This year I managed to lose about 18 kilos in weight. (I put a bit on over Christmas, but then that’s to be expected). As I wrote before, it’s something to be pleased about but something that isn’t really an achievement: being less fat is not something you can really be proud of, seeing as how it was you who made yourself get so out of shape in the first place.
18 kilos though. That’s probably the weight of a heavy suitcase you’ll take on your holidays. Imagine lugging that around with you, every day. Imagine the extra effort and the extra strain it would put on you, having that suitcase with you, all the time, hanging around your belly, and not being able to get rid of it.
But this is the New Year, the time of the exercise video. This is when we’re encouraged to diet. Diet and exercise. Supermarkets fill up with weights and exercise bikes and other stuff that will be safely tucked away and forgotten about by February. Diet books fly off the shelves in shops, promising results in weeks. Magazines shame the fat by pointing at their flabby bits, or shame the thin by pointing at their ribs. Look at these people! These people are wrong! You are wrong! You are not ideal. You don’t fit the bed of Procrustes. You are not perfect. You are not just right. You must be ashamed.
A lot of people will be thinking about losing weight in the New Year and I am one of them. I don’t want to go backwards and start putting weight on after having made some strides towards being less offensively unhealthy. But I don’t have any answers. I am trying to collect some thoughts here, though, to try and provide a little insight into how I managed to get things to go right for once, after so many years of trying and getting it wrong. If nothing else, it provides a useful reminder for me to think about what to do.
- Bread is not your friend. One slice of bread is 100 calories. I can’t have bread in the house. I can’t even have it anywhere near me. If I do, I will just eat it.
- Alcohol is not your friend. You knew that anyway, of course, but it’s worth making it clear: if you drink, you will put on weight. You might know the odd drinker who manages to stay rake-thin, but in general, you will drink, you will eat more, and you will put on weight.
- You need to find some exercise that you like to do and which won’t get boring. For some people it’s running, but I can’t do that, largely because of the drive-by abusers shouting at me for being fat while I’m exercising in public. I don’t like to go to gyms because they are foul, smelly, nasty places where people judge other people. I have managed to find exercise I can do at home, for 30 minutes to an hour at a time, to get me nicely out of breath and sweating, using a step. But you might prefer an exercise bike or a cross trainer. Or just use some weights. Or do a Davina video. Everyone’s different. You’ve got to enjoy it, though. It is enjoyable, in the end, the heart beating, breath pumping, taste of lung in your mouth: it does feel good.
- There will be setbacks. There will be times when you feel like you’re losing loads of weight, then you weigh yourself and find you’ve put on a couple of pounds. The only thing to do is keep going. Never give up. Don’t turn to food as a comfort and think “what’s the point?” – there is a point, and it will work out, eventually.
- Don’t deny yourself everything. You will be miserable and hate yourself. This isn’t punishment. You can’t never eat chocolate or never have a pizza or never have a pint of beer. These are the things you like. But you do need to have less of them, and savour them when you do get them.
- Don’t get hung up on BMI. Some of us are never going to be our “ideal” weight. My ideal weight is 11 stone. I will never be 11 stone unless I’m in a pine box.
I think it’s really important not to measure yourself against an ideal. You have to be accepting of who you are and what you look like. For example, I have slightly short arms. I might want longer arms so I can fit into jumpers and coats properly, but I will never have longer arms. It’s not the same to suggest that my weight is an unchangeable thing, but I should be ready to think about what it is that makes me who I am. I may find it harder to develop muscle than other people; I might run out of breath more quickly; I might lack stamina – whatever it is, that’s me. I can’t measure my success against the success of others.
I still have a BMI of over 30 so I am still ‘obese’. I don’t eat unhealthily, and I make sure I take part in aerobic exercise for at least two hours every week, but still: I could do with being less large, and I know it. It doesn’t happen overnight: it takes you time to get bigger so it will take time to get smaller. It is not a simple process of simply overeating or under exercising which you can reverse; there’s a huge amount going on between the ears that needs to be investigated first. (Some weight loss programmes are focussing on this nowadays in order to change a pattern of unhelpful behaviour.)
It is important to lose weight: it makes you healthier and it makes you a bit more confident. If you can get some momentum going, it really does do something for you. But you have to concentrate on what’s going on in your mind. Why do you eat? Why do you eat when you’re unhappy? Why do you drink when you’re unhappy? Why do you look at food as a source of comfort and pleasure when you’re not feeling hungry? What is it about sugary or salty foods that you like so much? Why haven’t you got an off switch when it comes to feeling full? What decisions are you making? Do you feel like you’re on automatic pilot?
However, I do think it’s really important not to insult or shame or upset people for being fat. That does nothing. It helps nobody. It’s stupid playground bullying and it makes the person saying it sound juvenile and crass. If people are fat, and want to lose weight, they need to be supported; if they are fat, and they’re happy with how they are and they don’t want to change, there is no need to nudge or prod or encourage them to make changes that they don’t want. You can bleat on about healthiness and so on until you’re red in the face; all they will hear is “You are not like me, I want you to change so it makes me feel better.” One reason it will sound like that is because that is what you are partly saying.
So, here’s to 2014 and another 18 kilos. If I can manage it. But most importantly, feeling healthier, and feeling happier.