Friday, 21 August 2009

My weight loss stories

As with most people who are overweight, I have been successful in the past at losing weight. Sometimes these periods have been a few months and sometimes longer.

So I thought I'd share with you some of my weight loss stories and then try to work out what made them successful and what I can learn from them.

Teenage weight loss

When I was 17 years old, I was already rather overweight. I can't remember my exact weight now, but it was certainly over 15 stone (210 pounds, 95kg). I had always been fatter than the other kids even though I was fairly active. At the time, British schools were good at making sure you had one swimming session, one PE (physical education) session, and one games session (anything from rugby to athletics) per week. On top of that, there were many after school clubs which I took part in such as football and basketball. Unfortunately, however, my diet was dreadful. The food at school didn't help (way too much fried and processed food), but I supplemented that at home with sweets and biscuits...

Anyway, I left school when I was 17 and had a "year out" between school and going to university. The first half of my year out was rather dull. I was too young to get a visa to work abroad (most countries require you to be 18) so I worked in a book warehouse. I'm not sure what it was, but I also decided that I'd make an effort to lose weight too. So my mother was helpful in making slightly smaller dinners, and I'd make sure that my packed lunch was also smaller. I still remember that the typical lunch was two slices of wholemeal bread with some ham between, and perhaps a bit of pickle. No butter.

Over those 6 months I lost around 3 stones (42 pounds, 19kg), which I think was pretty successful, and I largely kept it off for another three years. So what made it so successful - a couple of things I think:

  • Firstly, I was always active - working in the warehouse I was always on my feet, pushing trolleys, and lifting large packs of books.
  • Secondly, I was eating less - it wasn't just having the small dinners and lunches, but also the fact that while I was working it was not possible to snack.
  • Thirdly, other people knew what I was doing. I think it was only my parents, but they were very supportive and helped me along the way.

The reason I put the weight back on? Actually it was when I was playing American Football at university and I simply needed more mass. So a lot of training and a lot of eating later, I'd regained almost every pound back (although admittedly much more muscle than before).

Break-ups are great for weight loss

Fast forward around a decade, and we get to the next time I was able to shed a lot of weight.

Since I left university, my weight gradually crept up from 210 pounds/95kg to more like 230 pounds/104kg. But that hid the fact that most of the additional weight was coming from fat and not muscle.

Anyway, towards the end of 2003, I had a rather bad break-up where the woman I was living with was cheating on me with someone I thought of as a friend. Before I found out that he was the reason she'd packed her things and left while I was on a business trip overseas, I even called him to ask for some advice!!

Anyway, needless to say I was feeling a little low and my appetite was absolutely shot. When I'd visit my parents and they'd cook my favourite Sunday roast, they'd only put a little on my plate because they knew I was having trouble eating, but I'd still not be able to finish it.

At the same time, I found it difficult to concentrate at work, so twice a day I'd need to leave my desk and go for a 15-20 minute walk to clear my head and refocus.

In less than 2 months, I lost over 28 pounds/12kg.

Getting into running

Since the break-up, I'd had a lot of fun and dated a lot of girls, which also resulted in a lot of restaurants and bars etc. And the weight came back on...

So the third time I successfully lost weight coincided with the time I decided I was going to start running. This was towards the end of 2004.

Along with running, I also started making healthier food choices, and I once again lost just over 25 lbs/10kg in around 2 or 3 months.

At the end of 2004, however, I met the woman who was to become my wife - and we ended up going to lots of lovely restaurants, not working out as much as we used to before (despite actually doing a few duathlons that year) and over 2005 I'd put most of the weight back on again...


So what does this tell me?

Firstly, that whenever I've lost weight I've put it back on again. However, each time I've lost weight and gained weight, there have been rather large life changes going on at the same time. I can't imagine similar changes going on for the next few years, so I'm confident that if I lose weight now I'll be able to keep it off.

Secondly, I just ate a huge amount less when I lost weight. Now I know there are lots of people who will be screaming phrases like "starvation mode" and "metabolic slowdown" if I don't eat six meals a day, but I found that it worked.

Thirdly, each time I was also very active - either doing a manual job or exercising in some other way.

So that is going to be my plan of attack - substantial calorie restriction coupled with exercise.

And before a doubter says "it'll never work" or "you'll faint in your workouts" or "you'll lose more muscle than fat", I've got a secret to tell you.

I've started already.

I've lost more weight in the last two weeks than I've been able to shift since 2004, and I'm still going.

I don't feel drained in workouts.

I don't feel drained at work - quite the opposite in fact.

And my body shape shows that I'm clearly losing more fat than muscle.

I'll give it another week before exposing my full stats to you, but if you're interested in knowing the plans I'm following, then here they are:

My weight loss diet plan

My fitness plan

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Weight loss in the media... lies and misunderstanding

Over the last few weeks, it has struck me just how much BS is written in the newspapers and magazines about health, fitness and fat loss which is either misleading or just plain wrong.

Here are a couple of examples:

The health benefits of sailing

sailing health benefits

And here is the quote...

"No wonder sailing burns 200 calories an hour. I can vouch its a great arm- and tummy-toner too, but so much fun it doesn't feel like exercise"

I'm staggered by the naivete of this particular reporter. She proudly exclaims the benefits of sailing for fat loss - after all it burns a massive 200 calories per hour!! Does she not realise how little that is? Does she not realise that the pre-made sandwich she may eat for lunch would still not have been burned off after 2 or 3 hours of sailing? The other thing to annoy me about the article is actually nothing to do with fat loss but about sailing. I used to sail a lot as a teenager, was an active competitor and for six months was a professional instructor, so I know what I'm talking about when I say that sailing truly rocks! The fact that she didn't get this, or ar least didn't write about the magic of sailing, was disappointing...

Orlistat (or Alli or Xenical) test in Men's Health

On to the second publication which will get a thumbs-down - and that publication is Men's Health. The author of the piece decided to test a fat loss drug marketed in the UK as Alli (and in other places as Xenical). Its real name is Orlistat and it has been available on prescription in the UK for a while and has just been released as an over the counter product which does not require a prescription. I'm sure that in other countries it has been freely available for some time.

The way it works is to bind with fat in the stomach so that some of the fat can't be metabolised and therefore can't find its way onto your waistline. Anyway the author put himself on a one month course of the drug. The end result - he actually weighed a little more than when he started, but his body fat percentage had decreased by 4%. He also took daily photos which showed virtually no change in his body shape.

What would you infer from these stats? Especially if I told you the following:

  1. He said he didn't change his gym routine

  2. He said he didn't eat differently, although he did admit to devouring a whole block of cheese at one sitting (over 400g calories and 35g of fat per 100g - and it sounded like he ate way more than 100g) to test out whether the product was working

  3. He didn't think his bodyshape changed over the period of the trial (although his girlfriend encouraged him that it had)

  4. And as I've said before, the daily photos he took over the month show no change in body composition (at least to my eyes) whatsoever

So, what do the stats tell you? Personally, to me it would just show the vast margin of error which exists in body fat percentage readings done using the typical bio-impedance scales.

He, however, had a different interpretation - he used them to say he had lost 3kg of fat, despite eating blocks of cheese, not working out any more, and crucially no change in weight. The only way he could be right would be if he had put on a stack of muscle or for some reason was holding way more water in the second weighing. But I think my explanation is far more likely to be correct, particularly given my experience with fat measuring scales!

These journalists should know better! Especially the reporter from Men's Health! I'm cancelling my subscription...

Image attribution: Passing dinghys by garryknight

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Simple weight loss rules

It seems that Mad TV has beaten me to finding the secret of weight loss.

Please view this video for the two simple things you need to do to lose weight...