I tend to be overweight: simple fact. Growing up I’d been a larger girl, but tall and I had no self image issues. I wasn’t exactly fat and happy, but overweight and living with it. After uni though I had trouble getting a job and maybe it hit my self-esteem, but I remember my first attempt to lose weight was around that time. Maybe employers were looking for a more ‘standard’ type? That was incentive enough to take a good look at my diet and in 1980 I joined Weight Watchers.
The plans by today’s standards might seem extreme and limited, harsh even, but at the time it was just the latest thinking I guess. There were very strict rules about what I could and could not eat. I recall eating a lot of cottage cheese with potatoes and having to eat liver (yes!) once a week at least. Luckily at the time I quite liked liver and onions, though I wouldn’t touch it today. Over the years I became an on-again, off-again member. Each new join-up brought a new type of plan, more flexibility, glossier booklets: calorie counting, point counting, more and more choices. The members were pretty much consistent though: two types. Those that weighed in and went home (why would you pay to do that?), and those that weighed and stayed for the talk. I usually stayed; I learned a lot about nutrition and it set the guidelines for a lifetime of healthier thinking: three to five servings of vegetables, two of dairy, two of carbs and three fruit serves per day plus protein and snacks. No matter what diet I follow these are my building blocks to prepare meals. My success varied each time. As a side, I did eventually get a job in the government, though I’d like to think that was due to my talents, not my dress size.
Over the next 40 years I joined many paid and free community programs to the same end – returning my weight to an acceptable level. I hear you laugh and cry out the answer is simple — just stop eating so much! Of course, why didn’t I think of that? So simple… Not! Overeating is an addiction.
Think of something you really enjoy and imagine cutting back or stopping; not so easy you’ll find. Addiction sets off reactions in the brain, creating cravings that are really hard to fight. Even as your rational brain is telling you there is no need to eat that chocolate bar, or to eat no more than a single cupcake at the staff morning tea, your cravings are loud and controlling, and before you know it you’re off the wagon and wolfing down your sixth TimTam or a handful of chocolate M&Ms. After that you throw in the towel and say tomorrow is another day, meanwhile adding a just few hundred grams to your weight if you’re lucky.
There is a secret to success, and it is balance. A balanced diet with some exercise, and with the right mindset you can fight the cravings and win.
After finding I was a candidate for Type 2 diabetes five years ago I went all-in with a government program on a simple philosophy: fewer calories, less fat, more fibre, more exercise. A scare will get you on the straight and narrow pretty quickly and I dropped 10kg over a few months. There was no real plan to follow, just using the knowledge and recipes I’d collected over the years, but it worked and I maintained for quite a while.
Then I hit on my favourite program yet, the 12 Week body transformation. It had everything I’d had success with in food: a flexible plan with tasty calorie controlled recipes, and plenty of them so no chance of getting bored, mindfulness videos and simple basic exercise routines. At my age and working long hours in my business, I was not going to be hitting the gym, so some 30-minute, low impact aerobics and a good 2-4km walk a day was all I needed to make the plan work. I simply used more calories than I ate. I maintained a 22kg weight loss for three years using the plans I’d followed and using the recipes daily, getting up early and doing my little routines to keep the muscles working.
I can’t afford to slip, though – we’ve all seen the sports stars that eat to fuel their muscles and then pile on the weight when they retire because they don’t cut the intake! It’s a daily decision to stick with balance. It requires will power, determination and support to succeed.
I’ve been slipping on my exercise lately so it’s time to get back on that wagon because I know I need it to maintain a healthy body. I just need to tell my cravings to bugger off!