Monday, February 20, 2017

Distance Learning and Online Courses - My Experiences

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I've been a stay-at-home parent for a number of years now. It's good and bad in equal measure - I love that I get to see my children grow up, I love that I'm here for them, I love pottering about the house doing cooking and organising, but I hate that I've lost that little bit of independence and interaction with adults. I hate that I don't have a Christmas party anymore and I hate that in spite of the fact I'm constantly doing something for someone else from 6:30am-8:30pm that I have to say "I'm not working at the moment" when someone asks where I work.

One of the things I like to do to make sure that I'm still Sharon and not just "Mammyyyyyyyy" is to keep up to date with skills and interests. I've done a few online courses - one fairly expensive one, one bargain one, and a few free ones.

Paid Course - Nail Technician with Kilroy's College

This was a 12 month course done via online and distance learning. At the time I did it, it cost nearly €500. I paid a deposit and then paid monthly installments (I think they were around €45 at the time). It's still €495 here.

Materials Provided
Text book, starter kit (included buffer, tweezers, base coat, top coat, nail art brush, a few shades of nail polish, etc)

Health and Safety, Nail Art, Business Management, Manicure & Pedicure, Anatomy & Physiology, Advanced Treatments.

How it Works
Your first module is sent in the post - essentially a workbook that you have to read through, and then answer the questions at the end. When you do that, you need to log your answers online. If you pass, you get your next module sent out. This is what I did the whole way through - not once did I interact with any tutor or have any human input. It was me, alone, with my workbook. I was particularly annoyed at the nail art module - I assumed that there would be the need to submit photographs or some kind of proof that I was taking the information in - but no, just the multiple choice questions at the end of that module. There were suggestions made in the workbook as to how to expand each module but it was very much left up to the student.

Yes, I was sent out a certificate at the end when I passed all modules.

Not really. I could probably see the benefit if I were already in the profession and wanted to brush up on a certain area, but it didn't cover Shellac or Gel treatments, nor did it leave me feeling any the wiser about how to attempt to do somebody's nails. I learned a bit, but not €500 worth.

Bargain Course - Diploma in Photography with Shaw Academy

I picked this up on a Groupon deal for about €25. I wasn't expecting it to be as in-depth - all I wanted was to be able to understand my DSLR camera a little better and stop relying on Auto mode so much. This was a 10 week course with live webinars and homework. It's priced at €395 but pops up regularly on Groupon for around €20-€25. Info here.

Materials Provided
None, strictly an online course. You need your own camera.

Demystifying camera functions, Capturing the light, Motion and depth, Composition, White balance, Shutter speed & Aperture.

How it Works
When you enrol, you are given a choice of dates to start. Pick one that suits you, then you'll get an email or text telling you when your first live Webinar is. If you can't attend, you can watch back on demand. During the Webinar, one of the tutors goes through the lesson plan and invites participation. Questions are welcomed, then there's an exercise given at the end. You're encouraged to practice and share your images with the course tutor via the Shaw Academy social media pages, and you can use these to interact with others on your course. The tutor also rang me on a few occasions to see if I was up to date with Webinars and to check and see if I had any difficulties or issues with any of the modules.

I don't think they're automatically sent, I think you have the option of purchasing one. I didn't get one.

Absolutely - I learned loads about how to use my camera and what makes a good photograph. I still put some of the tips into practice whenever I take blog photographs - the rule of thirds, perspective, natural framing, etc - I found it really interesting and useful (even if I still tend to rely on Auto a bit too often)

You can choose a free course from the Shaw Academy here - there are a great range of courses, including this photography one, nutrition, social media marketing, photoshop, lightroom, digital marketing, graphic design, beauty, viral marketing, guitar - loads to choose from.

Free Course - Identifying the Dead: Forensic Science and Human Identification with the University of Dundee via FutureLearn

This was a course I did last year - it involved author Val McDermid and took students on a journey from the discovery of a human bone right up to identifying the victim and finding out how they died. Register your interest here.

Materials Provided
Downloadable worksheets and print-outs.

An introduction to the world of forensic anthropology, including biological profiling and reconstruction.

How it Works
I think it was over 7 weeks - at the start, we were all introduced to the specialists who would be working on the case. There were YouTube videos to watch, printouts to fill in, and discussions online with other participants. Then, at the beginning of the next lesson, we'd be told whether or not we were right (about a particular bone type, for example) and given some more information to try and decipher. At the end, we were given access to an exclusive story written by Val McDermid featuring the victim.

I'm not ready to go out and investigate anything, but as someone who has always had an interest in forensics and crime, it was wonderful to have access to the professional people who worked on this course. I learned a lot about how forensics works at its lowest level, and how much work goes into even determining what kind of bone is found, let alone discovering who the victim is and what happened. It was really enjoyable. Some parts hit close to home too, like the exercise we were given on missing persons - it was horrendous to imagine one of our loved ones going missing, but also a lesson in how unobservant we can be - lots of us couldn't remember exactly what our loved ones were even wearing when we last saw them.

So what's next? Well...

Forensic Psychology: Witness Investigation - The Open University via FutureLearn

Hosted by Graham Pike, Psychologist & Professor of Forensic Cognition at the Open University. This is a free online course beginning on March 20. Register here

Materials Provided
No physical materials provided.

Exploring how the limitations of the human mind can lead to miscarriages of justice. Examining eyewitness testimonies, going behind the scenes of a police investigation to see if you can solve a crime using only eyewitness statements. Building your cognitive skills. 

How it Works
You register your interest, then you'll get an email nearer the time. When the course starts, you'll be able to log in and see your course materials. It's an 8 week course. 

I'll let you know!

Upcoming free courses on FutureLearn include: An Introduction to Dutch, How to Succeed at Interviews, Modern Building Design, Talking About Cancer, Research Ethics in Society, The Many Faces of Dementia, Exploring Copyright, Archaeology, Cyber Security for Small Business - that's only a handful of a huge variety. 

Have you ever done an online course? Or would you consider one? 

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Owlcrate February 2017: Run Away With the Circus

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I found Owlcrate last year through Instagram and try as I might, I just can't quit it. It's expensive, but I do believe that what you get is worth the money (especially as hardback books aren't as common in Ireland).

Every month, the box has a different theme. The theme for February is "Run Away With the Circus".

Honesty corner. The circus gives me the absolute CREEPS. It always has done, ever since I was a toddler and my parents brought me to a circus in Longford where a clown thought it would be a great idea to throw water over the audience. I went to the circus a few times after (what Irish child didn't see Fossetts in the nineties?), then took a liking to Stephen King aged 11 and forevermore saw the circus as a place of mystery and intense horror. Thanks, Stephen.

Thankfully, the creep is kept to a minimum in this box (I still find anything related to the Circus mildly unsettling).

I knew what the February book would be, because the sneak peek matched up with a book I'd read a preview of in a Buzz Books edition. This month's choice is Caraval, by Stephanie Garber.

As well as a beautiful hardcover edition of the book, there's a letter from the author, a signed bookplate, a card with a code to download a sample of the audiobook, and a little decorative card with a quote.

Caraval is a YA book about two sisters, Scarlett and Tella, who run away from home and join Caraval, a famous circus show. When one of the girls becomes part of a dangerous game, it's up to the other one to save her sister and figure out how to win the game before it's too late. I started reading this the evening it arrived and I couldn't put it down - I really, really loved it and I think fantasy fans will adore it.

As well as the book, there's a gorgeous tote bag adorned with a quote from Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. The bag was designed by Evie Bookish. There's an exclusive circus themed badge, a bookmark, a lipbalm that tastes like cinnamon donuts from Geek Fire Labs, and a yummy caramel popcorn scented candle from Frostbeard Studio.

The final items are some very cute Circus themed Page Flags (sticky notes to you and I) from a company called Girl Of All Work and a very cute little notebook made from recycled Casino playing cards from Attic Journals. There's also a theme reveal card for March - it's going to be "Sailors, Ships and Seas". Not a theme that floats my boat (sorry, sorry) but I've been subscribed long enough to trust Owlcrate to put a decent box together.

I'm really happy with the February box and I greatly appreciate the way Owlcrate look after their International customers, I only got my shipping notice yesterday and my box arrived to Ireland today.

If you're interested in subscribing to Owlcrate, you can use the code WELCOME15 for 15% off your first order. That's not an affiliate code, I gain nothing from it. If you would like to help me earn a free box, this is my referral link - otherwise go directly to and sign up there.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Five Star Friday: Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard

Nothing to Disclose


This is a series that I started last year and (as usual) forgot about - but I want to bring it back to let people know about some books that I think are really good. I often get asked for recommendations so hopefully this series will be useful!

Previous Five Star Friday picks can be found here.

For this week, I want to focus on Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard.

Published | May 2016
Page Count | 352
Genre(s) | Thriller | Mystery | Psychological Thriller

Shortlisted for Crime Novel of the Year at BGE Irish Book Awards 2016


Adam Dunne lives with his girlfriend Sarah in Co. Cork. Adam is a writer who has just landed a lucrative deal - but celebrations are put on hold while Sarah travels to Barcelona for work. When nobody hears anything from Sarah after she departs, Adam begins to worry - did she really go to Spain? Why hasn't anyone heard from her? Has something happened or has she just left him? When Sarah's passport arrives in the post with a vague note, Adam is determined to track her down and find out what's going on. His search leads him to a cruise ship, where something definitely isn't right - and finds out that Sarah may not be the first woman to disappear.

At the time of reading this, my twins were 2 years old. Sleep was (and is) incredibly precious to me. I set an alarm for the early morning to get up before them to finish reading this book - if that doesn't tell you how addictive it is, I don't know how else to explain it. The pacing is perfect, it's full of tension, the drama is realistic and it throws up an awful lot of questions as to how cases are dealt with off land. The characters are well developed (even minor ones), the sub-plot is believable, the whole thing is just really well written and very much worth a read if you like this genre but are sick of the same old plots being rehashed over and over. It's fresh and clever. This is one of the first books I mention when someone asks for a solid thriller recommendation.

(click a cover for more information)


Monday, February 13, 2017

Look Fantastic Beauty Box February 2017: The Runway Edition

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I had the Look Fantastic Advent Calendar in December and I was so impressed with it that I decided to resubscribe to their monthly beauty box. I bought a 6 month subscription and received the February one as my first box. Every month, the boxes have a specific theme. The February one was themed "Runway Ready" in honour of London Fashion Week.

Here's a quick run through of the contents:

 MyVitamins Catwalk Queen 30 Vitamins | Worth: approx €8.00 (Full Size: €15.95)
Y'all know my opinion on taking vitamins willy-nilly - if you need them, great. If you don't, pointless. This is a mix of Vitamin C, Vitamin D3, Copper, Selenium, Zinc - presumably the title "Catwalk Queen" is to do with the benefits of some of those minerals for skin, hair and nails. 

PolĂ„ar Icy Magic Instant Eye Contour Energiser | Worth: approx €24.95 (Full Sized Product)
This is a roll-on gel for the eye area that promises to hydrate and improve dull tired skin. It claims to help eliminate puffiness and dark circles, all while boosting lash growth. A really interesting product that I'm looking forward to trying out properly.

ModelCo Eyelites Eyeshadow in Shade St. Barts | Worth: Unknown
ModelCo items seem to be regularly featured in subscription boxes or given away free with magazines. They're not actually for sale on the LF website, so I find this an odd choice to include in the box when so many other brands are available. In saying that, it's a standard creamy copper eyeshadow with nice pigmentation and I will probably use it at some point.

ThisWorks Stress Check Breathe In | Worth: approx €12.16 (Full Size: €19.45)
This is a little roll-on designed for application to your pulse points during times of stress. Containing Frankincense, Lavender and Eucalyptus, the scent is really pleasant and warm. It's incredibly relaxing so I can see this being of some comfort during a stressful situation, the smell is really soothing.

Borghese Fango Delicato Active Mud Mask | Worth: approx €3.09 (Full Size: €27.45)
The packaging on this is incredibly cute, like a little Nespresso capsule. It's a 25g sample size of an active mud mask, enough for a couple of applications. It contains Kaolin clay, aloe, mango, witch hazel - I'm looking forward to using this. 

The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA | Worth: approx €5.80 (Full Sized Product)
This is a brand I'd never heard of until Lorraine posted about it - it seems to be a reasonably priced decent skincare brand with no bells or whistles. It's pretty much sold out on the LF site at the moment, but I know that ASOS stock it. This is a creamy, thick, unscented moisturiser that claims to put hydration back into the skin. It contains amino acids, dermal lipids and hyaluronic acid. 

So - overall, a nice box, I thought. Given that the theme was based on London Fashion Week and that the whole thing could have gone in a very trend-led direction, I thought the choice of skincare products was lovely. The sparkly eyeshadow is pretty, and the stress roll-on is cute. I could have done without the vitamins but they seem to be a fad at the moment so it's not surprising to see the beauty boxes follow suit. 

Total Box Worth: €54 plus the ModelCo Eyeshadow. 
Cost of Box: €16.20 approx as part of 6 month subscription.
Verdict: Really nice box, looking forward to next month.

Every box also includes a pocket sized copy of Elle magazine (I don't read it). 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Kindle - Fire vs Paperwhite vs Free App

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"I'm thinking of getting a Kindle, what one would you recommend?" - this is a question I get fairly often, so I put together this post to show you the differences between the ones we own.

I just deleted 3 paragraphs of technical nonsense - I was confusing even myself. Here's it broken down:

Kindle Fire HD
The Fire is available in three screen sizes. The 7 inch (£35 for 8GB, £45 for 16GB), 8 inch (£90) and 10 inch (£170).

I have an older version of the 7 inch, mine doesn't have a camera. My son has the most recent version, his has a camera, can record video, and has a slot for an SD card. Both are 8GB (the operating system takes up the guts of 3GB of that), which seems small but is enough for hundreds of books especially if you make use of the cloud (move a book to the cloud when you're done reading it). On his, he has a handful of books, Minecraft Pocket Edition and a couple of free games. On mine, I've a couple of hundred books, Candy Crush, Netflix, a GSAM Battery Monitor, Borrowbox for library books, Goodreads, some Social Media apps.

Just a note on security - parents can assert full control over a child's tablet, it can be linked to your account and it can be password protected, limited, and monitored. You can choose what to allow and what to limit. I have my son's set so that it automatically stops working at 9pm, and he doesn't have any internet or download access (it's password protected) so if he wants a download I have to do it.

Kindle Fire HD7 Current Generation

Easy to set up and easy to use.
Slim, not heavy to hold.
Has a backlight so can be used at night.
Can be used for Netflix and other apps.
Works with standard Android chargers.
Can be used for Audiobooks.
Can be used with Borrowbox to borrow library books straight to the tablet.
Attractive colour display, great graphics.
Good value for money.

Battery life is short (7-8 hours if using constantly).
Internet can prove a distraction.
Screen is hard to see outside.
Screen gets grubby easily.

Kindle Paperwhite
The Kindle Paperwhite has a 6 inch display and works with either Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi and 3G. I chose the Wi-Fi only version and paid £110. The one with 3G is £170. There is an experimental internet browser on mine, but it's nowhere near good enough to surf comfortably.

Kindle Fire HD7 3rd Generation & Kindle Paperwhite Current Generation

Has a backlight.
Has a 300ppi display - the highest display currently available on Kindle, akin to real paper.
No glare.
Works comfortably outside.
Works with standard Android chargers.
Very light to hold.
Battery lasts weeks.
No distractions - solely designed as an e-Reader.
Holds thousands of books.

Can't be used with Borrowbox so can't borrow library books.
Black and White display can be boring.
Can't be used for games or social media.

Thank you Amanda (Go Book Yourself) who also made the (excellent) point that because the Kindle Paperwhite is lit from the front, it doesn't cause glare or eye fatigue. The Kindle Fire is lit from the back, so it can cause eye fatigue. I have to admit I prefer the Paperwhite in bed over the Fire, probably unconsciously because of that difference!

Free App

I also have the free Kindle app on my phone, it's available for PC, iOS and Android.

If you've left your Kindle at home, you can access your Kindle books on your phone by signing in to your account.
Available on other tablets, iPads, laptops, computers - not just on phones.
Amazon's entire Kindle book selection is immediately available to purchase directly to the app, no need for a separate device.

Can be a bit headache-inducing to read on the phone.

I do love the colour display on the Fire, but it's a nuisance that it doesn't work great outside. I also hate that the battery life is so short. If you're after a good eReader with a good backlight, I'd recommend the Paperwhite. It's a little smaller than the Fire but it's like reading off paper and it works great outside. Plus, mammoth battery life and no internet worth talking about to prove as a distraction.

If you have any other questions, just shout!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

January 2017 Reads and a New Book Page!

Not Sponsored or Paid | Not a Collaboration | No Affiliate Links 
ARCs clearly defined in accordance with book review policy HERE


One of my aims this year is to read 10 books a month. During 2016 there were months were I read 1.5 times that, and there were months where I didn't go near a book - so I'll be delighted if I reach anywhere near my target.

I'm also doing the Book Savings Jar challenge that I saw Aoife talk about - I'm putting €1 into a jar or money box for every book I finish so I can start a savings fund for something nice next Christmas - be it a bookish subscription box or just stocking up the Shelves or Kindle.

Before I talk about the books I read in January (aka the month that felt like it lasted a year), I need to direct your attention to the brand new book page for 2017 - on there you'll find information on book club picks as they're released (the Rick O'Shea Book Club and the Richard and Judy Book Club), plus as always there will be clickable covers that link to my full Goodreads reviews and links to Bookish Challenges and events like Booktubeathon, World Book Day celebrations, and any Tags or Readathons as they come along. There's a permanent tab on the top bar, plus a shiny new button on the sidebar that will take you directly to the page.

Books I Read in January - 11 

The Rick O'Shea Book Club

I read both picks this month:


Beatlebone by Kevin Barry
I bought this one last year but hadn't gotten around to reading it, so I was happy that it was a January pick as it meant I'd finally got a push to read it. It's essentially a story about John Lennon on an island off the West of Ireland - probably one of the strangest books I've ever read, and I felt that a lot of it went over my head.

Lyrebird by Cecelia Ahern
Cecelia's books are really hit and miss for me, I tend to really love her ideas but not so much her execution. This was no different, unfortunately. I loved the story about a documentary crew discovering a reclusive woman living in a forest who had the power to mimic any sound she heard - but I didn't like the direction the story went in or the amount of filler in the book.



Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty
I decided to read this after I had seen the first episode of the BBC adaptation a couple of weeks ago. The TV version is staying fairly close to the book - a story about a professional woman in her fifties who embarks on a life-changing affair, only to have her life shattered by a (very graphic) event. It was a good read, but it was slow and I wasn't too gone on having the ending at the beginning of the book.

We Are Unprepared by Meg Little Reilly * Review Copy from NetGalley
This is a story about a couple who have escaped the Rat Race for a self-sufficient life in the woods. They're members of a small community who find themselves torn apart when the threat of a Super Storm looms - the town (and the couple) are split into opposing sides: one half Preppers, the other half trying to put practical solutions in place. I really enjoyed this, I think I read it in one sitting. I felt like it was all wrapped up a little too neatly but it was a good story.

When She Was Bad by Tammy Cohen * Review Copy from NetGalley 
Dubbed "Office Noir", this is about a small team in the UK who work in a recruitment office. When new manager Rachel arrives to shake things up, they all react in different ways: flattery, paranoia, sabotage - everyone wants to save their job. Meanwhile, in America, child psychologist Anne sees a horrific news story from the UK and recognises someone she dealt with years ago while investigating a House of Horrors. How are the two stories linked? And who is lying? This was an epic read, I've no problem in telling you that I walked around with the Kindle because I didn't want to put it down. It was fresh, the toxic environment in the office was a brilliant setting, and I loved Anne's story too. Highly recommended if you like a good tense thriller.


Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson
Who doesn't love Mara Wilson? She starred in most of my favourite childhood films, then disappeared for a while before turning up again and gracing the internet with a brilliant site (Mara Wilson Writes Stuff) and one of my favourite twitter accounts (@MaraWilson). She's intelligent, warm, and witty. So, where did she go during the "lost" years? In this book she explains how she became disillusioned with Hollywood, and what she's been doing since (hint: she's incredibly normal so don't expect any juicy gossip). There are two lovely tributes in here - one to Robin Williams, and one to Matilda. I enjoyed this a lot.

Adult Fiction


Breaking the Ice by Mandy Baggot
This is one of Mandy's earlier self-published titles, repackaged with a new cover. I'm a big fan of Mandy's writing style - she writes lighthearted romance stories but her main characters are always witty and sharp, with lots of pop culture references thrown in. This one wasn't my favourite of hers, I think her work has definitely improved since this was written, but it was still a nice easygoing story about a young shy woman who falls for a famous ice skater.

Holding by Graham Norton
I got this for Christmas, and couldn't wait to read it. It took me a little longer to finish than I had expected, but it was a good enough read. It's about a small village outside Cork, full of people with their own secrets and issues. When bones are discovered on a building site, nobody claims to know anything - so it's up to the local Sergeant to investigate around the village. I've never understood the term "cozy mystery" up until now, it's a pretty accurate description of this book. There was one part that focused on a female character that went back to years before and I really loved that part, I think he's really good at writing about the past (to the point where this book felt like it was set decades ago).


The Wangs vs. The World: A Novel by Jade Chang * Review Copy from NetGalley
Charles Wang came to America with a dream: to get rich. He did exactly that, having started a successful cosmetics firm. Unfortunately for Charles and his family, he has now lost everything - so he has no alternative but to try and get his hands on some land he thinks he's entitled to back in China. I didn't enjoy this book - the premise was interesting but Charles was horrible and the plot was drawn out.

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
This, on the other hand, was incredibly enjoyable. It has nothing to do with goats or sheep, instead it's about the disappearance of a local woman and the pair of ten year old girls who are determined to find her. Set in England during the infamous heatwave of 1976, it's a good story if a little long in parts.

Young Adult

Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist
I read a preview of this in one of the Buzz Books collections last year and was intrigued by the premise of a YA book where the main character was a) male, and b) blind. Will Porter has been blind since birth, he's 16 now and he's about to start attending a mainstream high school. When he meets Cecily, he feels an instant connection - but what would happen if Will could see, and if Cecily wasn't quite what he expected? I promise it's not as shallow as it sounds, it's a quick, sweet read.

So that's it - if you've read any of the above, I'd love to hear what you thought!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Dark Side of Slimming World & Healthier Snack Alternatives

Not Sponsored or Paid | Not Endorsed by Slimming World, I am a Paying Member


This is a wordy one, so sorry about that.

So, I've mentioned before that there's a side to Slimming World that I really dislike. Firstly, if you're not familiar with the plan, here's the basics on the Extra Easy plan:

*Meals must be 1/3 "speed" food - most vegetables or fruit. You can include as much "free" food as you want. "Free" foods don't have to be measured - these are your meats, carbs, and starchy veg/fruit. There are no recommended portion sizes.
*You are encouraged to use any spices, seasonings, or condiments you wish. Some branded spice blends contain extra sugar so these have a Syn value, but basically everything you'd find on a spice rack is fine. You can also use vinegar, worcestershire sauce, tabasco, soy, oyster sauce, stock cubes.
*You have one Healthy Extra A (dairy) and one Healthy Extra B (fibre) choice per day. You pick from a set list, they have to be weighed or measured.
*You also have up to 15 "Syns" to use daily on whatever you want that isn't included in the plan. So this is your snacks, your high calorie foods, alcohol, etc. 1 Syn = approx 20kcal.

At the core, I love all of the above. I love how it relies on cooking from scratch, I love how it promotes eating extra fruit and veg, and I enjoy making recipes from fresh ingredients. I know it works, I've seen it working, I know people who continue to have fantastic success with it. There are three people I really recommend you follow if you're on plan, because they all plan, cook from scratch, and really promote health over weight loss:

Tracey at Love of Living lost 52lbs in 52 weeks following the plan.
Nicola from The Naked Blondie has lost over 8.5 stone following the plan.
Lynne became a SW Consultant and hit target following the plan.

Actually one of my favourite no-bullshit bloggers Lorraine recently published a post on her experience with Slimming World and it makes for a great read if you've ever wondered what actually goes on at a group. My experience has been different because I don't go to group - I am an online member and we get absolutely zero support. None. Nada.

Binge, Baby, Binge
Slimming World isn't working for me. I've been paying (quite substantial amounts upfront, to be fair) for over a year now and I'm down nearly nothing. Why? I've learned nothing about control or moderation and I haven't been sticking to plan. I know it's not something that I would be able to continue long term - I know if I hit target I would gain it all back within months. I feel shame and I feel embarrassment whenever I have an "off day" and that's terrible. I'm not eating for health, I'm eating for fat loss. I'm having great meals and then using Syns on absolute shite because I can. My issue is and always has been binge eating, and the plan does absolutely nothing to discourage that. In fact, it's the opposite - "eat all the free foods you want!" "No weighing or counting, eat all you want" - technically, you're supposed to eat until you're full, but for those of us who have been treating food as a comfort thing since we were kids? I have no idea when I'm full. None. I could eat a dinner and then have another one two hours later. No concept of fullness. If I'm eating 2000kcal a day, that's still too much food regardless of whether it's salad (it's not salad) or potatoes or ham. I absolutely don't need freedom when it comes to food, I need moderation.

Technically, this is an on plan day:

Breakfast: Egg fried in Frylight, Extra Lean Bacon Medallions, Mushrooms, Tomato. Coffee using milk (HexA). Melon balls.

Mid-Morning: Coffee using rest of HexA allowance.

Lunch: Mugshot Pasta Cup, Chicken Salad with Low Fat Dressing (1 Syn).

Afternoon: Muller Light Yogurt, chopped apple/grapes/melon. Can of Diet Coke.

Dinner: SW Chips, mushrooms and onions, extra lean steak fried in Frylight.

Evening:  Packet of Bacon Fries (6 Syns), Can of Diet Coke, 2 x Alpen Light Cereal Bars (HexB), Freddo Bar (5 Syns).

Most people would look at that and grimace at the thought of eating that much food in a day - but I have an enormous appetite and could easily do that 7 days a week - and that's why I don't think Slimming World is the right plan for me anymore.

Do you get me? It's all 100% on plan, but I'm still eating shite. Plus, I used 12 Syns there so I'd probably be delighted with life that I hadn't used 15 that day. People say "I never use all my daily Syns" - but it's part of the plan and we are told that 5-15 Syns daily is fine so if I shouldn't be using them why are they there?  When I eat crap, I want more crap, and so the cycle continues. I'm learning nothing. I do not feel healthier. I've been overweight since I was a child - I was 13 stone at 13 - and this is not doing anything to teach me moderation or limits.

I know I'm shiting on here (I actually deleted 4 paragraphs of preaching) but I put all that food into My Fitness Pal to see what the story was. That is 100% an on plan day and very typical of the type of days I have - so here you go, here's the day in pictures and you can draw your own conclusions.

And finally, my stats (or macros, if you want) for the day. The limits were set by My Fitness Pal based on my current weight and activity levels.

So that's why I'm falling out of love with it - yes, it's a colossal amount of food. But it's all on plan. I'm eating less fat, but my sugar is MORE THAN DOUBLE what it should be (and even 55g is an extremely high limit). The sodium is grand - but I'd have added salt to my dinner.

I've finally realised that health, to me, is more important than weight. Hell, if it took me the whole of 2016 to learn that then I'm happy to have taken that year - when I think of goals, it's tied in to weight and size. "I want to be 11 stone". "I want to be a size 14". I said it yesterday - "I want to lose 5 stone". At the minute, I just really want to feel comfortable in my body, and I don't right now. I feel heavy and sluggish. I want to have normal blood pressure, I want to lower my risks of weight related diseases, and I want to be around for my boys. If I'm doing that at 11 stone or at 14 stone or whatever - I don't actually care. I just want to be healthy and to not worry about who would mind my kids if I died. I don't want to sit here feeling guilty because I went for a meal with my family and gained half a pound. It makes me feel like a bold child and it makes me feel ashamed. And, it makes me eat.


Ahh, the part you actually came to read. Right, over the past while, I've been seeking out healthier snack alternatives. Personally I try to fill up on massive meals so I don't snack, but in the event that I want something in the evening, this is what I like (I'm still a massive crisp addict, by the way, I just really try not to have them in the house because they're shite). For those who follow Slimming World, I've added the Syns.

*Syn Values obtained from Slimming World website where available, otherwise using the general 20kcal = 1 Syn rule*


No shit, Sherlock. BUT - how many times do we grab a boring pear or apple? There's a reason that Melon and Pineapple are sometimes sold together - they're yum. And cheap - a melon is €1.69-€1.99 in Tesco and a Pineapple is €1.29. Chop them up into fingers and keep them in the fridge in an airtight container, they'll keep for up to 5 days. 

Also delicious are clementines - they're yum, and they're a bargain at under €2 for a 1kg bag in Tesco or Super Valu.


They do really lovely flavours, with no crap ingredients. These are my favourites - The Sour Cream and Black Pepper (4 Syns per 20g) and Sweet and Salty (3 Syns per 14g bag). They also do a Peanut Butter and Almond one that's lovely.


Nutribombz are a company in the UK who provide a snack subscription service. They offer several flavours of "bombz" - ranging from Choccy Brownie to Salted Caramel, Maple Pecan to Peanut Butter. They've got a trial offer on the site - four of their most popular flavours for £4.99. They offer free post to the UK so I use Address Pal to have them delivered here. You can get the one-off trial box, or you can sign up for a subscription (weekly, bi-weekly or monthly) and select a group of favourite flavours for them to choose from. The first time I ordered, I got the trial box - this time, I picked my own flavours. These range from 3 Syns - 4.5 Syns, all calorie info and ingredients are on the site but for the most part they're date based with all natural ingredients. These aren't something you can binge on - I had two one evening and felt a bit sick. So they're great for a chocolate or sweet hit.

Rice Cakes and Peanut Butter

A simple, delicious, filling snack. Yes, peanut butter is high in calories and therefore Syns, but it's a good, natural food and one that's lovely to include in any diet. Top these with a chopped banana and you've a quick, yummy snack. These Kallo rice cakes are the wholegrain low fat ones, they're 1.5 Syns each. The Meridian crunchy peanut butter is 4.5 Syns per level tablespoon (high, but enough for two rice cakes and super healthy).

Ryvita and Avocado
You can use Ryvita as your Healthy Extra B option, you can have four of these Dark Rye ones. Otherwise, they are 1.5 Syns each. Avocado is one of my favourite ways to use up Syns - it's a massive 9.5 Syns per 100g of Avocado flesh, but well worth it and not something I obsess over assigning a Syn value to. Sprinkle some chilli flakes on top and you have a really filling snack that could do for lunch if you added some fruit or a hard boiled egg. 

Roasted Chickpeas

These are low calorie and not full of junk. They're hard, and a bag lasts ages - they're the perfect snack for a film. One bag contains 88kcal or 4.5 Syns. These would make a great alternative to crisps. I get them in Holland and Barrett, or they'd be fairly easy to make, just season and roast some chickpeas.

Coconut Curls

These are bloody delicious - they also come in a black pepper flavour. They're just dried coconut, really crunchy, with added seasoning. Again, I found them in Holland & Barrett. They're 5 Syns per 20g bag (either flavour).

I hope this didn't come across as too preachy. Because I've been moving away from Slimming World for a while, I've changed the name of my food instagram to sharonleavyeats. I'll still post meals (and most are still very SW friendly) I just won't be discussing Syns.