You’re given this body. It’s a bit squishy but all the parts are there -arms, legs, eyeballs, ear loabs, that pointless snot-funnell under your nose – there you have it, it’s yours to do with what you will for the rest of your life. 

So what do you do with it? If you’re lucky you’ll get one without too many snags or software issues but if you’ve been handed a wild card and aren’t quite sure, where do you go with it then?

Perhaps abuse it a little at first, break some parts as a kid then they’ll heal quickly with any luck, and when you get to your later teenage years and beyond, feed it some sugary poison and see what happens. 

Then what? You might be doing some of the same things as other kids your age and some things will make you momentarily feel as free as a bird. Like jumping on a trampoline in your purple club leotard that makes you feel really special. There’s nothing better as a child than a lycra leotard. You just want to stroke your own shiny belly and feel like you have a perfect body like all the other girls. [That sentence sounded a lot less creepy before I wrote it]. 

Unfortunately, that doesn’t last long, that freedom. Nope. It stops fairly abruptly and in some respects it feels more unfair than if you’d never had it in the first place. Nothing tragic happens, but the wiring in your body starts playing up and affecting you more than ever. You’ll be sat in the car one day on the way to the beach with your mum and you might suddenly notice that you can no longer move your little finger. Buh-Bye then. It was nice knowing you. That’s all ten then now!

Maybe a few lunchtime sessions of wheelchair basketball in school will be a fruitful endeavour. You do really enjoy throwing a smaller-sized ball in a lower-set basket. You get ‘Most Improved Player’ after a few months and then remember the irony that is the inevitability of earning this title when the only other player in a wheelchair, playing on the opposing team, is a kid borrowing another wheelchair. Now you feel like you’ve truly earned that sporting title (!) 

Fast forward a few years and almost every day, without exaggeration, is peppered with thoughts of ‘I wish I could do more exercise’. Trawling through YouTube videos searching for inspiration and finding absolutely nothing. Disabled people don’t exercise. Only the people in the Paralympics. And they are robots. Manufactured in a factory in Milton Keynes and made to order every few years to prolong the excitement of the Olympics. They don’t exist because there are no opportunities for this sort of talent to be nurtured. Or maybe it was just my luck. In the new term of starting secondary school, I was told I ‘wouldn’t be doing PE’. So that marked the end of any potential skill or ability to keep fit I may have had if anyone had bothered to try like they do with other kids. I never got to smell the school changing room sweat or be the one that put all the javelins back in their… javelin cage. 

And so the time comes around again where all thoughts of your body, skills, appearance, fitness, weight etc, are not dissimilar to that awful feeling you get when you walk into a noisy bar and there’s too much raised-voice ranting for normal people to be able to think straight and you’d quite like to turn around and walk out again. Then you see yourself sat in a chair and looking decidedly lazy and know that something needs to happen. 

Your best bet is to sit on the floor in your living room and make up exercises that are possible yet still a challenge for someone with no muscle in their legs or lower arms. Making up hybrid exercise routines is necessary because like I said, disabled sports do not really exist. You either do nothing or you go the whole-hog and break world records in stadiums. There is no in between for people like me.

Then you take your little girls to gymnastics and watch the eldest in her session, from the viewing area thinking:

“Please, please want this as much as I want this for you. You are perfect and you have all these opportunities right at your feet and you can be brilliant, so please use it. Use these opportunities and your body and your strength and all these people telling you you’re doing really well. Don’t ever stop doing it. Whatever it is.”

And that goes for all of you. 


Nothing changes on New Year’s Day

Sorry to be blunt, but what is it about going from one evening to the next morning at a particular night, that makes everyone need to rush to their friends and their news feeds on facebook to be the first to read about everyone’s proclaiming of new year’s resolutions? Just what is it about the first day of a new year that means you must commit yourself to losing 99 percent of your body fat by February the 2nd, only eating carbs on the second Thursday of every month, doing 72 push ups every morning before you go to the toilet and washing your aging face with a banana skin before bed every night? Surely we can do those things any time we like.

There is so much increasing pressure every new year that I’ve witnessed in recent years. As I was growing up I too fell victim to the compulsion to say I was going to ‘diet’ and lose weight from the moment the Christmas holidays were over. Even as a young teenager I remember feeling this guilt at wanting to eat something yummy on the Friday evening after going back to school in January and then feeling like I needed to do it in secret so no one would learn of my atrocities.

But every year that went by as I grew up, the ‘dieting’ failed to last more than a few days. I once ate just a Granny Smith apple for the entire day and felt so ill with an achey stomach by the evening. All because my new jeans were a bit tight. Maybe I could’ve done with losing a bit of puppy fat. Maybe the jeans were just the wrong size? Maybe I was just a teenager whose body shape was still forming and growing. Who knows.

I’ll tell you who knows. You. Not everyone in your news feed, or the kids in your school, or the women in your slimming class.

Changing something major about yourself, and I mean those whose long-term health risks mean that weight loss is a necessity, or those whose sedentary lifestyle means that they really do need to raise their heart rate and exercise sensibly but regularly, should be something you decide for yourself if and when you know you can stick to changing it permanently. It angers me to watch food products like Weight Watchers snack bars, sugar-laden fat-free yoghurts and water-filled ready meals fly off the shelf in the supermarkets in January, knowing that those products aren’t going to help anyone in the short, let alone, long term. It angers me that those companies are sucking people in when they feel at their worst after indulging at Christmas. But actually, why shouldn’t we indulge at Christmas or other significant times of your personal diary? Why should you feel bad for having a slice of your own birthday cake when you’re supposed to be dieting? Shame on you for enjoying yourself. People need to be aware that they can change their lifestyle and that don’t have to call it a diet. Dieting just implies it’s only going to last a finite length of time. Then what? How long ’til you bully yourself into pursuing the next weight-loss pill?

People need to know that they can be healthier and happier and still enjoy getting Chinese takeaway when their family or friends come to visit, and that they can be comfortable in the knowledge that they have power over their own bodies as far as food/drink consumption goes. People are intelligent enough to know that, probably, having Chinese takeaway every other night as part of their weekly routine might NOT make them feel too healthy.

Why are we still treating people and ourselves like we need to have specially labelled food, count by using a made-up word to signify a calorific measurement, rather than using the common sense and knowledge that we all have, hopefully, somewhere. Well maybe some are void of this, but we can help them too.

The only pressure I feel at the moment is to make sure my girls grow up knowing the healthiest ways to eat for general long term health. I’ll teach them that we can have a McDonald’s on the car journey up country and that we don’t have to feel bad about it. I’ll teach them to learn the biological and scientific facts about food and nutrition and how our bodies react to the things we eat and what they can do to help themselves when they don’t feel too healthy. I’ll teach them to use their heads and ask us questions when they need to know something. And if we don’t know, we’ll teach them to try and find an answer. It already scares me that they’ll get tricked into thinking they need to lose weight just because their friends are.

Now, where did I put my fat-free chocolate cake? Bottoms up!