As covered on this blog the last year has involved a fair amount of changes for me. In mid December last year i set a goal for myself to lose some weight and get in shape. I’m not sure what exactly was the tipping point. Maybe reflecting on how my sprint to reach the connecting flight to Beijing in the Amsterdam airport a month earlier was the first time in years that i had ran? Or the shortness of breath after taking the stairs to the office on the third floor. Or the growing feeling of the environment( read smog) slowly strangling me, I didn’t want to accelerate that process by maintaining a unhealthy lifestyle.
The plan I made was simple. I bought a scale and a few pieces of exercise equipment; a dip/pull up stand and a few rubber resistance bands. My first step on the scale showed that I weighed 105 kg.
I didn’t really know too much about the science of dieting and weight loss nor was , or am, i particularly interested, but I did know that in order to lose weight one need to reach a calorie deficit. In short: more calories needs to go out than in. In the most basic terms this could be achieved by either eating less or by increasing my physical activity. In the next two section I will break down how I went about changing my diet, followed by how I’ve been training over the last year. This is a bit of a lengthy post, so if you are not too interested in the details, I suggest you scroll down to the last couple of paragraphs.
I decided to approach the weight loss journey by initially weighing myself frequently while gradually adjusting the amount of food I ate so that I could establish a very rough baseline of how much calories I would need in order to maintain, and then later decrease my weight. I then shed off as much from that as I could without feeling like I was starving myself. For the most part this meant to carry on eating the same stuff I would normally do, but to make sure I either ate a smaller quantity of whatever I was eating or to try and avoid calorie heavy side-dishes like fries when eating out. I also made a conscious decision to make sure I wouldn’t have any snacks, candy and so on during week days. The key to achieve that was to make sure never to have any snacks in my apartment. So long as I made sure not to stock up on snacks when buying groceries, I knew that my own laziness would stop me from getting out of the apartment to get a snack if I felt the urge. Not to imply that I was able to stick to this strict rule for an entire year. There’s been several occasions over the last year when I have laid flat on the sofa on a Sunday, eating crisps and watching tv shows.
When it comes to what I eat I have done practically no alterations. I haven’t really cared about whether or not what I eat contains a lot of fat, or carbs or whatever. I think that would have made it more complicated than it needs to be. In practical terms the most important thing I kept track of was to limit the number of big meals per day. Often the lunch I have in a normal work day would be big enough to be labeled a dinner. So on the days where lunch was on the heavy side, I would compensate by having a equally light dinner.
Overall a very pragmatic approach that yielded in pretty immediate results and I rapidly lost weight. By early January I was down to double digits on the scale.
I found it easy to stay motivated and disciplined by logging every weigh in to keep track of my process. Thanks to the bluetooth enabled scale i bought this was a quite straight forward, as my weight was automatically stored in an app on my phone.
As mentioned, I bought a few pieces of exercise equipment to use at home. For the first few months i aimed to do half an hour of daily strength training. Pushups, pull-ups and dips (both the latter of which I could only do a single rep of when I started) and other bodyweight exercises. It was easy to work this into a daily routine, as I would almost always find 30 minutes to spare most days.
in May i decided to join a gym to get some variation in my training, and also to be able to do some cardio based exercise. Gym’s in the Sanlitun area of Beijing are mostly quite pricy, and I was reluctant to join a gym that wasn’t within walking distance from home or work. This was simply because I know myself well enough that i would use small hurdles like public transport or long travel times as an excuse to not go. After some research I found a nice little gym close to the office, and signed up for a one year membership right away. Forking out a substantial amount of money was another useful motivator to keep myself going. No one wants to waste money, right?
In early May i did my first run on a treadmill. As far as I can recall the last time I ran for the purpose of exercising before that was in 2012, when I was doing my BA in Bournemouth. It felt easy, surprisingly easy. I ran for 30 minutes without problems. Not an amazing feat in itself, but I haven’t come close to run anywhere near that long since I was a teenager. I would credit that to weight loss rather than stamina. It quite literally felt like I had taken off a 20 kilo backpack.
The gym also provided me the opportunity to reunite with my long lost friend, the barbell. I’ve never really felt that I have any skill or talent when it comes to any form of sports or physical activity, but lifting weights has always been something I’ve been fairly good at, or at least enjoyed doing. As opposed to running, where the only thing I’m able to think of while doing it is to count the time until it’s over, pulling a barbell off the ground have always felt strangely appealing. The first week joining the gym I re-familiarized myself with deadlift, squat, military press and bench press. It felt great getting back into barbell training again after months of bodyweight squats and pushups.
My training since then have consisted of strength training three times a week and cardio training (running or rowing) one to three times per week. As with my body weight I have notoriously logged all the training I’ve done. This has been useful both for motivation and to make sure I progressively make the training harder.
Fast forward a few months until present day, as this post is getting long. The training is progressing well and I no longer actively try to lose any weight. I’m currently weighing around 78kg, and feel very comfortable with that. A couple of weeks back I reached a personal best for a 5k run at 24 minutes and 36 seconds. Strength wise I’m loading more weight on the barbells by the week, and I’m even able to do handstand push-ups, and weighted pull-ups now. I would never have thought I would able to do that a year ago! Apart from a layer of smog in my lungs, I feel fairly certain I’m better off healthwise now than I was a year ago.
One of the highlights of the past year came back in June when I went back to Norway on vacation. I think I surprised quite a few people when they saw, pardon the cliche, the new me. Loads of positive feedback and positive comments was a huge confidence boost!
I stayed active during my time back home, and seized the opportunity to run outside as much as possible. Clean air, no crowds, no traffic to be concerned about. It was the first time I’ve ever enjoyed running.
Below is some charts generated from all the weight data I have on my phone along with some photos. Apologize in advance if you read through this expecting to be rewarded with some semi-nude before/after photo, I didn’t take any.