When she made the decision to change her lifestyle, Sarah set about quitting the cigarettes, the sugar and the couch. Here she shares her personal story.
I’d been overweight my entire life; “your height hides it well” was something I often heard. It was said not out of cruelty, but in response to whatever self-deprecating remark had come spewing out of my mouth that time. It wasn’t something I could just get over, I was living with my weight until I found the confidence or energy to face it.
Two years ago this month, I kicked a couple of habits. In the months leading up to my 21st birthday, my friend and I made a pact that once we hit that milestone birthday, we would both quit the cigarettes, and at that stage I’d been smoking for five years. My skin had suffered, it looked dull and had a faint grey tinge that is born from living a crappy unhealthy lifestyle.
My habit had left me without a penny to my name and of course being a cash-strapped student with a less than healthy obsession with expensive clothes and makeup, this was a bit of an issue. I don’t think anyone who knew me was more surprised than I when I managed to stay off the cigarettes for a week then turned into a month. And before I knew it, this 20-a-day B&H smoking girl was free from her pervasive and costly addiction.
Proud as I am of this achievement, what I didn’t realise at the time was that that act of self-preservation would ultimately send me down a path of not only better health, but self-discovery.
The following summer brought with it the usual barrage of excuses, “I’ll start dieting and exercising once my exams are over/It’s ok if I eat my dinner at 11pm /I’m too tired after college to go out for a walk”. But in reality, I didn’t want to go out walking because I was ashamed of how I looked. This is just how it was for me.
I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin and so I sought comfort in a girl’s best friend - her fleecey pyjamas. Hey they’re soft, comfy and they always fit, what’s not to love. Well, in my case they didn’t love me back, I was eating more and the weight kept pilling on.
Some of the people around me at the time deemed it necessary to bring my weight up constantly, as if it was a free for all. Sometimes it made me feel like the shape of body must dictate my worth, at least in a stranger’s eyes. It got to the point where I felt like I must be less than human, that not measuring up to ‘everyone’ else’s body aesthetic must mean there was something wrong with me.
And then last summer something changed. I grew up a little and my resolve strengthened a heck of a lot. At close to 14 stone I decided enough was enough. I cleared all the rubbish and the overly processed foods from the cupboards and I started buying fresh fruit and veg.
And I started to take responsibility for my own feelings. Spending so much time in one’s own head can leave a person with a very one dimensional view of the world. Having finally realized somewhere along the line that I was my own worst enemy, I decide that I, and only I, was going to dictate how I felt about my body.
Quitting smoking had shown me that I was capable of effecting real change in my life. I was able to not just shoulder the problem and let it be my cross to bear- constantly hanging over me, reminding me that one false move and I would be back in danger town, but actually change my lifestyle so that the good became normal to me and all the bad habits, not so much.
I’ve always been an ‘all of nothin’ sort of gal. It’s 110% or I didn’t even try, and as such I knew that the only way for me to continue down my path to better health was to give up added sugars. That decision was made over a year ago and I’ve reflected upon it many times since.
When I first read about the impact of added sugar, the information didn’t shock me (it didn’t even surprise me) but, still I wondered how common the knowledge is? And if it is common knowledge, why aren't we tackling it more? Symptoms of sugar withdrawal can range from lethargy, extreme hunger and sugar cravings which could last for up to a month. And of course this only helps perpetuate a vicious cycle of weight gain.
The more I read, the more it strengthened my resolve to stay away from the junk food, and to cut out as many processed foods as humanly possible. Yes, I still get takeout pizza every now but the rest of the time, it’s asparagus, fish and potatoes.
It’s been a year since I made that decision to change my life. I exercise moderately and I try to eat as best I can and never after 9pm if I can help it. And those changes, coupled with eating a healthy breakfast, have helped me maintain my weight of ten stone and for me, this is the weight at which I feel best. And I'll underline that this isn't the same for everyone and I'm speaking from my perspective and experiences here. But this is what worked and feels good for me.
My body isn’t perfect but at least now I feel like it’s mine and I'm happy with that. Our bodies truly are the best instruments any of us will ever own. And I’m going to try to take care of mine.
What one change has made the most difference to your overall health? And if you've any tips to help kick start or continue a healthy lifestyle, we'd love to hear them.