How Not to Fall into the Diet Trap

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I imagine I’m going to take some flack on this. But I wanted to just share with you a revelation which happened over a long, long period of time. I might have talked about this before, if so, sorry!

Who here has ever been to a diet club, or bought a diet book, or a magazine, or a tin of powdered meal replacements, or signed up to some online eating plan or bought a book about how not to diet, or tried hypnotherapy or used a corset which told you when you had eaten so you could eat less, or used a small plate or eaten only a certain colour food?

I’ll wager a lot of you, women mostly, have just mentally raised your hand. I am definitely one of them. As an example, here are the diets that I can remember doing:

  1. Calorie counting
  2. Cabbage soup
  3. Grapefruit
  4. High Fibre
  5. Low fat
  6. Weight Watchers
  7. Rosemary Conley
  8. Slimming World
  9. Exante (extremely low-calorie meal replacements)
  10. The Body Coach
  11. Low Carb
  12. Low GI
  13. Slim Fast
  14. NHS diet
  15. Atkins
  16. Other Keto
  17. various eating plans of one form or another, usually found in magazine and newspaper supplements

These are the ones that I can remember off the top of my head. There are more. I’ve been dieting since about the age of twelve up until this year. Some of these diets I have revisited on several occasions. In fact, I was in love with Slimming World because it appeared to be without shame, without restrictions. If that’s entirely true, why did I, every time I restarted the diet after not following the plan and regaining the weight, go to a different club each time? Why have I visited six different clubs, instead of going back to the same one where I’d gained weight? Ah yes, because I didn’t stick to the plan and therefore I failed.

I have had success with all of these diets. Yes, that’s right, I am an over weight person, recently at my heaviest, and I have had success with all of these diets. So why am I not sitting here as a size twelve telling you all about how the way to be healthy and happy is through any one of these diets? Because the thing about the diet industry is that it is designed to work only when you are feeding it money. If the diets listed here worked forever why are we not all slim and healthy? Why is every group not full to the brim with long-term target members instead of the one or two who, statistically, fit this model perfectly? Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti healthy eating, I’m not even anti diet, I am anti multi billion dollar industries taking advantage of vulnerable people. How does it work? It works by ensuring that whenever the diet doesn’t work, the person doing the diet is at fault. Because, you know, trust the plan, the plan works, if you follow it 100% you will see 100% results etc etc All true and I don’t doubt it. But this is also where the shame of failure enters into the equation. The industry which makes money from selling people the ideal of slim AND healthy AND happy is the same one that relies on the perpetuation that people above a certain, small size, cannot be happy and shouldn’t ever ever dare to say that they are happy with the way they look. We are taught that there is something wrong with us, we’re shamed in the name of health. This is what is perpetuated by the media. As an experiment, go and stand in front of any shop magazine rack and look at how many covers show something about How To Lose Weight and/or This Celebrity Has Gained Weight, alongside a picture of them putting their bins out with their dressing gown flapping or even, shock horror, wearing a bikini on a beach holiday even though they are NOT A SIZE ZERO. Because, you know, making someone feel utterly shit about themselves is definitely the way to make them want to eat better. NEWS FLASH: we already feel pretty shitty about ourselves. It’s not helping us be healthy, it is making us look for the quick fix that will reduce us to small and acceptable before any one else notices how wrong we are for society.  If we weren’t constantly made to feel that we aren’t the right fit for society (and I see this sort of targeted harassment in perfectly healthy individuals too, not just fat people, and in female celebs who are routinely asked about their weight in interviews) we might have a chance at feeling good about ourselves and wanting to be the best that we can be with what we’ve got. Research has proved over and over that if your self-confidence is high, then you are more likely to choose healthier options and to not want to diet.

Let’s face it, being over weight is just a relay race of shame – from the media, from clothes shops (do not get me started on the randomness between clothing sizes in different shops) from people who use ‘concerns about our health’ to vilify us from their platforms of perfect size. The old – it’s easy, you just eat less and exercise more  -brigade who have never had a compulsion to over eat, or perhaps just don’t LOVE food the way we do or perhaps have never made the connection at some point in their lives that the immediacy of sweet or salty or full is a natural, in built, evolved method to make us feel good.

I’ll get backlash for all of this. But I want to be clear – it’s fine to follow a diet to lose weight, to go to a diet club to lose weight, the clubs are great as a social hub. But don’t fall into the diet trap, don’t fall into the trap that says that unless you follow this diet to the T, you are a failure. They are setting you up for a fail, and you need to be the one to not fall into that. How do they set you up to fail? They change the mystical rules on you. They change the points or syns or method from one day to the next, they change the plans and you have to change to fit them, they bring out new books which tell you there is a NEW improved way to lose weight and YOU CAN EAT ALL THE THINGS AFTER ALL. It’s like a desperate horrible whirlpool of sadness and it plays to the fears you keep buried inside you.  I watch people panicking because a yogurt was syn free one day, and then has one syn in it the day after. It’s the same yogurt. And it’s unlikely that yogurts are the cause of someone being over weight. There is always, dangling in front of you, the silver bullet which says YES YOU CAN EAT WHAT YOU LIKE AND LOSE WEIGHT. You can’t. Unless you want what you are eating. If you fill your daily calories (calories being an amount of energy. Energy doesn’t change, ever) up with food you love, then you are doing just that and you’re not paying five quid to then discuss for an hour how to make a fake mousse out of quark and low-fat hot chocolate sachets, or pizza out of two weetabix.

Diets based on points systems can’t be transferred into what I would call a normal life and normal eating habits. You might have an encyclopaedic knowledge of  points, but those little rascals change them, and it tempts you back because you want to get it right because, you know, if you follow the plan 100% then you will see results. And if you can’t take that points system into the real world, then you’ll fail and you will come back. Any diet that tells you eating a million processed noodle pots is ok because they are free food, but avocados have to be counted because of the fat in them is doing you a huge injustice, and playing you like a fiddle. So the lesson is, don’t be played like a fiddle. Take what you want out of the diet, and don’t feel shame.

It’s taken me this long to realise I have nothing to be ashamed of in the way I look. I could be the ugliest person in the world, and I wouldn’t have anything to be ashamed of, because that’s just the way I look. I do and have struggled with the way I look all my life, I’m not beautiful, at an angle and with a filter I can occasionally pass for pretty but I’m not pretty pretty and I’m over weight. That doesn’t mean I aren’t attractive, (let me tell you now, I think that’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever written, because I am conditioned to think that saying I am happy with myself and not wanting to change myself is wrong in today’s society) my husband finds me attractive, not everyone will find me attractive and FFS does it matter? I am proud of my body and what it has done, what it has been through, I’m proud of its loyalty to me in keeping me alive, I am proud that it steps up, imperfectly, to everything I ask it to do. I have things that don’t work so well, but that is also part of what makes me me. I have had a hateful relationship with myself and my body and with food for so, so long. The biggest tool in health success is liking yourself as you are. That’s it, if you like yourself you want the best for yourself.

So here endeth my rambling notes on the multi billion pound diet industry and the way it eats people up, ironically. If you’re wondering, I count calories and I go to the gym and I am losing weight steadily but actually, I aren’t that bothered about it. I walked out of one of the above diet clubs last year and vowed not to fall back into the trap that had kept me prisoner for so many years and it was HARD to break out of that diet mentality. Whenever I felt like a fat failure, the thing I reached for was the silver bullet of another diet club or book or plan. I thought I knew how to eat healthily, but what I actually knew was how to follow a plan. The idea of eating avocados and nuts as part of a healthy diet made me feel weird because there is a line that says these food are ‘good’ and these ones are ‘bad’ and by attachment, the person who eats the bad foods is a bad person. I don’t beat myself up for eating what I crave at any one time, and by doing that I crave healthy food, I’m more open to foods because I don’t worry about them. I am not perfect, I am not a success story, I am just in the middle, bumbling along at my own pace, and I am utterly fine with that for the first time in years.

In other news, not really news – I still have places for my January get writing course, see This Page

I wish you happiness and health wherever you are on your health journey.

x

 

 

 

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The Northern Soul Awards Poem

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The last couple of weeks have been incredibly busy and stacked to the rafters with new stuff going on.One of the big things that happened, and one that I feel is a big milestone both professionally and personally, is that I landed my first big long form journalism piece of writing and have been commissioned to write about grave goods and the way we grieve for children when they die. This is obviously something close to my heart and will include some personal history around the discussions I had with our own local council over their decision (since changed) to remove the objects left on the graves of children by the parents of those children. But it will also look at historical and archeological records of bereavement activities and the psychology around grief. I have found the grief felt for my own lost baby to be so entirely different from grief felt for lost family or friends that it has actually become something of an interest for me, and something that I plan to explore further on an academic level. My experience is that we are afraid to talk about grief and bereavement, especially where baby loss and child loss are concerned. We forget that we have been leaving goods in and on our children’s graves for millennia and if it takes a village to raise a child, then that village should also help to grieve for that child, or at least allow for the parents to grieve in a way that feels natural to them. Something seems to have happened which has blocked this very natural pathway, and I hope to explore this further in the future. Any parent, anyone who has ever tried to conceive, anyone who has seen a child fall and automatically reached out a hand to protect them will know how much instinct is part of the drive that fashions parenting and child care and that instinct, as I have said before – sorry if I’m repeating myself-does not go into the ground with your dead child, it manifests in the small acts of love that we leave on children’s graves, in the way a parent might keep the room the same way it was when their child died, in the cupboard full of Christmas gifts, the birthday cake every year with a candle on, our desire to mark dates and memories with repeated rituals and promises. So that was a wonderful thing to be asked to do, I’m just at the planning stage right now and am bedding in for a couple of weeks of writing and research.

I’ve also been trying to clear my ‘office’, which is currently a ‘guest bedroom’, of enormous amounts of STUFF. As a side project I have a little Etsy shop where I sell hand made literary themed gifts, repurposed art and crafts and vintage stuff. I’m currently working my way through a lot of lovely vintage linens and tableware and posting them onto the site and making room in my office whilst I do so. The plan is, the aim is to at least have it rededicated to writing and work and to have my desk and computer in there by January,  rather than keeping it for guests who never stay in there because it’s so full of STUFF.

And finally I have been, this last week, to the The Northern Soul Awards where I read the poem that I had been commissioned to write in celebration of being a northerner. Beforehand I made the decision to have all my hair cut off and have a long pixie cut and quite honestly I think it’s the best decision I’ve made for a while, I felt chic and confident and still do and I put it all down to my new hair cut.

dress

It was a brilliant experience, I’d asked people on social media how they identified the North, what they felt like when they visited the North, what their childhood memories were and I got some cracking responses, a lot of which were about scents and smells and an undefinable feeling in the chest when one crosses the imaginary border into the North. The poem went through three different versions to get to its final version, the version I am most happy with. You can read it here: The Northern Soul Poem I also did the piece to camera, so I imagine there’ll be a video about at some point. The whole experience was great, the food was a vegetarian’s dream and it was a real celebration of Northernness and the culture of the North. The award recipients were so chuffed to receive their awards, it was great. A really well organised event in a beautiful venue, Manchester cathedral is well worth a look around if you get the chance.

manchester

The next day Chris and I went off to the The National Football Museum and it was excellent, I don’t even like football that much and I loved it. When I got back I slept pretty much for two days. I think I’d just worked and worked then been so anxious around getting it right and not letting anyone down that I wore myself out, and when I’m tired I tend to lose my confidence in myself and get a bit emotional, so I spent one whole day watching sad films and having a good cry for no apparent reason and today I’m bouncy and bright and back to my normal self.

I also managed to fit in an arts Council application asking for help to research and write the play I’m working on last week. The help would be wonderful but I have yet to be successful with grants and its a body blow each time I get rejected, however, I did this one very much on spec and don’t feel quite as invested in it, which is a kind of protective armour I’m building for myself so I won’t feel so gutted when my application is rejected. I’m also just in the middle of proofing and finalising issue 38 of Dream catcher with the editorial team and writing a review for Northern Soul too, there’s a lot going on. It would be nice to just down tools and have a proper break for no reason other than resting, but that’s not on the horizon. I keep looking at my diary and can’t see a break looming any time soon. Perhaps in the new year. We’ll see.

 

X

Back to the Brontës

brown book page
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I keep coming back to that family, crammed into the claustrophobia of the parsonage,  all that intelligence and creativity bouncing off each other and exploding into the landscape. I wrote this piece for the brilliant online journal, Popula. It’s a very thoughtful site, with good prose exploring what it is to be human. I feel very honoured that they took this piece and published it.

Standing in front of the glass..

Antony Owen’s Poetry

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Last year Antony was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes award for his highly acclaimed collection, The Nagasaki Elders. I’m a great admirer of his work, and also his work ethicHis  work is unflinching, hard, emotionally charged and unsentimental. Where so many get swept up in the grief of war, often becoming part of the glamorisation of such wars, he stands rooted, immobile, refusing to tell anything but the truth. I admire this kind of honesty greatly and was so pleased to see his work recognised last year.

I will refer to Antony’s own words, taken from his  website, copied below, where he talks about why war, and in particular the atomic bombing of Hiroshima are such a focus and drive for his work:

The first poem I ever wrote on conflict was when I was 12 years old at the height of the cold war in 1985 after watching nuclear documentary Threads which was the seed of me as a writer. Of all the testimonies I have heard or researched many stand out but two of them always reduce me tears because of the sheer tenderness born from the brutality suffered. Soon it will be 100 years until the end of World War One and I want to look at what we have learnt and in terms of remembrance, what now? Where does remembrance go from here. Before World War One let us look at the Napoleonic war where many of the fallen were put in communal pits and buried with a focus more on preventing pestilence than remembering them as predominantly poor people including slaves and immigrants dying for the great thief called Empire.

Once upon a time in Afghanistan there was a village and some soldiers shared their candy with them. There accents made the children laugh and they were welcomed, a connection was made away from the conflict. One day when the soldiers went a sweet wrapper got stuck against a plant and flapped against some thorns alerting someone who laid waste to the village for accepting candy from the enemy. That sweet wrapper in the thorns eventually was freed by the wind and like so many crimes it would get trapped in another bush, and another, and another. This is why remembrance can never and should never be branded. This is a place of opium, of poppies but to remember, to share the way a life was lived and the way a life was taken is to clear the path of thorns?

Here are two of my thorns of hearing of war

Thorn 1 – Hiroshima

One memory I cannot shake is a story of a mother who went to search for her daughters remains in the days following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Unknowingly the mother suffered primary radiation poisoning as she walked through the two-kilometre atomic flats yelling for her daughter. Littered all across the land were lamps of organs spilling out of human shapes, some trod in rib-cages and had to dislodge their feet and the smell was described as metallic and fishy. Eventually she saw a single clogg swaying from a shard of wood. All the clocks were frozen at 8.15am the time of the bomb blast yet this clog swayed like a pendulum for ghosts chiming like glockenspiel against twisted metal pipes. The mother noticed that the knotted fabric and the pattern of the fabric on the clog was that of her kimono. At this point she knew her daughter had no remains, that she was carbonised by the 5000 degree Celsius of heat near ground zero. The clog found her. I think of this account often.

Thorn 2 – To save a body

I can’t talk about this easily it rakes up a deep grave but sometimes soldiers do not save lives, they save bodies so parents can bury their children with dignity. I will say this only, if a mother and father can see the face of their son and kiss it then it is worth risking a life for. Those who do this are heroic but that is a jail of PTSD with no keeper. Soldiers are civilians so help them, give them a job and if they drop the F-bomb in front of a posh customer do not tell them off, protect them like the sharpest most broken pieces of glass that they are. Remember if you touch glass and bleed on it then it becomes stained yet also it is cleaner because you touched it and knew if would hurt you for doing so.

Where do we go from here? I think reconciliation, forgiveness, acceptance and acknowledgement. The folded flags are those who bend over graves mourning their loved ones lost to conflict, refugees, soldiers, the husband of Jo Cox to all the those battles we do not know of and should listen without prejudice to. I will not mention fascists because what is human is all that matters and we are the humans so let us remember and connect regardless of our race, culture and beliefs.

We live in an age where we become saturated with the truth of war, exposed to so many stories, images, campaigns and information that we become desensitised to it. I strongly believe that this is one of the reasons why we are seeing such a rise in right-wing and fascist extremism. We are also in a time when the people who actually remember some of the atrocities of war first hand are dying, and taking that first hand knowledge with them. Which is why it is so important to have people like Antony, who pass that truth on.

Below is one of Antony’s poems, do check out his other work. He has a new collection coming out next year, The Unknown Civilian with

 Knives Forks and Spoons Press

and it will be one to watch out for. In the mean time, here is one of Antony’s poems, it has a beautiful, tender honesty to it.

Those who know the fall of maple

After the Canadian soldiers who fell at Passchendaele

 

I know where to find the codes of your passing,

in the self portrait of a dying leaf is the sprawling tree it was.

For me you were the maple fighting the elements until they plucked you

I picture you spinning like feathers of Icarus further from skies poisoned berry.

 

Last Sunday after dinner you melted into my arms like Nanna May’s Yorkshires,

you showed me a photograph creased like maple when we were blossoms

“Look how free we were”you said, the raggedy sun on manicured grass

you saw all the colours through mono but I was lost in the now.

 

In the salvaging of you we stripped the wardrobe like a harsh wind claiming you,

a painting we made where we pressed our hands in to paint, your lifelines.

You coloured your hands in greens and reds so yes you were maple,

I know where to find the codes of your passing, but not grief.

 

Last Friday we let you go over the rosebuds sprayed by our bay,

the wind farms wound back the sea, we heard you in the gull,

we saw you in the black locket clams revealing the innards,

we felt you in the battered lighthouse, its stretching light.

 

For Armistice Day, Hackness Poppies

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Yesterday, on a friend’s recommendation,  I visited the village of Hackness, where they had gone to great lengths to do something special for the Armistice commemorations. You can read about it here: poppies 

I was moved by the dedication that creating so many hand crochet poppies took, each one a tiny offering, a tiny act of personal remembrance which added up to a wave of remembrance, of people finding the humanity in each other and sharing something. All day today there will be canons firing and torches being lit and wreathes being laid and politicians trying to out do each other with poppies on their lapels and the media ripping to pieces anyone who doesn’t wear a poppy. There will be grand, huge gestures, marches, brass bands, hours of TV coverage interspersed with adverts for Christmas gifts and Black Friday sales, and that’s a part of today too, but the actions of this small village out do all this. There will have been planning; a committee meeting in a village hall, and designated crochet duties, and children from the tiny village school will have helped and learned, and someone will have made sure everyone had a part to play, and the result is generosity, kindness and true remembrance in small acts of memorial.

 

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I’m hoping to post two posts today, because I want to talk about poet Antony Owen later. Antony is a peace campaigner who uses poetry to explore war and the repercussions of war, he deserves his own post. But for this first post I wanted to share a poem which appeared in Dream Catcher Magazine no. 37 It’s by Susan Wallace.

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New Online Course: How to Write a Poem

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I am now taking bookings for the new course, which starts in January. You can find details of how to sign up here: How to Write a Poem. The course starts on January 1st (don’t worry, you will not be expected to do any work on new Year’s day, but you will receive the first lot of course materials) and lasts for four weeks, finishing on January 31st. There will be two lesson plans per week which include homework assignments.

Included in the course is personal critique of four poems per course participant, worth £18. You can choose whether these are poems which you have developed on the course, or something from another project that you’re working on. There will be a closed facebook group to chat, share ideas, share poem drafts and critique of each other’s work, but as always, this is not mandatory.

One of the things that I have noticed while running previous courses, and workshops and when mentoring, is that people worry that they haven’t had any ‘formal training’ as a poet. There is a fear that every other poet you will ever meet has been to poetry university and learned the secrets to writing a poem. In actual fact, there are far more ‘untrained’ poets than poets that have any formal education and you certainly do not need to have a university degree to write a poem. The aim of this course is to get the writer past their imposter syndrome. It’s perfect for those lacking confidence in their ability, good for beginners and also good for those wanting to refresh and get writing again.

briefly, the course covers:

Getting From Inspiration to First Draft

Developing exercises and techniques to actually get pen to paper. We’ll look at how and where inspiration can come from, the role of the poet and getting a first draft down without wanting to burn it immediately.

Working in Structured Form

We’ll be looking at a few different forms, and how to write in them. We’ll look at putting older forms into context and how and when to use form, how to choose a form for your poem and not to let the poem be consumed by the form.

Working in Free Verse

The course will look at the natural rhythms and structures of free verse, the use or non use of punctuation. We’ll look at poems which push out of their boundaries as well as looking at line breaks, and the tools in the poets work box.

Smoothing the Edges

The course will also look at editing,  what to kill and what to keep, how to develop a critical eye and how to stop editing. The course will also, briefly, look at finding an outlet for your poems, how to write a cover letter and how to keep a good record of submissions.

Cost: £50 to be paid up front.

 

This course is slightly more intense than the ‘prompt a day’ style course but is still a no pressure, fun way of breaking into poetry and boosting your confidence. i hope you’ll join me in January to kickstart your poetry year!