The picture you’re seeing on the left, is from 2010, I had restarted cycling after a long break. I weighed around 86kgs by that time. The picture on the right is from 2011. I’ve managed to stay the same weight since then, and even put on a little more muscle than then, teen years down the line. By 2010, I’d become the father of two sons, and I used to joke that it’s the post pregnancy weight. My wife hated that joke. She hates all my jokes, but that’s how it is in most marriages, I guess.
I had been obese most of my life. Underweight at birth, obese within 6 months, I’m told. I’m also told, that my grandmother fractured her clavicle picking me up when I was 1 year old. I’m sure that’s an exaggeration, but, I believed it for a really long time. It might have been a sprain or something. I now know, that a bone that fractured so easily would have been some other pathology. And not due to the weight of an abnormally chubby grandkid.
I’d been a bookworm all the way till medical college, Zero exercise and snacking all the time during reading. Banana chips were my weakness. I could go through a half kilo bag in a single sitting. There was a brief period in my life before 2010 where I had lost significant weight. That was mainly down to hostel food in medical college and my own cooking after that during my batchelor life in the UK. My cooking wasn’t bad. Just that I was too lazy to cook.
I weighed around 64kgs when I got married, and even though I was eating rather unhealthily, I didn’t put on weight much because I’d have to cook and eat myself, so food intake was limited in quantity. That helped. After marriage, things got too easy. Sit at the table and eat what’s prepared. Life was good. I was eating out a lot more because I now has my wife for company. She had started off at a very scrawny 45 kilos and was positively malnourished, so she didn’t mind. And I ballooned over 5 years to 86kgs. Gaining 5 kilos a year if you average it out. But, the weight didn’t pile on like that. It crept up gradually. And the weight gain accelerated in the last two years. This rapid acceleration of weight gain was happening because my body was progressively getting unhealthier and failing to compensate for my unhealthy habits. The fatter I got, the faster my decline. I knew I was fat, but it didn’t really register. That’s the case with most obese people.
Anyway, when my sons started crawling around and walking, I realised, that I was fat. It finally registered.
I found that I couldn’t get down on the floor, stay on the floor for long enough or chase them around the house easily. Looks obvious in the picture now, but back then, everyone around me was fat. So, it wasn’t that obvious. The change was gradual, which also meant I didn’t really pick it up. Even if I did pick it up, I ignored it. Colleagues at work were also overweight. Friends outside work were overweight. Only the really young adults were normal in size. People in their 30s and 40s were all overweight or obese and that was “normal”.
This realisation that I was really sick, hit me hard and made me think that I might not be around much longer for my sons, if I didn’t turn it around. I decided to lose weight. Turned it into a priority. And failed. Miserably. For months.
My weapon of choice for weight loss was cycling. And the plan was to follow the advice all of us doctors give our obese patients. “Eat less, move more”. I tried and I failed. I was cycling 28-30 Kms a day, everyday and not losing weight. My diet was predominantly chappathis and vegetables. I liked meat a lot, but was consciously cutting back. Especially on red meat. I failed. This is when I started wondering about all those poor patients I blamed for not succeeding on the “eat less, move more plan”. If I couldn’t make it work for me, with all my knowledge and family support, how was it going to work for my patients, who were fighting against far greater odds?
I was avoiding red meat, eggs and focusing on chappathis, vegetables and chicken. I was healthier, because I didn’t feel as tired anymore, but my lipid profile looked awful with sky high triglycerides and a prediabetic level Hba1c of 6.
All through this, I continued to enjoy cycling. That probably saved me. If I had been cycling only to lose weight, I would have given up. I wasn’t losing weight, but, I was getting stronger and faster. A little dejected about the lack of weight loss, but the interest in cycling led me to search the internet on how to get faster. I ended up on an Indian cycling forum called bikezone. Saw a link on there for the “Paleo” diet and thought I should give it a shot.
The Paleo diet is based on the premise that obesity and all it’s attendant problems are due to our agricultural style of eating, and if we go back to something similar to what our paleolithic ancestors ate, our bodies would respond better, because that style of eating, the hunter gatherer type diet , was what our evolution had designed us for.
I gave it a very enthusiastic try. And failed. Again. You see a pattern here, don’t you? Fail, fail, fail. That’s how it is, with weight loss. If it was easy, you wouldn’t find any fat people. It’s simple, but it’s not easy.
Back to the drawing board. Went back to the forum asked some questions. Some kind soul replied that if I was doing 600 Kms of cycling a month, I would need to eat more, just avoid the grains and sugar. More fruits and vegetables. Stop being wary of meat and eggs. Eat well. Don’t think about controlling portion sizes, don’t count calories. Just make sure you’re strictly avoiding grains and sugar
Tried again a week later, because the science geek in me wanted to see if the evolutionary template worked. I cut right back on exercise. I pointed out a pattern of fail fail fail earlier. What I didn’t point out then is the accompanying pattern of , “Try, try try”
Shifted to weight training of half an hour on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Squats, deadlifts and overhead presses with barbells. No machines used. Cycling was confined to Sunday mornings long recreational rides, instead of the insane calorie burning rides that were happening daily.
This time I struck gold.
Weight loss happened fast. Scary fast. So fast, that I thought I had cancer or TB. Lost 4 kilos the first week. Which was mainly water and glycogen. Then settled down to a steady 300 gram loss every week.
Around 10 months later, I had lost 24 kilos. Hit 62kgs. When I stopped fighting my body, things clicked into place, and I went back to my default setting of health.
You’ve heard of the saying, work smart, not hard. That’s what happened. I’m not claiming to be smart. The credit goes to the guys who thought the diet through. I just put the idea into action.
What I can take credit for, however is…
1. Taking a decision to change my life
2. Keeping my eye on that goal
3. Changing tactics when I ran up against obstacles
4. Doing my own reading and not relying on established dogma of “eat less, move more”
5. Being willing to experiment with myself (after doing the required reading)
Part 2 on what the diet was, initially, will follow, if there’s enough interest. This post is long enough for now. So I’ll stop.
Regarding the diet, you don’t need my explicit instructions. It’s all there, for free in the internet, if you’re willing to spend some time with Google.
I used the Paleo/Ancestral diet as my template and I’ve mostly stuck to it over the last 10 years.