A Lot Can Happen In 10 Years!

For those of you that know me well, you’ll be aware of my struggle with weight and body image growing up. Always the chubby kid, I was never severely overweight and came to accept that I was always going to be bigger than my peers. During my teens I found a confidence independent of my size and weight, and never let the numbers on the scale impact what I wanted to do or achieve (not that I ever worked up the courage to get onto the scale).

And then something happened. I’m not sure how or when – quite gradually I guess – I started to gain more weight. By the time I graduated from university and was back in Law School in London in I could no longer say I was just chubby. It most certainly wasn’t baby fat anymore. I grew unhappy with how I felt in my clothes and began to shy away from certain social situations. I hadn’t realised it at the time but I’d refuse to be in any pictures, always offering to be the one taking them, and my confidence began to wane.

February 2005: I saw a picture of myself taken when I was giving a speech and my first reaction was ‘Who is that girl in my outfit?!’. I didn’t recognise myself. The image of me in the photograph didn’t match my image of myself & I didn’t like what the world could see, which I’d chosen not to see myself. But still I was not ready for change, or didn’t quite know how to change.

A couple of months later on a random afternoon I was in a bookstore with my mom, over a cup of coffee, we came across Gillian McKeith’s ‘You Are What You Eat’. A family friend had achieved great results following the advice it contained for healthier skin. As an acne sufferer myself, I thought I’d give it a try too. My mom pointed out that the book talks about a holistic approach, not simply incorporating/excluding foods for a better complexion. For the best results I’d have to commit a little more. And so on what felt like a whim, I decided to do just that. We snapped up the book and went home via the supermarket to pick up fresh foods (in accordance with the book). Once at home we purged the kitchen and pantry of anything that was prohibited on the initial 8 week detox, and rid the house of any possible temptations. No ‘last meals’ or final indulgent treats, no mourning the absence of my favourite foods from now on, no prior planning at all in fact. I still don’t know what was so different about that day that made us do this, but now I know what made that day special.

Early on in my weightless journey

Early on in my weightless journey

April 9 2005. Exactly 10 years ago today I took a step that I believe literally changed my life, and gave me a much better one in return. Ten years ago today I was pretty much a UK size 18 (not fun when you’re just over 5 ft 1” tall), constantly tired and yawning with zero energy, and aging quicker than I should have been. In the last decade whilst I have not always got it right, I have not regressed and am incredibly proud of the work I’ve put in and the progress I’ve made. I went from couch potato to gym bunny, from obese to a healthy weight and from an almost size 18 to a size 6. I’ve sky-dived, bungee-jumped, competed in dry triathlons, hiked, trekked – and got to wear clothes I’d only ever dreamt about before. It wasn’t easy initially and people, myself included, wondered if this would be a lasting change. One decade on and I think I can safely say it is. I canNOT believe that was 10 years ago! Sometimes I wonder if any of it actually happened, if I really did make the changes, or if this is all some weird dream. Sometimes it seems like yesterday I was waiting for something to change so things would get better. Most times I can’t imagine ever going back or comprehend how I used to eat before.

Bungee in New Zealand

Bungee in New Zealand

Iceberg Trekking

Iceberg Trekking

Under Water Cave Abseil

Under Water Cave Abseil

A lot of life has happened in since that April, but I haven’t let life become an excuse to stray from the path of being healthy. Going from my post grad into full time work I was apprehensive about what being away from my kitchen for 2 meals a day would mean. More work and more play also meant another change in habits, as did more travel and most recently moving to Beijing. All these changes could have meant that I gave up or went back to bad habits, but instead they meant I found a new balance and a way to keep going. Don’t get me wrong – I can still eat with the best of them, I simply choose not to do that except on occasion. (Chocolate Cake & Cocktails from the Smokehouse Deli in Mumbai come to mind at this point!)

Cocktails @ The SmokeHouse Deli Mumbai

Cocktails @ The SmokeHouse Deli Mumbai

As I look back I can’t quite believe how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learnt, not just about food and nutrition, but about people as well. I definitely couldn’t have done it solo. Without the amazing support that was my mom, friends that were willing to change dining plans and my trainer who convinced me dry triathlons were the thing to do(!) it would have been difficult, and very isolating. To all those people I want to say I’m very grateful. So thank you – you’ve made my journey so far a lot of fun, a lot easier – and I promise: no more random kitchen experiments (those gluten, dairy, sugar and fat free banana muffins were not awesome the first time)!

The After Shot: 5 Yrs Ago  Having reached my goal size & weight

The After Shot: 5 Yrs Ago
Having reached my goal size & weight

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BubBye London, NiHau Beijing!

Summer 2013 saw me apply for, be given and accept a posting in Beijing for two years.  Until that point, for me China was a faraway almost mystical place of which I shamefully knew very little.  The opportunity to see and know more and explore was part of my motivation to accept the job.  I can never say no to a new adventure, and what could be better than two years in a country I’d never been to in a region I’ve been dying to explore?!? And so I began the preparations for what felt like a life changing move.

As the months flew by and arrangements fell into place I began to realise that I wasn’t only preparing to say hi to a new city and new experiences.  I would also be saying farewell to an amazing city and some incredible people I’m fortunate to have as my family and friends…  Was I sad? Sure, who isn’t when saying farewell… Would I miss my little world in London? Without a doubt. & will I make it in a new city with new people? Only one way to find out..!

So here I am and here are a few of my first impressions of Beijing:

  • I’ll start with the weather.  Whilst most days it’s fantastic there have been a couple of days when I’ve woken up to a hazy orange smog.  Although it’s barely perceptible when walking down the street the air is laden with microscopic sized particles which pass through the lungs into the bloodstream.  The Americans monitor the air quality whilst the Germans tests the lung function of all their staff before and after postings in Beijing, we’ve ordered gas masks from Amazon(!)

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  • Architecturally, it’s not particularly inspiring.  Many of the buildings looks like 60s tower blocks and those that don’t are identikit shining steel and glass atrocities.  It seems that much of the old Chinese architecture was swept aside in the name of progress.  That said, there are some stunning buildings – the buildings built by Chairman Mao in Tiannamen square are awe-inspiringly huge and stand as a proud and majestic reminder of China’s communist cultural revolution.  It’s interesting to contrast these with some of the more recent buildings designed by award-winning architects which are temples to consumerism and full to the brim with brands that would put Selfridges to shame.
  • Beijing is huge.  Katie Melua can’t have been too far wrong when she said there were 9 million bicycles in Beijing.  As a city of 20 million, there are people everywhere but many seem to have given up their bikes in favour of scooters and cars.  The traffic is a killer (literally – crossing the road sometimes takes nerves of steel and a good dose of sheer luck).
  • The middle class is big, and it’s rich.  I don’t know what I was expecting but there’s no hiding the fact that China is the world’s second largest economy.  It seems that everywhere you go within our district (home to 8 million) there are hoards of young Chinese decked out to the nines dropping big money on meals, designer clothes and stretched versions of premium cars – many built that way especially for the Chinese market.
  • There’s significant disparity between rich and poor.  It’s safe to say that those families higher up the party leadership chain are the wealthiest – the rich are powerful and the powerful are rich but the average salary is still just over £500 a month.
  • Beijing isn’t even slightly multi-ethnic.  The Han Chinese are the ethnic majority in both Beijing and China as a whole and their superiority is somewhat of an accepted ‘fact’ in certain circles.  As well as the Han being officially encouraged to settle in the outer Chinese regions to more widely distribute their genes there is some positive discrimination in favour of minority Chinese from outer provinces so that they may ‘better’ themselves.  Like India, the supermarket shelves are stuffed with face whitening products (think bleach in face moisturiser) and whilst most people are overwhelmingly friendly and go out of their way to help, there’s no disputing the number of stares you get just walking down the street.
  • Having said that I can’t help but people watch.  The style and fashion you see at every turn is as exciting as it is inspiring.  Fashion really is a form of self expression here in a way I’ve not encountered in many other cities.  There’s no specific trend per se, and whilst each look is peppered with pieces from the new season the way it’s put together is unique.  And it’s not just the women I’m talking about.  There are some seriously stylish men in this town that could have walked off the runway at London Fashion Week.
  • The food is incredible! I don’t think I could muster enough adjectives for what my senses have encountered so far.  The colours, the choice, the fragrance,the flavour; simply mind-blowing! Whether you crave Michelin starred couture cuisine or simple fast street food, Beijing has it all. And at a price that renders many kitchens in this city derelict.  However as I’m a believer of kitchen therapy mine shall not be one of them.  Whilst I’d like to say I’ve eaten out and cooked in equal measure, the truth is with so much to try and my kitchenware still in transit to Beijing, so far my kitchen time has been minimal.  But the markets and food stalls have inspired me and I can’t wait to get cooking!

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  • English isn’t widely spoken and Mandarin is hard.  I’m really anxious to get begin Mandarin classes started so that I can say more than the very basics.  Currently I can say hello, thank you and order a drink (barely!).  This city will never make me it’s own if I can’t speak its language.  For now I feel reduced to watching it from the sidelines and not quite belonging.  My priority is to get some language skills and get involved – ASAP!