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No Going Back 

 

It was an incredible experience to take part in the first Marillion Couch Convention and a very uplifting event. 

However, I was alarmed to see how unhealthy I looked in the Brave Live 2013 video! My weight was probably around 22 and a half stone (143 kilos) at the time. It was quite shocking for me to see as you're not really aware when you're gaining weight - it sneaks on like a thief in the night, but it made me even more determined that this time, I'm really not going to go back to the bad habits responsible for my weight gain. 

When you have a lot of weight to lose you have times in your life when you feel really motivated to do something about it. You buy a new exercise bike then the latest diet book, restock the fridge and pantry with whatever it is this time (powdered shakes, low carb food and on one occasion tuna and beetroot!) And off you go! 

Usually a few months in, you've lost several stone and you're feeling good about yourself but there will always be a special occasion; birthdays, Christmas, Easter, weddings etc just around the corner, waiting to trip you up. If you're like me you'll probably think I'll just have that one piece of cake or slice of pizza (how quickly we forget)! In my case that's all it would take to flick a switch, and probably due to my uncontrolled diabetes at the time, the painful food cravings and rebound hunger from low blood sugar would return and the weight that I'd worked so hard to lose would quickly come back. You get depressed because you've put weight back on so you eat something to cheer yourself up! 

I'm determined to break that pattern this time. My understanding of the mechanism of weight loss and what is I personally need to do is greater than it ever has been. It isn't a diet, diets fail. This is a re-balancing of eating habits combined with exercise. I think the only way to see this, is as a long term (12-18 month) goal. There will be times when I slip but the important thing is to come back to it. Walking for over an hour most days has really helped too, not just for the calories burnt but for the increased fitness. 

I weighed myself at the beginning of lockdown in March but now only every month or so. I've found that a better way to measure progress is by waist size otherwise we drive ourselves crazy that we haven't lost as much weight as we expected to, so feel despondent (or that our weight has even gone up a couple of pounds). 

Food can still be a pleasure but there are some changes needed to eating habits to really make a difference. The following is what's working for me. 

Alchohol 

Some alcohol if you really can't give it up (a large glass of wine or a shot of spirits) a couple of times a week but definitely no beer/cider or mixers. 

Nothing sweet 

No cake, biscuits, chocolate etc 

Snacks 

Nuts, a small handful, preferably unsalted (as you tend to eat less). 

A very small portion of hard cheese. 

Fruit, apples, pears, nectarines, peaches, and berries 

Breakfast 

160g 5 or 10% full fat Greek yoghurt with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and 1/3 banana. This keeps me feeling full until lunch time 
or 
Unsweetened porridge (oatmeal) made with semi-skimmed milk with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and 1/3 banana 

Lunch 

Two poached eggs on wholemeal bread with crushed avocado (with finely chopped red onion and a squirt lime juice) 
or 
Tuna and sweetcorn with mayonnaise and finely chopped red onion, lettuce, cucumber and tomato on wholemeal bread 
or 
Hummus, wholemeal pitta bread and crunchy salad 
or 
Mixed salad with 1/4 pack of feta cheese and half an avocado, with a virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing and salt and pepper 
Two large tomatoes sliced with fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese, chopped red onion, with a virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing and salt and pepper 
Occasionally something like a toasted cheese sandwich on wholemeal bread 

Dinner 

Steamed or baked fish - Haddock, Cod or Salmon 
a small portion of new potatoes, steamed vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and asparagus 
Home made Ratatouille usually with either steamed vegetables or wholemeal pasta 
Home made Chicken curry with brown rice 
Steak with mushrooms and steamed vegetables 
Parsnip and sweet potato fajitas 
Vegetable chili 
Butternut Squash chili 
Kedgeree made with mackerel fillets, fried onions, red peppers, sweetcorn, brown rice, soy sauce and a sliced boiled egg 
Sunday roast - either chicken or beef with steamed vegetables and gravy (a couple of roast potatoes very occasionally) 

Treats 
70% Dark chocolate - a couple of squares. I'd recommend Green and Blacks or better yet Godiva 

Very Occasional Treats 
Clotted cream (this is great with strawberries with a few squares of melted dark chocolate drizzled over the top. 
Fresh warm homemade cheese scones with butter 

If you have a bad couple of days, don't give up! This is a marathon, not a sprint! 

Good luck :-) 

Steve

Couch Potato 

Couch Potato 

One of the consequences of putting on weight is how much effort everything becomes and as a consequence I tended do less and less physical activity, maybe taking the car when I could have easily walked to the shops or to post a letter. Combined with how self conscious one feels about being overweight, this leads to one wanting to hide away from the world and adopt a very sedentary lifestyle. 

If you're not walking/cycling to work and, like me, you spend most of your day playing guitar, sat behind a desk or working on a computer, you're really not getting the physical activity your body and brain needs to function correctly. 

One of the things that's made a huge difference for me this time  round is exercising every day, either walking for around an hour  or going on my exercise bike (where I'm usually watching something on Netflix on my iPad) for around 50 minutes. 
When I started back on the bike I was worried about the danger of pushing myself too hard too soon so I invested in a Polar heart rate monitor to constantly log my heart rate via the app on my iPhone. 
https://www.polar.com/uk-en/products/accessories/oh1-optical-heart-rate-sensor 
This had the added benefit of letting me know when I wasn't pushing myself hard enough to improve my fitness. 
The interesting thing is how many more calories I burn by walking than actually pushing myself quite hard on the bike. 
I'm probably the fittest I've been for thirty years! 

Making a major change in your lifetyle 

The pandemic has given me the free time and the determination to really do something about my weight, no excuses this time, the consequences are too great! 

Why do we eat? 

We eat because our body needs fuel to function but we also eat for many other reasons, because 
1 Food can be one of life's great pleasures 
2 We eat because we're happy and we want to celebrate 
3 We eat because we're sad or depressed in the hope that it will make us feel better (we then quite often get depressed about the fact that we've just eaten too much of the wrong things) 
4 We eat because we're bored 
5 We graze on salty snacks while watching tv, even though we're really not hungry. Can you eat only one Dorito? ;-) 

If you're diabetic or pre-diabetic, your blood sugar will drive your hunger, especially with regards to sweet foods. 
Sugar is the worst culprit and thanks to the greed of food manufacturers, it's pretty much everywhere in the food we usually eat. If you combine it with salt and fat you create foods that are highly addictive and that make us want to binge. Who has the will power and control to only have one chocolate biscuit? 

We all have our 'Kryptonite' when we crave a snack, mine is crunchy, sugar free peanut butter. Even in the first couple of months of the lockdown, I was getting through far too much of it! The only answer for me is to not have any in the house. 

Healthy Shopping 

Eating healthily can be expensive and/or time consuming. Junk food is cheap and plentiful, it's also slowly killing you! 
Try and buy fresh fruit if possible, apples are a good low cost option, try to find the variety that you enjoy the most. My current favourite are the 'Envy' variety. Pears, peaches, nectarines and berries are a good option (when in season especially). Bananas are ok in moderation (half or a third on your breakfast) unless they're very ripe when they'll impact your blood sugar too much. 

As many healthy Vegetables as possible 

Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, green beans, asparagus, courgettes, aubergines, swede, red and white onions, red and yellow peppers, garlic, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, avocados, mushrooms, red and white cabbage, cucumber and baby spinach leaves 

I try to avoid high starch vegetables like potatoes if possible apart from the occasional new potatoes or when we have vegetarian fajitas when we have a small quantity of sweet potato and parsnips. 

Fat has been demonised over the years while the real culprit in my opinion is sugar. I have full fat greek yoghurt for breakfast and cheese occasionally, feta with avocado in a salad, buffalo mozzarella with large tomatoes and red in onion and some hard cheeses like a mature cheddar or double gloucester either grated or as a snack. 

We use virgin olive oil to cook in and as a salad dressing (with a good quality balsamic vinegar). 

We've cut right back on the amount of meat we eat and have cut out processed meats almost completely. We eat quite a lot of eggs, scrambled, poached or in an omelette usually. 

We try not to eat meat more than twice a week (chicken or beef) but we also eat fish (salmon, cod/haddock, tinned tuna, smoked salmon or mackerel) 

I haven't had a pre packaged meal in nearly five months and I feel so much better for it. 

The trick, I've found, is to vary your diet as much as possible so you don't get bored while still being healthy. An occasional treat is allowed but nothing sweet as that will undo all the hard work in re-educating your taste buds. 

Portion sizes 

If we're really enjoying a meal, especially something like pizza, we'll quite often keep on eating it for the pleasure the taste and texture gives us, even after we're actually full! Learning to eat smaller portions really helps, as does having a side salad or a large portion of vegetables (steamed if possible) but by far and away the best solution is to avoid those foods if at all possible. 

Let me know if you'd like some of the recipes we use in the next post.

Healthier Choices 

Healthier Choices 

I've always been at least slightly overweight, even as a young boy. My mother Marian, a cook by trade, brought up my sister and I after separating from my father when I was around 6. She very much equated food with love and her idea of looking after you was to feed you giant portions of her very delicious home cooked food. In later years, when we ran a part time bed and breakfast in Whitby, she was only really satisfied if the guests left the dinner table completely stuffed and actually in pain! Even though I cycled many miles up and down the hills near Whitby in my youth, I was always slightly podgy. Physical Education classes at school were always a struggle and I was resigned to being one of those boys who finished last in the cross country running. 

In the early days of Marillion my weight started to creep up, especially around the time of our first Scottish tour in 1981, getting up to 17.5 stone (around 111 kilos), probably too much beer and too many bridie's (a meat and onion pasty) 

It dropped back down to 16 stone around the time we recorded the   Market Square Heroes EP. 

After we finished the Script tour I found myself single and determined to do something about my weight! I'd had to move into a grotty mice infested bedsit outside of Aylesbury (since demolished) and as I didn't have a car at the time, I started cycling everywhere. I also started following a high fibre diet and combined with the cycling managed to get down to 11.5 stone over the next few months. This gradually crept back up to 16 stone over the next few years until Steve H joined the band when  I felt motivated to go back on the high fibre diet for the rebirth of the band and got back down to 13 stone. 

It was only after we got dropped by EMI in the mid nineties that my weight really started to spiral out of control. It was quite a depressing time with a lot of uncertainty about the bands future. I found it impossible to maintain my weight. I tried various diets but nothing really worked for me until I started the Atkins low carb diet in 2004. I managed to get back down to just over 17 stone from the 23 stone I'd reached. My weight then started to yo-yo between 22 and 18 stone for the next ten years. I found it hard not to put weight on whenever the band toured, having a very limited choice of food at the venue combined with missing my family made it very difficult. I found it almost impossible to resist the temptations of junk food especially when travelling on a tour bus where a huge stack of pizza and a fridge full of cold beer awaited me each evening after the concert. I find it very difficult to sleep on a tour bus at the best of times and I find it impossible without several drinks to counteract the adrenalin of the performance. 

I was diagnosed with type 2 Diabetes during this period so I tried the Cambridge Diet (800 calories and three meal replacement drinks a day) on the advice of my Diabetes nurse. This worked for a short time but my metabolic rate had slowed down severely and I put the weight back on very quickly! I used the MyFitnessPal app to track my calorie income (an app that I'd recommend as it also tracks your weight). The last few years has been as much about trying to control my diabetes as lose weight. After a couple of years of dealing with it quite well, I made the mistake of having more sweet things (some people love savoury food, some sweet and some like me, both!) My blood sugars went crazy whenever I had any carbs and I had rebound hunger whenever I ate anything that wasn't just fat or protein. I started getting the diabetes under control again in 2018 after reading  Michael Mosley's 8 week blood sugar diet book and my weight came down a little and stabilised. 

When the early information from the pandemic showed a greater risk for anyone with Diabetes and/or who was obese, I knew I had to make a real change in my life to give me the best chance possible if I ever did get the virus. The difference this time is that I'm not looking on it as a diet, more of a change of lifestyle. Understanding how my body responds to a low carb diet (good and bad) has enabled me to tailor what I eat (combined with a lot more exercise) and still enjoy food while losing weight. Good food is one of life's pleasures and I believe the trick is to understand what your body needs and to avoid as much as possible the pre-packaged, ultra processed food we finish up eating out of convenience most of the time. 

After losing the first couple of stone I did try Michael Mosley's Fast 800 diet but after several days of feeling very irritable and starving hungry, I decided it wasn't for me, especially as I was already losing nearly a stone a month. The good thing I did take from the book was the concept of intermittent fasting, the idea that, as much a possible, you consume all your calories within a ten hour period (in my case between 9am and 7pm). 

I think, in my experience, you need to prepare your body to stop eating the usual amount of salty and or sweet foods that give us pleasure and make us hungry and hour or so later and you also need to prepare psychologically for the change in long established habits. You will have to give up some things you love, at least in the short/medium term, but it will be worth it. 

I'm still enjoying an occasional glass or two of red wine or my favourite whisky but beer/cider/cocktails are out! For any cocktail lovers, I would recommend you waiting until after the Couch Convention (when I demonstrate my favourite cocktails) before starting. I won't actually be drinking any of them by the way! ;-) 

What works for me is to cut out foods in stages, 

Week one - no beer or sweet foods of any kind (with the exception of fresh fruit - apples, pears, nectarines, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries) 
There is so much sugar hidden in foods these days that this is a lot more difficult than you can imagine. Also, no diet drinks as I've found from personal experience that they still impact your blood sugar and drive hunger. You should be drinking six large glasses of water a day and trying to resist any of those delicious flavoured hot or cold coffee drinks, an occasional standard black/white coffee or black or green tea is fine. No orange juice, you can get all the vitamin C you need from fresh fruit and vegetables.
Try to walk at least thirty minutes a day. 

Week two - start to cut back on carbohydrates. Pizza has to go as does most fast food. Great food you can enjoy include Steak, chicken, grilled/steamed/baked fish, tinned tuna, fresh prawns etc. Try to substitute brown rice for white, wholemeal/granary bread for white and at least occasionally (with apologies to my Italian friends), wholemeal pasta for normal pasta. It's about changing habits, one of the most difficult of which is what we consume for breakfast. 
What you want is something that will give you what you need nutritionally, tastes good and that will keep you feeling full until lunch time. The bad news, most breakfast cereals, even the ones that infer that they have some health benefits (bran for fibre, added vitamins etc) are junk. The only ones I can personally recommend are unsweetened porridge (oatmeal) made with semi skimmed milk with fresh berries on the top, and unsweetened musli (you have to be careful of the dried fruit content). Scrambled/poached eggs on wholemeal toast makes a nice change but my usual breakfast consists of 160g of unsweetened but full fat (5 or 10%) greek yoghurt with a small amount of pine nuts on top and a selection of berries (strawberries, blueberries and raspberries). Occasionally I'll have half a banana sliced on top too but you have to be careful with bananas, especially when they get too ripe. This keeps me feeling full until lunchtime.

Try to walk at least fourty minutes a day.

More to follow in the next post.