I’ve had a somewhat up and down relationship with my weight throughout my life. Actually, that’s not strictly true since I only started weighing myself thirteen days ago. So, not weight exactly. Shape. As a boy, I remember looking disdainfully in the mirror at my collection of clearly visible ribs. I decided that my legs were too thin. Although looking back I was clearly nothing other than a normal, healthy little boy, at the time I was pretty sure I looked incredibly weedy.
In my teens, although I was reasonably pleased to grow to just over six feet tall, my body stubbornly refused to ‘fill out’. I do not know who invented the term ‘streak of piss’, but I undoubtedly possessed the sort of physique he’d been describing. Despite playing rugby for my school and being comfortably the fastest sprinter in my year, my games teacher refused to send me to the county trials on the (probably correct) basis that I would be ‘broken in half’. So on I went, leaving school in 1993 at the age of eighteen and still looking like a strong breeze might catch in the folds of my baggy jeans and carry me away.
And then beer happened.
That’s not to say that I didn’t drink beer prior to the age of eighteen. I did. My early experiments with alcohol produced mixed results. I found that I could drink at a steady pace without ever seeming to get drunk, which was of course absolute bollocks. I found that drinking six bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale in about two hours would make me vomit so hard it was as if I’d swallowed a jet-wash. A jet wash filled with Newcastle Brown Ale, semi-digested pizza and bile. But I didn’t put on any weight, and never gave any thought whatsoever to the notion that I would at some point.
That point was probably around my second year at university. I was still wearing jeans with a 30″ waist, but they were becoming noticeably tighter. But I wasn’t too distressed, as I had finally started to ‘fill out’. So it was perfectly natural for me to convince myself that my slightly expanded waist was nothing more than a bit of natural growth. First mistake.
Around that time, I bit the bullet and started buying 32″ jeans. All was well for a few years. After I left/was asked not to come back to university, I had a very physical job that basically allowed me to drink whatever I wanted in the knowledge that I’d be burning it all off the following day. A kind of wrong-headed equilibrium was reached, in which I convinced myself that I was a picture of health despite getting through something like eight pints of lager and 40 Marlboro a day. Actually, now that I’ve just typed that out, ‘wrong-headed’ doesn’t really do it justice. I was insane.
My problem, such as it is, started when I moved to Brighton in 1998 and got a job where the only strenuous aspect was actually the walk to and from work. It was my first office job, and although the actual nature of the work was punishingly tedious and just a little bit demeaning, I told myself that it beat being outside in the pissing rain at 7am on a February morning. And it did, but the obvious problem (so obvious that it didn’t occur to me at all) was that I was still drinking a lot of beer but now living a more or less sedentary life.
In the years that followed, I moved back to Warwickshire but remained sat on my increasingly large arse in various offices. Apart from a brief period where I thrashed myself into some sort of shape prior to getting married, I simply carried on drinking and not exercising. I weighed myself once, around 2000 or 2001. I was nearly fourteen stone. That’s almost two hundred pounds, and very little of it was muscle. My response? Nothing. No response. Except I probably became a little bit more adept at sucking my gut in when I sat down in the pub.
Anyway, to bring us up to date… I started running regularly in January 2012. Last year was a little bit hit and miss in the sense that I started with the whole barefoot thing. This meant quite a few niggly little injuries and periods in which I couldn’t run. But 2013 has been much better, and although I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as a totally transitioned barefoot runner, I’ve reached a point where I can do decent weekly mileage without having to worry about hurting myself.
My focus during 2012 was absolutely on my running. I carried on eating and drinking more or less the same things, though I should point out that it had been a long time since I drank like I did in my 20s. Come to think of it, it’s been a long time since my 20s. Bugger.
Early this year, I read Scott Jurek’s ‘Eat & Run’, which for the first time made me question what I was actually putting into my body. It’s a good book, well worth a read although it’s certainly not above criticism. (Jurek does have a tendency to draw obvious conclusions whilst presenting them as some kind of breakthrough in running and nutrition. Mainly the revelation that his running improved when he switched to a vegan diet. Given that his diet had previously consisted (as detailed in the book) of a shit load of McDonald’s, that isn’t particularly surprising.)
As well as an account of Jurek’s journey to top ultra runner, there are also a number of recipes in the book. Being the impulsive, slightly stupid man that I am, I drove to a health food shop near Leicester to buy all these strange ingredients and whole foods that I had never heard of. I later found out there is another shop about three miles from my house that sells all these things for less money. Call it a learning curve.
Some of the recipes were okay. Some were, frankly, vile. (And I’m not sure I will ever live down my bulk purchase of nutritional yeast.) So I decided to leave the recipe stuff to people who could actually cook properly, and just read runner’s stuff for the stuff on running. Nevertheless, I’m glad I read the book because it sowed the seed that I was eating quite a bit of meat, and that it wasn’t doing much to help my running. I then remembered that I had bought Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage Veg’ book some months previously and had barely looked at it. If you don’t have it, you should buy it immediately. It’s a source of great amusement to my mother, who could never get me to eat vegetables as a kid, that I now eat virtually nothing but. I’m not a vegetarian, and nor can I picture myself becoming one. It’s just that I now eat meat perhaps twice a month, and when I do it tends to be the more expensive stuff. I could start droning on about how our relationship with meat in the west is unsustainable and basically insane, but I won’t. Yet.
So how did this affect my running and my weight? I’ll be honest, I didn’t notice any real difference in either. But I did start to feel better. I can’t really be any more specific than that, I’m afraid. Then, a few weeks ago, my wife and I were talking about weight. She asked me how much I weighed and I genuinely had no idea. We talked about it, and I said that I’d felt for a long time that I wanted to lose a bit, but it was impossible for me to say how much since I didn’t even know what weight I was. In terms of my appearance, I looked like your average late-30s runner who likes a beer – basically the right shape but with clear room for improvement.
And so, we finally come to the beer. I’m not a heavy drinker by any means, but beer has been the one thing that I have been unwilling to address. Why? Habit, I guess. I enjoy it. I had told myself for a long time that a couple of beers every night was nothing in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps that was true when I was in my 20s, but as I’m approaching 40 it was time to acknowledge that even just having two beers every night would be putting almost 3000 calories into my body each week. And that’s not counting the odd glass of wine, or the nights when I might go to the pub and drink more than a couple of beers.
So, a fortnight ago, I pretty much stopped drinking beer out of habit. What does ‘out of habit’ mean? It means I’ve stopped just grabbing a beer at 8pm when the kids are in bed, or at 11pm when I’m playing Xbox. I will still drink socially if people visit, or if we are invited out. But I’ve completely cut out the unnecessary drinking. And it was surprisingly easy. It really shouldn’t have come as a surprise, since giving up smoking was also pretty straightforward. But it did. After just over two weeks, I’ve changed my habits. So what about the results?
It seemed pretty sensible to me that if I was going to try and live a little better, I needed to be able to measure my progress. So I bought a good pair of bathroom scales. And I’m very glad that I did, because if I hadn’t I think I would have given up already. I don’t think I look very different, but the scales are telling me that I am, slowly, losing weight. I am (as I think I mentioned above) just over six feet tall. When I first weighed myself, I was 13 stone 3 pounds, which is 83.9 kilos or 185 pounds. I’m now 12 stone 13 pounds. It’s not exactly dropping off me Weight Watchers style. But I’m happy; my weight is coming down gradually and the best part is that I’m not actually on any kind of diet. I’m eating well, drinking occasionally and basically doing my thing. I totally understand the desire that people have to get results quickly when they’re trying to lose weight, but I also think that this can lead to ‘false’ weight loss. That is, losing weight artificially and then (just as the diet industry wants you to) putting it all back on.
So far, so good.
I’m running six days in seven as well, with the emphasis very much on enjoyment. I haven’t timed myself in weeks, I’m just having fun. The Heart of England Forest is beautiful in the summer, but as the season changes to autumn it somehow becomes even more special.
Sorry, I just made myself gag.
There has been one negative thing. We bought my daughter one of those scooters popular with adolescent boys too scared to try skateboarding. Naturally I had to have a go on it, and immediately twatted my ankle on the fucking thing. As a result, I’ve had some pain ever since, but not enough to stop me running. But it’s nagging and persistent, and I can’t escape the thought that I should be resting it. A bit of internet self diagnosis (always best avoided) revealed that it might be some form of tendonitis brought on by the initial injury, and that I should have my foot encased in one of those stupid great… things. Bollocks to that though, eh?
I will leave you with the great, GREAT Chas and Dave’s ode to the beer belly. They don’t reckon it at all.