It wasn’t that long ago when I called the ambulance in the middle of the night to get me to the hospital. I had aches from my heart straight to my left arm for several days. You don’t have to be a doctor to know that it is a prequel of a heart attack. While lying in the observation room for a couple of hours I had time enough to contemplate on how I got this far: weighting 108 kilograms, 7 days working weeks, 5 hours or less of sleep a night, bad sleep, unhealthy food, too much food, way too much on my mind. I was even proud on my 2017 record of working 78 days in a row. Father of two wonderful daughters, I was around a lot but not always there…
And there I was, again in the hospital with some clear messages from my body… that’s it, no more! This wasn’t what I had in mind.
I even took a selfie to remember the moment.
So how did I get this far? How the hell did I allow to get this far? I’m a professional photographer & director. I have the coolest job in the world. I created a lovely family and we have tons of fun together in our spare time, over weekends and holidays. I have a bunch of good friends, … so what’s the problem?
The problem is wanting to have it all. The problem is ignoring the mental and physical messages I receive. The problem is that I like to work, I like to go on weekends with the family, I like to travel adventurous, write articles, test new technology, work on my car, plan trips, hikes, help out friends …
So there it was, I was 41 years old at that time, having a good career, mentally doing fine, happy with the way my life was going. I knew what I was doing, who I am and what I stand for. The only thing that didn’t quite align with all of this, was my body and my physical resilience. The only thing that kept me going was the fact that my mental strength overpowered the physical part. I could easily block the fact that I was tired, ill or had a fever. That’s a good thing in case of emergency. But when that’s your daily routine, you’re constantly putting your body in a stressed state. Even more, on the long term that’s a very bad strategy, as I found out the hard way!
It didn’t take me too long to understand what was going wrong. In fact, I knew it all along. I just had to accept it and deal with it. There were several points that needed to be changed, radically. Luckily I’m the ‘let’s get it over with’-kind of guy and this is how I did it.
The first thing that I addressed was the overweight that I was suffering. Being 108 kilograms and 186cm tall, that leaves me with a BMI of 31. That’s no good. And whenever I spoke to someone about that, I got a polite answer like, hey that’s how your built, the heavy weight of your bones or muscles. I tend to believe that. Also when I looked into the mirror I pulled in my belly and comforted myself with the thought that it was all good. I looked at what I wanted to see, but didn’t capture the actual image, I learned afterwards.
When I turned 40 years old, I said to my girlfriend that the next ten years were crucial to get back in shape because the fight against decay would start for men around fifty and I wanted to be on top of my game when that moment arrived. Also as many of us, I was getting very nervous about all cancers, Alzheimers and other metabolic diseases, that would leave me in an unfair fight, a fight against an invisible enemy.
I wanted to do serious prevention on that field as well. So I quitted smoking a couple of years ago and I stopped a 40-years old consuming habit of multiple sugar-shots a day. You can image I had some possible damage to counter. Thanks to two people I got the right tools in my hands. One of them gave me the hint to and the other one handed me the actual tools to get started. A week or two after that frightening time at the hospital, I started with changing my daily diet. I cut back 100% on all sorts of sugars and dropped the carbs percentage to maximum 20 grams a day and on top of that, I hardly ate processed foods. I’m not lying to you now, the first two weeks were a true hell but then slowly I regained my strength, energy and happiness. Two months later, I had already lost 15 kilos and 8 months later I was bouncing (fun intended) between 88 and 90 kilograms, that’s 20 kilos less with a BMI of 25.
I’m not going to dive any deeper in my daily food habits. Those things always lead to heated pro and contra discussions. If you find something different that works well for you, then just stick to it. My diet has turned into a lifestyle. It’s a daily fight against the “so called” common sense but it pays back on so many levels.
Now, 9 months later I can already tell you that I have never been as fit and as balanced as I am today, in my whole life. Cutting on sugar has been a massive game-changer for my body and mind. The body impact is dual, at one side visual and on the other side, invisible. But the promise I made to my girlfriend of being ultra-fit on the age of fifty, has never been so on schedule and achievable, as ever before.
The total lack of sugar in my body is a massive change. I started to notice that my behaviour is changing gradually. Not who I am, but how I ‘respond’ to certain situations. I have to tell you that I used to be stimulus-driven, as I always responded to so many impulses from outside. My interest in random impulses dropped significantly and on the opposite, the focus on things that really interested me, raised quickly. Soon I felt the urge to change the push of information towards an on demand-system. It took me a while to get that settled, for the reason that there are so many sources pushing information.
I stopped listening to the radio, radio to be understood as in regular radios station with news, talkshows, publicity and a presenter’s voice in the background was way too distractive for me. I also got rid of television, exit cable TV, all too much clutter.
I started to opt-out on hundreds of newsletters about products or services that weren’t relevant anymore. I still got mails for baby stuff, decorating services, professional vans, mountain biking, … all things I don’t do or need and about the baby-stuff, I don’t want anymore 😁. In addition I’m also blocking all notifications from sales-driven websites and their newsletters. I’m a technology lover and general fan of adequate gear but stepping out the constant feed of the latest “it-thing” in gadget land has made a significant change in my monthly spendings on stuff I assumed I needed. This also has its roots in dropping the sugar: lows on sugar makes you search for a kind of satisfaction: food, things, appreciation, … until your next shot. After you “ kicked off” the sugar, exactly that will be the first change you notice on a mental level.
News used to be ok, really, when I was a kid the news was a timed event during the day. Newspaper in the morning, radio during lunch and TV prime news at 7pm. When something important happened they made a “special”, you were warned about graphic footage.
Nowadays there is a constant feed of (des)information and the smallest items are spread out over hours of repeating the same stuff. I blocked all these news-notifications, unsubscribed from their newsletters, even the “Breaking News”ones. It’s not about the news anymore. It’s about being first and drawing attention to get advertising incomes.
Does that mean that I’m blind for the world’s problems, like an ostrich with his head in the sand, hiding for reality? No I’m not, I’m still quite up to date. I just changed the push of information to a pull. Every day or two I open my favourite news apps and I scroll through the headlines, dive a little deeper in things that draw my attention and scan everything else. That is good enough to know what is going on.
When it comes to stay informed about topics that really interest me I got a couple of tools where I can find information.
Feedly is my daily source of customised information. Every website that provides a structural source of news or information ends up in this feed reader. I can read it on my phone, iPad or behind the big screen of my Mac. And it combines everything that is linked to my interests. It’s a daily personal newspaper with news and information from around the world.
Youtube is what television used to be for me, but very personalised. We don’t watch a lot of television, but I do follow a set of channels and people on Youtube about subjects that interest me. It doesn’t get more personalised than that. TV providers are trying to sell you the idea that the offer personalised content but in fact they push the same content into everyones throat.
I even dropped a couple of hobbies that actually consumed too much energy of me or stood in the way of time with my family. In stead of having ten interests I still have four.
Getting more in shape, feeling fitter and having space left in my head to think is a game changer. It also leaves room for introspection, in the beginning I was a scared of all the time that came available to think. I sat on my porch with a coffee and a small fire in front of me. And I grabbed my phone to pass time. Now I enjoy those moments and let thoughts run through my head while I look at the flames. These simple moments have changed a lot in my life. Most of the above actions came up to me when I was just doing nothing and let the thoughts run free in my head.
Doing nothing, that is something that is NOT DONE these days. You got to have projects, you have to be busy, your life has to be visually meaningful, busy is successful.
Having time available to do nothing means you have a structural problem apparently. And I actually didn’t have time to spare either. But I created time.
I noticed that our evening was becoming a routined machine to pass time. We ate, played with the kids, put them to bed. Then when we came back to the living room we settled in the couch looking for easy entertainment on Netflix or TV. Even when we were tired we just kept watching.
You can’t go to sleep at 10 o’clock, right?!
I also noticed that sitting in the couch watching TV next to each other is not the definition of quality time. Not a great conversation starter either, more like a killer.
So one day I decided that I would end all subscriptions.
I reclaimed our evenings: we now pass time with reading, talking, staring at our photo memories (Where do all the photos go), play a little game.
And even more importantly, get to bed early and rise early. I not only gained back our evening but by going to sleep between 9 or 10pm and getting up at 5am I won a lot of personal time. Sometimes my family gets up with me, most of the time they stay a little longer in bed.That gives me up to two hours of personal quality time. On those days when everybody gets out of bed I already had my “Me Time”, that’s a huge plus to start your day.
Most of the time I start with some exercises for about 20 minutes, sometimes I go for an early run. It happens that I just take a coffee and stare a little in front of me, enjoying peace and quietness, planning personal projects, working. Depending on what I like on that moment.
Changing my daily routine was a big game changer in my life. Rising early and doing exercises is a victory on yourself each morning. Sometimes I add a cold shower to that, another victory on yourself. Starting the day with small achievements is a positive state of mind for the rest of the day.
The last thing that I had to learn was being able to listen to myself and my body. All the above can be performed on a very tight and extreme level. That kind of achievement attitude is what brought me to the hospital a couple of months ago. If I get up every morning at 5am, no matter what, I would just end up tiring myself and get sick because of lower resistance. Sometimes we jump into the couch and binge watch 3 episodes of a series, sometimes my alarm clock rings at 5am, and I open my eyes and realise I need more sleep.
As long as you are being honest to yourself, listen to your body and have a few exceptions to your own routine, it’s going to be ok!
The fact that I was able to get my physical condition back on track was a huge personal success, it was something I was struggling with for years. That physical achievement lead me to mental progression. I feel that I’m in a positive evolution: the start has been explosive and exponential and now 9 months later it slowed down but still progressing. I’m getting there to find a balance between work, interests and family life…
And I keep a constant eye on staying healthy, focussed and balanced.