The health kick begins

by Suw on March 8, 2007

I've never really been one for diets. Whilst, in many other ways, I could be described as a stubborn bitch, I lack the kind of will power that's required for dieting. There's a reason my personal blog is called Chocolate and Vodka, and it's got nothing to do with those words sounding nice.
But let's be honest. Contentment has taken it's toll, and I've spread out a bit in the middle. Mum'll laugh when she reads this as she's always insisted that 'middle-aged spread' was just a fact of life, whilst I've been busy insisting that it's a matter of stuffing your face less with chocolate and getting more exercise. Boot's on the other foot now, sadly, and it's time to do something about it.
Questions is, what?
I had a feeling towards the end of last year that I was acquiring more inches than strictly required, which was why I gave up sugary drinks for more than three months. Well, you can see my logic, right? All that sugar in all those cans of Coke has to go somewhere and it's not Marbella. Cutting it out would decrease my daily calorie intake and I'd maybe lose a bit of weight without really having to try too hard – wouldn't that be just peachy? Except, well, as you know,
it didn't work. I just ate more chocolate instead.
Now, the equation I have to solve is pretty simple really – I need to consume fewer calories than I burn. And there are two tactics for achieving that: 1) consume fewer calories; 2) burn more. Easy.
But it'll be a severely cold day with a windchill factor of minus lots of degrees and a high risk of snow in hell before I start counting calories. I don't know how many calories are in different foods, and I'm just not interested in finding out. I'm certainly not interested in weighing out portions and sitting with a calculator trying to figure out if I'm up to some stupid allowance yet.
Instead, I'm trying out one thing that's just really simple, and something else that I'm in two minds about. Firstly, I'm trying to eat a lot more fruit and veg. Yup, it's that complicated. I'm going to try and eat a banana, a grapefruit, a clementine and an apple a day, with a salad, plus any vegetables that I have with dinner. I'm not going to cut out carbs or meat, so not going Atkins or vegan. Just trying to increase the percentage of my calories that I get from fruit and vegetables.
The second thing I'm doing is the Shangri-la diet, which attempts to reset the weight your body 'wants' to be so that you don't feel so hungry. The idea is that the body associates taste with calories and the tastier the food the more calories you crave so the more you eat. If you can dissociate taste and calories, say by taking a dose of 200 tasteless calories, with nothing tasty for an hour before and after, your body will start to feel less hungry. Or something like that.
Hunger is, actually, a bit of an issue. I never really used to be all that interested in food, never used to be a foodie, but Kevin's pretty good in the kitchen and he cooks up some really yummy food. So I eat more of it, and I'm used to eating more of it, so I get hungry when I don't.
There. It's all Kevin's fault. That makes it easier.
So I'm trying this Shangri-La diet to see if I can't just stop feeling so hungry. I don't know how much faith I have in it, but it's worked for my friend Kevin, (note: that's my friend Kevin, not my fianc?© Kevin), so maybe it can work for me.
But that's only half the story. The other part of the equation is the exercise. I used to be quite good at doing Pilates every other day or so, and trying to keep vaguely in trim, but it's difficult to get back into it. I was just starting to hit a rhythm again before I had the
operations on my arm and I had to stop. The wound has healed now, but I can't do anything strenuous with my arm for quite a while longer – not because it hurts so much now but because the 4 cm scar will widen and look crap. So I've put together a routine which avoids excessive use of my arms, and on Sunday I did my first half hour work out.
But I fear that Pilates alone isn't going to be enough. Oh no. I fear that something a bit more vigourous is going to be needed. Something involving… oh god… gyms.
And now, out with our dirty little secret. There's a gym about 100 yards away from this flat. We've been living here for a year. Ever since we moved in, we've been saying “Oh, we really must go to the gym. It's not expensive, and it's right there. We'll get an induction session booked in for next week.”
I don't think you need me to tell you how may times we've been.
But next week – by the gods and the little fishes I promise – next week we are going to go and book an induction appointment. Next week we are going to pay up our membership and we're going to start going to the gym. Next week. We are.
I have my eye on the bikes. That's what I want to do. I can't run, as I have two rather prominent impediments which tend to get in the way of such activities. But I can sit on a bike for half an hour listening to podcasts. Actually,
This American Life is an hour long – even better!
So that's the plan. The plan is helped by the fact that I have a very clear idea of how I want to look in a year's time, but hindered by the fact that I am, at heart, a lazy old moo who likes her crepes on a Sunday morning. So I foresee an interesting ongoing struggle between old, bad habits and new, difficult ones. At least now I have a good motivation.

Anonymous March 9, 2007 at 1:28 am

'Middle aged spread', I can identify with that! You're quite right: the only solution is to consume less calories than you burn.
I put on a heck of a lot of weight while I was in China, and after I left decided to do something about it. I tried the Shangri-la diet for a few months. Over the same period I was doing quite a lot of capoeira and taijiquan, and lost almost 10kg. I can't say how much of the weight loss was due to the diet versus the exercise, but I was pretty disciplined and stuck to the rules, and it definitely reduced my appetite a lot. I never felt short of energy, either, or noticed any other side-effects.
Since then, I fell off the diet and have been exercising less, so a lot of the weight has come back. I've been thinking that I should go back on the diet…
Cycling's pretty good for calorie burning, I think, but you might need to do more than half an hour at a stretch. I'm not an expert, though; I'm sure there are plenty of fitness geeks here who can give better advice 😉

Anonymous March 9, 2007 at 2:31 am

Being content with life is certainly not good for ones waistline! I've been fighting mine for the last month or so… here are some tips that I learnt the hard way.
1) Don't worry about weight – look at size. As fat turns to muscle you gain weight but loose size. Swap the scales for a tape measure and monitor your progress in inches (not pounds). BMI is the work of the devil!
2) Get a heart rate monitor, and change your effort level to match what the monitor tells you – not what you 'think' you should be doing. It surprising at first how little you need to do to in order to get in the fat burning zone. I found that I was overdoing it at first – which was counter-productive. Too many aches and pains, and feeling knackered the next day which in turn put me off going to the gym again. Work out your rate here:
3) Try and keep your heart rate up for 30mins as a minimum, an hour is better. Once you get going with an initial spurt you can keep your heart rate up easier, so refer to point 2 and throttle down a bit – as long as you keep your rate in the zone
4) Stretch. Warm up and down with 5 mins light exercise (slow walk or a swim is good)
5) Expect progress in your performance and capability to come and go. It all seems a bit random. The trick is to ignore it and just keep on going.
6) Going with a partner helps as they can guilt-trip you when you skip a session.
7) Even if you're too knackered to go to the gym don't just sit round and watch TV. The trick is to build a habit of allocating that period of time to doing something that isn't your normal routine. Rather than go to the gym, go for a walk. It still gets you into the habit of doing something (and also counts as mild exercise!)
8) Blog your progress. The more visible your progress (or failure!) is, the more motivation you have to keep working at it. If you want to maintain a level of privacy about your measurements then take X as your starting measurement and report progress as X-2 inches, X-3 inches etc.
9) Good luck! And, keep going. Just keep on going!
Hope these help 🙂

Anonymous March 9, 2007 at 4:34 am

Hey, Adam, you're just up the road! Which part of Malaysia are you in?

Anonymous March 9, 2007 at 6:02 am

The person who cooks the meals in our house (i.e. not me) decided she wanted to lose size and weight, and she chose . I was highly dubious, as I had always thought Suzanne Somers a bit of a flake, and never understood why she ought to be listened to about things like how to eat so you are not hungry and so that you melt away pound and inches incredibly fast. But … the proof's in the pudding. Our household has in past several months lost about 25 pounds per person, and without being hungry and without exercising more, or hardly at all.
If it is exercise you wish, and without going the gym, you might read the first endorsement on this unusual and rather difficult site: . I have not yet actually tried Matt Shannon's stuff, but think I might actually. It is 'warrior based' and would not seem to fit the classical Suw-like character, except that it looks like it is exactly the profile of an exercise regimen that you are looking for. Well … maybe after you join the gym and find that you still aren't going down the block and actually using it.
Let me know if you enjoy considering either.

Anonymous March 9, 2007 at 7:22 am

Aha. So I also got engaged recently (well, last year, wedding's in June) and around Christmas time, when I'd been living with my fianc?© (a great cook) for a good half year, I suddenly realised that actually I didn't fit into my regular clothes anymore. Oops. All that yummy food, and then the chips and beer most nights probably didn't help either. So we both got into the weight loss thing. And it's been going great!
He: less beer, never buy chips, workout almost every day
Me: ditto on the beer and chips, workout four or five days a week (yoga, the gym, occasionally swimming) but never too hard, I have to say, and – (drumroll) –
So like you I've always though, you know, forget the calorie counting, that'd be BORING and kind of insane, too. But this website, well, it almost does it for you, you don't really have to weigh anything, you just say “bowl of cereal” for breakfast and it tells you “200 calories” (or whatever). It's a lot like blogging – or twittering – and it gets kind of addictive in the same way.
You can also log your exercise – I did 30 minutes on the elliptical trainer at the gym, you say, and it ticks off “326 calories” and pats you on the back for doing cardio.
It generates charts and works out how many calories you should be getting (and/or working off) in order to lose X a week.
There's sort of blogs and forums and heaps of articles if you want that too. Honestly, I was really quite interested in the site simply as a social network site with quite a lot of good features. For free. Oh, and they have the funniest ways of getting you to go look at the ads (which fund the site) – you get points for doing various things on the site, which are displayed next to your name on your discussion board points, and also prominently on your homepage. Some points make sense – you get five points for logging your calories, for instance. Others – well, you get a random number of points (1-25) for “spinning a dial” once a day which basically makes you sit through a brief ad. Etc etc. And you get awards for each tier of points and are told how many points you have till the next level. It's really quite clever, and weird how I actually wanted to “spin that dial” to get more points.
Anyway, I was bored with it after three weeks, but in those three weeks I got an understanding of about how much I really should be eating that I really hadn't had before hand. And I *did* lose weight. And I found it satisfying doing all the logging and looking at the reports, AND it felt a bit like research and therefore doubly laudable.
I think there are other similar sites too, though Spark's the one I've heard about most.

Anonymous March 9, 2007 at 8:05 am

I actually don't have a set of scales, so I actually can't worry too much about weight. I know I'm around 10st 5lb, but I won't be able to weigh myself til I go back home to my parents. So yes, far easier to go out and get a tape measure than a set of scales.
Thanks for all the other tips, too!

Anonymous March 9, 2007 at 8:08 am

I'm pretty happy with doing pilates and cycling as a good combination for me. Pilates alone does have a difference, but it's not cardiovascular, hence the cycling. I know how to do it, it's effective, so I'll stick with it.

Anonymous March 9, 2007 at 8:15 am

I know the Shangri La did help me before, getting me down about 15 pounds, but after I realised I had drunk a 3 litre can of olive oil while doing so, I went off it. My weight stabilised and hit a plateau. Then I saw Joi Ito for the first time in months, and he looked very lean and fit, so on his advice I read 'Eat to Live' and started 'The China Study'.
The key insight there is that you need to measure the proportion of calories you consume from various sources, not the fraction by weight. Animal foods and oil have huge numbers of calories per ounce, vegetables and fruit far less. Seeing the figures linking cancer and heart attacks to proportion of calories from animal sources really made me think.
So I'm trying the Eat to Live diet of ginormous amounts of fruit and veg and beans, next to no meat, no oil or dairy or fruit juice, and small amounts of nuts and grains. I also gave up coffee and diet coke. So far I'm feeling good on it; we'll see how it goes.

Anonymous March 9, 2007 at 9:42 am

He!, tis difficult, yes.
I thought I had the health thing licked by cycling 90miles or so a week to work and back. Thin, fit, and could eat what I liked.
Then I bought a motorbike.
Now it's a case of motorcycling till I can't fit into my leathers anymore, then getting back on the pushbike until I can, but every time I have to build up my fitness again it's harder and more gruelling, but I just don't have the willpower to cycle say 3 days a week, or do some extra training at weekends to counteract my internal-combustion induced lardiness. In terms of my waistline at least, I'll be glad when the oil runs out!

Anonymous March 9, 2007 at 10:49 am

I think focusing on eating MORE veg/fruit (as opposed to trying to CUT OUT stuff) is really the right way to go. I've been on my healthier geek trip for a month and a half now, and one of the interesting side-effects is that I FEEL like eating fruit and veggies much more. Eating an apple for a break at 4pm has replaced digging into the chocolate bars or bread and cheese.
Maybe we should start a healthier geek club or something like that? 🙂

Anonymous March 9, 2007 at 4:10 pm

Practice what you preach.
Anyone want to join in?

Anonymous March 9, 2007 at 4:17 pm

Just outside of KL in Petaling Jaya. I take it you're in SG?

Anonymous March 10, 2007 at 2:12 am

That's right, came here in 2003. Do you get down here much? I tend to go to Malacca rather than KL when I go to MY…

Anonymous March 10, 2007 at 9:17 pm

Just before Christmas, I decided I'd had enough, and the minute the Christmas baking was gone, I'd start taking charge of my weight. I used to be quite fit, but over the past few years, increasing work-loads and long hours have kept me more sedentary than I like.
I'd long sworn off diets, since of course “diets don't work.” But I decided I'd give the old Weight Watchers system another go, and since I started, I've lost about 5 kilos. That's in about 6 weeks. No extra exercise, but I do need to weigh & measure stuff. (As for the books & materials, I'm piggybacking off relatives who actually go to the meetings.)

Anonymous March 11, 2007 at 8:31 pm

I've just a Trek in Africa. Lost 6 lbs in one week. That was on top of the 6 lbs list since December. Much more I'll waste away!
Eat less, eat slower, reduce carbs and cut out the rubbish like cakes, biscuits and chocolate.

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