"David, you're getting fat" - how I lost weight and got fit
You may ask what this has to do with financial independence and retiring early (FIRE). It seems a fair question.
My answer is there's a good chance that our FIRE journey meets the time of life when weight starts to pile on and our clothes start to get tighter. I speak from experience!
Even if we're not fussed about appearances, we should be fussed about the health part of the equation. What's the point of FIRE if we're not going to be in good shape to enjoy it?
Then there are medical costs. We want our hard earned cash to be used for our FIRE dreams, and not to be spent on medical bills
"David, you're getting fat"
Five years ago, a colleague at work said, "David, you're getting fat". Not very subtle, and quite risky given I was his boss!
The graphic above was my Body Mass Index (BMI), confirming what my colleague had told me, I was overweight. I knew it anyway, I could no longer fasten the top button on my shirts and had to buy larger trousers. But I had ignored these signs.
The question was whether I would continue to ignore it, or actually do something about it?
I figured I had two options. Option 1 - do something about it now or option 2, ignore it and try to fix it later. Option 2 might seem easier now, but would be much a bigger (literally) and harder task in the long run. I chose option 1.
There was a third option, let the slide continue forever, a downwards spiral affecting health and quality of life. This idea really had to be kicked into touch.
Back then, I weighed 104kg (229 pounds) and my BMI was 28.81. I reduced my weight to 83kg (183 pounds) and a BMI of 22.99. By the way, my height is 190cm (6ft 3in).
How did I do it?
I used a strict diet to kick-start the weight loss along with a fast paced 30 minute daily walk.
I lost the first 10kg (22lbs) doing this. The remaining 11kg (24lbs) came off after I introduced some running and kept to a balanced, but not so strict, diet.
And importantly, I haven't put the weight back on. I eat what I want, although I try to maintain a reasonably balanced diet. The key is that I use exercise to keep to my new weight. In this post, I'll tell you how I do it.
Before I continue, I have two things to admit.
Firstly, I wrote a post a while back called Early Retirement - Keeping Fit & Battling the Bulge. Although similar, there are differences, so hopefully you'll continue reading, and perhaps head over to look at the previous post afterwards😀. Making time to keep fit and healthy is an important topic.
Secondly, I now exercise 5 days a week which, I accept, probably isn't normal. But please don't roll your eyes and click to leave this page. What I hope is that if I can explain how and why I do this, others may find some of the things that work for me can work for them too, however often they choose to exercise.
I've broken down my experience into three sections: 1. Diet; 2. Exercise - the what; and 3. Exercise - the How and the Why. The last section is the bit that I think is most important.
I chose a strict diet at the start and kept rigidly to it. It worked for me because:
I did the diet with Sally. This meant that we both ate the same, so I didn't get food envy, and we could give each other moral support.
Being a strict diet, it didn't last too long. We stuck rigidly to it for about 10 weeks. That's more than a blink of an eye, but it's not so long in the grand scheme of things.
Also because it was strict, the weight came off quite quickly. Seeing regular improvement encouraged me to keep going.
I now follow a balanced diet. As my Mum used to say, "a little of what you fancy does you good, but nothing to excess". I'm not sure that my Mum understood the origins of the first part of the saying though!
Exercise - the What
For the 10 weeks that we were on the diet:
Our exercise was 30 minutes of fast paced walking each day. We did this, or a bit more, without fail. 30 minutes walking is a really achievable exercise for most people.
Our normal routine was to walk to the grocery store to buy ingredients for dinner. That meant our exercise routine became a habit.
Because Sally and I walked together, we chatted and our exercise didn't feel like a chore at all.
And this is the exercise that I do now:
I run 3 times a week
I cycle 2 times a week
This is a lot, and people shouldn't think they need to do the same amount. In the next section I explain how I do it, and I think that the same principles apply whether you are targeting 1 or 5 exercise sessions a week, or somewhere in between.
Exercise - the How I kept on doing it when it was difficult at the start and what keeps me doing it now
🔥This is the most important part.
It's fun - I'm surprised to say this, but I really do enjoy it. This wasn't the case at the start, so try to stick through the difficult part at the beginning, because it is worth it.
Keeps me in shape - I worked hard to reduce my weight and to get fit, so I want to keep it that way.
It's sociable - I have made lots of new friends through exercising, and it's now become a social activity and not a chore.
Buddying up - I rarely exercise by myself, so more often than not I've made an arrangement to meet someone there. This makes sure that I go even when I'm thinking about a lazy day. I'm always glad I made the effort once I'm there.
Form a habit - I've made my exercise routine a habit, so now it's just a normal part of my life.
Insist on time for you - When I worked, I thought I was too busy to leave work in time to exercise at 6pm. But I made a decision to do it, stuck to it, and found that I still did my work just fine. Blaming lack of time is often more of an excuse than a reality.
Guilt free treats - I like pizza and coffee. I know that if I exercise I can enjoy both of them guilt free - OK, it's the piece of cake that goes with the coffee that I need to earn. Two of my exercise sessions end with a coffee and one with a pizza, and all three are another sociable part of my day.
My inner kid - Now and again, I have a competitive moment, so I enjoy the mini unofficial races that we occasionally have during our runs or cycles, just like when we were kids #nevergrowup
There's a perfect sport or exercise for everyone - I've found that I like running and cycling. For others, it may be something else, but there are so many options that there'll be one that suits everyone. If you don't find the right one at first, don't give up on the whole exercise thing, keep looking for the one for you.
Realistic Goals - I have exercise goals, but I keep them realistic (most of the time) - this is perhaps especially important when you are starting out. It's great to be able to achieve your targets, a real motivator to keep up the good work.
The short version of this post is:
Why exercise? Although it can be tough to start with, get through that and it becomes fun and rewarding, keeps us healthy and in shape, lets us eat treats, adds to our social life, and we can act like a kid now and again.
How to still turn up when feeling lazy? Even if we like exercising, there are lazy days when it's tough to be bothered. If we can still do our exercise on these days, then we've cracked the exercise nut. A great trick is to buddy up, make a plan with someone who we don't want to let down. And remember that it will feel good once you're done - it always does, even on the tough days.
I'm not an expert, just a normal guy, trying to share my experience. I've gone from 104kg (229lbs) to 83kg (183lbs), from no exercise to a slightly nerdy exercise junky. If I can do it, anyone can, although you don't need to do the nerdy or junky part.
So if you're thinking of giving it a go, please do, and just maybe one of the things that have helped me can help you too.
Links to some of my other exercise posts:
Boston 2018 - Marathon or Survivathon?
Keeping Fit & Battling the Bulge
Early Retirement Travels...and running 73km
Link to my personal best times