This post is a bit unusual, since it’s very much about me, and I don’t usually write that much about myself. In many ways, everything I write is about myself, but this is explicitly such.
2020 has been a tough year for just about everyone, and while I’m fortunate enough to have a secure job that I’m able to continue to do at home, and so far, none of my direct family or friends have been heavily impacted by Covid, the isolation has been hard at times. I live alone, and my friends are fairly scattered geographically.
I’m lucky enough to have an endless supply of hobbies and interests, and to some extent, the means to pursue them. But by the middle of this year, it was becoming all too easy not to go out as much as I had been, and to eat poor quality food in large quantities. The kitchen, after all, is only a few feet from the desk that I work at most the time.
Yes – I made sure to step outside every day, and that continues to be important, especially during the dark winter months. Making time to get outside during daylight hours is vitally important in my view. But as I looked at myself, I felt belts tightening as my diet went downhill more than usual.
I needed to do something.
Sometime during July or August, I picked up a copy of Private Eye where their anonymous TV reviewer, “Remote Controller,” reviewed Lose a Stone in 21 Days with Michael Mosley. It was not a positive review. I tend to find myself disagreeing with “Remote Controller” more often than most anonymous Private Eye contributors – he or she (and I very much suspect “he”) is out of touch with both television and society. Nonetheless, I could understand where they were coming from in this case. Mosley is constantly on our televisions, and of course he has a nice line in the “Fast” series of books, with its spinoff merchandise. It would be very easy to see this show as just another diet show to add to an endless pile.
But I needed to do something, so I watched it on All 4 anyway. And yes, you could easily be cynical about it as our anonymous Private Eye writer had been, but if there’s anything that gave me the impetus to get going on a significant change in lifestyle, this was it.
I can’t honestly say that there was enormous amount of advice that you couldn’t glean from anywhere else, but it came at the right time.
Some years ago, at another point when I thought I might try to lose some weight, I bought a set of connected scales. They cost much more than a basic set from Amazon or Argos, but the idea that they would send my weight to online services seemed very 21st century. And as I’ve learned about myself, quantifying my progress is something that works for me psychologically.
Since first buying the scales, they had mostly taking up floor space in my bathroom – somewhere to sort dirty laundry – and something to be avoided. Don’t step on them, and you won’t get the bad news. Previously, if I started using them, but hadn’t seen an instant change in weight over, say, a couple of days, I’d given up.
Now I would put myself on a daily weigh-in.
I used Withings’ service (the company who made the scales), IFTTT and a Google Sheet to capture my daily weight. This data then got transferred to Excel (which I prefer to Google Sheets) where I could measure daily, weekly and overall weight loss in a variety of measures. While I work to kilograms, others prefer pounds or stone. At the start I wasn’t shouting about my plans to anyone, but over time, telling people what you were up to meant supportive feedback which became an important part of persevering.
What I didn’t do was go on any particular plan. Yes, I bought Mosley’s Fast 800 book, but I didn’t really use it. At the start it was just about thinking of everything I put in my body, and especially, portion control.
I knew that I needed to run a calorie deficit to get the weight off – burn more calories each day than I was consuming. The idea is that my body would turned to stored fat supplies for extra energy and I’d lose weight. I did order some Ketostix online, little paper strips that you dip in your urine and tell you whether your body is doing that, but to be honest, I only used them a few times. As the weight began to fall – which gratifyingly, it did – you know that things are working.
While I have been overweight for some years now – who am I kidding, many years, and not overweight but “obese” – I’ve never been completely unfit. I can go out on long bike rides, and earlier in the year I was doing significant walks in the hills and mountains of Scotland.
But I was also very aware that I’m entering an age group that was more at mercy of something like Covid-19. People not that much older than me, particularly if they were overweight or had diabetes, were more likely to be hit severely. That was certainly a factor in my actions and desire to lose weight.
So to keep things ticking along, I decided to start running – again. At school I’d been an OK runner, at least over distances. And in 1999 I did the London Marathon. That was a one-off – a group of us at Virgin Radio, where I was then working, were offered free places, and training under the wing of presenter Chris Evans’ then personal coach. From a standing start in January that year, I got round the course in mid-April, having done my entire training over less than four months! Now my time of just over 6 hours was not good (I did a much better training 18 mile run a couple of weeks earlier), the fact was I’d gotten around based on practically no history of running. But 1999 was the last time I’d seriously done any running.
So I downloaded the Couch to 5K app in late August, and embarked on their 9 week course. The plan is very gentle and requires you to go on three runs a week, with the first couple of weeks only seeing you run for very short distances. You choose from a variety of “trainers” who will be in your earphones while you run (or walk), and you play your own music as well.
The app works well, as does the course. I was doing this all outside, and while I felt a bit of an idiot at first, I soon got into the swing of things.
Also my regular choice of a “Cardio Pop” playlist had the bonus of meaning that I’m now reasonably up to date with music!
I was also doing more cycling. I hadn’t been for so many big rides in 2020. Partly that had been out of expediency. Early on, I’d taken the view that if necessary, I should be able to walk home in case something not easy to fix happened while I was out. But now I was cycling further.
And as the weight dropped, I often found the cycling easier going. There was now less weight to haul up those climbs. However, it’s fair to say that because I was always on a downwards weight trajectory, I wasn’t exactly eating giant plates of pasta the night before big rides.
By mid-October, I’d got to 5k and was pretty pleased with myself. Running was now a thing I was doing. By late November I’d got to 10km and it hadn’t felt impossible. I wasn’t breaking any speed records, but my numbers were respectable.
I must admit that I found Strava really helpful for all of this. Friends give you “Kudos” (i.e. likes), and if you’re running 5-7km at a time, that’s what most other people seem to be doing. At times I would have either a run or a bike ride pretty much every day of the week. While working from home, I would carve out a period in the middle of the day to go running or riding.
I also began to properly get use from my smart bike trainer – a device that you hook your bike into and connect up to an app like Zwift.
In December I did my longest bike ride of the year – just over 100km, but with 1100m of climbing. I’ve ridden much further in the past, but it seemed notable that this year my longest ride was on a wet winter’s day rather than a long summer’s one.
And what of the results?
Well I took to weighing myself each morning, just after my daily ablutions. It seemed the most consistent way to do things. Whilst in general I wanted to see the weight go down – day after day – I knew that I shouldn’t lose hope if the weight went up a few times. The vagaries of scales and our bodies means it’s not completely mechanical.
Sometimes I’d find that my weight would fall quite sharply – perhaps 900g – and then return to being higher for a few days. I recorded my weight in a few places – Withings had it because they made the scales, but I linked up the feed to Garmin as well, since I have one of their running watches to measure steps and runs, and I use their bike computers to measure my ride. Both Withings and Garmin send weekly emails that average out your weight and any loss (or gain) over a week at a time, which seems very sensible.
As I type this, I can say that I’ve lost 35.5 kg since I started working on my weight back in August. That’s 5.6 stone or 78 pounds. That’s a loss of over a quarter of my bodyweight in 146 days (just under 5 months).
I am no longer “obese”, although at 6’2″ (188 cm), I’m still “overweight”. However, I’m hopeful that within another 2-3 months, I will be at a healthy weight. My aim is to get to around 85 kg or so.
And yes, I am quite pleased with the progress thus far!
Even though I’ve not seen any work colleagues in the flesh for many months, even on Zoom, the weight loss is noticeable. And yes, that means that I keep getting PBs on various local climbs on Strava. They act as a further encouragement to keep going and make the loss sustainable.
I’ve just taken delivery of a new pair of “trail” running shoes, since my current pair of trainers suitable for running around a country park have basically no grip left at all.
The only real downside of all of this is that nearly my entire wardrobe is going to need replacing!
Fortunately I do have a few items of cycling gear that “came up small” when I bought them, but which I never returned. But yes – most of my jeans are now worn with the belt truly tightened.
On the opposite side of things, I can perhaps upgrade my main road bike to a carbon model in the future. I’ve steered clear from super-lightweight bikes in the past because I was concerned with them carrying my weight, but also because I knew that there were bigger weight gains to be made with the rider rather than with the bike! Fingers crossed, that may no longer be such an issue in a few months’ time.
So if you’re making resolutions for the New Year, this is just one little story to show that with a change in exercise regiment, diet and not a little willpower, you can do it.
I’ve posted a year-on update that builds quite extensively on this, and explains where am I today. Spoiler: it’s good news!