A Healthier Designer

Being a designer is great, right?

We get to do what we love day in, day out and that’s awesome.

What isn’t so great is that as designers we’re renowned for sitting on our ass for a ridiculous amount of hours per day, only to get up and forage for food at times when the glare gets too much for our eyes and we need a ‘break’. The food we do end up foraging is generally non-healthy-quick-to-make-and-eat crap.

Needless to say that our love for the brown stuff (coffee) is funding Starbucks yearly get-together is a known fact (maybe).

For the freelance designers amongst us it’s far too easy to wake up grab a coffee, maybe shower and then wander accidentally in to our home-office and that’s before 8am. If you don’t have a dog then you’re likely to see only 3 rooms in your house for the entirety of the week.

It’s not a good start to the rest of your life.


Every time you say that word, somewhere a pixie dies. Normally every time you decide to go on a ‘diet’ you’ve given up within a few days because it gets boring or the food they’re telling you to eat tastes like wet cardboard. They’re just not fun. Losing weight is all about self-control and doing what’s right for *your* body.

A Quick Story

Since I was 15/16 (Yeah, I was a fat kid at school) I’ve attempted to ‘lose weight’ on numerous occasions and for the most part I’ve given up after about 2 days. It wasn’t that I enjoyed crap food, I didn’t always eat crap food like takeaways etc, I just didn’t think about ‘what’ and ‘when’ I was eating. This accompanied with the smallest hint of negative thinking about ‘losing weight’ led to a lack of self-control which in turn made you give up.

I’ve never been ‘thin’, well maybe I was in 2003 for about a year but it wasn’t natural for me to be that way. I went from 13st 6lbs to 10st 2lbs in 6 months.

I’ve also been completely the opposite when I started doing weight training in 2006. I had a starting weight of 11st 6lbs and ended up a touch under 13st in 3 months.

At the beginning of last year, my weight had risen to almost it’s highest ever point without me weight training. I’d let things slide and I seriously wasn’t happy with myself. I felt tired, irritable, heavy, uncomfortable and sad. I knew I had to do something about it.

I signed up to a gym and never went but in 8 months I lost over a stone in weight with no added exercise to my daily routine, nor did I follow a ‘diet’. Here’s how…

The Nitty Gritty…

These are just some small facts that I found out on my road to losing weight effectively.

  • Losing too much weight too quick is bad.
  • If you lose too much weight too quick you’ll put it back on in weeks.
  • Don’t weigh yourself everyday, choose one day a week to weigh yourself and stick to it.
  • Eating less doesn’t help you lose weight effectively.
  • You don’t have to eat healthily EVERY day to lose weight.
  • You don’t have to do exercise to lose excess body weight.
  • Your body holds a shed-load of fluid.
  • Track your intake then monitor week to week.
  • You need to allow time for your healthier life-style to become habitual.
  • When you eat matters.
  • What you drink matters.

My Daily Routine prior to losing weight.

6:20am – Wake Up

7:15am – Arrive in the office

7:30am – BIG cup of coffee with 2 sugars and 2 (ok, 3 jammie dodger biscuits).

8:30am – BIG cup of coffee with 2 sugars

10:30am – BIG cup of coffee with 2 sugars

12:30pm – 500ml bottle of full fat coke, greggs stottie cheese savoury sandwich, packet of walkers crisps.

14:30pm – Big cup of coffee with 2 sugars

16:00pm – Big cup of coffee with 2 sugars

17:00pm – Leave Office

18:00pm – Snack on anything I could see, biscuit, some crisps anything, not much of anything but I did snack or ‘something’.

19:00pm to 20:00pm – Dinner. Which usually was Fajita’s, Pizza, Crappy ready meal, McDonalds, or eating out somewhere.

21:00pm – Big cup of coffee and a biscuit or chocolate.

I was a fat lazy bastard. I rarely swear when writing, but I wanted to emphasise just how much looking back on that point of my life frustrates me.

I can still remember the day I stood on the scales knowing the news wasn’t going to be good. It was a Saturday morning and I’d just had a cup of coffee with a couple of biscuits about an hour earlier. I stared in to the mirror at the overweight, tired looking face looking back at me. I battled with the idea of looking down or just stepping off the scales and walking away. If I was over my highest weight I was ready to have a breakdown, if I was just under then I’d be proud of myself and my body for not going that far.

I looked down.

I was 6 ounces below my heaviest weight that I’d been in my life. 14st 2lbs 8oz. The initial reaction, I stared back at that overweight face and said “No, no, no.” No to going any higher, no to ruining my body and no to living like I was. I hopped in the shower thinking about how I was going to adjust my life to start making some huge changes. I went downstairs and chatted with Jen. The conversation went something like this;

“Jen, I’m fat.”

“You’re not.”

“Don’t tell me I’m not when I’ve just stood on the scales and I’m nearly the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life. I’m sick of this, I’m not doing it anymore. My life is changing as of Monday, tomorrow I’m going to shop for what I need. I’m going to weigh myself once a week on a Saturday morning and record what I’m doing.”


And that was that. From that point on, I changed the way I consumed food and water.

As of that point this was my daily routine from waking up on a Monday to going to sleep on a Friday.

6:20am – Wake Up

7:15am – Arrive in the office

7:30am – Pro-Biotic Yoghurt and a glass of water with the smallest hint of cordial.

8:30am – Glass of water with the smallest hint of cordial.

10:30am – Glass of water with the smallest hint of cordial.

12:30pm – Glass of water with the smallest hint of cordial. Tin of soup. Any soup which *didn’t* have cream in it, no Tomato Soup etc. I checked the tins to make sure they were between 180calories and 350calories per tin.

14:30pm – Glass of water with the smallest hint of cordial.

16:00pm – Glass of water with the smallest hint of cordial.

17:00pm – Leave Office

19:00pm to 20:00pm – Dinner. Chicken Salad which consisted of 1 breat of chicken fried with nut oil. Lettuce, tomato, olives, a little bit of cheese, cucumber, spring onion. A drizzle of salad dressing. I either had this or a chicken breast with vegetables.

21:00pm – A Calypso ice-lolly. This was the ‘sweet’ thing of the day.

Weekends were different, I’d technically eat whatever I wanted to within reason i.e. I’d eat but wouldn’t over eat like I used to. I ate pizza, chinese take-away, indian take-away, sweets from the cinema etc.

In the first week of doing that, I lost nearly 6lbs of weight. Most people would put that down to fluid retention i.e. you’re not drinking enough but losing an intense amount of fluid however as you can see from the above I was drinking a lot, in fact I was drinking more than usual.

Some big factors.

I gave up alcohol completely. Do the same if you want to lose excess body weight. One good night out drinking beer/wine will add on 2lbs of weight guaranteed.

I stopped drinking coffee & tea. The first week was horrible. I had the shakes, headaches the full works.

I cut out the majority of my bread intake if not all of it during the week.

What kind of weight loss did I get from doing this?

I consistently lost 1-2lbs a week. WITHOUT ANY EXERCISE. Research says that losing anymore than 3lbs isn’t good for you as your body is starving itself and it WILL put the weight back on.

Overall, I lost 1st and 4lbs doing the above and the weight stayed off.

I don’t hold any qualifications in nutrition, I just did what I thought I needed to do. If you want to lose weight by all means ask me questions in the comments but you do any action from my answers at your own risk.

All I can say is that it worked for me.

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Lead Interaction Designer at DigitalDWP. Organiser of Industry, The Practical Web Conference..

28 thoughts on “A Healthier Designer”

  1. Really great post Gavin.

    I think the reduction in Tea/Coffee plays a big part but the biggest issue is alcohol. You can eat as healthy as you like but if you go and polish off a few pints of bear, it is the equivalent of having a large meal (something stupid like 200 calories per pint)

    1. Thanks, Scott. I’d say bread was probably one of the biggest players actually. Especially white bread as the body doesn’t burn it fast enough thus tempting itself to store it. It’s the evil!

      1. Yeah would have to agree, I used to have toast for breakfast then either a bagel or a sandwich for lunch, not only does it add weight but can make you feel quite bloated.

        Now I try to have either one or the other or none at all, replacing it with cereal and a splash of milk for breakfast and something lighter like a wrap for lunch

        1. Try and ditch the toast for breakfast entirely. Swap it out for 2 eggs (scrambled) with a dashing off sauce (whichever you prefer) and try to consume it within 20-30mins of getting out of bed. Alternatives are low fat-yoghurt or small portion of porridge.

  2. Excellent work Gavin, I would have never guessed you were a large person in the past having met you numerous times at events. Your new routine is obviously working excellently!

    Since starting my own ‘change your body’ challenge a year or so ago I’ve become really interested in reading other people’s experiences. I’ve been looking forward to reading this post since spotting your tweets about it yesterday, although my goal is the opposite way around where I’m gaining weight to leave behind the skinny guy look, the same healthy eating principles apply.

    Roughly how many calories are you consuming each day nowadays? It doesn’t seem like you’re eating much for breakfast or lunch. (I don’t mean that as any form of critique)

    1. Thanks, Chris! I’ve still got lots to do which I can report in the next 4 – 8 weeks as I’m testing something else. When I was weight training I was wanting to bulk up also but that’s an entirely different post. 🙂

      Since that routine, things have changed dramatically. My eating routine has changed but I’ve kept the weight off which is good. I’d say currently my calorie intake per day is probably around 2200 but I’m not counting. And you’re right, when I was on that routine, there were limited calories for morning / lunch. Morning was about 160-180 and lunch was 180-350 calories.

      1. Ah excellent, from a glance at yogurt for breakfast and soup for lunch I expected it to be daily calories of like 1000! 2200 sounds like the perfect number for long term weight loss. Keep it up dude.

  3. Great post as usual. It’s nice to see a lot of designers in my Twitter feed (I’m sure there are tons of others) constantly talking about riding bikes, jogging or working the guns these days.

    I think the common image of designers and devs is that we all sit behind desks for 21 hours a day nomming cakes (it’s been known ..) but it’s amazing how many tweet when they’ve got back from a 100 mile ride or share their workout stats.

    The biggest problem with our career is that nobody yet knows what the long term effects of sitting behind a screen actually are because we’re entering new territory. A good fitness routine will no doubt prove beneficial in the long run.


    1. Thanks, James. 🙂 Absolutely agree, we really do need to look at our ‘working lifestyle’ as well as living lifestyle. I’m overly confident that eyesight/back problems are consistent with a bad working lifestyle.

  4. Great post – don’t normally comment but I was amazed at how much your story mirrored mine. Over the last year I decided to walk to the studio and just watch what I’m eating like you have – nothing heavy, just be sensible. I haven’t given up bread or alcohol but consume a lot less of both and I’ve lost 2.5 stone in that period.

    Makes you feel a lot better about life!

    1. Wow! That’s awesome Lea. Awesome work. You know, the craziest thing for me was that I could run up the stairs faster. I actually felt lighter. 🙂

  5. After losing about 35lbs recently I can empathise with you. I have since tailed off my exercise and “dieting” after going on holiday. I know I’ve put some back on, but I’m happy with my current progress, and I’m looking forward to launching my next campaign of healthiness. It’s really great to see designers getting wise to the pitfalls of our job. Now to cut out white bread & caffeine, my two biggest vices!

    1. Awesome work TJ. You must feel great! Bread and Caffeine for me were the biggest things I had to give up. I’ve got a very savoury tooth.

  6. got me more motivated, since I am right now working on staying on the healthy side of the lane…
    I have to agree with the bread… Am a big carb in-taker and bread and all those other white carb stuff are very hard to resist.

    1. Definitely, I’m a savoury type of person so giving up pastries/bread was pretty challenging. I think cutting it entirely was easier rather than dabbling in giving it up.

  7. I have a heard time understanding your measuring units, I dont know what they are in the metric system(norway) – but do you have before & after pictures?

    Loved the read!

    1. Hi Anders, I’ll swap those in to metric this afternoon. I don’t have before/after photos unfortunately. I do have before / after photos for what I’m doing currently and I’ll be writing everything up in 4 to 8 weeks time. 🙂

  8. Great post Gavin.

    As someone also on a massive weight loss drive (long overdue, and also after that nightmare stepping on the scales experience) I could identify with a lot of your points. For me introducing exercise – swimming – has helped considerably. As has introducing fruit to my diet as an alternative to snacks, which were always of the unhealthy variety.

    @Chris Spooner

    If you’re looking to put on weight I could happily offer you a few of my spare pounds!

  9. Great read and many congratulation for the lost. It’ nice to see that designer tend to break the image of the “would eat anything behind a computer” guy.

    Just one question, I’m wondering how stopping coffee and tea helped. Do you think that it was it the actual tea / coffee, or the fact that you took them with so much sugar ? For me, a cup of tea (without sugar) is just some hot water with flavor, so I’m kind of wondering what role it played here.

    1. Thanks so much! Coffee and Tea helped considerably. The sugar is just a small part of the picture with Tea and Coffee. Overall Coffee hinders you, it can give you a quick hit from the caffeine but overall it actually makes you more tired, more dehydrated than you should be thus affecting your mood and energy levels. Overall after stopping drinking coffee and drinking water/juice instead I *never* had that mid afternoon dip of energy levels where it felt like I needed a nap. I also went to sleep quicker on an evening and could wake up straight away on a morning without feeling tired.

      Hope that helps 🙂

  10. Excellent post.

    I used to be a complete beanpole until I was 23. 9st wet through. Fast forward a few years, and my highest has been 14st 13lb but i’ve not really changed my diet – i’ve always eaten really crappily.

    However a few of years ago I started kickboxing – not for the grades, although I do have one, but the fitness aspect. DAMN a two hour session makes you hungry. I used to have chicken or tuna pasta after every session. I evened out at about 14 stone, albeit with a lot more muscle and felt damn good to be honest.

    Now though, I’ve stopped the kickboxing and have reverted to bad habits once more – let me tell you, I feel rough all the time, aching and constantly telling myself that “tomorrow I’ll go for a run”. I’m still around the same weight, 14st 5lb but it isn’t muscle – it’s gut lol.

    It’s hard to get out of the routine of the coffee, etc when you’re chained to your desk day in day out though especially when things dont always go to plan and you have to work a bit later.

    I think I’m basically telling myself by writing this down that the only way to change is to actually do it and invest some time in myself regardless of the deadlines etc.

    I’m right too. Good luck with yourself 🙂

  11. Good work Gavin,

    Back in 2007 I was 16.5 stone, sluggy, overweight, boozy and smoked like a chimney – http://www.flickr.com/photos/garethr/1393670530/

    I however, did things a bit differently. I replaced alcohol & nicotine with strength and conditioning training and learning how to cook (and eat) great food.

    3 years later and the 3.5 stone has stayed off. Ironically I eat more than I did before, but the strength training really helps put the nutrition to good use. The real added bonus is that the training really helps keep my posture and general health in tip top shape.

    You’re bang on the money about alcohol as well. It has to go. The only real downside to this for me is that I’m quite introverted by default. Before being social was easy due to lowered inhibitions, but now being social requires a real conscious effort.

    1. Hey Jamie, I know only too well what you mean. Especially from the time when I was weight training. I had trouble consuming enough food to aid in my increased growth at times.

      That photo is amazing, you’re literally two different people. Congrats on the weight loss!

  12. Great post Gavin

    I guess I’m in the same state as you were, habitually eating and drinking easy things that aren’t necessarily good for you through habit and ease more than anything.

    I’ll certainly have a think about what you have done and try and implement some of it myself alongside the extra fitness activities which I’ve started doing recently (mainly mountain biking)

  13. Gavin,

    Thank you for the great post.

    You’ve actually inspired me to get myself back into shape. Growing up, there was never anything on me, yet the past 4-5 years (long hours at work, little exercise, bad eating habits) has really changed that. I’m not necessarily large, but I’m certainly bigger than I’ve ever been in the past.

    Tomorrow I begin my diet (the first of my life) – the junk food in the house has been replaced by salad, chicken breast, fat free yoghurt and flavoured water. I’m going to cut out the tea from tomorrow (normally 4-5 cups per day), but the alcohol may take a while longer, although I’ll definitely look to reduce my weekly intake. From now on, energy drinks are a big ‘no no’ too.

    Once again, thank you for being the spark!

    1. Ric, it’s a pleasure and thanks for stopping by to leave a comment.

      Don’t call it a diet, diet’s can easily be defeated. You’re simply changing the way you live. The first week will be hard, but stick with it. Don’t snack on an evening. have your dinner and that’s it. If you’re wanting something sweet, try an ice-lolly (no ice-creams!) And remember, choose a day to weigh-in. Weight yourself the same way every week. First thing on a Saturday morning worked for me as I did it before having anything to eat or drink.

      Let us know how you get on! Stay awesome. 🙂

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