How I Lost Weight and Got Fit

This is a detailed version[1] of a status update I published a few days ago. It is in no way a definitive ‘how to’ guide but simply a record of the steps I took to lose weight and get in shape.

A little over two years ago, I visited the doctor due to the onset of a chest infection. He asked me about my weight and weighed me. I was just under 260lbs (118.1kg/18.6st). I knew that I was overweight and out of shape but I did not see myself as a ‘fat’ person. Seeing the number (in black and white) on the scale, scared me to death. I knew that I had to make some serious changes. Two years later I am a completely different person, both physically and mentally.

By making changes to my diet and adding in regular physical activity, I have lost almost 90lbs (40.8kg; 6.4st.) in two years[2] and can run 5km in 29 minutes / 10km in 60 minutes. These are not record breaking times but compared to when I started (5km – 46 minutes / 10k – 90 minutes) I have made significant progress.

More importantly, I am a happier, healthier person. I have regained my zest for life. I have tried new things and I am spending more time outdoors appreciating the world around me. The impact on my mental health has been profound. Running is my meditation.

Diet

I do not believe in ‘dieting’. Most diets or weight loss plans are fads, many of which are unhealthy. Your body requires a balanced diet of carbohydrates, proteins, and nutrients, especially if you participate in a significant amount of physical activity.

My wife and I were already careful about what we put into our bodies. The problem for me was that one serving was never enough. On top of this, I was a true snacker – in every sense of the word.

For me personally, I felt the best way forward was to commit to portion control and cut back on some carbohydrates, fats and sugars. We gradually worked in a range of new sources of protein – beans and pulses. This lead us down a path of discovery, coming up with new ways to be creative in the kitchen. We had fun, making a new recipe each week, and we did cut back on red meat. I also worked to be more consistent about when I ate, settling on a healthy breakfast[3], small snack[4] and dinner.

Now, we eat at least two meals a week that do not contain meat and we have reduced our intake of starchy carbohydrates like potatoes and pasta. I am also careful about bread, preferring to consume bread that my wife has baked herself. It’s delicious!

I still eat desert and enjoy a good pastry. I eat crisps and chocolate. However, all of this is in moderation and sometimes specifically as a reward after a week of rigorous physical activity. The key word in the last sentence, is “moderation”. There is no reason to deny yourself a taste of something, but let it be that. You don’t need to eat an entire bar of Cadbury’s ‘Dairy Milk’ to satisfy your chocolate craving – a square or two is enough.

Hydration

I drink four to five litres of water, and one Cortado, a day. I sometimes have warm tea in winter with a little honey and lemon in the evening, but this is an area where I have been particularly strict with myself.

I started by cutting out Coca-Cola (which interestingly enough, I can’t abide the smell and taste of now). This was no mean feat, having drunk at least one can of coke per day for several years. I have now cut out all fizzy drinks, juices (unless squeezed from the fruit itself) and alcohol[5].

The impact of this has been significant. It has improved my digestion and acted as an appetite suppressant, helping me to lose weight. What’s more it has been important given the amount of increased physical activity I have engaged in.

Exercise (Or how I became addicted to running)

My wife deserves a lot of credit here. I could not have done any of this without her support and encouragement[6]. She decided that she wanted to be more active and bought a Fitbit. She started out by simply increasing the distance she was walking and I started to join her. As a techy-nerd, I soon decided that I also needed a Fitbit. Without a doubt, the tracking of metrics like steps, distance, calories burned, and sleep played a big part in encouraging me to become more active. Call this a trick if you want, but I would say that it is more to do with attention to detail and setting clear and achievable goals.

I quickly started to add in some jogging and then started playing football on a Friday after work. Encouraged by a colleague I started to frequent the gym at least twice a week and before I knew it the weight was falling off. My routine built up to include strength training and eventually jogging turned to running. And this was the biggest surprise of all. I have always loved getting involved in sport but running was anathema to me. Simply put, Running was boring. I don’t know if it is age or if some primal instinct has been awoken, but running has become my preferred way to keep fit.

Running is serene. I feel ‘one’ with the natural environment. I gain a sense of freedom – freedom from my day to day life; from the stresses of work; where by, after a good half-hour of running, my mind is clear and all that exists is me, the road and a drive to run further and further[7]. I am addicted. There is a lot of debate about the ‘runner’s high’ but all I can say is that there is something close to euphoria that takes over – even when it is pouring rain at 6:00am in the morning and your heart is pounding as you speed into kilometre number ten.

My routine has evolved and is broken down below in to term time and school holidays.

Term Time:

  • Monday: Gym (Upper Body+Cardio)
  • Tuesday: Gym (Legs/Abs+Cardio)
  • Wednesday: Rest Day (Due to meetings)
  • Thursday: Gym (Upper Body/Abs+Cardio)
  • Friday: Football
  • Saturday: Running (6–10k)
  • Sunday: Running (10–15k)

School Holidays:

  • Monday: Running (6–10k)
  • Tuesday: Running (10–15k)
  • Wednesday: Running (Sprints)
  • Thursday: Rest Day
  • Friday: Running (6–10k)
  • Saturday: Running (6–10k)
  • Sunday: Running (10–15k)

I am a work in progress…

My goals for the next 12 months are to lose at least another 20lbs; to complete a half marathon; and further improve my upper-body strength.

Therefore, I will make this my final point. I set goals constantly; long-term and short-term. This has been integral to my success. If you want to lose weight and get fit, set yourself a goal – keep it small and achievable. When you have met it, set another one. The path to success is literally step-by-step.


  1. The tl/dr version.  ↩
  2. I clocked in at 170.8lbs (77.5kg/12,2st) on the day that I am writing this post.  ↩
  3. Usually, granola, yogurt and fruit.  ↩
  4. Fruit (for energy if I am going to the gym) or a snack bar (usually 200 calories or less).  ↩
  5. I am not tee-total but I keep my consumption very low. I have only had a couple of pints of IPA this year, both on holiday in the summer.  ↩
  6. My wife is my biggest cheerleader and has made me go out and run even when all I wanted to do was pull the covers back over my head.  ↩
  7. This is a topic that definitely requires a blog post all of its own.  ↩

Listen

The best piece of advice I have ever been given is this:

Sit back and listen

It is very easy, particularly when you are looking for that first promotion, to feel like you need to constantly make yourself heard. So much so, that you stop listening.

Instead, sit back and listen; giving other people’s views the consideration they deserve.

  1. Nine times out of ten, when other people realise you are ‘really’ listening to them, they will respect you for it and repay you by doing the same. If you constantly cut people off, they will be offended and most likely not listen to you in return.
  2. Listening helps you to understand where others are coming from. It leaves you better informed and in a more powerful position. A position from which you can be far more influential – able to put forward your ideas in ways that are appealing and demonstrate forethought.
  3. Sometimes, when you take the time to listen, you realise that your views and ideas need to be modified. In fact sometimes you may realise that your take on a topic or idea is just plain wrong.

Some may view the third outcome negatively but I do not. If you take the time to listen before sharing your views, it is easier to shape and change them. Once they are out in the open, it is not as easy to admit you were wrong.

And remember. You can make all the noise you want but if no one is actually listening…

…then it is just noise.

Little and often

When I was training to become a teacher, I was encouraged to do tasks like marking, planning and self-reflection in short, manageable bursts. I found this advice to be easier said than done during the early stages of my career. However, I eventually reached a point where I found that I had fully subscribed to a ‘little and often’ philosophy. I have refined it over the last few years and thought that I would share ten of the most useful facets here.

  1. Keep a note book (or folder) of lesson ideas, activities and homework; keep it with you to jot down ideas on the fly.
  2. Mark and assess work in small batches avoiding the dreaded “marking pile”.
  3. Make feedback short and precise to make it meaningful and to keep it manageable for yourself.
  4. Take 15-20 minutes to reflect on your day: what went well, what didn’t, how can you do better tomorrow?
  5. Read blogs, articles and books every day – it’s important to keep learning. Save longer material to be read in short flurries once or twice a week.
  6. Collaborate with others but make meetings short and emails brief; instead get on with the doing, focussing on the outcomes instead, evaluating as you go.
  7. Share ideas, resources and useful links via email, Twitter or Facebook immediately; don’t wait, don’t stock pile.
  8. Once a week turn off email, Twitter and other distractions; focus on the work. (If you suffer from severe bouts of procrastination then once a week might not be enough)
  9. Don’t let things become untidy. Fix displays, put away resources, tidy your desk when you see that it needs doing.
  10. If you blog, write a bit every day. The previously mentioned note book comes in handy here for drafting posts and recording ideas.

3 things I do every weekend that make me a better teacher

1. Get out and about

What I enjoy most about the weekend is the chance to get out and about in to a non-school environment. This could be as trivial as walking down the road to the local Costa Coffee for a flat white or to the local supermarket to get the groceries. Or it could be something more meaningful such as a short train journey into London to visit a museum or see a play. Whatever it is, I enjoy being able to spend time with my wife; to eat, drink, interact and enjoy myself – free from the day-to-day experience that is my working week. This does not mean that I am completely switched off though. On the contrary, It is out there, in the real world that many of the ideas I have for teaching exercises reveal themselves. You see, if all you walk and talk all week is education with other educators, eventually the conversation becomes stagnant and new ideas dry up. My best ideas come to me usually when I’m nowhere near school; out there, in the real world.

2. Read the newspaper

During the week I am essentially locked in an education bubble. Sunday morning is catch up time. I need to know what is going on in the world, as both an English and Media Studies teacher, news has a significant impact on my teaching. I prefer to read the news on a Sunday as not only are the “really” important stories reflected on and pulled apart but being the weekend I feel I have the time to truly immerse myself into reading the news. I don’t buy a newspaper however. Instead, I read the Observer online via http://guardian.gyford.com. If you have not experienced either the Guardian or Observer newspaper in this way then I suggest that you give it a go. I feel that it offers the perfect balance between an online and paper based reading experience. And, while I don’t own one I am certain that it would work really well on the iPad.

3. Tidy up loose ends

On a Sunday evening I look through my work inbox and todo list and spend 60 minutes clearing as much as possible before Monday. I try to do something similar on a Friday afternoon before I leave work but there are often bits and pieces that just don’t get done. It could be the case that an email needs to be replied to; a handful of assignments need to be marked; a request for some data or other information needs to be submitted. Or it could be the case that the last few days may have simply been very busy and I have a backlog of emails that either need to be archived or deleted. Once the 60 minutes is up, anything that remains in my inbox or todo list is usually too large a task to be completed on a Sunday evening; requires input from a colleague; or I don’t have all the information to hand. This process has become a ritual and helps to ensure that I return to work on Monday morning free of clutter and ready for the challenges ahead.