Contemplating Action (Waistline Woes part 2)

I love Prochaska and Diclemente’s Stages of Change model. Like, really love it. If I’m honest it’s all I can remember from studying Social Work. In my opinion it is mostly bang-on. My only complaint is that contemplation and preparation are slightly indistinguishable. I think the names of the stages are fairly self-explanatory (let me know if they’re not): when changing any aspect of behaviour a person goes through: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, relapse.  Recognise any of those? I do.

I contemplated changing for a long time. Nearly at the top of MacLeod’s Mountain (2013) I lay down, exhausted, defeated, unable to get any further. My wife’s constant nagging of “you are nearly there!” did little to improve my mood, for in my experience, those who say “you’re nearly there” have little idea of how far that little feels! In this instance, I was actually less than a minute to the top! But the experience made me feel unhealthy.

Shamefully, I (briefly) contemplated buying one of those fast-slimming pills off the internet, because it was easier than doing hard graft. DON’T GO DOWN THAT ROUTE: the safest way to slim your waist is the tried and tested model: bit by bit by improving little by little.

I contemplated going to the gym to build sheer strength, after watching Elliot Hulse (language alert). He cuts to the chase and has (I presume) wise words about gaining muscle. He’s had a few different body types over the years. But I am still contemplating hitting the gym for weights (I have only just moved into action with regard to a strength circuit class).

I only spurred into action after getting a fitbit flex with my phone. I never would have spent money £60 on what is essentially a pedometer! But the fitbit demonstrated to me how little exercise I was doing; I was falling 8000 steps below the recommended 10,000 per day. I increased this slowly – by parking slightly further away from work and the supermarket. I discovered that what felt like  a mile was only a tiny percentage of one. But even though I was doing far less than a mile, the benefit was clear: I was arriving at work awake and better able to concentrate.

Around this time,  my doctor recommended exercise as  a treatment for my depression. Having seen the benefits of walking on my mood, I took my doc up on this suggestion. I bought some trainers. They were great. They lay around for a year until I eventually went out for a run. I aimed for 15 minutes. Easy. I’d done that before at school. I had to cut it short at 10 minutes, crawled back up the tenement steps to our flat and collapsed on the sofa, where I lay for probably an hour.

We have to contemplate change is possible, what it looks like, and then move toward that.
I now realise I will never look like Hulse, but I do do strength work that helps my running.

As well as eventually getting into exercise, I made one very small change in my diet. Just one. Though that felt like the biggest thing to do. Over a period of months I reduced the sugar in my coffee from two teaspoons to none. What convinced me to do this was The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. By chapter 3 I was both terrified about all the bad habits I had and hopeful that if I could change one thing, I could begin to change others. I still haven’t read further, because I have no need: what I learnt has stayed with me over the last couple of years (and it’s rare I remember things after one reading). Duhigg argues that small changes are powerful, because those who successfully change one smaller habit are more likely to change other habits. Furthermore, he defines habits as including those things like the way we do the dishes, or leave the house and get into the car and out the driveway, and are actually helpful because they enable us to focus on other things. This knowledge convinced me that I needed to examine those habits to see what I needed to change. Sugar in the coffee fitted the bill as it was a start with regard to living healthily. I literally went from two sugars to one and 3/4, to one and 1/5 etc…

And I found that, on the whole, Duhigg’s theory was well-founded. In reducing and then cutting out sugar in my coffee, I was able to start saying no to biscuits and chocolate (that said, I wolfed down… a few… Neo biscuits while writing this post). I was also able to experiment with saying no to coffee, and found over time I was sleeping better and therefore less likely to need those coffees in the first place. And sleeping well helps reduce waist size.

Something I wish I had known about a few years ago was the idea of “only make changes you are willing to live with forever” (Katie at Runs for Cookies). And it’s not just us two. Men’s Health write about this theory, too. This is what I aim for. I learnt through trial and error that letting myself have chocolate and crisps each day, though reducing my daily consumption of them, reduced the need for me to binge on them. When I said “right, no more crisps” I would eventually crack and rip the crisps open in a fit of frustration. Sugar in my coffee? I can live without it. Soft drink? yeah, no need for that. Squash at dinner? yeah, I can live without that… Beer with Indian? nope, not giving that up. The trick is learning what you can go without. This will look different from other people. This is what maddens me about people commenting on what other people eat. Frankly, they know (unless they’re in the pre-contemplation stage, but even then, commenting is just rude even when you’re good friends – in which case, you should know what stage they’re in!). They know what else they have eaten that day. They know whether they need it or want it. They know whether for them they are being healthy.

Takeaways.

Contemplate change. Realise what you need to change. Think about why you want to. Use that to spur you into action.

Work out what your habits are. Pick a small one that is relatively easy to make inroads to. It will feel scary, but take even one step toward changing it. With continued working at it, you’ll probably find you’ll have other goals.

Make changes you can live with forever.

Waistline woes, part 1.

This has been one of the most difficult pieces of writing I’ve done in a while. I have cried for my friends who I know struggle day in and day out with these and similar issues; many of us struggle in secret. Being a man who struggles brings its own issues (yes – guys also struggle with body image). In addition, I really don’t feel qualified to write about this topic. My story is  unexceptional, especially when you consider the inspirational Tom Urie’s or Katie at Runs for Cookies. In some ways to share my average story might sound like I’m trivialising the real suffering of people who are over or underweight. Please trust me when I say that I am not. But most of us straddle the line between those two extremes. We are unhappy, yet people tell us that we shouldn’t be. Who is right? In this series of blogposts I’ll be considering my own struggles as a launchpad for discussion on related issues such as self-worth, identity and goals. At the same time, I’m writing a spoken word piece about this topic, aiming to have it performance ready by November’s Blind Poetics (I love a  tight deadline – if it’s a deadline I choose!) But before all that, let’s delve into my own story.

In simple terms,  I aint happy with how I look. I would very much like my podge to be removed and replaced with muscle (I call it podge mostly to make me laugh about it); I would like to have an actual chest, y’know, like Tom Daley (swoon); I’d like to be strong enough to enter a gym – and laugh bitterly at the irony; I’d like well defined cyclist’s legs; shoulders wide enough to fill a normal size jacket or blazer (at one point I seriously considered shoulder pads. No, really); I’d like enough lung capacity and strong enough legs to break 25 minutes in a 5K, 1 hour in a 10k, and 5 hours in a marathon; to be able to grow a beard (I may not even grow one, but it’d be nice to have the option); and I would like to be so free from binge eating it isn’t even something I think about and have to manage.
As you can see, my issues are varied and this one post can’t do any of them justice. I have learnt the art of being discontent but accepting, apart from for my podge and my binge eating.

Six years ago I was really thin. Finding clothes that fitted me was difficult.I was a

jodhpur-palace

chilling out at Jodphur palace, India, 2010

normal height, but most shirts and jackets were too wide. I will never forget the excitement at discovering slim-fit clothes were a thing! When I married four years ago, I could comfortably fit into size 30 trousers.

Marriage does wonderful things to a guy. My wife is a great cook and baker, so it is no surprise that shortly after marrying I became a healthy size. But I soon became an unhealthy size. I was working part-time, and a lot of issues within myself paved the way for depression and anger. Two things happened as a result: I resumed binge eating, and I grazed on a lot of chocolate and biscuits.
I started binge eating in second year of uni (2009) as a way of coping with frustration at myself. I wasn’t able to sit down and focus on uni work (I now understand this as an effect of my depression). I’d faff aboot on my laptop, not drink when I became thirsty, not eat when hungry. I’d think “I’ll eat when I get this first line written” (IE, use food as a reward) but that first line might only come a few hours later! Eventually it would come to a crisis point where I was so angry with myself for not being able to focus and so hungry I couldn’t think of what to eat, I would demolish a multipack bag of crisps in one sitting. Early on in marriage, I noticed this pattern beginning to form again. I still sometimes dip into it.
My wife taught me early on that you can’t have a cuppa without a biscuit. As I was quaffing multiple coffees a day, that meant a lot of biscuits or chocolate. I would start off with good intentions: I’d have a couple of squares with the coffee. Then a couple more when I topped the cup up. Then another row when I got hungry.
Couple all this with not doing any exercise and you have an increasing belly size.
I knew my eating habits weren’t healthy, but I didn’t really see any change in my health, so I figured it could be worse. I actually believed I was still skinny, until the night of the kilt.
We were heading to a ceilidh. As a bloke I didn’t think at all about my outfit – kilt, obvs. We were nearly running late. Because of the time I started panicking, which made getting dressed more difficult. To give myself space for concentration,  I went through to our spare room with my kilt. After a long bout of squeezing, grunting, squeezing, pulling as tight as I could and more grunting my wife rushed through to make sure I was OK. I asked her if she could do my kilt up for me. I could see her face in the mirror – it was a look of “what’s the best way to do this?” She tried, but to avail. I had to ceilidh in trousers! She later told me that look was “how do I politely say that no matter what, this just isn’t going to fit?”
Faced with the choice of paying money to lengthen the kilt, or lose the podge, I went for the podge.
It took a while before I actually started doing anything about reducing my waist size, though.

In the intervening years I have been very close to a size 38 – not what one would normally consider ‘big’, but here’s where I need you to be careful to walk the line between encouragement and trivialising my feelings. No, my waistline did not pose me serious risk. But I considered myself fat. I didn’t like where I was. And, indeed my waistline was actually unhealthy, according to the NHS.
So I embarked on a period of change.  Post 2 in the series will explore those changes – it requires a separate post because, much as people would like you to believe, it isn’t as simple as stop this, do that instead.

Let’s talk.

I know exactly what I think when I see vloggers and bloggers thank their viewer or readership! So I forgive you for thinking the same when I say – thank you. Thank you for liking, commenting – online or in person.

There are two cliches often spouted: “it means so much to me!” and “without you it wouldn’t be possible!”

In this writer’s case, the latter is a half-truth. Without you I may still be putting stuff online, no offense. But y’know, it is so darn encouraging when you like or comment either online or in real life. Without it, I may as well be writing in an offline journal. Even when you don’t comment, that you have read a post is an encouragement to keep on writing, week after week. But the likes and view counts only mean as much as what my posts mean to you.

When you message me to say thank you, or open up about issues – that is the thing that matters most. To know that I have let someone know they are not alone, that it’s OK, others feel this way too is a thing of awe. It blows me away when people say that a certain thought or post was helpful in their own journey.

But I would like to go deeper with you. Some of us have chatted briefly about things in real life – conversations which started with my typed words. But the thing is, time is short. Often we can’t get to the meat of issues in day-to-day interactions, and this frustrates me no end. I would love to talk more with you. To listen to you, ask questions, answer questions.

So please, get in touch. Use the contact form on the ‘get in touch’ page, Facebook message, tweet me @plodshuffleplod. I give you my word – I’ll read your mailings, and I’ll reply. It may not be instant, but it will be a fuller and deeper conversation than if we waited for a couple of minutes snatched in real life.

So to appropriate what they say at the end of difficult TV programmes: “if you have been affected by any of the issues in this blog, please contact the author on any of the aforementioned methods.”

 

 

 

 

Cohen: some thoughts

Some thoughts from and for Leonard Cohen.
Leonard Cohen said something fascinating recently:

“I don’t have any spiritual strategy. I kind of limp along like so many of us do in these realms. Occasionally I’ve felt the grace of another presence in my life. But I can’t develop any kind of spiritual structure on that.”

Spiritual Strategy
In my day to day life I need to plan, sometimes to ludicrous levels. I actually have a note on my phone called “plan”, which includes what time I’m getting up. The next item on the list”make bed”, means that within minutes of getting up I have achieved two things. It means my body can get on and do while my mind grumbles and wakes up. Else I would stay longer in bed than would be helpful. The plan continues with what time I need to go to work, or wherever I’m going.

I am aware of how ridiculous that sounds, but I say all this to make the very basic point that without planning we do drift. This is a problem, because our life demands some form of structure and order.

This goes for the spiritual realm.
Recently I have become aware that I need to plan reading my bible and praying into my day. I experimented the other week with reading a devotional in my email before getting out of bed. It didn’t work. I was too sleepy. it might work out if I had a teasmaid.

For now I have settled into a routine of reading a devotional in my email while my morning coffee is brewing. Taking the time to say grace at breakfast also helps stem the flow of facebook, twitter, youtube and put my mind on the most important thing.

So Cohen is right: we must strategise. Although we cannot strategise our growth, we can strategise to do the things which will help us grow. A marathon plan has certain elements. A runner can only plan to complete those elements; he cannot plan the minutiae of how much his lung capacity will be at the end of a particular run. All he can do is train and see what results come. But he’ll see no results if he doesn’t plan.

Imposing our own structure
However, where Cohen goes wrong is his suggestion that it is up to Him to impose a structure on the presence he has sometimes felt.

When I am low, I feel nothing. The good things I usually enjoy, don’t taste. The bad things I try to take pleasure in don’t give any pleasure (infact they make it worse). If I were to think about spirituality from that point of view I would conclude that:
There is nothing good in the world.
There is little or no point in doing anything, for nothing gives pleasure.
If there is a God, he must be pretty cruel to allow me to be this way.

However, thinking about it from the structure in the bible:
I can see my depression is not good.
God created the universe good.
It was because of man’s folly that evil entered into the world.
God allowed this to happen because He is God. And thinking about God philosphically, God can do what he wills. Otherwise he aint God.
The devil has to ask permission to allow evil (Job 1), and he chooses to allow it – for good, according to Romans 8.
Therefore, while I hate my depression, I have reason to go on, hoping for redemption, hoping that he will lift it.

My own structure of reality leads to hopelessness; the structure of the bible imposed onto my life gives me life.

A presence
In any day I feel all sorts of things. What precisely is a ‘presence’? God does give a peace that defies explanation, but only if we trust Him not if we wait around for a presence. For the first couple of years in my Christian life I relied on feeling God’s presence. Of course, feelings can be helpful but overall my faith was weak and I’m not sure I grew much in those years. In fact I think I was probably much the same as I was before. When I felt weak, God felt and therefore was absent. When I felt positive, God was great! In these years, I only trusted God when things were good, and even then my trust was patchy. But the bible calls us to trust him always. I can only do that if God is trustworthy – this means he ha to be bigger than my feelings. Left to my feelings I cannot trust Him always. But the Bible offers us a God in whom it is possible to trust always. It says “He is our ever-present help.” Even when I don’t feel it. Even when everything feels like it’s falling apart. He. Is. With. Me. Always. Regardless of how I feel. Which means, he is bigger than my emotions, and therefore I can trust Him.

So to Mr Cohen I would say: we must not impose our own structures upon our lives. They will never satisfy. God has revealed himself to us. What you may be feeling is God himself, or it may be a spirit sent to deceive. Strategise to find the structure that exists within the bible – it explains the structure of the world and God himself.

Emotions or actions?

It isn’t often I believe that my depression is a gift, but today is one of those.  Don’t get me wrong: feeling wretched, worn-out and doubtful I will ever contribute much (or that when I have tried my darndest to contribute, I failed or my contributions weren’t noticed), and having very visceral reactions to unpleasant situations is exhausting and I simply hate it. It is the most spiteful part of me.

But having such guttural reactions can be useful. It was through his despair that Abraham Lincoln came to understand what his purpose was to be, and when he found that – by golly he went for it, no doubt in part because of the depth of feeling he experienced. As I’m depressive I think I feel the more negative emotions stronger than others, which allows me to really get to grips with them and use them.

And to emote is a human thing to do. We often forget how emotive Jesus was. He got angry at how people were misusing the temple. He wept for Lazarus, he got indignant at his disciples, I imagine he experienced laughter. As one preacher said “I wonder if as they were walking along the road, he and the disciples played leapfrog.”

But Jesus never stayed in those negative emotions, as I am so often tempted to. Jesus saw the temple in the evening, and went back the next morning to throw tables and make his point; he cried but then raised Lazarus from the dead; out of his indignance he rebuked the disciples, to teach them (and us) a lesson about how to enter heaven.

So, we should allow ourselves emote the hard emotions and feel the full impact on them, but not stay there. Which is what makes Operation Mobilisation’s Global Village such a valuable experience which I would recommend to any Christian (I went last night, so it is all still raw).

In three short hours it made me aware of some incredibly difficult stuff within my soul, as well as the sheer volume of hopelessness many people experience in our neighbourhoods, our towns, our workplaces, our cities; gave me a sense of the challenge of communicating the most important thing we could communicate; and a powerful reminder that we who trust Christ were once groping around – the blind following the blind – in darkness (and that those who aren’t trusting Christ are still living that way) and now live in light, therefore GO. Listen, speak, pray, do.

One of my friends and I had the following conversation afterwards. She asked me, “will it inspire some moody poetry?”
I replied, “Hmmm.”
She followed up with, “will it inspire some lingering self-doubt?”
All I could respond was another “hmmm!”

In reality, yes and yes.
I experienced some very dark emotions during the experience, but I believe something much more important than poetry and self doubt will occur if I allow it. Because out of the experience we have a renewed sense of the urgency of the message of the gospel. We must somehow capture it and use it to spur us into action. This was the final focus of the evening: to move us from that sense of hopelessness into action. While I process I can still move in small ways (messaging a friend, praying), while looking at longer term projects (with OM or another group).

At the end of the experience, we were encouraged to write out some prayers. Mine was roughly this – I’ve forgotten what the precise wording was:
“may we remember the darkness but remember more God’s glorious light.”

The challenge then is threefold:
Do you allow yourself to emote deeply and gutturally, even viscerally?
What do you do with said emotion?
How do we move from visceral reaction to continued action?

If you went to Operation Mobilisation’s global village, what did you think of it?
Operation Mobilisation’s Global Village is on in the Royal Highland Centre until Sunday.

Transgender – Vaughan Roberts

Trust me, it’s… complicated.  But we have to start somewhere on this issue. Why? Because not only is it one of the big issues in our society, it affects real people, who could be closer than you think. A refusal to engage is, quite simply, a refusal to care. Roberts’ book landed a couple of weeks ago. I was excited to recieve my copy because there is very little Christian discourse about this issue.

I’ll start at the end of the book: “Applying these [biblical] truths to complex questions requires us to exercise wisdom. And the aim of this short book is to give us the tools to start to think and talk biblically – not necessarily to answer all our questions.” Nor should it. It is far more practical to give the tools to get us thinking in the right way than to determine answers for the myriad of questions we have. This partly explains why my most dog-eared book – it’s also the one I’ve given away most – is Sinclair Ferguson’s the Will of God.

With brutal yet refreshing honesty, Roberts aims to move Christians from their emotional response while thinking about transgender people and the challenges they face. Neither an  unaccepting “yuk” nor an unthinking “yes” is helpful or biblical. As I fall somewhere in between these two responses, I cannot tell whether he manages to do so.

He takes the reader on the story-arc of the bible with the aim of answering “how does this apply to transgender issues?” For instance, he reminds us that God made us male and female; sexual beings, reflecting God’s glory. The implication is that we should be aiming to live out our lives in the sex God gave us. This is a sticking point for many, but Roberts reminds us what the bible does not say – it does not give us “rigidly defined rules about what it means to be a man, and what it means to be a woman” (his emphasis). I think he could have gone further here. Although he gives a couple of examples of malinformed yet accepted gender roles, for those struggling with transgender issues it is often helpful to explore the biblical view of masculinity and femininity. From my reading, experience, and what I have heard anecdotally I understand that it is precisely the stereotyped images which are so confusing and unhelpful. Against this we need a biblical understanding of masculinity and feminity.

His use of definitions from Stonewall is a reminder that trans people are people and therefore people whom we should give respect. This doesn’t mean agreeing with all their views or choices, but it does mean basic things like trying to understand them from their point of view, not just using the bible to impose a definition which may offend. He also suggests using their preferred pronoun and name. This is a point I have found frustratingly lacking in Christian circles. You gotta start where people are, not where you want them to be.

Suprisingly, Roberts’ discussion on what transgender actually is is wanting. For example, the definition from Stonewall includes the statement “trans people may describe a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, cross-dresser, non-binary, genderqueer.” This throws up more questions than it answers: I for one am more confused on where my particular issues lie on the spectrum*! Perhaps Robert’s unwillingness to detail all aspects of transgenderism is a symptom of the brevity of the book, or down to the fact that there are that many definitions. Because, um, complicated! Nevertheless, given that his readers are Christians who may have never thought about transgender issues, it would be beneficial to have a more full discussion on the term and implications. It doesn’t, for instance, discuss cross-dressing and it’s relationship to transgenderism, and the discussion is heavily weighted toward gender dysphoria, which – according to Stonewall’s definition – not all transgender people experience.

Given our propensity to not engage with topics we find confusing, it is valuable to have a resource that is short enough to keep our interest, but technical enough that it gives enough information to challenge our preconceptions, pique our interest. Vaughan Roberts achieves this in his short text. For those who want more detail about biblical view of sexual terms, other texts exist. For those wondering how on earth where to begin their thinking, this is a great place to start.  It took me about 45 minutes to read through, yet I will be revisiting it, highlighting, scribbling and generally making it dog-eared. I may have to buy more copies to give away.

——–

*I am willing to discuss my particular issues – but not here: please ask (“what is your experience of transgenderism?” is a safe and open question). One of Roberts’ aims is to start discussion in the right way; as is mine. I’m not yet ready to be fully open to everyone at once. Because it’s hard, and, what’s the word? Oh yeah, complicated.

Impacting Poverty #1

Regular readers know I post on Mondays, but I am going to be posting other things on other days when I feel it is appropriate. This is very appropriate: A very honest look at what poverty is, from a friend currently in Kampala. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

just around the cordner.

For me living in Kampala, it is impossible to not notice the material poverty of the average citizen, certainly when I compare it to my own standard of living both back in the UK, and even how I live here in Uganda. I would like to dedicate a few blog posts to communicating the thoughts, questions and issues that I have found this wealth gap generates. These posts should be pretty honest and conversational. The aim isn’t for me to provide answers or logical arguments but to document what’s going on in my head, even when I know it’s not the full story (and it will never be the full story).

After numerous failed attempts to solve the poverty of third world countries, the world bank decided that perhaps it’s lack of success may be attributed to its poor understanding of what poverty actually was. I mean, these guys worked…

View original post 979 more words

I did a weird thing

I did a really weird thing yesterday.

OK, I know. For most people this is normal, but for me, it was… strange…

ready?

OK.

I didn’t go to church yesterday morning.

The thing is, it wasn’t even like I was doing anything exciting, like a marathon, or on holiday. All I did was faff too much in the morning and completely messed up my timings.
When I realised I wasn’t going to make it to church, I was on new territory.  I had to figure out what to do other than ensuring I went to church in the evening.

Making good use of the time was a must, since it was time I had used improperly in the first place. Through the day I did what felt like a ton of housework, but I didn’t nearly achieve everything I could have. I listened to a John Piper sermon. At 11 (10 past in reality thanks to some washing), the time of the service I was due to be at, I sat down to prepare for Christianity Explored. This all ensured I was still learning and reading the bible and making best possible use of the time.

So Sunday morning was weird. I didn’t like it. I missed church. Church can be difficult, especially as a shy, depressive introvert. It is always an… experience. Often I have gone to church feeling wretched, fully aware of how I have wasted yet another week. I have always come out refreshed, with an uplifted soul. Often I have gone feeling pretty good about myself, and am reminded of how wretched I am and how much I need Christ. Church is a place where people accept me, despite my awkwardness. It is a place where I am reminded that God is in control, that I am loved, and that I can have hope for tomorrow (nay, this afternoon!)

When we read an ancient creed out loud, together (cultish sounding? perhaps), something amazing happens. As we read I am reminded of the essential facts about my faith, and that these are truths unchanged. I stand on solid ground, together with my congregation.

When I sing with my congregation, my soul is turned away from me, and so is healed. This is despite that one person singing loudly and out of tune/time; my reservations about the band set-up or hymn arrangement; my doubts; or my self-conscious singing during the psalms – as we sing these a capella, there is nowhere to hide and I don’t wanna be that guy. There have been times when I have stared furiously at the hymn sheet/book in front of me torn between not singing out of honesty to my thoughts and forcing myself to sing despite these doubts to to spite and loosen them.

During the sermon, I am fed meat. A proper steak. Through the week I read titbits of bible (or junk food), a canapé if you like. Amazingly tasty stuff – gives energy, but small. The sermon gives (in a good church), proper life sustaining meat that cuts to the heart but makes it thank God for sending Jesus, who is at the centre of it all.

And the digestif? Coffee and biscuits with friends, old and new. Some of these friends are grey-haired, some have families; all are wired differently to me. But it doesn’t matter because we are family. I can so often find this difficult, as adam4d exposed so greatly here, but breaking out my shell is pretty much always rewarding.

And you just don’t get that sitting on your sofa with your coffee and bible.