Monday 19 March 2018

Losing weight is all in the mind

Last year she lost almost three stone, but Yvonne Hogan still enjoys eating chocolate, biscuits — whatever she wants. Her secret? It’s straightforward, and you can do it too

Yvonne Hogan. Photo: Collins
Yvonne Hogan. Photo: Collins

Yvonne Hogan

Last year I lost two-and-a-half stone. I eat whatever I want and I never put on a pound. Want to know my secret? Chocolate, biscuits, cake -- I deprive myself of nothing. If I wanted, I could have wine, beer -- anything my heart desires -- and never put on a pound of fat.

You are probably thinking, 'Now she is going to go on about moderation bla bla bla. She probably has one chocolate and a sniff of a biscuit once a month'. But you would be wrong.

There is nothing moderate about the way I enjoy chocolate. I have been known to eat a whole box in one sitting. And I don't mean one of the small ones -- I am talking two layers.

And that is on top of a fry for breakfast, a burger for lunch and a steak for dinner. With dessert. Yum.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? And in a way it is. This eating with wild abandon, this utter piggery, which really does happen, by the way, pretty much every weekend, is just one small part of a much bigger picture.

Regular readers of Health & Living magazine will be familiar with my story. To recap briefly: This time last year I was 81.3kg, which is almost 13 stone, and a generous size 14. I came back from my Christmas holidays and decided that enough was enough. I would give up wine until Easter and the weight would just fall off me.

It didn't. I couldn't understand it. I thought I was doing everything right. I was having three meals a day -- porridge for breakfast, salad for lunch -- and doing cardio in the gym three or four times a week. But the scales stayed pretty much the same.

So I went to see fitness expert and strength coach Damien Maher at BFit4Life and promised to train with him a couple of times a week, follow all his rules and write a monthly column until I reached my goal of 16pc body fat.

And so I did. I shared how I changed my diet -- losing the grains and refined carbohydrates and eating eggs, fish and poultry with salad for breakfast, lunch and dinner and having snacks, maybe nuts or carrots and hummus, between meals -- and how I burned fat and built muscle through weight training with Damien.

My final column was in August and I weighed in at 65.7kg -- just over 10 stone, with a dress size of 8/10 and a body-fat percentage of 16.2.

Five months later, and I am still pretty much the same weight. If anything I have got smaller as some of the new skinny clothes I bought are now a little bit on the big side.

I still do all the things I did to actually lose the weight -- I work out four times a week, still under Damien's guidance, and eat healthily Monday to Friday, but at the weekends I cheat.

But instead of having a 'cheat meal', which really should be the addition of a treat to one of my meals, I just have whatever takes my fancy, and as much of it as I please (even though Damien would strongly disapprove).

Sometimes it's a whole box of chocolates, sometimes it is just one biscuit. But whatever it is, I have it. Life is just too hard and too short to do otherwise.

But, and this is a big but, I can only do this because I have lost all that fat and built muscle. Muscle burns a lot more calories than fat. Until I lost the weight, I was extremely disciplined and had no cheats at all.

So if you are fat and reading this and think you can truffle away Saturday and Sunday if you are good Monday to Friday, you are sorely mistaken. Losing weight is no walk in the park and keeping it off is even harder.

And, here's the bit I never realised until now: it doesn't happen in the gym or in the kitchen. It happens in the mind.

Being fat is a psychological issue. You are fat or thin because of everything you do, not just how you eat or your activity levels -- you are fat because of how you think. It is at once both simple and complex. That is why most people who attempt to lose weight either don't succeed or lose weight but put it right back on again.

It appears deceptively simple if you try to break it down into its constituent parts. Take me, for example. I was fat for a number of reasons. I was fat because I drank wine every weekend, because I was a social smoker, because I ate all the wrong things in the wrong amounts at the wrong times.

I was fat because I had a sedentary job and I didn't exercise enough and, when I did, I was doing the wrong kind of exercise.

I was fat because there were as many messages out there telling me that I was a 'normal' weight as there were pictures of emaciated models telling me I would never be thin enough.

I was fat because I bought into the multi-million euro scam that is the diet industry. I counted calories. I read all the books. I obsessed about food and its fat content. I cut out this and ate only that.

I bought all the ridiculous teas and potions and it was all a complete waste of time. Because, when you buy into these fads, what you are buying into is the feeling that you are doing something, the illusion of change, when complete change is what is required.

And herein lies the complexity. To go from fat to thin permanently, you need to completely overhaul pretty much every aspect of your life.

You need to change how you work, how you sleep, how you maintain relationships, how you socialise, how you see yourself, how you think.

Between February and July last year I, for all intents and purposes, completely reprogrammed my brain. That is why I have absolutely no problem with eating just lean meat and vegetables Monday to Friday, and why it is no hardship to turn down chocolate, biscuits, potatoes -- anything at all.

And, I have completely lost my taste for and interest in alcohol, more of which later.

All this came to pass because I was ready for change. Of course, I was lucky in that I was able to have personal training sessions to get me started, but the reason everything worked was because I really wanted it to. I wanted everything to change.

There wasn't a particular 'aha' moment that I can point to as the trigger. It was more a series of unfortunate events, like being tagged in a friend's wedding pictures on Facebook looking like Jabba the Hutt, or trying on clothes in a dressing room and finding everything uncomfortably snug, set against a backdrop of general discontent.

Because being fat was only a symptom of a much greater malaise -- I was ridiculously bored. My life had kind of gotten away from me. My week was consumed entirely by work and my weekends were consumed entirely by socialising, which always involved food and wine, a hangover on Saturday, The Fear on Sunday and Monday coming around all too quickly when the whole cycle started over. Boring, boring, boring.

So I focused on losing weight. And when I wasn't able to do anything about it myself, I decided to get help. It worked because I was willing to do the work, and, very unusual for me I might add, I was willing to be told what to do.

It worked because Damien was the Terminator. I learned very early on that there was no point in arguing with him, so I decided that I would trust him completely and just do whatever he said, and it worked. The pounds melted away, my body shape changed and so on.

But the biggest change has been psychological. Through this process, my whole outlook on life has changed. I am more disciplined, more focused, and a lot of the things I do to stay healthy and in shape are automatic.

Take the food, for example. When I began with Damien, he had me keep a food diary where I wrote down everything I ate and at what time I ate it. He would then analyse it and tell me what I needed to increase, decrease and so on. I did this for almost six months.

Through this process I was completely re-educated and my whole attitude towards food changed, almost without me noticing. I now make healthy choices automatically, no bother at all, whether I am eating out or at home.

I have completely changed the way I view food -- I see it as fuel, not as a recreational activity. If I come across something I like during the week, I note it and have it at the weekend.

Likewise, exercise. Four mornings a week, I work out for about an hour. Though I certainly don't always enjoy it, I enjoy the benefits it brings. I enjoy always feeling good when I wake up in the morning and having plenty of energy.

I enjoy never having a sore back, no matter how long I sit in front of a computer, and I enjoy the fact that I rarely get headaches or indigestion and that I haven't been sick in over a year. I enjoy the fact that I no longer procrastinate when I have something to do, that little stresses me out and that I have done something for me before I even get to work.

I recognise that all these things are a result of exercise, so even when I am not loving whatever workout I am doing, I do it.

And you can do it too.

Yvonne Hogan is the Editor of 'Weekend' magazine

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