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.