Wouldn’t that be awesome?
Imagine being able to eat to your heart’s content, enjoy your life to the full, have fun without the guilt and yet still be healthy, look great and lose that damn beer belly.
It’s not really too much to ask, is it?
Don’t we deserve at least to have a glimpse of the utopia we are all so desperately looking for where we are fulfilled, happy and guilt-free?
Instead, we constantly berate ourselves for not eating the right stuff, not going to the gym enough, being too fat, being the wrong shape, eating too much, sitting too much, not exercising the right way, looking older, wasting time, being bored, feeling low, feeling directionless.
The list goes on.
And a lot of these behaviours, we are told, lead to heart disease, diabetes, increased risk of cancers, premature death and misery.
No wonder we’re all so depressed!
But it really doesn’t have to be like this.
My story is a simple one and I hope, that by telling it here, I might help you some way along your path to achieving something similar to the goals in the title of this piece!
It starts with food.
How to eat like a horse
I have to hold my hands up and be honest and say that I love my food and I do, basically eat like a horse. I have an enthusiastic relish for stuffing things in my mouth and will often not even hold a conversation whilst eating such is my delight and focus on the task in hand.
I also get grumpy when I’m hungry.
That makes me sound really sad and simple but I don’t think I’m unique. Food is a real focus for me and I love mealtimes and the social togetherness of the family around the table. Eating is a fundamental human activity and for many of us, it’s a comfort and a friend when times get hard.
A few years ago I came to the realisation that I was eating when I was bored, eating when I needed comfort or reassurance, eating because I thought I “deserved” to have something nice in my life and basically eating to try to make myself happier.
It wasn’t really working. I was around 17 ½ – 18 stones in weight and very unfit. Now, I’ve always been blessed with a fast metabolism and I think that I should really have been significantly heavier than this but I’m 6′ 5” tall and at 18 stones I was overweight but by no means massively obese.
Chocolate was a huge problem for me and I was “treating” myself to several bars a day interspersed with crisps and fizzy drinks. I’d come out of the petrol station with three chocolate bars, a packet of crisps and a coke and eat it on the way home. Popping to the shop for a pint of milk or any excuse to go into a store usually resulted in a similar glut of treat food and I was sometimes doing this two or three times a day.
Family sized packs of Minstrels and Maltesers were no problem and often formed the dessert to follow my main course of crisps – sometimes a whole tube of Pringles with a bag of Monster Munch thrown in for good measure. Triple packs of Bounty bars were a particular favourite and lasted only a matter of moments.
Worse than this was that I was doing it in secret because I was ashamed of my consumption and, despite the momentary fix, I knew that it was causing me problems and wasn’t good for me. I was suffering from sugar highs and lows and my moods were suffering. I was energyless and lethargic.
Often, I secretly sat alone in the car in desolate car parks gorging myself and feeling guilty.
Luckily this phase is now well and truly over.
I now weigh between 13 ½ and 14 stones and am fitter both physically and mentally than I’ve ever been at any other time in my life. I still eat more or less what I want to but I’ve lost the comfort food cravings I described above. I don’t go to the gym, I don’t do any hateful running or force myself to do any exercise.
Many people really struggle with the middle years of their lives but I can honestly and truthfully say that the years of my 4th decade have been some of the happiest and most fulfilling of my life.
But how can this be? I hear you ask!
Well, I discovered cycling.
How to have the time of your life
Now I’m not going to sit here and be as simplistic to say that by getting on a bike you are going to solve all of your problems because that’s really not true. But for me, it was the gateway to sorting a number of aspects of my life out. It was the enabler, the road map and the guide. Cycling was the catalyst to my midlife salvation!
And it basically happened by accident.
I had visited my physio to have some help with a recurring knee pain. Basically, the muscles around of my knee joint weren’t strong enough to support the knee and he suggested that cycling would be a good way of building up some strength. I got a bike and, to a certain extent, the rest is history. I never had any more problems with my knee despite it having plagued me on and off for a couple of years.
Now the point is that I was lucky. I found something physical that I really enjoy really easily. And this is the real key. We can go to the gym or flog ourselves jogging or swim for hours or walk in the hills but, if you really don’t enjoy it or you’re just doing it because you think you should be doing it “to get fit” then it will eventually become a misery and you will give up.
Believe me – I’ve suffered that misery over and over again over the last 20 years or so. I’ve always wanted to be thinner and fitter and I’ve tried so many healthy eating regimes and tried to go running, go to the gym and swim but I never keep it up. I have a certain amount of willpower but eventually, as is so often the case, I backslide into my old ways and throw in the towel.
Not so with cycling. I’m due to cycle today in about an hour’s time. The sun is shining outside and I’m literally chomping at the bit to get out and get going – I can’t wait!
And the difference is that I don’t view my cycling as “getting fit time” or “losing weight time”.
I just view it as a treat. It’s quality time for me. In fact, I feel guilty sometimes that I spend so much time doing it because it feels self-indulgent to treat myself to having a good time so many times during the week!
Do you see the difference? I hate running. I hate gym machines. I love cycling and associate it with treating myself and pleasure rather than doing it for the sake of getting fit.
In many ways it doesn’t matter if your “activity of joy” is cycling, gardening, yoga, walking the dog, running, playing frisbee or whatever – you just need to work out what you love doing, start doing it for the love of it, forget about being motivated by ideas of fitness and weight loss and just indulge yourself and do your activity as much as you possibly can. Everything else will naturally follow.
How does that sound?
For me, I found that the more I cycled the more I was able to put things into perspective. It gave me thinking time, I found that I was processing things mentally on the bike, cycling put me in a good mood, made me more aware of myself and my surroundings.
Cycling makes me a better person!
And this, of course, gradually started to permeate many other aspects of my life. I became much calmer, more tolerant, more in touch with myself. I felt more in control and better able to cope with the demands of life. Mentally, cycling helped put me in a much better place than I had been at any time in my life previously.
Physically, I lost weight without really trying. I started to literally, over time, feel physically amazing. Now, I’m no great shakes athletically at all but my small cycling achievements were giving me more energy, more confidence – I was thoroughly enjoying being almost four stones lighter – the difference is incredible!
The binge eating has pretty much taken care of itself. I feel so much cleaner inside and I just don’t crave food anymore. Sure I love to eat and I still eat chocolate, I drink beer, I love pizza but I’ve lost the overwhelming desire to stuff myself, I don’t seem to need to comfort eat anymore but I do pretty much still eat like a horse!
So how do I get away with it?
Well let’s look at a few facts and figures:
How to lose your beer gut
On an average week, I’ll cycle twice for an hour or so during the week and once for two to three hours at the weekend.
This is a pretty average week for me above so, we have basically have 4 1/2 hours of cycling pleasure. So that’s 4 1/2 hours of complete 100% quality “me” time taken from a total week of 168 hours – that seems pretty reasonable if you look at it in context. I cycled a total of something like blardy blah miles at an average speed of who the hell cares with a power output at not really bothered etc etc.
The point is, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, enhanced my life, and as a natural by-product lengthened my life, got fitter, increased my personal feel-good factor and also – bloody hell – just look at the number of calories I burned!
This is about the only number that interests me. Look! A grand total of 2498 calories burned over the week. That’s about the same amount as a male needs to eat over a day. So, it’s like I’ve actually fasted for a day out of the whole week in terms of my calorie intake which means that, so long as I eat a reasonable and average 2500 calories each day I’ve got 2500 calories lea way.
Now that’s a lot of extra helpings, chocolate bars and pints of beer that I can have per week without putting on any extra weight!
So, this is a bit simplistic I know but, basically, for me at least it works. I don’t actually calorie count or watch what I eat particularly apart from eating a reasonably healthy and balanced diet. Cycling, and my increased physical and mental fitness, has fairly much naturally regulated my binge eating. I still eat a lot and enjoy my food but, with 2.5K of calories being burned on the road each week it’s really not much of a problem!
So, I still fairly much eat like a horse, I eat treats, I have second helpings. I do something that I love for four hours a week that’s just “me” time and as a natural by-product of this I feel physically great and it has also mentally helped me enormously to get myself to such a positive point in my life. And my beer gut, through not even really trying, is a thing of the long distant past.
I haven’t gone through all of this, my friend, to just smugly relay it and hold myself up as some sort of example of how you should be.
I just know that cycling has guided me into a really good phase in my life and I want this for you too.
You can do this!
I know, because I did – and if I can do it anyone can. I was a mildly depressed, overweight, binge eating middle-aged man who broke into a sweat and got out of breath tearing the wrapper off a Snickers!
You just need to change your mindset. Find something physical that you love (cycling is my recommendation because it’s great!) and think of doing it as time out, as a present to yourself, as a treat. Do it as much and as often as you can, be guilt free, it is OK to indulge and nourish yourself like this.
Sure, you won’t get fitter in a week, and you won’t get thinner in a month. But, as you are loving what you’re doing you will just keep doing it. After all, who doesn’t like treating themselves and, sure as the summer follows spring, you will, over a period of time, start to shed the weight. You will start to feel amazing both physically and mentally, you will move into having the time of your life.
Don’t look for progress or measure your journey in anything other than the amount of enjoyment you are getting from your activity. Start looking at calories and pounds gained or lost and you will inevitably, eventually, be back at the point of exercising with your motivation being just to get fitter or lose weight.
You will probably fail as, long term, these motivations for us mere mortals at least, aren’t strong enough.
We are, however, motivated by pleasure. Find your physical pleasure, bathe yourself in an orgy of it and all of the other beneficial side effects such as physical and mental fitness and weight loss will fall into place and look after themselves.
You could, of course, go on a diet and go to the gym. Hit it hard for a month and lose a load of weight. But, if you’re like a vast number of the population you won’t keep it up. The real motivation isn’t there. You will backslide, feel crap and guilty at another failure. Put the weight back on, get out of shape and then hit it again in a few months. And so the cycle continues.
So that’s my challenge. Go on, grab it with both hands, claim some of the good stuff for yourself. You do deserve this, you can feel great and invincible again.
All you need to do is believe and make a start.
Start right now………