At the start of 2019 I decided that it was going to be the year in which I finally took a consistent approach to diet and exercise. Over much of my adult life my efforts towards these had varied radically. At the dawning of 2019 I felt it was time to take myself in hand for the long term.
I was largely driven by a growing sense of mortality and a realisation that I could no longer rely on youth or genetics to keep my weight and fitness in check. A health scare within my close family also offered a poignant reminder of the responsibility for my own health if I intended to be there for my nearest and dearest for the long term.
I wasn’t starting from absolute scratch — over many of the preceding years I’d usually managed to live healthily for about half the year. What I’d noted though were a few tendencies which tended to de-rail any consistency, including:
- A tendency to either be ‘all-in’ (going to the gym 5 times per week, meticulously following my dietary regime and largely avoiding alcohol) or to allow complete abandon (ditching the gym and eating and drinking what I wanted).
- Seasonal fluctuations in my ability to commit to exercise and dietary control (with the summer and Christmas being times when I’d usually fall off the wagon).
I decided to provide a quarterly update on my progress with this endeavour here on Medium. Somewhat surprisingly, these have been some of my most popular posts of the year. You can read the quarterly accounts here, here, here and here should you wish to follow the story. I also compiled a list of the ways in which I learned things could fail, which again seems to have been well received.
This story is completes my review of the experiment. Within it, I’ve summarised the main things I learned and an assessment of whether I achieved my goals or not.
What went well
I’ll start with the positives.
I achieved the desired consistency (for the most part).
My year concluded with the usual seasonal collapse around Christmas (more on that in a moment) but otherwise for the full 12-months of 2019, I remained committed to the same dietary regime. I don’t think I missed a single week of working out at least once (including during vacations).
That has to be considered as consistency on at least some level. It certainly surpassed any previous years of my life!
I heightened my understanding about what works and doesn’t work for me in terms of my diet.
The diet I now follow has been the same for the last 2 years. I follow a version of the Slow-Carb diet. I allow the occasional cheat day on a Saturday to fight off feelings of deprivation when they occur. I’m also trying to incorporate a couple of meat-free days per week for environmental reasons rather than from ‘The Game Changers’ related outrage over the health effects of animal products.
My alcohol consumption is largely confined to weekends but after a particularly heavy drinking Christmas I’m keen to scale this back too. I’ve had a somewhat uncomfortable relationship with booze to this point and feel more inclined as the years go by to quit it altogether. We’ll see if this happens or not, but I’ve confirmed this year that confining alcohol consumption to weekends is essential if I want to eat healthily and feel sufficiently rested to workout with the desired intensity.
I’ve always had a tricky relationship with carbohydrates, both in terms of how I react to them, and my ability to regulate my intake of them. In simple terms, they’re best totally avoided for dietary comfort and also as once I start eating them, I struggle to stop. This was clarified around mid-year when my personal trainer encouraged that I should up my carb intake after a particularly lethargic and lacklustre workout one evening. I accept that once I get to a particular point, where I’m focusing on building muscle as well as weight then I need to boost my calorific intake both for energy and muscle growth. However, I took her instruction as a licence to eat bagels with every meal and inevitably felt my progress and results slow as a result.
The positive lesson from this is a reminder that I really need to be earning my carbs before they’re reintroduced into my diet, and that will only come at the point when I’m earnestly looking to build muscle extensively. I’m not even sure if I’ll get to that point in my fitness journey — it depends on my future fitness goals.
I’ve learned a lot about exercise and technique from working with a Personal Trainer
My PT deserves a lot of credit for the results achieved this year. I don’t restrict results in this context to weight lost, muscle gained or new personal bests, but rather that she has taught me an enormous amount.
I’ve learned the level of intensity of exercise that I need to achieve if I want to achieve my goals. It’s been eye-opening to see what I can do when pushed, and often a mere warm-up completed under her guidance has exceeded the typical intensity of an entire workout I might have completed on my own.
In short, I’ve got more belief in myself, my body and mind and what I’m capable of.
I’ve learnt the importance of proper technique and now have a full repertoire of exercises that I can undertake without supervision, with minimal danger of injury. I’ve managed variants of exercises that I never dreamed I’d be able to do and lifted weights that I couldn’t previously have shifted.
Through her guidance, I’ve overcome a long-standing pain in my knees and rediscovered the joy of running.
In all areas of personal development we’re told the enormous benefit of working with mentors and coaches and yet this is something I’ve historically avoided for the most part. I’ve learned for myself the enormous benefit of working with a professional instructor in supercharging the results that can be seen.
I’m currently regretful based on all this that a recent cut in my earnings means that I’ve had to temporarily stop using her services. I know that when I can afford it again, I’ll be signing up once more.
It’s too important an area of life to neglect.
I’ve confirmed there are no shortcuts
I knew this already, but I’ve confirmed for myself that there are no hacks or shortcuts that will bring forwards results more quickly. It’s simply a case of doing the right things, well, consistently and repeatedly. The results compound from this. Progress can also be quickly lost if I neglect to keep up the positive practices.
This cause and effect relationship between discipline, effort and results becomes ever more apparent to me in all aspects of my life. It’s obvious, but so important that I consider it worthy of emphasis.
Put simply, if you’re not willing to put in the work, you won’t get the results. If you’re not willing to keep putting in the work, your gains will quickly be lost.
It’s not that complicated to live healthily and manage your weight
Over the course of the year I’ve learned the error of messing with the regime as minor-tweaks in search of better results can have the opposite effects. This hasn’t stopped me reading around to better understand the subject.
What’s striking is that while there exist numerous weird and wacky diets, exercise types and gurus proclaiming to have the one and only solution, each of these shares the same basic science:
To lose weight, you need to consume less calories than you burn off (existing in a Caloric Deficit). To build fitness you need to move, to exercise and to push your body to do more than it is accustomed to doing. I cannot find a simpler way to put it.
The scale of your achievements will be in direct proportion to the degree to which you apply these two rules in your life. If you exercise more, you’ll get fitter more quickly, burning more calories and speeding weight loss (unless you consume more calories than you can use). Whether your goal is like mine, to build better basic fitness and improve your body composition or whether you’re trying to lose 200 pounds, the rules remain the same.
What went badly
Temporary losses of momentum
As mentioned above, the Christmas break undid some of my results and my sense of achievement regarding my original goals. My last proper workout happened around mid-December and while I tried to remain active over the holiday season by taking regular walks and so-on, I feel slightly disappointed to have ended by slipping back into old ways. I also allowed myself to indulge more freely in sweets and alcohol that I’d intended.
Reviewing past journals from the tail-end of 2018 I note that after Christmas that year, I felt the same sense of regret that I’d ceased exercise and started the festive overindulgence too early in December.
My hope is that after two years of the same experience, perhaps I won’t be quite as inclined to do the same come December 2020.
Injuries have played their part
I’m disappointed that in spite of trying to do the right thing for my health, and having sought professional instruction that I’ve still suffered a few injuries over the last 12-months. I wonder if perhaps this is an inevitability as I approach my mid-forties and my body is simply not as pliable and resilient as it used to be?
At times, injuries have been demoralising but they haven’t stopped me from carrying on with exercise in one form or another. I’ve experimented with a few basic dietary supplements (such as Krill Oil) to ease the aches and pains but can’t say I’ve found them to be radically effective. I’m therefore inclined to think that the little aches and pains are an unavoidable but manageable side-effect of the pursuit of better overall health and wellbeing.
I’ve also not ruled out that some injuries (such as shoulder pain that I’ve experienced on and off for years, and tendon pain akin to tennis elbow in my left arm) are contributed to by other aspects of my life. As a writer who spends a lot of time typing at my desk and who has historically neglected good posture and under-invested in office furniture, these may also be a factor!
What happens next?
The start of a new year concludes this experiment for me. I remain committed to the process for life.
My immediate goal is to get back to my diet regime strictly and to lose the holiday weight I’ve gained. I’m already going to the gym regularly again, and having a break from drinking alcohol for an unspecified period. It won’t be permanently, but it may well become something that’s restricted to celebrations and special occasions rather than weekends-only. I simply no longer appreciate the fun that alcohol brings as a trade-off for the negative factors associated with it.
I now need to put some thought into my wider fitness goals. A year ago I was a little obsessed with getting in shape and building a physique like Chris Hemsworth. While that’d still be nice, I don’t know what purpose it would server, or whether I could muster the necessary fortitude and commitment to get into that shape and maintain it.
I’m thinking of building my endurance and becoming a more serious runner. I’ll likely sign up for a 10km run this year and possibly a half-marathon before the year is out — we’ll see how the 10km goes first!
I’ve also had an ongoing fascination with CrossFit and may seek out a local gym where I can give that a go.
My most important goal remains ongoing health and longevity.
I want to live a long and healthy life so I can enjoy as many years as possible around my wife, kids, family and friends. This motivation is at the root of every meal I eat and each workout I complete. The choices I make all impact in some way upon whether I’ll achieve that goal or not.
When I reached that clarity about my health and fitness goals it suddenly made committing to doing what is necessary a whole lot easier.
That has perhaps been the most powerful lesson from the whole experience!
Whatever your health and fitness goals, I wish you well with them!
p.s. I’m not a dietician, a personal trainer or a doctor. I’m just a guy trying to live a healthier life. If you’re interested in doing the same, go for it; just don’t take anything I’ve shared above as advice or suggestion — seek out professional guidance as I have :-)
If you’ve enjoyed this article, please feel free to join my email list.