Lifestyle correction

I’ve been struggling with my weight for most of my adult life. From being a thin child and teenager, once I started putting on a bit of bulk I never stopped. I briefly got a bit fitter in my mid-twenties, but after that I just got heavier and heavier, less and less fit.

I’ve documented previous years of small and temporary successes followed by repeated failure on this site but I’ve decided to write this because I believe that 2019 has been the year of long term lifestyle correction.

First, a bit of recent history. Back in 2015 I started working from home full-time. I decided that it would be a good idea to join a gym so that I’d at least replace the small amount of exercise I got from my commute, especially as I’d just found out about a health issue caused entirely by being overweight. That lasted approximately three weeks.

Between then and my forty-first birthday I didn’t do a lot, and then on my birthday I joined a new gym and put myself on the waiting list for another gym. I was given a full body workout to do three days a week and an idea of how many calories I should eat per day with a breakdown of what proportion of protein, carbohydrates, and fats I should consume. That lasted three and a half weeks. And I skipped a week in between visits.

And then, for reasons I can’t explain, I went back to the gym on the 14th of November 2018 and never stopped going. Since then I’ve been training three days a week without fail and have recently changed that to six days a week.

Has it worked? Well, I have pictures and measurements to let you draw your own conclusions.

On 1st January 2019 I weighed in at 128 kg / 282 lb / 20 stone 2 lb. My body composition was body fat at 41.3% and muscle mass at 26.4%, with a visceral fat rating of 22 (1 – 12 being the healthy range). I’m 1.81 cm / 5’11” tall.

I didn’t take any photos on that day, but I did three months later after making some progress.

  • Ian in black t-shirt and shorts facing towards the camera, looking overweight and tired
    March 2019 front view
  • Ian in black t-shirt and shorts facing to the left, stomach protruding over his waist
    March 2019 side view
  • Ian in black t-shirt and shorts facing away from the camera, obvious bulges around his waist
    March 2019 back view

At the time these photos were taken, on 13th March 2019, I weighed somewhere between 122.9 kg / 270.9 lb / 19 stone 5 lb and 117.5 kg / 259 lb / 18 stone 8 lb so I was making some progress.

Here are some photos taken today for comparison:

  • Ian in black t-shirt and shorts facing towards the camera, looking considerably thinner and happier
    January 2020 front view
  • Ian in black t-shirt and shorts facing to the left, stomach much smaller and forming a straight line with his chest
    January 2020 side view
  • Ian in black t-shirt and shorts facing away from the camera, t-shirt drops vertically with no bulging at the waist
    January 2020 back view

Today I weigh in at 94.2 kg / 207.7 lb / 14 stone 7 lb. Body fat is down to 24.6% and muscle mass is at 35.5%, with a visceral fat rating of 12 (the top end of the healthy range).

That’s a weight loss of 33.8 kg / 74.5 lb / 5 stone 4.5 lb (down by 26.4% of my original weight), body fat decreased by 16.7% (down by 47.9% of the original percentage) and muscle mass increased by 9.1% (up by 34% of the original percentage).


Note: any numbers for weight and body composition have a level of inaccuracy, so might differ from reality to a small extent or be based partly on time of day or how much water I’ve drunk so far that day. I don’t worry about this, the trend it what is important.


I can’t explain why this has happened now, but I can tell you how I did it. I’ve discovered that I really enjoy weight training.

When I’ve attempted to do some exercise before it’s generally been in the form of cardio. I’ve tried running, I’ve tried spending time on an elliptical in a gym. I’ve never enjoyed a minute of it, and I can’t stick to it.

With weight training I’ve found something that I don’t get bored by and that I can make measurable improvement in. Everything else has revolved around this. Yes, my diet is much improved, but it is improved because it drives my progress in the gym. Yes, I do more cardio than ever before, but I do this because it drives my progress in the gym. I’m lighter and fitter than I’ve been in more than fifteen years and stronger than I’ve ever been in my life.

I think that what works for me is the immediacy of the feedback. If I’m trying to deadlift a barbell I know straight away if it’s going to move. When I run I struggle to find a pace that is both sustainable for the distance I want to achieve but also pushing myself – there’s a 30 minute delay on the feedback. If I load up the bar too much I find out right then and I can take a bit of weight off, take a minute to get my breath back, and try again. If a dumbbell is more than I can handle I might do six repetitions instead of the ten I intended. No problem, next set I drop the weight and try again. Not feeling that I pushed hard enough? In two minutes I’ll be doing another set and can adjust accordingly.

This immediacy and ability to adjust so that I’m working as hard as I can every time I step foot inside a gym means that I can make measurable improvements. These measurable improvements mean that I spend time thinking about my next session when I’m not at the gym, not with dread but with anticipation: what am I going to achieve, what do I think I might achieve?

I started out lifting light, steadily increasing to find my limits. By the middle of the year I was able to set a few goals for 2019. Nothing very impressive by the standards of many people, but a challenge for me. 80 kg bench press, achieved 6th November, 150 kg back squat, achieved 25th October, and 150 kg deadlift, which I was doing really well with until I stalled at around 140 kg.

On the last day of the year it just happened to be a back training day. With twelve hours to go I thought I’d have a last try at a 150 kg deadlift. It’s definitely a bad idea to try to lift 7.5 kg more than you’ve ever attempted, especially when that felt like you were already at your limit. I’d recently backed off to 130 kg and was slowly putting weight back on the bar each week to try and break through the barrier that I’d hit a few months earlier. Still, I decided to give it a go but without pushing too hard – injury is my biggest fear as I don’t want to lose the progress I’ve made. After a few warmup sets I put on my wrist straps and stepped up to the bar. With little expectation of being able to overcome gravity I started to pull… and to my amazement it moved! Three repetitions later I could do no more, but I’d done it! And did it again for another set of three. And then couldn’t get it off the ground by so much as a centimetre on the third working set. But no matter, I dropped the weight and completed that lift.

I don’t think any other single event pleased me more in 2019 than getting that bar off the ground, so I go in to 2020 motivated to see what I can achieve. If I’d failed it wouldn’t have been a big deal, there’s always next time (or the time after that…), but every personal best, whether measured by the weight of an individual rep or the volume of a set or workout, is a small triumph.

Now, I don’t want anyone reading this to think I’m trying to sell you on this as the best or only way to lose weight, get fit, or achieve whatever physical goal you’re trying to achieve. This is what works for me. Trying to do what I thought I was supposed to do did not work, at least in a way I could sustain.

The key, I think, is to try to understand what will motivate you, to give you something to build everything else around. The need to lose weight wasn’t, on its own, enough for me. It was why I first stepped in to the gym but it wasn’t why I stayed there. I got hooked on something, weight training, and the desire to improve drives the healthier eating and increased cardio exercise that have become part of my lifestyle change.

If what you love is playing for your local cricket team but it’s a little hard chasing those outfield shots then use that as your motivation. Increased speed on the cricket pitch is the driver, the time on the treadmill or easing off on the Friday night pizza is the work you put in to achieve your goal.

It took me more than fifteen years to figure this out for myself so I’m not putting this out there as the One True Way™ or suggesting that it is in any way easy, but if you’re struggling with more traditional ways of thinking about improving your fitness then maybe give this a try.

I’ve also not done this on my own. There are lots of people that I have to thank for guiding and supporting me, but there are two in particular that I’m going to call out here.

I split my time between two locations in the UK so a good gym in both places is important. The people at the gyms I train at have been a critical part of the progress I’ve made.

In London I train at Dr Zak’s Pumping Iron Gym. This is a pretty hardcore bodybuilding gym but the people there are friendly and happy to help, even if your max is their warmup weight! I’ve had people with biceps the size of my legs compliment me on the progress I’ve made and it’s nice to get that sort of encouragement. Zak has offered me great advice, including how to work around the start of a niggling injury that didn’t get any worse because I was able to adjust my routine.

Ian and Zak in the reception area at Pumping Iron Gym
Ian and Zak, 19th December 2019

In my home town on the Wirral in the North of England I train at The Zone. James, one of the trainers there, put together the original full body workout that I used for the first three months of training, and then the pull / push / legs three day split that I used until six weeks ago. The five day split (plus a cardio and abs day) that I’m doing now is based on a lot of the knowledge that these initial training routines has given me. James also figured out the diet (by which I mean the way I choose to eat, not strict adherence to calorie control or restricting types of food) that I am following to this day, and while I have, of course, craved foods and fallen off the wagon occasionally, I’ve not been hungry or felt weak or tired on it.

Ian and James standing in front of a rack of barbells at The Zone
Ian and James, 26th December 2019

So, what’s next? My goal isn’t weight loss anymore. In fact, I think there is a good chance that I will end 2020 heavier than I am today. My initial focus is going to be to turn that 22.6% body fat in to 15%. I’m still carrying too much body fat but now I’m in good shape to get rid of it. To do that I need to further improve my diet, eating cleaner by cutting out a lot of the processed foods that I overly rely on and eating at intervals throughout the day rather than having three quarters of my calories in one big meal in the evening. After that I want to slowly increase my calories until my body composition is fairly stable and work on increasing my strength.

Wish me luck!

New Year (2020)

It’s the time of year for my annual blog post – except this year I will be writing two, yes two, posts on one day!

It’s been quite a year for everyone so I’m not going to talk about how awful the national and global political situations are or any other minor problems in my life. Instead I’ll try to be positive.

Professionally there have been big changes. I’m now co-owner and co-director of TetraLogical, a small company focused on inclusive design and accessibility. It’s exciting and terrifying in equal measure!

I started the year by giving myself time to spend one day a month reading a book from cover to cover. This lasted for five months and was always a little moment of peace. I started to find this more and more difficult, and even found it stressful to fit this is. Sometimes what starts as a pleasure can become a burden when it is adopted too rigidly, so while I’d like to get back in to this habit I will be less strict about when it happens – if I skip a month, so be it.

I also find that I’m giving too much of my money for books to companies that, frankly, don’t need it and arguably don’t deserve it. In 2020 I aim to buy and read at least one book per month (on average) from an independent bricks and mortar bookshop.

I haven’t been traveling much over the last twelve months, but the locations I visited have been new for me. Speaking opportunities at Funka Accessibility Days and CSS-Minsk-JS added Stockholm, Sweden and Minsk, Belarus to the list of countries and cities I’ve been to. I’m already planning at least one and possibly two trips to Stockholm in 2020.

Anyone who has known me well for a while or has read a few of these yearly posts might know about my ongoing struggle with my weight. In that I have some rather good news and I’ve decided to write about my lifestyle correction separately.

And with that I’ll close by wishing everyone a good 2020. Things might look quite bleak right now but I’m trying to hope for the best.

New Year (2019)

In 2018 I failed to lose weight, practice violin, spend less money on things I don’t need, or much else that I started the year intending to do.

I did watch Solo: A Star Wars Story (more than once), though. It did not ruin my childhood, make me boycott the franchise, or any of the other hysterical things some people apparently do because women and / or non-white people appear in films (see Doctor Who for further examples). I actually rather enjoyed it.

Anyway, not the most successful year for actually getting anything done but I’m still fairly optimistic. I’ve managed to end the year with some good habits (for fitness, writing, and learning) that I think will serve me quite well and I have a few ideas about how I want to adapt my career that will give me lots of interesting things to study.

As usual, this regular post exists mostly as a reminder to myself but if anyone else actually reads it I hope you have had a good 2018 and have a better 2019.

New Year (2018)

Another year, another blog post; more than one each year would be extravagant, right? Once again I’ve not published anything on this site since the first day of the last year. Will I do any better this year? Probably not, but you never know.

I’ve not much to say about the year gone by. I travelled more than usual (or at least spent more time in aeroplanes), spent more time with family than usual, went on more dog walks than usual. But otherwise nothing particularly significant happened. Not a bad year, but just another year.

Instead of New Year Resolutions, last year I set myself some forfeits and rewards for certain actions.

First, I needed to lose weight. To that end I decided to avoid takeaway meals eaten alone; eating with other people was OK as the presence of other people stops me overeating to an extreme degree. My forfeit / rewards was:

I pledge to match any spending on takeaways that I eat alone in charitable donations. Because I want to donate some money I need a reward – if I manage to go the full year without any takeaways alone I will donate £1000.

Mission accomplished! I didn’t have a single takeaway meal on my own, so I will be donation £1000 to a charity to be determined. The downside is that I probably still managed to end the year heavier than I started, so I need to try something else.

By the end of 2018 I will reduce my weight to 100kg or lower. I’ve not decided what my forfeit will be yet, but it needs to be something fairly extreme. I have decided an intermediate goal and a consequence for missing the target by a long way. I can’t see the next Star Wars film until I’ve reached a weight of 115kg or below. I won’t say what the consequence will be if at the end of the year I am still above 115kg, but it is definitely something I don’t want; if you know me personally feel free to ask.

I also wanted to reduce the amount of unnecessary spending on things that I don’t really need. The forfeit for this was:

10% of my spending in this category will be donated to charities.

I don’t think I bought much less than any other year, unfortunately, but at least it will add to the £1000 that I’m already committed to donating. I’ve yet to work out the total yet, but I’m sure it’ll come to several hundred pounds. Although I failed I do like this idea, so I’m going to do it again this year.

I passed my grade 3 violin examination, but for a variety of reasons the regularity of my playing has dropped off significantly. I still want to play, but I’m not currently working towards grade 4.

Outside of work, I didn’t set up any mentoring. However it’s still something I want to do, and I know other people who have expressed an interest in doing the same, so maybe this year…

All that remains is to wish you all a happy 2018.

New Year (2017)

I started doing New Year posts back in 2010, and despite my highly irregular and low volume of blogging I’ve published every January 1st since then.

Until last year.

At the start of 2015 I challenged myself to blog once a month for the year. It’s not the first time I’ve set similar challenges, and having failed all previous attempts it should come as no surprise that I failed once again. This time was a bit different though. I wrote a blog post titled Setting an example, that covered some of my views on example code, and the level of quality that needs to be considered to avoid propagation of accessibility, security, and performance. One of the comments I received for this post was so mean-spirited that I really lost interest. I plan to address this some time in the future. After that I blogged twice more in 2015, about a change in job, but otherwise my Writing Resolution failed at the first hurdle.

Because of this I’ll cover a few things in 2015 as well as 2016, but mostly I want to look forward to 2017.

2015

Highlight of the year was becoming an Uncle for the second time. My sister gave birth to Sophie Joy in June of 2015.

In this year I also left the BBC and started work at The Paciello Group. While I’ll always have fond memories of my time at the BBC, and will be grateful of the opportunities I was given there, I’ve been very happy working with the wonderful people at TPG and I’m look forward to 2017 with the company.

2016

Other than the trauma of political upheaval, the rise of fascism, and the deaths of so many creative and pioneering people, 2016 was a rather simple year for me.

Life has mainly revolved around work, but I’ve also continued playing violin, have played quite a lot of Dungeons & Dragons (yeah, I’m a nerd), and watched new Star Wars films numerous times.

My weight has finally translated in to a minor (and correctable) health issue, and this has so far been the motivation I’ve needed to do something about it in a sustainable way.

2017

Resolutions and me don’t get on very well, so I’ll try forfeits and rewards instead.

As in 2016, I need to continue to lose weight. One of my biggest temptations is to order takeaway instead of cooking, and I always over order. I pledge to match any spending on takeaways that I eat alone in charitable donations. Because I want to donate some money I need a reward – if I manage to go the full year without any takeaways alone I will donate £1000.

I’d like to reduce my spending on unnecessary purchasing of gadgets and gizmos. My small flat is cluttered with things I really don’t need. It’s not that I want to live a life without cool toys, but I want to have a better balance and to reduce my impulse buys. 10% of my spending in this category will be donated to charities. I’ll use my best judgement as to what offers genuine benefit versus nice-to-have buy unnecessary things.

In the same vein, I spend most of my money with large retailers. The convenience of Amazon is hard to resist. I plan to buy a lot more from independent retailers, particularly books. Bookshops need our support, so I intend to give mine.

For a variety of reasons I missed my last violin grading. In 2017 I will take (and pass!) grade 3, and will work towards the grade 4 exam at the end of the year. This one doesn’t need a forfeit or a reward, I play for my own satisfaction.

I’m not going to make a resolution to blog more, but I do have a few things I’d like to write, both here and on the TPG blog. Hopefully this post ends the drought, but don’t expect too much!

Inspired by Heydon and people offering their time over the holiday period, I plan to give some of my time to mentoring in 2017. I’ve not worked out the details, but I’ll post again when I’ve figured it out.

I hope you have a very happy 2017.

The Paciello Group

So, what’s next for me after leaving the BBC? I’m very pleased to be joining The Paciello Group as a Senior Accessibility Engineer.

Among several reasons for joining TPG is the opportunity to work with many of the best people in the field of accessibility, including my former BBC teammate Henny Swan.

I’m hoping to be able to learn huge amounts from my new colleagues, and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in to some interesting projects over the next few months.

Farewell BBC

Today was my last day as an employee of the British Broadcasting Corporation

I started working there on the 24th January 2011 and for 2 years 2 months and 1 week I worked with the team that at the time was responsible for most of the client side framework at the BBC. There were personnel changes along the way, but it was always one of the most talented teams I’ve worked on, and where I feel I’ve done some of my best development work to date.

After that I was given the fantastic opportunity to join the Accessibility team for a 1 year attachment. That year has turned in to 2 years and 3 months, and a new career working in the field of accessibility full time. For that I must give thanks to Gareth Ford Williams and Henny Swan who gave me a chance.

I may be leaving but I’m still proud of the BBC.

Setting an example

All of us who build websites or application have at one time or another copied example or demo code and used it in our own work. Heck, a large number of us learnt our craft this way.

Unfortunately the quality of example code, while varying widely, is often on the poor side. This is not because the well meaning developers who publish it are bad developers, but because they aim to keep things simple and just show the bare minimum.

The problem with this is that by avoiding the complete picture the wrong lessons are learnt.

Take the following, which is an example how to use the <input> element from a popular (and generally excellent) website:

<!-- A common form that includes input tags -->
<form action="getform.php" method="get">
    First name: <input type="text" name="first_name" /><br />
    Last name: <input type="text" name="last_name" /><br />
    E-mail: <input type="email" name="user_email" /><br />
    <input type="submit" value="Submit" />
</form>

While this does indeed show a simple way of using <input> elements, by not wrapping the text adjacent to each field in a <label> element it is an example that suffers from a serious but easy to avoid accessibility flaw.

The usual excuse is “It’s only meant to be an example”, but my guess is that this code has been copied and pasted in to many live websites, and has therefore failed in its purpose to educate on the correct way to implement a form.

I think there is only one way to solve this, and it’s going to take a bit of work:

Example and demo code must be of production quality

Whenever we provide example code or demo implementations it must be good enough that we would be prepared to use it exactly as it is in our own production work. We must assume that every example will be used verbatim, without improvement.

The checklist that I assess my work against looks something like this:

  1. has been well tested
  2. is secure
  3. is accessible
  4. is performant
  5. is documented
  6. has acceptance tests

Hopefully the first 4 points go without saying, but why would you include documentation or tests in a demo? Well, first of all they are part of what I consider a necessary part of production quality code, but more importantly they are a way of educating the person who copies it.

Both documentation and tests provide ways of indicating what is significant rather than unimportant. In the previous shown code, is it significant to the quality of the implementation that each input is separated by <br />? I’m sure we’d agree not, indeed it’s not how I’d implement this. But documentation that spells out that <label> elements should be used, along with acceptance tests that make sure that they have been, means that when an example is adapted to meet a new requirement it retains its quality.

Education via example is how the web has become the amazing platform it is today. Let us all do our best to improve the lessons we teach.

Writing Resolution

Or should that be, in honour of Sir William Curtis, ‘Riting Resolution’?

I’ve neglected this blog in the last 12 months and I’d like to change that. I’ve said the same thing in previous years of course, and it hasn’t really worked out before so why should this year be any different? Well, I had an idea of listing up front what I’m going to write about.

My goal is to write something at least once a month, and to put a bit of pressure on myself I’m going to list what it’s going to be about ahead of time. In the case of the first three months I’m going to put those subjects right here in this blogpost:

  1. January – the problem with examples
  2. February – accessible web design
  3. March – being an introvert

Please leave a comment if you have any suggestions about what else I can write about for the remaining nine months. And please remind me if I’ve got a deadline coming up.

New Year (2015)

Warning: this isn’t going to be a cheerful look back on 2014. I’ve struggled with a general malaise that has affected almost everything I’ve done. There is a good reason for this but I am hoping that I can start to get my life back together.

I’ve broken promises that I’ve made in good faith, and this bothers me more than anything else. If I’ve said I’d do something for you and haven’t in the passed year, or have behaved badly towards you I can only apologise. I will try to make 2015 the year I put things right.

Life

For the last 13 months it has taken an effort of will to get enthusiastic about anything. Walking out of the front door of my flat has been a chore. Nights out, music festivals, and concerts have been just another thing I have to do even if I end up enjoy them. Practicing violin, something I used to do almost every day, has been something I’ve had to force myself to do even though I finding it relaxing. At work, especially at the start of the year, I have been brusque and uncivil at times.

I miss my Dad but he wouldn’t want me to behave like this. That should be all the motivation I need to fix things.

Work

Work has been hectic, frustrating, and rewarding. It can be hard to accept that you can’t help everyone, and in fact sometimes the best way to improve accessibility at a large organisation is to step back a bit. It’s better to provide guidance than to take over, although it’s very tempting to dive in and do everything for people (especially when they are more than happy for you to do so) instead of providing support but ultimately giving them responsibility.

In August Henny Swan left the BBC, a huge loss to our team both professionally and personally. We’ve since been joined by Jamie Knight, who is doing a great job kicking off a major piece of work that we hope will change the way we handle web accessibility at the BBC.

Next year should see an increase in work on a project that I am very excited about, and that I will hopefully be able to talk about (and perhaps even show something) at CSUN 2015.

Health

I started the year at my lowest weight for about 10 years. I’ve ended it at somewhere close to my highest ever. For the first time I’ve felt the effects of my obesity, nothing serious yet, but a general lack of wellbeing.

I’m at a stage when I need to lose weight, I need to get fitter, when before it had always been just a good idea. As this is a problem that is more psychological than physical it’s hard to know how to change things for the better.

I’d like to ask anyone who cares and is willing to call me out on my over eating and under exercising over the next year if they see things going in the wrong direction. I won’t be offended, I won’t be upset. You’ll be doing me a favour.

Final thoughts

These annual posts are primarily for my benefit, with a readership of between zero and few, but I feel the need to make a record on the first day of each year.

Regardless of how this last year has been, I am lucky to have a loving family, friends who care about me, and as much security in work and shelter as any of us do.

I’m not a believer in New Year Resolutions, but today is as good a day as any to start making my life a better one. Hopefully next years post will be a more positive one.