Over the years I have, in a modest way, spent a lot of time gaining and losing weight (you can see this by scrolling my body composition graph to the left.) And finally I have realised what might have been obvious to others. In fact it's 10% diet, 5% exercise and 85% desire.
You could lose weight on a diet of Skittles and a pogo-stick exercise regime. You would almost certainly need more desire for the Skittles and Pogo plan than for a Paleo/Primal and Interval plan... but for anyone with plenty of desire, that doesn't matter.
I touched on the idea that really wanting it is the important thing in a post last year about exercise and weight loss.
Paleo and Interval Training Failure
What triggered my epiphany was coming home a stone heavier from an epic two weeks of bad living on a business trip, whereupon I decided it was time to lose weight. So I ate Paleo/Primal and did regular interval training.
And nothing happened.
Sometimes I would do well during the week, then overeat at restaurants when out with friends. At other times, I would gorge on Paleo/Primal treats after meals. Then there were full-blown lapses, usually alcohol triggered, in which I would blow a week of effort in one night.
Too many internal conversations resulted in victory for the little red guy with horns. In short, I didn't care enough about losing to make the sacrifices. I lacked the desire.
How Terrible Wisdom...
After a time, this became frustrating. I knew exactly what to do but apparently lacked the ability to do it. I was reminded of De Niro's line in Angel Heart, paraphrasing Sophocles - "...how terrible is wisdom when it brings no profit to the wise..."
Then something changed about 7 weeks ago. A clear and compelling set of reasons for getting my act together emerged.
Until then, my reasons had been 1) health and 2) weight. Apparently not enough.
Then, two new reasons emerged, and everything changed.
First, mountain running. This has been a hobby for a number of years and I have always been able to run up mountains easily enough to make it fun. This year I have entered some challenging races. One of them is 17 miles and involves going up and down several of England's highest peaks.
My new layer of fat and reduced fitness were becoming a problem. It was no longer easy.
Proving the Doctors Wrong
The second reason came after a visit to the hospital.
I have been seeing a haematologist since 2005. It's a long story you can pick up here if you are interested. To summarise, my blood readings are low. They think I have a condition called aplastic anemia, which implies immune problems. I think their normal ranges are wrong because they are based on a population who've overstimulated their own immune systems with the wrong food. They keep asking me whether I've had any infections recently and I keep telling them I've had one, three-day cold since 1996.
At the end of May, my blood readings were 'better' than they have been in years; but the smile of approval on the specialist's face did not fill me with hope. The previous few months had been the most unhealthy of my life since going Paleo/Primal in 2007.
I realised this was my opportunity to prove (to myself, at least) that my hypothesis holds water. If I could go perfectly Paleo/Primal for the 4 months until my next tests, and my bloods went back to their usual 'worrying' levels, it would be compelling.
Losing a Stone in 6 Weeks
Armed with these new motivations, I suddenly made rapid progess. The change was profound. Here is an exerpt from my body composition graph to illustrate.
From May to July
In about 8 weeks I appear to have dropped 17 lbs and 5% body fat; but in reality that initial steep dive included flushing out the post-binge inflammation and water retention.
The real progress was between "blowing it for the last time" (mid June) and today. That's still 14 lbs and 3% fat in about 6 weeks.
Clearly for me the health and weight motivations were not enough. As I noted in my post about the business trip, I was just not getting ill. It's hard to be motivated by health if you are having fun and not suffering the consequences. Okay, I didn't feel great, but I was functioning comfortably. And as you've probably noted, my weight and fat percentage, even after the business trip, would be the envy of some - so the vanity angle was not powerful enough either.
I needed more, and when I found more, things changed.
Everyone is different. What motivates me might not motivate you; but if you want to lose weight, I think the most important thing to do is consciously identify the reasons it's important to you, and make them the centrepiece of your efforts.
Yes, eating Paleo/Primal and doing interval-based intense exercise appears (from my experience and the research) to be the best way to achieve that, but if you don't have the desire, it might not work as well as you expect.
In 4 months I will report back on the blood test question - will my hypothesis be supported? Will I bother trying to explain it to my haematologist?
I sometimes consider my fluctuations in Paleo/Primal adherence in the context of Mark Sisson's 80:20 principle. I think that by the end of this 4 months I will have clawed back my percentage.