Weighty Matters

November 21, 2012 at 19:45



A Healthy Stir Fry!!

So I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve been overweight in triathlon in the past and having entered the hilly Ironman UK in 2013, I know that however good my training gets, my major performance limiter is weight and specifically storage of excess fat.

Cycling, especially when you start to go up hill, is all about power to weight ratio – and excess weight gets to the point where no amount of power will shift it very fast.  With running too, the leaner you are, the quicker you go.  So over the next 6 months I need to shift lumber and achieve something I’ve never done before – keep my training up while still losing a significant amount of weight.

In the past, I’ve managed 3-4 months of focussed weight loss and lost a significant amount of weight (over 3 stone some years) but as soon as the serious training starts, I’ve fed that training and the weight loss has plateaued.   I’m what the textbooks refer to as an “over compensator” and I could do 20 hours a week of training and my food cravings would ensure I consumed a huge amount of food to compensate for the energy I’d expended, a consequence of driving my exercise programme on a wave of sugar.

Then once the exercise had scaled back because of achieving a major goal (like an Outlaw finish), I would carry on at the same level of eating and all the weight would go right back on (and in 2012 because of my injury even more besides).

So my key goal for 2013 would be how to drive my weight loss to a new level (I’m looking to lose 4-5 stone minimum to get me round IMUK, even more if I want to beat my targets significantly) and still train seriously for Ironman.

Winding back before making the decision to get fit, lose weight and enter Ironman UK, I had what recovering alcoholics refer to as “a moment of clarity” when I realised enough was enough, I was fat, had canckles and needed to sort myself out.  The Irony was that this moment occurred on an All-inclusive holiday in Cyprus in August 2012.

Over the last few months, I have read a lot of scientific books that mention experiments on lab rats saying “the rats had unlimited quantities of any type of food” – the scientists are wasting their time studying rats, they should just study humans at an all-inclusive resort.  A PHD could be obtained by observing people out of control when they have the choice of almost anything to eat and as much of it as they want.  I found my diet morphed through the two weeks into a large plate of mainly carbs for three meals a day.

Potatoes, pasta, doughnuts, bread, dessert….when you are a food addict and all restrictions are removed, our choices are driven by the chemical cravings our bodies have for the foods that don’t satisfy appetite but reward with a short term chemical high.  But the trouble with a short term high is that once you have “come down” from it, you are looking for the next high to replace it.  For sugar addicts, that comes as a craving for more of the same.

My said “moment of clarity” came while reading a couple of books on holiday.  These were Chrissie Wellington’s auto-biography, “A life without limits” and Dr David Kessler’s “The End of Overeating: Taking control of our insatiable appetite.”  These two books gave me a paradigm shift in how I now view food.

Chrissie suffered from the opposite food issues that I do – bulimia and anorexia that she describes in graphic detail – but what inspired me was what she now eats when training.  She describes her “stir fry and fruit” diet and for some reason that struck a chord with me.

46lb in 11 weeks

Then that was backed up by Dr Kessler’s book which goes deeply into the psychology and biology of food craving, its unconscious control over our choices and why some of us will choose to eat the foods we know are bad for us, but still do it anyway.

From these books, I formulated a set of rules to stick by:
1. I would give up all refined sugar (sweets, chocolate, biscuits, cakes, fizzy drinks)
2. I would minimise bread, potatoes and pasta
3. My diet would mainly consist of protein from chicken, fish and eggs and some red meat along with fruit and green veg
4. I wouldn’t eat after my evening meal and would avoid snacking apart from fruit

This meant my lifestyle choice (it’s not a diet) would be similar to but not exactly a pure Paleo or Low Carb diet and would have healthy fruit and green veg as my carb sources.

And it was really important that these were rules and not guidelines – rules are meant to be kept, but your subconscious is more likely to find a way around a guideline.  Rule 1 was also a black and white rule (i.e. no grey areas) – refined sweet stuff is out of the picture totally.  Black and White rules are the best way of sticking to a resolution.

I started this on the 5th September when we returned from Cyprus, and 11 weeks later, I’ve lost 46lbs.  I don’t feel hungry at all and have minimal cravings and importantly I am training every day at a high level of intensity. We are measuring my strength increasing and power I’m producing as part of my training, so the losses are not through muscle wastage.

And in the last month, I have read another book which backs up the scientific reasons for what I have found.  It is “Why we get fat and what we can do about it” by Gary Taubes, who also wrote “Good Calories, Bad Calories”, published in the UK as “The Diet Delusion”.

His hypothesis is that Carbohydrates are the enemy and through the production of excess insulin are what cause the storage of fat in the body, not just an excess in the balance of Calories In/Calories Out.  He says that things we take for granted like Fat causing heart disease and Laziness and Gluttony causing Obesity are actually based on falsehoods.

For me the emphasis on solving the problem of why my body stores a lot of fat makes a lot of sense and it seems obvious now that what you eat rather than just how much should make a huge difference.

To get my mindset in the right place, I’ve also started to try and look at refined sugars with the same distain as I look at cigarettes.  As cigarettes drive cancers, refined sugars drive fat storage, diabetes, heart disease and the obesity epidemic.

Maybe in years to come, sweets will come in a plain package with a government health warning?  Although currently there are aisles of them being rolled out in the run up to Christmas.

As with any addiction, only time will tell whether my sugar habit has been cured long term, but so far my 2013 Ironman weight loss has got off to a pretty good start.

Finally, I’ve always gauged weight loss effort through 3 stages:
Stage 1: You notice some weight going and clothes getting looser
Stage 2: Your partner, children or parents (unprompted) notice your excess timber starting to disappear and compliment you on it
Stage 3: Having noticed, but not said anything so far, other people finally start to comment on your shrinkage – this starts with people close to you (close friends, family) and then progresses to compliments from those who wouldn’t normally comment on your physical appearance (colleagues, neighbours).

I’m pleased to say I’ve progressed through Stage 2 and have entered into the start of Stage 3 this week.  My aim is to reach the as yet uncharted and mythical stage 4 which is when people start to ask openly if you have a terminal illness or addiction to hard drugs…then I’ll know I’m at race weight for Ironman UK!!

The books discussed in this post are available from Amazon – please click on the icons:


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