If you look at me in the street, you’ll see a 30-something year old blonde who’s around 163 centimetres tall (5′ 3″) and average build. I don’t look athletic, I’m not slim and my skin doesn’t glow despite regular exercise and a good diet.
What most people don’t know is that in my 20s, I lost one-third of my body weight or about 30 kilograms (66 pounds). I was a chubby baby who grew into a healthy but chubby child, so it was little surprise I became an overweight teenager. It’s not that I ate badly – my mum always cooked healthy dinners for my sisters and I, and we only had junk food or take away on special occasions like birthdays. I just had a good appetite and I didn’t like exercise.
When I was in high school, I tried skipping lunch to lose weight. I became so hungry I felt nauseous, and the sense of guilt at throwing away my sandwiches was terrible. Another time I tried to make myself vomit like I’d read in magazines but it didn’t work. I was outgoing and had lots of friends, but I was self-conscious anytime there was a swimming carnival or pool party. I loved shopping, but I only wore dresses or skirts because regular jeans didn’t fit me. The boys at school didn’t talk to me either.
my heaviest weight
I went backpacking for a year when I was 18 and the lifestyle of drinking beer, eating pasta and fast food exacerbated my weight. By the time I was 20, I weighed 93kg (205 lbs) and wore size 20 jeans. I had stretch marks on my stomach, sides and thighs and my skin was terrible too. I knew I was overweight but it was the sight of my ankles in the mirror one day that prompted a change. It was 2006 but I still vividly recall the moment I decided to take charge of my health.
Here’s my weight loss journey:
The first thing I did was to start walking. I didn’t have any sneakers so I just walked in casual pants and skate shoes. I was so self-conscious, I would walk around the block at night so less people would see me. But it was a start. I only walked for 30 minutes or so and used the time to call family or friends. It was an easy change to incorporate into my day and I always felt good afterwards.
I realised my backpacking habit of drinking beer almost daily wasn’t the best for my health. I liked having a drink while cooking dinner and I often had a second one with my meal. A beer felt like a good reward after a busy day at university, work or doing assignments. I decided to replace my drink with a diet, non-alcoholic ginger beer that came in a similar shaped bottle. I realised my habit had little to do with beer itself, but more about having something cold to drink while cooking. Over time, I phased out my weeknight dinnertime drink routine. Just by walking and reducing alcohol, my clothes got a little baggy and people started commenting that I’d lost weight.
I’d made some small lifestyle changes and felt an improvement, but the most profound change was joining a gym. A franchise gym had a stall at a university Open Day and I approached a staff member for some information. They didn’t take me very seriously, probably assuming an overweight person wasn’t serious about their health. But they took my phone number and arranged for someone to call me.
I toured the gym a few weeks later and took a complimentary class. The workout I tried was BodyBalance, which is a mix of tai chi, yoga and Pilates. I immediately loved it, except for the sun salutation routines which were very challenging. I told a friend I almost felt high after the class! I was still reluctant to sign a contract as it was for 12 months, around $30 a fortnight and I was on a tight student budget. I asked my mum for her advice and she told me you can’t put a price on your health.
I joined the gym and never looked back. I kept doing BodyBalance before exploring other classes like the weights focused BodyPump, and boxing class BodyCombat. I stayed in the back row and was terribly unfit, but determined. The group fitness format worked for me as there were regular, scheduled classes and you could have the expertise of a qualified professional without the personal trainer price tag. I also realised I didn’t hate exercise, I just disliked team sports. A big milestone was buying my first pair of sneakers.
After a year of regular exercise, I’d lost around 8kg or nearly 10% of my body weight. My clothes were looser and I loved the feeling of buying new ones in smaller sizes. Friends and family were so supportive and positive about my weight loss, it was a huge confidence boost. I still partied and drank a lot, but exercising a couple of times a week made a noticeable difference.
I decided to go vegetarian, not to lose weight but for taste preferences. I already disliked chicken and pork, and when travelling I often went vegetarian to avoid mistakingly eating them. A vegetarian diet alone isn’t the answer to weight loss, however it can make you lose weight if you cut out convenience foods like burgers and pastries and instead increase your fruit and vegetable intake. For me, switching to a vegetarian diet sparked the beginning of my interest in health and nutrition.
After two years, my fitness levels had drastically improved. I was going to the gym three times a week and doing a mix of cardio, weights and flexibility training. My skin had less breakouts, and I felt stronger and much more confident. I hadn’t seen a doctor since a compulsory medical check up for travelling a few years earlier, so I decided to visit a naturopath a friend had recommended.
I was still overweight so I was nervous about seeing a health professional. However, my naturopath at Essential Health was welcoming, positive and provided lots of helpful nutrition tips. He suggested switching my regular breakfast of toast or a bagel to rolled oats, eating a square of 85% dark chocolate each day for iron and antioxidants, and gave me recipes for healthy snacks like zucchini fritters. I’d been raised in the low-fat diet era where nuts were forbidden, but my naturopath told me about the health benefits of nuts and seeds. He did some tests, including body composition analysis and a blood test. I got a print out of all the data and was fascinated by the numbers. I could track my progress!
Visiting a naturopath changed how I thought about food. It was 2008, and trends like #cleaneating and #rawdesserts weren’t around (neither was Instagram, in fact the first iPhone had only been released a year earlier). I was studying and working a few jobs, often finishing at midnight or later. I occasionally grabbed cheap takeaway when I finished late, but this became less and less as I discovered more meals on the go that didn’t need a refrigerator. I baked healthy banana muffins, often carried a small tin of baked beans and sometimes I just made a peanut butter sandwich. I made my own budget trail mix with sunflower seeds and raisins too. Eventually fast food was gone from my diet. I also cut out the teaspoon of sugar I’d been putting in tea each morning. I didn’t miss it.
By now, it was 2009 and I’d lost around 20kg (44 lbs) to weigh 72kg (158 lbs). The difference was extraordinary. I could buy regular sized clothes, and I’d often try something on to realise I could wear the next size down. At one point, I took a pile of my old clothes to a local alterations store and asked them to take everything in. They did the whole lot for $100. I finally felt normal, and it felt so good – especially when I went out to bars and clubs. But I wasn’t done yet.
The more exercise I did, the more energy it gave me. I could lift heavier weights, kick higher and jog for longer. I tried some new classes to keep challenging myself. I tried a dance class and hated it. But I tried BodyAttack and loved it! Jumping jacks, sprints, grapevines, lunges and burpees – it was extremely difficult but I liked the new challenge. Around this time I started running too. You can read more in my post Learn to Run, but essentially I began by walking and jogging for small intervals before working up to a 3.5km (2.17mi) run. I now do 10K (6mi) weekly.
living in the USA
By the time I moved to the USA to study in 2010, exercise was a non-negotiable part of my life. I weighed just under 70kg (154 lbs) and was incredibly proud of what I’d achieved. My college had a mandatory meal plan for international students and I was determined not to sabotage my weight loss. The dining hall was surprisingly healthy, with plenty of salads, fruit and vegetables and a dedicated vegan section, and all foods had nutrition information next to them. I still loved bagels, but limited them to twice a week.
I joined the college gym and made friends through the group fitness classes. I even signed up to do a 5K run for Thanksgiving, the longest distance I’d ever attempted! The school also had a dietician who I visited each month to track my progress. Incredibly, I lost weight while living in the USA despite eating pumpkin pie, a lot of Mexican food and partying hard.
I returned to Australia in 2011 weighing 66kg (145 lbs). The fact I can remember this number six years on shows how seriously I was taking my weight loss. I should have been proud but I was determined to get below 65kg. What followed in was injury, isolation and illness. You can read the next post here: The Dangers of Overtraining.
For now, I’m a self-confessed gym junkie. Exercise is a crucial part of my life and I run, cycle, do weights, BodyAttack or yoga six days a week. I don’t have a car so I also walk at least 3km (1.8mi) daily. I love that I can run for the bus without losing my breath.
My weight hovers around 60kg but it quickly creeps up if I don’t watch what I eat. I still love food, but I have wholegrains like rolled oats for breakfast, big salads or soups for lunch and my dinner is usually a stir fry, curry or healthy Mexican. I love making lasagne with layers of roasted eggplant and zucchini. It’s all about the vegetables! Take away and dining out is usually Japanese, Thai or Indian, and on the rare occasion I feel like sweets – it’s homemade healthy cookies, apple pie, chocolate pudding or luscious fresh fruit like berries or pineapple. I’m still a peanut butter addict and I continue to eat a square of dark chocolate every day.
There are no shortcuts in losing weight. You don’t need to spend a lot of money or make drastic changes, but it does take discipline, commitment and a lot of work. For me, losing weight has given me the freedom to go to the beach or a pool party without feeling self-conscious. Everything from walking uphill to carrying groceries is so much easier. I didn’t realise what a burden my excess weight was until it was gone.
My weight loss journey isn’t over as I want to get leaner, but that means losing body fat and increasing muscle mass rather than reducing overall body weight. I also want to start trail running, do a half marathon and I’m tempted to try a triathlon too, although I haven’t swum laps since school! Good health doesn’t have an age limit and I’m proud to enter my 30s knowing I’m doing all I can for a healthy lifetime ahead.
QUESTION: What health or fitness achievement are you most proud of?