Size Matters

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It seems that eight inches isn’t enough any more. When did dinner plates get so absurdly, gigantically… enormous? 

When you’re trying, as I am, to eat more healthily, it’s not just about what you eat; it’s also about how much you eat. And it got me thinking about the size of the plates and dishes in my kitchen.

When I was growing up, dinner plates were around eight inches in diameter, and that included the rim. Take this out of the equation, and it meant there was a circle of around five inches in circumference, which had to accommodate your entire dinner.  And it did, always. Not only that, but the food wasn’t piled up, one thing on top of another like you so often see these days. Each element of the meal occupied its own segment of the plate. The only thing that would fall outside that modest five-inch circle would be a sprinkle of salt or a blob of tomato ketchup.

My dinner plates today (Jamie Oliver – Pukka), are eleven inches wide. With no rim and only the smallest of lips, that’s around a 10½ inch circle available to be loaded – overloaded – with food.  That’s over twice the size of the dinner plates of yesteryear.

I think I know when it happened. With the excesses of the eighties, came the minimalist culinary trend of nouvelle cuisine. An expression of luxury in the exquisite presentation of essentially modest quantities of very pretty ingredients.  Nouvelle cuisine demanded an expanse of pure white porcelain to display posh food artfully, to best effect. And the twelve-inch dinner plate was born.

The trouble with big plates – unless you’re staring appreciatively at a tiny arrangement of pretty food in a trendy eaterie – is that there’s a huge temptation to fill a plate with food, whatever size it is. Not including nouvelle cuisine, a big plate with a modest arrangement of food upon it looks… sparse.  If you’re serving guests, friends or customers, it looks positively ungenerous. And if you’re out, and tucking in at the ‘all you can eat’ counter, your calorie overload from filling that super-sized platter to the rim will be in the stratosphere.

So as plates got bigger so did portion sizes. As we gradually lost touch with what constitutes a perfectly adequately proportioned meal, normal began to feel like a child’s portion and extra-size became the adult normal.

Our personal perceptions were distorted further – and clearly in their own interests – by the food industry.  From fast food to supermarket ready meals, portion sizes have exploded. A normal MacDonald’s meal used to be a hamburger (not a quarter-pounder), a little paper bag of chips (not an extended cardboard cone), and a cup (not a bucket) of cola.  A normal meal from KFC would be two pieces of chicken and a handful of chips in a box you could hold in one hand, not buckets piled with four or five crumbed and fried variants, mountains of fries and a cornucopia of ‘sides’.  But don’t get me started on the concept of food in buckets.

Ready meals are no different and in 2013 British Heart Foundation (BHF) warned that Britain’s supermarkets are ‘out of control’ when it comes to portion sizes. Standard meals like pies, chilli and lasagne have expanded by anything from 20% to 70% over the last twenty years. Just one example, an average chicken curry and rice ready meal is now over twice the size it was twenty years ago.  And our eyes have adjusted accordingly. No surprises, a ready meal from the early days of meals-in-a-box and poke-and-ping would look positively minuscule today.

So without much ado, we happily fill our enormous plates with piles of food that look quite… normal – and in doing so, we are in danger of consuming food in quantities that would astonish – and probably disgust – the 1960’s family.

In my kitchen, it’s time for smaller plates.

The next size down from those Jamie Oliver Pukka plates (27 cms) is a size he calls Munchies (23cms). The name suggests it’s a plate for snacks, salads or sides, but it’s actually still larger than those traditional dinner plates of old. So Munchies has become my new dinner plate – but even that’s not quite enough, and I’m working on eating more from the next size down from that.  It’s a side plate which Jamie fondly calls Side Kick (19cms).  That’s not a bad size for a light meal.  It’s more than enough for something dense, like a chilli or moussaka.  I’ve downsized in bowls too.  At 17cms there’s nothing little about Jamie’s Little Tinker bowl. If you filled it with breakfast cereal you would surely explode before lunchtime. More appropriate then is his 14cm Nibbles bowl, which is more or less the same size as my childhood cereal bowls. The name Jamie chose might suggest that this one is for hungry snacking moments, but when I get a snack attack, I’m using the next one down – the 11cm Cutie, which Jamie describes as a ramekin.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not having a go at Jamie Oliver; I’m just using him as an example of the recent trend, as my cupboards are full of his stuff. I love his beautiful white-on-white crockery and tableware. I love how he has made a shift towards healthier recipes at just the time when I’m looking at the same, and I wholeheartedly support his campaign for a sugar tax.

But size does matter. I may not have ignorantly pigged-out on piles of crap, like ‘the obese’ are often presented as doing on TV; but I know I’ve let myself eat progressively more of all sorts of things over the years.  So I’m trying to get used to eating less, without feeling deprived.

When it comes to mealtimes, eating off smaller plates and bowls is a great way to recalibrate your sense of proportion – and portion.

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Society’s latest pariahs?

DifferentBeing a wordsmith by profession, I perhaps notice this more than I should. But it seems to me that there’s a lot of lazy writing and cliché that surrounds the issue of overweight and obesity in the press.

To start with, there’s the fashionable catch-all term – the obese – that apparently offensive group of people who have had the audacity to over-indulge and now make disproportionate use of free health services and take up too much room on trains and aeroplanes. The default position of the media fat-haters is indignation: How dare the obese eat so greedily, and lean so heavily on services paid for by our taxes, and inconvenience us so intrusively with their overflowing flesh?

That’s the obese… but then, there’s the morbidly obese – an even more loathsome lump of offending flesh; those of us so apparently devoid of the capacity for self-regulation that we’re actually killing ourselves.

There are other lazy clichés adopted by the media too.  Who hasn’t read those stories about overeaters stuffing themselves with food, piling on the pounds, or ballooning to a hefty weight?

The effect of this lazy writing is to depersonalise the enormous (pardon the pun) and diverse population of individuals whose size is above the ideal range, turning them into a single amorphous blob of uncontrolled indulgence; a blob on which it is apparently now acceptable to pour scorn and derision.

But… people whose weight exceeds what society deems a ‘normal’ range are not a clutch of cholesterol-laden clones.

We may chuckle when we get together, about our inability to eat just one chocolate, or our fondness for a takeaway, but we’re all different. Not every fat person loves McDonalds and KFC; we don’t all pig-out, lonely and friendless, in front of the TV every night; we don’t all pass the time shovelling our faces full of donuts – in fact most of us don’t do anything remotely like that. We don’t all sit on our ample arses all day long; we don’t all get puffed out climbing the stairs. Some of us even like salad!

We’re individuals, with a multitude of different issues, challenges and histories; a variety of health concerns – or none at all; a spectrum of self-awareness and psychology; a diversity of shapes and sizes, ages and genders, ethnicities, social backgrounds, educational accomplishments, intellects and achievements.

Like many, many people – possibly every single person in the entire world – we have let one aspect of our life run some way beyond acceptable boundaries.

Some people smoke, others drink to excess. Some gamble their wages away, others take chances with anonymous sexual partners. Some didn’t apply themselves at school, others never go to the dentist. Some can’t get through a day without a few puffs of weed, others can’t get through an evening without a few glasses of red. Some go crazy when separated from their mobile phones, others can’t separate themselves from their virtual realities. Some people can’t throw anything away, others need their CDs in alphabetical order and their pencils all lined up.

We all have challenges, weaknesses, shortcomings and areas of our lives where we’re not at our very best. For those wearing weight above what society deems ‘normal’ – a part of that will have something to do with food.

That is it. The end.

Tick-tock Tick-tock

doctor-1149150_1920I’m a generally positive person, so when I began my healthier lifestyle journey six months ago, I attached to it a number of positive motivations – like seeing myself slender, in stylish clothes, healthy, active and energetic, being noticed by the sort of man I might like to be noticed by – that sort of stuff.

But the thing that’s most compellingly underpinned my currently successful (so far) attempt at adopting a healthier lifestyle (after so very many failed attempts over the years), is not a positive, but a negative motivation.

Not something I want… but something I don’t want.

I’m in my mid-50’s and people – too many, I fear – within my circle of family, friends and acquaintances, are beginning to succumb to what are known as the diseases of middle age; that’s chronic conditions like high blood pressure, blood clots, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, cancers, auto-immune conditions, and so on.  (Notice I’m leaving out high cholesterol – that’s because I personally don’t believe that high cholesterol is a disease, or something that needs to be cured.) As somebody in the lower reaches of morbid obesity (BMI over 40), I was in the high risk category for all the above.

I was getting away with it though. I didn’t have any signs of any of those conditions.

Yet.

But the anxiety was growing in me – the time-bomb was ticking ever louder. Eventually (mainly due to episodes which it isn’t necessary to relate here) my anxiety reached the point last summer when I could no longer ignore it. My palpable fear was that I would one day in the not-too-distant future find myself in the doctor’s surgery, being given bad news about one of those diseases of middle age, and realising that I might have avoided said bad news if only I had adopted a healthier lifestyle and taken control of my weight.

Now I’m not stupid. I know I can be greatly reduced in weight and greatly healthier and more active, and any of those diseases could still strike me. But it’s about minimising my risk. And even now, just around one-third of the way to my ultimate goal (no longer morbidly, just plain old obese), my fear has begun to recede. And I know that once I get my weight into the correct zone and my body consistently more active and in better condition, I’ll be able to stop feeling guilty of the simple sin of failing to take proper care of myself.

 

Giant Weight Loss Goals Need Many Mini Milestones

Endless road

My BIG total weight loss goal is a somewhat overwhelming 123lbs, or 55.8 kilo. It’s not even alright if you say it fast. But it is what it is. I may get there. If I get even half way, I’ll be putting out the bunting. (In truth, having waved a not-so-fond farewell to 40 lbs since September I’m almost at the one-third mark and there is already cause for celebration.)

At the moment though, I’m psyched up and going for the whole nine yards.

But with so much weight to lose, that end goal is a long way away. Whilst it demands to be acknowledged, it’s hard, after a lifetime of yoyo dieting, to cheerily own it, as if all I have to do is visualise myself in that spray-on party dress, micro-bikini (bikinis at 55 – maybe not) or oh-so-chic tailoring, and it will be so. I’m all for positive thinking but I’ve fought this fight a few times already and I know it’s going to need more than that.

With the big goal so… big… what I need to keep me going is a set of interim goals or mini milestones which give me regular opportunities to acknowledge my progress and honour my success-to-date.

And I’ve become an expert at finding those mini milestones.

So… if you’re looking for interim markers along the way to a big weight-loss goal, let me suggest a few.

  1. Whether you weigh yourself in stones and pounds or pounds alone, or kilos, all three options are entirely legitimate when you’re looking for those weight-loss milestones. (For my USA readers, a stone is 14lbs.) So for starters you can look for nice round weight-loss numbers in all three units of measurement, for example:

First 10 lbs lost… and all subsequent 10 lbs… 20, 30, 40, etc…

First 10 kilos lost… and all subsequent 10 kilo markers… 20, 30, etc…

First stone lost… and (you guessed it) every subsequent stone… (For those of us in the UK who measure in stones, waving goodbye to a stone is A Big Thing.)

  1. Next, you can calculate your current weight in all three units of measurement, and you have a whole new set of ‘big’ round numbers for your milestones list:

Achieving (or passing through) a stones marker… 17, 16, 15 stone, etc…

Achieving (or passing through) a big round pounds marker… 240, 230, 220 lbs, etc…

Achieving (or passing through), yes, a big round kilos marker… 120, 110, 100 kilos, etc…

  1. If you know where you started, you then have another set of really great mini milestones – the percentage of your original weight that you’ve lost. Much has been written about the many health benefits of losing 10% of your body weight, from wherever you begin – so that’s a great one to celebrate.  But on a big weight-loss journey why not mark 15%, or 20% too?
  1. Lastly there’s BMI (Body Mass Index). The big markers are 40 (above which the medics and insurance companies label you morbidly obese), 30 (above which you’re plain obese), then 25 (above which you’re still overweight but at least no longer that dreadful word… obese). Once you get to below 25 you are, joy of joys, a normal/healthy weight – a cause for much insane (but please, self-controlled) celebration. Though it has its shortcomings, BMI is a generally useful measure, reflecting both your height and weight, although not (which is more relevant to a body builder or a rugby player than an overweight middle-aged woman) muscle mass. If you want to work out your BMI, and you’re not a body builder or a rugby player, search for a ‘BMI Calculator’ on Google.

Here’s a segment of my well-populated list of milestones, to give you an idea of the almost limitless possibilities:

Starting weight:                      270 lbs / 19 st 4 lbs / 122.47 kilo

Farewell to 19 stone:             265 lbs / 18 st 13 lbs / 120.20 kilo

Under 120 kilo:                       264 lbs / 18 st 12 lbs / 119.75 kilo

260 lbs / 10 lbs lost:               260 lbs / 18 st 8 lbs / 117.93 kilo

1 stone lost:                            256 lbs / 18 st 4 lbs / 116.12 kilo

Farewell to 18 stone:             251 lbs / 17 st 13 lbs / 113.85 kilo

250 lbs / 20 lbs lost:               250 lbs / 17 st 12 lbs / 113.40 kilo

10 kilo lost:                             248 lbs / 17 st 10 lbs / 112.47 kilo

10% loss (27 lbs):                   243 lbs / 17 st 5 lbs / 110.22 kilo

Under 110 kilo:                       242 lbs / 17 st 4 lbs / 109.77 kilo

2 stone lost:                            242 lbs / 17 st 4 lbs / 109.77 kilo

240 lbs / 30 lbs lost:               240 lbs / 17 st 2 lbs / 108.86 kilo

Farewell to 17 stone:             237 lbs / 16 st 13 lbs / 107.50 kilo

BMI Below 40:                        232 lbs / 16 st 8 lbs / 105.23 kilo

230 lbs / 40 lbs lost:               230 lbs / 16 st 8 lbs / 105.23 kilo

15% loss (41 lbs):                   229 lbs / 16 st 5 lbs / 103.87 kilo

3 stone lost:                            228 lbs / 16 st 4 lbs / 103.41 kilo

20 kilo lost:                             226 lbs / 16 st 2 lbs / 102.47 kilo

Farewell to 16 stone:             223 lbs / 15 st 13 lbs / 101.15 kilo

Under 100 kilo:                       220 lbs / 15 st 10 lbs / 99.79 kilo

220 lbs / 50 lbs lost:               220 lbs / 15 st 10 lbs / 99.79 kilo…

And so on… you get the picture.

I’m quite visual about these things, and I think it’s great to have your mini milestones printed out and put up somewhere, perhaps in your own private space. It’s a good feeling to score a line through another, and another, on your journey downwards.

I don’t make a big song-and-dance about every single mini milestone on my list and in any case you’ll have noticed that here and there, one milestone sits right on top of another. I’m hopeless with kilos too – I’m a stones and pounds girl – but I think even I will acknowledge slipping below 100 kilos. The key milestones for me have been the stones lost, the round pounds lost, the 10% and then 15% weight loss (I’m teetering on the edge of that one right now), and, best of all, falling beneath that morbid BMI 40 marker. I’m also seriously focused on the big round 50 lbs loss figure (which sits right on top of the equally significant under 100 kilo milestone for me) – mainly because I’ve never managed to lose more than 49 lbs in any past weight management campaign, even though I’ve needed to.

These mini milestones are quantitative and weight related. There are many other more qualitative ways to acknowledge progress towards a healthier weight. I might share some of mine in another post sometime. Meantime, I’d love to hear if you have any special mini milestones, weight related or otherwise.

The Bitter Truth about a Sweet Tooth

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For decades, losing weight has been all about cutting fat. ‘Official’ health guidelines directed us to ditch the full-fat milk in favour of semi- or better still, skimmed milk. Butter was demonised and we were told it was better for us to smear synthetic spreads across our bread. Low fat products filled the supermarket shelves and most of us were unaware that once the fat was excluded, in order to endow them with any taste, they had been packed full of… sugar. How is any of that better for us?

You’ll probably be aware that the official guidelines have recently undergone a seismic shift. Fats – especially good fats are IN, and sugar – despite the protestations of the food industry – is now OUT. Sugar has been rebranded the biggest dietary evil of our time.

Let me pin my colours to the mast here. I believe this to be absolutely true.

I’m not presenting myself as an expert on the matter. But I’ve been persuaded of the arguments and benefits by reading and learning from sources such as:

  • Pure, White and Deadly: How sugar is killing us and what we can do to stop it; by John Yudkin
  •  Sugar – The Bitter Truth; a lecture available here on YouTube, given by Robert Lustig
  • Fat Chance: The Hidden Truth About Sugar, Obesity and Disease; by Robert Lustig
  • Action On Sugar (website here) and Cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra (website here)

The arguments are, believe me, compelling. Sugar rewards you emotionally, but does nothing for your body, and it was undoubtedly a major factor in my weight gain – and that’s not even taking into account the whole diabetes issue and a host of other damaging outcomes. The information is all out there – Google it.

Some time ago I had already significantly reduced my intake of chocolate, mainly because I realised I was addicted and was consuming far too much on a far too regular basis. I know. I know. People think I’m mad, but for the last three years, I’ve eaten chocolate at only two times of the year, for a couple of weeks at Christmas and Easter. Four months ago, along with a host of other dietary changes, I resolved to cut it out altogether.  I took the decision not to re-introduce it for Christmas 2015.  I’d enjoyed having those two indulgent periods of the year to look forward to, but they had rarely lived up to expectations and I’d become aware that for me, chocolate no longer filled the emotional hole it was supposed to fill.

Cutting it out resulted in a substantial reduction in my sugar intake, but it wasn’t enough. I don’t like sweet pastries and I  don’t crave cakes particularly, but I have a weakness for biscuits/cookies, sweet cereals and a variety of confectionary.  I had the killer Sweet Tooth.

Ah… biscuits/cookies… If I had them in the house, I would easily eat 4 or 5 with every cup of coffee. When I stopped buying them, there were days when I would prowl the kitchen looking for something – anything – sweet to plug the gap. But that passes fairly quickly, although I do recall squeezing spoons of toffee sauce one evening!  But the truth is, the less of the sweet stuff you have around you, the easier it is not to consume it.  And once the cravings diminish, you’ll be amazed, and you’ll wonder how sugar ever had such a hold over you.

There were two sweet things that hung about for a little longer… (1) I struggled with a nice, healthy bowl of porridge – I couldn’t enjoy it without a big squeeze of Golden Syrup and (2) I was still consuming sweetened yoghurts. Neither of these seemed particularly bad to me (it’s amazing how you can delude yourself, isn’t it?) – after all, I was eating porridge, and yoghurt, wasn’t I?  But they had to go. Now I can enjoy porridge with a sprinkle of salt (yes, really!) and some blueberries or banana, and I’ve replaced sweetened yoghurts with my favourite creamy indulgence – Fage Greek Style (ahem, full fat) yoghurt, packed with friendly bacteria, which is utterly sublime.

What surprised me most was how both my compulsion and my taste for sweet things has gone. I don’t miss anything – and that amazes me. Cravings disappeared quickly and on the one or two occasions when I’ve had a small taste of sweet, out of politeness or because I didn’t want to be too pedantic about it, I’ve found the taste… not pleasant. Sweet is now… too sweet.  That, my friends, is massive – the fact that once you’re no longer slamming your taste-buds with a tsunami of sugar, they don’t cry out for it, and when they get it, they don’t much like it any more. Massive.

It’s become so obvious to me that we are trained from childhood and endlessly influenced by advertising and the media, to crave sugar and regard sweet things as treats.  Now there are savouries which I regard as treats – although my goal is to ‘treat’ myself with other things, not edibles.  But, as they say, it’s a journey.

I would encourage anybody to take a run at this. Like any addiction, it’s tough at first, but eliminating sugar has so many positive effects on the body, that it’s worth persisting.

I’m not, as I mentioned, totally pedantic about it. My focus was on eliminating the main sweetened food groups – cakes, biscuits, breads, cereals, confectionary, deserts, sweetened drinks and fruit juices (but NOT whole fruit) – and avoiding added sugar in processed or ready meals, mainly by avoiding processed or ready meals. Doh. If there is sugar here and there, as there is, say, in salad dressings and other condiments, I’m content to overlook this. But at a guess, I believe I must have eliminated 95% or more of added sugar from my life, and I’m happy with this.

The anti-sugar lobby began to find its voice last year. Now it must demand that food manufacturers lower the quantity of sugar in their products – and it can’t do that without support from the general public. It’s bound to take some time. I would urge you not to wait for the food industry to catch up. By far the easiest way to reduce your own sugar intake immediately is to turn you back on those highly sweetened products.

Oh, and one small piece of advice. If you decide to begin this process, don’t just put or throw away the sweet stuff in your cupboards… douse it with washing-up liquid first!

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.

Fat Girl Slim (eventually)

Breakfast at Denny's, January 2015. I know... I know...
Breakfast at Denny’s, January 2015. I know… I know…

These are my achievements in 2015:

  • I published my first novel
  • I kicked a lifelong sugar habit into touch
  • I have lost 35 surplus pounds (so far…)

The novel, Singled Out, came out in February and has sold modestly, as self-published novels are wont to do, but received some amazing reviews. Thank you, hugely, to all those readers who took the time and trouble to give their feedback so positively this year on Amazon and Goodreads.

Kicking the sugar habit began in September and was a gradual thing, no ‘cold turkey’ for me. But I’m confident I’ve now succeeded in eliminating all but the very occasional appearance of added sugar in one or two sneaky little places.  I’m going to blog on this in coming days because whether you’re overweight like I am or not, you should probably be consuming less sugar.

The serious attack on my surplus poundage also began in September, and at an average of just over 2lbs a week, I’m deliriously happy, quite beside myself, at this initial, steady and sustainable success. I’d chosen to believe for so long that as a middle-aged and largely sedentary woman, I was stuck with my wraparound flab for life. No so, it seems. But there is some distance yet to be travelled.

Regular readers will know I’ve been blogging for a while about the experience of writing fiction and navigating today’s publishing landscape. Then I started slipping in a few posts relating to Singled Out – the ups and downs of being single, Turkey, foodie matters and the psycho-side of life.

Now with my sights set on maintaining my new healthier lifestyle into 2016 and continuing to offload unwanted pounds, I’ll be blogging about my experience of turning around a lethargic, sugar-laden, poke-and-ping mindset and offering a few thoughts on the way the world at large is chewing over what it has branded “The Obesity Epidemic”.

When I sat down to think up a few topics, it took me about five minutes to get to 40. That surprised even me, especially since I’ve been struggling for months to think of what to write… about writing.

So this is not a blog about writing any more – at least for now. But I do hope you’ll stick with me through 2016 though, as it turns out I have a bit to say about the experience of developing positive addictions to healthy lifestyle habits, being overweight and losing it, and the whole horrible obesity debate.

I can’t be too triumphalist about it, because take a glance at the picture above (on holiday in Florida, a year ago and several months before the fun-and-games began) and you’ll realise that even 35lbs down, I still have a tonnage to deal with. But I’ve learnt some valuable lessons and changed some important things in the last four months; which means I can with reasonable confidence say that whilst this is neither the end, nor the beginning of the end, it is perhaps the end of the beginning.