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!

Flowering Cactus

Flowering Christmas CactusThis is on the table in my office.  I’m pretty sure it is supposed to be a ‘Christmas Cactus’ in which case the flowering is a little premature but I have two more at home, also in flower.

According to Wikipedia, the proper name for this plant is “Schlumbergera” and it originally comes from Brazil. I love the intense pink of the flowers and also the way that it comes into bloom to brighten the dark days following the clock change.

Poor Schlumbergera needs repotting though as she is looking distinctly top-heavy.


PumpkinI no longer have children of trick and treating age but I keep a bowl of sweets by the door on Hallowe’en night in case any costumed visitors call by.  When my children were younger they would often be invited to  ‘Light Parties’ offered as an alternative to Hallowe’en by people who believed that Hallowe’en is a celebration of evil.  My understanding of Hallowe’en, though, is that, far from celebrating evil, the costumes and lanterns are intended to scare away wickedness.

This is what I used to tell my children about the meaning of Hallowe’en…

Many centuries ago, in the old calendar, the date that we now know as 1st November (All Saints/Hallows Day) was the start of the new year. People believed that at the turning of the year, the walls between this world and the spirit world grown thin and those who have passed over can return.  Many of these spirits are people who are loved and missed which is why in some cultures people go to graveyards to welcome back their departed family members.  However, some of these spirits will be less welcome: people who lived wicked lives and may wish to cause harm by returning.  To keep these bad spirits away we carve ugly, frightening faces out of turnips or pumpkins, put lights inside and sit them outside our doors.

I can’t explain where ‘trick or treating’ came from but it resembles two English traditions – ‘mischief night’ and ‘penny for a guy’.  ‘Mischief night’  used to be 4th November, before bonfire night, and children would commit acts of (fairly) minor vandalism.  I once had my back gate pinched; as it was made of wood, I assume it ended up on someone’s bonfire.  ‘Penny for a guy’ was the custom of showing the guy you had made for the bonfire and asking for money which could be used to buy fireworks.  However, dressing up on Hallowe’en makes sense: if people are disguised then they can create a scary (and riotous) presence in the streets and any malevolent spirits would not recognise them.

When I was a child the custom of trick or treat was an exotic element of American children’s literature; we didn’t do it in England.  We marked Hallowe’en with turnip lanterns, apple-bobbing and gingerbread.  When I walked home along the dark lanes, with the clouds scudding across the sky and the sound of autumn wind in the branches I would feel a frisson of fear.  On Hallowe’en night it was always possible to believe that maybe, just maybe… ghouls and ghosties might be abroad.

charlie is missing by rosie

Charlie Cat in a suitcasei know i said in my previous post that charlie is a pain and it is true

but the night before last he did not come home

he was not here for breakfast yesterday morning

and he didnt come home last night either

they are worried about him

and i dont like it either

i dont feel comfortable eating my food when charlie is not here

even though he is a pain

i hope he comes home soon


A gift from my neighbour

leaflets from the neighbour Amazon Logistics delivered a package but there was nobody at home so the package was left with a neighbour.  The neighbour called later with the package and a little collection of religious leaflets.  He explained that on the day of judgement, God will ask him if he told his neighbours about his faith and so he is making sure that he can answer ‘yes’ by telling his neighbour (me).

So, Neighbour, I would like to thank you for taking the time to pass your message to me.  You handed me your leaflets politely and respectfully.  Whilst you made it clear that you would be happy to talk, you left it open for me to take questions to you; you did not attempt to persuade me on the doorstep.  I appreciate that you care enough for me to take the trouble of telling me about something that is so important to you.  I appreciate that you care enough about your faith to reach out and pass on information to those who might not know.  This takes courage, especially in these Islamaphobic times, and I value that.  When you bring your message to me, and I listen, even if I do not agree, then we have community.  Thank you for your gift.

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




Amaryllis: it’s here!

amaryllis flower Over the weekend the flowers opened completely to brighten my Monday morning!  There’s only one flower stem but it is topped by three spectacular flowers: vivid, scarlet and silky.  I’ve never before noticed that the amaryllis has a smell but it does: a delicate, but definitely floral, perfume.  There is also the first tiny leaf bud poking through the soil at the base of the flower stem, ready to start feeding the bulb for next year.


2014-03-31 13.43.21amaryllis lead bud 2014-03-31 13.42.23

Amaryllis week 7

Amaryllis almost open What a difference a week makes! Now there are clearly three flowers on this stem: rich, velvety and red. They are unfolding away from their discarded and drying coat and getting into opening position.  I think of the flower as ‘bursting’ open but actually, it’s a far more gradual process of stretching and reaching (bit like me getting out of bed in the morning).

Amaryllis week 6

Amaryllis bud It’s a little bit taller but, excitingly, almost ready to flower! The bud is just beginning to open providing a glimpse of red: a taste of the richness to come.