Fat people don’t really care about being the next Arnold Schwarzenegger. As a recovering fat person I can tell you; fat people just want to look normal. A t-shirt that hangs off my chest instead of my gut … now that’s a mission I can get behind.
I was always skinny growing up. My girlfriend would joke I had the chest of a teen boy-band member; hairless and under-developed.
But then I moved to Thailand.
A funny thing happens when you move to a country where the average income is $400 per month and the national hobby is eating. Suddenly, the most delicious of everything is available to you without price ever being a barrier.
50 cent pad-thai, $1 cheesecake and $2 beers quickly lead from 68kg Chris to a 80kg Chris.
I’m not a tall guy and that 80 did not sit well on my frame. One night, after knocking back a crate of those $2 beers, I came home to an apartment that had detached itself from the laws of physics and was stubbornly rotating. As I lay naked on the floor, begging the universe to intervene, my girlfriend (who found this hilarious) took a picture to commemorate the moment.
The next day, hungover Chris was shown said photo and was disgusted at the fat mess he had allowed himself to become.
Herein lies Rule #1 aka the only rule for making a change in your life:
You’ll only change your behaviour when the pain gets big enough.
Fast forward 6 months and I’ve lost 10kg of fat, added a couple kilograms of lean muscle mass and developed a lifestyle that’ll keep me alive until at least past the national average.
What follows are not rules (see above). There are many ways to get to where you want to be. These are just 4 things I’ve learned on my ongoing journey from fat to normal.
Thing #1 – Goals Are Bullshit. Build Habits.
Habits are safer than rules; you don’t have to watch them. And you don’t have to keep them either. They keep you. – Frank Crane
The enemy of your goal is decision making.
When you have a goal you have to use willpower to make good decisions every single time you do something. When that goal is lose “10kg of fat” and someone offers you a slice of cake you now have to decide if eating the cake is in harmony with your goal.
Obviously in this case, it’s not.
But that cake is still delicious so you have to exert some willpower to make the correct decision.
But what about when you’re tired? hungry? stressed or have low low blood sugar? All of those factors weaken your willpower and make it harder to make a good decision.
Justifications slip in: “I ran 5km this morning, I should treat myself!”.
Being healthy is the long game. You don’t want to be making decisions (which come at you many thousands of times each year) with the outcome being reliant on whatever level your willpower meter happens to be at that time.
Instead, build habits. Habits are automatic behaviours. No decision making required.
For me these habits have been when and where I exercise, when and where I eat and the amount of water I drink.
When I get offered a cheesecake I no longer make a decision, it’s an automatic behaviour. It’s an automatic IF-THEN statement. It works like this:
IF day = saturday: “yes cheesecake thank you”
ELSE “no cheesecake thank you”
Building habits is simple.
We just break down our goal in to a set of behaviours that if we did consistently would force us to reach our desired goal.
You then tie that behaviour (like eating chicken or going for a walk) to a trigger.
Triggers can be things like feeling stressed, just got out of bed, feeling hungry, waiting for my bus, getting in to bed, sitting on the toilet.
When you have triggers that repeat themselves you can start to do positive behaviours after them. Before long you start to do the behaviour without any decision making. It’s now a habit. Thanks Pavlov.
Thing #1 over-rules everything else. Build healthy habits and you’ll reach whatever goal you set, practically on auto-pilot.
TIP: Use the app Rewire to track which days you did the behaviour you want to make in to a habit. Nothing is more painful than clicking that red [X] after 30 days of green [✓].
TIP 2: Here is an example of a positive habit. For dessert eat a piece of delicious ripe fruit instead of cake. Repeat this behaviour after the trigger (which is is finishing your dinner) until every time you eat dinner you crave fruit.
James Clear on Building Habits
Mark Manson on the 6 Core Habits
What actually is a habit?
Good habits are worth being fanatical about – John Irving
Thing #2 – 80% Of Your Results Come From How You Eat.
The 80/20 rule states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort. And that 20% is your diet.
It also turns out that dieting is easy. You just remove the worst things from your current diet to get 80% of the desired results.
Everyone has something in their diet that is causing 80% of the damage. Mine was dessert. Your’s might be beer, soda, mars bars or heroin. Doesn’t matter. Just identify it and remove it.
Here is what I did:
1) Eat Whole Foods.
As a rule of thumb: if it comes wrapped in plastic or cardboard it is probably bad for you.
Instead eat as many whole foods as you need. This just means eat non-processed food. Eat whole grains (e.g. rice, oats, barely not bread, pasta and cereal), nuts, meat, fish, eggs, vegetables.
Eat anything that grows out of the ground, swims in the ocean or runs around on feet.
But once those ingredients are taken and processed in to a different form (and usually wrapped in plastic) like pastry, batter, cake, bread, ice-cream … avoid them. (Disclaimer: I still eat bread, just not as much as I used too).
Not all calories are born equal. No one got fat eating too many avocados. Eat as much WHOLE food as you need.
2) Don’t Add Sugar.
Sugar causes your blood glucose levels to spike and then your liver releases insulin to sort that little problem out. The insulin scoops up all the sugar in your blood and stores it in your fat cells. As a side-effect you feel like shit (sugar coma!) and this starts the sugar-spiral: you feel shit from eating something high in sugar and to alleviate that shit feeling you hunt out another doughnut.
So don’t add sugar to your hot drinks, avoid foods with added sugar (nearly all processed food) and don’t drink your calories (beer and coke).
Thing #3 – Have a Cheat Day
Cheat days are willpower boosters. Once per week be free to do and eat whatever you want. Not only will this help reboost the metabolism (which slows down from dropping calories) but it also means it’s easier to turn down that Thursday night dessert.
I’ve personally found my sacred-holy-cheat-day to be the one thing that has most helped me to effectively build healthy eating habits. It’s Saturday as I write this and I’ve just ate a salad for breakfast. Before you know it, the habits over-rule the cheat days but the cheat-day helps build the habit.
Thing #4 – Join The Best Gym You Can.
Nearly everything I do is focused on building habits and I knew that going to the gym regularly was going to be my heroes challenge. So I joined the best gym I could find. It’s expensive as hell but it’s cheaper than dying young.
For the first couple of weeks I just went and did a little walk on the treadmill, sat in the steam room and then had a Jacuzzi. Because it is such a nice gym I go just to be in the nice environment.
I made it easy on myself so that going to the gym became a habit. Working out is easy once you get there.
Going hard from day 1 is the best way to scare yourself off.
And, You’re Done.
Notice that 2, 3 and 4 are really just about building good #1’s.
Activate Hardcore mode for eager beavers:
1) Take before pictures so you can revel in your after photos.
2) Find an InBody Composition Analyzer to find out your exact fat and muscle mass. Your local hospital may do a DEXA scan.
3) Eat high protein for breakfast (eggs are easy) and coffee during the afternoon (helps take away the hunger pang)
4) Intermittent Fasting is easier than it sounds and has very effective fat loss effects.