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I'm Not On A Diet

By John Edwards
5th November, 2013


It’s now October 2013 and, looking back, I think being told formally that I was over-weight was the first break-through on my journey to weight-loss. Up until that point I knew I was probably over-weight because friends and family who hadn’t seen me in a while commented on my expanding stomach, to which I quipped that it must be down to my good living and laughed off the comments.

My wife and I often discussed and considered that we ate fairly healthily. We home cooked and used natural ingredients in most of our foods. We seldom ate take-away food and only sometimes did we eat a ready meal, like the pop-in-the-oven Indian meals you get from the supermarkets. What we didn’t really discuss, or we chose to omit, was the size of the portions we were eating. Neither did we really broach the subject of the extras we would frequently eat, like the ice lollies or chocolates. Not to mention the milkshakes, beer, wine and other drinks we might consume during the week and weekends in particular.

It’s funny how you can look in a mirror every day to straighten your shirt around your waist and make sure you are tucked in neatly and evenly, yet not see the expanse of your girth. It does, however, hit you like a punch in the chops when you look at a recent photo and you can’t recognise the fat bloke who is stood there with your wife ! So, our holiday snaps from Spain in May 2013 was another realisation and break-through, for both of us.

I haven’t been a heavy drinker since my wayward teenage years but I was aware that my intake had gradually increased over time. What I used to consume just at weekends had increased to a glass or two most nights through the week. So I became mildly concerned about this.

Age doesn’t help either. Things happen to you as you get older. Your body starts to ache in places that you haven’t experienced before. In my case I was getting occasional chest pains and suffered fairly frequently with indigestion. I couldn’t so much as look at a slice of cucumber without turning my insides out. I went so far as to check in at the doctors for an MoT, which I recommend for anyone who, like me, gets to see the doctor every 3 to 5 years or so. The good doc explained my aches and pains away as an age thing, but dwelled on my weight as the most likely cause of my indigestion. You see, he advised, all that fat is riding up and filling the cavity that your diaphragm needs to manage food digestion. That made sense, but there I was being told once more that I’m over-weight.

What with the nurse, the recent holiday photos, the good doc’s advice and my own concerns of over-eating and drinking, I had to do something about it. The good news was that my wife reached the same conclusion as me at more or less the same time. I think it was the holiday snaps that broke the camel’s back for her too. That was a great boost, as we could both work at it and try to shape up together.

We didn’t want to go on a diet, though. That word filled both of us with depression, and that’s coming from two people that had never been on a diet. So, what to do?

We decided that we would tackle this by being extra careful with what and how much we eat. That’s it! No fancy diets. No fantastic strategy. No feeding the many companies that make £millions from us fatties with their diet courses, foods, drinks and pills.

Although we set out on this quest together, and we supported and compared notes with each other along the way, my wife and I are quite different in our day-to-day lives. I like the great outdoors, while she isn’t so bothered by it. Her job requires her to be on her feet most of the day, while I sit at a desk in front of a computer most of the day. She likes to get the train to work when she can, which requires a little exercise to walk to and from the stations. I drive a car and park outside my office and seldom get any exercise.

This story is more about me, but I can’t stress enough that I needed the support of my best friend. It would not have been possible if my wife wasn’t at least on-side. It would have been a disaster from the outset if she had continued to serve up our usual food and portion sizes and continued to tempt me with our habitual snacks. This was to be, not a weight-changing event, but a life-change.

The overall objective was to lose weight, but I needed some good tactics. I gave a lot of my time looking into the foods I typically eat. There are plenty of on-line resources and Google is great for typing in a search phrase like ‘calories in [food]’. More often than not it will display a fact sheet of the food you enter, or it will display links of sites that can advise you.

I studied the effects of exercise and whether or not it is any great influence over actual weight-loss. There are mixed views on taking exercise. Some sources say it makes a big difference to your weight, but others disagree. I found that exercise doesn’t equate to weight loss. While it is very important to exercise, what I think happened is that my fatty muscles gradually converted to less fatty muscles – same weight. I found that sometimes my weight increased where it seemed my body was hanging on to the food I was eating to do the muscle conversion. I’m not an expert, but my actual weight is factual, and through weighing myself I was able to observe what was going on.

I weighed myself often and at different times of the day and after certain events, like exercise, to try and determine what my body did with the food I ate. I was fascinated that at one point in the early stages of my quest, I had a weight difference of over five pounds from the end of one day and, after the obligatory ablutions, the start of next day. On another occasion I weighed in at 13st 13lb 020z. After breakfast and then ‘number twos’ (you know what I mean), I weighed in at 13st 13lb 08oz. That’s 6oz heavier. I can’t see how people on slimming programmes manage weighing in just once a week. I would get very depressed to see my weight increase after a week of trying to lose weight. We got some scales and we keep them in a place where we can weigh ourselves morning and evening, typically when brushing our teeth.

I needed to exercise. Again there are many views and opinions of how much exercise one should do, but they all agree that exercise is important for your heart. I looked to the NHS website, which is full of useful information on this subject, as well as general health and weight-loss advice. The NHS advises to try to get around half an hour of exercise each day, or two and a half hours each week. With my job and other commitments I find it difficult to find the time for daily exercise. So, loving the outdoors as I do, I made it a target to get out for a long walk on a Sunday. If I wasn’t walking, I tried to compensate with gardening and some shorter walks during the week. One way or the other, I tried to get close to two and a half hours each week, and I often managed much more than this on my longer, more challenging walks.

Another tactic I picked up along my journey was to not heed the advice of others. What I mean is that, although I didn’t tell people I was trying to lose weight, I couldn’t help but to talk to people about food and weight-loss, especially work colleagues, friends and family. Of course, they had their own experiences, views and opinions, but, no disrespect intended, this was often at odds with my own findings from what I had studied and observed. The point I am making is that I think it is important to spend the time finding out the facts for yourself. The other point is that many of the people that offered their prescriptive advice, again no disrespect intended, didn’t appear to have gained control of their own weight and health. They were telling me of their experiences of diets that had worked for them, but alas, they had re-gained much of the weight. That’s not what I wanted, which is why I looked at this is a life-change rather than a dieting programme that has some sort of end-date.

Here’s the scientific bit: one of the facts I found is, as we get older, our ‘basal metabolic rate’ (BMR) decreases. This is basically a measure of how much energy (measured in calories) our body will use to simply function while we are at rest. As we get older, our body becomes less lean, and so needs less energy to function. Exercising causes little shift in this, so going to the gym daily does not significantly increase BMR. However, using the Harris Benedict equation, which takes daily exercise into consideration, we can get a rough estimate of how much energy we need to consume to maintain our current weight. Using this result we can then determine how much energy we need to consume to lose a given amount of weight each day or week.

If all that sounds too difficult, I also found My Fitness Pal. Go to the site, sign up for free and enter your height, current weight and your target weekly weight-loss. It does the calculations and, in my case, the target was to get within 1,720 calories per day.

My target weight-loss was set to a pound per week. Many people might think that too low a target. Well, that may be so. My opinion and resolve is that it took me over twenty years to gradually get to weigh in at 15st, 2Ib, so I shouldn’t expect to lose a significant amount of it in a short timeframe. Losing weight gradually, I think, enables your body to adjust to the loss. The exercise I started doing, over time, helped to tone the fatty, becoming flabby, parts of my body.

Did it work?

At the onset on 1st June 2013, I weighed in at 15st, 2Ib, or 212lb. On 18th October 2013, 20 weeks later, I checked in at 13st, 9lb, or 191lb. That’s a 21 lb difference.

So, yes, it is working and going to plan. I want to be in the 12.5st region, so I have, at least, another 16 weeks to go. At that point I will still be just in the over-weight bracket, but I need to make sure that I look and feel good.

So what have I learnt?

I’ve learnt a great deal about me, and in particular about my body and how it reacts to the food I eat. I think it odd that this is the first time in my life that I’ve actually bothered to take this much notice. Because I found out the facts for myself, it is me telling me what food I should or shouldn’t eat, rather than believing some fancy diet plan will do all that for me.

The amount of people who praised up all sorts of weird and wonderful diet programmes was amazing. Anything from the Atkins Diet to all those ‘read in the Sun newspaper’ type plans that allow you to lose weight while still getting your chocolate fix. I think they’re all either nonsense, and in some cases downright dangerous. What I’ve learnt is that the way to lose weight is to eat less. In eating less, you need to ensure that your body is getting the right food, and that basically means that you need to consume nutritious food. Yes, you can have a few beers with your mates, or a glass or two of wine with some meals. You can have desserts, and some chocolate. But, you have to level this with having a non-carb salad or vegetable dish in and around those events to keep to target on average. It really is a life balance.

I’ve learnt to look at food in a different way. As a non-fussy eater I am one of those who would always finish what is on the plate. I work away from home and so I am in hotels and restaurants quite regularly. If I got served a large portion of food, of course I had to eat it. If it was small portions I used to have a stodgy pudding to make sure I was full. This is all psychological. I’ve learnt that as I started to eat less, so my stomach fealt as though it had contracted. Now, if I get a large plate of food, I really struggle to eat it and have no choice than to leave what I can’t eat. I’ve learnt that it is a good thing to leave food on the plate if I can’t eat it. Good for me anyway.

What about when I get to my target weight?

Well, the other thing I have learnt is that there is no end. This is actually a way of life for me from now on. It has to be. I don’t see how I could get to my desired weight and then go back to my old ways. I will need to re-index my daily consumption to a value that enables me to maintain that weight. I need to continually think about the food I’m contemplating on eating to determine if it’s going to benefit me or not.

Statistically, most people who go on a diet plan put all of their weight back on, and often more, after two years of their weight loss. That’s not a good prospect at all, so it’s something I will need to work at – always!

Maybe I'll write an update in a year or so to see how I am coping.

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