Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Swiss Army Knife (1)

21 functions
What can the Swiss Army Knife tell us about Switzerland? Thanks to a generous student I finally own one. It has 21 functions and by trying to find a use for them all, maybe I'll learn something about Swiss culture. Or maybe I'll just make up some outrageous lies and pass them off as fact.

Function 3 - Corkscrew
On their eighth birthday, Swiss children are given a basic Army Knife with eight functions. Every year their godparents give them a new one with nine, ten, eleven functions and so on, and by the time they retire, the Swiss are proficient with a 65-function knife.

Not me. I'm a total spastic. I did manage to get the wine out of this bottle, but not the wine stain out of my Transformers pyjamas. 

Function 2 - Small Blade
I almost never use the CD drive on my Macbook because God gave us wifi and USB. The other day I tried to insert a CD but there was a wall of dried plum blocking it. I used the small blade to push the CD in. Success!

What's this about the plum? Sigh. What happened is explained by the fact that Swiss companies leave fruit lying all over their offices to keep their workers healthy. I often steal some and then forget it is in my bag.

The plum in question disintegrated over a weekend and was sponged up by my Apple. The damage was limited to messing up the CD drive and to turning off the power LED on the front - the latter being a considerable improvement as I like to sleep in the dark.

The Swiss have the highest per capita spend on corporate fruit in the Western hemisphere, and the lowest rates of absenteeism. Coincidence? No.

 Function 13 - Scissors
In Zurich you recycle cardboard by wrapping it in string and leaving it on the kerb. I normally use big scissors to cut the string, but look: my Army Knife has scissors, and they cut through string like an elderly Frenchman cutting in line in an onion shop.

These cardboard pickups are one part of Zurich's impressive 21-point waste management policy. Recycling is taken very seriously here. There's no space for landfill because all the spare land is being used to store gold, to build unused holiday homes for rich Arabs and Russians, and to construct a gigantic statue of Roger Federer, the base of which will be bigger than seven Wimbledons. With incinerators costing a fortune to build and run, there are very strict rules about what can be put into household waste.

Like everything in Switzerland, this seemingly liberal, progressive way of doing things has a dark, sinister side. The police have special teams of garbage inspectors who sort through people's garbage to check for rule breaking, such as bunging batteries in a bin bag. Typically migrant workers from Sri Lanka, the teams wear shiny easy-wipe plastic coats and when a misdeed is detected, forensic specialists are called in to establish the identity of the perp. Minutes later the police arrive at the miscreant's door and cart them off for re-education. The worker who found the mistake is rewarded with a three-week visa extension and a morning off.

Further, neighbours inform on each other with gruesome glee, sickening to watch. If you want to have a chilling, horror movie-type experience, go to a bottle bank in Zurich on a Sunday and start dropping bottles. Wait a few seconds until the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, and then slowly turn around. At least six people will be taking photos of you or recording you on their iPhones. And their smiles will stop you from sleeping for weeks.

Part Two
Part Three

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Flab Loss Mastery

Andrew Girardin's Flab Loss Mastery
Part One

Flab! I have flab! Flab has turned my six-pack into a one-pack and made my chin a double. This is the result of four years of gluttony, sloth, and complacency.

Gluttony in terms of unrestrained consumption of pizza, beer, wine, chocolate, and muffins. Sloth in the sense of sitting on my arse eight hours a day and crying off sport at the drop of a hat. And complacency; above all, complacency: 'It'll be better next month when X happens;' 'Next week I'll do X and lose X kilos.' 

Of course, in the real world, X equals ZERO.

But I recently came across the concept of 'internal fat'. A reporter in a BBC documentary had an MRI scan and was told he had 5 litres of internal fat and that his organs were 'swimming in fat'. The guy wasn't even overweight. That sickening image zapped the complacency out of me like a preacher zapping homosexuality out of a gay.

Another motivating factor was a comment from a footballing friend. His doctor told him he needed to lose '50,000 calories'. This was a big 'aha!' moment for me. Putting weight loss in those terms is genius. I did a calculation and realised my friend needed to lose 150 calories a day over a year. He could exercise a bit more (30 minutes a day would do it) or eat less (one muffin a day? one slice of pizza?). EASY.

So it was time to lose the flab, write a blog about it, and become the number one motivational speaker in the world on the subject of flab loss. "If I can lose eight kilos in two years, so can YOU!"

My Lifestyle and Why Change is Hard
My schedule makes it hard to eat well. I work lunchtimes and evenings so I often have to grab whatever grub is to hand, which means sandwiches and muffins. I hate cooking and never get bored of pizza. I live one minute away from a Domino's.

I do a bit of sport, but a more honest appraisal of my activity shows that almost my whole life is spent in bed or hunched over a keyboard, like some slowly-fattening Phantom of the Opera.

If he sits there all day, every day, he'll end up with my stomach. Poor guy
I have a sweet tooth and like a cold beer after a hard day's educating. I have little to no self-discipline. If I buy one beer, I'll drink one beer. If I buy four beers 'to last me two days' I'll drink three and restock the next day.

Starting Point and Aim of the Project
I'm 183cm (6 foot) tall and my peak weight was a grotesque 90.5kg (14.25 stone/200 lbs). My weight mostly fluctuated between 87 and 89kg.

I want to get that down to 80 by the end of the project, or at least reduce my belly flab to where I no longer have the urge to google 'discreet liposuction for men.'

The Girardin Method for Flab Loss
Stage One - Baby Steps

1. From couch potato to exercise bike potato

If you mention weight-loss to people (don't, is my advice, but we'll come back to that when I write 'Andrew's Eye-Catching 10 Rules of Flab Loss') they will offer all manner of unsolicited advice. One of the least obnoxious things is 'get off the tram a stop earlier and walk the rest of the way.'

I like that kind of thing because it establishes the right mindset and it's easy and free, and becomes a routine you don't think about. In my case, what I did was stand up in class where possible (burns 50 calories an hour more than sitting) and move my exercise bike in front of my Xbox.

Exercise-box 360

Now that playing video games is an essential part of my fitness project I don't feel guilty about wasting my life shooting aliens in the face and it's a trillion percent less boring than standard exercise.

2. Easy, sustainable improvements in diet

One day I went to my local supermarkets and forced myself to walk around all the aisles looking for stuff that I might be able to wedge into my diet.
It was productive. In the two main supermarkets (Migros and Coop, for my Swiss readers) I found veg-heavy ready meals and ready-to-eat salads. The ready meals have 400 calories or so, about half as much as a pizza. The salads have 250 calories. Here's the inside of my fridge after shopping:

Salads, grapes, and enough vegetables to test a brain damage drug
There are about 9 meals there with the total calorie count of 3, maybe 4 pizzas. They're tasty, too, and there's almost no preparation needed. At most you need some olive oil and a frying pan.

3. Better snacking

Snacks are the devil. I tried switching from evil muffins and cheesecakes to healthier things like dried fruit (yes I know they have calories! Shut up! I know! I know the same things as you! I'm saying they're better than processed shit! They have nutrients! Just let it go!).

I experimented with snacking on dried banana and cherries during lessons. It was okay - they taste quite good but you can't scoff them down because of the calories so it's a bit unsatisfactory.

The dried fruit thing didn't stick. Something about it didn't sit right with me. Looking back, though, I think it was helpful to have them around, since my snacking is way reduced now.

The best snacks are no snacks. I tried to stop having muffins and cheesecakes every day. The Girardin Method encourages 'one treat a day'. On a given day I could either have a muffin or a Chai Tea Latte or a beer. 

It was moderately successful. I've had one slice of cheesecake in about four months and very few muffins. Also, when I do have a dessert or snack I enjoy it more because it's a treat.

4. Drink fewer chai tea lattes and more water

You might have read my Starbucks post and wondered about me drinking so much Chai Tea Latte. There's a Starbucks right next to my school and one near my flat, so the temptation is strong. Financially there's no point getting a small one (called a 'Enormio' in Starbucks jargon) so I always get the biggest (the 'Agamemnon'). It's a lot of calories, so reducing Chai intake was part of the project.

I stocked up on water and tried to cut down on Starbucks, reducing my consumption by at least half and taking maybe 1000 calories a week out of my diet.

BONUS: Water is far cheaper, too, since I can steal it from corporations I work at.

5. Fall in love

Falling in love, AKA being temporarily obsessed with some chick, helps in many ways. You have less appetite and can walk past muffins more easily.
My latest outbreak of bad-chemicals-in-the-brain was well-timed since it helped me stop boozing at home at a critical point in the flab loss programme. Instead, I moped around the streets of Zurich listening to The Smiths. Moping burns 50 calories an hour more than doing nothing, plus I wasn't drinking. Bonus!

"But Andrew, I don't believe in love. This doesn't help me!"
Don't fret. You can replicate the symptoms of love by staring at this Russian girl.

 Results: Is it working?

Yes! Using the Girardin Method I just dipped below 85kg for the first time since records began (i.e. 2010), a couple of people asked me if I had a wasting disease (high five!) and if I scrunch up my stomach really hard, you can sort of imagine where a six-pack would be.

If this seems positive and upbeat, it's because I'm writing it in the same week as I hit my target. But it took ages and ages and ages to lose the weight. Really, a long time.

NEXT - I'll report on my attempts to go from 85kg to 80, and summarise with one of those '10 Rules' posts that bloggers love.