Tuesday, 1 March 2011

One step forward, ten back

I was rather nicely asked to create a guest post for a terrific blogger called notsupermum. The theme was 'after so many failed attempts at dieting what finally worked for me'. If you're sick to the back teeth reading about dieting then step away from the page! If you want a great read then pop over to notsupermum, she's well worth the visit.

We’ve all been there, (okay not all but quite a few of us), you know, those times when your XXXL elasticised trousers are stretched beyond the call of duty, bursting at the seams, when you bemoan a muffin-top the size of a tractor tyre. A pained look in the mirror confirms your stomach needs a wheelbarrow to get you around and your backside enters a room a minute after the rest of your body. Buying the next size up - oh God, not again, really? Crap! - feels like an admission of abject failure and besides, you’re not even sure it exists in industrial strength elastic. You’re becoming documentary fat and dread the day the emergency services remove your upstairs window to wince you from your slovenly pit into a bariatric ambulance that sports a stiffened suspension, specialised hoists, wider than normal trolleys and stretchers manned by specially trained crews that more than likely trained in lifting wildebeest in preparation for the day, that you, need a trip to the hospital. I could certainly envisage the indignity of such an exercise and although I wasn’t quite there yet I couldn’t help but see my future panning out that way. Chances were though, that if I’d needed a trip to that place decked out with same sex wards, MRSA and medical staff in white coats, a trail of red wine and camembert cheese could have lured this old chubber there under her own steam and in record time without the help of the emergency services.

I’ve had my fair share of moments when life gave me a shot across the bow in a vain attempt to hammer home the state I was in; none more so than the time a pine chair collapsed underneath me as I reached to put the star on the top of the Christmas tree. That nanosecond between hearing a heart-stopping creak - clearly indicating the danger I was in - and the chair becoming a pile of expensive kindling, was merely enough for my finely honed survival instinct to kick in and tell me to grab anything, anything at all – just go for it for Christ sake - and in obeying a higher power clung to the Christmas tree in a futile attempt to minimise my fall to earth. The chair was beyond repair and the tree eventually restored to its former splendour, (minus a hundred or so pine needles in my now Porcupine like face), but the real casualty of the day was my pride.

Or there was the time a moulded plastic garden chair, to all intents and purposes, welded itself to my backside. Plonking my very ample rear-end into it in the high heat of the day then trying to extricate myself in a somewhat cooler evening had clearly rendered me tightly wedged as the plastic contracted to fit the shape of my arse. If only backsides contracted in the cold too - solidified fat, about as pliable as concrete. I can’t think why it hadn’t occurred to me that I was sporting four extra legs as I lurched awkwardly along a lengthy lawn for a much needed loo break but in retrospect being mullered on a bucket of red wine tends to dull the senses somewhat. Thankfully I am married to a soul mate with a gimlet eye for the unusual predicaments in which I sometimes find myself. His timely intervention in the manner of a rugby tackle to prise the chair off my arse drew a round of applause from our fellow dinner guests. It came to mind that perhaps nature had something to say about my ever expanding girth and that I should do something about it. Not so as it turned out.

There’s a multitude of reminders that you are fat and that for the love of God, something has to give, soon. The idea of being jammed firmly in a turnstile whilst the fire brigade worked to free me soon saw to it that I avoided venues where one of my worst fears might just materialise; air travel and trying to fit into those cattle class seats that a size zero model would be hard pushed to find roomy soon saw me opt to give air travel a miss. Being morbidly obese tends to give your fellow earthlings the idea that your IQ must be in single-figures-eejit-level and thus talk at you accordingly and as a consequence life is much less annoying if you chose not to walk amongst your fellow earth travellers altogether.

An invitation to a social event requiring the merest semblance of a smartly put together outfit would at once depress me for my wardrobe consisted of dreary washed out voluminous tops and elasticated trousers - a sort of chav bag lady chic if you will. I longed to wear stylish outfits with eye wateringly high feck-me-pumps that didn’t ache five minutes into wearing them because my feet simply weren’t up to the job of supporting the equivalent of the prop forward of a rugby team. Call me vain but walking as though you are in severe need of a bi-lateral hip replacement probably gives the impression of an ungainly and unpractised transvestite on his or her first outing in public.

A fevered trip around the shops sees you vainly shop for anything - truly just something, please God - that might make you look less hideous. There’s nothing more utterly despairing as the sight of yourself in a series of changing room mirrors with turbo charged lighting, fit only for a football pitch, to highlight every hateable feature magnified tenfold to make you scuttle home to hide and send your apologies with a heavy heart at another fun evening missed. You’re left with the unrelenting thought that no matter what you try, you simply cannot polish a turd.

I could go on and on about these sorts of things, the moments you should take on board where every ounce of humiliation adds up to a weighty chunk of reminders as to why you should start a diet. No matter that you are imperilling your future - for heaven knows there aren’t too many morbidly obese people wobbling on the planet in their 60’s - sometimes the message just gets lost in translation to your fug filled brain. Worse still, the more you acknowledge on some level that you may not make the next big birthday, then the bigger the task seems and the more impossible and elusive success seems to be. I confess that I tried many times to kick start a diet only to be thwarted by a stupor so intense as to render me incapable in all things dieting or exercise.

Hindsight being the only exact science, I can see now that a combination of severe menopausal symptoms, the associated deep black depression that I finally sunk into and over imbibing in copious amounts of red wine and high fat foods presented me with a series of complications that I had neither the intellectual capacity nor the will to unpick and knock down one by one. I was mired in one big complicated and confusing mush of disablers that made me take ten steps back for every hard-won step forward. I’d lost heart at so many failed attempts that had I been offered the chance of a life saving diet and being savaged by a pack of rabid wolves, I’d have ticked the rabid wolves box.

I’d like to say that I woke up one day and had a moment of such clarity that I immediately embarked on the diet that I follow now that has seen me lose six stones in weight. There simply wasn’t one obvious trigger that spurned me on, more a series of moments of desperation in the half light of dawn as depression and paranoia ravaged me whilst I bargained with a higher power to help drag me out of the morass. When you find your life has shrunk to the four walls of your home there’s more than enough time for serious introspection, more time for suicidal thoughts to become more graphic and frightening in their intensity. When you are lost in a hinterland of misery there are only two solutions and with my back against the wall, some seismic shift took place. Something intangible buried deep inside me cracked open in a gesture of self preservation.

To borrow that well known phrase from the wise old owl Confucius, a journey of a thousand miles starts with but a single step. I made some quick gain changes in my life such as knocking the nightly alcohol on the head. Himself and me had been enjoying the good life of semi retirement to extremes and to the point I began to wonder that we might need a season ticket to the Priory. Thankfully, neither of us is condemned to living life under a bridge supping a bottle of Buckfast cleverly concealed in a brown paper bag – we were simply greedy, not addicted. Coming off HRT and adopting a healthier lifestyle in small stages released me from the pits of depression. I went on to lose 28lbs in one year but gained 7 of those back over the festive season of 2009.

I was mortified at the gain, in a blind panic that I was backsliding with all my positivity dashed. This was typical ‘me’ of late, one step forward ten back. My fantasies of being ‘normal’ and stepping back out into the world seemed to be slipping away from me. Then one morning in February 2010 I inadvertently came across an article on a series of eight women who had lost substantial amounts of weight. Timing in life is everything. Such an inspirational piece spurned me forward and after recruiting two girlfriends just ripe for a bit of encouragement, joined up to the Rosemary Conley diet and fitness club. The rest they say is history.

It’s been a rollercoaster of fun and hard work but one that’s paid dividends. I’ve rejoined the real world and my life feels charmed. I’m no longer tipping the scales at a weight that horrified me; my body image has improved immensely and in a world where identity and body image is key to how you are judged it was crucial for my self esteem to lose the lard and all the negative connotations that came with it. In many ways I care less for others opinions and the freedom that middle age brings but ‘fatism’ is the last bastion where ridicule is acceptable, encouraged even. When you are struggling with depression and other compounding factors you want to scream that it isn’t your fault that the simple act of brushing your teeth is a mammoth task let alone dieting. Not everyone understands that it isn’t always a matter of taking control and knocking yourself into shape but then we are facing record numbers of obesity levels in the Western world and not all of those cases are medically related; an epidemic in the making whilst millions die through third world poverty. Peer pressure has its place in normalising society but when it’s delivered with disgust and cruelty it is a measure of the person delivering it. My driving force was the need to regain my life before it was prematurely snatched from me. The acceptance of my peers is an added bonus, not the central core of the journey to improve myself.

So after so many failed attempts what was it about this time that worked? I guess it was a mixture of desperation, timing and an inherent survival instinct that kicked in when the chips were down. I reached a point of no return and whilst I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, it did the trick for me. I’m giddy with excitement that I may have cheated death for a few more years but there’s always that bus with my name on it............

Monday, 17 January 2011

Almost half the woman I was......

Well, here I am again after a long sojourn; too long for me and not long enough for others I suspect. But I come back a renewed woman some six stones, (84lbs), lighter than I have been of late. With himself’s magnificent weight loss of 3 stones, (42lbs), we are now officially one person lighter between us. There is no longer the equivalent of three people sharing a bed, just us two delighting in the extra room with no more narky spats over whom has more of the king size duvet that had its work cut out to cover our mammoth combined girth. If we’d expanded any further we’d have had to stitch two together for the sake of a peaceful night life. We’ve done our bit for the environment too, our reduced petrol consumption on car journeys reflects the loss of that ‘third’ person we used to drag everywhere with us; a great all-round result; easy on the ozone layer and even easier on our wallets.

I still have some weight to lose but that is a work in progress. I’m no longer sickened by looking at myself in mirrors; even the full length ones harbour no sheer horror for me anymore. My reflection astonishes me and please don’t consider me vain, I like what I see. Gone is the bloated face of the depressed woman that I was a year ago. My skin is glowing and my face radiates good health with few of the dreaded wrinkles I expected to be ravaged with. Skinny jeans show off my slimmed and toned legs that a year of exercise has helped to shape. Gravity has gone to town on my mammary glands and I am left with what only could be described as rats wriggling in hanging socks but the application of a jolly good over the shoulder boulder holder is a miracle worker. The muffin top has been drastically reduced and God what a revelation it is to feel my ribs once more. They’re not quite xylophone playing perfect yet but the torturous stomach crunches continue unabated in my quest for near perfection, hah!; dream on old girl.

It takes time to catch up with a new image of yourself. Those moments where I unintentionally catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror, a shop window or a photograph I was unaware had been taken still leave me in awe of how far I have come. They are even more revealing than the staged moments where still, I steel myself, before stepping in front of a mirror to critique my appearance and progress so far. Mrs P, my best friend of six years, whom has only ever known me overweight still marvels at my weight loss and complete change of appearance. She is unfailingly generous in her encouragement and compliments; those golden little nuggets that make all the effort worthwhile and keep you going when you might be just mad enough to quit. Other good friends and neighbours have been cheerleaders too; such goodwill makes me smile with utter joy that they care enough to care.

A year ago I needed an oxygen mask from the minor effort of climbing the stairs. I was desperately unfit and my blood pressure was 205 over 120. Today I am fitter than I have ever been thanks to daily hour long sprints with the dogs and interval training in our home gym. My blood pressure has returned to normal with Cholesterol levels following suit. I no longer ache and groan when I get out of a chair; so stiff that I used to shuffle like an octogenarian. And sometimes it is the simplest of things that non fatties take for granted such as putting on my own socks without the aid of a helper that drives home the distance I have come. That act alone used to leave me huffing and puffing with a red face like a smacked arse to boot. And speaking of boots, not only can I get my legs into normal sized welly boots but I can tuck my jeans in too with space to spare.

In so many ways my life has turned around, gone back to what it used to be. I no longer feel I am on the outside looking in, a witness to my life instead of a participant. Being morbidly obese seemed to give strangers the right to treat me with disdain by showing their disgust at my lack of self control. Others looked past me or ignored me as I became increasingly invisible. One particular incident sticks in my mind when a rather unpleasant woman made an offensive and clearly for my ears remark to her daughter then sat sniggering at her great wit. For just a moment I was banjaxed at her spectacular audacity and bad manners before a mixture of deep shame and anger overwhelmed me. No doubt the sight of me entering a cafe for lunch gave her the right to suggest that perhaps I should give this event a miss given I’d clearly eaten enough at some point already. As I digested my lunch and what had just happened, to say that I felt worthless, would be to understate the effect her remark had upon me.

As a result of moments like this I retreated to my lair to lick my wounds and remained deeply entrenched particularly as my depression intensified. But there is a wonderful upside to this; as I have re-emerged back into society, old acquaintances that haven’t seen me for a long time now take a double look when they realise it’s me but only half of the me that was there before. And I no longer shy away from the occasional treat of entering a cafe or an all-you-can-eat-restaurant because I assume people are thinking, “shite, we’d better get to the food before old lard arse does or there will be bugger all left to eat”; the sight of my once morbidly obese frame could start a stampede in an instant.

Before the combination of the menopause, ageing, the hedonistic lifestyle we led and finally depression contributed to my massive weight gain I had always been never more than a few pounds overweight and like the individual who insulted me publicly I could be judgemental about obese people. I think that now I’ve hobbled a mile or two in a truly fat person’s body I am certainly more understanding of the reasons people may just find themselves in such situations and how massive a challenge it can seem to extricate yourself from it. In the thick of it, it’s more than an uphill struggle, it’s an insurmountable mountain to climb. The support of himself, good friends and every single compliment and words of encouragement are the nuggets of success. I was in enormous pain in the early days of exercising, certain I needed hip replacements, convinced that my heart would give up if I broke out in a sweat. But I started slowly with walking the dogs daily and upped the pace as time and fitness levels allowed. I never believed that walking could make me as fit as I have become. It was only when some months later that I dared use the gym equipment I was astonished at how I could do 30 minutes rowing, followed by 30 minutes on the cross trainer. I tried to in the earliest of days only to be defeated after a torturous minute of effort that left me exhausted, deflated and wary of using them again until my confidence had grown.

So here I am, picking up with dearly missed old friends again and enjoying life to the full. My only real dilemma these days is what to wear. Who are my reference points for fashion when I’m in my early fifties and have emerged from a cocoon where my daily uniform consisted of shapeless sacks merely to cover my shameful shape?; when does something like skinny jeans become mutton dressed as lamb? Well, if it’s a choice between wearing cargo pants, or as my friend calls them baby elephant pants, old lady crimpolene type trousers and skinny jeans, I’ll stick with the jeans for the moment. I really couldn’t care less what the world thinks; if I can carry it off for a while yet if just to show I’ve lost all that weight then I will do. After all, aren’t the fifties the new forties? And let’s face it if you can get away with murder these days, (well almost), I certainly intend to make the most of what time I’ve got left as the new improved moi.