2018: THE YEAR I...
Never in my life have I kept a New Year’s resolution. When I was young, I was endlessly giving up chocolate, fags, booze, unsuitable
boyfriends, trashy Tv — to no avail. Then, as I grew older, it became more about positive self-improvement: joining a gym, eating ‘clean’, keeping a diary, exercising proper sleep hygiene. Again, hopeless.
I blame my stars. After all, I’m an Aries: superlative at starting things, full of energy and enthusiasm for that first exciting push, but less keen on the subsequent slog and bored to tears by routine. Like countless other good intentions, my New Year’s resolutions were yesterday’s dreams by February, distant regrets by spring.
But 2018 was the year that all changed, when I finally stuck to my New Year’s resolution: shifting (almost) all of my excess weight.
In fairness, I had a bit of a head-start on the year. In autumn 2017, following several rather uncomfortable conversations about my weight with my doctor, I took myself off to the viva Mayr clinic in Austria. It wasn’t the first time I had tried a weight-loss clinic — indeed, I’ve lost count of the amount of time and money I’ve frittered away on these sorts of places — but, this time, I was determined to succeed.
My weight, you see, had shifted from being a purely aesthetic problem, an impediment to looking half-decent in a bathing costume, and progressed into being a medical issue.
Post-menopause and with an ongoing thyroid condition, I was tipping the scales at more than 100kg — 105kg (16st 7lb), to be precise.
That meant that, at best, I was 20kg overweight. In truth, it was more like 30kg (4st 10lb in real money).
If I looked bad, I felt worse. I was jowly, pasty and thick around the middle, but also tired, listless and lethargic. And, despite doing lots of exercise — I have always exercised, mostly low-impact stuff, pretty regularly, and I walk a lot — I just couldn’t shift any of it. every time I caught sight of myself in the mirror, I felt like a big, fat failure.
But the real spur was the doctor. We are very lucky in my family: we have no relatively serious illnesses, but we are prone to diabetes. And obesity — and I make no bones about it, I was obese — is the leading cause of type 2 diabetes. At 51, I didn’t want to become another statistic.
Yet that was where I was heading. Not only that, but my blood pressure had crept up. The doctor said it was probably related to my menopause, but the weight wasn’t helpful. So heart disease was on the cards, too. It seemed to me that there was only one thing to do: take control and shift the lard.
At my age, you know yourself pretty well. I realised that, in order for me to succeed where I had failed countless times before, I needed a kick- start, something that would produce quick, visible results and give me the motivation to keep it up. Hence the Mayr method: the most draconian, least fun, least glamorous weightloss regimen in the world.
Numerous places offer it, with small variations according to cost and location. I went to the viva Mayr clinic in Austria, which is not quite the strictest, but not the kindest, either. Despite being utterly miserable, it did the job. I lost 5kg, having taken the first steps on my journey.
Nevertheless, at 100kg, I was still clinically obese (I am 1.73m tall, so my ideal weight is around 75kg, or 11st 11lb). Good as it felt, I knew I needed to consolidate my losses and press on.
Most people who struggle with their weight will tell you they don’t have too much trouble getting it off — it’s keeping it off that is the big issue. Anyone can curtail their appetite for a short period of time; it’s retraining the body — and, crucially, the brain — to make the new regimen a permanent habit that is so incredibly hard.
Much has been made of the fact that pre-diabetics can reverse their diagnosis with a simple caloriecontrolled diet. And that is indeed true — medically, at least.
But, for a fat person, there is no such thing as a ‘simple’ diet. Of course, calorie reduction is not complicated: you just eat less. Yet that is so much easier said than done. Being overweight is as much a psychological problem as it is a physical one. And, unless you can enlist both brain and body in the process of weight loss, you’re always fighting a losing battle. It’s a bit like giving up smoking: it’s not enough to know you should, you have to actively want to as well.
So, this time, instead of using my minor success in dropping 5kg to relax a bit, I doubled down on myself. I focused on the advantages of losing that weight — feeling and looking so much better, and people noticing, and imagined how good I would look and feel if I could take it to the next level.
A crucial prop was the bathroom scales. In the past, I had been afraid to weigh myself, lest the result send me into a spiral of despondency.
Now I weighed myself rigorously every day and, instead of panicking if the needle looked like it was heading the wrong way, I would simply take a deep breath and adjust my behaviour accordingly.
I should say at this point that I wasn’t on a complex or faddy diet. I was simply espousing the principles of the 16/8 fasting diet and sticking to a healthy diet of protein, vegetables, small amounts of dairy, eggs ( great hunger-busters), as little alcohol as I could manage — and no added sugar.
restricting my intake to within an eight-hour period effectively meant only two meals a day, which had a huge impact. I don’t think this would have worked so well if I hadn’t also cut out sugar and, in so
...finally cracked the real secret to losing weight SARAH VINE ...forced my whole family to ditch plastic LOUISE ATKINSON SEE PAGES 40-41
doing, eliminated those highs and lows that lead to snacking.
It also made me more conscious of when and what I was eating. I even kept a food diary. This I cannot recommend enough as a tool for staying on top of things: if you are a comfort- eater like me, it’s easy to lose track of what you’re ingesting, because much of the time you’re feeding an emotional need, not a physical one.
But if you write down everything that passes your lips, it makes you think twice about it — and allows you to make a conscious choice about whether you are truly hungry or whether you can manage without. I made slow, but steady, progress. By spring, I had managed to shift a further 5kg — a total of 10kg, around 22lb. Now I weighed 95kg (15st), still a great deal more than I needed to be. But it felt like a huge achievement nonetheless. My clothes fitted me again, my joints no longer ached and I had more energy. Walking and exercise in general became a pleasure once more. Best of all, I dropped a shoe size. A shoe size! Who knew you could get fat feet?
And then I hit a brick wall. Try as I might, I couldn’t shift any more weight. Between April and June, I stuck to my regimen, but the needle on the scales hovered stubbornly between 94 and 95kg.
It was clear to me I needed to reduce my calorie intake further, but the problem was I couldn’t manage that without becoming insanely hungry — and that led to eating the wrong things at the wrong time.
I became incredibly demoralised and the old demons returned. ‘What’s the point?’ they whispered in my ear. ‘Who are you kidding: you’re always going to be fat. Just give in,’ they urged. ‘Have that chocolate brownie. It will make you feel soooo much better . . .’
Had I listened, 2018 might have been just another year of failed resolutions. Instead, in July, I sought professional assistance.
Professor Marcus reddy is a consultant general surgeon at st George’s University Hospital, London, with a speciality in bariatric surgery. That was my plan: a gastric sleeve. It had worked for a friend and I was convinced it was my best chance of permanently reducing my weight.
But, as Professor reddy pointed out, I was no longer fat enough to qualify (oh, the irony, but also the delight, of being told by a medical professional, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t ‘fat enough’).
Instead, he prescribed something called saxenda. This is a daily injection (via a device similar to an insulin pen) of a drug called liraglutide, which mimics the actions of the body’s own appetite-regulating hormones.
Initially used to treat type 2 diabetes, liraglutide was also found to induce slow, but gradual, weight loss in patients. It’s been licensed since 2010 and costs around £180 for a month’s supply, so it’s not cheap but, in my opinion, worth every penny.
for five months now, I’ve been injecting it into my stomach every morning. I have no side- effects, but some people do experience headaches and nausea — it’s very much down to the individual
And I still feel hungry; it’s just that when I do eat, I get full much faster than I would normally. The net result is that I now eat about a third less than I used to. As I write, my weight is around 88kg (13st 12lb), so still not exactly sylph-like, but moving in the right direction. My aim is to get to 80kg (around 12st 8lb) and stay there.
so, dear reader, if you are staring down the barrel of obesity-related illness as I was this time last year, take courage. If I can do it, you can, too. Just be honest with yourself, take your time and get as much help as you can.
And remember: don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.
...became a fitness fanatic and got a six pack GERALDINE BEDELL SEE PAGES 44-45 ...found my dream career in midlife LUCY CAVENDISH SEE PAGE 46