Here’s the deal, I think I’m having an early midlife crisis. Although in this case the outcome has been positive.
I was an overweight kid, I ate all the wrong things and too much of them. Finally, in 6th Form, I’d had enough and I started following Weight Watchers. I managed to slim down from a size 14/16 to a size 12, I’d hit 9st 10lbs and I was happy. I maintained that weight for 5/6 years, which I was proud of as maintenance is far harder than the initial loss. Then I had a particularly hard bout of depression to deal with and slimmed down further through not eating (I didn’t want to). Once I’d got back on my feet I unfortunately developed entirely the wrong relationship with food and piled on almost 2 stone. That weight hung around for a long time. I was back to following WW, and managed to get back to an okay place. After a few months I’d pushed through and was back to my good weight. And then piled a stone back on again. That’s been me for the last year, and I’ve hated what I’ve seen. I’ve slowly been peeling away the pounds, and I was back to a decent 10st 3lbs a few months ago.
Then something happened. I’ve suffered from anxiety / depression since I was 14, but it’s stayed mostly in the realms of mental health with only some physical symptoms. I’ve never suffered from panic attacks. Then about a month ago I suddenly started developing all the symptoms of stroke. Numb left side, couldn’t speak, searing headache, a sore eye and so on. The thing is I have high blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke, I’d even had to recently change birth control due to the risks, so when I called NHS 111 they sent an ambulance. I went to A&E and it turns out I’d “just” suffered a full blown panic attack mimicking stroke like symptoms. I then went on to “float” for a day (one of the weirdest things I’ve ever experienced).
It scared the shit out of me! It felt like a wakeup call, like a warning of “what could happen” if you don’t care. It flipped a switch. I decided I wanted to focus on my real health and fitness. I was back to 9st 13lbs by this point. But I didn’t want to just be a good weight. I wanted to be fitter. I wanted to be better. Losing weight is easy, you need to expend more than you take in, and you should lose weight (things like medication, health conditions etc withstanding). I’m in no way saying having the willpower to do this is easy, but the formula is simple. My developer mind likes that, a proven algorithm. In the past I would, of course, follow this rule. But the thing is chickpeas can have the same amount of calories as a packet of Quavers, but one of those is much better for you.
I’d never cared about that aspect of food in the past, though. Not until around 9 months ago when I became a vegetarian. I’d made the switch for ethical reasons, but was naturally introduced to a world of healthy recipes upping my intake of beans, pulses, legumes, nuts etc. Part of my long term lifestyle change had already been completed, little to my knowledge at the time. If I hadn’t have made the switch back then for ethical reasons, I’d have made it now for health reasons. I wish I could go all the way and commit to a vegan diet, but that’s much, much harder. Becoming a vegetarian (asides from sorting out things like a parmesan cheese replacement) has been a breeze for me - it was probably easier for me as I wasn’t a big meat eater / fan anyway.
I’m not saying being a vegetarian automatically makes you consume a healthy diet, but most people will start to explore a world of things like chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, lentils etc once meat is removed - and those are all incredibly good for you.
After that night Cam and I vowed to start eating “right”, i.e. not just eating less calories, but caring about what was behind them. We wanted to eat clean. We’ve cut out 90 - 95% of the refined / processed foods we ate; we cook dinners religiously now; we don’t treat fast food / takeaways / meals out as a regular part of our life, they’re treats now; we try our best to do it at home (homemade pesto, falafels etc); we have one treat day not 2…3…4 (our lifestyle was a mess).
I had weeks where I might consume a McDonalds, a Dominos and a meal out (or 2) in one week. Looking back I’m very ashamed with myself. Not just because of the filth I was (regularly) putting inside me, but because of the sheer amount of money I wasted.
So that was nutrition / diet sorted. Which left the other monster in the room, exercise. I’ve never bothered with exercise before, daily dog walks were as good as it got. The rule is roughly 80/20 when it comes to diet / exercise and the effect on weight loss, i.e. diet is far more important for just losing weight. But, to improve your overall fitness and health exercise becomes very important. To build muscle, tone up, lower blood pressure, lower the risk of heart disease / heart attack / diabetes etc exercise becomes ever more paramount. This time around I didn’t want to just be slim-ish, I wanted to be toned, I wanted to look good, I wanted to be fitter and I wanted to be stronger.
So we joined the gym, and I love it. I love the burn, the feeling of beating my personal bests, the progress I can already see and the fact that I’m challenging myself. So much of my success in life has come from doing things on a computer, this was something I could throw myself into that didn’t involve any technology. With the countless mental health problems I have, I’m not exactly one for feeling mentally strong. But workouts let me challenge myself mentally and physically, and power through. Normally when my mind would tell me “no” or “stop”, it tells me to carry the fuck on and get it done when I’m working out. I leave the gym on a high, and can assure anyone the endorphin rush is very real.
I want to tread carefully here because a lot of people seem to think depression can be cured with exercise / diet, and that’s absolute bollocks. But, it can certainly help out along with all the other countless things we do to try and stay on the good side of our mental health issues. I’ve brought meditation back into my regular routine as well by way of the Headspace app.
All of these things combined have allowed me to take the “edge” off of my issues for a bit. Just prior to the “incident” my anxiety / depression had reached a big low, and I was really losing grip on reality. I tend to go through these cycles where a “big thing” can get me back on a less destructive path, but inevitably the cycle goes back around again. I don’t know when the big-lows will hit again, but right now I’m happy to ride the mid-lows wave.
I’m always dubious of my own success, the last time I thought I was well and truly on a road to eating well, I ended up falling off the wagon 6 months later. I learnt to cook that time, but then started cooking all the wrong things…
This time I genuinely feel like a life change has been made. I never want to experience something like that again, and in reality nothing had even happened. Whilst our nervous systems don’t know the difference between internal and external, and every physical symptom was completely real, I knew it’d end eventually and I’d return back to “normal”. When it’s not a drill, you don’t get that luxury.
Everyone knows one of the best ways to commit to something is to make long term goals, and we now have several:
- Once we’re both happy with our bodies we’ll get married (finally!)
- We’re going to do Tough Mudder in 2017
We’ll also be joining a martial arts club of some description soon. I loved Karate back when I was younger, so that’ll likely be what we pursue. I’ll also be posting month by month progress pictures on Instagram. That’s huge! The mere thought of a holiday bikini picture sends shivers down my spine, so to post something like that is a big deal to me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still have my treats. But they’ll have a place in the week now (not 6 places). The cravings for naughty food are gone, and last weekend we opted not to have a cheat at all. They say it takes 66 days to form a long term habit, so in around 4 weeks time I hope I can say the habit has been well and truly made.
6 weeks later
I’m really happy to report, zero falling off the bandwagon. We’re still hitting the gym 3 times a week. This week we’ve bought the roof rack for our new mountain bikes, and next week I’ll be buying the bike (Cam gets his through the Cycle to Work scheme). Getting back into Karate is also on the horizon now that I’ve found a suitable club.
It’s insane how different food tastes now. I’d never eaten “clean” before, I’d only ever eaten to satisfy the Weight Watchers gods and lose pounds, but I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone. There’s a stigma with healthy food that it’ll be boring or horrible, but I love everything we eat (I wouldn’t eat it if I didn’t). The thought of something like a McDonalds now repulses me. Of course, I’m not perfect, I do crave the odd naughty thing. But not “dirty” things anymore. If I fancy something it’s along the lines of a freshly prepared creamy pasta sauce, a homemade cake, or pizza prepared from fresh ingredients. You can have a lot of fun with cooking; at the weekend I had pancakes, but really nutritious pancakes made from nothing but bananas, oats and egg (and a little honey on top).
My blood pressure has dropped from high, to healthy. I’ve gone from averaging 145 / 100 to 117 / 77 at the last reading.
I’m getting stronger, my personal bests are improving all the time. When I first attempted Russian Twists I managed about 3 and then had to stop. Now I do sets of 20 with an 8kg exercise ball. Tonight I upped my leg press game to 73kg. It’s incredibly addictive! I have definition in places now that I didn’t know could have definition, and I’m starting to tone up under the fat that’s left. I was 9st 7lbs the last time I weighed in; but that means very little to me nowadays, what means a lot more is things like dropping 3 inches off my waist.
I know that this is a permanent lifestyle change now. If I go back to my old ways it’s quite obvious things like my blood pressure will just creep back up. I won’t have this abundance of energy. I won’t feel this good. I’m glad, I don’t want to return to the constant yo-yo of being on a diet. Whilst I am counting things currently as I’m still getting rid of fat, eventually this will just be “life”. I want to enter my 30s at the top of my game.