Done it

Before the 2011 election weighed 110 kgs. That took 20 years of effort, and usually election campaigns are worse for health and fitness, so I was determined to try and reverse the trend of the last 20 years before it became too serious a health issue.

I set myself a goal of losing 30 kgs to get back to under 80 kgs. I knew it would be hard, and it is the hardest thing I think I have ever done.

I got it down to 100 kgs in the six months before the election.  The next 5 kgs took another six months to make 95 kgs. A further 5 kgs to make 20 in total was a further six months. Then it sped up a bit and it took just six weeks to get to 85 kgs. And 10 more weeks to finally hit my goal, as this morning my weight starts with a 7, not an 8, 9, 10 or even 11. I made 79.3 kgs.

I’ve had some great support from friends and family over the last 21 months and also had many questions about what did I do, from others who have struggled with getting their weight to a healthy level.

I don’t think I’m any role model. I regret taking so long to do it, and I still regard myself as overweight – just less so than before. I’ve still got some further work to do – but making my goal of 30 kgs off is a pretty good achievement for now. It also means I can finally go clothes shopping – I’ve been putting it off as I didn’t want to do a shop partway through, in case I got incentivised to stop.

So what did I do to lose 30 kgs? Well it’s actually really simple. Not easy, but simple. You eat less and exercise more. There is no alternative to that.

Here’s the 10 things I did, which worked for me. They won’t work for everyone, or be appropriate for everyone. But they’re what I did.

1. Balance

I’ve actually been going to the gym on and off for 15 years. But I never managed to lose much weight, or sustain it. The reason is that the experts are all right – you need to do both exercise and diet to lose weight. Doing one without the other just doesn’t work.

If you want to lose say half a kg a week, and are eating the normal intake of 2,000 calories a day, then you’d need to spend 17 hours a week walking. And if your intake was say 2,200 calories a day (which it probably has been if you were putting on weight) then it would need 22 hours a week of walking.

So balance is crucial, I found.  Exercise alone is rarely enough.

2. Measure

In the early days I set up a spreadsheet to measure my daily intake of calories, carbs, fats, sugars, sodium etc. I’d enter in details for I purchased or go to a calorie count website to estimate various meals. That worked pretty well, but what made things so much easier for when Duncan Babbage introduced me to My Fitness Pal.

My Fitness Pal makes it so easy to monitor your calories and make informed choices. On the food side, it has a huge database of foods. But even better it can scan barcodes and use the manufacturer’s information. Plus you can enter in your own meals.

It also allows you to enter in each day how much walking, jogging, kayaking, cycling etc you have done, and estimates the calories burnt from that.

I’ve told heaps of people about My Fitness Pal, and most have started using it. Just with it alone, I’ve seen others do dramatic weight loss. Once you understand how many net calories you should be consuming in a day, you can be empowered to make better decisions.

I’m a bit of a numbers geek, so here’s the numbers I focused on:

  • 2,000 calories a day will keep you at about your normal weight. It is a bit more if you are already overweight. But 2,000 is the general per day, which is 14,000 a week.
  • An extra 9,000 calories over your target will result in an extra kg of weight. Likewise 9,000 calories under your target will mean you lose a kg of weight.
  • If you want to lose half a kg a week, then you need to average around 9,500 calories a week instead of 14,000. That is around 1,400 calories a day.

3. Walking

Walking is a great way to not just lose weight, but as importantly increase fitness so you can do more strenuous exercise. It won’t do the job by itself, but will work well alongside watching your food.

An hours walking at around 5 kms an hour will burn around 260 calories off. At 5.5 kms an hour it is 300 calories. An hour’s walking a day is 2,100 calories which is around half of the 4,500 a week to lose half a kg a week.

I used to bus or taxi to meetings in town. Now, so long as I have the time, I walk everywhere from Thorndon. If I am going to the movies at the Embassy Theatre I’ll walk there around the waterfront. It takes 30 to 35 minutes but hey that is 300 calories gone (which then allows you an ice cream during the movie :-))

On top of just walking more during the week, I also tried to do one big walk every Sunday with friends – normally a 3 to 4 hour walk along a scenic path. A great way to get some great views, enjoy some good company, get fitter and lose weight.

More recently I have joined the MeetUp Wellywalks group. Rather than me having to arrange the walk every weekend, I can go on walks other people organise. This weekend just gone I did a four and a half hour walk on Saturday to the Pencarrow Lighthouse and around part of a lake there, and on the Sunday a two hour walk in the Wainuiomata Waterworks Recreation Area, including along the Tana Umaga track!

4. Focus on Calories

There’s all these different diets. People tell you it is all about carbs, or about sugars, or the fats. There are good reasons to keep an eye on all of those things, but for me I just focused on calories.

I learnt that sadly many of my favourite foods such as chinese meals, whitebait fritters, pastas just have too many calories. Now that doesn’t mean I never have them. I just have them rarely. If I have a high calorie meal (inevitable in some restaurants) then I’ll just try to compensate the next day.

I used to check sugars, fats, carbs and all that. Probably still should. But for me, just focusing on the calories has worked.

5. Gym

You can lose weight by diet alone, but the great thing about going to the gym regularly is you both get fitter, and lose weight. And the fitter you get, the easier it is to exercise.

I used to hate going to the gym. Now I get restless if I have gone more than one day without a run or going to the gym. I actually feel bad if I don’t exercise. Now that doesn’t mean, the workouts still are not hard. They are. but they do get better over time. It is worth persevering with.

I live five minutes from CityFitness Thorndon so go there five times a week. I do three sessions a week on the treadmill, and two sessions with a trainer. Trainers do cost money, but for me it was a good investment into my health. Thanks to Amanda, Hamish, Russell and Sam for their efforts.

I’ve also started spin classes, as I want to do the Otago Rail Trail at some stage.

A good gym session can burn 500 to 600 calories. But what I’ve discovered is they’re more for increasing fitness and strength so you can exercise all the time – not just in the gym. You absolutely can’t under-estimate the importance of building up your core. Most of my trainer sessions now are focused on weights, as I can do the cardio by myself or in a group.

6. Alcohol

I’ve almost become a non-drinker. If you want to get people to drink less, then I have a simple solution – stick calorie labels on them.

I still have the odd wine if entertaining at home, and if there is something to celebrate will let loose and have a big night of it. But otherwise, I’m drinking water or diet coke rather than alcohol.

Wine has some health benefits, but a couple of wines is 250 calories. If you have four rum and cokes then that is 1,100 calories – around double a typical dinner.  I like to drink, but I only do so occasionally now to avoid the weight gain.

7. Running

As my fitness improved, I started to jog. It took a long time to get there. Trying to jog with a heavy body weight and being unfit is a bad combo. I could manage around a minute at best.

What I did as I tried to increase capacity was use road side reflector signs and run between one set, walk the next, run the next etc. Then after a while I’d run two, walk one.

But what made a real difference was again another smartphone app. It’s called 10K Runner. After I managed to walk the 7 km Around the Bays course in Feb 2012, I wanted to try and train so I could run it in Feb 2013. The app was a big help for that.

It sets out a 14 week training programme, with three sessions a week. Ideal for a treadmill, or outside. At first it is a 15 minute session where you run for a minute, then walk for 90 seconds and repeat six times. By week four it is three minute runs and two minute walks for a total of 30 minutes. Week eight is a 25 minute run, and eventually you can run for 60 minutes.

The great thing with the app is they know from experience for fast to push you. Each session is based on being just a bit more than the one before. Occasionally if it was getting too hard I’d just repeat a session before moving onto the next one.

The end result is I managed to do the 7 km run in under 40 minutes and will be doing a 10 km run next month. I never thought I’d be able to be fit enough to run for an hour, as the last time I did it I was 17.

8. Portion Size

My biggest challenge is portion size. Buffets are a particular form of (but good evil). When left to my own devices I will happily eat far too much food.

A major part of losing weight was controlling portion sizes, and being able to measure what I eat.  The meals home delivered by have been a major help in doing that. the meals are 400 or 500 gms in size, and they have lite and non-lite meals. The lite meals are around 300 calories and the fuller meals 400 to 600 calories.

They are tasty, nutritious, cook in four minutes and are fresh. If like me, you tend to cook too much for yourself, they are a good discipline substitute.

When eating out, I will do two courses max. I wish restaurants had calory counts for their dishes though!

9. Snacks

In Wellington I can often have two or three functions a week where you are invited to something and they put on nibbles, and drinks. They’re great fun, but you spend two to three hours nibbling on snacks not realising they’ve got more calories in them than lunch and inner combined. Add on a few drinks and you can hit your 2,000 calories off one function – and even worse, have dinner afterwards!

I now limit myself to three or four snacks max at a function, and say one glass of fine. And no dinner afterwards – that is your dinner.

I appreciate hosts who put on more than sausage rolls, and include healthier options such as sushi. I’ve grown to love sushi. Treasury – please take note for future Budget lockups!

I snack a bit during the day, as I work mainly from home. I try to have fairly healthy stuff such as grapes and apples around, so I can snack on that.

My basic calorie calculation for a day is breakfast 300, lunch 300, dinner 600 and snacking 200 – 300.. With that you can lose weight.

10. Don’t Give Up

Some weeks you go backwards. I put on 3 kgs in one week – mind you that was celebrating the 2011 election! Some other weeks I have had the weight go up, when I thought I had done well. It is hellishly discouraging.

But you just carry on. Your individual weight on a day can vary by a kg or so depending on time of day, when you last went to the toilet etc.

Over time, exercising more and watching your food does work. I wasn’t one of those people that could lose half a kg a week consistently. Some weeks I lost over a kg, some weeks I went backwards. But so long as the direction was overall good, I stuck with it. there were times I wanted to quit.

Also occasionally you do have a huge blowout. You go away on holiday and the girls bake all weekend and you end up having a great holiday, but undoing the hard work of the last few weeks. You just decide that is the price of a weekend off, and carry on.

There is a bit of a realisation that I can never go back to the bad old days of eating whatever I wanted to eat. But once I just need to maintain my weight, and by exercising regularly, I will have a lot more latitude in what I eat and drink. However that is still some way off. While 80 kgs was the original target, I want to carry on. I figure my natural weight in somewhere in the low 70s.

Also having got into this exercise lark, I plan to keep it up for as long as my body will let me. I figure running was probably easier at 25 than 45, but as I said hope to do a 10 km race next month and if things go well possibly (not definite) try the Round the Bays half marathon next February.

Also planning to do heaps more tramping – in fact plan to do the nine Great NZ Walks over the next three summers. Super looking forward to them. And also keen to do the Otago Rail Trail, and then some other bike trails. Thanks for the $50m for them John!

So that’s what I did to lose 30 kgs. It won’t work for everyone, but it did work for me.

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