Updated: Oct 4, 2021
I want to take you, dear reader, back to a time long, long ago. A different time, a simpler time. The year is 2017, the summer of Despacito.
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2017 was when my weight loss started, later leading me to the world of fitness. It starts with my girlfriend and me in a Tesco and discovering they had a digital checkup machine installed by the local private hospital. It weighed you, told you your BMI, body fat, blood pressure and heart rate. It was free, so we gave it a go! I hadn't weighed myself in a long time. I learned I was 19 stone 1 pound, was classed as obese and had high blood pressure. Now that's enough for some to start making lifestyle changes, but not me. I had been bigger since I was a teenager, but this was my heaviest.
Strictly speaking, there was another time where a scale told me I weighed 19 stone 3 pounds, but I had a couple of pints before and they would have weighed me down, so I don't count that one!
I'd had partial success with weight loss before but always put the weight back on (and a bit more). This time was slightly different, and I'd like to share that experience with you. I learnt a lot, and I hope this post could help you, I'll highlight some areas where I went wrong along the way.
I'd had a bit of a challenging 2016, in close succession my granddad and stepbrother passed away. I dealt with it the only way I knew how, by drinking beer and eating food. I'd struggled with mental health since being a teen, but it all got compounded during this time, the booze also making it worse.
I later hurt my knee playing tennis. I hurt it so severely I struggled to walk and had to see a physiotherapist. He asked me if tennis is an activity I often did. I explained that this was the first time I'd played since being little and that I hurt myself within the first 2 minutes of playing. I am not a naturally gifted sportsperson!
The inactivity, alcohol and takeouts were a perfect storm for me to balloon, I'd been heavy for years, but this would have been where I went from 17 to 19 stone.
I'd started experiencing acute stress and anxiety. I suffered from heart palpitations and stomach pain, both probably caused by anxiety. I began to seek professional help and started to improve my mental health. Now, if you've ever had to work on your mental health, you'll know there's a list of things you have to do. Drink less, eat better, sleep more, do breathing exercises and clean your immediate environment.
So I started drinking less. I began by taking breaks from the booze, I'd take two weeks off, and then I'd aim to only have one or two on a Friday. That one or two would always lead to more, so I decided to stop drinking altogether. This was where I lost my first 2 stone. I wasn't trying to lose weight, the only thing I had changed was I wasn't drinking any more.
After discovering this 2 stone drop, I had a bit of motivation to keep going. I started walking to work. I worked in an office about 40 minutes walk away from where I lived. At first, I'd just walk to work and get the bus back. This was where I learnt I sweat profusely when physically active, a trait I still have today! I would sweat so much on my walk in, one of my colleagues suggested I showered after I got in (It was a fancy office that had showers)!
I started walking to and from the office, listening to podcasts, music and audiobooks to keep me entertained. I was really starting to enjoy it, and I liked that I was saving a small fortune not getting the bus any more!
Next step, I downloaded MyFitnessPal. You might know it already, it's just a calorie counting app. You tell it you want to lose weight and it lets you know how many calories you can have. You scan the barcode of the food you're eating, and it deducts the from the calories you have left. This was where my weight loss started to really drop, I didn't know it at the time, but this was also where I began to make some mistakes.
Personal Trainer Mark of today knows you don't drop your calories too low, past Mark seeing the number on the scale go down didn't. The app set my calories at 1700, I ate 1500 to lose weight quicker. We'll get to the impact that had later.
I started doing the couch to 5k plan on the public health England app. I picked Michael Johnson to be my coach. From this time, something that stands out to me was the tremendous anxiety I felt going out for my first run. I lived in the middle of Brighton, and I was worried everyone was going to laugh at me as soon as I started running. I had about 10 minutes of walking between my bedroom and the front door. When I finally plucked up the courage, I learnt literally no one cares you're running. I was one of the dozens of other joggers they had seen that day. The 10 minutes of stress I had put myself through was, like many anxieties unfounded.
I learnt that I quite liked running. The secret for me was podcasts, music and audiobooks, it became time for me not to think about all the things stressing me out. It was hard, but I went through the plan and got to the end. I discovered that the app will get you to 30 minutes of running and not necessarily 5km. I didn't run my first 5km until several weeks later with a time of 31:31.
I started doing some home workouts around this time. I found some apps, and I would follow along, eventually building myself up to 45-minute workouts. I would run one day and do a home workout the next, while still walking to and from work. Here's where my weight plummeted. Have you ever had a bigger friend who you don't see for a while and suddenly they're skinny? I was that guy.
I must admit I did like all the compliments, they encourage you to keep going. I can understand why people develop eating disorders, lose weight, and get compliments. You lose more weight, and you get even more! Of course, eventually, people will stop paying you compliments. I even had some people being quite concerned about how sudden my weight loss was.
About this time was when I learnt why you don't drop your calories too low. I was exhausted and felt so weak. I even nearly fainted while walking the dogs once.
So I decided it was time for the diet to stop. I started going to the gym and got myself a personal trainer to show me what to do. I learnt some foundations of the gym, here's where I learnt how weak I had become from all the dieting.
If your body doesn't get what it needs, it'll tap into its reserves. Your body needs energy, and if it doesn't get what it needs from food, it'll get it from fat and when the calorie deficits too high, your muscles.
This may not seem like a big deal, but muscles burn calories by just existing. The more muscle you have, the more food you can consume without gaining fat. Most people know someone who loses a bunch of weight and then puts it all back on plus some extra pounds. Two things are going on here, one they learnt how to diet but not how to make lifestyle changes, two they lost some muscle mass and fat. When they went back to their old way of life, they gained weight by overeating and didn't have the muscle to burn it off, so they put on some extra too.
So I had to spend several months building my strength back up. Here's where I discovered I really liked lifting weights, I also learnt that not all gyms are created equal! If you want to start going to a gym, ask to look around before signing up and go at a peak time to see how busy it gets. See what equipment they have and what services they offer. Sometimes a budget gym will be just what you need, but others, spending a bit more will really increase your enjoyment and fulfilment so you'll go more!
I still wasn't eating enough at this time. Walking to and from work, running, home workouts and going to the gym. It's common to overdo it at this stage, and that's what I was doing. I had this fear that if I wasn't working out at all times, I would gain all the weight back on and I'd have to start again.
It took me a while to learn that your lifestyle has to be sustainable. If you do nothing but work out eventually, you'll burn out. If you don't eat enough, your body will break down.
Successful weight loss is all about making small changes that lead to big things. I had inadvertently started in the right direction by making one lifestyle change at a time, then I got carried away!
My experiences have shaped my understanding of the mindset behind successful weight loss. My education has taught me where I went wrong.
If you have a weight loss goal, take things slow. Make small gradual adjustments, changing things bit by bit until your heading in the right direction. You will make a slip up from time to time, don't beat yourself up, try to learn from the experience and move on. Don't get carried away, understand you need food to survive and undereating is just as unhealthy as overeating. Know when to stop, underweight is harmful too. Get active, eat well and stay consistent.
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