I can remember the day well. Walking around the store, I felt my heart rate pick up and I could feel my pulse in my neck. Four aisles later and I could feel my heart pumping hard in my chest, my lips and pinky finger tingled. That was me, convinced I was in the middle of a cardiovascular event.
I got back to our holiday caravan feeling weak and fatigued. It hadn’t been a cardiac event by any means, I’d just succumbed to an anxiety attack instead. Still though, it was too close. Something had to change.
Weighting in at fifteen stones and only five feet and half feet tall, my BMI measured in at 35.78, high enough to make me clinically obese. If I could get down to a BMI of 24.9, I told myself, I’d be healthy, I’d be perfect.
So I did, but not without plenty of self-torture and self-loathing in the process.
Anytime a meal was prepared for me, I’d eat half of it. Anytime I wanted a snack, I’d make myself eat an apple, maybe even two instead. Anytime I bought myself a treat, I’d eat only enough to have the amount of calories that I would let myself have, or thereabouts. I would never let myself eat anything roasted or fried, and God so help me if I ate more than my allowance of 90 grams of sugar or half of my 20 grams allowance of saturated fat. I was obsessed and I threw away so much food that I would have otherwise enjoyed, convinced that just another mouthful would result in a fatal heart attack.
I think the absolute extremes of this healthy eating obsession was the time I found myself on Bristol city centre, publicly plucking the cheese out of a cheese salad sandwich and tossing it into the bin. Cheese was bad in my eyes. Cheese was fat, and I wasn’t allowed fat: No fat. no cheese.
“What the hell is she doing?!” One builder asked the other. They were close enough for me to hear them laughing at me, but I didn’t care. They could eat their cheese, and I’d be fit and healthy.
But when I got to my dreamy 24.9, I wasn’t fit, and I certainly wasn’t healthy.
On the outside, maybe I was healthy. I was a size 10 and I had a body that got me attention – positive attention this time. On the inside though, I was wracked with anxiety and I was obsessed with my weight. I’d check it on the scales everyday, judging myself and starving myself for every pound over my perfect ten stones. Unknown to even me, BMI had led me to anorexia.
I still remember the day the wind lifted me off of the sand dunes of northern Cornwall. It was quite a strong wind admittedly, but still, everybody else had stayed put. That was the next terrifying experience in this little debacle. Maybe I could put on a little weight?
As soon as the apples-for-snacks stopped though, one thing gave, then another, then another. An apple and a yogurt smoothie for breakfast was replaced with sugary white tea with breakfast biscuits and no fruit at all. Half a sandwich and an apple became a whole sandwich, a packet of crisps and a chocolate bar. Dinner was often carb-laden and as late as 10pm, sometimes followed by dessert and often followed by cookies and milk before bed. It isn’t hard to see how things went badly wrong. On top of losing the healthy habits, a number of unfortunate life events and a family history of comfort eating had made things even worse.
Maybe it was the news with Covid-19, I knew that being obese put me at even greater risk of death. Maybe it was the backache and the lack of energy from lugging all of this extra weight around. Maybe it was the awareness that people looked and judged me for being the way I am and the size I am, or maybe it was not being about to get cute clothes in my size (they don’t make cute tops in a size 32, trust me). Maybe it’s about not being able to fit in my wedding dress anymore and my vow renewal being only two years away. Whatever was the driving factor, something has made me make the switch.
But, I told myself, I want to do this sensibly.
Just yesterday, I had a video call with my mother and the topic of weight loss came up. Her new weight loss diet largely consists of fruits, vegetables and lean meats. Mine? Fruits, vegetables and whatever the hell else I want.
You see, I am now once bitten, twice as shy. I know, from experience, that not allowing yourself to have these things will inevitably only make you want them more. Sooner or later, these crash diets catch up on you. Sooner or later you find yourself elbow-deep in a bag of popcorn, binge-eating in front of the TV. I know, I have been there.
But what if there’s another way? What if there’s compromise?
The first step for me was ditching the construct of BMI. BMI is unhealthy and archaic and it doesn’t take in considerations like your frame or any muscle. A fat person with a small frame could weigh the same as someone who is of ideal weight but with a larger frame, and BMI could never distinguish between the two. BMI is more than 200 years old. Surely we can create a newer, better model?
The next step, I had to encompass exercise. One of the biggest challenges I faced with getting on top of my health was making time for fitness. As a housewife, not having time was the go-to excuse. Everything else was first, the home had to be in order. “I don’t have time”, I argued, “I don’t have the time”.
But in the new year, I started making the time. It wasn’t a goal to lose weight, admittedly, it was to make time for me. It was time to look after myself and put me first, however that looked and however that may be. If I’m not healthy and happy, what good am I to anyone else?
So I now work out for twenty minutes everyday, with weights. It’s not a lot, but unless some other fitness gurus, I don’t have days off. I’m now working out for just twenty minutes Every. Single. Day. I’m still meeting my 100 minutes of exercise. plus housework and dog walking, I concluded, that’s more than my guideline 150 minutes! What’s more? I’ve found an instructor on Youtube who is right for me. He motivates me, he pushes me, he knows that you will love him and hate him, and in turn, outdoing him drives me to try harder – I’m competitive like that.
Third, I had to change my relationship with food, pronto. Gone are the carb-laden meals and around-about measurements. It’s bye-bye to breakfast biscuits and au revoir to sneaky sugar in my tea. Breakfast is now low-fat, low-sugar apple, cinnamon and raisin pancakes with a sugar-free, semi-skimmed cup of tea. Lunch is a meat-free, low carb affair with a Catch 22 – a chocolate bar of 190 calories. Water, too, is a huge part of my meals. Even if it’s flavoured, as long as it’s sugar-free.
One of my biggest grudges with dieting is how often I find healthy food tastes bad, or even doesn’t taste at all. So often did I used to find myself snacking on puffed rice snacks, convinced that they would help me keep the weight off. So often have I seen recipes that pride themselves on being healthy, and that’s great, but nothing about them gives me any enthusiasm at all. For me, the key now is making unhealthy things taste good, swapping unhealthy for healthy, and allowing myself a small, daily not-so-healthy treat.
By allowing myself a daily treat, I believe that I stave off the cravings for more. By allowing myself a little something naughty, I don’t feel like I’m missing out if I don’t eat the calorific treats that everyone else is eating. Even if I cut my chocolate bar in half and have half with my lunch and half a little later on, I’m not missing out on taste for healthier options. I’m not skimping out on the taste from fats or sugars this time, I’m earning the right to have them instead. I don’t notice that my sandwich has been replaced by a portion of Quorn nuggets and I don’t notice that crisps are now carrot sticks instead, all I notice is the chocolate bar I have to look forward to. That’s the indulgent bit.
The final part was to take better care of my mental health, and for that, twenty- minute afternoon naps, journaling and meditation have been hugely beneficial. Growing up, journalling nor meditation was something we did, neither was encouraged. I don’t say that as a criticism of my parents, but they weren’t. Now that I’ve learned how to use these powerful tools and I’ve been packing my meals out with protein and fibre in a way that I love and enjoy, with meals that make the most of herbs and spices instead of sugars and fats, a carb-laden, emotionally-driven gorging is last thing I want to do. Maybe I do have a bad day, that’s okay, as long as it’s only a bad day and not a bad week. I’ve learned to be kind to myself and to love myself, whatever size I am, whatever weight I am, wherever in my journey I am.
Today, I read about the idea of health being measured as half of your height. Yes, I still have a long way to go, but I firmly believe that this is a measurement that is much better for me. Coming in at 5’5 (65 in, 167cm), then for me, that’s a waist circumference of 32 inches, or 83 centimetres. In the UK, that’s a dress size 14. For me as a woman with a larger frame, that’s a much better size for me to aim to be.
Of course, the key will not be about obsessing about it. If I lose only a few pounds a week then that, for me, will be a lot healthier and a lot more sustainable than a 600 calorie, high exercise crash diet regime that I don’t enjoy. It won’t be about what I can’t have, it will be about what I’m willing to do or to give for the things I want, and having them in moderation. Do I want that one scoop of ice cream and chocolate sauce? That’s fine, but go for a walk around the park first. Nothing In Life Is Free worked on my dog, and now I’m making it work for me.
How do I feel two weeks on? Surprisingly not bad. I feel cool, I feel clean, I have bags more energy and my stomach rumbles now when I’m hungry (it never did that when it was chock full of carbs!) and I look forward to my meals because I enjoy the things I eat. More than anything, I miss the swimming pool, because the way I feel now is exactly how I used to feel after a good swim – tired, but in a healthy way. Even if the pounds don’t fall off too quickly, I at least know I’m doing weight loss a lot better this time around. I feel happier, I feel in control and perhaps most importantly, I feel a whole lot more confident in my body, however it was meant to be.