Do you have a mentor? I do. She’s fabulous. Inspiring. She gives her time and advice openly, honestly and generously. Her support has been invaluable to me, so when we caught up recently and she suggested that I should share my health journey, I took it under serious consideration. Not just because she’s my mentor, and not just because it’s not the first time she’s suggested it to me – but because she pointed out that I got my happily ever after.
I searched for answers for many years. My case was pretty unique. Women email me all the time asking for more information about what happened to me in the hopes that my answers may be their answers. I hope that none are you are reading this hoping that I’ll have the miracle answer for you as I don’t believe that will be the case. What I do hope is that my story will give you hope. That it will give others the confidence to trust their gut instinct, to not give up the search for answers, to make the hard calls and to keep trying… Because I know it’s worth it.
The question that makes me feel most like a fraud is when people ask me about my ‘weight loss secrets’ or to share my tips. The truth is my persistent weight gain was my ‘illness’. My body did not function the way it should for almost 10 years and over that time, it caused me to consistently put on weight.
Over the years I had doctors who felt it was their ‘duty’ to give me the ‘wake-up call’ I needed about my weight. Stern talks about the health risks of obesity. One doctor even told me to imagine my mum crying at my funeral every time I ate fast food or junk food. My protests that I actually ate really healthy most of the time mostly fell on deaf ears, but more often than that were met with scoffs of disbelief and eye rolls.
As far as most medical professionals were concerned, I was fat – partly because of my genetics but mainly because I was too stupid or too ignorant to eat healthily and exercise regularly.
I was regularly accused of being a ‘secret eater’ by health and fitness professionals. I’ve had personal trainers refuse to work with me anymore because, according to them, if I “wasn’t going to even be honest with myself about what calories I’m eating, then it’s pointless them investing their time in helping me”. That was particularly brutal. There’s still a sting in that one that makes hot tears fill my eyes.
It was just before my wedding. I was working out every day. Sometimes twice a day. Bootcamp, spin class, abs class, Zumba, boxing… I started the hard core dieting and training 16 weeks before my wedding. The diet my trainer had me on was insane, dangerous and unhealthy, and it worked only for the first 4 weeks. Like most diets I’ve tried, my body initially responds well, but quickly adjusted and resumed weight gain. I kept at it though. And kept putting on weight. The trainers would see how hard I worked in class, and I would swear to them black and blue that my food diaries were correct, but it didn’t add up so the fat girl must be lying. This was my life for many years.
The constant assumptions by medical and health professionals that “fat = lazy or ignorant” wore me down. There were things that didn’t add up: my excellent blood pressure, my outstanding cholesterol levels, my super fit resting heart rate and great blood work. People paid more attention to what I looked like and their own assumptions about what that meant in terms of my diet and lifestyle than actually listening to me and looking at the evidence.
I stopped bringing it up. It was embarrassing and the result was always the same.
Now, there seems like a lot of downtrodden doom and gloom. I want to point out that I was, completely OK with my body. I bought nice clothes, took pride in my appearance and had a husband who loved me just as I was. I knew I was healthy and relatively fit. I accepted my body as part of me, and my life was good. Becoming skinnier did not make my life better! I’m smiling like a goon in each and every one of the pictures in this post – because my life was great, I travelled the world, I had great friends, an amazing family. This is not a story about how miserable I was when I was heavier, because I wasn’t.
Anyway, after a few months of not-being-pregnant, turned into well over a year of not-being-pregnant, I decided to give a new doctor at a local practice a go. I was so scared she was just going to tell me it was related to my weight and I had to lose weight to conceive. I’d been trying hard unsuccessfully to lose weight for almost 10 years – and I had pretty much continued to gain weight.
I walked in the door, and there she was – several months pregnant… and tears just started flowing. I told her everything, and she listened intently, she was comforting, gentle, non-judgemental and she promised we’d start at the beginning and look at things properly. And she did. And things did not add up. And for the first time, instead of giving up, or scribbling out a prescription for Duromine (or some other equally horrible weight loss drug) she ordered more tests.
By listening to what I was saying instead of judging me by what I looked like, my doctor saved my life.
We found a raft of things. Two in particular that were working together to change the way my body was functioning: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and some rather nasty tumours. So many of my symptoms finally made sense – my body and metabolism were constantly adjusting and prioritising the survival of the uterine tumours. So, they had to go.
Some drastic surgeries were my only option as the tumours not only needed to be removed, but my body, hormones and metabolism all had to be reset. The medical team had their concerns – my body had operated incorrectly but consistently for 10 years. What if simply removing the tumours didn’t actually fix it?
The treatment ended up being a little bit of a gamble. In theory it should work, but there were risks… It may not work. I may not be able to conceive naturally. I may not have had enough of a viable uterine wall to sustain an embryo. There was a very real possibility that despite all best efforts, I would still not be able to have a baby. And add to that the normal risks of surgery. But, at the end of the day – I didn’t really have a choice. I could let my body continue to malfunction, continue to put on weight and be unable to have children; or take a gamble on the treatment plan.
The good news is that it was obviously a success. Once my body reset, I started to lose weight. A lot of weight. Over half my body weight is gone and I have a gorgeous little girl. It could not have worked out better.
I still carry the skin of my former self. I try to think about it as part of the journey to my happy ending. I can’t lie – I don’t love it, but I also don’t hate it, as it’s part of me, part of my journey, part of the story that brought me the greatest joy of my life.
So that’s it. Like I said – my message, I hope, is one of hope. That if things don’t add up to you, keep asking, keep persisting. I was lucky enough to find a doctor who had an open mind. My hope is that medical and health professions take more time to understand the complex relationship between weight, health and fitness. And I hope, that like me, others get their happily ever after.