helping keep hungry backpackers fed:

Friday, 17 February 2012

How to get skinny

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I LOVE food. I've never been a person who would be described as fat, probably because I live a pretty active life most of the time, but I tend to have a lot of weight fluctuations. At my heaviest I've been up to about 10 stone 3 pounds (143lbs or 64kg). This doesn't sound like a lot, but considering I'm only 5"2 (157cm) it is enough to make me appear on the chubby side and affect the way I dress and see myself. At the moment however I'm probably the skinniest and lightest I've been since I was about 12. I'm now down to 9 stone 2 (128lbs or 58kg) and have fallen 2 dress sizes. I know this doesn't sound particularly drastic especially when it happened over a period of at least 4 or 5 months but what is important is that I lost this weight without a large amount of effort and definitely without any structured diet.
I'm not going to claim in this post that I have any amazing diet secrets or guaranteed program you should follow, however I have looked back at my lifestyle and seen what may have caused my weight fluctuations. Due to the frequency of big changes in a backpacker's life its easy to pinpoint when and where I must have been going wrong. I also have a few little tricks up my sleeve which help me. Sorry if none of this helps you, but I swear by all of it!

The number one and absolutely most important factor in weight gain (in my experience) is alcohol. It’s not surprising either. Even a neat shot of a pure clear spirit such as vodka can contain as much as 100 calories (dependant on alcohol percentage) whilst just one pint of cider or beer often provides over 250! What’s also important to remember is that these are empty calories with no nutritional benefit- skipping dinner to make up for alcohol consumption is a BAD idea and if done regularly could lead to malnutrition. When I was living in Canada last summer I was eating relatively healthily and was being quite restrained with portion sizes. I was working two jobs, both of which were physically demanding and spent my free time hiking, biking and running. Despite this I was still overweight and was not happy with the shape of my body. My problem at this point must have been my alcohol consumption. I partied a few nights a week and tended to socialise in bars and pubs where alcohol is always part of the equation. If you can't figure out why you're not losing weight despite eating sensibly and partaking in regular exercise have a look at how much you're drinking. It may surprise you!

Having an active job has definitely made a big difference to my weight as well. When I first arrived on Hamilton Island I was working at the bakery, mainly standing in an air conditioned shop and serving customers. After a while I started job sharing at a busy fish and chip shop. Now I spent my days running around cooking and prepping food in a stuffy kitchen with a number of deep fat fryers keeping the temperatures well above 35 degrees! I noticed that the pounds started to fall off me, and even more so when I stopped working at the bakery altogether and became full time cook for the fish and chip shop. This role involves a LOT of heavy lifting, carrying and quick movement. If you don't fancy structured exercise and are in a position where it is possible, maybe consider a career change. If this isn't an option consider walking or cycling to work. Look at your body like a machine; it uses a certain amount of energy a day. If you are putting on weight, it is probably because you're giving your body more energy (food) than it can use. You have 2 options; increase the amount of energy it uses (through exercise) or decrease the amount of energy you're giving it. It’s as simple as that.

I've found that it works for me to give myself very specific rules which I am never allowed to break. I realised that whilst I worked I was snacking on deep fried food. Just telling myself to do it less didn't seem to help. Instead I decided my new year's resolution was no deep fried food whilst at work. Period. I have also banned myself from any snacking, and am only allowed to consume fruit aside from my 3 meals a day. It's easy to tell yourself that one chip or one cookie won't make a lot of difference but if you're allowing yourself these things 10 times a day then the calories will add up!

To stop myself from craving unhealthy foods too much I give myself "treat days” when I’m allowed eat certain things. Whilst working at the bakery I started "sweet treat Sunday"- allowing myself to have a cake, pie or something chocolaty only once a week on a Sunday. I similarly allow myself only 2 days a week when I can consume alcohol. I find it hard to resist a beer after a hard day's work, but, like everything else, one beer a day can add up. This way I really think about which 2 days of the week I want to have a drink and control my beer drinking much better. Similarly I allow myself treat weeks, when all other rules are off and I can do whatever I like. These should really not be too frequent and I always give myself a pre-defined period and a date when the treat week is over. I would say 4 or 5 treat weeks a year shouldn't affect your overall weight too much and can then cover important events like Birthdays, Christmas and other holidays.

I've already spoken a bit about skipping meals and only eating three set meals a day. I feel this is really key to controlling weight. Don't think that skipping meals will help you lose weight. It just makes your body go into starvation mode and convert whatever you next consume into fat instead of muscle. Even if you don't think you're hungry make sure you eat 3 meals a day. Make sure two of them are on the smaller side too. A good healthy cereal is a good start to the day and a sandwich should really be plenty for lunch. Think about your day and what you will eat in the morning or the night before. Plan what time you will eat what. This way you won't leave eating until you're starving hungry and end up eating twice as much as you planned. Sometimes this is hard to fit in with work but whenever it is possible try it. It will not only help you control your weight it generally makes you feel a lot healthier and happier. I found I had a lot of control over my weight when I was working long hours at a theme park and dinner was not provided. On my days off I would cook myself meals for the rest of the week and freeze them. I would then wake up in the morning, eat a bowl of cereal, make a sandwich for lunch and get a frozen meal out for dinner. I had complete control over what I was eating and living this way is much cheaper than buying packaged meals or takeaways.
Now as I've already mentioned I love food and therefore the earlier option of cutting back on the energy you give your body isn’t appealing to me. I have to make a conscious effort to control my portion sizes but aside from that the actual food I eat is rarely low in calories. I love meat and cheese and feel that most food benefits from generous helpings of sauces and dressings. I get great pleasure from anything involving pasta or bread both of which are full of carbohydrates. I think diets like Atkins where carbs are outlawed would be completely impossible to stick to and aren't actually at all good for you. Carbs give you long term energy and keep you healthy. Because I'm not willing to compromise on the amount of calories I feed my body I like to control the amount of calories that my body uses. Here's a secret about exercise; when you're out of shape you will not enjoy it. If you need a little motivation try starting off with easy relaxing exercise- walking, swimming or relaxation based classes like yoga all have benefits. They will not, however, burn very many calories. I've been exercising regularly now since I was 18 and I really honestly do love it. The feeling after a good exercise session is totally addictive. My personal activity of choice is running. Yes, it's hard when you're doing it but the feeling of accomplishment and adrenaline when you're finished makes it all worthwhile. I find I have to distract myself whilst running. If I'm in a gym I listen to comedy podcasts. I don't find music alone requires adequate concentration. Some treadmills have games on them which I love; others have TV screens which is also helpful. I find running outdoors to be more enjoyable but there are a lot of variables. Here in Australia it's often much too hot to keep running for long before getting dehydrated and sunburnt. Hills have to be the right gradient to keep me motivated too. If they're too steep I find myself walking half of the time. I loved running in Canada where I had a set loop which I ran around. I knew the distance and the direction and that kept me motivated until the end. I'm a very competitive person and I find running against myself really good fun- on a treadmill I try to run 0.5km/h faster than I did the day before, or 1km further, when road running I time myself and try and beat previous times. If running isn't your thing find something that you love. Some people love being part of a team, others love to dance, even cleaning can be really good exercise if you're a bit of a neat freak. Just remember whatever you're doing will of course seem hard at first if you're out of shape. Get through that period and just keep going. I'll bet that soon you will love the feeling of accomplishment you get.

So, like I said, this is how I got skinny. I know some people have real willpower issues and I can understand that but if you really want things to be different then it's always possible. You just have to be willing to change your life a little and make things happen. Lots of people claim not to exercise because they don't have the time but I was still managing to go running at least 3 times a week whilst also working 70 physically demanding hours. Other people claim not to have the energy, but once you start exercising you'll find it actually gives you MORE energy, and makes you feel a lot happier! Give it a go, what have you got to lose??


  1. I've commented twice on this why is it not appearing?????

  2. I totally agree with all this. I lost my weight through planning what I eat, cutting down on alcohol & increasing my exercise (walking in my case - rather than running) - similar but less extreme! The exercise is very important.