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I'm 23 years old, I've always had a slim build, as a child I spent the majority of my time playing/doing active sports & activities (Football, Marathon, Swimming, Boxing), my other interest has always been programming.

Once I finished school at 16 and got a job in software development, I drifted away from all sports and fell in to the habit of staying inside, for the past 6-7 years my "active" schedule has simply been, wake up go to work (sit at a desk for 8 hours), come home, play games or continue developing my own projects, then sleep (I end up staying up until 3-4am most nights and waking up for work at 8am).

Doing this over time, as expected, my health has deteriorated. I get really badly out of breath just running for 2 minutes, I haven't actually lost much weight, but that might be because I'm almost at the lowest weight I can be...

For as long as I can remember, even as a child, being brought up fairly poor, my diet has been awful, I could probably say for the last 10 years my diet has been something like this (on a good day):

Breakfast:

  • Some kind of cereal bar (usually im too tired to make anything)
  • A Coffee

Dinner/Lunch: would generally get skipped, even while in school, maybe a chocolate bar and a sugary (can) drink at the most.

Tea:

  • Some kind of variated ready meal (Microwave chicken dinner, microwave chicken pasta ect...)

Supper:

  • Toast

Has to be one of the worst diets ever, right? Obviously that's not fixed, it would change a little every day, but that really is on a good day, some days I just go all day on breakfast.

Around 3 years ago, I did have a spell of going to the gym to try gain weight/muscle, but my motivation quickly ran out, I don't find the gym fun at all, although I know it's not all about fun, so if properly advised I wouldn't complain about starting again.

So to my question... where do I start and what diet do I take up?

I'm unsure because I see my options as:

  1. Go to the gym, lift heavy and eat "heavy" - but will this improve my cardio/health overall? Eating like a pig will just damage my health, will it not? Lifting heavy weights will just put strain on my heart with a (probably needed) fatty, high protein, high calorie diet, is that a good combination? - I tried this before as I said above, but I struggled to eat enough, and made very little progress.

  2. Do cardio and eat loads? I enjoy running and football a lot, but doing this would mean having to eat way more because I'm burning more calories, that sounds easy but for me it really won't be, and if I struggle with this, it will result in losing weight, and that really isn't healthy for me.

Either way I want to improve my health in the long term, and I think I need to start doing it now, but I don't know where to begin, because all I see is "how to lose weight", or topics on gaining weight but thinking that just because you're slim it means you have good stamina/cardio.

My Height: 5'11"/180cm

My Weight: 126lbs/57kg

Gender: Male

  • Thanks, that post is very informative, but the majority of answers mention, stopping cardio/endurance, but my cardio is so bad that it may not be an option? – EAlderson Feb 22 '18 at 21:44
  • What single physical adaptation (for example, "increased strength") is your highest priority for this question? – Christian Conti-Vock Feb 22 '18 at 21:59
  • My highest priority would be general health, I would say. I don't care so much about being really strong or looking extremely fit, I certainly don't want a bodybuilder look / cloud build, especially at my height. Maybe well balanced? Thanks for the link, I will read it asap. – EAlderson Feb 22 '18 at 22:08
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Everyone in the comments seems to be recommending some sort of strength based training routine, I'm going to go a completely different tact.

I would say that the first thing you need to sort out is your sleep. Lack of sleep is linked to too many health issues to count. You're a developer, do a quick search on the topic, see what comes up. Find several articles and / or studies and read enough to scare you. There's a reason sleep deprivation is used to break people.

You need more sleep. That is completely non-negotiable.

Second, and I'm making an assumption here, mainly because your current situation sounds a lot like mine used to be, drink more water. Yes, you can stick with coffee and soda (but try and limit the coffee to no more than 3 cups, and don't drink any after about 4pm, try and start cutting down on the amount of soda you're drinking as well, eventually cutting it out all together, but I mean over the course of months for that).

Thirdly, and honestly this is probably going to be the hardest, sort out your diet. I say this is the hardest because it's probably going to involve learning to cook a few basic dishes. I'd actually look at websites that have recipes with very few ingredients (I think Jamie Oliver has just released a 5 ingredient cook book). You need to get more fruit and veg in your diet to start providing your body with the nutrients it needs, a simple way to start is stir fry veg. Buy a ready to cook stir fry veg pack (basically a bag of chopped veg bits) and fry it up in a hot pan for a few minutes. It'll take you literally about 5 minutes to make, and you only have to wash up the pan.

Why am I not covering the exercise side of things? What you're doing to your body is going to be putting it under a lot of stress, adding in exercise at the moment is going to add more stress. If you start with an exercise schedule, chances are you're not going to be able to recover from each session adequately.

What you CAN do is get out of the office every lunch time and got for a 20 minute walk. Stick a podcast on and just walk for a little bit.

What you should find is that increasing the amount you sleep will help with some of the hormonal issues your body is probably experiencing, which, combined with drinking more water should help give you more energy and also increase your appetite. Eating more (particularly vegetables) will also help with the nutrients your body needs, which will in turn lead to you having more energy and will also help put on weight.

You've realised that you need to make a change, that's an awesome first step, the key to to make changes slowly so you don't get overwhelmed. I don't know you, so it's not easy to make specific recommendations, all I can do is tell you what I do.

For sleep, I have a Lumie alarm clock that has a sleep setting that slowly gets dimmer and mimics the sunset. I found that this really helps me get to sleep. I also started reading in bed (either on my Kindle or an actual book, the important thing is to not use anything that gives off blue light, like tablets, phones or computers). I also sleep with the window open (I live in a quiet neighbourhood) to lower the temperature in the room and get some fresh air, which also helps.

For water, I have a selection of water bottles (one for home and one for work) and while at work, set Slack reminders to drink water. This has the added benefit of me getting up from my desk and walking to the kitchen to get a drink (a little added exercise).

For food, I learned to cook. I started with stir fry veg and some form of oven cooked meat (the sort of thing you buy in a tray, like chicken breast, and just put the whole tray in the oven). From there, I started to experiment with various cooking methods with the maxim "there's always takeaway", just in case something goes wrong (which it often did in the early days). Now, I'm one of those annoying people who can grab random ingredients and make something pretty tasty out of them (read cook books, Tim Ferriss' 4 Hour Chef really helped me).

To get myself in shape, I fell in love with rock climbing, which I can honestly say changed my life.

If you've managed to read all the way down to this point, well done. I know my answers can sometimes be a bit wordy, but sometimes things just need to be said. Good luck with everything, feel free to ask questions and I'll help as best I can.

  • Fantastic answer, one I can relate to as well coming from another developer. Thanks for your advise and experience. – EAlderson Feb 23 '18 at 15:56
  • @EAlderson No problem. If you have any other questions, just ask and I'll do what I can to answer – Dark Hippo Feb 24 '18 at 9:12

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