Giving up and getting fit

Last July, on my 31st birthday I removed coffee from my diet. On the same day of the month since then I have removed something new from my diet, and pretty soon I will have completed a year of this. I didn’t keep a diary, but I’ve been considering for a while that I should write about my experience, and how it ultimately led to me getting back into fitness and losing over 40lbs.

It started on the eve of my birthday when I decided to go out and pick up some fast food for dinner. I guess it was meant to be a ‘treat’ although it’s rarely worth the effort and cost. In this case I put it down as the reason I felt terribly sick on my birthday, and as a result I completely lost my appetite for a few days. In these days one of the things I didn’t consume was coffee – I had essentially detoxed and removed caffeine from my system. Before this I was probably only really having 2-3 cups a day, so it’s not like I had a really bad addiction. I then decided it would be worth seeing if I can last out a full month without coffee.

It was a little surprising to me how easy it was to just cut one thing out of my diet, and I have to confess that it wasn’t too long before I’d substituted the caffeine deficit from tea or soft drinks. Towards the end of this first month I had already started to think about how else I could experiment with my diet. I’d already gone a month without coffee without much effort, so why should I start drinking it again now? I decided that I’d find something else in my diet that has a perceived negative impact on health and eliminate it in addition to coffee.

So my second month I gave up chocolate, and in my third I gave up alcohol. I had already recognised a pattern of substitution, so rather than give up beer (and probably end up substituting wine or other alcoholic drinks) I decided to just remove all alcohol from my diet. In my fourth month I gave up pizza, and in my fifth and sixth months I gave up crisps (potato chips) and biscuits (cookies). All the while I had been regularly weighing myself and measuring my body fat percentage, and although I wasn’t expecting to see a weight change I was curious to see if there would be an impact. I saw that my body fat had decreased by about 10%, but my weight had increased slightly.

Having been conscious of my weight for a while, I decided at New Year to do something about it. I was at the high end of the ‘overweight’ range according to the body mass index, so I set myself the goal of losing enough to get myself into the ‘normal’ range, which was around 40lbs. It was obvious that my dietary experimentation was not causing me to lose weight (and I hadn’t expected it to) so it was going to take something else to help me reach my goal. What better than a fad diet?

I had some success in the past with the 5:2 diet, where you essentially eat what you want on five days of the week, and on two non-consecutive days you fast. I picked Monday and Wednesday as my ‘fast days’ and decided that rather than continuously calorie count on these days I’d just work out a couple of low calorie meals and then eat the same thing every week. So for the last six months I’ve eaten omelette and stir-fry on Mondays, and bircher muesli and fish with roasted vegetables on Wednesdays. These are all things I like, so it wasn’t too hard, and the great thing about this diet is that when you’re fasting, you can always eat whatever you want the very next day.

I continued to cut things out of my diet too, so on my seventh month I gave up ice cream. Around the time I gave up sweets (candy) for my eighth month I had lost about 10lbs, but I could already see that my weight loss was slowing. This is when I decided to go running for at least 30 minutes, three times a week. Before long I had explored some great areas to run nearby, the weight kept coming off, and I was steadily improving my pace.

For my ninth month I gave up fizzy drinks (soda), and for my tenth month I gave up chips (fries). I had decided early on to not give up things that are common ingredients such as bread or cheese, as that would be too difficult to constantly remember and check for. Everything I gave up was really easy to avoid, although I did get some strange looks when ordering a burger with no fries.

With just two months left I wanted to really challenge myself. I had given up coffee, but whenever that came up in conversation I was inevitably asked if I drink tea. So this became my eleventh item, which again surprised me how easy it was to give up. I now drink a lot more water than I ever used to, and taking away the choice of what to drink has been somewhat liberating. For my last month it was obvious to me what I needed to give up: cakes!

Probably because I hadn’t already excluded it, I was eating a lot of cake. My wife likes to bake, and so there’s often something in, and I had got into the habit of eating them on most of my non-fasting days. It didn’t feel right that I should have a year of purging bad foods from my diet knowing that I had continued all the while to eat cake. So this last month, I have not been eating cake, and it wasn’t that hard!

This week I met my weight target of 168lbs. Next week is my 32nd birthday, and I’m taking the family out for pizza. Of all the things I’ve given up, I’ve missed pizza the most.

To track my weight loss I used Fitbit Aria scales and TrendWeight. For tracking activity I used Fitbit Flex, my iPhone 5, and Zombies, Run! which I’ve synced to RunKeeper and Strava.

The full list of foods I excluded from my diet each month is: coffee, chocolate, alcohol, pizza, crisps (potato chips), biscuits (cookies), ice cream, sweets (candy), fizzy drinks (soda), chips (fries), tea, cake. From next week I’ll be reintroducing most of these into my diet gradually, and in moderation.

3 thoughts on “Giving up and getting fit”

  1. Wow, that’s a crazy diet you’ve constructed for yourself, but it’s awesome that it worked so well. It just goes to show you that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. 😉 Anyway, congratulations on the huge weight loss!

    I’m currently in the process of eliminating most sugar from my diet and I just knocked coffee out yesterday. You’re right, it’s not that hard once you get yourself into the right mindset. One of the tricks, as you’ve obviously learned, is to use the power of gradualism to your advantage.

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