Then and Now
About a decade back, when I lived in Menlo Park, California, I weighed 84 kg (185 pounds). That’s not as light as I’d ever been soon after my scrawny teenage years, but it’s as close to be being lean and fit as I can recall. Back then, I used to play tennis regularly, and frequently ran 10 and 20K road races. I used to bike to work in Redwood City and back daily (22 miles), and then down to Palo Alto for my classes (7 miles).
But about the same time last year, I tipped the scales at 95 kg (210 pounds). Now, that wouldn’t be so bad if I was a muscular giant, but I’m relatively lean. I’d accumulated the signs of prosperity (as a friend called it) over time, no thanks to a sedentary lifestyle, and a love for gluttony. At one point, one of our colleagues used to chide us that consuming large amounts of food was becoming one of our core competencies! Plus, my flexibility had gone down significantly, which was also making me more injury prone during recreational play. Twice, after playing a couple of hours of tennis, I ended up with plantar fasciitis. It’s a painful injury to the arch of the foot, and the only way to recover was to walk as little as possible. The added weight didn’t help.
Why you should read this
This post is the story of how I lost 10 kilos in a year. And I did this without following new fangled diets, hiring a fitness instructor, using apps or gadgets to help track things, or doing anything else unnatural. Along the way, I encountered a little setback which I wasn’t expecting. I’m sharing all of this in the hope this may inspire others to find their own journey.
My primary objective in losing weight is to get back to a level of fitness that I’ll be proud of. While I wasn’t proud of the pot belly I’d been carry around, physical appearance and how I’m perceived was not a factor. I consider myself fairly self motivated, and don’t believe I look for external validation to make me feel good. We’re all narcissistic at some level, and I’m not going to try to portray myself as being holier than thou. The point I’m making is, I feel this needs to be about your health and your well being.
The other factor that made all of this challenging? I love food. Remember Remy1 from Ratatouille, and those moments of explosions in his mind as he combines different flavors? Well, that’s me. I used to write a popular food blog a while back, and checking off new restaurants that had opened up in the city used to be a weekly routine. I still wanted to enjoy the good life, and eat all the things I love. And not have to starve myself or live on salads on boiled vegetables just in order to tilt the scales a bit.
So, the first part of the journey was a combination of discipline and routine coupled with experimentation. I tried to organize my week so that I’d get at least an hour daily. This meant an hour of either tennis or swimming every morning soon after I got up. On weekend, I’d push this a bit harder, and get about two hours in.
Sure, this sounds simple, the hard part was doing this daily.
My exercise routine.
Train insane. Or remain the same.
Monday through Friday
|6:00 AM||An hour long game of tennis, or a 45 minute swim in the pool.|
|8:00 AM||An 1 km walk with the dog.|
|6:30 AM||A two hour long game of tennis.|
|8:30 AM||Pull ups, stretches, core exercises at the gym.|
|9:00 AM||An 1 km walk with the dog.|
The second part was food intake. I continued to eat the same things that I used to, but reduced the quantity I was consuming gradually. I stopped eating from a plate, and instead started to use a bowl. Psychologically, it helped me focus on capping my consumption instead of just loading up a plate or going back for another little helping. I spaced out my meals well, and started to have a larger breakfast and a smaller dinner. I continued to eat out, but I’d pass on greasy buffets and pick smaller a la carte plates.
The Hockey Stick Effect
The third part was getting into a rhythm. During the first few weeks, it was particularly important to steady the food intake. Initially, my weight loss was neutralized by the muscle I was adding, causing my weight to increase just a bit. I continued to persevere, and saw a marked hockey stick effect with my weight starting to drop soon after. I tried not to be too worried about a daily or weekly goal, but to be overall comfortable with a steady rate of weight loss. One other thing I did was to ensure I was supplementing with diet with a wholesome mix of fruits, veggies, pulses and dairy products.
I was soon losing about a kilo a month, and this was a steady comfortable pace. I’d gotten my weight down to just below 90kg, and I was starting to feel I was cruising. I was wrong. There was one point where I tried to push it a bit too hard, and I remember when I realized it. I used to get quite tired by the end of the day, at times needing 8 full hours of sleep. There was one time I remember feeling just a little giddy one afternoon and having to stop at Maiya’s and get a snack. It was my body screaming at me to slow down. And I stopped, and just listened. I slightly increased my intake, even if that meant slower progress.
Once I’d gotten to 89 kg, progress was painfully slow. Every 100 grams on the scale was hard fought. My body was now lean, toned, and I was feeling more active and sprightly than before. I’d gotten into a daily rhythm of exercise. I was disciplined about food intake, and things were far more predictable.
A Typical Day
Here’s sort of what a typical day looked like.
|6:00 AM||1 Tall glass of milk, and half an apple.|
|9:00 AM||2-3 slices of toast, a little cheese, and a kullad of black tea.|
|1:00 PM||A small bowl of brown rice, lots of dal, lots of veggies. Once a week, I’d have grilled or pan fried fish.|
|5:00 PM||A little snack. Chocolate. Biscuits. Ice cream. It didn’t matter what it was, but it had to be a small quantity.|
|8:00 PM||A small bowl of brown rice, lots of dal, lots of veggies.|
|10:30 PM||Half an apple.|
I didn’t really research this online, or consult a dietician, although I’ll recommend that you consider doing so. I largely went with a mix of what well right, and I felt my body was responding well to. I never stopped occasionally eating other things I enjoyed - red meat, drinking wine or beer, and even greasy masala dosas.
One thing that didn’t help with the weight loss was little vacations in Goa and Kerala in between. It made no sense to not indulge in the generous of helpings of lobster, calamari, crab and sea fish that I love, and I came back about a kilo heavier each time. But I came back happier, with the weight of the past and the future discarded, living in the moment. And in the longer, bigger scheme of things, that’s really what matters, right?
Losing 10 Kilos
Once I was at 87kg, and I felt things were plateauing a bit, I started to add a quick daily run to the mix. I’ve always taken my dog for a daily 1 km walk in the mornings either before or after other workouts. But that’s always been a leisurely half hour stroll while Ma Belle takes her time doing her thing. Once I was done walking her, I started to get back out for a quick 1 km run. Gradually, I built up pace until I was doing sub 5 minute runs.
Soon, I hit 85. The magic number. I’d lost ten kilos in a year, and I’d made it with great determination and discipline. I didn’t realize it then, but my joy was short lived.
When Things Went Wrong
There was one weekend where I pushed too hard again. I played tennis one morning, then went for a swim, and then hit the courts again in the evening for another game. While we were still warming up, I felt pain in the lower knee, just below the knee cap. At first I sat down, hoping it was just cramps. But the pain didn’t ease out. A trip to Manipal Hospital the next day, several tests later, and after hours waiting at their ortho, I was told that the meniscus and cartilage in my knee were likely wearing out. The ortho also said that I would likely be unable to engage in rigourous exercise much again. I felt gutted. I’d always hoped to be able to continue playing tennis and swimming for as long as I could. And for that moment, I was reminded of the frailty of life, and how quickly things can change.
Fortunately, my neighbours referred to me to Dr Praveen Kumar, an ortho in Koramangala. Praveen advised me to take an MRI immediately, and then I went back that evening for the results. As I sat in the ortho’s waiting area, I pondered whether this would mean I’d finally need to stop making fun of my buddies who are golf regulars and start hitting the range. When I was called in, Praveen quietly went through all the scan results. He gave me a clean chit! There were no issues with the meniscus or cartilage, or anything cause of longer term concern. I’d torn soft tissue under the knee, but that should heal fully in a month. I was so relieved, I could have hugged him.
“Obsession is a young man’s game. My only excuse is that I never grew old.”
I started off on this little journey since I wasn’t happy with how things were. My weight might not stick around at 85. However, I’ll likely do my best to keep it around there with a continued balance of exercise and eating well.
I’m goal oriented and disciplined about how I go about trying to achieve it. But at times, it’s easy to obsess and go overboard. I did, and I got lucky that I didn’t cause any longer term damage to my knee. Nadal may have a battery of medics to help him get by, but you and I don’t.
I’ve sworn to go easy on high impact exercises in the future, and mix it up with a lot more of regular swimming. It’s easy to let your goals go out of hand and let you obsess more than you need to. And that in the end ends up being detrimental to your original goals. And thereby, in the way of happiness you initially craved.
So, stay true to your goals. But don’t let happiness get out of sight.
Image courtesy Disney/Pixar, from the motion picture Ratatouille. ↩