A Spoonie Full Of Sugar…

As I mentioned in my recent post on self harm, I have been quite aware lately that I am not always making the healthiest choices for myself, and in particularly I have been thinking a lot about my weight.

Since I first developed symptoms of CFS I have been on a steady path of gaining weight. This is due to two factors:

1. I can no longer exercise in the way I was used to. I had actually been building up my running distance when I first became unwell, and mentally I’ve struggled to accept that I need to adapt how I exercise since then.

2. I worry that if I deny myself food I won’t have the fuel I need to create the limited energy that I have each day. Sugary food is an instant fuel and in a very short term way gives me a boost. It’s easy to fall into a trap of relying on those quick fixes!

Ok since I’m being honest, also a third:

3. I feel crap enough a lot of the time without adding feeling hungry (and grumpy)

When you aren’t feeling your best it is easy to become self indulgent to comfort yourself, and since 2015 I have been doing a lot of that. I’ve had a few periods of healthy eating, because I have studied all the reasons that I should be eating better, but I haven’t been keeping anything up longer than a few months.

I’ve decided though that I have reached a point where I need to get tough with myself. I have reached a weight where I feel physically uncomfortable at times, and so now is the time to put my chubby foot down and practice what I preach to others.

So I’m going to follow some advice I got from a podcast I mentioned in a previous post (It’s not just you):

Make it easier to succeed than fail

What I mean by this is that when trying to get into a new habit do a bit of prep work to enable success. For eating better there is a fairly obvious first step – get rid of all the crap you shouldn’t be eating! A lot of negative eating can come from boredom, or things being there when you are hungry (which is why it’s always best to do the food shop after a meal!), so make it harder to get your fix and a lot of the time you’ll find you can’t be bothered to go out of your way to get it.

This step can also mean getting in the right sorts of food. I am a very fussy vegetarian, so a lot of high protein or low carb meals involve foods I am not a fan of.

But you don’t have to suddenly be perfect, just don’t be so bad!

So I have decided to focus on portion sizing of meals rather than cutting out the carb elements. I know that if I don’t respond well to forcing myself to eat veggie-packed, brown rice, tofu meals.

Learn from past mistakes!

My cupboard is full of half eaten packets of healthier options from previous failed attempts to eat better. So this time I’m not going to try going from 0 to 100 straight away. I’m just going to start with:

  1. Emptying the house of snacks
  2. Deleting my fast food ordering apps
  3. Making meals a little smaller

Taking smaller steps and just focusing on taking them one at a time makes the task less daunting.

Ok so we have a rough plan, let’s check in with my 5 tips to starting a new habit from the Habits post:

1. Time of day

Ok, so when am I most vulnerable to temptation? After dinner is definitely a snacky time for me so I will need to be prepared to distract myself. Keeping busy prevents boredom eating!

2. Involve others

I have already started this step actually, at the moment I am having dinner with my in laws and sister in law on weekdays. My sister in law is a bastion of self control and helped me to start sketching out in my head how to approach my weight loss. She is also going to keep asking me if I have been good. Being held accountable by someone else is a great way to help add to your will power (especially if like me you don’t have any!).

3. Phrasing

“I am going to lose weight” a good positive start, but even better to use something present tense “I am eating less”. Stating it as a fact, as a fait accompli, to believe it to be true and so to act as though it is.

4. Write it down

By posting this to you all I am sort of adding 2 and 4 together. I have stated my weight loss manifesto and so it must be stuck to!

However I am going to double up on number 4 a bit. In Your Way To Health, the health journal I co-created, we have a section on the daily page for logging food and water:

food log

I am going to use this tool so that I can try and spot anything that is helping or hindering my progress (e.g. maybe a smaller breakfast will make me splurge on lunch, or maybe it will set me up on the right foot for the day!)

5. Managing setbacks

I promise, here are the start, not to beat myself up if I have bad days. As long as I am eating less crap some of the time I will be doing a lot better than I am now, and that is all I am asking of myself. To do a little better. Because once I am doing that I can start to do a little more, and a little more, until I am one day miles from where I am now.

Self harm – it’s easier than you think

Usually I take the time to make a pretty heading for these posts, but this is an ugly topic and honestly I’ve sat on this post for a week building up the nerve to press publish.

Self harm is a difficult topic to discuss, even in the already awkward area of mental health. Someone who hasn’t ever cut themselves may wonder how anyone gets to that point, or judgemental people (like the first doctor I even confessed self harming to, 5 years into my destructive habit) may say that it “doesn’t count” unless you really go for it and leave scars.

The truth is it’s actually really easy to self harm. You might have done it yourself without realising.

Self harm doesn’t mean picking up a knife and cutting your body, it means hurting yourself. That might sound a bit obvious, but when you really stop to think about it there are a lot of ways to hurt yourself.

An example that comes to mind is a friend who had been through some traumatic life events and was struggling to process them, they carried a lot of (unjustified) guilt and so they drank. They regularly got black out drunk and ended up in dangerous situations. In short they caused themselves harm. They self harmed.

Now many people would not get to such an extreme point, but the truth is this:

Every time you do something that has a negative effect on yourself you are causing yourself harm.

Are you staying in a relationship that makes you miserable? Maybe you are doing that because you don’t really believe you deserve happiness?

Are you eating excessively or avoiding it as much as possible? That probably stems from negative emotions just the same as if you picked up a weapon and injured yourself.

Are you putting up with verbal abuse from someone in your life? Letting them use you as an emotional punching bag? By choosing to let that happen you are choosing to be in pain.

You might read some of those and think “I don’t have a choice but to put up with this or that” – well that is pretty much how people who physically hurt themselves feel. It is an addiction, a crutch or a reflex. It is really hard to not fall back into the habit when you are feeling worthless or angry or sad.

Last week for the first time in 10 years I fell off the wagon and self harmed, but honestly when I sat back and thought about it I’d been doing it for weeks. Eating junk food until I felt sick, avoiding things that make me happy, I’d been beating myself up in other ways long before I touched a blade.

Yet others treated this action much more seriously. I think we need to rethink that. Of course traditional self harm is serious, but that doesn’t mean other forms of it are less so. My GP and my local mental health service had been very dismissive of my distress up until that point, and I don’t think that teaches us a positive message. You can kill yourself with smoking or cholesterol after all.

I guess my take away from this is to consider the the choices you are making and the emotional reasoning for them. If you think you are making bad choices for yourself, talk to someone because it is just as serious as the big scary “self harm”.

Announcing ‘Your Way To Health’

So as I hinted last week I have something special to announce. I have co-authored a health and wellbeing journal which will be released in October! I am very excited to share it with you all once the final touches are done!

I made a very rough version of this journal for myself when I was first signed off with CFS. I was seeing many different health professionals and they all encouraged me to track different things. I was also being trialled on various pain medications (ultimately none worked) and I wanted to judge if they actually had any effect. I am not the best at sticking to things, and have never managed to keep up a diary for more than a few days, so to help me I made a template to fill out each day.

Months later I was working with Kuljit Sehmi (www.centrebalance.co.uk), who specialises in ME and Fibromyalgia, and I was feeling much healthier. I showed her what I made for myself and she was full of ideas of how to add to it.

So we did!

We’ve had great fun working together, and the rough pages have developed into a 3 month journal. Complete with monthly health focuses, weekly reviews and a few creative pages (containing my groan worthy jokes – I’m sorry in advance!). We are launching it officially in October once it comes back from the printers, and will be selling on Amazon, at trade fairs and anywhere we can really!

My dream is to work with practitioners and specialists to create custom journals for their clients, and maybe one day even an app! I never thought I had the skills or the knowledge to embark on such a huge undertaking, but I’ve loved every moment so far.

 

Effective resting

When I first had my big energy crash in 2016, I spent a lot of time on the sofa bingeing Netflix. I didn’t have the energy to do active things, and I didn’t have the concentration to read. Watching trash on TV while wrapped in blankets felt like I was resting, but I soon learnt this wasn’t the case.

Once you have no energy you really notice how many things use it up! That means to rest you really need to take out all the activities that sap your energy. For example, you don’t have to be running around to get tired, thinking or concentrating can be just as tiring.

So when you are feeling tired, don’t just flop on the sofa, make the most of your down time by laying back and doing mindfulness or breathing exercises. There are plenty of apps around to help you out. You want to limit how much your senses are working in order to give your brain time to rest.

Reduce stimulation as much as possible – but don’t nap if you can help it! Sleeping in the day can get you into negative routines, the idea rest is to relax for 10min and just exist. Some people might find some relaxing music helps, but personally I enjoy some peace and quiet.

It’s an individual experience, so everyone will have different tips and tricks, but remember if you are thinking you aren’t resting, and no matter how crap the Netflix show is, you’ll always be thinking something about it!

 

 

A very spoonie holiday

I’ve talked in my last two posts about my recent setbacks, but I’ve yet to address why I’ve been struggling a bit more. As someone with CFS routine is hugely important to me, it helps me pace and keep my activities at an even level. Breaking that routine can cause me a lot of chaos.

At the start of August I went on holiday, the week before I hit a new personal best for time in the office and felt like the week away was much deserved. What I underestimated was how hard going abroad for a week would be. Not just the travel, but the holiday itself. So I’m going to try and think about the individual issues and how my future self could mitigate at least some of the struggles.

Travel

The first and most obvious hurdle was getting to the Italian villa where our family was staying. This meant a 4am start to get to the airport, although evidently not early enough as it ended up being a bit of a rush once we got there. I like to be early for any travel, flights especially. Feeling rushed was a major trigger and before we even got to the plane I was experiencing pain and fatigue from the stress. I couldn’t even have a much needed plane nap as the pain kept me uncomfortable and awake. Once we got to Italy the weather was hot and dry, luckily that wasn’t super different to the hot and humid weather back home, as drastic temperature changes always mess with me. We picked up the hire car and I made sure I wasn’t involved in navigating so I could relax in the back. The rest of the journey was uneventful, but it was a long day.

For the return journey I used the lessons I’d learnt and insisted we leave with plenty of time to get to the airport early. We got a bit lost, so I was especially glad of the extra time! I was still unnecessarily anxious to get through security and sat by the gate, but once there I could alternate between resting and stretching my legs, so once we were on the plane I was relaxed enough to nap. It was still a long day, but I noticed a huge difference in how I felt at the end of it.

So tips?

  1. Give yourself plenty of time to do things at your pace
  2. Let others be in charge of any extra thinking if you can
  3. Accept that it will be a big day and prepare for that

On Holiday

My favourite holiday pastime has always been swimming. Now that I have CFS my fitness level is much lower, and even a small amount of swimming can tire me out. So I experimented with swimming over the first two days and found that actually it isn’t so much the swimming I enjoy, but the experience of being in the water. This made things much easier as I could spend my time floating or sitting on the steps into the pool. I got to have my relaxing pool time without exhausting myself.

Day trips are always going to be a tough one for me, so I only joined the family on one during the week. I warned them in advance that if they wanted me to come along we wouldn’t be out for so long as I’d get tired. They agreed and planned that we could walk through the town we were visiting, and there was a car park at both ends, so they could fetch the car and pick me up from the one we finished at. The reality was that it was a very hilly town, we walked downhill and there was no way I’d make it back up – so the car park plan was handy. That said in the actual moment, they were reluctant to leave so soon, and realised all the restaurants were back at the top of the hill. I felt pressured to not ruin their day and attempt to climb back up the hill. Luckily my husband is very supportive and put his foot down, stopping me from pandering to the group. In the end they left us at a cafe by the car park for an hour whilst they did extra bits and we stopped for lunch on the drive back. Everyone got what they wanted from the day, and I didn’t have to do more than I could manage.

Tips?

  1. Find low impact ways to enjoy your holiday activities
  2. Discuss plans in advance of day trips to manage expectations
  3. Don’t put others’ enjoyment before your health
  4. Be ready to sit in cafes and rest (bring a book or have a buddy to chat to)

The Aftermath

The hardest part of the holiday wasn’t until we returned. Routine is a key part of my energy management and I’d been out of it for 8 days. When I tried to go back to my routine on Monday I found it very tough, I couldn’t make it the whole way to the office. By Wednesday I’d had enough and despite bad leg pain warning me I needed rest, I forced myself into work. Within minutes I was overwhelmed and had to leave. That foolishness caused me to have a bad flare up and not be in work for another week and half!

My biggest tip!

  1. Accept that the holiday will break your routine and it will take you a while to get back into things. Don’t push yourself as that will not help! Take it at your body’s pace and be patient!

Habits

They say it takes about a month of doing something every day to form a habit, however breaking that habit is often a much quicker process. Healthy habits build us up, bad habits hold us back. So what can we do to set ourselves up for success?

Teaching yourself to do something is a personal experience as everyone has a different learning style. You need to consider what you are trying to introduce into your routine and plan at the start how best to do it.

As I said everyone is different, but here are some tips that worked for me:

  1. Time of day – for me I find the morning is the best time to add a new habit, as often I get swept up in the day and forget to do things. For you first thing might not be best, but it can be a good idea to add your new activity at the beginning of a section of your day e.g. when you get home from work. If you say ‘I have to do this before I do the rest of my routine’, you don’t fall into the trap of procrastination and put it off over and over. No matter when works best for you, try to keep the time fairly consistent as that helps to build the habit into your day.
  2. Involve others – if possible (depending on what habit you are working on) including someone else in your efforts can give you added motivation. For example when I wanted to start going for a walk every day, I asked my husband to join me, that made it a bit more fun and also gave me someone to push me into doing it when I didn’t feel like it.
  3. Phrasing – another way to involve others is to talk about your new habit, but to make it an effective reinforcement you should think about your habit like a done deal. “I do this now”, rather than “I’m trying to do this”. By framing your thoughts as though it’s a done deal, you make it a certainty rather than something you might not do. It also means if you don’t do it people may mention it to you – “don’t you normally take a break now?”, to give you an added nudge!
  4. Write it down – something about putting things in writing makes them seem much more official. That can give you a positive boost towards starting this habit. You can also utilise technology to turn writing it down into a helpful reminder. At work, to encourage myself to take regular breaks I have a diary reminder (in bright red!) that pops up at the same time each day to encourage me to have some rest. I don’t have it as a recurring reminder, at the start of the week I add it in for each day, this reaffirms what I want to achieve ahead of time.
  5. Managing setbacks – the hardest part of habit forming is when you miss a day. It is very easy to think you’ve ruined your hard work and broken the habit. That negative outlook makes it really hard to pick up and carry on the next day, it’s easier to think you’ve failed and it’s over. However it’s just one day, even if you fail on day two, 50% of the time you succeeded! Any further in and the majority of the time you did great! Don’t make setbacks into a big deal or they’ll become a big deal. The only reason to think about your setback is to see if you can learn from it, is there something that you can do to avoid that happening again? Positive thinking can make all the difference!