Eighteen months ago I was on an overseas trip for work, and two things happened which changed my life. On the final day of our trip to Bhutan, when we’d finished our work, my two colleagues decided to visit the Taktsang Palphug Monastery, better known as the iconic Tiger’s Nest, a Himalayan Buddhist sacred site on the cliff-side of the upper Paro valley.
I’d seen the amazing pictures of the hideaway and desperately wanted to go, but the only way to reach Tiger’s Nest was a two-hour hike up the mountain, including some very steep steps. I knew I wasn’t fit enough and would hold them back. I made my excuses and stayed behind.
Two days later, after our flight from Nepal was delayed and we missed our connection in Hong Kong came to the second thing – the airline put us up in a lovely hotel and as I stepped, tired and jetlagged, down one step into the shower I slipped and landed hard on my right calf. My leg swelled violently and over the coming two weeks became severely infected.
Back in Australia, I visited the doctor, and he said what I knew he would say – I could afford to lose some weight. While that wasn’t a cause of my injury, it wasn’t helping. He suggested trying to lose at least 5% of my body weight.
Anyone who is seriously overweight knows they should lose weight. They know it’s not good for their health. And anyone who is overweight has probably tried every diet there is. Over the years I have. I’m an expert at losing weight.
I’ve struggled with my weight for as long as I can remember. During high school, I lost 15kg – keen to fit in better with the other girls. During university, I put on probably twice that.
In my 30s I lost 20kg. I followed Weight Watchers programs, but never actually went to a meeting because I was too embarrassed to stand on the scales in front of other people. But at 44 I was heavier than I’d ever been.
The doctor suggested I see the dietician. I thought ‘I have nothing to lose, other than some weight’. I knew it wouldn’t be a quick fix. But maybe talking to someone and having someone to keep me accountable was what I needed. I dreaded it, but I put on my big girl pants and went for the appointment.
Catherine was great. She wasn’t critical and didn’t make me feel bad. She talked to me about what I ate and what exercise I was doing. The simple answers were ‘too much’ and ‘not enough’. But the more complicated answer was I wasn’t eating enough of the right things at the right times. I wasn’t eating breakfast, and I wasn’t snacking often enough, I was eating one big meal and some bad snacks because with a busy job and life I’d often go without food for too long.
Catherine said I didn’t have to go on a diet. But I did have to change the way I ate. In some cases, I had to eat more. More protein, more vegetables, more regularly. And I needed to move.
I started walking. Not long distances – the 2km to and from work each day – or very quickly. If I were going out for dinner or to meet friends, I would catch the bus and then walk the last 20 minutes. Gradually I built up time and distances as I lost kilos and felt fitter.
A year after I started I’d lost more than 35kg. It was gradual. It wasn’t a miraculous Biggest Loser style drop. But it felt great.
I hadn’t counted a single calorie; I hadn’t measured any food. I’d cut out most of the bad stuff, ignored the birthday cake and snacks at work. But I still went out for dinner with friends and had the occasional glass of wine. I just chose the best options I could and tried to walk to the restaurant or home to make up for the extra calories. If I had a bad day, and they were few, I didn’t punish myself.
And on normal days I was actually eating more. I’m now religious about eating breakfast, I have a massive salad every day for lunch (I’m sometimes embarrassed by the heaped plate of greens) and I have a big dinner with at least half my plate covered in my favourite vegetables – carrot, broccoli, kale (who knew!?), cauliflower and cabbage. I eat a lot of fish – one of my favourite things anyway – chicken and some lean beef and I’ve become a fan of quinoa and brown rice.
My greatest fear was keeping the weight off. So last October I joined a gym. I was nervous and self-conscious. I was still worried that I was too fat for the gym and not fit enough to go! I know that sounds stupid, but gyms feel like they’re for fit, skinny people, not overweight women in their mid-40s. But when I got there, the staff couldn’t have been nicer.
They paired me with a trainer in her 50s who has taken me on a journey. She quickly taught me not to compare myself to others and to focus on myself and my goals. She pushed me (in a friendly and non-confronting way) to do things I never thought I could do.
I’ve lost another 13kg since joining the gym. I’m still 6.5kg off my goal weight, but well on the way to getting there. It’s hard to believe it, but I love going to the gym. I do five dance classes a week – Zumba and freestyle dance because for me it’s fun. I do some other things (RPM, body pump and body combat), but I don’t enjoy them, so that’s more of a chore. I see my trainer once a week, and she’s focused on building my muscle and core strength.
My advice is don’t wait until you feel fitter join the gym – go along at whatever age and weight you are. I wish I had. There are people in their 70s and 80s at my gym and people who are just starting their efforts to lose weight (and look more like my before photo!) I’ve made some lovely friends and found it far less intimidating than I thought I would.
At 45 I’ve never felt better. I feel and look fitter. I’ve dropped from a size 24 to a size 12-14 and have lost almost 50kg – more than seven times the 5% of my weight the doctor was pushing for!
I’m determined and confident I’ll keep the weight off. I’m continuing to see Catherine, as much for moral support as anything, but also because I know me, and I know I need accountability. I don’t want to slip back into old habits and to have someone else watching is what I need! I want to stay fit and healthy.
I recently completed a 30km charity walk. That would have been unthinkable 18 months ago. I wouldn’t have made the first 3km. And one day I’ll go back to Bhutan and race up the stairs to the Tiger’s Nest.