Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Splicing the Vice: Three Months into my Health Regime
The 2nd of August 2011 marked three months of my fitness regime (regime being closely related to the word regimented which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) which is, hopefully, also a permanent lifestyle change. So, here’s why I did it, what I’ve done and the results of doing it. It may be of use to someone who wants to make healthy changes without going on a diet because, let’s face it, diets are faulty (more of that later.)
When I lived in London
I was three stone lighter. I may have been in my twenties but I also made healthier choices. I cycled to work and back – a ten mile round trip – I sometimes swam at the work swimming pool before the working day started too, or after the working day had ended. In a way, it was convenient that I lived far enough away from work to get in a good, sweaty bike ride but not so far that it knackered me out. I was also lucky to have a free pool at work. Additionally, I hardly ever drank. I would have a few glasses of wine, perhaps once a fortnight. I was too busy doing stuff like going to the theatre. Or cycling places, sober. I ate what I wanted but I was a pescetarian. And I didn’t get regular ‘hangover hungry.’
When I moved to Manchester
I put on three stone and entered my thirties. I also moved to the city centre, so getting to work was a ten minute leisurely walk not a half hour furious cycle. I may have been swimming twice a week but, being less fit altogether then, I went slowly and probably burnt fewer calories. I thought becoming rotund was part of the midi-age deal. Only, I was (and still am )33. My family were starting to comment on my appearance. “Are you keeping up with your swimming, dear?” “How much have you been drinking lately?” Well, I had been drinking more since moving to Manchester. I could blame it on the boozey culture in the city centre but, actually, most of my friends are light drinkers these days and I seemed to have to seek out the good time guys, more and more. Alcohol does cause sufficient weight gain, as well as bloating – particularly in the face. My eyes were starting to disappear behind a bruiserish brow, my chins were multiplying and I was getting the kind of beer belly I associate with men who play darts to escape their wives. The thing with alcohol is not just the extra calories – like 800 per bottle of wine – but also the fact that the body converts it into the chemical acetate, which is notoriously difficult to burn off. Once the body is trying to metabolise acetate, it puts everything else on hold, so any fat you may have consumed in the day through eating will simply get stored. There is also the associated drink related eating: peeling open foil bumper bags of kettle chips to put on the pub table for sharing. We could get through a few of these throughout the night. This would possibly be followed by a casual kebab or pizza to take home to consume before bed. Even worse, the next day, the hangover hungry would require a fry up or more cheesy stodge based products, something sugary, topped off with a few hairs of the dog. The following day bar one, my stomach seemed to have expanded so the hangover treats could subside into the following week. Oh, and I never really craved a jog or a long walk the day of a hangover. Sometimes hanging out the washing seemed to take up my last dregs of damaged energy.
I wore my stretchy brown polka dot dress to my niece’s 3rd birthday party in May and my brother snapped me when he was playing with my new camera. I was utterly shocked when I found the photos. I looked five months pregnant, had two chins too many and little dots where my eyes should be. More than this, my brother also sat me down with concern on his face and asked me if I wanted to join him on his cycling regime; he was training to cycle from Manchester to Lourdes in eight days to raise money for charity. I said I’d try but I fancied taking up running; it’s cheap and I’d found in the past that it helps work out frustrations. I was between jobs and my brother pointed out that I may as well get focused on getting fit – and toned as he put it - as it is an opportunity which isn’t so readily available to full time workers. It was a polite way of telling me I really needed to tackle my lifestyle choices and subsequent weight gain.
Here is where you won’t find a photo of me wearing my polka dot ‘maternity’ dress.
Choice of health regime
– not diets
So, like most gals, unfortunately, I have been on diets of various kinds throughout my life, with the most successful being those which simply encourage general calorie control – although sometimes calories are called ‘points’. I was fairly slim as a teen but when I got into drinking and had a spot of glandular fever, I seemed to start the struggle with weight. I fluctuated within the realms of about a two stone surplus throughout my twenties but it seemed to stabilise at a good weight for me in my mid to late twenties – before I moved to Manchester and piled on the pounds, as they say. The last diet I went on aged 31 I had lost some weight but at a much slower pace than I had previously, even though it was the same diet. I gave up when I got some bad family news which seemed to make my calorie counting look trivial and egocentric. Since this last attempt at dieting, I got fatter than ever. The thing with diets is they only work as a temporary measure. You’re fat, you go on a diet and lose weight, you stop the diet, you get fat again. Simples. Additionally, the more you diet over the years, the more often you starve your body of calories so the more often your metabolism slows as the body goes into starvation mode. I guess this has a knock on effect so that the metabolism just keeps getting slower the more you diet. And, importantly, when you lose weight you tend to lose muscle mass. Muscles use a lot of energy, which is one reason why men are allowed more calories per day to maintain their overall weight. The more muscle you have, the more you burn calories. By yo yo dieting over the years, it’s likely your muscles are declining, along with your resting metabolic rate.
Diets weren’t an option. I just needed to address what was really making me fat in terms of what I was consuming regularly. Did I have an Achilles’ heel? I certainly did. There were things which I was eating which were not necessary food items, providing no nutrition. These were, simply:
Alcoholic drinks (mainly wine) and Desserts/ sweet snacks (cake, biscuits, chocolate, but mainly cake).
I was also consuming a lot of apple juice which I’ve now replaced with water and a squeeze of lemon for the vitamin C, although this is quite a minor change. So I made the decision to cut out all alcohol – which my brother had totalled up for me to about a shocking 3,500 calories a week, and all desserts, which added on about the same again (the average dessert is about 500 calories), amounting to 7000 unnecessary calories a week. If I really feel I need it, I now eat dried fruit or just fruit for a sweet fix but, the main thing for me was to endeavour to untrain my ‘sweet tooth’.
- Carry on as usual. Eat food because it fills you up and provides nutrition.
So I cut out alcohol and I cut out sweet things. I’ve kept everything else the same. I still eat chips and pizza and crisps when I want to (and I would still eat burgers, steak and chorizo if I hadn’t have become a Pescetarian again earlier this year – for ethical reasons). I’ve never eaten these things every day so I don’t see why I should go to the extreme of giving them up. I have always eaten vegetables and fruit, cooked with olive oil and opted for wholemeal rice/bread/pasta as much as possible (and it isn’t really always possible without becoming a sociopathic food bore.) So I’m not ‘on a diet’ that I can’t maintain. At least I hope not. I hope I can keep alcohol and desserts at bay forever, although when I’ve got to a good shape I might integrate desserts back as a weekly treat and see if I can maintain the same weight. However, as it is, I don’t feel I am depriving myself of anything. I’ve got used to not having desserts or sweet snacks and I no longer really see the point of getting drunk. I don’t let myself go hungry and I can still eat out and continue to eat everything (as a pescetarian would) - except I decline on the desserts, which is acceptable behaviour, really.
- Don’t carry on as usual. Run for it.
Exercise is a different ball game (sorry!) So I used to swim maybe twice a week but it wasn’t doing much, so I decided to rev things up a bit. I decided to start running. It’s different to walking because every time your feet hit the ground, they take three times your body weight because the force is higher. That’s why slow jogging seems harder than power walking. At first, I decided to run twice a week and swim or cycle once as well but after a few weeks, I thought, why not exercise every day or for five out of seven, even if only for half an hour each time? I seem to fit it in most week days, even if it means going out for a run at half ten at night. In fact, being a night owl, I have more energy and can go further at that time. And it’s cooler (temperature wise). My new fitness regime involves running three times a week, and then trying to do two other types of exercise which work me into a sweat, such as a 40 minute swim, a 40+ min bike ride or an all afternoon hike somewhere hilly (see ‘countryside’).
- Give yourself a lift.
I took up weight training, thanks to my friend and former flatmate who’s a wrestler and who has lent me her weights and given me some tips. I tend to do this every other night and especially on days when I don’t get in any aerobic exercise. I find that it seems to increase my appetite more than cardiovascular exercise does, which makes sense, if building muscle takes a lot of energy. I do medium weights (which for me is currently 5 kilos but has gone up from 3). I do seven reps in three sets per exercise, including bicep curls and various tricep strengthening exercises. Some people say that to tone up, you need to do more reps on a lighter weight otherwise you get bulky but I’ve read that doing medium weights/reps has a similar toning effect to light weights with more reps. However, do less than six reps on a weight where you can’t do any more and it’s possible you could end up looking like a gladiator.
Now is sooner than you think
So the results of my reduced calorific intake and my new fitness regime so far? I’m going to list them just because there is enough of them to form a list.
- I am fitter. It takes less to get me out of breath. I no longer feel a sense of dread spread over me when a friend suggests we go for a walk. I can run twenty times further than I could when I started. However, I was virtually lame when I began, but it’s still nice to start finding yourself getting a bit further along the track or chosen circuit without resorting to walking. Walking becomes awfully tedious. I also find myself jogging up the stairs sometimes. I can cycle five or ten miles without worrying I can’t take the distance. When I first got on the bike after several years off it, I could only go about a mile before panting and developing serious groin pain afterwards. It’s convenient to be able to get to places more quickly and without relying on transport.
- I look better according to friends and family. Compliments include: my eyes look bigger, my jaw is more defined, my skin looks clear and fresh, my hair is silkier, I have got my waistline back (although there’s more where that came from), I look thinner, my thighs are trimmer, my thighs are firm to touch, my calves are more shapely, my stomach has ‘gone down,’ my shoulders are more defined, I look really well. This was all very nice to hear.
- My clothes are looser, including, trousers, cardigans and jackets. I decided not to weigh myself this time. Mainly, because I’m not on a diet where I’m monitoring my weight and aiming to get to a certain lightness before I finish the diet and resume with normal eating (see above). Also, because weight on the scales is not reliable if you’re exercising a lot and building muscle. It took about a month before my jeans felt not as snug and it took another month on from that before I would start to say they felt loose. However, even after one week of the new regime, I could see some of the puffy flab starting to evaporate from my face – which was reassuring.
- I can feel bones which I had forgotten were there. They may not be visible to other people but I can tell through touch that there’s less flab around them. In particular, my collar bone and ribs and hip bones when I lie down.
- I’ve dropped nearly two dress sizes, from an 18 to a 14 (depending) so I can fit into old favourite clothes. I’m aiming to get to a 12 – which is a pretty good size on my sturdy frame.
- Confidence - I no longer feel like the fat person. I think to myself, yeah, I don’t look too bad. I should be able to attract people. I’m not slim but I don’t feel like I stick out so glaringly when around thin friends, or that I’m expected to be the bubbly one because that’s all I have to offer. I didn’t consciously realise how much being fat was affecting me in my work and love life until I got into better shape.
- My mood and appetite is more even since giving up alcohol and sugar. I’ve already mentioned that I don’t get hangover hungry any more, or the desire to keep one hand to the crisp packet whilst drinking (soda water doesn’t seem to warrant that as much as wine/beer). I used to get hungry in the afternoon and crave sugar. After about a week of giving up sugary foods (I still sometimes have a bit of accidental sugar or the odd scone – which isn’t as sugary as sponge), my withdrawal symptoms, which included irritability and cravings, subsided. Surprisingly, so did my appetite. I think I used to get confused between hunger and sugar addiction replenishment. I am now more aware of when I actually am hungry, rather than when I crave a sugar or refined carb fix. I have found myself waiting until I am truly hungry, before considering eating. It’s not even a conscious thing; it just seems to be what I do naturally these days. Similarly, if someone puts a big plate of food in front of me and I’m not hungry enough to eat it all, I will just eat enough to fill me. I always found sugar comforting so I guess by eliminating my comfort food (and drinks), I’ve eradicated my comfort eating too. I don’t get hypoglycaemia any more; I used to frequently get the shakes when my sugar was low. I’m not diabetic but since I was about eleven I’ve been getting these hypoglycaemic fits. But then I’ve always had a sweet tooth. When I get low blood sugar, it can affect my mood a little. And when I’m craving sugar, I would feel tired and groggy and sometimes irritable. So now I feel more even, or even wholesome.
- I don’t have to worry about whether I made a fool of myself the night before in person or on twitter when I had consumed a few drinks too many. I can also judge when is a good time to go home from the pub, e.g. when everyone is so bladdered they keep repeating themselves, staring fruitlessly into the equidistance and forgetting to swallow.
- I have more money. Actually, I don’t. But I definitely would have if I had been earning money during this period. Soda water is usually free and diet coke tends to be pretty cheap, especially if it’s the pub - on tap - stuff.
- I have more time. It’s the time I formerly dedicated to hangovers. I seem to spend more time walking in the countryside. This is a wholesome thing to do and has had a knock on effect on my overall lifestyle and psyche.
I hope to continue with my fitness regime and the no alcohol/desserts thing, and then when I feel I’ve got into a shape with which I’m happy, I might integrate treats. I love exercise because it makes me feel so alive – which sounds ridiculously trite - but then it does make the body release endorphins. I look forward to running at the end of the day, clearing my head, sweating out the adrenalin then feeling calmer and fulfilled afterwards. I don’t desire alcohol any more. If I think about it, it doesn’t really work to make me feel better, just groggier and less able to do things. Alcohol is, at best, escapism and at worst, self destruction. Exercise is my new vice but I don’t use it to blot out life, I do it to enhance what I have in life.
Tips Okay, so I know I’m not a pro or a size zero but I decided to write this post to mark my three month health regime anniversary, and if it helps anyone else in any way, then all the better. Here’s some tidbits for healthy weight loss I’ve learnt from being an adult serial dieter, a fitness newcomer, from doing general internet based research over the years and through my own experience.
- Reduce alcohol intake because it adds calories and makes it harder to burn off fat. Period.
- Reduce sugar because it adds calories and increases cravings for more sugar and refined carbs.
- Do weight training – particularly if you have been a serial dieter because your muscle mass will have declined over the years – it boosts your metabolism as well as toning your body and making you stronger.
- Opt for intensive cardio workout like running, spinning, zumba or fast swimming and cycling. The latter two are good if you have weak joints or arthritis because they are not weight bearing. Keep going until you can go no more as this will burn more calories and help you to improve. Each time you exercise, try to up it a little bit.
- Go walking but don’t include it as a workout. See it as a relaxing extra – unless it’s an all dayer.
- If you’re a runner and you’re feeling under the weather, or just starting out, then make yourself go for a walk but put on your running shoes. Once you’re walking you may find the energy to run parts of the walk anyway.
- Acknowledge your vice then cut it out. If you can learn to not consume the things which are high in calories and which you don’t need nutritionally, then you don’t need to go on a diet and cut everything down and become thoroughly miserable and anti-social. Work out what you’re eating daily which is adding 300 plus calories to your day, then stop eating it, forever.
- Don’t replace the high calorie foods/drinks with similarly high calorie stuff. If you cut out alcohol then replace it with soda water or diet cola (although this has other health issues attached to it), rather than fruit juice – which has a similar calorific content to alcohol. I cut out desserts. I have replaced it with fruit but only if I get hungry. Although fruit has calories, one piece is still significantly less than a piece of cake and a biscuit. I wouldn’t have a big fruit salad with six chopped up pieces of fruit in it as one dessert.
- Eat at least five fruit and veg a day. As well as endless nutritional benefits, they are a source of fibre and can help to keep you regular, e.g. lighter.
- Don’t weigh yourself. It can be inaccurate, counter productive, make you miserable, and it suggests that your changes are temporary. It’s better to have a goal in the form of an expensive item of clothing in mind – which you want to fit into permanently. Mine is a fitted, leather bomber jacket (the plan is to get one some time in autumn but who knows).
- Do exercise which you enjoy – or at least bear - and which you can realistically fit into your lifestyle. Don’t listen to other people if you’re happy with your own regime and progress.
- ▼ 2011 (29)