Old v new, before and after.
How does one get from one to the other?
Let me share what I have learned from personal experience. While I am not a kinesiologist or a dietitian, I know what has worked for me.
I have since read extensively to better know the theory behind my results. Getting healthy involves a combination of physical activity and proper food intake together. I shall deal with each separately for clarity.
The Truth About Exercise
Now, imagine the $ sign represents energy level. To start off with, fatigue sets in and recovery is poor without fitness (which is partly about how quickly you can recover). In other words, you will initially feel worse than before you began.
As with a business, many (or dare I say it, most) give up at or even before reaching the bottom. This explains how gyms go from over-busy back to half full before the end of January every year.
The break even point on the graph is where fitness has improved enough to recover to pre-exercise levels of energy. Continued exercise beyond this point brings greater fitness and increasing energy reserves (to put it another way, feeling better than ever). Realistically, 3 workouts per week will bring you to this stage in 6-8 weeks.
Eventually you will plateau, though by this time motivating oneself will no longer be hard. Just you wait and see.
Food Glorious Food
I started working out in January 2007. Still eating the same foods in the same quantities, my weight barely changed. In September, my doctor warned me that my cholesterol was through the roof - double what it should be.
She handed me a fact sheet on how to eat healthily in general, with the aim of lowering my cholesterol in particular.
Here's the real revelation: it told me nothing I didn't already know. All those things that deep down you know you should and shouldn't eat. You could list them all right now, couldn't you?
Our problem is that we still have the bodies of cave people. We would go a while without eating, so it was best to seek out the most energy rich foods. They taste better as an added incentive and survival mechanism. Combine that with the modern world, it leads to obesity and poor health.
Key points to remember
I'm not going to offer a specific plan (meal or exercise), however the following have helped me get to the after photo.
Finding time: it's a little macho to say "no excuses!", and go on a rant about the things people say, but not here.
Blocking off the time and persistence, and viewing working out as an essential part of your day should be made to override what is essentially the subconscious trying to find justification not to try.
Gym smart: include resistance work - weights - in your exercise regime. It's not just for bodybuilders, an extra measure of strength makes the rest of your activities safer and more effective. Alternate between the arms and legs, 3 sets of 10 for each with 30 seconds break between sets is a good structure that helped get me started.
Gym safe: A few things to avoid hurting yourself are also advisable. On the rowing machine, keep your back straight and hands low to protect the lower back. When using a treadmill, do not hold onto the sides except to perhaps steady yourself in the first minute. It gives a false sense of your progress. Above all, do not hold onto the front. There's a guy at my gym who's done that for so long he has a curved back.
Eat no evil: the best way to cut out the really bad stuff such as ice cream, cookies and chocolate is to leave it on the supermarket shelf. Daily muffin? Replace it, it's one of the worst things for you. The same goes for lattes at Starbucks, it's a big serving of cream with a bit of coffee underneath.
Portion and proportion control: eating less is an obvious one. What is mostly wrong is probably the proportion of meat and sugar to everything else. Try replacing meat with fish, and even one or two meals a week meat free (gasp!). The same volume of food with a lower percentage of fat and sugar can lead to better health.
No detox: this comes across as being rather counterproductive, as if the 2 weeks without eating 'bad foods' undoes the negative effects of the other 50 weeks of the year. More beneficial is a proper year-round healthy diet with the occasional treat. Ditch the fads.
When can you start?
The work is yours, and yours alone to do. It is however you who gets to reap the benefits. Having said that, those around you benefit from a healthier, improved you. All you need is persistence and to be honest with yourself to end up on the right side of the J-curve.