DOWNTON FLABBY (or How to Avoid Summer Weight Gain)
Have you ever tried to lose weight living on an English country estate? Well, if you haven’t, let me tell you from personal experience, it can be quite a challenge.
Many fans of the Masterpiece Theatre series “Downton Abbey”, based on the lives of both the aristocrats and the servants who live in an English country estate at the turn of century, watch the series and marvel at the amazing costumes and set design, or the romance and the historical storyline. I watch the series and marvel at how those women with the 18 inch waistlines can eat 7 course meals every night and not gain weight!
Over 20 years ago, I spent the summer living at a 16th century estate in England and gained one pound for each century within an eight week time. Talk about period drama!
How did I gain 16 pounds so quickly and, more importantly, how can you avoid the summer weight gain blues? Read on!
It was the summer of 1991 and my husband and I had been living in London for about 2 years. I had been struggling with my weight while living in London and for over 10 years before that. Struggling with weight in England is pretty much the same as in the states except you weigh in stones instead of pounds. There are 14 pounds in a stone so the one good piece of news is that you weigh a lot less number wise on the scale!
In the Spring of ‘91, a friend of ours asked if we would like to come and take care of his dad’s estate out in the countryside east of London. His father, who was a wealthy businessman, owned a 16th century home with 10 bedrooms and 8 bathrooms set on over 20 acres of picturesque and pastoral land and needed someone to “house sit” Hall Court (the name of the estate) while the caretakers were away.
Our friend assured us it would be easy and that his dad only visited from London on occasional weekends so we would have the vast place to ourselves to pretend we were lord and lady of the manor. Well yes, we did have to clean up a bit and keep the grounds tidy a bit, but really nothing, assured our friend.
My husband and I were longing for a change from the dreary London flat we were living in. So we said yes!! I was also secretly happy because I had gained a bit of weight during the winter and needed to lose it. What better way to lose weight than to go to the country? My thinking was it could be a kind of Fat Farm where, since I was on break from work, I could eat healthy food and exercise by running through the country fields every day. Losing weight this summer will be a cinch, I thought, as we boarded the train and left London behind. Little did I know what weight gain horrors awaited me!
Things started going south the minute we arrived at Hall Court. As the caretakers showed us around the placed and filled us in on our “duties”, it quickly became clear that the expectations of the chores we were supposed to do around the estate on a daily basis were a lot more than what our friend had told us to expect. Its great living at an estate with 10 bedrooms and 8 bathrooms until someone expects you to clean them all once a week! And as for the stately grounds—have you ever tried taking a run-of-the-mill lawnmower to them? In addition to those tasks, I was expected to cook when our friend’s father arrived on the weekends.
My husband and looked at each other and considered fleeing but we had given up our flat and had told all of our friends to come and stay over the course of the summer. So we decided to stay on and make it an adventure.
I took up the house duties and my husband became the gardener. Instead of my luxurious days spent running through the fields and then luxuriating in the gazebo with a good book, I spent my days scrubbing toilets and endlessly dusting and polishing the endless amounts of priceless antiques. Grrrrrrr.
In my mind I had been working so hard and cleaning so many hours of the day that I surely should have been burning bucketfuls of calories. But alas every day I stepped onto the scale that was in one of the 8 bathrooms and found I had not only been NOT losing but I had been gaining weight. How could this be? I was working my butt off. Of course, I was not taking into account my breaks when I would get so frustrated with the cleaning that I would go down to the huge kitchen and emotionally eat cookies along with a new addiction I found in the larder—orange marmalade.
“That’s it! I am going on a diet!” I had to lose weight this summer. Who gains weight in the summer? Summer is supposed to be the easy time to lose weight. What was wrong with me? What was wrong with my body?
So I went on a diet that was very restrictive, only allowing for fruits and vegetables. Things went well for a few days but then I got a little bored. In my “fat thinking” mind I decided that orange marmalade was a fruit and started adding that into my diet regime.
Pretty soon, I had gone through all of the 10 jars of marmalade that had lined the larder. Oh and in the evenings I decided that gin and tonics fit into the diet too. Heck, gin is made from juniper berries right? And tonic water, that hardly counts for anything and don’t forget there is a lime wedge in a gin and tonic and that, my friend, definitely falls into the category of fruit! My husband wasn’t so sure of my reasoning and he told me I was a jam-aholic and that perhaps I should find a local 12-step group that specialized in spreadable fruit. I told him he to go mow some more grass and mind his own business.
Well, do I need to even tell you that this daffy diet plan led not to more weight loss but weight GAIN. Not only did my jam-aholism and gin-and-tonicism lead me off my weight loss plans but so did entertaining and weekends.
Soon, every week I was “on” a different diet and every weekend I was falling “off” it. Between our friend’s father coming to stay and our friends coming in from London, it was party central at Hall Court. We would sit down in the large dining room– reminiscent of the one in Downton Abbey– and have amazing spreads of food. It became very hard to stick to my restrictive diet.
First, there was the social pressure, “Why on earth are you on a diet? Nonsense, you Americans love to diet and you are fatter than all of us who don’t. Just enjoy food in moderation and you will be fine.” Then, there was the feeling that I had worked so hard on cooking the food and cleaning the house that I should be rewarded for my efforts. I would give in and eat, but unfortunately I didn’t know what “moderation” meant, especially after starving myself all week and I would eat so much that I filled in any calorie deficit that I had created during the week.
Every Monday morning, I would swear this would be the week I would start running every day and not eat anything and every Sunday night I went to bed feeling so full that I was going to burst. Thank god I didn’t have to wear a corset.
By the time the eight week stay at Court had come to a close, I was desperate to get back to London, back to real life, real structure and relax from my summer “holiday”. As I got on the train and headed back to the city 16 pounds heavier, I looked back and wondered what went wrong?
Now, years later and having SHIFTED my thinking and released the weight and maintained it over many summers—please let me share some coaching on how I could I have done it differently and how you can avoid my pitfalls.
SLIMMER SUMMER SHIFT COACHING
Fat Thinking #1: Assuming it’s going to be easy to lose weight this summer
Many people believe that summer time is an easier time to lose weight and, in some ways, this reasoning is correct. During the summer, there are lighter foods available and the days are longer, giving us the chance to exercise more. BUT because summer is full of holidays and travel and kids being off from school, the structure of the year gives way to a more ‘free for all’ feeling.
The Fat Thinking is ASSUMING anything is going to be easy. Weight release doesn’t just happen. Initial focus is needed and a commitment to continue showing up for yourself is essential. If you don’t plan, set a strong vision and a road map for success, it is almost impossible to find sustained success. “Winging it” won’t work to lose weight.
THIN THINKING: Reverse engineer your summer and start with the end in mind. Where do you want to be by September in your weight release? Set that vision and work backwards creating defined milestones. Keep your plan simple yet consistent so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
Fat thinking #2: Food is a cure or a reward
Our culture immerses us pretty heavily in beliefs that do not serve our waistline. From an early age, our minds are wired to hit the snack cupboard when we are stressed or want to treat ourselves for a job well done.
THIN THINKING: Begin cultivating other ways of calming yourself or rewarding yourself for getting tasks done instead of reaching for food this summer. Keep your new “self care” strategies posted in the kitchen until you have made them habits. Make sure you plan breaks into your day to re-boot your brain and your energy levels. This will keep you out of the stress zone and the kitchen.
My Favorite Rewards:
-taking a 10 minute nap
-sitting outside and just letting myself do nothing for 10 minutes but stare at the sky
-laying on the floor with my eyes closed listening to music
-reading People Magazine
Fat Thinking #3: All I have to do is find the right diet and be perfect on it
Life is never going to line up for us to do perfectly on a diet—especially during the summer! With holidays and travel and socializing, being on a restrictive regime is going to lead to the “on or off” dieting mentality which leads to binge eating and “starting over” on Monday.
THIN THINKING: Stop beating yourself up and putting yourself on restrictive plans. Instead of taking away food, make a commitment to creating a healthy eating plan based on your needs. Think about flavors and light food that you really enjoy and make a point to have those around. Focus on eating protein which helps stabilize your blood sugar and keep you out of the jam jar and helps you feel full longer. Add in more fruits and vegetables which are around this summer. Challenge yourself to eating 7 servings a day and try to find some fun recipes to create new ways of eating them.
You don’t have to be a victim of Downton Flabby this summer. You can show up for yourself and create the summer of your dreams—
1) Create a Vision and specific milestones defined by time and goals.
2) Create a daily break plan so you have a structure and a plan to reward yourself in ways other than food.
3) Evolve a way of eating that includes lots of healthy foods but allows for fun and flavor—and definitely protein to stabilize hunger.
Here’s to a great healthy summer!