Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The Lent Experiment Part 1 - The Beginning

Good News Everyone!


Exciting little announcement before I get into the main thrust of this latest blog entry:

Towards the end of last year I was contacted by one of the founders of the website Feedspot. He informed me that my blog had been selected as one of the Top 30 Quadriplegic Blogs on the internet and sent me this little award to display on my page! I did consider asking exactly how many quadriplegic blogs there were on the internet but quickly decided against it, preferring instead to remain in blissful ignorance, insulated inside my little ego boost bubble!

Anyway, it's been a good while since I last posted anything and I'd hate to lose my newly acquired Top 30 billing, so without further ado: Happy 2018 and welcome back to the, now award-winning, Diary Of A Gimpy Kid!

Hellbent on Lent

With the Christmas excess and subsequent failed attempts at a dry January firmly in the rear view, it's time to turn my attention to a tradition I try to honour every year: Lent. Now although I do consider myself Christian (though not exactly what I'd call a practising one), I don't participate in Lent for a strictly religious reason. Instead I prefer to give something up for 40 days as a test of my resolve and usually in an attempt to be a little healthier, so that by the end, I can feel like I've achieved something, no matter how small. Previous efforts have included the giving up of alcohol, chocolate and even bad language one year (which is harder than it $!*#ing looks)!

When someone takes the last disabled bay you were about to pull into!

This year however, I have decided to test my willpower to the limit and give up a whole host of things! What exactly have I decided to give up?? Why am I putting myself through this ordeal?! All will be revealed shortly.

First, a little backstory...

Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice

A little over a month ago, it was the 13th anniversary of my being able to play wheelchair rugby, park at the front of the shops and pee sitting down (sometimes without even realising it)! It was on a Wednesday this year and I didn't really have any plans, so I used the day as an excuse to get a takeaway and watch a bunch of films to take my mind off things - Walking Tall, The Running Man, Stand By Me!

I'm not a huge takeaway eater nowadays, not because I don't enjoy them; in fact I'm a firm believer that everything terrible for you has been scientifically designed to taste amazing and sprouts taste like, well, sprouts! No, I choose not to have a great deal of takeaways because I want to stay as fit as possible. Actually, scratch that; I need to stay as fit as possible. Before my injury I would play sports, go to the gym and do some form of exercise most days because I enjoyed being active and also, truth be told, because I was vain and no doubt subconsciously sought to compensate for being a bit on the short side, so I wanted my body to be as toned as possible. Sure, I still had takeaways (far more than I do now in fact), but I was younger, my metabolism was faster, I was more active and I was on my feet - all factors that contributed to calories being burnt faster and my svelte waistline being maintained!

Warning: Portrayal may not be 100% accurate!

Fast forward to the present, and whereas I still enjoy playing sports and exercising, my injury has made damn sure that vanity and the dream of a toned torso play absolutely no part in my reasoning! Instead I do it in an effort to keep my weight down and maintain a level of fitness that will allow me to live an independent life.

My true Achilles heel in terms of diet, comes in the form of my insatiable sweet tooth. Whether it be biscuits, cookies, cakes, pies, pastries, sweets, ice cream or absolutely anything smothered in chocolate, not a day goes by where I don't find myself craving something sugary and delicious. It is the one thing in my life that I can say I am truly addicted to. Whenever out for a meal, no matter how much savoury food I may have eaten and no matter how full I may feel, I will always find room for dessert. As I tell people: I have a savoury stomach and a dessert stomach, kind of like being half-cow! It has gotten to the point where, if I'm going on a health kick, I try not to have any sweet items in the house other than fruit, because try as I might to resist temptation, I know that eventually I'll cave and ravenously dig into whatever tasty treat I might have hidden away in the kitchen. As part-time singer, part-time cult leader, R Kelly says: "My mind's telling me no, but my body, my body's telling me yes!"

Even when I'm out at the pub, my drink of choice has never really been beer, slightly too bitter for my palate. Instead, I much prefer cider; it's sweeter, full of sugar and on average contains more calories than a pint of Guinness! 

Waisting Away

So what effect has this love and dependence on sugar had on my body exactly? Well apart from making me feel tired, sluggish and grumpy when I haven't had any in a while, it has also helped me develop quite the pot belly! Now every quad who's suffered a neck break will know about the dreaded tetra/quad belly phenomenon: The lack of stomach muscles meaning that over a relatively short space of time you'll start to put on weight around your middle which will protrude even more due to the fact you're constantly sat down. No matter what size you were or what shape you were in before injury, eventually the tetra belly gets us all!

I went from a 28 inch waist at the time of injury, to a 32 inch waist, within the space of a couple of years, nothing too horrifying but enough to get my attention. In the following years I managed to more or less hold steady at this size, however towards the end of last year I started to notice my jeans were becoming a little tighter on me and I was developing a slight overhang of stomach podge, mortification!! This can almost certainly be accredited to the fact that 2017 was by far my most unhealthy year since injury; a combination of moving house, niggling shoulder pains and general apathy had led to a sharp reduction in the amount of weekly exercise I was doing, and my willpower to eat healthily was almost nowhere to be seen, a reassuring voice in the back of my head whispering to me; "after Easter", "after summer", "after your birthday", "after Christmas"...

I probably should have prefaced all this by stating that this isn't me complaining that I'm fat, what with my gargantuan 32 inch waist! Yes, I've got a tetra belly and you can most definitely 'pinch an inch' (or 5!), but other than that and a sprinkling of muscle in my arms and shoulders, I'm as skinny as a rake everywhere else, devoid of fat or muscle, another side effect of the injury and the reason why it's impossible to find a shirt that fits me properly! This is simply me making an observation about my general lifestyle, the effects it's having on my body/health and what I'm planning to do about it.

Which conveniently leads me back to the subject of Lent. I mean, my god, it's almost as if this was my plan all along...

...(it was not)!

The Battle of The Bulge

So, the main issues I wanted to face going into 2018 were:
  • My addiction to sugary products
  • My expanding stomach
  • My general health and fitness levels
It is therefore with all this in mind that I have decided that for Lent this year I am going to completely give up all produce containing refined/processed sugar (chocolate, biscuits, cakes, soft drinks, cider etc), as well as all beers, lagers and ales. Instead of relying on sugar to get me through the day, I'm going to attempt a more balanced diet, coupled with regular exercise, in order to lead a healthier lifestyle in general. Oh and in case you were wondering about me coasting on caffeine, I hate coffee!

This search for a healthier lifestyle will likely involve an increase in the consumption of produce such as fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts, natural yoghurt, fruit tea, water etc. As far as exercise goes, my aim is to do some form of it at least 5 times a week. This could include things such as wheelchair rugby training, doing sets of weights and other activities with my various Active Hands aids, going on the handbike or even playing table tennis (I don't count pushing my day chair in this list, as it's something I have to do every day...well, either that or live my life as a bedrest boy, eagerly awaiting a call from The Jeremy Kyle Show)!

Slightly surprised this hasn't been a genuine headline...yet!

During this period I will intermittently be reporting back on here (every 10-12 days or so), to give brief updates on how things are progressing, including my current weight, current measurement around my stomach and most importantly, how I am feeling. I've read a number of articles stating that going cold turkey on refined sugar can lead to mood changes, tiredness and experiences of withdrawl, so it will be interesting to see if substituting this for a healthier lifetsyle can counter the negative effects at all. I already spend every waking moment either lying or sitting, and one of the side effects of my spasm medication is drowsiness, so it will be interesting to see if these changes will affect me more than they would an able-bodied person. Worst case scenario, I have to give out handwritten letters of apology to friends and loved ones, for the eternally tired, depressed, moody horror I devolved into during this period!

Vital Statistics 1 (Feb 13th - The Day Before Lent)

Weight: 8st 12lbs (56.25kg)

Stomach Circumference: 37" (94cm)

General Feelings: Having just stuffed myself full of pancakes, I can sense my body becoming tired and a little bloated, but overall I feel pretty much the same as I ever do; not full of energy but not entirely lethargic either. My weight is on the low side for someone of my height (5ft8" or 1.73m), but that's not a huge shock when you take leg and torso muscle atrophy into account. And whereas I would like to gain a little muscle in my arms whilst knocking a few cms off my stomach circumference (measured around my belly button), the last thing I need to do is lose weight from anywhere else on my body. That's part of the reason I'm doing this, to see if it's possible to reduce this accursed quad belly without losing weight from the rest of me, hopefully via a combination of healthy eating and exercise.

Let's Get Ready To (Tummy) Rumble

And so it begins. The annual Shrove Tuesday pancake gorging is over and tomorrow will signal the start of LLL: The Lean Lent Lifestyle! My customary Valentine's Day tradition of sitting alone at home, audibly weeping into a tub of Ben & Jerry's whilst watching Me Before You taking one of my many, many female admirers out for champagne and truffles will have to be put on hold this year, as for the next 46 days it's goodbye sugary delights and hello healthy alternatives.

That's right, Lent this year lasts from February 14th until March 31st, which is 46 days rather than the nice, round 40 days we always hear about. Upon further investigation, I found this to be because apparently Sundays aren't counted in the 40 day period; but not before I sat staring at my calendar for a truly embarrassing number of minutes, repeatedly counting over the days, whilst questioning everything I knew about maths, as an increasingly baffled expression grew over my face...


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