How I lost nearly 50 pounds
Today in a meeting, I bumped into an old friend that I haven’t really seen since my first year of sobriety. Three years, 11 months ago I was brand new to recovery. I’d just chosen my first sponsor (this old friend) and eagerly jumped straight into ‘the work’ to heal myself with her help and guidance. I was fastidious, swinging between mania and depression and what appeared to be a constant state of shock at this whole new world. She was wonderful. I was in awe. I still am today, to some extent; she radiates warmth, calm and love. What she said to me in those early days was that I was suffering with a disconnect between my heart, soul, mind and body; and those words have followed me throughout my journey…
As I settled in my seat at the meeting, with my lunch, the woman next to me observed how healthy it was and complimented me on my cycling jacket. I exclaimed that I’d just run 5k and cycled 7 miles! She seemed shocked and asked me how.
These questions together with seeing an old friend prompted a moment of reflection… What I realised was that today I am a completely different person. I am nearly 50 pounds lighter and significantly fitter, not to mention that I’ve eliminated stimulants from my diet, I’m approaching my fourth year of recovery and have stopped smoking!!
So I thought you may be interested to hear how I went about achieving these successes! You can see from the pictures below how much I have lost and how that brightness has returned to my eyes. The radiance I observed in my friend, I’m now beginning to exude, here’s how.
As I reflected on the bold and courageous decisions I’ve made over this last year, and the consequential epic growth, I thought of my previous blog post, Fail Safe: Look both Ways. In which I wrote of a Brain Pickings blog about an essay written by Debbie Millman, entitled ‘Fail Safe’, from the anthology ‘Look Both Ways…’ In her essay, Millman writes “…the computer will do anything within its abilities, but it will do nothing unless commanded to do so…’. I think people are the same – we like to operate within our abilities. But whereas the computer has a fixed code, our abilities are limited only by our perceptions.” And this is true of my journey; when I started out I didn’t believe it would work, I was limited by my passed experiences which I had deemed as failures. But, I was somehow able to muster the courage to dream big and think outside my capabilities. Just as I had thought I’d never get sober, I was finally able to take a monumental step to ask for help.
If you’d have said to me in December 2014 that I’d soon be cycling 50-75 miles and running three times a week and have lost nearly 50 pounds, I’d have asked you how on earth I was going to do it. Whilst I so desperately wanted it, I just couldn’t get beyond the enormity of what I was facing – a loss of ten stone.
Fortunately, I took these steps that I’ve set out below. For me though, this was a natural progression in my recovery journey. What I have experienced is that my relationship with food, and disordered eating (much like my addiction), stems from the uncomfortable nature and avoidance of, feelings and an unhealthy ‘coping’ mechanism and those words echoed by my old friend – that my mind was disconnected from my heart, soul and body.
So if you too want to tackle a weight problem, here are the steps I would advise you to take in the formulation of a holistic strategy. It has to be holistic, because disordered eating affects your mind, body and spirit.
1. Admission. Admit that you have a problem. Whether it be your relationship with food, or your unhealthy eating habits. Face the problem, acknowledge it and this can be your touch stone of change.
Action: Weigh yourself where you can get a printed receipt. Place it on a notice board, move to step 2.
2. Humility. You need to ask for help. This dear friend I talk of explained humility as ‘everything in its right size.’ That is true of my excessive weight and the need to seek expertise. I chose to work with a nutritional coach, Katherine Mountford. I worked with her throughout 2015 and have committed to work with her throughout 2016. I had to face the fact that my previous dieting attempts had not worked and that, despite my nutritional knowledge, I needed help from an expert. Katherine was able to show me where I was going wrong and how to refocus my efforts. I cannot tell you enough how much this helps. You need to understand how your body works and this will inform your strategy. She helped me to develop a nutrition plan based on my body type and made a number of other recommendations, on which I’ll continue to elaborate.
Action: Find an expert to help you. Anything that provides ALL of the following: nutritional education for your body type, an examination of the reasons you overeat and make unhealthy choices and the importance of mindfulness.
3. It was this work with Katherine, that enabled me to gain some level of accountability. Knowing that I was checking in regularly with a coach, helped me to psychologically make better choices. We set goals together which were SMART and regularly reviewed them. I now set monthly goals and these sit on my notice board in my room.
Action: Initially I kept a food diary, this also helped me gain that connection between mouth and mind. Make a vision board with your goals.
4. Mindfulness. You need to get honest and get your head out of the parapet of denial. By facing the problem you’ve taken the first step, but now you need to delve underneath to that dreadfully uncomfortable underbelly of feelings… For me, this is the heart of my problem with food – I suffer with an emotional eating problem. I eat for comfort and I struggle to recognise my feelings. By learning to sit with myself, experience my feelings, I am able to practise eating mindfully and changing my relationship with food. This is by no means an overnight journey; it is constant. I am very much a work in progress. Growth is not linear and I have experienced steps back, side steps and leaps forward. Overall, the trend is a great loss.
Action: Practise meditation, a YouTube video or a guided class. Do yoga. Really. Yoga is massive in connecting the mind and body. Write a journal – this connect me to how I feel and I cannot avoid myself when I do this.
5. Exercise. I cannot emphasise this enough. Not only will it release endorphins which will improve your mental well-being, it will enable you to make healthier choices because you feel better about yourself. Sweating is key. I run, cycle, cross train and practise yoga. Initially I walked 10,000 steps a day which I found hard but I persevered. Then I started going to the gym twice a week. I then decided to get a bike for my commute to work. Then I gave up my bus pass. I then took up the challenge to run 5k and have today run my first continuous 5k! I am so proud of myself!
Yoga is really important to connect your mind and body and recenter yourself.
Action: Move. Buy a pedometer and start walking 10,000 immediately. Find an activity that you love. Try to incorporate a weight baring exercise and cardiovascular activity.
6. Engage your brain. For me, I found that I was actually quite depressed because I felt constrained. I’d told myself I can only be happy once I’d achieved my goal weight. I placed value judgement on everything and limited myself massively. In this journey, I’ve been encouraged to fall in love with life again and to have some fun. What I discovered was that when I feel nourished mentally and engaged – I feel nourished. Consequently, food takes a back seat. I fell out of love with food.
Action: Discover yourself and your interests. Develop a new hobby, take day trips, read new books, start a course. Learn.
7. Practise patience. Seriously! I wanted the results right now. I expected the weight loss to be similar to that I experienced in 20’s, which was quick and constant. This has certainly not been the case this time around, considering the years of abuse I have caused to my body and the reducation of my mind and relationship with food. I had to chill out and stop weighing myself all the time – and attaching my self-worth to that number. I now weigh myself monthly and look at the bigger picture.
Action: Remind yourself of your goals, but also acknowledge your daily accomplishments. Weigh yourself monthly and take measurements.
8. Hydration. Simple, drink lots of water. We all know how much it improves our concentration, can mask itself as hunger and helps us feel saited. I also stopped drinking tea and coffee immediately. There is evidence to suggest that the fluctuations in blood sugar caused by caffeine can lead to unhealthy food choices. I stopped craving cake, had less anxiety and felt more calm when I stopped drinking it.
Action: drink water! Stop drinking diet drinks and coffee.
9. Sleep. Seriously. Get at least 8 hours a night.
Action: Prioritise sleep. Turn your phone off an hour before bed and put on a meditation. Ensure you get a rest day every week, if not two.
10. Good nutrition. You may wonder why this comes last in the list…? Well, I think that when you practise all of the other elements, it redresses the balance of food as an element of a healthy way of life. Too often we feel that what we need to fix us is the latest diet or restrictive rules. I don’t believe that. I believe in eating real, whole, single ingredient foods.
Having said that, good nutrition is paramount. It affects your mood, energy levels and emotions. It has to be made a priority for effecting change. Personally, I eat a diet low in carbs, high in healthy fats and lean protein. I eat carbs in my meal pre or post exercise. I also omit wheat and dairy from my diet because I cannot moderate them. Believe me, I have tried.
I don’t weigh or measure my food and instead eat three balanced meals a day, using the hand guide below, and two healthy low carb snacks which contain protein.
It is equally important to plan my food each week. I sit down with my favourite cookbooks every Saturday or Sunday and plan what I am going to eat that week. I adapt recipes to make them healthy and experiment, a lot. By planning in this way, you generate a shopping list based on exactly what you need, so you are less likely to deviate from the plan!
Action: Buy whole, real organic foods where possible. Don’t buy anything labelled as ‘low fat’ or ‘diet’, if it has more than four ingredients, don’t buy it. Research healthy nutritious food. I regularly look at new recipes and buy cook books. Experiment. Plan your food every single week.