The Ups and Downs of a YoYo Dieter #yo-yo

potato-chips-448737_1920You might be wondering how it’s possible for a woman – educated, intelligent and with a healthy understanding of the tenets of good nutrition – to get to 270lb (that’s a fulsome 19 stone, UK). Indeed, I wonder myself sometimes. I watch those programmes on TV featuring overweight people trying to lose the pounds, and invariably they’re shown gorging on triple servings of hamburgers, kebabs and curries, or piles of donuts and chocolate, indulging in midnight fridge raids or slurping gallons of full-fat cola or beer. And that’s just not me. At least, I don’t think it is.

So how did it happen?

As a child I was not without what they politely used to call puppy fat, though it probably wouldn’t even be remarked upon today.  Even then I had a weakness for savouries, and would buy two or three bags of crisps (that would be potato chips for Stateside readers) each day from the school tuck-shop and chomp the lot at break-time. But I got lots of exercise to mitigate this greed. I would walk 1½ miles a day on my journey to school. I enjoyed ice skating and swimming at the weekends, and judo, rounders and netball within school hours; I tolerated tennis in the summer but I hated hockey in the winter as my chubby thighs would chafe in coarse woollen shorts.  But if a little podgy here and there, I was nonetheless fit and in robust health.

The puppy fat fell away when I discovered… boys. Now, that’s motivation.  My first serious boyfriend was a skinny youth and call me precious, but I didn’t think a girl should weigh more than her boyfriend.  The year I spent with this guy was a constant struggle to stay below 126lb (9 stone). I’ve not been close to that magic figure in the 38 years since then.

A few years later, happily engaged to be married, my weight had crept up to 154lb (11 stone) – a by-product of Friday and Saturday evening drinking, cheap takeaways on-the-run and having acquired a motorcycle, which swiftly overtook my legs as the preferred mode of transportation. I took myself off to Weightwatchers and shook off 22lb in preparation for the Big Day, earning myself a Lifetime membership in the process. Weightwatchers clearly knew something I didn’t yet realise about the life of a yo-yo dieter. I’d reached 132lb (around 9½ stone).  At that weight today I’d be beyond triumphant, but back then it felt like defeat, that I couldn’t make it all the way to 9 stone. And even that didn’t last; looking back at the pictures, I was probably was already close to 140lb (10 stone) by the time I walked down the aisle.

Over the next few contented married years, the weight went back on, and a quite a bit more besides. I passed through 168lb (12 stone). I remember going on a holiday to Devon, booking on a pony trekking day and wondering if the horse would have the strength to carry me. Back in the mid-1980’s, 12 stone felt… massive.  But I still managed to put on at least another 28lb over the next three years – I think I got to 14 stone and something. I was cooking hearty entry-level supper meals for both of us, but consuming much the same in portion size as my husband. He was in a very physically active job and though I still swam at weekends and walked a little, I was desk-bound for work. That’s a recipe for laying down the fat, but I hardly even realised what I was doing. Relaxed and secure, I had let down my guard – and the climb through the pounds and stones was steady but relentless.

By 1988 things had changed. With divorce looming and my soon to be ex-husband and I sharing our house yet trying to live considerate separate lives whilst it sold, the weight once again fell away. Not wanting to spend time at home, for several months I rarely ate a decent sit-down meal; I filled time swimming and playing squash. Afraid that I would drink too much in this unsettling period, I gave up alcohol altogether for a while. Stress aggravated my digestive system too. This was all the silver lining to the cloud of marital breakdown. Unintended it may have been, all told, I lost 56lb (4 stone). I remember watching the faces of the men at work change, and enjoying their attention, as my body changed shape. As I emerged from my marriage, it was as if I were shedding a skin. At 28 years old, I looked the best I’d ever looked and it was an exciting time as a result. I joined a gym for something to fill my single-girl spare-time, and spent several evenings a week maintaining my new shape – even dating my personal trainer for a while. I bought a bicycle and tested myself on the London to Brighton Bike Ride. I’d done no training but I took it slowly and made it in one piece.

Christmas 1987
Christmas 1987. Dressed, I think, in tin-foil
What a difference a year makes: Christmas 1988
What a difference a year makes: Christmas 1988








But it didn’t last. Over the next decade or so, my weight crept slowly, slowly upward again. Work and career became more intense and evenings at the gym more intermittent as a result. For the first time in years, I didn’t have a regular squash partner, and a succession of short-lived relationships had left me jaded. I don’t remember much about this time, except that it was tense, unsettling and not particularly happy. Work was challenging and stressful and I suffered panic attacks. I would drive for hours to visit clients, snacking on a passenger-seat full of crisps, chocolate bars and shrink-wrapped sandwiches. I developed a MacDonald’s breakfast habit and a KFC lunch habit. That was all bad, and I cannot hide from it.

But the truth is, even without those bad habits, you don’t have to eat that much over and above your daily requirement for the excess pounds to show up, slowly and steadily, and latch on tight.  This time it took the whole decade, but I reached 225lb (16 stone).

In 2001 the double-whammy of a seriously toxic relationship and a second redundancy put me in a shit-or-bust frame of mind. I wanted to start working for myself, and I was determined not to be caught out by another low-life. Bearing my gold Lifetime Membership card, I reintroduced myself to Weightwatchers. Things fell into place with the Points system and over 6 months, I lost 50lb (3½ stone). I joined the gym again, showing up three mornings a week at 6:30am and twice at the weekends. This time it was not happy accident but relentless determination – and it paid off.

But… but… but… as soon as I took my eye off the ball, the weight surged back on again. And just like every time before, more went on than had come off. This time, already in my 40’s, it seemed to happen so fast. I shed a stone or so following a Jason Vale Juicing Retreat in 2006, but I couldn’t sustain the success. By 2007 I was doing battle with the menopause too. It was like slamming into a brick wall. Fatigued, I struggled to motivate myself to do any exercise at all. My eating patterns became lazy – Chinese take-aways, poke-and-ping meals, quick-fix junk food and stuff-on-toast – for months on end. The result was predictable; despite a few feeble attempts at weight loss with Atkins, juicing and raw food, a too rapid climb to my highest ever weight – 270lb (19 stone).

To be honest, I thought it would be worse. I’d expected 20 stone when I finally braved the scales. I hadn’t weighed myself for a year and the last time I’d jumped on the scales I’d seen that same figure. That it hadn’t risen in 12 months was, bizarrely, excellent news!

That’s how I got to 270lb. On the way, I’ve lost close to 200lb and put on probably half as much again. I actually got scared of dieting, because each time, I put more weight back on. I cannot afford for that to happen again this time. Already in morbid obesity territory at 270lb, any more than that would surely be tantamount to suicide.

So this time, I’m taking a different approach. This time it’s all about healthy lifestyle, not dieting. I don’t know if it will work, but I’ve been at it for a few months now and with 35lb already shifted, I think it stands a good chance of being sustainable. I am actually enjoying the changes rather than suffering them. Maybe… just maybe this different mind-set will see me through.

Author: Jools

Abundant, Bold, Confident, Determined, Empathetic, Forthright, Grumpy, Healthier, Individual, Just me, Kind, Loving, Mellifluous, Natural, Optimistic, imPatient, Quirky, Real-world, Single-minded, unTreatable, Unwound, Verbal, Wilful, eXtraordinary, Young and old, Zero-tolerance.

28 thoughts on “The Ups and Downs of a YoYo Dieter #yo-yo”

  1. Such a well told story 🙂 Thanks for sharing! I truly believe that is about getting healthy as oppose to losing weight (which I have never followed but am strongly working on now) Best of luck with your journey… I am on a similar one x

    1. I agree totally about getting healthy – that’s my focus too. That’s what’s making exercise and mental wellbeing part of the picture, not just a fixation on food. Good luck indeed with your own journey.

  2. This time it WILL be different, and it WILL work long-term.
    Reading through your history it seems that you (like me) turns to food as comfort in tough times (although in your divorce the opposite happened!). One strategy I have used is to find non-food ways of getting myself out of the blues. It does work and now reaching for food does not happen at those times. It was like training Pavlov’s dog though, and I had to work hard to develop the habit of doing different things when I feel down.
    I now go for a walk, go to the library, or go into town.
    I am very strict about only eating at scheduled meals.

    1. This time it feels very different, and I do have a confidence I’ve never had before. I’ve often tried to analyse why and when I eat – is it with bad times, when food is a comfort, or with good times, when casual or lazy approaches become the norm? I’m not sure quite, and I think it’s a bit of both, but what I do know is that when I can connect with a good enough reason to work at shaking off the pounds, then it works. My reason now… I’m 55 and the clock is ticking. Too many friends already have serious health issues and given my excess poundage, I’ve been lucky to escape so far. My priority is to maintain and improve my health and energy levels – weight loss is absolutely part of that picture, of course, but the focus is health and vitality.

  3. I wish you good luck with this. I like to dance rather than eat when I feel down; it’s a wonderful form of stress relief. We’ve also gotten into adult coloring books, another wonderful form of stress relief.

    1. Thank you. Sadly, I’m a rubbish dancer, though I did go through a Popmobility exercise phase, back in the early 80’s. I don’t think I could reproduce either the motivation or the moves today! I’m a big fan of mindfulness too – my stress relief is making my own greeting cards (Birthdays, Christmas, thank-you etc). You can lose sublime hours to bits of paper, inks and ribbon. 🙂

  4. Love, love your captivating writing, and I commend you for putting your truth out there as that can certainly make one feel incredibly vulnerable. You, my dear, have everything going for you that you need to succeed in reaching your goal. Determination, intelligence, self-awareness, and a platform (your blog) for sharing your journey and allowing us to be part of it and cheering you on. I really think this is so terrific! Gooooooo Julie!

    1. Thank you, thank you, Cynthia. You both are such amazing role models when it comes to health and fitness, and I will really value your encouragement. So, my truth is ‘out there’, but it is already in the past – and I’m not looking back, I’m looking ahead.

  5. Pretty similar story here too. The hubby, a full foot taller than me, always was nice enough to give me the same size portion and all that extra food was too delicious to turn down. It just sneaks up on you. I finally had to ask him not to be so kind to me.

  6. Julie, I can totally relate to many parts of your story. I’m telling you attitude is the key. And, you need to do this because it is what YOU want to do, not because you think it is expected from you. I’m certain my positive attitude is a result of this change in thinking. It’s hard to be so self-focused because that’s not my personality. However, in this one situation, losing weight, it’s ok for it to be about ME! I’m only doing this for me. No. One. Else. Go for it. Stay the course. You’re on the track with the right mindset. Just don’t set a timeline for reaching your goal! That will take some of the stress away. You’re doing it!

    1. I totally agree, Robin… It’s all in the mind and all about attitude. I’m making it my main/only focus this year, because it’s too important not to.

  7. Thanks for sharing your story. It really does come down to lifestyle change over dieting, doesn’t it? I have a post I haven’t yet published (I need to get on that) where I mention that any diet with loads of restrictions is bound to fail, but researchers have found the ‘Mediterranean’ diet to actually be quite helpful because it’s not really restrictive and people are more likely to stick to it. It’s heart-healthy too.

    Wonderful kick-off to your new blog emphasis. I look forward to reading more.

    1. Thank you, Carrie! It has to be all about lifestyle, an emphasis on healthy rather than diet. I know my eating habits had become very lazy, with short-cut food the order of the day – take-aways, tubs of processed gloop, and toast do not a healthy diet make. I’ve made some sweeping changes, but I don’t count calories or grams of fat. I’d much rather learn how to eat ‘normally’ without needing a calculator at my side for the rest of my life. Mediterranean is certainly a strong influence – you can’t argue with olive oil, garlic, herbs and plenty of vegetables, can you?

      1. No, you can’t. 🙂

        It’s so easy to grab the quick and tasty, and thanks to our unhealthy food environment, we can grab food anywhere, including candy bars at the office store (at least here in the US). As you alluded to in a comment on my blog in the past, we didn’t suddenly lose our willpower over the last three decades, but rather our food environment has exploded.

        I just read “A Big Fat Crisis” by Deborah A. Cohen. It has a strong public health focus (meaning involving more regulations and such) which a lot of people may not like, but I found it a very interesting read. Reinforced much of what I already feel.

        1. There are some very good sources of information and analysis out there, showing just how much things have changed over the years. It’s a crazy world, driven by profit over health for too many years.

  8. What a story Jools. I’m never sure what the right thing to say here. Well done? Keep going? You can do it? I suppose all of the above. Enjoy it may sound daft but I guess that’s essential if you are going to keep to it.

    1. Yes… thank you… and all of the above is entirely appropriate! And you’re right – enjoying the process is essential. And, weirdly, I am. If that continues, you’ll be seeing a lot less of me at BB16. 🙂

  9. As someone who wildly yo-yo-ed from the age of 17 to 69 (with relatively level periods during that time, but never permanently so) and still yo-yos a bit, although on a very short string (from about 130 pounds to 144, and then back again), what I find most extraordinary about this post is that you were brave enough to write it, to let it all hang out, year by year and pound by pound. Although it’s undeniable that we all wear what we eat, so that short of hiding in a nunnery, or concealing oneself within a burqa, dietary excess is evident to everyone who sees us –actually talking about it without mincing words takes a tremendous amount of courage and commitment. I applaud the direction in which you’ve pointed yourself and certainly wish you a healthy svelte future, but I especially applaud the speaking out, which for me was always impossible to do while I was hidden within the cocoon of fat in which I had often buried myself. Brava, Julie!

    1. Nina, my overweight-ness has been ‘hanging out there’ for years – and for years I’ve been kidding myself it wasn’t as bad as it was. What got to me about writing this YoYo story, end-to-end, was how my perception of overweight has changed over the years. I was dismayed by 10 stone (140lb), then by 12 stone (168lb) – and at that point I’d have been thrilled with 10 stone… and on it went. Now I’m just a little over 230lb, which was catastrophic back in 2006 (the last time I saw this weight), but today, as I pass this marker on my way down, having just removed myself from the 40+ ‘morbid’ BMI category, I’m heartened and motivated by my success so far. I didn’t want to put it all ‘out there’ when I started, as my attempts to diet have largely failed over the last decade. So I waited a little while and now, with more certainty that (i) I’m doing more than dieting, I’m changing my lifestyle and (ii) with a little success under my belt, I felt ready.

      Thank you for your encouragement, and for your recognition that speaking out is a bold move. It may have been obvious to those people who know me, but not so much to my blogging friends across the globe. Funnily enough though, once it’s said, it’s said, and that’s all there is. Response has been universally positive and encouraging, which is lovely.

      A key reason for taking this direction with the blog was to add impetus to my own journey. But important too, was the idea that I could take the blog into a territory about which I currently feel super-charged and passionate – people’s personal challenges with weight and health, the realities of eating well in our super-processed food environment, the ‘obesity epidemic’ and so on. Writing is important to me, but my novel-writing has stalled as I endeavour to spend more time active, and away from my desk. Because this – changing my lifestyle, getting much more exercise, developing sustainable healthy eating habits – is my absolute priority for the coming months.

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