New Year Resolutions: Half-time assessment and goal revision.
I’ve always struggled with physical fitness and weight. Other people who exercised as much as I did, or ate as much as I did (e.g. my siblings) could, with, as much as or less effort, lose more weight and/or remain faster or stronger than I was. This is true even though I’m the tallest in the family (so, as a matter of physics I should be stronger and faster). I am also, unfortunately, a stress-eater. I tend to eat more when I am hungry. Also, I like to eat just about anything which is cheesy, oily or deep fried, or some combination of those. I also have an incredible sweet tooth. Like lots of non-thin people, I make weight loss goals which are never kept.
This year, things have a little more urgency than normal. I will be getting married this November and a traditional South-Indian Brahmin wedding ceremony requires the groom to be shirtless for the bulk of it. At the beginning of this year I was 100 kg (220 lbs), which put me at a BMI of about 27. People do say that BMI is not necessarily a good indicator of how fat you are. After all, people with broad frames and lots of muscle, but who are not fat may be technically overweight even if they are very fit. However, this just makes it worse for me. I have a relatively narrow frame for someone of my height, and given my difficulty in building muscle, all that excess weight is just fat. Also, I was struggling to fit into waist 38 pants. If I were to at least look decent on my wedding day, I realised that I needed to lose weight and fast. So, instead of the 5 or 10 kg (11 or 22 lbs) that I usually aim for and never progress towards, I decided to go for 15 kg (33 lbs). That is, by Halloween, I have to reach 85 kg (187 lbs). Right now, I’m nearing the half-way point of my deadline and I have decided to take stock of my situation and revise my goals if necessary.
So, as of this morning I have lost 11 kg (24 lbs) over these past 5 months and am now, roughly, 89 kg (196 lbs). This means that I am more than 2/3 of my way to my goal. This means that if I can maintain my rate of weight loss, I can lose another 11 kg to hit 78 kg (171 lbs) and hope to be something I haven’t been in 9 years: slim. Now, this new target is not necessarily too unrealistic. When I finished basic military training, I was 72 kg (158 lbs). I put some meat on my bones over the next two years to be 75 kg (165 lbs). As an Asian, I need to keep a BMI of below 22 in order to not minimise the risk of mortality from excess weight.
How I did it:
I absolutely detest exercising. I used to be so unfit that a 2 km (1.25 miles) uninterrupted jog in the morning sun would have me breathless, not to mention a headache for the rest of the day. So, I took the easy way out. I would jog the easier distances and walk the tougher (uphill) stretches. Slowly, as I got used to this level of exercise, I started jogging in some areas in which I would have previously walked. For instance, if I would normally stop after a particular downhill stretch, I would use that momentum to carry me on just a bit further. At no point did I push myself too hard. I also, at some point, started adding another 1 km stretch that was mostly downhill to my route. Eventually I became able to comfortably jog 3 km. At about this time, I was about 97 kg (213 lbs), but my weight was not decreasing any further. Also, the daily jogging and my weight was taking a toll on my knees (which weren’t in particularly good shape either). So, I decided to take up swimming. When I first started swimming, it was horrible. The swimming itself was fun*. But aftermath… I could barely move the next day. Once I got used to swimming and jogging on alternate days, I increased the distance I jogged to 4 km (2.5 miles). I had also very quickly increased the distance I swam to 10 or more laps (alternating between the crawl and the breaststroke). By the beginning of April, I had just hit about 95 kg (209 lbs). A week in India (the food is awesome and its difficult to avoid over eating) put me back at 96 kg. Within a week of returning, I hit 94 kg and hovered below it for the next two weeks. I then hit 93 kg a month ago. At about that time, I also increased my jogging distance to 5 km (about 3 miles). I managed to lose another 1 kg in the first week of May, when into the second week, I caught a bug that had been going around. So, I was down with the flu for about a week and lost 2kg (mostly muscle) on net during my short convalescence. I resumed exercise last week and just this morning, increased my jogging distance to 5.5 km. The hardest part about exercising, for me, is not the level of activity per se. I don’t attempt anything that would be that difficult for my given fitness level. It is persisting in exercising even though I hit a stretch where my weight seems static.
Of course, exercise by itself is insufficient. The hardest part about losing weight is cutting down on how much I eat. I haven’t had a grilled cheese sandwich in ages. My lunch now consists of the Vege-Delite wrap from Subway. It is not substantial. Of course, I did not go jump straight into this from 2 slices of pizza, a day. I started with the vege-patty 6-inch sub (which is just like the vege-delite sub except that it contains a vegetable patty as well. Then I moved to the flatbread. I cut carbs further by changing that to a wrap. Finally, I removed the patty altogether. I allow myself one treat a week. When I take my fiancée out for lunch, we eat something delicious and unhealthy. Of course I don’t keep to my diet as strictly as I would like. I often fall off the wagon. Guilt, and the extra sugars give me the motivation and energy to run faster or further the next day. It is a daily slog. Each day that I don’t give in is a small victory. To paraphrase Bruce Banner, I am always hungry. This constant gnawing hunger is something I must get used to. In some sense, I have been getting used to it. But I still struggle with the temptation to gorge myself on snacks. The key is to make it a habit, to get used to taking only a small portion of rice for dinner. Gradually, I find myself being able to live with a mere lessening of the hunger pangs instead of going on for complete satiety let alone full-ness. A future, where I am permanently hungry seems frightening and hellish. But as long as I take it one day at a time, it seems as if I just might be able to manage it.
1. I feel less ashamed of and repulsed by my body now than I did 5 months ago. When I become skinny again, I will be confident that I can appear shirtless on my wedding day and not be judged.
2. I have exchanged one sin (sloth) for another (vanity). I might have become just a bit more narcissistic. I find that I check myself out on any passing reflective surface. This is related to 1. Since pride is the opposite of shame, as one feels less ashamed about something she feels more proud about it. Vanity, seems to be a species of pride and narcissism is derivative or at least strongly akin to it.
3. Make that two sins. I have also become more judgmental of people who claim to be unable to lose weight. As someone who previously thought that weight-loss was an idle fantasy for someone like me, I have come to realise that the only reason I did not lose weight previously was that I did not try hard enough. I believe that lots of other people who think that they are incapable of losing weight are also mistaken about that. They are just unwilling to put in the effort, especially to suffer the hunger pangs. Of course there are people who have work commitments, who don’t live a life of leisure and thus don’t have the time to exercise. But it feels good to judge other people. And its a sin that I can indulge in the privacy of my own mind. It also harms no-one, so long as such judgment is kept to the boundaries of my head.
4. On reflection, I have more sympathy for the transgendered. I imagine that they must reject their mis-gendered bodies in a way similar to how I reject my fat body. However transitioning from one gender to another is much harder than transitioning from fat to thin. I have begun to appreciate and respect the effort and risks trans people undertake so that they can look in the mirror and see a body that they can accept.
5. However, as mentioned in 3, I have become less sympathetic to fat activists. I have always been sympathetic to the notion that shame and revulsion is an appropriate response to one’s own fatness. This was tempered by my belief that being fat was nigh unavoidable for many, perhaps even most fat people. My own success (so far) in my battle against my fat has led me to revise my estimate of how many people, about whom such a claim is true, downwards.
6. Compared to the much more physically active among you, my level of activity must seem pathetic by comparison. Compared to the average person, perhaps its not much. But compared to where I started from its a huge improvement
7. No Pain No Gain, even if true, is the worst** advice to give to someone who is drastically unfit and unsure if he wants to embark on an exercise program. The advice I think is more useful is to tell people to exercise at a level that they are comfortable with. I think it is more important to get people into the habit of exercising than worrying about the particular efficacy of any given exercise session. That’s also one of the reasons why those 10 minute exercise videos are just demotivating: The video shows you a high intensity work out that you could do only if you were somewhere much nearer to physical perfection than you currently are. Those videos are for people who are already mostly fit and want to lose 1-2kg they have picked up over a busy month. Expecting someone of my fitness level or for that matter, where I was in January to do those exercises seems ludicrous.
So, how are your own weight loss goals going?***
*Incidentally, it is not too difficult to pick up swimming on your own. Just be sure to stay in the shallow end of the pool until you are confident of your technique.
**Ok, maybe not the worst, but its pretty bad.
***Yeah, I’m rubbing it in (a bit). Pride is not a nice emotion in others, but a lot of fun in one’s own self.
(Photo courtesy of and posted with permission from: Rene)