From fat to fit: Facing the hard truths

As our lifestyle writer attempts to get into shape in his mid-40s, he has to face the reality of his situation

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My wife is a fitness instructor and has long since given up "encouraging" me to get active. So my resolve to do something about my health is something she won't allow me to forget in a hurry. The night before my first scheduled fitness session, she makes sure my alarm is set for the morning, and I'm told in no uncertain terms that she will be turfing me out if she has to.

No need for that. I get up early, put on my trainers for the first time in what seems like forever and head to the gym. My coach, Hannes Loubser, turns out to be thoroughly agreeable. I like him and he looks normal – something I hadn't realised until this point was an issue for me, but I have definitely felt intimidated by previous trainers I've met, many of whom look like Mr Incredible.

Loubser just looks fit and healthy – and crucially for me, doesn't come across like someone who high-fives and fist-bumps at the end of a session. He talks me through what I will be doing during the coming eight weeks as part of Iconic Fitness's Lower Back Fix (LBF) programme and explains a bit about the diet I will be on. "First, though," he says, "we need to take your measurements." This is the moment of truth, where I find out irrefutable facts about my physique.

There is nothing I can really refer to as good news here – not that Loubser is in any way judgemental as he tells me the results. My weight is 95.3 kilograms and my waist measures 108 centimetres (42.5 inches). That is bad enough, but my hips measure 108cm, and having a waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) of 1 puts me in what he refers to as "high-risk health category".

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He says the optimal ratio would be between 0.8 and 0.85, and that this should be achievable by eating differently, essentially "cutting out all the starches like crisps, bread, pasta, potatoes, sweets, cakes and fizzy drinks". He advises that any WHR above 0.9 is a cause for concern, but that he expects me to reduce my waist measurement by 3cm in the next four weeks. "The WHR represents your overall health. If you are very stressed, eat unhealthily and have a sedentary lifestyle, you'll have a high score."

The bad news keeps coming. My body fat percentage is 30.6, and apparently the ideal for a man my age with my kind of job would be between 20 and 25 per cent. “A six-pack is visible at 12 to 14 per cent body fat,” he adds, “but that is not our aim. A healthy flat tummy is our goal for now, and that’s possible in the low 20s range.”

My lean body mass is 66.13kg, which is how much I weigh without any fat, and I’m told to expect this to go up slightly, by 300 to 400 grams per month, as a result of my training. “Your IDM – ideal body mass – is 80.15kg and you are 15.14kg from this,” Loubser tells me. “You’re a working man, not a professional athlete who can spend all day training in the gym and taking supplements, and losing 15 kilos is a daunting task. So I suggest losing half that, which will be just under 8kg of fat mass.”

Pre-empting my disappointment when I next step onto the scales, he reminds me that muscle weighs up to three times more than fat, so as my training starts to take effect, my reading might not immediately paint the correct picture. "Don't worry too much about what the scale says. As long as the centimetres drop and your clothes fit more loosely, we are heading in the right direction," Loubser insists.

You might be wondering what all this has to do with back pain, but to sort that out I need to strengthen my core, which means I need to lose weight and get fitter. The results should translate into a svelter, healthier, pain-free and longer-living me.

But as I head home for a final ceremonial breakfast of hot, buttered toast and blackberry jam, I mumble to myself: “This, Hackett, is going to hurt...”.