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How to lose weight - and keep it off

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Before I get to my exercise plan, I'd like to cover my own background. There's nothing worse than taking advice from someone, only to discover they're 250lb and have never done a day's exercise in their life.

I'm 6'3" (1.91m), and three years ago I weighed 210lb (95kg). That's not hugely overweight by any measure, but I suffered from very bad pains in my lower back. These pains would flare up if I tried to lift anything heavier than 10kg or so (like my children, for example), and CT scans, X-rays and so on were inconclusive.

This was me in 2009, at 210lb (95kg)

I'm a logical person, and it occurred to me that if lifting things made my back worse, then carrying around extra weight above the waist was just as bad. Unfortunately, when you have a painful and fragile lower back, things like running, walking, sit-ups, pushups, touching your toes and ... well, most forms of exercise ... are impossible. Then I hit on cycling. (Swimming was another option, but it was much easier to incorporate cycling into my daily life.)

I didn't make the mistake of buying a top-flight road bike for thousands of dollars. Instead, I got a second-hand bike with an XL frame (to suit my height), and fitted a rack and panniers for shopping.

I was badly out of shape, and a five minute ride would have me wheezing and puffing like a seventy-year-old, but I persisted. All I did was to ride to the shops once a day, to pick up ingredients for dinner. After a couple of weeks I started using the bike for more errands, and after two or three months I noticed I wasn't puffing at all. Even better, there was no back pain.

After a year I was riding a lot further, venturing out on one- or two-hour rides, and the weight kept melting away. I lost about 33lb (15kg), getting down to 175lb (80kg), and my back hasn't troubled me since.

This was me in 2010, about to set off on a 50 mile ride

Now, that's all very well, but after a while I realised those long daily bike rides were really cutting into my days. I stopped riding as far, or as often, and gradually put back some of the weight again. After twelve months my back was still fine, but my weight had risen to 190lb (85kg). We've all heard stories of people losing weight only to put it back again, and I realised this was about to happen to me.

So, I developed a daily routine which would keep me fit and also take a lot less time than my 2 hour bike rides.

Note that by this time, my lower back problems had vanished. Over the previous 12-18 months I lost weight and raised my fitness levels with gentle cycling, and I was now ready to try more conventional exercises like situps and pushups. Now, I work best with goals, and my initial goal was to do a set number of situps and pushups every day. I started with ten situps (which I could barely manage with a rest after five). These work best if you can trap your feet under something heavy, like under the front of a sofa, or if your bed has a slatted footer you might be able to do situps there, with your feet through the end.

I decided on 20 'touch your toes' repeats, where I stood with my feet apart, stuck my arms straight out to the side, then alternated, touching the left hand to the right toe, straightening up, then touching the right to the left. When I started I could only reach halfway down my shins, but I didn't stress myself. That's the point of this article - to gently get your body used to something new, not hurl yourself headlong into pain and injuries.

The third part of my daily routine was twenty pushups. (I couldn't manage more than two on the floor, so I used the end of the bed and did pushups at a 45 degree angle. You can also use the wall.) I did these in two sets of ten, at different times of the day.

The final part of my daily routine was a shorter bike ride. I picked out a nice route and started timing myself. Initially it took me 40 minutes to get around, but as I got fitter the time came down more and more, until it was under 28 minutes.

To keep track of these exercises, I started logging them in a pocket diary. On each day I'd use a code for the exercise (e.g. SU for situps, PU for pushups, TT for touch toes, BR for Bike Ride), and then put one mark next to each code for each repetition completed. There was no confusion about whether I'd done ten pushups or twenty, or whether I'd done any situps at all.

As time went by, and my fitness improved, I started increasing the number of exercises and the amount of difficultly. Instead of 20 'touch your toes', each mark now represented 50. (And I was touching my toes properly by now.) I started doing at least two reps a day, or 100 in total. Situps went from 10 to 25 per repetition, and instead of doing 20 a day I was doing 50, then 100, then 200, and eventually 250. Pushups moved from a 45 degree angle to flat on the floor, and instead of ten a day I was doing 50-80. This, after just 5 months. I bought some simple weights (two dumb bells, one barbell) and added a few curls to the routine, just to build my arms and burn a few more calories.

When I tell people about my daily routine, they tell me it must take a lot of time. Rubbish! If I start a 4-minute track on my mp3 player, I can do 25 situps, ten pushups, and repeat that four times, and I'm done before the track has finished playing. Repeat that twice a day, add 30 mins for the bike ride (which can be used to fetch something from the shops), and I'm done. I spend much less than an hour a day on my routines, and I'm now down to 165lb (75kg)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, you've had the thousand words so here are some pictures:

2012 - At the end of a 2-hour, 30 mile ride with several huge hills

2013 - Less than six months into my daily routine

2013 - Less than six months into my daily routine

Now, I'm not big on dieting, but I do watch what I eat. I avoid junk food, and I resist the temptation to add chips, soft drink, etc, to the shopping trolley. There's a recipes page on my site which lists dozens of easy meals, most of them relatively healthy. The important thing to remember is this: if you're burning a lot more calories, you don't have to obsess about your diet.