For much of my life I have had a weight problem, usually too much of it! When I was young and active and involved in various sports (swimming, rugby, trampolining, badminton, martial arts - never exactly good at many but average in some!), the weight was reasonably well managed. But in my twenties after University and as career matters started to enter my life in earnest, the physical activity and weight management started to get little attention. I also smoked 80 fags a day, which didn't help the situation, although I did manage to kick that habit by my late twenties (that subsequently turned out to be too late for my health as you will see). Then along came 'family' and the kids which helped a little at first because of all the extra activity that these involve, but one adapts and again career became a more significant focus. I also enjoyed food and drink and by the time I started to reach my career goals, weight was completely out of control and various health problems started to emerge. Nothing too serious or too long lived at first and I regarded these as annoying obstacles to career progress. I had a couple of attempts at serious dietary control, which worked temporarily but because they involved meal replacement schemes (e.g., the Cambridge Diet) turned out not to be long term solutions for me when I returned to normal eating again. I was by this time around 20 stone in weight on average. I also realised that after ten years as a University academic department head that this role (which I had so actively pursued because I thought I knew how to it easier and better than those I had served under) was not really for me. Organising a group of highly intelligent and strongly opinionated academics has been likened to herding cats and that's the best description of the task that I have ever come across. It is nowhere near as easy as it looked and I had had seriously overestimated the personal toll on health and well-being that some of us can pay for attempting it.
Thus, I decided to take a sidestep in my career and took up a different type of academic post at Teesside University. This has turned out to be an excellent move, although I almost did it too late since soon after I arrived here in September 2004, I had a series of heart attacks. I didn't know that at first and dismissed them as very bad indigestion. But my wise wife insisted I see our GP who immediately diagnosed the problem. Straight off to hospital, and after several weeks of tests, rest and some angioplasty, I was 'fixed', albeit with a permanently damaged heart! The heart specialists pinned the cause of much of this on my heavy smoking youth and my subsequent lack of attention to my health and fitness. So I started to do all the right things, eat healthily, take gentle exercise, etc.. I lost several stone of weight and started to feel better and returned to work in January 2005.
Initially, I continued to follow this 'health kick' but it's easy to slip back into old habits and soon enough the weight started to pile back on and the exercise (mainly long walks at weekends) started to get less. Before I knew it, the weight was all back and some … I was up to 23 stone! At one of my annual health checks with my GP around Christmas 2007, she said that I had reached a decision point, "Did I want to live or die?" She knew I was a professional psychologist and so told me that she didn't have to tell me what was needed, I could easily work that out for myself but I did have to take action now if I wanted to continue living. So I did! I joined the University gym, returned to regular swimming and kept a check on what I ate. As a bit of a geek I decided that for me I had to estimate 'energy in' (food and drink) and 'energy out' (metabolism and exercise) and losing weight just meant more of the latter than the former. That's all I did. No special diets … although about a year before all this I had taken up a vegan diet (only plant based food and drink, nothing from any kind of animal) after being persuaded by one of my sons that this was the best way for the planet to survive! I got used to knowing the calorific values of all the things I eat and the activities I pursued, and simply 'balanced' these out daily/weekly to decrease/increase my weight. Essentially you can take the recommended guideline of around 2000 kcal per day (or if you're a geek like me, use some well established sport science equations to work out your basal metabolic energy needs based on age, height, weight and activity level) and take 80-90% of this as your food intake requirements. This allowed me to lose one or two kilos a week, which experts recommend is the maximum sustainable rate for long term weight reduction.
It worked a dream for me and it feels like after four years I fully understand how to achieve a healthy weight (at least for my body!). I've held a steady weight of around 12 and a quarter stone (and a BMI of 24) for about 18 months now and engage in at least an hour of dedicated physical activity every day (usually either swimming, gym work, running, cycling, hill or beach walking or a combination of these). I feel on top of the world most of the time since the activity clearly boosts mental well being as well as physical. The benefits have also been that my heart medication (that I was told in 2004, I would be taking daily for the rest of my life) has been reduced to a minimum and I no longer need pills to control my blood pressure (BP). At a recent health check, my GP remarked that from my BP readings I appeared to have the cardiovascular system of an eighteen-year-old! Shame that the rest of the body is 64 I replied! Nevertheless, I probably feel better now than I have since I was in my twenties. This is why I continue to look for new ‘physical’ challenges (within reason and recognising my limitations) and how I came to meet all you good folks in the Cleveland Triathlon Club.
Anyone can do what I did, it's not rocket science, it's just about achieving a good balance, and motivating you to do it and stay with it. I know that can be hard, but it is possible if you keep setting yourself goals that are achievable … small steps that gradually accumulate. You also need to carefully build 'energy inputs and outputs' into your daily routines. I find exercising early morning best for me, before work, and regular modest sized meals (minimal snacking!). There's no quick fix I'm afraid but improved health, well-being and fitness is achievable from even the most unpromising beginnings.
Chris Colbourn, March 2012