I’ve been asked a lot over the last few days – “how do you stay motivated?” Seems a lot of us – myself included – are in the habit of starting a diet with the best of intentions, and with all the motivation in the […]
Month: August 2012
Wow. Just wow. I am completely, unspeakably overwhelmed to the huge response I’ve had to the article published yesterday on the Huffington Post about my weight loss story. If you haven’t read it, you can find it here – and I’d just like to take […]
This weekend two years ago, I could barely walk. Every morning, I’d wake up, strap my immobiliser brace on to one knee (or both, depending on the pain), grab my crutches, and hobble to the bathroom. Some days I’d have to knock back four different types of painkillers before I could even get out of bed.
Things were looking grim. I’d had three surgeries to fix my knees, but both I and my surgeon knew that my weight was making it near enough impossible to correct the issue. He never said so outright, but he’d alluded to it a couple of times – but having pretty much decided to myself that it was impossible to lose weight, I’d concluded that this was just how it was going to be for the rest of my life. Pain, pills, crutches. Rinse and repeat.
But when I moved house, I found myself uncomfortably close to a gym – and this weekend, two years ago, I decided to sign up. I’m not sure what I was expecting – but it certainly wasn’t anything like this.
Two years on, I’m now 170lbs. There is a whopping 41% less Katie than there was two years ago. I can’t be alone in thinking that’s pretty ridiculous, right?
And the thing is, my life has changed in so many crazy ways as a result, directly or indirectly, of my decision to lose weight. I can walk, for one thing – in fact, I can run if I need to, so I’m considerably better off in the event of a zombie invasion. And my attitude to pain is very different now. You don’t have as much knee surgery as I had without expecting to be in some pain forever – I’m like the bionic woman these days – but the strain on my joints is so reduced that the pain I do have, I can generally work through.
That said, I’m also a lot more in tune with my body now. I had so many issues related to my weight – from plantar fasciitis, to lower back pain, to stomach cramps, to a constant, unquenchable thirst, to name but a few – that the ‘new me’ feels pretty much invincible. I was in complete denial, at the time – no way would I have ever admitted that these problems were related to my weight – but now, there’s no avoiding it. I was ill because I was morbidly obese.
I’m admitting all these things on here not because I’m trying to make anyone feel bad about being overweight – but because I know, having had such an amazing response to this blog, that I am definitely not alone in having done that. It’s a lonely place to be, and it can seem pretty hopeless.
But it’s not.
Those first few weeks in the gym – when all I did was walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes (which at the time still felt pretty exhausting) and tentatively tried out the resistance machines (which I was actually pretty good at – carrying 290lbs on crutches does give you pretty good upper-body strength) – they were hard. The point of this programme is that it’s easy – and relatively, it is – but I was in a very bad state.
Against all odds, though, it worked.
I could probably be even further along than I am now – but I had a 9 month hiatus of lapsing back into eating badly and exercising less. I know now that was because I was still very much reliant on processed foods – ‘low fat’ ready meals, high sugar yogurts, and cereal bars, for instance – so it was all too easy to fall back into a sugary, fatty diet. But the thing is, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve tried and failed, or whether you’ve fallen off the wagon, or whatever you want to call it – you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start again.
Sure, it would’ve been easier had I not had to re-lose 20lbs, and had I had an extra 9 months of healthy living under my belt – but I’m happy to take the hit on that one and call it a valuable lesson. Because now I know that it really is mind over matter, and I know how to motivate myself to get back up and carry on.
Weight loss suddenly seemed easy for me the day I changed my thinking to focusing on the long-term, rather than expecting a quick fix. You can only lose this much weight by looking further into your future than just next week. Two years really isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things. It’s flown by, but at the same time, looking back on who I was when I first stepped into that gym… It seems like a whole different lifetime.
Which I guess it was – because the whole cliche of ‘it’s a lifestyle change’ rings true here.
If, two years ago, you’d told me my life would be this different… I’d probably have bashed you over the head with a crutch. You can do anything you put your mind to – but it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you stay focused on the long-term benefits – being healthier, happier, and able to live your life to the full – it’s totally possible to change your life.
So… Where do you want to be in two years time?
I have a confession to make: I’ve always been a little intimidated by feminism. Not because I didn’t agree with it, of course – I’ve just always been a bit afraid to engage in discussions about it, because most of the encounters I’d had with ‘proper’ feminists had seemed just a tad… Angry.
I realise now that part of the issue there was that I wasn’t confident enough in myself – as a girl, or as a woman – to feel like I could convincingly argue either way. Don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t against it, by any means. I love my rights as a woman, and I appreciate all that the ladies before me had done to make it so that I had the freedom to do what I want, and think what I want. That’s always been the case. But I’d just always felt that the discourses around feminism didn’t really apply to me.
I’m aware of the irony in the fact that losing weight has made me a feminist, because having the freedom to look and be the way you want to be is one of the central tenets of the feminist cause. But when I was obese, I felt myself defined more by my weight than by my gender. And when I was disabled, again, that outweighed the way I felt I was perceived – so in the order of things, I was disabled first, fat second, and a woman third. I know that in an ideal world, I wouldn’t be defined as a person by any of those things – but this world ain’t ideal, and we’ve got to work with what we’ve got. That’s why, for a long time, I didn’t feel like I could identify with feminism – because it just wasn’t about me.
Now, though, I’m neither obese nor disabled, and I realise that the way I live my life is determined more by my womanhood than it was before I lost weight – in ways which are both positive and negative.
It seems to me now that the road to fitness is littered with traps if you’re a woman. Firstly, the fact that weight, generally, seems to be equated with self-worth, means that how you feel about yourself on any given day can be all too easily determined by the number on the scales. This means that most people who start out on a weight loss journey are starting from a place of lowered self-esteem, and no concept of positive body image.
That’s because our culture seems to make it acceptable for us girls to snark and shame each other. I’m pretty sure the movie ‘Mean Girls’ was supposed to be ironic – but from my experience, all of us at one time or another have gotten involved in that sort of bitchiness, and it’s not doing us any good. As I said before:
I’d like to call time on ‘shaming’ of all descriptions – fat-shaming, thin-shaming, slut-shaming… What has it come to when all we ever do is try to bring each other down? No wonder our conceptions of body image are so skewed – and no wonder we’re all getting sick with everything from type 2 diabetes to anorexia. Nobody knows what they’re trying to achieve, but everyone’s safe in the knowledge that what they’ve got isn’t good enough.
We need to stop the negativity, and cancel out the attitude – because I swear, life is way more fun when we’re nice to each other. Promise. Because, to be honest, as girls, we’ve got bigger issues.
Conventional wisdom seems to dictate that if you’re a woman with weight to lose, you should be eating lettuce and necking Slim Fast. You should also be fantasizing about ice cream but NEVER EVER TOUCHING IT, and you probably ought to spend a few minutes a day pinching your stomach whilst gazing sadly into the mirror.
What you shouldn’t be doing, it would appear, is lifting weights.
When you first lift weights – as a woman, and, in my case, weighing 290lbs – it can be a very intimidating, and very lonely experience. And even to this day, I find myself made uncomfortable by certain men who feel the need to shout and grunt and crash their weights down. Especially when they’re lifting lighter weights than yours truly, yet acting like they’re the Incredible Hulk. ‘Scuse me while I shoot a disdainful look in their direction.
I wouldn’t switch my weight training for anything these days – there’s nothing more satisfying than being a strong woman, and, frankly, it feels amazing – but it took a long time for me to reach a point where I feel completely at home in the weights area. I’m quite lucky that, in my gym, it’s all very welcoming – but my experience of other gyms has been very, very different. Intimidating, even.
And when you leave the comfort of the gym, it gets worse. Before I lost weight, when I’d go out to a bar or club, I’d always find that – as the biggest girl in the group – I didn’t get a lot of male attention. And believe it or not, that was fine by me. I’d go out, I’d have a great time, and I’d take a nice sexy bag of chips with cheese and curry sauce home with me. Happy days.
I’m not kidding in the slightest, there – just so we’re clear. That’s infinitely preferable to the situation I’ve found myself in a handful of times since losing weight, wherein I’ll go out, I’ll have a great time as before – and, suddenly, I’ll find myself very uncomfortable indeed. I am by no means anywhere even close to the most attractive person in my group of friends, and I’m certainly not irresistible to men – but when you’re being ogled, groped or even maneuvered into a corner (!) it’s hard not to feel like you’re being singled out. And frankly, it freaks me out.
Which leads me to wonder – if I’d always been fit and healthy, and I hadn’t spent my formative years snuggled up in my fat blanket when I went out – a blanket that protected me from this sort of behaviour – would I be bothered by it? Or would I be used to it?
I mean… Is this sort of thing acceptable? And did I not get that memo because I was out buying a burger?
Now, in the interests of full disclosure: in 2011 – when I was still considerably bigger than I am now – I got mugged, and had my purse and passport stolen. It wasn’t a major crime, and I wasn’t really hurt, just shaken up – but I felt completely violated. Bearing in mind how much worse it could’ve been, I was lucky – but for a long time afterwards, I’d get anxious if I was on my own, and I’d feel uncomfortable in situations which, previously, wouldn’t have bothered me at all. I’m sure this is at least part of the reason my outlook has changed – because when you’re a woman, and you’re made in any way uncomfortable by an intimidating male figure, it does bring the gender divide right to the forefront of your mind.
However, since I’ve lost weight, I’ve been more aware of the way I’m treated by both men and women – and while I’d be lying if I didn’t say getting mugged hasn’t had some kind of effect on that, I’m pretty sure some of this stuff would’ve become apparent whether that had happened or not.
And what this makes me realise is that I’ve been lucky. I’ve gained a huge amount of self-confidence, happiness and strength over the last few years, so when I’m in a situation that requires me to be strong, I’ve got the resources to do that. But when I look back at my old self – she of little confidence, no sense of self-worth, and all too easily engaged on both sides of the snark-fence – I realise that there are still a hell of a lot of things that need to change.
Nobody should be defined by their weight, their gender, their looks, or their choice of weight – and no woman should ever, ever have to feel intimidated in any situation, be that in the gym, the street, or a club. But unless we make some pretty serious changes to the way we treat each other – girl to girl, woman to woman – we can’t make that happen.
We’ve got a lot of work to do. And that is why I’m a feminist now.
Because I’m super-cool (that’s a lie) and super-popular (another lie), I’ve had a very busy few weeks. I’ve been to Global Gathering, and I’ve been to leaving parties, birthday parties and just plain old regular parties. And you know what all these things have in […]
Up until relatively recently, I thought I could eat pretty much what I wanted, so long as I managed to stay within my calorie goal. After all, calorie counting is the key to successful weight loss. Right?
You’ll notice I’m using the past tense. I no longer think that.
I’ve always totally understood the ‘once you pop, you can’t stop’ thing – but I thought that was just a lack of will power on my part. However, I think you’ll agree I’ve established some ninja-class skills of will power by now – and yet, there are still things that I just cannot put aside for later. Things that are bad for me.
I don’t often give into temptation – at least, not the really bad ones, anyway. On the whole, I’ve lost my taste for super-sugary or salty foods in favour of the healthy flavours I’m now used to – but once a month, when the evil-womanly-demon takes over (you know what I mean)… God damn it. I want a cookie.
Unfortunately, one cookie is never the extent of it – which is why, generally, I try to resist the temptation. But I’ve noticed over the last few months that there’s a big variation in the ways I respond to certain ‘bad’ foods, depending on how processed they are. A slice of cake made by my Mum, for instance, goes a long way to satisfy the craving – I can have a slice, and be pretty happy that I’ve got all I needed. A mass-produced, processed-as-heck cookie?
Not so much. Give me one, and I’ll want two more. And still, I won’t be quite as satisfied as with the homemade equivalent.
So why is that?
Partly, it’s because my Mum is a damn fine baker…but I don’t think that’s the whole story. There’s just something about really processed foods that makes you need to go back for round two – and there are an increasing number of studies that lean towards the idea that there’s an addictive element in there that’s making us fat. This isn’t just a matter of enjoying the taste of your food, and wanting some more – this is a chemical thing:
Addiction “is a loaded term, but there are aspects of the modern diet that can elicit behavior that resembles addiction,” said David Ludwig, a Harvard researcher and director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Children’s Hospital Boston. Highly processed foods may cause rapid spikes and declines in blood sugar, increasing cravings, his research has found.
Education, diets and drugs to treat obesity have proven largely ineffective and the new science of obesity may explain why, proponents say. Constant stimulation with tasty, calorie- laden foods may desensitize the brain’s circuitry, leading people to consume greater quantities of junk food to maintain a constant state of pleasure.
That’s pretty scary, especially when it’s backed up with studies like this:
Psychologists at Princeton University began studying whether lab rats could become addicted to a 10 percent solution of sugar water, about the same percentage of sugar contained in most soft drinks.
An occasional drink caused no problems for the lab animals. Yet the researchers found dramatic effects when the rats were allowed to drink sugar-water every day. Over time they drank “more and more and more” while eating less of their usual diet, said Nicole Avena, who began the work as a graduate student at Princeton and is now a neuroscientist at the University of Florida.
The animals also showed withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, shakes and tremors, when the effect of the sugar was blocked with a drug. The scientists, moreover, were able to determine changes in the levels of dopamine in the brain, similar to those seen in animals on addictive drugs.
“We consistently found that the changes we were observing in the rats binging on sugar were like what we would see if the animals were addicted to drugs,” said Avena, who for years worked closely with the late Princeton psychologist, Bartley Hoebel, who died this year.
While the animals didn’t become obese on sugar water alone, they became overweight when Avena and her colleagues offered them water sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup.
A 2007 French experiment stunned researchers when it showed that rats prefer water sweetened with saccharine or sugar to hits of cocaine — exactly the opposite of what existing dogma would have suggested.
So, in just that one quote, we’re faced with a few points – sugar causes rats to binge, and gives them the DTs when it’s not available; high-fructose corn syrup causes them to be obese; and saccharine or sugar is preferable to cocaine, as far as rats are concerned.
Now, these are rats, not humans. But I’m pretty sure the science behind that part’s already been covered off. I’ll admit that I don’t know a lot about science, and I’m probably going to have to ask Matt nicely to help me explain this stuff better – but I can say from my own experience that I could eat, and eat, and eat Pizza Hut, and that while I’d struggle to get through 8 cups of water in a day, I could’ve easily downed a couple of bottles of fizzy pop when I was at my heaviest. Possibly even more.
I mean, I’m not kidding – my ex-boyfriend and I would order a takeaway that could feed a large wedding party, and then just eat to the point of wanting to throw up… Then we’d give it ten minutes and go back for more, despite the discomfort and absolute lack of pleasure in doing so. Not a good state of affairs.
And when I look back, I can mentally return myself to that nigh-on zombie state of just eating, barely even registering each mouthful, and certainly not really enjoying it. But there was something I got from that that seemed to ‘fill a hole’ psychologically. Now, it was a pretty crappy relationship – but I don’t think the entire problem there was emotional eating. It was compulsive.
With those sorts of behavioural patterns in mind, you can see why, when I first gave up eating processed foods, I hated it. I felt terrible. I had headaches, and I felt sick and depressed. Which, when you’re trying to make a positive change in your life, seems really rather uncalled for. But the thing is, I recognised it. I’ll be completely honest here – I’ve always been very good at acquiring bad habits. I’m an ex-smoker, and an ex-codeine addict (alas, two years on super-strong painkillers after my accident, and nobody warned me I’d get addicted to them – that wasn’t fun) and I’ve been through the mill to give both up.
So when I was giving up processed foods and was feeling very similar to how I felt when quitting opiates and nicotine, I had a very sudden (and pretty scary) realisation of just how much I’d come to depend on junk food. It took about three days to get past the worst of it, a week to start to feel normal(ish) again, and a couple of weeks in I felt better. Different, but better. Exactly like withdrawal.
What’s strange, though, is that it isn’t something I experience with unprocessed foods – even though I’m still eating a hell of a lot, and I’m a pretty good cook, if I do say so myself. I enjoy my food now more than I enjoyed those takeaways, or pretty much anything I was eating back then – but it’s a very different sort of pleasure. It’s cleaner, and it’s more satisfying – but I’m not completely free of it. Which is why, once a month, when the craving strikes, I’m very careful about what it is I go for. If I choose something mega-processed, I know I’ll have a few days after where I crave more of the same – but if I go for something that’s been minimally tampered with, I’ll enjoy it in the moment, ease the craving, and move on.
This really is just my experience talking – and everyone experiences food differently, I’m sure – but I do believe that you can pretty easily get addicted to junk food… Which returns me to the point about the calorie counting. Because if you’re sticking within your calorie goal, but making it up with sugary, salty, high-fructose-corn-syrupy foods, you’re going to find it more difficult to make your changes permanent ones, because these foods invite cravings and displace satisfaction – meaning no matter how much you eat, you’ll want more.
And given these foods tend to be pretty high in calories, you’re unlikely to be able to eat anywhere near as much as you want in the first place. Meaning you’re going to be miserable from the outset, and the whole ‘lifestyle change’ thing is going to get old pretty fast. I certainly couldn’t have lost the weight that I have without pretty much entirely cutting out processed foods – and I don’t think I’d be as happy as I am now without having done so, either. It’s a hard move to make – I’ve had to pretty much completely re-educate myself on the food front – but it’s worth it.
And now, I’m hungry – so excuse me while I go chef myself up a tasty breakfast!