Habits: Hard To Form? Hard To Break? ~ The Impact On Dieting

Parents try to instil habits in the tiniest of babies – we bath a newborn at bedtime partly in the hope that it becomes a cue for a good night’s sleep and, later, a habit. Many habits start in early childhood: cleaning your teeth, eating nicely at the table, saying “please” and “thank you”. Those are the good ones. Bad ones – biting your nails for example, a habit I eventually conquered at the ripe old age of 31 – also often start in childhood. Once they are entrenched, new behaviours are terribly difficult to adopt. This makes the whole challenge of dieting both interesting and hugely difficult. Once the bad habits become ingrained into your subconscious, they become ‘learnt’ behaviours and are really tricky to quash.

Aristotle Quote

Some years ago some self-help bods started bandying about the phrase that it took 21 days to form (or indeed break) a habit. Research in 2009 at University College London, however, (‘Intervention Based on the Principles of Habit Formation’ published in the European Journal of Social Psychology) showed that actually it takes an average 66 days for people to perform an initially new behaviour.

Habits are behaviours which are performed automatically because they have been performed frequently in the past. This repetition creates a mental association between the situation (cue) and action (behaviour) which means that when the cue is encountered the behaviour is performed automatically. Automaticity has a number of components, one of which is lack of thought.

They suggested that because bad habits are very difficult to break, one helpful way of conquering this is to take control of your environment so you don’t encounter the cue which acts as a trigger. The research also highlighted that while being wildly inconsistent meant no change to habits, the odd inconsistency was not the end of the world. So we need commitment, but not necessarily a 100% track record. Many women on diets think all is lost if they have a bad day. We need to change that mindset and keep looking forward.


There is undoubtedly truth in the argument that most diets fail and if we want to lose weight, eat healthier and feel leaner and fitter, we need to make a lifestyle choice, not reach for a short-term solution.

I firmly believe that much of this can be answered by strict portion control. In his book “Mindless Eating”, Brian Wansink argues that just an extra 10 calories a day will make you gain a pound in one year. So there appears to be a small margin of error, but this should give us all hope. If you missed my info on Portion Distortion, please have a read: http://wp.me/p5MNeq-2r

Lifestyle change and a long-term outlook then is the answer: breaking bad habits, making new ones and sticking with them once and for all. Diets which work over a long period of time and which become a way of life are ones which suit the dieter and which don’t require too much aggravation and thought. For me, the Side Plate Diet is a winner (see http://wp.me/p5MNeq-2). I eat what I want and enjoy my food, but I simply restrict the amount. Let me know if you are giving it a try.

What experience have you had with habit-breaking and habit-forming? How has it impacted on your diet? Please feel free to comment – I would love to hear from you.

Change ahead

Annie Bee x

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Surprising Finds #3 ~ Ash In My Breakfast

I realise just how far behind the curve I am on much life has to offer (who knew Kings Cross in London was now a destination as opposed to somewhere any sensible person would want to get out of as fast as possible? Everyone, it seems, except me).http://www.kingscross.co.uk/

Likewise the spiralizer. My BF recommended it to me and I am a late adopter, but big fan (thanks Hemsley + Hemsley sisters; love the spiralizer and am madly in love with you too with your super healthy bodies, yoga toned limbs and pretty clothes http://www.hemsleyandhemsley.com/recipes/spiralizer/). Apart from finding it slightly difficult to wash after use, this little (relatively inexpensive) gadget is great fun, and I am loving eating ‘courgetti’ (and saying the word as often as possible) with as many meals as is humanly possible.

My latest Surprising Find is Ash in my food. I did have visions of this being actual ash from the bottom of the fireplace (wouldn’t it be cool if this was a new superfood?) but a little bit of research shows I am wrong. It is prevalent in pet food (not so far making me feel more at ease – you?) and essentially refers to the mineral content. Here is a description from a website helpfully entitled All About Dog Food.

‘Ash’ is one of the most commonly misunderstood terms in pet food. Contrary to the images it conjures, ash is simply a measure of the mineral content of a food. When calculating the food’s calorific content, it is incinerated and the energy released is measured. All of the carbohydrate, fat and protein burn off leaving only the minerals. This is known as the ash content.

Ash in food

More helpful if you are a human being, and taken from Livestrong.com: Ash refers to any inorganic material, such as minerals, present in food. It’s called ash because it’s residue that remains after heating removes water and organic material such as fat and protein. Food scientists “ash” foods so that they can examine this leftover material to better determine a food’s content.

So there we are. To ash is a verb. I enter the weekend in the spirit of adventure and education. Life is full of surprises.

Annie Bee x

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Other Surprising Finds here http://wp.me/p5MNeq-4k


Is the Over 50s Woman Invisible?

I was out walking one morning this week and I passed a series of small groups of young women (in their 30s I guess) running the same route. Some of them acknowledged me, but many didn’t. Why should they? They don’t know me, I was looking pretty uninteresting (bedraggled some might say), there was no reason to chat (although a Hello is always nice). It struck me that maybe I have become invisible. To begin with I was appalled at this notion, but over the past few days I have come to realise that maybe it is a relief. It got me thinking once again about the whole ageing conundrum.

I don’t think there is a fear of ageing per se, I think we are scared of bad health as we age, and then the sure-fire death which awaits us all.

“I am not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens” ~ Woody Allen

The ageing process is unstoppable. Trying to slow it down accounts for a very lucrative market though: all told it is worth an estimated £180 billion globally this year. That is a lot of creams, procedures, supplements and corsetry. Does any of it work? Well not if my neck is anything to go by. Much of the wording around these products is noticebaly negative: ‘anti-ageing’, ‘skin corrector’ and ‘time delay’ all found in the first 20 pages of a magazine I have to hand, all appealing to our deep-seated insecurities. Well, you can run ladies, but you cannot hide. Ageing is here to stay.

Nora Ephron, in her autobiographical book of short essays, I Feel Bad About My Neck, wrote

Oh the necks. There are chicken necks. There are turkey-gobbler necks. There are elephant necks. There are necks with wattles and necks with creases that are on the verge of becoming wattles. There are scrawny necks and fat necks, loose necks, crêpey necks, banded necks, wrinkled necks, stringy necks, flabby necks, mottled necks…..You have to cut open a redwood tree to see how old it is, but you wouldn’t have to if you had a neck.

If you are in your 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s or beyond and are as fit as a flea, your mindset won’t be in a negative loop about poor health and death. Or I hope it isn’t. But sadly there is a tendency that we start to hear bad news about friends in our and their sixth decades; people we know have heart attacks, strokes and get the news they have cancer. It can be a gloomy old time.

On the other hand, I would argue it is not all bad by any stretch of the imagination. The women I know in their 50s are more self-aware than ever before. We are savvy, accepting, stylish and have adjusted to life’s limitations and are ready to enter the FAB (fifties and beyond) era with grace and well-positioned scarves to hide the wattle. There are plenty of challenges (elderly parents, teenage children, an empty nest, menopause, divorce, health issues – take your pick) but I know I am much more capable in my 50s of dealing with these than I was in previous decades. No sensible shoes just yet then.

“It’s sad to grow old, but nice to ripen” ~ Brigitte Bardot

There is certainly truth in the adage that we are as old as we feel. Ageing is a process whereby at various stages we want it to go very fast  – small children want to be older so they can stay up later; teenagers want to be older so they can go to the pub with friends or learn to drive a car; in your twenties you perhaps want to be older in order to increase your earning power, or fulfil your career ambitions. Then later on we want to slow it down or halt it all together – neither is possible of course. There are limitations imposed right through the various decades, but it is surely about accepting them and embracing the constant adjustments we all end up making throughout our lives which will give us the greatest happiness.

Portrait of an Old Woman by Graham Brindley

Portrait of an Old Woman by Graham Brindley

There are a few blogs I like which show that style is still available to the older woman and that it is worthwhile not giving in just yet:




So no, we are not invisible. Is acceptance of our age and all it brings the answer? Or should we fight against it?

I am not sure. What do you think?

Breid Morris

Annie Bee x

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Surprising Finds #2 ~ Four Sisters Over Forty Years

Hello again

I came across this inspiring series of photos of four sisters, taken over the course of forty years. The beauty of the slow transformation of the women is worth your time, but to tempt you to have a good look, here is the first taken in 1975 and the latest.

Brown Sisters 1

Brown sisters 2

All photographs by Nicholas Nixon/Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco and Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.


A great idea for your children or grandchildren – tricky and time-consuming to organise, but definitely worth it….

Annie Bee x

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Who’s Got The Best National Anthem?


I belong to a strange tribe of mutts  – I am not one thing nor another, and had a nomadic upbringing. If you put a gun to my head I would say I am Welsh, and I do feel at home when I go back to the Mother Country, which I don’t do often enough.

I was born and brought up in New Zealand, but with two VERY Welsh parents (there is nobody more Welsh than a Welsh person who is 12,000 miles from home), have lived in Wales, but now live in England with an English husband and a crew of Baby Bees (all born in London) who also find themselves neither one thing nor another.

Today is a big day for rugby enthusiasts. I was steeped in rugby from a very early age and on my father’s side of the family, there are very strong ties to Llanelli Rugby Club. I knew what an Up and Under was before I was out of nappies. So I will be watching this afternoon as Wales play Italy; Scotland v Ireland follows and then the day rounds off with England v France. Rugby heaven.

But can I admit that my favourite bit is not the game, but the National Anthems at the start? I would definitely argue that Wales have by far the best National Anthem in the world. I am prepared to be proven wrong but am fairly sure it is the only time you will hear the crowd singing in harmony. I find it very moving indeed. Have a look and see what you think.


And then there’s the Haka. Also very moving, not to mention unsettling for those at whom it is aimed: https://youtu.be/XPHeJd2T12M

It is only another 6 months until the Rugby World Cup. And I for one can’t wait for the singing.

Equipe Nouvelle Zelande


Annie Bee x

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I Am Constantly Making A Spectacle Of Myself

On the day that part of the world may see a solar eclipse (not here in the ‘burbs – there is a heavy blanket of cloud unfortunately) I am thinking about the role of glasses in my life. I have worn specs since I realised I could no longer see the blackboard in maths class when I was about 15 and, while I dabbled with contact lenses in my late teens, I apparently have very dry eyes, so they were never going to work. I am a specs wearer for life then, so need to make the most of it.

In the same way I would never chose to wear just one pair of shoes (although I have been inseparable this last fortnight from my Vagabond Dioons Vagabond http://www.office.co.uk/view/product/office_catalog/2,10/1294300347 but I digress !) I have amassed a small collection of glasses (or ‘eyewear’ as it is known in the fashion world) so I can change them to suit my mood and outfit. Now I am in my 50s, I have got the hang of what suits me; I have learnt that glasses where the person looking at your face can’t see the tops of your eyes are not worth having. Your face shape, hair style, hair colour and eyebrow shape all play a part in what suits the individual. It is worth playing around and using the technology some opticians now have whereby you can have a photo taken in the shop and you can see what each pair you try on looks like (invaluable if, like me, you are as blind as a bat). I look truly dreadful in rectangular frames, but rather favour the cat’s eye style which happily is not too difficult to find.

The earliest written record of magnification dates back to the 1st century AD, when Seneca the Younger, a tutor of Emperor Nero of Rome, wrote: “Letters, however small and indistinct, are seen enlarged and more clearly through a globe or glass filled with water”. Nero (reigned 54–68 AD) is also said to have watched the gladiatorial games using an emerald as a corrective lens. The first eyeglasses were made in Italy at about 1286, and it has been said that Marco Polo reported seeing many pairs of glasses in China as early as 1275.


1805 glasses

French Empire gilt scissors glasses c. 1805 (with one lens missing)

Here in the UK the NHS still offers free eye tests to some groups of people and between about 1948 and 1985 there was a range of free frames as well; although there was often a negative social stigma to wearing the state-subsidised specs, many of the frames are ironically very fashionable now, in a retro-chic way.

NHS frames

I would happily wear these for example (love the colour!):

NHS childrens' frames

Geek Chic has also added to the popularity of glasses wearing, with non-prescription frames now available purely as a fashion accessory. Google ‘fake glasses for kids’ and prepare to be amazed. For adults, you only have to look as far as ASOS. It seems slightly mad to me, but there is clearly a market for them.

One possible reason is that, according to research by the College of Optometrists, 43 per cent of people think that glasses make someone look more intelligent (yay!) and 36 per cent believe they make you look more professional and business-like (oh yes!). As a result, 40 per cent of people would consider wearing clear lens glasses that they don’t need in order to get ahead at work and look fashionable.

Part of me wishes I had a choice to wear them or not, but I am stuck with bad eyesight. I do have some options though, so at least have the chance to ring the changes.

glasses 2

glasses 5

glasses 3

glasses 4

glasses 1

My favourite place to find new frames in the UK is Roope’s Opticians, in St Albans http://www.robertroope.com/opticians/ and they have their own line of frames available on the web: http://blackeyewear.com/about/ .

For some more pictures of glasses I love: https://uk.pinterest.com/buzzanniebee/glasses-i-like/

marilyn glasses

Have a good weekend

Annie Bee x

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The Nightmare Cycle of Diet Loss and Regain

Hello again

Put your hand up if you have been on a successful diet and NOT put at least some of the weight back on? Put your hand up if you put it all back on and then some. Are you confused about the very latest thing we are all supposed to be giving up? (Sugar seems to be the most recent baddy, but it is sometimes hard to keep up). Studies show that between 50% and 80% of dieters will put all their lost weight back on and some may well find they are heavier than they were when they first started the diet. How incredibly depressing.

In April 2007, UCLA research in American Psychologist, (the journal of the American Psychological Association) concluded that, “you can initially lose 5 to 10 percent of your weight on any number of diets, but then the weight comes back”.

Traci Mann, UCLA Associate Professor of Psychology and lead author of the study, conducted the most comprehensive and rigorous analysis of diet studies by analysing 31 long-term pieces of research.

“What happens to people on diets in the long run?” Mann asked. “Would they have been better off to not go on a diet at all? We decided to dig up and analyse every study that followed people on diets for two to five years. We concluded most of them would have been better off not going on the diet at all. Their weight would be pretty much the same, and their bodies would not suffer the wear and tear from losing weight and gaining it all back.”

“We found that the majority of people regained all the weight, plus more. Sustained weight loss was found only in a small minority of participants, while complete weight regain was found in the majority. Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people.”

Traci Mann

So where does that leave us? Depressed? Unmotivated? Confused? Turning to the nearest donut?

diet pic 2

Diets are a very personal choice – there is probably one to suit everybody’s preferences and lifestyles. For some people, five small meals per day works best; the 5:2 diet (fasting for 2 days of every 7) suits others.  Some enjoy counting calories, others hate it. What seems indisputable is we have to conquer how to make them work in the long run. Many dieters relax after initial weight loss and then the diet slips. Or results are too slow and people become unmotivated.

diet pic 3

We all feel better at an optimum weight so we need to remind ourselves of that: it is easier to move around, easier to run for the bus, our joints don’t suffer, we feel more attractive and (perhaps counter-intuitively) we seem to have more energy. So where do we find this extra motivation? Sadly I don’t have the magic answer – I wish I did.

There is a book called ‘Mindless Eating’ by Brian Wansink which has some interesting information on the psychology of overeating and how we make decisions about the food we eat. He has done some research into the correlation between the size of bowl/plate and the amount of food people subsequently help themselves to. If you have read my previous blogs on the Side Plate Diet you will know that I am a convert to eating off three (occasionally four) 7 inch plates a day. It works for me, but I realise it won’t suit everyone.

If you missed the pieces, use these links below and I would love to hear from you.





diet pic

Annie Bee x

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Why Doing Unpaid Voluntary Work Pays

charity pic

I was interested to research how many people like me, of 50+, do voluntary work. I am very lucky indeed to be able to devote a large proportion of my time to charity work, thanks to a GHWLSM (Generous Husband Who Largely Supports Me). I do work part-time but I can’t claim to be making much of a financial contribution to the household. For the record, I did hold down a Proper Job for many years – I even referred to it as a career, but it is so long ago now I can barely remember what I used to do. I realise just how lucky I am to be in this position, but it does mean that while I could in theory be at home buffing my nails or wandering around my garden with a trug, a glass of wine and a pair of secateurs, in fact I spend a massive amount of time giving to the Third Sector.

The definition of this sector (the first and second sectors being Private and Public) is ‘voluntary, not-for-profit and non-governmental’. While many are employed within it, there are huge numbers of people who get no financial reward at all for their involvement. In the UK, during the period 1998 until 2003, the voluntary and community sector employed around 550,000 workers. That number rose steadily between 2004 and 2010 reaching its highest point of just over 800,000 in 2010. What I can’t seem to find is a figure for the numbers of people who do the unpaid work in the Third Sector. When David Cameron launched The Big Society in 2009, the Third Sector became rather fashionable, but sadly that now looks to me to have been a fairly empty political slogan rather than a lasting legacy. I bandied it about at funding meetings for a couple of years but, certainly at the unglamorous end of the charity market I find myself in, it didn’t hold much water even back then.

The verb, volunteer, was first recorded in 1755. It was derived from the Middle English voluntaire and referred to ‘one who offers himself for military service’. According to the Volunteering Compact and Code of Good Practice, (Home Office, London, 2005), volunteering ‘is an activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups) other than, or in addition to, close relatives’. So who is this army of charity workers? Well, the age group which volunteers the most here in the UK are the 65 to 74 years olds. The figures below show the proportion of people volunteering by age group, 2012/13 (% of respondents), taken from the NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations) website.

graph for 3rd sector blog

And what are the benefits of volunteering if you are lucky enough to have some spare time?

In an attempt to measure this positive effect on volunteers, Volunteering England commissioned the University of Wales to undertake a review of research on the subject. http://www.ivr.org.uk/ivr-news/133-volunteering-adn-health-what-impact-does-it-really-have . Dr Rachel Casiday, lecturer at the Department of Voluntary Sector Studies at the University of Wales, Lampeter, led the review. The findings showed that volunteering can lead to improved self-esteem and sense of purpose (I would agree with that) and also that being a volunteer extends your life expectancy, when compared to non-volunteers (hallelujah!  although I must say that some of my fellow volunteers in the charity I help at might find that surprising – laughable even – as our work often seems incredibly stressful, time-consuming and, frankly, a bit of a killer).

There is a charity for just about everything from bumblebee conservation to perianal support. In the UK there are just over 164,000 charities and people do some pretty crazy things to raise money for charity. Hello Stuart Kettell, who pushed a sprout up Mount Snowden last summer with his nose, to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.


Then there’s the Australian Nick Le Souef who incarcerated himself and 300 deadly spiders in a shop window in Melbourne for three weeks, all to raise money for charity. He’s also done three-week stints in a snake pit, a shark tank and a cage with redback spiders. Children – don’t try this at home.

So whether you raise money for charities or are employed by one or work entirely unpaid, good on you. Here’s to a long and purposeful life.

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Annie Bee x

Look Up, Look Out, Look Around

The Baby-Bees have long been rolling their eyes when, over the years, I have shouted out from the driver’s seat, “Look guys! My favourite tree of all time!”. I have a handful of them dotted about the country and I like to check them as the seasons go by. I am a very keen gardener so, admittedly, am slightly obsessed, but we all have things we particularly notice and enjoy, be it plants, man-hole covers, bridges, faded signs, plates of food or beautiful buildings. More and more I find myself reaching for my phone to take pictures of things I like. Is this a good thing? I think the jury’s out.

I am old enough to remember a time when the family camera (this is yonks before digital cameras were widely available) was kept for special holidays or family celebrations and even then, the photos were rationed as it was expensive to have the film developed. Now most of us have really decent cameras built into our smart phones and we snap away with abandon.

camera 2

Digital overload is a very real thing. The more technologically savvy I become (not very, according to the Baby-Bees) the more I seem to have the concentration of a gnat. I find myself constantly checking for updates and seeing if there is a reply to that vitally important/hugely amusing email I sent. When my phone pings I assume the notification is for something far more interesting and exciting than I am currently doing. I end up not concentrating terribly effectively on about 7 things at once. This cannot be good.

So I am determined to force myself to take more notice of things around me and not take photos but try to work on my ability to form lasting memories (before dementia sets in?) It makes you wonder whether our brains might be evolving to have less capacity to memorise things. Indeed there is research from 2013 to show that taking photos has a negative impact on how well we remember an experience http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/no-pictures-please-taking-photos-may-impede-memory-of-museum-tour.html . The psychologist from Fairfield University, Connecticut who conducted the research called this “photo-taking impairment effect”. Talking about memory, those of us who are 50+ will remember a time when you happily memorised a dozen (or more) phone numbers. I am damn proud to announce that I do know my own mobile number now but I certainly don’t know anyone else’s.

So we need to look up, look out and look around and see the beautiful things which give us pleasure, but perhaps just fleetingly have them as a memory rather than a photo.

mona lisa


Or I could be entirely wrong…..

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Annie Bee x

PS   A few days after publishing this post I saw an article about a photographer who is interested in this very subject. http://www.arturbanski.com/live-view

We are losing the experience of being there because we are focused on the technical process of trying to capture it

Names They Should Bring Back

I was visiting Exeter recently and took the opportunity to look around the Cathedral. Plenty caught my eye amongst the ancient splendour. Beautiful flags which were so old they were literally see-through.

exeter cathedral flags

Huge organ pipes (my small handbag is placed so you get the scale).

exeter cathedral organ pipes

A medieval Hobbit-like door with some 21st Century Health and Safety equipment on hand.

exeter cathedral door

Another thing I noticed was a memorial stone for the daughter of Mr and Mrs Hibbert, whom they called “Saccharissa” and who died in 1828. Now there’s a name which should be brought back pronto. It makes me think of sugar. Italian sugar. I bet she was kind and pretty.

exeter cathedral name

In  the 19th century, the most popular given names were Mary and either John or William for girls and boys, respectively. We may think that the more crazy end of the Christian name market comes from the 20th and 21st centuries. Not a bit of it. The ‘heir hunter’ genealogy firm in London, Fraser and Fraser, recently came up with a list of bizarre names from 19th Century birth, death and marriage documents. My favourites are Zebra Lynes – a girl born to James and Mary Lynes in Southampton in 1875; Mineral Waters, born in 1892 to Henry and Emma and (definitely the best) One Too Many Gouldstone, born in 1870 to Robert and Martha of Walthamstow, London, who were clearly wishing for a bit of a rest.

So, eat your heart out Apple and North West, Bluebell Madonna, Bronx Mowgli and Moon Unit. This has been going on for years – there is nothing new under the sun.

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Annie Bee x