*well, technically it’s more like 500 days but the title didn’t sound as catchy and I’m a writer so we crave poetic license occasionally. Forgive me.
You see, this article is as much for you as it is for me. I wanted to write it so that I could have a physical reference of just how far I and my body has come since I became ill and also to show you just how much one body can go through and how, if done right, you can get the body you want.
So. I’ll start with a confession; I’m an emotional eater and I love sugar. That’s a combination I fear a lot of us (both men and women) have but it’s the sad truth. I could go to counselling for the first issue but I have zero intention of looking into my past and opening Pandora’s Box and I could quit the sugar but, excuse my french, life is too fucking short! Sure, you could argue that sugar could be shortening my life span and creating a whole other hosts of problems but it’s my life and if I want chocolate cake at the weekend, I’m going to bloody well stuff my face. But that’s a whole other rant for another article on another day.
Because what I really want to talk to you today is about bodies and how we’re all different and I’m going to use my journey to show you what I mean.
Now, BMI is a good guide on the whole. However, I also feel it’s incredibly outdated and can, in of itself, create a whole host of issues for someone already struggling with weight problems. You see, if you look at bodybuilders, most of them would be classed morbidly obese on the sole basis of their weight and height and this is the problem. BMI doesn’t take into consideration genetics (yes, this DOES play a part in your weight), environmental or social factors. And this is why I don’t weigh myself regularly (read: every couple of years!) because I know that, for the most part, it won’t be accurate because it doesn’t look at the entire story of your body unless you have those fancy scales that tell you what percentage of fat and fluid etc you have in which case, pay a bit more attention to them.
Until last year when I was ill, I hadn’t weighed myself in a few years but guessed that I was around the 80kg/180lb mark and was in size 14/16 clothes. Average for the UK and though I didn’t look that big, I often felt it and wasn’t in love with the way I looked even after losing some weight due to my breakdown.
And though I remember when I was 18 years old being in size 10 clothes, it was also the summer where I wouldn’t eat for 24 hours at a time (29 hours was my record) and it was incredibly unhealthy as evidenced by the fact that I lost approximately 9lbs in 10 days and couldn’t stop shaking. And as I began to grow up, one look at my mum, aunties and grandmother in a line made me realise I was destined for a pear or apple shape – sadly, it turned out I was never going to be blessed with a bosom big enough to give me an hourglass figure. So, whilst I would never say that my ‘fatness’ was destined, I appreciated that if I wanted to be anything but the natural shape I was given, I’d have to dedicate my life to super healthy eating and being in a gym and well, I prefer eating out and watching movies so that was never going to happen for me. Yes, it’s all about priorities over excuses but, for the most part, my priorities are about having a life I enjoy, not one dictated to me by gym memberships and foods I can’t pronounce. Again, that’s another rant for another day – I’m a quietly angry woman at heart!
So when I first arrived in Sydney in October 2013, this was how I looked on my very first day…
Now, I know what most of you will probably say – ‘you’re not that big’ and no, I wasn’t necessarily huge but I knew I wanted and needed to lose about a dress size to feel comfortable in myself. And that’s the key phrase when it comes to anything to do with weightloss and fitness – ‘feel comfortable in myself’ and we’ll talk a bit more about that another time.
I naturally lose weight whenever I travel without trying because I do two things I struggle to do at home – eat less and move more – the only ‘diet’ that’s ever going to consistently work for all of you out there contributing to the multi billion-dollar industry of ridiculous fad diets (unless you have a genuine allergy/intolerance) – so I knew I wouldn’t have to wait long to see a difference.
And sure enough, just eight weeks in, I looked like this…..
What I hadn’t realised at the time of that photo was that I was about to become seriously ill and sure enough, over the next few weeks, my health deteriorated and food became a difficult aspect of my life due to the fact that I had no appetite and couldn’t keep any of it down.
By the time February 23rd (two days before I flew home) came around, I looked like this:
In my opinion, I looked and aesthetically felt amazing but I have truly never felt so sick in my life. I couldn’t eat anything because after 3 bites my body would get rid of it so I couldn’t even get any nutrients to sustain me which meant that most nights, if I wasn’t asleep by 8.30pm due to lack of energy, I was in an out of consciousness on my bathroom floor in between trying to throw up. So whilst I look amazing, my body was struggling to function in the most basic of ways. Honestly, when I think of how sick I truly was (something I have never really told my family) it reduces me to tears. I couldn’t even walk for 10 minutes without becoming breathless and needing to sit down.
Fast forward a few weeks after returning home to the UK for a life-changing diagnosis, I see my specialist who tells me that two major side effects of the large and prolonged dose of steroids I would need to be on were acne and weight-gain; I was upset. You can call me vain all you like but I’d defy anyone to walk into a doctors office and not feel a tinge of sadness hearing those words. We all like to look good for ourselves and each other and to hear that you, temporarily, don’t have any control over your weight can hurt particularly as it compounded all my other emotions; it felt like the horrible ‘last straw’ to all the other bad news I had received in such a short amount of time.
As well as overall weightloss, I discovered (after researching my medicine and dosage) that I would also experience the ‘moonface’ which is another side effect of prolonged, large doses of corticosteroids. Essentially your entire face from below your eye sockets becomes puffy in the shape of a moon crescent.
My family and friends tried to be nice and tell me they couldn’t see it but I felt unrecognisable to myself and it hurt.
When it was time to have my leaving dinner before flying back out here to Australia, whilst I appreciated that I had a moonface, I had yet to truly see just how much weight I had put on everywhere else. Once at home that evening, I looked at the photos taken of me and cried.
Even publishing them and seeing them stare back at me in this article brings tears to my eyes. It was as though, overnight, my body had ‘blown up’ like a pufferfish and though I knew there was nothing I could do until I began reducing my dosage and coming off the steroids, it hurt like hell to see myself that way. Truthfully it still does.
A few weeks later arriving in Victoria (Australia), despite a huge increase in exercise (I was walking anywhere between 24-36km a week), I still couldn’t lose weight. Though I was now off the steroids, I was having a delayed reaction to my permanent medication which meant that I had a huge increase in appetite particularly with a craving for sugar. I felt disgusting physically and emotionally but couldn’t seem to change my eating habits perhaps because, psychologically, I wasn’t ready to. I was struggling with the isolation of my rural work placement and that, combined with my side effects, meant that food and I didn’t have a fantastic relationship at that point.
Here’s what I looked like in August 2014. Still not terribly big but my arms are huge and my legs are covered in cellulite; I felt horrible and no matter what I wore, never felt good about myself.
That photo was taken on my last visit to Melbourne before I arrived back in Sydney. A few days later, the stress and depression kicked in greatly which meant that my appetite barely existed and a few weeks into Part 2 of my Sydney adventure, I was already beginning to see what more walking and less eating was doing to my body…
About a month after arriving back in Sydney I moved to Bondi Beach and that’s when my exercise and good eating really took off because I had the mental peace to deal with it. I wanted to make the most of my time in Bondi and living my dreams so almost every day after work and at weekends I went running.
At first I could only run from South Bondi to the lifeguard tower without stopping which is only a third of a way along the beach and I was bright red and hyperventilating. It was embarrassing given that I used to be able to run a couple of kilometres easily but I had to remember everything my body had been through in such a short amount of time – comparison with other runners was not allowed! So I would briskly walk the rest of the beach before returning home. And every day I listened to how my body felt and how busy my head was and pushed myself when I could.
Slowly, but surely, I began to increase my distance. Before I knew it I could run the entire length of the beach and back again without stopping and after practising this distance for a week or so, one Friday night after work, I wondered to myself if I could run, one way, to Tamarama Beach along the coastal path. I did! There were stairs, uneven cobbles and it was up and down hills but I did it – 2.2km. No distance at all in the grand scheme of things but slowly I managed to walk/run back a little further each time and before I knew it I could run to Tamarama and back to Bondi only stopping for water.
Within a few weeks, my clothes were beginning to feel looser and I started to feel good about my body again. Sure, I still had cellulite and still wobbled a little more than I’d like to when I was moving but the point was I was moving. So I kept going with my running.
Every day I assessed how my body and mind felt and there were times when my body didn’t necessarily want to run but my head needed to so I put my runners on and off I went. And whenever I felt ready, I went a little further. To the next set of railings. To the next crest of the hill. To the next water fountain. And a few weeks later, I was running almost 5km to and from Bronte Beach on an almost nightly basis. There were some days I couldn’t manage a full run due to my shinsplints or a headache (I suffer greatly with pressure headaches and it gets very stormy here) etc but I didn’t beat myself up because I knew I was trying.
And sure enough, a little over two months after starting my first, tiny, run to the lifeguard tower and it was January 26th – Australia Day. It was a grey day and with nothing planned, I decided to head out into the cool drizzle. ‘I’ll try and run to Bronte and back to North Bondi; no pressure’ I told myself. And I did. Except I didn’t stop there. I ran from South Bondi to Bronte, all the way back to North Bondi and then home to South Bondi completing my all time best of 6.5km and you know what? I did it fairly comfortably. I stopped for water and occasionally had to have a quick stretch of my calves for my shinsplints but my point is; I did it! And I did it for no one else but myself.
Unfortunately, that was the last run I would complete for a few weeks during to horrific shin splints and I have now attempted to begin soft sand running in the interim until I can get back on the path but I’m still moving. Still swimming at the weekends in the beautiful blue sea. Still eating fairly well (with some really bad occasional days off). Still trying to move when I can.
And as though I needed extra reassurance that I was going in the right direction, a ‘Bondi beauty’ called me fat in January and when I posted the photo to Facebook, to show you I wasn’t, you came in your thousands to tell me how good I looked. I felt good about how I looked and felt supported because of you. Knew I was changing for the right reasons and in the right way.
I was 72.2kg when I left Sydney last February. 72.2kg of sickness, depression and a defeated being.
When I flew home, I was repeatedly told that I had ‘never looked better’ and yet ‘never more ill’ I thought to myself. My liver had unintentionally giving me a great-looking body even though it was a very unhealthy and sick one at the time.
Fast forward 365 days and this is what I look like on March 1st 2015…
I’m the same shape and size but I’ve INCREASED my weight by 8kg to 80.1kg (the same weight I was when I first arrived back in 2013)! More exercise has equalled more muscle so whilst I may weigh more, I jiggle less and I’m extremely happy and proud about that! I am back to the same body confidence I had when I went home but I did it in a healthy way and not because my liver was failing and shutting down everything else around me.
So this is me. This is my body; cellulite and stretch marks included.
This is me.
This is my body.
And right now, I’m proud of it.