Getting healthy

I’ve never really considered myself an unhealthy person. I exercise quite regularly and keep up with a reasonable amount of active hobbies (climbing, squash, tennis). That’s not really lapsed much, except for the time the London Mozilla office wasn’t ready and I worked at home – I think I climbed less during that period. Apparently though, that isn’t enough… After EdgeConf, I noticed in the recording of the session I participated in that I was looking a bit more plump than the mental image I had of myself. I weighed myself, and came to the shocking realisation that I was almost 14 stone (89kg). This put me well into the ‘overweight’ category, and was at least a stone heavier than I thought I was.

I’d long been considering changing my diet. I found Paul Rouget’s post particularly inspiring, and discussing diet with colleagues at various work-weeks had put ideas in my head. You could say that I was somewhat of a diet sceptic; I’d always thought that exercise was the key to maintaining a particular weight, especially cardiovascular exercise, and that with an active lifestyle you could get away with eating what you like. I’ve discovered that, for the most part, this was just plain wrong.

Before I go into the details of what I’ve done over the past 5 months, let me present some data:

made with ChartBoot

I started my new diet on February 10th, and as of today (July 13th), I’ve lost 3 stone/~19kg and am well in the ‘ideal’ weight range. Of course, BMI is a pretty rough measure of anything, but I feel better, I’m in much better shape and I find physical activity far more enjoyable than I used to. So how did I do it?

One of the things that really intrigued me about Paul’s diet was that he said that all he did to lose the weight was change what he ate. Nothing else. This was a pretty enticing idea. I never thought I’d be able to give up things like pasta and bread, but if it really meant your weight would just start decreasing with no further effort, it almost seems silly not to give it a try… So I gave it a try. I cut out the major sources of carbohydrate in my diet (potato, pasta, rice, bread, snacks) and indeed my weight, as you can see, immediately started dropping. If you have the weight to lose, the results are pretty dramatic, and much faster than you’d expect. At this point, I was doing no extra exercise, and although I was snacking much less, my portion sizes for meals were unchanged.

I found some nice alternatives for the things I missed. Pasta and rice are quite nicely replaced by steamed, crushed cauliflower. Steamed aubergine makes a nice filler too. For potato, sweet potato is pretty much just better as far as I’m concerned, and celeriac is also a nice alternative. I never really found an alternative to bread, so I still have breakfast with my parents on the weekends and eat my mum’s home-made wholemeal bread. In moderation, I’ve not found it to interrupt my weight-loss at all. I still have porridge for breakfast, and I’m not strict about keeping to any particular amount of carbs in a day. If I gain weight on a day, I just try to be a bit more careful the next day.

The first two stone just dropped off. I did no extra exercise, I didn’t count my calories. The only thing I did was avoid high-carbohydrate foods and weight myself every day. There seem to be mixed opinions on weigh-in frequency, but being able to see the numbers go up and down was pretty significant motivation for me. Your mileage, as ever, may vary. After getting to about 12 stone, my fellow London Mozillian Jonathan Watt challenged me to beat him to 70kg. I’m very grateful for that, as at that time I was pretty happy with 12 stone (it’s in the ideal range and it felt and looked noticeable to me).

The next stone, though still reasonably easy, didn’t come without effort. However, this increased effort was enjoyable, and is now a part of my life (and I intend that to continue). It ends up that carrying 12kg less weight while climbing makes it much more enjoyable, so I was able to climb longer and more frequently. Similarly, I started running with another colleague, Ryan Watson. The weight continued to come off, if anything at an increased rate now, and I was reaching weights I hadn’t been since my early teens.

The last few pounds has been difficult though. I wanted to hit 10 stone 12 to say that I lost 3 stone exactly (perhaps a slightly obsessive compulsion with whole numbers), but realistically, I think 70kg/~11 stone is the weight I’ll maintain. I’m now training for strength to change my body composition to something that will more easily allow me to maintain this weight.

A lot of people helped me to get this far. Ryan was especially encouraging and helped me train when I started to up the exercise. Without Jonathan’s competition, I may have settled for a weight that was still really above the weight I should be and last but not least, I have to thank my wonderful partner Laura for accommodating my new diet and helping me find lots of tasty things to eat. Not to mention my wonderful friends, family and colleagues, all of whom have been terrifically encouraging and supportive. Thanks, everyone 🙂