A few weeks ago, I embarked on a health and fitness regime. You may recall I shared openly here my hopes and insights, making frequent videos and podcasts too, as well as talking about it on the Good Morning Portugal! Show whenever kilos or inches were lost, or steps taken, in the thousands or towards the gym for the first time.
In the weeks that followed, my public outpourings admittedly waned, perhaps giving some the impression that I had fallen off the vitality wagon or had lost interest in the process, my good intentions evaporating in the heat of hyperbole, cooling to inertia and lethargy.
For the cynical, I have news: in around eight weeks, I have lost eight kilos, a couple of inches off my waist and changed the way I eat, how I cook and make meals, and take exercise. When I say I “changed the way I take exercise”, I mean I actually started to exercise, going to the gym pretty much every other day, and have redesigned my life to boost my daily step count and overall level of physical activity. My two dogs are especially happy.
The most remarkable aspect of all of this, however, is that, during this time of lifestyle redesign, I went to a beer festival, visited the Beirão factory and O Burgo restaurant, AND have this week just returned from Tomar, where I ate and drank like a Portuguese king!
What’s been great about this process, facilitated by UK-based trainer Henry Jeffries via an app, is that whilst it’s been challenging and transformational, it hasn’t been punishing or unpleasant. It’s, in fact, been an education, with no underlying sense of deprivation that is so often the downfall of diets and workouts.
As I downed several cold canecas in Portugal’s Templar heart, mastered deep-fried eels in chillied vinegar and feasted upon oysters, huge shrimps and plumply Portuguese mussels at the wonderful Hotel República, over three days of extended epicurean ecstasy, I didn’t feel guilty.
This process has lifted me from that hideous cycle of superstition and wrongdoing into a far more empowering and intelligent game of dietary and lifestyle consequences. From the control and measuring came understanding. From the understanding came the responsibility to make ‘good’ choices and find balance. How awful is it to be on the verge of enjoying our favourite foods and drinks, only to have that little voice of self-judgement ruin the delicious thing you are about to receive?
Why would any of us want to move to Portugal to live a joyless and horse-hair shirt existence, when temptation faces us in every shop, cafe and restaurant?
To be fair to my mentor in these matters, Henry responded to one of my feedback memos saying: “Can’t say I advocate partying during our time together, but thought I’d leave it in there, to show that you can still live your life, whilst getting into great shape!”
Clearly, he understands the clear and ever-present Portuguese danger that is daily life here, taunted as we are just going about our business, with mouth-watering aromas, flavours and experiences at every turn that are rarely calorie or impact free.
That said, we needn’t over-indulge or recklessly gorge ourselves on every tasty thing we encounter. Where I once would have been tempted to devour the whole nata or bolo, I am now often satisfied with a mere nibble that satisfies my taste buds and curiosity (the new thing my consequently annoyed children call ‘Dad Tax’). Coffee too, with its appetite-suppressing qualities, is my treat and ally now, as is hunger that I have reframed as a guide more than an enemy. Am I really hungry? Or am I thirsty, bored or just acting out of habit?
I didn’t hit my bold 75kg target, but there’s still time and I have the habits I need, literally in-the-muscle, to get me there. I am happy with a kilo a week lost. I am not so happy that I now have to buy new jeans.
All in all, this has been a life-enhancing experience. Timing, as some say, is everything, and I chanced upon this programme as a number of markers or milestones had presented themselves in my life. Hearing my knees, as I made my way from one floor to another, was one such prompt. Another was my growing resentment at the thought of bending over to access a low cupboard or trim my toenails. The most motivating, perhaps, the calls of so-called friends heckling me at a charity rounders match as I completed a triumphant home run, with their distant taunts of “get a sports bra!”, inspiring me to take action.
The 50+ Shape Shift, as I’ve called it, has changed so many areas of my life. Honestly, I was pretty set in my ways, thinking I was healthy enough with a good diet, exercising adequately and avoiding the posers’ paradise, AKA the gym.
My world and worldview have changed: in the kitchen, walking the dogs, choosing my groceries, at the gym, sometimes cycling to my weekly meetup instead of driving and, dare I mention it, … in the bedroom! Yes, I am sleeping longer and better too (what did you think I meant?).
I am a changed man. And with great support from Henry, and others who heard and saw my commitment to the process, I changed me.
And whether it’s the voices in your head or the voices of others that are getting louder, you can too…