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............