On the morning of Saturday May 19th, 2012 I awoke with a hangover. The previous night I'd been drinking in York with some friends and now felt truly awful, not just because of the booze and its after effects but because on a number of occasions on that night out that I'd been made aware of just how big a guy I was. Nothing mean or nasty was said. It was something I'd actually been bringing up myself, almost as an icebreaker. "I'm Pete. I'm the big guy". I realised I'd been doing this on nights out for a while.
That Saturday morning, 100 days ago from today, I got out of bed and stumbled into the bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror and stood on the bathroom scales. The needle swung round and pointed to 20st 1lb (281lbs / 127.5kg). I'd stood on the scales at the pub the night before as part of my self-deprecation (a 'guess my weight' bet - they lost). On those pub scales the needle hit the stopper. My weight had literally gone off-the-scale.
With a hangover like this my normal routine would be a big breakfast followed by biscuits until I'd taken in enough sugar to make me feel better about myself. But I made a decision to stop right there and then. I didn't want to wait until Monday, or until we'd run out of crisps in the cupboard. I was putting an end to it.
Before I'd even eaten breakfast I'd launched whatever text-editing app I was favouring at the time on my phone and made a bulleted list with the heading: "Manifesto for Personal Change - May 2012". I didn't mean it to sound so grand or pompous, but I was hungover and determined.
The list read as follows:
- Early to bed
- Early to rise
- Cycle in the morning
- No bread, beer or biscuits
- No wine
- Smaller portions
- Leave food on the plate
- No bakery
- Walk or cycle everywhere
- Stay away from potatoes
- More fish
- No coffee or tea after lunch
- Drink lots of water
- Smaller plate
- Green tea
- Switch mobile off in the evening
- Lose 4st by Christmas
A lot of that list is nonsense. I'll say it again, I was pretty hung over. It wasn't definitive or final (although I promised myself I wouldn't remove anything from the list, only add to it over time). I knew that I wouldn't be able to stick to it faithfully but I was going to try my best to prove myself wrong on that count. I also knew that my target of losing 56lbs was hugely unrealistic, let alone losing it before the end of the year. If I'd set myself an easy goal though I would have hit it quickly and then relaxed. The idea behind this gargantuan task was to force me into a prolonged effort.
I've never been an unfit person and I'm assured by others that I've never looked my weight. I've always enjoyed sport and for the past few years I've been a keen cyclist, regularly riding 100-150miles a week in the Summer months, but I've never lost weight doing that. I enjoy sport and upping my levels and frequency of exercise wasn't going to be a problem for me but it wasn't even half the battle. I ate too much and drank too much and all of the wrong stuff.
I could have picked a diet out of a book or from one of my wife's magazines but I've done diets before and whilst I've lost weight on them, it's crept back on afterwards. This time it needed to be more than a diet. It needed to be a lifestyle change. I would stop eating processed things, choosing instead to eat fresh and whole foods. I didn't go for particularly low-fat or low-calorie choices (snacking on nuts and raisins and having salads with oily fish such as mackerel and sardines. I use plenty of good olive oil.) but I went from eating because there was food available to eating because the food was nice. My diet for the last 100 days has been pretty much what you see in the list. I've had the odd beer or glass of wine and I've started eating bread again now (although only wholemeal and not very much) but that part of the 'manifesto' has largely been followed through on. I haven't been hungry and I haven't missed a thing. Willpower hasn't been an issue because I wasn't actually depriving myself of anything. I've eaten good, tasty food (thanks in most part to my lovely wife, Nicki).
I've made mistakes along the way. I learned pretty quickly about the importance of taking in enough calories to get you through the day. A 23cal cup of rehydrated miso soup does not a lunch make.
I upped my exercise, cycling 30-40 miles a day, every day for the first couple of weeks. The frequency of these rides has gone down now but the effort is higher. I use Strava to log my cycling performance and it's clear how much fitter and faster I've been getting. As my weight goes down, I get faster up the hills. As I get faster up the hills, I feel I can push harder. As I push harder I get fitter and lose more weight. A very happy circle. I'm getting a healthy tan, but only on my arms. My short-sleeve tan-line is razor-sharp.
My energy levels went up from the first week. The effect of these changes to my diet and lifestyle were immediately evident. I've never been happier.
I lost 14lbs in the first week. By the end of the second week I'd lost the second stone. Clothes were getting very baggy and I needed new jeans. The losses slowed down from then but not by much. My third stone had gone by the middle of July and with it, another pair of jeans went to the charity shop. Another thing I learned was that it's not worth spending money on expensive clothes while you're losing weight. Matalan is your friend. In the last 100 days I've gone from a 42" waist to a 36". I'm now buying t-shirts in a medium or maybe a large rather than an XL or XXL.
I hit my original goal of losing 56lbs on August 20th a week later I've knocked another 7lbs off. I'm going to keep going. I'm now targetting a 6st loss overall, which I know is ridiculous and if I get to a point on the way there when I feel like I'm at my ideal weight, I'll stop, but for now I'm carrying on. I feel great and know that this short effort now to change my habits will have long-lasting positive effects on my health.
I'm probably always going to be the big guy. I'm 6'4" and I'll never be slight in appearance, that's just genetics. But I'm much happier being this fit, healthy and happy big guy than the big guy who got drunk in York that night in May.