Unlike most of the people who are currently losing weight, I came to it relatively late in life. Everything was fine while I was at school. I was brought up on a healthy diet, and while I scorned sports back then, I was so busy racing up and down all those staircases between classes and doing umpteen musical activities that I didn’t have any problems with maintaining a nice figure without needing to think about it. Somehow I managed to be blithely oblivious to the number of girls in my school with eating disorders, although I did observe that the people I saw dieting had a miserable time of it and ended up putting on more weight than they’d lost. I came out of school a staunch feminist, with a vague impression that diets were a bad idea.
At university, I came out as bisexual. Between the uni LGBT society, which had a particularly lovely women’s group, and a focus on gender as part of my degree in English Literature, I spent many a happy hour discussing gender and queer theory. I turned vegan and learned to cook at around the same time, and loved making meals for friends and little Middle Eastern pastries for the women’s group.
When I was 19 my life changed forever. I developed ME, also known as CFS or CFIDS. It’s a devastating neuro-immune condition, one of the most disabling illnesses in existence, and there is no cure. I’ve had ME for fifteen years and am now severely affected, which means that I’m almost entirely housebound and have to spend a lot of my time in bed. Many if not most ME sufferers struggle with their weight one way or the other. I was one of the ones who put on weight, gradually at first, then rather a lot at once. There is no research as yet as to whether this may be caused by hormonal factors or similar. For me, I know now that the two main things were chaotic routines (I wasn’t even on a 24 hour sleep pattern for many years) and memory problems causing me to lose track of when and how much I’d eaten. My partner would come home from work at six and ask me if I’d eaten, and I would say, “I don’t know.” This was on top of the exercise intolerance which is the key symptom of ME. Everyone always tells you that it’s impossible to lose weight without exercise: I believed them, and that didn’t make my prospects seem any brighter.
A few years ago, I found treatments which got the sleep disorders under control. By then I was used to eating erratically, however, and kept on doing it. I was starving hungry all the time, trying not to think about the fact that my body didn’t quite feel like mine any more, and feeling completely powerless to do anything about it. As far as I could tell, I was eating the same amount as usual, but it turns out that I knew less about nutrition than I thought. All those people who merrily advised eating handfuls of almonds as snacks didn’t help – snacking was probably a big part of my weight gain, and I honestly thought I was doing something healthy at the time.
A year ago, my GP happened to put me on pain medication which had the unexpected side effect of making me lose my appetite. For the first time, weight loss seemed like something I could actually tackle. I read up a bit about dieting, installed some calorie counting software on the laptop, and joined a weight loss forum. The pain meds only lasted a month, I didn’t get on with them, but to my delight, the ravenous hunger didn’t return. Eating at regular hours was evidently enough to settle that side of things down. Once I could feel my clothes getting looser, I bought a bathroom scale and settled down to proper weight loss.
It took eleven months, and I’ve been maintaining since March. I’ve lost about 41lb, roughly 30% of my original body weight, and have gone from a BMI of 28.5 to 20. I was generally between 98-105lb as a teenager and young woman, and I’m 100lb now. Before anyone faints in alarm, I’m only 4’11! It’s why I picked Hermia as a blogging name, in fact. She’s a feisty shortarse in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I always identified with her. If provoked, I have been known to mutter the quotation, “Though she be little, she is fierce”.
As weight loss journeys go, I recognise that mine was one of the easier ones. The greatest element in weight gain is the psychological aspect, and I got off pretty lightly in that respect. I’d picked up the odd bad habit, but nothing too major, and the main thing I needed to do was figure out how much I could eat, structure my meals sensibly, and then write it all down every day. Despite this, I was astonished at how immensely complicated the process of weight loss is. Even little things such as whether you choose to weigh yourself weekly or daily turn out to be loaded with significance.
This is where it was so useful to have a weight loss forum to turn to. I could talk out any problem that arose with people who were experienced and compassionate, think my way through issues I hadn’t known existed, and learn, learn, learn. I found a useful book, too, Fletcher’s Thin for Life, which I can strongly recommend. Instead of promoting the latest fad diet, it looks at the research into the 10-15% of dieters who are successful long-term, and identifies the key strategies which helped them achieve long-term weight loss.
I admit that by the end, I was less interested in it all. I was still keeping my food diary and eating according to plan, but I was pretty much talked-out when it came to forums, and I had other things on my mind. Gallstone attacks, bloody horrible things, had started after a few months of dieting, probably coincidentally. Thankfully I was now well-equipped to adhere to the very low-fat diet needed to keep the gallstones more or less under control, although I was horrified to find out how little doctors actually know about nutrition. The surgery to remove my gallbladder happened just after I reached my goal weight, and recovering from that kept me busy for a while.
Now that things have settled down again, I am finding that this is a good time for me to look back on my weight loss journey and reflect upon it all. And I am pleased to announce that I was able to go out and eat a lovely meal when my partner and I celebrated our sixth anniversary a few weeks ago, without having to worry about it at all.