Thursday, July 30, 2009

Losing Weight, but not the Will to Live

As you might remember from this post, I've been on a diet since the early part of this year - something I've kept quiet about because I didn't want to derail myself.

Well, derailment has clearly been averted. Last week and landed bang on my 'target weight' of 169lbs meaning that, for the first time ever, I stuck to a diet and it worked!

The results are pretty obvious:

But even though I weighed in at 168lbs this morning, I'm still slightly astonished that this diet worked at all. I mean, I've tried everything in years gone by. I gave up alcohol for a month, I went on 'The Atkins' diet and I even took up Kung Fu - all with predictably limp results.

But somehow, this diet worked. And why?

Well, I think it's because it's a sensible one. It doesn't involve any gimmicks or dramatically changing your life. It's tough to stick to giving up carbs, or exercising sixteen times a week, if you've never done it before.

I credit My Fitness Pal for helping me lose the weight. It's a website where you can 'log' the food you eat every day - and works out (based on your weight, height and level of activity) how many calories you should eat in order to lose a safe 1lb a week. For me, that started off as 1,900 calories a day (and went down as my weight - and basal metabolic rate - went down too.)

The science is simple. The human body is like a car and food is essentially fuel. If your car does, say, 13 miles to the gallon, but you fill it up with two gallons every twenty miles, your petrol tank is eventually going to overflow with the unused fuel.

Similarly, the human body burns between 2,000 and 2,500 calories a day - and if you eat more than that, the excess is 'stored' as fat (which can be used as fuel for a later day.) To lose weight, My Fitness Pal works out your basal metabolic rate (how many calories you burn per day) and lets you know just how much you can eat to maintain a steady weight loss. Your body 'machine' runs at a calorie deficit - and those fat stores are burnt instead of the food you'd normally be eating.

This is the very simple secret to weight loss. It's just a numbers game. Even much touted diets like Atkins and the South Beach Diet work (if they work at all) by making you eat fewer calories - despite what they might claim!

(Atkins, for example, works on the principle of your body burning protein, rather than carbohydrates, for energy. In reality, though, people who can't eat bread, potatoes or sugar as part of their diet generally just eat less.)

This is how My Fitness Pal works. You simply 'log' every item of food or drink that passes your lips each day. Users can 'add' food to the online database, which means it's possible to accurately enter almost any brand of foodstuff into your diary. Take a look at breakfast, for example:

You can also enter how many calories you burn through exercise - which originally wasn't even an issue for me. I hate exercise for the sake of it.

But funnily enough, as I continued on my diet, I actually got into exercising. Nothing major - just a mile walk here, or a brief jog there. I tried to swim as much as I could. With My Fitness Pal it was actually kind of addictive, as I tried to 'earn' enough extra calories for an extra glass of wine or packet of crisps.

This is where my second website came in handy, Map My Run. This website lets you map where you run with Google Maps, which then works out your distance. Then, by entering the time you took to run (or walk) that route, it can work out how many calories you burned!

Finally, I started lifting free-weights. Not ridiculously - just three sets of reps with a 20lb dumbbell in each arm. Already I've started to develop muscles where I never had them before! And more muscles means a higher basal metabolic rate - meaning I burn more calories even while I'm watching TV.

The remarkable thing about all this is that I did it.

It's not that I'm lazy. It's just that I love my food and drink and I've always thought an hour of one's life is better spent reading a book than running around in a circle. I'm not into fads or gimmicks and I didn't want to sacrifice anything that I loved. I have lousy willpower.

But once I started, I discovered that it's actually remarkably easy to stick to a sensible diet. Because of the food diary, I could invent my own meals that stuck to my calorie allowance - and I've experimented with low-fat alternatives to the foods I used to gobble. For example, instead of an 'Everything Bagel' as the basis for my lunchtime sandwich (270 calories) I now have a multi-grain flatbread (100 calories) and they're not really all that different.

Likewise, after almost six months on a diet, many of these minor changes have become ingrained. I started off measuring my portions to cut calories. Now, instinctively, I just eat less. My stomach has shrunk and it takes less to make me feel full.

I've also had a few 'cheat' days. At least twice a month, Mummy Militant and I have splurged on pizza - which contains my entire daily calorie allowance in just four slices! But that fact that I'm 'good' for the rest of the week makes up for that - and I've gone from ordering 'Xtra Large' pizzas to choosing 'Medium' sized ones, which leave me full and contain half the calories!

Mini Militant loves pizza too!

I think the single most important thing I've learned from losing weight and sticking to a diet is that there are no excuses.

I used to tell myself 'I'll start a diet after the weekend' and never get around to it. I used to put off doing exercise because I'd come home from work late, or had already had dinner. But there is no time like now.

I just did it. I ate less. I did more - figuring if I started on a Tuesday, by the time the following Monday came around (when the old me would have said it was time to start my diet) I'd already have six days head start.

And when the weight actually came off, it was just more motivation to stick to it. It's addictive, seeing your curves replaced by lean lines and your trousers feel looser.

Anyway. That's my diet story. It's not exciting or inspirational - not like my friend Tony, who lost over 200lbs. But it is interesting for me to write and hopefully you to read!


Sasha Sappho said...

RYC: Thank you for the compliments, and I've been slacking on the comments lately, too, so no worries.

Also, CONGRATS on the weight loss. You look fabulous. And, actually, I think I might give this service a try. It sounds like something I might actually be able to follow (and that isn't built around foods you aren't allowed to eat).

Thanks for sharing with us!

ck said...

Congrats. I'm down 40 solid pounds myself.

Brit Gal Sarah said...

Congrats, I also utilise this site thanks to you and it's a great help.

Suki said...

Many, many congratulations :). I tried getting onto an exercise regime a few months ago, and have failed dismally. I think this is a good time to start again - I desperately need to increase my stamina despite weighing 110lb on a 5-foot frame.

paisley penguin said...

Congratulations! HeHe - I have been a bad paisley and have not been focusing on that part of my life.

One reason why I don't post many photos of myself. Why I am the photo taker in my household.

Truth be told - I am headed back "on plan" to my fitness pal starting Saturday August 1!