Where it Began
For most women, I think not having an issue with your body would seem to be out of place. We have become so conditioned to find fault in ourselves that we do not celebrate the good, the bad and even the ugly.
From a young age I was incredibly aware that my calves were bigger than most girls’. As I grew into a teen, body image was everything to me. I could never be thin enough. I remember trying fad diets and stressing about never fitting in. My thighs and calves were the bane of my existence. I hated wearing pants, and at 30 I have still never worn a pair of jeans before. I was never thankful for my flat, flat stomach and tiny waist. What I was not aware of was being slightly more muscular than my twig friends was not the end of the world.
The self-loathing and disgust had become deep-seated anchors in my mind. Skipping meals became the thing to do. Or bringing up food so frequently that my body became so in tune to this action that my red face and watering eyes were hardly an issue the more I did it. I didn’t even stop to notice that I was growing up in a super healthy home, and exercising rigorously.
When I was 16 at a girls’ school in KwaZulu-Natal, the joke was if you ate you were bulimic, and if you didn’t, anorexic. This continued well into my 20s. The hoarding, the binging, the purging. Self-harm was also a firm favourite. I truly wish I could have sheltered my 16-year-old, 19-year-old, 22-year-old selves from the harm and hurt I inflicted with the love and knowledge I have today.
When I matriculated I was disgusted that I weighed 56kgs. Disgusted. I remember starving myself that December holiday before varsity started. Looking in the mirror was a nightmare. I so badly wanted to reinvent myself into a thin girl every time I looked at that reflection. And so the battle waged on.
When I was 22 I was (finally) diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. I was so relieved to finally be able to medicate my mood swings. Unfortunately as my diagnosis was late to come to the table, my coping mechanisms had terrible consequences. A few months later, at 49kgs, I was booked into a treatment facility for three months where, among others, my bulimia was picked apart, bit by bit. It was terrible. I was so ashamed. But with help my addiction to food was dealt with and I was brought to awareness. About my condition. About food. And about myself. I was taught to love myself. Appreciate how beautiful and worthwhile I am. Coping mechanisms were put in place. I just had to practise them. For my own sake and my survival.
When I left treatment I weighed 65kgs. I wasn’t allowed a scale, so when I finally did weigh myself I had a heart attack. But, but, but, old coping mechanisms were no longer an option. So off to the gym I went. I remember explaining my dilemma to a woman there. She made me get onto a specialised scale which read my BMI. Her conclusion was 60kgs was my ideal weight taking into consideration my more muscular build. Another setback: how on earth was I going to lose 5kgs? I was devastated. Oh Jessica, if you only knew what you know now.
Fast-forward to moving back to my hometown, Nelspruit, where my parents wanted to keep an eye on me so soon after treatment and graduating. I came back to the Lowveld kicking and screaming. I had also come out of a physically abusive relationship. I quickly started a new relationship with a partner who was grossly obese and worked in the restaurant industry. I was looking for comfort in all the wrong places, and it was a recipe for disaster. I gave in to food. I gained 20kgs as if it was nothing. Being with someone who has no interest in health was also not conducive. Two years later I was single and fat. Very fat.
In the same year as my break-up I started a new job as a subeditor at a local media house. Then I met Robert. Two years into our relationship I had put on another 20kgs. I was so unhappy. I am surprised I did not kill myself. I was so incredibly happy with my relationship, but so terribly unhappy with myself. When I met Rob he was overweight. A year together was when he made a change regarding his health. Eighteen months later he had dropped 45kgs. We were eating very healthily at home, but my canteen account at work was sky-high. The concept of food prep was not even known to us. And we were practising disordered eating. Breakfast and dinner at home, but no lunch or snack. Some days we wouldn’t have breakfast. Rob would run and pack lunch in for him, but so seldom. His days of running, he would always ask if I wanted to join him. I was so obese, I had stopped caring.
When Rob and I got married I was a size 16. I couldn’t tie my own sandals in the mornings, he would have to do it for me. All my beautiful clothing was hanging in my cupboard gathering dust. In a space of four years I had gone from a 10 to a 16. It is only when I look back that I realise how my mind had shut itself off from my body. I had gone from one extreme to the other.
In May 2015 I had a family intervention regarding my weight. My father was gravely concerned with path my health was taking. He brought the April Fairlady with him. My stepmum had read an article on weight loss, specifically Banting. For an amount you received a meal plan for two months and joined an online-support community. Well as much as I was affronted by the intervention, it was the best thing to ever happen to me. I was so tired of feeling the way I was, I was so tired of hating the person in the mirror. I was so scared that things were going to spiral out of control, for good. My mood swings were completely out of sync. I was thinking of cutting again. So I will eternally be grateful to my family for their support.
I have been incredibly lucky on my journey. My transition wasn’t as brutal for me as I thought it would be. Having a husband who loves cooking and baking is a godsend. As Rob had already taken this journey, he has been so incredibly supportive. We were already eating healthy-ish, so with the Banting, it was more tweaking our diet and learning new recipes. My greatest struggle was giving up bread. Pasta, potatoes and pizza were easy as pie. But bread, oh my goodness. I was weighing more than 100kgs, and was ready for this change.
Regarding exercise, where I live in Nelspruit, there are many steep inclines. I discovered this when we went out for a walk one day soon after starting the diet. My right knee gave way, and it was then and there that I decided to first shed 10kgs before tackling that front again. It was easy in the beginning, but it wasn’t. I was on such a high when I dropped weight, but then with a bad day, I’d act out. But the good outweighed the bad.
I did my first parkrun in July. It was an incredible feeling. I was stone last, huffing and puffing, ready to call an ambulance if I had to, but I did it. I felt as if I could conquer Everest. I was putting my life back together, piece by piece, step by step.
We joined the gym in September and with this I decided to enter The Biggest Loser competition at my work. Well did that backfire on me, and badly. All my hard work and clean eating went downhill. My mindset of lifestyle became diet. I would binge after my weigh-in and then starve myself to shed the weight I had packed on. Over a three-month period I only lost 4kgs. I learnt a valuable lesson that if you don’t change your mindset, nothing is going to work for you. Lifestyle, not diet.
After my two-month Banting stint, we carried on, Banting was great, but I found myself to be hungrier than full, and this would often lead to binging. Often my old ways would resurface, and I would purge. The days when I was emotionally down and recovering from a depressive slump, would be the worst. I would be most vulnerable then, and I had to work really hard to hold myself together. Weight loss is not for sissies!
And so 2016 began, with its trial and tribulations. It was a horrid year, but I am grateful for healthy choices. My gym regimen took a back seat for the first six months. Luckily we had discovered the art of prepping and four meals a day. The kilos continued to drop, albeit slowly. I was not as weight-focused as I had been in 2015 as I saw that had gotten me nowhere. From weighing myself obsessively daily, it became once a week. My mindset was slowly changing to the goal before, not the destination awaiting me. If I fell off the wagon, I would tell myself: Don’t throw in the towel, give yourself a hand up and continue, you are human after all. If I felt like a chocolate, have a bite, not the bar. This did not mean I had free rein to be lax, undisciplined. But it did my self-esteem good to not have that inner voice berating me every time I would slip.
In October Rob brought home a Men’s Health with a fabulous meal plan. We have been sticking to ever since. Clean eating – low carb, low fat and sugar-free. I have definitely found a lifestyle to follow. We bake our own wholewheat rolls and rye bread. I am never hungry and look forward to mixing and matching meals. It works well in combination with our gym regimen which also started increasing as the eating pattern finally became a solid one. The binging cycles stopped and I saw that I was a happier person to be around. My anxiety and self-esteem issues improved drastically.
In December we bought Samsung Gear Fit 2 watches and now my watch is my bestie. I hate being parted from it. I love to track steps, water intake, calories, sleeping and my gym workouts. It motivates me with daily goals. I would definitely recommend buying a fitness tracker.
I had a friend, Fi, and an ex-colleague, Nicolene, who were a part of the SG community and were the reason I joined in May 2015. Up until now I had not really been involved, but in November I saw a post about #fitcember by one of the members. So I decided, what have I got to lose? It was the best decision I have made on my journey. It changed my mindset once again. It was a success and more weight came off. We spent most of our December at the coast, so our gym was the great outdoors. We spent mornings running 5ks and going for hikes. I even cycled for the first time since a child. It is a definite highlight of the journey thus far. Highlights of this December adventure were buying the bikini and wearing it. I also wore a dress on New Year’s Eve without tights. Those legs came out. Loud and proud, baby!
With my #fitcember, I started an Instagram account detailing my health journey, and it has helped me to be accountable. To me it is a visual representation of my progress thus far, and I have learnt so much from people on there. It is amazing how social media connects us, just like SG community members without whom I would not be where I am. I have met amazing people and the stories inspire me to hustle for that muscle.
Thanks to joining that adventure, 2017 has been fantastic. I have been hitting parkrun and gym with a vengeance. My body feels good. It feels strong. I cannot wait to see what it has in store for me.
My journey has been up and down. It’s been messy, but it is mine. No single one is the same. It’s four months into 2017 and I have dropped 33,4kgs since May 2015. Next month I will celebrate two years of being on this wagon of health. It is only at 23 months into this incredible journey that I can finally say I have found my groove. We train 3x a week at gym and parkruns on Saturdays. If life happens I breathe and try to focus on the next healthy choice I can make. We eat four meals a day. Low fat, low GI, sugar-free. I discovered my favourite snack is bacon strips, cherry tomatoes and almonds. I also discovered I hate burpees, with a passion, and I have fallen in love with lifting. It makes me feel as if I can do anything! I don’t know when I started to have a “normal” relationship with food, with myself, but taking the step to improve my quality of life has been the best thing I could ever have done.
A healthier mindset has inspired me once again to take up reading. I read voraciously, so I am enjoying the quietness it brings, the voices are no longer screaming. My whole journey has impacted me in such a way as to improve myself. I want to learn Icelandic and South African Sign Language this year, just because I can. I am inspired by my husband and his transformation, how he has supported me on mine. People are pretty inspiring. Reading stories about courage and strength through adversity – modern-day health heroes.
Milestones have been dropping clothing sizes and improving my PB times, but for someone in recovery it is so more than that. Learning to balance food and love has been the greatest gift to receive. I no longer hate the person in the mirror. I hope you realise how beautiful you are, how amazing your body is, and that you, you are worthwhile of living a life worth living. Onwards and upwards. So get busy living!
Tips for starting out
- If you want it, you have to work for it. Nothing comes free of charge.
- Focus on the road before you, not the destination. Rome was not built in a day.
- Be prepared to fail, many times, just make sure you keep getting up.
- Be prepared to say goodbye to the girls. The struggle is real.
- Water is life. And so is peanut butter.
- Remember you are not the enemy, so love yourself.
- It’s not just about the kilos, a shift in mindset is just as important. Even more so in my case. The two are married to each other, and act best as one.
- Remember to breathe and have fun!