Body Image Series Part 2 - How I lost 37lbs in less than a year
Last week I wrote about how I’ve struggled with my weight since my early 20’s, and had gone through a couple of phases in terms of getting in shape. Unfortunately, despite having lost a shit tonne of weight, I was still overweight, and because we now live in a social media world, there were increasing amounts of photos of me to highlight that fact!
I knew I wanted to get in shape, and look good in photos, but like most people, my head was full of misinformation and dogma about how to do it. In the summer of 2016, I made a solid effort to lose weight by doing what I thought would get me skinny... running!
I downloaded the Nike Run Club app, set myself up on a training programme and ran consistently for about 8 weeks, thinking I was going to get thin. Now there were a couple of problems with this... firstly, I hate running, so the amount of willpower I had to use was ridiculous. Secondly, cardio actually makes you hungrier, so I needed even more willpower to avoid eating all the food as soon as I finished a run. On top of that, I never actually had a clear idea of what I wanted to achieve. It’s all very well saying ‘I want to get fit’ or ‘I want to lose weight’, but it’s important to actually know why, and specifically what you want the end result to look like. The silly thing, is that I was trying use running to get in shape, but I have no desire to be the shape of Mo Farah. Sure, he’s skinny, and an amazing athlete, but he doesn’t look the way I want to look, and I was coming to the realisation that my reasoning for wanting to lose weight was purely aesthetic, and should start thinking of it in that way.
I started looking at various men, to work out who had the kind of body I wanted. I’ve always been good at objectivity, so I saw this as empowering. This was the first step on my journey to a body I’ve never had before... one I could be proud of! I quickly ruled out all the super huge Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dwayne Johnson types. I decided that I wanted to look normal with clothes on, and then amazing in my pants. I know it sounds silly and superficial (especially since I’m single), but I was doing this for me... no one else! Effectively I was aiming for Ryan Gosling’s body in Crazy Stupid Love...
He looks normal in clothes, and there isn’t ridiculous amounts of muscle going on... this is achievable right? Also, as I understand it, girls think Ryan Gosling is attractive, so I went with it! Haha!
So I now had the goal... and I had the motivation... all I needed was the process, the ‘how’. I decided to go right back to basics, and re-educate myself on the human body and nutrition... after all, I’d been wrong about running, so who knows what else I could be wrong about?
I often fall down YouTube knowledge holes. It’s an amazing resource for all kinds of things. I actually use it more than Google for finding things out. I like hearing people explain and see visual examples, whether it be ted talks, or chefs showing me how to roast a grouse. So, I was watching a load of videos about male celebrity transformations as inspiration and motivation, and noticed Hugh Jackman mention ‘Intermittent Fasting’ when he was getting in shape for one of his Wolverine roles. I had no idea what that was, so I began to research it some more.
Effectively, rather than restrict what you eat, it restricts when you eat. The most common method people use is the 16/8 approach, whereby you have an 8 hour eating window to consume all your calories, and then you don’t eat (fast), for 16 hours. This sounds way worse than it is. In reality, due to being asleep for half of your fast, it usually just means skipping breakfast.
It all sounded far too simple, so I carried on researching, and what I soon learned is that everything I thought I knew about nutrition was wrong, and that it’s not as simple as ‘eat less + move more = weight loss’. Our bodies are more complicated than that, and hormones play a far bigger role in our lives than most of us realise. Here’s some good videos that go some way into breaking down into easily digestible (pun intended) chunks, some of the science about our bodies, and also how the mainstream nutritional idea came to be...
Now, before I go any further, I want to say that I’m no nutritionist, let alone an endocrinologist, but it’s my body and I’ll do what I want with it. I’m not saying to do what I did. My evidence is purely anecdotal, and I encourage you to do your own research before doing any kind of diet or weight loss plan.
So what happened? I started by skipping breakfast. I would fast until midday, and then eat lunch. I would then have dinner around 7pm, meaning at least 16 hours without any calories at all. At first I would start getting really hungry around 11am, but a black coffee would stop that, and over time it got easier and easier, to the point where I would start pushing my first meal back further.
From time to time, I track my food intake using MyFitnessPal, to give me an idea of what is in what food. I also calculated how many calories I burn per day (TDEE) to make sure I wasn’t eating more than I was burning off. I also set about learning exactly how to get that Ryan Gosling physique, which meant dropping body fat and doing restistance training in order to build muscle, so bought myself some dumbbells and a bench so that I could start lifting weights.
I was a little under 2 months in when Christmas rolled around, and I managed to maintain my eating window over the festive period, apart from Christmas Day, when I allowed myself to eat all the things. One of the things I love about this method is that is adaptable. If I go out for dinner with friends and we eat late, I just delay eating the next day to maintain the 16 hour fast. Anyway, for Christmas I got a body composition scales, which has helped massively. It measures body fat % and muscle mass, as well as weight, and WiFi’s it to my phone so it can sync with apple health and myfitnesspal. It’s been a game changer. I was now able to consistently track my weight loss over time with graphs and metrics for a variety of measurements.
One of the important things I want to get across is that we live in this amazing world where we have so much more data at our fingertips, but more often than not, we focus on the wrong numbers, and don’t really understand what those numbers mean anyway in the grand scheme of things. It’s take a while for me to focus more on body fat % rather than just my weight, but weight is not an accurate measurement of your body composition. For example... if you eat carbohydrates, your body will retain more water in your muscles (the clue is in the ‘hydrate’ part). This will make you weigh more, but you’re not gaining fat... and it’s my body fat that I wanted to reduce!
I also recognise, that body composition scales aren’t the most accurate when it comes to body fat %, but as long as you’re consistent, and use the same scales at roughly the same time each day, they will show an overall trend, and that’s what matters, rather than the exact number.
As time went on, I found fasting became not just easier, but normal. More often than not, I will only eat once per day. This probably sounds crazy to most of you, but it just works for me. I’m an all or nothing person. I find it really hard to eat just a small amount... that actually makes me even hungrier. I much prefer to just go all day without food and then eat until I’m full. It also makes it harder to over-eat, which is something I’ve traditionally been very good at! This is mainly due to a lack of muscle. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so over time as I gain muscle, I’ll actually be able to eat more... I’m looking forward to that!
You probably want to know about my results... well the weight came off... fast! Especially in the beginning, as I was losing a lot of water weight. In a year, I’ve gone from wearing a large, to a medium, and now a small. I’ve lost inches everywhere, and have had to completely change my wardrobe!
After a couple of months, fasting became very normal to me. I actually don’t even think about it anymore. It’s just a lifestyle, and that’s why I love it. It’s more than just the initial results... it’s easily maintainable, and adaptable so it can fit around you and your life.
After a while, I outgrew my dumbbells and thought I should join a gym. I initially wanted to avoid it due to the intimidation of being overweight with no real strength and seeing loads of big guys lifting heavy weights and feeling judged. Thankfully, my motivation overruled my anxiety and I joined the Soho Gym at the end of my road.
I learned about all the muscle groups and what they do and watching fitness youtubers like Jeff Nippard and Vitruvian Physique, I came up with my own training plan. Was it an optimal workout strategy? No... But it was good for me in that I could just focus on making the gym a habit, rather than a chore. I also made sure I had big headphones with me to help zone out and ignore anyone else around me so I could just focus on what I was doing, and my own journey. I always like to train in the morning, and on an empty stomach (fasted). I don’t have any issues with dizziness or fatigue. It’s just normal.
So did all of this work? You could say that...
I managed to lose 16.9kg (37.2lbs) in weight! I dropped approximately 11% body fat, and at the same time, I’ve gained muscle! What’s even better, is that I’ve done it without giving up any of the foods I love! If you follow me on Instagram, you know I love eating things like burgers and ice cream. It was important for me to find a way to make a sustainable lifestyle that helped me to reach my goals, but not at the expense of actually enjoying life! I love food, that’s what got me into this mess I the first place... now I get to have my cake (or burger) and eat it!
Of course, this is no miracle pill that enables me to stuff my face with crap, and still lose weight, and yes... if I ate plain chicken and broccoli for every meal I could well have gotten faster results, but for me, that’s just not enjoyable, and therefore it isn’t sustainable. The best diet or fitness plan is the one you can stick to, and intermittent fasting is something I can stick to with little to no effort!
Fasting isn’t new. All major religions prescribe fasting in one form or other and have done for centuries. You’re told to fast before surgery. The first meal of the day is literally ‘break fast’!!! But most fitness experts and nutritionalists will still say it’s bad for you. Partly this is due to drawing the wrong conclusions from various studies and experiments (watch the videos above if you haven’t), but also because fasting is just not eating... and you can’t sell that. Dieting and weight loss is a huge industry. If fat is stored food, and you want to lose fat, why are you eating more food?
“In the 1960s a world record was set at Maryfield hospital, Dundee when a patient named Angus Barbieri spent 382 days between June 1965 and July 1966 without taking solid food. Barbieri survived by taking tea, coffee and soda water as well as vitamins. During that period, his weight declined from 214 to 80.74 kilograms (33 st 9.8 lb to 12 st 10.0 lb; 471.8 to 178.0 lb).” Wikipedia
We live in a society based around 3 meals a day. Most people believe that if you skip even a single meal, you’re putting your life in danger. This just isn’t true. In fact, fasting has been shown to have many positive health benefits, both physical, and psychological... and I can testify to that!
I encourage you to do your own research. Also, when you see a weight loss method, ask yourself if someone is making money from it. Educate yourself on how your body works. What are macro-nutrients? What happens to your body when you eat carbs? Not on the scales, but inside you! Our bodies are fascinating machines, and most of us have no clue how they work. Feel free to ask in the comments below if you want to know anything more about my experience. I’ve been doing this for over a year, and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Have you tried intermittent fasting? What’s your opinion on it? Leave a comment below! Part 3 of my weight loss journey will be next week, and will focus on how I’ve changed as a person, both in terms of appearance and confidence.