If a fit and healthy ex-squaddie can end up at 22 stone, what chance does the average person have?

Answers on a postcard please...

Back in my ‘pre porker’ days, I was in the military, played rugby to county level and cycled a lot. I was, to coin a phrase, “as fit as a butcher’s dog”. Which is why in this blog I’ll be trying to work out what went wrong and why I ended up in the state I got into, which has led me onto the path I’m on now.

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve always had to watch my weight; it never took much to tip the scales. This was why I was grateful for my love of sport and a military training regime.

Rewind to 1997, which was when I started to ease up a bit. Significant events were the birth of my first child, doing a job I hated and moving house. I still played a bit of rugby, although at 33 I was feeling the effects of 20-odd years in the front row and various physically demanding military courses.

I was getting injured a lot, which affected my physical condition and my ability to train. I was still mountain biking, although less and less – mainly, if memory serves, as my main riding partner had just come out of the army and was trying to start a civvie career. I wasn’t great at cycling on my own back then.

This is the crux of my irritating conundrum; I can't identify what made me drop everything. “It kind of just happened” is a phrase that annoys the hell out of me, as it’s deeply unsatisfying, but it’s as near as I can get.

I've written about this very issue in my own blog and I used the phrase “10 wasted years” of being fat and unfit. One of my peers commented that he was in the same boat, as he couldn’t identify a cause either, but he didn’t worry about it: what’s done is done and what you do now is the most important thing. Very true, a massively positive thing to say and one I concur with wholeheartedly.

To use a rugby coaching cliché, “you have to find the positives in every situation”. Those ‘10 wasted years’ were also when I got my career on track, had two wonderful kids, got involved with coaching rugby to a decent level and had some fantastic trips abroad with my old army mates. To call them “wasted” years is being churlish really, but I can’t help feeling that way about them.

But here’s the thing, it does bother me. It bothers me a lot because I want to know what motivates a fit, healthy and reasonably intelligent person to start on a road that leads to ill health and a potentially shortened life.

And let’s not beat about the bush here, not exercising and overeating is self abuse. Back in 2004 I had a heart scare: chest pains, sweating, shortness of breath, the whole nine yards. I ended up in A&E and, although I was given the all-clear apart from high blood pressure, you'd have thought that that would have given me a kick up the arse.

Wrong. I kept on doing what I was doing: eating shite and too much of it, drinking too much and not exercising. Are you really telling me that’s the behaviour of a sane person? Especially with a family relying on them?

Between then and now I did go to my doctor because I did at some level know I needed to change. I joined a gym, but that petered out; I started pedalling to work, but that petered out too. I got a turbo trainer, rowing machine and even a running machine – none of which ever got used regularly, just the odd session when I remembered. And still the takeaways and beer kept going in. Why? I really need to know.

I consider myself fortunate. I’m used to training, being fit and knowing the pain you go through along the way, and I’m used to dealing with it. There are a lot of obese people who have never exercised, never felt the pain of exertion and wouldn’t know how to deal with it if they do. How do they start on the road to recovery?

I have my past life to help me. I know about progressive training, I know what is meant to hurt and what’s not. I know about pushing myself and what kind of punishment I can take. They don’t. You really can’t start on a weight loss exercise programme without some sort of knowledge to back you up.

I went for help to the NHS and, apart from recommending Weight Watchers, nothing was done. Is that good enough? I don’t know. Should the NHS be there for people who harm themselves due to a sedentary lifestyle? There’s an interesting debate there, for sure.

In the end I helped myself. But that was only by chance after stumbling onto Frank Kinlan’s blog, which for some unfathomable reason flicked my switch. And I’m bloody glad it did, because I have absolutely no doubt that I would still be 22 stone if I hadn’t.

I guess this issue is a bit off-topic for a mountain biking blog – apologies for the introspection – but I just feel that understanding the root cause of this problem is important to preventing it. I mean, if a fit and healthy, rugby playing ex-squaddie can end up at 22 stone, then what chance does the average person have? Answers on a postcard please...

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