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Trim Healthy Thursday: Monitoring the situation

So last week I talked about needing to take my application of Trim Healthy Mama eating principles up a notch, as I’d been freestyling a bit too much (oh bread, what am I going to do with you?).

After reading Gretchen Rubin’s book ‘Better than Before’ on habit formation I decided to put some of her strategies into action.

I won’t go into the ‘why’ details (read her book), but a strategy that can work for people with my personality is to closely monitor yourself.

I devised a daily planner where I tick off whether I exercised, ate a THM breakfast, lunch or dinner, and did several other daily tasks.  I know, I know, it all sounds rather tedious and extreme but…

IT IS TOTALLY WORKING FOR ME.

I have been surprised how something so simple has a powerful effect on me.  I seriously feel guilty if I put a cross next to THM lunch or whatever.  I think it helps that I am also a visual person, so seeing ticks and crosses laid out in front of me helps me to see the scale of any ‘cheating’ and where I’m doing well.  I’ve also found it has been a terrific prompt to do things around the house when my sleep-deprived brain isn’t firing on all cylinders first thing in the morning.  Hopefully I will get to a point where my tick sheets are no longer required as these new, better habits become ingrained.

Another useful strategy for me is rewards.  I wrote down some goals that I want to reach, and allocated rewards that I will be given when I hit those goals.  I got a whole bunch of gift cards and cash for my birthday which I have handed over to D.  When I reach a specific goal he will release a card or some cash to me.  The more difficult the goal, the bigger the reward.  I’ve only just started this so I haven’t hit any goals yet, but I am looking forward to doing so.

If you are someone who is only doing so-so with any kind of habit change, such as sticking to a diet, exercising regularly, or sticking to a spiritual discipline, try really thinking about what strategies have worked for you in the past, and what haven’t.  Think about what suits your personality.  It’s no good telling yourself you will get up at 5am in the morning to go to the gym six days a week when you are not a morning person, and would be much better off exercising after work.

Have you tried different strategies to create a new habit?  What works for you?

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Dollar Diet: Week 30, all bets are off!

This week we saved no money at all.

But that’s because it was my birthday!  Not just any birthday.  My fortieth birthday.  It’s kind of a big deal.

A friend and her children made me this fantastic birthday cake!

A friend and her children made me this fantastic birthday cake!

As I have small children – and so do all my local friends – a big knees up at the pub was out of the question.  I just couldn’t be bothered.

I did however, demand to be taken somewhere swanky for dinner by D, because, you know, I was turning 40.  I couldn’t let it slide by unnoticed.

We decided to check out a restaurant we hadn’t been to before called La Strada.  I cannot rave about this place enough.  Everything we ate was amazing – some of the best food we’ve had, ever – and felt like the perfect place to celebrate my birthday.  Our meal wasn’t cheap, but we indulged ourselves because it’s not like I turn 40 everyday.

I also noticed in the paper that morning that one of our local theatres was hosting a ‘Who’s Line is it Anyway’ improv night.  $15 for a ticket and a glass of wine.  It took zero arm twisting to persuade D we should tack this onto our night as D and I loved to attend improv comedy nights in those heady days before we were parents.

The show was brilliant.  Whanganui has some tremendous comedic talent, and there’s nothing like spending a night in stitches of laughter to make you feel great.

I also wanted to celebrate somehow with my children, so we took them that morning to our local pool.  It was officially the best day ever in Chip’s life who spent most of the time climbing into the toddler pool, turning around, climbing out of the toddler pool, turning around, climbing into the toddler pool ad infinitum.  In case you can’t tell, he’s really into climbing right now…  Sausage and I had loads of fun zipping down the hydroslide several times, and pretending to be rockets launching out of the pool.

A perfect birthday.  Not so great for our bank balance, but almost covered by the week’s Dollar Diet savings.

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A week in the life of…

When you become a parent – particularly a stay-at-home parent – one of the things you become initiated into is the ‘playgroup’.  It’s a bewildering, hazing sort of initiation as you figure out which ones suit your baby and you (see here for my tips on how to choose one).  

I get asked a lot by new mums: ‘How often should I go to a play group? How much is too much?’  Again, the answer to that is whatever suits you and your baby.  Some people love to go to one everyday, while for others once a week is enough.

Currently we go to three to four playgroups a week (depending on how busy the rest of the week is) and that seems about right for now.  I like for my children to have a day or two pottering about at home or getting out into nature on sunny days.  Over-scheduling of children is a big problem, which is why I think lots of time at home is important.  They both get bored at times, but I find my two play together well when there is nothing else to distract them.  Having said this, both my kids are extroverts so they love being around other children.  Chip is a high energy baby, so I suspect in a few months time when he is running around, we will need to go to some kind of group every day just to keep him happy.

Here are some photos of last week:
Play group 1

Playgroup 1

We go to a low-key playgroup once, twice or even three times a week depending on how the mood takes us.  It is a pay-as-you-go group so it doesn’t matter if we skip a session or two.  This playgroup has loads of great toys which keep my tots occupied nicely.  It is a very low-involvement-from-parents sort of group (which is great when you just need a break) but we typically help put toys out/away, prepare morning tea, and lead craft activities.

This toy we christened the ‘Wibble-Wobble’ although I am reliably informed it is called a Spring Bug.  I think Wibble-Wobble is much better.

Chip enjoying the Wibble-Wobble

Chip enjoying the Wibble-Wobble

Sausage in action

Sausage in action

We go to Playcentre once a week, and the kids and I really enjoy it.  The toys and selection of activities there are tremendous.  Playcentre is parent-run so it requires a high level of care-giver involvement, but it’s not onerous.  Playcentre has a very holistic philosophy, letting children lead and direct their play.  It is unique to New Zealand and provides training to all caregivers to help them get the most out of their child’s time at Playcentre.

Making cheese puff at Playcentre

Making cheese puffs at Playcentre

Climbing toys are very popular at Playcentre

Climbing toys are very popular at Playcentre

We go to a music and dance group once a week, although I forgot to take pictures of this.  Sausage loves, loves, loves music and dancing but isn’t into this group so much.  Chip, on the other hand, thinks it is the bees-knees.

During the week we also went swimming, went to a botanic garden and hung out with family.

Sausage at Bason Botanic Gardens

Sausage at Bason Botanic Gardens

Chip getting Uncle Cuddles

Chip getting Uncle Cuddles

How often do you take you kids to playgroups?  What’s your happy medium?

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Trim Healthy Thursday: Taking it up a notch

6 months in.

My thinking spot

My thinking spot

Woah.  That’s a lifetime in diet years.  Am I happy with my progress?  Yes and no. Yes, I have dropped two dress sizes, and have discovered I have a waist after all.  But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to wanting more dramatic results like some people share on Facebook.  I know, I know, slow and steady wins the race and all that.

If I am being totally honest with myself, my ability to stay on plan waivers from day to day.  Some days are fine and other days are derailed by various off-plan things that slip in here and there.  I’m not a purist sort of person, I think some ‘cheating’ (I really hate that term by the way!) is okay.  In fact, you must expect to cheat.  There are people out there who can stick to an eating plan and never waiver, but they are few and far between.  Some people allow themselves a cheat meal a week or a cheat day, which I think is a more realistic way to live.

I haven’t been allowing myself a cheat meal here and there, but I have been doing it all the same, so it’s time to take Trim Healthy Mama up a notch.  So I think I might officially give myself one per week (especially as my birthday is this week!), and try something new to curb bad habits and encourage the good.  I took myself off to my best thinking spot and thought.  And thought some more.

I have been reading books by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, and have been particularly taken with her work on habits.  You can check out some of her work here.  The psychologist in me loves this sort of stuff, and Gretchen’s take on habit formation makes a lot of sense to me.  In her book, Better than Before, Gretchen spells out the need to understand your personality before you attempt to change a habit.

A strategy that works for my personality is ‘monitoring’ i.e. keeping a close eye on how things are going.  In the spirit of trying something new, I have devised a weekly sheet where I will tick off all the meals where I stuck to THM, when I exercised and when I got to bed before 10pm (I need lots of sleep).  I have also devised some rewards for when I hit a goal.  It all sounds a bit simple and rather schoolish, but I’m pretty sure it will work for me.  If that all sounds rather boring, read the book to discover what might work for you.

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Dollar Diet: Week 29, false economies

D had to shell out money for a new pair of glasses this week.  I am always soooo glad I have good eyesight because glasses are ridiculously expensive here in New Zealand – at least several hundred dollars a pair.  D bought a pair locally a few months ago and got the cheapest pair he possibly could, as locally sourced pairs are much more expensive than on the net.  They promptly broke a few days later, thanks to some rough-housing with Sausage.  A little glue fixed them, but when Chip re-broke them last week it was time for  a new pair.

D has learnt the hard way to always go for quality when it comes to high-use items like glasses.  If he’d opted for a more expensive pair they might have withstood some rough-housing, and saved us paying over the odds for a replacement pair.

On a bright note I took part in a ‘Mamabake’ session, which was so much fun.  The premise is that a bunch of friends get together to swap baking or prepare a meal that can be chucked in the slow cooker.  You prepare enough to cover a family of four times the number of people taking part.  Vegetable prep goes by swiftly with a cuppa and a good chat!  We had a great time and went home with several meals that we can whip out when we’re having ‘one of those days’ and that we didn’t have to cook!  Win-win, that’s for sure.

Some of the spoils

Some of the spoils

Looking forward to eating this!

Looking forward to eating this!

Other frugal things have been harvesting some tangelos and the last of our apples, and getting a huge box of clothes for the children from a friend.  My tots are pretty sorted for the year ahead, I doubt I will need to buy them much at all for quite some time.

I had a big clean out of clothes and donated some, while others are (still) waiting for me to sell them online.  I baked up a storm, although my banana-cake-that-took-three-times-as-long-as-it-should-to-bake had me stopping for a packet of cookies as the cake was intended for sharing at a friend’s house.  Entertainment-wise we have kept close to home or visited friends, although Sausage has started a gym class this week.  However, we have plenty of money in the ‘kids’ line of our budget thanks to not having to buy them clothes and other kid-related items so the new class is not a problem.

So the usual wins and losses that life brings this week.

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Trim Healthy Thursday: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Despite a few ‘off-plan’ meals while I was sick, I managed to mostly stick to being a Trim Healthy Mama.  And it’s paid off.

I went through my stash of ‘smaller me’ clothes, and several items now fit.  Hooray!  Many others are only a few weeks away from fitting.  I have officially retired a pair of skinny jeans as they are too baggy and can now get into a pair of skinny jeans that I could barely zip up a few weeks ago.

Reclaiming some of my old clothes I was keeping ‘just in case I lose weight’ felt great, and my bedroom looked at lot like the aftermath of Christmas morning with my new-old clothes strewn about.

The funny thing is I am heavier than I was the last time I fit these clothes.  LIke 5 or 6kgs heavier.  That’s pretty significant.  The last time I fit these clothes I was sugar-free and running several times a week.  This time around I have done little exercise (although I was just getting back into it when I got sick).

I know I am not the only Trim Healthy Mama who has discovered this.  On Facebook I see several Mamas a week posting about they have dropped dress sizes without the scales budging much.  I can visibly see how much weight I have lost in my top half.  I carry most of my weight around my midriff and at times it has felt like absolutely NOTHING was changing down there.  But it is.  The weight might not becoming off there as dramatically as I would like, but my new-old clothes don’t lie.  It’s shrinking.

The other day D asked me ‘How long have you been doing Trim Healthy Mama for now?’

‘Just over five months,’ I said.

‘Wow.  That’s pretty great,’ he said.  ‘My understanding is that most people go off a diet within a few weeks.’

He’s right.

Five months on a ‘diet’ is terrific.  This recent UK found that most women last a mere five weeks on a diet.  Five weeks!  And most of these women put it down to lack of ‘willpower’.

The simple truth is that willpower only gets you so far.

It’s not you, it’s the diet.

‘Diets’ must be sustainable.  The reason I have chalked up almost six months of being a Trim Healthy Mama is that it is NOT a huge departure from how I was eating previously.  I do not count calories, or suffer through kelp-and-kale smoothies.  I do not sit there and feel deprived eating lettuce and salad while others are tucking into heartier fare, because I can mostly eat what they eat.

I know I am fortunate to have been sugar free already when I started THM, as this made the transition much easier.  But what keeps me going is that it is just easy to keep on going.  I eat what I would normally eat, just in slightly different combinations.

As I looked at a favourite summery skirt that zips up but is still too tight, I thought ‘I should fit this by summer’.  And you what?  I bet that I will.

Place your bets now.

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Dollar Diet: Week 28 – a leap of faith

I missed last week’s update due to illness, but I thought it was high time I spilled the beans on some changes around here in Tawhero.

A Tawhero tree (image credit)

A Tawhero tree
(image credit)

D quit his job.

And is currently unemployed.  He does have some new work lined up, although nothing is set in stone which feels a teensy bit scary.

But mostly I am okay with this turn of events, and have been D’s biggest encourager to quit his job.

During his time at this job, D’s company went from being a small business to a rather large business.  D went from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond, and he felt it was time to move on.

But we owe a great deal to this business – its success enabled us to buy a house without a mortgage, and allowed D to work remotely from Whanganui, so quitting was not an easy decision for D.

Leaving big-city living for a slower pace of life was an easy decision for us.  Most people thought we were nuts to give up our ‘successful’ lives in New Zealand’s capital to go live in a small place like Whanganui.  But nothing makes you assess your priorities more than having kids.  House prices in New Zealand’s main centres have gone through the roof (Auckland house prices are beyond insane).  We knew we would need a bigger house if we had any more kids after Sausage (hello Chip!) as our rental genuinely could not have accommodated another baby.  We would have had to have bought a house in the outer suburbs, meaning long commutes to work; and I would have needed to return to work as soon as possible.

We just didn’t want that life.  Massive mortgage, tedious commute.  Putting our kids in childcare.  The stress.

D and I were in the incredibly fortunate position of being able to say no to that life.  We know many people would kill to be in our shoes.

Like many provincial towns and cities, jobs are scarce in Whanganui.  Despite the ease in which remote working can be done, most IT jobs still want you to come in to an office where the boss can keep an eye on you.  People still cling to old ways of working, of doing business.  We knew that getting a remote IT job that allowed D to live anywhere would be tricky.  So when D’s manager said yes to the idea of him working remotely, we were gobsmacked.  Delighted and grateful, but gobsmacked.

D knew his chances of finding a remote IT job that let him work reduced hours (D was studying at the time) was slim, so being able to stay with his company was brilliant.  It did however, mean that when he felt it was time to move on from the company, he felt somewhat painted into a corner.  As I said, those remote jobs in his field don’t grow on trees.

But life has a way of working out just fine, doesn’t it?

By happy coincidence, as we decided to move to Whanganui D discovered that a friend from University he’d lost touch with was living here.  Who also works in IT.  Long story short, with their friendship rekindled, the two of them have decided to go into business together as a software development consultants.

They have several clients in the pipeline, and will probably start work in a month’s time.  It’s a bit scary to be forgoing regular employment for the uncertain world of self-employment, but I have faith that everything will be just fine.  D and his friend R are both excellent at what they do (they were voted Whanganui’s biggest geeks at a recent event…), and their reputations alone have already garnered them clients.

We had savings prior to the Dollar Diet, but after successfully dollar dieting for over six months now, our savings are in much better shape that they would otherwise have been.  

We are easily able to weather a month with no income, and should be able to survive the ebbs and flows of consulting work in the future.  I no longer feel like we are haemorrhaging money, nor do I feel powerless to stop it.  We know exactly what we spend our money on and have saved thousands of dollars simply by cutting out unnecessary excess.  While we wait for D’s new work to begin we will tighten our belts by spending less on food and non-essential activities.

I have faith that everything will turn out just fine.