A year ago I decide to change things and reduce the amount of work I do. Sounds easy? Not for me.
Some background. I was a workaholic. Unable not to work. Even when relaxing ‘watching’ TV I’d be doing some kind of work. I’ve been this way since I was 14 or 15. I chose three GCSEs that featured heavy coursework. Two design subjects and IT and spent ridiculous amounts of time working on these projects taking them beyond what was required for GSCE. At A-level This continued. Two of my four A-levels had a heavy coursework requirement. Doing a Design degree probably sealed my long term fate. So moving into a job that offers a constant stream of project work was never going to end well. I love working on projects and get bored and distracted when not doing project work.
I know at times in my time in my current job, I’ve been living off four hours sleep each night for weeks on end. I have over the last five years significantly reduced my working hours, but never managed to stop working at home. As an example, despite the significant reduction in hours, I recorded in my diary a 56 day stretch in work. As I said, this was me in a ‘reduced’ work capacity.
There’s two ways to look at this. Why complain? I enjoy working and create most of the work for myself. It stimulates my mind. But there’s the other aspect – my health. Working late creates bad habits
In my case this had led to me ballooning in size. Probably averaging 5 stone heavier than when I was at Uni. It’s so easy to do. Raiding the snack machine to give me the extra energy to keep working at 10pm and then grabbing a takeaway on the way home, often with a beer to help me relax quickly. I’d then push on working at home until 2am. Every few months I’d start another diet and give up alcohol. But at some point the stress of work or a run of late nights would break the diet. So I’d be stuck in a never ending cycle where nothing ever improved and my weight slowly would pile back on.
I used to keep my weight under some control with regular 5-a-side and cycling. But I damaged my knee playing football, and so stopped cycling and inevitably put weight back on again.
In 2013, I was 40 and decided to give myself a present with a month long trip to the USA. Part of the trip was a flight into the Grand Canyon. There were weight penalties if you were heavy. So I bought some scales and to my horror discovered that I wasn’t an ‘overweight’ 15 stone , I was actually 17 1/2 stone. Okay, this wasn’t going to cause issues with the flight but I was clearly kidding myself about my build.
The two months before heading on holiday i started a fairly light but strict diet and I managed to drop a stone. Feeling much healthier, I enjoyed the holiday and came back the same weight despite much excess. This should have been the point to push on and lose weight. Instead, I went back to my old habits and stopped weighing myself. Yes, the weight pilled on again.
Now this is the point in most of these stories where the writer has a revelation and tells you all how they changed their life around. I wish I was so reflective. No. In my case, various things conspired to make me question the level of commitment I was willing to put into work.
So 2014 ended up being ‘the year I cut back’. To cut straight to the chase, I started the 2014 18 stone 3lbs, and I got down to 12 stone 5lbs. I’ve since gone up a few lbs, but will continue to work towards getting down to my target of 12 stone 3lbs. So how did I do it? Is there an easy solution? Er no.
You all know the answer. There is no miracle diet. You have to consume less calories than you burn. To make this more likely, that means burning more calories through exercise. It is that simple. But it does take time and this is why most of us fail. It requires the determination to continue and that’s not easy when there can be so many external factors that can undermine our determination. (such as work, partners, children, hobbies, friends, illness etc)
The first thing to say is that initially I didn’t set any real targets. I just wanted to lose a stone or two. So it was more a ‘see how we go’. The first thing I did was to have ‘low calorie’ days. (basically a less strict 5-2 diet). On these days I’d just have a light meal such as a sandwich, cereal, soup or salad. The rest of the week I cut down portion size. I also did something you don’t hear people on a diet say. I actually started to eat some microwave meals – and not the low calorie type. But they’re just as quick as grabbing a takeaway. So they’re useful as a quick meal and importantly, they’re usually small portions , so helped me get used to a reduced portion size.
As many single people will attest. It’s difficult to cook meals for just one person. No matter what you do you end up with more food than you need. So throwing away food or freezing food was also an important step.
On the exercise front. I realised that it wasn’t worth doing a ‘couch to 5k’ type thing and then fail. It was better to do exercise that could become a natural extension of my life and that wouldn’t stress the knee. Cycling had been this until my knee injury. I’d do simple things like cycle to the shops rather than driving along with regular weekend cycling trips out to local pubs. So the obvious thing was walking. I liked walking, especially if it involved taking photographs. I just didn’t do enough of it. So I started a 365 project. This is a project where you take a photo every day and used this as a reason to walk between places.
I also decided to explore London. So almost every weekend I would head into London and stomp around. I started to regularly attend a music event at the Union Chapel called Daylight Music. This became the starting point of my walks. I’d then walk anything up to 15 miles. Did I mention I liked photography? Well I learnt early on, you burn more calories if you’re carry things. So I’d pack my camera bag up (often weighing 20lbs) and then carry that. I’d also walk at almost top speed for as long as I could. I’d often average 4 miles an hour. (I’d not advise carrying too much weight in your backpack as I have strained my back on several occasions)
The great thing about walking around a city is that you can stop at any point and jump on a bus (or tube). So you really can’t get stranded if you get tired. You can also easily break up walks. So I’d drop in shops, museums and pubs.
Pubs? Didn’t I give up alcohols? Well kind of. It turns out that although whisky is very calorific, because you don’t drink much you consume less calories than if you were drinking beer. So I stopped drinking beer (which I love). But whisky’s been a very good substitute (I only drink single malts). So it’s not all bad. I also like diet coke and I’m happy to drink the low-calorie non alcoholic beer. So pubs weren’t off the agenda. I also allowedmyself to drink beer when I’m on holidays or events. I’ve been ‘flexibly rigid’
By the end of April, my weight had already dropped to 16 stone. This was a massive spur. Clearly losing weight was achievable and it so I started to build an achievement system with targets.
I took advice from the NHS BMI calculators. For my weight, it was recommending a top-end ‘healthy weight’ would be 12 stone 8lb. So I set this weight as being my target ‘normal weight’. So I’ve set 12 stone 3lbs as my ultimate target figuring that it allows me the opportunity to have weekends ‘off the rails’ and to put a few lbs on and still be ‘healthy’.
So I also set a ‘big’ achievement. If I reached 12 stone 8, then I was going to reward myself with a Playstation 4. Every time I broke a ‘stone barrier’, I was allowed a takeaway. I also made sure I didn’t ban myself from eating chocolate or crisps. The ‘five two’ diet would cover me for this. If it took longer to get to the goal, then it’s better than stopping the diet simply because I need comfort food. (I’ve current got the balance wrong as Christmas knocked me out of the stride, but I will get lose those last few lbs).
Losing weight is good in some ways. But there’s a side effect. Clothing. I hate clothes shopping. But I now seem to spend half my time buying clothes. I’ve dropped two sizes (three in trousers). So I’ve had to buy stuff simply to throw away a few months later – and I have been throwing clothes away. I figure if I keep them and start putting weight on again, I’ll simply switch back to the larger clothes. But it does mean I’ve thrown away some of my favourite clothes (though they probably were ready to be thrown away). And some of my favourite band t-shirts are now too big and can’t really be replaced. But small sacrifices.
So just over 12 months late, I’m a few lbs away from my target. I will get there. What then? Part of me wants to continue and hit 11 stone 8. It’s almost an addiction. But I don’t think I’ll feel any better for it. So I really now need to find a way to normalise. Lose the last few lbs and then find a balance where I can reintroduce the odd takeaway and the beer I’m missing so much. I also have to make sure I don’t allow work to creep back in. But at least I’m now in a significantly better position than I was last year.