Obese Hong Kong food writer falls short on India weight-loss trek

Mischa Moselle completes only 450km of his 1,450km route, and trims 27cm of a target 60cm from his waist – but he’s learned some valuable things about himself and made some positive changes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 March, 2016, 2:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 March, 2016, 2:00am

Can I let you in on a secret? It’s one I found out during my Indian odyssey. I’m a moron. Harsh perhaps but I’ve checked my dates and I gave myself 88 days to complete a 90-day challenge.

That challenge was to walk 1,450km and I managed a mere 450km. I could blame my bad back, several minor stomach upsets and poor research for some more days taken out of the equation, not to mention insomnia. I’m not discounting them but the main reason for the low distance was that I didn’t gain nearly as much fitness as I expected to.

SEE ALSO: Obese Hong Kong food writer hit by doubt on weight-loss trek across Indi

My thinking was as sophisticated as, “Well if I play squash I’ll have a heart attack, so I might as well try walking. That’s easy.” Doubling the amount I walked every few days was supposed to bring me up to my target of 16km a day but this figure constantly eluded me. If I reached it on one day, I could manage very little the next few days.

Just like my remaining man boobs, the kilometre target was a bit of a bust.

In retrospect I wonder if I could have pushed myself harder – at the time I seemed to be losing weight whatever I did and the distance covered almost seemed irrelevant. If I’m honest with myself, I could have pushed harder – but I also know that pushing harder would have been totally out of character and, at the age of 47, I’m unlikely to be developing a new personality.

I’m still feeling a bit smug about the results. Perhaps it shows in the “after” photo accompanying this article. I’ve lost 27cm around the waist and am confident that the other 33cm I’ve decided to lose will melt away with more of the same effort – walking and a low-carb, low-alcohol diet. I might regret those words when it comes to the last 5cm.

More evidence I might be a moron – I was convinced that I might somehow be using my tape measure wrongly. I had a strange relationship with that tape measure, as my eyes refused to believe I was losing as much as the measure said. It took trying on my old clothes for the “after” photo to convince me.

I visit my doctor the day after returning to Hong Kong and discover my cholesterol is still good, renal function in the same state as before my trip and my blood pressure is at 106/70 - the best it has probably been for 15 years (it was at 140/90 at its worst). During my walk back from the doctor’s Causeway Bay office to Central, two people tell me I look great. I hate to think how unbearably smug that makes me.

Another indicator of how effective my trip has been is that the idea of walking a couple of hours around Hong Kong is no longer laughable, as it would have been just a few months ago. The barriers were not just laziness and my fat man’s waddle but the stabbing pain in the back I was feeling after 10 minutes’ walk. That has completely disappeared. In fact, I now enjoy walking so much that I’m planning on tackling London’s Capital Ring route – by the time you read this I will be living in Britain. It’s a 126km route divided into 15 segments that takes in many of the city’s sights including plenty of less well-known ones on the outskirts.

I doubt if I’ll be taking my fitness regime much beyond walking – I can’t claim to have become a genuine fitness fanatic. To put it another way, my friends who are genuine fitness fanatics tell me I could exercise far more efficiently by spending 45 minutes in the gym three times a week. I’m sure they are right on paper but in real life they’re totally wrong because you’ll never see me in the gym.

The exercise won’t be much use on its own – it has to be complemented by a sensible diet. I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to stick to a diet unless I change my attitude to food first. I need to be able to look at what I’m eating and see a plate sensibly balanced between vegetables, protein and carbohydrates. ­­ I have to get away from thinking that an attractive plate of food is swimming in butter. I’m still a butter fan.

I did find my­­ attitude changing over the course of my time in India but in an unexpected and unhelpful way. I had envisioned myself fantasising about the food I was missing and I did just that, but rather than my daydreams involving my stuffing my own face, they involved my preparing elaborate meals for other people. Often the fantasies revolved around my signature chicken liver mousse, a description of which just does not belong on a health and fitness page.

I suppose the point is that I’m still far too excited about food to see it only as a healthy way of nourishing the body. This is going to make living on a low-carb regime in the long term more of a challenge. (Economists know what happens to us all in the long term though.) I suppose low carbs will have to become a matter of routine and that hasn’t happed yet.

That kind of psychological resistance to making a low-carb diet just another part of the daily grind persists despite my big Indian “take away” that avoiding carbs is a highly effective way of shedding the kilos. I’m no doctor or qualified nutritionist so I would be in a false position if I were to advocate that diet to anyone else. I can just say anecdotally that it is working so far for me. The British TV personality John Sergeant likes to joke that the problem with diets is that they leave you so hungry, you have to be on two at the same time just to feel full. Humour aside, that i­­s not my experience. There was hardly any point on my trip at which I felt hunger pangs and I am­ definitely eating smaller portions.

I do wonder if my fitness campaign might have been better planned and I can’t honestly answer that – if I had known how difficult walking in India would turn out to be, I quite possibly would not have gone. I still shudder at some of my experiences in Indian traffic. Ironically, I came to no harm until I returned to Hong Kong, got my coat caught in a taxi door and took a heavy tumble when the taxi drove off.

As a food writer who has worked in an Indian restaurant I was prepared to be served a fair amount of rice, just not in all the glorious forms in which it is prepared in the south of the country. I was really stymied, though, by my doctor advising me two days before I le­ft that I should eat only two slices of bread a day, as little rice as possible and have bigger portions of potatoes. The advice would have been more convincing if it had not been followed by the question, “What do they eat in India?”

SEE ALSO: Meet the ‘grotesquely obese’ food writer who’s on a mission to shed the pounds by walking 1,450km in 90 days

But what were my other options? If I had stayed in Hong Kong it would have been impossible to break my habits. Perhaps another country would have thrown up other unexpected temptations.

Overall I’m giving himself 3/5 for effort and 4/5 for weight loss for a combined 7/10. Perhaps the secret is not to think too much about the full horrors of trying to lose weight before trying to do so. Being a moron has its uses.