Fat and Slim
I was fat from about age 10 to about age 26. It made me unhappy in a number of ways; buying clothes, avoiding swimming in public or just failing to laugh much at the man-boob jokes. I came to think of myself as a fat person, that there was no way I would ever be anything else.
Then I lost a lot of weight. I dropped from ~115kg to 75kg in the space of six months. More importantly, after bouncing back to 80kg I managed to stay at roughly that weight for well over ten years.
Recently I found that my weight was creeping up again and I decided that I had to do something about it. I’d got to 89kg and I decided that I wanted to lose 10kg – and that if I was successful I’d finally write that article about weight loss that I’d been planning.
Easy and Hard
There’s a funny contradiction involved when it comes to losing weight:
- Weight loss is actually reasonably easy. Eat less and maybe do a bit of exercise and you’ll lose weight.
- Weight loss is incredibly hard. Most diets are abandoned, many dieters yo-yo and end up weighing more than they started, long term weight loss seems particularly hard to achieve.
The problem is that deciding to lose weight isn’t a single decision. Sure, you can get up in the morning and say to yourself “From now on I’m going to eat better and be more healthy”. But we all know that while this might last for a day, a week, or even just a few hours, generally you’ll start to slip back into your old habits.
The problem with weight loss, and what makes it so incredibly hard, is that it’s not one decision but hundreds and thousands of decisions. Yes to porridge for breakfast. No to the slice of birthday cake at morning tea. Yes to sushi for lunch. No to pizza for dinner. Yes to a cup of tea in the evening. No to the biscuits to dunk in the tea. Day after day after day.
So, I reckon you need a trick. Or maybe more than one. What do I mean by a trick?
The time I lost a lot of weight didn’t start as a diet, it was just an experiment in a line of experiments.
I’d tried going saltless for a couple of weeks and found that I enjoyed many foods without additional salt. I fasted for three days just to see what it felt like (oddly, it gets easier). I even had a week of eating nothing but spaghetti with tomato chutney sauce and cheese.
I had read that you could reset your appetite so my next experiment would be to have three small meals a day – and nothing else. Just to see what it was like. Looking back on it now, I honestly can’t remember how much I had fooled myself about this not being an attempt to lose weight.
I didn’t weigh myself to start, nor did I weigh myself as I went (I didn’t own any scales). Instead I just started following this eating regime – and I found that I quite quickly started to lose weight.
So the trick in this case was that I wasn’t dieting at all, I was performing experiments on myself. Totally different. Best of all, it meant that I couldn’t indulge in the self-destructive behaviour of wanting to rebel against my own decision, something I still hadn’t grown out of at the time.
I’m not sure if that particular trick could have got me all the way, particularly as the weight started to come off and I could no longer fool myself that losing weight wasn’t the point of what I was doing. Somehow I managed to transition to a second trick – I got really, really obsessive.
- I refused all food outside the three meals a day I allowed myself. While I tried to be polite about it, that meant being completely ruthless about turning down celebration food (birthday cakes, etc), gift food (box of chocolates) or even just social food (cake at a café with a friend). Sometimes I let people assume I was allergic or had some other nameless health issue that prevented me from eating with them.
- I thought about food a lot – what I’d eaten, what I was eating, what I was going to eat, whether it would be acceptable or not.
- I learnt to enjoy the sensation of hunger and saw it as a sign that I was winning and in control of my body and myself.
This is probably setting off little warning bells in anyone familiar with eating disorders. Looking back on it, I think I managed to give myself a weird form of anorexia nervosa, with the main difference being that I actually was quite overweight. I also think that maybe I was just a bit lucky that I managed to stop when I did.
Those are two tricks that worked for me. I’m sure there are plenty of other tricks that people have used to help themselves make those hundreds and thousands of decisions that result in a successful diet.
I used a different trick entirely when I lost my 10kg recently. The experiment trick was a once-off, and I’m not sure you can be obsessive enough while living with someone. Instead I went for something else that works for me – number-chasing.
I signed up for a calorie-counter site called MyFitnessPal.com. It calculated my daily energy requirements, I entered all the food I ate each day, and the site told me how well I was doing.
It’s not a great site in many ways, but the combination of number-chasing and being able to see exactly how much they were going to blow out if I bought that piece of carrot cake was often enough to help me make the decision to have an apple instead.
Appetite and the Fish’n’Chip Diet
But why the Fish’n’Chip Diet?
One of the important things I learnt is that weight loss is all about eating less. Exercise will only get you so far, and it seems that eating a lot of ‘good’ food is just as good a way of putting on weight as eating a lot of ‘bad’ food.
So I didn’t really change what I ate – I just changed how much I ate of it. This meant that I didn’t have to give up anything including my beloved fish’n’chips. On the other hand, I did have to change my regular order from 1 fish, 1 sausage, 1 potato fritter and a scoop of chips to 1 fish and half a scoop of chips.
Now, you may think that sounds ridiculously small but there’s good news too. My experiment to reduce my appetite was entirely successful. If you eat smaller quantities for a while your stomach will eventually reset itself. The thought of eating my old regular f’n’c order now makes me feel just a bit sick.
The Nitty Gritty
There are lots of diets out there. I suspect that most of them work – for a few people. The above is what worked for me but I wouldn’t claim it would work for everyone. That said, here’s a summary of what I’ve learnt that I reckon might be generally applicable:
- You can lose weight. You don’t have to be fat.
- It’s about portion control. The amount you eat is more important than what you eat.
- You can reset your appetite so that smaller meals will make you feel sated. I reckon it took me about two weeks to reset mine… but it’s very easy to creep it up again.
- You need a trick or two. Something that will help you keep making those correct decisions.
- Feeling hungry when you’re still getting enough to eat isn’t really so bad.
- You don’t need to weigh yourself regularly to lose weight. Do it if it works for you.
And one final note: if you’re happy and healthy at your current weight I reckon you’re doing better than most people and should leave well enough alone.
And then my weight started to go up again – it seemed that I was entering into a slow yo-yo phase. I came to the conclusion that if I ate “naturally” without monitoring, my weight went up. Whether this was because of a slowed metabolism from dieting, my body trying to get to a set point, or just too much appetite is something I wonder about. But the reason isn’t really the important thing.
So, back to MyFitnessPal I went. I’m doing this update on the 500th day of my streak – i.e. I’ve entered everything I’ve eaten for 500 days without a break. This has helped me get to a weight of 76kg based on a 1600kcal a day target.
I’ve loosened up a bit since then and now I’m maintaining my weight with the same calorie target, but in a typical week I meet it 3 days, go slightly over (100-200kcal) 2 days, and go a bit more over the other 2 days (up to 500-600kcal over). My exercise levels have also dropped quite a bit in the last 6 months.
Monitoring/restricting is a bit of a drag but it seems to be working for me and I prefer it to the alternative.