Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The skinny on exercise

As I may have mentioned, exercise and I have never been friends.

I was not, never have been, a tomboy. I was the kind of little girl who insisted on having a ribbon to match every outfit. I had ringlets. I played with My Little Pony, had picnics with teddy bears and was never happier than when curled up in an armchair with Enid Blyton.

Having a younger brother, I would occasionally join in a game of cricket or climb the old apple tree at the bottom back garden - to keep my end up, you understand. But my heart was never in it.

As for P.E. at school…my memories of sport at primary school are indistinct, although I’m fairly sure I never shone at sports day – and fairly sure I never minded. Come the age of 12, I attended an all girls’ secondary, so never had to experience the horror of communal showers that the boys down the road were subjected to…but I vividly remember having to wear the most ridiculously tiny pair of royal blue gym knickers to the athletics track. Which would not have been a problem had not getting to the athletics track involved a walk down the road. The public road. In full view of the public. Why would you inflict that kind of pain on anyone? Presumably the P.E. teachers were also products of Catholic convent schools and thus wished to maintain the cycle of humiliation. Oh, and don’t get me started on gymnastics lessons. I never got further than a forward roll. Physically timid, I hated the idea of throwing myself around, and couldn’t bring myself to handstand or cartwheel or launch myself at a large, looming box (calling it a horse did not make it cute, they could have called it the pink fluffy kitten and I still would have point blank refused to attempt to vault it).

Yes, exercise and I were never friends. I spent most of my early twenties avoiding anything more strenuous than lifting glasses and cigarettes. I had a brief foray into rowing at university, which was fun, but unfortunately the early morning sessions probably led to a net weight gain considering I developed a nasty All Day Breakfast sandwich habit as the result of the early morning sessions. The lesson: exercising first thing in the morning on an empty stomach might be beneficial for some people, but most definitely not for me.

When I made the decision that I had to deal with my weight once and for all, I knew that food would only be part of the picture. As it happens, current thinking seems to suggest that food is a pretty big part of the picture – one article that I came across states that the actual mechanics of weight loss (that is, creating a sufficient calorie deficit for the body to burn fat reserves) is 80% about diet and only 20% about exercise. But this wasn’t a “diet” I was going to embark on – a finite thing that I would finish one day. I was making a lifestyle change. And that meant facing my exercise demons.

So, one momentous day (a Thursday I believe) I walked to my local gym. Well, in actual fact, D gave me a lift to my local gym and I walked from the car to the front door, but the point is that I crossed the threshold. At first, I refused to set foot in the gym proper but just swam length after dogged length. Fast forward a year or so, and I am not only swimming but doing classes, both cardio and strength training, and even beginning to build up my running on the treadmill - although I can still not quite shake the feeling that I’m about to go flying off the back of the damn thing.

I don’t think I’ll ever love exercise but I love the way it makes me feel. I love the positive inner glow I have when I leave, the satisfying ache in my muscles. I love seeing the beginnings of definition in my legs and upper body. And most of all (well, this is the blog of a WW foodie!) I love the fact that an hour of effort can translate into enough activity points for a piece of chocolate or a glass or two of wine.

One of the reasons I am currently writing this is that is has been a week and a half since I last entered the gym. I’ve been in a bit of a funk. My logical self tells me that one of the best ways to lift my mood would be to go and sweat my way through a Body Combat class. My emotional self wants to nap and eat the last of the Easter eggs that taunts me every time I go into the kitchen. It’s time to grit my teeth and get down to it.

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