Darren Ho is one of our guest contributors for our sports series, FUEL. He is a triathlete who experienced a transformational weight loss from a peak of 150kg. Since then, he has participated in various triathlons – including the renowned Ironman. Darren has also shared about his experience with ADHD and autism in hopes of ending the stigma attached to mental illness.
I get asked a lot of questions pertaining to nutrition when I give talks or when with clients. Nutrition has always been a key component of any athlete’s training, but from my own experience in losing 75kg, it should be a key in anyone’s training or fitness plan.
I tell the people around me that we are what we eat, more than what we train, because food fuels us and almost pre-determines the kind of output we will achieve during a training session.
Fuel well and get optimised sessions. Fuel badly and sub-optimal results often follow.
But what of the regular people like us?
How does nutrition play a part (or rear its ugly head) in our daily lives? Here is my take on nutrition for the common man. I’ll be using my own nutrition as a guide in this article after numerous failed experiments to where I am today.
Before I get there, some general tips first.
1. Processed Sugar
I generally avoid this as much as I can. I used to consume almost 8 – 12 cans of soda a day when I was 150kg and this was obviously above the recommended average.
Having cut out this habit completely, I easily lost my first 10 – 15 kg without needing much exercise. Yes, it is scary what excess sugar does to us.
I was clearly an alcoholic and did not admit it. Anyone who saw me drink 1 – 2 entire bottles of wine per day would agree that I was in denial. Again, alcoholic drinks contain sugar and damages your liver, limiting the functions of your body.
Thankfully, my liver damage was reversible and I too cut out this habit of drinking.
3. Weight Loss Is About Calorie Deficit
It’s simple mathematics. Even if you eat clean but exceed your daily requirement, you will put on weight. Food is neither “good” nor “bad” but rather something your body needs to function.
4. Carbohydrates Are Not The Enemy
As always, people label carbohydrates as the enemy of the state, but this is not the case.
It is however, easy to overload calories with carbohydrates, which is why it has received this reputation. Ask any athlete that is not on a ketogenic diet and they will tell you how important carbohydrates are to them.
5. Fad Diets That Promise Weight Loss Results Are Short Term
Lose weight and get shredded in 6 weeks? Losing any amount of weight that fast will surely lead to a rebound. Weight loss is a long-term process of undoing all the “evil” that we have committed against our body.
Patience is key.
In my previous life of 150kg, my daily nourishment would be something that I didn’t put much thought to and I sought out what was the most convenient. Fast food ruled my life and I would easily consume 3 – 5 fast food meals in a day.
Yup you heard that right, there would be days where I lived on nothing but fast food. When I ate anything else, it would be full of processed sugar and unhealthy fat.
Ice cream, cakes, sweet desserts and the most sinful of pastas and rice dishes would dominate my nutrition. To think of it now, I barely had any greens, healthy protein or fat that I needed.
Trans-fat, processed carbohydrates and sugar was the order of the day.
At the height of my obesity, I could consume 11 bowls of rice, still drink my sodas and eat my French fries together with dessert.
In my context today, my diet has changed a little bit. I started off this process by painfully writing down everything I ate and either found healthy substitutes or struck them off completely from my list. If anything had too much sugar in it, I removed it from my list and made a conscious effort to avoid it.
Here’s a short summary of what I did and this is a copy and paste from an older document I used to keep in 2012 – pardon how informal it is.
But this is truly what goes on and how I feel we should talk to ourselves to keep things real.
|White rice||Brown rice, quinoa, whole grains and please Darren, cut down your portions|
|Soda||Removed. Drink water.|
|Alcohol||Deal with it. Removed.|
|Fast food||Happy meals that make you unhappy. Removed.|
|French fries||Potatoes and sweet potatoes|
|Hamburgers||Make your own with real meat|
|Cereal||Avoid the sugary ones. Healthy section only.|
|Milk||Low fat where possible. Might try to switch out to other varieties of milk|
|No fish||Yes fish|
|Coffee, tea and other drinks||No addition of sugar. Condensed milk is still sugar. Don’t lie to yourself.|
|Pasta carbonara (your favorite)||Same as alcohol. Deal with it.|
|Potato chips||Moderation. 5 packs a day is not moderation.|
|Vegetables||Eat it even though you hate it. Its good for you.|
|Ice blended drinks||Same as pasta carbonara. Deal with it.|
|Poultry||Deep fried chicken does not count. Go for the real thing|
|Cookies and ice cream||Same as ice blended drinks. Deal with it.|
So while I used to keep something informal like this, I realised that it was easy to relate to without being too scientific or specific.
By making it as simple as possible for myself, it also allowed my habits to slowly change over time.
Bear in mind that making these changes take time and most of us probably won’t be able to change them all overnight. Most of us will also give in to our desires and that’s all to be expected.
What we are looking for is progress and my belief is that if any of the rows above can be changed and maintained for a period of 2 to 3 months without re-indulging, our body naturally finds a new way to balance our nutritional requirements.
For me, I started with the sodas and fast food and it took me 2 years before I could safely say that I can do without them. Give it time, persevere and it will all happen for you.
Most of us lack the patience and want to see immediate results – again, fast results will also have fast rebound effects.
So, keep it real and like your exercise plans, keep them realistic. Set milestones and stick with them until it becomes part of your life and it no longer seems to require effort to keep up.
If you are on a regiment that requires 100% effort every single day just to maintain, there is a high chance that we will fall backwards on our weaker days and go back into a vicious cycle.
Start small, take one step at a time and let yourself develop into a much healthier nutritional future.