By Sarah Cotton
I have a terrible relationship with food. There, I’ve said it.For my adult life, food has been my constant, but not in a necessarily healthy way. Happy? Eat! Sad? Eat! Depressed? Stop eating altogether!
In between this constant sits the dieting. A need to be thinner, lose weight, be a clothes size smaller, but never was there a need to look at this toxic way of eating and think I need to be healthy! Always just thinner.
Diets, I’ve done them all. I have ‘successfully’ completed Weight Watchers twice (this speaks for itself), Slimming World once (went once and didn’t return), Atkins (months of feasting on meat and cheese), 5:2 (couldn’t cope with the constant calorie counting) and in between my interpretations of low calorie, low fat versions and denying myself some foods to enable me to have other ‘naughtier’ foods. Mustn’t have daily cheese, because I really want daily chocolate for example!!
Subsequently I entered my 40s overweight, tired and full of aches and pains. My blood tests showed low calcium and borderline raised cholesterol. An ultrasound scan revealed a non-alcoholic fatty liver, and an arthritic lower back condition. Somehow, despite being a healthcare professional, I accepted this new norm!
“Must be my age.” “Everyone knows metabolism is now slower so that’s that.” “It’s the medication I take, I just have to accept that I’ll never lose weight now.” “Bloody hormones!”
So there I am, the largest I’d ever been, not obese, but most definitely overweight, feeling pretty rubbish health wise, but still using weight and my appearance as my guide rather than being healthy.
By now I’d convinced myself that it’s all clearly out of my control, so sod it, I may as well console myself more. After all, I clearly deserve some happiness in life, and that is found in chocolate and wine right?
Wrong! Suddenly my mum became ill with a brain hemorrhage. Having lost my dad suddenly to a cardiac arrest 5 years ago, I was facing my lovely mum’s mortality. Sitting by her bed in hospital, watching all of our lives being turned upside down was terrifying, but sitting next to me was my own 20 year old daughter. My own health and mortality became relevant too. I had clarity.
It’s not all about weight, it is about health, and I need to do something now to protect my daughter from this pain for as long as possible. There is a very strong family history of stroke, high cholesterol on mum’s side, so genetically I may also be at higher risk, now there’s my reason to do something. Thankfully Mum fully recovered, so we’ve all been lucky enough to appreciate a near miss and move positively forward, and I at last found a tangible reason to look at my eating habits.
It occurred to me that there was one diet I hadn’t tried, something that’s never advised, is unhealthy and apparently should be avoided – the crash diet! Suddenly it made sense; if I can lose weight fast it would surely give me the encouragement to keep going, and it would be great to see where that would take me.
I’ve always found it so demoralizing to spend a week obsessing over a diet, thinking about every single thing I eat, only to discover the scales have only moved down by a pound or so, and guess what happens then, I give up!
I embarked on a search of quick weight loss programmes and found myself reading lots of information regarding detoxing. Is it sugar that is my enemy? Or gluten? I’d already concluded my beloved merlot was not really my friend causing sleep problems, so that would need to go.
Could I actually do it? How? Would I be hungry all the time? Listless? Miserable? Or, would it really be the answer I’ve always looked for. I could be healthier and thinner!
I found a programme called avocadu-21 day weight loss challenge, and here I found the magic word – challenge. I realised if you want something badly enough, it may be challenging. It’s not meant to be easy, but is meant to be worked at and achieved. Avocadu’s ethos was everything I’d been looking for. Follow their programme for 21 days and you’re guaranteed to loose at least 10lb Guaranteed!!!
It involves cutting out sugar, gluten, dairy, carbs and alcohol. It involves days of eating only veg, fasting days, and controlled protein, and an introduction to certain carbs in week 2. The thought of detoxing and loosing most of the weight I needed to loose in only three weeks seemed ideal. I wondered why 21 days and researched this magic number. Evidence shows that 21 days is the time it takes us to break habits, not just eating, anything, a quick google search shows 21 day challenges for everything from reading to exercising.
So in avocadu I’d found all I needed, and joined up.
I immediately received ebooks full of information on how to start and what to eat and when, and a nice day to day guidance. In the past I’ve decided on a diet and just started immediately. This time though it felt different. This was for my health not just weight, and I spent a couple of weeks reading the programme and taking notes. The associated Facebook group is a mine of information and recipes so I joined that too and wrote out recipes I thought were doable for me. I had a plan.
As all serial dieters know, all diets start on a Monday, and this I decided to stick with. Usually Sundays before a new diet are spent eating everything you know will soon be denied! This time however, Sunday was spent batch cooking vegetables. Roasted broccoli/cauliflower/peppers/
My fridge was also stocked with salad and lean protein meats. I was ready.
Day 1 is designed as the first fasting day, something that did worry me especially as I’d be working. Thankfully for those like me who fear the fast, a day of veg only is an option, and that is how I started.
Breakfast broccoli – well that was certainly different! Not awful, just weird. But what was almost stranger was the fact that I’d totally accepted I was going to have 4 meals of certain veg and no snacks. This was actually dare I say it….easy! I attribute this to the shift in mindset I now had. There was a proper reason, I’d prepared and I was ready.
The next few days allowed me to eat lean protein for my first and third meals, easy for all you egg lovers out there, but here was my first hurdle.
Trust me, a roast chicken breast with veg before work was a struggle! As was the smoked salmon salad, and the spicy mince! But each day I forced it down with my black tea. The Facebook group advises me not to think of it as breakfast, just another meal and I did.
And so I continued. I found I didn’t need the 4 meals a day so was having only three on most days, filling up on protein, endless veg and healthy fats. Within 4 days 6lb had gone. I had a mild headache but already less heartburn and was sleeping like a lamb. And it was true, seeing the scales move so quickly was all the incentive I needed to carry on.
All that know me know I adore chocolate. It’s a daily must have for me, but not then. I even found myself passing chocolate back and forth between my husband and daughter and not even being tempted. What had happened to me, was I possessed?! My other challenge was alcohol, yes I enjoy a few glasses at the weekend with dinner but not then, didn’t even miss it.
By the time I was allowed to add in certain carbs I wasn’t even wanting them, which surprised me. Within 10 days I’d become so much more mindful of what I was eating, more inventive with vegetables and braver with spices and seasoning. Whereas before I’d reach for the mayo, now I was happily making olive oil based salad dressings, and was enjoying it.
At times I lacked energy, but felt that was an okay deal as I was feeling so much better in other ways. Pain? What pain!
The planning and routine helped enormously in all areas of my life. Sunday was food prep day, therefore I had a freezer full of healthy ready meals, including my new breakfast love of turkey meatballs! Somehow I even found the time, and interestingly the inclination, to start a squat challenge every evening too.
Of course, this new way of eating doesn’t necessarily fit in with family or social life, although my husband has developed a love of roasted cauliflower with various seasonings – who knew?! Eating out can be a problem when eating this way too, but there are ways around it; salads without dressings for example – you can ask for a slice of lemon on the side and use that to dress.
We’d already planned to go out for dinner on day 21, and when the day arrived I was 15lb lighter and feeling so much more positive about myself and life in general. According to my daughter I even walked with more confidence. I really felt I’d achieved something and learnt a lot about myself along the way.
At our favourite Turkish restaurant that night, I found the bread far less delicious than previously. In fact, I naturally ordered foods low in carbs, but delighted in being allowed cheese. Who doesn’t love halloumi after all. The wine predictably headed straight to my head and although I enjoyed it, it wasn’t needed.
So, where am I in this journey now? I’ve learnt an incredible amount about myself and my toxic eating tendencies. I’ve fallen off the wagon dramatically at times, but now recognize and really dislike the old familiar bloating and sluggish feelings.
Protein is now my friend and although I’m not strictly doing the programme now, I still stick to turkey meatballs and roasted veg for breakfast much to my daughter’s disdain. Apparently it’s not the kitchen smell of choice at 7am! But this will keep me satisfied for hours, no mid morning slump for me.
I now have a treat breakfast at weekends which is toast! Who’d ever have thought a previous daily staple would now be a weekend treat! And yes I do notice I’m hungrier earlier on toast days.
I’ve had some dreadful eating days since stopping the programme, and I’ve discovered I’m definitely an all or nothing with junk food!! So I’m trying to stick to the nothing where possible. I’m now happy to sometimes have an all vegetable meal day as I’m so creative with veg now. I’m looking at more vegan recipes now too and opening up another world of fresh and healthy foods.
It’s my body, my health and my choice. I’m now a mindful eater, nothing is off limits if I want it, but, am I prepared to feel unwell? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
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Sarah Cotton is a married mum of one from London. She’s an experienced nurse of 25 years working in the NHS, and is now specialised in working in general practice. She enjoys caring for and spending time with her family, which is very important to her. Her interests include a new found love of yoga and finally being brave enough to write after many years of wanting to…