Monday, July 2, 2007
Good-bye cigarettes
It’s hard to be healthy and a smoker. Some sportsmen can manage it – darts champions, snooker players and Shane Warne have smoked and played sport, sometimes all at once, but for us mere mortals a commitment to being fit often involves saying farewell to the fags.

A smoking ban in pubs and clubs across England has further made dragging on a ciggie a bit trickier – not to say illegal.

There are various libertarian arguments one could make against the ban, but the heat goes out of any argument when you consider that smoking increases not only your chances of dying a miserable, grisly death in the cancer ward, but can drag your non-smoking pals to the same ward by the virtue of breathing in your second-hand smoke.

I didn’t give up the cigs because of the smoking ban, or because I am on a fitness kick, or the fact that the detox I have been on has given me a cold where my body’s production of mucus would thwart any attempt to smoke – in fact I didn’t give up at all. But it’s been ten days since my last cigarette and I don’t think I will have another one.

At a party on Saturday night, I pulled a lit one out of a friend’s paw and had a drag. It tasted terrible. I screwed up my face and handed it back. Could it be as simple as that? When cigarettes taste bad the addiction is over? I hope so – I don’t fancy standing like a pariah in the rain trying to light my soggy cig while my friends are warm and clean-lunged inside.

Increasingly smoking is becoming an unsustainable lifestyle choice.

Yet, strange as it may sound, I will miss smoking. As a mostly social smoker I associate smoking with two activities I really enjoy: being with my friends at the pub and being contemplative.

Both activities usually involve a cigarette: it’s as if the act of smoking heightens the experience and takes me out of the everyday.

Whilst no baby-Chav I did have my first cigarette aged 12, and when I was 15 or 16 I was buying my own packets before settling on Marlboro Lights when I was at university. Lately in a bid to kid myself that I am not a ‘real’ smoker, I have been buying my cigarettes in little junior packs of ten.

I have probably ‘borrowed’ more cigarettes than I have brought: to all those people I scabbed smokes off at pubs and at parties – thank-you. I can never repay you.

Being a ‘social smoker’ has also been my entre-nous of choice with the opposite sex.
If you were a male smoker, I have probably have had a fairly clumsy crack at you. Being fairly gormless when it comes to chat-up lines, I have usually opted to target male smokers using their cigarettes, matches and lighters as a ruse to start a conversation.

And so it comes to the real reason for smoking.

Smoking is never just about smoking: its about so many other things: its a crutch, or a ladder, a prop - and throwing it away reminds me of a line in Yeat’s poem The Circus Animal’s Desertion.
It’s one of Yeat’s final poems and, broadly speaking it’s about loss. He writes,

Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.
Smoking has been my ladder, my companion at a thousand cruel bus shelters waiting for the bus that never comes. It’s been there for me at sunsets and sunrises, heartbreaks and coffee breaks. In the grimy little bars of Barcelona, the coffee shops of Melbourne, the pubs of Sydney, the youth hostels of Dublin, in the back-yard of my house in London. When I've been anxious or ecstatic or bored or tired. At celebrations and defeats and everything in between.

But sometimes the things you love are not particularly good for you and its time to kick the ladder away.

It’s a bittersweet good-bye to the cigs, but better that than saying goodbye to the habit in some hospital ward, years from now, when it’s too late to be nostalgic.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007
The reluctant exerciser

McDonalds? No thanks

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Brigid, I am a journalist and – drum roll- I am about to start a major health kick (again).

I’m probably not that different to a lot of other young professionals living in a big city who have a fairly schizophrenic approach to their health.

I have a hectic social life that often revolves around food and alcohol and a lot of good intentions about food and fitness. Often the two don’t mix.

For example – today I had muesli for breakfast, an apple for morning tea, sushi for lunch and am well on the way to drinking my recommended eight litres of water a day.

So far so good. But last night I had a pint of beer, ¾ of a bottle of wine, chicken with lashings of buttery mash and 4 cigarettes. Yikes!

This blog will chart my attempt to follow the righteous path, to be holier than thou, to say "Non!" and "Mon Dieu!" to the offer of fragrant Beaujolais, to the temptation of a sweet, puffy pastry, to the lure of solipsistic cigarettes.

Instead I will bunny hop to the gym, I will only eat foods that have not been through the horrors of processing and I will promise not to go within 50 metres of a food vending machine.

But as its one week before my gym membership kicks in, I’m clinging to the remnants my soon to be former life like a banker to his BlackBerry.

This week is eat, drink and be merry.

There’s a lovely freedom to living life this way – to not caring. Feel like a can of Coke mid afternoon – well have it. Chocolate after dinner – for sure. Late afternoon gin and tonic? Why not.

Not being concerned about diet and exercise gives you an enormous amount of mental freedom. Instead of spending dinner fretting about calorie counts and carbs – there Iran’s nuclear program to debate or Tony Blair’s legacy or the merits of this year’s Booker prize winning book.

Instead of leaving a restaurant feeling guilty and sick with self loathing for having had all three courses there is the delightful feeling of having enjoyed beautifully cooked and prepared food. It is the full, happy feeling.

I will miss this feeling.

But I recognise there are consequences to living without care. Feeling sluggish for a start, and heavy, and certain lethargy in the day that comes from having a bit too much fun the night before.

So Monday it starts. There’ll be the gym (daily? Once a week? Never?) , a personal trainer, a cutting back on booze and a radical rethink about the sort of food I put in my gob.

I’ve been down this road before but have found the whole healthy living thing a little bit drab, a drag on my social life, and ultimately unsustainable. So like particularly springy elastic bound, I start taut for a while then ping! I’m back to my bad old ways.
I’ll be blogging a couple of times a week from my progress from super-sloth to super-fit.

I promise to be honest about how the program is going, and if and when I fall off the wagon.

In return I’d love it if you would share your health and fitness tips with me – and your own stories about getting healthy.

Maybe you’ll inspire me to be in it for the long run rather than stepping off the treadmill when it all gets too hard.

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Welcome to the diary of a reluctant exerciser. Having previously shunned fitness regimes in favour of bacon sandwiches, Brigid Delaney vows to finally shape up, get fit and eat more healthily. Over the next three months read how she gets on in a brave new world of gyms, exercise classes and no bacon sandwiches.
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