Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: I must get healthy to avoid that fatty humble pie

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Matt McCarten is strengthening his body before more surgery. Photo / Michael Craig
Matt McCarten is strengthening his body before more surgery. Photo / Michael Craig

I've been surrounded by people, as I'm sure you have, whose New Year's resolutions are to get fit and lose weight. It's an irony when billions starve that most of our population are stressed about eating too much.

Two years ago at this time I was recovering from surgery for secondary liver cancer that had spread from my colon. The prognosis for survival wasn't great. My doctors told me my self-created sedentary, stressful lifestyle combined with a heavy Western meat-and-dairy diet was the biggest cause. No surprise there.

After it was too late, like anyone else facing a similar crisis, I vowed to live a healthy life from that day. My surgeon had heard it all before and gently pointed out the horse had already bolted, but he supposed my new lifestyle might help with future cancers. With a deadpan face, he mused it wouldn't do any harm.

I bought all the books and appropriate kitchen equipment and even booked a three-year gym membership just to prove my confidence in my new me.

I started off with a hiss and a roar.

Of course, as every dieter knows, willpower isn't enough to beat the subconscious mind. The physical addiction to sugar and fats always seemed to win the battle. It didn't help that every corner dairy and petrol station had a row of confectionery serenading me at their counters. It was rare that I could resist just one little morsel.

After that I was hooked again for a few more days until remorse and common sense weaned me off again. A dieter's life is yo-yo hell. I imagine we are similar to heroin addicts. Denial, capitulation, the high, remorse, guilt, re-commitment then back to repeating the cycle.

But, even in my disciplined phases, I just couldn't get away from foods that kill. A dieter in most cafes starves. If they don't buy food that includes breads, there's nothing to eat. Even a glass of supposedly pure orange juice makes up half of a person's daily sugar needs.

I'm going in for another round of surgery in April. I have to strengthen my body by then or there will be real problems.

Just before Christmas I was reading my latest health book and reading passages to a long-suffering friend who has had to tolerate my obsessiveness for far too long. She sighed that I didn't need any more information about what to do. I just needed to do it.

I think it was something in the exasperated tone that did it. In a month I've lost 7kg. I have little doubt now the other 15kg will be permanently gone by the time I go under my surgeon's knife again.

There is no real mystery to losing weight and maintaining good health. We need to eat the right foods that we actually like; we need to get the heart rate up through exercise each day; and maintain a weightlifting programme to rebuild the muscle we lose.

A quarter of the weight we lose is muscle. If we don't put it back on, our metabolism slows down and it doesn't take long for our fat to return with interest.

Dieting isn't complex. Eat three times a day. Make sure there's protein, lots of plant-based food supplemented with nuts or fish oils with every meal.

Obviously, get rid of processed food, animal fats, breads, fruit drinks, standard milk, cheese, icecream, sweet treats and alcohol.

If you can't stop all of this, don't worry about it. Just make sure most of the intake is the good stuff and minimise the rest. The body will take care of itself.

Exercise is simple, too. Walking briskly for an hour a day burns a half kilo a week. Throw in a workout on the main muscle groups twice a week to complete the job.

Now I've shot my mouth off it will be an incentive to prove myself correct - otherwise I'll be eating a big plate of fatty humble pie in three months' time.

- Herald on Sunday

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