Thoughts on getting fitter / healthier / losing weight

I thought I would put all general advice on this in one place since it seems like something people are interested in sometimes. This is a hodgepodge of things I learned during my physiology degree, from watching other people lose weight and experiment with different types of exercise, having a bunch of gym friends who are also big exercise nerds, and from personal experience.

I think my previous post on healthy eating was too long, so this will be more dot points than endless exposition. There’s no justification for anything but I’m happy to provide my rationale if you’re interested in it.

General advice on exercise:

The best exercise regime is the one you’ll do. If you can’t fit more than once a week into your schedule, or you need to work up to doing more than that really slowly, don’t worry about it. Do what you can and see how you go. If you need to build it into every day or make it a habit or you’ll never do it at all, do that, even if it’s just walking to and from work.

Find the kind of exercise that you will do – everybody is different. Try a few different things and see what works for you. Exercise comes in a wide variety of forms – solo or with a friend or in a group; self directed (e.g. gym), vaguely structured (e.g. club / team sports), or highly structured (cross fit, aerobics); low (walking), medium (cycling), or high intensity (running); at home, in a gym, outside, or somewhere else.

I find personally that I am useless at exercising at home – I am full of good intentions but I just never do it. I need a specified time to go to another place and exercise, whether that’s to the gym, or to swing dancing, or by walking to and from work. But maybe you are good at self-motivating and home exercise will work for you! Try both and see which is easier.

I also find that running makes me feel like I am definitely going to die after less than two minutes, but that lifting weights is fun and that swing dancing are fun even though I also feel like I will die a little bit sometimes. Maybe you will be better at cardio than me! Most people are.

I fucking hate people telling me what to do and crossfit would make me stab someone, but I know heaps of people who need / love encouragement or instruction from other people. Try lifting weights on your own, try it at a club or with a personal trainer, and see if you like any of them. (Do get at least some instruction from someone knowledgable before lifting heavy weights, though, if you’ve never done it before, or your spine will explode and that will be really sad. I personally think Crossfit is a great way to get hurt unless you’re already very fit.)

If you are trying to lose weight from square one, walking a lot is a really good place to start. You don’t need to kill yourself with any crazy shit, just walking twenty minutes or half an hour once or twice a day will do wonders if you’re starting from zero. Otherwise cycling, swimming, dancing or other cardio – most weight lifting isn’t likely to help you lose weight, unless you are doing a *lot* of it, and this can be pretty tough on the body if you’re not used to it.

General thoughts on food:

Try eating healthier rather than simply eating less – I think that adding more healthy food to your diet is much easier than giving up everything you love forever (unless you are a hardcore all or nothing type person, in which case, do that!). I find it a lot easier to a mix of the somewhat healthy and somewhat unhealthy than to live exclusively on salads. Personally I exercise so that I can drink beer and eat snickers bars, so, y’know – I am not advocating asceticism here.

Having said that… More vegetables. More. More of them. Still more. Mooooooore.

Seriously though. There is no meal that is not made healthier by the addition of veggies – they add fibre, slow digestion, contain vitamins, and don’t contain (any meaningful amount of) fat or sugar. They tick all the boxes! Find whatever vegetables that aren’t potatoes that you can stand, and just go as crazy as you can go, at least one meal a day. I’ve found the one decent veggie stir fry within walking distance at work and because I am incredibly boring, I’ve been eating it for lunch basically every day for three years. You too could be like me! Live dangerously!

Cut down on alcohol, especially beer. Sorry. It’s not that different, nutritionally, to soft drink. (Cut down on that too.) Try to drink fewer days of the week and / or less when you do drink. Alternate alcoholic drinks with water or soda water when you’re out, and / or switch to a boring drink like vodka-soda instead of beer or things mixed with coke.

Cut down on obvious junk food (duh), and try not to fill up on empty carbs (rice / pasta / bread). Replace carbs with veggies for bulk wherever possible, since you’ll be hungry if you’re used to eating very carby meals. If you must have some kind of carby staple, barley is a good substitute for rice (and you cook it the same way).

Learn to read the bare basics of the nutritional information – read the per 100g column, and see how much sugar what you’re eating contains per 100g. If it contains more than 10g sugar per 100g, it’s junk food. If you’re trying to choose between products, choose the one with fewer calories / kilojoules per 100g.

Don’t worry about fat too much, provided you’re not living on ice cream or just eating cream with a spoon out of a jar in the fridge. (Don’t do that.)

Stop eating when you’re full and take the rest to go, or leave it – don’t clear your plate out of habit when you’re given a huge serve at a pub or whatever.

The food stuff requires organisation – if you’re used to eating out a lot, you need to either eat differently (Asian food is good for veggie heavy stuff, think stir fries etc), or cook at home more. Learn either a couple of healthy things that you can cook quickly (e.g. stir fries), or stuff you can cook once or twice a week and refrigerate / freeze (e.g. minestrone, curries / stews / pies with lots of vegetables, roast veggie salads). I’m terrible at doing enough shopping to cook every day, so I go the once a week route – but like with exercise, work out what you’re likely to actually do. Maybe walking to the store after work to buy vegetables to make a stir fry would be two birds with one stone for some people.

I find tracking what you eat, even just for a week, can be revealing. I had no idea how much beer I was drinking until I did that, and it was kinda horrifying. I’m glad I know now, though.

Finally, if you are trying to lose weight, don’t get disheartened and don’t have crazy expectations. Most people don’t lose more than a couple of kilos a month, and even though it’s possible to get hectic and lose weight faster than that, most people can’t sustain that or keep the weight off. Plus flying full tilt into crazy exercise from zero is a great way to injure yourself.

Obviously doing all this stuff at once would be major life upheaval for some people and it’s not mandatory. Any of it will make you healthier regardless of whether or not you’re trying to lose weight. Eat less unhealthy stuff, move your body more, that’s about all there is to it really.

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