My Weight Loss Story - A Journey from Self-Hate to Self-Love
Wendy here! You may have seen my previous blogs about weight management and all the little things we do, say or believe that can compound weight problems, from the media to what we choose to put in our mouths (and for what reasons). Well, as promised, I wanted to share with you my personal story, with all the ups-and-downs and truths involved.
I didn’t want to call this a weight loss success story because I don’t like the idea that people fail at weight loss. Diets fail, not people. This is my very personal weight loss and subsequent weight management journey. Some people know a little, some people know a lot but I have never shared the whole story before publicly so deep breath and here goes – strap yourselves in sports fans and early apologies for some swearing that might appear…..
I have wrestled with weight and my body image for my entire life. I was a chubby kid, I was a chubby teenager and I turned into a chubby adult. At school I can remember being called “Petunia”. Just in case you don’t know who this is, Petunia is Porky the Pig's girlfriend. At least the kids were creative I suppose. Of course I also copped the “fatty” label off the kids who were not as creative. In many ways, I count myself lucky as I was not subjected to the same intensity of teasing that I have heard from other kids that were bigger during high school years. Partially I think this was because I had a smart mouth that knew every swear word created and wasn’t afraid to use them (which will horrify my parents as they read this), and partially because there were loads of dysfunctional kids from all different situations that went to my high school so different was normal.
I remember in my school years trying to make myself vomit because I thought that an eating disorder could be the answer to me losing weight, but I could not force myself to keep my fingers down my throat long enough to throw up. I remember being so utterly disappointed in myself that I couldn’t do it. That I didn’t have enough mental willpower to keep my fingers in my throat. I remember being angry at myself that I didn’t have the willpower to starve myself either. The terrifying thing for me is that 30 years later I know there are teenage girls and boys thinking and doing exactly the same thing to themselves now at disturbing numbers. I remember going to bed and wishing that magic really did exist because I could wake up with a body that had been transformed overnight. I remember looking at the pretty girls with envy.
I remember a maths lesson where we all got weighed because the teacher wanted to demonstrate mean, medium, mode and number ranges and he yelled the numbers out loud for us to write down as each kid got on the scales. I was the heaviest in the class. What utter shame I felt and what an absolute asshole he was to do that to us. I was around a size 16 at school. I was lucky though – I was surrounded by great friends and family who were happy and supportive people but I shudder to think of the outcome if I had access to social media that would have compounded my insecurities or if I had more negative influences around me at the time.
I can very clearly remember in one of my earlier jobs sitting at the lunch table and a work colleague commenting that I had such a pretty face – if only I could lose some weight I could be so much prettier. I remember going out with my friends when we went clubbing and being the ugly friend that the boys could talk to but didn’t want to date. Or at least that is what I thought of myself – my friends actually remember it differently so it is clear to me now years later that it was my own self-talk that perceived myself that way.
There were a handful of occasions where I did lose some weight and exercised but the loss really only lasted six months or maybe a year before I would gain it again. When I embarked on weight loss there were strict diet and exercise regimes and it was usually fuelled by an intense dislike of myself. Although I tended to exercise with the purpose to lose weight I did find joy in movement and team sports (big shout out to my Melrose and Brothers girls if you are reading). My soccer team valued my tenacious attitude and determination. I belonged – whatever size I was. Maybe it was also because girls didn’t traditionally play soccer so everyone was accepted - we desperately needed the numbers to just to be able take the park! Anyway I suspect that was this was the spark of the Personal Trainer inside me that I would become one day.
I smoked, I drank – a lot - and I emotionally ate. I loved drinking and I was pretty bloody good at it too. Despite that, I did turn into a relatively functional adult with a decent corporate job. I ended up with a short and failed marriage in my late twenties. I suspect it failed because I married him as he liked me and I wasn’t sure if any other man would. We were completely incompatible though and I didn’t dislike myself enough to live in misery for the rest of my life. Throughout this period I cycled between a size 14 and a size 18.
I met my present husband when I was in a lower weight swing - I was about a small size 14. We feel in love, stared into each other’s eyes and ate. I put on 20kg, he put on 10kg and even the dog put on 5kg (no mean feat for an Aussie Terrier who was only 30kg to start with). I was having a good time with Dan and he didn’t care how big I was, although my dislike for myself and the corporate world was steadily growing. I ate, drank and smoked that dislike away. When I got pregnant for the first time I was size 18 (about 95kg) and pre-diabetic. The pregnancy went as you would imagine – I ate everything in sight and ended up huge. How I did not end up with gestational diabetes still amazes me. I did manage to give up smoking though. I had an emergency caesar, ended up with a staph infection, had trouble breastfeeding and felt useless. Hello post-natal depression.
It culminated about 4 months later when at about 115kg and a size 22, Iadmitted to my husband that I hated myself like I had never hated anyone before and wanted to fall off a cliff. Not jump off a cliff because that would be a deliberate action; but if the ground could suddenly give way under me then that would be just great. I ate in secret. I always bought a chocolate bar at the service station when I filled the car, I went to the bakery every day because cake made me feel better. It is the lowest point I have ever felt in my entire life. Together my husband and I worked out a plan that involved anti-depressants and a commitment to a lifestyle change for both of us. I count my blessings for such a great hubby that wanted to help me and was willing to change his own lifestyle too. I shudder to think how it could have gone if I didn't have that support around me.
I started at Weight Watchers but I really struggled with the focus of it on weight and food (though I didn’t really know why), so that went by the wayside. I joined a gym and engaged a personal trainer, Ange. Ten years later and she still trains me every week. Now that I am in the industry, I recognise how great a trainer she is and not because of the vast knowledge she has but because of the way she treated me. She never put me in embarrassing or unsafe positions for my size (think jiggling, lying on stomach for extended periods, impact on joints), she carefully planned sessions so that I achieved success at the exercises we did and whilst we talked food and weight, it was part of an overall plan to get healthy. I got stronger and I achieved fitness success. I started to like what my body could do.
If there are any PT’s reading this who train overweight clients let me give you a tip; very few of them will respond well to “tough love” or “home truths” about themselves from you. There is a better than average chance that your clients already dislike their bodies and it will go deeper than you can possibility imagine. There is very little to be gained from you intensifying that dislike in themselves. What they need from you is to show them the incredible things that their body is capable of so that they can learn to like it and want to take care of it. That is what started to happen to me – I wanted to take care of myself because I began to appreciate myself. By this time I had gone off the anti-depressants was eating far less processed food and dropped around 30kg.
The change to the way my brain felt on nourishing food forced me to really evaluate what I wanted in life, so I quit corporate and studied Nutrition at the Australian Institute of Applied Sciences, because I wanted to help other people. That was an absolute game changer for me. Natural health works on a number of principles but one of them is the interconnectedness of mind, body and spirit. Sure, I learnt the academics about good nutrition and this helped me recognise food that would help my body, but even more important than that, I learnt about how emotion and mindset can affect your health. I recognised the destructive self-talk that I engaged in and the deep seated dislike of myself that I had, and started the process of changing it. I got that a calm and happy mind focuses on attitude, gratefulness and mindfulness and this translates to good health. I think also that that I finally learned to value myself for who I was and that this had nothing to do with my dress size at the time. Another bubba later, personal training qualifications and another 20kg down and there I was at a size 10 - 12. Never been that size in my life. This should be the point of the story where it ends with “and they all lived happily ever after”. Certainly this is what is sold to us by the diet industry but this is not what happens in real life.
I had been at a stable weight for 2 years when my youngest was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old. We knew there was something different and had been searching for answers for a year. It is, without a doubt so far, the most crushing news delivered to me of my entire life and the memory of sitting in that paediatrician's office hearing those words still brings tears to my eyes. Two months later I was diagnosed with a wear and tear injury to my back with no real assurance that it could repair. I had been in pain for a number of months and finally got to getting an MRI. At the time I was loving my hard, exhausting exercise and weights, and to be truthful, I think I was using it as an escape from what was going on with my youngest. I was a PT by this time. Second most crushing news of my entire life. To say I was pissed off with the world was an understatement. I felt I had done everything I was supposed to and the universe had handed me a plate of shit as a reward.
About this time I met a weight management psychologist, Glenn Mackintosh, at a fitness conference (this year he scored a gig as the psychologist on The Biggest Loser Transformed; I’m so excited for him and I am absolutely engaging in name dropping right now!). I attended another of his professional development seminars and recognised some of the personality characteristics in me that exist in yoyo dieters. I completed some further personal and professional development with him and this was the last piece of a very complex jigsaw puzzle for me. It was the final piece of self-discovery that helped me separate eating from emotion.
I had been eating for health for a while but it helped me focus on intuitive eating and not to get dragged into restrictive diets when I was nervous I was putting on weight. It was the final A-HA! moment that helped me trust that my body knew what to do. In this time I also adjusted my exercise regime to a more sustainable practice. Over the period of time I did gain 5kg but I understand now that this is naturally where my body should be when I listen to the cues that it gives me. I probably could lose it if I went on a restrictive diet and did a specific work out program but this is not sustainable long term and I would probably put it back on again.
I don’t have any food that I consider restricted to eat but there are foods that I have realised don’t make my body feel very good so I don’t eat them much anymore. I try to focus on eating when I’m doing it and not get distracted with other things so I can feel when I’m full. And even though I spent a long time reading studies regarding exercise, I have gravitated to exercise that I enjoy, which are not necessarily the best exercise to lose weight and build lean muscle mass. I’m in this for life so its needs to what I like to do, not what I “should” do. I don’t exercise for punishment or to work off something I ate. I focus on sustainability and longevity. I also accept that my health and subsequent mental wellbeing is worth financially investing in and our whole family does spend more in fitness and health than lots of families (I suppose). Every week my son has occupational therapy and speech therapy and I have rehab Pilates, personal training and a gym membership. No BMW’s or big houses in our future but I hated myself with a passion before and it was exhausting! I have no desire to be there again so I will do what I need to in order to be well, so I prioritise my health and encourage other people to do the same.
It’s been 5 years now at this weight and I’m confident my yoyo days are over. I still have bouts of body image negativity. I still have to focus on mindful and intuitive eating, but it comes more naturally than it did. I just completed a 6 week challenge at my gym where instead of restrictive dieting I focused on honing in my intuitive eating skills. As you can see, this is a lifestyle, not a fad.
To wrap this longer than I thought story up, I put my weight loss and then sustained weight loss down to 3 main things:
- I like myself now. I put nourishing food in my body because I like functioning well. I exercise for the same reason. This has nothing to do with my weight.
- This is genetically where I am supposed to be. I’m never going to be little or petite. I am a bit bulky but I think this about where my genetics say I should be when I eat food that nourishes my body. Some people will be tiny and some people will not.
- I don’t follow a restrictive diet and I trust my body. As we have discussed in previous posts university studies suggest restrictive dieting practices do not result in long term weight loss but intuitive eating does.
My life is not perfect because I lost weight. Like all families, we still have our struggles. I worry about both of my sons, particularly my son with autism, and I need to be careful with my back injury. My husband and I fight sometimes and my kids can be annoying, just like every family. Some days I feel like diamonds, some days I feel like coal (come on – who knows the song that’s from!) but I believe that I am a more resilient and positive person than I was previously. This resilience and ultimate self-love came not from the weight loss but the lessons learnt in the journey. I was so fortunate to have people around me who helped me focus on the goal that was important – my health, not my weight.
I decided to tell my story on Verve’s blog not to celebrate me but to share a real life story of a health change and what came with it. I wanted to dispel some of the diet marketing that exists in the media and help people stop focussing on size because we are completely missing the point when we do that! I am grateful every day that I am not stuck in that self-destructive roundabout of eating, hating myself and then trying to diet to fix myself because I think I’m broken.
It is really important to have support when you begin a journey into good health. I was so fortunate to have Dan, my friends, Ange, some amazing lecturers from college and Glenn to help me along the way. At Verve we can be one of your support crew. We can help you understand where your health is at and together we can develop a realistic plan to bring you back to a state of healthy balance. You deserve it.
By Wendy Burke (Nutritionist, Naturopath, Personal Trainer, mother of two very busy and awesome boys)
P.S. stayed tuned for my next blog as we discuss how particular foods can become part of an emotional eating cycle...