As most people who know me will vouch for, I used to be bigger than I am now. In fact, I can never actually recall being this weight/size in my entire adult life…hey, perhaps not even in my life at all (I don’t think I stood on the scales pre-age 13 but I guess I must have been at some point!). I now find myself somewhere I have always wanted to be but never imagined I would be weight-wise, which has been quite a personal journey for me on many levels. It is not without its issues and I still face my own personal challenges with food (more on that later), but I wanted to share how I got here, in the hope that it might help encourage others
I was never a skinny child, but I certainly wasn’t fat. I was cute and round-faced in my school photo aged 5. By the time I reached senior school I was carrying a bit of what my Mum called ‘puppy fat’. But the problem was I never quite lost it. Through senior school, college and starting work in London I always felt bigger than I wanted to be, especially in comparison to friends, and when I moved out of home and into my first flatshare in London I ballooned (I blame living next door to a 24 hour garage!).
I was often thinking about diets and devising eating plans, and was always an ‘I’ll start next Monday’ kind of girl…constantly vowing that this week would be ‘the week’. So I knew what I wanted, but it never happened. I hadn’t tried every diet going, but I had given a few a go – Slimming World (lasted a week), Cambridge ‘shakes’ diet (lasted very nearly 48 hours), Gillian McKeith’s ‘You Are What You Eat’ de-tox (I don’t think I even started). The only one that ever worked for me – that I enjoyed and managed to stick to – was Weight Watchers. I first did it back in 2005 in the three month lead up to going travelling. That was my goal, and back then I was at my heaviest of 13st 9lbs. I didn’t feel that weight, and barely believed it when they stood me on the scales. It’s hard to admit it even now. But I managed to lose 19lbs before I went travelling, and kept it off for the year that I was away. I may even have come back a few lbs lighter. Since my return in early 2007 I just kind of floated around the 12st mark. Now, I know this is by no means morbidly obese, but I was definitely overweight for my 5’4” frame and I was not happy about it. As they say, you know in yourself if you feel comfortable in your skin, no matter what other people tell you.
I had all kinds of excuses: I loved my food too much, dieting was too hard/restrictive, I even had a conversation with a friend where we agreed (and truly believed) that we were just not the kind of people that would ever be smaller, we were just meant to be that size. We sat back, satisfied, and cut ourselves another slice of chocolate fudge cake. It wasn’t that I ate really badly all the time, it was just lack of consistency and regard for what I was eating, and probably for myself if truth be told.
At the start of 2011, so a little over two years ago, I thought the new year was a good excuse to try to lose some weight. Again. I dug out my old Weight Watchers books, thought I’d give it a go on my own, and if it didn’t work that way then I would sign up to a class as I had done before and try their new points system (I was/am still in old points mode). When I started in January 2011 I was an uncomfortable 12st 7lbs. I had no expectations of what weight I wanted to get to, no goal or incentive to aim for like a holiday or special event (my 30th had been and gone). But this time it worked.
I have come up with many reasons why it worked this time round – I had bought my first house a year previously so was feeling pretty settled, work was going well, there was nothing major going on. And whilst I have no doubt that these were contributing factors, I think it was more a case of being in the right frame of mind for it, finally thinking ‘enough is enough’…I had been unhappy for so long, for most of my teens and all throughout my 20s, and didn’t want to waste any more time. So I worked out my points allowance, found a notebook in which to keep a food diary each day (which I still have and write in every day) and started out. I soon settled back into the Weight Watchers routine and a fairly hefty 7lbs loss in my first week incentivised me to carry on (admittedly I had eaten A LOT over Christmas in the lead up to my first weigh in, and had weighed myself at the end of the day to make sure I was at my very heaviest!).
Over the weeks and months the weight loss of course didn’t keep up at such speed. Sometimes I’d stay the same, and sometimes this would last for weeks on end with no shift, but I persevered. Very occasionally I put on a little bit, but little by little the numbers on the scales went down. It was around this time that my Dad and I started training to undertake the ‘Yorkshire Three Peak Challenge’ so we were doing a fair bit of walking, and this definitely helped.
I stuck to my points allowance rigidly (being the control freak that I am this approach totally suits me)…and as part of my plan I allowed myself one night off a week where I could treat myself and not worry about points. I could have a take away, a bottle of wine, chocolate (sometimes all three!), whatever I wanted, and just enjoy it and revert back to my plan the following day. I looked forward to my nights off, they got me through the week and gave me something to look forward to.
I got to 11.5st and was pleased, so thought I would see if I could dip into the 10s at all. A few months later I did. So I thought I’d see if I could get to 10.5st. I did. I took it in half stone increments, always pleased with any loss, but when I didn’t I accepted that maybe this was the weight I was meant to be and would stick at. By this point I was only weighing myself once every couple of weeks, more to keep on any eye on having not ‘accidentally’ put on half a stone. For the first time in my life I wasn’t just happy with my weight, but I wasn’t bothered by what the scales said. Never in my wildest imaginings did I think I would get into the 9s. But around a year ago I found myself at 9.5st. Over the next six months I slowly made my way to 9st, and have stayed around that mark, or slightly under it, until this day (which is well within the healthy weight band for my height and build).
So, there you have my weight loss journey. I know I didn’t have a massive way to go compared to some people, but it is something that I had always struggled with and it has been the biggest personal achievement for me. What worked for me may well not work for others for various reasons, but I do think it’s about finding what works for you and finding something that you can sustain for life, something that doesn’t feel like ‘a diet’, that you enjoy the things you eat every day. I try to eat a nutritionally balanced diet where I can but I realise the new Weight Watchers plan is more balanced than the previous one that I follow.
The ‘top tips’ that worked for me are:
• Nights off – I could have not lasted without my nights off. Now that I am maintaining my weight rather than losing, I give myself a couple of nights off a week and still very look forward to them. I can plan nights out around them so I know that I don’t have to worry about counting/going over my points. On the whole this really works for me – as long as I get back to my plan the next day it has never been a problem. Perhaps I could have lost it a bit quicker if I had stuck to it rigidly every day, but, a) that would have made me miserable and therefore I probably wouldn’t have stuck at it, and b) this has always been about devising a plan that I can personally stick to – and I am all for the odd night off and indulging in some good food/drink
• Food diary – to this day I still write down the points for everything I eat. Every day. This suits me as I am organised and like to feel ‘in control’
• Letting go – despite the previous point about feeling in control, there was also an element of the opposite involved. This was almost an unconscious ‘switch’ that I didn’t realise until I looked back on it – once I had lost my first half stone I decided that it didn’t then matter if the scales moved or not, but still followed my Weight Watchers points and trusted that if I was meant to lose a bit more weight then I would do
• Exercise – I am not an exercise lover in the slightest, but it does kinda help the process. As in my previous Walking & Wellbeing blog, I get a lot from walking and try to do that regularly. But exercise has never been my most enjoyable pastime and I find it a struggle unless I have a goal to aim for. But if you can find something you enjoy then definitely try to incorporate it into your new lifestyle
• Being strict – as I mentioned earlier, I am a bit of a control freak, and I was (and still am) very strict on sticking to my points. But I know what I can and can’t have, that I am eating enough, and what snacks I can have as treats when I am having a hard or hungry day. I see it as doing a disservice to myself and all my hard work if I do go above my points…so why would I want to make myself feel bad by doing so?
I mentioned at the beginning (which seems like a long time ago now, right?!) that I still face my own personal challenges with food. I was definitely not under the illusion that losing weight would solve all my problems, but for a long time I still felt like that ‘bigger Sharon’ with all her hang ups about body image. I guess it takes a while for your brain to catch up that you are lighter when you are used to being overweight for most of your life. So the confidence thing has taken a while in coming, but I am getting there.
I also worry that I am a little over obsessed at times…J still stick to a certain number of points in order to maintain the weight I am at (which is part of the lifelong change I realised I was undertaking at the beginning of the process), but there are still things that I don’t know the points value of, so I can tend panic when I am out or am offered food by someone. I generally overcome this by being organised and taking my own food to things where possible. Not to friend’s houses when invited for dinner of course! But at a conference of a meeting where there is food provided I will always bring my own lunch so that I know where I’m at. Sometimes people comment or query it, but mostly they just let me get on with it. If it is something spontaneous I usually either make it a night off or just eat what I think is okay and get back to my normal routine the next day. I used to sabotage diets so often by thinking ‘well I’ve ruined it now, so I may as well carry on’, but I realise now that the odd slip up is natural and it doesn’t need to mean the end of your good work.
Finally, I do still suffer guilt. And this is something that I am still yet to fully overcome. Occasionally on a night off I’ll feel a bit guilty about what I have consumed, but moreso if I’m away for a few days or, more recently, over Christmas where I give myself time off to enjoy my food, knowing that I will get back on it. That feeling of having over eaten leads to guilt, and then panic that I might start putting the weight back on or not be able to get back on track (I don’t want to go back ‘there’!). But perhaps I need this edge of guilt and panic to keep me on the straight and narrow…?
I hope that I can maintain this weight and lifestyle now for the rest of my life. I have done so for over two years so hopefully have formed some healthy habits and behaviours, so fingers crossed making a lifestyle choice rather than going down the ‘quick fix’ route has done me some favours. I have definitely learnt some valuables lessons and found out a fair few interesting things about myself. And I hope that, along the way, I may have inspired others that if I can do it then they can too.
Until next time, love and Weight Watchers points, sm x