Lose Weight Now. Ask Me How. This is not an ad for anything. Just my story.
A personal account of how and why I became overweight over a year and half and then dramatically lost almost all of it in just a few months.
It all began about a year into becoming my mum’s carer, about the start of 2020. Up until then, I had not been overweight. I was within the normal range of weight based on the BMI formula. I became vegetarian in 1977 and vegan in 1986 and they were both transitions for me; I took my time to make them. I did lose a bit of weight when I became vegetarian, and remained steady after becoming vegan. I had put a little bit of weight on in the late 1990s, but given I was below average in the BMI, I gave it no thought. I felt my physical wellbeing was fine; I was bike riding, swimming and bushwalking with ease. In other words, I felt fit. My diet was very good, I wasn’t overeating.
Fast forward twenty years. I moved house to be my mum’s carer at the start of 2019 and all was good for the first year. I was still able to be active: I rode my bike and swam laps at the ocean baths. I didn’t put on any weight.
That began to change in 2020. Mum had had a couple of falls, one at the end of 2019 and another — more serious — mid-2020, and I wasn’t able to get out as much to exercise. (I did have monthly breaks of 3-4 days courtesy of my sister, but I went to Sydney to catch up with friends, so didn't usually exercise much; it was social time.) So I became more sedentary and began to comfort-eat. Apparently, it’s common for carers to be less conscious of the impact caring has on them. I started to stack on the weight and it snowballed. I got into a biofeedback loop of sorts: I ate and put on the weight, couldn't get out much, and so I ate and put on even more weight. It didn’t help that I was trying to keep my mum’s weight up — because she was losing it — and so when I shopped I looked for foods that would keep her weight on. And I would eat them, too. It's what felt right. In moderation, none of them are bad. But just because something is vegan and organic, doesn’t mean you can eat lots of it! Especially, if you are not burning it off by being active. And comfort-eating is especially dangerous. It is addictive and I began to spiral, so much so by May 2021, I’d put on 15 kilos — in about 18 months.
And, boy, did I feel it. It got to be uncomfortable; I’d notice I was getting short of breath riding my bike or walking uphill. I was caring for my mum, I told myself — it’s a cost of caring! I can understand why people can feel unmotivated to move, to exercise. Carrying extra weight changed my mindset as well as making me less flexible and comfortable in my body. If you have put on that kind of weight, you’ll know what I mean. I felt people around me knew I was putting on weight; my mum, in particular, would comment occasionally, not so surprisingly, given even mild dementia removes the usual filters that tend to keep us blurting out whatever we think!
I was also affected mentally. I found out later family members were “worried” about me, though I had reassured them I was okay and was resilient enough to cope with the growing burden. I wasn’t. Carers often go the extra, arguing, “it’s my mum (or dad); I’d do anything for them.” At some point, you have to tell yourself you can't. But knowing when that is isn't easy because you're in the midst of it. Even to know when, as a carer, you’re reaching burnout is a challenge, because it creeps up on you. That is one of my big lessons. Sure, I’ve quit jobs in the past when I knew I was reaching burnout. That doesn’t mean you will when you become a carer for a loved one. It's different. Family is different.
In early July 2021, I’d had enough of caring. I wasn’t coping with caring for mum, whose dementia had worsened, especially at night, aka sundowner’s. Interrupted sleep, night after night, was just too much. So, I took carer’s leave and mum went into respite care.
Then everything began to change.
Suddenly, I had freedom. So, I got out, I started exercising, riding my bike to the ocean baths; for the time time in a while I had the freedom to not be back by a certain time! And for the first time in my life I found myself swimming laps all year round, through winter. (I recommend it, assuming the ocean temperature doesn’t drop below 16°C or so, unless you want to don a wetsuit, as many do. I love swimming; it is my go-to. I can now do 1400 metres with ease, just like I did 30 years ago!) I got back to my usual diet, no more comfort-eating and I got back into intermittent fasting, that is, leaving more than 16 hours between the evening meal and breakfast. Within the first week, I noticed my weight dropping, just a kilo, but it already felt good. Each week for the next two months, I dropped at least a kilo to a kilo and a half. I wasn’t starving myself, though I was restricting calories and the size of meals and their frequency. I was burning the brown fat, that’s the stuff you burn during fasting and intermittent fasting.
As of the mid-September, I’m down 12 kilos. I have a bit more to go, but I’m now in the top part of the BMI healthy range for my height. (I realise BMI isn’t everything, so I have some waistline to lose.) I want to lose another 4 or 5 kilos, which I’ll do over the next month or so. Getting to my current weight means the next few kilos should be easier. I’m not pushing myself. In fact, I didn’t really push myself before. I just stuck to calorie restriction, good exercise two to three days a week and the intermittent fasting. I’m also getting a good night’s sleep. It feels good for me.
Now, this is not dietary advice. It can’t be. This is not a one-size-fits-all model. It’s just what I did and continue to do. It is completely consistent with what I have written in the Food and Wellbeing sections of my website. So, that’s reassuring! I just got to see if my advice and earlier experience could stand this kind of test. For me, it works. That said, it may not work for anyone else.
So, the big lessons?
Look after myself, eat well, but not overdo it. It's easy to overdo the good stuff!
Keep exercising, get days off, at least two mornings or afternoons a week.
Self-check how I’m going, ask myself: Am I happy? Am I still good with doing this? Is there enough joy in my day? Is there still enough good times in my relationship with mum to counter the difficult times?
Ask others — family and friends — to be honest and tell me how I’m going, even persist for them to give their honest opinion when I tell them I’m good and that I have more in reserve to give.
Get a more substantial break when I need it, even if that means getting mum into respite care for a fortnight in an aged care centre. Funding is available through the Carers' Gateway to get some blocks of time off for carers.
Discipline is important. Losing the weight required it. It became a test of how disciplined I am, what I can rise to, what I am capable of doing.
In sum and in hindsight, I am grateful for the experience. Not sure I could say that in the thick of caring! I have learnt so much about myself. About boundaries, why they are critical — always. It is so easy to lose personal sovereignty, but it doesn't do anyone any good. I've learned about determination; without it, all bets are off. And I've learned about looking after myself and what that truly means, for me.
I hope you find this story useful. Many of us may feel drawn to care for loved ones at some point in our lives. When we're young, we think we're invincible and it's a piece of cake; I think of teenage carers I've read about and their great resilience. But I'm not a teenager any more; caring for elderly parents when we're older is a different story. Know what you're getting into. And know when it gets too much. Caring is a gift in more ways than one, even if one of those gifts may involve learning through limitation.
This story would not be complete for me without a note or two about the numerology of this story. I’ve been in a 1 personal year for the last four months of 2020 and almost eight months into 2021; mum's serious fall was just before my birthday in 2020. Most of the weight gain occurred in this time frame. In a 1 personal year, to be brief, I’m the one who’s supposed to be in charge of my life. I’m the one doing the initiating and calling the shots. Well, that was on hold for most of that time, but not all of it. Numerology teaches us that the business end of each personal year is in the last few months of the personal year when things ramp up. It’s almost as if you’ve been delaying what you’re supposed to be doing, and the last few months heighten that work and force you to sit up and, indeed, grow. And that’s what happened. I crammed that weight loss into a two-month period just before my birthday and the start of a new personal year. If I was going to act, it had to be before my birthday. I had to smile. I wasn’t conscious of that until I began writing this story. There you go.
TL,DR* There is no short version of this. It's a story and I'm not summarising it!
* Too Long, Didn't Read, aka the short version