Monday 20 November 2017

'I interrupt my husband and make him feel my biceps'

Our writer has found swapping wine for weights no mean feat, but is starting to reap the benefits of her newfound commitment - even though others are struggling to adapt to her long-term lifestyle change

Yvonne Hogan
Yvonne Hogan

Yvonne Hogan

'Are you pregnant?" my dinner companion asked excitedly. "That's great news." "No, not pregnant," I answered.

"Then why aren't you drinking?"

She was puzzled. And rightly so. She and I had spent many, many enjoyable nights together over a bottle of wine or two. It was kind of our thing.

"But we're probably only going to have one bottle. It's a Thursday." She was starting to sound annoyed, and disappointed, and desperately determined. As if she had gone out to meet Katie Price and was now sitting across from Gwyneth Paltrow, but if she tried hard enough, there was still a chance Paltrow would leave and Price would slip into her seat.

But the lady was not for turning. "I just don't feel like it." I tried to brush it off, and was starting to get a bit annoyed myself. "It's not a big deal."

Oh, but it was a big deal it was. My poor old pal felt like an alcoholic and I sounded like a prude. It was all wrong. Just five minutes before we had been hugging, excited at catching up on the few months that had passed since we last met, but now there was a cloud hovering over our table.

I have had quite a few incidents like this since I embarked on a complete lifestyle overhaul two months ago. When you turn from a drinker into a non-drinker for what seems like no reason (in this country, being an alcoholic or pregnant are the only valid reasons), it wrong-foots your friends. You are not the person they made the date with, or invited over for dinner, or the person from whom they accepted the dinner invitation. They feel cheated.

And I don't blame them. Until recently, I would have thought the exact same way. And, like my pal, there is no way I would have wasted an almost-weekend night on someone who doesn't drink. Anything after Thursday was strictly for the fun people. And, believe me, I was a lot of fun.

But this year, for some reason -- maybe because I turned 35 and was married and settled and feeling a bit middle-aged -- I took a look at things and realised I wasn't having as much fun. My lifestyle was awful. I worked long hours, I didn't exercise properly, I skipped meals, ate too late, ate too much, ate rubbish and felt tired and stressed all the time.

I was also bored. Every weekday was consumed solely by work and every weekend was a variation of the same theme -- dinner and too much wine. A hangover on Saturday and The Fear on Sunday and Monday coming around all too quickly.

And, although I hate to admit this because I hate that we are all so obsessed with women's weight, I was really, really bothered by the fact that I was wearing a size 14. Now, I know a size 14 is the size of a 'normal' woman, but everyone is different and for me, for my body, size 14 was fat.

And for me, size 14 was expensive. I was spending a fortune on designer clothes to make myself look and feel nice. Primark does not skim a spare tyre in quite the same way as Prada, so on top of everything else, fat is a financial issue.

I decided that wine was to blame, and in January I vowed to give it up until Easter. Come February, I hadn't dropped a pound. I was doing everything else the same -- eating the same foods at the same times, exercising/not exercising the same, and not one measly pound.

I was enjoying the other benefits of abstinence: more energy, better skin, clearer lungs due to the fact that I wasn't having sneaky cigarettes after a few glasses, longer weekends and a feeling of smug superiority, so I decided to stick with it, but I needed more. I wanted to get fit.

The first week in February, I made an appointment to see Damien Maher, a strength coach who writes a weekly column for the Irish Independent's Health and Living magazine. I also committed to writing a monthly column about my journey to fitness.

There was no going back.

Just over two months later, I have lost almost 20lbs of fat and my body is a totally different shape. I feel amazing -- strong, fit, happy and healthy, and I have buckets of energy. It really is the best thing that I have ever done for myself.

But all this goodness comes at a price. For me, the price is exercising five to six times a week: weight training with my trainer three times a week; interval sprinting sessions in my own gym; no chocolate, no biscuits, no cakes, no bread, no pasta, no crisps, no scones and no alcohol. It's all nuts, seeds, fish, poultry, vegetables and salads for me.

In fairness, I can have a bit of whatever I want once a week as part of my lifestyle change, but I just haven't wanted anything. I did have a couple of glasses of wine at Easter, just because I said I would give up alcohol until then, but I found them rather underwhelming and probably won't bother again for a long time.

The exercise is hard and it hurts, but as a stress relief it is second to none. I also love the fact that for the hour or so I am in the gym, I am completely giving over all control. I just do what I'm told. If my trainer tells me I can lift 40kg, then who am I to contradict him? It's quite relaxing in a humbling sort of way.

At this point I should assure you that such self-discipline and achievement are not normal for me. I have failed at diets numerous times, joined yoga and Pilates classes and never gone again after the first one. I have bought the latest book about the latest diet, drank the funny Chinese tea and did all the other nonsense.

None of it ever worked -- for one because it is nonsense, but also because I was looking for change without wanting to change anything I did. I wanted to look and feel great with no real effort on my part.

Also, I must point out that I am not undaunted by the fact that this is a long-term thing. To maintain the benefits -- having a strong, lean body (which I don't have yet, by the way; still very much a work in progress) and a clear mind -- I will have to continue this exercise and healthy eating for the rest of my life. It will be hard, but it's worth it.

Needless to say, my social life has taken a back seat; I go out maybe twice a month. When I do go out I enjoy myself up until about 11pm, the point at which drunk people go from fun to tedious, and then I am ready for the road.

That's all fine for me, but what about my husband? Where has this left him? He married a woman who loved wine and fine dining.

There are certain restaurants he loves that we no longer go to because of how my diet has changed, but I would imagine the hardest part for him is putting up with me. On a recent trip to Vienna, I kept begging him to take pictures of me and then would scroll back to pictures that he had taken of me while we were in New York in January and insist he analyse them.

"Look at the difference," I would say. "Isn't it unbelievable?"

"Unreal," he would say disinterestedly, for the umpteenth time.

"No, seriously, look properly. Isn't it like a different person?"

I have taken to peering at myself in the mirror and will conduct entire conversations with him while staring at my own reflection.

I regularly interrupt him mid-sentence and force him to feel my biceps and once even interrupted a particularly important and touching story to urge him to "Punch me in the stomach", so he could feel how hard it was.

He has a lot to put up with.

There is one thing about my new lifestyle that he is very happy about, however.

Now that I am no longer drinking wine, we have finally figured out which one of us was the guilty party when it came to insisting on opening yet another bottle.

It turns out it was me.

Follow Yvonne's progress in 'Health and Living' on May 17. See

Irish Independent

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