Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition
I’d been thinking about writing this piece for some time and have been prompted to do it now by my fabulous and beautiful friend Cyd, who challenged me to post something before Friday – I think she has been working her blog magic for me again. So, if this is rapidly written and therefore below my usual standard – if that’s possible – you can blame her! And I apologise if this comes across as self-congratulatory; as always, my only intention is to share my experience in the hope it helps someone.
Next week is the 20th anniversary of my starting work in the NHS, and I have been with the same employer since then, give or take several reorganisations. The NHS Trust I work for started by providing mental health services only, until we achieved Foundation Trust status in 2007. Since then we have developed rapidly into providing a wider range of services in the community. This change has brought even more into focus the link between good physical and mental health. I know many of the clinicians in the Trust and they all emphasise this – it seems obvious – but I never really understood why it was important until I was off work with depression.
I was, and still am, very overweight. I hadn’t realised what it was doing to me – I’d piled on the tons since I was divorced, probably due to the freedom to buy all sorts of tasty goodies that were full of calories and bad for me. But when I look back it horrifies me how easy it is for us to get that way. As an example of its impact on me: I live about 5 minutes’ walk from the station, the walk is uphill on the homeward stretch, and I was taking a breather part way. On a five minute walk!! When I was first diagnosed my GP said that we would have to address this, but only after the depression was under control. This actually took about 7 or 8 months, and I was then asked to commit to a healthy eating and exercise programme as a condition of being allowed to return to work. So, with some trepidation, I agreed. Believe it or not, being told I couldn’t go to work when I actually wanted to was getting to me!
The attack was two-pronged. Firstly, I had an appointment with the dietician at my GP’s practice. This was a real eye-opener: I’d been expecting to be lectured and judged, but it was the complete opposite. Monica was lovely – she was very kind, asked me lots of questions about me and took a real interest, gave me lots of advice about healthy eating and suggested I try this rather than go on a formalised programme diet. And she was gorgeous too, which helped! So we started a routine of me changing my eating habits and seeing her every 5-6 weeks for an update, a chat and a weigh-in. It went well from the beginning: to my great surprise I found that healthy eating meant I could have lots of foods that I enjoyed, and the need for biscuits, cake and chocolate – especially chocolate! – just disappeared from my mind. I found I could actually walk past those shelves in Tesco without even thinking about it, which was amazing! And the results were good too, so much so that Monica began using my story in her nutrition talks to schoolkids, as an example of how people could benefit!
The second prong of the attack was exercise, the big E-word! I’ve never been one for the gym – the closest I’d ever got was waiting outside to collect my daughter. So when it was suggested that I go to one I was nervous, to say the least. But again, it was much better than I expected. It was a small gym, in one of the hospitals that we provide our services from, and was just for patients and staff. I had a six session course with a personal trainer, Sandra, who was also lovely: she was sympathetic and treated me very gently. I learned a lot about myself in those sessions, both that my physical abilities were better than I had thought and how quickly a little regular exercise could make a huge difference. All the niggling aches and stiff joints went away! It also rekindled my basic competitive spirit, and I found I was setting myself challenges on the treadmill and exercise bike. The sense of achievement was wonderful, and a real boost to my sense of self worth. I don’t go to that gym now – it’s in a very awkward location for my work and home, honest! But I’ve done something I would never have imagined: I’ve bought myself some equipment for home. Nothing specialist, just a step, some dumbbells and a little cycle machine, but enough to keep me occupied. And here’s a shock: it is a very enjoyable way of spending time! I’ve also sold my car and walk whenever I can, and am enjoying that too.
I hope you’ve managed to read this far, and haven’t rushed off to clear out your food cupboard or join a gym! The message behind all of this is where I started, really. Now that I feel better physically, and can see an improvement in the way my body works and what it lets me do without complaining, it has had a noticeably beneficial effect on my mental health. Also, after I wrote about my sleep problems someone suggested that exercise and diet might be an answer for those – I’m sure she’s right, I just hope it happens soon! I have lost nearly 3½ stone, and although the rate of weight loss has slowed down recently it is still happening. Can you imagine how good that can make you feel about yourself? I know I still have a long way to go but I’m so encouraged to keep at it, especially when the rabbit food season starts again. Sorry, but I can’t do salads in winter! So many people have commented on it and on how much better I look. That does wonders for you, believe me. This all contributes to better overall health, and whilst I still have my down days I know that everything is so much better for me than a year ago – because I have been shown how to look after all of me.
If any of this touches a chord with you, go on, give it a go. I’m not saying it’s easy, but the rewards are worth it!