I guess I should set some context……in my mid 40’s and without conscious thought, my journey was heading towards type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and Alzheimer’s. Having topped the scales at 17 stone at my heaviest and over the course of three children and a sedentary job, I had been inactive for decades. Smoking, drinking and consuming chocolate like it was manna from heaven, I had every unhealthy vice going. Fast forward to now, and at 51, I am lighter than I have been in 20 years – fitter than I have been since school and nicotine, alcohol & sugar free.
My descent into bad habits started when I left school – and ended curricular & extra-curricular exercise, continued at university with an ability to drink pints and roll my own cigarettes – simultaneously, and by the time I had my 3rd child it felt like I had spent most of the previous decade on the couch. Crash diets when my weight made me so unhappy that I cried, all punctuated with a lack of motivation and enough excuses to avoid looking at the reality. I was very overweight, very unfit and heading to a very unhealthy future.
I’d like to say that the start of my journey back to health was planned and well thought out. But honestly that’s not the case.
It started with a puppy. A puppy that needed walking….every single day. Having given up smoking – my activity levels stepped up, several years later with a charity swim – a bloody long swim that kick started my fitness…and which led to an involvement with a group of local people keen to improve their health through exercise. I had found a way of motivating myself and (I think) others. Helping my youngest learn to ride a bike in 2014, had me digging out my bicycle and I found a new love in cycling…not without mishap mind you – and I still sound like a train going uphill. My New Year’s resolution for 2016 was to make healthy choices – I decided that every choice was better looked at as a discreet event….and that instead of falling off a diet and wallowing in chocolate for days after a slight stumble, I should allow myself to waver….but that each chocolate and each biscuit should be a mindful decision….and not necessarily lead to an empty packet. Each trip to the shops had a choice – walk or car, each menu choice a deliberate decision – not always a feast. A small change in mind-set perhaps – but I found it really helped. It stopped me from feeling like I had failed – and allowed me to be kind to myself. I kept a diary and recorded my healthy choices. I found a great dance class, and with the enthusiasm of a local friend, go to two classes a week – grinning from ear to ear whilst skipping around in unflattering lycra. Wearable trackers and smart phones with step counters enabled easier tracking and more self motivation and at the end of 2016 I found a habit tracking app that really worked for me, and kept me focused. Extremely active, but still overweight with a couple of stone still to lose I approached New Year 2017 unsure where my focus should be.
The focus for this year came from growing awareness of a social issue around drinking and crystallised with a throw away remark from my middle child… “I can’t enjoy myself at a party unless I have a drink”. Teenage children’s environment today is very different from ours was as children – social media is full of alcohol – and anyone would be forgiven for thinking that all middle aged women do is drink. Take a glance at a Facebook news feed and see cocktails aplenty, gin tours, pubs & clubs checked in to, bemoanings of hangovers and much encouragement to solve or celebrate any event with a glass of wine. Or indeed a bottle. We are, without being aware of doing it, normalising excess alcohol consumption. Now lots of people start the year with Dry January – I had done it myself, but with my youngest child just having turned 14 – I wanted to set a different, longer example. I wanted to do more than just deny myself for 4 weeks, wishing January would pass quickly before diving into a huge glass of Prosecco on February first, having smugly proved I didn’t have a drink problem. So though I didn’t say it aloud for a while – I decided to have a dry year. To show my children, before they make their own unhealthy habits, that you could enjoy yourself without a drink and that life isn’t all about dragging yourself to Friday when you can open the gin as a reward for a hard week.
Alcohol free, I found I was losing weight, I was less tempted to head for snacks and drinking less empty calories. Then, towards the end of January, a very good friend mentioned Sugar Free February – she was going to combine it with her usual winter detox and was looking for people to join her for support, I wavered for more than a few days and then thought “Go on then”.
BEST. DECISION. EVER.
Fifteen weeks in and so far this year I have lost 16 lb’s and this week easily got into a pair of size 12 SKINNY jeans. My body shape has changed dramatically, my skin is clear, my energy levels are high and I feel great. I don’t feel hungry, in fact for the first time in my adult life I actually felt full while there was still food on my plate. I am still losing a steady pound a week – and I am not dieting. If I want a snack I have one, or indeed two.
The only rule is no sugar.