The Pursuit of Happiness

BY ALEX STORY

It is often said that the genius of America’s founding fathers was to have crystallised the essence of life on earth by defining three unalienable rights:

“life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

Had they declared that every man, woman and child had the right “to happiness” rather than its pursuit, their declaration would have been dismissed as a Utopian document of little intrinsic value.

The story below is about its pursuit.

One year ago, the first Corona lockdown hit our shores. Millions, like me, found themselves on furlough.

So large were the numbers across the land that the Human Resource departments of most companies could no longer muster that usual manufactured ounce of empathy.

It was just bad news all around. Worse, few knew where things would lead.

As I wrote in time for Christmas last year, there were few good options.

To make matters worse, I caught a glimpse of a fat, middle aged man, looking tired and hungry in the reflection of his local bakery’s shop front.

That old man was me. My heart sank. There I was; the old glory gone, if it was ever there.

The Olympic Games, the World Championships, the Boat Races were an eternity away. The illusion that I still had a little bit of that swagger left was cruelly shattered.

However, in the time it took me to walk from the bakery back home, I made a determination. I would lose the surplus weight.

That was a full year ago. The daily routine was set in my mind: early rise; short jogs to start with; two days fasting a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays).

The rules were set in stone. There was no deviation. Suddenly, the former habits of the Olympian kicked in. Everything seemed to fall into place. From April to June, I was increasingly convinced that I would be beach ready for the summer.

Then on the 17th of June 2020, I stood on the scales – for the first time in decades. My heart broke. After two months of intense dieting, I still was over 21 stone (over 134 kilos). My race weight had been 15.10 stone (100 kilos). How big had I become?

The answer to that question was best left unanswered.

The beach would definitely have to wait.

But progressively, the weight came off. In fact, the rate of loss was truly exhilarating. As I wrote in my previous article, from June 17th to December 11th 2020, I lost ¾ stone, or close to 5 kilos, per month on average.

It felt great. Happiness seemed only a few months away. Months turned to weeks and then days. On Christmas day, I patted myself on the back – the best present ever.

Indeed, I was back to 16.3 stone (103.5 kilos). With a 6’8’’ frame, I was now officially slim. I still had a few more pounds to go to reach 15.10 stone (100 kilos). But who was counting?

It turned out that I was.

However, it was going to be easy. I just had to keep the machine humming. The momentum was behind me. I was now used to the deprivations, such as they were.

I even started to imagine dipping below 15.10 stone (100 kilos). I would aim to go to 15.5 stone to buy myself a cushion of security for the inevitable and much missed evenings-out-with-friends.

It took a month to lose a handful of pounds and reach that milestone. Happiness was deferred a little but within touching distance it seemed.

No doubt, it would manifest itself on the screen of the scales. But then, other than a couple of dips below the 100 kilo barrier, I stabilised.

Weighing days became increasingly frustrating as the scales refused to budge. Each fasting day became a burden. Joy was seeping out of the process. My moods darkened.

What to do?

The answer, the only one I could conceive off, having in my youth been trained by Jurgen Groebler, the legendary East German coach who brought more gold to these shores than Sir Francis Drake, was to increase the intensity.

As a result, to the Tuesdays and Thursdays, Sundays were added. From a two day fast a week, my routine became a three day fast a week.

The jogs had already increased from an initial 10 to 15 minutes to a current 90 minutes. And yet, still the scales refused to move, stubbornly stuck between 15.9 and 16 stone (99.7 to 101.5 kilos).

My eating days became shorter too. After a usually copious, by my new standards, breakfast, my lunches shrank to salads and my evening meals to watching my children eat the sausages I would have loved to have.

Given how little actual happiness I felt knowing that I reached my initial goals, I wondered whether what I was experiencing was not something related to the beginnings of what some might call an eating disorder.

After all, there I was, having lost around one third of my body weight, feeling light on my toes and sharp in my movements, but simultaneously petrified of losing control.

Standing still, metaphorically speaking, is surprisingly more mentally draining that walking down the weight hill.

The trick it would seem, perhaps, is to accept the natural floor below which nature won’t allow you to go. In other words, there is no need to increase the intensity or knuckling down in order to reach what is in fact a completely arbitrary target.

I will probably have to face the facts that my natural weight is a little higher, but not too much, than I had imagined.

It will require a mental reset and an ability to trust that the discipline that allowed me to shed the weight will remain at my disposal in the well-being armoury. I have decided that I am indeed happy with the achievement and can’t believe I can now see my toes (and more).

Which is just as well given that the pubs are re-opening soon. Here is to another pursuit that will fill me with a great deal of happiness.

Alex Story is Head of Business Development at a City broker working with Hedge Funds and other financial institutions. He stood for parliament in 2005, 2010 and 2015.

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