• Paul McGovern

How I'm going to lose the Christmas spread

Right. It was a good Christmas and I thoroughly enjoyed stuffing my face till I was in physical pain, waiting for it to subside, then repeating.

A tray of freshly baked Yorkshire puddings
Yorkshire puddings. Photo and puddings by the author.

After a few weeks of this, there are three and a half kilos or so for me to shift. I normally weigh 94kg; I'm happy enough with that, as this weight pretty much gets me into the 'normal' Body Mass Index category and out of being 'overweight'. In the last few weeks I've been eating like someone who weighs 130kg. Loads of cream, butter, cake, bread, roasts, leftovers...I'm actually quite tempted to just continue to live like this so I can eat cauliflower cheese every day. But no, I feel sluggish and enough is enough.

I didn't make it to 130kg because I'm stopping the gluttony now, but if I continued I guess that's about the level I'd get to. If I ate a bit less, I'd stabilise at about 120kg; less still, I'd go up to 100kg. My weight is a reflection of how I eat over a period of time. To get to 94kg I need to eat like someone of my height that weighs 94kg. It will take a few weeks, and this is how I'm going to do it. But first, here is what I'm not going to do.

What I'm not going to do

1) Starve myself

If I starve myself and eat like a rabbit, I will be miserable and uncomfortable. I will lose the weight quickly, while feeling progressively worse. If I carried this on I would become malnourished, but my body will be wise enough to stop me harming myself, and it will break down my willpower. I will go back to eating like I did and I'll put the weight back on again within a few weeks. 

2) Exercise like a demon

I already go to the gym, and I'm going to keep going. I might try to go a bit more, but January sees lots of New Year's resolutioners flood the gym before they give up, like mayflys dying en masse, on February 1st. As a result the changing rooms are going to be pretty disgusting for a while, which somewhat puts me off. Exercising will be helpful, but because losing weight is mostly about what you eat rather than 'burning it off,' the focus will be on what I consume.

3) Follow a fad diet

The alkaline diet, the blood type diet, the paleo diet...and many more. A complex or weird diet is great for a few weeks when you're full of enthusiasm and the glow of New Year's resolution fever. They work for a bit because they can be something to focus on, at a time of year when people are a bit partied out, there's not a lot to do and 'bettering yourself' is what everyone is up to. But no-one can concentrate that hard on a diet for that long, unless they're a social media star who has literally nothing else to do. A psychologically all-consuming diet, which requires deep fundamental change to the way I live my life, is not a good use of my time. Plus, the blood type diet is just ridiculous.

4) Become obsessed

Someone of my height who weighs 94kg does not live like a saint or eat like a professional athlete. Therefore I am going to aim to do neither. Someone of this weight occasionally has a burger, or a bit of cake. What someone of this weight does not do is have a takeaway a few times a week, eat chocolate every day, have a dessert after every meal or have a 'snack' regularly in between meals. So I'm not going to do that. 

What I am going to do

1) Make a plan and write it down

Actually, now is as good a time as any, so here goes.

  • Make my meals at home and take them to work.

  • Make sure meals are decently sized so they are adequately nourishing/filling.

  • No snacks outside meals. Three decent meals a day, and that's the lot.

  • No grazing while preparing dinner - I love doing this and it's probably the hardest habit to catch myself doing. I kid myself that the extra bit of cheese counts as part of 'dinner' but I'm pretty sure that it adds up significantly over a few days.

2) Make a second plan for falling off the wagon.

I am inevitably not going to do this perfectly all the time. I will fail sometimes. That's OK - this takes weeks not days

  • If I eat a load of cake, or have a fry-up, or have a big restaurant meal, I will carry on as before after the blip. This means that I return to the eating pattern I've set up with no 'punishment phase' after this. For example, if I have a huge fry up in the morning, I won't 'compensate' by skipping lunch. This is as much about building habit as anything else, so the normal lunch will follow, and then the normal dinner will follow that. No drama, it'll just be a tiny bit longer to lose the weight. That's OK.

  • When I have an off-day - like a day where I get no sleep the night before and turn suddenly into a ravenous gannet, eating everything in front of me like it's Christmas again - I'll return back to the plan as soon as I catch myself. No overcompensating by skipping meals. The same routine, as soon as practicable.

3) Expect to get frustrated occasionally by lack of progress

Every time I do this I get annoyed at some point because nothing happens for a couple of weeks. I'm being good! Why isn't this working?! It doesn't matter. If I'm eating less over the long term, I will lose weight. In fact, if I was eating significantly less and wasn't losing weight, I would have discovered a way to create energy from nothing. I would be a miracle and would either become a billionaire selling my secret, solving the world's energy problems and stopping climate change, or be taken away and cut up for medical experiments.

If after a month or two, there is no shift at all, I will look again at what I'm eating, because although I will be eating lots of vegetables and healthy stuff, something will be amiss. The weight will be coming from something that I am eating, somehow. It will be the time to record closely what I eat and see if there are any adjustments to make. But I fully expect there to be a lag between starting to eat well, and looking any different or seeing a quiver on the scales in the right direction.

4) Get rid of the bad stuff

Half of a Christmas cake has gone to a neighbour. If she had refused it, it would have been chucked. No other sugary, cakey, hedonistic food has survived my gaping maw in recent weeks so the house is pretty clear of that stuff, but if I should happen across a forgotten stash of mince pies in a cupboard, it's going in the bin. I'm also not buying the stuff that I know makes eating well hard - bread and marmalade being the prime example for me. I love marmalade on toast. The problem is, if I have one slice, it'll turn into a couple. The loaf disappears pretty quickly. It also leaves me feeling more hungry because sugar (from the marmalade) does that. Why make it harder for myself? If I give in and buy a loaf, it goes in the bin, or to a neighbour, when I come to my senses. The marmalade stays though because how am I going to eat it without toast?! Anything I'm likely to eat that isn't in my plan, is not in my house. If it should find its way in, it will be thrown or given away.

This is basically it. If I had to lose 20kg it would take longer but this would still work. The fundamental idea is that I eat in roughly the same way all the time. Not the same food, but the same way. It means I have a 'good' habit and routine to return to, while still including the odd treat because that doesn't make a massive difference. However, I'm not going to consume foodstuffs that make me gain weight, in any significant quantity, on a regular basis. It's simple, though not necessarily always easy. But it will work - how can it not?!

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