Caomhan Keane charts the highs and lows of his battle with the bulge as he sailed past the big 3-0. In two months, he lost 21 pounds, going from never, ever working out to an all-out fitness plan.
I used to scoff at the saying ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’. Because nothing tastes as good as fried fowl, sweating in grease, gently twirled in a tub of chicken gravy.
But, as my Teflon 20s turned into my tubby 30s, I knew the price paid for nuking veg in cheese and drinking two litres of Coke a day was going to be far more costly if I didn’t get off my deluxe derriere to combat it.
Looking at me you wouldn’t think I’d weight to lose.
Baggy clothes and my previous skinny frame cast my new robust physique in a more appealing light. But a topless session in the doctor’s exposed the rolls of flab that were usually saved for my beloved.
“Your metabolism is slowing down and you’re doing nothing to combat it,” was the stark medical advice.
A picky eater, I was skin and bone throughout my teens.
MSGs, my sole sustenance, was sweated out clubbing. But, I lost my heart at the same time I left the dancefloor, and my waistline bore the brunt.
Journalism involves irregular hours and a need for fatty treats to fight off exhaustion.
So soon I was having breakfast at take-aways, mainlining energy drinks to meet deadlines, and giving doe-eyes over massive portions of meat and potatoes.
Then, my fella, put out by his own excessive weight gain, abandoned our cabal of carbohydrates and slightly seared flesh, to smugly go vegetarian.
Instead of wracking up a few episodes of the West Wing each evening, he was pounding the pavement and dropping the pounds.
Whereas I went from waist size 28 to 34, from eight-and-a-half stone to almost 13, gaining three stone in three chicken-fried months alone.
Love handles need love goggles to thrive, and my MOT had a new prescription.
Whispered sweet nothings turned to words of encouragement, exasperation, and finally anger.
“I don’t think I will find you as attractive if you keep piling on the pounds,” he said, after years of false starts, broken promises, and lies.
I’d have plucked my engagement ring from my finger to fling at him… if it hadn’t become vacuum packed onto my fattening finger.
Pinching my skin it emitted a faint, constant throb, like the knowledge I no longer fit into my clothes.
I avoided dwelling on it, like I avoided mirrors, cameras, and reflective surfaces. My weight gain wasn’t genetic. It wasn’t brought on by medication. I was lazy.
“We have no problem telling people who smoke that what they are doing is damaging,” says Kathy Maher, a pharmacist and former President of the Irish Pharmacy Union.
“Carrying excess weight can increase your risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers. People are told they are a healthy size and are shocked to learn that medically, they’re overweight. It’s the new normal.”
Magazines are inundated with triumphant stories of pounds dropped, of chiselled chests sculpted from rolls of flab. I didn’t want a new body. I wanted my old one back.
Unlike Dorian Gray, there was no picture forthcoming in my attic, so I decided to make a lot of minor changes to my life, ones that were likely to make a sustainable rather than a rapid difference.
Experts say that 90% of weight loss comes from diet, so I went along to Weight Watchers to help me keep a track of what I ate.
The idea of not depriving myself appealed to me. Everything in moderation is their motto.
A tablespoon of salt has become a teaspoon; half a pound of butter has become a smidgen.
Instead of the full pack of pasta, which would feed two, I have but half.
I’m allowed 34 points per day, totting them up on my WW app. While nothing is verboten, I notice that my brain starts ignoring its old cravings for bread, melted cheese, and sausages.
Most meat and fish are zero points, meaning I can splash out on pasta, spuds, and dessert — or just eat more regularly throughout the day.
Keeping track of what I eat in the diary alerts me to how excessive my portions once were.
I get pangs. But I know I can have anything I want so they don’t overwhelm.
My previous attempts at moving beyond a brisk walk resulted in me passing out.
The Couch-to-5k app guides me through a series of short runs (1 minute) alternated with longer walks (2 minutes), incrementally increasing one while decreasing the other, so as to build up my stamina and my confidence.
Within a month I was able to run for 20 minutes straight.
After two I could do 30.
But the app can’t answer the particulars of running.
How to combat a stitch?
What and when should you eat before a run?
And how do you combat stigmata of the tit?
To find answers, I turned to endurance coach for Athletics Ireland Steven Macklin who organises free fun runs around the country as a way of introducing people to exercise, in a fun non-competitive environment.
He suggests something light like a banana before starting, and breathing deeply to push through a stitch — though to stop if it gets too painful.
As for the gushing nipples, “or bleeding thighs or under-arms, this happens because of chafing between your wet clothes and your body. Smear Vaseline over these areas before you start and don’t wear those clothes again,” he advises.
A trainer will show you the ropes and make sure that you are pushing — not kidding — yourself when it comes to the gym.
I was paired with Janusz Halys at the Iveagh Fitness Club (pictured below).
Once a week he guided me through a mixture of cardio and resistance training.
Janusz ensured I didn’t injure myself, by starting off slow, adding more and more weight after each visit, boosting my confidence.
One of my biggest fears before joining was Muscle Marys staring at me and mocking me for not being able to bench-press a sliced pan, but the only resting bitchface unleashed was at people who didn’t use a towel to wipe their sweat off the equipment.
Having designed my programme based on my stated goals and the taking of my body fat and measurements, Janusz kept an eye on me, coming over to comment on my technique if it was off and changing tack as my body changed.
He looked over my new Weight Watchers-approved diet, not banning anything, but urging that I eat breakfast, not eat certain foods at certain times, and get my kip in order as being tired would have me turning to the convenient option over the healthy one.
Best of all, Weight Watchers give you fit points, so on the days I would run or gym it, I could have a meal that was heavy in protein afterwards. One week I wolfed down four steaks.
In two months I managed to shift about a stone-and-a-half. I cut nothing out, just down. But while dropping the weight is one thing, keeping it off is another.
A shift in my working hours meant that I was no longer working from home.
Back to eating ham and cheese toasties, doughnuts filled the time between that and a late dinner — something cheesy, processed, and quick, which meant I couldn’t find the energy to go out for an evening jog.
Nor could I fit in a pre-work workout, as I was kept awake by a body breaking down all my complex carbohydrates. Soon the weight began to creep up again.
I quickly realised I needed to grow up and stop making excuses.
If Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour can get up at 5am and fit in a game of tennis with a personal trainer and put in a full day’s work, I could surely get out of bed before 8am and go for a jog along the canal.
If I pre-made my dinners, they would become the easy option and could be quickly heated up at work.
Combined with my no-caffeine after midday rule, it ensured my body wasn’t keeping me up at night by trying to convert my grub to energy so I could get up with the lark — or avoid the sugar-and-carb slump in the afternoon that was keeping me out of the gym.
Aside from looking better, I feel better in myself. And the extra energy means I have more focus when it comes to work.
Changing my diet has insured I’m not up all night and thus unable to get up and exercise in the morning.
Getting that out of the way in the morning also means it’s not sacrificed for a Gilmore Girls binge later in the evening-nor are my weekends lost in the leaba.
No doubt there are sectors of the diet and exercise industry taking advantage of people’s rising insecurities about how they look.
But it’s just as dangerous to stick your fingers in your ears to the truth that your weight gain is unhealthy for your body and mind.
Sharp words might sting, but you can tell when they are motivated by love, as opposed to cruelty.
While unpleasant to hear, they helped me make the small changes that may prevent me succumbing to even more painful conditions later in life.
Six tips for a fitter you
1. Eat a carb-heavy meal before you go to the gym. Just not right before you go.
2. Protein helps to maintain and build muscle. But you don’t need to whisk up a six-egg omelette. Researchers say consuming 20 grams of protein after your workout should do the trick.
3. Don’t go through the whole sackcloth and ashes routine if you fall off the wagon. Dust yourself down and get back to the gym, or hit the road. Remember you’re human.
4. While the runner’s high does exist, your mind quickly forgets how much you enjoy exercise. Have an audio carrot to combat the physical stick.
My addiction to TV contributed to my weight gain, but now a podcast dedicated to The West Wing has me actually looking forward to lacing up.
5. Look in the mirror, not at the scales. Three weeks into my new regime, having hit the gym five nights in one week, I gained weight, as muscle weighs more than fat. But your clothes still fit better.
6. Objectifying the male form being a relatively new phenomenon, we’ve been spared the fat-shaming rod, resulting in spoiled bodies and, more problematically, an inability to speak about our weight issues, beyond taking the piss.
Most pharmacies have a private consultation room, where you can have your pharmacist track your weight and provide nutritional advice if you can’t face a public meeting.
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