“The Fat Ginger Nerd” a Weight Loss Story by Brendan Reid

I have heard it said that the definition of an adult is someone who has stopped growing up and started growing out.  This describes the typical process by which many of us tend to gain weight: gradually, over a period of years following a childhood of relatively normal size.  Hence, the term “middle-age spread”.

This pattern, however, does not align with my own experience.  My growing out period began very early in life, while I was still growing up.  There were very few fat kids during the 1980s and 1990s in provincial New Zealand, but I was one of them.  And as far as I knew, I was the fattest of them all, not just in my class, but in my entire year, for every year of school.

The established wisdom of those days was that you are what you eat.  If you eat fat, you get fat.  Fat is full of calories.  Weight management was just a matter of energy management: calories in, calories out.  Therefore, to lose weight, we just need to eat less and move more.  And if you couldn’t follow the advice as simple as that, then obviously there was something wrong with you.  If you’re fat, it’s your fault.

“You’re a smart kid,” I remember one teacher telling me.  “How is it that you don’t understand that you wouldn’t be so fat if you just didn’t eat so much?”  But whenever I tried to eat less, I would just get hungry.  Whenever I tried to move more, I just became tired, and then hungry.  None of this seemed to make any sense: why do I still get hungry when I’m already fat?

My first encounter with a dietitian was at the age of around 12, at the local hospital.  It was there that I was introduced to what was being sold to me as my new best friend in the entire world: a great big poster on the wall, of a diagram called the Healthy Food Pyramid.  And of course, I tried my best to follow it.  Why wouldn’t I do anything I could to get better?  But after I gained even more weight as a result, I was eventually dismissed for “non-compliance”.

Exercise also became steadily more and more difficult.  Running any further than about a hundred meters gave me side cramps.  Swimming felt outright embarrassing, gymnastics downright dangerous.  As far as I was concerned, every physical education class was just another lesson in humiliation and shame.  By the time I finished high school at age 17, I weighed 120kg, fully convinced that I was going to be fat forever, and that there was nothing anybody could ever do about it.

For the next 20 years, I tried to live life as best I could within my limited means, always with the understanding that I needed to be eating as little fat as I could, and as many grains as possible, as per the pyramid.  But at the same time, my quality of life was still such that I fully expected my quantity of life to end up being far shorter than I ever would have dared to hope.

By January 2015 I weighed 137kg; at 175cm tall, this gave me a BMI of 45, so obese as to be practically off the chart.  I was beginning to struggle with mobility issues, breathing issues, and chronic chest pain, for which I was taking over-the-counter medication, and which had seen me in and out of the hospital’s emergency department more than once.  I felt like I was really circling the drain at this point, as if any day now, it might all be over for me in the worst possible way.

In desperation, I tried walking to work and back for six months during the 2015 winter, when it would be dark enough at each end of the day that I wouldn’t be seen by others so easily.  But even something as simple as walking was a massive amount of effort for someone of my size: this was a 45-minute trip twice daily, each walk typically requiring another 45 minutes of recovery afterward.

Still, by October of that year, I was down to 132kg.  Perhaps exercise was going to be my solution, after all, I wondered.  So I summoned up all the courage I could muster and made an appointment at a nearby gym.

Entering that place that day felt like walking into the proverbial lion’s den.  It was the last place in the world I wanted to be, but at the same time, I still wanted to be.  I still wanted to live.  At this point, what choice did I really have?

And yet, the recommendation the manager gave me that day came as a complete surprise.  Instead of signing me up to a membership like I had fully expected, he actually sent me away, suggesting that I go back and re-examine my diet.

After all these years of being told what to eat, without success, this did not go down well with me at all.  But after a few days, I finally dared to look up the website he had recommended, called the Real Meal Revolution1.  It turned out to be promoting a low carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF) diet.

I had long heard of the Atkins diet, promoted every now and then as being some sort of a miracle for weight loss, but always being swiftly shouted down and discredited afterward by swarms of health experts as being some sort of crazy, dangerous, unsubstantiated fad diet.  But now I had been personally recommended such a diet by a professional, face to face for the first time.  What’s going on here?  Somebody somewhere has to be wrong about this, and I needed to know who.

For me to take this idea seriously, I needed to know that there was evidence that a low-carb diet could actually work and that there were academics out there who stood by the diet as actually being a viable approach.  So when I became familiar with Prof Tim Noakes, first through the Real Meal Revolution website and then the book of the same name, I was greatly encouraged.  Maybe there could be something to this low-carb approach after all?  The standard advice had certainly never worked for me, anyway.  Why not roll the dice and see what happens?

And so, my low-carb journey began on Saturday the 17th of October 2015, with a pair of bunless burgers for lunch.  As various other food items in the house were run down over the following weeks, I would gradually replace them with other items each containing no more than 10g of carbs per 100g according to the label.  This was later revised down to 5g/100g once I had built up sufficient variety to at least enjoy different meals every day of the week: mostly eggs for breakfast, meat, and vegetables for lunch and dinner.

Against my expectations, it began working straight away.  By the middle of January 2016, I had lost 12kg.  After six months I had lost 26kg, at an average of exactly 1kg per week.  After eight months I had lost 35kg.  By October 2016, a full year after I had started, I’d lost 46kg.  And by the very end of 2016, I had lost a full 50kg, arriving at a final goal weight of 82kg.

This was a profoundly transformative experience for me, to say the least, not just physically but emotionally as well.  So much of what I used to carry around with me every day, what I expected to be carrying with me for the rest of my days, was now just… gone.  I felt so empowered that it was as if I could do anything, and I accomplished more on a personal level over the next few years than I had perhaps achieved over the previous few decades.

The walk to work now only required 30 minutes each way, with next to no recovery afterward.  In April 2017 I took things a step further, covering 50km over three days on the Kepler Track in Fiordland National Park.  In 2019 I completed a health coaching certificate, then told of my story before a live conference audience for the first time on Australia’s Gold Coast2.  In 2020 I spoke at another conference in Denver, USA3, followed by completion of another nutrition coaching certificate later that year.

My success story has also been twice featured on Diet Doctor, originally in early 20174 and then again five years later in early 20225, to coincide with the publishing of my book, The Fat Ginger Nerd: A Weight Loss Story6.  Later in 2022, I had the honour of delivering a full-length conference presentation for the first time, on the subject of low carb for weight loss7.  And I still have other big goals for the future: for example, I have an idea for a research project I’d like to do someday.

There are so many little things for which I can be grateful as well.  The freedom from chronic pain and constant hunger.  The freedom to move and travel in comfort.  The freedom of choice while clothes shopping: it used to be hard enough just finding anything that properly fit, now it’s hard just trying to decide what I actually like.  The freedom of anonymity: to be able to stand in a crowd, without standing out.  The freedom to truly live life every day for the first time, just as others around me always had.

The price of that freedom has been constant vigilance, and maintenance hasn’t always been easy.  Over the last couple of years in particular, I have slowly regained a little of what I had originally lost, but I like to think at least some of that is for good reason.  Last year, more than seven years after that fateful visit to the local gym, I finally dared return to that place and signed up for a membership there for the first time.

Nine months on, I can now lift more than double what I could on many things when I first started.  I’m not sure if I can yet see myself getting stronger, but I can definitely feel myself getting stronger.  But that alone is still new ground for me.  For most of my life, I had dreamed of being healthy, but I had always struggled to imagine what that might be like because I’d always been fat for as long as I could remember.

That journey of discovery continues to this day.  At first was all about the weight loss, but now it’s as much about the wider health improvements on top of that as well.  I’ll never be a picture of perfection, but then I don’t need to be.  I just want to be the best version of myself that I can hope to be, and now, thanks to low carb, I have every confidence that I can continue working to achieve exactly that.

Safe with the knowledge now that, contrary to what I had been taught to believe for so many years beforehand: it was never my fault, all along.












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