New goal, obviously.

So my 31st birthday came, and went. And in the end, I was 17 stone 2 for it.

This is obviously well above target, but strangely I’m not disheartened. I only tried intermittently, and yet lost over a stone in six months – mostly, really, in the latter three months after I joined the gym. I’ve felt happier, more confident, and healthier.

So I’m going to keep going, of course, and set an ambitious target: to be 15 stone, nearly two stone down from today, by the arrival of 2012. That’s a little over a pound a week, totally doable if I focus at it. It’s also a psychologically important target, as there are various things I’ve told myself I’d do when I get down to 15 stone.

So, wish me luck!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Gym update.

OK so I just had my first ‘proper’ training session at the gym.  And I have massively mixed feelings about it.

In many respects all the news is good. My charming, clearly gay personal trainer Ney (!) did a bunch of tests – sit-ups, blood pressure etc – and didn’t seem horrified. My blood pressure, which was on the high side a few years ago, is now normal, which shows it was a good idea to stop salting my food a couple of years ago.

After I did some exercise – more on which later – my heart rate returned to normal fairly quickly, which is a sign I’m actually not all that unfit. And when it came to weights and stretches I could do the weights he guessed for me reasonably well.

My ‘lean mass’ score is OK too – I can’t remember what it was exactly but he seemed happy with it. But my body is 31% fat.

In other words, I’m a reasonably fit person underneath a substantial layer of fat. Which is really pretty good news – it means I don’t need to transform my fitness level, just to remove a lot of the guff on top.

And in other ways, too, it went well. That exercise I mentioned? 12 minutes running at speed 9, whatever that means. And, I mean, I did it. It wasn’t hellish. It wasn’t painful, really, though my lower back got a bit sore. I didn’t nearly keel over afterwards. And I got through another hour or so of stretches etc after that OK. I don’t feel exhausted. And afterwards I didn’t binge, but just had a banana and a Diet Coke, which I’m not sucking down particularly quick.

So why don’t I feel jubilant? Because even though today’s workout wasn’t unpleasantly hard, I can’t imagine doing it without Ney standing over me.

I could do the stretches, probably, every day – although I don’t love the ‘free’ area, I prefer machines, but there was nothing there I couldn’t do. But the running. Ack, the running. Even though I could do it, it took a lot of mental pushing. I just don’t see myself doing 12 minutes at that level again in a hurry, even though most plans call for 20-30 at that intensity level.

But look: I’m getting started. 12 minutes was a generic time they use to test people. If I start doing 10 or even 5 and build up, then that’s fine. I suppose what I’m really worried about is that Ney is going to start me off at a level I can’t comfortably reach. That’s happened every time I’ve ever asked for help with exercise. I need so desperately to do this at my own pace – but to have help in keeping up with it and not stopping. People never seem to be able to help you keep it up without pushing you to go too fast. It’s the old thing about people who’ve never been overweight just not understanding it.

Tomorrow I’m going to do what I did on Tuesday, which is 15 minutes at 130bpm heart rate – the ‘fat burning zone’ – which I can do tiredly but I have no doubt over my ability to do. I’ll be slowly increasing that until I hit 30 minutes. But then I think I’ll have to start building up the intensity until I get to the ‘cardio zone’ of 160bpm+. But that’s OK, because I’ll take it as slowly as I need to.

I have to remember, as I said to Ney earlier: I’m starting from a position of doing very little exercise, so anything is better than nothing. I’m not going to start bloody power-walking, but I’m much better off doing 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day than none. If I burn 400 calories then hey, that means I’m probably going to have burned more that day than I eat and that means weight loss. I’m not going to listen to anyone who tells me I have to go faster than I feel comfortable – not lazily comfortable, but sensibly comfortable – going.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Midway – a change of tack

OK. Well, there’s no getting away from it: I’m not getting anywhere. In the first few weeks I lost a few pounds, then I got very, very stuck at 7s 13lb. The running didn’t last, and neither did eating better. I’ve moved job, and the new location is less well served for cheap good food and alarmingly well served for crap.

I’ve also been busy in various ways, travelling, getting food on the go, and up late at weekends, leaving me tired all week and craving carbs. But really, these are all excuses. I simply haven’t stuck to my new leaf.

But, it’s not too late. Well, it may be too late for me to get to 16 stones by June, but I can get as far as I can. It’s certainly feasible that I’ll get to 17. That would still leave me lighter than I’ve been for a couple of years.

So what to do? Well, food is one thing. I’ve realised one main change I need to make to be able to eat better is to be willing to spend more. Trying to have a healthy, satisfying lunch on £3 when you’re my weight is a lost cause. And thinking primarily about cost will always push me towards cheaper, fattier food.

So I’m now accepting that I need to spend £6-7 each day on lunch to feel satisfied and eat healthily. This gets me a big, satisfying salad from a nearby salad bar, and a yoghurt. And here’s the thing: I love salad. Not the dry, crappy ones you get from Eat or Pret, but a freshly made, hand-tossed one where you choose the ingredients. It’s fun, and I’m learning about what tastes go with each other.

The idea is that each morning I have for breakfast three weetabix, and a poached egg on toast; then for lunch, salad and yoghurt; then I can pretty much have what I like (within reason) for dinner. This minimises the time I have to spend tracking and thinking about food by making most of it super-regular. However, I’m finding it very hard weaning myself of crisps as a mid-morning snack. Fruit would be the best solution, I’ll have to work on always having some to hand.

But I’m also looking again at my relationship with caffeine. I’ve switched entirely to Diet Coke, which is good. But I’m increasingly aware about how my consumption of Diet Coke drives snacking. Go upstairs to get a drink; get some crisps as well. Feel slow and tired in the afternoon – go get drink, get crisps as well. Don’t feel sleepy when it’s bedtime because I’ve consumed so much caffeine? Have a snack…

So I’m going to try to slowly bring that down. I’m on two a day and I’d like to get it down to just one at the start of the day.

I’m also more aware than ever of my need for more sleep, particularly at the weekend. Going out till the early hours is fun, but it’s simply not compatible with my lifestyle: not with the things I need to do during the day at the weekend, and not with my need to feel rested so I don’t crave carbs all day.

All of this is very good, but what about exercise? Well, I’ve done something fairly drastic. I’ve joined a gym.

I’ve always resisted this, either because I wanted to swim instead or simply because of cost. But the circumstances where I am now are too perfect to resist. The nature of my new job means I can go in the afternoon, for up to 90 minutes if necessary, which is a luxury I may never have again. The nearest one is 5 minutes away. And colleagues go regularly, meaning I have people to go with. None of this has ever, really, been true before. So I’m determined to go and swallow the £60 a month cost, though I’m realistic enough that I haven’t signed a 12-month contract.

I did some exercise bikery today and it went well, so that’s a good start. I’m going to tweet to keep track of it, so do follow along.

I’m hopeful I can get on the right path now – things have calmed down elsewhere so I have more time. Wish me luck. And if you’re in Fitness First on Gracechurch St in London, say hi!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How are things going? Hmm…

OK, I thought it was about time I checked in to say how things are going health kick-wise. You can follow my progress at @16×31 on Twitter, of course.

I mean, really, I can’t say things are going to plan. Rather, I can’t say I’m sticking to the plan. I haven’t been for a run every day. I haven’t avoided snacks or fried food.

But, I have been for a run a few times, and I have been for a few swims, and a bloody 10-mile cycle on Sunday. So I have begun including exercise much more in my life. I just haven’t acquired the habit of a morning run. The main reason, actually, is that I haven’t developed the habit of going to bed earlier and getting up earlier.

Getting of bed at 7am and going for a run might be unpleasant, but it leaves you ready to start work (or at least your journey to work) at 8 with your daily exercise out of the way. That sounds really great, and I know it would make me more focused and more likely to be productive and healthy throughout the day. But it means going to bed at 11pm, and I’m just finding that impossible. I’ve been going to bed at 1am, 2am, even 3am some nights. Getting up at 10am, already behind schedule for the day, makes it hard to justify or want to go for a run. I’ve realised what most people innately know, which is that early to bed and early to rise really does make you healthier and wealthier (and maybe wiser). but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do.

Eating-wise, I’m mostly staying within my Weight Watchers points, so I ought to lose some weight. But the undeniable fact is that I haven’t so far. So I need to not let the bad habits get worse and tighten up some. I’ve been sticking to only eating Walkers crisps, but having 2 or more packs a day, which is silly, to give one example. I’ll have to track these more carefully.

So, things aren’t going badly, but they’re not going well enough for me to get to my target weight on the chosen timetable (12stone by June). I need to focus, I need to allow a little time today to think about health. That’s the nub of it: it needs to be a real thing in my mind until it becomes a habit.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The plan

One of the things which gives me confidence that I’m going to do this is that for the first time, I’ve set a realistic goal. Losing 30lb would take me to 16 stones – hardly slim; in fact, I’d still be considered obese, with a BMI of 31. But it would mean I weighed less than for several years. Of course, I wouldn’t stop there. My long-term aim is to be 12 stone, a healthy, mid-range BMI. But I can’t embark on a fitness plan with such a long-range goal: it’s a recipe for failure. To get to my target for June, I have to lose about a pound a week; that’s manageable. If I get there, I’ll think about where to go next, and probably carry on at the same pace; but I’m not going to think about that. Going out on my 31st birthday weighing two stones less than I do now will feel very, very good, and is more than enough of a goal to focus on. So, I hear you ask, what am I actually going to do? Well, first – and this is something I’ve never seriously attempted before – I’m going to run every day. I have  vague plan, which I’ll refine over time; it consists of starting with 20-minute runs, where I alternate running and walking every minute. Over the next three-four weeks, I aim to extend this to 30 minutes. Then I’ll start raising the running level – to two minutes run/two minutes walk; then three minutes run/two minutes walk; then four minutes/one minute, until ultimately I’m going for a real 30-minute jog every morning. How’s it going? Well, I’ve been both mornings, so I’d have to say well, so far. I even haven’t found it all that unpleasant. The first time, on Sunday, I felt woozy for an hour afterwards. After yesterday, my legs and back hurt. This morning, I felt sweaty and out of breath, but not in actual physical pain, which I take it is a good thing. Food-wise, it’s mostly simply about avoiding binging behaviour. I had a strong realisation on Sunday of how binges start, when I ate a packet of crisps and then, a few minutes later, another one. You’d think that would be enough to leave me feeling full and guilty, but instead, I found myself craving chocolate. I realised that my bingeing habits are very well-ingrained, and involve swapping from sweet to savoury and back. The way to avoid it is to resist the temptation to eat more than you need at the very start – in this instance, after the first packet of crisps. That way, you can have the occasional treat while recognising that the slightest hint of ‘naughty’ excess triggers the emotional drivers of bingeing. (I could, no doubt, have read this in lots of books, but I think it’s better to figure these things out for yourself.) This also means, though, that I have to be very careful about what food I bring into my house. If I get a craving for peanut butter, I’m going to have to find a cafe that sells peanut butter on toast, rather than buying a jar and eating it within a couple of days. The fact that I can’t have tasty, fatty food in my home without eating it very quickly is something I’d like, in the long run, to address; but right now I just have to avoid the situation arising. Related to stopping snacking, though, is eating more nutritious meals. One of the big steps forward I’ve made in the last couple of years is that I’ve finally stopped fighting the evidence on nutrition. I used to get incredibly angry with people who would urge me to cook rather than eating processed food, on the basis that home-cooked food contains more nutrients. Losing weight, I’d argue, isn’t about nutrients, it’s about managing your consumption of calories and fat. This is, of course, technically correct. But like so many of my younger self’s opinions, it was as wrong in import as it was right technically. Strictly speaking, a frozen cod fillet in breadcrumb and some oven chips is not that much ‘worse for you’ than fresh cod fillet fried in oil, some fried potatoes, and some steamed vegetables. But which do you think is more filling? Which leaves you less likely to snack before bedtime? And which, psychologically, reinforces your sense of yourself as a healthy person? You guessed it. What’s more, in the last year I’ve eaten more better-quality food, largely because of having a bit more money, and been genuinely surprised how much better I feel from the extra nutrition. (Helpfully, Weight Watchers – of which I’ve been a member, albeit an inactive one, for years – has just updated its ‘points’ system to take account of exactly these nutritional issues. The new plan assigns fewer ‘points’ to an item with lots of protein to one with the same fat and energy content but less protein. I’ve been using it a couple of days, and it seems much better.) This has a pleasant side-effect – I get to learn to cook. I’ve always liked the idea of cooking, but never done it often enough to learn how to do it well. I’ve always claimed to not have the time to cook every day, though I’m happy to watch TV for half an hour while my frozen whatever is cooking in the oven. I’m not going to suddenly make gourmet meals every day now, but I am going to try and include fresh fruit and vegetables in most of my meals. This may mean I need to broaden my grocery shopping beyond the confines of my local Costcutter.

Where you come in

One thing I have to work out is to what extent I want to involve other people in this. Ideally, I would find a friend to run with, a friend to swim with at weekends, take turns cooking with my flatmates, etc. But in the past I’ve almost always found involving friends in attempts to lose weight a bad experience. Tell someone you want to lose weight – particularly someone who’s never been overweight themselves – and they often believe they have license to nit-pick everything you eat. I’ve been told off by skinny women for eating anything other than salad. I am an eighteen-stone man, for fuck’s sake; if I ate nothing but salad I would fucking die. That’s obviously not true. But healthy eating for an obese person trying to lose weight is not the same as healthy eating for a skinny person who wants to stay that way. And here’s a public service announcement: telling your dieting friend off whenever they eat dessert, while never noticing when they do eat healthily, is not helping them; it’s being a judgmental dick. And then there’s the well-meaning advice. ‘Diets don’t work; just do lots of exercise.’ ‘Exercise doesn’t work; just eat less.’ ‘Eat whatever you want, but don’t eat anything after 6pm.’ (Cos that’sultra-realistic.) Even when the advice well-meaning people – again, most of whom have never tried to lose a serious amount of weight themselves – give you is not total bullshit, it is distracting and confusing. I do not need a plan. I have a plan. Where I have failed before has not been because I didn’t know how to lose weight. It’s because I didn’t do the things I knew I had to do. If I fail this time, it will be for the same reason. If you want to help, take the time to understand my plan, and encourage me to stick with it. And maybe, if I seem to be veering from it, you might want to, in a non-judgmental tone, express mild concern. I realise this is a big ask, so don’t feel obliged to help in this way. But if you can’t, please, seriously, Shut The Fuck Up. Which does beg the question why I’m talking about this at all on the internet; why I’ve set up a new Twitter feed, @16×31, to track my eating, exercise and weight progress. Why I intend to blog a bit about my progress here, at least when I have something to say. Well, it’s because I’m sure having some kind of audience, or support, will be helpful. Ideally, the kind which cheers when I stick to my plan and lose weight, and says nothing – no commiseration, no telling-off – when I don’t. (My own innate desire not to disappoint people ought to make having such an audience a big driver of success, as long as their interest seems genuine and not just an excuse for them to tell me what to do. So please follow the Twitter, unless it seems really, really boring, which I’m sure it is. Please check back here to see how I’m doing. Please wish me luck. Offer your encouragement and, if you’ve been through what I’m now doing, perhaps some advice. But just think carefully before you offer your latest lose-weight-fast trick.

A goal

One thing I have yet to work out is a dream: something which my future slim self can achieve which my current self won’t. It could be something appearance-driven, like taking my shirt off with pride in a nightclub, but I don’t want this to be about my appearance. It could be ‘live past 60,’ but that’s a bit long-term. Perhaps for now I’ll just focus on this: getting on the scale on my 31st birthday, a little over six months from now, and finding I’m 16 stones or less. And triumphantly tweeting it, and posting it here. And slipping on a new pair of jeans, and a shirt that hasn’t fitted for a while, and heading out to my birthday dinner knowing that, though I have a long way to go, I should be very proud of myself for what I’ve achieved. Maybe – after all the bullshit I’ve told myself over the years about my weight – that’s enough.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A start.

So I realise this is not the most original decision to make at the start of a year, but nevertheless, here it is: I am making a concerted effort to lose some weight.

Specifically, I want to lose 30 pounds by my 31st birthday in June. I thought I’d take a minute to write down my reasons for doing this and why I think after various failed attempts, this is really the right time to do this.

First, I really am very, very overweight. I’m not, I think, very fat – I don’t feel like an obese person, for example. I walk, and cycle, and function. I’ve never had trouble getting through a doorway, or into an aeroplane seat.

That’s a good thing, and I’m lucky. But it also helps me delude myself about the seriousness of my weight situation. When Marc Ambinder, the American journalist, finally decided to go in for gastric surgery last year, he weighed 234 pounds. He had been wearing an air mask at night for four years to counter obesity-induced sleep apnoea. He looked, frankly, disgusting.

I weigh 254 pounds.

I’m probably a bit taller than Ambinder, but nevertheless, that gives me a BMI of 35.6, putting me in the category of ‘Class II obesity.’ I could feasibly qualify for free gastric surgery on the NHS, as my weight is a threat to my health. I know I have high blood pressure; it seems entirely feasible that I have diabetes, though I’ve no evidence to suggest I have.

Besides Ambinder’s story, which I read in timely fashion a few days ago, the last few weeks and months have presented me with a thousand little natural shocks about the reality of my weight. My brother, who it turned out has also been thinking about both he and me going on some sort of fitness drive, suggested we both weigh in and his house last week. He’s overweight, and I’d always assumed he was around the same weight as me. It turns out he’s over three stone lighter.

Then there’s the terrifying fact that in the last year, I’ve begun to experience occasional symptoms of sleep apnoea. This, you probably know, is when the throat closes during sleep, forcing sufferers to wake up hundreds of time during the night in order to breathe. It’s like an advanced version of snoring, but deeply debilitating – and correlated, of course, with obesity.

I don’t think I’m suffering ‘properly’ from it – I don’t even snore particularly, as far as I know, thankfully – but I have, on several occasions in the last few months, woken up with a start in the night, unable, for a split second, to breathe. So the potential is clearly there. On a trip a few months ago with the choir I’m a member of, I shared a room with a heavily obese forty-something man who normally wears a ventilation mask to sleep at night. He hadn’t brought it, and his breathing while sleeping sounded like a backfiring truck. He made it clear, not in any spiteful way, that I’d know what it was like in a few years.

At the risk of sounding like some cheesy movie character: there is no fucking way that is happening to me.

Accentuating the positive

These are some of the negative, largely fear-driven reasons to try to lose weight now. But there are more positive reasons, too.

One strange quirk of all this is that I don’t think I’ve ever been less ashamed of my weight, in terms of my appearance, than I am now. For the most part, I think this is for an extremely silly reason, which is my decision a couple of months ago to have LASIK surgery. My feelings about being overweight have always been very complex – it was one of the factors, though not the main one, which made me feel something of an outcast at school and, along with my wearing glasses, has always made me feel a bit of an outsider. (Cliché upon cliché, I know; but the truth is, obesity is a condition affecting millions of people, and recognising the common threads of the experience of obesity is an important part of understanding its causes.) But though I felt a bit ashamed of my bespectacled, chubby appearance, I didn’t want to lose weight for that reason. As silly as it may sound, to lose weight in order to ‘fit in’ and feel attractive seemed, on some level, like betraying my fellow fat nerds.

For reasons I don’t entirely understand, I didn’t feel these qualms about leaving the ranks of the bespectacled through the eye surgery. I think it’s because no-one seriously sees glasses-wearers – at least, slim glasses-wearers – as social outcasts any more. (The fact that the operation involved slapping down £5000 and lying still for twenty minutes, rather than months of work, might have had something to do with it.)

But now that I’m glasses-free, the strange thing is I don’t feel nearly as much social discomfort about my weight. In my insecure head, I no longer seem, to the people I meet, like a nerd – so being fat doesn’t make me a fat nerd, just a fat guy. In the pantheon of cultural identities, think how much broader ‘fat guy’ is than ‘fat nerd’. John Belushi, Winston Churchill; darts players, city traders, boozy builders; the world is full of fat men with loving wives and happy lives without shame.

Separated from my social anxieties about my nerdiness – which seem to have been remedied an amazing amount by the simple act of going without glasses – my obesity becomes not something which makes me an outcast, but something I share with millions of people. It’s a problem to be solved, a problem of busy lives and sedentary jobs and cheap processed food, not one of my inadequacy as a human being, or deep, gnawing loneliness, or any of the other things I’ve previously told myself as explanations for my condition.

To put this another way, I used to look at slim people – not my friends, but generic, unknown slim people – and, at some level in the back of my head, see them as an alien race. They the school bully, me the bullied. They representing estate agents and Tesco and James Blunt and all that’s wrong in the world, and fat, speccy me representing Belle & Sebastian, endearing awkwardness and brains. This was plainly bollocks; but it was deep-seated bollocks, and it made it impossible for me to think of my weight as a matter of health and happiness, rather than identity.

Woah. This is getting a bit heavy, isn’t it? Fortunately, there also plenty of less dramatic, more mundane reasons to start now. I have time – as a freelancer, I can make time for a run in the morning which I never seemed able to when I had an office job to get to. What’s more, I have time to think about my health, to plan and cook proper meals, and to keep track of it all. At the same time, no longer doing my old job, which I frequently hated and almost always found boring, means one of the main triggers of binge-eating – I would go to the nearest shop once a day and buy incredible amounts of crap out of sheer miserable boredom – is gone. Although I have a lot of work to do in the next year or so to get my career where it needs to be, my day-to-day life right now is, essentially, a pleasant one. That obviously makes adding an extra level of activity – not just exercise, but eating well, which takes time – into my daily routine.

I’ve also found more reasons why it would feel better to be slim. I’ve been going out and dancing more, as the result of various changes in my social life. I find I really enjoy it, but find it exhausting. A couple of weeks ago I woke up after a party that involved a large amount of ‘twisting.’ I could barely walk; my legs had turned to jelly. It’d be nice to be able to dance and feel good about people seeing me do it, and not feel like I’ve run a marathon afterwards. What’s more, I now have three young nephews and neices, with another likely to come in the next couple of years. They’re toddlers now, and they’re beginning to run around and play football. I don’t want to be a bad influence on them, and I’m beginning to realise that if I want to be a good, fun uncle to them – not to mention a good father to any kids I eventually have – I need to get my ass up off the sofa and run around with them, not reluctantly, but enthusiastically.

Finally, I’m 30. That means my perspective has inevitably shifted towards the long-term. Rather than vaguely imagining a wonderful life for my 40-year-old self, with a great job, loving husband and a flat overlooking Central Park, I’m in the process now of trying to build it (and managing it down to something realistic). This inevitably means thinking in a serious way about my health; recognising that I’m now more than half the age my father was when obesity and drinking killed him; recognising that health-wise, my gene pool basically stinks, and if I want to reach 70, let alone 100, I need to err on the side of health wherever reasonably possible. And it means I can look back on 30 years of snacking, of sofa-living, of emotional eating, and say with experience and confidence it doesn’t make me happy.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment