It’s that time of year again. Around about now I’m reminded of the past as well as who I used to be – and for a number of reasons this can prove to be a mentally tricky period.
Firstly it’s time for my semi annual diabetes checks and I always get a bit nervous when these roll around.
This morning I headed off to the first of two appointments that I’ve got to attend over the next week with a nice warm urine sample tucked away discreetly in my bag.
It’s always nice to arrive with a present.
In some ways the checks are always a bit amusing – because each time I go there seems to be a new(ish) nurse. Typically this means that I have to plod through broadly the same suite of queries as they look me up and down and then do a double take on my medical history.
Firstly they think they’re looking at the notes for the wrong person – because lately my test results show no evidence of diabetes whatsoever. Secondly they do a double take when they see the history of my weight.
Then they also make me stand on the scales.
Today it wasn’t so bad, and before the nurse started asking me questions I quickly explained how much weight I’d lost, how much exercise I do, and why my resting heart rate is so low (40 bpm).
She seemed surprised – but also very interested and as she took my blood pressure we chatted about how I viewed the whole process of weight loss – and in particular my opinion of Slimming World vs hers.
She wasn’t so keen on the plan because (she said) it ‘promoted large portions’ and ‘had a lot of carbs in it’ – which (to her) meant that people would inevitably regain the weight that they had originally lost.
It’s not the first time I’ve come across this argument.
I told her that I both agreed and disagreed with some of her points – because in my view whether you regain any weight depends firstly on your mindset and secondly on what you eat in terms of processed food.
I told her that the majority of my syns came from unprocessed natural food (olives or avocado etc) as opposed to things like chocolate.
I then said that I feel though (and always have) that it’s folly to have a diet plan that doesn’t allow for processed food like chocolate to be eaten (who these days would embark upon any plan if it completely denied them?) and occasionally I too eat these things – but in serious moderation.
The vast majority of the time I only have one item of processed food per day – and for around three days out of seven there’s often none at all. However (I told her) I’ve always felt that you can lose weight having processed food as part of your daily intake.
But did I think this was the right approach?
No I didn’t – because I personally feel that if you want a healthier life it’s not as simple as just counting ‘syns’.
Although it works for some people you will never catch me with a ‘syn bag’ full of crisps and chocolate in front of the TV in the evening.
Sure this can still see people lose weight – because ultimately it’s (at least partially but not exclusively) about being mindful of calorie intakes.
But what happens if you fall from grace and you still have a taste for these foods?
This is also why I don’t do ‘fakeaways’. I don’t want to crave these tastes any more and it often irritates the hell out of me that I still have a ‘need’ for cereal or hi-fi bars – which I’d much rather was completely replaced by fruit as a regular craving.
In my view you should aim to take as much processed food out of your life as possible.
At the very least you should diminish it to the point where your fridge is almost exclusively full of raw vegetables and (if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan) a small amount of meat and fish (particularly oily ones).
The nattering about the merits (or otherwise) of my approach to SW soon stopped however, because the first of the two appointments is only a short twenty minute one to gather data.
It’s not until next week that I get the HbA1c (average sugar levels fr the last 2/3 months based on my blood sample) results – which I’m most interested in.
They have recently been so low as to not register even as pre-diabetic, and I’m keen to keep them that way. I see diabetes as a beast waiting to pounce rather than something thats been cured. In my mind it’s always chasing me in the rear view mirror – and if I take my foot off the gas then it could come back at any time.
The one result I could get immediately though is my blood pressure – which irritatingly appears to be somewhat elevated since the last time it was checked – although I did arrive at the appointment after a rather brisk walk.
The last time I looked it was 116/68 – but today it was different.
Since blood pressure isn’t something that’s typically on my radar I always end up having to google what these readings mean – and according to the NHS website I appear (at least today) to be annoyingly on the cusp of pre-hypertension.
Their advice states:
Your blood pressure is described as being high-normal and ideally, it should be below 120/80mmHg. Known as the “silent killer”, high blood pressure rarely has obvious symptoms but, left untreated, it increases your risk of heart attack or stroke.
The good news is, it can be brought under control through lifestyle changes such as:
- Losing weight (if overweight)
- Reducing the amount of salt in your diet
- Exercising regularly
- Cutting back on alcohol and caffeine
- You may also need medication
There’s not really an awful lot left on this list to change other than caffeine which is my one remaining vice.
Truthfully it’s a big one – and I’ve often felt that my willingness to remove other more harmful things from my life has been at the expense of a significant increase in coffee consumption.
It’s my go to drink of choice – and as I type at 11.15 I’m already on my fourth one of the day.
Maybe I’ll have to change this aspect of my lifestyle, because heaven knows I can’t easily lose any more weight, reduce any more salt or do any more exercise (I’m currently burning a total of around 4500-5000 kcal a day).
This brings me to my second reason for remembering the past – because in just over a week’s time I will have been sober for three years.
This (now comfortingly regular) annual milestone is a double edged sword, because whilst it makes me feel no small amount of pride it also carries with it a deep sense of regret.
This is related partially to my inability to control myself in the past – but primarily to the death of my mother, which happened two days after I gave up drinking on the 26th of January 2016.
Although many may view the latter as the more significant of the two anniversaries I only tend remember it because of the former.
This subject came up today when talking to my nurse – because she asked me (as many people do) why it was I suddenly decided to change.
It came up in conversation earlier in the week when I was visiting a friend in Lichfield.
As we walked around the town and explored the cathedral I chatted about this upcoming event (it’s been on my mind for a while if I’m honest) and how I can never seem to manage to separate my personal triumphs from their associated emotions of guilt and regret.
I feel guilt because (despite the fact that my mother was a continually detrimental influence in my life) I don’t miss my her at all – and I never feel sadness because someone that I loved is gone forever.
Typically I don’t think about my mom at all day to day. The anniversary of her passing (as significant as it should probably be) only provides an overwhelming sense of relief that the abuse I endured at her hands is over.
As well as guilt I also feel regret – because ultimately although she proved to be the catalyst for most of the positive changes that I made I wish I’d been able to do it for more positive reasons.
I ultimately chose to change because I didn’t want to be anything like my mother. I suddenly needed to move away from any possible correlation between me and her at a million miles an hour.
It’s because of that impulse that I am now an infinitely better man than I ever was before.
The annoying thing is though I didn’t do it for love of myself or anyone else.
I did it because I had no love at all for her and I couldn’t stand seeing any element of my mother when I looked in the mirror.
If anything I hated myself way more than I disliked her and it was this personal revulsion that fuelled my actions.
I regret my reasons because I would have been delighted to have suddenly decided without any prompting that I needed to be a better man who deserved a future filled with love and happiness – but I didn’t. Instead it took other (far more negative) emotions to begin the process of becoming the man that I am today.
For some reason I don’t ever seem to let myself escape that fact.
The truth is that it makes it really really hard when people ask me for advice on how to change because I can’t suggest they wait until a parent who has mentally abused them for most of their childhood and adult life passes away before they change.
The truth is I don’t know if I would have ever become a different person without this event – and I might be the one that would have been dead now if she hadn’t beaten me to it.
However – what I do know is that although the even that created the man I am now was predominantly negative, the results were almost exclusively positive – because when the ball started rolling my mindset changed to a fundamentally better one.
I can now see many of the ‘truths’ I subscribed to back then as nothing more than self delusion. My approach to life these days is rooted making choices because they are the right ones – not despite the fact that they are.
I choose to be healthier.
I choose to be fitter.
I choose to invite love and friendships into my life.
I choose to share my failures and successes so that they will help others.
So maybe (just maybe) I will give up caffeine too. Maybe it’s one of the final crutches I’ve been clinging on to, in the mistaken belief that I still need something that’s a ‘vice’ so that I won’t go quietly crazy.
The truth is that I don’t really need any substance to make me feel good any more. All I need is the security of knowing that my choices are the right ones, that I have people in my life that I care deeply about, and that I feel loved.
After all – what other motivation do we really need?
People not motivated by wanting to live longer arguably don’t fully appreciate the life that they have. Maybe this is because it’s never hung in the balance or because nothing has threatened to take it away prematurely.
In my case I nearly threw all of it away on a casual whim because I didn’t care about myself.
Now I do – and I want to do anything and everything that I can to keep feeling the way that I do because I love each and every day of my life. It’s why each morning I get up and start walking, swimming, hiking or making other healthy lifestyle choices.
It’s why YOU should too.
Whatever your reason to do so – choose to be better.