Monday, April 30, 2007

Food Obsession

Yesterday I had a really nice day. I took part in the first leg of a long distance charity walk, and enjoyed it more than I was expecting to be honest.

With an extra bit of mileage in the morning to get my car in the right place to be picked up at the end of the walk, I ended up totalling 26.5 miles over the course of the day (in about 7 hours of walking), and was on the go from about 8:30am til 10:40pm, once I took travelling, waiting around and so on into account. I was pretty much at the front of the group the whole time, and considering that they'd all been going on regular long walks to prepare, and the longest walk I'd done before was about 4 miles, I was pretty pleased with that. I was also pleased with the fact that the point at which I most wanted to run wasn't at the beginning when my legs were fresh, but right at the end when I just wanted it to be over. Wanting to run after 24 miles is a good sign that marathon training is working!

Anyway, if you're going to burn an extra 2650 (or so) calories in the course of the day you need to make sure that you're replenishing a fair few of them in order to have the energy to make it up that last hill. And I'm a bit of a food obsessive anyway.

No matter what I'm doing or where I go, I almost always have a food plan. I really hate it when I don't. It's not necessarily worked out to the nearest calorie, but even if I'm travelling I will have a vague plan such as "find a pub for a pub lunch at around x time", and I'll make sure that I'm somewhere where a pub is likely to be found around then. It might be a plan to find a sandwich shop, a pub, stop for pizza, whatever. I'm not necessarily always planning to eat ultra-healthy food, but I'll have a vague idea of what I'm going to eat and when I'm going to eat it. Actually, the timing bit is sometimes more important than the what I'm going to eat - if I at least have an idea when I'm going to eat it I can fit the rest of my day round it.

If I can research in advance and find likely looking stops with menus online, so much the better. I have "safe" fall back plans that don't involve fast food - like combinations of things I can buy in supermarkets to make up into a meal on the move. If I can't think of a convenient way to find food at the right time, I think about what I need to carry with me for hunger emergencies. I do laugh at myself when I'm sightseeing. Every restaurant, bar or cafe I go past with a menu outside gets checked out, even at 9am, so that when it does get to lunchtime I have an idea of somewhere to head to rather than just diving into the nearest place.

Indeed, I don't think I'm alone because this was one of the things I noticed at the Eve photo shoot. Almost without exception all us losers had bags filled with healthy snacks, just in case London was a complete healthy food desert and we needed sustenance during the day.

But if I can afford to be a teeny bit more relaxed about what I eat when I'm on holidays or days out, when I'm actually exercising I need to be more careful to make sure I get the combination of food I need to keep me going. So I decided that the only way to make sure I got through the day in one piece and ready to resume running as quickly as possible was to plan, plan, plan. I had a rucksack with me, and I filled it with all sorts of healthy but energy dense treats to keep me going. I have enough experience of endurance training to know what I can stomach, what I need to eat, and when I need to eat it. I know which foods make me feel more alert, which send the energy to my legs, which produce quick bursts and which give me solid, ongoing fuel. I also know which ones are likely to have me searching for the nearest loo, which is the last thing you want on top of the moors at 9.30pm, so I came up with a plan, and I intended to stick to it.

Of course, that opened me right up to criticism. I have a bit of a love hate relationship with the organiser. On the one hand, he puts a hell of a lot of work into fund raising and organises things that should be impossible, but on the other hand he does like to be in charge, and he likes everyone (particularly the press) to know it. His nickname is the sergeant major. No matter what you do, you've done it wrong and he's right. He tells you to set the pace then has a go at you for being too fast. You fall back and you're dawdling. You slow down to stick with the rest of the group and he tells you that you look like you're flagging. You go ahead and you're not a team player. He sometimes winds me up, but I always end up joining back in with his next scheme.

We stop for a food break and I pull out my sandwiches. Of course that means that I thought his food isn't good enough for me, and why am I not sharing? Well, for one thing, you mentioned stopping for food but didn't say whether we had to bring our own, whether we were stopping at a pub, whether you were providing it, or how it was working, so I made my own plans. Also, I don't actually eat those chicken salads you've got in the coolbag because I'm veggie, and I didn't know whether you'd have anything suitable for me (as it happens, the hot meal they had waiting for them at the end was cottage pie, so I was glad of the pasta salad I'd left in the boot of the car). And I know that what I've brought with me is far more nutritionally balanced and suitable for my needs than a cheese salad from sainsbury's (aka grated cheese and a bit of lettuce), or a soggy white baguette with cheese on it. And as for sharing, if you'd asked me to bring extra, I would have done, but bearing in mind I had to cart it round with me in my rucksack, I didn't want to bring too much more than I'd actually need.

The same with my energy bars and tablets. I've brought enough to fuel me through the 26 miles. I'm not carrying enough for everyone else because it will weigh me down. I take responsibility for my own nutrition, and I don't want to be left in a situation where there's nothing suitable for me to eat. If other people don't plan ahead, that's not my fault.

Even before we actually stopped to eat I realised something. It struck me that the main reason I'm glad I'm not doing the full walk to Cardiff isn't blisters or tiredness or spending the week with that lot, it's the fact that I wouldn't be able to control my eating for a whole week, and that would kill me!

I know he was only teasing, but it hit a bit of a raw nerve because I know that sometimes maybe I'm just a bit too obsessive about what I eat. It won't kill me to eat a shop bought sandwich from time to time, or to just go with the flow and take a chance on finding somewhere to get something to eat. Am I too focussed on what I eat, when I ought to be a bit less fanatical about it. But equally, if I can make myself something that's better for me, and I can carry it with me, why shouldn't I? Why should I eat something that won't make me feel as good as the sandwiches that took 10 minutes at the most to make in the morning before I set off?

Ah well, at least they were very good sandwiches...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Decision Time

So, I have a job offer. Well, technically I don't. I've been offered it on the phone, but the HR department have pointed out that they can't make me an offer unless I actually apply for the job, so I have an application form I need to fill in for a job I've already been interviewed for twice*. Kind of backwards, but never mind.

I suppose getting the paperwork in place gives me a bit of thinking space. By the time I get the form to them, and they generate the offer, and we have a bank holiday weekend it will be nearly 2 weeks until I need to get back to them officially. More than enough time to give it some serious thought.

I did realise something interesting though.

I believe in myself.

The things I wanted to know about going into the interviews were whether the job would stretch me enough, not whether I'd be capable of doing it. I'm more worried about whether it's what I want to do, the atmosphere in the office, whether it's the sort of company I want to work for than whether I'll struggle with the work. I have absolute, unshakeable confidence in that side of things. I never had any doubt that they would meet me and change their mind about wanting me to work for them. I knew that job was mine if I wanted it from the moment I picked up the phone.

How times change. The last time I went for a job interview was in 1999. When I say "a" job interview, I mean lots of them, weeks and weeks of interviews. I don't know whether it's still the same, but back in my day, all the law firms recruited in the first few weeks of September, two years before your start date. For two weeks solid I had an interview pretty much every day. My CV was top drawer, and I got an interview from nearly every firm I applied to. Job offers were a different matter though.

Out of all those interviews I got two offers, and both of them were from places where I'd done vacation placements. This led me to believe that I came across far better when I actually sat down and showed what I could do, than when I sat in front of an interview panel. I was probably right, put simply I had absolutely no confidence that anyone would want to employ fat, ugly me. I knew that I was clever, but I knew that I needed more than that to succeed in the workplace, and I let my doubts knock my confidence. Give me a week or two to show what I could do and I relaxed a bit, but in a 30 minute interview I was too worried about how I appeared, and whether first appearances would count against me, to be able to talk about the things I could do.

I don't want to sound like I'm slagging off my current firm, because I've had a fantastic time here, but a few months ago I was talking to a partner who interviewed me, and he made an interesting comment. "We couldn't believe that someone like you would pick us". Meaning, essentially, that I'm possibly working at a lower ranking firm for the sort of work I do than might have been expected from my CV and my ability. I agree to some extent, but the truth is that I didn't believe that I should expect anything more out of life. I was grateful to be given the opportunity despite my fatness, and I took it. Actually, it wasn't the only offer I had, but even at that stage I knew that I was willing to swop a potentially higher flying career for working somewhere where I'd actually get on with my colleagues and be able to have a life. I started making that trade off when I accepted the offer from the more relaxed firm, with the lower salary. 7 and a half years on I'm still glad I did.

It feels strange. I'd always thought of myself as loyal. There's no such thing as a job for life, but I didn't really see myself moving. But once you've made that decision that, maybe, elsewhere might be better, can you ever go back mentally, even if you don't get it? Or once those seeds of doubt are sown do they stay there until you move on? If not now, then soon. I realised that I didn't need to compare what my prospects would be if I leave compared to if I stay, I needed to compare what they'd be if I move now compared to if I move later.

I've picked up some interesting titbits from Joanne (my boss), and Neil (her husband, who works at the new place), which give me food for thought. I've also got a couple of calls to make to people who work in house elsewhere. But essentially, it's time to decide which way to jump.

*One thing that made me laugh - the first interview was a fairly informal job at a local restaurant to avoid prying eyes. I was more worried about checking the menu and deciding what to eat than I was about researching the company...

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


For someone who's not looking for a new job, I'm doing a remarkably good job of speaking to people about them.

First up there was a conversation I had with a recruitment agent the other week. I saw a job advertised which described me perfectly, so I got some more information about it. It turned out that, after a little thought, I decided not to proceed. Bizarrely this was more on "moral" grounds than anything else. The job would have been essentially legal PR for a product which I am not a fan of from a moral point of view. I wouldn't have been happy lobbying against laws intended to stamp it out, because to be quite honest, I would have a lot of sympathy for attempts to regulate that area. I meant to write about it at the time, but things have been hectic with mum here.

Then today I was completely and utterly thrown. I got a phone call completely out of the blue pretty much offering me a job in house at one of my clients. I'm meeting with her tomorrow to discuss it and, while she didn't quite say it's mine if I want it, I get the impression that the meeting is more for her to persuade me that I want the job than for me to persuade her that I could do it.

I'm flattered (and happy to find that my reaction wasn't "they must have made a mistake to headhunt me" but more "well, I am good after all"), but I know I can't take a job on flattery alone. Bad analogy alert, but I don't buy size 10 skirts just because they fit me. I only buy them when they actually look good on me. Same with a job. Just because they want me doesn't mean it's the right job for me, or that other, better opportunities won't come along.

Equally, I can't turn it down just because of loyalty to my current team. This is quite a tricky situation because the job is actually working with my boss's husband, although he doesn't know about it yet, and neither does she. He used to work here too then was headhunted by them a year or so back, and has spoken highly of me so now they're looking to recruit again she's coming back to fertile territory. So that would be interesting at home if I did decide to move, not least because I know it would mess with my boss's plans if I were to leave. She's still on maternity leave, and no doubt planning to come back part time again, but with no number 2 to cover, there would be a gap there. But I can't put my career on hold just because it would make her life harder.

This time there's more temptation in my head. I like the company, I have no problems with what they do, and having read through their website they provide facilities for people who want to run or cycle to work. Shallow, but I can easily be swayed by the prospect of bike racks and a shower, given my new "let's cycle to work" idea. If they threw in a microwave it would be perfect... You can see their office from mine so no tricky changes to my normal routine, and is actually right next to the bus stop to get to running club.

I guess I'm open to hearing what she has to say. I can't let my fear of change, or my fear of my boss's reaction stop me progressing my career if the job sounds like it's the best one to do that, but equally I'm not in a position where I need to jump as soon as I can. Part of me wants to string things out for a couple of weeks until pay review time on 1 May so that I can see how much my current firm value me (to be honest, after covering for Joanne for 6 months and hitting target 2 weeks early, if there isn't a decent pay rise I won't be happy). It really does come down to what she says tomorrow. I suppose there's a level at which it would be stupid to refuse, and equally there's a level at which it's not worth the hassle of moving, both in terms of money and the precise make up of the work I'd have to do.

I will update you when I know more!

Rewriting the Past

This week I seem to have been mainly coming up with plans, and putting them into operation, for various "new" sporty activities. It was only when I started thinking about it though that I realised how un-new most of them are. I'm still counting as new anything I haven't done in the past 10 years or so, but it did get me thinking about who I used to be and how I used to see myself.

I've written before that I always used to be keen but untalented, and that my fear of looking stupid was more of a demotivator for me than not enjoying sport. It hit me again, as I played netball for the first time in 11 years last night (and we won!), talked about setting up a rounders team over summer. It also hit me as I noticed the new bike racks in the office car park, and planned a climbing weekend in the Dales.

I used to play netball and rounders. Correction, I used to enjoy playing netball and rounders. I used to walk or cycle at least three miles to university every day. I used to ride my bike all day during the summer holidays, round country lanes and up and down hills. I used to enjoy the week long activity holidays they took us on to Wales when I was at school. I may have been physically fat, but I'm not sure that I was ever "mentally" fat. I never shirked exercise, sitting inside playing video games (maybe because we didn't have them) or watching tv. If it was sunny and I didn't have homework I'd play outside in the lane or in the fields round my house.

It's still a mystery to me in some ways why I was fat at that age. It certainly wasn't through lack of activity, and I don't remember eating that much more than my sister did. Maybe I wasn't as fat as I thought. I don't remember how much fatter than other people I was, maybe it was just a relatively small amount at that stage, and it only became more of a problem later? Enough to be noticeably fatter, but not enough to be a significant bar to my activity levels.

Or when I start thinking like this am I rewriting my history? Recasting myself as active and slightly chubby, rather than acknowledging that I was fatter than that. The truth is, that I genuinely can't remember. I know that I thought of myself as fat, but I have no idea how fat I actually was. Is the chubby theory the truth, contrary to what I believed at the time, or was I bang on the money back then, and am I now underestimating the scale of the problem?

The thing is, at this point it suits my purposes to think of myself as a fit and active person who went off the rails for a while, rather than as an always fat person who lost weight. Thinking that way allows me to hold out a realistic hope of doing this permanently, rather seeing my current lifestyle as a change which I need to be constantly vigilant about keeping up. It allows me to tell myself that this isn't hard, because it's what I've always done apart from a few years when I left university and didn't have a structure to my life that activity fit into. I started driving to work, didn't have any compulsory sports activities to do, and didn't know how to go about starting on my own. OK, the active stuff I did as a kid didn't necessarily work as effectively as my current routine, but I still did it, and if I did it then, I can do it now.

If I thought of myself as someone who'd always been fat, the fear factor would be bigger, like I'm holding back a tide of gelatinous gloop that wants to settle on my thighs the minute I step out of line. I'd be more scared of failure, of going back to what I used to be. But if I focus on the parts of who I used to be that are the same as who I am now, it's easier to see how I can stick to this.

So, the upshot of all this is that I'm booking that climbing weekend, my name will be first on the list next time rounders or netball is mentioned, and that I'll seriously look into getting myself a bike and cycling to work.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


There are some weekends that you have high hopes for, then they flop, and others which turn into stunners from unpromising beginnings. When I told a friend on Friday that I was going to Huddersfield for the weekend, her response was "why?". Admittedly it's only just down the road and will never be top of the list of places to visit in West Yorkshire, let alone the wider world, but it just worked like that. We were going to a charity do on the Saturday night and had a rugby match on the Sunday, so it didn't make sense to drive home, even if it was just 20 or 30 minutes away. And it gave us an excuse to stay in the birthplace of rugby league, the George Hotel.

Saturday night was fanstastic. The company made it, and sitting in the hotel bar at 4am talking drunken rubbish is something I must do more often. I didn't drink too much, or at least I didn't have a hangover this morning, but I kept myself nicely topped up. That may have made me drunkenly agree to run another marathon, but with sober hindsight, that was a good decision.

Today we had the morning to kill before the match, and went up to Holmfirth. The farmers market was on, and there were plenty of cafes to sit in enjoying the sunshine. We found a lovely organic veggie cafe for lunch (not exactly the sort of place you'd find Nora Batty!), then headed back into Huddersfield for the game. Again, it reminded me that you don't need to go far to find somewhere to visit and get a bit of a break. It was a really lovely morning.

Other highlights from the weekend - I finally summoned up the courage to wear leggings with a short dress (I've worn the dress over jeans before). I actually really liked how I looked, and I'm liking the leggings thing. I never thought I'd be seen in public in leggings and a size 10 dress!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

I'm still here, honest

I'm still alive, but I seem to be rushing around everywhere and never getting near a computer for long enough to write anything coherent. Mum's here, so we're out more, and when we're in she's on it (the woman's worse than I am for compulsive email and message board checking!).

So, what have I been up to? Real life, mainly. One day I went out and got horrendously drunk... at lunchtime... on a week day. I stumbled back into the office at 4pm, went back to the pub at 5, then got home and fell asleep. It was a sleepy drunk day rather than a nauseous drunk day, thankfully. And I was tricked. There were 4 of us, one asked whether we should order a bottle of wine, everyone agreed, and then when it arrived there was only me drinking it. It would have been rude to leave any...

Then after that I went to Cologne with mum for the weekend. A couple of things stand out, going to the chocolate museum to watch Lindt gold bunnies being made was very eastery (as was the consumption of the contents of the museum shop), and I also did what I do with increasing regularity on city breaks and went shopping. What impressed me most about this wasn't the fact that I found something to buy, but that I chose the right size by looking at them, without having a conversion chart to hand. I might actually have an accurate perception of my size. Woo hoo!!

Then back home, back to work, and back to a string of evenings where I didn't make it home until 9 or 10pm. With my early gym starts that equates to walk in the house, prepare bag for the next morning and go to bed. This evening is my first night in since last Tuesday, believe it or not! And bearing in mind I leave the house at 6.15 in the morning, that doesn't leave much time for anything else.

Throughout that (despite what the evil scales might have said on Tuesday morning), I've not done too badly. I'm not claiming that my eating has been anywhere near perfect, but it could have been a lot worse. I've moved my exercise round to fit it in, rather than skipping it because I can't do it when I usually do. I've eaten plenty of fruit and veg. (OK, I also ate plenty of strudel, cheese and chocolate, but we can't be perfect all the time). Other than last Thursday I've kept my drinking sensible. I've had a beer or two, but not excessive amounts. I know that even if some of the extra weight isn't just water it's nothing that won't come off again once I get back into my normal routine. OK, I whinged about it and felt fat and lazy on Tuesday, but with my logical head on it's not a problem.

I'm gaining perspective on what maintenance means. It doesn't mean that I can't eat what I fancy when I'm on holiday, and that I can't have a bottle or two of wine on occasion, all it means is that I have to recognise that as the exception rather than every day life. But I'm not sure I'd want it to be. Today I've been looking forward to cooking for myself using real vegetables, and just having the opportunity to get back into my routine next week. I enjoy spending time with mum and doing different stuff, but it would tire me out to do it permanently.