"Over the years I had piled on the weight. High dose oral and injected steroids I take for my severe asthma, the insulin I take for my steroid-induced diabetes, immobility caused by the severity of the asthma, the neurological condition – POTS – that I have, and the spinal cord injury I acquired, again as a consequence of the steroids, have all played part in my weight gain, but of course the ultimate cause was eating too much of the wrong foods too often.
But over the past 18 months, I’ve worked to reduce my weight by 7 stone. I still have a way to go until I reach my target weight, but I am getting there, and I am feeling better than I have felt for nearly 30 years.
In March 2017, shortly after I’d joined a local weight loss group, I saw a poster for Newcastle Can on a community notice board and, intrigued by the concept, I looked it up online to find out more. I decided to sign up and was excited to be part of something bigger. Since then I have enjoyed getting the email updates from Newcastle Can on how the people of the city are doing, and each time I read it I’m excited to know that I’ve contributed to that success, our success. I enjoy reading stories of how others have approached their weight loss and how it’s changing their lives in many different ways. Seeing my weight loss dashboard on the website and watching as my weight slowly drops toward my target can be a great motivating factor.
Being curious about the ups and downs in my graph and thinking about why I have a gain one week and a big loss another, has helped me to keep going – it’s kept me interested, and it’s kept me focused. I have realised that for me, the best way to track why this is happening, is to keep a food diary and be brutally honest about everything I’ve eaten, and everything I’ve drunk. Planning my meals has also been crucial for keeping the balance of food-types right, as well as helping me generally. Every Monday or Tuesday I now take half an hour or so to sit with my recipe books and plan what I’m going to eat at each meal for the next seven days. I have some favourites, but I try to keep the menu varied so that I stay interested in my food and look forward to my meals. I’ve found it important to plan snacks too, not so rigidly as meals, but always to make sure I have suitable snacks available in the house. The added bonus of planning my meals is that I can write a shopping list of all the ingredients I need for each meal and, if I stick to the list, then it works out a lot cheaper and with much less food waste, which is good for my bank account and the environment too!
Alongside Newcastle Can, the local weight loss group that I have been attending has provided me with a great structure with which to approach my weight loss and has helped to re-educate me.I knew all the theory before - I knew the basics of healthy eating and that to lose weight I had to reduce the fats and sugars I was consuming, and my overall calorie intake. The problem was that I have a bad relationship with food since I was sixteen and now that I’m 44, I’d almost lost any concept of what healthy eating or ‘normal’ eating was! Because of this, I don’t count calories and it’s important to me that that isn’t something that the weight loss group endorses, or makes me do. It’s more that foods are consumed in measured amounts and nothing is banned. This has helped me to develop a healthier mentality around food and drop any feelings of guilt associated with certain foods – I can still have these foods, just less of them and less often.
Over the past 18 months, I’ve changed my whole relationship with food. For the first time in twenty-eight years I can truly enjoy my food, which is quite amazing when you consider that I’m also losing weight!
One thing that I have found really hard though, is the lack of information and support for people will disabilities or long-term health conditions when it comes to losing weight and getting healthy. However, earlier this year I found out about a brand new gym in Gateshead called Pop Up Gym that is specifically for people with spinal cord injuries and those with neurological conditions such as MS and MND. All the equipment is adapted for wheelchair users, and the bikes can even be cycled by those with complete paralysis by using Functional Electrical Stimulation technology.
I was so excited by what I saw that I went to my first session there within 48 hours of finding out about it, and I love it! It’s only a small place, but very friendly, and all the staff, whether paid or volunteers, are well trained and motivational. I have a laugh when I go; I’ve got to meet other people with spinal cord injuries, which I’d shied away from before; I work hard and push myself to improve week on week, but I know I’m in a safe environment to do so.
Since becoming a member of the Pop Up Gym I have definitely been infected with the exercise bug again, and I now try to go two to three times a week. I’ve also completed a sponsored virtual cycle ride covering the distance of Land’s End to John O’Groats, to raise money for Pop Up Gym.
As I’ve lost weight, I’ve gained in confidence. It’s been liberating discovering these aspects of myself that have been hidden in the shadows for so long. My increased confidence and my weight loss as a whole has even given me more interest in the clothes I wear, perhaps because there’s more choice of clothing available to me, and because as I lose weight I need to replace the contents of my wardrobe. It’s fun and exciting, although it can be expensive too!
The combination of finding a way I can exercise safely, losing weight, the motivation I get from my successes so far and those of others across the city, the articles I read on Newcastle Can, and my developing confidence all make me feel as though I’m reclaiming my body for myself.
For many years I’ve felt as though my body has almost been set aside for medics to prod, poke, look at, and experiment on, but I’m taking it back for myself and feeling so much better about it. There will always be bits of it that are broken and don’t work as they ought, but I’m doing what I can now to keep it going as best as it can with all those broken bits too, and in the process I’m finding that some of it is mending.
In fact, not only have I lost 7 stone now, but through the weight loss I’ve managed to reverse my liver disease from stage three all the way back to stage one (as far as it is possible to take it) and consequently I have been discharged from the hepatologist, and my diabetologist thinks that within the next year he might be able to refer my diabetes care back to my GP.
I feel stronger and so much better now, but I have to bear in mind that this is a journey, and it’s important that I enjoy the journey as much as I long to reach my destination. The journey is the long-haul so I need to make sure I pay attention to all that I’m passing through, have a laugh at the good times and perhaps a cry at the tough times, but always keep going so I get to where I want to be in the end."
Article written by Becky Giles