Saturday, 31 March 2007

Feeling good: 31/03/2007

I've caught up with my blog, recording my journey to date - so from April 1st, I'll record thoughts in real time.

Having been sitting typing for much too long today, it's probably no surprise that I badly needed a walk! So, as it was a pretty nice evening (cold, but clear) I dragged my husband out for a brisk excursion round the two mile route to Morton Hall and back. No, I didn't make him jog.

But we kept chatting all the way, and although the legs are still a bit stiff from yesterday, it didn't hurt; it didn't feel like an effort, or a chore.

It felt right.

Great session: 30/03/2007

Thursday saw us taking another walk round Norwich. I wanted a water bottle and holder for use while jogging, and also found my own beanie hat: sugar pink. Kim will refuse to be seen out with me wearing it. It's even got a little tassel on the end.

On our way out of the sports store, I spotted the R4L t-shirts we'd wanted to get (the website for Reebok said they wouldn't be delivered until 1 May!). So I phoned Kim to check her size and got us one each - really pretty colour. (Mine is a standard t-shirt shape, Kim's is the vest type. Mine still has to cover up more than hers - bazooka holders or no...)

On a more elegant note, I also found (back in East - I really must stop going in there) the most gorgeous deep red crossover top. I think it looks sensational. It's a long time since I've thought that about any item of clothing on me.

Friday took me back to the gym for a PT session with Kim, and it was invigorating. I am starting to feel genuinely energised by the sessions, and when at one point we moved from the downstairs area to upstairs, I surprised myself by running up the stairs... We did a step test, which was a killer - but principally because it was one step higher than the last time I tried it!

Kim wanted a photo of herself to put on her R4L sponsorship page, so I was happy to oblige, using the mobile. Action shot!

Oh, and one more thing... I found a brilliant book on Amazon, which I think is going to a great inspiration and help. If you're looking for simple guidelines and real inspiration, have a look at Running Made Easy here. (When I told Kim about it, her reaction was "And you've bought it? And you've read it?" When I said "yes, and it's brilliant" she started bouncing around the gym as I was cycling my warmup, singing "Cassie's going to be a runner...")

Park and run: 28/03/2007

Kim needed to take her car to the garage at Easton for its MOT. So she suggested that we use the time for a run.

Back in our luminous yellow and frog green outfits, much to the amusement of the staff in the garage, off we went. There's a long, straight road between two roundabouts, approximately 1.5 miles, so the round trip was 3 miles. We jogged, walked, stretched and jogged again; we managed to keep chatting most of the way, which proves that my CV is improving. Whilst my calves and thighs were aching by the end, they recovered fairly quickly - in fact, the main injury I sustained was a scratch from a bit of metal sticking out from the lamp-post that we used to lean on when stretching at the end of the run!

What a feeling.

First solo run: 26/03/2007

It was such a beautiful day. I thought: why not? and drove down to the lakes at Great Witchingham. It's an area for fishermen, with little lakes and bits of forest dotted around. The lake nearest to the car park is a modest circuit - I guess about half a mile - fairly even ground.

I did "scout's pace" for the first two circuits - jog for about 100-200 paces, then walk about the same. Between each, I paused at the car, stretched and had some water. At the third lap I thought Can I? or, like the little train, I think I can I think I can - and jogged laps 3 and 4, with a pause between each. Heart rate was around 145 by halfway, 160 by three-quarters, but recovered back down to under 120 when I stopped. Lap five was straight walking, and lap six was jogging. Once again, I'd done about 3 miles, and about half of that was jogging.

I took a couple of photos of myself on the mobile, and used one on my Race for Life sponsorship page.

It's a long time since I felt this triumphant about anything.

This is life-changing.

R4L sponsorship: 25/03/2007

I took a deep breath and emailed some friends with my Race for Life sponsorship page. The first donation came from Pat, the boss I had in my last job in London - a lovely lady who I do miss. I was so touched. (Her comment was You never cease to amaze me...!)

More sponsors started to come in over the next few days, and each of them has so much confidence in me - it's fantastic.

The First Run: 24/03/2007

Kim phoned me in the morning. "We're meeting at the gym this afternoon; but I think we ought to do our first run today." I looked out of the window. "Kim - it's filthy weather out there!" "Yes, I know - that's why I want to do it today. I don't want you being put off if the day of the Race for Life is like this! Just wrap up warm. I'll bring you a hat to wear." Right.

We met and warmed up in the gym, with a few minutes each on the bike and the rower, plus some stretches. Then we went outside.

The gym isn't in the most picturesque setting in Norfolk; it's part of the Longwater estate, which contains a huge (and very useful) Sainsbury's, a Staples, the Range, and a few other shops. Oh, and a Kentucky Fried Chicken opposite the gym - great planning!

However, it's not a bad place to start jogging: even pavements, plenty of space around the car parks, logical stopping points for walking or stretching, and a couple of small hills leading back up towards the roundabout.

I wore my new frog green top and hoodie; Kim pitched up in a luminous yellow top. With little beanie hats on, we looked a hysterical sight - two-thirds of a traffic light. The Saturday shoppers looked at us as though we were mad. The weather was pretty grey and damp, but at least it wasn't raining.

The route we took was about 0.9 miles, when Kim clocked it in her car. We went round it three times, with probably 1/3 to 1/2 jogging in short bursts. My HR went up to around 160 by the end of a long (i.e. 2 minutes!) jog, but recovered fast. The little hill felt like a mountain, but we managed it.

I jogged today for the first time...

and I loved it!

Sports gear - me?: 23/03/2007

After working with one of my computer training clients in the morning, I paid a visit to JJB sports again - this time for my jogging trainers. Oh, and whilst I was there, my bazooka holders - that's sports bra to the uninitiated - and, well, a couple of t-shirts and a bright frog green hoodie - well, they've got to be able to see me coming...

The sports bra is brilliant - Kim finds it hard to understand (being somewhat less endowed than me) just how much of a pain (literally) it is to have big boobs. They really are not all they're cracked up to be. They come into the room first, give all sorts of preconceptions about your personality, and even when I was at my very lightest back in 1997 - 133 lb - I was still a 34DD!! Being able to jog without getting a black eye is simply brilliant. And I love the trainers, too - New Balance. The JJB shop assistant was so helpful, too; we find that the Norwich shop assistants usually are. When I told him that this was my first ever set of running shoes, and what it was for, he told me that his girlfriend was doing it too.

To the gym in the afternoon. Kim's changed my routine several times, and I'm now using the rowing machine as part of the warmup - something else that I'd always avoided before, being afraid that my back wouldn't cope, but it seems fine. When I use the Nautilus now, I need to take the speed up to beyond 5 km/hr to get the HR up to the required 127-133 range; when I started, 3.2 km/hr was enough. We're obviously making progress!

PS: Tonight's glittering social occasion was the annual (and hotly contested) Swannington Quiz & Chips evening. I realised that my main problem on such occasions was not so much the fish & chips (I'd already resolved to have my usual one glass of wine, and [with the help of a bottle of mineral water] happily stuck to that resolution - I felt I could allow myself a meal like this occasionally!) but the things to nibble at whilst one is considering the answers to quiz questions. Take those Pringles away!

So I chopped up some celery, peppers and carrots, bought a jar of very yummy tomato salsa (about 100 calories even if I'd polished off the whole jar alone) and it did the job beautifully. I just kept the nosebag on throughout the questions, but everybody else loved them too - perhaps I've started something...

I think it's called behaviour modification. Or common sense. Or something.

London again: 21/03/2007

Sunday saw me driving to London for the usual business trip, and wishing my mum a happy Mother's Day. I don't think she quite knew what to make of my news that I was going to enter a walk/jog/run - she's had a non-athletic daughter for forty-four years.

On Monday I was at Great Smith Street, Westminster, for a meeting with the group of computer trainers that I belong to (Digital Unite, who specialise in training the over-50s). Doing my usual walk to Walthamstow Central, I was finding that keeping my heartrate up to target (127 bpm) was becoming harder - as I'm getting fitter! So I decided - very cautiously - to add a bit of jogging...

... so, dressed in sharp suit (a sharp suit that I couldn't wear the last time I tried it on...) and heavy coat, carrying handbag and tote bag, I stuck in 50 paces of jogging. Then another 50. Then 100; then 150. All broken up with walking to bring the HR back down to around 127. However, the max HR doing that was about 150 - not too bad.

When I got out of the Underground (I hate that place!!) and into the fresh (?!) air of Victoria Street, I set off along the (I reckon, approximately) mile stretch to my destination*. Any time I had an open bit of pavement, and I wasn't going to send a commuter flying, I jogged - 50 paces, then 100 paces, then 150 paces...

... and I loved it!!

Good grief.

*OK, I've just checked it using Mapper (see health links) and it's actually 0.9 miles. I wasn't too far off. Oh, and what about the walk from the tube platform to get out of the station?...

It's getting to be a habit: 17/03/2007

Since the last update, I've walked (Thursday), walked (Friday) and done a solo gym session (Saturday).

Did they say exercise was addictive?

Next session with Kim isn't until after my visit to London - but then we'll start to plan the run...

Incidentally, I found out that April, one of our parishioners, is doing the R4L on the Sunday too; and Mary, another parishioner, is doing Saturday. Brilliant.

A REVELATION: 14/03/2007

I walked on the Tuesday, and met with Kim on the Wednesday. She was delighted with progress, continuing descent of my BP (it had started at the high end of the safe zone, and is now down to well within normal limits) and my weight is now down to 154 lb - bang on 11 stone. That's nearly a stone gone.

I subscribe to the Rosemary Conley magazine (mostly for the recipes for low-fat food, which are excellent). My new copy had arrived recently, and there was an article in there about the Cancer Research Race for Life.

I read it, and looked up the website, and thought very hard.

Then I sent Kim an email:

Race for Life is at Norwich Showground on 5 & 6 May. I know that I can walk it; seven weeks off, I want to be able to jog it at least. I've never done anything like this before. Would you do it with me??

c xxx

Reply, almost immediately:

Blimey!!!! Yes yes yes!

We need to get in training.

Speak about it when we hook up next.

Kind regards as always, Kim

PS: you'd better purchase those trainers (New Balance) & a bazooka bra.

The deed is done. We're signed up to Race for Life on Sunday 6th May. And I've never been more excited.

Try an exercise class: 12/03/2006

As Kim was unavailable for a couple of days, she suggested I try a class at the gym. It was OK, but I have to admit that the constant music gets on my nerves! Incidentally, part of it involved using small hand weights; I automatically went for the 3kg weights that are part of my usual routine, but realised that this was a mistake when I saw that even the instructor only had 2kg... it was sheer bloody-mindedness that kept me using the heavier weight!!

I think I'm coming to understand what works for me, and it's either solitary exercise - with time to think and focus on myself and the rest of my world - or the fun companionship of training 1:1 with Kim, or walking with my husband. I've tried various classes in the past, from Rosemary Conley to other aerobic classes, and they've not really been to my taste. But now I think I'm finding some other possibilities...

Another rough week: 11/03/2007

- but this was the week of my uncle's funeral. A very difficult time for all concerned, although as good as such things can be; I dearly love my cousins, his son and daughter, and all the various bits of the family that tie onto that side of the family tree, so it was great to see them - albeit not in ideal circumstances.

As a result, there wasn't much time for working out. I met up with Kim on Monday, but most of the week was spent dealing with work before travelling down to the Isle of Wight, from Norfolk, via Walthamstow - and back again - all in three days...

These things are the stuff of life, though, and I felt at least that where I'd have previously dug into the food and drink as comfort, I have other resources now.

Pete was a larger-than-life character, remembered with love by many. RIP.

Not such a good week: 04/03/2007

Not from the fitness point of view - that's been going fine - but this week's stress levels were in a league of their own.

Another visit to London. I was working with my client in High Street Kensington on the Tuesday and Wednesday, so got the train down to London on the Monday. Tuesday morning I was eating breakfast (my dad does a brilliant line in fresh fruit salad) before walking to the station, when I took a phone call to tell us that my mother's brother had died. As a Fleet Street man all his working life, with the attendant love of fags and drink, it was more of a surprise to us that he was still alive at the age of 77; but he was well loved, and his death, even after a long period of ill health, was still a shock. I made some phone calls to other members of the family, including my sister in Spain, and then went off to Kensington. Unfortunately, the shock really hit me when I was halfway there, so I was fit for nothing until the afternoon.

After the two days' work (and the usual walks, including one up the hill from Kensington to Campden Hill to see another client!) I made my way back to Norfolk on Wednesday night. My beautiful new PC had been delivered in my absence... and then I spent not just the next day, as I'd intended, but about the next four or five days getting everything transferred and working!! (Sometimes I really wish I didn't work with computers, I hate them so much...)

In amongst all this, I developed a nasty cold - which, after several weeks of feeling really good, hit rather harder than I think it otherwise would have done.

But, hey - by the end of the week (4th March) my weight is down to 156 lb - that's 11 lb in about six weeks. Brilliant!

Meet Zara: 25/02/2007

This has been an interesting week for Kim!

First, she's reviewed my targets; is delighted at my progress; slightly increased my target HR to 127, but also we're building in some increased intensity for short periods.

During some of our chats, I corpsed her completely by telling her about some of my un-rector's-wifely behaviour on stage in the past, and emailing her one of my favourite characters. Meet Zara, Queen of the Zonkers... I played Zara in an adult pantomime back in 1995 (yes, around the time that I married my clerical husband - he thought it was hilarious). I'm fond of this photo, partly because of the happy memories it brings back of some very silly pantomime performances, but also because the figure has improved since then... this is thunderthighs time!! As Kim emailed me back, "I'm now seeing you in a completely different light..." (wait till I show her the video!). She's been calling me Zara ever since.

Anyway, during this week, since our session on Monday I've managed two solo gym sessions (Wednesday and Saturday), plus a walk down to Morton Hall (in the dark, and with my dear husband in tow - we had a rehearsal down there for the scratch choir that's providing the music for our Good Friday service).

Snowdrop Walk: 18/02/2007

A good week. After my session with Kim on Monday, I've fitted in two gym sessions on my own (Wednesday and Saturday), another walk in Norwich (well, a walk round the shops!), and today was a real pleasure: a Snowdrop Walk at Morton Hall.

Ann opens her grounds each year for this event, on two consecutive weekends, in aid of the local Quidenham Children's Hospice; the place looks stunning, covered in not only snowdrops but aconites too, and raises thousands - it brings visitors from everywhere.

The cattle were out in the field by the main walking track, each with their calf - they made a beautiful sight, and clearly loved being the centre of attention.

And, of course, it was a good walk! We walked down to the hall initially, which is a two mile round trip, plus our wanders round the estate. I don't think I'll have been keeping my HR up, though - rather more of an amble!

(Nice not to be quite so apprehensive about the camera now, too.)

Back to Norfolk: 12/02/2007

Back to the gym, meet up with Kim and check in. Great session. She's introducing me to the boxing gloves! "I'm not doing this with you when you're in a bad mood..." Never saw myself doing this. Very tiring, but real fun way to exercise. I have the gloves, she has the pads that I aim for. "Aim for the yellow spots, not my face..."

Remember the comment about measuring distances? I've found it - a great little piece of software called Mapper. You download a map from somewhere like multimap or streetmap, enter the scale, then use the mouse to track your route and it will tell you exactly how far that route is. Only costs a tenner. It's available from the superbly-named Little Red Frog website. Once you've got the hang of it, it's really easy to use. There is a running diary included - at this stage I find it hard to imagine having a use for that bit...

A trip to London: 06/02/2007

An interesting variation on the exercise theme. I take a trip to London for several reasons:

  • business (redesigning a database for a client in Kensington)
  • business meeting (meet up with a couple of colleagues in the decluttering industry for supper in Knightsbridge - very upmarket!!)
  • family (staying with mum & dad)
  • friends (visiting several folks across Thursday and Friday)
  • wedding (Ellis & Claire finally get hitched in the City of London on Saturday)
This means, of course, no trips to the gym. However...
  • each time I go from my parents' house to Walthamstow Central station, I walk it (just over a mile)
  • walk from my client in Kensington down to Knightsbridge - which turns out to be more like two miles than one
  • take a long walk around the city of London looking for open shops on a Saturday in order to buy a new top to go with my new green suit!
The wedding was an absolute riot - enormous fun - and much to my delight, a few nice comments about weight loss...

Unfortunately, I didn't get to see the various friends, as I fell for a nasty stomach bug on the Thursday night and was laid up for 24 hours. What a pain. At least I was OK for the wedding.

Reporting back: 05/02/2007

One thing about having a personal trainer is that you want to be able to report positive progress! The tales of crudites and walks kept Kim giggling as we worked - I think she's starting to wonder just what she's taken on here.

Better still, my weight (this is the first thing in the morning, before breakfast, in-the-buff weight) is now 160 lb. That's down by 7 lb since I started on my own (16th Jan), and by 4 lb since Kim came on the scene. (26th Jan). Woo-hoo!!

Socialising: 04/02/2007

A new year drinks party at Peter & Christine's on the other side of our village. My husband is slightly startled when I suggest we walk rather than taking the car, but he's happy to go along with it... we reckon it's about half a mile each way. When we see how many cars there are there, and hence how little parking there is available, we're glad we did!

Now, a buffet. Hmm. One of my greatest downfalls - picking away without thinking. Let's see... make a beeline for the crudites and the tomato-like dips; yes, I'll have a glass of wine, but how long can I make it last?

Hooray! Managed to avoid all but a few small number (honest) of little sausages etc., and stick to the dippy things; and my one glass of red wine not only lasted me all lunchtime, but I left half of it!! Good grief. And it wasn't oh, no, I'm on a diet, I mustn't but actually, this is really what I want to eat and drink. Amazing. Something earth-shattering is happening here.

Later in the day, I take myself down to the gym, and follow through the stretches, the CV and the weight routine that Kim has emailed me. Glad I didn't have more than half a glass of wine...

Retail therapy: 01/02/2007

This is Thursday, hence our "weekend", and we go into the Big City (Norwich) for some time out, and some retail therapy. Well, if you take up a new interest, you go spend money on it...

actually, I'm really excited about all this. I've bought myself a heart rate monitor - a Polar T31 - and discovered the joys of JJB Sports (nice big branch at the Riverside development on the east of Norwich) into the bargain... We have also dug out a couple of little pedometers that I've had for ages (one from Tchibo, one free with a breakfast cereal), and we wear them around Norwich; but we come to the conclusion that they're not very accurate - they're counting about twice as many steps as we're actually doing!

Nonetheless, a day out in Norwich (with more hills than Norfolk is renowned for), including the not inconsiderable distance to the car park on the far north of the city, gives us a reasonable workout. My darling husband would have the right to complain a lot more about this than he does - given that he's a beanpole who doesn't need to lose weight...

The other bit of retail therapy is getting sidetracked by East - the lovely clothes store. We're due to go to the wedding* of our friends Ellis & Claire in ten days' time, so the beautiful green linen trouser suit that I find in there is perfect - and I have to say, I think matters around my hips are looking just a wee bit better already...

*(the wedding can be seen here)

Going it alone: 31/01/2007

Living in the countryside is actually not that easy when it comes to exercise. There are no pavements to speak of, so you have to make sure that your newly-acquired healthy life isn't cut short by a mad driver (fortunately the drivers are nicer here than in South London), and whilst there's lots of lovely open green land, the farmers wouldn't be too happy if the walking enthusiast went tramping all over their new crops.

I identify a reasonable compromise: a walk from our house down to Morton Hall (and back, of course). The land belongs to our friend (and churchwarden at one of the churches in our benefice), Ann, so I'm sure she won't mind the rector's wife availing herself of the facilities... I take my pulse at various points along the way, and reckon I keep it at a fairly steady 120 bpm or so. Must get myself a heartrate monitor for this sort of thing.

It's a beautiful evening, and judging by the time it takes me to walk, I reckon it's a round trip of about two miles. I wonder if there's a bit of software or something that will help me to work out distances?

Looking after myself: 30/01/2007

Session with Kim, which I really enjoyed. Chatting whilst using the machines tests out if I'm doing the right level of CV. It also gives us the chance to have girly chats!

I have to say, it's an interesting reaction to the (perceived) reduced amount of effort I'm using. I was using the Nautilus, feeling as though I was putting in a reasonable amount of effort, but unlike previous occasions, I wasn't blowing a gasket to do so. Having been given a target heartrate of 124 bpm (my resting HR is surprisingly low, given how unfit I am, at 60 bpm), I feel as though I'm not working hard enough! This is cheating! No pain, no gain! Maybe there's just too much of the masochist in me... but it seems to be working. I already feel better.

Now I've got to start building in some more exercise. Can't imagine jogging or running, but what about walking?

The gym session was followed by a facial at the beauty treatment studio at Carrefour (they sent me a money-off voucher for my birthday, earlier this month). Either I'm taking the correct holistic approach to this, or it's a darn good excuse. Your call.

First PT session: 26/01/2007

I'd managed to lose a few pounds in the last ten days or so, but 164 lb (11-10) was enough to be going on with!

Kim did all the tests - BP, fat %, measurements, stamina, the lot. I'd been there before, of course, many times - but the important bit here was would this help me to stick with it? She's encouraging, friendly and cheerful, and I don't want to let her down (which is, at the moment, easier to deal with than not letting myself down).

bridgetWe plan my first set of targets and exercises in the gym; I've always avoided running, as a minor back injury a few years ago makes me cautious about such things, and any previous attempts at jogging have set the back off. However, the new Nautilus machine in the gym seems to do the trick - burns up calories without making my legs feel like they'll fall off. I don't want to feel like Bridget...

The decision: January 2007

It started with an episode of Inspector Morse.

We got back from a post-Christmas break with friends - as usual, an excuse for overeating and overdrinking, sending me back to the New Year resolutions that hadn't varied for more than twenty years. 167 lb (11-13), two stone to lose. During our first week at home after our holiday, somewhere around 19th January 2007, it was back to the gym as part of my usual good intentions.

I'd been plugging away on the exercise bike, headphones on, in order to watch one of the three screens showing different tv channels in front of me. Dear John Thaw was doing his usual wonderful job as Inspector Morse, and I got so caught up in the episode that I decided I needed to keep pedalling until it finished.

Having spent about 15 minutes longer on the bike than I usually did, I was hit by a revelation. I felt better. I'd got into the rhythm of exercise; my heart was going faster, but not painfully - it felt good. By keeping going at a moderate pace, rather than doing a shorter period but working harder ("no pain, no gain"?), somehow things seemed to have more effect.

This was important. And, before I let the moment pass, I went back to my note about the personal trainer that I'd found in the gym before Christmas. I phoned Kim before I lost my nerve, explained my situation, and booked to see her for a chat.

On Tuesday 23rd January, we met up, and my new life began.

The poster: December 2006

I'd belonged to our local gym since we moved to Norfolk in April 2005, and had been going, as one does, in fits and starts ever since. In December 2006, during one of my "let's get this sorted", on-and-off keep-fit attempts, I'd been in the gym, and had taken a photo on my mobile of the poster advertising a personal trainer. I'd come to the conclusion that as I'd never managed to do this successfully on my own, I needed professional help. As a "declutterer" and computer trainer, I spend my professional life persuading people not to be ashamed of calling for help when they run out of inspiration, energy or motivation - so why should I be any different?

Of course, I didn't call Kim straight away - it was Christmas, after all - but I knew I had her details when I needed them...

The background: 1997-2007

It was a holiday that started the rot. From November 1996 to Easter 1997, I kept at my 133lb (9-7) weight, and was very happy with it. Then our Easter break was taken in a nice hotel, with three-course meals and a bottle of wine every night, teacakes with hot chocolate during our days out... and I came home half a stone heavier. Why I didn't just take myself in hand then, I can't imagine - but I didn't. I panicked. The weight came back on, and came off, and went back on, and I didn't fit into my clothes any more... any of this sound familiar??

By November 1999, I was back up to 152 (10-12). So I lost weight, and got down to 142. And what happened next? Just look at the chart... The peaks got higher and higher, and see that green line? that's where somebody of my height is classified as Obese. The blue line is the top of the Normal range. So the bit between the two, for my height, is the Overweight range.

It's when I realised that on my last "attempt" I hadn't even got down to the Normal range that something was going wrong; and it was seeing that Obese green line creeping closer that shocked me into real action. Here I am at my parents' 50th wedding anniversary in October 2006, and by this time - weighing in at my highest ever of 167lb (11-13, teetering on the brink of yet another stone overweight) I really was extremely tired of constantly wearing cover-up.

Ten years of classic yo-yo dieting obviously hadn't done the trick. I needed to call in the cavalry.

The background: 1992-1996

I remarried in 1995. At that time, I was falling prey to the classic "eat-because-I'm-happy" syndrome. We had lots of meals out, lots of wine, and the weight climbed. Note the carefully unshaped wedding dress.

Finally, in May 1996, I reached a (then) all-time-high of 158lb (11-4), and with it the all-time-low of depression. I decided to do something about it.

I started to walk round the park behind our house; to "stretch" (following some simple exercises from one of the books by she-who-must-be-obeyed, Rosemary Conley) most mornings; and to follow a careful diet.

It worked. By Christmas 1996, I had achieved 133lb (9-7), was wearing a size 12, and had a waist for the first time ever.

Weirdly, I can find hardly any photographs of myself at this time. You'd think that I'd have been out posing for every camera in sight. The only shots I can find at this time show, at least, that I had cheekbones for the first time, too - and that I still couldn't get used to the fact that I didn't need to hide the figure any longer.

The background: 1984-1992

I don't remember being particularly aware of my appearance when I was in my twenties; I just thought of myself as sort of plump, nothing out of the ordinary, neither ugly nor beautiful, neither fat nor slim.

I married for the first time in 1987 (here I am with my lovely dad, heading for the church), and I know I lost about a stone, getting down from 10-7 to 9-7 for the wedding. Exercise didn't come into it - this was all done by undereating. I remember it partly involved a fruit diet which cut out everything but fruit for the first week. Not surprisingly, the weight all went back on the minute we returned from honeymoon.

The background: 1981-1984

During my college years, I was (in hindsight) pretty fit; I walked about 3 miles each day between home/bus stop and bus stop/college, and at nine stone and 5'5" was a pretty sensible shape. Having "big bazookas" (as my PT puts it), though, I still thought I was fat, as they came into the room before me; and I could never see myself as slim. So it's no surprise to learn that what I saw was what I became.

And here I am towards the end of college days, aged 20, and still clearly very unhappy in a bikini!

The background: 1963-1981

I've been a "chubby girl" for as long as I can remember. I was put on a diet by the doctor when I was still in single figures to get from five stone ten down to five stone; and I did it! How much willpower was that in a child of eight?

I was never huge, but never tiny either; I wanted to be dainty, and pretty, but I was more likely to be complimented on my "nice smile" than anything else. I was chunky, solid, and inactive. I wasn't fit, and I knew I wasn't good at games.

The school reports were boringly good-to-average, but an oft-repeated theme was "good at everything except games..." I entered for swimming galas, and got the round of applause for finishing last every time; was last to be picked for every team; did ballet classes, but was never little and elegant.

By the time I reached 18, the image of myself as somebody who "didn't do sport" was firmly embedded. And at the age of 15, I certainly wasn't happy in a bikini...