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New Year’s Resolutions and how I kept mine, part 1 of 2

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This is me in the evening of December 31st 2012 on Jomtien beach with my gorgeous  wife, who clearly looks far too good for me (the truth is, she is!). 

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When I got back home after this really enjoyable trip, I weighed 103 Kgs. I used to tell myself “that isn’t too bad after all I am 191 cm’s tall”.

But the weight was not exactly evenly distributed. I had grown a beard to hide my growing double chin, but nothing, not even my ‘Jungle Birds’ Hawaiian shirt, could hide my bulging waistline.

When I arrived in Thailand, way back in 1997, I weighed just 78 Kgs. But that number crept up over the years. Mostly due to that amber nectar I am holding in the picture…

But as years went on I drifted away from the party scene and settled down (ish), and so a part of me wanted to blame the fact that I had become overweight on the after effects of quitting smoking, but the stark ugly truth is I got fat because I ate too much, drank too much and didn’t move enough.

[Boy that feels good to write, and its even more cathartic to say it out loud!]

I determined that day on the scales, after our New Year’s trip, that 2013 was going to be year that I was going to lose weight, after all I had given up smoking, so surely I could do this, right?

But I had tried before, many times in fact. I had followed the Atkins diet, I had cut back on portion sizes to little effect, I tried a juice fast, but gave up as it was far too inconvenient, and I didnt want to give up eating ‘real’ food. I also have a small young family so it was important to me that I didnt disrupt their lives too much either. 

I couldnt see myself living with any those options permanently. The options out there like paleo diet and plant based diets whilst very good for you, just didnt seem like something I could stick with.

So in other words I wanted a diet, that

  1. wasnt a super duper Paleo / Veggie diet
  2. was sustainable
  3. would help me lose weight
  4. would be healthy
  5. and would be sustainable (Twice because its so important!)

Not much to ask right? I wasn’t optimistic, and then I recalled that I had recently watched a documentary that at the time seemed too good to be true, but it was from a television series that i had grown to love and respect over the years, it was a BBC Horizon documentary by Dr. Michael Mosley, called “Eat, fast and live longer”.

If you are still reading this you may be thinking about how to lose weight too, if so, make this your very first action point, after reading my blog, or better still go Google that right this very second, watch it, and come back here.

I have seen several of his documentaries, he is not some two bit shyster, he is a Doctor / Journalist  who produces excellent programs on a wide variety of medical subjects, more information on him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_J._Mosley and of course the BBC’s Horizon which has been running since the 1960’s is sheer class, the only criticism of it on Wikipedia is that it has been dumbed down recently http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_Horizon#Criticism

So when I saw this episode that promised that I could lose weight and still eat pizza, ice cream, chocolate and cheeseburgers I started to think that I should probably look into a bit more.

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I went back and watched it again, and started Googling and the feedback I saw was good, really good.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one embarking on this path, this year the 5:2 diet as it has become known has been THE fad diet of 2013, and with good reason. It works.

You dont need to buy a book or special ingredients. Its dead easy to follow. This is ALL you need to know

“The diet specifies a low calorie consumption (sometimes described as “fasting“) for two days a week, which should not be consecutive, but allows normal eating for the other five days.[5][6] Men may eat 600 calories on fasting days, and women 500.[7] A typical fasting day may include a breakfast of 300 calories, such as two scrambled eggs with ham, water, green tea, or black coffee, and a lunch or dinner of grilled fish or meat with vegetables, amounting to 300 calories.[6] The daily 500 or 600 calorie limit requires small portions.” Source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5:2_diet

For me, my breakfast was (and indeed still is) oatmeal, prepared with water, and frozen fruit. I sometimes add a scoop of vanilla protein powder to it too. Then during the day I drink water / green tea / black coffee (all of course without any sweetener)  and for dinner I have a tin of sardines in tomato sauce mixed with lemon grass, chillies, shallots, spring onions on a bed of lettuce. That’s it. I do this on Tuesdays and Thursdays

Seems meager right?

Well it is, and yes you get hungry, but you get to learn what being hungry is. Hunger doesn’t build and build, it comes in waves, just like that urge to smoke did when I gave up. But you can counter it by drinking water. one glass and it subsides, and you really don’t have to wait that long to the next meal. Keeping busy at works helps too.

People ask me if I over compensate the following day, and to be frank I thought I would. But after a good breakfast, perhaps throw a banana and two scoops of protein powder and some toast. I’m good, and then at lunch I eat a normal lunch and have a normal dinner.

But what is a “normal” balanced meal? To determine that I knew that the “normal’ diet consisted of approx 2000 calories a day, but what does that even mean? How many calories are there in a beer, or a plate of khao man gai? So to educate myself I started using a calorie counter / food logging app called http://www.myfitnesspal.com/ which seemed the most comprehensive with lots of Thai dishes, whereas others are very Western focused. This process made me more aware of what I eat when I wasn’t fasting which I am sure helped a lot too.

By March I had dropped from 103 to 97 kg without doing any exercise whatsoever. RESULT! But I still had a gut, and logging food was becoming a chore. So I decided to get more active, I still wasnt ready for actual, you know, exercise, so I bought a Fitbit and started monitoring my general levels of activity.

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The WHO recommend that people should take about 10,000 steps a day.  I thought I was active, walking around properties etc. but it turned out I was averaging 1,200 steps a day!

I was shocked, and started working to get more active. Taking the lift to two floors below and then the stairs to the office, walking to restaurants that are further away I was loving it, right up until I lost the Fitbit.. its so small, and it seems many people have this problem with them.

But none the less my discovery of the Fitbit had led me into the world of health monitoring which in turn lead me to my next and perhaps.. No. Scratch that, THE most important health monitoring gadget purchase that I made the; Withings Wifi scale:

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http://www.withings.com/

What is it? Well in its simplest description is a set of bathroom scales that is connected to the internet where it logs your weight on a private website.

But it can also estimate the amount of body fat that you have (arguably a more important measure) by sending an electric signal through your body and measuring the resistance as it comes back to the sensor (fat & muscle do not conduct electricity at the same rate)

Now, there is some criticism of this method of body fat measurement but so long as you do it at the same time under the same conditions the record will be good enough, but really what you are most probably looking for is an overall trend down wards! Their latest ones even record air quality in your home!

I had heard talk that you shouldn’t measure yourself too frequently, so why on earth would I want a gadget that encourages that and costs 7000 Baht for a bathroom scale??

Well in fact for precisely that. For me the record of my activity has been a powerful motivational tool. Its taught me to understand how my behaviour affects my body. Now, of course I know academically in an almost abstract way what drinking a pint of beer means (200 calories or so,  or approx 10% of a daily recommended amount of intake), but to see the effects of a big weekend right there in hard data and a line on a graph, spoke to me in a language that was undeniable, the bare naked truth.

I say go weigh yourself often. I did, because it taught me the most important lesson. To be responsible with food and drink consumption. I can not overstate this.

I’ve lectured enough, time to put it out there, here are my weight and body fat loss charts for 2013, but before I do see if you can spot the following:

  1. when I started the Zero to 5 K running plan with runkeeper in May (great app BTW)
  2. my summer holiday to the UK

Weight loss in KGs (the straightline from January because it allowed me to record my weight from a previous date. You’ll see that I have lost 15 kgs in 2013, and in November it was even more

Weight_-_December_27_2013

Body fat mass in KG

Body_Composition_-_December_27_2013

Now the keen eyed amongst you will see that this year’s silly season has already taken it’s toll, but I haven’t been running or fasting, I have been enjoying my holiday season secure that I know now how to deal with that, and so this year in 2014 my resolution is not to lose weight because I know I will do that, but to get fit which is something else altogether.

I am doing 5 km runs now, but I hope to build on that substantially this year.. let’s see how I do!

(Ps I eventually found my Fitbit ultra, which had been washed and no longer worked. I got in touch with Fitbit to see if there was anything i could do to get it working, here’s what they said

Hello Marcus,We are happy to know that you were able to find your Ultra tracker, but first your Ultra tracker did not work and then gave it signs of life. But when you remove it from the base station no longer works.Since we’re no longer providing Fitbit Ultras as replacements, we can offer you our upgraded Ultra product, the Fitbit One.You can learn more about the Fitbit One here: http://www.fitbit.com/one. Please provide the following information so that we may process a complimentary replacement for you:- Your first and last name
– Your purchase receipt
– Your shipping address
– Your phone number
– Your preferred tracker color (Black or Burgundy)We are looking forward for your response in order to proceed accordingly.

Sincerely,

Maria Ra and the Fitbit Team

I dont think I have ever experienced better customer service, so go get one. I dont get anything if you do other than the satisfaction that a good company is getting more business.

The next part will be on how I started running after decades of lethargy and hedonism and not much else!

I sincerely hope this post helps someone, if its helped you please let me know in the comments below.

Best of luck with your NY resolutions whatever they are

 

Fishing with kids

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I am the father of a wonderful four year old boy, and this past Sunday a few friends , brought our little ones along to Pilot 111 for a half day fishing.

Fishing with kids has several challenges. Not the least of which is the fact that they have an attention spam approximately equal to your target species.

This means that its important to be sure that they are always doing something. This is why lure fishing is, in my opinion the very best way to get them started.

At first we removed all of the hooks from their lures, and set the kids a challenge with the reward being to attach real lures, with hooks and the possibility to catch a fish!!

The challenge sounded simple enough: ” Cast the dummy lure far out straight ahead, three times in a row”.

So for the first half of the morning we found a quiet pond at Pilot 111 and got to work to teaching the little one’s the finer art of casting. We chose the Asian redtail catfish pond, which also happens home to some rogue barramudi and striped snakeheads. The fact that it doesn’t have any overhead cables, very few obstacles and is rarely fished played a big part in that decision.

It was great fun to see confident kids boasting about their casting prowess (before they had ever actually tried) meet reality, and then watching as they went from over confident, to humbly dropping the lure behind their backs, and asking for or just accepting assistance.

After a few helping words, it was wonderful to see huge smiles from their sense of achievement as they made their first ever good cast, or even just managed to cast the lure into the water.

After a few hours most of the kids succeeded in their challenge and were rewarded with a nice shiny lure with real sharp and pointy hooks, which all were keen to explore. Thankfully none of them stabbed themselves, but more than a few shirts got hooked!

My little one took a little while longer to get the hang of casting, at just 4 he was the youngest of the group, who were at least 7 years old and up.

I equipped my boy with a rod rated for 5-10 lb line and a Shakespeare E-Z cast spincaster reel preloaded with 8lb line to which I attached a Texas-rigged Berkerley Powerbait plastic worm, of the stinkiest variety I could find, in this case one meant for salt water fishing.

I did this because it enabled him to be fishing even after he wandered away as he left his lure out, so he could still effectively be ‘dead-sticking’. Which is exactly what happened.

We got a bite, and moments later my boy was desperately trying to reel in a fish. But it soon became very apparent that he wasn’t going to manage to bring this one in on his own, it was as you might be able to appreciate from the pic below, simply far too strong for him.

After an electric fight that seemed to take forever, with several dashing runs, (and next to no drag on his reel!) the end result was an 8lb Asian redtail catfish.

Soon afterwards, now excited with “having caught a fish” my son’s attention returned and he set about casting again. Then one final time he cast his lure and as he reeled it back in, yet another 8lb redtail catfish took the bait and screamed off.

This time he had cast the lure, reeled it in and set the hook. I still had to land it as it too was making the same scintillating runs that made suspect it may have been the same fish. But for me and in my mind it was this second redtail that counted as his first, and will do so until the day that he can reel one in and land one himself.

I can honestly say that catching these redtails with my son, on this light tackle was just about the most fun I have ever had fishing.

At the end of the morning our group caught lots of fish (redtails, barramundi and a few giant snakeheads) and proved to the kids that fishing games on the iPad are not nearly as much fun as doing it for real, and we dads got to spend some real fun quality time with our kids. (Both boys and girls I hasten to add)

Fishing with kids is rewarding for all involved. The children learned new skills, which they applied to challenges that they met head on, and achieved their goals, and all whilst having great fun, outdoors.

Patience is certainly needed to teach them, and they need constant supervision at the water’s edge. But remember this is not your fishing trip, its theirs. But the time you get to spend with them and the joy you get from sharing in the pride they take from their achievements is worth every moment untangling lines, removing hooks from clothing, etc. (just about!)

The big QUIT (not a sermon, I promise)

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I have smoked since I was about 17 or 18 and stopped smoking several times, even once for 3 years but I’m ashamed to admit that I have always relapsed.

Three weeks ago I embarked on what I fully intend to be the final and complete escape from my addiction to nicotine, for ultimately that is what it is, no more, no less.

I’ve never been a heavy smoker, at most 10 a day but usually about 5-6, so my dependency was not considered to be all that high, but dependent I was.

The decision to quit was not something I made over night, I didn’t wake up one day and decide “that’s it never again.” I have been thinking about this for sometime now, driven not for health or financial concerns (both of which are perfectly valid and shouldn’t be understated) but my motivation was my young son who will turn three years old in a few months from now. I know the health risks, and frankly can not bear the thought that he might try to emulate me and expose himself to the risks that I had stupidly taken as a young man.

Its a decision that I have had to come to myself, but having reached that point I’m completely comfortable with it and have every intention of making this one the last attempt that I ever need to make.

I have done a little research on the various ways and methods of giving up but the one thing I knew I didn’t want to do was to use any form of nicotine patch or gum because after all its the addiction to nicotine that has to go.

I had tried what some call the willpower method before so felt that this time I would look into other options for a more permanent solution.

I have a few friends who have successfully quit using Champix. However, after a quick internet search many of the known side effects did give me pause for thought: suicidal thoughts, psychological problems etc, but ultimately I was reassured by my friends experiences, the worst of which was nausea, and was “pretty” confident that I was mentally stable, so I felt it was as an option.

I booked an appointment at Bumrungrad Hospital and sat down with the doctor and told him that I wanted to quit smoking. We talked about my habit and I completed a series of questions that were designed to measure the degree of my dependency.

The long shot is I was told what I already knew and that whilst addicted I was not highly dependent and that giving up should be easy, and especially so if were to use Champix.

It was described to me by the doctor that its the best treatment currently available, as it works by blocking nicotine receptors in your brain, thus removing all satisfaction from a smoke and the cravings. To their credit and without any prompting, the hospital was also very forthcoming about the negative aspects of the drugs, stating that only 30% of those who try it manage to stay off for a year, however a great deal more return to the smokes after just a few months.

I was also told that 30+% of those who take the drug get nauseous and worryingly high numbers experienced other side effects including psychological problems, and that if I had any history of depression or any other similar problems that I should not take these drugs.  A ‘nurse’ was also assigned to call me up after a few days to see how I was going and whether there were any side effects.

So I went ahead, and after parting with 5000 Baht (1500 on consultation) I picked up a starter pack, a one month’s supply, of what I am told is usually a three month course. The first thing you are supposed to do is pick a day on the following week to stop smoking. For the first few days you take one pill each morning, which is then increased to two per day which you continue until the end of the first week throughout which you smoke as normal.

During this first week the only side effects I had was extremely vivid, lucid, wild dreams which I could remember in detail when I woke up. Although rested I also experienced the strange sensation of knowing I had been asleep but also having been awake / lucid throughout the night. Its difficult to describe, a strange sensation but not unpleasant.

More surprisingly was the very real affect it had on my smoking. Literally by the end of day three I just didn’t want to smoke, I quit there and then, I mean why wait for next week when I was getting nothing from the cigarettes today, so I threw my pack of cigarettes in the bin, and said goodbye to the smokes for good, albeit a few days early.

The following week the prescribed dosage increased by 50% to what is described as the full dose. During the first day on the full dose I was at work when in the afternoon I had the extremely unsettling experience of blurred vision across half of my field of view. It was so bad that I could not read my computer screen and I seriously feared driving home at night.

I stopped taking the pills that night, and the problem went away the very next day. Two weeks on, I’m still not taking Champix, and I have not smoked, despite deliberately not making any special attempt to distance myself from my smoking friends when they head outside for a puff, quite the opposite I join them just as I always have done, but just dont smoke.

I credit much of my (admittedly still very brief) success to Allen Carr’s book which you can get in the link below:

The Easy Way to Stop Smoking: Join the Millions Who Have Become Non-smokers Using Allen Carr’s Easy Way Method

I started reading the book and to be frank I was cynical, I mean how can anyone be expected to quit smoking because of a book? Surely there’s no way that he could address the reasons why I smoked? In short I expected it to be the usual tripe found in self help books. I was expecting it to be patronising.

It was neither, but it was not without its problems. After I got past the forward (where he spends too long on the subject of how great his method is) I found that what he was doing was to rationally address the arguments that I have built up for myself which defended or even excused the ‘special’ reasons why I smoked.

It’s really helped me by looking at things from a slightly different perspective, and whilst it is still early days I feel confident that I will not relapse.

As the title suggests whilst this is a bit of a long post its not meant to be a sermon. Rather  if I had the chance to speak with the me of three weeks ago I would have advised myself not to try Champix, and I would urge the me of then to get started on that book sooner.