Recommendations To Improve Health

Award winning "FlidFit" blog author Simone shares her tips to lose weight and improve health

Simone is a beneficiary from Reading Berkshire who has shortened arms to elbow length with three fingers on each hand and her femurs are shortened by around 20cm both sides.  She writes an award winning blog on exercise and health. We caught up with her in a recent interview.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

I’m Simone, I’ve lived in Reading, Berkshire all of my life.  I trained and worked as a secretary for 16 years before leaving my full-time role to work part-time for the Thalidomide Society.  I’ve also had a lot of contact throughout my entire life with other thalidomiders – first through the Trust holidays, then through the Thalidomide Society and being on the NAC.  I haven’t done paid work since 2005 which was shortly after a serious car crash in which I sustained a broken leg.  This affected my mobility hugely and I ended up having an ankle fusion. Since then, I’ve been involved in voluntary roles – both national and locally, as well as serving as a DLA Appeals Tribunal member for several years. I also love having time to cook – creating most of my meals from scratch.  My husband and I both enjoy gardening (mostly vegetables and fruit) and travelling.

How did you first get into blogging and healthy lifestyle promotion?

I had tried to lose weight since the age of nine without success.  I guess that I believed that my weight problems were caused by my lack of mobility and inability to exercise.  Both of my younger sisters don’t have a weight issue but are very active – even now both in their fifties! I piled on the weight following my car accident – I was unable to move as much and I was limited in my activities – so I just ate - far too much of the wrong thing.  I was in an unhappy marriage at that time, and that didn’t help with managing the weight either. I had seriously considered having gastric bypass surgery and spoke to two thalidomiders who had recently had the procedure.  I realised that this wasn’t the easy option and that my having the surgery I’d never be able to eat “normally” again.  I decided before going down this route, I’d have one last attempt at losing weight through controlling what I ate.

"By logging my food diligently, I lost 4 and a half stone in 2.5 years!"

What would you say to someone who wants to start a new fitness regime?

  • Tackle any pain issues alongside the fitness regime – you don’t want to make the pain worse. Think about how you might get fitter – activities that you enjoy and whether you want to do these alone, with another person or as part of a group.  It doesn’t always have to be something in a gym.  I count gardening and housework as some of the activities I use to improve my fitness and increase my activity levels.
  • Find others who can support you in your quest to get fitter.  Perhaps you need support to change into your fitness clothing, help get you changed for swimming, put on trainers.  Could this be someone close to you or will you need to employ someone (a personal assistant) to assist you?  I need help getting changed, getting on and off the floor and also getting into and out of the treadmill, so I use a combination of a personal assistant and my husband.
  • Don’t overdo it – there is no rush.  A small amount of increased activity is an improvement.  Too much too quickly can lead to injury.  Build up gradually.
  • Find some way of measuring your progress.  A regular session with a Personal Trainer is something you may wish to consider.

Don’t just find one thing and continue to do it week in and week out.  You’ll soon get bored and give up. One of the best tools for me is my activity tracker.  It encourages me to move often.  I set mine to 3000 steps a day and use it to monitor my heart rate when I am exercising.  It’s incredible how little movement gets my heart rate up – even some housework or gardening!

Does your thalidomide Damage affect the way you train and exercise, if so how?

Because of the shortening in my legs and arms, most large items of gym equipment wouldn’t work for me – I am simply the wrong shape!  However, by working with the Personal Trainer and some small items of equipment (gym ball, resistance training bands, etc) it’s been possible to build on strength, balance, toning and cardio.  The wonderful thing about using the small items of equipment is that I have created a small “home gym” in the comfort of my own house – so whatever the weather I have no excuse not to undertake my regime.

It’s really important (in my opinion) to get any exercise tailored to YOU.  Everyone’s body and abilities are different, whether they have a disability or not.

How did you find your personal trainer and what kind of thing did you ask him to show you when you started training with him?

This PT I found via our local Circle Clinic (private). After seeing me, the Physio suggested that I have a session with a “Sports Therapist” (Personal Trainer, but who works with people who have particular issues / injuries).  He also tried me out on the Alter G treadmill as this enables me to undertake cardio exercise without bearing my full weight.  I had already tried one of these out in the past several years before, and had always been keen to try and find somewhere locally to use such a treadmill on a regular basis.

The Sports Therapist had been appraised of my pain issues by the Physio beforehand, but I spent an hour working through various options for exercise with him – some floor based, some sat on a gym ball and some stood.  He devised me a few “circuits” (repetitions of various exercises repeated in a cycle).  He recommended starting off with 3 x exercise sessions a week (each last about an hour) plus my treadmill session at the Clinic.  I see him once a fortnight for him to assess how the exercise regime is going, talk through any problems and suggest new exercises as my fitness levels improve and my pain decreases.

Talk us through some of the exercises in your videos and what they achieve?

The exercises work on muscle groups that are imbalanced and work to try and address that imbalance – so for example, I have one leg longer than the other and the longer, stronger leg often does much of the work – for example, when I am standing still, I put all the weight through my longer leg which means the muscles are much stronger and larger.  That results in some muscles -for example, my glute muscle (the one that runs across from the bottom of the spine to the top of my hip and muscles running across the back of my thigh to my knee) often get quite tight and knotted – this in turn causes pain.  By attempting to strengthen the weaker side, I will (hopefully) give those over worked muscle groups a bit of respite.

I have also found out through the Royal National Orthopeadic Hospital that my lower spine is degenerating – through age and because of the mechanics of how I walk.  They have recommended non-weight bearing exercises to strengthen the muscles that support my spine.

It’s also really important to keep moving and movement – especially as we enter middle age.  This is the same for everyone – but in many ways more important for us as our impairments require us to stretch, bend and reach much more because of limb shortening.  Exercise and movement build stronger bones, stronger muscles and helps to keep the joints working.  My exercises therefore are aimed at balance, strength, flexibility.  I also use the treadmill to get cardio exercise (work on improving the most important muscle in your body – ones heart!)

You’ve lost over 4 stone now, how does that feel and how do you keep motivated to stay fit and healthy?

I have been astounded at the difference my weight loss has made to every single aspect of my life.  I have been able to enjoy activities such as gardening cutting the lawn, that I hadn’t been able to do for years.  Things like being able to fill my car with petrol again without help.  Last year we did our first safari holiday where my husband had to lift me in and out of jeeps and small aircraft – plus I needed to be able to walk short distances.  I managed without too much of a problem and I know my husband was grateful that he had four stone less to lift.

Activities of daily living (washing, dressing, going to the toilet) have all become much easier and take me less time – my morning routine used to take me 1.5 hours whereas now I can do this in 45 minutes.  I don’t have to keep stopping for rests or because I am out of breath.

The most important thing is that I maintain this level of fitness and that I don’t regain the weight because as I get older, it’s all the more important to keep my pain at bay and use minimal support from others so that I am keeping active and healthy.  I want to give myself every opportunity to live to a ripe old age with as little pain as possible.

"It’s so wonderful to be able to buy regular clothes from regular shops!"

Your award winning blog “FlidFit” has loads of great recipes for healthy eating, where do you get your inspiration for meals from?

I search on-line for recipes and log everything via an on-line database.  My husband also enjoys cooking so we often discuss meals for the week and what we need to order with the groceries.  We love trying out new tastes and flavours.  We rarely eat out now – just as an occasional treat and we try and keep what we eat healthy and nutritious.

And how important is it to eat well AND exercise, can someone just do one of them?

Any improvement to diet or increase in activity is great and you should do whatever you can.  Some people won’t share the same love of cooking or may not have time to prepare meals from scratch.  What is IN your food can make a huge difference to your health – for example, sugar is an inflammatory so eating too much isn’t going to help with your pain.

In terms of exercise – exercise is essential even more as we age to maintain or improve bone and joint health (reducing the risk of fractures), improving balance (reducing risk of falls), building muscle mass (muscle mass decreases quite radically from the age of 50) – and of course, there is the emotional and wellbeing side of things – exercise can make you feel better emotionally as well as physically.  I think fuelling your body with the right types of food and nutrients also plays a significant part in this.

Tell me a bit more about the Alt-G treadmill that you’ve used recently, how does it work?

The treadmill is designed so that a percentage of the body weight is supported by an air filled chamber that you basically sit into. So today's exercise was done at 75% of my body weight. This means that I am able to move without any of the aches and pains I usually get.

And will you be using it on a regular basis now you’ve tried it?

Absolutely!  Once a week every week.  I am paying for 10 sessions at a time.  It’s less than an hour out of my week (including getting to and from the clinic) and I absolutely LOVE the feeling I have afterwards – my whole body feels totally alive.  I build up a real sweat which demonstrates to me how hard my body is working.  I don’t always look my best as I stagger out of the clinic afterwards though.

Motivation is the biggest barrier to changing habits and routines, do you have any top tips for people who struggle to get motivated?

Commitment to diet/lifestyle change and resistance to temptation doesn't just happen! It has to be worked at.  The only way I have succeeded this time is to change how I approach food and eating it. I have learned to resist temptation. BUT please believe that this has taken a LOT of hard work and practice! I have developed a respect for the food I eat. Not everyone has the ability to eat as well as we in the western world eat. We should not abuse the privilege. I rarely eat "on the hoof" any more, I rarely eat between meals. I take time to sit at a table and present my meals nicely. I take a moment or two to really look at my plate of food before I pick up my knife and fork.

  • Log your food - keep track of how many calories some of those "treats" contain, after a while they kind of stay in your head (medium egg = 70 cals, slice of white bread 100 cals, meringue nest 57 cals, 30g (matchbox size) of cheddar, 122 cals)
  • Plan or even prepare a meal BEFORE going out.  - I know exactly what I can eat as soon as I walk into the door and don't turn to "what I fancy" (usually high calorie carbs that don't keep you full for very long)
  • Make a list of the reasons WHY you want to lose weight. Keep it somewhere safe (stuck to the inside of a kitchen cupboard door?) and look at it from time to time, especially when you are raiding the kitchen for treats!
  • Have a glass of water - wait 5 minutes and consider whether you still want the food. Once it's been snaffled down, it's too late and you may end up feeling cross and angry with yourself....  and that feeling (guilt, failure) lasts for a long time, much longer than the temporary enjoyment of whatever treat you ate.
  • Weigh in - I always remind myself how good the feeling is of seeing a loss on the scales at my weekly weigh in! That wonderful feeling lasts for days. Don't forget how that feels - you need to remind yourself of that feeling next time temptation strikes.

Thank you Simone!

Recommendations from Simone

The 4 Pillar Plan

I’d recommend a book by Dr Rangan Chatterjee called “The 4 Pillar Plan” which explains the importance of diet, exercise and sleep in our lives.  It’s really easy to read and has some lovely pictures.  It contains a number of strategies for slowly building on the 4 pillars – a step by step guide to improving your health and your life.

Health Unlocked

Health Unlocked is a great website where there are also lots of other communities/support forums on there  around different illnesses, anxiety and wellbeing. See my interview with them below: