The Lifecycle of a Yo-Yo Dieter #FullDisclosure

Even when you think you’ve got the healthy eating thing nailed, it can all still go horribly wrong. Again and again. And again.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll be familiar with my excited posts (for example, here and here) about the massive benefits and gains I’ve enjoyed as I shed the pounds throughout 2016. And you may have noticed that I’ve gone a bit quiet about the weight-loss situation in the last year.

Well… here’s why.  When it comes to managing my weight, I’m a habitual Yo-Yo.  And what goes down…

Downhill all the way – except when it’s uphill

As far as I can remember, including my lately renewed efforts, there have been ten sustained periods of weight-loss in my life, beginning at the tender age of 21.

1981:  Loss of 2 st / 28 lbs / 12.7 kilo

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Aged 21 and weighing-in at 11 st 5 lbs / 159 lbs / 72.1 kilo at the outset, that 28 lbs qualified as mega. It earned me Lifetime Membership of WeightWatchers. Today I would kill to be the weight I started at back then, again, let alone the slender form I achieved after a few months of modest self-control. It didn’t seem hard – at least, I don’t recall the hardship. I do recall eating a lot of beansprouts in tomato puree on dry toast though. Little did I realise what was to come in the years that followed.

1989:  Loss of 4 st / 56 lbs / 25.4 kilo

This time the work started around 14 st 7 lbs / 203 lbs / 92 kilo. My life disrupted by divorce and then career-change, a swirling cocktail of negative and positive influences served to transform my approach to food in ways I still don’t fully understand; for a while, at least.  I did it all by myself this time; skipping meals, developing a single-track approach to lunches (smoked mackerel and undressed salad, every day – yes, every day), shunning alcohol, and falling for a trainer at my local gym (great motivation to hit the treadmill). For a while, I drew energy from the way I could see both me and my life transforming. For a while.

2002:  Loss of 3 st 8 lbs / 50 lbs / 22.7 kilo

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I kept a lid on my weight for a while but eventually it nudged steadily upward again. In 2002 I’d just been made redundant and come out of a very toxic relationship, so my life was again disrupted and unsettling. I’d decided to go self-employed – which was simultaneously invigorating and downright scary.  I needed to feel stronger, more together, more in-control of myself – not unlike I’d needed to feel back in 1989. Flexing that Lifetime Membership card for the first time, I went back to WeightWatchers, and the stars aligned. My membership card for that period, which I have never discarded, tells me that I started out at 16 st / 224 lbs / 101.6 kilo. I thought that was the worst I would ever let it get. But I was wrong.  When the weight-loss stalled for a few weeks, I lost the plot. Every single pound I’d dropped went back on in the 18 months that followed. It’s hard to describe the sense of helplessness I felt.

But there was more to come:

2004:  From 244 to 219 lbs…

2005:  From 234 to 218 lbs…

2006:  From 246 to 235 lbs…

2007: From 246 to 242 lbs…

By the time of that pathetic attempt in 2007, I had all but given up hope of losing weight permanently.  I could see that every time I lost weight, I put it back on, and more besides.  I became afraid to try again.  So I didn’t, until…

2013:   Loss of 1 st 8 lbs / 22 lbs / 9.9 kilo

By now I was back up again, at an unbearable and lumbering 18 st 13 lbs / 265 lbs / 120.2 kilo.  I kept my food intake under control for around six months and lost weight slowly, before it all fell apart… again.  And at the age of 53, those surplus pounds felt like a permanent fixture, a metaphorical if not literal millstone around my waist. I was resigned to almost always being the largest person in the room; to worrying if picnic chairs would hold me; to getting out-of-breath when faced with more than a single flight of stairs; to seeing good people, with the best of intentions, begin to treat me as if I were… disabled.

And you can see why they did, can’t you?

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Then, it seemed, the universe threw me a lifeline:

2015/16:  Loss of 5 st / 70 lbs / 31.8 kilo

And quite the lifeline it was. At my heaviest ever, I was introduced through business networking, to a healthy lifestyle coach. I weighed 19 st 4 lbs / 270 lbs / 122.5 kilo. The most powerful impact that working with my coach had was to help change my mindset. For the first time I focused on a holistic healthy lifestyle rather than weight-loss for the sake of it.  I locked into powerful visualisations, focused on what I wanted to gain rather than what I wanted to lose – and what sort of a person I wanted to be. And it worked. In 12 months, I lost 70 lbs, and it felt (and I felt) … amazing.

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Even when the weight-loss stalled, I didn’t actually gain anything, bouncing along in a plateau state for several months. For the first time ever, I believed I had gained some mastery over my capricious fat cells and my chaotic eating habits.

Everything goes well, until it doesn’t

But if the universe had thrown me a lifeline, it seemed it was still possible to drown.

In early 2016 my mother fell ill, dramatically, unexpectedly, and terminally. In the two months during which I cared for her, I lived on healthy snacks, grabbed whenever I could find a moment to myself. I was grateful for the Marks & Spencer Food Shop at the hospital, where I picked up a super-green salad and mini packet of kofte kebabs almost every day. (Yes, there’s a pattern here… when I find a meal that works, I stick to it!) When she came home for her last few weeks, the deli shelves at the M&S store my local filling station became my daily pit-stop.  Whilst everything else seemed to be spinning out-of-kilter, I kept the whole healthy lifestyle business under control (to be fair, sometimes I could barely eat for distress). I even managed a decent walk on days when kind souls offered an hour or two of their time to be with my mother.

Until, that is, she died.

Since that day in May 2017, I’ve managed to undo about half the stellar weight-loss job I did on myself.  In total, between then and March 2018, I regained no less than 37 of those 70 pounds.

Don’t be too hard on yourself,’ everyone has very kindly said. And I was grateful for their empathy and understanding. Emotionally exhausted, weary and sad to my bones, I started out on the process of deconstructing her life and disposing of her things. This has proved to be time-consuming and energy-sapping, and more often than not, very, very hard. I’ve blogged occasionally about it (see here). Whilst it’s been an enormous relief to have my brother working alongside me throughout much of this clear-out, it has been an intensely difficult personal journey too, for many reasons.

I’ve stayed away from sugar though. That was my one consolation as the weight crept back on. I never went back on the sugar. But I let other things back in; if very occasional take-aways weren’t that much of a problem, the 3-for-2 bumper-sized bags of crisps (potato chips) were. Where I didn’t succumb to biscuits and cakes, I did to increasingly more generous and more frequent slabs of cheese and ever larger blobs of butter. My portion sizes grew and my daily walks fell away, always with the excuse that I was ‘too tired’ or that I had ‘too much to do’.  And one by one, the pounds returned – and I returned to my carefully stored bag of big-clothes.

But the universe had one more trick up its sleeve.

In March, I ended up in hospital as a result of what turned out to be an attack of cholecystitis (that’s a big, evil and unbearably painful gallstones problem).  I blogged about it here.

As I wait now to have my gallbladder removed, the guidelines as to what I should and shouldn’t eat, to stave off any potential future attacks, are varied. But whichever way you look at it, they do boil down to an incredibly healthy diet.  From low-fat to no-dairy to small portions; from avoid fatty meat and stay away from fried anything to eat plenty of vegetables – you just can’t argue with it. As spicy foods may have been a trigger for me, I’m avoiding those too.  Add my avoidance of added sugar into the mix and my diet has become, well… a bit dull. However, I’m not complaining, as this dull, healthy diet that has been enforced upon me on pain, literally, of… pain, is helping me to shed those pounds again.  So far, of those 37 lbs I regained, I’ve lost 17 since March. There’s another 20 to go, but that feels within my grasp, now that I’ve recaptured my mojo, and my enthusiasm for health over comfort-eating. And when I’ve re-lost those remaining 20 lbs, I feel positive about staying on-track and chipping away at what remains, which is easily another 30 lbs.

Positive, but not complacent. Not with my track-record.

Onward and upward… or downward

I feel stronger again though. Strangely, with the threat of another crampy gallstones attack hanging over me, it’s not that hard to eat cautiously and modestly. And with the weight-loss – and perhaps too, some distance from my mother’s death – has come a re-gaining of lost energy and the impetus to continue with the exciting process of physical and mental transformation which was taking place two years ago.  I’m taking more care to exercise regularly too.

But I’m under no illusion; I’m a Yo-Yo dieter and that’s my physical and psychological ‘cross-eyed bear’, for life. As soon as my attention goes elsewhere, or I feel the pull of the comfort-food, the weight soars back on. But at my age, I can no longer expect to get away with it. Serious health problems will – for sure – surface, if I don’t keep a lid on my impulses. I must stay the course this time. But to do this, I need to re-connect, vigorously, with the positive healthy lifestyle choices I was making a little over a year ago – and with those massive gains in which I was revelling for those few wonderful months.

I just hope I get a clear run at it now. No more killer blows to the emotional solar-plexus please, for a while at least.

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Super Slimmers: Did They Keep the Weight Off? #diet #healthylifestyle

Photo credit: Channel 4
Photo credit: Channel 4

Last week, Channel 4 in the UK put out a documentary about Super Slimmers – people who had lost huge amounts of weight.  All had achieved recognition of one kind or another for their dramatic weight-loss; there was a US winner of ‘The Biggest Loser’, a Slimming World ‘Woman of the Year’, a Rosemary Conley ‘Slimmer of the Year’, a Lighter Life ‘Wall of Fame’ loser and a couple of others.

The question in the programme title was always rhetorical – you knew that, didn’t you? Because, like 95% of dieters, all but one of these poor ‘losers’ had put masses of weight back on again.

My heart sank for the men and women whose undeniable dieting efforts had come unstuck.  I felt their pain, because I’ve been there too. In 2002 I dieted with WeightWatchers. I lost 50 pounds. Then I put it all back on again – and more – in the two years that followed. And that wasn’t the first time that had happened. So I know what it’s like to lose the plot, to see a pound, and another, and another pile back on, until you stop weighing yourself because you don’t want to face what you know is happening. I know what it’s like to swell up through the dress sizes, feeling utterly bewildered by the speed at which the weight is stacking up, when you’ve hardly changed your eating habits, and only slipped every now and again… or so you tell yourself.

Getting to Goal

I can’t claim to understand the personal journeys these regained Super Slimmers have been on, but it seemed to me that in being awarded recognition for their success in reaching some predetermined goal, they were considered to have reached an end point. Perversely, the recognition and reward they received reinforced the perception that their weight-loss journey had now reached a conclusion – in effect, a point where old/bad habits could be allowed back in again. Why? Because the job of dieting was done. And because don’t we all secretly want to consume really unhealthy stuff that clogs up our digestive system and dulls our mind, all the time? Hmmm.

Responsible diet programmes usually promote some kind of maintenance plan for once goal is reached, and that’s what is supposed to help dieters keep the weight off. But the very fact that 95% of dieters regain lost weight is testimony to the inadequacy of the diet-and-maintenance approach. I speak from personal experience here and I can tell you, the difference between eating for weight-loss and eating for maintenance is infinitesimally small – much smaller than you think.  Much.  Most people (myself included) assume all sorts of tempting foods they had foresworn for the duration of their diet, can be welcomed back for first occasional but then, inevitably, regular consumption.  Not so, friends. SO not so.

As many of you will know, my weight-loss – 70 pounds to date – was until recently frustratingly plateaued for several weeks. But in a weird way, I’ve been quite happy about this.  That’s because, beyond see-sawing within a three pound threshold, I didn’t put any weight back on.  I continued weighing myself every day (and, now I know it works for me, I always will) and eating for my new healthy lifestyle, with all habits established over the last few months still in place. I feel as confident as I can be that these habits are my lifetime habits, not something to cast aside in a fit of self-destructive pique when I’ve a bad day or feel weak-willed. They are, perhaps surprisingly, not habits which demand vast reserves of willpower from me any more (though they did at first), just a generally positive attitude (which I can summon up most of the time) and a constant refocusing on how much healthier, happier and more energetic I’m feeling overall, than I was two years ago.

To lose weight is one thing; but to keep it off, one needs to have changed the habits of a lifetime – food habits, exercise habits, stress habits, sleep habits, social habits.  Yes, all of them. To keep the weight off, those changes have to be permanent, not temporary. They have to be about not simply squashing your overwhelming desire for a biscuit with your cuppa, but altering altogether how you think about food and exercise – and yourself. They have to be about changing mindset, so you find yourself wanting to go out for a walk, not forcing yourself to do it. They have to be about loving how the changes are making you feel, so much that you never, ever want to go back to your old ways. They’re not about resisting temptation, they’re about never feeling tempted. When this is how you feel, the chance of you keeping the weight off significantly increases.

Change is for Life

Of the six Super Slimmers, which one had successfully kept the weight off? What do you know, it was the only one who hadn’t actually been on a diet.  Daniel Wheeler, the very picture of male physical health and fitness, today makes his living helping others achieve their weight loss and fitness goals by… yes, you knew it was coming… changing lifestyle and adopting healthier habits, not for a few extreme dieting months, but for LIFE.

There were some other points touched on in the programme too, to which I want to turn in future weeks… the drastic nature of powdered meal replacement programmes, the role of exercise, and overcoming the challenge of a slower resting metabolism (something called persistent metabolic adaptation). But the concept of being on a diet versus developing a healthier lifestyle for life was top of my list, as it’s very dear to my heart.

Yo-Yo is a No-No #yoyo #diet

weigh-689873_1920I’ve been a yo-yo dieter all my life – here’s my story of the ups and downs.  Every time I lost weight, I put more back on.  This perpetual state of failure took me to the point of total despair. I decided a few years ago that I wouldn’t try to diet any more, as I always ended up worse off.  I actually came to fear weight-loss, because of the inevitability of the weight-gain which would follow.  I’m not alone – a survey in 2014 found that 60% of yo-yo dieters will try up to 20 diets in their lifetime.

What changed for me in September 2015, was that I found a way to alter my mental attitudes towards food and health, to make a holistic change to the way I live.  This has underpinned not a successful diet, but a total change of lifestyle which happens to have led to weight-loss; one which I ultimately believe is sustainable in the long-term; and one which carries with it the promise of not regaining that weight, but instead successfully breaking that yo-yo cycle.

So, I read with some interest a few of the articles which have been appearing in the press recently, about a study presented last week at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions, which is bad news for the yo-yo dieter.

Yo-yo dieting has long been associated with a range of health issues, including hormone imbalances, arthritis and osteoporosis.  But from this study it appears that yo-yo dieting is harmful in a potentially much more serious way – it harms your heart.

What goes down, comes back up – faster

When you diet, your body thinks it’s being starved.  It will protect itself, as anyone staying on a weight-loss programme for any length of time will tell you, by holding on to those pounds for all it’s worth.  Eventually though, you will lose weight, and your body will get used to functioning at a lower metabolic level. But when the diet ends and normal eating resumes, with this new slower metabolism, you will gain weight rapidly. It’s happened to me, again and again. The last time, I put on a pound a week for over 18 months – I just couldn’t seem to stop it.

Yo-yo dieting is more harmful to the heart than obesity

The AHA study analysed data from over 158,000 women over the age of 50. It found that over 11 years, women of normal weight who confessed to yo-yo dieting more than 4 times in their lives, were 3.5 times more likely to die from a heart attack than women whose weight stayed stable, even if they were obese.

Losing weight, it appears, is all very well, but it’s the regaining weight – which has that yo-yo inevitability about it – that stresses the body, increasing heart rate, raising blood pressure and elevating blood sugar levels. The problems accumulate, as these elevated levels do not fall back down during the next yo-yo cycle, leading to worsening health and elevated risk over time.

And that’s not all…

The articles about this study cover other issues too, including problems with bone density, fertility, skin elasticity, hair condition, gum disease… and possible correlation to some cancers. If you’re a yo-yo dieter, even if you’re not obese, it’s not a pretty picture.

I wasn’t just a yo-yo dieter, I was obese too.  I still am, according to the BMI charts. I came to fear dieting, for the yo-yo factor – and many others will understand that fear. The way to break the cycle is not through the food you eat, or the exercise you do.  Well, it is, but it doesn’t begin there.  Those are just the tactics. The way to break the cycle begins in the mind.

Success starts in your head – that’s where you can learn to tap into your motivation, positivity and resourcefulness.  It’s where you can flick the switches that mean it’s not all about willpower – which eventually fails – but about designing a different view of yourself, and creating a different and compelling vision for your future; one which puts the wind beneath your wings.

I’ll be writing quite a bit more about this in the coming weeks.

Dietary Heresy – or New Wisdom? #functionalmedicine #sugar #fat #carbs #cholesterol

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A quickie post today: I thought I’d share a few of the websites and influences that I’ve found helpful in shaping my attitude to food and health in recent months.  One or two of the understandings I’ve arrived at, having read some of the material available on the internet and in books, are beginning to catch a wave – it seems they’re not such crazy notions after all.

Sugar – what people generally call either free sugar or simply added sugar (ie, not the sugar found naturally in whole fruits, for example) – is an unhealthy and unnecessary dietary additive and the root cause of the so-called Obesity Epidemic. It may be tasty, but it’s addictive, it brings long-term harm and lifelong weight challenges, and we don’t need it.

Simple Carbohydrates – I’m thinking pasta, white rice, bread – should not be the foundation stones of the average meal. They convert to sugars far too quickly and mess with the body’s insulin regulating mechanisms. Particularly if you’re overweight and want to lose excess pounds, or you have type two diabetes, or are pre-diabetic, ditch those simple carbohydrates.

Fat – is not the enemy. In many, many forms, fat is more friend than foe, and should be an essential component within a healthy diet. The food industry has got rich persuading us that low fat products, processed and stuffed with additives and sugar, are healthy. This is more than misleading.  Dairy fats have much to commend them, and so-called healthy fats in nuts, oily fish, olive oil and avocados, for example, are an absolute must.

Cholesterol – which Big Pharma has gone into overdrive to persuade us is killing us – is natural and normal and for the vast majority of us, does not need to be controlled by drugs.  Statins are a con being perpetrated against vast populations of healthy people, for profit.

Great reference sources and health heroes

Action on Sugar http://www.actiononsugar.org  is a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health. It is working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high sugar diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of sugar in processed foods.  Spearheading Action on Sugar is one of my dietary heroes, Cardiologist, Dr Aseem Malhotra http://doctoraseem.com.

Diet Doctor https://www.dietdoctor.com seeks to promote natural health. Focused on LCHF (Low Carb High/Healthy Fat) approach, the website is an enormous practical and inspirational resource, particularly for those battling weight issues and diabetes. It promotes what began as a revolutionary approach a few years ago (carbohydrate reduction, the happy consumption of fats), but which is gaining considerable credibility in the medical community and beyond.

Dr Mark Hyman http://drhyman.com is a practicing physician, prolific author and advocate of the power of Functional Medicine. It seeks to identify and address the root causes of disease, and views the body as one integrated system, not a collection of independent organs divided up by medical specialties. It treats the whole system, not just the symptoms. Dr Hyman has written extensively on issues around fat and sugar.

Dr Malcom Kendrick https://drmalcolmkendrick.org Practicing GP and author of ‘The Great Cholesterol Con’, Dr Malcolm Kendrick throws light on the lies, damned lies and statistics that surround the demonization of cholesterol, the pushing of statins to almost anyone over the age of 50, and the ways we are made to fear eating just about any foodstuff you can contemplate. Great blog and real insights into how statistics can misdirect, and the difference between correlation and causation.

Insightful videos, podcasts and films

The Big Fat Fix

http://www.thebigfatfix.com

Addresses the issue of how recommended but misguided dietary advice over the last 50 years has spawned the obesity and diabetes epidemics.  It looks at the role of healthy eating – based around what’s become known as the Mediterranean Diet – in treating and preventing these and other diseases.

That Sugar Film

http://thatsugarfilm.com

In this revealing film, Damon Gameau embarks on a unique experiment to document the effects of a high sugar diet on a healthy body, consuming only foods that are commonly perceived as ‘healthy’. The results are shocking.

The Truth about Sugar (BBC Documentary)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4LzSH9qU_Q

Even-handed documentary on how much sugar there is coursing through our everyday foods.

Dr Mark Hyman on Eating Fat to Get Healthy – with Lewis Howes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgWBKJsJtk0

An interview podcast, Dr Mark Hyman talks passionately about why eating fat is the key to weight loss.

That’s by no means an exhaustive list, and remember, I’m hardly the expert. But I personally have found each one of these websites (and their wealth of resources and links), health heroes and videos an excellent source of information and insight.  They have shaped my new eating and lifestyle habits, helped me towards a weight-loss of over 70 pounds in the last 13 months, and helped me to become healthier, happier and more energetic than I’ve been in almost two decades.

The Big Fat Fix

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I’m going to use this week’s post to promote a crowdfunded film I’ve just watched.  It’s called The Big Fat Fix, and you can stream or download it here.

The Big Fat Fix is an independent co-production between former international athlete Donal O’Neill – the Producer of Cereal Killers (2013) and Run on Fat (2015) – and UK Cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, who is one of my lifestyle-as-medicine heroes.

The film addresses the issue of how recommended but misguided dietary advice over the last 50 years has spawned the obesity and diabetes epidemics.  It looks at the role of healthy eating – based around what’s become known as the Mediterranean Diet – in treating and preventing these and other diseases. And it examines the way we can and should exercise for optimal health.

At around 1 hour and 20 minutes it’s a long-ish film, and it begins at a leisurely pace. But stick with it, as you’ll find a wealth of advice which dramatically contradicts traditional dietary recommendations – advice which is gathering momentum and credibility at an exciting pace these days. It addresses issues around obesity, diabetes, stress and heart disease.

I commend this film to you.  That is all. The end.

On getting away with it

diabetes-528678_1920Several people in my circle and my general age-bracket, are in a poor or deteriorating state of health at present. There’s cancer, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, a stomach ulcer, the after effects of blood clots, ulcerative colitis, diabetes, high blood pressure and even heart disease. I don’t have an enormous circle of friends and acquaintances, and that’s a lot of un-wellness; a combination of the diseases of middle-age, auto-immune conditions and the impact – physical, psychological and emotional – of modern living.

And that means… stress.

Stress brings with it a heavy payload of physical and psychological symptoms (just Google ‘stress symptoms’ and check out some of the lists). But chronic stress also opens the door for some far more serious conditions and diseases to enter. Who knows whether it actually causes them, but it certainly makes you more vulnerable.

Stress is about helplessness and feeling out of control.  It’s not, as some people assume, about having too much to do.  It’s far more about the feeling that, for whatever reason, you can’t cope with what you have to do or deal with. It’s about feeling ineffective, pushed around by others, powerless to influence your circumstances, or spiralling into some kind of a hole that you don’t feel able to climb out of.

Stress… actually weighs you down

Interestingly, stress is also an inhibitor to weight loss, as cortisol, the hormone produced in circumstances of stress, causes the body to hold on to its fat stores. The more chronic your stress, the harder it becomes to lose weight. And of course, the harder it is to lose weight, the more out of control the overweight person will feel. It’s one of those cruel vicious circles of life.

A contributor, for sure, to my yo-yo-ing weight and its gradual upward trajectory over the years, was the level of stress I lived with, mostly through the sort of work I used to do (which was wrong for me in many ways, but well-paid, so I pushed myself onward), and occasionally in bad relationships and their fallout too.  Divorce, financial pressures, unsatisfactory living arrangements, poor relationship decisions, work related anxiety including two redundancies and striking out as a solo-preneur, a problematic menopause, and a constant, gnawing sense of being not quite good enough at everything I tried to do. All these things contributed to a fluctuating but ever-present level of stress throughout my thirties and forties and right through until a couple of years ago. And all the while the weight piled on.

Until such point as it was no longer a product of stress, but one of its causes.

Fat stresses

Yes, fat itself became the stressor.  Here’s how it gets you: You stress about what people are really thinking of you. You see a bucket chair in a cosy coffee bar or gastro pub and wonder if you’ll be able to squeeze into it.  You see a different kind of chair in a school assembly hall, at the end-of-year stage production starring your young nephews, and wonder whether it will hold your weight for a whole two hours.  You worry about getting too hot or sweaty when you go out somewhere, to meet clients or be social. Wherever you go, you worry you’ll be the fattest person in the room.  You stress about being out of control, about your excess weight being so overwhelming that you’ll never feel normal again. You stress about never having something comfortable or stylish to wear for an important event. You become acutely aware of heaving yourself about, hoping others will not notice the effort.  When your well-meaning friends ask kindly if you’re OK to walk a few steps, or climb to the second or third floor, and you realise they think you’re almost disabled, you stress about it. You stress about weight limits on fitness equipment and spa facilities, because you exceed them.  And that’s just where it starts…

Health anxiety

This is the next layer of fat-stress. Health anxiety, or hypochondria, is a fearful thing.  Health anxiety surfaced for me as the menopause kicked in, and a confusion of symptoms became very unsettling. Beneath my intellectual appreciation that I was immersed in the time-of-life experience, lay an occasionally paralysing fear – because I was fat – that there was somehow something far more serious going on, that I had brought upon myself by being overweight. The sense of impending doom I would eventually learn to manage as I tried to calm my palpitating heart in the wee small hours, was frequently overwhelming. I called an ambulance on two occasions (and nearly called them on a dozen more) and once spent the whole night in A&E wired up to heart monitors as stress and anxiety exacerbated those all-natural hormonal misbehaviours.

Statistically speaking

And health anxiety isn’t just an internal thing – it’s fed by the media, in their pursuit of emotionally-charged headlines. The voices of statistical authority would have me believe that my excess weight (well over 100 surplus pounds when I started this healthy lifestyle thing last September) made – still makes – me a candidate for all manner of disease, including most of the conditions my circle of friends and acquaintances are suffering.  Obesity, so say the statistics, puts me at significantly elevated risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer of numerous kinds, high blood pressure, high cholesterol (whatever the implications of this are supposed to be) and diabetes – and that’s just for starters.  Add osteoarthritis, sleep apnoea and asthma, gout, gallstones and fatty liver disease. Oh, and anxiety and depression too.

All in all, it’s a misery-laden feast, particularly if you’re inclined to let scary headlines get under your skin.

A matter of time

But despite those 100 or more excess pounds, I’m one of the fortunate overweighties not eating at this misery-laden table.  I wasn’t at 270 pounds, and I’m still not at 207 pounds either. In fact, notwithstanding the 50 pounds or so of excess weight I still have to get rid of, and the anxieties related to my state-of-weight that I carried for years, my health is very good. I’m through the menopause (hurrah!) so I’m even feeling like an actual human being again, no longer screaming at the universe whilst sweating from every pore.  As I shed my surplus tonnage, I’m getting fitter and healthier by the day.

Believe me when I say I’m not in the least bit smug about my current state of health and wellness. And things could always change, I know this; I’m only 56 years old after all. But at the moment I suffer none of the ailments that should, if the statistics are to be believed, be my misfortune.

I changed my lifestyle last September because I finally acknowledged I was getting away with it.  The slew of disabling and depressing ailments within my circle of friends and acquaintances had made me realise this, and want – at long last – to do whatever I could to avoid these conditions becoming part of my lot in life.

I know no amount of healthy living can guarantee this, but common sense tells me that it must help, to manage my weight better, eat more healthily, improve the state of my heart, lungs and circulation, and exercise regularly.  I just finally got to the point where the push to do something was greater than the pull of the sofa, the packets of crisps and the ready-meals.

Now my stress level has dropped to a record low. I’m handling work better as my brain is more alert and I no longer suffer the 3pm slump. I am calmer, more relaxed, less easily provoked to irritation. I have energy to enjoy more social activities. I have self-respect again. What little disquiet as I may occasionally feel, as anyone does, is counterbalanced by a growing sense of confidence and wellbeing which has come from looking better and feeling healthier and knowing that at long last, I’m doing right by myself.

One of the Healthy Ones

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I visited my GP last week for the first time in well over a year. During a miserable menopause, I was in and out of her surgery every few weeks, with one distressing or uncomfortable symptom after another, overwhelmed by what they used to call hypochondria, but now label ‘health anxiety’. I spent the better part of six years stressing about a host of discomforting symptoms. The worst of these, by some considerable margin, was prolonged bouts of lurching, pounding heart palpitations, lasting hours at a time. Every time my hormonally induced palps kicked off, which they did frequently, I could not suppress the fear that I was in some sort of cardiac crisis; worse still, that I had brought it on myself, through my failure to take control of my eating and unhealthy lifestyle habits.  But it turned out I was fine – once the hormonal havoc settled, so did my blippy, ectopic heartbeat.

The last time I saw my GP in connection with one of those bewildering menopausal symptoms that there wasn’t anything to be done about, as I left her surgery, she said to me, “You don’t need to be here.  You’re one of the healthy ones.”  Her words stuck with me.  She was of course politely – very politely – telling me to pull myself together and stop taking up appointment times. On one level she had a point, but that time-of-life thing is a prickly period for some women, physically and psychologically.

Anyway, cut to last week and as I sat by her desk, she noted she hadn’t seen me in a while. She could see I’d lost weight, and I wondered if she was wondering whether this was intentional or not – as in, has this woman finally got herself under some control, or is she really, really ill?  But I don’t look ill. I’m actually looking remarkably… healthy.

She asked me how I was, normally the precursor to explaining whatever problem one is experiencing.  I said I was great, absolutely great, thank you. Not the usual response when one occupies an appointment slot at the surgery. (Worth saying, I did have something else to see her about, so I wasn’t there under a purely indulgent pretext.)

I told her what I’d lost over the past eight months, and that it was through adopting healthy eating and exercise habits, including walking regularly and giving up added sugar. She was plainly delighted. I was her first appointment that morning and she said I’d made her day. That was lovely. After our all-too-frequent interactions of recent years, it re-set the clock between us, I feel.

I asked her if I could have an NHS Healthcheck. I had one just over a year ago, and you’re not supposed to have them more than once every three years or so. But I was hoping to get a check on the various important numbers as I reached my weight-loss half-way point.  She readily agreed and I went off for my Healthcheck blood test.

An NHS Healthcheck is a fairly straightforward thing, not particularly detailed, but it does give you some useful data on things like blood pressure and heart health, as well as liver function and a few other things they can assess from your blood – like whether you’re heading for diabetes.

A few days ago, just as I was about to leave to walk down to the surgery for my Healthcheck (I walk everywhere I can these days, especially on lovely, sunny mornings), I got a phone call. It was the surgery receptionist, advising me that the nurse who conducts the Healthchecks ‘didn’t need to see me’. My blood test was ‘normal’ end-to-end and, well, that was that. I explained my situation, and that my GP had happily agreed to my having an interim Healthcheck, but nurse knew better – and seemingly had better things to do than monitor the healthy weight-loss of someone who is nonetheless still in the BMI obese category.

There are many, many good things about the NHS, the most notable one (for benefit of Stateside readers in particular) is that it is completely, totally free of charge at the point of need. Beyond what’s collected in our taxes, nobody pays.  But that means too, that if the NHS doesn’t think I need one of its many services, facilities or drugs, I don’t get it. Fair enough, I have to say, though I was momentarily miffed – well, I’m human, and petulance is my middle name. So I walked down to the surgery anyway (still a good excuse for a walk on a sunny day) and collected a copy of my blood test results.

So it turns out, several of those important blood-related numbers have come down nicely. There wasn’t anything really wrong last time; one or two were a bit borderline (I’ve said before that I knew I was getting away with things) – but even those were now comfortably in the ‘normal’ range. A couple were considerably improved.

I know these numbers aren’t the be-all-and-end-all, but it’s great to have such tangible evidence of the good that my new habits are doing to my insides. There wasn’t much else I needed from the Healthcheck anyway – I can work out my own BMI and I didn’t need the healthy lifestyle lecture.   It would have been nice (I’m a completer, remember?) to have had the full set of Healthcheck tests. But I can’t really object when the reason behind it is that I’m doing so well, I’ve already become medically unremarkable. I’ve still got quite a way to go, but what better way than that, to put my health anxiety to bed once and for all?

I hope you like today’s picture. Thanks to an infusion of nutritious compost and a proper prune, my rhododendron bush too, is healthier than it’s been for several years.