I started putting on weight when I hit fifty. A slower metabolism and a less labour-intensive house on Trevithick Terrace that didn’t require 50 hours a week of renovating were enough to do me in. When I hit 165 pounds I decided to do something about it. I started an exercise routine, largely aimed at my weakening lower back, but also the growing gut that further exacerbated the problem. It took about three years to get weight down to 150, but I still wasn’t happy with the result. Another three years got it to 140 where I have remained ever since. But the last couple of years I have noticed another problem creep in.

While my weight has remained constant, my belly hasn’t. For a while I just put it down to lack of muscle tone, bought a bicycle like any sensible fellow would and let it go at that. But while the pounds stayed off, the belly continued to grow. What gives? My BMI of course hadn’t changed, since my weight and height were the same, but clearly I was losing the battle of the bulge; the now overly tight pants that I had bought when I arrived in Malaysia weren’t lying, so the BMI must be.

I started doing some research and chatting with a weight-lifting buddy of mine who just scoffed. “BMI tells you nothing,” he said when I asked him about it; “waist to height is a much more accurate indicator, especially for those who are short and muscular.” Muscular, I’m not, but short I won’t argue (I am average height for the year I was born, but we don’t need get into that!). Sure enough the research bore him out. BMI is no longer the reputable standard (You can read up on it yourself here: http://www.livestrong.com/article/335980-the-standard-waist-hip-measurements-based-on-height-weight/). Doing the calculations for waist to height, and waist to hip gave me a much different picture than I was getting with BMI; a picture that was far more in keeping with the reality at my beltline.

The reason is simple: as you age you lose muscle mass. It doesn’t exactly sink to your belly; it just atrophies. The belly fat is a result of the decreased metabolism while maintaining previously acquired eating habits. I was getting fatter, just as I suspected, but the loss of muscle mass was hiding the increase, at least as far as the bathroom scales and the BMI could detect. But my pants knew better, and I had to reluctantly admit what I had known – and tried to avoid knowing – for at least two years, I was no longer my old slim self.

The next step was to come up with some information about weight reduction that wasn’t hysterical or designed to pad the pockets of some charlatan. Shaun – my weightlifting buddy – informed me that a pound of body weight was equal to 3,500 calories, and that in order to lose a pound a week you either had to burn that much or consume that much less. Some more quick trips to the internet were enough to convince me that exercise was not the answer. Burning 500 calories a day was going to cost me around 4 hours of walking per day. Clearly that was not an option (I am much too old to be pursuing more vigorous alternatives to walking!). That left reducing my caloric intake. Despite all the obsession in the public media about this issue, I had never really thought too much about how many calories a day I consumed, or even needed.

I had heard that guys needed around 2,500 calories a day and a woman about 2,000, but that was about as far as I had thought about it. I couldn’t even tell you how many calories were in an apple. I was stunned to find out that what I actually needed was around 1400 calories a day (There are plenty of good calculators on the internet, such as: http://home.fuse.net/clymer/bmi/ but a good ball park estimate is ten times your body weight in pounds. This will obviously decrease as you lose weight, so you will want to recalculate about once a week). Armed with this knowledge, and the certainty that there are few things in life that understanding and determination can’t deal with, I set out to reduce my caloric intake enough to take off a pound and a half a week, and to keep that up for a month.

I figured at most I was five pounds overweight, and therefore a month at 650 calories a day (basal metabolic rate minus pound and a half in calories per day) would be enough to bring that saggy belly in line. I can’t believe now how naive I was, but I guess that is how we deal with these things; we want to believe the best case scenario. My expectations were wildly unrealistic, but I didn’t know that two months ago.