Inspired by the Romans

Roman inspirations

Rome

After two and a half weeks in Italy visiting the sites in Rome as well as Pompeii and Herculaneum, I have been reminded how impressive the Romans were. I still can’t really understand how the whole thing collapsed given how advanced they were.

With Trump in anti Muslim mode, perhaps we need to make contingency plans for getting rid of our politically incorrect Arabic numerals. Despite the impracticality of Roman numerals, the recent Brexit vote tells us that politics can easily override rational thinking. So in preparation (and perhaps in the spirit of the summer silly season), here’s a bit of Swift code for doing the necessary translations:

Meanwhile, I hope everyone is enjoying the MMXVI Olympics. Currently, the UK is number II in the medal table, which is amazing!

Brexit Aftermath

Some things are clear, but much is still murky

Some things are clear, but much is still murky

It is just over a week since the Brexit referendum. The leader of the Leave campaign, Boris Johnson, has fled the field. I’d like to think his decision not to stand for the Tory leadership was driven by shame for what he has done, but it was more likely a simple act of political realism and self interest. In the post vote, post Boris, world, some things are now becoming clear but much remains hard to predict.

It seems the Conservative MPs are going to close ranks, elect a ‘safe’ leader in Theresa May, accept ‘the will of the people’ as far as leaving the EU is concerned and avoid an early General Election which would put their own jobs at risk. Worryingly, the irreconcilable objectives of the Brexiteers (control immigration, avoid paying into the EU whilst staying in the single market) look like being resolved by abandoning the single market, hoping that increased trade with the rest of the world can compensate for lost trade with Europe. The EU’s refusal to have any dialogue with the UK about the terms for exit before the UK commits itself irrevocably to leaving by triggering Article 50 seems to have made it very likely that the UK will be irreversibly on course for exit before the 48% of people who didn’t want to leave (and perhaps a few more who now regret their Leave vote) will get an opportunity to try to change the policy in a General Election.

What is less clear is what the opposition is going to do, with Jeremy Corbyn still apparently determined to try to hang on. Many of us are still hoping that there is a chance to avoid an exit. I loved this letter to the FT, speaking out on behalf of “the 48%”. I agree that we need an effective opposition arguing the case for the half of the country that views the exit vote as a national disaster of historic proportions. The Conservatives seem to have decided that the survival of their party and their own political careers require them to implement an exit, whatever the cost for the country. Perhaps Corbyn will go quietly and a new Labour leader will rally the MPs in the House to speak out for “the 48%”, for Leave voters who now realise they were lied to, and for common sense. I only wish I could be more hopeful that this will happen.

Meanwhile, don’t give up. Let the MPs who want to fight know they have mass public support. Let the rest of the EU know how many people in the UK feel European and want to stay that way. And let the non British born people living in and contributing to our country feel welcome and valued, not rejected, hated or unwanted.

Brexit Madness

Sick of being attached to a tree, a man decides to take back control of his branch.

Sick of being attached to a tree, a man decides to take back control of his branch.

Sad, angry and fearful for the future of the UK and for Europe. That is how I felt when I woke up on Friday morning to the news that the Leave campaign had won the Brexit referendum. The sadness and the fear remain but, somewhat to my surprise, my feeling of anger has only grown over the last 24 hours. I’ve never posted anything political here before, but I am so angry that I feel I need to speak out.

How did we get here? The root of the problem is the deep divisions about Europe in the Conservative Party. The party has been held together by a series of leaders who managed to paper over the cracks. The rise of UKIP made this more and more difficult. Prior to the last election, David Cameron made a disasterous short term political decision to offer a referendum to the Eurosceptics in his party. He had tried the same trick over Scotland and that almost ended in disaster (indeed it still may). Whether he thought he would be saved by the Liberals, or was confident he would win the referendum is hard to say. Whatever the case, it was a stunning case of gambling the future of the country for short term political expediency. Well, the gamble has failed. He has ended his own career and possibly also destroyed his party. In fact, I have come to the conclusion that the destruction of the Conservative Party as we know it is what needs to happen next if we are to avoid Cameron’s reckless gamble destroying the country too.

I know people will say that the people of the UK have spoken and we must respect their decision and leave the EU. But this was never an issue that should have been decided by a referendum with a simple yes/no answer. Everybody had a good idea about what voting Remain would mean. Nobody knew what a vote for Leave would actually mean. For some, it would be more money for the NHS. For others, it would be reductions in immigration. For many, it was a desire for the UK to “take back control” – people were fed up with being “told what do by faceless, unelected eurocrats”. OK, these are all valid and legitimate goals. But the simple truth is that there isn’t any chance these are all going to happen. Unlike after a General Election, there isn’t a leader or party that can be held to account to deliver on the promises made during the campaign. There has never been an overall plan of action set out by the Leave campaign. It has no overall leader with a complete vision of where to take the country. Instead we have single issue politicians like Farage and political opportunists like Boris who will say whatever he thinks will get himself into number 10. Whether you agree with Farage on his single issue or not, anyone who would trust the future of the country to him needs their head examining.

So what should happen now? Whatever happens, we should have a General Election before anything is done to enact leaving the EU. Let us see who would be Prime Minister and have a chance to vote for them. Let us hear the whole plan of the party or parties that want to go ahead and leave the EU. The implications of leaving are so significant and intertwined with other issues that it can’t be just “grafted on” as an optional extra. You can’t just choose your party of government and then add or subtract EU membership to taste.

The second thing that needs to happen is the breakup of the Conservative Party. I have voted for them in every election, so I say this with great sadness. But the truth is that what we now need is a proper centrist party to vote for, free of both left and right wing extremists. In 1981, the ‘Gang of Four’ broke away from the Labour Party to form a new centrist political party, the SDP. Sadly, this came to nothing in the end. But 35 years later, it is time to try again, this time starting with a break away group of pro EU Conservative MPs. Perhaps the current political crisis and the disarray in the Labour Party under Corbyn even makes it possible for them to be joined by a break away group of moderate Labour MPs. Now that would be a party I would vote for and I think would give the country an option which might beat “none of the above” as the party of choice.

A Swift update

A Swift update

A Swift update

Once again, I failed to live up to my good intentions to update this blog more in 2015. So as a new year starts, I thought I would do a few “catch up” posts covering events from last year.

The first one of these is a catch up on the coding front. I’d been playing with Swift right from the beginning, but early attempts at rewriting some parts of my Mac Finances application in Swift rapidly convinced me that Swift just wasn’t ready and I reverted to Objective C. However, I continued to play with Swift on the side as I do really like the language.

The advent of Swift 2.0 prompted me to ‘take the plunge’. I decided to completely rewrite the application in Swift – not because this is a good idea, but because I felt this would be the best way to really learn the language. I took me about 5 weeks to rewrite 12,700 lines of Objective C, working in my not very large amount of spare time, which is either a long time or surprisingly quick, depending on your perspective. It probably took me another couple of weeks to squash the final bugs that I had inadvertently introduced during the process. Overall, I’d say the experience was quite positive.

One of the things that I was intrigued to discover was whether Swift would produce more compact code, so I keep track of things as I converted things over. The outcome was a 13.6% reduction with a resulting Swift code base of 11,000 lines. I did make a few functional changes and refactored some of my earliest code along the way, so I can’t guarantee that this was all due to the language, but I kept track of the reduction as I went and it did seem pretty consistent. The reduction was only a little larger than number of lines of code in the objective C header files, so I think that elimination of these is probably the main saving. But what struck me the most was that the final Swift code was much cleaner and more elegant than the Objective C version and the “proof of the pudding” is that I would be really unhappy to have to switch back now.

0-100% Irish

Shamrock

As a result of my employer IAG’s “proposal to launch an offer” to acquire Irish airline Aer Lingus, I’ve been meeting quite a few new Irish people recently. Many make a comment something along the lines of: “Boyle, that’s a good Irish name. How Irish are you?”. So I’ve been giving some thought to what the answer to that question is.

Firstly, the facts. My great great grandfather Patrick Boyle was born in Ireland in 1842 of Irish parents and married a good Irish girl, Mary, of equally solid Irish parentage. So 100% Irish that far back and since I am in the direct male line of descent, perhaps I could claim to be 100% Irish today. Certainly the family name is.

Some time before the birth of my great grandfather James Boyle in 1870, the dilution of my Irish ancestry commenced with Patrick and Mary moving to Liverpool. According to the Irish rules of citizenship, as a child of Irish parents born in Ireland, James was automatically an Irish citizen. His son Austin, my grandfather, born in 1899 was not automatically an Irish citizen, but was entitled to become one due to having at least one grandparent born in Ireland. I, being a member of the fourth generation of Boyles born outside Ireland, have no rights to Irish citizenship through descent. So “zero” is also a reasonable answer to the question of how Irish I am.

But wait a minute. My great grandfather James had “pure” Irish blood as both his parents were properly Irish. And he married another Mary who, whilst born in Liverpool, also had parents who were both born in Ireland. So their son, my grandfather, was also of pure Irish blood. Only after that did the rot set in and the purity of the Boyle line begin to be diluted with non Irish blood. By that count, I’m 25% Irish.

So that clears that up then.

Tech hunting in Israel

The Old City, Jerusalem

After three weeks catching up with ‘the day job’, I’m finally getting round to writing about a recent tech scouting trip to Israel. Four days of meeting with entrepreneurs, investors, startup companies and other participants in the Israeli technology and innovation ecosystem.

I had high expectations for the trip. Israel has acquired a reputation as the second most important centre for technology and innovation (the undisputed global capital of course remains “The Valley”). My already high expectations were exceeded and I came away deeply impressed by what has been achieved there. But overall, the thing that impressed me most was the sheer entrepreneurialism and energy of the people that I met. The willingness to take risks in pursuit of big rewards, and to treat “failure” as a opportunity to do better next time, drawing on the lessons learnt.

The UK has much to learn I think from Israel about how to foster and support innovation and create the jobs and companies of the future. There are lessons for governments, for companies and for individuals and I’d definitely recommend a trip.

Oh… and Jerusalem is pretty amazing too!

Confessions of a closet coder

My first computer

My first computer

I promised myself to post more regularly on this blog in 2014 and after a good start, I’ve let things slide a bit recently. Laziness apart, one of the main reasons is that I’ve been busy on other projects, most notably learning to write Mac and iOS applications. “Why on earth have you been doing that?”, I hear you ask. Well if you want to know the answer, read on. However, I should warn that things are going to get a little geeky, so look away now if you are not into that kind of thing. You have been warned!

I’ve always loved programming. My first experiences, as for many others of my generation was with BASIC. In my case, it involved typing programmes into a teletype machine at school, dialling into the local council mainframe. Back in those days, “saving” your programme meant punching holes in a roll of paper tape.

Ease of use regressed further when I got my first personal computer, a Sinclair MK14. Not only did I have to assemble the machine myself, it had to be programmed in machine code, and I don’t mean assembler. I mean inputting the hexadecimal numbers that represent each instruction. Initially, there was no way to save your programmes at all – you had to type them in again after each reboot, no small task using a 20 key membrane keyboard. The only plus point was that with only 256 bytes of RAM to play with, that’s a maximum of 516 hexadecimal digits to type in.

Over the years, I’ve always tried to keep my hand in and I’ve used PASCAL, Visual Basic, Javascript, PHP, Applescript, BASH and Python. I dabbled at times with C, the low level nature of the language appealing to the machine code hacker in me. But until recently, I’ve never attempted to produce any real world programmes using the language as it was all just a bit too much hard work.

About 6 months ago, I decided to learn Objective C – an object oriented version of C that is used by Apple to develop Mac and iOS applications. I was driven by a mixture of intellectual curiosity and a desire to be able to write real Mac and iOS applications for my own use. Specifically, to replace the 45 sheet Excel spreadsheet that I use to manage my personal finances with something easier to use and maintain (I’ve tried but never liked any of the personal finance apps available in the market).

Objective C and Apple’s Cocoa frameworks have a steep learning curve, even for someone with experience of other languages. The learning resources that I found invaluable were the books from Big Nerd Ranch, video tutorials by Simon Allardice on Lynda.com and the Q&As on Stack Overflow. However, despite this learning curve, after six months my personal finances spreadsheet has been retired. The new Mac app has advanced to the point where it does the job much better. I’m not saying that you’ll be able to buy it on the app store any time soon, since it’s definitely an app targetted at a one person niche market segment. But overall I find it quite amazing that the development tools have now advanced to a point where a hobbyist like me, coding in my spare time, can learn how to build a functional Mac application in such a relatively short space of time.

The world of technology being what it is, just as soon as I’d “finished” learning Objective C (in as much as you can ever finish learning anything), Apple duly announced at this month’s WWDC developer conference that they were replacing Objective C with a new language, Swift. Having spent a couple of weeks playing with it, including experimenting with rewriting some parts of my finances application in Swift, I can say that there is much to like about the new language. To me, it brings many of the ease of use attractions of the Python language, whilst retaining the speed advantages of a low level language built on C. It solves many of the “WTF” moments I had when learning Objective C. To give one example, to add two decimal numbers A & B together in Objective C you have to use the syntax [A decimalNumberByAdding: B]. Swift has operator overloading so even for non primitive data types like NSDecimalNumber, you can use the syntax A+B. They’ve also brought across one of the great things about Python – an interactive mode where you can type commands and get an immediate response without needing to compile and run your code first, a real benefit when learning a language.

So all in all I think Swift will make it even easier to get into Mac and iOS application development. However, just at the moment it presents some additional challenges. Swift is still in beta and you still need to learn Objective C if you want to write apps today. It will take some time for the books, training videos and online Q&As that I found so useful to catch up. It has also given me a new language to learn. It’s a good job I like learning new things!

Losing weight – my seven point plan

Shedding the excess pounds

Shedding the excess pounds

I’ve been asked to produce a consolidated version of my recent series of posts on losing weight, so here it is in one mega post.

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog and one of my New Year Resolutions is to keep it more up to date. Each year I also promise myself to lose weight and get fit following the eating and drinking excesses of Christmas. And you know what? In 2013, I actually did. This was not however the result of a resolution made in January, but a decision made in the middle of October following a lecture from my doctor. For once, I decided to listen and actually do something about it and by Christmas morning, I was 16 lbs lighter. Many people have asked me how I did it, and since it is that time of year when interest in diets and fitness programmes hits a seasonal peak, I thought I’d write a blog post or two on the subject.

The first question people have is usually “which diet plan did you follow?”. And there are many fashionable options. 5:2, Atkins, Paleo and so on. But the truth is, I didn’t follow any of them. I went with the “eat less, drink less, exercise more” plan. Simple really. But of course if it was that simple, we wouldn’t have the boom that we do in obesity and related health problems. So over the course of a few posts, I’m going to set out what worked for me and why. Today I’ll cover the first three steps.

Step 1: Make a decision and mean it

This was probably the most important step of all for me. On many previous occasions, I have “decided” to drink less, to lose weight and to get fit. I’d bought the cross-trainer and even used it from time to time. But in truth, what I’d decided to do was to try to do these things. The difference this time was that I decided to do it, not just try.

Step 2: Set a target

This is the easy bit, but no less important for that. In my case it was to lose 15 lbs by Christmas Day, which would get me to the lower bound of the “overweight” category of BMI. This would mean losing about 1½ lbs a week, which my web research said was a reasonable target. This was to be an interim step along the way to getting to the middle of the “normal range” of BMI before my 50th birthday. So a total of 22 lbs before September 2014. After a couple of weeks and some more internet research, I decided that it was also important to target a “fat %” figure to make sure that any weight loss was the “right kind of weight”.

Step 3: Track both inputs and outputs

Having decided to treat the task as a project with clear goals, regular tracking of progress was clearly going to be key. But as well as tracking output measures like weight, it is also key to target and track input measures – calories consumed and burned. Weight gain or loss is actually pretty simple. Calories in < calories out = weight loss. Set targets and track progress on all three parts. Fortunately, technology has made it easy to do just that and I'll cover that next. [caption id="attachment_937" align="alignleft" width="950"]Withing Scale Withing Scale[/caption]

Step 4: Leverage technology

There are many reasons to tool up with technology to help you succeed in your mission to lose weight.

Firstly, keeping regular track of the progress you are making is essential for motivation and knowing how you are doing, so that if things aren’t working you can adapt. My weapon of choice here is the Withings Scale. This connects to your WIFI and automatically uploads your weight and fat % measurements to the web (by default to a private account if you don’t want to broadcast your vital statistics to the world). It is easy to use and the iPhone and iPad apps provide a wealth of charting and tracking data. Nowadays of course, they’ve “gamified” the experience and whilst the “congratulations, you are now 50% of the way towards your weekly weight loss goal” messages are a bit banal, they do actually help to keep you motivated and interested.

Secondly, the technology takes the grind out of properly tracking the input side – what you eat, drink and how many calories you’ve burned through exercise. It really does help to be able to link your input actions to the resulting outputs of weight, fat percentage and body measurements. Whilst the correlation between inputs and outputs is far from perfect on a daily basis, measured over a few days it really is very strong. And it is the input side that you control. After a while, knowing that each glass of wine means another 20 minutes on the cross-trainer to burn it off really does start to drive behaviour. When you know you are behind against your weekly calorie target, that second helping doesn’t seem so attractive.

MyFitnessPal

MyFitnessPal

In terms of apps, I’m using Runkeeper to track cross-trainer sessions, walks, cycle rides and runs and MyFitnessPal to track calories. Both of these integrate with the Withings app and so you can view all your information on an integrated dashboard. The Withings Pulse activity and sleep tracker is also good.

So technology can be a big plus for motivation and help you stay on target in terms of keeping to your daily and weekly net calorie budgets. For me, as a technology enthusiast, it has also helped to keep me interested in “the project”. But for anyone wanting to follow “the Boyle weight loss plan”, I’m afraid that this is the end of the easy part. The next step in the journey will require you to get up from the sofa and out from behind your desk and start burning the calories. I’ll now cover how I have found the time and motivation to average 50 minutes of exercise a day.

JTX Smart Stride 23

JTX Smart Stride 23

Step 5: Daily exercise

So we now need to move on from the easy initial steps of setting your goals and loading up with tracking technology. The next easiest bit for me was to do more exercise. I think this is an essential part of any weight loss programme as it gives you multiple benefits. As well as the direct impact it gives from burning calories, it can also stimulate the metabolism and of course has significant health benefits over and above those from losing weight. Whilst I won’t pretend that it can be a complete solution – you do need to take steps to control your eating and drinking too, I found that it made the scale of adjustment needed much more manageable.

Once you’ve got yourself into the mindset that meeting the net calorie budget over time is “non-negotiable”, exercise becomes the safety valve for any weakness of resolve on the consumption side. A night out planned and don’t fancy drinking water all evening? Better get some extra exercise in to compensate in advance.

Although I’ve done the odd bit of running and cycling, far and away the main contribution has been from walking and time on the cross-trainer. Both of these are low impact and so don’t come with the risk of your programme being put out of action by an injury. And for me at least, I’ve found them the easiest to fit into my daily routine with the least adjustment. That is not to say with no adjustment and the real challenge to significantly increasing your exercise is making the time. I use the term “making” rather than “finding” as none of us have a spare 50 minutes a day that they can easily repurpose. So how have I managed it?

For me, cross-trainer time is a first thing in the morning activity and is something to be done every day if at all possible. Having the equipment at home makes all the difference in terms of minimising the “time overhead”. Compared to exercising at home first thing in the morning, a middle of the day gym trip means an extra shower and (unless you can walk or cycle to the gym), wasted travelling time. You are also most in control at that time too. Time can always be made as long as you get up early enough. I’ve found that squeezing in 30-40 minutes a day most days and a bit longer at the weekend is feasible. The rest of the day is more unpredictable and subject to the demands of other people.

The other great advantage of the cross-trainer is that you can do other things whilst you exercise. An iPad on a stand gives you a world of entertainment and information to keep you from getting bored. My favourite diversion is watching training videos from Lynda.com. So as well as losing weight and getting fit, I’ve been learning lots at the same time.

Walking is the other calorie burning activity that has made a significant contribution. Listening to audiobooks at the same time helps make it an activity that you look forward to rather than get bored doing. I’ve found that, weather permitting, fitting in a 30-40 minute walk during the day is possible on many days. Difficult, but possible. We are all supposed to get time off for lunch after all. And that doubly virtuous “mobile lunch” of fruit eaten on the move gives lots of points. Points which can be cashed in at the weekend in an extra glass of wine or two without busting the calorie budget.

Which is a perfect segue to the next step, dealing with the demon drink.

Probably better to store your wine out of sight, I'll admit.

Probably better to store your wine out of sight, I’ll admit.

Step 6: Drink less

So we are now up to step 6 – cutting down on the booze. I did tell you that steps 1-5 were the easy bits didn’t I?

The strategy starts with cutting out alcohol on weekdays. By which I mean Monday to Thursday. Trying not to drink on Friday nights would be inviting failure. The heart of my approach to losing weight (and not just trying to do it) was to set goals that I would be able to meet and make lifestyle changes that I would be able to sustain. Not drinking on weekdays is a rule which I’ve not tried to achieve 100% of the time. Again, I think this would be unrealistic for me. There are too many work dinners on weekdays. Too many overseas trips. Too many social situations where not drinking would be problematic. But in practice I’ve been managing between two and four alcohol free days a week.

Now for those of you who don’t drink much, this might sound undemanding. The good news for you is that perhaps this part of my weight loss formula will in fact be another easy part. The bad news is that if you already don’t drink much and still have a weight problem, I can only assume you have another high calorie habit, like taking sugar in your tea/coffee, snacking on biscuits or cakes, eating puddings etc, none of which were problem areas for me. If they are for you, you’ll have to substitute no pudding days for no alcohol days.

With a daily net calorie budget of 1,200 and a glass of wine coming in at 120 calories, it is not difficult to see why cutting down on alcohol had to be a central part of my weight loss plan. It was also something I needed to do in any event for the good of my liver. But I was under no illusions that I would need to deploy every possible strategy and tactic if I was to succeed.

One approach to drinking less is to promise yourself to stop drinking after a certain point. “I’ll just have the one”, or “we won’t open the second bottle”. But my first fairly obvious tip is that your sober self is much better at self denial than the person you become after a drink or two. So put your sober self in charge and don’t base any of your plans on your post drinking self sticking to any of the rules.

It is much easier to delay gratification than to deny it. So rather than walking in the door and cracking open a bottle of wine (as I used to do), make a rule that you have to drink a pint of water first. After a pint of water, you drink more slowly. Tell yourself “I can wait half an hour” and go and do something else first. Any delay to starting the first drink means you’ll drink less over the course of the evening. Once the cork is out (or the screw cap removed), keep a glass of water next to you and try and alternate. I reckon it’s possible to cut down your intake on drinking days by up to half through little tricks like this.

One more observation. If you’ve had to get up extra early in the morning to fit in your daily exercise, you may be running short on sleep. If you are using something like the Withings Pulse I mentioned in an earlier post to track your sleep, it will probably be nagging you that you aren’t getting enough. So go to bed a bit earlier. There will be fewer hours in which to resist temptation on non-drinking evenings, and you’ll have less time to clock up the calories on drinking days.

Meet your new best friend

Meet your new best friend

Step 7: Eat less

The final step in my seven point plan for losing weight is to eat less. I’ve left this one till last, which might seem surprising as cutting back on what you eat seems to be the most obvious part of “going on a diet”. For me, this bit of the plan has been important, but probably the least significant part of the “eat less, drink less, exercise more” formula. It was probably this mismatch between what I actually did to lose weight and the questions I got about what diet I was following that prompted me to write this series of blog posts.

My wife Amanda has always cooked healthy food at home and we’ve never really eaten dessert on a regular basis. So for me, the key things to address on the food front were lunch and weekday work dinners. I’ve already mentioned the potential of the “mobile lunch” (an apple and/or banana eaten on the move whilst walking off the calories) to help balance out your weekly net calorie statistics. I’ve also found that it is pretty hard to hit the weekly goals if you have more than 2-3 “high calorie” meals a week (Sunday roast, restaurant meal out, anything with chips etc). So if you have a job like mine, controlling the number of weekday invitations you accept is important and one of the things I did was to ask my PA to help me impose a “maximum one meal out a week” constraint.

As I’ve already said, I didn’t have a big problem with snacking. But saying no is still important. People in the office are very friendly and sociable and there is a tradition of bringing in cakes and other snacks on birthdays and after travel trips. If you are serious about controlling your weight, you have to learn to say no and not be worried about offending people.

Some final thoughts

There are a few things I want to mention that haven’t fitted in to my step by step guide and I want to cover these before I finally shut up.

Toning up. After a few weeks focusing on “cardio”, I decided to add some strength and toning exercises. You need to find another 10 minutes a day and I don’t really know whether this helped on the weight loss front. But for myself, I think it did and it is certainly something I’d recommend as part of a campaign to get healthy and feel better about yourself.

Feedback. There is huge value to making enough progress in the first few weeks that people start to notice and give you positive feedback. Being told things like “wow, you’ve lost lots of weight”, “you look great”, “you look younger” are all great for the motivation and give you the impetus to carry on. As an aside, people usually don’t tell you that you are looking fat, old or unhealthy (well, except perhaps your mother). Maybe if they did we wouldn’t let things get to the stage that a diet is necessary at all.

Support. Losing weight is easier as a team. In my case, having a supportive spouse willing to share my non-drinking days, help me eat more healthily and join me on weekend walks was invaluable. So make sure you enlist the help and support of colleagues, friends and family wherever you can. Some of the social features of today’s health apps can play a role here. Exercise classes such as those run by our friend Gilly Cook at GLF Fitness would I’m sure be a great solution if you can fit them into your schedule.

Sustaining it. Obviously this is something I can’t really speak about with the benefit of experience. After a pause over Christmas, I’m back on my target trajectory but still have another 9 pounds to go. But there are three things that give me confidence that I won’t be putting the weight back on:

  1. When I made my decision to lose weight, I decided to change my lifestyle permanently, not just “go on a diet”.
  2. As I’ve tried to explain, I designed the steps I took very carefully, with a full appreciation of my weaknesses and only including things I was confident I could sustain.
  3. Now I’ve written this blog and broadcast it to the world, it would be far too embarrassing to become a fat slob again.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading and I hope that at least one or two of these ideas may be things you can use to help you stick to your own New Year Resolutions. Good luck!

Oh, so you are on a diet?

Meet your new best friend

Meet your new best friend

Step 7: Eat less

The final step in my seven point plan for losing weight is to eat less (see my previous posts for the first six). I’ve left this one till last, which might seem surprising as cutting back on what you eat seems to be the most obvious part of “going on a diet”. For me, this bit of the plan has been important, but probably the least significant part of the “eat less, drink less, exercise more” formula. It was probably this mismatch between what I actually did to lose weight and the questions I got about what diet I was following that prompted me to write this series of blog posts.

My wife Amanda has always cooked healthy food at home and we’ve never really eaten dessert on a regular basis. So for me, the key things to address on the food front were lunch and weekday work dinners. I’ve already mentioned the potential of the “mobile lunch” (an apple and/or banana eaten on the move whilst walking off the calories) to help balance out your weekly net calorie statistics. I’ve also found that it is pretty hard to hit the weekly goals if you have more than 2-3 “high calorie” meals a week (Sunday roast, restaurant meal out, anything with chips etc). So if you have a job like mine, controlling the number of weekday invitations you accept is important and one of the things I did was to ask my PA to help me impose a “maximum one meal out a week” constraint.

As I’ve already said, I didn’t have a big problem with snacking. But saying no is still important. People in the office are very friendly and sociable and there is a tradition of bringing in cakes and other snacks on birthdays and after travel trips. If you are serious about controlling your weight, you have to learn to say no and not be worried about offending people.

Some final thoughts

There are a few things I want to mention that haven’t fitted in to my step by step guide and I want to cover these before I finally shut up.

Toning up. After a few weeks focusing on “cardio”, I decided to add some strength and toning exercises. You need to find another 10 minutes a day and I don’t really know whether this helped on the weight loss front. But for myself, I think it did and it is certainly something I’d recommend as part of a campaign to get healthy and feel better about yourself.

Feedback. There is huge value to making enough progress in the first few weeks that people start to notice and give you positive feedback. Being told things like “wow, you’ve lost lots of weight”, “you look great”, “you look younger” are all great for the motivation and give you the impetus to carry on. As an aside, people usually don’t tell you that you are looking fat, old or unhealthy (well, except perhaps your mother). Maybe if they did we wouldn’t let things get to the stage that a diet is necessary at all.

Support. Losing weight is easier as a team. In my case, having a supportive spouse willing to share my non-drinking days, help me eat more healthily and join me on weekend walks was invaluable. So make sure you enlist the help and support of colleagues, friends and family wherever you can. Some of the social features of today’s health apps can play a role here. Exercise classes such as those run by our friend Gilly Cook at GLF Fitness would I’m sure be a great solution if you can fit them into your schedule.

Sustaining it. Obviously this is something I can’t really speak about with the benefit of experience. After a pause over Christmas, I’m back on my target trajectory but still have another 9 pounds to go. But there are three things that give me confidence that I won’t be putting the weight back on:

  1. When I made my decision to lose weight, I decided to change my lifestyle permanently, not just “go on a diet”.
  2. As I’ve tried to explain, I designed the steps I took very carefully, with a full appreciation of my weaknesses and only including things I was confident I could sustain.
  3. Now I’ve written this blog and broadcast it to the world, it would be far too embarrassing to become a fat slob again.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading and I hope that at least one or two of these ideas may be things you can use to help you stick to your own New Year Resolutions. Good luck!

Dieting and the demon drink

Probably better to store your wine out of sight, I'll admit.

Probably better to store your wine out of sight, I’ll admit.

Step 6: Drink less

In my mission to document my approach to losing weight, we are up to step 6 – cutting down on the booze. I did tell you that steps 1-5 were the easy bits didn’t I?

The strategy starts with cutting out alcohol on weekdays. By which I mean Monday to Thursday. Trying not to drink on Friday nights would be inviting failure. The heart of my approach to losing weight (and not just trying to do it) was to set goals that I would be able to meet and make lifestyle changes that I would be able to sustain. Not drinking on weekdays is a rule which I’ve not tried to achieve 100% of the time. Again, I think this would be unrealistic for me. There are too many work dinners on weekdays. Too many overseas trips. Too many social situations where not drinking would be problematic. But in practice I’ve been managing between two and four alcohol free days a week.

Now for those of you who don’t drink much, this might sound undemanding. The good news for you is that perhaps this part of my weight loss formula will in fact be another easy part. The bad news is that if you already don’t drink much and still have a weight problem, I can only assume you have another high calorie habit, like taking sugar in your tea/coffee, snacking on biscuits or cakes, eating puddings etc, none of which were problem areas for me. If they are for you, you’ll have to substitute no pudding days for no alcohol days.

With a daily net calorie budget of 1,200 and a glass of wine coming in at 120 calories, it is not difficult to see why cutting down on alcohol had to be a central part of my weight loss plan. It was also something I needed to do in any event for the good of my liver. But I was under no illusions that I would need to deploy every possible strategy and tactic if I was to succeed.

One approach to drinking less is to promise yourself to stop drinking after a certain point. “I’ll just have the one”, or “we won’t open the second bottle”. But my first fairly obvious tip is that your sober self is much better at self denial than the person you become after a drink or two. So put your sober self in charge and don’t base any of your plans on your post drinking self sticking to any of the rules.

It is much easier to delay gratification than to deny it. So rather than walking in the door and cracking open a bottle of wine (as I used to do), make a rule that you have to drink a pint of water first. After a pint of water, you drink more slowly. Tell yourself “I can wait half an hour” and go and do something else first. Any delay to starting the first drink means you’ll drink less over the course of the evening. Once the cork is out (or the screw cap removed), keep a glass of water next to you and try and alternate. I reckon it’s possible to cut down your intake on drinking days by up to half through little tricks like this.

One more observation. If you’ve had to get up extra early in the morning to fit in your daily exercise, you may be running short on sleep. If you are using something like the Withings Pulse I mentioned in an earlier post to track your sleep, it will probably be nagging you that you aren’t getting enough. So go to bed a bit earlier. There will be fewer hours in which to resist temptation on non-drinking evenings, and you’ll have less time to clock up the calories on drinking days.

So now we are on the finishing straight. Tomorrow I’ll deal with the “eating less” part and offer a few final thoughts.