Smoking, death, decisions, goals, consistency and success - in that order
When I tell ‘my story’ in writing or at my seminars, I often say that “I was trying to lose weight and be healthy, but getting it all wrong for 16 years” and then, from my mid-30s, I started getting things right. The day I started getting things right, was 13 years ago today.
13 years ago today, on the 4th Feb 2006, I was 35 years old, over weight, out of shape and in poor health. I weighed 220 pounds, that’s 99.8 kilos (or 15 stone 10 in old English money) and I had a BMI of 29, and my bodyfat was 25%. This wasn’t my heaviest, I had been 15 to 30 pounds heavier at various times in my teens, my 20s and just three years earlier in 2003, in my 30s.
By this point, 2006, I had been yo-yo dieting for 19 years. I had smoked for 18 out of the previous 20 years, I had quit hundreds of times - some lasted a day, some a week, some a month, once I even managed a whole year off, but then it somehow crept back in. I could never quit based on rationalising to myself.
- If I told myself “it’s a waste of money” that didn’t so it. I had a good job, I was earning plenty, and I mostly smoked roll-ups in those days (roll-your-own) so my dozen smokes per day probably only cost me about 10 quid per week, it was pocket change to me then
- If I told myself “it’ll kill you one day” that didn’t do it either. I was only in my 30s, I couldn’t really imagine being like my granddad, who has smoked all his life and passed in his 70s from emphysema
- If I told myself “it’s not good for you” that wasn’t hitting any emotional triggers for me. I had used jogging as a weight control on and off for years, so when I really put in the effort, I could haul arse for a few miles round the block (my excess weight battering my right knee, that later ended up in surgery) so I told myself it was OK, I was fit enough
- No matter how hard to tried to quit smoking, it always crept back in, every time, after hundreds and hundreds of attempts to quit
So, at this point, early 2006, I was smoking again, drinking far too much, unhealthily overweight, not exercising regularly, unfit, out of shape and my body was covered in itchy red hives, an unsightly rash caused by a condition called urticaria.
I had a good job, I loved my kids, my life was ‘on the up’ in terms of growing my career, my family, my wealth…but they say the real wealth is health, and I knew all was not well.
Then, on the 3rd Feb 2006, I attended my first ever personal development seminar. I went to an event called Unleash the Power Within with the rather awesome Tony Robbins. Personal development seminars may, or may not, be ‘your thing’. I have been to a lot since that first one, and I got a lot from them, but none had as much impact on me as that first one. In the evening on the first day, Tony led all 9,500 people out into the car park behind the Excel venue in London Docklands where we all walked barefoot on burning hot coals. He employs this experience as a metaphor for the rest of the weekend - if you can walk on fire, you can do anything. (Since then, I’ve been and done it five more times, it’s fun!)
Day 2, and in the morning on Feb 4th, Tony was talking through the power of making proper decisions. He explains how most folks make kinda half-hearted feeble ‘wishes’ like “oh, I wish I could lose some weight” or “yeah, I’d like to be rich” and so on, but these statements lack power, clarity, specificity, emotion, they are not firm decisions. Tony explained that the root of the word ‘decision’ comes from a Latin word meaning ‘to cut’ the same as ‘incision’. He said that to make a true decision was to cut off all other possibilities, to decide was final, it was a firm commitment to oneself.
At the time, as I sat there, fat, wheezing and itching all over, jeans tight around my gut, belly hanging over my belt, these words resonated deeply with me. In an instant, I just made a decision “I want to be a healthy person!” It was a light-bulb in my head, one of those epiphany moments. That was it, in an instant I could see it all flashing through my mind:
- I was heading for all sorts of health problems, likely diabetes, heart disease, later cancer
- I had suffered low self-esteem my entire adult life, mostly insecurities around how I look and how unattractive I think I am
- I wanted to be healthy, fit, vibrant
- I wanted people to look at me at work, out in public, and see an upright, bouncy, energetic, lively person, so they would instantly just think “He’s a healthy guy”
That may or may not sound weird to you, but it was a clear as anything to me, it was all thought through and crystal clear in my mind in a matter of seconds. This was it. The new me. My new identity. I wanted it, I knew it, I felt it, I had decided, and as Tony Robbins was telling the audience that the way to make decisions stick was to immediately take action to affirm the decision, so I got up, left the auditorium, walked to the nearest litter bin, took my packet of Silk Cut out of my pocket, and my rolling tobacco and papers from another pocket, and screwed it all up and threw it in the bin.
That was 13 years ago today, and since that day I have never wanted another cigarette, never given it a thought, never had to use will power or pump myself up with motivation - it’s just gone, done, a part of my old life, finished, ancient history.
Thanks Tony Robbins, for teaching me the power of making a proper decision.
Smoking, obesity, and cancer
Back in 1965, 84% of men and something like 60% + of women in the UK smoked. While smoking numbers are dramatically down now (around 24% of men and it’s in the teens for women in the UK now) the long-term reduction in cancer and cancer deaths caused by smoking lags behind by decades. It can take a decade or two for cancers to grow inside us, so even though smoking rates are now much lower, smoking is still the leading #1 preventable cause of cancer and cancer deaths in the UK.
However, if we project forward from now, in 20 years time, the rates of cancer caused by smoking, and cancer deaths caused by smoking, will have come down, considerably.
Meanwhile, overweight and obesity is a growing health challenge in the UK, and a rapidly growing contributing cause of cancer in our society. Again, given the lag times between cause and effect, we expect to see that the rates of cancer in the UK caused by obesity will be considerably higher in decades to come, driven by the increase in obesity we are witnessing now.
As smoking declines, and obesity rises, so obesity is destined to become the #1 preventable cause of cancer in the UK. Think of it this way - cancers caused by smoking that are killing people now, were being caused by those people smoking 10, 15, 20, even 25 years ago. The rates of obesity in the UK now, will play out their deadly price not now, but in the future, maybe a decade, or two, down the line.
Cancer Research UK wrote about this last year.
Four things to learn
There is a point to this post. There are four things to learn:
Lesson 1) Don’t smoke, it’s stupid. Right?
Yes, it is, we all agree on that.
Well now we need to grasp the same kind of understanding around diet. The abundant availability of sweet, sugar-filled, hyperpalatable foods is a huge driver of obesity. Food manufacturers invest billions to create and market foods that are easy to find, cheap, quick and easy to consume, that trigger all our pleasure points and encourage us to over eat - confectionery, junk food, ice cream, cookies, pizza, and so on.
We are eating far too many calories, and eating the wrong foods, and drowning ourselves in sweet fizzy drinks and alcohol, and the obesity that results, and the consumption of alcohol, are growing drivers of cancer and other chronic conditions. I meet folks every day who don’t think food is as bad as smoking, I always say - think what smoking 20 cigarettes per day for 40 years would do to your health? Now imagine, instead, you eat 20 chocolate chip cookies per day, every day, for 40 years, what would that do to your health? Imagine you drank 20 alcoholic drinks per day, every day, for 40 years, and think what that would do to your health?
Right, the alcohol will almost certainly kill you the fastest, and likely the cookies and the cigarettes might be about on par. We need to think about these unhealthy foods and drinks the same way we think about smoking.
And this issue of obesity moving into first place over smoking as the leading preventable cause of cancer, this is madness; it’s as if we learned nothing as a society from the smoking thing? Are we just lurching from one insane man-made industrial disaster to another?
Here are a few things to think about:
Lesson 2) Decide on your goals, really decide. I honestly believe that the power of a solid decision is probably going to benefit you more in the long run than all the knowledge you can acquire in a lifetime. Read all the diet books, study all the research reports, learn about nutrition - sure, that’s great, but setting firm goals, making powerful decisions, deciding who you are inside, and committing to yourself with passion and purpose and determination, will probably end up the single best skill you can develop.
Lesson 3) Don’t buy into fad diets, they are bullshit. Since that day I changed, 13 years ago today, I have had ups and downs, my weight loss was not quick, not simple, not straight forward. After that day, I rapidly lost 42 pounds (19 kilos, 3 stones) in three months, but cutting back on alcohol, and eating tons more salad and vegetables, and starting to exercise most days. Great. But then after those three months, by year-end 2006, I had put 35 of those 42 pounds back on again…
You have to develop some staying power. Only after 2006, did I start to shift away from fad diet mentality, and I figured out that consistent sensible healthy living was the way to achieve long term success. Going forward, over 2007, 2008, 2009 I dropped about five pound each year and kept it off.
Then in 2010, I cut the starchy carbs (Mother Nature’s Diet Core Principle 1) and boom, dropped 22 pounds in a year and it’s stayed off ever since.
Be consistent. You will hit problems, you will face road blocks. Get over them, keep going.
Consistent healthy living wins the day.
It’s the Mother Nature’s Diet way. It took me about seven years to figure all this out, but you can follow the 12 Core Principles of Mother Nature’s Diet and take my seven years down to one. You can do it so much faster and easier with Mother Nature’s Diet as your guide.
Lesson 4) Success won’t be linear, you’ll have bad days. Shit happens.
I’m sure you have seen this before… (image stolen from Google image search, sorry!)
This image, what this shows… Know that from the start, and get over it.
You will hit stumbling blocks and problems, you will regain a few pounds, you’ll face an injury, shit just happens. Accept it. Roll with the punches. Know it’s coming, handle it with grace, then get back on your game when the storm has passed.
I spent 16 years getting it all wrong. 13 years ago today, I started getting it right. Over the last decade, I have had injuries, surgery, financial strife, relationship lows, family bereavements, the economy has been in the crapper, I have had career lows, you name it and I have dealt with it. But I didn’t let each episode sink me. I just rolled through the turbulence, used exercise as a crutch not food or booze, then got my face back in the game as soon as I could.
Consistency wins the game. I have had plenty of reasons over the years “to give up all this healthy living crap” but I didn’t, I stuck it out, and now, 13 years later, I am so glad I did. Leaner, fitter, stronger, faster, healthier, happier, it was all worth it.
To the next 13. Bring it on.
Mother Nature’s Diet: Your healthy lifestyle guide, packed with handy tips including exercise plans and wholefoods meal plans for weight loss.
First steps? Just starting out? Dip a toe in the water here…