It’s November 2018 and my mind is still trying to comprehend the events of last Monday. It was my 120th week of weighing in with Slimming World, and I walked out of group with my 8.5 stone certificate, Slimmer of the Week, and the knowledge that I was now lighter than I’d ever been in my entire adult life.
I’m in my mid-thirties now, and I’ve been aiming for my current weight since I first found out what a BMI was. So we’re looking at about 20 years or so.
It’s just unreal.
I’ve been blogging on and off for more years than I can remember, and my latest ‘Slimming World Blog’, namely this one, started life in 2016. When I started I didn’t expect anyone to read it, and I gave no thought whatsoever to what I wanted it to be. I just… wrote what I felt like writing.
Since I started putting myself out there into the world, I’ve found out how important it is for me to share what I’m doing. It helps me and along the way I’ve found myself helping others too. The blog started off being completely anonymous, but now I really want to put myself out there.
I mostly used to be terrified of someone I work with coming across it and finding out how fat I was. Well, anyone with eyes could see how fat I was, but the most important thing is that I’m no longer ashamed.
I feel sad about the years, the decades, I spent feeling the way I did when I could have been happy. But ashamed? No way.
Now I know what I’m doing with the blog, I decided to start afresh. This post is for anyone stumbling across it for the first time, regular readers who don’t know my history (because I don’t think I ever really posted about it before) or anyone who wonders how someone comes to be 22 stone 4 pounds, and how the hell you go about getting to 12 stone 8 pounds!
So where do we start?
Well, it all began in World War Two. Ha, just kidding. Or am I? Over the last couple of years I’ve done a lot of soul searching and self-analysis, because I’ve found it really helpful to know why I developed an unhealthy relationship with food. Knowing is half the battle, because once you understand, you can start to fix it.
The only problem is, there are a thousand possible reasons, but there are some very likely culprits.
My nan grew up in the war, when food was scarce, and I believe that shaped the way she cooked from then on. The family were also very poor, right up until she reached old age, so all that time the main priority (whilst feeding 12 kids) was cheap and filling. As you can imagine, especially in those days, it also meant calorific. Also, not having much money meant that food was the only ‘treats’ they had. Sunday lunches especially were massive weekly occasions, so food meant family, comfort and pleasure.
What does that equal? For me, overweight grandparents, an overweight mother and 11 overweight aunties and uncles. My mum did all the cooking when I was young, and there wasn’t as much knowledge available at the time about healthy eating so everything my mum learned about food was passed on to me. That equaled one very overweight child.
My nan on my dad’s side also deserves an honorable mention. She was a school cook and although in general her mains were dreadful, I do have some very happy memories of her jam sponge, spotted dick and cornflake tart. She could absolutely smash a dessert and she used to bring us leftovers from school regularly. In short, I was doomed from the start.
Apart from subconsciously learning how to emotional eat from a very young age, I also think I have a larger-than-average appetite. From very early on I remember always being hungry – nothing would satisfy me and I’d always want more. I also suspect the ‘reward center’ of my brain is a bit more active than most, so that when I eat something tasty (especially high fat, high sugar somethings) if I was having a brain scan I bet it’d light the screen up like a Christmas tree.
Let’s put all of that into a pot and throw in being unusually tall for a girl (so I always stood out anyway, and hated it) an unhappy childhood, and top it off with a sprinkling of the food industry being complete and utter douchebags who want to keep us fat. What you get is an overweight child who grows up to be a morbidly obese adult.
Apart from practically starving myself in school and having very brief success before it all went back on, I first started seriously dieting when I was in my first full time job, so I must have been about 17/18. I was following the principles of Slimming World despite not being a paying member (yet) and I lost 5 stone in 5 months. It was then that I looked up my BMI and decided I wanted to just nudge into a healthy weight range. I was aiming for 12 stone 12 pounds.
I remember exactly when it all went wrong. I’d been depriving myself too much, so when I went to visit my dad and had a dirty great kebab it set me off and, you’ve guessed it, all the weight went back on.
I was in a new job by the time I was nudging back into the 21 stone bracket, where for the first time I was working with a lot of older women who were experienced dieters. One suggested I come with her to a beauty salon to get diet pills. I was desperate, so I did.
On the surface, it was a success. I lost over a stone in the first fortnight, and my weight continued to drop at an incredible rate. I remember a typical lunch was a few carrot sticks with a tablespoon of reduced fat tzatziki. Along with this type of dieting came gallstones, which were incredibly painful. By the time the hospital eventually agreed to take my damn gall bladder out, it was 2004. When I stepped onto the scales for my pre-op check I weighed 12 stone 12 pounds. Mission accomplished!
Having gallstones means avoiding fat at all costs, but the very next day after it was out I decided to treat myself to some tasty food. Again, it set me off. Over the next year, I put on about 9 stone. During this time I started another new job, and for the first time ever I had a proper social life. I went out drinking with my work colleagues a lot, and when I’d be back in work the next day (hungover) breakfast would be a can of coke and a Snickers.
By the time it got to 11am I’d be hungry again so I’d order in lunch, usually a massive baguette, but whilst ordering I’d also get myself a brunch of a breakfast bagel containing egg, bacon, sausage and cheese.
I stayed this way for a few years so let’s fast forward to October 2008, when I started my current job. I was 21 stone when I started, and since I’d been doing office work in accounts and the financial crash was happening, I just decided to go wherever had work. Money was tight I tell you. So I went for a warehouse job for a large retail company, and I’d be foot picking.
I’d never done any activity in my entire life, now all of a sudden I was on my feet all night and walking up to 8 miles every shift. At first, it was hell. The pain in my feet was excruciating, but I was desperate for the money so I kept at it. I cried nearly every night before work for around three months. But my body was in shock and I started losing weight again. I was eating a giant pizza most days, yet the pounds were still coming off.
I got down to 17 stone 2 pounds before my body got used to it, and the weight gradually increased, albeit a bit slower than it had done in the past.
On the last day of April in 2012, the scales read 22 stone 4 pounds. It was the heaviest I’d ever been, and the next day I was doing a 30 mile walk for charity with no preparation. What the hell was I thinking? I did it, I did that walk, even though it nearly destroyed me. It took over 12 hours and you wouldn’t believe the state I was in afterwards. I had to crawl to bed, my thighs were bleeding profusely, and I couldn’t walk properly for another two weeks.
After that, I joined Slimming World for my first proper attempt weighing in at 21 stone 9 pounds. At least the walk had done something! In the first year-and-a-half, I lost 7 stone, and I honestly thought I’d cracked it. I was my group’s Miss Slinky, Woman of the Year and Greatest Loser. But do you know what I learned? Absolutely nothing, except what not to do.
At the time I was desperately miserable, and after one, single, undeserved gain, I just gave up. Even now I cannot believe the extent to which I lied to myself. Almost instantly I subconsciously started avoiding mirrors and was in complete denial about my clothes not fitting. I told myself it was OK because I still felt fat after I’d lost weight, so I might as well actually be fat and eat what the hell I like.
The following photos were taken in July 2015, when I was ready to face up to what I’d done to myself. It’s really hard for me to look at these photos, and even harder to share them, because they represent the start of a really hard struggle and I remember all too well exactly how I felt.
I was so unhappy, and I didn’t really know what to do with myself. The only thing I really enjoyed doing was eating. I remember that top – it was a size 22 and was supposed to be loose-fitting, so who even knows what size I actually was.
I took the photos specifically to use as ‘before’ photos, but it took an entire year of yo-yoing between 19 and 21 stone before I decided enough was enough.
It was an important year though, because looking back on it (through luck rather than judgement) I was doing the preliminary work that would help me lose weight.
First of all I somehow found the courage to end the relationship with my boyfriend. He is one of the nicest people you could hope to meet, and we are still friends, but it took a long time for me to admit to myself that we weren’t right for each other.
I started to learn, for the first time ever, who I actually am. I gave myself proper time to spend on my hobbies and really got into photography. I was interested in photography when I was still with my ex, but I had no inspiration. All I could think of to take photos of was him, which he wasn’t all that thrilled about! All of a sudden I started visiting different places for the photographic opportunities, and along the way I discovered that I like visiting places. Who knew!
Over the course of the year I discovered loads of things that I liked to do more than eating, so when in July 2016 I had to face the undeniable fact that I couldn’t crouch down to take photos any more (at least not without my knees crunching and having a terrible job getting back up again) I decided to go back to Slimming World. But I couldn’t face my old group, so this time I joined online. My membership restarted on the 1st of August 2016, with me weighing 21 stone 4 pounds.
Over the next few weeks I lost a bit of weight but put nearly all of it back on, bar the 4 pounds. So I did something I’d never done before – I kept going. Eventually I decided that I was being silly and needed support, so around October I went back to my old group and was welcomed with open arms and no judgement. The weight started practically falling off!
By Christmas I’d lost 3 stone and was happier than I’d been in such a long time. 3 stone doesn’t make a huge amount of difference, physically, when you’re very big, but I was still feeling confident enough to post comparison pictures from the previous year on Instagram.
2017 passed in a bit of a blur. There were ups and downs but generally the weight was coming off steadily, at least at first.
The highlight of the year was definitely climbing Mount Snowdon with my brother, despite me still weighing 17 stone. We even did it in a reasonable time, and took two of the harder routes. It was one of the best times of my life and I’ll never forget it.
In November though, things started to go wrong. I’d just got my 7 stone award, but I was miserable again, and for no apparent reason. I struggled throughout the whole Christmas period. I stopped going to group, because I was exhausted and couldn’t handle doing my nightshift afterwards, so I switched back to being an online member. Unfortunately this coincided with me hitting the festive food and hitting it hard.
Over the season I put on over a stone, and when in January I had a wisdom tooth out which completely knocked me for six, I found I was feeling pretty awful again. At the end of November I was nearly 14 stone, but here I was back in the 15’s (where I swore I’d never be again).
Did someone say hamster face?
But then something remarkable happened. I made a new friend at work who was running regularly, and he invited me out with him. At first I said no, so he downgraded to the run to a hike. I agreed, and had a great time, but he said if I wanted to come out again I’d have to run.
To be honest I wanted to get to know him better, so much so that if I had to run, then so be it. That first time I was so, so scared, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. In fact it was incredible! I started getting that runner’s high, and the weight started coming off once more as I found my focus again. I even found the confidence to wear running leggings and to go out running on my own. I was absolutely loving it!
This was all a distraction though. What I didn’t realise is that the bad feeling I’d been having since November was still simmering in the background and it eventually reared its head as full blown depression and anxiety.
By August I was a complete mess, but because of the running and the fact that I still wasn’t giving up I managed to keep my weight fairly steady at around 14.5 stone. That is one of the things in my life that I’m most proud of.
I went to the doctors for help, and once the anti-depressants kicked in and I started to feel better, everything else started getting easier.
I found a new group that fit in better with my shift patterns, which happened to be full of the most lovely bunch of people you could ever hope to meet. Another piece of the jigsaw puzzle fell into place.
I had some knee issues and had to give up running (at least for now) but once I’d stopped sulking about that I started back up with walking plus using my exercise bike again and finally learning to hula hoop properly!
What I’ve found is that, at least for me, changing what I ate was never enough. First of all I needed to change my entire lifestyle to one where I’m not plonked down in front of the TV. You wouldn’t believe how much just getting outside changed my appetite.
There’s also the fact that the exercise helped me maintain my weight when the food wasn’t going so well, and that, especially when I was running, I could tell how much an unhealthy meal would negatively affect my performance. It was all the more incentive to stay on track when I could.
I found that I needed a proper support network, and I’ve made some fantastic friends for life who I wouldn’t be without now. I’ve learned it’s ok to ask for help, and when you do, you pick up skills that enable you to help others in turn when they need it.
Probably most importantly to weight loss, I’ve found out what happens when you don’t give up.
If I hadn’t decided to lower it, I’d be at my target right now. I don’t have that much further to go, but I no longer have any doubt that I can do it. I no longer have any doubt that I can do pretty much anything.
That, my friends, is how you go from this…
Is it easy?
Is it worth it?
UPDATE: Currently (April 2019) I’m struggling and I’m sitting at around the 7.5 stone loss mark. That’s life though. Things have been tough but I’m never going back to the old Hayley. Watch this space – I have no doubt that this year is the year I hit target!