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Friday, 14 February 2014

The NiND Commissions #1: Motivation

This blog post has been commissioned by NiND donor Matt Ford. If you would like me to write a minimum of 400 words on a subject of your (or if inspiration deserts you, my) choosing, please check the rules, and then make a donation.

If you would like to know who you will be donating to, click here. If you would like to know how I'm getting on with my pledge to go without alcohol for a year, please sign up to the email alert service by putting your email in the box on the right of this page, or if you can't see the box, by clicking here.

If you want to know how you can make money out of my pledge, click here.

Have y'all finished clicking here? Then we'll begin.

It was Matt who gave me the idea of soliciting donations in exchange for writing. In an email response to one of my NiND blog posts he asked: 

"Do you do blog requests? I would like to hear you write about the value / impact of motivation…..in relation to diet / no drinking / exercise etc."

It's a positive pleasure to get any response to a blog post, let alone a request. Matt - this one's for you:



Fat man


I've always struggled with my appetite and I've never been that keen on exercise. I've been overweight most of my life.

I'd say my natural, healthy adult weight is around 11 stone. 12 stone is bearable. 12st 7lb is unacceptable.  Right now I'm 11st 6lb, so I'm not happy, and I won't be until I've got rid of that 6lb.

The last time I was 11 stone, I was 15 years old. I had got fed up with being fat so I spent the summer holidays avoiding anything sweet. The weight fell off. It was great.

Within two years I was back up to 12 stone and university in Liverpool exacerbated the problem - eating, drinking, whilst failing to do any exercise whatsoever saw my weight balloon to 13st 4lb. Thank god there are very few surviving photos from that time. I looked a mess.

Determined to do something about it, I joined the student union gym, and because I was unemployed and poor (the union were relaxed about me not giving them any subs) I lost enough weight to take me down to 12st-something.

I stayed at that weight for the next few years until I moved to Oxford in 1998. I was single, I had no money, and I fell in with a bunch of reprobates who seemed to get most of their calories from alcohol.

Over a period of time the weight slowly disappeared without me really noticing it. I suppressed my appetite (for food, anyway) without thinking and I got down to 11st 4lb. I remember being surprised, because I certainly didn't feel healthy.

Within 6 months I was back to 12 stone.

I moved back to London in 2001, started earning a bit of cash and the weight crept up again. If I ever went over 12st 7lb the alarm bells would ring and I'd try to do something about it. I'd get down to about 12st 2lb, relax my grip, and then the weight would climb up again.

Ten years of that.

In 2011 I got seriously determined. It coincided with being asked to do something for Comic Relief. A combination of watching what I ate and stress saw my weight fall to 11st 7lb. I was so delighted I celebrated all the way back to 12st 7lb.

I was livid with myself. Really mad this time. When I'm carrying that much weight I just don't look right. I hated it - I'd done something about it and then in the space of a few months let it all go again.

Within 6 months I'd got back down to 12 stone and vowed I would never weigh 12st 7lb ever, ever again.

The vow worked, slowly. In 2012 I joined a gym, which maintained my weight, and in 2013 I went through a period of not drinking, exercising (solely at the gym) and calorie-counting, using the myfitnesspal app I downloaded onto the iPad I got for my 40th birthday.

Eat less

Calorie-counting is a revelation. If you need to eat less than 2000 calories a day in order to lose weight at a reasonable lick, then you need to re-learn everything you know about what you eat, when you eat and the amount you eat. Try surviving the morning on the manufacturer's suggested 30g serving for a bowl of cereal. Weigh it out. Then try comparing it with what any sane person would call a normal bowl of cereal. That's how you end up eating more calories than you think.

Two words that should be in your thoughts at all times: portion control.

Diets are bunk. If you go on a diet, you will lose weight for the period of time you are on the diet. Then it goes back on. If you want to lose weight and keep the weight off you need to adjust your entire lifestyle, which can be done, and can be fun, but not without a lot of determination.

Forget special foods (see diets). I have three kids who I often have to make meals for. One has a mild gluten intolerance. One is fussy. One likes to throw his food around the room. One of the few pleasures we get as a family is sitting down together to eat something we all enjoy. I'm not going to start making life any more difficult.

Finally, and this is a controversial one - weigh yourself every day. Most experts recommend doing it once a week. When you gain weight as fast as I do, that's nowhere near frequently enough. Keep on top of it. If your weight is heading in the wrong direction, it's best to know about it early so you can make further adjustments to your lifestyle.

Go to the gym

The other side of the coin is exercise. If you exercise, you will not lose weight. It doesn't happen.

But… exercise is great at helping you maintain your weight, it tones you up, makes you feel better, and over time it improves your metabolism. It also puts you in an environment where you are receiving implicit and explicit healthy messages. It generally makes you more energetic, focused and determined. This will help you reduce the amount you eat.

If you want a trick to help with your motivation to exercise, go to gym classes. They're free at my gym and they serve three purposes:

a) they give you a set time to be somewhere. No one likes missing appointments. Miss the class and you're taking a place away from someone else who could have been there. Bad you. Don't do it again.

b) they force you to exercise different parts of the body in different ways. Going to the gym and spending 40 minutes on the treadmill is dull, time-consuming (relative to how fit you're going to get and how much weight you're going to lose), and not that good for you (hammering the same joints, time after time...)

c) you learn new exercises to use on your own when you're not able to attend a class.

You will also develop a relationship with the class trainers who will give you advice on exercise and nutrition.

When you're not attending classes, do not use your iPod to listen to music - learn things. As well as entertaining myself with Kermode and Mayo and Frank Skinner on a weekly basis, I also get through This American Life, the FT's brilliant Banking Weekly, Moneybox and TEDtalks. It's like a little download to your brain whilst you're on the hamster wheel.

No fun

There's no doubt that the last couple of years have made me re-evaluate my drinking. Drinking has always been enormous fun, but it's also expensive and time-consuming. Last year, at times, it started to feel like a bit of a chore. If you want to be at the gym at 6am, you don't want to be doing it dehydrated, with a headache. So you if you stop having fun whilst you're drinking because you're annoyed it's going to mess up your schedule, what's the point?

I didn't plan it like that. I just found myself in the very weird place (for me) of preferring to go to the gym at 6am than be a bit tipsy the night before. That process happened very very gradually, because it still doesn't feel like the sort of person I want to be. I feel like I'm trying it on for size.

The upsides - health, wealth and waistline, nowadays outweigh the downside - less fun. But I am at a stage of my life where I don't need to be thinking about fun. I need to be thinking about earning money, providing for my family and doing some serious work.

The pledge

Taking a year off booze was a natural progression. I have tried long periods before, but I've always cracked when a special occasion comes up, or I've had a hard day, a good day, or there's a drinking buddy I haven't seen for ages coming to stay.

This time round it felt different, largely because I have worked myself out well enough to know what the triggers are and how to deal with them.

The first thing I had to do was tell everyone I knew. Then I had to bind myself into it with a double-donation cashback-guarantee. Then I had to make it fun, hence the blog.

And so far, that side of things has been fun. The response (particularly from the charities I've been supporting, who have been downright lovely) has been amazing. The amount of money people have already parted with has been humbling, and whilst there have been a few occasions where I thought - "ooh, a pint would be nice" - I've never come close to acting on it. Nick is not drinking. It's my thing.

Right now, six weeks in, I can feel myself moving from the life-is-quite-dull-when-you're-sober stage to that intensely annoyingly energetic phase. Yesterday I started a blog project I've been meaning to have a go at for a while, wrote eight letters on the train and started the horrendous process of re-mortgaging our house. This morning I got up at 5.15am to go to the gym, got home, made breakfast for my wife, took the card, chocolates, toast, tea and flowers upstairs only to be told that the kids don't have school today and therefore she was rather looking forward to a lie in. I left her to it, had a shower, walked to the station and got to work in Southampton for 9am, having written this on the train. And I've got a smile on my face.

Nick is not losing weight

Annoyingly my weight has stubbornly refused to change much this year. Half way through January I dropped to 11st 3lb, but it soon came back up to 11st 6lb. Because I'm not drinking, I'm not calorie-counting, I'm not weighing myself every day and I'm indulging my sweet tooth. I'll try to sort that out before the summer.

I am the laziest, least motivated person I know. But I do like to surround myself with motivated, energetic and intelligent people. I am slowly learning from them by example. We can all get there in the end.

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