That’s all I’m thinking whilst I’m struggling to keep up with my friends.
I’m 26, in the prime of my life and somehow I’m struggling to complete a 12 mile hike.
The terrain is rough and my ankles feel weak. Thoughts are running through my bewildered mind. What could be wrong with me? Did I not eat enough food for breakfast? Have I eaten too much sugars? Most of all, is it usual to be sweating this much?
I need to banish these thoughts though, because as I’m drifting off in my head, my companions are steadily leaving me behind. Disappearing into the mist, have they even noticed that I’ve fallen behind? With every haphazard step forward, I somehow manage to lose momentum until I slowly, pathetically, slump to my knees. Defeated. There’s a wheeze in my breath. Although it must be less than 5 degrees, I’m roasting hot, but I’ve got no energy to rip off any layers. I wait for my friends to find me and close my eyes.
That was the day I realised that I was not a fit, healthy woman in her twenties.
Although my figure was the envy of most of the girls in the office – I had somehow managed to achieve it without the aid of exercise or healthy eating. My wonderful genes had gifted me with a slim figure but had also allowed me to lose any motivation whatsoever to exercise or eat the right foods. As a result, I had the body of an aspiring underwear model with the biology of a middle-aged divorcee who’d long ago given up on finding another partner. In short, I needed to make some drastic changes.
My journey to a better, healthier life started with my friends pulling me out of the mud and dragging me along the rest of the hike.
I’m no stranger to perseverance or hard work. I excelled at University and I feel like I’ve achieved a lot in my relatively short professional career, but working on my health is another matter altogether. For so long, I spent literally no time considering how the things I ate or drank affected my biology. Now I’m meticulously planning every meal and, most importantly, getting regular exercise.
After completing the hike, nearly a year ago, I felt something. Somewhere beyond the pain and exhaustion, lay the tantalising taste of success. I might not have done it in style, but with the help of my friends, I’d done it. That feeling of accomplishment was something I was familiar with, it was a resource that I knew I could mine. So I went to work.
I’ve been running for the last year, making use of the NHS’ ‘Couch to 5k Challenge’. It’s a great programme that doesn’t take up much of your time and is absolutely free. Spread over 9 weeks, the downloadable podcasts guide you through a steady running plan to get you out of the house and out running. It’s a perfect solution for those people who want to start running, but don’t know how to start.
Since that day of strife on Dartmoor I’ve completely rejigged my lifestyle choices. Good nutrition and regular exercise now come at the forefront of my weekly schedule – so that in another year, I should be running my first marathon.
There comes a point in every man’s life when he becomes accustomed to the way he looks.
He stops yearning after attaining the six-packs that adorn the ripped bodies of younger men and he learns to love the gut that slowly starts to swell around his midriff.
The precedent is set by thousands of middle-aged men the world over; they marry (or settle into a happy bachelorhood of isolation) and allow themselves to expand and expand.
This is exactly what happened to me.
Wedding bells were not the death toll of my youthful spry build. Those fateful knells were issued forth from the school cafeteria. As a Secondary School educator, I’ve never had the chance to leave teaching establishments. From my own education in school, to college to university and then back to school for my training and work. With each of these places of education came a cafeteria loaded with cheaply priced food stuffs that were tailor made to build on the puppy fat I’d been born with as a child and develop my gut into the belt stretching Goliath that it is today.
Years of lunch time indulgence have led to my appetite increasing along with my waistline. 1pm was, unashamedly, the best part of my day – but all this was about to change.
You see, although us men may shed our self-conscious ideals of gaining the rock hard bodies of sports professionals over time, it doesn’t mean that our habits can’t be changed by an earth-shattering trip to the Doctor.
“You are not a healthy man, Jarred.” The Doctor was stating the obvious. He’d apparently learnt from experience that it was always best to make his diagnosis absolutely crystal clear, especially when it came to talking to middle-aged men with strong cases of denial. “If you don’t change your eating habits – you will die.” No beating around the bush from this guy. His no-nonsense approach worked and I left with a stack of documentation and educational pamphlets outlining the options that I had.
The healthiest, but by far the most challenging, route was to bring a halt to the lunch time binges, rein in my eating across the board and engage in a rigorous course of exercise – a concept that had become completely alien to me over the last twenty years. As much as I knew this technique would work, the thought of putting an end to my daily demolition of canteen lunches, with the aid of my will power alone, did not bear thinking about.
The next option was one that I had not even dreamed of. Invasive, dangerous and completely life-changing – getting a gastric band fitted was considered an extreme option but one that my condition warranted. The thought of voluntarily undergoing surgery made me feel both queasy and ashamed.
Waiting in the plastic surgeon’s office for my first consultation – I looked around uneasily at my fellow patients. Octogenarians with eye-wateringly taught skin looked on unblinkingly, nervy mothers perused breast augmentation pamphlets and blackened eyes peered out from behind layers of bandage dressing as teenagers recovered from getting their nose job surgery. Did I really belong with these people, waiting in this room to visit the same doctor?
2 weeks after having the gastric band fitted, I can confirm that this was absolutely the right move for me. After the surgery, my hunger for mammoth meals dissipated and my waistline began slowly retreating until, one day, I found myself slipping the belt up one fateful notch.
Progress is slow, but once an inch of it is made, a new appetite was born inside of me – an appetite for change.
A few months back, the Doctor told me that I had to cut my cholesterol.
Amongst drinking less and avoiding eating cheese or fatty foods – the chief directive I was given was to stop eating meat.
This was a big deal for me, a guy who lives for fried chicken, steak and bacon sandwiches. I know that many people live fine without incorporating meat into every single meal of the day – for me it’s simply a force of habit. This week, I’ve got to approach my life in a whole new way. I need to take my weekly dietary plans and turn them completely on their head.
This week, I’m not eating meat.
Up in the morning for work. The prospect of starting the day with no bacon sandwich kept me up all night. I’m tired, hungry and I’m pretty sure a bowl of oats and fruit compote isn’t going to get me through the rest of the day.
Lunch time and all I have to look forward to is a rocket salad with some Parmesan cheese. Still no bacon, although I do feel oddly energetic.
Come dinner, I’m starving and all I can think about is demolishing a giant fillet steak. But I can’t. I look through my options and settle for spaghetti arrabiata. It’s OK, I guess. I go to bed feeling oddly light.
I wake up early, swinging my feet out of bed somehow feels easier than usual. Maybe it’s because I’m starving for breakfast and the sooner I wake up, the sooner I can eat my measly muesli.
For lunch, I go out to meet my missus, Kelly. She eats a sirloin steak, just to taunt me. The lovely bloody juices mingle with the mayonnaise on her plate and I feel a sinking feeling in my chest – it feels like heartbreak. I have another salad – totally demoralised, I don’t even finish it.
Dinner is less challenging, I’ve barely eaten all day, so I wolf down the goat’s cheese lasagna in a heartbeat, not even clocking that it had no mince in.
Maybe it’s my imagination, but it feels as if my jeans are getting looser. I just eat fruit for breakfast – forgot how filling bananas were…
When we break for lunch in the office, our boss surprises us with pizza. He was even thoughtful enough to by a Vegetarian one. The guys in the office swerve it in favour for the Pepperoni and I end up eating 4 slices, leaving the rest for the girls in reception – I fall asleep at my desk 1 hour later.
I’m strangely eager to get stuck into my salad this evening, maybe it was all the greasy food I had at lunch.
The aftermath of the pizza hits home and I gladly munch down a large bowl of bran flakes with bananas – hoping the fibre will do it’s work.
Just a basic soup for lunch today, Tomato & Basil. People are starting to peer curiously at my ‘healthy’ lunches now, some of them even look a little jealous.
As I tuck into a vegetarian chilli, I watch Man Vs Food and imagine tackling the 16lb Burger on screen. My mouth salivates over what I can’t have. I go to sleep and dream of swimming in a thick, creamy pink ocean. I almost drown but just manage to cling on to a floating barrel in the nick of time. As my grip slips, the barrel rolls round to reveal wriggling legs and a soft, gore soaked belly. The pig squeals and I wake up sweating.
I usually buy a fry up on Fridays from my local greasy spoon. I slide in there and subtly order a fried egg on toast. I get sideways glances from the chef and the waitress smirks at my bashful appearance. When my tea arrives, it’s in a pink mug. I leave red faced, their laughter ringing in my ears.
At lunch, I’m halfway through my noodle bean salad when Sandra, from reception, leans over and picks a edamame bean out of my Tupperware pot. She looks me dead in the eyes as she drops it on her tongue. As she slowly chews, her eyes roll to the back of her head. Sandra sits back down and we both continue eating in silence.
During my dinner of pea soup, I think about what could possibly be attractive about vegetables, let alone erotic. I fall asleep in front of the television watching MasterChef.
I wake up at 6am on my sofa. The TV has turned itself off. The sun is just rising, casting a pale blue light through the curtains of the bay window. I’m overcome by a hunger for oats.
Walking up to the pub, to meet the boys, I feel distinctively lighter on my feet. Unbidden, I think of edamame beans and a smile creeps onto my face, as I breath in the fresh cool air of Winter.
I never thought roast squash couscous would make for good drunk food. Swaying slightly as I scoff down my food, I’m interrupted thinking about my evening plans when I receive a message from Sandra.
There are long narrow banners with hand-painted images of rice-plantations and delicately formed geisha on the walls. A strange, fragrant smell hangs in the air, mingling with the mustier smells from the night before. I don’t eat any food for breakfast.
As I ride the bus back home, I think about my last week. How could so much have changed in just a few days. It seems strange, changing your diet shouldn’t change your life this much. Somehow, I feel more alive than ever before.