I am writing this post out of a sense of responsibility to all the beautiful young people I have had the good fortune to teach over the last few years. Many of you have asked how I lost so much weight, and have indicated that you would like to follow my example. But I feel there are things you need to know, and I am going to do my best to convey these things from my own experiences.
To start with, let me give you some history. I didn’t start out as an overweight child. Until the age of 6 I was actually pretty skinny. When I started primary school the weight started coming on. Various reasons, I suppose. At the risk of sounding like a quack psychiatrist, I might theorize that feeling inadequate among the rest of the children around me made me develop low self-esteem. I didn’t do very well in primary school academically, mainly because half the time I couldn’t understand what the teachers were saying. Plus I always felt I stuck out like a sore thumb, the only Indian in a school full of slim rich Chinese girls with their short straight hair. And there I was, forced to keep my hair long by the dogma of uprooted culture, shades darker, with a dot on my forehead and a larger body that I did not recognize for the muscular machine that it was and only cursed it for being different than those around me. How could I NOT develop issues? I was so happy at home and so unhappy in school. And I just got plumper and plumper.
Adolescence brought with it great height, less fat and more muscle. Dancing and various sports kept me fit, but I had to eat like a horse to keep myself going. I still thought of myself as fat (even though, looking back at old photographs I don’t think I was at all) but my confidence grew as I realized that my lack of understanding in school was not my fault. Slowly I developed strategies to cope in school. The more I got to choose subjects I liked, the more control I had. I didn’t have many friends- still too conscious of being different from them, I suppose, but my growing confidence as a dancer and a student made up for that.
Then came JC, and a whole new world opened up for me. A world where I felt valued. Where my opinions mattered, and where other people shared my passion for independent learning. Where teachers engaged students in discussion and students were not afraid to speak up when they disagreed with each other. I danced and sang my heart out (Indian Dance and Choir were my CCAs), and really lived every moment. I had no weight problem, even though I kept thinking I was fat only because I did not have the slight build of some of my classmates.
The next few years brought university and marriage, both of which inspired me and helped me to grow in character. I did face some problems (which are too private to write about here because they involve other people whose feelings I do not want to hurt) but having my husband by my side made a big difference. The dancing picked up. I was training almost 5 days a week and also swimming frequently. So activity levels were high. I did not watch what I ate at all, but burned everything I ate. Sometimes when training for a performance I would have one Mars bar a day- just for the energy! (Now I know there are healthier ways to get that energy!) At my prime I could eat a whole family size bar of chocolate. (Shudder)
And then came childbirth. Sigh. What a gorgeous experience, but how many changes it effects on the body! After my second child my body refused to bounce back, no matter how much exercise I did. Now I know that it was not just exercise I needed. At the crucial time in my life when activity slowed down, I still kept eating like I had done before. Perhaps there were some hormonal imbalances as well, but the excess food intake must have only served to exacerbate the imbalances. As the weight grew, the exercise reduced because it took a lot of effort to move that body.
I give you this history because I want you to see that it isn’t just about being slim. A lot depends on how you view yourself. Taking the time to reflect on what is really the problem can be very helpful. And being active is the key to good health when you are young. While you should stay away from obviously unhealthy food, you should not have to spend your youth watching everything that goes into your mouth.
Okay, Mrs V, I hear you say, get to the point. How DID you lose the weight? Well, I went on a diet. Not just any diet, but one that was planned for me based on the results of a blood test. It involved drastically lowering my carbohydrates and making sure I had one protein and lots of vegetables at every meal. I had to weigh my food before cooking it, and the weights of my food were specifically calculated for me. There were regular blood tests along the way to ensure good health. I am not giving any more details here because it is unhealthy to follow this diet if you do not have your own program. You may end up malnourished, and at your age, you need to eat well so that you grow well.
So I lost 33kg in 7 months. Yes it did feel wonderful. I got my body back- the one that I feel comfortable in. But I want to tell you this: I wish I had not had to go on the diet at all. My body is still recovering from it. I lost a lot of hair, which is slowly growing back as I add variety to the food I eat now that I am off the diet. I do worry that all the weight will come back, but I am realizing slowly that I can eat a lot more than I thought now that my metabolism is stabilized.
More importantly I have started exercising. Looking back, my happiest and healthiest moments were when I was very active. When I was MOVING. And I am now back to a place when I can do that. I don’t ever want to lose that mobility again. It is a precious gift that has been returned to me, and I will not take it lightly this time.
I don’t think that being fat makes us love ourselves less. I think that loving ourselves less makes us engage in destructive behaviour, one example of which is overeating.
So here are the things I would like you to think about if you are not happy with your body:
1. What is it really that you are unhappy about? So often it isn’t the way you look. Usually there is something else. Do you feel that no one understands you or appreciates you? Very often teenagers worry about this when there is someone at home who can really help them- their parents. Talk to them about your worries and how you feel about yourself. Tell them you’d like them to really listen to you. I think you’ll be surprised at how much help they can be.
2. What can you do about it? Positive action is often the best way to tackle a problem. And if there is nothing you can do about it then learn to accept it. Worrying about things you can’t change is a waste of time. What if you think you can change it but don’t know how? Get some help. Ask your parents or teachers, or even your friends (depending on what it is you want to do). Is it your weight you are worried about? Ask your PE teacher to help you plan a workout and eating plan. Ask your parents to help you follow it. Is it your grades in school you are worried about? Think about asking a friend who gets good grades to coach you in the subject for a while till you get into the groove.
3. What do you love most about yourself? Make a list. Is it your hair? Your smile? Your passion for learning? The fact that you know how to reach out to your family members? The shape of your big toe? Anything! Make the list and keep reading it and adding to it. You are special in ways that have nothing to do with the size of your body (unless of course that is what you love about yourself!)
4. How much time do you spend actively moving? Choose a form of exercise that you find fun. I always find that I am most excited when there is a learning curve, and my brain is engaged. When there is no more learning there is no more challenge and I get bored. But not everyone is like that. So maybe try different exercises to see what suits you. You don’t have to do the same thing all the time. Right now I alternate between 2 sets of DVDs which I will write more about in my next post- Walk Away the Pounds and the New York City Ballet Workout.
5. Do you have enough protein, vegetables and fruits in your diet? In addition to rice and other carbohydrates, these are the foods that keep you healthy. And you need lot of them to feed your growing body and brain. Forget about those models and actors. There is no such thing as the perfect body- only the one that is perfect for you.
6. Do you drink enough water? Depending on your activity level, you will need about 2-3 liters of water a day.
7. Do you get enough sleep? This is one of the main factors in good health. Try a little less time on msn and Facebook in the night and a little more time in bed!
8. Do you eat a lot of junk food? Could you try cutting back on it? Don’t go cold turkey- reduce it a bit everyday till it has become a weekly treat. But listen to your body if you are hungry. Don’t starve it. It needs good healthy food to keep it going.
Now that my gift of good health has been returned to me, I will cherish it. My aim is to walk in grace and beauty for all of my days. My body is the temple where my soul resides, and I will show it due respect and reverence.