Thursday, May 1, 2014

Your Mind is the Best Way to Lose Weight and Get Fit. Not Crazy, Unsustainable, Diets.

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I talked about this topic on radio recently. Have a listen to it if you want (it's at the bottom)

Heaps of people around me have been saying how much thinner and healthier I've started looking, and almost all of them have been asking me how or what I was eating or doing to get there... a few even asked if everything was okay... healthwise.

Well, no, I'm totally fine, and I did mean to lose this weight. 

To be honest though... it wasn't really that hard at all.

Everyone talks about how they can't stay on a diet and how they can't find the time to do exercise... They talk about how hard it is to make changes in their life and how they just don't have the willpower or ability to be healthier people. 

But even while on corticosteroids (which increase your appetite, screw around with your hormones and eat away at muscles) and even while I was still getting some chemotherapy which makes me anaemic for a one or two weeks every month, I didn't find it too hard.

You wanna know why? 

Because all I did to become a healthier person was change my MINDSET.

Doctors all tell us that weight loss requires a lifestyle change, rather than drastic, quick-fix 12-day-detox/Biggest Loser boot camp solutions. And they're right. You should look to lose weight AND keep it off. It'll help you with heart problems, lower your chances of diabetes, reduce your risk of cancer and also make you more energetic than ever before.

But the words "lifestyle change" imply that it's hard, that it requires constant effort and struggle to do, and that's a big reason why people aren't willing to make that change.

Eating the right foods, and getting some exercise on a continuous basis IS vital to weight loss. But what's even more important is if you can maintain that way of living. 

And that's where your mind comes into the picture.

A few months ago, I was sitting at around 96, sometimes 97kg. I was trying everything to get fit and lose weight. I started juicing, cutting carbs out of my diet and went out, trying to run, get back into my old sprint training and back into the weights. And that was working - as it would for anyone - for a few weeks at a time.
But with my low immunity putting me into hospital with infections every few months, with my treatments lowering my bloodcounts, I kept getting sent back to where I began from over and over again... and it was frustrating as hell.
I wanted to lose weight and become as fit as I was before I got sick... I wanted to see results... but they just weren't coming. 

But after a while of this, I took a step back and saw that I was going through a cycle over and over again. It's the same cycle a lot of fad-dieters, or others wanting to lose weight, go through.

I wanted results and I wanted them NOW. But they weren't coming. 

So I changed the way I looked at getting healthy.
I changed my mindset... how I viewed my journey to come.
And the same thing that helped me beat cancer helped me get fit.

You don't need huge "willpower" to do it. All it takes are a few small changes in how you view things.

I Reminded Myself that it Would Take Time

--> This is the most important change you gotta do. Always look at the big picture, in the long term, and these changes last become easier to implement and maintain. 

Instead of living and dying on every kilo lost or gained and every individual day or week of training, I looked at the big picture, in the long term. That kept me on track and allowed me to take it easy when I needed, or had to, and it's why I managed to do this. 

It makes sense... I was only beginning my journey to get healthy - I was starting from scratch. It would take time to get to where I wanted to go. It wouldn't happen overnight.

I acknowledged that it would take me time. But just because it would take time to see results, didn't mean I wasn't going to get there. It's simple statistics. If I did things generally right, over a long period of time, I'd get to where I wanted to be. And by doing this, I knew I wouldn't give up, or worry, or hate myself if I had a few slip-ups on the way either.

That's exactly how you should look at weight loss, or any goal for that matter. It'll give you the best chance of getting there (and of staying happy on the way too).

I Made Small Changes To How I LOOKED At Food

--> Instead of making huge, drastic changes to my diet, or instead of starving myself, I changed how I viewed my food and eating. 

Reducing Portion sizes:
When trying to reduce how much I ate - I realised that, especially with foods I liked, I was just gulping down heaps of food. But really... the first 5, 10, maybe 15 spoonfuls or bites were the most enjoyable. The last few... well, they really were to finish off what was left. 
To change that I made small gradual reductions to my portion sizes. I started savouring my meals and once I realised I was full, I'd just leave it, put it in the fridge or throw it out, and next time take out less. Over time... the portions got smaller and smaller. When going out... if I didn't really feel like finishing off my plate, I'd just leave it and ask if anyone else wanted a few bites. I was brought up on the whole "Finish your plate, there are children in Africa who'd KILL to have what you've gotten!" sort of mentality... but really... I couldn't send them a few spoons of leftovers could I?
You know what? That worked. In January this year, I could eat a whole pizza, and I'd go up for second servings when lamb curry was made at home. Now... I can still do a half pizza... maybe more, but only when I feel like it. And I barely finish a plateful. That small change in mindset resulted in a huge reduction in my calorie intake per day. And it's a big reason why I've lost so much weight.

Making Healthier Choices:
Me - I'm a foodie. I like trying different things, new cuisines. And I like variety in my day to day life. I also like my meat, hate salads on their own (chemo's changed my taste a lot - I used to love the taste of lettuce... now it tastes like dirt at times) and I like eating carbs like bread or rice with meals. Who doesn't really? 
I knew that about myself... so I made small changes to my mentality, to how I saw food that helped me eat more healthily. 
With the carbs... I did like them, but what I liked more was what I was eating with them. So I changed the portions around, added more fillings or curries, whatever I was eating at the time and reduced the proportion of that to however many slices of bread or spoonfuls of rice I'd eat with them, again over weeks, not instantly. With the salads, I started drizzling, sometimes dumping tasty dressings based in oils (luckily regular olive oil is good for you) and added things like cottage cheese or olives to make them tastier. Juicing, though it gets good vitamins and veggies/fruits into you, was too much of a hassle to do regularly, especially cleaning the damn things. So I started looking around for good fruit/vegetable juice mixes with no added sugar or preservatives and came across this brand, which uses pressure instead of preservatives, and doesn't add sugar to the mix and saves me time too. I liked variety in my diet, and that was good. So I picked cuisines to eat regularly that were easy to prepare, and tasted good and were still healthy for me - things like tacos or stir fries (which have good amounts of veggies, are easy to cook, low in carbs and have good, but not excessive amounts of meat) and I mastered them. They're like a staple to me now. And I don't hate eating unlike most people who diet - so I maintain a good healthy lifestyle. 

Taking out the Junk Food
In terms of reducing my junk/fast foods... well... they do taste good, and they are cheap and easy to prepare or get too... But I also hated that "fat", "oily" feeling I had after eating a packet of chips, some chocolate or a burger or box of chicken from KFC. So again, I changed how I viewed them, and that changed my habits.
I didn't cut them out entirely, which many people do, instead I only got a few small bits and pieces from fast food places or fish n chip shops, every now and then, and had them alongside other, healthier stuff. With the chocolates, and chips, instead of gulping down a handful or packs of tim-tams at a time and then feeling bad afterwards, I shared them around with other people, or had a few chips or bites from friends. Those small changes made me eat healthier, and also saved me money too. 
They are easier to cook, I guess, and many people just don't have enough time to do the cooking - but those meal suggestions I made above really help with that. Another thing that makes cooking easier for me is marinating meats and eating them with salad or veggies or a good slice of cheese (which acts as a side dish for me - I love block cheese and it's high in proteins too so it makes you fuller quicker). I marinate a huge amount of meat in tandoori paste, or honey soy dressing - whatever I feel like - leave it over a few days (the longer it marinates, the better it tastes) and cook it in meals with this simple frier/grill which only requires me to flip once and makes meat really tender too and it's done quickly. Quicker than a drive out to the closest McDonalds by the way...

These small changes to how I viewed eating, small changes to my mentality, was all it took to improve my diet drastically. I haven't cut anything out, I'm not hating myself and making myself less likely to succeed by following strict diets and better meals is a MAJOR reason why I've lost so much weight and why I'm so healthy right now too! 

I Improved My Fitness/Exercise Patterns:

When I started trying to get fit after my second transplant, a year ago, I told myself I was going to take it slow and build up from there. After my first transplant, I pushed straight into weights and basketball, I didn't even focus on getting any endurance back before doing so and in the end, it didn't help me get healthier... It just made me frustrated (because I wasn't improving much) and probably made me sicker overall too.
This time around though, I didn't have a relapse, and lower blood counts stopping me from improving. What I did have was excuses and laziness and self-consciousness about my abysmal fitness, which made me not train consistently, which made me frustrated that I wasn't getting fitter, which made me lose the will to get fit - initiating a huge cycle where I'd get motivated and exercise for a week or two and then stop, only to repeat it, again and again.

Taking that First Step. 

Well, changing how I looked at things helped me get more consistent in my training. Motivating yourself to get off your bum and start is the hardest thing to do when exercising. But by changing your perspective on exercise, from a thing that is painful and excruciating to do, to something that you can build up on - something that gives you more energy throughout the day - gets you over that initial burden of getting up and doing that first set. Looking at your long term goals, while always languishing in the feeling of accomplishment you get when finishing up a training session, keeps you going. But it's when you have a bad, or disappointing workout that this patient thinking really helps. Instead of getting down and sad about it - you'll be ready to go the next day, because you'll know for that 1 bad workout, you'll have 5 other good ones, and you'll still be heading in the right direction.

Start Easy and Build Up From There

When building up from scratch, which I've had to do plenty of times, looking in the long term REALLY helps. 
In my case, and that of many other patients who read my blogs, treatments and concurrent infections would bring me back to starting position, walking and body weight exercises were excellent in building me up. I started with push-ups, squats and sit-ups in front of the TV. Those things gave a good burn and made me feel like I did something and gave good, constant improvements when I did them consistently too. I didn't just like walking for no reason, so I used my mind and my interests to my advantage and started walking down to the river with a rod in hand, looking at the tides, watching the small fish and how they moved, and getting good ideas and experience to improve my fishing. Basketball - my favourite sport - always keeps me motivated, and watching a good basketball video or movie would always get me up and ready to have a shoot around. You can use whatever passions you like. Cycling, rock climbing, diving, whatever you want to motivate you to keep you in the gym or in the pool or on the track.
Make exercise time valuable. I know many students find it hard to sit down and study - so download your lectures and put them onto your music player and go for a walk or run. Same thing goes for podcasts of your favourite radio shows, or just blasting your own music. Makes it easier and even fun to train - in fact, Jana Pittman, a classmate of mine does this to keep up with medicine and still train at an Olympic level. 

Don't Be Shy, Or Worry About What Others Think of You

Taking that first step was hard for me. After chemotherapies, where I'd have to start from scratch, I'd always feel embarrassed and self-conscious at how little I could do, and also about how weird I'd look. You may feel the same way when someone racks up more weight than you can squat on the bench press, or when someone laps you in the pool or when someone blocks you on the basketball or volleyball court. Whenever I wanted to work out, I would always feel the stares of others on me and that stopped me from wanting to go out and get healthy in the first place. When you take a step back and see it in another way though, you'll see that you're stopping yourself from being the healthiest and happiest version of yourself because of what other people may be THINKING about you. Read more about how I managed to get past my self consciousness and become the most confident, happiest version of myself here.

Overall - losing weight and getting fit and healthy is NOT something hard. The only thing standing in the way of you getting there is YOU and your mindset. Get your mind on your side and the rest will become easy. 

Those fad diets and boot camps can help lose weight and they do work. But they're not easy to maintain - they're not for everyone. Using your mind to your advantage is the best thing you can do to help you get healthy.

Myself - I've gone down from 97kg in November last year to about 80kg now. And I'm in that luxurious position of needing to gain weight (to keep a good amount of fat, which makes the injections I get in my belly easier to handle, and lowers the chance of bruising there too). 

I talked about this on radio actually - have a listen to it here:

Feel free to leave any tips of your own down here. To help me and others along on their journey to get fit and healthy.


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