New blogging gig and a commitment to cycling

So I’m now also going to be blogging over on the Broken Spoke website.

Here’s my first post for them, about the time those nasty people stole the wheels off my bike.

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What is a bicycle? A frame and a pair of wheels? A method of getting from point A to point B?

To me, a bicycle is freedom. Freedom that I’d taken for granted until one day a couple of months ago when I returned home from a weekend away to see only part of my bike locked to the lamp post where I had left it. Thieves had taken both my wheels, leaving a sad looking slightly rusted frame.

The bike wasn’t worth much. It was Halford’s cheapest option, eight years ago when I first started at university and didn’t know anything about cycling (or life). In fact, I still don’t know anything much about bicycle maintenance. My eight year old bike had been severely neglected, left out in the rain, never oiled and barely washed. My housemate concluded that buying replacement wheels would cost more that the whole thing was worth, so I unlocked the frame (which disappeared about two hours later).

The following week was one of frustration. Frustration at waiting for the bus that should have arrived ten minutes ago, frustration at the walk home that was taking so long, frustration at having to carry heavy shopping bags that would otherwise have been in a basket. I felt so held back by the extra time it took to get places and by being at the mercy of the Oxford Bus Company.

Now I’m back in the saddle, and it’s incredible. Right the first ride on my new bike when I’d felt the wind against my face. I was moving so fast!

I vowed never to take cycling for granted again. This time, I’m going to learn to look after my bike properly, keep it safe, and use it more than ever. Like Carlene Thomas-Bailey I can barely identify a pump. But with the help of Broken Spoke, I’m going to become an expert. Watch this space.

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This is how well my half marathon training is going

These are things I’ve done this week:

  • Discovered where my nearest Hobbycraft store is.
  • Played about with beads and pins and polystyrene balls.
  • Watched Guardians of the Galaxy.
  • Bought a new bike.
  • Bought a superior bike lock.
  • Learnt how to play Werewolves.
  • Picked a new housemate.
  • Become the owner of a pair of skinny jeans that don’t have an elasticated waistband.
  • Made a bake-off inspired cardamom, coffee and pistachio swiss roll with my friends.
  • Learnt that it’s cardamom and not cardamon.
  • Crocheted a lot.
  • Discovered that blush wine is a thing.
  • Learnt that I like blush wine.

 

These are the things I haven’t done this week:

  • Gone for a run.

5 steps to my perfect body

At the weekend my Mum told me she had decided she needed to lose weight, and that could I offer any advice: “Because you look great but you’re always eating.” I told her what I tell anyone when they say something like this to me: “You don’t need to lose weight.” In my experience, people don’t hate their bodies because they need to lose weight, they hate their bodies because they hate their bodies.

Losing weight won’t stop you hating your body. I should know, I hated my body for years. Years wasted being frightened of food, either eating too little or inhaling vast quantities of the stuff before spending hours in the bathroom with my fingers down my throat. Years thinking that I couldn’t wear the kind of clothes I wanted to, thinking I would never be one of those girls who go out looking hot, or who could have sex with the lights on.

There was never anything wrong with how I looked, but I always thought I needed to lose weight. Until I learnt how to love how I looked (then ironically, I did lose weight).

So that would be my advice to anyone who want to lose weight: learn how to love your body. Your new found happiness and lack of anxiety about food might, like me, cause you to drop a few pounds. But if you don’t it won’t matter, because you’ll be seeing the real awesome you, not a number on a scale.

It’s difficult to break out of that negative cycle of poor body image. I’m lucky now to be in a place where I can laugh at all the shit people talk about it. And they do talk a lot of shit. Only recently, somebody told me I looked great and asked if I was on a diet. I told her I wasn’t, adding that it was most probably caused by anxiety. She replied, without hesitation, “Oh so maybe I should get a long term boyfriend, then break up with him, and I might lose weight.” I’m not kidding. I’ve also been told how good I look when I’ve been really ill. I even met people in India who were trying to get tapeworms because they were so desperate to lose weight. That’s how messed up we are about body image: we would risk heartache and disease to have more slender thighs.

So I can’t tell you what will work for you, but I can tell you what worked for me. It’s been a long old journey, but here are the things that happened that helped me love how my body looks.

  1. I escaped Western culture for six months while I worked for a charity serving a slum community in India. I didn’t see any magazines or any television. I dressed in traditional shalwar kameez: designed to hide my figure but always in the most beautiful colours and fabrics. I also had a reality check, coming across people who had what I perceived to be very little: but who were generous, house-proud and almost always hopeful. After half a year of twice daily curries, amazing street food, and super sweet tea I weighed two stone more than when I arrived. But I was more confident about how I looked than I had ever been.
  2. When I returned to the UK I took up running to release the pent up frustration that comes from a long distance relationship and fruitless job searching. I learnt to love my body because of what it can do. My chunky thighs mean that I can run up hills without stopping. I am strong. I can do anything.
  3. I got paid to take my clothes off. At a party, someone tells me that she models for life drawing classes and that the artist she works for is always looking for different bodies: would I be interested? I immediately dismiss it but can’t seem to start thinking about the idea. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be confident enough to model naked in front of a room full of people? I became a life model and find it not to be awkward or embarrassing  but liberating, empowering and also really meditative. I always left classes buzzing, and at £12 an hour it paid more than my office job at the time.
  4. I learnt how to cook good nourishing food. I slowly teach myself not to be afraid of it any more. I’ve always been a foodie, but had previously only associated eating with guilt. Learning to make it helped me get over this, and enabled me to start enjoying going out to eat. Now I can’t stop eating, or talking about food. I daydream about flavour combinations and what I’m going to cook for dinner.
  5. I wear what I like. Not what blogs or magazines say petite pear-shaped women should wear, but exactly what I want. I don’t dress in what I believe to work well for my figure, or to hide the bad bits (there are no bad bits!) I dress in what makes me feel awesome.

So to summarise, I suppose my advice would be: stop reading magazines, stop believing what you see on TV, get moving and get naked. Don’t let anybody tell you what to eat and don’t let anybody tell you what to wear. Be awesome, be bad-ass, and be you. Not you in a smaller dress size: you.

The week in photos

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The blanket I’ve been working on is looking more like a blanket now I’ve started to crochet the individual squares together. I spent a blissful Sunday morning listening to music and crocheting. As I found it so therapeutic, I’ve resolved to put aside time every week for just me, some good music and my latest creative project.

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I’ve also had time this week to hang out with my sister. It always amazes me how you can barely see someone for months on end and yet within five minutes of reuniting you’re laughing and chatting like no time has passed at all.

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Since I committed myself to run a half marathon in the Spring and felt under pressure to spend any free time running, I’d forgotten how much I enjoy a long walk.  Last week I felt really exhausted and just didn’t feel like a run. But instead of collapsing on the sofa and feeling like a failure, I dragged myself out of the house to explore a local meadow and take some photographs. After fifteen minutes of gentle exercise in the sunshine I felt so much better. I was reminded my body needs a variety of movement and I shouldn’t get fixated on having to go for an hour long run or nothing at all.

The Best Kind of Exercise is Accidental

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My grandpa’s vegetable garden has one of my favourite ever views.

I spent Saturday outside in my grandparents’ garden. As I was digging, hoeing, planting, sweeping, lifting and wheel-barrowing in the sunshine, I couldn’t help but wonder why people pay a £50+ a month gym membership to exercise inside.

I used to have a gym membership. I used to force myself to drive for ten minutes to run or bike or row while staring at a TV screen. I didn’t go as much as I thought I should have done (does anybody?) so I felt guilty and miserable and found it even more difficult to motivate myself. I assumed it was because I hated exercise. In fact, it’s because there are few things more depressing than cycling for half an hour without going anywhere.

One day I couldn’t face going to the gym. I listened to my body and did what I wanted to do: I went for a run. I remember it because it was one of the most enjoyable runs I’ve ever been on. I ran alongside a canal: it was beautiful, it was sunny, and I quite literally had a spring in my step as I saw the scenery change around me. I had found my freedom from the treadmill and it was amazing.

I realised that I love being active, I just hate the gym. I cancelled my membership. I saved money, spent more time outside and, perhaps surprisingly, I started doing more exercise.

As well as gardening over the bank holiday, I also went on several walks and a 17 mile bike ride. I didn’t do any of this to “do some exercise” or to lose weight. I did it to grow things, to tidy things, to get to the pub, to spend time with friends and family.

So if you’re struggling to do enough exercise I’d recommend you forget it. Get outside, do what you enjoy, meet friends for walks instead of (or as well as) dinner. Cycle to get places, run to feel the breeze on your face. The best kind of exercise is accidental.

Excitement: Habits To Increase My Energy Levels

I really didn’t want to get up this morning. This worries me because I’m not always like this. If I’m excited about something, I want to jump out of bed and get started on it as quickly as possible. I want to be excited about my life, every day. I don’t care if that sounds idealistic, I don’t think it’s out of anybody’s reach.

It’s easy to get really settled into a routine and think that’s your life. But as soon as you start to think ‘urgh, do I have to do this?’ in the morning, perhaps it’s time to mix it up a little.

I know what I enjoy, or at least what makes me happier and more energised in the long run. But I often don’t do these things because it’s easier in the short term not do, or they require me being a bit organised.

But it’s really worth developing good habits. In the words of Sarah Kathleen Peck ‘There are a hundred ways to not be happy—your job is to keep trying until you find the way that works.’ I have some of the bigger things covered: an interesting job, a lovely house, and an amazing boyfriend. Now I want to spend the next few months trying some things out that I suspect will make me happy, and seeing if they work.

Firstly, these are going to be:

  1. Not collapsing on the sofa on my return from work and watching things I have no real desire to watch on the television.
  2. Using the spare time to keep on top of clutter and do something creative each day.
  3. Cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. It makes such a difference to come down to clear clean surfaces in the morning rather than chaos that smells a little.
  4. Going for a lunch-break run on Tuesdays and Thursdays (fulfilling my need for ‘getting out of the office’, ‘being outdoors’ and ‘exercise’)
  5. Eating proper food. Stop using chocolate and caffeine as short term energy boosters.
  6. Making time to really connect with friends, offline.

Has anyone else been trying out lifestyle changes? How have they worked. Let me know in the comments.