before having more of anything - we let them be in charge. It was quite different, but not different enough to be alarming.

I ate off a tea plate and added a couple of bits of this and that as I went along. In the end, I probably had about 1.5 tea plates-full of food. For pudding we had yoghurt (full fat) with granola and cherries. It's organic so I am hoping it will not make me as aggressive as dairy usually does. I half-filled one of the children's plastic bowls for my portion. I had some wine as well. Had about half a glass and gave the rest to Dave. It was nice, but I didn't want any more.

Felt a bit stuffed in the afternoon and not at all hungry when the girls had their tea at about 5pm. I had 2 bites of the choc-chip buns I made for them as they were an experiment and I wanted to know how they turned out. We had our tea at about 7pm - Dave had made a curry out of the leftover lamb and cauliflower and we had it with a wholemeal tortilla. I had a small bowl and one tortilla followed by one of the buns from earlier. That was enough for me and I haven't had anything else to eat today.

In comparison to how I used to eat, that is amazing. Even if I had eaten as little as that during a meal, I would have grazed all evening. And the wine - I often restricted myself to drinking just at weekends, so I would have had a drink tonight as I wouldn't be able to for several days. As it is, I am teaching tomorrow night and I love a glass of wine when I have finished teaching. I know I can have a glass of wine any night I like so I don't need to have it. If I start a glass and don't want to finish it, I don't.

I have a box of my new favourite praline chocolates a few inches fom my head. I have given myself permission to eat them whenever I am hungry and fancy them. I don't fancy them very often but when I do, I slowly eat 2 or 3 and really enjoy them. How different from the binge scoffing of the very recent past.

Well, that's today's successes. My challenge for this week is working out exactly what I do want to eat, rather than what I like most from the selection currently and conveniently available. The idea is that the more I get in touch with what I really want, the more satisfied I will be by what I eat and the more I will be giving my body what it needs.

Saturday, 6 June 2009


Geneen Roth writes in her book "Breaking Free from Emotional Eating" that not one of the twenty five or so diets she has been on has mentioned anything about eating when you are hungry.

One of the selling points for Slimming World for me was that I never had to be hungry: there was always free food I could eat. In fact, for many years, I got hungry very rarely and when I did, I considered it a mistake, the result of an oversight. I once met a woman who ran a slimming club who told me that hunger was our friend. I'm not sure what she meant by that but I don't think she meant it was signal to eat. But that's basically what it is, isn't it? It's not a good thing or a bad thing, it's just a natural thing, a sign from our bodies that we need to eat.

So why did I resist getting hungry? Maybe it was simply that I couldn't resist eating for as long as it took for my stomach to empty. I just enjoyed eating so much that I did it - lots.

Our society tells us when to eat. We get up and we must eat breakfast, after all "it's the most important meal of the day". We have to eat at our lunch break because we can't eat outside of that time. We eat dinner at a more flexible time but usually a whole family will eat together, regardless of whether they are all hungry or not. This shared meal time is one of the cornerstones of our civilisation and many others.

So we are brought up to eat not when we are hungry, but when we are told to eat. That coupled with the obsession with clearing our plate (because of the starving children in Africa, as if our over-eating helps them at all) adds up to a generation of people eating based on several factors of which hunger is not one. Our natural body signals telling us to start or stop eating are overriden and we learn to ignore them. Is this part of the reason for the epidemic of obesity that is expected or possibly already here?

So, what now? I have had a hard time leaving the feelings about breakfast behind. "It starts the metabolism" they say, but surely getting up and moving around starts my metabolism and failing to add food to my stomach can't stop that process. Now I eat when I get hungry. Sometimes that is as soon as I get up so I eat before the children come down. More often it is later and I eat after I have dropped them off at school and nursery or playgroup. I don't eat lunch as such, I eat again when I am hungry. If I have eaten early, it is often mid morning but it can be much later, especially if I am busy and don't tune in to the early signs of hunger.

Not eating tea with the children was hard. I felt strange sitting down but not eating. After a while I realised that it meant I could feed them in the kitchen and not have to keep running back and forward to get things, but it also meant that when I did eat, I could focus on it rather than chewing fast in between clearing up mess and sorting out arguments.

I always disciplined myself not to eat in the evenings when I was on a diet. This meant that I sometimes went to bed hungry, which isn't very comfortable. Now I eat in the evening if I am hungry in the evening, but if I am not hungry, I don't eat. It sounds so simple and logical but it is anything but simple at first. The grazing habit is very hard to break but once I got used to going to bed satisfied rather than hungry or stuffed, I didn't want to give that up again.

I am still working on this. If I have made a lovely meal, I sometimes still eat even if I am not hungry. And when I have had a drink, I usually snack without hunger, but not to the same extent as I used to. I am improving all the time and finding out new things about myself almost daily. For example, I found out today that my post-swimming hunger is very superficial and can be as easily satisfied with a drink as with food.

I will close with another quote from Geneen Roth: Being hungry is like being in love: if you don't know, you're probably not.

Friday, 5 June 2009

My self image

I think I should be talking more about what is happening now on a blog, but I feel the need to get all the historical stuff on first, which should give a context to the current stuff I want to move onto later.

My earliest memories of body image are poor. I was a size 16 when I was 16, which wasn't a high-street size then so I felt like an outcast every time I wanted to buy clothes. When I went on riding holidays with my slimmer more able friend, she was assigned a spirited elegant animal to ride, and I felt like I got the shire horse! I can sum up my body image with the phrase I have often used: "I've always been big".

This section is titled self image, not body image, but the two are so closely linked that I find it hard to separate them. Until recently, I had a very poor body image, which stopped my overall self-image being good. Avoiding looking at myself in the mirror, avoiding buying new clothes and putting things on hold until I have lost the weight all contributed to making me feel pretty low and unself-confident.

Now I have a very positive body image - more so than I think I have ever had before. It's not that I am lots slimmer, because I have only dropped about a dress size and I have been much slimmer than this in the last 5 years. It's because I have stopped avoiding looking at myself in the mirror and buying new clothes, and I have started doing the things I was putting on hold. I have started wearing make-up - not every day but often enough to be getting good at it, and yet still consider it fun and not a necessity.

I read in Beyond Chocolate the suggestion to look at myself naked in the mirror and imagine I was the first woman. This means there are no comparisons to other women. I can now consider my hour glass shape without judgement or comment, just acceptance. It's fascinating to discover just how much of our thoughts about ourselves and our bodies are in (usually unfavourable) comparison to others. "My legs are too fat (compared to ...), my stomach is bigger than it should be (according to ...) and my boobs aren't as big as ..." When we just consider our legs, stomach and boobs without comparison, they are just legs, stomachs and boobs. Without the comparison there is no judgement, no right or wrong, just parts of the body. It's a fundamental shift in focus and very empowering.

So, with a new body image I have changed my image. I didn't like my hair as it felt non-descript and frumpy to me. So it is now much shorter and instead of having a hair cut and then going months before doing it again, I have booked myself in for another cut 6 weeks later to keep it as I like it. I like it purple and I don't like it grey so Dave colours it for me around the time of my hair cut so my hair goes back to being short and purple every 6 weeks.

I wasn't buying new clothes for two reasons: I shouldn't spend the money on me, and it's a waste to buy clothes I hope to get too small for so I will wait and buy them when I have lost the weight. The first one just isn't valid: I bought a new pair of trousers for the summer this week from Asda and they cost £8. I can afford that. And then the idea of waiting until I have lost the weight. Putting my life on hold until I get to where I want to be puts pressure on me to lose the weight. Every day I look at my drab wardrobe or see clothes in Asda I am reminded that I have failed to lose the weight. How can this constant mental self-criticism ever motivate me to move on? And what if I don't ever lose the weight?

So now I buy new clothes regularly. I buy clothes that I would never have bought before - the summer trousers I bought this week are white. I have never bought white because it is too unflattering. I love them and what's more important, I feel great wearing them. When I put on clothes that fit me and wear some make-up I feel confident, energetic and happy. If I never lose the weight, isn't this enough?

Thursday, 4 June 2009

My relationship with food

It's hard to pin-point exactly where my relationship with food went wrong. My sister and I saw a dietician when I was in my early teens and we were put onto a 1,300 calorie a day diet. I don't think I learned much from that - I remember eating more toast because I read in the calorie counter that it had less calories per ounce than bread. The dietician later explained that the slice of bread had the same amount of calories, but the weight had been reduced by removing some water while toasting. This was a great introduction to the daft rules of dieting.

The first time I remember using food as a substitute was when I gave up smoking at University. I starting eating takeaway pizzas nightly which was costly in many ways. The problem was that when I started smoking again, I didn't stop eating the pizzas or lose the weight I had gained. This became a serial problem for years. By the time I gave up smoking for good I was obese and had some very disturbing eating and drinking habits.

I started dieting again in 1999 and over the following decade I tried Slimfast, food combining, Weight Watchers, Slimming World, the Cambridge Diet, the Atkins diet and many exercise regimes. I lost weight many times and put weight back on just as many. By 2008 I longed to be normal - to be able to accept an invitation to a meal at someone's house and eat what I wanted. To achieve that, I had to wait a little longer.

I read Beyond Chocolate in April 2009. Straight away I realised that it was what I was going to do. It wasn't a diet or a new eating programme, it was just a collection of principles that made a lot of sense. It upset me to realise how messed up my relationship with food was and I got to work on it straight away.

I craved chocolate cake, home-made, with chocolate icing on the top and jam in the middle. I made it sometimes for the kids and tried hard to resist it but usually ate enough to make myself feel ill. The cake was in control and I was powerless in its presence. So, I made the cake and when I was hungry, I had some. I didn't have a second slice because I knew I could have it later when I was hungry and it was much nicer to eat when I was hungry. I had some more the next day, and the next day. On the 4th day I ate half a slice and left the rest. This was a massive breakthrough for me. I was in control and the cake no longer had any power over me. In the end, I gave the last slice to the birds as I had had enough of it.

That was the start and I haven't reached the end. I am still working on my relationship with food. I still eat more than I need to when I have had a drink or when others are eating. I still want to eat when I am unhappy or stressed but I am working on all of that. The main thing for me is that I am in control now and I haven't eaten until I feel ill since I opened the book for the first time. It's going to be a long journey but I have found some wonderful women to share it with and for the first time in many years, I am optimistic about my future with food.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Where to start?

I turn 40 at the end of this year. As soon as the year started I felt different. Just being able to say that phrase made me feel more reflective about my life. It started with a hair cut. On a whim, I decided to have it cut really short, much shorter than I have for many years. Later that week I had my nose pierced and then I dyed my hair purple. A few weeks later someone told me about a book called Beyond Chocolate. This was the big change. I bought the book that same day from Amazon and the day it arrived I started reading it. I could tell straight away that this book would change my life. I bought it for my sister-in-law the following day. Before I had finished reading the book, I had already made such big changes in my eating and thinking that I hardly recognised myself. This blog is going to be my account of how this life change is progressing. It will include the highs and the inevitable lows. I hope it will help other people in their journey toward a healthy relationship with food, and if nothing else, help me to own my thoughts and feelings in a way my personal journal can't. I've never blogged before so I have no idea what the right and wrong ways are. I will just blag my way through it and see what happens.