Sunday, 1 January 2012

It’s ‘Join the Gym’ season

For many years, come January, I’d automatically think about joining the gym, again. Alongside the sinking feeling of going back to Weight Watchers came the inevitability of another year's club membership. And many times I followed through and signed up. Inseparable from my determination to lose weight was my promise to myself that this year I would get fit. So, that by the summer I’d be slim, toned, ready for bikinis and the beach.

I can’t tell you how much money I spent over the years on gym memberships. Every time I think about it I cringe at the memory of the time I signed up for a lifetime membership of a gym for £2500! I have also been a member of the local gym here 3 times, I’ve joined LA Fitness and Esporta, I paid a personal trainer, I've bought the kit, made the commitment, promised solemnly to myself that this year would be different, year after year. And then, within a couple of months, I'd give up. I have been through that process so many times I have lost count. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with joining a gym, if you enjoy the things you can do there; the classes, the pool, the fitness machines, why not? The thing is I’ve always hated every single one of those activities. I loathe them. I had to drag, cajole, kid, bully or bribe myself there every single time. Most of the time all I could think of while I was in the gym was how much longer I had to go before I’d be sitting in the the sauna and then standing under the powerful hot shower (the two thing about gyms I loved).

It seems crazy to me that for so many years I fell into the same trap every single January. When I think about it though I realise that I didn’t know there was any other option. I was so caught up in the weight loss game that I did what I knew, diet/gym, over and over again. And I failed, over and over again.

The Move principle is the one that I have struggled with more than any of the others since we created Beyond Chocolate. I took me years, literally about 8 years, to work out how to move in a way that I love, that is sustainable, that is good for my body and, most importantly, that I will actually do willingly. Once I stopped associating exercise with weight loss, once I unhooked from the dieting mentality that had me looking at how many calories this or that exercise would burn, then I was free to explore moving for the sake of enjoyment and overall good health. After much experimenting I got there. And it took lots of experimenting because the shoulds (I should exercise at least 3 times a week, I should sweat or it's not worth it, it should be hard and effortful, I should do something proper... I could go on) were very deeply ingrained. So it wasn't until I really began to question all the beliefs and rules I had about exercise, even the most deeply entrenched ones that I didn't even recognise as rules, that I was free to find something that works for me. When I started with a blank slate, an 'everything is possible' mentality, when I became my own Guru, here’s what I discovered:

I hate joining classes, organisations, gyms or anything formal or regular
I love walking, in the city, in parks and along the beach
I love stretching, on my own in my living room (sort of DIY yoga)
I love dancing, on my own, in my living room

That’s it. Those are the only ways I really enjoy moving. In the summer I quite like a swim in the sea, but nothing too strenuous. I’d rather paddle about on the spot chatting with friends than stick goggles on and actually swim. I quite like the occasional Five Rhythms class, but I’m not very sociable in new groups of people and honestly, I prefer to dance on my own. I’m up for the odd game of badminton or tennis with Ben and the kids. I’m not that great at either, but I’ll have a go for fun.

So those are the things I do. I don’t have a routine or a schedule. I do them when I feel like it, usually that means that I’ll do something two or three times a week. I’d like to do more, I’d like to feel a bit fitter a bit stronger. The menopause has affected my back and my knees and I want to make sure that I stay supple, flexible and strong as I get older.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons I’ve started Walking & Talking, both groups and one to one sessions. I wrote about this on the blog a while ago and I’m finally ready. On January 18th 2012 I’ll be running the first Walk & Talk group, we’ll be starting off at Kenwood House at 8.45am and, come rain or shine, snow or sleet, alone or in company, I’ll be Walking and Talking for an hour. (If I'm on my own I'll have to do without the talking, though I'm hoping Audrey will be with me, and I know one or two of you have already expressed and interest). And by offering individual Walk & Talk therapy, I’ll be bringing movement into my working life too. Being a psychotherapist is a very sedentary job. I love it. I am a sitter by nature I reckon (between the option of a walk in the park and a good book by the fire, there's really very little contest.) And, now that I have trained with Natural England as a walk leader, I’m looking forward to taking clients out onto the Heath and talking as we walk. It’s amazing how different sessions can be when we are out in the open, in the fresh air, moving while we talk, think and explore.

If you live anywhere near The Heath, come and join me on the 18th January, I’d love to see you there.


  1. So true Sophie! I could ditto all the gym memberships exactly including the £2500! This year I gave up trying and ALLOWED myself to be a slob for several months. Rather like eating what you want, this was pretty scary, but eventually I saw a TV programme about open water swimming and since then i've been an irregular devotee. And sometimes I cycle somewhere because it's quicker and more fun than the bus or tube. Amazingly these two fun activities have made me feel better about myself and my body. Astonishingly, both are almost free. Just love BC! Thanks for the inspiration and support to try these new ways of looking at life!

  2. This is brilliant. I was recommended to read this after blogging about being 'pro plus size', ( so pleased for the tip!

    Love how you're flagging up being kind to yourself plus sustainable approaches to exercise and pursuing holistic good health.

    Love it- thanks. X

  3. Hi Becca, thanks for your comment and for linking your blog post which I found very moving. I hope that having found us you will reconsider your priority for this year and shift it from losing weight to feeling happy about the way you eat and how you look. I think the solution is to transform our relationship with food and our bodies...if we can do this we can then stand a chance of shedding the extra pounds - if we need to!

  4. Thanks- I'm glad you enjoyed it. Yes, that would be a super goal. For peace and self love, to then motivate me to be at my healthiest. Seems like a lifelong journey at the moment but probably worth taking. x

  5. Would love to join the walk but you're in the wrong part of London! Anything for west London in the future? Or can you do walks during the day or in the afternoon? I'm looking for someone to walk with on a regular basis....any ideas?

  6. I live in South London - no easy access to walk and talk or great walking anywhere not on concrete nor near a beach. I don't like doing ANYTHING at home as it means moving furniture, rolling up prized rug and feels artificial. I am anxious about sea swimming as once knew someone who drowned sea swimming on his own. I deally i would live near water - river or sea but until then I have discovered that the gym can work for me - not sure I like it but do not associate it with weight loss and like the feeling of having done a great work out. I am post menopause and there is a history of osteoporosis in the family so weight bearing exercise v important. Bone scan shows no sign so far and was told v healthy looking bones!
    To me the main issue with exercise is to find something do- able and one that fits in with day to day life.

  7. Hi Rosy,

    If the gym works for you that's fine - I'm not knocking gyms per se, just that they never worked for me and I kept going back, as if they should work and I had to make them work! Just one thing though, I think the problem is that we try to fit the moving into our lives and I'm starting to see, for myself, that that's the problem. My life has no space for moving, unless it make it. So, I am beginning to plan to move and to fit my life around it. Not that it's the central thing in my life but I have recognised that unless I make it a priority, I don't do it. That's why I have started offering Walk and Talk therapy - to bring movement into my life rather than just fitting it in.

  8. Hi Trish,

    I'd love to do more walks and maybe in the summer I'll add another one in the afternoon. I'll keep you posted.


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