After getting several requests, I decided to translate this post to English, to tell a story that happened during the last 10 years, but that began more than 20 years ago. This post has a double goal: To inspire who reads to improve their life habits, and a commitment to myself to keep mine. This post is long, I apologize, but ten years cannot be told in less.
Of all the bad decisions I’ve made during my life, by far, the worst of all was to start smoking. At the age of seventeen, I weighed less than 70 Kg., I frequently went to the gym, took swimming lessons, and commuted by bicycle within reasonable distances. It was a difficult time in my life, a bit because of rebellion, a bit because of social pressure, and another because of sadness, I started smoking. I have to confess that even today, at almost thirty-seven years old, I am ashamed to admit it in front of my family.
It didn’t take long to see the harmful effects of this vice, but I completely neglected them. It was already hard for me to ride a bike or do any physical activity. Walking some distance exhausted me, but I just had started to drive since I reached the legal driving age. During this time, a sedentary lifestyle and bad nutritional habits started to show, and by the end of my twenty-fifths I weighed above 94 Kg., a scab of seborrheic dermatitis appeared on my face, which I discovered a long after was associated with health of my liver; affected by cigarette, alcohol and high-fat food.
Many attempts took me to quit smoking: Lowering the amounts to two or three cigarettes per day and setting schedules or days to do so were some of the things I tried. But I couldn’t stop, for one simple reason: I wanted to smoke, but I knew I shouldn’t do it for my health. In hindsight, this way of thinking is problematic, since it is challenging not to do what you want to do.
During New Year’s Eve 2010, my resolution was to quit smoking. And I did it the only way I could: closed my eyes and pretended that the cigarette didn’t exist anymore. For months I avoided hanging out in places where people smoked, until the desire to do so faded. However, the approach was not totally effective, since in my head the idea did not disappear; Only my will power was more.
Who is reading so far may think: “Big deal, willpower, this kid is not telling me anything new.” If that’s the case; I ask for a little patience, I’ll try to make a slightly stronger argument towards the end of the post.
The effects of quitting smoking were immediately noticeable: My ability to exercise increased tenfold, I began to experience a lucidity of thought that I didn’t know I had lost, I regained the use of my smell and taste, and I had much more free time: if we do the math, five minutes per cigarette plus setup time (walking to a place where is cool to smoke), for a pack of 20, you lose at least 140 minutes a day, or 2 hours 20 minutes.
Now I will pause to define the concept of Keystone Habit: basically good habits that facilitate other good habits. Quitting smoking was a keystone habit for me.
Now I had to solve the most difficult problem of all: Morbid obesity. According to my body mass index (and other measures a little more serious), my ideal weight is 65Kg., And my overweight limit is 72Kg. Being at 95 (the limit of morbid obesity), the challenge was to drop 30Kg! A task that took me ten years and a lot of learning.
I will say something that should be obvious to everyone who has tried to lose weight: Diets are not effective, neither exercise in large volumes, but somewhere you have to start.
Towards the end of 2010, I bought a mountain bike and started using it to go to work, about 4 kilometers per section. On the weekends I saw myself being able to make the ride between Chacras de Coria and the entrance of the Mendoza River. Finally, I managed to ride the forty kilometers uphill that takes to reach Cacheuta.
By February 2011 I had lost 7kg, and by July 2012 I weighed 78Kg. Still overweight but much better. The problem is that I had not changed my eating habits, just riding my bike helped me to generate a deficit between the calories I consumed and those I burned.
In August 2012 I was hired for a job in Buenos Aires, where the land is flat and it is dangerous to ride a fancy bicycle in the street. Due to this, a 200% increase in hours worked and sustained bad eating habits (how to forget the delicious fried Empanadas of the Gourmet!), I began to gain weight again up to over 90Kg. All Progress was lost !! The lesson: bursts of exercise do not help you lose weight sustainably. Exercise has to be part of your life.
The years that followed were tough to my personal life and I paid no attention to my health at all. Keeping my seborrheic dermatitis under control by mometasone cream, I saw myself lose health and progress.
I think this is the story of all those who have tried to lose weight without success in their lives: they make sacrifices, see progress, have “a bad time”, and get discouraged when they see everything lost.
In January 2016, after moving alone (and single) to the United States, my interest in health gained a new vigor, not only as a need for a good life but also for the social aspect of appearance.
Armed with my willpower, I tried again the only thing that (so far) had produced results in me: Exercise. But this time a little differently, I had to find an activity that didn’t depend on a bicycle or the situation. The solution was simply to walk: I started walking to work, or any distance less than 2 miles (3.2 km), 30 minutes a day on the treadmill, and hiking on the weekends. And so it was that I discovered my second keystone habit: walk as much as possible.
At the same time I started reading about nutrition. Something that caught my attention was that the liver is the organ responsible for processing fats, that carbohydrates are metabolized into fats, and that alcohol affects liver function. So I made another decision: stop consuming alcoholic beverages, and if so, drink wine or whiskey, since small amounts of them last a long time in the glass.
With these simple changes, my weight dropped and gained stability at 72Kg by the end of 2016. Staying stable for the next four years. This was my third keystone habit: Avoid excess alcohol, almost completely discarding beer.
During this time, thanks to my environment, I began to do all sorts of physical activities, from bicycle circuits of up to 200km a day with more than three thousand meters of climbing to walks on paths of more than 20km with a 20kg backpack at shoulders. On top of this, my body and my hormones adapted to the weight, but I failed to get passed less than 70Kg. or more than 72Kg. The reason: I still didn’t pay enough attention to my diet.
As with smoking, you can’t stop it without wanting to, as much as you can’t lose weight without wanting to eat healthier. Another thing I discovered is that many of my beliefs about healthy food were wrong.
During mid-2019, going through a period of personal growth, and healing the wounds of a decade of spiritual self-scourge, I began to have symptoms of discomfort that lasted for over a month. After a visit to the doctor, I sadly discovered that the (social) abuse of alcohol and restaurant food was causing my liver some problems. I had begun to gain weight again at a very slow pace, but thanks to the large amounts of exercise and long daily walks, it was not noticeable. My liver was paying the bills.
Something had to be done. As per the doctor’s recommendation, I stopped consuming all kinds of alcohol, allowing myself only a glass of wine during the celebrations. I also enrolled in a program to improve eating habits where I learned many things about nutrition, metabolisms, and psychology. In this program, I understood why I could not achieve my goals, and it is clear in hindsight, but it was not while I was trying things without any information beyond what I learned wrongly throughout my life.
To quit smoking, or lose weight, or achieve anything in life, you have to want it, and not just have to do it. It’s simple: I can’t quit smoking if I still want a cigarette, I have to choose not to want it. I cannot lose weight without wanting to eat well, I have to choose to eat smaller portions, I have to develop a taste for what is good for me, I have to develop rejection for what is bad for me. It is not obvious? If I have to lose weight but I want to stuff my face with processed foods and drink 4 pints of beer, or a bottle of soda, I’m certainly not being consistent. With this I do not mean under any point of view being “deprived”, there is a huge difference between depriving yourself of something and not wanting it.
Another dangerous thought I had is to think that “I deserve” to eat this or that after having a difficult day or being in the saddle for 9 hours straight. How can it be that after working hard, or having a difficult day, I deserve to damage myself a little bit? But well, in moderation everything can be done, everything in excess is harmful.
Quitting the vices (or moderating) is not easy since our own biology asks us for more. Sugar, salt, carbohydrates, alcohol, all of the above; But with the appropriate mindset and information, lasting changes can be made and keystone habits established, so that will stick for a lifetime.
To close, after 10 years of walking the path of health, I find myself almost at 66kg, experiencing unprecedented feelings of positivism and lucidity. One more proof that short-term solutions are not effective, and that the name of the game is: slow and steady. I hope this will inspire anyone who has read this long text. Happy beginning of the 202x decade!