El secreto para terminar bien

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My Weight Loss Journey

During all the years of adulthood there were many failed diets and fads, the rise and fall of exercise routines and each one created a whole heap of negativity and feeling of a hopeless cause.

The first step in the journey was upon moving to the UK I had a desire to quit smoking. It was a terrible habit that I disliked, why was I doing it? Habit of course, every time I had a coffee, everytime after a meal there was that urge. By removing these urges over time through the use of a supplement (Nicotine Vapers) I learned that I had the power to take a problem and find the solution that will work for me.

I found out that the brain could be tricked into thinking I was letting it have what I want — by “smoking” — but at the same time reducing the nicotine I was actually consuming very slowly and subtly. After several months, I was vaping 0mg and only doing the actual habit of smoking without the chemical addiction. Still going outside with the boys to “smoke” but I only doing it for the part I actually liked, the break and social interaction.

The next step was also quite early on. Coke’s once dominant position was fading, the majority of people now understood just how bad real coke is for you and were seeking replacements. Intermittently, I started to buy Coke Zero instead of Coke. Other times it would be Orange Juice, or Pepsi Max, but I wouldn’t completely avoid Coke altogether. I still drank coke from time to time, but slowly but surely I understood that I wanted to end up avoiding drinking normal coke as much as I could.

Once I had stopped completely, something great happened. I forgot what real coke actually tasted like. Once I had made the compromise completely, I stopped comparing the two and I only ever considered buying the sugar free version. It wasn’t “good” or “bad” it was just what I drank. This was a very tiny revelation at the time, but it made a very big difference later on.

Sometime during 2014 I weighed in at my heaviest — 133kg. I was probably heavier than this at some other previous point, but this is the highest number I ever remember and the one I use in my loss calculation when people ask “How much?”. At the time I made a conscious decision that some might find strange. To maintain my weight. I wanted to find a lifestyle where I would be around 130 kg for a long period of time, a year or two at least. I didn’t want to lose weight, or gain it, just reach a sustained period of parity and just accept it.

It was important that I made very little conscious effort during this, I didn’t diet, or change anything drastic, I just removed the moments of tremendous over indulgence that sometimes even drove me to feel sick.

After awhile of weighing myself regularly, I soon realised that if for whatever reason I did not weigh myself, that doesn’t actually stop the number from existing. This wasn’t quantum mechanics, I would be as heavy as I am regardless if I paid attention to it or not, and that it was irrelevant if I wanted to get angry that it was too high, or that I was even unhappy with it. I was who I was and that was it, I had to accept myself whether I liked it or not.

I also had the understand at this point that I simply couldn’t just eat anything I wanted. I had to have controls in place, I had to change things. I didn’t really know how, but I started researching health and food which is when the studies about fat started to point out that carbohydrates was the real issue with obesity. Another piece of study I read about was something called intermittent fasting. The idea is that our body has developed for thousands of years only eating once a day, and that the way we current eat is actually wrong. We can survive long periods of time without eating and that our bodies are much more resilient than we realise. To test this, I did several 24+ hour fasts, usually going from 7pm at dinner on a friday, and waiting until 7pm or later to have dinner on saturday. This taught me the valuable lesson of what real hunger actually feels like. Most of the time when we are “hungry” it is only a mental trigger not a physical one. Your brain thinks you should be eating around this time and sends the signals based on habits. You also can confuse thirst with hunger and this helped sort that out as well.

For two years, I did maintain my weight, and everything hit a tipping point during 2016.

One of the most important things that happened to me that made me realise how easy it is to change your diet to fit a goal was when two people got diagnosed with a disease.

The first was my mum. Although her actual diagnosis of being a Celiac was sometime before, it only really occurred to me how impactful it was when we all had a family holiday in 2016. Everywhere we went, careful forethought had to be done just in case there was no gluten free food. Snacks hidden away, airlines contacted, menu’s researched, there was a lot of planning that was involved in avoiding gluten because it is so prevalent in society.

The other important aspect of the disease was that once mum had integrated it into her life, so many other aspect improved. Less pain, loss of weight, increase in energy levels there were so many benefits that came from adjusting and maintaining her diet. Of course this was compulsory, the alternative was endless amounts of pain, this really showed me some of the positive side effects of what is usually something completely negative — a diagnosis.

Even more of an extreme change was one of my good friends, who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. After months of almost permanent fatigue, he finally had himself checked and they gave him the diagnosis. The resulting dietary and lifestyle change was astounding. He could only have 30g of any carbohydrates per day. 30g. So even root vegetables had to be managed, let alone anything like bread or rice. Anymore than this triggered extreme fatigue and the reason why he did basically nothing but sleep for 2 months. Since the change, he had seen a positive change and the message in his brain was clear; avoid feeling like that at all costs. Avoiding certain foods seemed like such a minor inconvenience when considering the consequences.

These stories, among others of weight loss gave me the perspective that what I want to do is really not very hard. I still have my health thankfully, and could really do or eat anything I want, and I should be thankful of that and it made me really understand the importance of what we eat and how it can affect us.

During and immediately after the trip, I started doing serious research into weight loss, exercise and nutrition. To try and really figure out the best way to go about it, and most importantly do it so that I can sustain it and not just give up like all the other times before.

Step 1 was making sure I know what I wanted. How much did I want to lose? 40kg and be super gym fit? 15kg and just maintain there until I reach another step? This is where one of my good friends helped. He had already lost loads of weight, probably in the range of 35 kg, and was closing in on 100kg but finding the last few kgs difficult (The plateau). I decided that I wanted to join him in this goal and push towards 100 and eventually reach double figures, probably for the first time since my early teenage years. In the end, I won, spoiler alert.

The next was to relearn the exact details of how our bodies process energy. Everyone understands the basic formula:

Energy Consumed — Energy Spent = Deficit, surplus or balanced.

However no one really looks into it any further than that. We usually tend to think we should increase our spent energy, because the last thing we want to do is “diet” in any way. Diets of the past were horrible experiences never to be repeated! To show you how pointless dieting is, remember the first thing people wanted to do when they stopped doing their diet is eat a shitload! Doesn’t really bold well for the future does it. The majority of people go through a yo-yo process of loss/gain/loss/gain and never really get a handle on it (myself included). Why was that? I looked into it and discovered the world of calorie counting and Metabolic rates.

The reason why most people yo-yo is they don’t understand their own numbers. Most underestimate how many calories are in food, and overestimate how much gets burned during exercise. Leading to simply guessing. The other important aspect of your metabolic rate is how different it is depending on who you are and what you do. Top athletes, bodybuilders and marathon runners can eat over 10,000 calories a day easily. If you or me ate that much, we would be as fat as a house. To even just maintain their bodies, people over 7 feet tall need to eat a lot more food than you or I. Finding out my own personal active and passive metabolic rates really gave me something to work with. (it was about 3000 passive and 3300 active calories at the time)

One of the next things I did was go through all the other times I have lost weight or got fit and decided to take all of the things I didn’t like doing and remove them. I had a list in my head of thing I really didn’t like, such as the idea of eating “clean”. I didn’t want to become an athlete or show off, only not as heavy as I was, so I didn’t want to go to any extreme. This included exercise, I knew that I was terrible at keeping up exercise forever, so I wanted to make all adjustments and calculations without the inclusion of any exercise. This didn’t mean I would never do any, it just means I didn’t need to do it in order to succeed. I wanted this to work long term, for the rest of my life, so I had to make sure I was happy with whatever I was doing and could still enjoy my life and food.

I have never really been that interested in my appearance to be completely honest with you. Others fretted about if their belt matched their shoes but I never understood what the fuss was about. However, another important mental change was when I realised I had to picture what the end goal of my journey might look like. One thing that living in London certainly provided was plenty of inspiration. London is a very competitive place, full of some of the world’s most intelligence and powerful people. Some live lives that we only dream about, and go on to run companies and countries, and I see these types of people every day on the way to work or at Lunchtime in the line for Pilpel, and it became a constant reminder of potential, and future goals. I had to for the first time in my life let myself be vain and really try and think about how I might improve, how I might look or even what I would wear. Most of this really happened about halfway through, but the seed was planted before I started. It is however very important you don’t get too excited too early, or set expectations too high, because it’s just another way you can let yourself down and make you feel bad for not achieving standards that are too high, even tho you actually have managed to improve. Moderation in everything as they say.

Something that really helped me hone the next part was starting a 9–5 (or 10–6) job. It made my schedule pretty much the same week after week. It also meant I could predict where I would go, and what I would eat. I realised I was having breakfast, lunch and dinner in basically the same places with some natural variation. This happened just as a result of having to go to work and didn’t actually require any effort, it was just an important part of how I began applying counting and studying my diet. Most people eat the same things really regularly. This is really handy when you are counting as once you figure something out once, you just tick a box the next time. We like to think we have a really varied diet, but during times of stress we can get lazy and go back to old favourites. This is perfectly fine as long as they are within your control.

When I started looking at my path, I wanted to make sure I had steps I could take to achieve the goal. Another weight loss myth that people are obsessed with is speed. Everyone is desperate to get their weight losing over with and just live life normally again. This again leads to yo-yo mindset of loss/gain. People actually want to show off “I lost 15 pounds(6 kg) in only a week on my detox diet” (Guy at work said to me today), yeah lets see how you go in another 6 months from now mate. Your body (depending on size) can maybe lose about 1kg of fat every week max. Anymore than this is either fluid loss, or worse muscle loss. Both are bad, fluid loss is only temporary and will be replaced, but super low calorie diets (1200 calories a day) actually just force your body to eat away at your muscles. Trying to lose 1kg of fat a week is actually extremely hard.

My first idea was 5kg every 7 weeks. From 127 to 102 was 25 kg and 5 steps. The plot was from 28/08/16 to 01/05/17 and took 35 weeks total. I calculated my target on the first day of each month and how much I had to lose per week which was between 0.68kg and 0.70kg (Which is high). It was on that day that I found a weight loss calculator and figured out my calorie goal. 2421 Calories per day. I put all of this, along with a list of all my regular and favourite foods onto a spreadsheet and printed it out and stuck it on my fridge. I officially started counting on 29th of August 2016 with a weight of 129 (bit more than the 127 I was a few days before).

With a clear daily goal in mind, I wanted to hit it, but I wasn’t really sure how just yet. At first all I did was discovery. I wanted to find out everything I usually ate and how many calories was in it before I did anything else. The first thing to go was Sweet Chilli Chicken Bento from Wasabi. I loved that shit, lunch and sometimes dinner it was great. That was until I looked up the nutrition and it was nearly 1600 calories! I choked I couldn’t believe how much that was! And I realised it was just something I couldn’t eat period. Traditional western chinese food in general is really high in calories. Still haven’t had it since. There were other things that went soon after: 1200 calories for a large burrito. 1200 calories for my subway of choice (First first assumption of 985 was very wrong). 510 for a snickers duo. 500 calories for a muffin and so on more and more stupidly expensive foods (in terms of calories) made me realise how much more food I could actually eat If I avoided those foods.

One of the most shocking was alcohol. Not only does drinking count as calories, it very quickly ads up. A pint of beer is around 200 calories! That means an average friday 5 pints was a definite no. As that is 1000 calories and would only make you want to eat stuff like kebabs. So I avoided social drinking as much as I could.

What I quickly learned was that I just simply couldn’t have everything I wanted. Compromises had to be made somewhere. If I wanted a 1000 calorie meal, I had to make a cut in another meal that day. This led to a shift in how I looked at food from emotional based decisions, to logical based decisions. This was the single greatest change I made and the reason why I knew it was going to work.

And began to work it did. Due to the early days being the largest calorie deficit (See The Plateau for details) the first few goals were actually easy! On the first of each month I wrote my actual weight next to the target on my spreadsheet. After the first few weeks of sometimes tedious counting, I one day realised how absolutely certain this weight loss was. All other times I have tried to lose weight resulted in, “I hope this works” and it wasn’t until many months after I could even tell if it did or not. This time however, I knew within a month that it was simple: If I ate less than 2400 calories per day — regardless of what type of food those calories came from — I would hit my goal of 102. It was a certainty, and made me realise just how easy this was. Even if I ate 2400 calories of chocolate it would happen. I would probably die in the process of doing that but you get the idea.

The change in how I made decisions only continued to improve, during the christmas period several budget busting dinners were had. The annual christmas party, and the annual christmas banquet blew my weekly budget out of the water. But they were just that, annual, very rare occurrences, and I knew when I went back home if I still keep on under 2400 per day, I would still lose the weight. What I did outside of my normal weekly life was not really relevant if it was a rare special occasion. That didn’t mean I could gorge every weekend, as those massive meals would just put everything off by a few weeks. Therefore I wanted to avoid them as much as I could in order to reach the goal. This kind of mindset continued to shape my habits, as I removed negative habits and added positive ones.

Something that also happens to a lot of people who lose weight is they reach a plateau where despite keeping up their routine, they can’t seem to lose anymore. For me it was around 102 kg in the summer of 2017. I was around that for several months, despite keeping up (roughly) 2400 per day. After a while it dawned on me that something was wrong, the calculation of 2700 to “maintain” my weight at my target was wrong. This could be one of several things: 1, I overestimated my activity, 2, I am lying in my food and am actually eating more, or 3, My metabolism is naturally slower.

It was probably a bit of all three to be honest. It is important to understand that as you lose weight, your resting metabolic rate also reduces. So the numbers will change over time. For me, it may have looked something like this (BTW, 1kg of fat is about 7700 calories):

AMR (Active Metabolic Rate. Which is resting + estimated activity)

Initial — 130kg AMR 3250–2400 daily consumption = -850 deficit (9 days to lose 1kg of fat)

Mid — 115kg AMR 2900–2400 daily consumption = -500 deficit (18 days to lose 1kg of fat)

End — 100kg AMR 2600–2400 daily consumption = -200 deficit (40 days to lose 1kg of fat)

Example graph of the decline in passive Expenditure

These numbers aren’t exact, but you get the picture. The closer you get to the goal, the harder it becomes and the longer you have to work for it. The way I made it easier was to increase my AMR by walking more and starting to exercise.

When I really got into the swing of counting more revelations started to happen. In about Nov 2016 while I was in Germany for work I was faced with a poor meal choice. McDonald’s. As I hadnt had it for years I had no reason to do the calorie research. What I found was weird. McDonald’s is not actually high in calories in terms of amounts. A big Mac meal with burger, fries and Coke zero is about 800 calories (Burger = 500, Fries = 300). Most of my dinners are about that. The problem with McDonald’s is actually the physical amount of food. It’s very calorie dense, meaning that soon after you’ve eaten you get hungry again. This taught me about calorie quality, and why eating healthier actually fills you up more than eating calorie rich foods. When you include a large portion of vegetables and greens especially, the actual amount of food you consume goes up but the calories don’t (As much). This has the added benefit of making you feel better of course!

Above is a random comparison from the internet. The important thing to notice here is the weight. The Pasta salads are expensive because of Carbs + Creamy sauces are crazy expensive. However, for around the same Calories, you can have 216g of food for the Big Mac or 350g of food for the couscous salad.

This next step made me change how I started to create meals. I began almost exclusively eating foods and meals that contains some measure of vegetables, and then added more on top of that! (Spring onions, Baby Spinach and herbs are my favourites) I called this my meal supplement in my app and put it in everything I had at home basically. This gave me more control over what I could indulge with. More chocolate and chips in other words! Even at work where I eat almost entirely pre made meals, I always choose the ones that are balanced with salad or vegetables. It helps that there is a massive healthy fast food wave going on in London right now.

What I was doing over and over again was creating positive habits one by one. I gave in to certain cravings that I knew I would never give up long term, such as chocolate and chips. One of my old bad habits was to buy a full 150g bag of Doritos and eat them all. All 700 calories worth. Then soon after look at eating dinner! I used to wake up feeling full and no wonder I wanted to skip breakfast after eating so much. I knew I wanted these things, and I therefore had to have them in small measures. I would buy individual chocolate bars (38g is around 200 calories), and chip packets (36g is around 160 calories) because I knew I couldn’t stop myself eating if I had access to more or larger packets. Multi packs are just as bad, I would just eat 3–4 packets at a time. So I fit these foods into my budget every day. Full fat store bought coffee too, that had to stay. It was important along the way to only change one thing at a time. Trying to uproot your whole lifestyle is too jarring and will lead to giving up and going back to old ways.

One bad habit I still had at the beginning was a lack of weekend activity. I would usually buy loads of meals on a Friday and have them in the fridge. This is bad for a few reasons, one is I sometimes ate more than one in a sitting because they were there. Two, I didn’t need to leave the house outside of going for a coffee. I needed to do more walking so I made a rather simple change. I wouldn’t buy anything on Friday anymore, and I would go up to the shops on both Saturday and Sunday. Additionally, I only buy meals for the day I shop on, only exception is breakfast. So for example on Saturday, I buy lunch and dinner for Saturday (along with other essentials when required) and repeat this on Sunday. This meant I added literally thousands of steps per week because I walk there and it got me out of the house every day. Because it’s tied in with my food, I can’t not go because I’ll just be hungry, so that motivates me to go both days. They call this incidental exercise. Parking up the road. Getting off a stop or station early and adding more walking. The WHO’s definition of activity includes walking, and around 150 mins per week is the recommendation which is quite easy if you do 30 minutes a workday. I then started to walk to the shops the long way, going around a block or so first. My weekly average steps and activity time went up dramatically, from a weekly per day average of about 3000 to 5000, and from 30 minutes to 50 minutes.

The next stage was to add real exercise. I knew that I couldn’t be inactive forever. And the health benefits of exercise are endless so I used my new positive habit skills and made a plan to start to walk/jog/run every Saturday morning. The reason I chose jogging outside was for several reasons. One is being outside regularly is good for you. Two is I wanted to find a way to get some outside space. London is a very very busy place. There are people everywhere, all of the time, and I realised that I actually missed the quietness of Australia and I wanted to find some parks and outdoor areas that were isolated. I found just those places really close to my house! I was so surprised what I found when I looked for it.

As a reward to myself I would end my run at my local coffee shop and have a breakfast bloomer full of sausage, egg and bacon. This positively reinforced my exercise and assigned a pleasure response to it, the brain linked the pleasure to the run. Eventually I looked forward to it and still do and am looking to add more runs during the week. Even though the exercise is less than the consumption of my breakfast (650(food) — 500(run) = +150), the fact that I would always have breakfast anyway means the alternative is significantly more surplus (400(food) — 0 = +400). Add to that the multitude of benefits from running and you get the reason why I was able to push my weight loss past my plateau.

Now that I have a handle my habits, how I create them and how to change them I soon began seeing signs of them before they were formed. One example was a sudden bizzare craving for late night chocolate milk. I made it every time I played a certain game at night and I quickly realized that I was creating a completely new negative only habit. I analysed it and figured it’s not worth it so I stopped playing that game in the evenings the need trigger stopped appearing and I stopped having hot chocolate. The jar of hot chocolate then sat on the bench untouched for months because I avoided the trigger.

Another was an afternoon walk at work. Seems positive right? I wanted to up my activities even more after my incidental exercise changes so I took a walk around the block, however it quickly became getting a coffee (80 calories) and I soon realized that the amount I was walking was actually less than the coffee, and the caffeine was no good for my sleeping. So I only reserve this habit for if I am truly tired. Usually I need an objective, I can’t walk aimlessly even if it is beneficial. You have to pick your battles carefully not everything you do has to be good, just good enough.

While not necessarily important to the actual weight loss, there was another important aspect of perspective that you get when you do achieve it, and that is how people react when they see you. Now you may think it’s all “oh my god you look amazing” but you would be surprised about how many either don’t notice at all, or never even realised it. One group of people is those who see you nearly every single day — co-workers, direct family members and yourself — these are the people that make small mental adjustments everytime they see you. Whenever we see someone or even ourselves our brains updates the profile of that person, the more often this happens the smaller the increments are. The other set of people that have absolutely no idea are the people you met after you lose weight or make the change. To them, this is how you are, to them you could have been that way your whole life for all they know. So when you meet new people at work or through friends it’s kind of strange but pleasant for them just to accept you and not have it be a surprise.

Then there are those that you don’t see very often but have known you a long time. And for them it can be even to the point of jarring, where they can hardly even believe it’s you. The amazing thing is, in my experience anyway, there is very little change in my mind. I believe I am pretty much the same person as I was, but I have had multiple people tell me that I have changed a lot in how I speak and act. When you go through any journey, whether it be a course or a degree, weight loss, bodybuilding whatever, it can sometimes be really difficult to truly appreciate what you have done until you discuss it or share it with people you know really well. They can give you a sense of the gravity of the achievement because you might not fully appreciate it otherwise.

When you get into the habit of counting, you soon realise how much better it is to cook your own food and control portions so you get more of what you want, and less of the excess that may make up calories. I find myself trying to maximise the flavour and minimise the calories. And because this change is not a diet, there is no “end” so it’s important to be able to enjoy food.. I never looked at it as something I would do for a while and just give up, because you can’t. This is the reason why we always yo-yoed because we always wanted to just go back to eating and doing anything we want, but I want to always make sure I am counting. Even when i don’t actively record it, I am taking note in my head. To some, this might be daunting, but if you truly want lasting change you have to accept it as a part of your life and embrace it so that you can build your life around it, rather than forcing yourself to starve for a few weeks and bouncing back, life should be about balance and moderation.

After a while, some of your favourite foods might suddenly be something you don’t enjoy anymore, and after avoiding them for so long when you do eventually “go back” and maybe have a little too much of something, the effect can be immense. Overeating for the first time after losing the majority of my weight really made me feel intensely ill, even though I used to do it so much it was almost my favourite hobby. When you overeat after controlling your intake for so long your body just doesn’t like it, and it serves as a reminder of how far you’ve come and it helps guide your path. Pain doesn’t always have to be bad if you use it as a force to push yourself to do something positive.

Don’t think you should move mountains to reach your goals, and don’t think that you just need to lose weight and not change anything! If you really want lasting control you have to let go of the way you used to eat and create multiple positive changes that will last forever. You will soon see yourself choosing healthier meals simply out of habit because of the daily objective even long after I stopped worrying about it.

It is not something you should fear either, if you give up too many good things in your life you will just hate it and go back to your old habits, this is the case with nearly all dieting techniques, even if they work, you very likely can’t expect to avoid bad food for the rest of your life! And in the words of the great philosopher Shia Labeouf: Just do it.

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