Category Archives: How Peter lost weight
“The only difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones
is the way you use them.” – Proverb
Tying shoelaces is a trivial task for most people. But when I was at my heaviest it was a daily challenge and a constant reminder of my generous girth and poor health.
Kneeling down or bending down to reach my feet was very uncomfortable. So, to put on my shoes, I would sit myself down in an armchair. As I reached down for my feet my gut would press up against my diaphragm, which severely restricted my breathing. This meant I had to hold my breath as I was tying my laces. After finishing the first lace, I would sit back, take a little break, and snap a gulp of air before diving down for the next shoe.
When both shoes were tied, the next challenge was to get out of the chair. To do this I would rock my bottom to the edge of the seat and then push myself up out of the chair whilst making various strained noises. All this made me toy with the idea of wearing slip-on loafers. Thankfully, I managed to lose weight before this became more than a fanciful idea.
Nowadays, things are very different. I stand when I put on my shoes. I simply balance on one leg, lift up the other and slip on the shoes without making any strange noises or feeling any discomfort. To tie my shoelaces I kneel or bend down without thinking about it. It takes a fraction of the time it used to, and I view it as a daily opportunity to take satisfaction in the changes I have made to my life.
My weight loss has taught me that small things make a big difference. That’s why I advocate writing down the niggles and discomforts that are part of overweight life when you first embark on an effort to regain your health. Here is a list of things to think about to get you started:
- When you get home from work, do you change into comfortable clothes like sweat pants with an elasticated waist?
- Do you sit down or stand up when you put on socks?
- Do you hide behind other people when someone is taking a group photo?
- Do you have any aches or soreness that won’t go away?
- Are there times of the day when your energy level crashes?
- How do you feel after you have walked up more than two flights of stairs?
After you are back to normal weight, it is easy to forget how your body used to get in the way, and it is worth reminding yourself frequently. Take pride in all your little victories and resolve to make them permanent. Once you have escaped the limiting impairments of obesity, you won’t want to go back.
Convention says a weight loss blogger must have a before and after picture!
I have struggled a bit with this one. I discovered I had very few pictures of myself when I was at my heaviest. You just don’t want to appear in photos when you are unhappy with your appearance.
Anyway, I finally found a close-up picture of myself from before I started loosing weight. So here is my before and after photo:
“Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.”
It’s Monday and I am walking like an old man. My gait is stiff, uncertain and slow. Colleagues in the office offer comments of sympathy and concern. They wonder why I am nearly always limping on a Monday. Sometime on Tuesdays too. They don’t know I spend Saturdays crawling around on all fours in an attempt to get fit.
Primal Boot Camp is unlike any other fitness class I have taken. Crab walking across a wobbly bridge in a playground is not exactly what I expected when I signed up. But it is great fun. Our trainer, Darryl Edwards, is very inventive. He runs a class that is physically challenging, and far from boring.
I have attended the class once a week for two months now, and I have seen progress in all areas of my fitness. Strength, stamina, agility, flexibility and balance are all improved. So I have decided I want more of it. I will be starting personal sessions with Darryl soon. My wife and I have also decided to have regular family session with him. We tried one before Christmas and our 7-year old son loved it!
If you happen to live in or around West London and you are interested in giving Primal Boot Camp a go, check out Darryl’s website and blog. The class is very affordable and open to people of all ages and abilities.
The Guardian newspaper recently pronounced this kind of class the latest trend in fitness. Hopefully, this is a sign that primal living is becoming more mainstream. I for one prefer this kind of outdoor exercise to stuffy indoor gym sessions. Even on cold rainy winter days.
“Don’t count the days. Make the days count.”
General wisdom says dieting is something you do temporarily with a specific goal in mind. Most people think weight loss involves lots of sacrifice, and no one in their right mind would deny themselves the good things in life indefinitely. The goal is to get back to “normal” as soon as possible. Otherwise, why would it be worth dieting?
This is how I used to think about weight loss. In fact, last year my New Year’s resolution was to be back to normal weight by end of 2011. I fully intended to then stop dieting. But things have changed. I no longer view the food I eat as a weight loss regime and I don’t want things to go back to the old “normal”.
I admit my daily diet is restrictive in some key areas. But I enjoy the food I eat and I love what it’s doing to me. I can’t remember feeling this good since I was a teenager.
Aside from weight loss, lot’s of other things have changed in my life since switching to a primal life-style. Overall, I have gone from a person who was chronically fatigued to someone who is full of energy.
- I used to hate physical activity, but I now find myself exercising with great enthusiasm. I can’t bear to be sedentary. I have to move, otherwise I get jittery.
- My mental stamina is better than I thought possible at my age. I no longer have the volatile ups and downs I used to have. My energy level stays high throughout the day.
- I wake up refreshed in the morning, and I rarely need an alarm clock to get me out of bed. I sleep better because I no longer snore, and I no longer get up 3-4 times a night to go to the bathroom.
- Somehow, I am less stressed and less anxious than previously. I don’t quite know how to describe or explain this. But somehow I have acquired a quiet confidence and it’s making a real difference to my daily life.
The way I look at it now, my new waistline is the least of my achievements. It’s no exaggeration to say I have gained a whole new life. That’s why I will never stop “dieting”. It just makes me feel too good!
“If you don’t like something, change it.
If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”
If you have read any of my other blog articles, you know my approach to weight loss prioritises food quality over food quantity. I don’t bother with calorie counting. Instead, I focus on eating the right stuff.
But modern living sometimes puts you in situations where you have to get by with less than ideal food sources. One example is international air travel, which I do a lot of. In fact, I am writing this article on a flight from London to New Jersey.
Airline food is not very appetising and caters poorly for a low-carb life-style that emphasises non-processed foods.
When I first started my diet, I thought diabetic in-flight meals was the solution. But I have been disappointed and horrified with what airlines serve diabetics. An abundance of refined carbohydrates and very little fat is what airlines seem to think diabetics need. Get ready for a serious spike in blood sugar if you eat that!
Instead, I stick with the standard meals on offer. I then follow a few simple tips to make in-flight meals acceptable:
- I generally only eat the meat, poultry or fish in my meal along with the few limp and overcooked vegetables that come with it.
- I do not touch the starch that is served with the meal.
- I also leave the dessert alone.
- If the meal comes with cheese, I eat it on its own.
- If I am sure the little wrapper of “butter” is actual butter, I will eat it. I generally melt it on top of my meat, poultry or fish. Sometimes I just eat it straight out of the wrapper. (This attracts looks from my fellow passengers that range from puzzlement to horror.)
- If the salad dressing comes on the side, I generally leave it and eat my salad undressed
- If my salad is read-dressed, I choose not to worry about the potential for highly processed plant or nut oils. I eat the salad.
- The same goes for wheat or additives in any sauce that may have been poured over my meat. I don’t worry about it. I figure I need to eat something. I don’t go out of my way to eat all the sauce, though. Just the stuff that happens to cling onto my protein.
- If there is a choice of meals, I avoid the pasta options. The other choices usually contain more protein and fat.
- Sometimes I bring food with me on the flight. Typically, this would be nuts, vegetable crudities, or snack-bags of chorizo. I leave all left-overs in the flight cabin when I disembark. I don’t want to be stopped in customs with food I’m not supposed to bring into my destination country.
- If the departure airport has decent restaurants, I may have a large low-carb high-fat meal before boarding my plane, so I can completely avoid eating the in-flight food. I am particularly fond of all-day English breakfast and steak with salad.
Some might argue a long-distance flight is an ideal opportunity to practice intermittent fasting. At the risk of upsetting Paleo purist, I have to admit I don’t find fasting very pleasant. The same goes for long-distance air travel. I fear combining the two would tip me over the edge.
Each to his own, though.
I made the point in a previous article that to a degree you think yourself thin.
Here is a technique I used to keep myself focused on my weight loss goals. It may sound like clichéed pop psychology to some of you, but bear with me. This really did work very effectively for me.
Some time ago I stumbled upon a piece of motivational writing that suggested a simple approach: Write about your future in present tense as if it has already happened. Then read through it once a day.
I decided to break it down under three headers:
- What I want my life to be
- How I need to live today to achieve this
- How the world will tell me I am achieving my goals
I also decided that absolutely no negative statements would be allowed. This meant eliminating my tendency to focus on what I couldn’t do or couldn’t eat.
It took a while to write something that felt right and sounded authentic. I think I went through 15 or 20 revisions over the course of a week.
I ended up calling the end result my Personal Health Resolution. And I did read through it almost every day for a couple of months. I decided to set no other goals for myself. All I had to do was read about the future I had imagined for myself.
It is interesting how this prompted me to take little steps every day, and how this in the end resulted in a lot of change.
I am pleased to be able to report that my Personal Health Resolution is nearly all reality. As far as my 7-year old son is concerned, Daddy is still fat. I also have a long way to go before I would describe myself as a proficient tennis player. But I am otherwise living the life I imagined for myself.
Here is the Personal Health Resolution I ended up with. If you decide to write for your own, leave a comment and tell us about it.
PETER’S PERSONAL HEALTH RESOLUTION
What I want my life to be
- I am agile, flexible and free of mobility impairments, discomforts and aches
- Exercise is an enjoyable social activity I share with my family and friends every week both at home and when I travel for business.
- I am a proficient tennis player who plays every week, sometimes several times a week.
- I am comfortable in my skin and wear summer clothes and swimwear confidently.
- Food is a guilt-free enjoyment that comes free of worry about weight gain.
- I enter men’s fashion shops with confidence knowing I will find clothes I like in sizes that fit me.
How I need to live today to achieve this?
- My diet consists mostly of meat, fish, eggs and vegetables.
- I avoid grains and sugary foods as well as drinks that contain calories.
- I eat when I am hungry and I eat until I am full.
- I am the guy who gets local friends together every week to play basketball in the local park.
- I take part in weekly tennis classes and I play matches with friends once a week.
- I adopt a mindset and a daily routine that makes it natural and easy for me to get 8-9h sleep almost every night
- I experiment with foods to develop meals I really enjoy eating whilst achieving my health goals
- I study exercise and nutrition to improve the effectiveness of the daily habits I adopt.
How the world will tell me I am achieving my goals
- My doctor tells me she is impressed with the health improvements I have achieved and with my insights into human health.
- People start saying things like “What happened to you? You lost a lot of weight!”
- People start seeking my advice on how to loose weight and improve their health.
- I get invited to participate in sports activities I didn’t get invited to before.
- My son stops saying “Daddy, you are really fat!!”
“You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act. It’s a habit”
Weight loss is not just about what you eat. The way you think about food, exercise and why you want to loose weight is at least as important.
To turn my health around, I realised I had to address my mindset and consciously change the myriad of little decisions I make every day about what I eat and drink. Your health is a reflection of your habits, and these in turn are a reflection of your thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and emotions.
So, how do you change all this?
Everyone is different, and my example does not apply to everyone. But here is what I did:
I FIRST ADDRESSED MY SELF-MOTIVATION. I started by confronting my personal inertia and developed a technique to keep myself motivated and honest. This technique helped me make a subtle but profound shift in my thinking. It became more about the differences weight loss would make to me rather than the weight loss itself.
I RESOLVED TO DO MY OWN RESEARCH. The diet and exercise regimes I have tried in the past did not work very well and made me miserable and vulnerable to colds and flu. I told myself this time would be different, and I began to question everything I had been told about healthy living. This led me to explore the writings and research by serious minded people who offer an alternative viewpoint on human health. Many of these take an evolutionary perspective on health, which means they look at the life-style and diet of hunter gatherers for clues to how we should live and eat today.
I MADE EXERCISE PLAYFUL AND SOCIAL. Instead of being a means to an end or a chore, I turned exercise on its head. Exercise became something I would be able to do and enjoy as a result of loosing weight. I also chose to do social activities over solitary ones. I play a lot of basketball and tennis now. My level of proficiency in both games is no more than mediocre, but I enjoy the camaraderie and I have fun.
I will explore each of these three topics in more depth in separate articles. The main point I want to make is that to a degree you think yourself thin. You need to get your head right if you want to loose weight.
Often the epiphany that makes people change their life-style is some kind of dramatic or threatening event. It could be that a person close to you got seriously sick or even died. Sometimes it’s a medical test that says you are sicker and in more trouble than you thought. I hope that neither is the case for you, but in some ways these dramatic events make it easier to change your mindset. If you don’t have any of these things driving you, in some ways you it’ harder to get and maintain your motivation.
If you have tried low-fat approaches to fat loss, it may surprise you how I lost weight. I consumed plenty of saturated fat and I didn’t count calories or even track the macro nutrients I consumed.
And it is important to emphasise that I have not only lost weight. All my health markers improved, including my blood cholesterol, which goes counter to what many health professionals would have predicted.
I know this may sound too good to be true. Especially, if you have tried a multitude of diets that promised so much but ended in failure. Can it really be that easy?
I will let you judge whether this approach is easy or hard. It depends on your personal circumstances, I suppose.
Here is my 7-step eating plan:
- My diet consists of meat, fish, poultry, eggs and vegetables.
- I mainly eat things that are prepared from scratch (mostly by my very supportive wife) and we try to use ingredients that are local and/or organic.
- I avoid all grains, tubers and legumes. This means cutting out bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, beans and lentils.
- I also avoid drinks that contain calories. I do not drink fruit juices, milk or sodas, nor do I take any sugar or other sweetener in hot drinks. I do make one small exception to this rule. I enjoy the odd alcoholic drink once or twice a week. I tend to mostly drink red wine.
- I restrict the amount of carbohydrate in my diet. This happens more or less by itself if you follow points 1 to 3 above. The only additional measures I take is to avoid sugar and I also eat very little fruit. Periodically, I spot check my carbohydrates, so I know my daily consumption is between 30g and 60g per day.
- I make sure I get plenty of fats from meats and wild fish. I supplement this with coconut oil and butter for cooking. I use olive oil for salad dressings. I avoid all other vegetable and nut oils.
- I eat when I am hungry and I eat as much as I need to be full.
Those of you who have studied low-carb and/or paleolithic nutrition will recognise this diet. There is nothing particularly original in what I practice. Researchers and thought leaders like Loren Cordain, Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, Art Devany and others all recommend diets that are similar to this with minor variations. There is plenty of information available on this and I recommend you study the writings of these men.
You will also notice that there is no mention of exercise in my plan. I do exercise, but the truth is exercise is not strictly necessary to loose weight. I will discuss this further in future articles.
I would also like to make an obvious but important point here. Loosing weight is not just about what you eat. If your head is not in the right place, it is very hard to change a life-time of unhealthy habits. Watch this blog for future articles about how I stayed the course by changing the way I think about diet and life-style.
Here are some links to on-line resources that explain the basics of paleo/primal diet and exercise principles.