The Best Exercises for Happiness

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It’s the dreaded beach body season. The adverts abound with images of the body beautiful, all toned, all tanned, all lithe and long and frankly lacking the common touch. Very few of us look like models, even on our best days. I’ve noticed an increase in the quantity of diets on offer too on social media. Not to mention some ‘new’ diets: The Keto diet, the 16/18 diet and so on.

Diets don’t work. Bare fact is that dieting is at best only a temporary solution. The body of scientific evidence and research demonstrates that the average person on the average diet regains all their lost weight and often more. We need to stop thinking about weight loss as a goal and start shifting perspectives about how to maintain healthy weights and, importantly, encourage people to feel happier about themselves.

And this is where exercise is important. Any exercise. It doesn’t have to be glamorous, or in colour co-ordinated kit, in expensive kit or in an organised manner. It just has to get you moving and, ideally, having fun. Like pausing on a beach on wild Summers’ day, post kayaking, to frog balance, just for fun. Sure I don’t look fabulous but that’s entirely the point!

So here’s my guide to exercising for happiness:

  1. Exercise your ability to get outdoors
  2. Exercise your body in any way that suits your physiology, budget and time
  3. Exercise your right to occupy space, whatever your weight and body type
  4. Exercise your belief that you are enough as you are
  5. Exercise not comparing yourselves to others
  6. Exercise putting your phone away
  7. Exercise restraint with treats, one a day works well as a guide
  8. Exercise caution with alcohol, it’s a depressant and, if you’re struggling to stay positive, it’s unlikely to be helpful
  9. Exercise skepticism about quick fixes, diets and cleanses – they’re after your money not your wellbeing
  10. Exercise delight in everything your body can do, how it functions, how well it carries you through life not how it appears
  11. Exercise pride in a body that has nourished life, withstood disease or accident and bears the scars
  12. Exercise love for yourself not envy of others. They are probably on their own journey of acceptance
  13. Exercise working to long term goals
  14. Exercise the beauty of rewards for accomplishments, be proud of yourself
  15. Exercise happiness in the fact that change only comes to those who make changes, however small – they’re significant

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A Thigh Gap Sigh

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusreddittumblrmailI read a comment on a social media picture the other day complimenting a woman upon her thigh gap. The thigh gap, if you don’t know, is the area of space between your thighs. Yes, that area of completely empty space about your person is something that other people (women) covet. Apparently.

Wikipedia cite it as “A thigh gap is a space between the inner thighs of some women when standing upright with knees touching. A thigh gap has become an aspect of physical attractiveness that has been associated with fragility and femininity”

I’d give a more reputable definition except, of course, for most people – this really isn’t ‘a thing’ but for some people it is ‘the thing’ But here’s ‘my thing’… I’ve always had a ‘thigh gap’ here it is…

How entirely unremarkable I hear you say. I agree. Thing is, I’m really squeezing here to get my knees together because, for most of my life this ‘thigh gap’ which is recently desirable has always been known as rather ‘bandy legs’ et voila…

The fresh air between my legs through which daylight can shine has been an object of both derision and admiration. Let me say that again – the FRESH AIR BETWEEN MY LEGS…

When we start celebrating gaps in our being, our reduced size, our lack of physical presence aren’t we effectively rubbing ourselves out? Diminishing our very beings and desiring to appear less and less substantial? And isn’t that jolly damaging? I’d say it is most entirely damaging. Thinspo (thin inspiration) posts abound about how to get said thigh gap (and mine does go all the way up but I was wearing a dress and decorum dictates that I don’t reveal my gusset to the World). The stark fact is that most women will never have one – they’re not made that way. Back in the day – they’d have probably been glad about it ‘cos being bandy-legged wasn’t at all desirable.  Being healthy and fit and strong should surely be a goal but aiming for a thigh gap or congratulating a woman for having one is nonsensical.

And finally, I take issue with being seen as fragile because of my thigh gap. Those legs are damn strong and muscular. There’s precious little fragility about them. They’ve carried me through marathon walks, up mountains, trotted through many a bog and squatted to within an inch of their life. They’ve been ripped, torn, scratched, bruised, cut and often ache with fatigue at the end of a long day. There’s nothing fragile about them – or me. I just happen to have rather bandy legs and I like them that way. And if yours carry you through life – you should like yours too – because that is exactly what they are for, not for others to judge.

 

Be More – Never Less.

 

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Weight loss diets and other myths

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusreddittumblrmailI’ve been working with a young lady recently who wanted to lose a little weight. She knew she’d been eating really unhealthily and she wanted to make some changes. Initially she tried herself, cutting back a bit on the obvious things: takeaways, Irn bru, that sort of thing. To replace the junk food she had been eating she took to the supermarket shelves to try to make healthier choices. Therein lies the problem – dazzled by the array of products promising weight loss, health benefits and detoxification – she was swayed. She spent a small fortune and lo and behold the products made no difference whatsoever to either her weight or her well being.

Fortunately, she came to me and bit by bit we’ve detangled the myths that she believed. Myths that are promoted by womens’ magazines, by product advertising AND by older women she spoke to at work for example. The myths usually involve dieting, fasting, low-fat products or some sort of faddy juice cleanse. People really believe that nonsense unfortunately and what’s worse, they’re passing those myths onto our young ladies.

Here’s the thing. Weigh loss diet’s don’t work. Show me the Slimmer of the year 5 years later. Virtually all crash or calorie restricted dieters will regain at least some of the weight but most will regain more! The body does not like dieting, it will resist and fight every attempt to lose weight, it will drive you to indulge cravings and binge. Your body works by homeostasis – the biological mechanism to keep the status quo.

Another thing. Fat is not what is making you fat. Sugar is what is making you fat. If you believe otherwise you’ve been duped by the sugar manufacturers who funded much of the low fat research In fact, HIGHER fat diets are likely to help you lose weight. I’m not talking Atkins Diet here but the Mediterranean diet – high in olive and fish oils.Halved and whole fresh avocado pear with the pip showing the texture of the soft tasty fleshy pulp on a white background

The lady I have been working with has made significant changes. She has learned how to label check, to check low-fat products for added sugar and to avoid completely products with added sugars. She’s learned that her body treats processed white carbohydrates like sugar so she’s switched to wholemeal. She’s started planning her meals, taking 10 minutes to make healthy, colourful lunches and then taking a picture to share with a work colleague which is a really effective motivation tool. Get a pal to make changes with you and keep each other motivated – save the slimming club fees! Social support is important so her family are supporting her and she’s relearning how to live a healthier life. She’s focusing upon health choices not weight loss. She knows that by making these changes that weight loss will happen gradually and safely and it’s a marathon not a sprint. Plus, any weight she does lose she will be more likely to keep off as she is working with her body and not against it.  She has treats at the weekend and she is likely to be building good habits for her lifetime.

Free Stock Photo: Healthy fruit breakfast with a bowl of raisins, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries served with thick creamy yoghurt

Don’t be that person who passes myths onto our young people. Don’t foist your insecurities about your body or your ignorance about what’s really in our food onto the next generation.  It’s hard enough for them in this global, digital world without giving them bad food habits for life.

Check the labels – make informed choices!

 

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Feminism is a Dirty Word

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusreddittumblrmailMy Social Media feed is FULL of feminism. It’s wonderful that such an empowering movement is gathering traction in the mainstream media (MSM). I’m not sure that everyone outside of the movement, however, actually knows quite what feminism is and how it should function.

Let me help. For me, feminism is about equality of opportunity. Men and women are not equal, they are different. That shouldn’t mean that they don’t have the same access to fundamental rights but calling it ‘equality’ allows for easy criticisms to be made about why men are more suited to this physically and women to that emotionally and blah blah blah. Using the term equality allows the justification of the status quo.  Worryingly, the most damning critiques of feminism I have seen in the last few days have been from women themselves. Women who are perpetuating the myth that feminism=men hating. That feminism exists to put men down. Sadly, these commentators are fuelling anti women sentiments with their ill informed commentaries.

Feminism is about equality of opportunity for EVERYONE but from a female perspective ‘cos, you know – we’re (mostly but not all) girls. I am just as concerned about fathers lack of parental rights and access as I am about women’s access to reproductive control. I hope that trans women feel accepted as feminists too, irrespective of their birth gender. You can use the same toilet as me any day of the week, well, when I say the same, I mean the next cubicle obviously. It’s not a white movement either because arguably white women are more privileged than women of colour and that needs addressing along with everything else.

I’ve read blogs from well educated but ill-informed ladies who state that there isn’t a problem with employment, that we’re smashing the glass ceiling so stop moaning. Completely missing the point that the fricken ceiling has no right to be there in the first place. You only have to look at the panel CNN assembled to discuss the recent women’s marches to see patriarchy in force. Gender balance – eh no! 8 white men and 1 white woman? How’s that for completely missing the point! There is a substantial gender pay gap. Interestingly the gap gets wider if calculated upon mean incomes across men and women but the standard measure is the median. Guess which statistic is most frequently used? You got it – the one with the narrower gap. You can get your statistic geek on here.

Now criticising the gender balance of the CNN panel doesn’t mean that those people have no right to comment, it just highlights how narrow the viewpoint is likely to be and how unlikely it is to be supportive or understanding of the key issues at stake. There’s no real balance. There’s so much misinformation out there and feminism is really a dirty word to many, a fair and representative platform to discuss it would have been a sensible start…

Why is this on my blog? Because size, weight and body image are all social constructs. They are all dictated to and commented upon by the world and I could argue that women’s bodies are under as much threat as ever before. In such an enlightened society why do we have boobs for sale on top shelf magazines but not always permitted socially for nursing? Who made that rule up? Why is it ok to comment on a woman’s appearance before her abilities? I’m no fan of Theresa May but for the love of God, I never heard much about DC’s suits – gie it a rest eh? When women are in newspapers, for example, they are typically objectified in some way. Take this example of images cut from The Sun newspaper over a period of 6 months…sun picturesThen tell me again that there isn’t a representation issue…

I defend anyone’s right to bare their body as they choose but in a system where those images are bought and traded and the people are portrayed as objects – then I have a problem. It’s increasingly popular I note to have bare torsoed men for women to drool over – that’s not ok either. That’s the most appalling double standard. I see many women my age posting such images and doubtless they intend it in a harmless manner BUT if their partners were to do the same with scantily clad women? There would be an outcry and possibly a public stoning! This is where feminism stands. Right at the point where there is an unfairness, a lack of representation, a lack of access, control or power. And not just for women but about women and those they care about; their partners, children and friends. Of all sexes and genders (and yes – there are more than two…).

Don’t we all want a better, more just future for our families? Next time you see some anti-feminist bile remember this. It serves those in power to reject alternative ideas, to disempower those who seek to share power, to those who deserve position. Those men in suits are not about to move over and share their toys with the rest of us, just make sure you’re not helping them by decrying the very movement that wants the best of opportunity for all those who seek a fairer, more just world.

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Is Trying To Be Healthy making You Ill?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusreddittumblrmailChances are you’re probably not. But it’s a growing problem! In a letter to The Psychologist magazine, Rachel Lisle talks of the dangers of Orthorexia, the eating disorders ‘prettier’ sister. Orthorexia is a fixation with ‘clean’ eating and having a slim, fit, toned body. All good I hear you say? Who doesn’t harbour secret desires to live the perfect life, have the perfect body?

On the face of it, orthorexia doesn’t seem so bad. We’ve all seen the anorexia horror pictures, people lying on towels as their skin is so thin, and their bones so prominent, that the hard bath surface can tear at their flesh. We know of the vicious cycle of bulimia, the gorging and purging. The intense shame people experience as they ‘give in’ to temptation and then how inducing vomit helps them to regain ‘control’ over their appetite. These are well known but orthorexia is no better an experience for the sufferer. An inability to eat sensibly, to fuel the body adequately, a complete obsession with fitness to the point where the sufferer is exhausted, every ounce of energy used.

The problem, as Rachel highlights beautifully, is that the orthorexia sufferer’s behaviour seems relatively normal. Worse, people aspire to it. Social Media abounds with pictures of thin, fit people with enviable bodies chugging back a spinach smoothie. It’s hard not to get sucked into that image, that lifestyle, that desire to be ‘perfect.’fruit-stix-cucumber-1329156

 

This is why I will never use the term ‘clean eating,’ I will never discuss weight loss as an aspirational state nor will I ever advocate complete abstinence from anything.

Health is a balance; mental, physical, emotional or spiritual – we have to be in balance to be happy and to be well. I always tell people to treat themselves at least once a day, never to starve themselves. Don’t ever have good or bad food days – there are no good or bad foods really – just bad balance.

Life should never be all or none, black or white. I follow an 80/20 rule. I love my healthy vegan lifestyle, I truly do. I feel great and I love that I am no longer reliant on alcohol as a weekend right. I enjoy not being on a sugar rollercoaster crashing down and flying up on sugar highs. I do think it’s a rewarding and calming way to live but in balance. I don’t deny myself anything, I just store up a treat each day, relish it and know that I deserve to indulge a little as I am treating my body so well. The road to dissatisfaction and regret is paved with people who try too hard. Who think they can be ‘good’ all the time. What nonsense. Emotionally and mentally, our health improves as we are kind to ourselves. I believe in being kind to your physical wellbeing as much as you can. Stay active, eat well but for goodness sake, give yourself a break too!

Spoiler: I ain’t perfect – I had a chip butty for my supper last night washed down with a Punk IPA and dang it felt good.

 

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I lost half a stone in a week – that’s good isn’t it?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusreddittumblrmailWait what? Half a stone – in a week? no that’s not good. Not in any way or by any measure. That’s an unsafe and unsustainable weight loss.

Hang on – you’re 13? What the….

The Keep it Real Campaign estimate that just over half of all 13 year olds have weight concerns and have dabbled with diets. This concern with image is found in children as young as 6!

It’s not just girls but boys tend to be under different pressures: to bulk up, to be beefier, to add muscle.

Where does a child of 13 get the idea that diets and half stone weight losses are positive from? Adults? Parents? The media? Our whole society is rubbing women out. Slimming us down, thinning us out. A nip here, a tuck there. A mouse click to remove inches, to shape, to tone…

A before-and-after image from Britney Spears' 2013 "Work B****" music video obtained by the Daily Mail, which shows the digital slim-down Britney's body received via CGI.

We’ve all seen the like. Poor Britney here carved up on a computer screen and, effectively, rubbed out to take up less space in the world.

Then there’s the current preoccupation with Snapchat filters and the Barbie look. These filters use evolutionary psychology principles to create more ‘appealing’ images. They increase eye size, smooth out complexions, widen foreheads and thin down necks. All of these are synonymous with the idea of retaining juvenile features in an adult face. Known as neotenous features, these are intended to increase attractiveness and suggest vulnerability. Tell me again how these are ‘fun?’ Why are they mostly targeted at women? And by whom?

These trends are insidious. They are misogynistic and  they are damaging. Think about it. Why are we not ok as we are?

The next time you are tempted to fake your appearance ask yourself this. Would I want a 13 year old to feel pressure to look this way? If the answer is no? You’d probably be better giving them a positive, empowered and naturally beautiful role model to emulate. Just as you are.

You are enough.

 

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Superdazman – Healthy Hero!

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The way our nation eats is killing us. Slowly maybe but make no mistake, it is killing us.

Fast food, high sugar, high fat, processed and junk foods. All highly marketable, all ‘the norm’ and all killing us. This is a conversation I often have. The way we are encouraged to eat by advertising, by peer pressure, by availability and by visibility is poisoning our bodies, making us fat and, for many, very, very miserable.

It’s not a popular topic. No one really wants to give up their favourite crisps and Irn Bru snacks. No one really prefers apples over chocolate. No one thinks a wee evening run is better than being curled up on the sofa.

Or do they…

Meet my good friend Darren. We had one of the above conversations one fine morning a year or two ago. He was just over 23 stones in weight and very jolly with it. The absolute life and soul of the party and a lovelier, larger than life character you could never hope to meet. During the course of our chat though, it became apparent that he was actually quite miserable and a bit lost. An incredibly busy and public spirited man, Daz was forever at meetings and doing things for other people and really I think, he just forgot to take any care of himself. As a result he was eating takeaway meals five nights out of seven, ate no breakfast but snacked on high sugar fizzy juice, crisps and chocolate to keep himself going all day. It’s what people do, it’s hardly uncommon or even particularly unusual but it had led to him being morbidly obese and he knew he was limiting his own life.

darren1

To his eternal credit, Darren decided enough was enough. He believed he could change, so he did. Boy did he change!!

All of his own accord and completely self-reliantly, Darren took back his life. Without any slimming club, pill, powder, shake or gadget, Darren has lost 7 stones in weight. To put that into perspective, that’s just less than one of me!! By cutting out the sweet stuff, by replacing it with fruit. By mostly knocking the fizzy juice on the head and by cutting out the takeaway visits, he’s lost a terrific amount of weight, all by his own determination.

darren3

He could hardly manage a mile’s run this time last year. Now he’s up to nearly 8 miles, works out after work to tone up and is looking towards a half-marathon soon. By building up slowly, sensibly and by relishing the fact that his fitness was increasing daily, he kept going. And that’s really all it takes. Keep going, keep putting one foot in front of the other until it gets a bit easier.

darren2

Darren’s journey represents everything I believe about how we should approach what we eat. We don’t need anything other than the power of our own minds to achieve our goals. We need spend no money, buy no equipment or seek help from vendors of dubious ‘detoxes’.

We have the ability to change our lives, change our bodies, improve our health and, be happier. All we need is determination, focus on long term goals and friends who will help and encourage us along the way.

 

I’m not alone in being proud of Darren, we all are. An amazingly warm and funny guy. He’s lost a huge part of his body but none of his humour (could do with ditching a few of his jokes mind you) and he is happier, more confident (if that’s possible) and full of excitement about how much more he can achieve. There are no limits and Darren is the perfect example of just how effective simple, sensible changes can be.

 

darren

 

 7 stone so far and counting. Go Darren – all of us are right there behind you, cheering you on! What a guy 😀

 

 

 

 

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A massive lump in my throat

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusreddittumblrmailLiterally.

Sorry I’ve not posted for a few weeks. I took the plunge and had my tumour removed, literally, the lump taken out of my throat. My consultant was so surprised at my change of heart he whipped out his diary and booked me straight in for the operation. The rationale: I’m in optimal health, the tumour was stable, I was likely to recover quickly and be able to forego the radiation treatment provided the tumour pathology was clear. Which it is. Thankfully.

The surgery was three weeks ago today and I’m well on the road to a full recovery. The tumour was trickier to remove than thought, the facial paralysis risk was one in three and I’ve got a lot of nerve damage but my healing has been extremely quick and the scar is completely healed over with no facial weakness. My consultant is nothing short of a dedicated genius!!

Before my admission to hospital I made two weeks worth of food for the family and packed my freezer. I know how powerfully plants can heal so I made sure I had plenty of the infection fighters: onions, garlic, chilli as well as plentiful and varied vegetables and more fruit smoothies than you could shake a stick at. It worked. I’m well, I haven’t gained any weight, despite sitting around for weeks (and boy have I hated that!)

Signpost along the road to recovery.

In short, it’s been painful but largely a hugely positive experience. I learned afresh how much the people around me care about me and once again, highlighted to myself and others, the power of positive thinking and a healthful diet.

On the positive thinking note though, being positive and upbeat doesn’t mean not having down days. It means picking yourself up from them and trying again. People often assume cheery, sunny people are naturally happy. I don’t believe they are any happier than anyone else, they possibly just refuse to let their experiences bring them down for any length of time. Shit happens. It happens to everyone at some point, it’s how you choose to respond to it that matters. I refuse to let the health scare I have had define me, I’d much rather be remembered for how I turned it round.

And with that in mind, I heard yesterday that a young daughter of a close friend had been tasked with writing about someone inspirational for her homework. I’m humbled to say that she wrote about me and my quest to eat myself well, and give myself the best chance of a positive outcome to my health.

If that doesn’t give you a lump in your throat then I don’t know what will 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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That was then…

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusreddittumblrmailOn the 1st September I decided to make radical changes in my life. After an initial pseudo ‘detox’ phase of one month, I have stuck to the programme I developed for myself. I am vegan, eschew additional and processed sugars where possible and have reduced all caffeine, alcohol and processed foods although have not eradicated these completely (I really do enjoy the odd veggie burger/nut roast with baked beans).

So what has changed? Seeing a lycra clad photo of myself on a cycle exactly one year ago yesterday was a prompt to reflect upon the last six months.

lycra

I have no idea what I weigh as I don’t have scales. I assume myself to be about a steady 8st which is proportional for my 5ft 1 height. We did measure ourselves over various body points over the month long detox. The most striking differences were in odd places; tops of thighs, tops of arms for example. I lost 9 cm from my waist and, on checking that today, I’ve maintained that over the following five months of being less stringent than we were on the ‘detox’ (I shudder at that phrase).

My body shape has definitely changed quite dramatically. I haven’t done a lot of exercise over the Winter, walking, some sports here and there, nothing strange or startling so the changes seems to be new regime related. My rib area is slimmer, my thighs are definitely smoother although they’re pretty muscular so they are still nicely substantial 🙂 My waist is certainly much more defined and, on the whole, I absolutely love my new shape. I have recently started a 5 minute plank challenge and have increased my cardio vascular exercise so there may be further changes to come – who knows!

Emotionally I have changed quite positively too. My moods are much more balanced, I’m calmer, more philosophical and much less irritable. This could be due to several factors: reduced caffeine, alcohol, increased sleep etc and I’m not sure specifically which of these changes have had the greatest impact. I am grateful though to feel more balanced, more capable and less vulnerable to premenstrual mood fluctuations which used to exercise great control over me and adversely affect my relationships with those close to me.

I think in part, being vegan has been the most influential change. I no longer feel conflicted about what I am eating. My life is cruelty free and that feels amazing!! I love sweeping past the meat and dairy aisles in the supermarket and knowing I don’t need t0 ever again eat products which involve animal cruelty. It is very calming to me but, I fully understand that would not have the same impact upon everyone. We are all different after all.

My skin has a colour it never had before, I am extremely pale but with dark hair and, pre life change, looked like I died last Friday if I dared to venture out without makeup. Now I really do have a ‘glow’ which I have never had before.  I imagine it is being properly nourished without stressing my body with artificial products. 

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Before and After

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusreddittumblrmailWeight.

Too much, too little, in the wrong place. Too fat, too thin. Too saggy, puckered, dimpled or fleshy. Mummy aprons, bingo wings, thigh gaps and bikini bridges.

Why do we do it to ourselves? And we do do it to ourselves. Sure the media makes it worse but we are all responsible for our own body shaming if not that of others.

“Body shaming” – if you’re not familiar with the term the Urban Dictionary’s explanation is found here:

ew he’s too skinny”

“she’s soooo fat it’s disgusting”

“she’d be pretty if she were skinnier”

“he’s so fat, how does he even have a girlfriend?”

Body Shaming is not okay.

Thing is, as soon as we get into talking about dieting, slimming, weight loss and so on – we’re entering into this domain. We’re entering the murky world of body hatred. Of people pulling at handfuls of flesh in despair, of comparisons to impossible ideals. Of quick ‘fixes’ promising inch loss and delivering dubious chemical compounds.

Our size does not determine our health. I’ve been an adult 6 stone and incredibly unhealthy with it.

Unfortunately there are numerous disorders associated with ‘dieting’ most of which have nothing to do with food per se. Anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia are more about psychological pathologies than they are about narcissism despite whatever Joan Bakewell says. And now Celia Imrie has thrown her hat into the ring saying anorexics are “self-obsessed.” Misunderstandings about eating disorders abound and yet, still our magazines are covered in body shaming articles. And you’re buying them!

before and afterThis is the ONLY type of “Before and After” image I’m interested in.

This is why I will never advocate weight loss. This is why I never tout myself or my recipes as suitable for dieters. I abhor the concept of striving to be thin versus improving our health and strengthening our bodies. Frankly, it can be damaging and armed with the knowledge I have, I’d rather toe the line of balance. It makes my page less marketable, less sexy, reduces the impact and the likelihood of ‘shares’ but I refuse to promise anything which I can’t deliver. I can offer advice, healthful ideas but it will never include “here’s how to lose weight.”

Maintaining a healthy body, enjoying fabulous fresh food, being honest with, and kind to yourself will always be more attractive than the deprivations, restrictions and pressures of the miserable ‘diet’.

This is why my mantra will always be “be more not less.”

 

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