How I lost 25 kilos at age 50

Erik, Britt-Marie, Swade

Introduction

I originally prepared this text about losing weight in your 50s for the benefit of a family member who asked me about my weight loss experience a few years ago. I was going to make a few dot points and send them via text but then I figured a fuller explanation might be more helpful.

Given that this website is occasionally visited by men-of-a-certain-age, I thought it might be helpful here, too.

Nothing is being sold here. I’m not holding myself out to be some sort of diet guru. This is just my story and how things worked out for me. Maybe it’ll be work for you, too.

Note: the photo at the top of this article is me at, or around, my heaviest. I reckon I’m about 125kg in that shot with Erik Carlsson, which was taken in 2011 or 2012, IIRC. I was a big boy.

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I turned 50 in 2020 and given the significant nature of the milestone, I dragged myself off to the local doctor for a full medical. Most things came back OK, but not everything. Most pressing was the fact that my cholesterol was too high. My doctor gave me two choices:

1. Go on cholesterol medication, which tends to be a rest-of-life thing from when you start taking it. Or….

2. Lose some weight.

I’m always averse to taking medications, if avoidable, so I figured it would be a win-win to try and shed some kilos.

I weighed 115kg at the time of my check-up. It’s not the heaviest I’ve been in my life but it was not a comfortable weight, either. I tired easily, my clothes didn’t fit (and I love my shirts!), and I wasn’t sleeping well. I just didn’t feel good.

That was March 2020.

As of June 2021, I weighed in at 89.9kg. That’s 25kg off in 15 months. And my cholesterol count was no longer in the danger zone. As at the time of writing (Feb 2024), I’ve put on a couple of kilos, but am still firmly in the low 90s.

Below: A slimmer me, at 90kg, getting married to Caro in 2022

How did I do it?

There were no tricks, fad diets or shortcuts.

For me, it was sleep, diet and exercise.

Sleep

I’d known for a long time that I had sleep apnea. I went for an overnight test at a sleep clinic in Hobart around 2006 and the whole experience was terrible. They attached a massive harness full of sensors and cables to my head. It was thick and uncomfortable. I looked like a pasty-white and overweight Bob Marley. And they expected me to sleep with this Predator-like headpiece in a foreign bed?

No. The biggest ‘test’ involved in this exercise was actually getting to sleep.

Sleep tests have changed a lot since then. I got a referral from my GP and did my test through Air Liquide, which has offices all around Australia.

Pro tip
In Australia, when you consult your GP about doing a sleep test, the GP will ask you a bunch of questions. It’s a standard questionnaire used around the country and if you score enough on that, you get your sleep test for free!

The sleep test I did in 2020 involved a small diagnostic unit worn on the chest with seven small sensors on the skin. You do it at home. The test kit is easy to fit and it didn’t obstruct my nighttime movement at all.

Once you return the test kit, they’ll analyse the results and if you need a CPAP machine, they can sell you one.

I needed one. And I’m so glad I got one!!

I’ve always been a 6-hour sleeper. I still only get 6-7 hours a night, but now it’s usually uninterrupted, which makes a massive difference. Here’s a quick primer on why sleep is so important (SA Health govt site)

The machine cost me around $1600 but it’s been worth every cent.

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Diet

Diet was always going to be the hardest part for me. There was a time I was eating KFC for lunch 4-5 times a week. Sometimes that was topped off with BBQ Chicken for dinner at night. Or pizza. Or Indian. Plus a packet of chocolate biscuits. And maybe some potato chips. All in the same night. While drinking Coke.

I was the Michael Phelps of shite food.

Thankfully, by taking a long-term view and finding food combinations that worked for me, I’ve been able to establish a routine that seems to work.

The things I eat now

I don’t have a meal plan. I don’t eat the same things on set nights every week. All I’ve done is establish a small set of things I can count on to fill a hole at meal time. They’re tasty and they help me reduce the urge to snack.

Here are a few things I eat/drink now. They work for me. They might not work for you but the point is to find something that does.

Sugar-free drinks

Sugar is your enemy. And sugared drinks are killers when it comes to your health.

Sadly, even though I’m over 50, adult things like coffee and tea are not part of my life, so soft drinks (sodas to you Americans) are still a big part of my day. That meant lots of sugar intake. I used to drink at least three Cokes a day.

That’s now a thing of the past. While visiting an Aunt and Uncle in Melbourne back in 2020, I had a sugar-free lemon drink. It was good. And so began my affair with sugar-free drinks.

I now typically drink 7-Up Zero. There was a range of drinks back in Australia called Kirks which had a less hazardous sweetener in it. I might switch back to those when I return to Australia at the end of 2024. But for the moment, the important thing is getting off the sugar.

Pro tip
Make it sustainable to help make it work. Yes, fizzy drinks are a bit childish for a 50-something, but maintaining that link to something I liked makes it sustainable. Going cold turkey might have worked but for someone like me, it’s odds-on that it wouldn’t have. Do what’s good for you AND has the benefit of being sustainable.

Salads

Ha! Me eating a salad. What a laugh.

Some may laugh at my choice of salad. In fact, it’s referred to in our house as a ‘Bullshit Salad’. I don’t care. It works. And as with my pro tip, above, it makes things sustainable.

My salad consists of:

  • Oakleaf lettuce
  • Capsicum (that’s a red or green pepper for some of you non-Aussies)
  • Grated carrot
  • Sliced cucumber
  • Light shredded cheese
  • Bacon

Hey, they use bacon in a Ceaser salad. It’s a legitimate ingredient! And it’s not bad for you. Eating an entire pig is bad for you. A bit of bacon a few times a week is fine.

Steak and veg

Simple. A bit of well-cooked steak and a few veg.

Do the steak right (well seasoned, three minutes each side on high heat) and there’s nothing better.

Breakfast Cereal

Carman’s Oats, Cinnamon and Vanilla. Soooooooo good. It’s lower in sugar than most of the cereals I’ve seen and it tastes deeeelicious.

OK. There’s a chance it gets eaten for meals other than breakfast. Guilty, your honour….

Others

I eat a bunch of other things, too. Stir fry, slow-cooked stuff, burritos, wraps, toasties, and more.

Some people are real foodies. Every meal is an event. That’s not me. A meal being an event is something reasonably rare for me. When it is, it’s OK to dig in. I enjoy the moment.

I just try to eat the ‘moment’ meals and other stuff according to the pro-tip below…..

Pro tip
‘Lagom’ is a Swedish word and, I believe, a Scandinavian principle that influences the Scandi outlook on life.

Lagom is the idea of having “enough”. Being satisfied. Enjoying things but not being greedy. It’s a philosophy that’s not so familiar in the Western media but it’s something that can be applied across broad slices of life. The size of your house. Your type of car. Your indulgence in….. many things. And of course, food.

Portion size is important. We’re often full well before we finish eating. We keep going because it tastes good, not because we need the energy input. Make up a smaller plate and see how you go.

Lagom.

Things I don’t eat anymore……

  • An entire box of cholcolate biscuits every night (TeeVee Snacks were my favourites).
  • A full bag of chips in one sitting.
  • Bread – not much, at least.
  • Pasta – not as much as I used to. But I still love it when I do.
  • Fast food – BBQ or fried chicken, sausage rolls, etc. I still love them. I just don’t feel like them much anymore.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these things in moderation. It’s just that, for me, it was really hard to eat them in moderation.

Have one (small) treat

Denying yourself absolutely everything is a recipe for misery, and ultimately, failure. In order to keep things sustainable, I used to allow myself one treat on a regular basis – Mint Slice biscuits. That was in Australia. Right now, I’m living in Sweden and my treat of choice is a Kex.

Your treat will be something else. Allow it. Just don’t overdo it. I have a treat every day and it keeps me happy. Being happy in moderation keeps me on track in other parts of the diet/exercise equation.

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Exercise

Disclaimer
I’m fortunate enough to work from home. I don’t have kids. I recognise that I have more flexibility to control my own schedule and fit my work in with my exercise goals.

You might not.

Having work commitments and having kids are geniune reasons why exercise might be difficult. Exercise takes time you might not have. The trick is to make sure those commitments don’t shift from being reasons to being excuses.

My exercise regime started pretty simple – I walked.

I started walking when I was living in Sweden between 2015 and 2019. I did a few kilometers at lunchtime, and around 5km once or twice a week.

I stopped walking when I first returned to Australia in 2019 but eventually started doing a similar routine – a few kilometers at lunchtime and a 4km walk a few times a week.

It took a little time to walk 4km at a brisk pace without getting tired. Yes, you might have to work your way up to it. That’s OK.

The key, for me, was to find a regular route. It might sound a little boring to walk the same one or two routes regularly but having a routine that you don’t have to think about makes it easier to keep doing it. I find variety in the things I observe, the people on the route, the podcasts I listen to along the way. A familiar route that’s near to work/home just makes things easier.

Today, I walk for an hour in the morning and I try to do an hour in the evening if I can, too.

Below: The start of my walking route in Brisbane. It makes it a lot easier to do everyday if the route is a) nearby, and b) as pleasant as this

Sunrise in Brisbane

I’d recommend your route be as flat as possible to start with. Hills can be an easy disincentive when you first start a walking regime. Walking briskly along a flat route will build up your conditioning and base-level fitness. Pick up some hills once you feel like you need a new challenge.

Or start running.

I live in Sweden right now and running isn’t really palatable for me, here. When I was back in Australia I ended up running three mornings a week – Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I used the Nike Run Club app to keep track of my pace. It’s a good data record and it uses GPS to track your time, per-kilometer, giving your inner competitor something to tussle with.

I’d done a year or so of walking before I started running. I started with a 1500 meter run a few times a week. Then 2km. Then 3km. Just before moving to Sweden I was doing 5km per run, three times a week.

It can be done. It feels good.

The bonus with this type of activity is that you get your heart pumping. It’s OK to walk 10,000 steps a day but you’re spreading that out over a whole day. Doing a concentrated block of activity puts a little stress on your system, forcing your insides to adapt and stretch their capability. Don’t overdo it, but do it.

Everyone has different time available to them for exercise. As mentioned earlier, I can fit this in with my work schedule and still get everything done. It’s understandable if others can’t fit that in. Life today can be a bit crazy. Whatever you do, though, it’s better than doing nothing.

Pro tip
If you’re going to start running, invest in some proper running shoes and socks. They really do help. They don’t make you go faster but you’ll notice the difference in your joints when you finish. $260 is a lot of money for shoes (in my experience) but it’s money well spent.

Notes

Scales

Others may disagree, but for me, what gets measured gets done.

I weigh myself at the same time every day. I get up. I go for my walk/run. When I get home, I have a shower and then I weigh myself before breakfast.

You might think weighing in every day sounds a bit obsessive. It doesn’t feel that way to me. It gives me a day-to-day look at how I’m tracking. It allows me to see what effect my diet and exercise from the last few days has had.

If I’ve had a busy few days in terms of eating, I understand in real(ish) time what effect that has on me and can adjust in the coming days. Weighing in regularly avoids most of the nasty shocks.

Patience

I did a similar weight-loss regime around 2013/14. From that experience, I knew that it took time to see/feel a difference.

This time, it took a month or two before I started seeing progress on the scales. I felt better, but the scales didn’t show that I was getting any lighter.

It’s important to be patient and to stick with it. It can be a real disincentive when you don’t see the progress you’d like to. Hang in there. It’ll come.

Eventually, as you sort out your routines and work on your consistency, you’ll start to see the needle move.

Enjoy your wins

It’s important to enjoy the journey and part of that is celebrating your milestones. Enjoy the achievement.

Have a treat, by all means. Then get back on the job.

Everyone is different

The stuff written above is what has worked for me.

You’re different. You might have to discover some different things that work for you. That’s OK. Just stick with it.

The old cliche applies – this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Find what works for you and make the most of it. The benefits in terms of energy, fitness, health, and enthusiasm, are worth it.

Share the experience (with limits)

Others will have to answer this for me but I try not to be a jerk about my progress. I have a few people that I share my progress with. Everyone else – they’ll notice if they notice and if not, that’s absolutely OK.

I share this bit of my life with my doctor, my wife, and occasionally, my Mum (from whom I seem to have inherited an exercise gene). Your attitude might vary, but I find it helps to have a few people around you who know where you’ve come from and who care enough to keep you accountable in an understanding way.

Conclusion

To the general reader: Losing weight in your 50s is not easy but it’s really not as hard as you fear. It takes some commitment and willingness to change but it’s change you can be in charge of. Your health is important. It’s a great balancer for other aspects of your life, too. It’s important to you, your family and your friends. Pick some of them and share the load.

To the guy I wrote this for: Both your health and your life are extremely important to me. It’s a great balancer for other aspects of your life and therefore, it’s important to you, your family and your friends.

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6 Comments

  1. This is a very timely article. I hit my heaviest in October last year and am working on reducing. I don’t eat meat, but did eat a lot of bread, pasta and pastry type stuff. It has taken time to tailor my eating and shopping to support healthier options. For me, the first few excess kgs came off quite rapidly, simply by counting the calories and staying under 2000 per day. Now I have plateaued and I recognise this is because the calorie count is still a little too high and mostly because I am quite sedentary. That’s the next step in the project. I do walk twice a day with the dogs, but one is very elderly and so the walks are slow and only a km each.

    The before and after photos and your willingness to share your journey is inspiring. Thank you. I plan to have a similar tale to tell in due course.

    Very best wishes as always.

    1. No worries, Mark. I’m glad the piece has given you something more to think about.

      As I said in the article – what gets measured, gets done. You’re already in that habit with calorific awareness. It’s just a matter of finding the other keys to your particular puzzle, which you will.

      Good luck with it all!

  2. Wow, well done! Your journey is very akin to mine. I was at 135kg (just a hair under 300 lbs.), and I felt awful.

    My cholesterol has always been lowish (genetics at work), but I discovered I’m diabetic (also genetics at work).

    Sleep apnea – yes. It feels wonderful to sleep again.
    Morning ritual of oats or other whole grains – yes.
    Walking – yes.
    Quitting my job with near full-time travel and all the restaurants – yes.

    I got down to about 116-118 kg there for a couple of years. Down about 16-18kg. Unfortunately, I gained back about 7-8 kg during the pandemic. I’m just now getting serious about working that back off.

    Keep it up, and I’m happy to see you’re back at Koenigsegg. Could you have ever dreamed you’d be here when you were working for the Tasmanian government?

    1. Glad to hear you’ve scaled back the work travel. It always sounded gruelling to me.

      And yes, back at Koenigsegg, but it’s temporary. We’re heading back to Australia again, for good, in the latter third of the year. More on that later. I hope to keep writing for them part time, but we’ll see how that pans out.

      Keep up the movement, mate!! You’ll get that Covid padding down in good time. It sure feels better.

      Great to hear from you, buddy. You are missed.

  3. Good on you, Swade. This is a sincere, well-written article.

    I’ve gone down this path twice. I’m now 66. My latest version is doing a restrictive keto style of eating with varied success. My consistent weakness has always been very much a lack of sustained exercise. You provided some good ideas that I may try. Thank you, friend!

    BTW, you look quite handsome in your wedding photo!

    [My RR blog website is currently down. I want it restored although I’m no longer posting. I’m planning to “sit down” with my host provider to figure it out…]