50 is a nice round number, isn’t it? And one that is generally associated with noteworthy achievements. A golden wedding anniversary. A half-century in cricket. Hitting the bullseye in darts. It’s also the number of pounds in weight I’ve lost over the past eight months. I am (almost literally) half the man I used to be.
12th October 2018 was the day my life changed for the better. Okay, I admit that’s a little melodramatic. But it’s a significant date nonetheless.
It was the day I decided to actually do something about improving my health, rather than just talking about doing it. Or starting half-heartedly and giving up after a couple of weeks, which I had done half a dozen or more times over the previous ten years.
So how did I make it work this time?
Getting my blood sugar under control
Instead of setting myself a weight target, I decided to aim for something more meaningful: to reduce my blood glucose to a ‘normal’ level of 7 mmol/l or less from the less than healthy 11-12 which I had been hovering around for years.
That meant focussing on reducing my carbohydrate intake because carbs are what the body converts into glucose. I was averaging 250 grams daily; I set a target of 100-120 – significant but achievable.
With one eye focussed on carbs and the other on calories – the two are closely linked anyway – I downloaded the MyFitnessPal app and started logging all my key data: carbs, plus calories consumed and burned. That in turn encouraged me to exercise more, nothing more strenuous initially than taking more and longer walks. (Finding the motivation to exercise was easy once I started equating a 20-minute walk with ‘earning’ the calories for a G&T afterwards …)
Within six weeks, I had my blood glucose where I wanted it, when my HbA1c test returned pre-diabetic glucose levels. That was a huge validation of the effort I had put in.
From a weight loss perspective, I had set out thinking I would be doing well if I shed a stone. Two weeks in, I’d already lost ten pounds and realised I could raise the bar. So I set my sights on getting back to my wedding weight, equivalent to a loss of 29 pounds, by the end of March.
I sailed past that milestone in early February.
At that point, I could have patted myself on the back and stopped with the satisfying glow of a job well done. But, like Forrest Gump on his run across America, I kept going. Just because.
People keep saying to me it must have been hard to keep going for so long and to lose so much weight.
I’ll let you into a little secret: it’s been easy.
Okay, maybe not easy. But it hasn’t been that hard at all because my motivation has been right and I’ve been able to keep building on my successes. Weight loss is easy when you can see consistent results, which builds the motivation to do more.
With every target I achieved, I’d set a new one. Don’t settle for where I’ve got to. Push a bit harder. Reach the next round number. 35 pounds lost. 40. Three stone (42 pounds). 45 pounds.
Once I’d got to a certain point, I didn’t really need to lose much more weight. But I wanted to. 50 is a nice round number. And once you’ve got to 45, you might as well tag on the extra five, right?
So I did. And here I am. I’m still shocked by how obvious the difference in my appearance is before and after. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t delighted by the change.
It was a similar story from a fitness perspective. As someone who had become increasingly unfit since becoming a parent, I knew I wasn’t in great shape. Too much weight. A weak knee from an old sporting injury. No cardiovascular endurance.
So I started slow, literally walking before I ran to build some base fitness and give myself a chance to lose some weight first. Once I had done that, I started the Couch to 5K programme at New Year. Two months later, I completed my first 5km run. The fitter I’ve become, the more motivated I am to do more. This October, I’m doing a Tough Mudder. Last October, a one-hour walk was pretty much my limit.
I’m still only averagely fit, at best. But I’m so much better than I was and I’m in as good shape now as I was in my early twenties.
All in the mind
I’ve often said that 90% of any weight loss or fitness regime is about winning the battle in your mind, not your body. My experience over the last eight months has reinforced that view. I’ve wanted to lose weight so many times in the past, had strong medical reasons to do so and knew what I needed to do, but my motivation was lacking.
The single biggest reason I have succeeded this time is that my mindset was right from day one.
When you strip it down, it’s not that complicated. Have a long-term plan in mind. Start by focussing on short-term goals – there’s nothing more satisfying than regularly putting a tick in a box and moving on to the next target. Don’t try to change everything – pick a few things but do them well. And be realistic. I’ve consistently set myself targets that I knew were achievable but never simple. I’ve missed the odd one but I’ve achieved most of them with something to spare, so I’ve always known I was heading in the right direction.
My biggest challenge is still to come. Losing weight and improving my fitness was the easy part. Now I have to consolidate the good habits I have developed and make them routine.
It has never been about ‘going on a diet’; it was about making significant but sustainable changes to my lifestyle. I know I will ease back over time and be more relaxed about what I eat and how much I exercise. But if I can find a balance that means I can maintain the gains I have made, I will hopefully make the changes stick.
And that really will be a good reason to celebrate hitting 50. I never thought I could do this. But now I’ve actually done it, I’m more confident in my ability to lock in my hard earned gains.
I’ve got this.