Note: This post was originally part of my personal blog a few years back, but I decided it was about time to update it and make it even more impactful.
Picking up smoking was, by far, the worse decision I made in my life. At the age of seventeen, I weighed less than 70 Kg., I frequently worked out, swam, and commuted by bicycle within reasonable distances. It was a difficult time in my life and, a bit because of rebellion, a bit because of social pressure, and another bit because of sadness, I gave in. I have to confess that even today, at almost thirty-nine years old, I am ashamed to discuss it in the presence of my dad.
Not long after, I began to feel the harmful effects of this vice, but I completely neglected them. Workouts became harder. Walking exhausted me. But, I began driving as I turned 18. My sedentary lifestyle and poor nutritional habits started to show during this time. And, by the end of my mid-twenties, I weighed above 94 Kg. A scab of seborrheic dermatitis appeared on my face, which later I discovered was associated with the health of my liver, affected by cigarettes, booze, and high-fat food.
It took me many attempts until I finally could quit smoking. Reducing the amounts to two or three cigarettes per day and setting schedules to smoke didn’t work. I couldn’t stop for one reason: I wanted to smoke, despite knowing it was harmful to me. How to stop doing something you want to?.
My 2010 new year’s eve resolution was to quit smoking. And, I did it the only way I could: closed my eyes and pretended that the cigarette didn’t exist anymore. I avoided hanging out in places where people smoked for months until the desire to do it faded. However, the approach was not the best since, in my head, the idea did not disappear. At the time, my willpower was more. But who can rely only on willpower?
After I quit, the benefits were immediately visible. My ability to work out increased tenfold. I began to experience a clarity of thought that I didn’t know I had lost. I regained the use of my smell and taste, and I had much more free time: if we do the math, five minutes per cigarette plus setup time (walking to a place where it’s allowed to smoke), for a pack of 20, you waste at least 140 minutes a day, or 2 hours 20 minutes.
I will pause to define the concept of Keystone Habits. Habits serve as a gateway to other good habits. For example, quitting smoking was a keystone habit for me.
I had to solve the trickiest problem of them all: Morbid obesity. According to metrics like BMI and PBF, my ideal weight is 65Kg., And my overweight limit is 72Kg. I weighed 95Kg. So, the challenge was to drop 30Kg or almost 67lb! A task that took me ten years of work and learning.
One takeaway from my experience is: Diets are not effective. Not diets or exercise in large volumes, but somewhere I had to start.
Towards the end of 2010, I bought a mountain bike and began using it to commute to work, about 4 kilometers per section. During the weekends, I saw myself making the ride between Chacras de Coria and the entrance of the Mendoza River. Finally, I managed to ride the forty kilometers uphill to reach Cacheuta.
By February 2011, I had lost 7kg, and by July 2012, I weighed 78Kg. Still overweight but much better. The problem is that I had not changed my eating habits. Riding my bike simply helped me generate a calorie deficit. I didn’t know how to listen to my body’s satiety cues.
In August 2012, I got a job in Buenos Aires, a city with less intense but unsafe riding. Because of it and a 200% increase in my work schedule, combined with the existing bad eating habits (how to forget the delicious fried Empanadas of the Gourmet!), I bounced back up to over 90Kg. I lost all progress! Another takeaway: bursts of exercise do not help you lose weight sustainably. Exercise has to be part of your life.
The years that followed were hard on my personal life, and, in consequence, I paid no attention to my health. Until one day, I hit rock bottom. This story might ring a bell to those who have tried to lose weight without success in their lives: they make sacrifices, see progress, have “a bad time,” and get discouraged when they see everything lost.
In January 2016, after moving alone (and single) to the United States, my interest in health gained new vigor. I didn’t only need health but wanted to look attractive.
Armed again with my willpower, I tried the only thing that (so far) had worked: Exercise. But this time, with a twist, I wanted to find an activity that didn’t depend on a bike. The solution was to walk. So I started walking to work, or any distance less than 2 miles (3.2 km), 30 minutes a day on the treadmill, and hiking on the weekends. And so it was that I discovered my second keystone habit: walk as much as possible.
At the same time, I began reading about nutrition. Something that caught my attention was that the liver is the organ responsible for processing fats, that carbohydrates metabolize into fats, and that alcohol affects liver function. So I made another change: stop drinking most of the time, and if I did, have wine or whiskey, since I can enjoy it through small sips.
With these changes, my weight dropped to a stable 72Kg by the end of 2016. And it kept stable for the next four years. So here it was, my third keystone habit; not drinking alcohol in excess while avoiding beer as much as possible.
During this time, I began to do all kinds of physical activities, from bicycle routes of up to 200km a day with more than three thousand meters of climbing to walks on paths of more than 20km with a 20kg backpack on my shoulders. Additionally, my body and hormones adapted to the weight, but I plateau between 70 and 72Kg.The reason: I still didn’t pay enough attention to my diet.
As with smoking, you can’t eat less without wanting to. So, another thing I discovered is that many of my beliefs about healthy food were wrong. You can read more about it here.
By mid-2019, I began a period of personal growth and healing the wounds of a decade of spiritual self-scourge. One day, I discovered symptoms of discomfort that lasted for over a month. After visiting the doctor, I got shocked by the news. The (social) abuse of alcohol and restaurant food was causing my liver some problems. I had started a slow weight bounce again, but it was not noticeable thanks to the large volumes of exercise and daily walks. My liver was paying the bill.
Following the doctor’s recommendation, I stopped drinking all kinds of alcohol, allowing myself only a glass of wine socially. I also enrolled in noom to improve my eating habits. There I learned many things about nutrition, metabolisms, and psychology. In addition, I got an insight into why I could not achieve my goals.
To quit smoking, lose weight, or achieve anything in life, you need to want it first. Everyone knows what they should be doing, but not many want it. It’s simple; I can’t quit smoking if I still want a cigarette. I have not to choose it. I cannot lose weight without wanting to eat well. I must choose to eat smaller portions. I must like what aligns with my goals and reject what doesn’t. Is it not obvious? If I want to lose weight and simultaneously stuff my face with processed foods and drink 4 pints of beer, or a bottle of soda, I’m not being consistent. With this, I do not mean being “deprived.” There is a vast difference between depriving yourself of something and not wanting it.
Fast-forwarding to 2020 and 2021, I followed a strict eating methodology that combined calorie counting and experimenting with eating styles like keto. As a result, I dropped weight to under 62Kg—much under my original target. But something was not quite right. I didn’t gain weight for eighteen months, but I felt consistently hungry. It was then that I discovered, by researching intuitive eating, that I had developed a food disorder. I couldn’t allow myself to eat what I wanted without engaging in physical activity. I would feel terrible if I did. So finally, thanks to intuitive eating, I began training myself to listen to my body’s satiety cues and be relaxed about the whole eating situation. After I did, my weight fluctuated to 65Kg, and it’s still there.
Quitting the vices (or moderating them) is not easy because our biology asks us for more. Sugar, salt, carbohydrates, alcohol, all of the above; But with the appropriate mindset and information, you can make changes last and establish keystone habits that will stick for a lifetime.
To close out. After over ten years of walking the path of health I, rediscovered my body, unlearned bad habits, and experienced unprecedented feelings of clarity and happiness. That’s one solid proof that short-term solutions are not effective and that the name of the game is: slow and steady. I hope this will inspire anyone who could stay with me thus far.