Today is my first weight loss anniversary. In the past year I have lost six stones - that's 84 lbs, or 38 kilos, and an 11 point drop in terms of my BMI. I have gone down nearly five dress sizes.
How did I do it? Through Weight Watchers (specifically, the Weight Watchers iPhone app), and I don't need paying to evangelise about their plan. I would happily recommend them to anyone: I won't bother going into details as you can find out more about the Pro Points diet on their website, but it's been the easiest thing I've ever done.
I still have a couple of stones to lose, but I've already learned so many difficult lessons. All we're ever given is the positive spin on weight loss: TV programmes, adverts, books, and websites all give you this massive spiel about how you'll look and feel so much better. Well, you might: but there are down-sides too, and ones that you won't find many people being honest enough to talk about.
When I started experiencing the darker side of intense weight loss, I had nowhere to turn: nobody I know or even know of has ever lost so much weight as me. Celebrities, sure, and vlogging Americans who've had gastric bands fitted, but that's not the same as the experience of just finding a healthy diet and sticking to it. Even the brilliant Weight Watchers forum doesn't touch upon the darker side of things - on the whole, people just don't like to admit they have problems (although since asking for similar stories to mine on the forums there, I've been shown some very insightful blog posts from members).
Note: please don't let this put you off losing weight, if you're in the process of trying to do so or considering starting a new diet. Losing weight is awesome. I will live much, much longer now, and once everything's settled down I expect my quality of life to be amazing. Believe the hype: losing weight is the best thing you can possibly do. But I'm an incurably honest person, and I think somebody needs to at least touch on this subject. So, for people out there starting the same journey I've undertaken, here are some of the most difficult lessons I've learned along the way.
For the first few months, you'll feel really bad about yourself
I'd never dieted before, but I imagine this is the main reason people give up before they get very far. When you start a diet (although I'm not really sure I can think of Weight Watchers as a diet any more - more of a gradual lifestyle change) you have to immediately cut down on the amount of food you eat - and although it feels great to know you're making positive changes, you can often start to feel really guilty about the recent past.
I started obsessing about how much food I used to eat, and nearly ended up comfort-eating a few times - which would have been deadly, as it probably would have started a dreadfully upsetting downwards spiral. Luckily I didn't feel there was much hanging on my weight loss - I didn't pressure myself, and I'd never lost weight before so was delighted and almost overwhelmingly incredulous when it started to work. Also, Weight Watchers cuts your food intake very gradually, so at first I could eat quite a lot.
There isn't a deadline
Rather naively, I used to think that I'd lose all eight stone and THEN everything would be different. WRONG. It creeps up on you slowly: after six stones, my life is already very different. All those things you think will happen after your weight loss actually start happening much earlier, as you constantly change shape. You don't have to have a BMI of between 18-25 to notice changes to your life, or for things to get better for you. In fact, it's easier to deal with: can you imagine the shock of suddenly waking up looking perfect? It's been hard enough dealing with the stuff below over the course of a full year, never mind overnight!
None of your favourite clothes will fit you
I love clothes. Not fashion, but just clothes in general. I've always been fat, so during my life I've found ways of getting hold of the most amazing outfits to fit and flatter my shape. A special Calvin Klein dress from a sale at Bloomingdale's in New York, an amazing denim skirt from Pink Marzipan, great cocktail dresses I had tailored to fit me from Monsoon (it's amazing what tailors can do with dresses which have generous linings). I've had to throw all of these away, and it was actually quite emotional - not to mention expensive, because I've been through several wardrobes now. But it's better to get rid of clothes that are too large - if you're doing things right, you'll be certain that you'll never be able to wear them again.
Your body shape will completely change
On a related note: what flatters me now is completely different. I never used to be able to wear wrap tops because they drew attention to my podgy waist: I'm not entirely able to pull them off now, but my trusty old waterfall cardis just utterly swamp my increasingly hourglass figure. This wasn't a shape I expected to be, as I've never been even close to slim before. But now I have curves, I'm having to reassess how I think when I'm choosing clothes.
You will get cold
Very cold. And not just in cold weather - last summer my thinner, lighter friends boggled as I wore a coat and scarf even on the hottest days of the year. I miss my fat-blanket. I used to have an amazing personal thermostat: never too hot in the summer, and always warm enough in the winter. Now I'm almost constantly cold - especially my hands and feet. When you lose weight naturally, you do of course lose it from all over your body - the first new clothes you buy will probably be jumpers.
Without veering into TMI territory, things will be difficult with your skin for a while. Skin on my face has cleared up - way less spots, which is just awesome - but for a while, skin elsewhere was not looking so good. Moisturise as much as you can - I use Bio Oil (supposedly for pregnant women/stretch marks) which you can get on Amazon but it's expensive and actually I reckon just about any good moisturiser would do the trick.
Food won't be there to comfort you any more
Food used to be my emotional go-to. Bad day at work? Monster Munch. Fallen out with a mate? Kit Kats. Argument with mother? Massive takeaway pizza. The list goes on. However, I genuinely think about food differently now - it's there to taste nice, but comfort has to come from somewhere else. My very supportive best friend Ruth has been instrumental in this, but you can't rest your whole emotional being in one person's hands - that's not fair. What's more, weight loss is an emotional roller coaster: because this next one is a biggie.
People will treat you incredibly differently
Here's where I come off as arrogant, but I can take that because this is the single most difficult thing I've had to face, and it's not something I imagine people who haven't gone through this experience will understand. This continues to upset me greatly, but everyone - friends and family as well as complete strangers - has started acting differently towards me. The old cliché about thin people being popular is not without truth.
I get really angry about this, but I don't think people can help it. Mostly it's people I pass in the street - instead of looking past me, men will often look at me: down, and then up. I occasionally get chatted up by guys in bars now, and previously-lesser spotted female friends are far more likely to start inviting me to nights out, dance classes, yoga etc.
This is supposed to be good, right? Well, no. It's actually quite intimidating if you haven't faced it before. I find it very scary: when I used to attract anyone, it often would be slightly strange, quiet, shy men. Now I'm actually starting to get noticed by the type of guy I prefer - more assertive, manly men. It's awesome, but it's taking a while to get used to.
I was also unconsciously used to people assuming I'd be a shy, insular, rather dull individual and developed a buoyant, cynical personality to try and combat this effect - so I've noticed my personality has started to adapt ever so slightly. I feel way more relaxed and less stressed, and it's weird.
Last but not least: medication
As you may or may not know, I have non-convulsive temporal lobe epilepsy. For god's sake, before you lose weight, go and see your GP! As I lost more and more of my body weight, I started finding myself becoming sluggish, incoherent and forgetful. I didn't work it out for weeks, but then I realised that due to my weight loss I was effectively overdosing on anti-epileptic drugs. This is seriously not cool, but to be fair to myself I really did lose weight almost by accident.
As I said earlier, it's been great - but I really wish more people would speak out about the down sides, if only to help those who are having a tough time. If you have blogged, vlogged or podcasted about this or have more useful links then comment below.
Weight Watchers: http://www.weightwatchers.co.uk
BBC Health BMI Calculator: http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/tools/bmi_calculator/bmi.shtml
NHS Live Well: Lose weight: http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/loseweight/Pages/Loseweighthome.aspx