Things I noticed when I became lighter

I was looking for this posting this morning in order to show it to a friend, when I discovered that it didn’t exist. I thought I’d posted it ages ago. The material here comes from a notebook entry that I wrote in August 2007, to record some observations before their novelty wore off.

  • I can submerge myself in the bath. No longer must I decide which bits to leave sticking out of the water.
  • My flexibility has increased (despite not having done any exercises to improve it): I can curl my legs up underneath me on the sofa, for example, and it is much easier to wriggle on and off the bed in the boat.
  • My ability to deal with heights – to balance on ladders, etc – has improved (though it’ll never be great in comparison with that of the rest of the population). I noticed this first when going up the ladder to the loft to try and find some old clothes that would fit me. It’s also very noticeable when boating, and helps a lot.
  • My bone-structure has come into focus. Running my hand over my face is interesting – the jawline, in particular. I have quite a nice facial bone-structure, it turns out. It seems to be quite delicate: the kind of face that looks best with light, delicate jewellery.
  • Wearing jewellery, especially necklaces, is fun again! Some of them simply didn’t fit at all before, and some didn’t look right. Some of the chains now need shortening, in fact.
  • My thighs no longer brush against each other when I walk (this was a new and exciting observation in the third week of August). It felt odd at first, rather as if I were walking with my legs held wide apart.
  • My wedding and engagement rings, once so tight that removing them was only possible with the help of cold water, had become so loose that they were in danger of falling off. I was able to remove them by shaking my hand a bit. I spent that month wearing an elastic band around my finger to keep my rings safe, and took them to the jeweller in September to have them made four sizes smaller.

What I know now about weight loss and weight management

Last summer, after having been fat for my entire adult life, I went on a radical weight-loss programme and reduced my body mass by 30 kg (66 lb, or about 4.5 stone). I reached a new equilibrium at that point, and have since maintained a constant weight. I’ve now been about 53 kg (117 lb, or a little under 8.5 stone—BMI just over 20) for more than six months, with very minor fluctuations. (Yes, I know I’m now below the middle of the recommended BMI range, and I was surprised at this result initially, but now that I’ve got used to it I think it’s right for me because I have a fairly light bone structure—thin wrists and ankles, for example.)

After an initial period of anxiety and disorientation I’ve gradually become adjusted to the new reality, and am now able to enjoy eating and drinking—alone and in company—without (so far) putting on weight. So now I think I am qualified to write something about the process and what worked for me. I hope other people with the same problem might find something useful here. Bear in mind that it’s only been six months, though. I don’t yet have any proof that the system works in the long term.

The programme that I used is Lighter Life, and not surprisingly I am very enthusiastic about it. These are the reasons I think it worked so well for me:

  • During the weight-loss phase you don’t eat normal food at all. There’s no wiggle-room, no ‘just a little bit won’t hurt’. This appeals to my nature. I like to start a project and just do it until it’s done. Gradual methods don’t attract me.
  • It’s medically supervised (they insist on this) and my GP was supportive—to my great surprise—when I consulted him before I started. This made me feel safe and relaxed about the process. Yes, there are health risks with rapid weight loss, but (as a doctor acquaintance of mine pointed out) you have to balance these against the considerable health risks you take by staying obese.
  • There’s a psychotherapeutic element to it. You have weekly group sessions and the approach is based on cognitive behavioural therapy, which makes a lot of sense to me.
  • You can’t fail to lose weight if you follow the programme, and this fact has a beneficial effect on your mind. I had talked myself into a mindset in which I basically believed that it was impossible for me to lose weight, so there was no point in even trying. Now I had the experience of standing on the scales each week and seeing proof that this belief wasn’t true, and the CBT sessions allowed me to extrapolate from that realisation. As a result of this I understand a bit more about false beliefs in general, how the mind clings onto them, and how to dispel them. This basic insight has been very helpful to me during the weight-maintenance phase (see below) as it’s enabled me to re-examine quite a lot of other false beliefs that I had about food and eating habits—and in particular, the one that says that even if you do manage to lose weight, you’re bound to put it all back on again because ‘everybody always does’.

OK, so that was the weight-loss phase, and my advice to anyone else who wants to lose weight as I did basically comes down to: ‘go to the Lighter Life people, trust them, and do what they tell you’. All well and good, but then what happens next? There is absolutely no point (in my opinion) in losing weight if you’re not going to stay light afterwards.

Well, first, I’d recommend anyone who’s done Lighter Life to use the follow-up programmes that they provide. Don’t just strike off on your own as soon as you reach your target weight. Their gradual process of food reintroduction—it’s like being a baby being weaned all over again, but better this time!—is tremendously useful, and the ongoing support from the counsellor and group is really great.

Next, you really have to learn about food and how to choose what to eat. You think you know, but actually you don’t. It’s an active area of research and you need to inform yourself about what the science now says, as well as learning what works for you psychologically.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Carbohydrates give you a sensation of fullness, but fats don’t—they just slip down. This is one reason why you have to treat fats with such caution. You need some, but you need to learn that a little goes a long way. Weighing portions helps a lot with learning how much to have.
  • Fibre is essential for digestive health but you don’t have to load yourself down with tons of calories to get it. You can take soluble fibre supplements. I use Fibresure, which is basically inulin, twice a day. I also have porridge for breakfast with a few dried apricots, and I have a vast quantity of green vegetables at lunch and dinner. I have a little wholemeal bread as well. That adds up to enough fibre to keep my digestion working well.
  • Women need less food than men do, generally, because women have a smaller frame (especially true for me, because my husband is a lot bigger than I am). Older people need less food than younger ones do. Standard portions have to be enough for those who need more food than you do, so you have to get used to leaving food on your plate when you are eating out—especially if you eat out a lot, as we do. Abandon notions of ‘getting your fair share’. I now routinely divide my portion of rice in half at the start of a meal. Half a standard portion of rice is plenty for a woman of nearly 50.
  • Counting calories really works for weight maintenance. People have told me not to do it—‘it’s soul-destroying’. Well, it depends what kind of soul you have. For me, it’s fascinating and exciting because it means I now understand the process of eating and using food. It gives me precise control and it gives me the freedom to make an informed choice—50 g of this is the same as 25 g of that, so which will I have today? And, most importantly, as I am already at the right weight, I am not trying to minimise calorie consumption. If I haven’t had enough, I must eat some more. It’s bed-time and I need to consume another 100 calories to reach today’s ideal total. I’ll have a cup of cocoa. There is absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t. Depriving myself of the food that I need will not do me any good. (This is why I think that counting calories for weight loss would be a bad idea, though I can’t speak from personal experience about that—it seems to me that you’d always be trying to minimise consumption, and never be satisfied that you’d had the right amount.) Calorie counting is also beneficial because it’s an incentive to take health-giving exercise: a 30-minute brisk walk, or 20 minutes on the rowing machine, means that I can add more than 5% to my basic calorie allowance for the day. A second chocolate after dinner, maybe? A piece of cheese? A glass of wine?
  • However, exercising in an attempt to burn fat is not an efficient way to lose weight. Exercise is good for you—one of the many benefits of being lighter is that exercise is now easier and more fun, so I do (somewhat) more of it now—but exercising while fat in order to reduce is not useful. You have to do such a lot of exercise for such a small loss of weight. And it increases your appetite. You get fitter, which is good, but you don’t get thinner.
  • The body doesn’t like to mess about with its fat reserves, either burning them up or laying them down. It will try to maintain an equilibrium instead (reducing or increasing energy used in order to compensate for reductions or increases in input). This is why temporary starvation or feasting has no effect on fat, and it also explains the discouraging plateaux and sudden exciting shifts that most people experience when losing weight (you get these on Lighter Life too, though of course they are quicker than those you get on a conventional diet). Changes in eating habits, either up or down, have to persist for quite a while before they persuade the body to push past a particular equilibrium state and into the next one.
  • Good things can be saved for later. This takes away the pressure to have them right now just to avoid their being wasted. I was cautioned against this in case it led to snacking, but for me it doesn’t: it just works beautifully. I save tiny portions of leftovers in the fridge and the freezer, in little boxes neatly labelled. I bring them out again next time I’m choosing a meal for myself (my husband and I eat dinner together, but normally, although we often sit at the table together at lunch-time, we each choose our lunch food independently—so there are plenty of opportunities for this), and I savour them instead of opening something new. Often the new thing would have been higher in calories than the leftover portion anyway, so I win both ways.
  • Most of the pleasure of most foods comes in the first couple of mouthfuls, so why have a huge plate-full? Pleasure in eating is maximised by having lots of different, but small, taste sensations (this is one of the messages of the most excellent French Women Don’t Get Fat). Normally these days I have two to four micro-courses at each meal. And quite often I end a meal with a chocolate. Just the one. Exquisite!
  • Choosing and wearing nice clothes can be just as much fun as eating is, once you get used to it. I’ve rediscovered the joy I used to take in getting dressed.

There’s more to say, of course, but that’ll do for now.

Dutch girls

Something that strikes me as odd in Amsterdam is the existence, side by side, of two radically different ways of being (or looking) female. Two styles. The Red Light District style—the naked body, make-up, red fabric, black leather etc—and the scrubbed face, denim, bike-riding, no-nonsense types. We speculate that there is even a cross-over between the two. Are there young women who arrive by bike wearing their jeans, undress, put on the make-up and stand in the window? This whole juxtaposition seems to us Dutch and not English. We are similar but not, after all, the same. [See also ‘Dutch Girl’ by Lisa Yuskavage, recently acquired by the Stedelijk Museum. Nice modern take on Vermeer!]

Another clue to the difference in cultures might be the lack of attention to safety precautions on the city’s many building sites. Andrew has noticed builders on scaffolding without hats, and items being lifted and lowered with no safety barriers, while pedestrians walk beneath—not just on one site, but generally. Is this (I speculate) another facet of the same basic attitude that gives rise to the existence of the coffee shops and the prostitution?

If I were younger I would start asking at this point “and is it a good or a bad thing?” But these days I don’t think in those terms nearly so much. It’s an interesting thing, that’s all. It gives rise to some consequences that are probably good, and some others that are undesirable. On balance, would I choose to live with it or not? I’m not sure. My answer might depend on how lucky I was feeling when you asked me. My optimistic self would find it refreshing. My pessimistic self might be scared.

Greatest art experience ever

This happened 12 years ago but it’s still vivid in my mind. I hope it always will be.

It was the year Andrew and I got engaged (we were married in 1997). We got tickets for the great Vermeer show in the Mauritshuis at The Hague. We were not the only ones looking forward to it as the best art show of the decade.

When we got there, clutching our timed tickets (for 6pm, if memory serves—purchased from the Dutch consulate in London) the museum was closing and the last visitors were being ushered out. We argued. An official was fetched. Our tickets were examined. An executive decision was taken.

For the next hour, accompanied by a bored security guard, we had exclusive access to the Vermeers. We wandered, we peered, we savoured. We ran from one to another exclaiming and comparing. Look! He’s used the same props in this one. And again—the yellow dress—look!

They aren’t very big, Vermeers. They are exquisite. They had never all been together in the same place before, and probably they never will be again. The next day, back among the crowds for a second look, joining the scrum around every painting, we realised the full value of the luck we’d had. It was amazing.

Generation gap

[OK, so now I’d better actually write some stuff.]

Recently we’ve established social contact with the son of one of my cousins, and his girlfriend. Nice young people. It’s been a curiously disturbing experience, though. Here are people who are a whole generation younger than us, but nevertheless adults. Weird. When you reach middle age you think (well, I thought) that life would run out of novel experiences to show you. But it doesn’t.

On not writing

Well, I haven’t been.

Or reading, either, in fact.

I’ve been in a state of transition, and I don’t find such states conducive to processing much in the way of input, or to producing much in the way of output. I now have the impression (though only time will tell whether I’m right about it) that smoother water lies ahead. This might be a good time to start the blog again. Let’s see.

The art of living well

I’ve been reading, with great pleasure, French women don’t get fat. It’s a supremely elegant book, both in content and in presentation – and inspiring, too.

Actually I bought my copy several months ago but couldn’t get through it then. It seemed to be promoting an ideal that was so far out of my reach as to be depressing even to think about. Not in the least inspiring.

Now it is different: I’m most of the way through my weight-loss program (with 16.8 Kg gone at the last count, obesity already a thing of the past, and entry into the ‘healthy’ range – BMI 20–25 – anticipated later this week) and am thinking hard about my future relationship with food. The book is a delightful companion on this part of the journey, and has already given rise to several pages of my notebook covered with new ideas for ways of living differently and better.


Alan Little tagged me in a recent posting. This is what I’m supposed to do:

  1. Each player starts with 8 random facts/habits about themselves.

  2. People who are tagged write a blog post about their own 8 random things, and post these rules.

  3. At the end of your post you need to tag 8 people and include their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment and tell them theyre tagged, and to read your blog.

  4. If you fail to do this within eight hours, you will not reach Third Series or attain your most precious goals for at least two more lifetimes.

The chance of my responding to anything within eight hours is remote, especially this week, but fortunately I have no idea what Third Series might be – so I guess what I don’t know won’t hurt me – and I don’t believe in reincarnation anyway. Here goes:

  1. I’m not a night owl any more. Maybe I never was, really. I wake early (around the summer solstice, very early indeed) and am most active early in the day.
  2. I haven’t been on an aeroplane since December 2005.
  3. I’ve lost about 12kg of body fat in the past 7 weeks. (It’s OK, don’t worry! I needed to lose it, it’s a medically-supervised programme, my doctor approves, and I feel much better for it).
  4. Tomorrow is our tenth wedding anniversary.
  5. I love to dry laundry outdoors. I study the weather forecast and wait till it’s going to be a good drying day before starting the wash. I arrange the clothes in patterns on the line: first a row of T-shirts, all with orange pegs, then a row of socks, all with yellow ones…
  6. I owned a horse for a while, a few years ago. It didn’t work out well. It was a learning experience.
  7. I’m scared of heights. It’s a problem when boating sometimes (especially when negotiating deep locks).
  8. I visit Venice most years, usually by train (the night train from Paris is best). I mean the Venice in Italy, of course, not the one in California.

The difficult bit, as Alan found, is thinking of eight people who might not mind being tagged. I don’t read very many blogs. Here are the least unpromising seven from the list in my feed reader:

  1. Rod
  2. Animoose
  3. William (but his blog is really too serious for this kind of trivia)
  4. Vicki and Alasdair (though given their posting frequency, a response is unlikely)
  5. Tromey
  6. Derek
  7. Paul Butcher? Unlikely, though – his is not really that kind of blog

I’m editing this post to remove people from the list if they don’t want to play. My original 8 is now already down to 7!

Storm in a teacup

While dramatic floods are causing mayhem in the rest of the country, all there is to report from our stretch of riverbank is … a cow in the water. There is much very localised excitement. I called out the Pindar, who turned up half an hour ago with a rope but is waiting for his team. Meanwhile the cow has got itself out of the river and is grazing on our neighbour’s back garden – which would be fine except that the only way back to where it’s supposed to be is via the road.