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Leigh Hirsch battles her demons and loses 32kgs

Not long after submitting my story, my life and eating habits spiralled.  I thought back to my story and how I had ended it and I immediately contacted Elan to ask if he could hold my story back.  I didn’t want people disillusioned to the fact that my binge eating was simply “cured” and gone. I had done pretty well for 18 months and suddenly I was woken up to the fact that this struggle will always be with me, even after losing 32kgs and almost 1.5 metres of my body.  It would NEVER leave me and I am at peace with that.  I’m ok with saying I sometimes have no power over this, however what’s changed now is that I know I can overcome something that at one stage absolutely dominated my entire being.  


I think the beginning of my existence set the tone for the rest of my life.  I was born into a home where I had to grow up very quickly.  The childhood a lot of people experience is not what I experienced.  I don’t have many memories because I’ve blocked them out.  Even after a couple of years of therapy I still haven’t unlocked those memories and perhaps it’s for the best.  The few memories I have are not pleasant and in no way happy.  My dad was a violent alcoholic who ignored me most of my life.  I’m quite sure he actually never wanted me.  My mom tried to compensate for the other parent that couldn’t be bothered about me and so spoilt me endlessly.  I never went without anything and over the years turned into a spoilt brat.  I had everything in abundance.  I asked.  I got.  Nothing was off limits.  I didn’t understand what NO meant.  Important facts when you take my binge eating into account.

However, with this abundance of attention and material things, came a very lonely existence. I spent majority of days in my room with my TV and radio because it was easier to stay out of my drunk dad’s way.  He never spoke to me anyway so why would I want to sit in the lounge filled with tension and no words being spoken?  And quite frankly it was better sitting in my room because I would avoid the taunting and raised fists, glass ashtrays being thrown at us, being so scared when he step towards me as a joke and spilling hot porridge all over me and him just laughing at me and not even bothering to help or caring that I was burnt or being called every name under the sun and laughed at.  

Never knowing when the next violent outburst would occur, I lived on edge constantly.  My mom would sleep with me because my dad would find it amusing to start punching my bedroom door in if he ran out of ideas to work my mom up.  I was embarrassed to have friends over because I was the popular girl at school and there was no way I could let others see how I really lived.  Not being able to speak openly at home for fear of him telling me to shut up has led me now, even as an adult, to be very scared of speaking up or asking questions.  

Some may not believe me when I tell them this because I come across as someone that takes no nonsense and won’t shut up for anyone.  However, when I do display these characteristics, they are often in an angry way because I was never able to express myself in any other way besides frustration and anger.  Speaking properly in difficult situations is still something I’m learning even at the age of 40.  I am often harsh or come across as rude and defensive.  Something, ironically, my dad did to me most of my life.

I didn’t tell people until I got older how life really was for me.  I thought it represented who I was and that people would judge me.  I also thought they would never believe me.  The stories were so extreme, yet true.  I never wanted people to feel sorry for me and as I got older I realised that my past had nothing to do with who I am.  Yes it is part of my history and it shaped me to some degree, but I was not my dad and so I tell my story freely now because many people experience the same things and cannot speak up.  They get embarrassed and feel ashamed.  It took me years to understand that even though my past affected me mentally and emotionally (the physical abuse never as much) I had the power to shape the rest of my life.  

Because my life was so different to many of my friends, the only thing I had to focus on was getting through a day of avoiding violent outbursts.  I didn’t do sports at school, although I was a really good tennis player, and although we played tennis as a family (when my dad was sober) I was never pushed to see things through.  If I wanted to give up, it was ok.  I had no one telling me that I had to see things through and finish the job.  So giving up came easy for me.  It sometimes still does.  If I didn’t receive instant gratification or results, I walked away.  Being overly spoilt caused many problems for me growing up.  It added to my anxiety because I couldn’t handle normal everyday situations properly and because my mom did absolutely everything for me, I left school without being ready for the world.  Even now, all 40 years of me, I still have to ask my husband how I handle certain situations and what I should say or do.  I even rehearse telephone conversations before I have to phone someone.  There was a stage I couldn’t even go into Woolworths and buy a few groceries.  I felt like everyone was watching me.  Waiting for me to trip or drop the groceries and then they’d all laugh at me because I’m so stupid.  

My husband would constantly push me to do things for myself.  If I begged him to go into the shop with me, he would simply say no and tell me I could do it myself and he would be there waiting.  It has taken years of practice to not be that shy girl hiding in the shadows but trust me, she is still there.  It also amazes me how so many people tell me I am one of the most confident people they have ever met.  If only they knew how hard the struggle was internally to put on a show like that.  I have got so much better though and I have fought through my anxiety and fear simply because I have to.  I have two little boys looking up to me as well.  I can’t show them that normal everyday things are fearful.  I want to teach them strength and independence.

I don’t like focussing too much on my past.  It is what it is.  After being in therapy for a long time and realising that my dad would have chosen a different life if given the chance, I forgave.  The only reason I am giving you insight is because my past moulded me to a certain degree.  It formed habits and behaviours that affected me as an adult.  My anxiety was formed, my anger issues never left and being spoilt caused me to have no control over my behaviour.  I got what I wanted, when I wanted.  So when I found that food was my vice I would tell myself I could eat what I wanted and to hell with everyone else.  At least I had control over food, right?  How wrong I was.


Being an adult is hard for me. I often still feel like a child because I didn’t go through the normal stages of life and was never a kid in the true sense of the word.  I literally lived a very grown up life from a very early age.  Missing out on those normal childhood experiences took a lot away from me.  I realised this when my first son was born and suddenly I had rage inside for this little kid.  It got to a point where I told my husband that I might hurt him and I need help because I didn’t know what was going on with me.  I spent a lot of time in therapy and the first thing I learnt is that I’m not a bad mother.  The fact that I realised something was wrong and went for help was important.

The second thing I discovered is that when faced with my own child, it was like a reflection of my life and I resented my own child for having a better life than I did.  I resented him when he cried because in my own mind I was thinking he was a spoilt brat for not being appreciative of having a better life than I did.  Subconsciously I was so angry at this small little human being because he had a life that I didn’t.  Through therapy I had to learn to play with him and have fun with him.  I hadn’t had some of those experiences and so I didn’t quite know how important it was to have them with my own son.  And so we took up activities such as endless Lego building and colouring in.  I felt like a kid for the first time.  I had missed so much in my childhood but how lucky I was to get to experience that through my own kids.


Then, my next problem was realised.  I had a food addiction.  When half my family had alcohol and drug addictions, I thought I was out of the woods.  Until I realised that I was going to the pantry when everyone was asleep and stuffed my face.  That chocolate I threw out because I was “starting on Monday” I would dig out of the dustbin again to eat when no one was looking.  Yip.  That’s the raw truth of how desperate we get in our addictions.  When I thought back to my childhood, the one clear memory I have is of my father when he would stop drinking for short periods.  I remember him piling up the chocolate on the book shelf next to him while he sat all night and read books and ate every bit of that chocolate.  It was his way of distracting himself from the alcohol.  When he wasn’t binging on chocolates and other sweet things, he was binging on alcohol.  Perhaps subconsciously these habits took form in my own mind.  

I soon became more aware of small alarm bells like when we went out for dinner. I wasn’t focussed on the conversation at all.  I was only thinking of what starter and main I would order and I was looking at the dessert menu before I even knew what I was ordering as a main.  Even if I felt sick I would still order dessert.  I became obsessed with food.  I thought about it all the time.  If my husband didn’t bring home the chocolate that I wanted I would throw a fit!  The last 10 years I’ve battled with weight and my dependency on food, which got worse as time went on.  My weight went up and down but majority of the time it was more up than down.  I would eat so much that I would have to throw up because of how sick I felt, but it never stopped me from repeating the next day.  

After having our second child 4 years ago, I discussed my anxiety with our family doctor.  I told her I had stopped therapy when we started touching on my emotional / binge eating habits and that I couldn’t afford to stay in therapy.   She immediately wrote a prescription for anxiety medication (Lexamil).  My dosage was 10mg initially.  After a few months she increased it to 20mg.  I started to notice that I was putting on weight and my clothes were getting a little tight.  Eventually it got to a stage where I was putting on 1kg a week.  Jeans that fit me 2 weeks prior wouldn’t even button up.  A few weeks later those same jeans wouldn’t even go past my thighs. I was sweating terribly even on the coldest day of the year.  I went back to the doctor 3 times over a period of a few months for tests and to find out what was going on.  She even sent me for blood tests.  All tests came back ok and we couldn’t figure out what was going on with me.  In desperation I told her to just prescribe a weight loss pill and of course she did.  No questions asked.  

By December 2013 I weighed almost 104kgs and although I carried weight prior to the medication, I put on about 23kgs on the medication.  I didn’t recognise the person in the mirror.  I couldn’t understand what the hell was going on with me!  I had tried everything, including the 12 week USN challenge.  Even when eating clean and exercising my weight gain just keep increasing. The more defeated I became, the more I turned to food and my usual binge eating.  I would drink 2L of Coke a day, polish a slab of chocolate in the blink of an eye, have takeaways for dinner, drink more Coke, eat more chocolate, snack on more chips and this went on day after day after day.   

My memory and concentration went down the drain and it felt as if I was having an out of body experience with all of these things going on with me.  I didn’t feel like me.  I didn’t look like me.  I decided to go online and research long term side effects of anxiety medication. And there it was.  Every side effect I was experiencing was listed in the top 5 of almost every type of anxiety and depression medication there was including mine.  It was like I had been slapped in the face.  WHY had my GP NEVER discussed these side effects with me?  WHY had I trusted her so much?  WHY had she never picked up that it was the medication that had caused about 23kgs of my weight gain?  I was angry.  I was frustrated.  I emailed her immediately to inform her of my findings and to ask her how to get off this medication the safest way.  My brain had become so dependent on the chemicals that the weaning off process was long.  Six months to be exact.  It felt like it was taking forever but I persevered.  In June 2014 I was totally off the medication.  Within 4 months, only THEN did my body start responding and normalising and I instantly dropped 7kgs.  It was then that I became more determined to get my life back.   

Friends of mine had joined the Ascot Diet Clinic in Sandton and were getting such great results that I decided to check it out.  In December 2014 I started the Ascot programme.  I learnt how to eat properly and helped me understand the importance of exercise. When my weight wasn’t budging or when I put on weight, we re-looked at where I was going wrong and tried something else.  Carla from Ascot stuck with me through it all and through every step.  In no time my eating habits had improved and so had my exercise regime.  I went to gym for 40 mins almost every single day.  A few people brushed it off because they thought the natural supplements I took were doing all the work.  I eventually gave up even entertaining those people because no amount of fat burners or vitamins or tonics could change the fact that I still got off my backside every day and made healthy meals and went to gym.  I did that all by myself.  I committed to just 40 mins of cardio a day and by Valentine’s Day when I compared pics to Christmas Day I couldn’t believe the changes that were happening in such a short space of time!  It pushed me to carry on and I have never looked back.  The pic below is a comparison between Christmas day 2014 and Valentine’s Day 2015.


So what changed?  What made me finally take that step?  Honestly, I can’t answer that with one definitive answer.  I believe I hit rock bottom.  I was tired of hearing my older son tell me nicely that I was fat.  He never said it horribly.  He would try and soften the blow.  I was tired of hating myself in the mirror.  I was tired of being tired.  Not being able to do anything with my kids.  I was embarrassed for my husband that he had to walk next to me (although he has never seen me that way or spoken negatively about my weight at all).  I don’t think it was one defining moment.  I think I had just had enough.  But this time I had REALLY had enough.

No more promising to do something on Monday but Monday came and went with nothing changing.  As weird as this sounds, I am actually thankful that the anxiety medication came into my life.  If it wasn’t for me going through that ordeal and the major weight gain, I would never have hit rock bottom as soon as I did and I would never have started facing my truth.  I had a food addiction.  I was a binge eater.  I lacked motivation.  I lacked drive.  I was lazy.  I wasn’t a good role model to my kids.  I wasn’t doing what was best for ME.  The person I saw in the mirror was an alien.  This was NOT who I truly was on the inside. I was angry, depressed, lonely and scared.  These realisations also played a part in my turning point.  


I discovered the Sleekgeek Facebook Group in the middle of 2015.  I can honestly say that if it were not for this community, I wouldn’t be as driven to continue my journey.  The transformations were unbelievable and I wanted to be THAT person.  Although everyone told me how well I was doing, my brain did not register.  I was still seeing the fat girl in the mirror.  I had conditioned myself so much around being fat that breaking this habit was tough.  At one stage I told myself “well, you’re overweight and there’s nothing you can do about it so just go buy bigger clothes.  You have a fairly pretty face so people will forgive you for being fat”.  Yip, this is I how I spoke to myself.  Day in and day out.  So why would I believe people when they told me how amazing I was looking?  

When I got brave enough I posted pics of myself on the Sleekgeek Group page and received such overwhelming, positive feedback that there were a couple of times I cried.  I then realised that by posting my story and my pics, it made it a reality for me.  It made it believable.  That I was finally THAT person with transformation pictures to inspire others.  


It’s at this point that I made my story sound as if it ended like a fairy tale and in fact it wasn’t even close.  The last few weeks I have binged on food.  My weight hasn’t changed though which really shocks me BUT this is the tipping point of going back to where I was and I am stronger than I used to be and refuse to allow that to happen ever again.  So what needs to change?  I need to re-assess how I handle my triggers.  How I handle my anxiety without medication.  I have to become that responsible adult that I still find it hard to be.  I need to again, accept the fact that sometimes I just don’t have power over this addiction, but I do have power of mind to acknowledge that I have lost 32kgs.  Something I would have laughed at months ago.  I used to look at those before and after pics in magazines and convince myself that those people were “photo-shopped”.  I just wouldn’t believe it.  Yet here I am. One of those people who weren’t “photo-shopped”.  I know now that it is possible.

I have to keep acknowledging how my life has changed.  I have to keep reminding myself.  From being a couch potato who had no drive or goals to being a much fitter, healthier version of me who keeps pushing herself in so many ways to do better, be better, work harder, never give up.  I’m even having crazy thoughts of doing the Comrades!

I don’t wear tops that cover my fat arms anymore.  I don’t get excited about winter so that I can wear piles of clothes that would hide my fat.  I now WANT summer to be here!  I bath with BOTH my kids because there is so much damn space in there now!  I sit in a plane seat and there is still space on either side of my butt lol!  I take so many selfies and pics with my kids because I missed out on years of not being in the pics because I thought I looked disgusting.  


I often get asked what my secret it is and can I give some tips.  The only answer I can give you is that there are no secrets besides the hard, ugly truth that often we don’t want to hear.  You have to change your life.  Your eating habits.  Your exercise habits.  Your circle of friends and family in some cases because often they are your triggers and not the support you actually need.  You have to be tough.  You have to learn to say no.  You have to learn to distance yourself from people close to you if they don’t share your vision or offer the support you need.  And you know what?  That’s ok.  

Often with big life changes come emotional battles that we want to avoid but facing them head on shows our courage.  It shows how important our own lives and health are.  What better gift could you give yourself than to walk away from what is toxic so that you can actually live out the rest of your life so freely?  The body I lived in trapped me.  It depressed me.  It pushed me to believe things that I should never have believed.  I was ugly to myself and I hated myself.  Who wants to live like that?  So if it took turning my world upside down to make it happen, then that’s what I had to do.  


I also get asked what I found the hardest during my journey and I was shocked to realise that I couldn’t answer this.  I couldn’t find anything that was hard in the true sense of the word.  Nothing was hard for me.  Sounds too good to be true but that’s the truth.  I found being fat hard!  Yes there were days I did NOT feel like gym but I hauled myself there anyway and got over it.  I started loving eating healthy food and I LOVED exercise.  I couldn’t actually wait to get to gym every day.  I truly could not think of one major thing that I felt was ever hard during my weight loss journey.  I can only put that down to realising the instant benefits of losing weight and getting healthier and fitter.  The first time I found anything truly hard was over the last few weeks where my binge eating has taken over again but I remember how hard it was to be fat and I am slowly trying to pull myself out of the slump.  And I will.


What advice can I give you?  Push through. Start small but simply start.  Remember your achievements and hold on to them even on the darkest days where you think you just cannot go on.  Recognise where you have gone wrong but also recognise where you have gone right.  Being overweight and unhappy forms a habit of us being ugly to ourselves and it takes a long time to start thanking ourselves for our achievements so practice hard!  Eventually it will become easier.  Enjoy the food you eat.  Make it interesting.  Research recipes.  I love salads in summer and so I come up with variations.  I love soup in winter and so I find different ones to eat.  I’ve discovered you can eat healthy pancakes and dessert. Fancy that!  It does NOT have to be a death sentence people.  Eating well is even more delicious than eating the rubbish we consume daily.  

This story only tells you half of what I have been through and no words could ever describe how food ruled my life.  From the time I opened my eyes in the morning until the time I fell asleep.  If I can do it, trust me, it’s possible.  I will never lie to you and tell you that I am perfect.  I’m not.  But what I have become perfect at is not giving up.  I feel like a new person.  I feel like I’m 20 again but with all the experience I never had back then.  I still have a flabby tummy, fly away arms and tons of cellulite but who cares?  All of that will take shape and change.  Give yourself a chance.  No matter how long it takes to get to your goal. Don’t focus on the fact that you need to lose 30kgs or 40kgs or 100kgs.  Just focus on the present day.  Don’t set unrealistic goals.  Take it a day at a time.  You will get there.  That is one thing I CAN promise you.  


I set myself a goal of being hot and fabulous by the time I got to 40.  I think I almost made it lol!  This pic is exactly a year apart. I turned 40 on the 5th of January this year.   I certainly never believed it until I saw it.  I am so proud of myself!  Set your goals and keep setting them as you attain each one.  Never stop striving for the next goal, no matter how small you may think it is. 



I look at my transformation pics a lot.  Sometimes, believe it or not, I can’t actually see that there’s much of a difference.  My mind still plays tricks on me and I still sometimes see the fat girl in the mirror.  We need to keep training our minds to see what’s really in front of us and not allow it to warp our vision and steer us off track.  Take pictures every step of the way!  Don’t be scared to see the truth for what it is because it will only push you to carry on and when you look back at those pics, you will be so damn amazed!  






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