Wednesday, February 12, 2020

As IF

Currently, I am sitting in Costa coffee, having a cup of tea (21 calories) after having had nothing but a glass of orange juice for breakfast (94 calories) and trying to not eat anything.

I am, you see, on a diet. But it’s not my fault.

I blame my wife.

Unlike the female of the species, men are generally comfortable with their weight, and I am no exception. I weighted in the mid-120s when I was in my 20s, and I looked like I had just been released from a POW camp. In my 30s, my weight slipped slowly into the 130s, reaching 140 when I entered my forties. I was, by then, beginning to suspect that my body was conspiring to count off the decades of my life via my weight, and then I hit the 150s, in my 50s, which served to confirm it.

Therefore, seeing as I am currently in my sixties, I weigh 165 pounds, and have done so for quite a while.

Although the BMI chart classifies me as grotesquely overweight (or far too short, depending on how you look at it) I remain complacent about the numbers that appear on the bathroom scale on those occasions when it occurs to me to step on it. My wife, however, has not.

Basically, I need to grow 5 inches, or lose 45 pounds
My wife weighs (Come on! Do you think I’m insane?) and wishes she didn’t. She not obsessive about it, but when an opportunity arises, such as an interesting—and not too complicated—diet, she is generally game to give it a go. And I come along for the ride.

I hasten to add, we are not engaged in fanatical yo-yo dieting, or jumping on the latest fad. What we are more interested in is lifestyle change. Unfortunately, my lifestyle, no matter how much I change it, continues to keep me at 165.

Some time ago, I stopped taking sugar in my teas and coffees (which cut an obscene amount of calories out of my diet), I no longer consume beer in the vast quantities I did when I was younger (and more single), and I gave up having my nightly Penguin biscuit with my nightly cup of tea (for my US fans, Penguin biscuits are chocolate cookies, not incentives for black and white aquatic birds to sit up and beg). Sadly, despite the continued chipping away of life’s little pleasures, none of these sacrifices made a whit of difference.

Neither did any of the low-impact diets we have tried over the years. We did the Special K diet (cereal for breakfast and lunch) and merely learned that you can grow tired of your favorite breakfast food in a relatively short time, and we tried the trick of using smaller plates, and merely learned how to balance a Sunday roast on a salad dish.

But then my wife discovered the IF Diet, and proposed we give it a try for January.

IF stands for Intermittent Fasting and, after I read up on it, I was all for it. Unlike diets that compel you to eat more greens, or more carbs, or more protein, the IF Diet concentrates on NOT eating, and if you are looking to lose weight, avoiding the thing that causes you to gain it (i. e. Eating) seemed to be the way to go.

The IF Diet is also the most flexible diet I have ever seen. There is the 16:8, the14:10, the 5:2, the Eat-Stop-Eat, the Alternate Day, the Warrior (and who doesn’t want to diet like a warrior?) or the Spontaneous (for, one must suppose, the unorganized dieter).

In brief, the diets (or, lifestyle changes as we prefer to look at them) go like this: don’t eat for 16 (or 14) hours, then eat normally for 8 (or 10). If you opt for the 5:2, you can eat normally during the week, except for two days when you fast all day and have a normal dinner in the evening. (Normal is the keyword here.) If you like starving yourself, you can do the Alternate Day, which is one day fasting followed by one day normal eating from now until eternity. The Warrior Diet allows you to graze during the day (just fruit and veg, and only up to 800 calories) then you’re allowed that normal dinner—no seven-course meals for Braveheart.

Inundated with all these options, we selected one that suited and, during the month of January, we:
  • did not drink any alcohol
  • ate only during the hours of 8AM and 6 PM 
And at the end of the month, I still weighed 165 pounds.

In retrospect, I think it was a matter of intensity. There is low-impact, and no-impact. Eating in that narrow window meant only that we moved dinner up an hour. As for the not drinking alcohol, I guess I simply don’t drink enough these days for it to make a difference. Even so, my interest in the IF diet didn’t diminish. On the contrary, I decided to increase the impact.

During my religious cult days, I could do a three-day fast at the drop of a hat. And that was three full days with no food at all. Going from dinnertime to dinnertime with a handful of rabbit foods to tide me over would be a doddle, so I opted for the 5:2. The thing is, however, that I also decided, on my normal days, to trade in my lunchtime toasted cheese (or tuna with cheese, or fried egg with cheese) sandwiches for carrot and celery sticks. And, on top of that, we are still eating within the 10-hour window.

I am, therefore, currently doing the Warrior, the 5:2 and the 14:10 diets simultaneously.

If, at the end of this month, I still weigh 165 pounds, I am going back to beer and cheese and Penguin Biscuits. Because, really, what’s life without the occasional Penguin?


Monday, January 27, 2020

New Year Resolutions

Here we are, with the first month of the new decade flying past us. (Or, depending when you’re reading this, having flown past us.). My hope for you is that, up to this point, you have not made any New Year’s Resolutions.


You heard me right. New Year’s Day is the absolute worst time to make a life-decision. First off, you’re hung-over (or you ought to be) and, unless your partner is tea-total and got up early to clean the flat, you are almost certainly still physically surrounded by the evidence of your excesses. And worst of all, this is beginning to feel like a normal day. You have just come through an eight-week season where over-eating and binge-drinking are not merely tolerated, but encouraged, your face is stretched into a frozen grin of forced jollity and an uncomfortable horror gnaws at the back of your mind whenever your thoughts turn toward your credit card balance. Any resolutions you make in this state are bound to cause regret.

“I’ll quit drinking,” “I’ll eat better,” “I’ll go to the gym every morning,” “I’ll spend more time with my family.” These are all enviable propositions, but proclaiming them on New Year’s Day and then breaking them—as you surely will—within a fortnight will only add to your self-loathing.

Therefore, my advice is to give yourself time to adjust. Sober up, help your partner clean away the detritus of your debauchery, take part—if you must—in in Dry January, have a salad and beans on toast for dinner, go for a walk, and most importantly, allow your distant relatives and holiday-only friendships to fade into the background where they belong. Ease back into work. Pick up the threads you let go of in mid-December. Allow life to return to normal.


Then, when February arrives, and the grey, sombre days are no longer artificially cheered by bright lights and festive gatherings, and there is nothing to look forward to but winter, you can gaze into your soul with sober reflection and decide, in a reasoned and rational manner, where your life is lacking, and where it might benefit from judicious tweaking.

If given the option, I would pass a law against making New Year’s Resolutions on New Year’s Day. That will never happen, of course; the gymnasium lobby and fad diet gurus—who realize 90% of their annual income due to New Year’s Resolutions—would lobby against it, and they have many more followers than I do.

I will, instead, grant you permission to drop your 2020 resolutions (as if you haven’t already) and have a rethink. Did you resolve to quit drinking? I know, I know, you were terribly hung over, there were bottles and cans spread across the living room floor, and it was all you could do to not spew (again) from the stench. I expect, now that you’re sober, you are finding it harder than you anticipated. I therefore recommend you take advantage of my Resolution Amnesty, drop the good intentions and maybe just propose to cut down imbibing to a reasonable level. Wasted £357 on a gym membership you’re never going to use? There’s not much to be done about that, but you might schedule an hour or two a week there, instead of “every morning from 5:30 to 6:45” which no sane person would attempt.

So, instead of a New Year's Resolution, make a February Resolution (no hurry, you have all month). In this manner, perhaps, from March onward, you’ll see some real progress, and enter 2021 in a better place, mentally and/or physically and/or spiritually than you were in on 31 December 2019.

And if you are ever tempted to make a New Year’s Resolution again, make it, “I will never make a New Year’s Resolution again.” You’ll be much better off, believe me.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

2020 Vision

Years ago, when I was in my teens and early twenties, I used to muse on the upcoming new millennium, thinking that, if all went well, I would be able to see in the year 2000. I would, however, be an old man by then—45!—and the date was so, so far away that it didn’t warrant thinking about.

It did give me hope, however, and the knowledge that, by year 2000, we would have hoverboards, and we would have well and truly conquered outer space, as well as inner space:

I couldn't wait to get my hands on one of these, 
even though I would be too old to use it.

I never watched this program, I just knew that, by 1999, we'd be all over outer space.

As I recall, this show, which I did watch religiously, was set well 
into the future--1973!!
Then, some years later, when 45 looked a little less old and I was working in IT, the new millennium loomed large, waiting in the frighteningly near future, ready to end the world as we knew it by unleashing the Millennium Bug. It never happened, of course, and I and my techie friends entered the brand spanking new twenty-first century with a sigh of relief, an optimistic glance into the future and no small amount of champagne.

As well as some disappointment. I mean, where is my hoverboard?

But, hoverboard or no, here we are entering the third decade of that new century.

How the genuine fuck did that happen?

It’s strange to think that the switch from 19__ to 20__ on my checks (remember those?), which I had watched coming closer with a mixture of wonder, dread and optimism, turned out to the most tumultuous time of my life. Over a span of only 14 months, I escaped from She Who Must Not Be Named, met and married a woman from the UK and ended up settling there. It was a magic time that seemed—both at the time and in looking back—like a dream.

But all of that was nearly twenty years ago and now life is just life. We both worked and saved and did some traveling and then retired and now I look back on 45 with wistful longing and cling to the notion that—according to the World Health Organization—middle age doesn’t start until your 66th birthday.

I started the 2000s working in IT in the US, I started the 2010s working in IT in the UK, and now I start the 2020s not working at all but, happily, busier than I ever remember being, with new challenges and opportunities arising, it seems, every day. Even so, we won’t ring in the new decade with any more fanfare than we usually give the New Year. It will be snacks and some fizz while we watch the telly and keep looking at the clock, willing midnight to arrive so we can finally go to bed.

And so, as 2020 arrives (which is has by the time I post this) let us look forward to the New Roaring 20s with some optimism, and a resolution to help not make it the quite the hot mess that 2019 was.


Wishing you all a Happy New Year and a great New Decade.