Posted by: mrlock | November 9, 2018

Being fit for the job

On 1st January 2018, I stood on the scales.

I weighed 17 stone. It was the first time in my life I’d been that heavy. I used to be a runner of long distance at school. Then I played football until my mid-30s. Then I refereed. And I am a vegetarian.

I stepped off. And then stood on them again so that they could get the glitch out of their system. I was still 17 stone. I went and got the old scales.

The old scales said I was heavier.

I was horrified again. I was really, really overweight. I had been for years, but this was worse than any weigh-in that had gone before.

I hadn’t had an alcoholic drink for two and a half years, I have been a vegetarian since I was 11. How had this happened?

“I’m going to die by the age of 60,” I thought.

So I decided to lose weight. I have decided this before, including starting a blog to track it, but I’ve never stuck to it. This time I did.

The first thing I did, is that I tweeted it.


And not long later, Matt Hood, founder of the Institute for Teaching, offered to help me.

I said yes.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but I had effectively got a coach. It is the single most important thing I did. I didn’t know Matt well, but he had visited my school, I’d had a meal with him, met him on a handful of occasions, and communicated about education a few more. I respect him. This matters. I didn’t know it but I had a coach that I respect, and whose opinion I cared about. This was fortunate; I was lucky to have someone I respect who both read my tweet and offered to help.

Part 1 – a food diary:

Matt gave me a brief history of his understanding of nutrition and outlined his credibility, designed to give me confidence. Then he demanded a food diary. A typical day. Everything I eat.

I didn’t really have a typical day apart from I ate whatever I wanted and I hated being hungry.

I wrote a food diary.

Then I realised how embarrassing it was. So I didn’t send it to him. A couple of days later he asked for it again. I ignored him. A couple of days later I wrote to him professionally about the IFT Masters in Excellent Teaching.

Matt’s reply said “Food diary!”.

So I sent it to him. It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to write, and it said this, on 4th January:

I don’t like feeling hungry, which is a problem. I’m embarrassed about this.

A typical weekday might include:

5.30am: Coffee – espresso with sugar.

Coffee recurs all day until about 5pm I probably drink 6 or 7 cups, with sugar and semi-skimmed milk. 2 cans of full sugar coke.

I don’t usually eat breakfast but if I didn’t go to bed early enough (circa 10pm) I might end up drinking one of the energy drinks in the car on the way to work (energy drinks are generally bought when I’m on long car journeys and the family are in the car so I stay alert – I also always buy multipacks of everything because it’s cheaper per capita and I can’t stand overpaying).

Sometime between 10.30 and 12.30 I’ll eat the two sandwiches I have made at home. These are usually cheese, lettuce, tomato, butter.

2-5pm Biscuits from the SLT meeting that week. Eat most or all of what is left. We should probably count it as a packet.

6.30pm ish: A subway on the way home. I’m usually starving and give up trying to make it all the way home. If not a subway I might stop for a portion of chips. This is bad, isn’t it?

8: A meal at home, pasta with sauce, plenty of cheese. Or freezer roulette, veggie portions (but usually the whole packet, i.e. 2 cheese and leek plaits.

9.30: Snack on whatever, usually toast with butter.

I will probably have eaten sweets stored in the car. I certainly will have if they are there.

Another day might include the same until 2pm. Then no biscuits, but at around 7pm I will stop at Tesco. I’ll buy a sandwich meal deal thing, cheese ploughmans sandwich, bag of crisps, orange juice. Buy multi-pack or several of chocolate, convinced that I’ll eat one and the rest is for later. It’s on offer after all. Eat at least four bars of said chocolate. Or none. But usually four or more.

Then I’ll eat a meal at home as above.

I’ll then snack later as above.

Weekends usually include breakfast – Alpen (full sugar version) with whole milk (we have whole milk because of the kids), lunch (a couple of sandwiches) and dinner (a roast, or equivalent, or pizza. Actually, often pizza, and I eat a LOT more than is normal – I can easily eat a large Domino’s, for example).

And the I eat whatever I feel like in the evening.

I eat some, but not much fruit. I don’t drink enough water.

I don’t drink alcohol.

Please don’t judge me too badly. This was honest and painful.

Part two – drinks:

Because I have very little willpower I had to get myself to a position where I was just following instructions.

So having produced an honest food diary, and got myself a coach – one who would check in on me every two or three days – I needed to get into the mindset of changing routines.

Whenever anyone has asked me about my diet I have just said that I have a routine, not a diet.

Here was the first step from Matt – consider that I’d also let him know that in the last couple of days I’d tried to immediately stop drinking full fat drinks and cut sugar from my coffee:

1) You’re going to continue coffee without sugar (a great start) but also cut out the milk.
2) You’re only going to drink sugar-free drinks.
3) You’re going to exercise twice (light jog / brisk walking / swimming).

Here’s why. We’re trying to change your routines around what you drink – or more accurately the sugar you’re taking in from drinking. This is enemy number one because it’s so hidden. The coke zero is a great start as is the water but I want to push you to black coffee to cut out the lactose in the milk (which is no difference to sucrose or fructose). On exercise twice is just fine. If you fancy more, then fine but it’s not a game changer and is a big time drain.

I want you to keep everything else the same (ish). Don’t go nuts on pizza but don’t not have it this weekend. Have a biscuit or two but just not a pack etc etc. Remember that we’re changing routines, we’re not on a diet so we’re doubling down on that liquid calorie intake routine this week. ‘Good’ looks like you becoming one of those annoying middle class people who says things like ‘oh I only drink black coffee’ and ‘is that a coke zero’.

My reply to Matt:

Coffee without milk is not something I like. That will be the hardest thing. For ten days. I might just switch to liquorice tea or peppermint tea, but I’ll struggle without caffeine. But I won’t have milk. Are you suggesting I stop milk with the Alpen at the weekends?

Sugar free drinks is okay – but I failed to write ‘roses lime cordial’ quite often in the evenings. Am I cutting that too?

Matt’s reply:

Don’t cut out the coffee – bad bad things will happen. I’d like you to *try* and get used to the taste without milk (if you’re drinking instant try switching to Nescafe Azera – it’s basically a cross between instant and proper coffee). If you really can’t after this week a splash of milk won’t hurt.

Carry on with that Alpen with milk for now – that’s not for this week.

Yes you’re getting rid of that lime cordial – you drink black (or quite black) coffee, coke zero et al and water now.
I forgot to say that it’s so good you don’t drink booze by the way – for many many people this is the hardest nut to crack. Wine is liquid cream cake. ​
On exercise, my general point is don’t try to do every day. Two or three times per week is fine. I train three or four times a week – never every day.

So not having any sugar or milk in my drinks was exactly what I did for that week, and ever since. Not drinking made this easier than it might have been otherwise, but overall I found this really hard. I have never enjoyed ‘diet’ varieties of soft drinks. I have always relied on full fat Coca Cola or equivalent to get me through periods of low energy. And good, strong coffee with milk was an essential daily item I would drink much too much of. I have never liked black coffee.

The taste came eventually though and I got used to it – I still drink black coffee and while I don’t like it, I don’t hate it either. I do like Diet Coke and Pepsi Max.

Part three – snacks:

The past two weeks were about cutting sugar out of drinks. As we moved into the next week my routines had  shifted as I was drinking black coffee, water and ‘zero’/ diet soft drinks.

I’d canned sugary soft drinks, milk and sugar in coffee and fruit cordial.

Ultimately, we were aiming for about 2000ish calories a day. Just sorting drinks cut out a full day’s worth of additional calories. Which is huge. I was doing a moderate amount of exercise too.

The next two weeks were pretty simple and were about snacks. But they’re not that simple. If I had a snack of any kind, my previous routine would be to finish the lot over the rest of that day or two. I don’t even like biscuits that much, but a whole packet would disappear quickly. Even if I bought fruit instead, I’d just eat it all.

So the advice from Matt:

Snacks are important when, like me, you like food and don’t like feeling hungry. All these programmes that are like NO SNACKS can sod off. We need snacks. The routine we’re going to try and change over the next two weeks is switching out hob nobs et al for a mid-morning banana and a mid-afternoon handful of almonds.

1) Routine one – no sugar in our drinks
2) Routine two – mid morning banana and mid afternoon almonds

But my problem here is that I’d be in danger of eating too much. And almonds, in particular, were a killer for this – they tend to come in big bags.

Matt again, addressing this:

An important trick here. Get one of the tiny little Tupperware boxes and a big big bag of almonds which stay at home. Don’t buy a big bag and take them with you. The bag of almonds to your desk at work is potassium to water – fine if they are not near each other, massive ****ing explosion if they are. Almonds have lots of good fat, lots of potassium (as do bananas) but quite a lot of calories so you only want a handful. If you snack from the bag at eat half of it (we’ve all been there) you’re screwed.

I actually found this relatively easy. Within a few days I was eager to move on to part four.

Part Four – Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Key here was planning. A healthy, low-carb, high protein meal is not an easy thing to make, and takes a while. Maybe it takes a couple of hours to do it properly.

So we decided to outsource this.

I want you to outsource the preparation of your meals. There are a number of options here which I think involve a balance of Buffbox and Huel. In either case we’re going to aim for five lots of three meals per day during the week plus one lot three meals on each of the weekend days giving you four ‘cheats’ to do whatever (and I literally mean whatever) you want with.

I think Huel for breakfast makes sense as it’s super quick and easy. You can even blend a coffee into it (black of course). I also think a meal at dinner makes most sense as we’re not barbaric and eating is a nice thing. It’s then your call whether a box at school for lunch or a shake is easiest. The Huel works out at about £1.45 per shake and the box about £5 each. That means you’re looking at between £50-80 per week all in.

In the end, Buffbox, which many people have told me is ace, didn’t supply enough veggie meals for me so I went with allplants.

This was a bit of a game-changer. I had to focus on nailing the routine, day by day. Even if not hungry, I tried to eat at exactly the same time every day. I also made sure that Sunday was one cheat meal, so that I ate my Sunday roast with my family.

While it seemed expensive – allplants is about £6 a meal – it’s little compared to the cost of the food as detailed in the food diary I at the start of this blogpost.

Huel is super-convenient. It is now about 14 of my meals a week and is oats, flaxseeds, pea protein and a whole load of other things mixed with water. It is too sweet for me in the sweetened version, so I mix the sweetened one with the unsweetened one. I keep powder at school and at home. Sometimes I add instant coffee. Other times I add a bit of cocoa powder, but I’m happy to have it on its own. It is fibrous and a bit of a change in diet, so my digestive system did have to get used to it, but it’s been revelatory. It’s very low in sugar and keeps me full. Since recommending it, I’ve had something like 15 referral codes to Huel but never have the chance to order to use them before they run out. I’d recommend (and, to be clear, I’m being paid nothing for this) huel for a convenient, cheap meal where you can easily keep track of what you are consuming and you can prepare it in seconds.

A further note on meals: there was a danger of it being too weird – of me being THAT GUY and just not participating in life. An example of an exchange with Matt was this:

I’m about to attend a quiz night at school for fundraising for our kids to all climb Snowdon. Its a fish and chip evening. I’ve already had a day of tasting for the new catering contract (I was very good, one bite of each, do it properly, but no need to finish anything) this week. Should I avoid the chips and x. Possibly the worst thing that could be on offer? Or is that too weird about “being that guy”? I think I can easily avoid them without it being obvious – though I won’t be able to if I don’t eat before I go.

Matt’s reply, and I agree, was as follows:

It’s too weird.
Eat them.
Enjoy them.
It’s just a whatever you want meal – try make something healthy on Sunday evening and the balance is restored!

So to this day, if I go out with friends or if someone else is cooking, or if I’m at a hotel with no Huel to hand, I just don’t worry about it. I just nail the routine at all other times.

I found being able to ask ‘stupid questions’ like this to Matt was very helpful as well.

The routine now suddenly saw weight drop off. Literally within a couple of weeks people were talking of seeing it come off my face. A couple of months in, I remember being at an event in London where I’d had to buy a new suit because nothing I had would fit any more. At that event, Katharine Birbalsingh didn’t recognise me, not having seen me since I started the routine.

I later bought some foil meal containers, and I regularly ‘batch-cook’ lots of portions of veggie chilli, tagine, green curry or veggie moussaka. The containers are important for portion size, and the recipe to ensure protein so I don’t get too hungry in the evening. The late evenings are the most challenging, because I feel hungry, and I have to remind myself to drink water.

This was great. I was achieving what I’d set out to. But I think it’s fair to say I wasn’t necessarily healthy. I was rarely exercising, and only when I felt like it. Which led to the final part of the routine.

Part Five – Crossfit

Without question, my diet was much improved. Within four months I’d lost nearly three stone. And this would continue. I was sleeping better, working much better, and was happier.

But there was more to go. I discussed exercise and taking up running. I’d been good at running as a child.

And so Matt looked up my commute to work (over an hour each way) and suggested this:

On exercise I’d like you to think about making it along to this two evenings a week.

Here is my case:

You drive right past the front door anyway – it’s 12 mins from school on the same road home. Even easier when you’re staying in Bedford.

You need to do exercise with someone and it needs to be more varied than running ideally – this gives you a coach and a community who are always there and doesn’t rely on say, running with others. You’ll really enjoy being mates with the folks you train with.

You’ll love learning how to do it – it’s technical and involves theory and practice and refinement – which is better than it feeling like exercise (it will feel like that too). Basically it will keep you interested and stop you being bored. See >

You won’t do it on the weekend which protects family time whilst keeping the option of a jog open if you fancy it.

You’ll be good at it – I suspect you’re quite strong.

If you say it’s not for people as unfit as you i’ll bombard you with youtube videos of people who have various limbs missing, people who are 90 and people who are way way bigger than you are doing it just fine.

I’m only asking you to try it. If you do it for three months and hate it, I’ll back off.

So given this whole thing has worked up until this suggestion, of course I went along as told.

I’ve never heard of Crossfit before, but the very first time I did it, it took me 4 days to recover.

I got there and was told to ‘warm up with double-unders’. I had no idea what they are, but then I established that they are skips where the rope passes around twice for every jump. To this day I’ve managed to do two in succession once. And no more. Yet. But I’m enjoying trying.

At Crossfit, there is always a well-qualified coach, some skill work (working on technique) and then a WOD. WOD stands for Work Out of the Day. Everyone who goes to the gym on those days does these WODs. But they can be scaled to whatever is challenging but appropriate to each individual’s fitness level.

My first ever WOD was

FT: 27-21-15-9 Rowing and Front Squats (60kg).

This means 27 calories on the rower, then 27 Front Squats at 60kg, followed by 21 calories, and 21 front squats and so on. FT means ‘for time’, so these had to be done as fast as possible.

I did the squats with literally no weight on the bar (so 20kg). I was last to finish. But I did finish.

When I finished, everyone (who had finished) stayed around and cheered and clapped me. I was elated. And collapsed in a heap, exhausted. The cheering and clapping of others is something that continues to this day. It’s the most supportive environment for working out that I’ve ever experienced. It’s diverse, enjoyable, and a real community.

I spoke to the coach, Brittany, afterwards and told them of my friend challenging me to go for 3 months. She said words to the effect of “that’s clever: if you do it for 2 months, you’ll be addicted and never leave”.

And so it has proven.

I went and did a course of ‘fundamentals’ – being taught 1-to-1 to lift weights and carry our the core movements safely. I also asked lots of questions.

For a month or so, I went once a week, and people would laugh at me at work as I moved slowly in pain for three or four days afterwards. Then I found myself going twice a week. I also found myself lifting heavier weights because I could.

I still collapsed in an exhausted sweaty heap after every WOD.

The biggest advantage for me, is that I turn up and none of my working memory is spent wondering what to do – I just do as I’m told.

When I wanted to go three days a week, I realised I wasn’t getting home until very late, but I was addicted to the exercise, the camaraderie, the online app that records the scores, the progress, the mastering of some really quite difficult things, and the feeling that I’m stronger than ever. But my day was really going on too late and I have no chance of seeing my children. So I started going to the 6am classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Unbelievably, I’d become someone who gets up at 4.45am to go to the gym. And I’ve never slept in and missed it when I’ve booked. This is just not me. Except it is.

I now go every single weekday that I can.

And I feel like many of the people at the gym are my friends. I certainly find myself asking about their day, supporting them, wanting them to get better while appreciating the same as my new friends take an interest in me. My “score” on the app is 10, meaning that I’m fitter than approximately 10% of the CrossFit community worldwide – something that seems both very low and very high considering where I was a year ago. It has taken me a long time to get up to that score. Most of all, I enjoy it, and in holidays I really miss it.

I certainly find it easier to nail the overall routine when I’m exercising regularly. I’d say that exercise is now an essential component of all of this weight loss, and certainly, hopefully, of living longer.

In the Christmas holidays, because my CrossFit gym in Bedford is a long way away, I went for a couple of runs so that I didn’t take too many steps backwards. I hadn’t run for a very long time (January 2018, 1.5miles, exhausted).

The first run in December 2018, alone, was 10km in 58 minutes, and the second was 20km in 121 minutes. I’ve never run 20km before in my life, let alone without any particular running training. But I’m fitter and it seems to be working.

I still collapse in a heap after every WOD and find it hard. But I love it. My coaches are professional rugby players, experienced personal trainers, a professional golfer and I work out alongside supportive people who are much fitter than me. But I don’t feel out of place at all. And when newcomers arrive, I really enjoy welcoming them in the same way.

The weirdest thing from my perspective is that if I have a really tough day or an important meeting coming up, I make even more sure that I attend the gym first – it becomes more important that I do as it sets me up for a much better day than if I don’t go to the gym. I’m much, much better at my job and get much more done by going to the gym every day.

I’m 13 stone. I don’t need to lose any more weight. I just need to keep it where it is. And I’m happy. I no longer think I will die early, but I know we can’t predict everything. And I’m proud. But all I’ve had to do is follow instructions.

So thanks, thanks especially to Matt, thanks to Huel, to allplants, to the community at Crossfit and to everyone who has said nice things to me.

My goal for 2019 is to keep the weight off, keep healthy, run a marathon, and enjoy my work and my family more as a result of this.

Happy New Year. If you are facing some of the same challenges I tried to face in 2018 and I’m still trying to address in 2019, while I’m no expert, I’d be delighted to answer any questions.

updated to add: here is a typical picture from beforehand, and then a (very recent) shot of the first handstand I’ve ever done, aged 41. It’s one of the things I’m supposed to be able to hold at CrossFit:



  1. Loved this blog post! I saw it on a friends/colleagues twitter feed. Losing weight whilst managing a family and teaching seems tough. I am determined to do the same this year. Your blog has inspired me that the small steps I need to take can make a massive difference. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well done Mr Lock, losing weight is never about “dieting” – that is only a temporary change and you will revert to normal at the end of it and put the weight back on (the diet industry like this of course) – it is about changing your lifestyle. It was your lifestyle that put the weight on in the first place and it is changing that lifestyle that will keep it off.

    My wife joined an on-line group to help her training and (slight) weight loss, she has a mentor and receives diet and exercise advice (which is great even though she is a qualified personal trainer). It is amazing how this has helped her maintain her motivation. I don’t think that you can, or should, do this alone. She uses the James Smith Academy (I have no involvement with them) and they have been great – a real community as you say about Crossfit, with support from other members and no criticism or personal comments about anyone. A real positive experience both physically and mentally. She has now become a mentor herself.

    If anyone is looking to lose weight and get fit I would certainly recommend getting a mentor/trainer/supporter/joining a group – if you don’t have a Matt Hood then find a local or on-line mentor or group you like the look of and give it a go!


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