I’m 41 today. We won’t even go ‘there’, not right now, it’s still too raw. I used to love maths at school, but numbers and I are falling out more and more with every year that passes….sigh. Today also marks the end of the mission to shed some poundage, although the target hasn’t been anywhere near fulfilled. After motoring along for the first six months, I hit the inevitable plateau harder than a bullet into a porn star’s bosom. Instead of shedding 42lbs, it’s only 24lbs, but I’m not disheartened.
This time last year, the idea of me being able to shift anything at all, would have been laughable. I have no patience, as most people will tell you, so to think that I actually had to work for something and invest time and energy into it…well, it just wasn’t going to happen, was it? Except it did. OK, so it wasn’t three stone, it was only about one and three quarters (so far), but I still feel a huge sense of achievement, mainly because I did ‘something’. And offloading the pesky extra 18lbs should be do-able by Christmas. If I can achieve that, then it’ll be three stone in 15 months, averaging around 1.5lbs a week, which is the only realistic way to lose weight and keep it off.
Aside from the boring number crunching, it’s the way I feel that’s a whole lot different. I still have a backside the size of a Luxembourg, but I’m now able to get into clothes that have been collecting pension cheques in my wardrobe for the last ten years. Everyone’s been shopping with people who have bought stuff and said “oh I’ll slim into it…”, but here’s the thing – it’s not always a pipe dream. The sheer joy of being able to wear something you never thought you’d have a cat in hell’s chance of getting into, cannot be underestimated. I’d even go so far as to say it’s better than cheese. And, once you get a taste of that new confidence drug, you want more…and more. There’s no better incentive. So, I may have fallen short of the target, but I look on it as simply a first draft of the Grand Plan. Like all scripts, it’s never the first one you end up going with. So Draft 2 becomes ‘The Christmas Plan’, and I know it’s achievable.
The biggest obstacle for anybody who wants to lose weight, is a lack of motivation. Not the bar of chocolate, not the pint of lager, not the “oh I can’t have any fun because I’m on a diet” rubbish. It’s not having the focus. Like anything in life, if you really want it, then go out and get it. It really is that easy. Procrastination, distraction, and lots of other -tions, I’m queen of all of them. All I’m saying is, if I can do it, then seriously, anybody can.
10 Valuable Lessons Learned
So it’s been nearly 11 months since I started the ‘thing’, and I’ve learned an infinite amount of stuff. Obviously, I want to share this with anybody who’s still awake at this point.
1. ‘Diet’ is a dirty word
Technically, we’re all “on a diet”, every day of our lives. A diet is simply what we eat and drink to stay alive. A koala’s diet is eucalyptus leaves, a panda’s diet is bamboo, a human being’s diet is anything and everything in varying quantities. But in today’s society, the word ‘diet’ is almost a swear word. Saying it out loud and in public makes people turn around and stare at you in that pitying “oh she doesn’t know what she’s saying” type way, like you’ve got some form of fat-burning Tourettes.
My dad hates the word. Every time it’s mentioned, he screws up his face, almost spits involuntarily, and reaches for a can of Boddington’s. Dad doesn’t believe in calories, he thinks they’re a myth, invented by a cult of women to stop blokes from having any kind of fun at all. Dad thinks that any meal without meat is ‘suspect’, and that drinking water is the same thing as drinking cyanide, ie. it’ll kill you. It was hard to stick to my daily calorie intake when I was round at ‘The Olds’, in part because mum’s such a great cook, but also because Dad couldn’t keep quiet about what a “a load of bloody rubbish” the concept of losing weight was.
But it’s not just the ingrained opinions of Victorian fathers that can affect your motivation. When you say ‘diet’ to people, it conjures up images of lettuce leaves, celery shakes and gastric bands. The worst thing that can happen, especially around friends and family, is that whenever you eat in their presence, and I mean eat anything, someone will say “oh, I thought you were on a diet…”, as though I should have some electronic tag around my neck that beeps every time I ingest nourishment.
So, to me, ‘diet’ is a word that’s just as offensive as ‘f**k’, ‘c**t” and ‘Manchester Utd’. It’s negative, it’s oppressive, it’s a waste of oxygen even saying it. It puts mental restrictions upon you and your motivation. So stop using it.
2. Eat what you like
“Eat this, eat that, high carb, low carb, high protein, low protein, green plan, red plan, all-veg, no-veg, trans-fats, sat-fats, sat nav, d-fens, rom-com etc etc….”. Don’t listen to any of it.
The ‘plan’ that I was on, was simple calorie counting. That’s science, that’s maths, it’s nothing hippy or new age or ‘suspect’. Eat fewer calories than you use up. That’s it. And here’s the best bit – it doesn’t matter what you eat. As long as you stay under the number of calories per day, you will lose weight. Yes, I was quite strict the first few months, and cut out cheese, bread, pasta etc, but really it was just a case of finding out which foods contained which calories, and then using a calculator. Luckily, I don’t have a sweet tooth, so chocolate, desserts, snacky things…not really a problem to cut out as I don’t eat them anyway. Roasted, salted pistachio nuts, however…totally different story.
But you really can eat what you like – cheese, crisps, lasagne, Sunday dinner…it doesn’t matter what you eat, it’s about numbers. Just remember that, if you wolf down a multi-pack of pickled onion Monster Munch while you’re waiting for the bus, then you’re not allowed to eat anything until a week on Thursday.
Once I’d educated myself on how many calories there were in certain foods (you would be surprised, I’m telling you…), it was easy to plan each day’s meals and stay on target. Which leads to the next point…
3. Plan your meals!
One of the hardest things for anyone wanting to lose weight, is the fear of getting hungry. As you go, your stomach will shrink so you don’t need as much food to feel full. But planning your meals is also going to help you stay on track, and prevent the killer ‘munchies’ from attacking. You’re only going to digress from your mission, if you suddenly find the cupboards bare.
A few weeks into my mission, I’d realised that fruit and yoghurt was a sufficiently filling breakfast and lunch, so I’d stock up accordingly. Similarly, ingredients for the now-famous Sweet Chilli Chicken Stir Fry, were bought in bulk, so I was never caught on the hop. A real killer, is when you run out of stuff, and you have to go shopping while you’re hungry. That can only ever lead to one thing – cheese on toast. By planning your week and making sure you have everything you need, you’ll avoid trolley guilt, and you’ll also stop thinking about food as much – because the decisions about what you’re eating that day have already been made.
4. Fruit, fruit, fruit
It’s common sense, really, but still worth mentioning. Citrus fruit is one of nature’s cure-alls. It’s good for you in so many ways, and it’s delicious to boot. It’s also very low in calories, unlike non-citrus fruits such as bananas (110kcal), avocados (millions) etc, which aren’t great if you’re watching your weight. Two main tips come to mind – first, you don’t have to eat fresh fruit, which is expensive and doesn’t have a long shelf life. I’m on a budget, a very strict one, so it’s not always viable for me to go out every day and buy fresh strawberries, grapes, raspberries, blueberries etc. Have you seen the price of fresh fruit? It’s astronomical. So don’t be snobby about tinned fruit. Shop about and you’ll find large tins of peaches, pineapple, grapefruit etc, for a fraction of the price of fresh. Just make sure it’s tinned in juice, NOT syrup. Buying fruit stored in syrup is like buying a dustbin of Tate & Lyle and diving into it. I have a cupboard full of tinned fruit and it’s just as nice as the fresh stuff – sometimes nicer, because it’s canned at the source, whereas fresh fruit can be a day old by the time you come to buy it. Plus I get a ‘free’ glass of fruit juice every time I open a can.
The second point about eating as much fruit as possible, is always brush your teeth as soon as you can afterwards. Citric acid is about as deadly for your teeth as battery acid would be for your insides. As soon as you bite into an apple, your enamel is eroding. Not that I want to frighten you, or anything…
5. Avoid bread
OK, so I lied about “eat what you like”. Bread is a killer. It’s delicious, filling, and it will also sit inside your gut for as long as it can, adding the pounds to your waistline and derriere. There will always be lucky people for whom bread makes no difference, but in the main, it’s the No.1 party pooper when it comes to losing weight, and that’s mainly because ‘modern bread’ has so much s**t in it. It’s not like the olden days – wholesome, comforting goodness. Modern bread has a shedload of rubbish in it, which is contributing to the massive global rise in conditions like IBS, Celiac disease and gluten-intolerance. Obviously, I could make my own bread and reap the constitutional benefits but, even more obviously, that would require effort on my part, so it’s clearly a non-starter.
About two months into the mission, I’d been off the bread, and I’d noticed the difference immediately. On those few occasions when I did have a sandwich, the impact was startling. My belly would distend, the bread wouldn’t digest, and I would feel lethargic and heavy. I still loved the stuff, though, so it was difficult to never have any, but on a personal level, I know that bread is one of my ‘things’ that I have to watch carefully. If you can find a bread substitute, it will make a huge difference to your goal.
Having said all that, I’m bound to fill my face with the stuff in a very nice French restaurant later on today…
6. Hunger isn’t necessarily hunger
You’ve got hunger pangs, but you’ve only just eaten, or you’re not due to eat for a while. So why are you hungry? Well, chances are you’re not. That empty, groaning void in your belly is often a sign of dehydration, not hunger. Next time it happens, drink a glass of water/juice/whatever, and you’ll probably find the ‘hunger’ disappears. None of us drink enough fluid. When they say “drink 8 glasses of water a day”, that doesn’t mean it has to be just water. It can be tea, coffee, fruit juice…just 8 glasses of water-heavy stuff. It’s great for your skin, hair and nails, and you won’t feel hungry…
7. Losing weight doesn’t have to mean exercise
Obviously, if you can incorporate exercise into your mission, then great. But one of the main reasons I’ve always hated ‘dieting’ in the past, is the requirement to also throw myself around a gym twice a week, being miserable for hours on end. I’ll say it out loud – I hate exercise. Loathe it, despise it, wouldn’t put it out if it was on fire etc… Having been a very sporty person at school (I know, I know…), I nevertheless cannot stand gyms or, worse, exercise classes. I’ve joined – and left – so many bloody leisure centres, I could open a locker key museum. It’s true that I may have reached my 42lbs target had I also been exercising regularly, but the point is, it isn’t the law that you have to exercise if you want to lose weight. If you hate it as much as I do, then don’t worry. So every time one of those do-gooders says to you “if you want to lose weight, you need to join a gym”, don’t be afraid to punch them in the face. It’s exercise, after all. Call it a bicep curl. Ten reps. Rest and repeat…
8. Don’t beat yourself up every time you fall off the wagon
If I did that, I’d be in A&E every Sunday morning. In the beginning, I’d hate myself every time I went out, especially to the game, because those days would usually end up in the chippy and, worse, karaoke. But whilst it’s true that a month’s hard work can be undone in just one night on the tiles, it’s pointless to get upset about it. It’s going to happen, several times. Accept it, and don’t worry. All you have to do, is maybe stay 100-200 calories under your daily allowance, so you have a ‘bank’ to spend when you go out. It doesn’t mean you should go crazy, but having a few pints, or a bottle of vodka, in the King Charles every other Saturday, is not the end of the world, even if it feels like it the morning after.
Despite my aversion to physical activity, I do like to walk, as long as I have my tunes. When I’m writing, I often reach creative impasses (impass-i?) which can only be resolved one of two ways – a) have a hot bath and stay there deep in contemplation until the water goes cold, or b) go for a very long walk. I daydream when I walk, which explains the number of times I’ve nearly been run over. Walking to music is the best way of ironing out storyline problems or character blips, and it also burns calories and gets the old heart pumping. I don’t get out to walk as often as I’d like, mainly because I live in Everton and it’s a shithole. But when I ‘go off on one’, I can lose myself for hours, which earns me extra calories to spend in the chippy on matchday.
10. Keep a diary
I’ve kept a diary since I was about 10, so this is a no-brainer for me. But it does help to write down a few notes about your day, so you can track patterns of behaviour or just generally have a record of how you’re feeling. Just like we forget our dreams within ten minutes of waking, it’s easy for us to forget how we ‘feel’ from day to day, as we get distracted with the now and erase all the ex-nows from our brains. If you keep notes of your days (your thoughts don’t necessarily have to be about food or your mission), then you become more aware of yourself, of who you are and, more importantly, where you want to be.
It’s also a good idea to join up to one of those online calorie counter websites for the first few months of your mission, so you can keep a detailed track of what you’re eating and drinking. Actually seeing the total sum of your day’s calories in tables, graphs and other visual statistics, can give a massive boost to your motivation. Record, record, record…
So, there won’t be any more diet updates between now and Christmas, unless I happen to lose two stone down a drain one day. Instead, the usual diatribes may appear here every week or so, depending on who’s pissed me off, but for now the priority is to get out and enjoy that there sunshine.
This lunchtime, I’m meeting The Olds to amble around our city’s majestic Georgian Quarter, and maybe, just maybe, take in a few hostelries along the way. One of our regular bistro haunts will then be calling us around 5pm, when everything I just espoused above will be shot down in flames as we indulge in the devil’s deal of “two courses and bottle of wine each for £16″.
That’s 8 glasses of water-based fluid, right?
The Stats Bit:
Month 1: 8.75lbs
Month 2: 5.25lbs
Month 3: 1lb
Month 4: 0.5lbs
Month 5: 3lbs
Month 6: 1.5lbs
Month 7: 0lbs
Month 8: 0lbs
Month 9 – 2lbs
Month 10 – plus 1.25lbs
Month 11 – 3.25lbs
Total after 315 days: 24lbs (Target: 42lbs, Shortfall: 18lbs)
New Target – 18lbs by Christmas Day 2013.