Becoming two thirds the man I was

Fri 18 January 2019

Note

I’ve had a post sitting here, waiting to be finished for almost three years. It concerns my previous attempt to fix my weight issues. There’s no sense in trying to post it now, but I might work it into a few different posts. There’s some stuff in there that’s worth salvaging at least.

Fifteen years of failure

I’ve been overweight ever since I was about sixteen years of age, and went through a number of failed attempts to fix this. The problem as always been that I never had the discipline to really stick it out beyond a short period of time: my lack of impulse control, will power, or self-discipline would always sabotage me in the end. And if that didn’t happen, somebody would say something that would demoralise me, and the motivation I was holding onto would drain away.

The Hacker’s Diet was possibly the most useful book I ever came across in my earlier unsuccessful attempts, because it gave me one major too: quantification. It’s there that I learned the importance of recording my progress, and also not to focus too much on the raw numbers. The important thing is the trend. It also reminded me that our bodies are machines. Sophisticated machines, certainly, but still machines, and what goes in comes out. None of us defy the laws of thermodynamics even if it sometimes seems like our bodies subbornly refuse to obey them.

Still, the whole thing is predicated on having self-discipline, impulse control, and will power. If you’re lacking in those areas, sticking to any kind of regimen is going to be difficult.

So I failed, tried again, failed again, put on more weight, and by 2015 was 105kg. I hate showing my passport to anybody because the photo in it is from back then, and not only do I look awful because I got caught in the rain when I was getting it taken, but I look like I look like I’ve contracted mumps. It’s not pretty.

Motivations

I’m not sure if I can really pin down what’s motivated me to do all this. I can definitely say that it’s not for other, though. Nor is it an effort to project a certain image, nor wear fancy clothes, nor anything remotely like that. I think it comes down to two things: my internal self-image hasn’t matched my external self-image since I gained those 14kg back in my teens, and that disconnect has made me feel a certain lack of control over myself. I worry that if I don’t fix things now while I’m still relatively young and healthy that, when I’m older, I’ll end up with health issues I’d prefer not to have.

I’m not interested in being some buff Adonis; I’d just like be closer to the person I see myself as in my head, and know I can be.

The first (almost) successful attempt

It turns out that what I needed was an external motivator of some kind, and a few ways to trick myself into doing the right thing.

The first of these was getting a Fitbit. I needed something to help motivate me to do some kind of exercise, and the Fitbit helped with that. I can’t run very much because of my Achilles tendons, and I’m a bit bow-legged; I can sprint for a bit, but anything more than that, and I end up in a world of pain.

But I can walk, and I’m good at enduring the monotony that comes with that. So I walked and, over time, increased the distance I walked.

If I couldn’t take from a well of self-discipline, I had another well nearby I could draw from: stubbornness. I had enough self-discipline to get me out the door, but what got me around was sheer bloodymindedness.

And I did a lot of it. In my evenings, I would spend two hours out at least. I had a route that I could do two circuits of in that time. It was miserable, wet, and windy, but it was something, and I needed that something.

The other thing I did was to go on a quasi-ketogenic diet, which was primarily a matter of cutting out most carbs from my diet, but still ate porridge in the mornings. I also stopped making anything for myself during the week and instead used the catered lunches at work as my dinner. That might seem like an odd decision, but it meant that I wasn’t overeating, so I had some indirect portion control.

I recorded my measurements using Libra, so I could see how things were going.

One odd thing that I found helped was to give the project a name. I called it Operation Fat Bastard1. It meant I could pigeonhole everything I was doing, which acted as an intrinsic motivator for me.

Over the course of a year, starting in July 2015 and ending in July 2016 or so, I had managed to wipe out 30kg, which was almost a third of my starting weight. I was still technically overweight, but only by a small bit.

How I failed

I made the critical error of thinking I was done, and stopped working on things like I had done, and stopped tracking myself. Because I stopped tracking myself, I didn’t have something external to me to tell me I was slowly going off the rails again.

I also switched jobs at the end of 2016, and moved a few months later. Both of these things were unqualified goods, but were stressful. I’m only now doing the last bits of unpacking. The end result of that was that the habits I had created went out the window, and I slowly started to fall back into old patterns, and with that came a return of the old weight.

The second attempt

I hadn’t quite realised the degree to which I’d put on weight until I pulled out some winter clothes and realised none of them fit anymore, which meant that I had to buy a good chunk of a new wardrobe.

I tried to get a start in January by going to a gym near work, and doing a consultancy there, but the experience I had demoralised me further as the staff member who did it talked at me rather than listening. It wasn’t until around June that I managed to motivate myself again to do something about the situation, based on my previous experiences. This time was different though. I couldn’t rely somebody else to help moderate my diet, and even if I was eating healthily, I could still end up overeating if I wasn’t careful.

So I hit upon a way to hack my brain: I’d use money as my limiter.

The supermarket near my work has an extensive salad bar and they provide two kinds of container: one a large round bowl, and the other a smaller rectangular bowl. The salads are sold by weight. I knew that up till then, I’d managed to spend the best part of maybe EUR8 there every time I got something, so I decided to instead always use the smaller bowl and limit myself to EUR5, give or take a bit, of food.

As I was also treating this as my main meal for the day, I needed to make sure that what I was getting would be enough, so did a bit of research and figured that if I used a combination of a boiled egg, some kind of leafy green (typically spinach, but sometimes rocket), some bell peppers and jalapeños, some tomato, a bit of falafel, some avocado, some chicken, and a few other bits and pieces, I could at least make sure I was getting everything I needed to avoid accidental deficiencies while I was doing this.

A stereotyped diet isn’t fun, but at least the stuff I was getting was stuff I liked and could change things up from time to time, and I wasn’t doing it every day, just most days, unless I forgot to eat for some reason or somebody wanted to grab some food with me.

It seems to have worked for me. I’m currently 77kg, and while I hit a plateau in November and December, I’m sticking with this until I hit 68kg.

The strange thing I’ve noticed this time around versus last time is that I seem to have less fat at 77kg than I did last time at around 75kg. 32” jeans are loose on me now, whereas the previous time around, they fit just fine. I’m guessing that means that more of the weight is in muscle this time around, which is positive. I can’t ever remember wearing anything with a narrower belt than 32”, but I might end up doing so.

The one thing I have to do is keep doing what I’m doing, even if I can let up a bit. My brain doesn’t seem to unconsciously tell me when to stop and start, so I have to do it consciously, which means tracking myself even when I hit 68kg. If I don’t, I’ll be writing the same thing here in a year or two.

And now, you

I’m not sure how useful any of this is to anybody else. This is what I did, and there might be something you can use, but I don’t claim to know anything.

I’d like for you to be happy and healthy in yourself. I did a whole bunch of things that, to be frank, made me pretty miserable a not insignificant number of months. Given a choice, I’d prefer if teenage me, and twentysomething me had just had a healthier lifestyle, or if thirtysomething me had done all this much, much sooner. I wish the mes of two years and six months ago found a way to make the whole process more enjoyable, such as doing stuff with friends, but I’m not good at asking people for stuff, so I never did.

If you do take some inspiration from any of this, I’d recommend you find a more efficient and more pleasant way of doing it than I did. I’ll be your biggest cheerleader.

And what’s next?

I listed a lot of this in my new years post, but there’s no harm in reiterating the relevant details.

The main one is to get rid of those last few kilos so I hit my target.

I also want to take up swimming again. However, the last time I swam, I discovered I’d forgotten a lot and was no longer as strong a swimmer as I had once been, so it’s looking like I might have to take swimming lessons again. That will take me swallowing a bit of foolish pride, but I’ll be better for it.

I want to learn how to maintain my weight, and maybe get a bit stronger, just to make life easier.

I’d like to do something about my sleep patterns so they’re more regular. I’d like to take steps to improve my general mental health so that I can deal with life and other people better. This last one will be difficult, probably much more difficult than this project has been. I’ve been trying to work on that by myself in fits and starts for a while, and I can’t say I’ve exactly succeeded at much of it. But like with everything else, it’ll take work, and probably some help.

  1. A self-deprecating Alexei Sayle reference, and not me being mean to myself.