Those of you who have known me a long time will be forgiven for thinking that cancer is the problem that haunts me. Dread disease takes a huge act of will to overcome and, all too often, saps the life force out of people, even when they survive.
So people have been surprised over the last few months as I’ve crept out of the closet and admitted my shame and frustration with the weight problem I’ve struggled with since I was old enough to say ‘More, please.’ Apparently, I’ve hidden my discomfort so well that close colleagues, clients and even family members have assumed I’m comfortable in my oversized skin (and there was me, thinking it must be glaringly obvious to anyone with eyes)!
Overweight and undertall
My nemesis is, and always has been, my weight; I weighed in at 9lbs 4oz in the delivery room and never looked back. Through school, my weight was higher than everyone else’s, while my height was lower. Despite my cuddly, smiley persona I’ve always struggled to come to terms with the woman in the mirror. Even my midwife insulted me as I stepped optimistically into the delivery room, ready to give birth. ‘Short, stocky women. My worst nightmare!’ said she. I should have punched her but I was too scared.
Over the years I’ve tried to maintain a balanced view, taking into account my strengths and talents, but all my successes and my proudest moments have been marred by a little whisper in my head, reminding me I’m fat, while many of my failures have been blamed on the same problem. It’s probably why I’ve always tried so hard and smiled so much – part of me is always apologising.
No wonder. Fat people are supposed to feel ashamed, aren’t they? The media and medical profession (while themselves having no sustainable solution to the problem) regularly vilify fat people in words and pictures. There is even talk of withdrawing medical care. Fat people are widely discussed as deluded, lying to themselves about how much they really eat, and lazy. Sometimes I think it’s the last permissible form of discrimination.
Calories don’t add up
I’ve often wanted to say to people, ‘Look, I faced cancer with optimism and determination, don’t you think I’d lose the weight if I could?’ But I save my breath. It seems that very few people understand that the problem is more complex than calories. Previous attempts at dieting (and there have been many) have been futile or quickly reversed; gym memberships have been expensive and fruitless; self-help approaches have put sticking plasters over a very deep wound. In a world where nearly everyone is watching their weight, it’s difficult to convince people (or yourself) that you’re eating carefully too but just not getting the right results. The whole thing becomes one gigantic mind mess. At least it did for me.
My excess weight isn’t down to a lack of trying, it’s down to a lack of demonstrable solutions. I’m a logical person with a scientific mind and I have never been able to see a linear relationship between any of my attempts to lose weight and the result. I’m no quitter, but I’m not prepared to waste my time with schemes that don’t work. I always knew that there was a missing piece of the jigsaw – some metabolic detail that had eluded me and, presumably, anyone whose advice I had tried to follow. When I chose to change career mid-life it was with the hope that, in becoming a nutritionist, I would finally find the answer to my weight problem. Not many people are prepared to study for 3 years to find a solution. I held on to that as proof of my bona fides.
Still the answer didn’t materialise. Eight years after graduating and completely re-engineering my diet I found myself 35 pounds heavier than when I started. I was genuinely bewildered. And worried about my health.
A hopeless case?
I want to be normal-sized, healthy-sized. I don’t want to look as though my eating is out of control, as though I don’t care about myself or look after myself. I want the way I look to be a reflection of the way I eat and the way I care for my body. But I’ve never had that luxury. I’ve always looked as though I eat too many pies (and I’ve always known that I don’t).
When I decided to add coaching skills to my portfolio I decided ‘once and for all’ to tackle my weight problem. I started writing a weight loss blog early in 2010 and, during the course of the next 5 months, lost 20 lbs in a virtual starvation regime. My health, mood and social life suffered in the process and I realised it was an unsustainable way to live. I tried to kid myself that being slim wasn’t such a big deal, that there was so much more to life…
So I spent most of 2011 trying to ignore the problem. There had been other times where I’ve tried to double bluff my way out of the problem, believing that it may have its origins in a deeply repressed psychological trauma. I’ve argued that if I stop endlessly stressing about my weight and beating myself up, my body will eventually return to equilibrium. So I tried looking the other way again. Not surprisingly, I gradually put on all that I had lost.
My sense of failure was overwhelming. I felt hopeless.
Back to basics
It was from this place of deep and angry frustration that I decided, earlier this year, to have another look at what I ‘know’ about weight loss. My background as a fat lass, and my training as a nutritionist mean that I understand far more than the average person about how the body manages its food supplies and energy metabolism. I knew something was wrong with my body at a metabolic level and I was determined to find out.
Months of avid reading and research led me to look at one area of nutrition from a new perspective. I experimented with some dietary changes and the weight started to come off. The results were instant and impressive. I was recording my ideas as I went along and the notes were building into a book.
While this was happening I was also suffering from a sense of disbelief. Being bigger is so deeply ingrained in me that it feels like part of my identity and, even though I was finally losing weight, it felt as though it would all grind to a halt. On the other hand, I was excited. I’d discovered something ‘new’, something that other people hadn’t spotted, and it was working for me.
Facing my fears
It’s difficult to convey the energy that was driving me at this point, energy – and excitement. The ideas and the book were coming together at great speed. I was so excited by what I’d spotted that I was getting up in the early hours, reading, researching and writing all day, and going to sleep with my mind still buzzing. I’ve always found my work exciting and enjoyable but this was something else. My energy levels were fuelled partly by the dietary changes and partly by the knowledge that I was facing up to something that was such a big deal for me. Succeeding in this was important in ways that were so fundamental to my self-belief that they had been deeply buried beneath layers and layers of denial. It was like waking a sleeping dragon: terrifying and thrilling at the same time.
As a therapist I realised that I could be on to something important, something worth sharing. I realised that I needed to see if it could work for others too. It was in this frame of mind that I sent out an email asking for volunteers. Full of excitement and yet strangely scared that I would make a fool of myself. How could a fat woman like me help other people lose weight?
I needn’t have worried. I was inundated – both with volunteers and messages of support. Of course I was! Half the population needs to lose weight. It slowly dawned on me that this was not just something that was deep and meaningful for me, but had the potential to change the lives of hundreds of people. I managed to see beyond ‘my’ problem and started to see it as ‘our’ problem. That was an important turning point.
Over the summer I recruited a group of volunteers and we embarked on a trial together. The diet worked for everyone who engaged with it. From stressed-out executives with a few pounds to lose, to busy mums with a few stone to shed, the diet was easy to follow and showed impressive results. The Dissident Diet was born.
It’s Dissident because it looks at the whole idea of why we gain weight from a completely different angle, and challenges some of the conventional dieting myths. It’s Dissident because it recognises the disenfranchisement and frustration of people who feel victimised and pilloried by the fat phobic climate we’re living in and the lack of answers. It’s Dissident because it directly contradicts the idea that the only thing wrong with fat people is that they are greedy and lazy. It’s Dissident because it not only helps you lose weight it helps you gain health in a way that is the exact opposite of some of the commonly believed healthy advice.
Daring to be dissident
There are two possible happy endings to this story; I’ve been juggling with that knowledge for a number of years. In the first story the fat lady learns to love herself, warts and all, and they all live happily ever after. In the second version – the one I prefer – she overcomes her problem and then helps other people do the same thing.
There’s a good argument for learning to live with your flaws and embracing the ‘gift of imperfection’. But there is no justification for living with something that is crippling your spirit, which feels insurmountable, which makes you feel powerless and ‘less than’.
Only you can decide which ‘happy ending’ is the one for you.
I’ve been around enough overweight people now to know that it can cripple lives. People with huge talents to share with the world face prejudice and hold themselves back because of the size of their bodies. It’s ironic that obesity is one of the biggest and most widespread health epidemics in the world, affecting a growing percentage of the population, and yet obese people feel so alone with their problem.
The Dissident Diet is for all those people. It’s for everyone who is baffled by their size, who knows their body isn’t a true reflection of the way they eat, who feels the frustration of being overweight but doesn’t know where to find the answer, who feels defined by their weight but doesn’t want to be.
Since 1st July I’ve lost 2 stone. I’ve never before managed to lose weight on that sort of scale and I’ve enjoyed my life and my food and my social life at the same time. It’s a source of joy and excitement for me. I really can’t keep it to myself.
Stranger than fiction
Funnily enough, I never wanted to be the weight loss lady. My preoccupation with my weight has played such a dark role in my life that I’d rather put miles between me and the subject of obesity. My beliefs about the value of human beings – at least on one level – are that we should look beyond size and see the person. In my most frustrated moments that’s exactly what I wanted for myself, just to learn to live with being fat. So I find it ironic (and a little daunting) to offer my services as a weight loss coach.
But, like a reformed smoker, I understand the subject from the inside out. That puts me in the perfect position to help other people overcome their own weight challenges. I also have a little way to go myself. I need to lose at least another stone so don’t expect to meet a ‘perfect 10′ when you get in touch.
If you are struggling with your weight, I’ve got the answer you’re looking for.
Please call me.
PS If you’re a regular reader of the blog and you know friends and family who would benefit from The Dissident Diet please feel free to pass this on to them!
PPS Nailing your Nemesis
It’s not unusual to discover that the thing that you’ve been ‘carrying’ all your life, the thing that seems to single you out from all the other ‘normal’ people, the characteristic that makes you feel ashamed and small and defeated, that you believe will hold you back, is also your opportunity to reach your highest personal potential. The dyslexic businessman, the blind composer, the orphaned philanthropist, the para-Olympian… we are surrounded by people who take the duff cards that life has dealt them and turn them into a Royal Flush.
My weight problem has been my nemesis; for you it might be a different challenge. If you’ve got a problem hanging over you that feels insurmountable and which is crippling your life, I hope you might reconsider and find the courage to tackle it. If you do, you might want to give me a call and book some coaching.