Hey folks, this is about weight loss. If that's something you don't want to read about, consider yourself warned. Also, it's not a condemnation of people who haven't been able to lose weight despite effort (which was me, for ages!) or people who don't want to—you do you.
This is a lightly amended version of something I posted on the old version of this blog last August when I hit my target weight. As of today it's been a year since I started actually trying to lose weight—I've lost 27.5kg (~4.3 stone), taking me from 112.2kg to 84.7, and hope to lose a further ~10 kg over the course of this year to take me down to a final weight of about 75kg. The rest of this post will both an attempt to wring some insight from the process (and an exercise in back-patting because, y'know, I've lost 4 stone). Feel free to stop reading at this point if you're not interested in my trying to project a narrative onto a bunch of events that probably weren't as causally linked as I'll imply, or reading the phrase "diet and exercise" strung out to 2000 words.
Something about being fat, for those who aren't: at least in my experience, you're not "allowed" to enjoy physical activity; it's a means to an end. There's a subtle pressure that gets exerted both from within and without. It's small comments from others that aren't meant unkindly—"oh, that'll be good for you!". You repeat them back, because you've internalised the attitude as much as they have. As a child, I loved swimming. I'm still pretty decent at it, and at various times over the last few years I've gone swimming regularly before work or at lunchtime. Unfortunately, before too long I started viewing it as something to do to lose weight, at which point it became a chore and lost its appeal. Being fat bends all physical activity toward the only possible goal you can have when you're fat, which is to lose weight. You can't just exercise and enjoy it. That would be ridiculous.
With that in mind, I started doing some weightlifting in October of 2016. I'd never really done any non-cardio exercise, and I thought it'd be something different. Though I don't think it was on my mind at the time, a form of physical activity that no-one would think I was doing for weight loss purposes. Perhaps it was this that made me more reluctant to mention it than I would've been for something else, but I didn't mention it for months. I just kept going, the weights got heavier, eventually I spoke to my friend Victor about it and he suggested a different weight regime (Stronglifts, which is what I still do, though there's a lot of quite bro-y language to get past on the website).
Sometime in the middle of January 2017, I think, I was in the shower at the gym, and I reached down to pick up my shower gel. When I retracted my arm I noticed something odd. I could actually see muscle definition. I'm not used to seeing my body as anything other than an undifferentiated mass of pudge, so it was quite a surprise. I was reminded of something I saw someone on Twitter saying a while ago—when do you exercise for a while, your body changes, and you know it's something you did. It's a powerful feeling. Then I thought: maybe I should try losing a bit of weight so I can see that a bit better? Or maybe I'm just retroactively thinking that. I do definitely remember the moment, though, and it at very least coincided with the moment I decided to try and Actually Lose Weight.
Look, I'll go ahead and guess "eat less and exercise more" isn't something you need telling. I have been told something similar for my entire life. However, there is a reason it is popular advice: on a very basic level, it is correct. One of these is more important than the other, however: it is way, way easier to not eat something than it is to burn something off afterwards. Ideally, you'll want to do both, but if you've got to do one, eating less is probably the thing to go for. The mere act of recording your food can make you realise how much you eat (I'd suggest My Fitness Pal). It will also, if you set a weight target and how aggressive you want to be in achieving it, give you a calorie goal. Online Health People will tell you calories are rubbish, they don't represent anything, blah blah blah. They're probably right. However, they are a convenient measure of approximately something you may want to control, so they will probably do for the purposes of normal folk. For me this target was 1500 calories (though it bumps it up by however much exercise you do, generally 2-300 on a day when I've done plenty of walking) and if you're someone who eats a lot you might have to ease into it, but I try to stick pretty closely to it and I have enough energy to get me through the day.
As far as what you eat, I remember reading a review of a book which said that capitalism has optimised food to be very nice but very bad for you, and the more boring a food is the less it will set off whatever it is in your brain makes you fat, or something. I can't remember the details but the gist ("keep it boring") I stumbled into myself by accident. I try to keep a consistent breakfast/lunch regime (at least during the week). Breakfast is currently 40g of fruit and fibre (I keep the scales out, waiting by the cereal; one of the things all this has taught me is that incredibly minor obstacles—getting stuff out of a cupboard, for instance—can seem bizarrely onerous, so if you remove any barrier there it makes things easy) and half a cup of milk (formerly it was a standard measure of porridge, but I got tired of the time it took to make), lunch is a wholemeal bagel with a bit of peanut butter. Sometimes I like to spice it up and I buy one jar of normal peanut butter and one jar of peanut butter with maple syrup. You do what you have to do to get yourself through the day.
The point is: these are consistent things I don't have to think about, and they're pretty much calorifically identical each time. As a fan of routine, this is great for me. The only thing that requires thought or effort is dinner. I don't really have much in the way of rules when it comes to dinner, except that I try not to have too much of it (using the calorie limits as a guide), I try not to make it too carb-heavy, I try to include as much veg as possible and I don't have dessert, I just have an apple. I'm currently trying to expand my cookery repertoire, so dinner is providing me plenty of dietary variety.
There are a bunch of other small rules that seemed like big deals at the time but I've internalised now to the point where they're not really something I'm externally applying, they're just things I do: no fizzy drinks, no snacking, no sweets and crisps. They're internalised to the point that deviating from them isn't falling off the wagon, it's making a choice to let myself have a nice thing, which I won't then go overboard with.
In fact, and I hate to sound like one of those people who tells you Actually, Sugar Is The Real Drug, More Addictive Than Heroin or w/e, since I've pretty much cut the processed stuff out of my diet, I feel kinda weird and gross on the occasions when I do eat a lot of it (mostly this is when I'm having a particularly bad day and just down a bag of Haribo). It hasn't completely stopped me wanting it subconsciously (The Addiction!) but I do crave it a lot less than I used to.
Knowing when to be less strict about self-imposed rules is in general something that I find personally quite difficult—I can be quite all-or-nothing—but after a while I have learned to trust myself. The longer I have been able to stick with this, the more I have been surprised at my own self-control. If I find the numbers going the other way, I may end up having to clamp down more strictly again.
It's a good feeling, losing weight. Societal pressure isn't the only bad thing about being fat—physically speaking, it can be pretty uncomfortable, and being less that is definitely nice. Further, it hasn't been, for me, at least, this time, a miserable journey. There's satisfaction in a limited amount of self-denial, I'm still eating plenty of stuff that I like, and I'm discovering that I can actually quite enjoy exercise. It is a slow process, I won't deny that. I have lost over 4 stone but that's taken a year, and it slows down as you go—but it will keep going if you keep going.
The rewards are real, but they are unevenly distributed, both physically and temporally. When you're losing, you're getting smaller, but that change is uneven across your body. I found my belly and waist getting smaller, but my legs and chest took longer to diminish. It also takes a very long time for anyone to notice. Even I sometimes doubt I can see the change. Maybe I'm imagining it—maybe the scales are wrong?—but the clothes don't lie: I'm down to L. I am swamped by my old trousers.
But I'm still not quite where I want to be. My BMI is still "overweight" —down from "obese", admittedly, but I want to see it down in "healthy' territory. I've still got a stone and a half to go, so my goal for the rest of the year (and quite probably the next, and, if I want to be realistic, the rest of my life from now on) is to lose that, keep it off, and stabilise at around 75 kg. That probably would have seemed silly to me a year ago ago, but the idea that I would be considering taking up jogging would have too, and yet here I am.