Thursday, 28 February 2008

Launched the Pinnacle

I have cold, again. No need to say any more about that. It has been frustrating, because I was desperate to try our the Pinnacle between here and the office. I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend that kind of money and not use the thing, not this time.

So, I had given up on the idea of going to the office as I felt miserable, so I tried to get some work done. That wasn’t working either, so I banged a DVD that came free this month with Cycling Monthly into the computer. It’s about preparation for a Sportive cycle event, and showed a group of (fit) guys doing the course that this years Etape de Tour covers. It wasn’t a long video, but it was eye opening. I thought, wholly shit, I need to start training for the ride in May, now. right now, cold or no cold.

I looked outside. It was sunny, but I knew it was windy, and a bit cold. I also knew that it is going to be very stormy, literally blowing a gale. So I thought, to hell with it, I’m going now. And I went. I took the new bike to Cumbernauld, which is straight west, and also straight into the teeth of the wind. It was hard work, but I liked the feel of the bike under me: not too different to the road bike, but a bit kinder over the bumps.

The way back was great, and fast enough that I decided to stay on the road the whole way, instead of using the canal path. Traffic was no bother at all. 43 minutes out and 27 minutes back, and the outward leg was a lot harder. Don’t you just love the wind?

Tuesday, 26 February 2008


I was getting a bit frustrated lately. I looked over my checklist.

  • Hungry…check
  • Eating very little…check
  • Eating health stuff…check
  • Not drinking…check
  • Weight falling…er, not much guv.

I seemed to be doing all that I could, but over the last couple of weeks, the scales have been reporting a stubborn tendency to still read over 17 stone. My weight would go down, a little each day, then it would jump back up, inexplicably. I don’t know about loosing weight, but I’d be damned if I was doing anything that could account for gaining!

But over the weekend something clicked, and instead of one of those wildly infuriating rises, the falls kept on coming, and yesterday morning I finally saw the magic number…16. Being under 17 stone again is great, a milestone. No doublt I’ll see a few 17’s again, but soon enough they’ll be a distant memory. So that’s six weeks so far, and I’ve unloaded 13 lb. Not bad, not as much as I was aiming for, but not bad at all. I reckon that’s just under a quarter of my goal achieved, which should be around 14 stone or a little less. I’m happy about this, mainly because I’m fairly comfortable about what I’m doing, and the results I’m getting only reinforce this. Ok, I’m hungry a lot, but that’s just fine as long as the scales are telling me it’s for a reason.

So it’s full steam ahead. I’ve got a bit of a cold just now, which is a bit of a pain, but it the weather’s half way decent I’m taking my new bike to the office tomorrow.

Today’s weight: 16 stone 13.4 lb

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Quest for a commuter bike.

About a year ago I bought a Trek hard-tail mountain bike. The main purpose of this bike was to commute from home to the office. Why a mountain bike? Well, about 2/3rd of the distance is a dirt toe-path along the side of the union canal between Falkirk and Castlecary, with the rest being road. I also had the notion of trying the old mountain biking malarkey every now and again.

Unfortunately, reality did not match my ambitions and over the course of the year I’ve probably made the trip on the bike less than 10 times. There are several reasons for this (other than the overriding one, which is sheer bloody laziness), with the main one being that I don’t really like the mountain bike as much as I thought I would. Compared to my Trek 2000 road bike, it’s a tank. It’s a good bike, but on the road, it feels slow and the riding position awkward. On the toe-path, the ride feels bouncy. The funny thing is that I fully expected the riding position to be more comfortable than the road bike, not less. I also didn’t much like the handle bars: the grips seemed to far apart, and whereas on the road bike (with drop bars) you can move your hands around to various positions, with the mountain bike there was no possibility to move around like this.

So, in typical John fashion, I went out today any bought another bike to do the same job. You see, to my thinking, I needed a road bike that could stand a bit of abuse. I thought about getting a hybrid, it being closer to a racer than the mountain bike. But all the hybrids I looked at had straight handlebars like the mountain bike, seemed heavy and all together seemed somewhat upright and tame.

I was stuck, and because it’s winter, I didn’t really care. Until a week ago, that is. So what happened a week ago? I was reading a cycling magazine, that’s what, and in it was an article about a mad cycling variant called Cyclo-Cross (picture idiots covered in mud, riding, (or carrying) what is essentially a road bike through fields and forests) and there it was, the perfect bike for my purposes. A tough road bike with wider tyres (but not mountain bike wide), drop bars, more sensible gearing for the commute than an out an out speed machine, and a riding position which is pretty close to the road bike, but not so aggressive.

Well, the light went one last week, and as is typical with me, I own one this week. Today I bought a Pinnacle Expede 2007 Cyclo-Cross (the bottom picture is of the 2008, but looks the same to me...other than the colour) I swapped the knobbly tyres for a pair of Schwalbe Marathon Plus's (which are smoother and more puncture resistant) and added lights.

I had a wee go on it when I got it home this aftenoon and I must say I’m quite excited about it. The ride position is comfortable, it roles along very nicely, just like a road bike should, and the gearing is more suited to a commuter pace, so it should be comfortable on the road and the toe-path.

But, and it's a big but, none of this means squat if I don't use it for the purpose it is meant. So barring meeting I can't re-arrange, illness and severe weather, I’m committing to 2 commutes per week,and more once the weather improves. It so happens that this week I need the car 4 days out of 5 (sigh), but with a wee it of juggling I should be able to manage Monday and Thursday, or Wednesday and Thursday. We'll see.

Todays weight, 17 : 0.6 (238.6 lb)

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Graph day.

I use Excel to track my weight loss (or gain). I weigh myself every morning just after getting out of bed. This guarantees the most consistency in the numbers from day to day. Also, as a mini target, I look to my weight on Monday morning as a judge as to how much I am loosing weekly.

So, what good is this obsessive relationship with the scales doing me? Well, the main one is that it keeps me focused at the task at hand. I know every day, as I contemplate whether to exercise, what to eat or whether to have a beer, that tomorrow morning I’ve going to stand on the scales of truth. If I only weighed myself weekly, I could see me saying to myself I can have that curry, I have time before Monday to make up for it, I’ll just try harder tomorrow. If I’m weighing in daily, there is no room for delusions like these.

As well as recording the numbers, I’ve created a couple of graphs to help visualize what’s going on.

Here’s the first one, which is concerned with where I’ve been. (click on it for a detailed view)
That is, it highlights how my weight changes from day to day, and the cumulative result of these daily changes. I think the daily change bar chart really highlights how much things can change day to day. Falls in weight tend to be small and frequent, whereas any gains tend to be whopping large ones, on two cases, over a 2 lb rises (that hurt). Now I don’t imagine that all these fluctuations are actual changes in the amount of excess fat I’m carrying, they’re not. Rather, they’re mostly to do with hydration and, er, what’s currently working it’s way through me, if you know what I mean. For instance, the larger swings in weight are almost always related to whether I’ve been drinking alcohol. In such an case, my weight usually takes a drop (unless I was drinking beer) then takes a huge jump. After about 3 days, this works itself out and I can see my actual weight again.

The second graph I created is more forward looking. (Again, click on it for a detailed view.)
It still shows my progress, but it is focused on where I’m headed. As well as my progress so far, it also shows projections into the future for 2, 2 ½, and 3 lb per week weight loss. This shows me whether I’m meeting my targets or not and whether I need to try harder or not. This is the graph that helps with my incentive to keep going, as I can see where I’m going to end up in the not to distant future. You see, 2 ~ 3 lb per week, or ~0.3 lb per day weight loss means nothing to me; I need to see the big result, whether I magically drop to 180 lb sitting here right now, or it takes me until June, I don’t care, but I need to see it. And this graph lets me see it.
I’m going to post the graphs every week, as a further incentive to stay away from the dark (chocolate) side.

Today’s weight was 17 stone 0.8 lb (238.8 lb)

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Oh dear…

Today is the worst day I’ve had since starting to loose weight. My weight has taken a huge jump upwards for some reason, on top of one earlier in the week that I hadn’t quite recovered from.

This is where the daily vs. weekly weigh in issue is tested. If after gaining 2 lb over Friday morning’s weight is going to make me give up, even temporarily, then I see the point of going weekly. But the thing is, despite being disappointed, I am close enough to the event to look for reasons. If I waited to Monday to find that I had made little (or reverse) progress, then I would think back, remember nothing particularly unusual and feel really bad. On top of that, I’d have to wait a further week to find out if the slippage was continuing.

No, daily is better. I am a bit fed up by this result, but I am not deterred by it. You see, I was drinking last night, not a lot, just a couple of beers and a couple of whiskeys, and I had already noticed that although I had been drinking quite a lot of water during the day, I wasn’t going to the toilet much at all. So in these terms, the jump is not so much of a shock. I have a big body, and in the grand scheme. 2 lb is less than a 1% variation. I don’t think for a moment that I laid down 2 lb of fat yesterday, so I’m not too distressed. Either this will work itself out of my system (literally) or I was dehydrated anyway and needed more liquids. I’ll keep to my regime and see what happens over the coming days.

The other factor in all this is of course exercise. I have exercised every day this week, and I am a somewhat tired and achy today. So I’m going to have today off, and possibly only go for a long walk tomorrow (I’ll see how I feel before deciding on that in the morning). One thing I am quite sure of is that exercise certainly complicates weight loss for me. I’m hungrier, which makes it harder to be strict about what I eat, and I drink a lot more, making the daily weigh in much more unpredictable. But so be it, you’ve got to drink as much as you need to; the day you start seeing water as a bad guy is the day you need to see a psychiatrist.

Today's weight: 17 stone 3.8 lb (241.8)

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Do not accept the inevitable.

Aging is inevitable, or so I’ve heard. But the thing is, I don’t actually feel particularly worse than I felt 20 years ago. Ok, I wasn’t particularly fit when I was 19, but despite being over seventeen stone now, I can confidently say that I am considerably fitter than I was then. It sounds hard to believe, but it’s true. I drink less, I eat less, and I exercise more, and once I loose this weight, I’ll be able to kick my nineteen year old former self’s ass in every way; so to hell with aging.

The reason I say this is that I read a blog every day called The Fat Cyclist. Eldin is a funny, intelligent guy who can be relied upon to inject a bit of humour and insight into my day. He stole my idea for a blog site name, but since he has been using it for years before I had the idea I’ll forgive him.

Anyway, Fatty got some worrying news about a medical test. Go to his site and read about it for more details, and it got me thinking. Doctors are not gods. In fact, in general, I have never had a wholly satisfactory encounter with one. Most appointments I’ve had, I’ve left shaking my head in disbelief or resigned to a course of treatment that I fully expect to make little or no difference to the condition I have/or had. You see, doctors don’t listen. It is not their fault, they are only human, and they are busy with lots of other patients as well as me.

If something goes wrong with my body, I spend a lot of time thinking about it, more time researching the problem, and more time still coming up with ideas of what might be wrong. But I go to the doctor, sit down, spend 30 seconds explaining the symptoms (inaccurately at that) and then stare at him. I could tell him my well thought out theory, but I don’t want to tread on his toes or hurt his feelings (after all, he has access to large needles). He’s the expert and he's on the spot, so what does he do? Not much, generally. Certainly no more than write you a prescription for something you probably don’t need and will make you worse in some interesting way.

I have a condition called Dermatitis (according to Wikipedia, a blanket term, but thats as close as I've ever come to a diagnosis). It’s very mild and doesn’t give me much bother, but every time I get a new doctor, I have to ask for a prescription to deal with it. The doctor invariably asks a few questions, which I answer. It’s under control so they seem happy. Then I usually ask what precisely causes these infrequent but disturbing episodes of sudden skin disintegration/inflammation that I suffer from? The doctor looks at me blankly. He doesn’t know, and further more, because it’s under control, he doesn’t care. Damage limitation is the name of the game. After all, an appointment only lasts 10 minutes and there's probably someone far sicker next in the queue.

I’ve had this ailment for over 20 years, in which time I’ve perhaps had ten tubes of cream (Betnovate) to treat it, so right enough, not a big deal. But what if civilization breaks down? What if China decides to kick our asses, or global warming swallows all the Pharmacists? What then? Well, not only will I be sitting in a nuclear wasteland or on a makeshift raft, but I'll also have an itchy skin condition, that’s what then! Not good, not good at all.

I shouldn’t accept the blank looks and disinterest from the medical men. But on the other hand, the more time you spend in the company of doctors, the more likely they’re going to find something that they want to treat, and then you’re in real trouble. So best leave well alone, I suppose.

Anyway, the whole point of this rant is, DO NOT accept what doctors say at face value. Use your head, be skeptical, ask for explanations, get them to explain the mechanisms of what is wrong with you. They are only human, and they (and science in general) know far less about medicine and the human body than they would have you believe.

Exercise and Dieting

First off, I hate the word ‘dieting’. I reminds me of when I was a boy, when the only time you heard the word was when an old person (30's or 40's, hah) was screwing their faces up as they contemplated the Rivita with cottage cheese topping they were about to eat. So, dieting equals pain (and Rivita) for me.

Anyway, I don’t ‘diet’ as such. I try to eat less and what I do eat I try to make healthy(ish). I don't analyze everything for fat and carb content, a rough idea is enough, and generally you can tell by the taste: the better it tastes, the worse it is for you. Carry out takeaway curry with rice and nan bread: bad, but tastes really good, chicken salad sandwich with wholemeal bread: good, but not very exciting at all.

The problem I’m currently experiencing is that I’ve ramped up the exercise. This week I’ve been out on the bike twice, been swimming once, and spend about 2 hours on the indoor bike. This sounds good, and it can’t be bad but it makes me VERY HUNGRY, and as you should be able to appreciate, when you are VERY HUNGRY, it is more difficult to control what you eat. When I'm that hungry, I feel like putting my head in the fridge and not coming out until it’s totally clean, not even a wrapper left.

During January, I decided for the first four weeks to concentrate on my eating habits, generally cutting down, eating better and drinking less. This worked, and my weight came down steadily. Now I’m exercising more, controlling the eating is harder. No doubt I should be able to eat more, as I’m more active and burning more energy. But I’m not burning as much as my stomach is convinced I am. Last week at this time I was thinking, this isn’t so bad, I’m loosing weight, I’m eating well, and I’m not suffering too much. But today, my stomach is shouting, FEED ME, PLEASE, HAVE PITY, FEED ME. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that I just had my lunch an hour ago. Oh dear.

So what to do about it? I’ll probably tweak what I’m eating to see what happens, more oaty thinks maybe. Nuts and raisins tend to reduce my hunger, but you need to be careful of them, one small packet had enough energy in it to power a small town for a month. If you don’t believe me, check the back of the packet, the energy is not measured in kilo-calories, but in mega-calories, no kiddin. Anyway, I’ll try a few things and see how it goes.

This morning, my weight was 17 stone 2.6 lb (or 240.6 lb)

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Advice I'll be ignoring

Only weigh yourself once a week.

I weigh myself every day, always in the morning just after waking. I sometimes weigh myself during the day, often at night before bed, and occasionally before and after having a crap or a pee. I’ll weigh myself before and after meals just to see the difference, and sometimes I’ll weigh myself with my clothes on then take them off to see how much they weigh! (6 lb today).

This may seem excessive, and somewhat obsessive, but hey, I’m interested. It amazes me to see that my weight can vary by up to 5 lb during the day. It adds a sense of perspective.

Anyway, why are you only supposed to weigh in once a week? My weight will fluctuate from day to day, they say, and I’ll get all depressed if it goes up some days. Of course it will go up some days; a glass of water weighs over half a pound! I am not an idiot, I understand this. The important thing is that the trend over several days should be downwards, and any good statistician will tell you that the more samples in your data, the better.

Now, if I was going to break down in tears and give up the first time my weight increased over a 24 hour period then I could see the point in only weighing in weekly. But then again, I’d probably give up after week 1 because I wasn’t really motivated anyway.

I need feedback. I can handle setbacks, but if my weight rises three days on the trot, then I know that something is amiss. If there is a problem, I can ask questions like…

  • Did I have a night out drinking?
  • Did I cave in and empty the fridge in the middle of the night?
  • Have I had a cold or been unwell?

If there is a reason, note it and move on. If there is no reason, find one, because this is not magic, I’m doing something wrong or there is something I don’t understand.

You should only aim to loose 1 lb per week.

Oh, there’s a generalisation if ever I read one. At that rate I will be 14.5 stone by this time next year, if I stick to it. Supposedly any more than that and you loose muscle mass. I intend doing a lot of exercise over the coming months: cycling, swimming, walking (and running once my weight’s down a bit), so what happens then? I never hear any mention about the level of activity in connection with this magic number. If I’m loosing and gaining, fine, I’m using energy anyway. I believe that my body will adapt. If I were to sit on my backside and simply starve myself then I could accept that my body will ditch muscle, but if I’m using it, I’m not so sure.

Even if I do loose some muscle mass initially, I plan on being far more active once my weight is at a level where exercise it fun again. I defy any 12 stone cyclist to put 6 stone of extra weight on their bike and still find a four hour ride fun. Just now, I can go out on the bike for about an hour and enjoy myself, but after that my backside hurts (a lot), my arms hurt, my legs hurt, and I’m tired. It’s a lot of effort dragging this amount of poundage up a hill.

So, I’m aiming for 3 lb per week. That’s a lot, and will take saintly diligence and lots of will power to achieve. If I don’t manage it, I’ll loose more that 1 lb anyway, which is good.

By the way, I do not recommend anyone try any of my ideas out for themselves. For a start, if you do, I want money from you, at least £100 per pound lost. This is mainly to pay for the lawyers that I’ll need when you are diagnosed with liver failure or something and decide to sue me. Secondly, everyone should do their own thing. I don’t think there’s a quick fix for being overweight, everyone’s body, lifestyle, personality and eating habits are different, and all these things have an impact on what’s going to work for you. Use you head.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

The story so far.

Not much of a story. I’m overweight, and for years now I have been getting more overweight. Until now - I am now loosing weight. But it’s not just about the weight, it can’t be. It’s about fitness, lifestyle, living longer and living well. But first, in these early days, it’s about loosing weight.

From my starting point in January, I needed to loose about 70 lb. Some questions I asked myself were.

  • How to go about loosing this?
  • How long will it take?
  • How quickly can I do this?
  • How much am I going to suffer?

These are not easy questions to answer, and if you do some reading, impossible to answer in a way that can’t be contradicted by about fifty 'experts', all quoting their own 'facts'.

To do anything, I need a target. My wife (hi Mairi) despairs at some of the goals I come up with. On this occasion it’s not so bad, I think, but still quite a challenge. It just so happens that there is a cycling event called the Etape Caladonia which takes place not too far from here. It’s an 81 mile mass participation event over closed roads, through beautiful scenery in a very pretty part of Scotland. This is happening on the 18th May, and while it’s going to take me longer than that to get to my ideal weight, it should be possible to get a lot done before the middle of May. So I’ve signed up. At the moment I can cycle for about 2 hours at about 16 miles per hour. At my current level I could manage about a quarter of it before toppling over. I need to be thinner, fitter and faster if I'm to avoid humiliation.

How much weight can I loose? My ultimate target is about 13 stone 5, but more sensible would be to work on a weekly target. In January I needed to plan out a steady program, a week by week plan that I could monitor so that I had feedback as to how well I was doing. So I fired up Excel and started banging in some numbers. OK, if I could loose 3lb per week, I could get to about 14 stone before the Cycle event, an ambitious goal. If I settle for 2lb per week, I’m still going to be well over 15 stone by the event. I don’t fancy spending 6 plus hours dragging that much weight over 81 miles of hilly country lanes, but if I have to I will. So those would be my limits, between 2 and 3 lb per week. I would aim for 3lb per week, but would not accept anything less than 2lb per week.

Now for the tricky question: how exactly am I going to do this? First I am ignoring all advice. There is simply too much bullshit out there on the subject of weight loss, and as well as loosing weight, I need to train. I am an intelligent(ish) guy, and the problem seems simple enough: I’m fat. A lot of people have a lot to say on the subject of weight, some of them make a lot of money out of the subject. But where are the results? Most fat people were fat years ago, and despite all the advice and a lot of effort, are just as fat or fatter today (me included). Well, forget your low carb, high protein, low fat, high fibre, no hunger guaranteed, detox, bla, bla BULLSHIT!!!, I’m going it alone.

Here are a few simple FACTS I believe...

  1. Fruit and vegetables are good for me. Eat more of them.
  2. I don’t know what’s in processed foods. Eat less of them.
  3. Pay some attention to calories. 100 calories of chocolate has the same energy as 100 calories of apple. Use calories as a guide only, don’t obsess.
  4. Cut down on portion size. It I’m full and still eating, I’m over-eating.
  5. If I’m loosing weight I should be a little hungry fairly often (but not REALLY HUNGRY)
  6. No big meals before bed. This is really important.
  7. In fact, no big meals at all. Smaller meals, often; stops the REALLY HUNGRY thing.
  8. Don’t go to bed REALLY HUNGRY. If I’m that hungry, admit defeat and eat something, but just enough to take the edge off. A slice of bread and butter/jam/tuna and a small glass of milk does the trick.
  9. Eat lots of soup. This seems silly, but I really like soup and I don’t know of an unhealthy flavour (well, I do, but none that bad). It’s hot, filling (with a slice of wholemeal bread dunked in), and it’s tasty. The perfect food. Yum.

For the first four weeks I planned on weight loss only. Being that heavy was depressing and shocking, and as it was January, I didn’t see the opportunity to get out on my bike anyway.

It is now the 12th February, so how did I do? Yesterday morning I weighed in at 17 stone 3 lb: a loss of 10 lb in 4 weeks or 2.5 lb per week. I did this by overhauling my diet, cutting back on alcohol (but not as much as I would have liked), and doing some walking when the opportunity arose. I think I did OK (which is better than 'ok', by the way)

At this point I will confess to something. I meant to start this blog on the 14th January when I began this journey, as a threat of public humiliation if I didn’t stick to it. I didn’t do it then because I couldn’t cope with the idea of, er, public humiliation. But I also didn’t do it because I had nothing to say. Sort of like releasing a movie after you’ve finished the opening credits. Not much point in that, is there?

Anyway, now that it’s started I’m going to commit to an update at least once a week. That update will be on a Monday, after the big Monday Weigh In.

What it Seventeen Thirteen?

The title above, although a little strange, is what kicked me into action on this, my final attempt to get fit. I could have called in 255, or even 114 but 17-13 has a nice rhyme to it. In case you haven’t guessed yet, all these numbers represent my weight: specifically, my weight on 14th January 2008. 17 stone 13 pounds, or 255 pounds, or 114 kilograms, whatever way you say it, it’s a lot, far too much.

Carrying so much weight stops me enjoying a lot of thing that interest me. I love cycling, both doing it myself and following the big events like the Tour de France. I’d love to join a club, and I intend too once I stand a chance of keeping up. I used to run, but at thirty nine, and carrying five stone of ballast, that would be a recipe for a heart attack. Actually, I’m not that unfit, just very heavy, and I’m not afraid of exercising hard. It just hurts much more than it should.

So what’s this blog all about? Well, primarily it’s a journal of my efforts to attain the holy grail of fitness. I want to do an Olympic distance triathlon, and do it well. I want to do the L'Etape du Tour, or some such event, and not struggle unduly. But most of all, I want exercise to be a fun, social part of my life, not a weapon in my desperate, loosing battle against weight gain.

So enough of that, time get started...