How did she do it?

Weight loss before and after

I accept that there is some ‘cheating’ in comparing these two photographs but, to be fair, neither was taken with the intention of showing off my figure. However, the question that everybody asks is “how did you do it?” Here is the answer.

Making a firm decision

The first photo was taken during a work trip to Jordan. I was really shocked when I saw the pictures from that trip and decided that the time had come to take action.

Joining Slimming World

I joined a local Slimming World group. I haven’t really been following the Slimming World plan as such, yet some of the ideas have been in the back of my mind and the weekly discussion of food and diet is helpful. The most useful part of the group, however, is the weekly weigh-in and being accountable. Getting little awards for progress is motivating too and being with other group members is supportive and shows what is possible.

Hitting snacks on the head

No eating between meals! If I feel peckish in the day I try to think if I am really hungry or if it is an emotional craving. If it’s real hunger (which is rare) then I have fresh fruit or a few nuts. Emotional hunger can be satisfied with a sweet tasting tea (liquorice tea, for example).

Eating more protein

This is a bit tricky for me as I am vegetarian and have been for all of my adult life. However, I make sure that I eat an egg every day for either breakfast or lunch. If I don’t have egg for breakfast then I have unsweetened full-fat yogurt. Eating protein and fat at breakfast means that I don’t feel hungry during the morning and can easily resist biscuits if they appear at a meeting.

Cutting out sugar

Generally speaking I don’t eat cakes, biscuits, sweets or puddings. If someone has made a cake or pudding for a special occasion then I will have a very small piece but this occurs only rarely. Apart from the odd (OK, daily) square of very dark chocolate, I do not normally eat any sugar except for fresh fruit. This includes alternative sugars such as honey, date syrup, agave syrup – I count them all as sugars that I don’t eat. I also don’t (normally) have fruit juice or dried fruit. I even make alternative ketchup with tomato puree because all commercially produced ketchups and sauces contain some form of added sugar. Cutting out the sugar seems to have reset my palate with the result that many foods are more tasty. I used not to like apples or herb/fruit teas but now enjoy the flavours of both.

Reducing bread

I love bread and in return it adores me so much that it sticks to my hips and tummy. I eat much less bread now – probably not more than a couple of pieces a week.

Taking lunch from home

In the summer I was making salads to take to work but as the weather became colder I started to take food to heat in the microwave at work. This is either leftovers from family meals or dishes that I have made specially and frozen in portions. ‘Veg box stew’ contains an assortment of vegetables cooked in the slow cooker with chilli and beans – flavoursome and filling! This means that I don’t have to buy sandwiches which is good for both wallet and waist.

Eating real food

I don’t eat ‘low-fat’ products and try to avoid processed foods in general. If I’m going to use oil then it’s olive oil rather than low-fat cooking spray and if I’m eating yogurt then it is full-fat rather than low-fat versions. If I wanted butter for spreading or cooking then I would use real butter rather than margarine or low-fat spread. This is because low-fat versions of food contain other ingredients (often sugars) to give the flavour and feel of fats. However, fat is filling, satisfying and tasty so I’m sticking with it. I have reduced the amount of cheese that I eat, though, and rarely eat butter because I don’t eat much bread. I also eat a lot of vegetables and fresh fruit (probably too much fruit, actually).  I make sure that the food I eat is tasty so that, although I am eating less, I enjoy it more.

Listening to my appetite

I mentioned this above in relation to snacks but I also pay attention to feelings of fullness at mealtimes. I try to stop eating when I feel full even if there is food on my plate.

What about exercise?

I haven’t mentioned exercise and for good reason.   It’s about a mile from home to the railway station and, at the other end, about a mile from the station to work. I had slipped into the bad habits of taking my car to the station in the morning and taking the bus from the station to work so I did get back into walking all of those journeys (about four miles a day in total). By coincidence, I subsequently started cycling (at one time was a very enthusiastic cyclist) and then bought a commuting bike that I now use for my journey to and from work. However, four miles on a bike probably uses less energy than the same distance on foot. I am not going to the gym or taking any other formal exercise. Of course I am fitter and because I weigh less then I have more energy to run up and down stairs. I am not convinced, though, that exercise has been a significant factor in the weight loss. I think that being more active is a result of being thinner rather than becoming thinner as a result of more activity.

To date I have lost 20kg or just over 3 stone. My next challenge is to find out how to maintain a healthy weight. Wish me luck!

The ‘hygge’ of co-counselling

Bundle of heartsWith an academic background in Linguistics I have always been fascinated by untranslatable words.   For example, English has ‘nice’: nice day, nice food, nice time, nice person, nice face, nice weather, nice house, nice clothes, nice place… Every ‘native’ English speaker understands the quality of ‘niceness’ but it is very difficult to explain and cannot be translated by one single word.  Something that is ‘nice’ is pleasant and attractive but not exceptionally so.  However ‘nice’ also expresses warmth; a nice person has a warm personality and a nice house is welcoming.  A nice meal has not only good food but, if eaten in company, is convivial.

Conviviality is a key component of the Danish word ‘hygge’.  Hygge expresses environmental cosiness, comfort, welcome and warmth but more than that is “people’s behavior towards each other. It is the art of creating intimacy: a sense of comradeship, conviviality, and contentment rolled into one.” ( As I have come to understand hygge (largely through conversations with my colleague Pia Christensen) I have also realised that this is a key component of the CCI co-counselling community.

Co-counselling (co-co) is a system of peer counselling in which “one person listens while the other talks (or “works” in other ways)… the person being client … is in charge of the session and the person being counsellor mainly just gives very good attention.”  (  The co-counselling partners share the time equally between them and take it in turns to be ‘counsellor’ and ‘client’.  However,  this is only the session.  Although the co-counselling session and its skills are the basis of all co-counselling, the true richness of CCI co-counselling lies in the community and the hygge.  The community is dispersed and anarchic with no formal organisation, hierarchy or leadership.   Even without these structures, we manage to organise several residential events each year, of varying lengths for group sizes between 14 and 140 people.

The main purpose of a co-co residential is participate in sessions and workshops to address issues and to learn new techniques.  However, I’ve been attending co-co residentials for at least 25 years and that means that I have come to know a lot of co-counsellors and made many friends along the way.  At a residential we spend a lot of time together: cooking, eating, washing up, hanging out, chatting, playing games, making music… in addition to the ‘official’ activities such as opening circles, workshops or support groups.  Each event is like sinking into a pool of warmth and welcome.  It’s a community in which the question “How are you?” is a request for information rather than a formulaic greeting.  Sometimes the going is tough and there are difficult group or interpersonal issues to work out,  Nevertheless, at the end of the weekend or week I always leave feeling loving and loved as a result of having experienced deep social intimacy.  Coco workshops are often nice but most importantly, they are hyggelig.  When I leave thinking “I need more of this in my life” I know that what I actually need is more hygge.

For more information about CCI co-counselling see

“Bundle of Hearts” image from




Scissors for a friend

Scissorsm flower and card My friend Gilli,  who rebooted my crochet, is having a BIIIIIG birthday – one with a 0 on the end – so I have made this little gift from my flowers and leaves. I’ve blocked the flower (using the steam method developed by Lucy at Attic24) and I think it makes a difference. The card was bought at Yarndale with just this birthday in mind but I didn’t plan how well the flower and card would go together. Once again, I have used baby nail scissors; these are from Boots and I think they are prettier than the Tommee Tippee ones. They are also flat whereas the Tommee Tippee scissors are curved. Gilli is flying to the USA soon and will be able to take these on the plane for non-stop crochet.

My Mother taught me that it is unlucky to give scissors or knives; you may cut the relationship.  Instead, the scissors must be purchased by the recipient so Gilli bought her birthday gift for 20p.

Little bits of happiness

Lights on the mantelpiece

1) Time for fairy lights: I bought these lights last year because I loved the colours and now that it’s December I can bring them out again.  It gives me a little burst of joy to come into my office and see these lights glowing on the mantelpiece.
2) Christmas banding has started – three events yesterday (although I played only two) with the first Smiling Morn and the first mince pie of the season.
3) Foreign parts: last week I went to Thailand and Laos.  It is a real privilege to have a job in which I can do that!

This week’s blessings

Granny square blanket  This week I am grateful for…

  1. Friends: Last Friday we had a celebration and thanksgiving for Dinah. The crematoriam chapel was so full that people were standing around the edges. The eulogies from friends and family reflected Dinah’s thoughtfulness; her creativity; her sensitivity and her wit. Her coffin was beautiful, made of cream felt with an embroidered  label for her name and dates.  Dinah had chosen music that expressed not only her personality (“I was Born under a Wandering Star”) but sent her final messages( “The Rose”). Also, the day provided a chance to catch up with many, many friends
  2. Completion: I finished the crochet blanket that I was making.  It’s full of mistakes but I think it ‘s turned out OK.
  3. Autumn: I don’t remember many autumns that have lasted as long as this one.  There are still traces of green on many trees and even though we have had strong winds recently, trees are holding on to their leaves.  Crimsons and oranges are increasing in intensity and each day contains heart-stopping moments of colour.  When I flew back into Leeds-Bradford a couple of weeks ago every tree seemed to be standing in a little pool of gold.

Happy things

rainbow over trees


  • Light Cavalry and the William Tell Overture: what exhilarating pieces to play!
  • On Sunday the rain fell straight down as though from a celestial shower head but there were also patches of sunshine and in one of them, was a rainbow.
  • Working online with students: I have a truly great group this year (as always) so the online sessions are always lively and stimulating

Happy this week

Granny squares in progress

  • After a break of more than 20 years, I have taken up crochet again.  In any case, I’d never made granny squares.  This work-in-progress is a blanket of 80 squares and I am over half-way through assembling the blanket.  It’s full of mistakes but the next one will be better!
  • One of my colleagues wears Chanel perfume and whenever she visits my room she leaves it beautifully scented.
  • On Thursday I attended an ‘agenda-setting’ workshop on multimodal and digital methodologies organised by the MODE node of the National Centre for Research Methods.  During the day, people presented their work and this was followed by a mapping of issues in multimodal and digital research.  I felt excited and inspired by the presentations and discussions; the day was intense but happy.  Saying ‘MODE node’ makes me smile, anyway.

Counting blessings

Autumn treeMy friend Dinah ‘went home’ (her words) just over a week ago.  She was only in her early sixties but died in beauty and happiness. Here are some of the things that made me happy this week.

  • Going to Yarndale.
  • Returning my completed marking to the office.
  • Music:  yesterday, with Hot Aire, we spent the entire rehearsal working on one piece.  Things I couldn’t get at the beginning were coming together by the end.  Satisfaction!  Then in the afternoon, I played in a concert with Hall Royd.  What a tubarrific day!
  • Autumn.  I’m not really an autumn person; my favourite time of year is May/June as the days lengthen and I feel the optimism of summer ahead.  But this autum has an astonishing abundance of berries and the russets and crimsons of the turning trees are exceptionally vivid.  I’ve stopped several times just to stand and gaze at colours against a backdrop of blue sky.