in Life

Hacking Myself

For those who have known me for some time, there are a few realisations which are pretty evident; one of which being that I’ve always been a “big guy”. Call it what you like; a “strong build”, a “wide frame”, whatever. It’s all the same. I’m also not really a fan of being told what I “should” do. Think along the lines of “Matthew, you should be exercising 6 days a week, you know”. Not very encouraging.

Couple these points together, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Someone who is a big guy and is being made to feel like he doesn’t want to exercise, even though he knows he should be. Not. Smart.

The tipping point

At the time of writing, I’m 27 years old. While I’m not a walking mountain, I’ve not been happy with my weight for some time. Not being a very sporty person, and being the ultimate pizza lover, are not character traits which sit well together.

It was time for a change, and the only person who could action this change, was me.

Hacking myself

I’m a total geek. If I can hack something to make it work better for me, I’ll do it. If I can optimise something I do to make it easier or quicker, I’ll do it. I’ve, so far, been able to apply this to my working life, where I have optimised my processes to the point where I can code up a WordPress plugin in under an hour (not a one or two line plugin, by the way. Something a bit meatier than that).

The only way I’d get what I wanted was to hack myself. This forced me to look deep within myself to find the trigger which would cause me to take action. One aspect of what makes me who I am is a dislike for being told what I can’t do, or that something “isn’t possible”. Please! Telling me that I’m “not able” to do something, or that something “isn’t possible” just makes me want to achieve the goal even more.

I’d found the trigger.

I set myself a single goal; lose 20% of my total body weight, and get within the ideal body fat percentage for my age group (15% – 25%, I was at about 26.5%). Secondary to this goal, I set myself the medium term goal of getting 50% of the way entirely on my own. Entirely on my own. No trainers, no gyms, no-one else being paid to achieve the goal for me.

Let the hacking, begin.

Immersion

If I immerse myself in something, I can do anything. I’ve done this successfully in the past, on repeat (in the music scene and in the WordPress space) and it was time to repeat the process.

I began by downloading a bunch of related audio books (a system I’ve been using to listen to business books) and immersed myself in the knowledge these professionals had to share. Over time, and the more books I listened to, I was able to spot the inconsistencies, and similarities, between the various books and pick up some really useful tips and knowledge from each. I immersed myself in the messages they had to share.

Gadgetry

Geeks love gadgets and apps. I figured I’d use something I love to help me achieve my goal. This is what my set up looks like (each item is totally optional, by the way, and is purely a motivation and tracking tool):

  • RunKeeper (Elite package, $15 per year, approximately).
  • MyFitnessPal
  • Fitbit Flex
  • Fitbit Aria Scale

I’ve hooked RunKeeper, MyFitnessPal and Fitbit together, so I can track my workouts in RunKeeper, log steps in Fitbit and log meals in MyFitnessPal, and the data is spread between all three. Also, the weight I log via the Fitbit scale is automatically sent to the Fitbit app and to RunKeeper.

Ultimately, these tools just take the work out of logging the data. Not essential, yet definitely motivating for me.

Getting to work

Ultimately, hacking myself is nothing without actually putting the knowledge and tools into practice. I’ve made some pretty gnarly life choices, and I’m happier than ever.

Diet hacking

I don’t take any sugar anymore (as much as I can help it) and have cut out all soft drinks and blatantly unhealthy food. If the food stuff isn’t going to give me any nutritional value, or makes me feel bloated and full, it’s gone. That’s right. No chips, chocolates, candies or anything else. If I want to have a chocolate, I’m free to do so. I’m not forcing myself out of it, I’m simply making a choice based on information.

No more pointless snacking. Going into the kitchen and having a sandwich or a snack, just because, is pointless.

Also, I’m not “on a diet”. Being “on a diet” implies that you’ll be “off the diet” soon enough. Nope, this is a lifestyle.

Now knowing what complex carbohydrates do to my body, I’ve cut them out (except for very conscious occasions, where I then compensate with exercise).

I’ve always loved vegetables and fruits (yep, even as a kid) so why not just focus on those? Instead of buying a salad at the store, where they include a bunch of stuff I don’t like (for example, bitter lettuce), I just buy the ingredients and make my own. That way, I know what’s going into the salad and, more importantly, into my body.

Go down to your local Woolworths, pick up a pack of Gespaccio soup and look at the ingredients. This is what really got me to be aware of what I eat. Included in the soup are brown sugar and caramel. Yep, read that sentence again. Why should there be brown sugar and caramel in what is a cold tomato and herb soup? Come on, Woolworths. Get your act together.

Make the soup from scratch and you’ll enjoy it even more.

Exercise hacks

If I don’t use RunKeeper regularly, I’m not getting value for the $15 I paid for the Elite subscription. In addition to that, I’m lower down on the RunKeeper leaderboard and am not meeting the goals I set for myself in the app. If I don’t walk regularly, my step count in Fitbit will go lower, and I’d move lower down the leaderboard.

That’s just not cricket.

I’m not a runner. I’ve tried this several times and always end up feeling feint and out of breath. I’m not a very good breather, which doesn’t help. I enjoy cycling. I don’t much enjoy all the effort that needs to happen before hand though (special gear, helmet and a bike that you need to lug around on your workout). So I settled on walking to get me started.

I walk 5.5km almost every day, around our neighbourhood, and use this as a chance to spend some quality time with my dad and Maddie, our Jack Russell puppy, as well. It takes us just under an hour, and we all enjoy the scenery and being outdoors.

We’ve since graduated to stepping it up on the weekends and walking 10km on the beach front on a Saturday morning. Having walked 5.5km distances for the past few months, this Saturday morning walk is now far more enjoyable.

Life hacking

I’m an avid reader of LifeHacker. This is similar, yet not exactly the same. If you work from 9am to 5pm, be sure to account for time spent away from your computer. Sure, I don’t work 9am to 5pm. I work more 8am to 8pm. That being said, I always make time to spend with family and friends, and make a conscious effort to close my laptop at 5pm for some personal time, be it a family dinner or just relaxing with a book or a TV show. I also play guitar every day.

Having a healthy life balance is just as important as eating right and exercising.

An executive summary

Since November 2013, up to today, I’ve list just over 10% of my total body weight, exercise regularly and love what I eat.

Be conscious of what you put into your body, understand what each food group does for your body and make sure to exercise regularly. A bit of awareness and drive is all it took to get the results I desire. No gym, no trainer, no money down. Just a bit of awareness and good old hard work. No qualification required. 🙂

Leave a Reply

    • Thanks Sean. It’s been quite a wild ride (and I’m only just over half way towards my goal!).

      Here’s to the next 10%, and then some! 🙂

      The best way I’ve found to follow through on inspiration, with something like this, is to find an activity you enjoy doing, and food you enjoy eating. Nobody said you have to run a marathon, when what you may really enjoy doing is walking by the beach (like I do) or riding your bicycle.

      If you enjoy it, you’ll do it more often.

      When it comes to food, there are so many amazing healthy meals out there, that don’t seem healthy at all. Steak, steamed vegetables and sweet potato mash is amazing as well as healthy. It doesn’t have to be all spinach and brussels sprouts.

      Looking forward to reading your blog post on how it’s going. 😉