You can change your life for the better, even in a terrible year. Here’s how I did:

People have been asking me for a few months why I haven’t been writing a blog about my year, which has seen so much change. Well, here it all is, in one self-indulgent go:

(Self-indulgent photo c/o Generator – thanks guys. And I wasn’t drinking that wine…)

This time last year, as the clock wound down to the end of the year, I was fed up. 47 years old, overweight, tired, stressed, drinking too much in the party season (and generally), and not happy with my personal trajectory. Classic mid-life crisis.

Sound familiar?

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the budget didn’t run to a red Ferrari, so I made a decision: to make a few personal changes. An edit or two. Nothing major. Just a few small tweaks to correct the direction of travel. Take control of myself, find out who’s in charge; that sort of thing.

Then I started thinking: what exactly do I want to change? As it turned out, the list started to build pretty quickly - almost by itself – and three items appeared almost by magic:

First up, weight. Not happy with 180cm and 95kg. A swift visit to an online BMI calculator (I randomly chose https://www.kiwicover.co.nz/your-health/bmi/calculator) didn’t exactly give me good news, either:

It didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know, but I knew I really didn’t like being on the way to the dreaded red box of obesity…

Right, so I needed to do something about that – well, I can’t do much about the 180cm sadly, but that 95kg really needed some attention. Tick, on the list. I was already enjoying the 5:2 fasting approach to life, but in truth it had really become more a 6:1 and I clearly wasn’t being rigorous about it. BMI scores don’t lie.

Next: booze. Clearly doing too much of that. Christmas in New Zealand is summer. Add Christmas parties to sunshine and every day becomes an opportunity to get your laughing gear around a bottle (or several) of the fizzy brown stuff. Right, can we cut that down? Hmm, never been that great at moderation. How about some time off? Might be a good idea.

Then, exercise. I had started to spend time in the gym and was enjoying it. That’s good. Why not a bit more? Why not, indeed…

Finally, most important of all, and more so than of the three things I had already listed, was that when I was honest with myself, I wasn’t really proud of the life I was living. Yes, I was doing some interesting and challenging work that seemed to make a difference to the people I was doing it for, but becoming a fat, drunken slob wasn’t exactly filling my emotional coffers with gold, and it didn’t make me a particularly proud husband or father either.

Ok. So I needed to do something. Make some changes. Take some time off from the evil booze, work on the diet and go harder at the gym. Easy, right?

But for how long? A month? I had done that before, many times. Too short. No way.

Three months? Perhaps. Sounded a bit half-hearted. Six? I could get a bit done in six months, surely.

But then I wondered, ‘what if I made change for a whole year?’ What could happen in a year? What would happen? Would it be possible? How would I look at life? And how would life treat me? I thought I would certainly find out who was in control of me over the course of a year.

Then my evil brain started to apply goals, seemingly all by itself:

  1. Stop drinking alcohol for a year
  2. Up the fasting tempo – and set myself a weight goal: 80kg by the end of the year. 15kg. Seemed reasonable. I left school at 79kg, so I knew I had been there once, at least.
  3. Give the gym more of a go - from 3 days a week to 5.

Bloody brain. Evil sod. Where did all of that come from?

But it had stuck. I had made a challenge to myself. And I now had to meet it.

So I got ready, using December to read Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Control Alcohol (spoiler alert: it shows you how to cut it out altogether). I read it twice, just to be sure. And then I told my family that this was my plan for 2018. Their general disbelieving – although supportive – attitude only hardened my resolve.

1st January 2018. Ok, deep breaths. Off we go.

And it was surprisingly easy. Because I was focusing on the things I could actually do, like go to the gym and fasting, I wasn’t thinking so much about the things I might have been missing – like the naughty fizzy stuff. And I found that on my fasting days (always Monday and either Weds/Fri or Thursday), if I was busy I really didn’t notice any hunger.

Telling people about it – when asked to go out for a beer – prompted the same 2-phase reactions. First they’d look at me with a sad look on their face, thinking ‘poor him, he’s going to miss all the fun’, and then almost instantly afterwards they’d perk up when they thought ‘it’s ok: he won’t last’.

And then the weight started to fall off. Every day I fasted I dropped 0.5kg, and because I wasn’t drinking alcohol - consuming all those dead calories and sugar - the first month saw a staggering drop from 95kg to 88.9kg. 6.1 kilos! ‘Must be doing something right’, I thought. And my mind was clearing, allowing me to wake up fresh and get on with my day: no recovery needed. No guilt about things I might have said, no gaps in memory, no questions in my mind about how I got home. Brilliant.

So on we went: fast, gym, work, home, family, fast, gym, work, home, family. I was starting to get into it, even if many people were saying things to me in February – always the sunniest, most ‘outside for a drink’ month in Auckland – like ‘where’s the fun George gone? Let’s catch up when you return’. Very boring.

End of February: 85.2kg. Get in there my son! I had already lost 9.8kg – and no booze at all. Awesome!

End March: 83.4kg – hmm, slowing up. End April: 81.9kg – slowing up even more, but the target is in sight, we’re getting there! Loving the no-booze lifestyle.

Friday 25th May: 79.5kg. Yes! Target acquired. Smashed one of my goals. Stoked! And in less than six months!

And then the proverbial hit the fan.

I got a call – one that over the 14 years I have been living in New Zealand I had been dreading. My brother called to tell me that my lovely Dad was sick. Extremely ill. Stage 4 lung cancer. In the UK.

Flight booked, over to England I went. And although it was really challenging and worrying, it was also a lovely time, sharing many laughs with my family and some friends, and making some brilliant memories. And, in the spirit of full disclosure, drinking a few bottles of ‘pinko’ together too…

Yes, I took a little time out to share a few glasses with my family and eat rather too much – with no gym in North Norfolk. But because I could see how to make progress, it wasn’t a problem in my mind.

My visit came to an end. My dad was on a great treatment and in a positive, upbeat frame of mind, so I came back to NZ.

Tuesday 12th June: 82.0kg. Back on the plan.

It took me until August 1st to get back to my target. 80kg exactly. Right, what now? Hmm, still five months left in the year. I needed a new weight goal to keep me focused: and I thought I could still take a few kilos off. ‘Why not try for 75kg?’ I thought. What would that look like? And how about doubling down at the gym with a personal trainer? Running was so much easier without lugging a suitcase of weight around, so why not push on a bit harder with a bit of weekly PT?

Ok. Decision made. Off I went. Christo Feterika is a beast of a man who knows exactly how to cause the maximum amount of pain in the minimum time, but always explains how and why what I am doing works. And he gives great ideas for movements to use my muscle groups better.

End August: 78kg. Making progress. Actual abs! What’s going on? Hello again, old friends... At this time people started saying things like “have you lost some weight?”. (My own personal view, based on my 2018 experience, is that if you lose more than 15% of your body weight people start to notice – but only then: weird.)

Friday 28th September: 75.6kg. In the 75s; 20 kilogrammes! I was so stoked – I weighed less than I did when I left school 30 years ago, I was fitter and stronger than I had been in years, sharper at work, and making better decisions all round. This was going so well.

I was also saving god knows how much cash. In my absence, only one bar near my office had closed down so far… but it was the internal results that counted for so much more: less guilt, no ‘oh gods’, I could remember what I did, and - most important of all - my family liked it. I walked with more of a spring in my step knowing I was not letting my team down… and because there wasn’t so much of me to pull me down!

My wife even asked me to put 5kg back on, saying she didn’t “like a scrawny man” (people had started asking me if I was sick by this point), so I decided to ease a bit on the diet side of things and start to come back up a little, to the 77-78kg area. All good.

And then on Sunday 18th November the phone went again.

Dad’s treatment had stopped working, and I needed to get over to the UK. Fast.

Then followed a terrible rollercoaster of flights and fear, arriving at the hospital just in time to spend a few hours at my lovely dad’s bedside, with my brother and my mum, before he so sadly died. I got there just in time. And then the awful blizzard of bereavement and planning together - filing, finances, family, fatigue, funerals, farewells. Better glossed over here. Another place, another time.

And yes, I did drink some wine with my family then too, and I ate more than normally would – you can’t say no to lovely aunts when they offer you seconds of the food they have lovingly made, can you? But running the Blakeney coast in the freezing dark December mornings helped me to think, to process, to move my mind over the unimaginable reality that my dad is not here anymore. It still feels unreal, and I know I am only starting out on this horrible process of realisation: long way to go.

But time never stops, and I had to go home - and I was extremely glad to see my family. Back now in NZ for Christmas, home to the sun and the loving embrace of my family, seeing people around me heading off for jolly Christmas parties, I know I’m not really in the mood for them myself. I’m back on the plan, 78.7 kg, working through the last few days until the end of my self-imposed year of change.

Back also to the BMI calculator, which shows a better picture:

That said, I’m not so sure about this BMI business any more. I have not been slimmer or fitter in decades but I’m still close to ‘overweight’. Rubbish. Not looking at that any more.

The weird thing is that I honestly don’t know if I would have been able to manage during this last period of time if my body and mind hadn’t been given the boost that they got this year. I keep wondering if, somehow, I had been receiving some sort of subconscious instruction this time last year to sort myself out a bit to prepare for one of the worst experiences of my life. Hindsight: it’s a odd beast…

So in amongst all of this confusion, what did I learn this year? Ten things, it turns out:

Make a change. Just one. It doesn’t have to be a big one. The most important thing is to select one thing to change, make it last for a year, and then stick to it (although you can give yourself a couple of breaks if the circumstances are extreme).

When you start, tell people. This is a big thing. If you keep it to yourself, the only person you can let down is yourself, so create witnesses to hold you to account.

Set some achievable targets along the way. They really help.

Measure your progress. It makes it easier to stick to your plan when you can track how you’re doing. And don’t be too downhearted when you track the wrong way briefly. Keep on going.

Get ready to adjust your targets along the way, if helps you to go further.

Be kind to yourself. You need it.

Your family will look at you anew if you make a change and stick to it – and you need to be around for them, because it doesn’t last forever.

You will feel better, be more effective, and generate some self-pride – not if you lose weight, or take a year off the booze or whatever, but if you make a change and stick to it.

You’ll be surprised at what you can achieve. Amazed even.

You can do it.

And the last thing?

If I can do it, you can.

And for me next year? I am not the same person I was this time last year – outside or inside. Will I continue with these three changes? Well, I know I will have some alcohol, but I know I don’t want to be back where I was with it. My relationship with it has changed. But I can’t get enough of the gym and the fasting. In my head, I am now a fit person. So let’s push on. I’m already talking with Christo about setting some new goals.

But I said I’d make these three changes for a year. They are now the norm, so they wouldn’t be changes if I kept doing them in 2019, would they?

So what’s the change I’m going to make next?

You’ll have to wait and see.


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