Putting your best foot forward. How are your New Near Resolutions going?

Do you manage to stick to your resolutions? It seems that most people just can’t do it. They know what they should do, right enough (lose weight, get fitter, spend less, be tidier etc) but it’s just too difficult to see it through.

Well, there’s a simple trick to achieving what you want to achieve, and that is to find the fun in it. Let me explain.


Let’s take getting fitter as an exampler. It’s mid-January, so the annual peak in gym membership applications is here. There will be lots of new faces signing up for classes or inductions to the gym to start the process of losing weight and toning up. How many of these people will still be regularly training in February? Not so many, I’d be prepared to bet. The problem is that unless you are fairly fit to start with going to the gym, or an energetic Zumba or dance class, it’s going to be too hard to be fun. And if things aren’t fun, it’s very hard to stick to them. At the slightest excuse (it’s pouring with rain: my kit’s in the wash…) it’s too easy to give up. But if things are fun, you do them whatever the inconvenience. Shopping? Going to the pub? Many people don’t have to be asked twice!

I’ve written a short Kindle book to explain my thinking about getting fit through walking, and I’m sure that this is a really good way for most people to get started.

You see, establishing the habit of walking doesn’t need too much time or special equipment. Most people can easily fit some walking into their normal day, either walking to work, or walking the children to school, or walking the dog or going to the library. If you choose your walks carefully and have the right mental approach you can easily find that walking is fun. The more pleasure you find in walking, the more you want to do it, and the fitter you become. The key is enjoying the place you are walking; taking notice or and an interest in what is around you. If you can manage a fast walk for 30 minutes or more, preferably including some hill work, then you are probably fit enough to enjoy going to the gym or starting an energetic class. Read more in my book. A beginner’s guide to walking for pleasure   ASIN B00L3D7ENY.

The same principles apply to other areas of life. To take one more example, it’s easier to eat better and spend less on food if you learn to enjoy cooking. It is fun to cook if you approach it with the right positive attitude; starting with something quite easy and building up new techniques as you gain confidence. I’ve enjoyed cooking for years, but am still working through some techniques that are new to me – making my own pasta for example, and getting good at making bread by hand. (My rye and wheat loaf with caraway seeds and ale was a masterpiece!) Again, it’s about enjoying learning new skills and the results of your work.

So, don’t set yourself up to fail by setting too big a challenge for yourself. Start small-ish, but keep challenging yourself. Above all, find a way to make what you want a pleasure, by focusing on the positives, and you’ll find it much easier to get where you want to be.

A short hiatus (break or interruption in the continuity of a series, action etc.)

That’s what I’m having today. A  little space between things.

It’s easier in many ways, isn’t it, when you are flat out busy, because then you have so many things you have to do, you just get on and do them. Of course it’s stressful when you are busy. Tempers become frayed and you don’t have time to do the things you really want, to see or talk to friends and family properly, or to do things as well as you would like, but at least you don’t have that moment of weighing up your options and really looking at what you should be doing. Necessary from time to time, but not easy.

I’ve been lucky for ages, in that my projects have naturally moved themselves along so that just as I have finished working on a series of paintings, I have had freelance writing to do, and when there is a gap in the writing I have had a chance to work with Alec on our website. Currently I have several projects just simmering away on the back burner, and I need to finish off a few things.

  • alecarte – just needs occasional tweets to keep things interesting. Check.
  • magsart – ditto. Check.
  • A beginners guide to walking for pleasure – published on kindle. Tweet regularly. Check.
  • Write ezine article on the need to find pleasure in an exercise if you are going to be able to keep up a healthier regime. Check.
  • Complete read through of my second book, and publish. Decisions to make on how to publish – this one needs to be available in hard copy as well as Kindle I think, so a different form of publishing. I’ve done most of the thinking and just need to finish off. That should be the main task for today, obviously, but I need to be in the right mood!
  • Push forward my photography. Try some new techniques and work out the extra kit I need. A couple of filters at least.

The Ezine articles are an interesting idea. Alec (my better half) came across them in his reading, and the idea is that you write short articles on your area of expertise, which you then offer for people to use them as they wish. You aren’t paid for the article, but it draws attention to you website/product/service. I’ve had a three of my photography articles published on picturecorrect.com, most recently Can a photograph ever be perfect, which has drawn quite a bit of business to alecarte, and readers for this blog. I’ll be interested to see if referencing my book in an article increases awareness and sales.

But all this is really more of the same, and I know by now that I am a starter rather than a finisher. I do love new things to get my teeth into and the thrill of challenging myself to master new skills. So what I really want is something new to start, and that is where the problem of a hiatus day lies. My thoughts are going in circles and inspiration is not forth-coming. Finishing off things is not my preference, or indeed my forte. What I really need is to go for a good long walk to straighten my head out, but it’s been raining quite heavily here. The good news is that the weather is improving, and the forecast for the next few hours is pretty good, so I think that’s my plan made.

Good luck with your Sunday! I hope that whatever you are doing it feels like something positive and not treading water!


Keep young and beautiful, by all means. But please – keep strong!


Some of you will recognise these fine strong legs!

And that’s what keeping fit and watching your weight is all about.  Strong legs.

When I practised tai chi, my instructor said that it was impossible to do on “chicken’s legs”: you need sturdy legs to work on.  He also repeated the old (Chinese, I expect) saying that you are as old as your legs, and this is really worth thinking about.  Even standing and walking rather than sitting helps to build up bone density and keep those legs strong and mobile. The weaker your legs are, the older you become before your time.  You begin to settle into a comfortable chair and leave the running around to younger, fitter folk.

Keeping fit is not really about having a six pack, or dropping two dress-sizes, although many people do look better when they are fitter. It is all about being able to pursue your interests and getting out and about to make the most of the word.

The more you are on your feet and moving about, the better.  And of course while you are busy, you are less likely to be eating things you don’t need!  All right – I know it’s not always that easy, and those with knee, hip, back and other health issues can’t always exercise as much as they would like to.  But if you don’t have any excses and the new year’s resolutions are becoming a thing of the past, just remember that sticking to a ‘keeping fitter’ regime is in your best interests.  Whether it’s cycling to work, competitive sports, swimming, the gym, pilates, yoga, tai chi … , find something you like doing and do it!

The ELEM diet – it’s working for me!

Are fad diets a thing of the past?  I think they may be, although when I look at Facebook I still see strange ads promising that I can lose kgs of fat by the weekend following this old trick …  I’ve never bothered to click as I just don’t believe it can be true.

You have to understand yourself (your weaknesses and your strengths, the things you enjoy and the things you hate) to be able to work out how to keep to a better regime.  Whether the issue is studying, keeping the house tidy, sorting out your paperwork, losing weight or getting fit, you have to be realistic about what you can achieve and what you’ll never be able to stick to, to stand any chance of success.

The latest best selling diets are based on the 5:2 principle, where you eat normally for 5 days and make a special effort to eat less on 2 days a week.  This seems to be a great idea, if it works for you.  No banned food groups, no odd foods you have to eat, and you only have to manage hunger pangs on a couple of days a week.  Fit eating less to days when you are busy anyway – extra busy at work or out on a shopping expedition for example – and it should be relatively easy.

Regarding weight loss, I know that my major failing is not controlling portion size.  I usually eat quite good food with most things made from fresh or frozen ingredients, and I rarely eat processed food.  I’m lucky that I like fruit and vegetables, so eating my 5 a day is a piece of cake,  (pardon the c word!). However, when food is tasty I have often been unable to resist going back for another helping.  This applies to chocolate, crisps and other snacks too.  I find it relatively easy not to start eating them, but once I start it’s really difficult to stop.

So for me it’s the ELEM diet, through which I have lost 10lbs in a couple of months.  No snacking, other than fruit. No alcohol during the week, unless it’s a special occasion. (Have you seen how many calories there are in a glass of wine??? And think about how much money you save through not buying that extra bottle or two of wine every week.)  Regular exercise, including walking every day, some pilates and a bit of gym work. And a big effort to serve up smaller portions and not to go back in for second helpings.  I do this every day, but less so at weekends and when we are eating with friends, so there is a bit of a cross-over with the 5:2 diet.

So far this seems to be a regime I can stick to.  And as I can see a loss of about a pound a week, I am motivated not to weaken.

What works for you?


Home made butternut squash and chilli soup.  Yum!



Goodbye 2012. What’s your approach to 2013?

go with the flow

Sunday 30 December 2012.

You are probably already thinking about New Year Resolutions.  We all do at this time of the year, don’t we?

Partly is because we are mentally starting a new calendar and we have that whole fresh year spreading out ahead of us to make the most of. Partly it’s because we already feel at least a bit guilty about all the extra food and drink we have consumed in December, not to mention the amount we have spent during the last year on things we don’t really need.  Partly too it’s due to an in-built desire to make the most, and to be able to feel proud, of ourselves, perhaps recognising a need to turn things around for ourselves.

What does the picture I’ve slotted in above have to do with resolutions?  Well to me resolutions are about being realistic and not trying to set on something that goes too much against the flow of my nature and what I am able to do.  If I set myself a target that is honestly unattainable, I am bound to fail.

So I do want to get back on track with my health, but no grapefruit-and-yogurt-drop-two-dress-sizes-in-a-month diets for me.  I know that I can lay off snacks and chocolatey treats, and drink alcohol only at the weekend (and then just a glass).  I know I can exercise more too, and tomorrow I’ll resume visits to the gym on a consistent basis, but I’m afraid you’ll never see me entering the London Marathon.

I’ll revisit my long-term issue with controlling portion size for meals.  The problem is I love food and cooking, and if you make something delicious it is really difficult to stick to the amount you know you should eat.  So renewed determination is called for.

My big resolution for this year is to make sure I organise my time, so that I have some time each week to be creative, and to properly keep in touch with the people who are important to me.  I have several projects in mind that I should be able to develop into something that is at least personally satisfying, but which might also be the basis for a little business enterprise …  it’s too soon to share details just now, but by this time next year I hope to have something to show for it.

Enjoy your New Year’s Eve whatever you are doing.  Good luck with choosing and sticking to your resolutions and have a truly marvellous 2013.

November in Clevedon – all change!

We are used to making fresh starts in the new year – resolutions and spring cleaning and all that, but I’ve always found the Autumn more of a time to take stock.

Maybe it’s the mild melancholy that the change in the clocks induces; the return to waking up in the dark and going for sunset walks at 4 pm.  All I know is, it is at this time of the year when I tend to make decisions and changes.

(That’s not us in the picture, by the way, although I could have pretended it is!)

It was this time of year two years ago when I bought the Coat of Motivation, my very lovely winter coat, which was only just big enough at size ?? . I was struck with the certainty that I would not allow myself to go up to size ??+1 ( although I  guess that should that be +2, with the way dress sizes work) and so immediately set about a completely voluntary programme of sticking to proper meals, no snacks, and picking up the exercise.  Wii Fit worked wonders for me, providing some extra activity every day, and I got into Zumba too.  The pounds dropped off, and I was as fit as I’ve ever been.

Following our move here, the fitness regime evaporated.  I’ve been working from home, so the daily brisk walk to and from County Hall was lost, and as I was considering my options for work I couldn’t commit to a class.  We’ve also been visiting pubs and eating places! Inevitably the pounds have been piling on and the fitness levels have dropped, so yet again, I have needed to take myself in hand.  This time it’s the gym, something I have never tried before. I am into week three now, and am already feeling the benefits.  It definitely helps that I can go at off-peak times – today Alec and I were the only people in there at midday – and also to have a gym buddy.

You really can’t be bullied or persuaded into new habits; the decision to change has to come from within.  We all need a metaphorical coat of motivation!

So I won’t be feeling quite so glum about the over-indulgence approaching.

Our Christmas Day definitely revolves around food rather than presents, as family and friends are only too aware!  We have found that our ideal menu consists of something between 5 and 8 courses, spread out over the day.  It sounds mad, but actually means a lot less work. None of the courses are huge and most can be prepared well in advance, so no-one is trapped in the kitchen with the sprouts.  There are breaks in between for games, walks, and Christmassy whatevers, and the eating and drinking goes on from lunchtime to late.

I can tell you want to know more so …

Pate and crackers at about 11.30, maybe chicken liver or smoked mackerel or a nice spicy humus concoction.

Soup about an hour later.  A nice turkish lemon soup, or a borsch style beetroot soup.  It has to be a bit unusual, zingy and festive.

Maybe a nice sorbet to cleanse the palate?  Or berries in a sparkling wine jelly?  Just a couple of spoonfuls.

Sometimes a fish course as well, or instead of the soup or pate. Spicy prawns and coconut went down well.

A gap of about an hour  before the main course.  This year we are going for a leg of saltmarsh lamb.  We had some earlier this year and I can’t tell you just how delicious it was.  The lambiest lamb I have ever tasted.  Our’s is ordered, so I feel safe in spilling the beans. Some nice vegetables and roast potatoes to go with it, but not too many, as we are only about half way through.

A decent gap before we hit the desserts. (I typed deserts! I’ll take the Sahara and you can have the Gobi.)

We usually have a choice of at least two of the following:  Christmas pud, trifle, apple crumble, whisky and ginger steamed pudding (my own invention. Let me know if you want the recipe.)

Another decent gap and then fruit, nuts, cheese and crackers with maybe a glass of port.

Petit fours and coffee to finish.

When does the gym open??