When I stand up in front of you guys lifting big weights, burpee-ing, tuck jumping and bouncing around it’s probably fairly easy to assume that this is how I’ve always been. That for me it’s easy – I’m one of those women that are naturally skinny, I don’t have to try, and that I have no idea what it feels like to be heavier than you want to be – what does Nancy really know about trying to lose weight?….. In fact I very often get the “well, you don’t have to worry about what you eat, you’re tiny”, or “you don’t know what it’s like – you’re so fit”, “you’ve obviously got a fast metabolism”, “I bet you’ve never put on weight” , or variations on that theme. Well I’m here to tell you that yes I do know how that feels, no I haven’t always been fit, and no I haven’t always been the weight and body composition I am now….
I’ve wrestled long and hard over whether to write this and whether to post these pics – because frankly I’m so embarrassed and humiliated by them that I’d already deleted some of the images – or so I thought. I found them on an external hard drive recently, and have made the hard decision to show you guys. Is this easy for me? No. Do I feel it’s important – yes. So next time I tell you I know how you feel, when I sympathise with the dieting and frustration, self-loathing, desperation and struggle, am I lying? No. I’ve been there, I’ve done it and I know how hard it is. I also know how rewarding it can be and I know there’s no one method to suit all – so here’s my weight loss journey for you, a mishmash of approaches, in all its fat, gory details. Don’t judge me.
Growing up I was never one of those naturally skinny girls – my weight fluctuated like any normal, moderately active teenager, I was short and a little on the dumpy side but not skinny and not fat either. I set off to Uni at a pretty low weight for me after the stress of A-levels, but the processed food and copious amounts of alcohol meant I started to creep up the scales. It wasn’t really a big issue – I was active, playing sports, stressing about work etc. so my weight just went up and down. I was never particularly happy with the way I looked though and felt extremely self-conscious if I ever had to dress up to go out (always breathing in all night to hold my stomach in!).
In 2001 I started my PhD and started heading off to Indonesia each summer – for up to 6 months at a time. Whilst there I’d inevitably put on up to a stone – I was living in a remote village, on a very high starchy carb diet of rice, fried noodles, fried sweet potato etc. and relatively few veggies. Snacks were all extremely high sugar, and although I spent some of my days trekking around the forest following monkeys, I spent a lot of my time either sat in farmer’s fields watching monkeys crop-raid, or visiting farmers and interviewing them (which meant being fed cups of coffee sweetened with condensed milk and more deep fried, carb-loaded snacks – which would be rude to refuse). The evenings were long (sunset was about 5:45pm) and I’d inevitably snack to alleviate the boredom – snacking on the high sugar and fat snacks available locally. I’d get back to the UK heavier, but being young and still active playing sports etc. the weight would drop off and I’d be back to normal. I was still self-conscious of my weight, hated being seen in a bikini and would never dream of wearing tight fitting clothes unless I had to! But the scales were telling me I was back to my “normal” weight so that was what I went by.
This pattern of weight gain and loss continued until I hit my mid-20s when suddenly the weight stopped dropping off so easily – I’d get back from Indonesia and I’d lose half of the weight, but hang on to the other half. My PhD was finished, I was now working at Oxford Brookes and I was living down in Surrey and commuting up to Oxford. This involved long drives in the car (up to 3 hrs) and very early mornings (4:30 alarms) which meant I was using caffeine and sugar to keep me going during the day. On the days I didn’t commute I was at home, working – sat down all day mostly. I’d get bored, I’d eat. I was lonely and isolated and I’d eat. Commuting meant I wasn’t building networks and a social life in Oxford, but neither was I building one in Surrey either – just my mum and my (now) husband. My uni friends were spread all over the country and my long trips to Indonesia without phone or computer access meant I was losing touch with them. I was still going to Indonesia for up to 6 months at a time, and for several years I was spending over 9 months a year over there. The weight kept piling on and I was losing less and less of it each time I came back. I was getting more and more miserable, my body image was appalling and I felt ashamed of the way I looked.
Suddenly my “normal” weight was creeping up – I didn’t even really notice at first. At uni anywhere around 8 stone 7ish was “normal” and I knew my weight was about right if I could drop it back down to around there, then it became 9 stone, then 9 stone 3, then I’d be “happy” if I could get my weight to stay around 9 stone 7.. 9 stone 9… 9 stone 11… 10 stone…. 10 stone 3…..Without realising I was shifting my goals and ideals of what I thought was a “good” weight for me. I did venture to weight watchers at one point during this journey – I was staying with mum, in about 2007, and we both went together. We did well, I lost about a stone, but as soon as I went back to Indonesia it went back on, and I crept right back up again. I knew I was heavy – I knew I was carrying too much weight and I felt wretched about it, but I didn’t really actively do much more about it. I felt a bit helpless. I had an exercise bike, and when it wasn’t being used as a clothes horse, I’d do a 20 min peddle – usually whilst reading a book! I half-heartedly tried to get in to a routine of going swimming a few times a week at my local pool. But I was knackered from the commute and in the winter when it was cold and dark I just didn’t fancy it – plus getting in to a swimming costume when you’re feeling fat is never an easy thing. I looked in to joining a local netball team (a sport I’ve always loved), but the ones I found trained at times I couldn’t make as I was working and so I did nothing. And so this went on. I don’t even have a photo of me in a bikini at my heaviest but this was taken in 2009 when I was creeping up to 10 stone.
It wasn’t until I went on a work trip to Colorado in October 2010 and had this photo taken that I really realised I needed to do something. The shock of seeing this photo spurred me on (I’m in the foreground – not the moose at the back!). I couldn’t believe I’d let myself get to this. By this point I was nearly 11 stone! At almost 5 foot 2 that put me as heavily overweight, and very nearly obese.
I returned from this trip, with the added bonus of a bout of gastroenteritis (which though I wouldn’t recommend – definitely gave me a kickstart in the right direction!) and signed up at my local gym, The Pavilion, with my (now) husband. We signed up fully expecting to barely use it to be honest, and he vividly remembers me saying to him that “I’ll probably only use the pool, I doubt I’ll bother with anything else”… ha! How wrong could I be!
Despite what I’d said I did try a familiar sounding class – aerobics, something I’d done before and a class from which I knew what to expect etc. I stood at the back, wearing my baggy shorts and big t-shirt, trying to hide as much as possible…… And I loved it! I started doing that regularly, and felt brave enough to try a few others – aerotone, body conditioning , lbt – all things I’d heard of. I was really enjoying it – the classes were fun and motivating, the instructors were fab, and an added bonus – I was starting to meet people. It hadn’t really occurred to me that I’d make friends as well in this process, but I did. It made me want to come to classes – not just to work out, but to see people and socialise.
So from October 2010 until January 2011 I went from not doing any exercise to doing to up to 10 classes or gym sessions a week. I also signed up to “My fitness pal” and started tracking what I was eating. I’d looked at joining weight watchers again as knew I needed something to keep me on track, but now we were living over in Molesey I couldn’t go with mum and didn’t fancy it alone. I found “My Fitness Pal” a really great help – not only did it show me quite how many calories I was eating (without even realising) but it really helped me with portion control etc. I also connected with people I’d met at the gym through the app and we spurred each other on.
The weight started to drop – I lost the majority of the weight on my own and I was back down to close to 9 stone by January.
The weight had been dropping consistently but I’d got as far as I could go on my own – I’d hit a plateau. Also, although I was losing the weight and developing some muscle tone, I was still flabby. Other gym members and friends I chatted to started suggesting I try other classes – ones with scary names like bodycombat, and because other “normal”, not all super-fit, members were recommending it I thought – well if they can do it so can I… and so I did! I started off attending Colette’s bodycombat class. I started at the back – I still remember that first combat class, me and another new girl (who is now a close friend!), in our baggy gear, desperately trying to keep up and dodge wayward kicks and punches! I loved it! I kept coming back and was encouraged to try a BodyPump class too – another scary sounding class to someone new to all this stuff – what you want me to lift weights… to music.. for an hour… AFTER jumping around doing combat for an hour?! Are you mad? But I thought I may as well give it a go and lo and behold a new love was born! It took a few sessions but pretty soon I was a complete Pump-addict and very quickly people were noticing the change in my body shape – I was starting to look really toned and the weight was starting to shift again.
I had a chat to Colette about my Indonesian trips and back then she was running a weight loss program – the 7 day kick start, so in May 2011 I signed up. I’d lost more weight by incorporating pump in to my workouts but I still needed to do more. I was still using My Fitness Pal to keep track of my eating, but the problem was I wasn’t eating the right kind of foods. Yes I was hitting my calorie goal, but I was cheating the system – I was still eating rubbish. Now I’m not suggesting you have to cut out everything delicious and naughty to lose weight but I just wasn’t being sensible about my dietary choices. I’d got stuck in a rut of eating. I relied on sugary snacks and caffeine, and had a heavily dairy and meat-based diet, despite eating loads of fruit and veg too. I cut out the caffeine, I reduced my meat and dairy intake (eventually realising I didn’t want to eat meat and dairy anymore at all), avoided starchy carbs etc but didn’t feel deprived in the slightest. From March 2011 – June 2011 I lost the last of the weight I needed to drop and was back down to 8 stone 3 and I was feeling great!
I headed off to Indonesia that year armed not only with knowledge but also some fantastic supplements that just helped me manage my nutrition and weight gain, and targeted workouts that I could do in my tiny little shack. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m the last person to suggest relying on supplements – I’m a big fan of doing whatever you can with real food – but in some situations you need a little help – and Indonesia was one of those situations (fried carb overload!).
Yes I still put on weight, but not as much as usual and when I tried different programmes to help me regain control and shift the weight and body fat I’d gained abroad.
These were the results from just six weeks in Spring/summer 2012.
In between I’m able to stay on track using the principles I’ve learnt. I’ve even roped my husband in and we trained together in the run up to our wedding, and beyond. Of course, like anyone, my weight fluctuates but now it fluctuates around a healthy weight. I still eat rubbish from time to time of course – I’m only human, and I do have a fondness for Willie’s dark chocolate which no one is ever going to cure me of – and I’d never want them to either. The best thing is I can still enjoy my Willie’s chocolate and I know I won’t pile on the weight again. When I was in Indonesia during this time, I’d still slip, the deep fried carbs were impossible to avoid and their effects were ever present, and of course there were days I didn’t feel like exercising, but I found I had a new determination to try – no matter what (even without the use of equipment, and being out in the jungle!). I felt like I was back in control.
I’m a lover of knowledge – as a University academic at the time I guess it was in my blood and the early programmes I did with Colette encouraged me to learn – about nutrition, about weight training, about cooking, about fitness. This set me on the path to developing my own strategies and programmes for weight loss and maintenance.
I love baking and used to bake every weekend. I thought I’d have to give all that up – but I decided to experiment instead and learn from my new diet and put together a blog of gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan friendly bakes instead – so I really could have my cake and eat it – and so can everyone else! You can check out my recipes on my blog (www.pureandsimplebakes.com).
I have always loved teaching and helping people, so I decided to train to become an instructor and personal trainer myself (in secret at first as I was too embarrassed to tell anyone incase I failed!). I have never looked back! I am now a personal trainer and teach 27 classes a week – everything from Pump to BodyStep, Attack to Sh’bam, Spin to Aqua, Personal train (in person and online). My weight now ranges between about 7 stone 9 and 8 stone 6 (49 – 54 kg), an ideal weight for my height, my body fat percentage is around 12 – 16%, I’m fit and and I’m strong – stronger than I’ve ever been. I even ran the tough mudder race in 2013 with no extra training (that was partly because I misread and thought it was 5 miles not 20! Oops!)
The principles I have learnt have become a way of life and I’m still learning every single day – and I love it! I was able to wear my wedding dress with pride – and for the first time in 33 years I didn’t have to breathe in to hold my stomach in! What a feeling! I even wore my bikini on my honeymoon without hiding under a towel. Do I still have fat days – yes, I’m human. Do I have days when I feel bloated and want to hide – yes. Do I know how to deal with it now – yes! And that’s the difference – I’ve gone through all the yo-yo dieting and it just isn’t sustainable for me, this way is.
So there you go – that’s my story – from fat to fit! I was lucky enough to join a fab gym, full of amazing instructors and members – many of whom I now count amongst my close friends. It just goes to show – I did manage to achieve a lot of weight loss on my own, but if it wasn’t for the gym and classes and some wonderful people – I think I’d still be on that yo-yo diet train so many of us are on. It also shows what a powerful motivating force the social side of group exercise can be – I don’t doubt that I would probably never have stuck with it in those early days if it wasn’t for the friendships I made at the gym and I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today.
So I hope you’ve enjoyed this little insight into my journey, I hope it makes you realise that I really do understand what it’s like, and I hope in some small way that this might motivate and encourage anyone out there trying to get fit or lose weight to keep going and to stick at it – because you CAN do it and some of the things I’ve tried may well work for you too. So give it a go! What have you got to lose?
Nancy 🙂 xx