Archive | January, 2013

Who says life should be easy? It is called Hard Work for a reason.

28 Jan

Obesity is being blamed, according to a report out of Davos, for 2.8 million deaths a year.  The report is from Sapa-AFP and published online by Times Live  It claims that 1.4 billion of us are overweight and that it is likely to increase to 60% of the world’s adults in two decades.  Among the reasons cited for what is being considered by Linda Fried of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University as a pandemic, are the ease of availability and the relative cheapness of high-calorie foods.

I think it also points to a deeper problem that may also explain why divorce rates continue to climb. Somewhere in our recent history we were told, perhaps by Madison Avenue or as a response to post-war life, that things should be easy. I think we must fundamentally change the way we think about this: if we believe life ought to be easy and that if it is easy we are somehow rewarded, I think we believe that when things are hard that they shouldn’t be. Have we lost our ability to tolerate discomfort?

Losing weight, especially for those of us who have been obese all our lives, cannot be remotely considered easy and, yet, I believed it should have been and that experiencing difficulty and discomfort was a signal that it wasn’t meant to be.

Do you think this is why we end relationships as quickly as we do, rather than work hard at them to find a resolution? I get a lot of fulfilment from the challenge of leading a healthy lifestyle and refusing to eat something that I’d like to eat but isn’t good for me. I’ve come to like that it is difficult because it means that I achieve more than maintaining a healthy weight – I achieve a solid sense of being hardworking and achieving something in challenging circumstances.

What spurs me on to increase my fitness now is the affirming feeling of getting better at something. I like the feeling of being stronger and the discomfort in my muscles tells me I’ve worked hard and will be rewarded.

Perhaps if we thought that life ought not to be easy, we might better tolerate the effort and time that it requires to do a good job of it.   


Tempting, but No.

24 Jan

Having hard and fast rules about what I will and won’t eat and drink helps me maintain my healthy weight. While my behaviour has changed dramatically, my desires haven’t. I notice, especially when eating with other people who are having desserts when I am not, that I eat more than I need to.

I was very inspired by a documentary, Forks Over Knives, which, among other things, pushes a plant-based diet as the solution for best health. That wasn’t, however, what resonated with me. Two things did: One, the correlation between the Food and Sex motivators linked to our evolutionary imperative of avoiding pain and increasing our species and the other, how because of the increase in the density of calories in processed food (think about the calorie density of corn syrup relative to cane sugar, for example) that we are all unknowingly consuming more calories. Because we are evolutionarily programmed to seek out high-value foods, those that are protein, vitamin and mineral rich and will sustain us for the longest possible time, our bodies report feeling satisfied when we eat high-quality calories and, conversely, not when we eat junk.

I am aware that I continue to eat even when I feel full when others around me are still eating. As I’m an All-or-Nothing kind of guy, it is easier for me not to eat at all than to temper my consumption, albeit of “good quality calories”. My challenge is to find a way of just responding to what I need.

Another thing that Forks over Knives suggests is the insidious and creeping impact of small increases. A little more today and every day onwards very soon amounts to a lot more. When I look back at the many times I lost weight and regained it, it was because of small increases and loosening of my rules little by little.

Acquiring a taste for food that is good for me is as easy as developing a taste for food that isn’t. It is my choice.

13 Jan

No one likes the taste of pickled herring or whisky the first time as they are known to be acquired tastes. In thinking about how it has been possible that I am able to enjoy foods now that I didn’t before, I find that the answer is that I am able to acquire a taste for anything.

For me this means two things: while I didn’t get the same pleasure eating steamed broccoli and smoked, skinless chicken breasts that I once did from eating steaming bowls of pasta carbonara, I was, pretty soon in the scheme of things, able to be satisfied by it. I’ve also learned that my desires for foods that I’ve added to my “Verboten” list can very easily be rekindled and the cravings and wonderings about them can become an unnecessary distraction.

Now that I’m at my goal weight, I feel freer about adding calories to my diet. Broccoli, for example, is even more delicious when I make it with a satay-inspired sauce of peanut butter, soy and sesame oil for smokiness. While this addition of calories isn’t harmful to me, it has made the idea of naked, steamed broccoli seem boring. Alarm bells are ringing.

I’ve also noticed that I’m not stopping to eat when I naturally feel sated, but picking at this or that which remains on the table. This breaks my rule of one-plate-only-food but also reminds me how compelling I find left-over food to be. I know that it is important that I remain vigilant. What the scale says and the way my clothing fits is the ultimate arbiter but I don’t want to make the challenge of keeping to a healthy weight more difficult than it already is.

I think I’d better re-acquire a taste for naked, steamed broccoli and get used to the idea of throwing food away in the bin, rather than discarding it in my body.

I think it is true that as an addict I have replaced an addiction to food with an addiction to exercise but I also note that I’m needing more coffee than ever before, especially as a replacement to dessert which other people around me are eating when I’m not.

Marika Sboros did a brilliant interview with me for Business Day. Here is a link to it if you’d like to read it:


This is a view over the Kogelberg to Table Mountain and Cape Point. I am now able to run part of the way up the mountain, something that was once impossible. This proves that I can change myself. We all can.


Every moment is a new start but New Year’s Day’s is the most laden with weighty expectation.

1 Jan

Every moment is a new beginning but New Year’s Day’s new beginning feels even more laden with expectation than any other new start. While I’ve managed to maintain my weight at around 85kg while being on holiday but I notice that, based on how my clothing is fitting me, my body shape is changing. It’s not that I’m bored nor that I’m hungry but I am eating more than I usually do while I’m not in my usual “work” routine although I’m trying not to be too hard on myself providing that the scale keeps me where I want to be.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Despite having a detailed exercise programme I’m not working out hard enough at the gym unsupervised. Look, it’s not a train smash – I’m still training almost every day and getting in about 30 minutes of cardio and doing bicep curls and triceps kickbacks, but I can see that my tummy is flabbier than it has been recently and my shoulders are not as strong as I’d like them to be.

Planning ahead is my proven solution to not overeating. I took along my own meal to last night’s old-year’s dinner even though I didn’t end up eating it then. Knowing that I had a meal with me allowed me the opportunity to choose wisely what to eat and not to succumb to making bad choices because I was hungry.

I have to train first thing in the morning. Even if I manage a second bout of physical activity later in the day my window of willingness closes the moment I’ve had breakfast so I have to plan to get to the gym, onto my bike or both along with the sparrows.

The more people hear my story and affirm the way I’ve changed my life, the more anxious I feel about regaining the weight. Without exception, everyone who tells me how they’ve lost weight continues to say they’ve regained it. I hope that by sharing my experiences here that I will stay conscious and keep up the healthy lifestyle that I’ve worked so hard for.Brian_BerkmanSpeedo

If your new beginning is about becoming healthier in 2013 I hope that I’ll be able to contribute to helping you achieve that.