Every January, millions of people take out annual membership of gyms they’ll rarely visit, hoping to achieve a svelte version of themselves that in reality they’ll never see again.
Great for the gym industry, which gets its money without having to mop up the missing customer’s sweat, but not so good for the hopeful tubbies, who get fatter, unhealthier, and poorer, too.
I have a dear friend who, being a doctor, knew better than most he needed to lose weight, but who visited the City gym he’d joined no more than half a dozen times a year.
My friend could have had a cheap day away in Paris for the price of day’s attendance at his gym at that rate! Worse, he kept this membership rolling for nearly a decade.
My friend is psychologist, so he really should have known better. But like most of us, he’s better at seeing the problems in other people than himself. He didn’t appreciate he was buying off his good intentions with his gym membership, making it less likely he’d lose weight by joining the gym than if he’d never signed up at all.
Some people love gyms: The shine of well-buffed biceps, the smell of sticky Lycra, the possibility of an illicit affair that starts with a mutual dash for the one spinning machine.
I hate gyms, and only visit the ones in high-end hotels when the alternative is work. And yet here I am, the same weight I was two decades ago when I was still at university and being regularly asked for ‘my secret’ to staying thin.
Since I’ve got a blog, I’ve no excuse not to share my thoughts with my dear but differently weighted readers. Read on, and you’ll never have an excuse again.
First, let’s start with what doesn’t keep me thin:
- I don’t have gym membership
- I don’t have a vast amount of free time
- I don’t have ‘the metabolism of a shrew’
- I don’t have an aversion to eating (quite the opposite!)
What I do have is a healthy dose of vanity that makes me want to stay slim for as long as possible, so I can look only slightly worse in a t-shirt and jeans than ten years ago, and can thus still enjoy some of the riches of the young that most men my age make up for losing by buying expensive suits or red sports cars.
I also have the sort of mind that believes in compound interest, which is just as applicable to getting fit as it is to getting richer:
- Do a bit of exercise every day and you’ll get a bit fitter
- Eat a bit too much every day and you’ll get fatter
- Over the long-term, a little and often really adds up!
Finally, I have no interest in making life hard for myself.
Just as tracker funds are perfect zero-effort investment vehicles that will deliver superior returns for most people, so sensible rules applied every day to eating and fitness will give you 80% of the results with 100% less need to pay a fortune in gym fees or to hang around with beefy men in the showers (unless that’s your desire!)
The ten rules of staying thin of body and fat of wallet
1. Commit to being fit and healthy
No excuses. You can’t have the pies and the chips and the cheesecake whenever you eat out and expect to stay thin. You can’t drink five pints a night. You need to trade things off cleverly, and understand you’ll get some stick from your friends. That’s okay – they’re jealous of you being thin.
2. Be aware of what you eat
I’m not an Atkins nutcase, but there’s no doubt cheap carbohydrates and sugars will make you fatter faster than, well, natural fats. Also, snacks will kill you unless you stick to nuts, fruit, and low calorie drinks. (Apples actually burn more calories than they hold!) Try to eat food as close to its natural state as possible – wholemeal bread, beans, fruit, vegetables, and fish and meat that hasn’t been coated or fried. Limit dangerous food like cheese or cakes to once or twice a week.
3. Don’t eat too much
You can eat about 2,000 calories a day if a woman, or 2,500 as a man, presuming you do the fitness stuff below and adjusting sensibly if you’re a midget or a basketball player. If you don’t do weights and some aerobic stuff, you must eat less. If you eat more, you’ll get fat. End of story.
4. Always take the stairs
Fat people hate walking, watch a lot of TV, are first to slump into the seats at the train station or a house party, and seem to hate getting up and doing it (the washing up or checking the cat is back in the house). Thin people walk if it only takes 10 minutes longer than transport, pace about at the train station, move around the house constantly, and try to meet friends for a walk rather than a beer.
5. Build and maintain muscle
This is critical, and where women often go wrong. The main reason people get fat as they age is they lose muscle. This is bad news, because muscle burns calories whereas fat asks them in to make themselves at home. You need to do heavy resistance work 1-2 times a week for 30 minutes or so to keep the muscles nearly all of us have at 20. We’re not talking Captain America (or Madonna!) muscles, just an underlying taut physique. You don’t need the gym for this – press ups and chin ups will do it.
6. Buy some dumbells
Okay, this will cost you the price of a pizza dinner, but go out and buy some dumbells so that when you’ve done your press-ups, chin-ups and sit-ups, you can do a few bicep curls and shoulder presses, too. Honestly, it’s not too hard to do and it makes you buzz. Read up on how to do weights safely and talk to your doctor before you start, and make sure you stretch and warm down. If you think it’s all too much, forget the dumbells and just do the press-ups and sit-ups.
7. Do something aerobic for 30 to 40 minutes, 3x a week
Mostly I do weights for my upper body, and rely on climbing up and down my stairs to keep my bottom and legs looking like those of a young rock god. This is also where you’re doing your fitness bit, by working your heart and lungs. Stair climbing is hard, and burns lots of calories; doing it three times a week will add years to your life, but watch your knees. Bike riding, running or swimming (fast) are good alternatives. Again, check with a doctor that you’re okay to do this.
8. Skip the odd meal
A great habit. If you can skip lunch or dinner now and then, your body seems to respond by burning up fat. I don’t mean every other day – I mean every other month. Skipping meals for a whole day two or three times a year won’t hurt either, and helps to balance the days when you eat too much (Christmas!)
9. Have the odd blow-out
If you always deny yourself sweets, cakes, beer and pizza, you’ll crave them. Don’t let food control you – have a day a week when you can eat what you like. There’s some talk too this stops your body going into starvation mode. A great time to eat ‘fast’ carbs like white pasta or chips is after weights, when your body is craving fuel so they’re actually doing some good. Beware of having this stuff in the house to tempt you – walk to the shop to buy a cake when you’re due one.
10. Enjoy being thin
Finally, don’t take being in shape for granted – be proud of the fact that you’re ahead of 90% of people your own age in the fitness and physique stakes, and enjoy it. As Kate Moss said recently:
Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.
This is not a call to anorexia, which is a dangerous cult and disease that does nobody any good. The aim is to be thin and healthy, not freakishly underweight.
The fact is for all the hysteria over Moss’ comments, obesity is literally the big problem in the U.S. and UK, not excessive skinniness. Most people need to lose weight, will fret about it, and will do absolutely nothing about it except throw money away. Here’s to doing better!