A Knife and Fork in the Road
Stress. It arrives like an unwelcome houseguest, brazenly walking through the door without being invited in, dropping its bags overflowing with anxiety, tension and agitation at your feet. It pushes past you, takes root in your chair and throws its feet upon the nearest table. It looks at you with controlling eyes as if to say, ‘I’m here now and I’m going to call the shots’. You stand there, feeling as though your strings have been cut, feeling the full weight of your body from the vacuous air above. You hope that if you ignore it, it’ll just shrivel away. But it doesn’t work like that. It’s like a petulant, needy child, constantly seeking attention and demanding your time. If you give it the silent treatment, it’ll just shout louder in your ear.
As modern lifestyles go, mine is not a stressful one. I am fortunate that I’m under no real pressure to work full time, I live in the quiet countryside and I’m able to indulge freely in my hobbies. I often look at some of the mums I follow on Instagram and wonder how on earth they get as much done as they do and still have time to post a picture of their immaculate kitchens. It both amazes and baffles me. But then like all human emotions, stress is relative. If you are one of those remarkable women who balances a large, busy family, a full time job, a bustling home and still has time to walk the dog, service the car, mow the lawn and take out the bins then your threshold for stress is probably quite high. A Herculean woman like yourself would not be fazed by a last minute football match or the sudden realisation that you haven’t washed the PE kits. You would probably need something as drastic as a sinkhole to suddenly takeout your driveway before you would stop and say, ‘Well now that’s a bit inconvenient!’
But me, I’m the other end of the spectrum. The slightest thing can trip me up and make me feel flummoxed and flustered. I don’t cope with sudden change, I inherited this from my mother. I have fixed, daily routines that may as well be carved in stone. Every month when my husband gets his flying roster for the month ahead we sit down together and go through it. He tells me what days he’s flying on and whether or not he’ll be home for tea. Eliza, my daughter, will also tell me of any after school activities or work commitments she has too in the week ahead. I then plan the meals we are going to eat according to who will be here and when.
And then it suddenly it happens. My husband will phone me, telling me there has been a change to his schedule and that his employers want him to fly tomorrow. But I’ve just defrosted three chicken breasts! Now this is the point at which the supermums would decide to cook the third chicken breast and mix it up with some mayonnaise and a dash of paprika for tomorrow’s sandwich. Not me. Oh no. I go into utter meltdown. As far as I’m concerned there is absolutely no point cooking that meal now so Eliza and I will just get a takeaway. And don’t get me started on the missing onion. That moment when you’re just about to cook and realise that you don’t have the essential onion so everything is ruined and the world has officially come to an end! Before I’ve even looked in the freezer or larder to see what I could throw together instead, I’ve decided to ‘knock’ that meal on to tomorrow (when I can get an onion) and I whip the Chinese takeaway menu out of the kitchen drawer faster than you can say ‘Pass me the spatula!’. I know this sounds silly but these circumstances cause high levels of stress for me. I don’t cope with sudden changes in my routine, no matter how small.
But knowing that this is the way I am doesn’t necessarily mean that I know how to deal with it. This is a fixed pattern of behaviour that has been my friend for many years. I am one of life’s organisers. I have to have everything ready and right. I really don’t cope if I have too many jobs hanging over me. Mondays are the worst. No matter how hard I try I can never wake up, think about the list of things that need doing in the week ahead and allocate them to different days. Oh no, not me. I tell myself that they must all be completed by the end of that day and then I start to work myself up wondering how I’m going to get it all done.
So I have been trying a different approach. I talked about it briefly in my last blog. I’m trying to reduce my stress levels by going out for a good, long walk first thing. Instead of coming home after dropping Eliza off at school and being met at the front door by the list of chores that need doing, I’m turning left out of the school gates and driving to the east side of the loch where I walk. I walk for as long as I want to. I try not to think about the house, often I listen to some music but mostly I’ll just meander through the tress until my body tells me it’s done. And it’s working. I’m finding that the walk is soothing me, its calming me down and although I’m a little tired when I first get home, I actually feel invigorated enough to tackle a few chores. Not all of them though, because when I finally get home, I realise the walk has helped me to get some much needed perspective. Most importantly of all, I haven’t reached for the biscuit tin because stress, I’ve come to realise, is my biggest trigger when it comes to overeating and snacking.
I remember once watching a documentary on weight loss. There was this expert who was talking about how we all have different reasons for overeating. She spoke of how some people eat when they’re sad, others when they’re tired. She listed boredom, happiness, nervousness and stress as causes too. I remember thinking how completely screwed I am then because I eat when experiencing all of those emotions, not just one! But actually, on reflection, stress is my arch nemesis, no matter how tight its hold on me is. As soon as I see a diversion sign on the road, I reach for cake or burrow down into the bread bin.
I’m now one week into following the fitnaturally plan and I must admit I’m feeling pretty good. Before I started it I was definitely in a ‘recipe rut’. Years of buying the magazines that were affiliated to the various plans I was following had left me with a capsule collection of around 12 recipes that I simply rotated on a weekly basis. Recipes that I could cook automatically, with little thought and probably much less love. I’ve realised this week how utterly bored I am in my own kitchen. I love my kitchen, it’s my favourite room in the house but instead of enjoying my time preparing meals in it, I’ve begun to see it as a kind of prison, a place of solitary confinement and this upsets me because I actually love to cook.
If there’s one job I really don’t enjoy it’s planning the weekly menu. I always feel under intense pressure to think of something gastronomic to captivate my loved ones. I wrack my brains. I place a chair by the Aga and pull out my many cookery books but inspiration rarely finds me. So I climb back into my comfort zone taking my dozen trusted dishes with me. So there you have it. I might have the kitchen of a domestic goddess but culinary variety is not my strong point and that’s what I’m already really enjoying about fitnaturally. Every Friday a bespoke nutritional plan is sent to me. All of the thinking has been done by someone else. I’m told what to eat and when and trust me, it’s fabulous. I can remember once, when a friend of mine was doing a very low calorie, meal replacement diet, she told me how wonderful it was not to have to think about food. I must admit that when I was on my meal replacement plan I felt the same. But with fitnaturally it’s even better because even though you’re paying attention to what you’re putting in your body and how satiated you feel, you’re not obessesing over the next thing to put in your mouth.
I’m sure some of you are thinking this sounds very restrictive but funnily enough it’s really not. Every mealtime you’re given a few recipe choices and links to those recipes online. So I just highlight the meals I fancy eating, click on the link and write down the ingredients on my shopping list. If I had one concern at the very beginning it was cost. I did experience an initial panic and wondered how much my shopping bill would come to but actually my concerns were entirely unfounded as most of the ingredients are used again throughout the week and if they’re not, you just let Sally know on your feedback sheet and she’ll incorporate them into next week’s plan. The recipes themselves are simple, quick but wholesome, using everyday ingredients from local supermarkets. You’re not going to be asked to find a specific cheese that is handmade by tribal woman high up in the Himalayas or a white aubergine that has been grown on the sun-kissed slopes on Kenya! And that’s the point, it’s completely stress free. There will still be those days when I’m unexpectedly faced with a route diversion or a fork in the road but I’m hoping that I’m learning to pull over, take a deep breath and find the most sceneic route home and not the quickest.