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‘In the early days of Covid-19, we stopped consuming and rather loved it. But it didn’t stick.’ | Australian lifestyle

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This week I found myself thinking back to early-Covid. The globe had been suspended in an eerie pause and many of us were given the most unique of opportunities: time and space to have a good, hard look at ourselves and what mattered.

Do you remember what we did? We stopped consuming. And we really rather loved it.

In April discretionary spending dropped by 30% in Australia. In early May 52% of us told the researchers behind the BCG’s Global Consumer Sentiment survey that we planned to “reduce spending on luxury products even after the crisis is over”. We told others that, post-pandemic, we’d focus spending on meaningful, simple experiences with each other and buy less stuff.

On late-night Zoom rants we lamented our crassly rampant consumerism. The glossy black 4WD sitting idle in the driveway suddenly seemed so cringingly redundant. Ditto the idea of buying fancy shoes. Or that terrazzo flooring.

I’m a seasoned minimalist; I’ve lived out of one carry-on backpack for years at a time and previously sceptical neighbours and friends reached out to tell me they got it now, this simpler life business. They felt liberated and hopeful. Coronavirus was a gift, went the memes.

The planet rewarded our efforts, too. Carbon emissions dropped at a rate not seen since 1945 and – oh, glory be! – dolphins returned to the canals of Venice. There’s hope, cried my new frugally-enthused friends, tagging me on their ‘The Planet Heals Itself’ tiles.

Madonna told us from her bath, with Steven Pinker-like zeal, that this pandemic business was going to be the “Great Equaliser”. It would unify us; viruses don’t distinguish colour or creed. It was a beautiful thing and I think we almost felt proud of ourselves. We were finally doing right by each other and the planet.

But it didn’t stick. And this truth has been hammered home as we start the new year.

By early June we were spending like mad people, back to pre-pandemic levels. Consumer confidence reports released on 12 January showed spending on goods went up 13.3% year on year, and consumer confidence was at a 13-month high. The ground we made paying off debt in that utopian blip at the beginning of the pandemic was undone as we stuffed ourselves in an orgy of click frenzies and Black Fridays.

There was no “meaningful experiences” shift; the bulk of spending went on clothing, electronics and out-and-out stuff (in November, Commonwealth Bank research showed department store spending went up 21.1%).

There were also no dolphins. They were just another 2020 hoax.

The trend has played out globally. As lockdown eased in China, stuff-spending went through the roof of the mall. The government ordained a “double five” shopping festival, with nationwide extended store opening hours. By the end of the year, luxury spending had soared 48%, reversing a small drop in 2019.

And all that dreamy equalising? Late last year, the World Bank released figures showing extreme poverty was on the rise (so are starving children and famines), for the first time in more than 20 years. Days later a UBS report showed worldwide billionaire wealth had hit a record high … due to Covid. By December the world’s billionaires saw their wealth go up 27%. In Australia it went up 52%.

The planet, ever consistent, responded in kind. Carbon dioxide emissions spiked, and there we were again bludgeoned with an ugly reflection: a report last week awarded 2020 the title of hottest year on record, in spite of the cooling La Nina influence. By December we learned man made materials now outweigh all life on earth.

Bluntly: we went horribly backwards.

But let’s return to that wistful, hopeful time in April. Of dolphins and bike lanes and sourdough. From the discussions I was having as I finished the final pages of a book that targeted the issue, the bulk of us truly hoped Covid was a deus ex machina moment that would free us from “it all”.

It’s 2021; can we call it as it is? Drop the C-bomb? We were hoping to be freed from capitalism. To be airlifted from the more-more-more cycle we know doesn’t stack up and makes us miserable. We know how to add and subtract. We know that if you consume, consume, consume, stuff runs out … and Australians now consume the resources of 4.56 planet earths.

So why do we feel we can’t free ourselves? Why do we want to be blissfully rescued by a virus-slash-gift from above? It’s because we feel trapped in it. Like a cult.

By all official definitions, capitalism is a cult.

We genuinely believe ads (propaganda) that tell us we need six pairs of Boohoo track pants or an oversized black SUV (to be saved from irrelevance, emptiness). We unquestioningly accept messages (brainwashing) that success is about “getting ahead on the property ladder”, which then further props up the system. Covid recovery is repeatedly referenced in terms of prodding “consumer confidence” so that we may stimulate this almighty God/Guru/One we call the economy (tellingly, such language suggests an inherent frailty). Then we make payments (sacrifices), trading our future to do it, even if we go into debt in the process. Soon enough we’re thoroughly beholden (to credit card repayments and Afterpay).

To my mind, we become so trapped in the cult that we struggle to imagine how to release ourselves, or a better world beyond it.

But we are going to have to.

With full awareness of the glorious irony, I quote Milton Friedman: “Only a crisis produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” He adds: “That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.”

Me, I reckon the ongoing, mutating nature of this pandemic provides us with the best opportunity to develop these better ideas and policies and scatter them about the place.

When I drop the C-bomb, I’m often told I must be a communist, like it’s 1963 and there’s only one alternative available. I agree with the many economists opining on this now, that there’s not enough time to overhaul the system entirely. But there’s oodles of scope to work wisely and compassionately from within, to pull back and get objective, creative and kinder.

As it turns out socialist ideas have a lot to offer. We saw many serve us wonderfully during the pandemic. We can choose to stick to those ideas we came to like, such as free childcare and fairer jobseeker payments, as well as the greenish stuff like not travelling to interstate trade shows, and riding bikes.

Within the current model, we can buy food that is farmed regeneratively and halve food wastage, which Project Drawdown lists as #3 in the top 100 Co2-reducing shifts we can make. Reversing food waste habits would also provide enough food to feed the world.

We could embrace doughnut or degrowth economics, forms of modelling that meet everyone’s need within Earth’s biophysical limit. It sees us work fewer hours in exchange for more home production and leisure – we grow veggie gardens, and attend to our health, thus reducing all kinds of social costs. It’s not about sustainable fashion, but a new aesthetic of “sufficiency”. Less would see us have to recycle, repair, reuse and join the sharing economy, which builds community.

Governments would ban “planned obsolescence” practices, corporations would have to produce repairable phones, and fashion stores would sell upcycled versions of their ranges, which incentivises making quality garments that last.

Covid has been no Great Equaliser. But is has been a Great Revealer, that will keep on exposing what’s entrapping and sad and destructive in our lives.

It’s worth casting our mind back to early Covid and the hope, lightness and connection we felt as we go forward into the abject uncertainty of 2021. Because, and here’s the Great Revelation in it all, that was us. That was who we are.


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Recommitting to resolutions: how to stay on track when things get busy | Fitness

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Rarely does any health and fitness journey follow a straight line. Usually by the third week of January, good habits started in the high-motivation, high-energy early days of the new year begin to falter.

There are many reasons for this: going back to work or study, having a disruption to routine and forgetting why we wanted to change in the first place. Add in a pandemic – where we may be cycling in and out of lockdown, or our workplaces may be trying to bring us back after a long absence – and it becomes even harder to bed down a routine.

This week I’ve travelled interstate, had a weekend away with friends and started a new work project that – at least for the next few months – will be very time-consuming.

It’s only week three of 2021 and already my schedule is throwing up challenges. These are mostly to do with diet. My plans were to start recording what I ate in the Vision Fitness app and transitioning from a grab-and-go, high-fat, high-carb diet to something “cleaner” and less fatty. This did not happen. I got too busy to record my food in the app, although I did try to make better choices when I was eating out.

This led me to the question: how to stay on track when you get busy?

The mindset: find the why

Kate James, a life coach and author of Change Your Thinking to Change Your Life, says the thing to keep in mind this week is that “it’s all about balance”.

Getting a bit wobbly or questioning our health kick “is really typical for this time of year, three weeks in”, she says. “We think if we are achieving our goals, it might look a certain way; you are exercising every day, not drinking, only eating healthy food, but life gets in the way. It’s not going to be a straight trajectory.”

James advises that we “be kind to ourselves” and not beat ourselves up if we falter.

“It’s very easy to throw the whole thing out – say if you haven’t done exercise every day. A lot of people have an all-or-nothing mentality and say: oh well, I might as well go back to my old habits.”

I have my first in-person session with Vision Fitness Bondi Junction, where personal trainer Tania Drahonchuk spends an hour with me doing a thorough health questionnaire, weighing me and attaching me to a machine called a BioScan, which measured my body function age (hint, it’s older than my real age), muscle mass (OK, actually) and body fat percentage (needs work).

The session dug deep into motivation. Why do I want to get fit? What would be my reason for committing to regular exercise? And if I was committed to regular exercise, would I also commit to changing my diet?

“I’m committed!” I say to Tania after being freaked out by the BioScan. With a few keystrokes she books me in to four classes for next week.

“Four?!” But Tania is not giving me an out. I look at my diary and realise it is possible to do this – I just need to make exercise a priority.

On the floor of the gym I get chatting to a client, Rob, who lost more than 18kg last year. He attributes this to tracking his food on the Vision Fitness app, regular exercise and personal motivation.

He said his routine wasn’t always perfect – his mother got sick, there was a pandemic, he had to do a lot of exercise from home – but he achieved his goal. “I used to walk past McDonalds and just drop in for a burger – and now I haven’t had any fast food for a year. I wouldn’t touch the stuff!”

Dr Kate Gregorevic, a geriatrician and internal medicine physician, and author of the book Staying Alive, says: “We all start strong making the positive changes, but finding thewhy’ is the key to motivation.”

For Rob, the motivation was improving his golf game. For some of Gregorevic’s clients, who are seniors, it’s “going up stairs, riding their bikes, basically maintaining independence for as long as possible”.

The fix: schedule – and be flexible

By week three we have had enough time with healthy new habits to “look at what was working – and what wasn’t working”, says James. “It might be that being rigid about something doesn’t work. So if you really want takeaway food on a Friday night, add in a longer walk on Saturday.”

In my situation, where travel was upending my healthy eating plans, James says to use a technique called “creating possibility”.

“If you have a negative thought, such as ‘I’m going to be at an Airbnb so I can’t eat healthily’, think about creating possibility. What could you do? It could be easy to throw together a salad and buy some smoked salmon instead of getting Uber Eats. We just have to create the possibility in our minds.”

It is dawning on me that the success – or otherwise – of a new habit is as a result of goal-setting, prioritising and scheduling, but also having a contingency plan or back-up when life gets in the way.

As well as “finding the why”, you also need to find the time.

“I’m a big fan of scheduling,” Gregorevic says. “It’s got to fit in with your life. Sometimes you may only do a 20-minute workout – compound movements like deadlifts and squats – and that will be enough.”

Gregorevic sits down once a week and schedules her exercise. “I have a busy life and it can feel like you don’t have time,” she says. “But I can schedule in two strength sessions a week of 30 to 40 minutes – sometimes with a trainer and sometimes by myself – and I do two other sessions of high intensity interval training.”

The action: I buy a diary and commit to spending 20 minutes each weekend to scheduling exercise for the coming week.


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Weight loss story: “Running for 2 hours daily helped me lose 30 kilos!”

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My breakfast- 2 apples/banana or sometimes, poha. I just make sure I fast for at least 15 hours after dinner.

My lunch- I don’t have anything fancy. I just have regular ghar ka khana which includes some kind of vegetable curry and dal preparation. I just made it a point to avoid eating junk food of any kind and not snack in between. Also, if you eat, do include fish and chicken three times a week in your meals.

My dinner-A cup of boiled veggies with 2 chapatis and sometimes an omelette for protein.

Pre-workout meal- 1 glass mixed juice, a handful of almonds and cashew

Post-workout meal- I usually did my workout in the evening so I used to have early dinner.

I indulge in– When I have my cheat days, I eat a slice of bread with Nutella, which I love eating and like to have a glass of cold coffee.

Low-calorie meals I swear by-

I don’t usually deviate from my fixed meals but I really like the taste of grilled paneer with mushrooms. Trust me they are worth it!


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