My 600lb (half) life
Eating less and exercising more might sound like a simple weight-loss formula, but anyone who has tried and failed to achieve it knows the reality can be far more complicated than that, involving overcoming a multitude of mental and physical barriers. After reaching ‘peak shame’, Emma Cunningham resolved to finally face her demons – and so far it seems to be working...
IT’S past mid-February and two of my three new year resolutions are still waiting to launch. I want to read more of the books I have on my bookshelf but have not yet got around to opening and to waste less time messing about on my phone. Sadly, neither has happened yet. But my third one, to tackle the issue of my weight and my health, still has a fighting chance.
Like many people, I am overweight. Unlike most people, I am, according to all reliable charts, morbidly obese. Sorting this out has been on my ‘to do’ list for about 20 years. In essence I am just getting round to losing the baby weight. But around the start of January (after eating all the leftover Christmas chocolate, of course) I created a new rule for eating. I would no longer eat all the extra stuff that I allowed myself between meals. No chocolate, no doughnuts, no cake. I would eat breakfast, lunch and tea and that was it. I haven’t been counting calories or lowering carbs, I’ve just been cutting out all the extra treats and eating normal human meals at normal human meal times.
In addition, I’ve upped my exercise, I now do Zumba, swimming and ballet each week (not all at the same time, obvs). The result is my clothes feel looser and the scales say I have lost 3lbs. Clearly this is going to be a long journey.
Eat less – move more. If only it were that easy. But for anyone who has developed an unhealthy relationship with food like I have it is never simple. It is a complex combination of coping mechanisms, brain chemistry and an evil cycle of failure, guilt and self-hatred. This is a complicated knot to unravel. And all the while normal-sized people are going about their normal-sized lives, there is a secret, shameful inner monologue going on inside my head; is that chair going to take my weight, is this airplane seatbelt going to go round me, am I going to fit inside that MRI machine?
It was inside the MRI machine that I reached peak shame. There I was lying on a sliding table with my feet tied together about to be pushed inside a giant magnet. There were two major worries going round my head. Firstly, I hoped there were no errant pieces of metal in my body that I had neglected to remember, and secondly, I really hoped I wasn’t too fat to fit in the hole.
I visualised trying to squeeze a balloon through a toilet roll tube and then that Winnie the Pooh story popped into my head. The one where Pooh, led as ever by his constant hunger, gets stuck in Rabbit’s doorway and they have to wait for him to lose weight before they can pull him out. I imagined hearing the MRI nurses calling the rest of the day’s patients. ‘I’m so sorry Mrs Le Page, we can’t scan your hip today as we have a patient stuck in the machine and we’re gonna have to starve her out. Yes, could be a few days, she’s a bit of a porker.’
I did, of course, fit in the MRI machine, but only if I left my arms outside.
Having avoided getting on the scales for a very long time I finally faced my reality. I was halfway to being eligible for My 600-lb Life – the TV show that follows the journey of extreme over-eaters, usually bed-bound and close to death because of their food addiction. The show is a real eye-opener. Not as a freak show, because it is so easy to dehumanise these extremely obese people, but to see the clear correlation between extreme sadness or trauma and the pleasure or comfort of eating.
I also love to eat. Eating makes me happy. I think about food a lot. I’m always planning what I want to eat next. I crave comfort food (mashed potato and cauliflower cheese) and I use food as a reward (I deserve this bucket of Maltesers because I got through today).
It’s time to face these demons. It’s time to sort out my 600lb (half) life.
Having tried and failed so many diets before, it was clear this one had to be different. I can usually manage about three weeks of miserable deprivation before I cave and go back to my old habits.
Last year I tried to remove all sugar from my diet. No chocolate, no sweets, no carbs at all. By the end of the first week I realised how much of my happiness was coming from the food I ate. When eating was no longer a pleasurable activity, it felt like all pleasure had gone. After three weeks it was unsustainable.
I need something a little more gentle and a little less restrictive.
My primary goal is to become healthier and to reduce my size. I’m not going to be one of those protein-crazed gym bunnies but I can become a healthier version of me. And to my own amazement I passed that three-week barrier that usually sees me chuck in the towel and reach for the Galaxy. My clothes feel looser, and I’m trying not to be discouraged by losing only 3lbs. As I get used to a life of saying no to unhealthy snacks, puddings and chocolate, I will slowly be able to make adjustments in my regular meals.
I recognise the next step will be saying no to seconds, then tackling portion size. If I adjust one thing at a time it won’t feel so overwhelmingly miserable.
And I absolutely must not think about, buy or even look at Easter eggs.
I love Easter egg chocolate and in a typical year could easily have bought and eaten six large eggs before Easter weekend was even close.
If I can run the gauntlet to Easter without throwing myself on a supermarket shelf full of chocolate eggs and ripping open the boxes with my teeth, then I’ll know I have made genuine progress.
And I may even get off my phone and pick up a book.