‘One thing I thank you for,’ said my daughter, ‘is that when we were children you were never on a diet, mentioned the word or suggested we should not eat/eat certain foods to lose weight.’

It had never occurred to me that this was the case. It wasn’t deliberate, but our natural way of eating healthily within our household. My three daughters were active and slim. We didn’t snack between meals and needing to economise ensured we did not overeat. My daughter continued to say that she felt that she and her two sisters had grown up with a good attitude to food. This, from a grown woman who, when she was two years old, ate little else but chips and weetabix. Shows what growing up can do for you!

It is true, though, that dieting has never been in my psyche. Brought up by a mother who maintained two pregnancies in the war and survived rationing with a slim figure – have you ever seen any pictures of the war where the people were fat? I doubt it.

It is true, I have never been on a diet, except for one phase in my life when I lacked energy and I followed the food combining diet whereby proteins and carbohydrates are not eaten at the same meal. A few weeks of this eating plan made a difference and the whole family ate the same meals sitting together totally ignorant of why certain foods were not on their plate.

While my daughter may thank me for her ‘no-diet’ upbringing, now years down the line, I see the payback. I am pleased to see my two elder daughters introducing very healthy eating and drinking habits into their homes. This means that, as a grandparent, keen to stay in favour with my grandchildren, I have to resort to other means rather than turn up with a plate of cakes, packets of sweets and biscuits. Crisps and other nibbles are also not welcome. If Mum does decide to produce crisps at a family event, she is, no doubt, balancing these with the other healthy options offered up on a daily basis. Snacks for the children comprise cucumber, carrot sticks, apples and pears and drinks are purely water and bedtime milk. The only time they have a flavoured drink is when they visit me (hmm) as I have found unsweetened peach drink by Robinsons to be very popular. But I always ask in advance if this is permissible. I have never sneaked chocolate, sweets or crisps to the children as I know some grandparents do. I believe as grandparents we should respect our children’s right to bring up their own offspring according to their own rules

My grandchildren are stick insects. You certainly can’t pinch an inch on them. But, they are not lacking in energy. In fact, the opposite is the case. They are also all doing well at school, their brains fed plenty of fish, oily or otherwise and a variety of vegetables which they have eaten as finger foods since they were 7-8 months old.

My younger daughter is following in the footsteps of her two sisters. She has the two youngest members of the family, aged 4 and 16 months and boasts a shelf full of books on babycare including many on cooking healthily for toddlers. She updates me on my visits as to the amount of sugar in apparently healthy, low fat yogurts and many other snippets of acquired information which I do try to remember.

So what do I take on my visits. Well, there are good 50p books in charity shops, the occasional comic and the very occasional small chocolate bar to share, with the parents deciding the time they can be eaten. On their visits to Swanage they are treated to ice creams like any other child but there are no pasties or sausage rolls eaten from the local bakery. OH and I save those for our child-free days.

After moving to the south west in 2001, OH was under investigation for a variety of niggling problems which raised a question mark over the health of his heart. At a stroke – excuse the pun – we stopped all cakes, crumbles, pies and other foods ridden with fat. Instead, we ate salad, brown bread and jacket potatoes, casseroles and roasts cutting down on the roast potatoes and Aunt Bessie’s. We had a border collie so exercise was plentiful or so we thought.

I attended a weekly yoga class and swam twice a week in winter at a local pool and most days in the sea in the summer. So, with the dogwalking, and chasing toddlers round the playground, I expected to lose weight. I didn’t. In fact, the weight gradually increased, some due to certain medications and a contented semi-retired life. For ten years I was puzzled at my inability to lose weight. Then at Christmas 2010, I was horrified to see five pounds more when I stood on the scales and, no matter how much I reduced portions, abandoned biscuits, chocolates or puddings, nothing seemed to work.

Even some of my less generous size 16 items failed to meet at the waist or at the blouse buttons. More and more items were taken to the charity shop as I resorted to baggy tops, loose trousers, elasticated skirts and the uniform of every larger woman, the black clothes with brightly coloured scarves to distract from the all too obvious weight.

That autumn, OH and I embarked on our first serious walking holiday, travelling to the Peak District and enjoying a week of sunny weather punctuated by some cloud but only one morning of rain. To occupy ourselves in daylight hours, we walked between 5 and 9 miles a day.

We returned energised, both of us feeling exceptionally well and ‘sharp’. Our fuzzy brains had disappeared and we enjoyed new sparkle. We therefore decided to continue walking long distances. One day we took the bus from Swanage to the Sandbanks Ferry and walked back via Studland beaches and over Ballard Down to Old Harry Rocks and then down via Ulwell back into Swanage. This walk is calculated at between 8 and 10 miles. It took most of the day with refreshment stops and a picnic overlooking Poole Harbour. Other days I walked alone over Ballard Down and back through Ulwell, the whole walk offering generous portions of beautiful views. Twice we walked together over Ballard Down to Studland and took the bus back.

By late November we were both losing weight albeit slowly but more exercise was on the cards. My friend and I joined a Country Dancing class and enjoyed it enough to make it a regular Tuesday evening activity. We then ventured together to the Zumba class one lunchtime each week. As well as losing a few more pounds over the first month or two, we both felt invigorated and it was noticeable that I could walk up the hill home without the usual stop half way up.

My job over twelve or thirteen years involved sitting working on a one to one basis with students but shortly after Christmas 2012, I decided to leave and pursue my writing. The job was involving one or two days of sitting and inactivity for a period of four or five hours with students and two more hours on the return bus journey. Instead, I volunteered in a local charity shop, responsible for the books, my passion. My four hour stints were spent on my feet either sorting the bookshelves or serving behind the counter.

My other passion is our local musical theatre company who, that year, put on Hello Dolly. Once the show went ‘on the floor’ a second evening a week was spent on my feet.

Standing on the scales soon after Christmas I had lost 9-10 pounds, a direct result of my new active lifestyle. This increased until I had dropped one stone. The best part of this weight loss was dropping a dress size and wearing size 14 clothes for the first time in nearly fifteen years. But the crème-de-la-crème was my flat stomach. I couldn’t resist a glance in the mirror as I passed and seeing my reflection in shop windows was no longer a depressing sight.

Another change in our lifestyle was when we were allocated an allotment. To get the ground in shape for spring sowing took much effort and even painting our second-hand shed helped keep both of us active.

All this without any attention being paid to diet. We were eating healthily so nothing had changed except our appetites. In fact, we now feel we can eat a large slice of cake or a few chocolate biscuits at the allotment without any damage to our figures.

One other dietary change was a reduction in alcohol consumption which, combined with our activities, contributed to our weight loss and my own lowered blood pressure and a pat on the back from my doctor.

So if you feel you are joining the ranks of the overweight or, worse, obese, don’t diet but try increasing your activity levels. We thought we were active with our swimming and walking but it is the type of exercise that is important and the amount. Three 45 minute walks a week is NOT enough either for good health or for weight loss. Zumba, Dancing, long walks and digging the allotment certainly made a difference.

When people say, ‘you have lost weight,’ I now say, ‘Look, no diet!’

Grandma’s Poetry Book is available via my website http://www.dicastle.co.uk


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