This is a guest post by Chris Sandel. Read About the Author below to read more about his work.
I remember when I was 23 and just starting to focus on diet and exercise. I picked up a copy of Body For Life and was just in awe. I saw these before and after pictures and was so excited to think that “this could be me!”
If you’re not aware of the book, it’s a 12-week nutrition and exercise program. You do weights three days a week, intervals three days a week and eat six meals a day in a specific manner.
Nothing too extreme in the whole scheme of things…but it was the testimonials and the before and after photos that really got me.
I’d always been a small guy. I’m 5’7 and at the time weighed 59kg or 130 pounds. Clothes shopping was tough; everything would be swimming on me unless I wanted to wear t-shirts with a picture of the Power Rangers on the front.
At the time I was single. Truth is, at 23, I’d never had a proper girlfriend. It was something that really bothered me. I wished I could be taller. I wished I could be more muscly. I wished I was that guy that walked into a room and turned heads.
So when I found Body For Life I thought, “this is it, this is going to be the solution.”
So I followed it to the letter of the law. While most people who do the program are trying to lose weight, I was hoping for the opposite. So I was adding in extra food, as per the instructions, to help with this weight gain.
I was getting up before work to go to the gym. I was taking all my food to work in Tupperware. I didn’t stray at all from exactly what it told me to do.
And so what happened? In a word, nothing. Actually, it was worse than nothing. I lost weight!
I had started the program with the goal of hitting 65kg or 143 pounds, but instead I finished up at 58kg or 130 pounds.
I remember feeling pretty disappointed. In my head I’d already starting thinking about showing off my new body. Going on beach holidays. Having to buy new clothes. Being noticed (and praised) because of how I looked.
Fast forward to present day. I’m now 34 years old. I’m in a fantastic relationship and having been with Ali, my girlfriend, for nearly 5 years. I’m really confident in my body and who I am.
And my weight? I weigh around 62kg or 136 pounds. So while I have filled out a little and am not as thin as before, my body is fairly similar to how it was all those years ago.
In March Ali and I went on holiday to Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt. It was a package holiday in a resort and all the food was included. There was a buffet option for breakfast and dinner, as well as other restaurants we could go to in the complex.
As a game, Ali and I decided to see who could put on the most weight while on holiday. We were going to be away for a week so we thought we would see who could gain the most in this time. This was just a friendly game, we weren’t going to make ourselves sick, but we wanted to see what would happen.
I should mention that Ali is similar to myself. She has a decent appetite, can put away a lot of food and has always been lean.
So we go to town on eating on the first day. We have a “three plate minimum” at the buffet and are able to hit this easily. We weigh ourselves on the first night and we’ve both put on a 1kg or 2pounds.
We continue with our eating on day two. Going for anything that we fancy and piling our plates high.
But by day three we’re both starting to feel a little full. Our “three plate minimum” becomes a struggle. We are by no means eating light meals (a whole pizza or a burger and chips for lunch was pretty standard) but we’re not hitting the heady heights of the first couple of days.
So we get to the end of the holiday and before leaving our room to head to the airport, we have our weigh in, biggest loser style.
But the results were a little disappointing. Despite all our eating and all our attempts, both of use weighed the exact same as when we turned up on holiday. Absolutely nothing had changed.
Now most people reading this will probably be secretly (or not so secretly) thinking, “how lucky are they?” And you’re right, we are lucky.
But what if I wasn’t happy with how much I weighed and really wanted to be bigger and get up to 70 kg or 155 pounds? How devastated would I feel? Even when I eat inordinate amounts of food, to the point of waking the next day and still feeling full, my weight won’t shift.
And while people think that mine is luck, how different would it be if it was the other way around.
If I was someone who was 150 kg or 330 pounds. Instead of eating everything in sight, I keep my calorie intake really low. I spend a week doing lots of salad eating and living off watery soups. At the end of the week I weigh myself and my weight hasn’t changed.
When I tell someone this, what’s the most likely reaction? That they don’t believe me. That I must be lying. That I need to have more willpower. That I have done this to myself.
Over many years I have come to the realisation that we have very little control over our weight. Are there things that you can do that make it more likely you’ll lose or gain weight? Sure there are. Do some people seem to put on or lose weight easier than others? Yep, this is true.
But in the end, there are no guarantees.
One person can overhaul their habits, start eating better, start doing more exercise and lose a lot of weight. Another person can do the same thing, but see very little change on the scale. Both could become much healthier, but only one gets the “bonus” of weight loss.
And just so you know, what I’m referring to here is the long term. Most people can lose weight over a short period; very few keep it off over the long haul.
Do I think my weight is always going to be stable? Honestly, I have no idea.
A couple of years ago it jumped up to 66 kg or 145 pounds. This may seem insignificant but it was the highest I’d ever been.
At the time my girlfriend was very sick and we didn’t know why. It went on for over a year.
I was building up my nutrition practice and having to work three jobs on the side just to stay afloat. Some months we didn’t stay afloat; I’d have to ask my parents to throw some money my way (not cool for someone in there 30s). To say it was stressful is an understatement.
During this time I was eating less because I was just so busy. I’d recently got a dog and she was still very young, so I was out walking her two to three hours a day. So despite eating less and increasing my exercise, my weight increased to as high as it had ever been.
With time the stress subsided and with it so did my weight. I went back to a regular routine of eating more and it continued to drop to 62kg, where it has now stayed.
So while my weight may be steady most of time, the idea that I have ultimate control over it is a façade. I don’t think about it because I’m not trying to change it, but if I were, I’d imagine it would be a fairly infuriating and largely unsuccessful battle.
I’m under no illusions. I squarely have thin privilege working in my favour. I know it is easier for me to be ok with my weight because I fit the narrow standards of society. But it’s not the only reason.
I know plenty of men and women who have a much “better” body than me who torture themselves constantly about how they need to be leaner or bigger or more toned. I equally know people who have a “worse” body but who are more confident in their own skin than I’ll ever be.
While we tell ourselves things will be easy when we weigh a certain amount, really it’s not true. And for a lot of people, the “goal” for how they want to look is never going to be a reality, no matter how much they want it.
Which means the only sensible thing to do is to start being ok with who you are right now. Maybe through improving your health and your lifestyle, you’ll lose the weight or get the body you hoped for. But if this is to happen, let it be a bonus. Don’t have it be the expectation, where you put your life on hold until it happens. Because with this approach, most people are going to be sorely disappointed.
About the Author
Chris Sandel is a health and nutrition expert who runs his own company called 7 Health. He works with clients all over the world through private consultations. He also creates and runs online training programs.
Chris is non-dogmatic in his approach and wants clients to find the healthiest way for them to live, whatever that may be. He helps clients improve not only their physical health, but also their mental and emotional health and has a specific interest in improving client’s relationship with food and body image issues.
His goal is for people people to be healthy in the easiest possible way so they can get on with the more important things in life.