Monday 30 April 2012

Losing Weight

I've been skinny and I've been plump; in my experience plump is warmer! But you can have too much of a good thing.

In quick succession back in January: I was told by my dentist that I was probably snoring more because my collar size had reached 16; I started getting a red and itchy line around my middle where my undies had become too tight; and I got a letter from my doctor's surgery suggesting I go for a late-middle-age checkup (not quite how they put it, of course), complete with questionnaire to fill in. The odd thing was that, although I had eaten a lot over the Christmas period without much exercise, my weight hadn't actually changed. Nevertheless, I did feel more tired; worst of all, after I measured my neck following the chat with my dentist I checked my waist as well: 39" ... I thought I was only just creeping above 36!

The trouble is that it is widely recognised these days that dieting makes you fat. So losing weight is a little more involved than the simplistic health messages would have you believe. There is a complicated mix of thermodynamics - energy in and energy out - along with appetite, digestive absorption and metabolic rate. If you just eat less it can, if you are not careful, simply make you hungrier and more efficient in the way your body processes food: lose/lose.

Luckily, I was starting 'clean' - no previous diets to mess my hormones about, and from a stable (if high-ish) weight. So I did a bit of research, applied a bit of common sense (ie no fads and don't believe a word that tabloids say), and started. It seemed to me that the easiest approach was to start with the energy balance - eat less and exercise more - but to try to make sure the side effects didn't undermine me. So I set myself a long-term target of losing half a pound a week, on average, over six months, taking me from 13 stone 2 (184lbs = 83.5kg) to around 12 stone (168lbs = 76kg) by August. As I write, I notice that my arithmetic was out: 16 pounds at half a pound a week will take seven months: so, to the end of August then (or aim for just over the weekly half pound - I'll see how that goes).

That needed me to eliminate around 250 'calories' (kcal, really) per day - basically cut down on between-meal snacks and reduce my portion sizes a little - and add a couple of brisk walks or cycle rides (of around a mile) each week. I found help in setting the target from a fascinating 'Body Weight Simulator' from NIH, which illustrates what changes are needed for a given long term target (NB it emphasises it is "for general research use only and is not intended to provide personal medical advice or substitute for the advice of a physician"). I also liked a simple webpage I found listing 50 Ways To Cut 250 Calories.

Not that it's quite that simple, of course. After a fortnight I had lost four pounds, without really trying hard; I wasn't naive enough to think it was all going to be that easy, but it seemed like a really good start. Two weeks later three of the pounds were back on. Two weeks later they were back off again. Three weeks after that I had reached the half-way weight mark, eight pounds down, at well short of half the time. Now, at around twelve weeks, I'm back up again to just five pounds down - but that is still close to my half a pound a week.

The biggest help I have found along the way is a good breakfast - there has long been research showing that skipping breakfast leads to weight gain, and my experience backs that up. I find a big bowl of luxury muesli (the sort with dried fruit and nuts) and milk fills me up, and keeps me full all morning. The biggest hindrance for me has been take-aways and eating out. Not only do I end up eating more, but I also find myself feeling hungrier over the next couple of days.

Is there a wider spiritual aspect to all this? Weight and body image have become so tied in these days with issues of self-respect and self-worth that I think there is. We need to feel good about who we are, whatever our body shape, and to be motivated by a desire to look after ourselves and look after our bodies. It shouldn't be that we feel bad about ourselves now, yet hope to suddenly feel good if only we can achieve some magic lower weight, but that we feel good and want to treat ourselves properly.

It's all part of a bigger picture that we need to love and respect ourselves as well as we can, whilst loving and respecting those we meet just as much.