Since I embarked on my road to a healthier lifestyle in December last year, it has been – without wanting to sound like a massive egotist – pretty successful. I’ve lost the amount of weight that I set out to, am comfortably with range for each of the health indicators from the initial assessment which led to the changes and feel a million times better for it. Job done then, right? Well no – getting healthy and improving fitness is a good achievement but it’s maintaining and ideally improving on it that is the key.
With a history of REALLY bad choices, with both food and (non-existent) exercise, the first thing that I craved (other than SUGAR!! FAT!! STODGE!!!! MMMMMMMMMMMMM…… ) was knowledge on what I should be doing to tackle some, ahem, weighty issues. As part of the health assessment on that fateful December day, I was given lots of information on what the NHS thinks you should be doing – cut down on/completely avoid the things you currently like to eat, replace it with stuff you’ve always pulled a face at (step forward salad and vegetables), eat more ‘healthy grains) and move your ass at least 30 minutes more than you do today (so that’ll be 30 minutes then… ). While at the time I couldn’t argue with any of this, it did seem a bit generic and stopped short of giving any advice on what happens afterwards, i.e. if you are lucky enough to achieve the initial goal of getting healthy enough to avoid coronary heart disease or an amputated limb from poor circulation if nothing changes in the next 5-10 years (very sobering to be told that at 36 years old), how to then progress beyond that. Speaking to a GP every few months doesn’t really help with day-to-day motivation to keep going so you just have to take the responsibility and run with it – this is where the REAL discipline kicks in.
I’ve been very lucky with the support and encouragement from my family and friends, particularly my wife, but ultimately it is only me that can achieve the goals I have set myself. There is a natural temptation when you have achieved any sort of weight loss goal to re-introduce certain ‘bad’ foods or become less active again to think it’s all fine because if you’ve done it once, you can easily do it again.
For me personally, it needs to be ‘all or nothing’ – I have to be consistent as possible and if that means continuing to avoid some of things that caused the problem in the first place, then so be it. I admire people that have lost a lot of weight and are able to maintain this afterwards with a more ‘flexible’ diet but I can’t do that – those foods, the laziness and the problems they caused need to be consigned to the past for me to feel like I’m beating/have beaten this.
So the weights come off, I’ve found a new passion in running and my diet is fairly ‘dialled in’ but if this is about continuing to improve (rather than accepting the initial achievement as the only one), then the mental approach is just as important. If I’m honest with myself, it’s a lack of consistency that has held me back. This has been caused by the examples of trial and error that I’ve gone through with both ‘acceptable’ foods and the most effective forms of exercise. As most of the latter is new to me, I’ve lurched between many things, so this is understandable to a point, but I’ve come to the conclusion that you will only maintain something if you enjoy it – not because it’s easier to do but because you can feel the effort make a difference – and have got a good routine now in place. If I can just stop the kopping out of the one more night a week I should be doing by convincing myself I need a break (good luck with that, now the new football season has started!), the results will definitely get better 🙂
If I was to split the emphasis I need on both diet and exercise, I would say it was 70/30 in favour of the former and again this is where the consistency comes in. For all the gains I have seen from exercise, I know it could be improved to honing my diet so have continued to try and educate myself on this.
When I started looking at what I should/shouldn’t be eating, one of the common threads in the ‘official’ guidelines is that a promotion of fibre in the diet through wholemeal and ‘healthy grains’. Now, I love bread and when I say love, I mean LOVE and have always preferred brown (wholemeal) bread to the white version so initially this was music to my ears. Eat more bread? No problem, bring it on! Removing the unnaturally sweet elements of my former diet was hard at first but given I could find a good sugar source in the fruit I was being encouraged to eat more of, managed to replace this and stick to it with relative ease. Savoury food on the other hand was much more difficult – pizza, sandwiches, fast food and the like – and it took/takes a lot of willpower to stick to. I could understand a sugar craving with sweet food but was the craving for savoury food as simple as a salt or stodge craving?
Doing some research by reading and listening to the advice of some great people in the health and fitness community (Ben Coomber and David Damron’s podcasts have been massively helpful), I discovered that the common element to each of the savoury foods that form a staple of our daily diets is wheat/gluten. The modification of wheat over many years has led to its current version being a pale imitation of the original and more importantly, indigestible to most people, whether they know it or not. Like most things, this will affect some people more than others but as someone who has suffered from stomach problems most of my life, led me to want to look into further. While I haven’t gone down the road of declaring myself as wheat and/or gluten intolerant, what I do know is that without both in my diet, I feel infinitely better. I’ve also realised that there is no point in all the effort I put into training if my diet is holding me back – there’s no point building a ruin. You wouldn’t believe how much gluten and wheat is present in the standard Western diet until you try and have a diet without it but all of the health benefits that these foods provide can be found in others, such as the fibre content in green vegetables so other than the taste we are so used to enjoying, there is no real reason why wheat needs to be a part of our everyday diet.
So, the consistency I mentioned is now for me to maintain a wheat-free diet. Not eating things like bread and pasta (I know you can get the wheat-free versions but as I said earlier, it needs to be all or nothing for me) is ‘interesting’ and there have been are days when I have simply given in (I’d have spilt blood to my hands on that baguette…. ) but I know it works for me and I have to stick to it, simple as that.
Incidentally, for anyone interested in looking into this more for themselves, I would wholeheartedly recommend the book ‘Wheat Belly’ by Dr. William Davis – it’s a massive eye-opener on how the supply and demand nature of what we eat has led to a huge decline in the quality of food we are sold and the benefits of adopting healthier alternatives (further details at www.wheatbellyblog.com/).
The common mental image of someone eating a ‘cheat meal’ is someone devouring a 18″ pizza or triple-decker burger. If you see me doing the same thing with a slice of Kingsmill, you have my permission to rugby tackle me to the ground and shake some consistency into me 😉