Monday, June 08, 2020

Fit for 50: 3 rules for a healthier lifestyle

In something of a departure from my usual posts (which, admittedly, have been few and far between of late) this post is the story of my weight loss journey. I wanted to share with others how I've not only lost weight but kept it off, in the hope that it may help others to do the same. I've managed to go from being an obese man pushing 100kg in his forties to a fit and trim fifty year old; I now weigh in at around 80kg with a body fat percentage of 22%.

Let's be clear, I've no wonder solution to offer: I never used any diets, no pills, and I never gave up the things I enjoy most. But I can share how I did it in three simple rules:

Rule 1: Realise that what you're doing now is the problem - change your habits

Rule 2: Know what's going in and out - count everything

Rule 3: Stimulate your metabolism - be active
But first a little background.

Before and after

Dawning Realisation

I remember it well when I first realised I'd lost control of my weight. It was after one of our traditional family gatherings, and the pictures started coming in that people had taken during the day. There was one of me and my immediate family group, and staring at myself in that group photo I suddenly realised I'd got enormous.

I had stopped weighing myself years ago, and didn't even have any bathroom scales in the house anymore, but you didn't need scales to see that I was in trouble. The sheer quantity of fat around my face was enough to give the game away. Sure, I'd been buying bigger and bigger trousers over the years, but those changes in waistline are so gradual it's easy to shrug them off, and a with a clever bit of dressing you can convince yourself that you're still in pretty good shape. But that face, there was no mistaking the extra fat around the jawline, and the fact that all of a sudden there were little piggy eyes staring back at me.

I realised that something needed to be done, and had heard a lot about this new Fitbit thing that was doing the rounds. I decided to try and get a handle on my weight, and bought into the tech big time with a brand new Fitbit One and a set of Fitbit Aria scales. Sure enough, the scales confirmed what I guess was already apparent to everyone else - according to all the best metrics I was not just overweight, technically speaking I was obese.

Three steps to a fitter you

Rule 1: Change your habits

This is unquestionably the most important thing you need to do, but, as ever, probably the hardest as well. It's also the number one reason why every diet will fail you, no question. Why? Because any diet, trendy or old, is a temporary change in behaviour patterns. The clues in the name, it's not something you actually do forever, it's just something you do briefly in order to try and lose weight. The moment you stop, bingo, you get heavy again.

What I did was look at my lifestyle as it was, read a lot about nutrition, health and weight gain/loss, and come to the inevitable conclusion that the way I was living my life was what was making me fat in the first place. If I really wanted to lose weight, and
chocolate bars
keep it off, how I was living would have to change. Having a chocolate bar every day after my sandwich for lunch, for example, was not going to be an option any more. I was treating them like an everyday part of my diet, rather than a treat to have once a month. Serving great big piles of carbs so I felt full every meal, again not exactly a sustainable part of my life if I was going to lose weight. These things had to change.

So what's the plan now? These days I always make sure that I only have one 'proper' meal in the day, i.e. one large meal (usually in the evening) and snacking is kept to an absolute minimum. I've never really eaten breakfast, that old adage about it being the most important meal of the day is questionable at best, and possibly downright misleading. For the other meal it's invariably a bowl of soup in the winter (without bread), or a salad in the summer (usually with some good quality protein), low-calorie healthy options which can help you feel sated and therefore get through the day as productively as you want to.

The trick is to become aware of what you're eating, spot the unhealthy stuff and the unnecessary extras, and shift your mindset so that you no longer even want the food that used to be your everyday diet.

Rule 2: Count everything

This is where the Fitbit comes in (or, for that matter, whatever other device / app you prefer). When I first started my weight loss journey I didn't really have a clue about calories, or how much exercise I was getting, how heavy I should be, or what a good fat percentage was. That chocolate bar I was having for lunch every day? At least 250 kcals, which is 10% of my daily allowance disappearing in just a minute or so, calories I really didn't need. These days that has been swapped for a couple of really good dark chocolate buttons, a tenth of the calories, probably even tastier if I'm honest, and cheaper too at that!

Fitbit One
I don't like the term calorie counter, and I certainly don't count calories like I used to, but for one entire year I counted every single thing I ate and drank and entered into my little Fitbit app so that I had a crystal clear picture of how much I was consuming. If I wanted a glass of wine, for example, it was carefully measured and logged in my app. Now and then I might have gone down the pub with friends and had a couple more than normal, but it was all logged nonetheless. I also started weighing food in my everyday meals, pasta and rice in particular. I realised that I'd gotten into the habit of simply cooking loads of carbohydrates for every meal, and then gorging on them regardless of whether or not I needed them. I love my pasta and rice, like many do, but they do pack an inordinate amount of calories. I learnt tonnes about the balance of nutrients in so many foodstuffs, and slowly started to adjust how much was going into my body. I also realised that sugar really was the bane of my weight loss plan. I really had no idea quite how many calories were in sugar, or how much I had been eating, until I started recording everything. Together with the carbohydrates, they were contributing so many excess calories to my diet - they had to go.

The other thing I counted, and for that matter still do, was my weight. Every single morning I weigh myself and log it, and now have a record going back many years of not only my weight but also my body fat percentage. I've learned that it fluctuates, even though (as recommended) I always weigh myself at the same time of day, but what matters is the overall trend over time. Keeping a log of weight in this way allows me to spot when I'm slipping, as happens now and then, but because I've changed habits I can get a hold of things quickly before my weight starts to spiral upwards. Also, there's nothing quite as satisfying as being able to see your weight fall! The original Fitbit Aria scales I bought, which transferred the weight data to my app wirelessly, eventually died on me, but a much cheaper set I bought to replace them are just as good, if not better, and typing in the weight rather than it transferring automatically is hardly a chore!

Rule 3: Be active

It may seem obvious, everyone knows you need to do more exercise in order to lose weight, don't they? But perhaps the message here I want to make is the nature of that exercise. I've said this rule is about being active, not necessarily going for a run every day or buying a gym membership. The way I did it was simply to walk every day - free, simple and healthy. I picked up on the 10,000 steps thing, and made sure that I did my 10,000 steps pretty much every single day for a year without fail (there's that Fitbit One coming in helpfully again, counting steps this time). And do you know what? It actually works.

feet walking
There are lots of naysayers out there who claim the 10,000 number is just a made-up figure (and in actual fact, it is), but that doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't work. Combined with rule 1 and 2 this is all you need to lose a drastic amount of weight and start feeling good about your body again.

It's now 5 years since I reached my original goal, and although my weight still goes up and down I keep to my rules and as a consequence, I'm still a healthy weight. In fact, I've now started weight training in order to get stronger, as the evidence suggests that men who maintain muscle as they get older will live longer. Now that I'm fifty, with more of my life behind me than in front, I kind of want to get as much out of what is left as possible!

But I'll leave the weight training for another blog post ...

So, to summarise, you just need to do three things if you want to lose weight - and keep it off. Realise what you're doing now is making you fat, count what you eat, how much you move and how much you weigh, and get out of the house - and walk!


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