Getting back into shape is a matter of re-affirming my resolve to stay trim, and regaining lifestyle and muscle memory.
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who eat whatever they please, whenever they please, don’t exercise and still stay in shape, and those who, like me, put on weight just by ordering dessert.
I could go on about how unfair this is, especially for someone who doesn’t just eat to live, but I won’t. We’re all built and wired differently and whining won’t increase my natural metabolism, nor accelerate the fat burn, unless it’s accompanied by regular exercise and cutting out carbs.
Thing is, I know exactly how to get lean and stay trim. Although there’s no big mystery to staying slender, there are also definitely no short cuts. It’s a matter of making certain lifestyle choices and sticking to them. For me it’s when I drop the sugar in my diet and pick up the pace at the gym, on tarmac, or lately, on my Concept 2 rowing machine.
The road to getting and staying slim is no hidden boulevard, but it isn’t easy, not even for someone with the discipline of a monk. Beneath my steely composure, in the presence of bak chor mee, capellini al granchio, cake, ice cream, or a simple butter and blueberry jam sandwich, I become a recovering carbohydrate addict who’s just a hair’s breadth from caving in.
I liken my carb craving to the blood thirst of a vampire. Hard to fight, but if Edward Cullen (Twilight) and Bill Compton (True Blood) can do it, even if only in the fictional world, I can too.
For me, the beginning is always the hardest, but if I hang in there, it becomes a drill, an auto-pilot kicks in, and I naturally lobotomise the urge to consume sugar. I become a bit of a Paleo diet automaton, eating like a cave woman as if I was born to do it – foods like unprocessed meat, eggs, nuts, root vegetables (except starchy potatoes), lots of leafy greens and a bit of fruit.
What does a “cavewoman” like myself snack on between meals or when she has the munchies? I eat almonds, sometimes cashews, and if I really want to treat myself, macadamias or slightly seasoned seaweed. If I’m chasing a deadline or doing deliveries and don’t have time to grab a bite, I make myself a no-carb, non-fat, no-cholesterol protein shake.
Paleo eating is also far from anti-social. I eat out with friends a lot and I can always find delicious fare from almost any menu and spread – buffets, sets or a la carte. And because it’s a pretty liberating way of eating, I don’t have cheat days, nor do I believe in ‘rewarding’ myself with food after a particularly tough day at work.
Having an addictive personality helps, because the longer I stick to the Paleo way of eating, the more motivated I am to stay the course, until it becomes as natural as drinking water. It’s like in running, when, after the first 10 to 15 minutes, you find your optimal cadence and you feel like you can go on forever.
The downside to having an addictive all-or-nothing personality, however, is that once I let the carbs back in, I tend to pay little heed to portion control. I become a dog in a park on a sniffing spree, except in my case it ends up with me devouring everything sweet and starchy in sight, which is kind of what happened during the festivities.
Most of my friends and family subscribe to eating everything they like, and they can’t fathom why I don’t. But I know what I want and what I need to do to get it, and then I stick with it. Or when I don’t, I self-intervene and just start over.
There is nothing wrong with eating sweets (unless you’re diabetic). Sweets are yummy and soothing and people can bond over them, but my body doesn’t process sugar well. Sweets perform exactly this double jeopardy to it: make my body retain the fat it already has, in addition to the fat I consume. And unless I exercise more than I’d like to, I will always have a shade of plump about me.
Objectively speaking, I look perfectly fine with more meat on my bones, but I prefer how I look when I’m on the thin side. Body shaming or not, size matters to me and size is subjective. When I carry less weight, my clothes hang better and my hair looks fuller. What can I say? It’s relative perception.
The discipline I practise is two-pronged – food, followed by exercise. How I eat determines 70 per cent of the result, but the final 30 per cent comes from exercise. While I was never a gym bunny, nor have I attempted to train for even a half marathon, up until two years ago, I would run twice a week, do an hour of functional training once a week, and also box, all of which I utterly enjoyed, as it helped me to destress.
But managing two businesses and caring for three cats has forced me to find a more efficient way to work out – one that doesn’t require me to leave the house. I’m no longer a member of any gym and I don’t burn rubber soles so much either these days. Instead, come rain or shine, I row three to four times a week for 40-45 minutes per session on my Concept 2 rower, and for nearly an hour each time, I feel like I’m gliding on the Hudson River and going for gold.
Rowing is a complete activity, both aerobic and anaerobic; it works the heart and almost all muscle groups – legs, arms, abdominals and back. And because it doesn’t stress the joints, it’s something I can continue doing even as I get older.
Far from being torturous, exercise makes me happy. As with eating in a new way, getting started is always the hardest part. But it gets easier when it becomes a habit and as natural and necessary as breathing.
How I choose to eat and workout are personal, but there’s a purpose to it and a method in the madness. After years of going on and off Paleo and vacillating between sloth and zeal, I know that ultimately, whether I succeed or not is up to no one else but me. I just don’t beat myself up when I over-indulge and get lazy. I’m only human. Even Superman has his Kryptonite.