I haven't always been big. I was, believe it or not, quite a skinny little blonde haired girl! My mother always liked my heart-shaped face. I wasn't particularly sporty but my mum cooked relatively healthy meals and tried to limit sweets.
It was around puberty that I really began to put on weight. I think there was a combination of factors that led to this. Hormones certainly played a part, as did family pressure to succeed. I traveled 20 miles each way to go to a highly pressurized academic school. My parents' marriage was beginning to crumble. I sought solace in food for all of my woes. Having been denied candy throughout my youth, now I had money of my own I would furtively sneak into shops to buy a stash of chocolate, which I would hide in my room. As soon as I walked through the door after school I would raid the kitchen cupboards for crisps, biscuits and cake - all before dinner.
I remember not fitting in at school. Throughout my teenage years, my clothes size kept pace with my age. At the end of each school semester we would have a "Non-uniform day" where we were allowed to wear whatever we wanted. I remember the humiliation of turning up in a size 14 plaid shirt and voluminous red corduroy skirt whilst my classmates all wore trendy ripped jeans and fitted sleeveless tops. I tried to pretend I wasn't interested in fashion or keeping up with the trends, but it was a façade. At home I would cut pictures of beautiful models in fashionable clothes out of magazines and stash them away in a file, dreaming of one day being able to wear things like that. I still have the file!
It seems strange to me now that I never tried to lose the weight before. I think it was partly an act of teenage rebellion - I knew that I was an embarrassment to my skinny parents, both keen exercisers, and that there was nothing they would like more than for me to lose weight - so I went the other way. My dad once tried to bribe me by saying that he would pay me £5 (about $8) for each pound I lost. Even that didn't persuade me to try! I told myself so often that this was just the way I was, that after I while I believed it and grew to accept my size as an integral part of me. I was outgoing, intelligent and funny and gradually convinced myself, and those around me, that "big" was also part of the package.
There were several boyfriends along the way - some of them seeing me as an easy catch, a few "chubby chasers" who preferred big women, and finally one gem who was genuinely able to see beyond my appearance to appreciate the person underneath. His name was Alistair, a good friend who gradually became my soul mate. Even he was not oblivious to my weight issues - a now legendary story is that the first day he met me, I was wearing a cardigan that buttoned with intentional cut-out spaces down the front, and apparently his first thought was that I was so fat, my cardigan wouldn't fasten properly!
But as we spent more time together, friendship grew into love and for the first time I truly felt accepted as I was. We had only been dating for 7 weeks when he proposed, but I had no hesitation in accepting - when you know, you know! We married a year later, and my wedding dress was a size 24. I didn't even do the traditional bride thing of trying to lose weight for my big day - that's how resigned I was to always being big.
We settled into married life and a lot of our social life revolved around eating. We loved to entertain and none of our guests ever went hungry! Food was a coping mechanism for stress and boredom as well as an enjoyable way to relax. But bad habits quickly became ingrained. In 1999 my New Year's Resolution was not to eat chocolate before 10:30am. Yes, this was genuinely a big problem for me!
We both had stressful jobs and hectic social lives with little or no time to exercise. I had lots of minor health issues - mild asthma, nagging backache and an overall lack of fitness and energy. Life was beginning to feel a bit overwhelming.
So what changed? In short, we moved to the US! The irony of a move to the land of huge portions and fast food being a catalyst to lose weight will probably not be lost on you. But the fact was that we were forced to reassess our priorities and the way we structured our lives. I knew I would be unable to get a work permit straight away, but I was actually relishing the chance to take a break from the 9 to 5 grind and explore some other avenues to fulfillment. As soon as we got off the plane I set about finding ways to make new friends and find activities to fill my time.
One idea that I had been considering was Weight Watchers. A friend in London had just started the program and I'd taken the opportunity to look through her Weight Watchers materials and cookbooks. I was surprised to discover how appetizing some of the recipes sounded and that the portions were not minute. When we arrived in Massachusetts I found that there was a Monday morning meeting in the next town to ours, so on 3rd April 2000 I tentatively signed up for 12 weeks of meetings.
The first week on program I lost six pounds and was thrilled. The second week I stayed the same. I remember coming home from the meeting in floods of tears, ready to quit. But Alistair, ever the voice of reason, assured me that I was doing everything right, my average loss was still very good, and that I should persevere for another week to see if I showed a loss. If that didn't happen then he would fully support me if I wanted to quit. After that third week I lost 4½ pounds and then there was no stopping me!
I think it's fair to say that once that magical 'click' happens, nothing is going to stop you from reaching your goal. My Weight Watcher meeting mostly consists of older retired ladies; it's held in a cold, draughty church hall, there are no noticeboards or comfy chairs, the scales are still the old-fashioned manual type. But none of this has put me off attending my meeting each week.
As far as the practicalities go, I pretty much just went to my meetings, got the program materials and followed the instructions. I really believe that consistent journaling has been a key to my success. There's something about seeing those points written down in black and white that keeps you much more aware and accountable.
Awareness and knowledge is everything. I'll tell you a funny story - a couple of weeks ago we went to a Mardi Gras themed dinner party and the dessert was a heavenly white chocolate bread pudding. I took a small portion, then another and had to be physically restrained from having thirds yes, it was that good! The hostess said she had found the recipe on the internet and so when we got home I did a search for it, printed it out and calculated the points. Each serving was 26 points! When I thought about the fact that I could eat an entire day's food allowance or one portion of that decadent delight, well you could have knocked me down with a feather!
I like to eat fairly regularly and rarely go more than 3 hours without food - I find it keeps my blood sugar more stable. I started exercising about a month into my journey; my local park has a 1.5 mile circuit and the first time I walked it, I weighed 220 lbs, it took me 37 minutes and I was exhausted. Now I regularly walk the same circuit in 23 minutes. In the New Year I finally decided to join a gym, as I was getting frustrated with not being able to walk outside due to the weather, and bored of doing exercise videos at home. Now I do an aerobics class twice a week, and walk on 2 or 3 other days. I really believe that the exercise has been key in toning up my body as I lost the weight, and improving my health.
At first I was very anxious about eating out and would only go to restaurants where I had the points information from Dotti's site. But gradually over the last few months I have begun to relax a little and trust myself to make good choices wherever I go. But that doesn't mean that I am unprepared. There's an old saying, "Forewarned is forearmed". I always try and find out the menu in advance, either by stopping by the restaurant to pick one up, or asking the hostess what she's planning to serve and whether I can bring a low-point contribution. I carry my WW bag with my everywhere so I always have my ICBINB spray, my FF salad dressing, tupperwares full of Kedems, chewy granola bars, crème savers hard candy, water bottle and low-fat milk. I'm a picky eater and I like to be in control. At the beginning of the week I take a journal and write out what I have planned for each day and what I anticipate my eating schedule and menu to be. That way I can see at a glance when the high-point meals are likely to e so I can eat low that day, try and bank some points ahead of time and maybe do a little extra exercise.
People often want to know what has inspired me or kept me going. There are some things that remind me of the way life used to be, and the fact that I never want to go back there. One of them is something that Jill mentioned yesterday - the last straw that made you lose weight. This is something my leader did at one of my first meetings and so I wanted to share it with you - apologies to those of you who have done this before. But I want each of you to take a drinking straw and either keep it in your purse or pin it up somewhere at home to remind you of whatever your last straw was. Mine is on my refrigerator at home.
My refrigerator door is the WW poster board in my house. As well as the straw, I have all my magnets and bookmarks; my Thermometer to Success printed off from Dotti's site; some before and during photos, and lots of inspiring quotes. And on the days when it all gets too much, I even have my very own Panic Button!
All the other members of Dotti's Weight Loss Zone are such an example and inspiration to me too. Dotti's before and after pictures have been pinned up above my kitchen sink for a year. I loved meeting Flo, a fellow Zonie who lived near me in MA and who raced me to get rid of the last 10 lbs to goal. She won by miles, but a little healthy competition never did any harm! I was given a lesson in perseverance by watching Jill, Barbara and others who struggled to get rid of those last few stubborn pounds. I am in awe of those who are just embarking on their journey and have the enthusiasm of the newbie; by those who are fighting the good fight on a daily basis and winning; by those who have the courage to admit that they have stumbled, but are willing to brush themselves off, learn some valuable lessons and get right back on with their journey; and by all of you who post to encourage, support, congratulate and help one another on a daily basis.
I am particularly in awe of all those of you who are managing to conquer your weight problems whilst working. For me, my job provided numerous excuses to stay big - no time to exercise, lunches out wit clients, no energy to cook in the evening. I needed the catalyst of having time at home to kick-start me on my journey, and those of you who are managing to achieve their weight loss goal whilst holding down jobs are particularly inspiring to me.
There are so many unexpected rewards when you lose weight. I never had a list like Jill's but the smallest new experiences and discoveries can give me a thrill that surpasses any temporary satisfaction I ever got from food. I do a double take every time I see myself in a full-length mirror or store window. I love the thrill of buying size 8's and 10's off the rack in any store. My mom back in Britain feels proud enough to have my photo pinned up on her refrigerator for the first time I can ever remember. I love the fact that I am fit enough to go for long hikes in the countryside with my family without getting out of breath at the slightest exertion. I love it when my husband puts his arms round me and they can touch at the other side! For any of you who are familiar with the TV show "Friends", the character Phoebe sings a song which goes "Smelly Cat, Smelly Cat, what are they feeding you?" Alistair has adapted the words and sometimes he will start singing "Skinny Wife, Skinny Wife, what aren't they feeding you?"
This is a never-ending struggle; those of us who have weight issues will never fully be free from them - but what a great feeling to now be in control of the food, instead of the food controlling us! It's an overused phrase, but I can testify with all my heart that it's true - NOTHING TASTES AS GOOD AS BEING THIN FEELS!