Sunday, 26 September 2010

Weigh day 3

These are the next set of numbers for public perusal:

Bust: 42 in/106.7cm (-1)
Chest: 35.5 in/90.2cm (+1.5)
Waist: 39 in/99.1cm (+1)
Hips: 46 in/116.8cm (+1)
Thighs: 24 in/60.9cm (-2.5)
Calves: 16.5 in/41.9cm (-0.5)
Upper arm: 14 in/35.6cm (=)
Forearm: 11 in/27.9cm (=)

Body Fat %: 52.4% (47.5kg/7st 6lb/104lbs) (-0.3%)
Visceral Fat: 8 (0 Normal) (=)
BMI: 33.4 (Obese) (+0.1)
Weight: 14st 4lb/90.9kg/200lbs (+1lb/+0.2kg)

My Body Fat has gone down by a small percentage but my weight has gone up by a pound, that seems to be a weird pattern forming. Every time my weight goes up my fat percentage goes down, and every time I lose weight my fat goes up! My husband tells me that it's something to do with maths and percentages which I've never been too good at. I'm just glad my weight hasn't increased too much, it's just a single pound gained.

It seems to be my legs turn to lose some inches, my thighs have reduced by two and a half inches which is great and my calves have reduced by half an inch. My waist and hips have put an inch back on but these are still fairly promising results, nothing has dramatically changed which is good.

To be honest I have really, really struggled these past two weeks. I've had massive motivational problems with getting up and doing my walks, the initial problem started when I needed to get new walking trainers. My old ones were fairly ancient and I came home after one walk with blisters all across the bottom of my feet which stopped me doing the walk for a few days, when I got new trainers I got blisters across the top of my feet because they were new which again stopped me from walking as it was too painful. This had now broken the momentum and routine of the walk every two days. I'm the sort of person who needs a regimented routine to stick to, if I even have a break of one day then it shatters the pattern and I need to play catch-up until I regain the pattern.

Another major factor is the change from Summer to Autumn, which happened on the 21st of September. It's been quite a sudden and rapid change in temperature, the days have been gloriously sunny and very hot and now in the space of a week it's been stark clear skies and absolutely freezing outside. My head and heart have just not been in it, which is also why there hasn't been many blog posts recently, I've been letting life issues and worries impact on my weight loss goal. Psychology and what state your head is in plays a massive part in weight loss, so much so that you could 'Win or Lose' because of it, ask anyone who's struggled with their weight over the years and they will tell you the same thing.

I will cover psychology in another blog, for now I will be thankful that my relapse of enthusiasm hasn't done too much damage to my overall progress. I will just have to find a warmer top to go walking in and actually get some exercise done, we've managed to locate my coloured plastic weights from storage now so I can get some proper weights work done. I'll sign off for now, happy Autumn!

Friday, 17 September 2010

A Flat Tummy

I have been asked by a member of my family "What is the best way to get rid of stomach fat?" It's the ultimate goal for weight loss isn't it, a flat tummy and, if you want, washboard Abs! After doing a bit of research on the Interwebs and reading what I've picked up from Gyms in the past, unfortunately the best way to get a flat stomach is to get your heart rate going. you need to mainly do Cardiovascular (Heart, Lungs and Circulation) exercise, running, jogging, walking, dancing, swimming, skipping (jump rope) or cycling.

I found that this site here had a lot of very handy tips. As it says, you can do as many sit ups and crunches as you like, but if you've still got a layer of fat covering them they're going to be hidden. By all means do the sit ups and stomach toning but you need to get rid of the fat first!!

The method that a lot of fad diet sites - and people trying to sell you expensive equipment - use is to tell you that by targeting one specific area of the body you only lose weight in that area of the body. It's not true at all, it's called 'Spot Toning' and it's a gimmick. You can’t just target one area to lose fat from, the fat isn't contained in neat little bags that you empty one at a time. It's like a bath full of water, if you take some out of the middle then the level of the whole bath goes down. If you do Cardio work then the fat level of the entire body goes down, there's no quick solution for a flat stomach I'm afraid!

A good tip one of my friends told me, and it seems to be repeated in quite a few health sites, was that you can start out walking to get your heart pumping, then jog for a while then walk again until you've got your breath back then jog again. Repeat until you get back home and your heart and lungs would have had a really good exercise. I think this method is called 'Interval training'. This site here has a pretty good explanation. I’d also suggest having a poddle around the rest of the site, it’s got quite a few good articles but, like a lot of the sites on bodybuilding, some of the advice can be a bit extreme and full of supplements!

The NHS website has this advice for Cardio exercise:

"Adults should get a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity, five days a week."

The trick is that if you don't have a spare half hour in your day, and I know a lot of people don't, split it into three 10 + minute workouts or brisk walks! The effects are cumulative, it all adds up during the day. I find this better to do, it makes you think you've been active all day rather than doing one big 30min push and then sitting down for the rest of the day!

The 'Flat Stomach' website I found has three great exercises, one for each part of you abdomen: upper, lower and obliques (sides or 'Love handles'). It's on the page called 'The Best Abdominal Exercises for a Flat Stomach' here. I am definitely doing these three, I want to tone as much as lose fat and these are very good low impact exercises. A word of advice to the ladies, doing the obliques too much can thicken your waist and make it look less feminine!

Talking of sit-ups there is a word of caution, they can be quite bad for you as they grind the vertebrae in your spine and could make things worse. Stick to crunches as a slightly better alternative, if you want to strengthen your lower back to help with back pain and posture these sites here, here, and here all have brilliant tips for lower back exercises.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Weigh day 2

My second weigh day had arrived, the '+/-' symbols are changes and the '=' is the same. Right, here we go:

Bust: 43 in/109.2cm (=)                   
Chest: 34 in/86.4cm (-1in)                       
Waist: 38 in/96.5cm (-2in)                       
Hips: 45 in/114.3cm (-2in)                       
Thighs: 26.5 in/67.3cm (-1in)                       
Calves: 17 in/43.2cm (=)                       
Upper arm: 14 in/35.6cm (-0.5in)                       
Forearm: 11 in/27.9cm (=)

Body Fat %: 52.7% (47.8kg/7st 7lb/105lbs) (+1.2%)
Visceral Fat: 8 (0 Normal) (=)
BMI: 33.3 (Obese) (-0.7)
Weight: 14st 3lb/90.7kg/199lbs (-5lb/2kg)

To say I'm a tad confused by these results is an understatement! My chest and thighs have reduced by one inch, my waist and hips have reduced by two inches, upper arms have reduced by half an inch. My fat percentage has gone up by a tiny amount but I have, apparently, lost five pounds in overall weight.

It appears that after two weeks of trying things start to happen, over the first two weeks I was building up my Cardio fitness to a point where my body could actually start metabolising properly. Some of it may be a reduction of water retension but I can't imagine that all of it will be, the most positive thing is that my body shape is changing and reducing.

The tape measurements have been constant, I barely saw any change at all at the last measuring as my tummy and hips were the same. Those are my 'problem areas' as I seem to collect weight in the usual places women do, my tummy and my bum need to reduce quite a bit!

After a month of hard work walking up sand dunes and around Cardiff, the comparison between the very first measurements I took and todays measurements are as follows:

Bust: +0.5in/1.3cm
Chest: -0.5in/1.3cm                       
Waist: -2in/5.1cm                       
Hips: -2in/5.1cm                       
Thighs: -1in/2.5cm                       
Calves: =                       
Upper arm: =                       
Forearm: =

Body Fat %: -0.2%
Visceral Fat: =
BMI: -0.7
Weight: -4lb/1.8kg

Nearly all of the measurements have either stayed the same or reduced, in short it's working - very slowly - but it's working! In a month I've lost 4lbs, the exercise is paying off! :D.

Thursday, 9 September 2010


There were a few articles in newspapers and magazines recently that have gotten me thinking, everyone knows that mass media has been cited as the cause of people feeling they need to be thin and beautiful to be accepted. Media has had the blame piled high but is it actually magazines and TV that have caused this, does it go a lot deeper than that?

My main educational background has been in the arts, paint on paper mostly but I've seen such a broad range from sculpture to living art that I feel fairly comfortable talking about the subject. Art in any form is about getting you and your work noticed, it's all about screaming from the rooftops "This is ME, this is what I can do!" It's no different now than thousands of years ago with the creation of the Pyramids and the Sphinx statues in Egypt, however those craftsmen were nameless when they created them, they were doing it for the good of the Gods rather than personal glory so there was no reason to say who had made them.

Ancient art is fascinating but most of the information gleaned from it is either very technical, or guesswork using what we know of the period it was made in. One piece I've always found beautiful yet puzzling is a tiny sculpture, only 11cm/4.3 inches high, of a woman called "The Venus of Willendorf"

A few technical details: She is made out of 'Oolitic limestone' (I love that name!) and painted with red ochre - a really rich terracotta red. She is thought to have been made between 24,000-22,000 BCE, which makes her at least 25,000 years old. She was found in 1908 by the Archaeologist Josef Szombathy, near the town of Willendorf in Austria, and is currently making her home in the Natural History Museum Vienna. The Oolitic limestone that she's carved from isn't found naturally in the Willendorf area so, the best guess is, she was made somewhere else and travelled in with someone.

I think this tiny sculpture is a marvel, there have been many Archaeological experts and artists who have pondered and wondered over this sculpture: Is it a fertility goddess, is it a representation of Mother Earth? They all seem to want to believe that she is an idealised form of a woman, I've not really heard anyone say yet "Well, hang on. Couldn't he have just seen a big woman he really liked and made a sculpture of her?" They haven't really entertained the idea that a big woman could have absolutely stunned a passing bloke enough to want to make a model of her for all eternity, a lot of them are looking at it from an entirely modern viewpoint.

Whoever carved this - man or woman - was quite frankly an amazing sculptor. This ancient Stone Age relative of ours had a staggering grasp of anatomy and the human form equal, even better in some cases, to the sculptors living today. Just look at her, if this was modelled from life then I applaud them. If this was - as most believe - an idealised form of a woman and not done from life then this person was equal to the great masters! They have got all of the areas where fat commonly collects on women correct, they have got it to hang correctly. Even going as far as to put the 'dimple' just above the bum where our monkey tails used to be. (Humans still have a tiny tailbone, it's called the Coccyx and it hurts like hell if you damage it!) She’s got her arms folded over her breasts, like a lot of pregnant women do with their baby bump. Her head is a little strange, it’s not been decided whether the bobbles on her head are braided hair or a woven hat pulled down over her face. Whatever this is it has made a faceless form, a body without identity.

Women of this size aren't uncommon in history, certainly not in Africa. In Africa a big woman was a sign of great wealth and prosperity as the woman's family had enough to eat that they could overeat! It is regarded as the accepted beautiful figure. There was a series on the BBC called 'The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency' set in Botswana, South Africa. The lead character in the series was 'Mma Precious Ramotswe', played beautifully by American soul, jazz, R&B artist, songwriter and actress Jill Scott, who sets up a detective agency. She's a larger lady and in one of the episodes she goes undercover to solve a case, another character makes reference to the fact that she "Didn't think my son preferred women with a classical figure."

If you're skinny then you must be poor as you can't afford enough to eat. This, ironically, has become a problem for some girls in Africa. Some of the tribes actively force feed their daughters on milk and fat rich cheeses to make them larger and a more attractive prospect for bringing wealth into the tribe, this is causing a lot of health problems amongst certain tribes in some areas! The problem is being addressed by different organisations but it proves that wherever you are, Body Image always manages to creep in.

A societies historical concept of beauty will always influence how the populous see themselves, there is very little 'mass media' in Africa yet everyone knows what a beautiful woman is meant to look like and some tribes are going to damaging lengths to achieve this - all with completely good intentions for their daughters. It's very easy to put the blame on the media, admittedly they don't help themselves, but there is always an underlying established constant that is generally maintained.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

The Dune of Doom

Yesterday I decided to do something different for my walking routine; me and my husband went to a place called Candlestone in Bridgend, South Wales. This was not a holiday trip, oh no. As part of my fitness quest I decided to attempt the 'Dune of Doom'!

I will explain a bit more about Candlestone, it's a gorgeous campsite in the middle of a forest quite a way from anywhere else. Apart from having the campsite it also includes a scrubland Nature Reserve which then leads on to the largest area of Sand Dunes in Europe, so big in fact that parts of the film 'Lawrence of Arabia' were made there!

As my friends will know, from many trips to the dunes, I don't often go with you and I will explain why. It was very embarrassing for me, I am so horrendously unfit that it would only take five minutes or so before I was miles behind the rest of you, red faced and gasping for breath like a crippled ninety year old. I would then feel completely self conscious and that would set off a panic. I would never get to the encounter before it finished so I decided that I just wouldn't go.

I don't want it to be like that anymore, so I'm going to do something about it. We now only live about forty minutes away from the site so it's an easy trip, walking and running through sand is much harder than normal so if I go dune walking it's going to be a better workout for me.

The 'Dune of Doom' is a particular dune quite a way in, it's height is comparable to a six storey building and it's very steep. Perfect :D. The first photo is of the initial slope with me for scale, the others are the journey up:
Now, the photos make it look flat... believe me it isn't! There is a slope, and it's very soft powdery sand so you're sinking in and fighting that all the time. There is the slope then a flat bit, then it goes back down and then back up twice as far. There's another flat bit then the last huge slope through spiky bushes to the top! When I got to the top I was stunned by the view, the sea was about three miles away but I felt like I could have reached out and touched it! I was grumbling about how hard it was to walk up this hill and my hubby said he could explain, so here is his explanation about:

"The Biomechanics of Walking on hills and why it hurts.

There are two parts to hill walking that work against you. The first is the most obvious: The ground is not flat. upright bipedal creatures like us humans walk in a state of "arrested fall", the next time you are walking analyse what your legs are doing. Lets isolate one leg alone - You swing it forward and contact the ground, then like an upside down pendulum we rock over the foot. If we didn't catch ourselves the leg would continue to the floor. Instead you swing the other leg forward and stop (arrest) the fall and do it all over again. This is a very energy efficient system as all you are doing is permanently defying gravities efforts to get you to fall over.

Now compare with climbing, here we are not using an arrested fall, we raise the leg and engage the foot at a point above us. We now lift ourselves up and beyond that balance point using the thigh muscles before overstretching with a bent knee to catch the next part of hill. Think of hill climbing as a flattened set of stairs. This is very inefficient as we have to overcome gravity rather than bend it to our whim. The second part is bound up in this, every step you take you are lifting your full weight on one leg.

This may seem stupid, you are always lifting your weight. Consider again normal walking, you actually lock the grounded leg into a column that then pendulums forward. You are not lifting your weight, you are maintaining its height. Think about it, it is easy to hold yourself in the "up" part of a press up, once you disengage the locked arms and muscles take over that is when it becomes hard. Hill walking is all about the "down" part of a press up. Now that I have confused you all utterly, consider this:

Go to a step near you. Step up it slowly and feel where the muscles are working. Every single stride is like that on a hill and the heavier you are? The harder it is. Every single step I take up a hill is the equivalent of lifting all my nineteen stones on one leg.

Now add into the equation the fact that you are not on a step where your foot is flat, at the optimum angle. It is on a slope, your ankle is overextended and at its weakest point (I might do a couple of paragraphs on muscle biomechanics if people want it sometime). You have to use more energy to overcome this inertia than when on a flat step (that's why we don't have ramps in our houses!). Finally add in what me and Lucy did (because we are apparently masochists) and make the surface soft yielding sand. Every step you take wastes energy sinking you into the ground and maintaining balance. So that is why walking up sand dunes is such good exercise! Class dismissed."