I have always been overweight, or at least that is my belief. Yet when I look at photos of me as a child, I was not overweight. So where did this self image come from? I wonder what impact this has had on me throughout my life as I have battled with my weight since my 20’s.
If I look at old photos of myself as a teenager I am wearing school shirts that look like tents and skirts that just hung giving me no shape. Completely unflattering and my confidence suffered. This was the fashion and we were all dressed the same, but why did I think I was fat?
My Dad’s nickname for me was “big bum” and “an eclipse” would happen whenever I bent over. Something said in jest but 30 years later I remember these comments like they were yesterday. Not great for building self-esteem in a teenage girl.
I cannot help but wonder where the negative self image came from, and if this was part of the reason that I put on weight. A sort of self fulfilling prophecy.
Let us not get ahead of ourselves, I did not suffer with an eating disorder. I just think it is important that I acknowledge how I got myself to a size 20 and 107KG from being a fairly average sized child. To change my adult self I need to understand and accept how I got here in the first place. Warts and all.
The following factors to my weight gain and subsequent yo-yoing are probably not exhaustive. I am sure people that know me well could help flesh this out a bit!
Issue Number 1 – The diet.
My diet was not great as a kid. We ate a lot of sweets and crisps. Fizzy drinks were the normal. I have the fillings to show for it. We also ate a lot of Fray Bentos Pies, Corned Beef, Findus pancakes, Homepride curry sauce, homemade chilli and Bolognese. I can still picture the roast dinners we ate every Sunday. I hated brussel sprouts and would hide them under the super thick gravy. Still not a fan of a roast dinner!
As an adult my diet has varied but take-aways have usually been a feature.
I eat almost everything, I have a sweet tooth and a savoury tooth. I really try not to discriminate.
Issue number 2 – Relationship with food.
I honestly cannot remember when I started to use food as a personal reward system. “Hey Sarah, you’ve had a great day, here have some chocolate”. Or as a comfort for the bad days, the sunny days, the rainy days……. I have a million reasons to indulge.
What is even worse is the secret eating. When you have told everyone that you are on a diet and so sneak food into your stomach in the car where no one can see you. I feel pretty idiotic just writing that.
I also get weird food envy. I am not talking about in a restaurant when someone’s food looks better than mine. I mean, when Paul has a bigger plate of food than I do I get quite envious. If he eats something yummy then I want it too. This is always completely irrational and totally a problem in my own head.
Issue number 3 – Exercise
I was always pretty active as a child, swimming, bike rides, random long walks with my friends. These were the days where “playing out” was what you longed for. My friends and I would walk for miles across town, sometimes running to meet the curfew. This stopped when I got my first car and life took on a different slant.
In my 20’s I dabbled with exercise, completed a few challenges but there was a lack of consistency and I probably rewarded myself with food!
Issue number 4 – No self control
Our relationships with food, exercise and body image are formed way back in these childhood years. My Mum was really slim back then, with an ability to take it or leave it when it came to food. My Dad was pretty huge, with an attitude of if it is there I will eat it! I appear to take after my Dad!
I will always grab that biscuit in a meeting. Cannot help myself. I rarely have self control if I am presented with something yummy. The smaller, the better. That way you can kid yourself that it won’t matter.
Issue number 5 – Eat everything
It was quite usual to be told that I couldn’t leave the table until I had eaten all of my dinner. Classic 1980’s parent phrase. My childminder made me sit for what felt like hours in front of some very dodgy beefburgers that smelt rotten. If I close my eyes I can still see the plate of food now, I can visualise the kitchen and the shape of the table and chairs.
This food waste issue has become deeply embedded in me as a grown up. I have a problem with leaving food or wasting food. I will eat out of date food and force food down no matter how full I feel. I say that about eating even when I am full but I actually do not think I have that full up button. It is true that I eat even if I am not hungry and being very honest with myself I cannot actually remember the last time I felt hunger.
Issue number 6 – Alcohol
I have always enjoyed an alcoholic beverage and all the late night and day after snacking that goes along with it.
I would definitely describe myself as a social drinker as I can probably count on both hands the number of times that I have had a drink alone. Unfortunately for my waistline I have the pleasure of having lots of friends who enjoy the same things that I do.
Issue number 7 – Lifestyle
My lifestyle includes food and drink. I would describe them as things that I am actively passionate about. Time with friends is usually dinner and drinks.
I am sure that some of my slim friends can identify with some of the same issues that I have faced. Maybe not all and perhaps that is why they are slim. I definitely know more than one person who has battled their weight and won.
So where did it go so wrong for me? I’m an intelligent person and understand that calories in needs to be less than calories out.
So as I said, I wasn’t a large child. I just thought that I was. When I went to university and had the opportunity to control my own diet I became lighter and fitter. I walked everywhere, danced like a lunatic until the small hours and my diet started to change. My new friends introduced me to foods that were not the norm at home. I was in the best shape of my life.
Even so, it was during my early 20’s that I started my first fad diets, the one I remember involved a lot of beetroot, tuna and hot dog sausages! Oh what my poor friend Liz had to put up with! I may have been at my slimmest but my relationship with myself was not good and my food choices were questionable.
After university I returned home, I got a car, I ate a lot of the wrong foods and I drank and I had a sedentary job. THE WEIGHT PILED ON. Seriously, I gained weight like a goodyear blimp.
When it came to food I didn’t possess a full switch. I would just eat until my plate was empty. Portions were huge. Snacks were plentiful.
I piled on the pounds. I went from a size 12 to a size 20. From the age of 21 to 28 I just grew. I tried a few diets, Slimfast, Atkins, Weightwatchers. I lost weight on all of them but would always revert back to the old habits and the weight would come back. Pretty standard stuff for anyone with weight problems.
I would make all of the excuses. I would compare myself to my slim friends who have slim families and blame my genes. I would blame my metabolism. I think I may have even said that I had big bones! I would definitely say that “it isn’t fair”. It seemed so easy for my friends, some of whom have never had to battle with their weight.
You would probably describe me as a classic yo-yo dieter with all of the excuses.
When my 30th birthday was approaching I was single, a recently qualified teacher and I wanted to settle down. This was my most successful visit to Weightwatchers, I lost a few stone and it was at this stage that I met Paul. I was weighing about 12.5 stone (80KG) and wearing a dress size 14-16.
We were both slim, and for the first few months I managed to lose another few pounds but then it went downhill. Paul and I have a similar relationship with food. If we are celebrating then we will reach for the food and wine, if we have had a bad day then we will reach for the food and the wine.
It's fairly easy to see that we would both put on weight, plus we were happy. Which makes it all OK……
The catalyst for me came 4 years ago when Paul and I were recently engaged and we went to 2 weddings. The issue with weddings is that you see photographic evidence of how bad you look. Minus any filter, the heavily posed pouty, clever posed selfie shots. You are laid bare and the reality was that I was at my heaviest. I was in the region of 107KG, a very definite size 20+ and had a wedding to plan and look forward to.
All I kept saying “I don’t want to be a fat bride”. I really couldn’t believe that I had let myself get so big. Mirrors were not my friend, clothes shopping was hell. It was best to not look down.
I worked hard to change my diet, I increased my exercise and drank less alcohol. Motivation was high! I lost weight and managed 92KG for our wedding day. Yay celebration, that’s a significant loss of over 2 stone. Not at all what I had hoped for but it would have to do.
I did not maintain my loss and this soon became 100KG again. So the diet began (again) and I played around between 95 and 100kg for year.
Then something changed. Paul was in a similar position, we are terrible influences on one another or a brilliant support, depending on the situation! I think Christmas 2018 was the low point for us, I think we often have a tendency to underestimate the impact of our size on our mental health. At this stage we were working every hour available building a business, I was also working full time as a Head of department in a secondary school, we had no time and no energy. We were both very overweight and struggling through the day to day.
In hindsight I think it was Paul who started the change. He approached it from the angle of self improvement. We started making changes to our lifestyle, each change led to another…….
I am now knocking on the door of 43 and this is my version of my mid life crisis. Change is not easy, especially after a lifetime of getting it all wrong, knowing that you are getting it wrong and feeling powerless and lost, not knowing how to make things better, how to make positive and sustainable change.
It was February
We cut the sugar out of our diet. (issue number 1)
We cut alcohol out of our diet. (issue number 6)
All meals were cooked from scratch, natural and organic where possible. (issue 1)
Everything is planned and organised in advance (issue 5 and 7)
I ate all of my calories between 11am and 3pm. (issue 4)
Exercise became part of the daily routine (issue 3)
I lost weight, very quickly at first.
From February to July I went from 97.1KG to 81.9KG, that’s over 15 stone to about 12.5 stone. From a size 18 to a size 14 – 16. I am back to wearing the clothes that I wore 10 years ago when I first met Paul.
People keep telling me how good I look, asking how I lost the weight. It is flattering and I am loving my new (old) wardrobe that I have been storing for 10 years waiting to fit back into it again.
This is not the end of my journey, those issues are still my issues. I have some of them under better control but this battle has only just begun. This is my new lifestyle and I need to keep going. I am still medically obese and I cannot wait to be merely “overweight”!
Watch this space!