This page is also a post – but I think it’s important to leave it here as a place for anyone new to stumble on to and read (if you’re interested) – kinda like a sticky on a forum.
The only reason I’m any level of success in this indoor rowing endeavour is because I’m a Lightweight. Not only when it comes to holding my drink – but also weight. To be a lightweight, I need to be 75kg or under. (Some races require 73.5kg, but not anything I do).
Now, I have a problem. It’s something that helps me with my training, but can be a burden for diet. I have quite an addictive personality. And that manifests itself dangerously when faced with food that isn’t good for me. Mostly chocolate. I’m probably nothing special in this regard, but I see a box of chocolates as something that’s meant to be eaten in one sitting – not bit by bit over the course of a few days.
So, give me a box of Cadbury’s fingers – or Cadbury’s Animals – or FOX’s Party Rings, or FOX’s Classics, or many other biscuit / chocolate combinations – and they’ll be gone. Quickly.
This isn’t conducive to staying under 75Kg!
In fact, in 2007, when I first went freelance as a video editor, I ballooned up to 16.5 stone (105kg / 230lbs) because I just sat at a desk eating all the food they brought me throughout the day. Then, one day – I noticed just how big I got (the photo to the right is around this time – although the t-shirt hides it well!). And decided to do something about it. It’s a ‘diet’ I’ve followed ever since then, with slight tweaks, but it all boils down to this:
Eat less / move more
It’s that simple. If you’re overweight, and want to lose weight – eat less and move more. To put it more crudely, put less food in the top hole that comes out the bottom hole, and you’ll lose weight.
So that’s how I started off.
The biggest change I made, was that instead of driving to work, I cycled to work. Living 12 miles away, this 24 mile a day workout saw the weight drop off really quickly, with very little change in my diet. I got down to 15 stone within a couple of months by this alone. Of course, this probably covered mostly water-retention, which is why it happened so quickly.
I backed off the biscuits in the edit suite – but that was the only real change to my diet. I still had a couple of sandwiches for lunch, I usually had some kind of big pasta dish for dinner, probably had some chocolate – and certainly had sugary drinks (Coke) or wine / beer most nights too.
But – 80 minutes a day of hard effort cycling (heart rate up around 150 for most of it) was the key here. Not that I was particularly counting calories, but it would have worked out to around 800kcal a day – 5 days a week – and that’s not even accounting for the increased metabolism throughout the day.
Ultimately though, as good as I was doing on the bike, eventually I had to address the food side if I wanted to continue to lose weight, as I plateaued at around 14.5 stone. And what follows is the way I’ve eaten ever since:
Monday to Friday – Eat Sensibly
Have breakfast (a cup of coffee and a bowl of fruit n fibre style cereal)
A smallish lunch – at first, this was a bowl of tomato and basil soup (I ate this every day for a year) with no bread!
A normal dinner. Importantly, not a takeaway – but could be pretty much anything. Pasta / sausages / pie and veggies / homemade curries / salmon and rice dishes. Not made to be healthy – but awareness of not adding in unhealthy things!
And most importantly – from Monday to Friday, no booze, no chocolate, no cake, no crisps, no biscuits. The only thing I really cut down on rather than axing it completely was cheese. I cut right back as I ate loads of it, but I just couldn’t ditch it altogether.
Friday @ 19:00 to Sunday @23:00
All bets are off. Give me anything I want, no limits.
And that’s it. That was my healthy eating diet from 2007 to late 2013. And my weight generally went like this:
- 2007 – 16.5 stone
- 2008 – 14 stone
- 2009 – 12 stone
- 2009 – 2013 – fluctuated between 12 and 12.5 stone depending on the time of year (ie, Christmas!)
Like I said – Eat less / Move more. I’d slip and slide a bit from time to time. Winter was tougher to cycle at times, and as I I’ve just said, Christmas is a bad time because not only is there more food around, but I don’t have work to cycle to either. I bought a turbo trainer which turned my bike into an exercise bike – which hopefully stopped it getting too bad – but there were hiccups.
But at the same time, the ‘All Bets are Off’ part through the weekend has a strange manifestation. At first, I was eating cake and guzzling Jack Daniel’s over this period, as it was my reward for getting through the week. But after a while, I’d back off a bit, because I could see the effects of the good days – and wanted to stay that way. I’d still loosen the ropes of my healthy eating, but I’d do things like not snack between meals at the weekend, and leave the ‘crap’ to lunch and dinner.
2013 to now
In late 2013, I was editing a piece about the Commonwealth Games. I spend some time with the presenter, Mark Beaumont – an adventurer/cyclist TV personality – and we got talking about rowing, as he’d made a programme ‘Row to the Arctic’ a few years before. I used to use rowing to supplement my training when I played squash (this was pre-fat John – I stopped playing squash at the same time as going freelance – and I think I was still eating like a squash player, which was probably one of the reasons I got so big!!) and really enjoyed it when I did it.
As Mark had no intention of rowing again, he said he had a Concept2 rowing machine that he’d sell if I was interested. Which got me into indoor rowing. In quite a big way. When I found out about the online community, and took advice from my team mates (Free Spirits) it seemed that I showed a fair bit of aptitude for indoor rowing – and that if I was able to drop down to 75kg (around 11.7 stone / 165lbs) and become a lightweight, I’d be amongst the top of my age group.
Which then became my focus. Drop from 12.5 ish to 11.5 ish. While at the same time, training hard and putting on muscle for power.
This isn’t a thriller – I’ve obviously managed it – but the key point here is how. Eat less, move more.
The Move More part was taking care of itself really. I was still cycling to work most days – and I’d added in sessions on the Concept2 ‘erg’ too. Which upped my cardiovascular time from about 80 minutes a day to about 100 a day (averaged over the week).
And the eat less part was just as simple. Less carbs, more protein. This is where the chicken and spinach lunch comes into play. Ever since deciding to ‘lean-up’ back in 2013, I’ve had the same lunch – a bed of spinach with chicken breast on top. Nothing else. No dressing or anything. So zero carbs – pretty much all protein really. But being a creature of habit, I’ve been able to get into the same food routine, and tweak my original plan to the following:
Monday to Friday
A small breakfast – two cups of coffee (milk and one sugar) and a banana
Sit down at desk – a CNP protein bar (cherry almond flavour – yum)
Lunch – Chicken breast and spinach
Mid afternoon – a CNP protein bar
Dinner – as before – anything really, just not adding anything unhealthy
Post evening workout – you guessed it, a CNP protein bar
CNP make a lot of money out of me!
And apart from 4 cups of tea through the day (no milk, no sugar) and a couple of handfuls of almonds / cashews and walnuts – that’s it. Each day and every day.
Friday 19:00 to Sunday 23:00
Yup – I still allow myself to eat and drink whatever – which can involve wine and chocolate cake – but I keep track of this, and make sure I don’t go too overboard – and also make sure to do a lot of cardio and weights through the weekend to be able to use up those extra calories in a good way rather than storing them as fat.
So there really is no secret to losing weight. Don’t follow a diet – don’t go Atkins – don’t go for a ridiculous juice only, Special K only, protein only, fruit only, 5:2 style diet (the last one especially if you’re training for something) – just eat less of what you’re currently eating, and move more. And I mean move. Don’t sit on an exercise bike reading a paper. Don’t half-ass 10 minutes on a cross-trainer. Go on a treadmill or a spin bike or a rowing machine and move. Sweat, pant, get sore muscles. Get big muscles (which will alter your weight the wrong way for a short period) and watch the weight fall off you.
If it doesn’t work – you’re cheating. You’re not moving enough or you’re eating too much. You could be lying to yourself about how much you’re eating. I’ve not really mentioned portion control, as it’s not something I looked at, but remember, eat less can mean portion size as well as the amount of stuff you shovel into your top hole.
And the great thing is, as long as you remain sensible, the weight stays off. No bouncing back to how you were when you end a 5:2 or Atkins diet. Your body will thank you for the extra exercise, your wallet will thank you when you spend less money on booze and takeaways – and the first time you see the noticeable change, the first time someone comments on how good you look, and the first time you lift your t-shirt and see more than two abs – you’ll want to stay that way!!
You’ll hiccup – but you’ll recover. You’ll have days when you don’t want to work-out. Don’t. Just don’t eat lots of food out of self-pity that day! Christmas will happen, and you’ll put on weight. But you know how to lose it again – so it’s not a problem.