At the height of my hedonism, I weighed 18 stone 6 pounds (117kg). And being 5’ 10” (177cm) meant I had a BMI of 36. I was obese. I felt like a stegosaurus, lumbering through life, consuming everything in my path. My heaviest weight coincided with some of my lowest points mentally. On reflection, I ate and drank because of how I felt physically and mentally. Which in turn made me feel worse and added fuel to the fire.
One day I was shopping for some new jeans and when I couldn’t squeeze my gigantic arse into a pair of 40” waist trousers. I decided it was time to change.
I would love to say I lost the weight in ten weeks and it stayed off but it took a while. There was trial and error to find what worked. It also took a lot of perseverance and patience. Initially, I lost 3 stones in 9 months. I haven’t put that back on. I lost another three stone, over the next couple of years and have maintained that weight since. To coincide with the weight loss, my mental health has improved exponentially due to the other things I started doing to supplement my physical health. The saying “Healthy body, healthy mind,” isn’t a true reflection of reality. It isn’t as black and white as that. Or it wasn’t for me. Both my mental and physical health had to be worked at to improve.
Over a ten year period I have overcome depression, obesity, alcoholism and quit smoking. Here are a few things that I have learned along the way. I hope that something here is of use to you.
I recently discussed this topic on the Buen Camino podcast found here – Health, nutrition and body image.
How I began…
I knew I needed to lose weight but had no idea where to start. Just getting out of bed was enough of an effort, but coupled with the diatribe that was rifling through my mind, exercising seemed unrealistic. I could barely walk due to the weight of excess around my waist and the world around my shoulders. I couldn’t do a press up or a sit up. Walking made me feel uncomfortable and I soon got out of breath. I felt worthless and hopeless. I realised that yoga was a simple exercise. I could do it indoors where I was guarded against the eyes of others. So I ordered a Detox and de-stress Yoga DVD I had no idea what kundalini yoga was at the time. I just liked the sound of detoxing and de-stressing. It was definitely what I needed.
When the DVD arrived, I attempted the hour-long session and was knackered before the end of the hour. It was far more active than I had anticipated but still a lot easier than running. The last ten minutes of the session was a guided meditation, which helped to calm my mind. Afterwards, I needed the toilet badly. All the bending and rolling had got my intestines moving and all the crap (excuse the pun) that had been building up over the years of inactivity began to move. I was also thirsty. I downed two litres of water. It was like I could now hear my bodies demands to be taken care of after all the years of abuse. I did the hour-long session again that week and then three times the week after. I carried on doing it three times a week. After a month, I still couldn’t do all the exercises but I just thought it was better to do something instead of doing nothing. I felt better about myself and life in general. I have to say it changed my life. Three hours a week changed my life for the better in so many ways.
Alongside yoga, my diet changed. I used to hoover up alcohol, sugar, salt and fat. Basically, anything that would make me feel different. But now, after a month of doing yoga, the happy chemicals began to trickle into my system and my weight slowly began to drop. I started having jacket potato, tuna and salad every lunch. I started drinking more water. I cut back on sweets. I started getting weighed once every couple of weeks and writing it down. I would stick the paper I had written my weight on, to my mirror as a reminder of the progress I was making. Eventually, I needed to increase my exercise so I bought a cheap exercise bike and started doing half an hour every couple of days as well as the yoga. I felt amazing and the pounds began to drop off. I never had aspirations to be muscle bound. I just wanted to be lighter because carrying around all that extra weight in the past had made living life such an effort. As I got lighter, I felt lighter. I still watch what I eat to this day. Every day I have porridge, banana and honey for breakfast. I eat plenty of fruit and veg. I still drink plenty of water. I don’t deny myself things but I don’t desire to eat junk food that often anymore. I have found that denying myself things just creates a desire. For example, if I deny myself sweets and use willpower to stop eating them eventually I will give in to temptation. I will gorge myself on them until I then feel guilty. I have realised that by allowing a little of everything I remove the unhealthy relationship with food. This can be obsessional eating habits on both ends of the spectrum.
Eating is a habit. It can be a bad habit or a good habit. Bad habits can be replaced with good ones but it takes practice and perseverance.
The loss of weight and a basic level of fitness has allowed me to achieve things that I couldn’t have done at my heaviest. Walking the Inca trail, hiking the El Camino and climbing to the rainbow mountain are things that I wouldn’t have achieved had I not changed my lifestyle. It has been worth the effort. As now my preference is for healthy food automatically. Although, this can be undone by sugar. A small amount of sugar starts the cravings. A great documentary on the dangers of sugar is That Sugar Film, which should be mandatory viewing for everyone, especially parents.
I have mentioned water a couple of times and I believe it is a key component in the jigsaw of my recovery and well being. Years ago a hardened drinker said to me “The next best thing to a pint,” as he held up a glass of water. I never drank water in my drinking days. I drank lager at night, Iron Bru, coffee and Lucozade in the day to try to recover. I read something that said “The hunger and thirst signal is the same. People eat when they should have a drink of water.” It recommended drinking a glass of water before eating and if the sensation remains then have something to eat.
If you need reminding of the benefits of drinking water https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-health-benefits-of-water
The kundalini yoga DVD ending with meditation opened my mind to its benefits. So I began to experiment with different forms of meditation and found some wonderful guided meditations on Fragrant heart meditation which helped with the anxiety and sleep issues I was having at the time.
In my humble opinion, meditating is to create a greater connection with the self. Something I was yearning for after years of using alcohol to escape myself. Like every new skill, it takes time and practice for it to develop. One second of meditation is better than no seconds of meditation. A great resource is Finding peace in a frantic world which is an eight-week mindfulness course and a great starting point. Along with How to meditate which taught me the basic principles of focusing on the breath and calming the chatter of the mind. What a relief it was to find a cure for the incessant noise in my mind. Meditation has been one of the greatest tools in my toolbox. It has allowed me to let go of problems. Control my emotions better. But most importantly it has enabled my mind to find moments of serenity even in the chaos of city living. A true gift.
When I remember to, I play the following guided meditations. I don’t believe the universe delivers things. But I do believe that taking action definitely gets results and these meditations help keep me focused:
Books, like most hobbies when I was drinking, went unfinished. I would start reading one and then lose interest. I would then start reading another and then repeat the process. With the clarity of sobriety, I became hungry for knowledge and intent on becoming the best version of myself. To achieve this I had to learn from others. I wanted to know how to be happy and also, how to let things slide as I used to get angry over the smallest slight. Three books that helped with this (alongside the meditation) were:
The art of happiness – a book written by a psychologist based on a series of interviews with the Dalai Llama.
Buddhism, plain and simple – a book that liberated me from the tyrannical thinking I used to impose on myself. (I do not consider myself a Buddhist but the philosophy is fantastic.)
Marcus Aurelius – Meditations – The “last good emperor of the Roman empires” thoughts on stoicism.
“Stoicism doesn’t concern itself with complicated theories about the world, but with helping us overcome destructive emotions and act on what can be acted upon. It’s built for action, not endless debate.” – Taken from The daily stoic. I needed action after years of standing in the pub talking about the things i was “Gonna” do with my life.
Escape from Freedom – Erich Fromm – This quote states why this book resonated with me so much:
“The more the drive toward life is thwarted, the stronger is the drive toward destruction; the more life is realized, the less is the strength of destructiveness. Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life.”
“In every walk in nature one receives far more than he seeks”John Muir
The saying goes; “If you want to happy for a few hours get drunk. A few years? Get married. For a lifetime? get a garden.” I miss having a garden. Moving to the city, a garden is a luxury I can’t afford. A window box just doesn’t fill the void. So, in lieu of having my own green space to relax and ruminate, I have to frequent the nearest nature spots. This is where I calm my mind and stay active. I started out walking small distances until eventually, I was walking sixteen miles at a time. It became so time-consuming that I had to upgrade to running but I still ensure that one day a week I take an afternoon stroll in nature. Sometimes with music. Sometimes without. Either way, it is free therapy. Both physical and mental.
Due to the time that walking was taking and the fact that I had stopped smoking, I began running (and using nicotine gum. I’ve been stopped two years.) Initially, I couldn’t run a mile without stopping, as I would cough out the shit that 23 years of smoking had left in my lungs. I used to walk for a bit and then carry on running whilst thinking you owe it to your lungs to be clean. You did this to them.
I carried on running and after a while, I could run two miles and then four and then 10k. Like all the things I have written about here. Running takes time, patience and perseverance. Most quick-fix solutions are just that. Quick fix but not long lasting. Replacing old habits takes repetition of the new, healthier ways until they become a habit.
I learned quickly that running in bad running shoes is a bad idea. I got shin splints and was in agony often. I stopped being a tightwad and bought some good running shoes. I noticed the difference instantly. The pain in my shins dissapeared. So if I have some advice it is get some good shoes.
If you’re starting out then don’t expect too much too early. Like many things in life perseverance is important. A little is better than nothing. Just keep going. Keep reminding yourself why you are doing it.
Because I am always running or writing or planning or something, I forget to take the time to relax. When I say rest I mean doing nothing. I have to remember to put my feet up and just do nothing sometimes to allow my body and mind to recover. Prevention is better than a cure. Putting to much stress on myself only ends up with me getting sick and not being able to function as well as I could. Rest is as important as the other things to develop a balanced lifestyle.
I have made a lot of changes. I can make a comparison between being healthy and unhealthy. I was miserable when I was unhealthy. I used food and alcohol to make me feel better. This would make me more unhealthy. A little bit of exercise and good living goes a long way. It’s hard in the beginning but it soon becomes natural to live well.
QUIT MAKING EXCUSES! START MAKING CHANGES!
Thanks for stopping by,