First a disclaimer: I am not a dietitian or a medical/fitness professional. These tips are what worked for me and if you find something useful in them, then good for you.
I’ve pretty much always been slim but since living in Canada I felt that I had let my diet slip a bit and put on a bit of weight over the Winter (as many of us do). I’m 5’6″ (165cm) and I was about 139lbs (63Kg) before I began my recent “simple” health and fitness campaign. You might be thinking: “Hey that doesn’t sound overweight at all”, and you’d be right. Nevertheless I had a bit of belly and chest fat that I wanted to get rid of, I was also fed up of feeling crappy/tired quite often, and I wanted to boost my general fitness.
Since embarking on my new simple regime I’ve lost 8lbs in less than a month through a combination of diet and exercise and I feel much healthier and fitter. Now you might be thinking that 8lbs is hardly very much to write home about, but it is 6% of my starting weight and I don’t think there’s much more to lose. Would you like to lose 6% or more of your weight without busting a gut? Read on…
So anyway, I didn’t want to make radical changes because I know that many studies say if you try to make too many big changes at once (like New Year resolutions) you are extremely likely to fail. Here’s what I did (some of these things I was already doing to a certain extent – I just improved them):
1) Give up sugary food and drinks.
This was actually the toughest thing I did because I love food so much. I’m not a coffee drinker and I’d gotten into drinking hot chocolates (from coffee shops) a few of times a week. I also sometimes liked to have biscuits (cookies) with my cups of tea, and I’d even got into drinking coke whilst crunching on my last game. I don’t think I consumed that much sugar, but I was consuming enough that I think my system began to depend on it, and when I didn’t have any for a while I would feel tired and crappy. I really wanted to break that dependence and now I feel a lot more stable throughout the day, which is great and totally worth it.
Other things I avoid include: fruit juice (it’s just sugar water) and smoothies, cakes, chewy nutty “breakfast” bars, chocolate, sugary cereal, maple syrup/honey, all pop/soda (even diet ones for psychological reasons), and food with a medium to high sugar content (I just check the labels). Some of the food I eat still has a bit of sugar in it (baked beans for example) but I try to minimise stuff like that.
2) Eat healthier.
Yes that sounds a big vague, but all I did was stop eating snacks like Doritos, chips ‘n’ dips and the aforementioned healthy-sounding-but-full-of-sugar nutty breakfast bars, and I eat more vegetables and fruit instead. If I ever feel like a snack, I normally eat a bit of fruit or a few nuts (not too many, as nuts are fatty), or maybe a piece of toast, or half a tortilla wrap with some hummus or Tofurky (I’m vegetarian, so I eat weird fake meat stuff). I’m also into eating baby spinach leaves because I read that greens help your mental well-being and it seems to work for me. I just scarf down a load and maybe finish with some baby carrots.
In order to make sure I can maintain this I have to consciously buy healthier food and make sure that my house is well-stocked with it. I try not to go shopping whilst hungry otherwise I’ll buy all sorts of crap. I also live with other family members, and there are some less healthy things in the house, so I have to exert a bit of willpower to not eat them, which can be tough at times.
Oh, I also take a multi-vitamin pill every day, which may have no effect, but I feel good about it.
3) Eat smaller portion sizes.
Some yogi’s say that when you eat your stomach should be 1/3rd full of food, 1/3rd water, and 1/3rd nothing. I sometimes used to eat until I was bursting and couldn’t eat any more. Whilst eating loads is fun, it stretches your stomach, stresses your system (and probably sends you to sleep), and makes you gain weight if you don’t burn it off. Well I certainly still eat more than the yogi’s say you should, but I just tweak my portion sizes down a bit or make sure there is more veg and less starchy stuff (like pasta, potato, rice etc). This one is really easy to do.
Oh and if you do have starchy stuff try to make sure it’s wholegrain like brown bread, brown rice (takes longer to cook) and brown pasta etc. because it takes longer to release the carbohydrates and so you don’t get such a blood sugar hit all in one go. Also, remember to chew your food properly to aid digestion and to help your body realise when it’s full before you eat too much.
4) Eat out less
When I worked at Big Fish Games in downtown Vancouver I often ate lunch in a restaurant with friends, which, although fun, hurt my wallet and my waistline. Now I’m indie again, I don’t eat out very often (sometimes with my wife), and when I do I always drink only water (instead of wine of pop).
One thing I find tough to do in a restaurant is leave some of the food on the plate if the portion size is too big. This is partly because I’ve paid for it and partly because I kinda feel bad leaving food on my plate, but it’s something I’m training myself to do.
5) Have less takeouts
My most common takeouts (or home delivery, seeing as I was going for ultimate laziness) were Pizza, Chinese and Indian. Most of those are laden with fat/oil/sugar and I tended to stuff my face with them and also drink pop/soda with the pizza. Now I get takeouts less often and also eat smaller portion sizes. We pretty much always have food left over that we save and eat the day after (curry always tastes better the day after).
6) Reduce alcohol and caffeine
I’m not much of a drinker, but if I do drink it’s always either a sip or two of neat whiskey or vodka. This is because they have a high alcohol content and so have an effect without having to consume tons of sugar like in beer or wine. Besides, if I do drink, my brain power is basically reduced for the rest of the evening, which is no good for coding or playing games that require fine motor skills, and I don’t sleep as well.
I read that regular caffeine drinkers need caffeine to maintain a normal level of alertness because it no longer gives them the same boost it used to when they first began taking it. I’m not sure it’s possible to reduce caffeine because you’ll probably always feel like more due to the nature of the drug, so I just totally gave it up years ago whilst training for my first black belt in Aikido. However, when I was crunching on my game recently I got into drinking coke (and snacking) and could really notice my body craving for some more each day. When I gave it up I actually felt a bit crappy for a few days but it soon passed. The crappy feeling was probably also due to going through a bit of a “detox” period due to lack of sugar and healthier food as well.
7) Get a standing desk
OK that’s enough about diet stuff, I’m sure you’ve heard it all before in some form or another, but suffice to say, it worked for me and I feel good! So now onto the exercise stuff.
Back in February I got myself a standing desk. It’s actually an Ikea desk with adjustable shelves that I set at the correct height so I could stand up and use my PC. At first my feet ached, and so did my back, and my legs, and also my hips (pretty much everything!) But this gradually got better and now I can stand at my desk to code and play games for hours on end. I also have a high stool that I can use on the rare occasions when I feel so tired that I must sit down, but it’s quite uncomfortable so I normally end up standing again before long.
Having a standing desk has some cool benefits: I have a better posture (no longer slumped in a chair), better digestion (no cramped stomach/bowels), greater clarity of mind (I don’t get sleepy as often), stronger legs (I never get tired in queues/line ups now), greatly reduced back pain (I used to get pretty bad lower back pain), I don’t want to waste as much time at the computer (instead I spend it with family, on other hobbies like playing the guitar or reading, and on going outside.)
8 ) Walk 30 minutes every day
Whilst my standing desk was an improvement, I felt that my legs and knees were a bit stiff and so I decided that I needed to get them moving. I made a commitment to go for a brisk 30 minute walk every day no matter what the weather was. I don’t stroll, I like to walk at a good pace. Often I end up going for longer walks/hikes with my wife, although I don’t always go for a walk on days when I do other intense exercise that lasts for more than 30 minutes, like when I teach Aikido.
I live in a nice area where I can simply walk around and enjoy people’s gardens, so I don’t always have to drive/travel somewhere first. Normally, if I do travel somewhere, I walk for longer because it’s a special outing. Sometimes walking around where I live can feel “pointless” and so to combat that I go on walking errands to the shops or bank and then carry on walking a few more blocks when the errand is done.
9) Tense your muscles
This one might sound a bit weird, but I often tense my muscles whilst doing other things; this burns energy and makes them stronger. For example, when I clean my teeth, I tense my stomach the entire time. Sometimes when waiting around to pick up the kids at school, or when walking, I tense my stomach or chest or arms (hoping that no one is looking ). I also tense muscles and move around a lot when I’m at my standing desk.
My biggest confession of all is that I pose in the mirror before getting in the bath . When I pose in the mirror I tense different muscles in my body and hold them for a slow count of 10. This helps me appreciate what I’ve got already and spurs me on to keep getting healthier, and it provides my wife with a good laugh. In fact I believe that when you focus on what you want more of, your mind and body is more likely to find ways to make it happen.
10) Be more active
Yes, this is a vague as “Eat Healthier” but let me give you some examples of what I mean.
I try to stay in an active mindset so that if an opportunity presents itself, I do an active thing instead of nothing or a lazy thing; such as taking the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator. In fact I always run up stairs both at home and everywhere else. When I’m in the park with my kids, I play games like “follow the leader” where we make up an assault course around the climbing equipment. If I realise I need something from upstairs, I run up and get it instead of thinking “I won’t bother, I’ll get it later.” I try to do my fair share of household chores (my wife would probably disagree) because pretty much all chores are exercise in some form or another (hotel maids are often super fit).
I also do funny little exercises from time to time like push myself up from the counter tops in the kitchen or stand on one leg etc. Once you get into the active mindset, you’ll find there’s a lot you can do and enjoy doing. You don’t have to go to a gym to stay fit.
OK that’s it for now. I hope that you found my tips interesting and perhaps can use some of them yourself.
Do you have any simple tips to share as well? One I missed out was getting a good night’s sleep, which, unfortunately, I regularly fail at for a variety of reasons.