“I have lost over 5 stones in 5 months.”
This is my story, so far. If my journey can help you at all I am happier for knowing that. I am not an expert in diet, exercise or weight loss and I cannot offer counsel but merely sharing my experience for you to consider – as I read the personal stories of others for inspiration and advice. The single most important advice on this page is that change has to come from YOU.
The back story not so important, perhaps another time, but in December 2016 I recognised I was in a very dark place. I concluded that of my many problems most were linked to my weight and I determined to do something about it. Now, I had been here before and previously (and on many times) I had “done something” and may have lost up to 2 stone before slipping back. The difference this time was I was so unhappy, about so many things, and there were no other distractions – I was now probably for the first time in my life the sole focus of my own attention.
I resolved to start the fix in January. I’m not aware I even mentioned my intention with anyone but did start reading some blogs and health articles as I refer above. I weighed 23 stones before Christmas, it was a good bet I weighed more when I started my programme, but I never did get the chance to “officially” start which I will explain. I initially set an ambitious target of 16 stones by 29th December 2017 (my wife’s birthday) on which I hoped we might be on holiday somewhere warm to celebrate. I bought exercise bike from a shopping channel and my plan was to begin when it arrived.
Then a proverbial bolt from the blue. A moment that would be life changing. It is too soon to share what happened but the impact of the news would plunge me to the very darkest of places. Indeed I have never felt so empty and lost in my life. This is important for this story because for 4-6 weeks my only focus was exercise – mostly very extended walks with a rather confused but grateful dog in the early hours of the day. It was a period where there was little sleep, no interest in food, and I think importantly not even the distraction of any cravings.
I will never be able to properly account for any boost to my weight loss during this time but note that there seems to be good evidence to suggest link between poor mental health and weight loss. For the first few weeks I did not serve myself well, whilst calories were very low the nutrition was certainly questionable too. In the 18 months leading to December 2016 I certainly consumed too much alcohol, but also a diet based on potatoes and bread and way too many take aways. Those first few weeks stopped alcohol, bread and chips….I recall mostly eating but not enjoying very much, soups, cereal and gallons of coffee.
I do think it worth highlighting – if not already clear – that through my own experiences I fully understand how difficult those first few weeks are. It is especially difficult if you don’t immediately get amazing results, if you receive little support or encouragement and at a time when cravings for food and drink will be strongest. I may not have faced these challenges this time but I have certainly battled with them in the past. My advice is stay focussed on your objectives, and if you are struggling with temptation you either take what you enjoy and “run it off” or you must empty your fridge and cupboards.
If, like me, you have a family it can be difficult with so many treats and temptations especially whilst you still crave fat, salt and sugar. Equally you do not want to bring people “down” with their choices, this will not help your mood. Join in with the Chinese food and the chips but make healthier choices and smaller portions. All the tricks like drinking a glass of water or cordial before dinner they do work. The first month is a period of change and transition for everyone, you do not want to add arguments to an already difficult meal time – seek compromise and look for accommodation so you are mostly eating the same and you don’t feel excluded.
—————————————————————————————————————————————-My top food tips
- Here are the rules which continue to help me. But please remember that no rule is golden, you must enjoy what are you doing but just be aware of the decisions which you make and account for them. No big surprise that fried foods are not healthy! I have not used the deep fat fryer since January – we have still had weekly takeaway chips but no only have oven baked foods. You may have read that fried foods can also upset the digestive system, and I can testify being much less “windy” than the past. I’m also happy to report that although still on medication for the first time in 20+ years my blood pressure is “normal”. Just to be clear – fried foods includes crisps!
- Bread has forever been my weakness. Although we only had white bread occasionally if you eat bread in volume – and I pretty much ate it every meal – it adds calories and carbs. Bread is readily available in most kitchens but rarely has much nutritional value yet often its most people’s first choice for a snack. But white bread contains a lot of sugar and it doesn’t have the ability to keep you satisfied, so within a few hours you are likely to find yourself feeling hungry and reaching for snacks. I still have a rare craving but keeping count of calories means I think carefully about how I spend them. I do eat bread but most of the time I get my bread and crisp fix by eating rye crispbreads – and enjoy it. I really look forward to and enjoy my bacon sandwich on Sundays.
- It is now probably 18 months since we stopped using spreads. Whilst trans fats have since been removed from most spreads, it’s important to note that most contain industrial, highly processed fats that would never be found in nature. I know there are so-called healthy spreads and this will be a personal choice but for me (and whole family) butter tastes better, it is natural and contains nutrients – it does cost calories so I consider it a luxury which I use sparingly, and this helps too.
- Again, another blindingly obvious statement but alcohol is fattening – I was also very aware early on that it is a depressive drug too. I totally avoided any alcohol for first few weeks and it can only have provided that important boost to my initial weight loss saving a conservative 2000 calories a week. I’m now in a position where I will have a glass of wine or a bottle of beer I simply account for it – and remember I’m not too upset with occasionally having an extra glass on any occasion just don’t forget! A lot of this is about mindset – rather than taking a glass of wine as just a choice of drink for instance, think of it and enjoy it as a treat – remember you’re consuming around the same amount of calories as you would from eating slice of cake, or for a pint of lager, you could also eat a slice of pizza. It can be difficult to manage your drinks by Units – if you start to count calories it becomes much easier to keep track.
- I love my coffee. Importantly there is little dispute there are multiple health benefits of drinking coffee too. But the benefits are wiped out when you add other ingredients into the mix. Whilst I have not taken sugar in hot drinks since I was a child I have a weakness for flavoured syrups. I also noted that my favourite drink – the latte – was, even with skimmed milk, a lot of calories. Now I do treat myself to an occasional skinny latte or even a flat white but my standard drink is an Americano….although I might weaken at pumpkin spice time!
Through the haze of my unhappiness it would be a couple of weeks before I weighed myself. I was genuinely surprised to have lost over a stone in about 3 weeks (probably 1.5 stones assuming weight put on at Christmas since last weigh). It was good to share with family, and importantly to receive encouragement. It gave my insomnia a sense of purpose for my nights were spent – between dog walks and crying – further reading and making plans.
It was at this point I felt it helpful to share with friends and colleagues what I was doing, to provide myself with some motivation and perhaps gain some much needed support. It was now that I set out an exercise routine and set myself some activity objectives. It had been probably 15 years or more since I had undertaken any regular exercise. Because also I had suffered with health problems in 2016 – which was part of my motivation – I was keen not to put myself at risk.
As I wrote above, I had lost weight previously so understood and could employ rules around dieting. But this time it was different, the realisation that it is my life which had to change and it had to be permanent and not a fix. I was going to change my diet but not be on a diet. This is what I continue to quote to myself, I do not deny myself anything but I do declare what I have enjoyed. I accepted that on occasion I would eat “wrong”, I would eat excess, but that was ok and should not be excuse to stop as I had done previously.
This has been a really important strategy for me. To accept responsibility and consequences for the decisions which I make, and to not allow them to be used as excuses for continued poor decisions. To this end the use of an APP to record my calorie intake (it remains at 1860 a day) has been so helpful, and importantly I use it every day and where I transgress I record every sin – but that is good. Some of the sins are genuine mistakes from which you learn and others – like a meal with my wife are warmly embraced. Previously I would have tried to reason smaller portion calories or “forget” items but my phone makes this too easy not to do correctly – and 5 months on I’m now even at the stage where I’m starting to measure macros and nutrition. Imagine.
At this stage, with measured calorie intake, scheduled exercise and continuing ad-hoc dog walks I was steadily losing over a stone each month. Be end of May 2017 I am down to 17 Stone 7lb just prior to hernia repair surgery. In the last month my weight loss has reduced to 1-2 lb a week which has been anticipated and I’m at the stage where I am looking to increase weight exercise over aerobic. My immediate objective is to reach 16 Stone by end of July, and my revised goal for 29th December is 14 Stone which should be close to my BMI ideal weight.
I exercise for about an hour a day, and a bit more at weekends. It is improving my fitness and has no doubt made a significant impact on my weight loss. It has been important for me to track my progress and to record my calories burned – on occasions when I have gone over my calorie limit it does comfort me that I’m able to reclaim with extra time on the exercise bike, or an extended dog walk. Only a couple of times have I got on the bike in the early hours to get some credit but it would not have been unusual for me to get up watch a movie and drink coffee instead. Again, just another example of how my priorities and values have changed – an illustration that this is very much about living not just an exercise in recovery. It has certainly helped maintain my focus and commitment on this occasion by accepting this how I live now.
I never had to battle with cravings (although I would not recommend my path) this time but now I’m in a position whereby my tastes and wants have changed. It really does not daunt me to say aloud that this will be my life from this point forward, that continuing to count calories and making time for exercise are important. I have started to have a beer, eat toast, and even eat crisps but I account for them as much as I enjoy the experience. I am having the best time and I know there is more to come – it has been 30 years since I felt this good physically and cannot recall feeling this happy. If you want it, take it but it will take work – and you will fail – but get straight back up and win.
My top 5 tips:
- BE HONEST: Where you are, where you want to be, and how long it will take.
- WHEN READY: Tell right people what you are doing to get support and encouragement.
- BE RESPONSIBLE: For every decision you make on food, drink and exercise.
- ACCEPT: Your mistakes, learn from them.
- EXERCISE: Set yourself a realistic schedule which you will meet.
I have not shared my exercise routine as I believe this should be very personal depending on need and circumstances. My general advice would be to try and have a range of activities within your abilities, and things which you can set yourself tougher targets. I started with exercise bike, dog walking and swimming, with each extending time and distance objectives each week. If you have any medical issues then of course you should consult a doctor or instructor for advice.
If you want it, truly want it, you will win. Good fortune.