Counting Calories

Losing 72 lbs in 52 weeks for Macmillan Cancer Support

Please consider donating the price of a coffee to my campaign. I'm trying to lose 72 lbs in weight in 52 weeks for Macmillan Cancer Support.

I'm really sorry to announce that the Mighty Hike through the Peak District has been cancelled due to Covid-19, so I'm going to move on to my next fundraising enterprise for Macmillan Cancer.

I've lost 52 lbs in weight over the last seven months – matching my original goal. I hope to lose 20 lbs more before the end of August. But that's just not enough. The weight has been coming off, but I've only raised a fraction of the money that I wanted to raise.

So, I have decided that in the next five months I will take things up a notch. By the end of August, I now further pledge that I will also grow my hair back.

If you know me, you may assume that I suffer from male pattern baldness. We know what assuming does, don't we? It makes an ass out of you and me. But you would be right.

With everyone in lockdown, this is absolutely the right time to use a tried and trusted method that scientists know about and that I have seen on YouTube. I am adopting a two-fold methodology that combines Percussive Calval Attenuation and Nocturnal Follicular Thermal Stimulation.

The former method has traditionally been associated with ritual humiliation of men with receding hairlines (or slapheads, as they are sometimes known), but it also fosters therapeutic widening of the capillaries as blood rushes to the site of percussive trauma, in medical parlance, the “slap site”.

In the second method, we know that a woollen cap or “tea cosy” is often used to disguise hair loss, but it is less well known that wearing such a cap to bed also retains body heat, focusing it locally in the area that Doctors call “the bonce”.

I started using both these methods two weeks ago and I am already seeing results. The results are that my scalp is very red and sore and I can't sleep at night because my head is too hot, but they are results nevertheless.

I also smell of Baby Bio, because I have been rubbing it into my head. Actually, let's be honest, I smell of Worcestershire sauce because we're in lockdown and that's the closest thing I could get.

When I return to work, after the lockdown, I promise that I will have a full and lustrous head of hair and it will totally not be a hair-piece that I bought on Amazon for £48.99 plus postage and packaging.

If you wish to support me in my weight loss and, now, hair gain endeavours, please donate using my Just Giving link.

Please consider donating the price of a coffee to my campaign. I'm trying to lose 72 lbs in weight in 52 weeks for Macmillan Cancer Support.

I first wrote about meal shakes in June 2014. At the time I noted that every article I’d ever read about them follows the same predictable trajectory; a journalist goes on a diet of Soylent or Huel for a week or so and then reports back on the experience. The results invariably have a negative slant.

There are dozens of articles like this and they all have the same cliched beats:

  • The clinical, other-worldliness of making a meal from powder and water
  • Comments about the texture and colour, which make the replacement sound undesirable
  • Observations about unpalatable flavours
  • The longing that the writer had for basic foods during the experiment
  • Some discussion of undesirable physical side-effects
  • Relief at the end of the experiment and a conclusion that we’re still a long way from finding the future of food

When the BBC programme “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor” aired a package depicting its hapless presenter, Alain Gregoire, giving Huel a go this week, guess what? It had all the same moments as every other version of the story. Worse, it buried the key research finding that using Huel statistically improved the presenter’s health over one week in a dismissive footnote.

I think it’s time for a journalist who actually knows something about meal shakes to say something positive.

I’ve been using Huel every day for well over six months. Before that, I used other meal shakes on and off for about five years. There are clear advantages that these tourists miss when they parachute in and jot down a few notes about their food hacking holiday.

  1. Meal shakes are not meal replacements. They are meals. I’ll talk about Huel as its the shake I’ve used most. It’s a complete meal with a balance of carbohydrate, protein and fibre, vitamins and minerals. It’s made from recognisable foods like peas, coconut and oats. It is food. Yes, it’s a shake – but we don’t call an oatmeal and fruit smoothie a “meal replacement” when we have one for breakfast.

  2. If you don’t like the taste – that’s a personal thing, but as it’s a shake you can hack the flavour really easily. Like coffee? Add a shot of espresso. Mad about chocolate? Add a teaspoon of premium cocoa. Too sweet? Cut it with the unflavoured and unsweetened version. Add bananas or peanut butter or berries or maple syrup and blend the heck out of it. Too thick? Add more water. Not creamy enough? Mix with milk. Lactose intolerant? Use Oat milk. And, for the love of all that is precious and lovely, blend it, then chill it before you drink it. There is nothing about the taste and texture of meal shakes that you cannot fix.

  3. Huel is vegan and, for those concerned about phytoestrogens, soy-free. I’m already vegetarian and trying to be vegan. Huel has helped me to reach that goal. I haven’t had an egg for breakfast in six months.

  4. Meal shakes strive for nutritional balance and have helped me become the fittest I’ve felt in years. I’ve been using it to control weight loss – true – and many of the benefits come from that. But I’m also getting a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals I wasn’t getting on my haphazard former diet.

  5. There are some enthusiasts who drink meal shakes for every meal – but they are probably in the lower percentile of users. Personally, I replace breakfast and snacks with Huel. Occasionally I have it for lunch. It varies, but there’s no narrative of denial going on here at all. I’m on a calorie-controlled diet but if I want a slice of toast or two, that’s what I’ll have.

  6. These stories always focus on meal shakes as a wholesale replacement for food, rather than on why a person might need or want them. It’s the same argument as vegetarianism – no one is making you do it; it’s a choice that fits a lifestyle. For me, they’re a quick option that I can fit into a time-poor day. It takes me ten minutes of scooping and blending in the evening to make three meals. That’s time saved I can use to make a stew or curry or chilli from scratch for dinner.

  7. Counting calories with Huel is simple. One scoop equals 200 calories. Two scoops equal 400. I even have a couple of smaller scoops that are about 150 calories each. Whether you’re trying to bulk up or slim down, you know exactly how many calories you’re having, every time.

  8. And finally, they are convenient. Some of my job is leading workshops and giving lectures. On one day every week, I do that for seven hours straight – with a health condition that makes me prone to low blood sugar. With a meal shake I can “eat” in the middle of a workshop. I just take in a flask of chilled Huel and have a glug in a quiet moment. I can eat in the middle of my commute, standing up on the train. Try doing that with a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.

Gregoire’s conclusion was that he “missed the social aspects of eating a meal with other people, as well as the pleasure in preparing and eating food”. It was a curious thing to say, given that almost no one who uses Huel uses it for every single meal.

You don’t have to give up the enjoyment of food; the meditative moments spent prepping and cooking, sitting down and savouring tastes, smells and textures. You don’t have to give up your social interaction with the people you care about at the end of the day. You can still have all of that. In fact, you can have more – because you have more time.

You can have your Huel and eat your cake.

Please consider donating the price of a coffee to my campaign. I'm trying to lose 72 lbs in weight in 52 weeks for Macmillan Cancer Support.

It’s been a weird month out in the world and at home – but this isn’t a blog about that. It’s about me losing weight.

I did have two moments that gave me pause this week though. The first was a Facebook acquaintance, who I respect, posting a general instruction to filter them out of posts about dieting. The second was confirmation that I am now less likely to die from a heart attack than I was six months ago.

Those two pieces of information don’t seem related but, to me, they are. You see, I feel like I’m trying to do a positive thing with my weight loss campaign. I am losing weight for the sake of my health – but I am also, in that process, raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support.

That post had a long comment thread all about what total dicks people who post about their diets are... and it got me thinking and fretting. They – the respondents in the thread – were asking people who were posting about their diets to do so privately (or not at all) or not to talk about the health impact of their diets.

That seemed reasonable enough.

Oh, hang on, no. The other thing. That seemed overly didactic and prescriptive.

I just can’t do that. I'm trying to raise funds and I’m using my social media to publicise this fairly heavily. My posts are set to public so that my friends (and anyone else) can choose to share them if they wish.

I agree we should be kind to each other and acknowledge that there are many complicated organic and psychological reasons why a person may be overweight. There is no circumstance where we might consider it right or proper to abuse or discriminate against people because they are obese. And, yet, this happens all the time – at micro and macro levels and in systemic interactions throughout the lives of fat people.

In fact, I started on this journey as a protest against one of these “systemic interactions”; a poster campaign (from a charity) that trivialised obesity as though it’s a lifestyle choice; something that people can just choose to give up. (Spoiler: it’s not. Losing this much weight is really, really hard to do – and it is best done with the kind of love, support and encouragement that can only come from telling people what you are doing).

So that part, I can get totally behind.

What I can’t agree with is that as a society we should stop all discourse about the relationship of weight to health because some people may be triggered by it – because life is much more complex than that. It is not a case of there being a right side or wrong side; of there being categories of thing you can say and can't say.

Here are two facts.

  1. There are people who have eating disorders, who have to deal with dysphoria on a daily basis.

  2. Being fat kills individuals faster than not being fat.

There are literally thousands upon thousands of studies that link being overweight or obese to higher incidences of disease and organic disorders. Anything else is a straw man.

So, yes, while I can understand that some people have body dysphoria or issues related to eating who might not want to see that stuff, I’ve made a utilitarian decision to serve the greater good.

Anyway, I mention all this because I am becoming increasingly depressed about our political discourse in general. I am preoccupied with it and feel oppressed by it. I have deliberately stepped back from some social media platforms because of it.

There is a kind of authoritarian tone on Twitter, Facebook and some discussion forums where people can now make these instructive pronouncements with the certainty that they have a right to do so. It is a form of asserted supremacy, often academic in origin, and I have no truck with any of it, whether it comes from the left or the right of the ideological spectrum.

And because I was worried about that for the last two weeks, I failed to notice that my heart health measurements had quietly crossed into a new category while I wasn’t looking. My fitness tracker estimates my VO2 max level – the amount of oxygen used to work out – from heart rate during exercise. When I started this it was classified “Fair to Average” for my age. It crept up to “Average to Good” a little before Christmas. This weekend I checked it after a hike through the Yorkshire hills and it’s now “Good to Very Good”.

This had been a real worry for me. I had some scares before my diet began; dizzy spells and getting out of breath; potential signs of poor heart health. I’ve now lost 43 lbs and benefits like that are tangible, irrefutable and positive. But I was so worried that my attempt to improve my health was potentially upsetting others, that I had completely missed it.

That’s what gave me pause.

So, if you don’t mind, in future I’d like to allow myself a moment of pride and a second of relief, without feeling castigated for it.

Please consider donating the price of a coffee to my campaign. I'm trying to lose 72 lbs in weight in 52 weeks for Macmillan Cancer Support.

I lost weight over Christmas, which was an achievement in itself but, dear reader, I have to tell you; the plateau is kicking my ass.

As I explained earlier, hitting a diet plateau is a common occurrence I had never heard of. Partly because I’ve never tried to lose a third of my body weight before. I thought I was doing brilliantly, losing between two and – at the very beginning – three lbs a week. That was until the beginning of December, the fourth month of my weight loss plan. My weight logs show that, in the last six weeks, I lost five pounds; which is less than a pound a week.

The truth is, there where some weeks where I lost no weight at all, even though I kept a careful eye on what I ate over the holidays. I mean, I ate three vegetarian roast dinners during that time but a) not all on the same day and b) I counted every calorie.

It’s getting harder is the message here. Those adverts that started this ball rolling – the ones that equated obesity with smoking? They can get in the sea. I’ve been eating less than 1800 calories a day for over four months. I’ve increased my exercise levels and cut out refined sugar completely from my diet. I’ve lost 35 lbs. And I’m still obese.

Remember that film The Goonies? I can still do the truffle shuffle. I am still Chunk.

Me, yesterday...

Of my original goal to lose 52 lbs, I have already lost 35 lbs. I have 17 lbs more to lose and even then, I’ll still be clinically overweight. So here’s where I tell you a secret: until the beginning of December I was going to set a new target.

I was going to upgrade my challenge from losing 52 lbs in 52 weeks...

And do you know what? I still am.

From now on my goal is not 52 lbs in 52 weeks – it’s 5 stones and 2 lbs in 52 weeks. That's 20 lbs more than I originally intended to lose, 72 lbs in total, and that’s my New Year’s Resolution. I am not going to let this beat me, I am going to boss it. I’m going to cut out more carbs, shave some calories off my allowance, walk further, row for longer, box harder and put weights in my fricking rucksack.

Because Goonies never say die.

Please consider donating the price of a coffee to my campaign. I'm trying to lose 52 lbs in weight in 52 weeks for Macmillan Cancer Support.

Work is beating me up, I have my second cold in as many weeks and, because I have a cold, I can’t work-out. It’s drizzly and grey outside and, yesterday, I slipped on a patch of oil, flipped into the air and landed on my back on a crowded train platform.

I’m feeling a little sorry for myself, so I thought I’d write a positive post about giving up bad things.

I once spoke to a nutritionist who told me that nothing was “bad” for you, as long as it was part of a generally balanced whole. Well, screw that. The fewer bad things you cram into your talky hole, the better you feel.

Most of our bad habits service the pursuit of dopamine or serotonin or noradrenaline. That hit of tasty endorphins you get when you satisfy the craving for a doughnut or a Snickers.

In my twenties, I drank alcohol every evening – a hangover (pun intended) from being a student. I smoked the equivalent of about thirty cigarettes a day and one of those might have been a “funny” cigarette. I ate sweets and chips and pastry. I was a vegetarian, but that just made it worse. My diet was all carbs and no protein, so I was skinny, spotty and pale. By the time I hit 27, I felt terrible and had a full-on health crisis when my weight dropped to 7 stones 13 lbs.

7 stones 13 lbs. To put that in perspective, I currently weigh 15 stones and 7 lbs, after three and a half months of dieting. It was a weird time. After my diagnosis of reactive hypoglycaemia, I got my diet back on track, began to eat more healthily – but I also had a renewed concern for my general health.

The usual narrative is that when you give a thing up, you’ll miss it and feel miserable because you are depriving yourself of pleasure. Here’s the secret no one tells you:

When you give up things that are bad for you, it can feel good.

Now – some people will immediately jump to the conclusion that “good” means “virtuous”. I find this most when I talk to people who find out that I don’t drink. Some assume I am secretly lording it over them in my mind (which couldn’t be further from the truth). Virtue has nothing to do with it. Live and let live, I say. You do you.

Don’t worry about the intentions others project onto you. It’s all about how you feel. Here are the two things that motivate me:

The “good” effects of bad things are illusory

This is such a simple correlation but people will jump through many hoops to minimise the undesirable effects of their bad habits because the initial dopamine (plus alcohol/nicotine/caffeine and/or sugar rush) feels so euphoric. But, here’s the rub; it only feels euphoric in comparison with the corollary downside of the same activity.

When you smoke, that first nicotine hit feels good because your body is habituated to it. You are in withdrawal and suffering the effects of depleted neurotransmitter activity – that was caused by nicotine use in the first place. After addiction takes hold, you have to smoke just to feel normal and smoke more to get the feeling of euphoria.

It doesn’t have to be a chemical transition either. It can be entirely psychological.

When you have the first drink of the evening it signals to your brain that this is the end of the day and you are about to switch from “feeling stressed” to “I don’t care”. There is an immediate relief-response associated with the ritual. It’s why you feel better after a sip of wine before the alcohol has had any chance to take effect at all.

That is to say; the euphoria is a) partly psychological and b) only euphoric in comparison to a base state that is worse than normal. That’s reinforced by the fact that we often have to learn how to like these things. No one enjoys their very first cigarette. It tastes horrible and makes you feel dizzy and sick. Kids don’t like alcohol because the taste is acquired – and the sweet spot between pleasantly tipsy and obnoxious drunk is something you have to learn how to calibrate. And, yes, let’s mention weed. Smoking dope does really odd things to your body and perception that you learn to like, but that would completely freak you out if they happened out of nowhere.

Drinking, smoking, coffee, eating sugar, overeating – these are all things we do for comfort. But the state of discomfort is caused by drinking, smoking, caffeine, sugar...

That’s true before we even consider the “bad effects”.

Cutting out bad things improves your health tangibly

According to the NHS, it can take months to really feel the health benefits of not smoking. Let me tell you from experience, those benefits can be profound. I smoked from the age of 16 to 31 and smoked heavily. I had pneumonia in my late 20s and carried on smoking. The stuff I was coughing up was so complex and fleshy, it looked sentient.

It only took three weeks for the chemical craving to stop. Just three weeks of feeling restless, anxious and compulsive. The physical effects took a while longer to dissipate. The colour of my face changed from pallid and slightly yellow, to a healthier pink. The acne on my chin cleared up. The stains on my fingers and nails faded away. Crucially, I stopped spending the first five minutes of every morning coughing bits of lung into the toilet. I could breathe.

When I gave up alcohol, I realised that the feeling of sluggishness I experienced every single day was down to the four units or more I was drinking every single night. Many people in the UK think a glass of wine or three every evening is fine for them – and it’s OK if that’s you. For me, I noticed pretty soon that I felt better when I don’t drink. I realised that I could wake up feeling rested rather than groggy and thick-headed. I coped with my stress more effectively because I felt fitter and more mentally alert. I didn’t need a drink to switch off at the end of the day.

You may be thinking, well der! Of course, if you drink you’ll feel it the next day. But if I had a pound for everyone I know who thinks they are not a “morning person” or who swears they need “an hour or two to wake up” – and who also drinks half a bottle of wine a night and says “I’m used to it” or “it doesn’t affect me”, I would have one hundred and thirty-eight pounds.

Giving things up by accident

While I’ve been counting calories, I’ve given some things up by accident. I’ve been vegetarian since I was 13 (with some missteps). I stopped smoking when I was 31. Giving up alcohol was more complex.

I stopped heavy, student-drinking in my early 30s and had a decade where I drank little and infrequently. I stopped completely about five years ago. Any lapses I’ve had since have been due to the horror people exhibit when you say you don’t drink. People in the UK would rather hear you’re under investigation by Operation Yewtree than find out you’re teetotal.

But I'm not just a teetotal, drug-free, non-smoker. My vegetarianism has tipped into veganism, I’ve stopped having refined sugar and given up bread. You must really hate me by now.

I wrote about all the health benefits I’ve experienced while losing weight in another blog post. Some of those effects I have to attribute to giving things up. Sugar was my Achilles heel. I could eat half a packet of biscuits without thinking, absent-mindedly dipping in as I worked or watched TV. I had made several conscious efforts to give it up previously, but hypoglycaemia made that tough. All it would take was an afternoon of teaching or a difficult admin task and my blood sugar would drop, I’d get faint and dizzy and the quickest fix was an intravenous flapjack.

Now that I am counting calories, that’s stopped – mainly because I have healthy, protein-heavy snacks and Huel to fall back on. And just like that, without really thinking, I’m off refined sugar and no longer craving it.

The point is, you can give things up in a positive way. It’s all about changing the story you tell yourself. If your “script” is one of denial and deprivation, then you will feel that you are missing out. Instead, you can focus on what you gain and – even better – take some pleasure from setting your own goals and achieving them. That way, you’ll get your dopamine hits from doing good.

Though if someone came up with a low-carb, sugar-free doughnut that tasted as good a real one, I’d be all over it.

*Please consider donating the price of a coffee to my campaign. If you're outside the EU, you can donate via PayPal instead. I'm trying to lose 52 lbs in weight in 52 weeks for Macmillan Cancer Support. I've shed 32 lbs so far, but there's more to go and I would like to raise £5200 overall.*

This week's update is a video rather than a blog post. My CMS doesn't allow video embeds – so here's a link instead.

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Please consider donating the price of a coffee to my campaign. If you're outside the EU, you can donate via PayPal instead. I'm trying to lose 52 lbs in weight in 52 weeks for Macmillan Cancer Support. I've shed 26 lbs so far, but there's more to go and I would like to raise £5200 overall.

I have been living a quantified life, probably rather pointlessly, for several years. I wear a tracker that counts the number of steps I do every day. It estimates how many calories I burn, measures my heart rate and tells me how well I'm sleeping. In turns out that spending several years aimlessly collecting data comes in handy when you start looking at all the numbers and use them to change your lifestyle. Who knew?

It's only been three months, but I already see improvements to my health and how I feel.

Fall in heart rate

For example, I can tell you that my average resting heart rate has dropped by 14 or 15 beats per minute since I began the diet. That’s probably down to a combination of two things; the increase in aerobic exercise, improving heart-health, and a slowdown in metabolism. My health tracker tells me that this is an improvement from “fair to average” to “good” for someone of my age. A slower metabolism is a double-edged sword, though. Yes, I don’t feel the need to eat as much and my heart is no longer fluttering like a hummingbird in my chest, but it’s also getting harder to burn calories and every pound lost is now a harder win.

Sleep apnoea

When I first met my wife a little over 11 years ago, I didn’t snore much at all. Not really. Over the years, as I put on weight, that changed. The bigger I got, the more snorty I became. We joked about it; about how phenomenally loud it was, like a plane taking off or a washing machine on spin. She would put earbuds in to block out the sound, turning the volume up full. My snoring was louder. I woke myself up sometimes, mid-snore, wondering what the noise was.

Then a little later, I began to stop breathing in my sleep. Sometimes for tens of seconds at a time, many times a night. My partner shook me awake when it first started, afraid that I’d died. I recorded a few nights snoring using an app on my phone and could hear myself choking, or stop breathing, over and over.

Earlier this year, I began waking from sleep gasping for air. It was the strangest feeling, like washing up on shore with head pounding and lungs deflated. It’s called obstructive sleep apnoea – a condition where the throat relaxes and collapses while you sleep, preventing you from breathing correctly. Your sleep is interrupted all night long by dozens and dozens of “micro-awakenings” that you’re unaware of. Sometimes you’re so deep in it that you begin to suffocate.

That has mostly stopped. The snoring became lighter as I lost weight until my wife tells me, it’s now at “normal” levels. I recorded myself snoring this week and, although it still sounded quite loud to me at points, there were no longer any long pauses or horrifying choking sounds. Progress, I guess.

Acid reflux

I’m sorry about this bit. Acid reflux isn’t a pleasant thing to think about. It’s worse having it. Acid reflux is indigestion that’s been to the gym and returned bulging with veins and muscles. I don't know where the gym is in that metaphor. Perhaps it's in your colon.

I’ve been taking medication to reduce acid reflux on and off for about six years. I started taking that very seriously, again, because of sleep disturbance. Sometimes I would wake up with painful heartburn or, worse, choking on acid at the back of my throat. Combined with the sleep apnoea, it wasn’t pleasant, and I did see my GP about it, who prescribed proton pump inhibitors and sent me on my way (two or three times).

I haven’t needed any antacid medication now for ten weeks and have had very few problems at all. No night-time indigestion, no waking with symptoms. The fact that it cleared up so quickly can’t be wholly attributed to weight-loss – but a side-effect of counting calories is that I don’t snack in the evenings. No crisps or biscuits or chocolate while I’m binging on Netflix for the snatched hours before bed. My meals are healthier and lighter, and I rarely feel too full. Partly, I was causing the acid reflux with my bad diet. Losing weight has helped also.

Fewer hypoglycaemic episodes

One of the main things I was apprehensive about going into this diet was managing my blood sugar levels. It turns out that worry was mostly unfounded. It’s not the amount you eat that triggers a hypoglycaemic response (I am reactive hypoglycaemic, which means I over-produce insulin), it’s what and when you eat.

My diet is far away from keto or Atkins, but my intake of simple carbs has dropped while I’ve been counting calories. I also eat much more protein. This happened fairly naturally. When you realise that a white roll “costs” 150 calories – the same as a portion of brown basmati rice (which is much more filling), you choose the complex carb instead. I realised I could make a griddled breakfast with very little oil, tomatoes, mushrooms, eggs and fake bacon (I don’t eat meat) that came in at 400 calories if I cut out the toast and hash browns. This type of substitution has taken me a long way. Complex carbs and protein have a lower GI (Glycaemic Index) and don’t trigger the sugar crash.

The other secret weapon is to eat six meals a day with calories portioned out. A typical day might look like this:

Breakfast: c300 Morning snack: (up to) 200 Lunch: c450 Afternoon snack: (up to) 200 Dinner: c450 Evening snack: (up to) 200

Each “meal” has protein and complex carbs – and that approach has been enough to control my blood sugar levels. I haven’t been dizzy, faint or fallen asleep in the afternoon since I started the diet.

Stamina and clarity

I don’t know whether this is just a general effect of managing my blood sugar levels more efficiently or whether it’s because I’m sleeping better, but I do feel more... awake. In one of my first posts, I recounted how low blood sugar made me dopey, made my thinking foggy and slow. I’m still forgetful and aphasic, but not as much. I think that’s probably just how I am.

I haven’t felt sleepy on the train home for a while, either. This week I had a particularly long day, getting up before 05:00, working until 17:00, arriving home after 19:30 tired but still mentally alert.

That brings its own problems. The quicker my thinking, the more likely I am to say the first thing that’s on my mind. But this is a blog about weight-loss, not my ongoing personal battle with catastrophic candour.

Overall, that’s a lot of positive physical change in just three months. There are odd things I’m noticing too, like my body’s asymmetry. Did you know that you lose weight in different places at different rates? You can. It’s weird.

I am working on other things too; increasing resistance training, trying to walk for pleasure rather than to get places. Making myself row five kilometres nowhere, three days a week.

I hate it when people talk about progress as a “journey” – but it kind of is. You go off in a direction you haven’t been before, and you keep finding new things. That’s what a journey is, right? Except, this is one measured in time rather than space.

Please consider donating to my campaign. I'm trying to lose 52 lbs in weight in 52 weeks for Macmillan Cancer Support.

I set up my fundraiser through a website called “Just Giving” because lots of people seem to use it and it allowed me to connect to my chosen charity, Macmillan Cancer Support.

Very recently, someone got in touch to tell me that they were unable to donate to my campaign. It turned out that they were trying to donate from the United States and that Just Giving – a UK based site – wouldn't accept overseas payments.

Damn. That's inconvenient.

As a freelance writer, I worked internationally. I would never have been able to make a living just writing for UK markets. Some days, days like today, I look at the weakness of the pound against the dollar and I wonder why I ever applied for a real job. The only conclusion I can possibly arrive at is that I am stupid.

Anyway. Although there are still some people who believe in nations and countries and DVD regions etc. I have always been able to work and network globally thanks to the power of the information superhighway. Do you remember when we called it that? What buffoons we were. The information super-landfill more like. The information super-red light district. The information super-dark alleyway. You get my drift.

Sorry, I'm having a very hard time sticking to the point today. The point is this. If you are not from the UK, you can now donate to my campaign to lose 52 lbs in 52 weeks for Macmillan Cancer Support too. It's easy. Instead of going to Just Giving, you can go to my PayPal link instead and I will deposit your donation in my Just Giving account ASAP. There's even a QR code. I'm told that some people use those. Here it is:

And because I am starting to amass links, I have created a page on Link Tree as well.

That's it. Short update this week. Next week I'll be a full three months into my challenge – a quarter of the way through – and I'll be updating with a post about all the physical changes that have happened in that time. Don't worry, it won't be weird.

Well, maybe a bit weird.

Please consider donating to my campaign. I'm trying to lose 52 lbs in weight in 52 weeks for Macmillan Cancer Support.

I think I got a bit cocky, for a moment. I have a plan in place based on “reasonable repetition” in my diet, strict adherence to 1800 calories a day, choosing low GI foods and doing extra exercise on days that I don’t go to work.

Two months in, it has worked and worked well. I started at 17stones and 12 lbs. At my weigh-in last week I was 16 stones and 7 lbs. Actually, 6.6 lbs – but 7 is what I recorded. My aim is to lose 52 lbs in total, over 52 weeks. Last week, I was sure that I was going to smash that. I’d been losing between 2 and 3 lbs every week on my regime and feeling pretty good on it.

This week, the scales haven’t gone down any further. One morning I stepped on after my shower and it had actually gone up... 16 stones and 7.4 lbs. What the heck?

Also, I haven’t been feeling great. My partner commented that my mood had improved since I started dieting and I had put that down to managing my blood sugar levels. But it was more than that. I had felt, generally, fitter and happier. This week though, I’ve had a real set back. The brain fog returned and I was grasping for words in meetings and workshops. On my walk to the train station, cold sweat would signal the onset of hypoglycaemia. Just then, it took me three attempts to spell hypoglycaemia.

All my fears about dieting were coming true – I felt like I was starving myself for nothing.

Ugh.

I had to find out what was happening, so spent an evening doing some research and, it turns out, it’s fairly common to hit a plateau a few weeks into a diet. There are a few theories about why this happens. Some sources suggest that your metabolism slows down as you diet, (which I was aware of for reasons I’ll return to in a future post). After a while of eating fewer calories, your body needs fewer calories. Our bodies are designed to maintain a status quo and if you impose a new one on it, it will adapt to it. Makes sense, then, that at some point the reduced number of calories will be all that you need.

Stupid body.

How do you course correct that? The advice I’ve found (and I’m not pointing to sources because it’s all so generic) pretty much says the same thing. Eat fewer calories, burn more calories. I’m already eating under 1800 calories a day, so I don’t have much wiggle room there, but I’m going to try cutting it down to 1700.

I could also be doing more exercise on down days. While I’ve been strict about calories, I’ve been more laissez-faire about exercise, fitting in a rowing session when I can and skipping if I felt under pressure from work to finish a task. Which is every second of every day. I recognise that I’m going to have to make time to do that.

Which brings me to another theory. Several sources say that stress inhibits weight loss. Recent biological studies suggest that cortisol, a hormone produced when we’re experiencing stress, not only makes us want to increase our caloric intake, it also promotes an increase in belly fat and slows down the metabolisation of fat.

I just wrote a paragraph describing everything that I am dealing with at work at the moment, then decided to delete it for two reasons:

  • 1. Discretion
  • 2. Oh my God just seeing it all written down makes me freak out.

And that’s why I’ve decided that after writing my journal entry today, I’ll spend the morning doing household chores. I’ll get the car cleaned and do some meal prep, because time spent doing that on a Sunday morning will buy me time during the week when I can be doing all the stuff that’s causing the stress. Let’s call it constructive procrastination.

Also, and it’s worthless fibbing about this, although I’ve been sticking to a strict calorie count I haven’t always been eating the right foods. That seems to make a difference. You have enough calories left in the day for a portion of chips, but that doesn’t make it a good idea to eat a portion of chips. With curry sauce and bits. I’m talking to myself now. This has not been a good week.

I think the real key here will be to break the cycle, whichever way I can. If that means increasing my activity levels a bit on down days and reducing calorie intake a bit more, I’ll try that. If it means making an extra effort to stick to “good”, low GI foods, I’ll do that. The only thing I won’t do is give up.

Please consider donating to my campaign. I'm trying to lose 52 lbs in weight in 52 weeks for Macmillan Cancer Support.

As part of my quest to lose weight, I’ve been sticking to a strict limit of 1800 calories a day. I've been doing that now for about nine weeks. Only forty-four weeks left to go...

If you’ve already read why it was so difficult for me to start a diet you’ll know I have a condition that makes it hard to maintain an even blood sugar level during the day. I’m busy too, with little time to calculate and document how many calories are in every meal I eat. One strategy that works for me is reasonable repetition; eating similarly composed meals for breakfast and lunch.

I’ve not written about the other strategy before because, when I do, people look at me funny.

Here’s my confession. I am using a “nutritionally complete” meal replacement system called Huel. A powder that you mix with water, it’s made mainly from pea and rice protein, oats, sunflower oil and a cocktail of micronutrients. It looks like a thick milkshake and tastes... sort of like a thick milkshake.

I feel like I have to explain this. You see, I was a technology journalist in a previous life, which means I’m a serial early adopter. I must be one of the only members of Gen X with a TikTok account. I first wrote about nutritionally complete meal replacement drinks back in 2013 and I’ve tried quite a few of them since – some for longer periods than others. Huel is the only one I’ve ever really, honestly, liked.

For me, there are lots of things to recommend Huel. First off, it’s vegan. I’m a slightly less militant, common-or-garden vegetarian, but I appreciate the work that’s gone into formulating a meal replacement that contains no animal by-products at all. Second, it doesn’t contain any soy protein. Soy protein just doesn’t agree with me. It bloats my stomach and makes me gassy. Goodbye, veggie burgers and meal replacements full of soy protein powder.

Third, Huel has a really low glycaemic index or GI. Its GI of 27 (out of 100) is lower than lentils or porridge oats. There's a ready-mixed version that has an even lower GI of 25. Anything over 70 is considered high and there are more foods close to this bracket than you might think (most bread, potatoes, white rice). This is a good thing. It means that Huel doesn’t spike my blood sugar and cause the reactive hypoglycaemia I dreaded so much going into this challenge.

I left the main reason I like Huel to last. It enables me to count calories really quickly. I should point out that Huel isn’t specifically designed for weight loss at all. It’s not like those horrible pink diet shakes you can probably still get from Boots or Superdrug. It’s a consistent, predictable and nutritionally complete food. Two scoops blended with about 450ml of water makes a replacement meal that’s just over 300 calories. It takes about two minutes to prepare.

Some people, hardcore Silicon Valley post-human, bulletproof-coffee swilling types, replace all their meals with Huel or similar systems. Me? I just use it to make my dieting day easier. Most days, especially when I have a long or tough day ahead, I’ll have 300 calories worth for breakfast – but it’s most useful for me in between meals. Instead of having a muffin or flapjack mid-morning, I have 150 calories of Huel. It helps me to avoid impulsive, fattening snacks, keeps me on an even keel and, when you mess with it a bit, doesn’t taste at all bad.

The most important thing is that it's working. With carefully balanced diet and exercise, I've lost 15 lbs in nine weeks.

A typical, busy day’s menu might be:

  • 07:00 – Huel for breakfast
  • 10:00 – A 150 calorie snack-size Huel
  • 13:00 – A raw salad with a large portion of protein or some dhal with pitta
  • 15:00 – A small portion of Huel again
  • 18:00 – Whatever the hecking heck I want for dinner, within my calorie limit
  • 20:30 – Some popcorn, a few nuts, a banana or a cup of dairy-free yoghurt

Then, at the weekend or quieter days, I’ll have overnight muesli or banana and peanut butter on thick, wholemeal toast for breakfast. Because I can. Other days I’ll have what I call a “Huel fast” which isn’t a fast at all because Huel is food. It’s just food that you drink.

It’s not all sunshine and unicorns. The standard flavoured versions are too sweet for my mature palate. Fortunately, there’s an unflavoured, unsweetened version. I mix this half and half, a scoop of each, with the vanilla or banana flavoured versions. I’ve also experimented with my own “recipes”. My favourite is two scoops of vanilla Huel, a scoop of unflavoured, a shot of cold espresso and a teaspoon of cocoa powder. Topped up with water in a tall shaker and thoroughly mixed, it’s mocha flavoured. This makes enough (for me) to have breakfast and a mid-morning snack.

A general tip; I always make up my Huel the night before and leave it in the fridge until morning. It tastes better cold and leaving it overnight improves the consistency massively.

To repeat, Huel isn’t diet food – but it is vegan, nutritionally complete, easy to make and easy to calorie count. It’s the latter characteristic that has made it a Godsend for my diet. As a long as I have a flask of it in my bag, I can always let others eat flapjack.