A Stone’s Throw Away

Between December 16th, 2015 and April 16th, 2016, I lost 1st 7lbs.

I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while, but have kept getting distracted or putting it off. This morning I caught myself becoming tempted to wait until I’d lost 2 stone to write about it; that kind of thinking is the exact opposite of how I’ve maintained my health changes, so I decided to kill that scary thought and finally get around to it.

I spent the Christmas/New Years holidays of 2014-2015 in New Zealand with my family; by the time the summer of 2015 came around, and the weather was nice enough for me to wear some of the clothes I had bought over there, none of them fit anymore.

I got a full-time job in July, and I thought that with the 30-minute walk down and back every day, I’d loose the weight in no time. I didn’t account for the fact that my lunch every day would be a roll from the deli (I worked at a corner shop). Also, my parents were in Wexford a lot during the summer, so I often came home from work at about 11:30pm with something from the Chinese takeaway and a 2 litre bottle of Coke, and sat alone watching repeats of Mock the Week on Dave.

I went back to college in September and had the busiest semester I’ve ever experienced – I didn’t even have time to think about my weight, let alone do something about it. But by the time exams were coming, I was fed up, and that’s really the best motivation for anything. My mum was interested in joining Curves, an all-female gym which specialises in circuit training – we had been members back in 2011 when my cousin was getting married – but she didn’t want to do it alone, and asked if I would do it with her. She offered to pay for my membership, so of course I was like fuck yes, why not.

We joined on December 16th and since then I’ve been making changes.

 

Exercise

At Curves, they recommend that you do 4 of their workouts every week to see results. Myself and my mum go at least 4 times a week and sometimes more. It’s really handy because it only takes about an hour out of your day. We normally go at 9am and it’s probably the best start to the day you could have. (Sidebar: it’s REALLY good for curing hangovers. I’ve gone a few times thinking that I would throw up on the squat machine, but if you go easy and build it up, it just makes you skip feeling like total shit. It’s amazing.)

We also have a cross-trainer at home that my mum got on this amazing discount because she’s on the mailing list of like every home furnishing store in the country. (I literally had to talk her out of buying two of them, “one for each house” – which, yes, is absolutely the worst sentence I have ever heard her say.) But holy shit, the workout you get from it is intense. I could go straight to college from Curves without even looking in a mirror, but I have to set aside specific times and days to go on the cross-trainer, because if I don’t shower directly after using it, I become full of self-loathing. The bottom of my pony tail is soaked after using it just because it’s been tipping off the back of my neck as I work out. Using it is a mental challenge as much as a physical one, and I have to bargain with myself to force myself to keep going. 25 minutes feels like 2 hours. But I have a workout playlist on Spotify and that helps me power through. It’s pretty sick and totally worth it – after using it I feel like a beacon of health.

 

Diet

I’ve made a lot of changes with my diet in the last 4 months and I’m continuing to make more as I go. I’ve found that not being too strict on myself has made it 100x easier to maintain a healthy diet. The first change I made was swapping white carbs for brown. So I eat brown pasta instead of white; wholegrain rice instead of basmati; and spelt instead of white bread. (I have fallen completely in love with spelt, please serve it at my funeral.) But I don’t eat absolutely no white carbs; last night myself and my mum made homemade wedges using regular old potatoes, and every now and again I’ll eat my dad’s spag bol if we’re lucky enough that he agrees to make dinner for us. Eating brown most of the time, though, means that I can eat white every now and again without the guilt. (My stomach finds the white carbs a bit hard to digest now anyway, so sometimes I just don’t bother with them.)

I also stopped eating regular butter (or spread, whatever) and now I take Benecol light, but there are heart problems in my family so I’m doing that more for the sake of my cholesterol than anything else.

One of the most important things I do is drink at least 3 litres of water a day. It seems crazy, but exercising makes it easier, and once you get used to it, it’s hard to go without it. It’s all about making it into a habit.

The rest is just small stuff that adds up to make a difference. At home I used to eat a lot of processed ham and cheese, but now I eat tuna or smoked salmon on spelt for lunch. Often I’ll just take like five slices of spelt and butter them, and take them into college in a lunchbox to eat throughout the day. If I’m having steak (which I only eat ‘rarely’ … because red meat isn’t great for you if you have it too often) I don’t take it with pepper sauce anymore (which was a hard one).

A lot of the time, if I’m making my own dinner, I’ll just make brown pasta and chicken, and cook the chicken in tomato passata or some other sauce. (SuperValu does a really nice tomato and marscapone sauce which I had to stop buying because I was just eating it every day.) When I’m cooking with my mum we make a lot of stuff with green veg, like different kinds of curries or stir-fries. Tonight we’re making chilli prawns with asparagus and rice noodles. And on weekends we make smoothies with whatever fruit we feel like, and we experiment to see what works well together. It’s easy to keep it varied and interesting while also being healthy.

The most important thing about all of this is that it means I don’t feel guilty about ‘cheating’ every now and then. I still live my life like normal and it doesn’t affect my social life too much. If I’m with friends and they want to order pizza, I’ll eat pizza. If I’m meeting someone for dinner, I’ll get whatever I feel like, not just the healthiest thing on the menu. (I don’t count calories, and I think this has kept me sane throughout the last few months.) If I’m PMSing and I feel like chocolate, I’ll dip into my leftovers from Christmas and Easter. But this doesn’t happen too often, because when you get used to eating healthily, I think your palette changes. The thought of drinking even a sip of Coke right now makes me feel sick, and I used to be addicted to it. The thought of drinking an energy drink makes me feel even more sick – I drink Vit Hits and vitamin water for a boost instead. (Vit Hits are another thing I want on the menu at my funeral. They are the shit.)

Basically, once you get into a routine of eating well, temptations leave as quickly as they come. And once you eat well most of the time and exercise regularly, you can afford to binge every now and again, and you can even afford not to cut out some stuff if you feel like you can’t let it go. Like everyone I’ve talked to about healthy eating has told me to cut out cider, but I love myself, so I’m not going to do that. Also, I still don’t eat breakfast, because my stomach is always unsettled early in the morning. You don’t have to do everything by the book, just do what suits you.

I’ve forced myself to see results in how I feel rather than whatever number is on the scales. A good thing about Curves is that you only get assessed every 4 weeks; if I were being weighed every week, I’d probably feel a lot shittier about myself. Trying not to get hung up on the numbers is hard, but it’s so much more rewarding when you’re noticing the changes in real life rather than in some arbitrary measurements. Being able to say ‘I’ve lost a stone and a half’ is cool, but it feels even better to say, ‘none of my jeans fit me anymore, I need to go to Penneys.’

A good few people have complimented me on my weight loss, and that feels great. It also feels great to go to parties and even go to college without worrying too much about what I look like. Obviously I still have insecurities, but my weight was always a really big one, and my anxiety around it is way better now. I’d still like to lose more, and to keep being as healthy as I can, because it makes you feel better mentally, too. For now all I can do is keep eating spelt and jumping on the cross-trainer as often as I can, and see what happens.

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JK Rowling and the Minority Representation

Last year we hosted a discussion night on the topic of ‘Harry Potter and feminism.’ It was our first discussion event so we didn’t really know what to expect; it ended up lasting for over four hours, and it’s still up there in my top 5 favourite events that we’e ever run.

The discussion inevitably opened up to not just the representation of women in the series but of other minority groups, especially the LGBTQ+ community. People were defending JK Rowling for not including any queer characters in the series, for a few reasons – they’re children’s books, she was writing in the 1990s, the books wouldn’t have been allowed to be published in certain countries if they had gay characters, and so on. All totally relevant points, and very likely the reasons why she didn’t include any queer characters in the books. But something was annoying me about it, and it took me until the very end of the discussion to figure out why.

Yeah, JK Rowling is a white, straight (presumably) woman, so issues of LGBTQ+ and racial representation didn’t affect her personally while she was writing the books. (She did represent the working class and issues of poverty in the story, as well as depression – because these things personally affected her life at the time.) Yeah, it was the 1990s, when diversity in the media wasn’t as humongous a topic as it is these days. Yeah, the books probably wouldn’t have been published in China if they had gay characters.

It’s all true… but my overwhelming feeling about these things is, so what?

Studies have shown that minority kids who don’t see themselves represented in the media suffer as a result, and that those who do have representation are much better off. I’m sick right now as I write this, and I wrote four academic essays this week, so fuck it, I’m just going to be blunt; when it comes down to it, more media representation for minorities means that less kids kill themselves.

We all know that no one is born prejudiced and that it’s instilled in us by our environments – since childhood. That’s why children’s media is actually the perfect place to have minorities represented. We’ve all seen the Vines of kids who are like “So sometimes boys can love boys, and girls can love girls? Oh, that’s cool, can I have ice cream for dinner?” I don’t understand it at all when people say that queer characters would be ‘inappropriate’ for children’s literature. Why do people act like anything queer is inherently sexual, anyway? Ron and Lavender can snog the faces off each other, but Seamus taking Dean as his date to the Yule Ball would have been too much? (Seamus Finnigan is my gay Irish son and you’ll have to pry that headcanon out of my cold, dead, queer hands.)

Ultimately, for me, media representation for minorities is the top priority. It’s one of the most powerful and beautiful features of literature: giving a voice to the voiceless. It’s literally life-saving. Of course things were different 19 years ago, and it’s not surprising that there are no explicitly queer characters in the books. (Before you say it – yeah, maybe it would have been inappropriate for Dumbledore to discuss his sexuality with Harry, but you can’t tell me that Rita Skeeter wouldn’t have been all over that shit after her interview with Bagshot.) Coming from a 2016 perspective, though, representation is just so much more important than all of those other factors.

This was basically what I realised at that discussion. ‘Minority representation in Harry Potter would have been amazing, what a shame.’ But what I’ve realised since then is – it’s not over. The Fantastic Beasts movies are coming out later this year and Rowling is writing the screenplays. The Cursed Child play is debuting just before that, and Rowling has been heavily involved in production. And it’s 2016.

No pressure, JK Rowling, but this is your chance. No more metaphors or subtext. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all great writing and fun to unpack, but it’s not enough anymore. We need explicit representation and we need it now.

From what I’ve seen so far, I’m optimistic. Not just because Rowling plays ‘minority Hogwarts student bingo’ on Twitter every now and again (bless her, she means well, and her Twitter account is amazing). There was a queer character in The Casual Vacancy (which I desperately need to re-read); Rowling has strongly voiced her support of POC Hermione for Cursed Child; and from the Fantastic Beasts trailer, it looks like the leader of the magical government in the US is a woman of colour. I do think that becoming more active on Twitter and engaging directly with the fanbase has had a big impact on Rowling’s approach. The Fantastic Beasts trailer says, “In 2016, writer JK Rowling invites you to return to the wizarding world.” I personally never left, but now that Rowling is back again, I can’t wait to see what the expanded wizarding world is going to look like.