13 April 2011

My weight loss struggle

Gym contracts, starvation diets, 'miracle' cures: she tried them all. After years of struggle she found the secret behind steady and permanent weightloss - read Macharly's story.


I have been overweight ever since I was a kid. It started bothering me only when I got to high school, Grade 9, to be exact. Besides my class mates calling me "buffalo bums" (and who knows that means), our biology teacher had told us that an average woman should weigh 75 kg to be healthy.  So, weighing 72kg at the time, I convinced myself that I was the perfect woman. 

The truth is I wasn't a woman, just a teenager, but the mind is a very powerful thing and I went through the next year believing that I should maintain my 72 kg.

I only realise now that those thin classmates calling me awful names didn't have to do anything to stay in shape, even though they gave themselves the right to judge me.  At lunch we all had more or less the same food, and we didn't do any physical activities other than P.T class at school.

The start of an uphill struggle

In Grade 10 I realised that I needed to do something about the situation. I did not want to be called names forever.  Little did I know that this was to be the start of a lifelong struggle. 

Parents and other family members don’t make it easy.  As if being called names at school wasn't enough, there was always someone like my aunt who thought it was cute to say:  "My brother's child, you are THERE!" (directly translated from Sepedi).  In English it means:  "My niece, you are BIG!".  And then she would laugh as if it was funny, and give me a hug.

My dad is another story - he called me a Hottentot. I suppose it’s because I had a big bum.  You see, on this tough journey, one is alone.

I started dieting, basically starving myself.  Three days in I realised I wasn't going to be able to keep that up, so on the third day I ate enough food to cover the previous two days. 

By then I'd heard that people who wanted to lose weight went to the gym so I asked my parents if I could join the gym. Attending the gym when possible, I ate as much as I wanted, thinking that going to gym alone would lead to weight loss.  Of course, I was sorely mistaken.  When my gym membership expired after 12 months, I thought it was a waste of time and I didn't renew.

But I didn't let it rest there: next I started buying the “miracle” weight-loss products advertised on TV. Every product they came up with, I bought. So while I was buying those tricky products, I ate even more, thinking:  these expensive products will do their job and I don’t have to do a single thing.

Through all this I gained about 10kg or so, and by Grade 11 I weighed 82kg. I decided to give up and go on with my life.  Besides, I now had a boyfriend who seemed to love me the way I was, so why bother?  It wasn't as if I was trying to lose weight for myself, but because I wanted to be accepted; and he did justthat, accepting me the way I was.

Though he treated me like a queen, something inside me whispered that, in order to keep this wonderful I guy, I should lose weight so that he'd never leave me for a better thinner girl.  Where that came from, I really don’t know, because he never complained about me being fat at all.  His friends and family were different:  when they enquired about me, they'd say:  "Where is that chubby girlfriend of yours?", but it didn't bother me much. I actually found it sweet because he would defend me. 

Eventually this wonderful guy and I broke up for reason not related to my weight at all.

Now a new journey began: I read a book that told me that a woman needs about 7500 kj a day to stay healthy.  I reasoned that if I subtracted about 1500 KJ from that and walked for 30 minutes a day, I would lose weight.

This really worked for a while, but as a teenager I couldn't afford to buy my own healthy foods or inconvenience the rest of the family.  In my house we ate pap and meat everyday, and on Sundays fried chicken and veggies with rice (what we refer to as Sunday kos). No matter how much you try and eat less of that kind of food, it just doesn't help in the long run, so I decided to quittrying. I was tired of this working at losing weight while all the while gaining it.I convinced myself there was nothing I could do about it.  I'd tried everything, and it all seemed to just make me gain more weight.  And I watched other people go through the same cycle.

The sad thing about all these dieting attempts is that I never weighed myself.  I didn't own a scale, nor did anyone I knew.  The only time I was weighed during this time was at school at 72kg, and at the gym when I found out I weighed 82kg. 

Extreme measures

When we were growing up my sister was a beautiful thin girl, but time and having children were not good to her and she gained a tremendous amount of weight.  I remember her trying everything she could until she went as far as having her jaw wired.  I don't know how long she endured that, but I recall it wasn't for long and she gained a lot more weight after that.

My self-acceptance didn't last long.  I decided again that I had to do something about my weight.  Now I was an unemployed matriculant and I couldn't afford to have any expensive medical procedure.  I chose to start drinking apple cider vinegar every day because someone heard from someone that it helps to shed a few kilos. Do you know how sore it is to swallow a shot of vinegar?  (Note:  I did not misspell sour, I mean sore as in 'ouch', not to forget the sour taste too.)

I endured that one for about a month.  Then I switched to aerobics, joining a gym in my area alongside a friend who had similar problems.  We were both willing to try one more thing, thinking that it couldn't hurt after all that we had been through.  We were at the end of our ropes, and had nothing to lose, we thought. 

That turned out to be a forecast – after two months of intense aerobic training we didn't lose a single thing.  Well, maybe we did, but we still weren't weighing or measuring ourselves properly, so there was no way to prove it.  That endeavour also ended dismally, as painful and as time consuming as it was. We both decided to quit the weight loss thing.

This time my resolve lasted for about five years.

Content with my weight, I now weighed 104 kg, aged 24-25, and 1,80m tall.  Today I realise that these vital statistics meant that I was obese, but at the time I didn't know, and nor did I care. I watched Oprah Winfrey tackling her weight issues and it didn't faze me.  I rooted for her from my couch with a plate of food. It seemed that she was also having bit of a hard time and it made me feel better.  It proved to me that no matter how much money one has, it's really hard to lose weight. Losing weight is a battle.

But Oprah said one thing that really hit home:  weight loss isn't just to look good, but also for good health and a longer life, because being fat carries serious health risks. I'd never thought of that before.  It had always been about looking good, fitting into nice clothes and being accepted by my peers, and to stop the name-calling.

Still, I thought I was too young for a heart attack. I don’t have to tell you I was sorely mistaken, but I was happy with my theory at the time.

The years went by and the weight stacked on. I didn't give a damn about it.

In 2007 I fell pregnant with my first child.  People told me that pregnancy makes you gain weight, but I thought: so what? I don’t care – I've never been thin. To my surprise I actually lost a lot of weight while pregnant.  For some reason my immune system was compromised and I lost weight for the first time since high school.  I came down to 86kg!  Wow!

I hoped so hard that after giving birth I wouldn't gain weight again. But no such luck. I regained 22 kg.

I still wasn't too concerned, though:  my baby made me too happy to care and I had the father of my child who, like that first boyfriend, loved me just the way I was. He even said that he didn't think I was fat. But out in the real world, the name-calling got worse. Some people said my weight made me look older than I am; people my own age and even older called me mama, which is a respectful way for greeting an elder in our culture. That did not sit well with me, but still, I was generally happy.  Or so I thought.

The straw that broke the camel’s back happened one day at the supermarket.  I was paying for my groceries and I asked the cashier to tell me how much it came to, saying to her that my eyesight was not that good. The packer who was assisting me, knowing my age and how much it would hurt, said: "Ja well, you know when one hits the 40s the eyes just aren’t as sharp as they use to be, hey!”. I gave her look then smiled sarcastically.

That was it. Enough was enough.

This is when I started what I call my real weight loss struggle – almost exactly a year ago, on 1 April 2010.  This time I was really determined (like all the other times, I guess).  The difference was that now I did a lot of research about weight loss.  I spent half of my day every day finding out different methods and how they worked for others. I consulted online experts, I chatted to other people who had gone through the weight-loss battle and made it. I Googled weight-loss programmes to see how they'd helped others so that I could incorporate them in my own weight-loss regime. I watched weight-loss success stories and found pictures for motivation and I learnt what those people did to achieve their dramatic results.

I also did research into exercise and how much one needs; and into food, how the body works and how much a human body needs. On a real mission, I started reading food labels.

Suddenly, it was easy:  determination and perseverance. It was all about not giving up. One person went as far as to say "however long it took to gain the weight was how long it would take to lose it". Isn’t that profound?  I thought so and it hit home: there're no Abracadabra/123 instant methods and there are no miracle cures.  There may be some products to aid you along the way, but that’s all it is - aid.

Finally I was equipped with everything I needed to know. I was now a self-made weight loss guru.

To date, I have lost about 25kg all by myself, just from putting two andtwo together and making the decision to change my life. I still struggle, but slowly and surely I am getting there - all it takes is the right mentality and then it's all systems go.

(Macharly Ngoepe aka Shasha, April 2011)

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