Returning to the gym19 December 2022
Back in 2015 when I had just started at a new company I made very heavy use of the on-site gym facilities and as a result I dropped about a quarter of my total body weight in a matter of months — a rate of weight loss that is considered medically dangerous but I very quickly noticed the positive differences it made. In more recent years my fitness has slipped and Covid-19 lockdown was a complete disaster for it, so earlier this year I once again decided to bite the bullet and engage in a gym regime similar to the one I had done previously. It was not quite as extreme but the methods and motives were much the same.
A sporadic startThe gym I attended is one that I happened to pass by when scouting out the general area one evening back in October 2021, and although I finally signed up in the new-year and did go a fair few times over the next few weeks it was only in the latter part of April that a routine of regular attendance properly got going — not sure what happened in February but in March and April I certainly had a lot of other stuff to deal with which included quite a few personal issues. A big help was getting some wireless earphones so that I could watch downloaded YouTube videos while working out because without some form of entertainment cardio exercise soon becomes mind-numbingly boring and difficult to sustain for any real length of time — something that is less of an issue with resistance training but the latter at the time was considered something for the future — and before long I was doing workouts of almost an hour rather than my previous twenty or so minutes. I eventually settled on around 40 minutes each.
The big turning point was a huge workout crunch over the early-June Jubilee weekend where daily gym attendance was also coupled with some long countryside walks lasting ten to fifteen miles, and this is when I also stopped doing social stuff almost entirely in order to instead invest in my fitness — not an easy thing to do when it is that time of year there seems to be a lot of new couples out on the streets. Unlike back in 2015 I was only weighing myself every week or two rather than after every single workout but over June I lost three kilograms, which was not that far off my ambitious five-kilo my target. Slacked off a bit in the last week of June and the mid-July heatwave made it impossible to do anything but in hindsight my body needed the rests.
Choice of machinesI have long favoured the stepper because it is what burns off calories by far the quickest but the machine is unrelentingly brutal and anyone out of practice would not last even a few minutes on it. Instead for the first few months it was the cross-trainer to get my stamina and cardiovascular system into better shape, although I would have preferred an elliptical trainer that seems much better suited for purely lower body workouts. Yes it would have been better to exercise both arms and legs but that was not how I preferred to do things and if i was required to pay attention to how stuff was “supposed” to be done — including stuff that probably has safety implications — I would have never got past the gym's front door. The cross-trainer machines have intensity levels that go up to level twenty-five and initially I started on level twelve or fourteen which I would then ramp up over twenty to thirty minutes, but by June I was doing forty-minute workouts done almost entirely on level twenty-two — the length of these workouts was basically however long the latest episodes of Adrian's Digital Basement were and at the time and once these had all been watched was when I did the switch to the stepper. I very quickly gave up on the stepper as I felt my stamina was not up to it and because of the amount the machine shook about my mobile phone was not able to rest on the front of the machine, but by then I was not far off the point I decided to switch from weight loss to body shape.
HydrationBack in 2015 intake of water was something I controlled in order to make daily weight measurements comparable but this time round my preferred approach — if anything — was to over-hydrate prior to a workout session. Maybe it is because I am older but under-hydration seemed a much more serious issue than it was back in 2015 — there was a few times when I felt that my body was struggling and when I saw my heart-rate significantly higher than what I would expect for the exercise machine's settings, I cut short the workout because I was clearly pushing my body too hard. This was soon put down to hydration and since then I would usually only head off to the gym when consumption of water had made my urine clear rather than yellow — I am sure this in itself brings with it its own set of risks but since adopting this method I felt that my body was having an easier time.
Keeping things regularA major difficulty compared to 2015 was trying to keep things regular. Back then the company I had just joined had put my career trajectory right where I wanted it to be so was able to go all-in with focusing attention on getting fit, and going to the gym slotted right in with going to the office since that is where the gym itself was. My life had issues but it was stable and settled especially in terms of accomodation. In contrast much of this year has involved picking over the ruins of a life destroyed by Covid-19 lockdowns and there has been nothing to provide any rigidity, which has further been made worse by regularly staying over at places other than my own place. Spend more than three days away from the gym and any serious routine is as good as dead, because that is what happens when other things in one's life are far from in order, and the latter concerns also sap the will to get going again. This intermittant nature was the one thing that really went wrong that did not first time round.
The dietary factorOverall my dietary starting-point was substantially better than where I was when I started my previous gym regime. My preferred eating pattern was already pretty much one meal a day and maybe a small late breakfast or early lunch which meant I was de-facto doing a form of intermittent fasting, and I had substantially more flexibility in what and when I ate. Back in 2015 going to lunch was something I did with colleagues for social purposes so what I consumed was constrained with what was available in the canteen, and my earlier choices were not exactly ideal for weight loss although it was a lot better than what I was eating before I joined the company. At the end of the day the approach was what worked and how things progressed was at the limit of what my body and mind could withstand.
In many ways there was relatively little left in my diet for me to change compared to 2015. It is the accumulation of ‘hidden’ calories that really cause problems with weight and unlike previously this is the one area this time round I really hit the ground running. Things like orange squash and hot chocolate which I commonly drank back then had long eliminated so the only thing I was still drinking on a day-by-day basis was water. In addition biscuits and chocolate were long gone from my supermarket shopping — in other words the dreaded sipping and snacking on refined sugar was already a thing of the past, and others tell me this is surprisingly hard to do.
Intake control has its placeOne thing that a mid-July lull in exercise did remind me of was the futility of dieting alone as a way of losing weight. Since I was away for most of the month I only got to the gym six times and due to the hot weather I did not get much other excercise in, the result being my weight staying static which I consider lucky considering I was eating more than I would have had I not been away. When I was unwell and spent a few days in bed and hardly eating I lost a kilogram or two, but this was essentially starvation-dieting which almost certainly made me feel even more rotten. Having said that while diet cannot make a weight-loss regime it certainly can break it. When I was kitting out my apartment I had deliberately chosen not to have a microwave so that impulsively eating a lot of food was intentionally made difficult. During lockdown overseas I had done crazy things like cooking frozen beef burgers on reheat cycles — the cooking time of only a few minutes meant being able to munch through an entire pack before the hunger response subsided, whereas the half an hour or so for an oven to warm up and cook something is a real psychological hurdle.
I did eventually give in and get a microwave but that was for the warming of medical heat pads that cannot be heated any other way rather than the cooking of food, and since have only used it for actual cooking of food twice. However by this point my shopping routines had been established and my overall appetite had become a lot lower than what it was earlier in the year. If the UK's energy crisis is going to get as bad as I fear it may, the relative cost of the hob and oven compared to a microwave make using the former harder to justify.
Choosing the foodDuring the depths of lockdown back in 2020 I was on the Keto diet and while it was effective the extreme low-carbohydrate intake also does a good job of screwing up the mind. At the time I did not notice as my mental state was already pretty bad where my goldfish mentality was likely a psychological defence mechanism, but in 2021 when I spent significant amounts of time both on and off Keto I did notice a difference in mental state. Nevertheless I still follow a carbohydate-reduced diet and this is most notable in the complete avoidance of bread — these days eating it in significant quantities ends up giving me a horrible sugar spike as well as being alarmingly more-ish, so I have been trying various wheat-free substitutes that do not have the same problems. Annoyingly pretty much all the “free from” ranges tend to be free of just about everything so it is hard to find something that does not taste like it is made from sawdust. After some experimentation I settled on certain forms of gluten-free bread, either as part of a meat sandwich or less often with some soup.
Back in pre-2015 I was quite likley comfort eating but at least at the times I was staying in my current place eating has been more like a choir I did to stop myself feeling hungry than a regular activity. With no social obligation to eat and with exercise tending to suppress appetite rather than encourage it, I doubt what I chose to eat made much difference. Of course avoiding deep-fried takaways helped but once away from really bad stuff the type of food does not seem to matter that much. De-facto I have done a lot more and a lot quickly on the intake side compared to 2015, but that was because the implicit pressures were different.
What about walking??A lot of the time over the summer I was out in the countryside where the only realistic way of getting any exercise was going on walks, and by walks I mean long ones lasting in excess of several hours. In terms of burning calories they are nowhere close as what can be done in a gym workout but in terms of longer-term health are probably better across the board. Even when I was back in London watching YouTube in the gym felt a bit mind-numbing so when weekends came around I was jumping onto trains and going on walks that often as not went north of ten miles, especially when I found out that the train line I had targeted for my return was one affected by transport union strikes.
These walks have at times gone ways I would have preferred them not to, such as coming across ‘interesting’ venues that I decided to make a quick exit from. Another time I made the mistake of going down a path that was overgrown in stinging nettles and when one of them got up my trouser leg I tripped up and landed on a barbed wire fence. To be fair after joking about which prison I had just escaped from a local pub were good in providing me wipes to help clean all the blood off my arms.
Seeing the resultsOne of the hardest things with weight loss is difficulty in seeing the results and therefore maintaining the motivation to press ahead with it. For the first 3–6 months it is just a number but there then comes a point where clothing starts to feel very loose. In my case the turning point was when I needed to punch two extra holes in my belt since it was not tight enough, and then needing to punch another two in what seemed to not be that much long afterwards — this accelerating reduction in belt sizes is something I noted last time round since as weight goes down, belt inches/centimeters per kilo also goes down.
One thing I noticed this time round is weight seemed to fall off in jumps rather than the more linear-with-time I had in 2015. This may well be down to my scales not having the 0.1kg resolution the display shows but I have also read information that the body when calorie-restricted sometimes replaces body fat with water, and this water is then lost in periodic bouts. Since there were stretches of time in the third quarter when I was not getting to the gym I suspect this was down to reduced intake.
Onto the resistanceLike last time there came a point where the focus shifted from absolute mass to body shape, and this meant moving over to resistance training — weights in other words — but this is something that only happened recently so for now there is not much to mention about it that is new. My previous gym was a company one for which everything including 1-to-1 excercise advice was already paid for whereas I have no idea if my current gym even offers this, so I simply recycled the excercise card I had from back then. At some point I might stump up for personal training but for now I am going with what I think was my previous routine.
Some of the toning excercises I had previously done in the gym I instead did in my own flat since I had the space to do them, the equipment is of inconsequential cost, and they were the sort of thing I did not feel like doing in my current gym.
For all its faults I felt the company gym was somewhere ‘clubby’ where they did not care about unfit colleagues but this public gym never had quite that same level of comfort, the worst aspect was the over-toned teenagers who were clearly showing off the muscles they want to use to
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