Dan Davis, Nutritional Therapist, | 07 March 2015
Hello once again. I hope you all had a great New Year so far. How many of you made new years resolutions to shed a few kilos? Have you made new plans to earn a body that will have you breaking out the bikinis on the beach? Hopefully this story will go some way to inspire you.
On this article I want to introduce you to someone who took control of her life, and took her health back into her own control. But first I'll explain how she came to my attention.
As you all know, with my nutrition qualification, I love to advocate healthy living, exercise and eating. As my journey started when I reached over 170kg, I can remember many times when I would have given anything for a magic button to press to make me slim. But, as I firmly believe it was a quick fix meal replacement program that helped to get me into the situation where I was gaining weight very quickly in the first place, I had no doubt that my life would only change if I put in some hard work and lifestyle changes. For many though, an informative education on health just isn't there.
Its no secret these days, that obesity numbers are at an all time time high, rising consistently. There aren't any signs the trend of increasing numbers will reverse or even slow, in fact predictions seem to paint a picture of a higher number of people classed as obese or beyond. Even more shocking is the fact that the statistics include children following the same results.
Another trend with increasing numbers is the amount of people that opt to go under the knife and choose surgery as a way to lose weight. Ranging from a reversible gastric band fitted to a full gastric bypass, where an entire section of the digestive system is permanently removed to restrict the amount of food actually able to be consumed. People are spending thousands of dollars, either privately or via state health plans, having procedures that can actually do more harm than good.
I had the pleasure of meeting Shelly, a 26 year old lady from Birmingham, England, who also planned on having a gastric bypass in effort to shed the pounds she had had enough off. Shelly took the time to tell me her story, one I found personally inspiring.
"At my worst I weighed 103kg. I wasn't happy with my weight at all. Although to the people around me, my friends, family and incredibly supportive boyfriend, I was just Shelly, I wasn't happy with it."
"I must have tried tried every diet going, trying to get myself in shape. I've been on the Atkins Diet, Low GI, Slimming World, Weight Watchers, even several of the meal replacement programs. I'd lose a little weight but end up putting it back on, and gaining more on top."
Shelly's experience isn't a unique one. Many 'diet' plans drastically change the eating habits of the person using them. So many aren't sustainable, for reasons such as boredom with foods allowed, hunger and also, especially with the meal replacement programs, an abnormally quick weight loss gives feeling of success followed by a return to old bad habits. In many instances the weight lost is quickly regained followed by further gains. This may be due to the bodies metabolism being slowed due to insufficient food, which causes it to store the next meal as fat in case of another long period of 'starvation'.
"I was lucky, I had no medical conditions due to being overweight. But, I knew it couldn't go on. I was scared eventually something would materialise if I didn't do something soon." "My dad knew I was unhappy with my weight, nobody has ever seen me any differently, but he could tell it was getting me down".
"My dad mentioned the surgical route, I had thought about it but it hadn't ever been more of a thought. He to told me that if I wanted to take that option, he would pay for it, he just wanted to see me happy".
Shelly went to see a surgeon and discussed her options. He, along with her approval, suggested the full gastric bypass. As mentioned previously, the bypass is irreversible. The stomach size is drastically reduced so the actual amount of food the body is able to ingest and consume is very very small.
The cost of Shelly's surgery would cost very nearly 13,000 dollars. But her father, wanting his daughter to be nothing but happy was still prepared to pay the bill. So the date was set.
"As the actual day got closer, things started to bother me", Shelly told me. "I had of course been told about the dangers in a major surgery as this, and had read about possible side effects of the surgery, hair loss, loose excess skin, both things that concerned me. But above all that, I had guilty feelings. I was concerned that people would say I took the easy way out and that I would feel bad about myself because of it"
There is often a stigma attached to people that opt for the surgical route. It is unarguable that among the heaviest of patients, the 'super obese' as many media outlets proclaim them, surgery really is the only option. But many, myself included, find it hard to justify going under the knife, especially if the person is able to walk and increase exercise levels and prepare their own meals. Many people, my past self included in this statement, claim to have tried 'everything' to lose weight. But in reality, the changes made, if any at all, are too small to make an impact. And even those that see some weight loss, are disappointed at such a small reduction that they very easily slip into their old habits. A complex, major invasive surgical procedure like a gastric bypass has a high amount of risk involved, every kilo over a safe limit makes anaesthetic use dangerous. This is of course always made clear by the medical professionals but to me, saying you've tried everything and opted for something that could potentially kill you, just seems like madness.
Its my firm opinion that people that have 'abused' their bodies with poor diet and sedentary life, need a fresh education in lifestyle choices. It is this lack of education in healthy lifestyles that I hold a great deal of sympathy to people that struggle with weight issues. And I don't just mean overweight, there are many 'skinny' people out there who are just as unhealthy due to poor lifestyle choices.
Shelly recognised this, just in the nick of time. She realised that she had to do this for herself.
"I told my dad that I had decided against the surgery. He was disappointed, not angry, just concerned I would slip back and carry on being unhappy with the way I was. He told me that he respected my decision but wouldn't get involved any more".
On an internet search, Shelly found a residential military style bootcamp. It was some distance from home but she could see it being a huge benefit being taken out of her day to day environment. Where her only concern would be herself. Again, this option wasn't a cheap one.
"I decided to book for seven weeks. The total cost would be just over nine thousand dollars. I had some savings but not enough to cover the total cost, so I worked hard to make up the difference"
I'm a firm believer that if you have to pay for something, really have to save then you'll not only appreciate it more, you'll give it your all.
Shelly didn't know anyone there on arrival. It was a house full of strangers, some new arrivals like her, some had been there for a week or more already.
"It didn't take long for us to get talking. We were all nervous, all apprehensive and a little excited at the same time. Everyone had a story, we all shared a goal".
After the first day was spent getting weighed and measured, getting to know what was expected of them and having their first meal together, the group retired to bed ready for the first day of training.
"We would meet at around 6.30am for our first session of the day before breakfast. It would be a spin class or some sort of circuit class. No day was ever the same. Some days we would hike to the sea front for sports on the beach, some days we would have our gloves on doing boxing circuits indoors. Just as the week progressed and you thought it was getting easier, the trainers stepped it up. You could never get complacent. Each day consisted of five or six sessions of hard work, you were told to work like it was the last session you'd ever do, believe me, you're not allowed to slack off'.
The food was carefully planned. Three main meals with two small snacks equally spaced throughout the day.
"Portions were never huge, the snacks could be as small as a single oatcake with a topping, but after a few days you just began to appreciate the food. A huge difference from eating through boredom. We were restricted to about 1200 calories a day. I dread to think how many calories I was consuming at home. It made you understand what the body actually needs compared to what people actually eat".
Shelly's observations are amazingly accurate. Although the bootcamp is designed to drop weight so a diet of 1200 calories per day is not sustainable. When you consider the Australian nutrition guidelines recommend a daily of between 1800 and 2350 calories per day depending on whether you have an active or sedentary lifestyle, it isn't hard to see that having that extra doughnut or can of sugar laden fizzy drink can easily start to load you with more calories than you burn. This can only lead to a fat gain.
"There were days when I could I have packed and left the camp and never returned. As I said, it never got easier. The trainers know how to recognise when you are getting stronger and fitter, so they push you harder. I was amazed at what I could actually do".
"At the end of the first week I had lost just over 5 kilos. I could have cried, my hard work paid off and lost more in that week than I had on some of the other diets I tried'.
The body is an amazing machine. It will adapt to the stresses it is put under. In this case, Shelly's body was fuelled on fat stores, as her intake was only 1200 calories but the amount of exercise she was putting her body through required so much more than that. So it started to use the stored energy, because that is what fat is, the bodies stored fuel source. There would have been some water weight lost and the glycogen stores in the muscles will be depleted daily but the main weight loss would have been fat. But, and this is important, the body will adapt to these extreme conditions quickly, as Shelly found out a week later.
"The second week was just as hard, I gave it my all again, maybe more as the result on the scales spurred me on so much more. So when the scales showed a half kilo weight loss at the end of week two, I was so upset. I had though lost a lot of inches. The trainers sat me down and explained that this is a very common thing. I could physically see changes so it didn't take long for me get my head clear ready for the next week".
The bodies metabolism will change when activity and food habits change, plus Shelly will have gained some muscle mass. Muscle tissue is more dense so weighs more than fat, which explains why Shelly lost inches but less weight. She did lose fat but gained lean tissue, which is a very healthy thing to do. Even in ladies. It is a myth that lifting weights will turn women olympian type body builders (unless they really want to). A little lean muscle gain will help to burn fat even at rest.
"I stayed for the first five weeks non stop, didn't see any family or friends in that time. I just wanted to concentrate on the work with no distractions. In the third week, I lost about 2kg. This was around the average from that point on."
A weight loss of anywhere between 1 and 3 kilograms per week is a good indicator that you are losing fat. Any more than that and you risk loosing muscle mass, which could be disappointing if you worked hard to gain it.
"After the 5th week, I went home for a family function and to take a break. It becomes mentally exhausting as well as physically. But my habits had changed, I didn't steer too far from the new regime. I didn't gain any weight at all. I was really pleased with my choices, it proved that I had really learned".
Shelly's control on her habits on the break form bootcamp show that it does take time to adjust, both physically and mentally. It goes to show that short term fixes for weight loss are rarely successful long term. Being away from home for over a month gave Shelly time to develop good habits and learn. A total reeducation of food and exercise and more importantly, what she can actually physically achieve.
"I returned for my final 2 weeks. It was no easier but more enjoyable. I actually missed the place while I was there. In total, over the seven weeks I lost a total of 14kg, and a lot of inches from all my body. But the most important thing I gained was a feeling of my life being mine again. That was worth every penny I spent".
You can't really put a price on your life. But taking a huge step like this, taking control and choosing hard work over a surgical procedure will have definitely put years on Shelly's life. She has made made an investment in herself. Every decision on this journey has been made by Shelly, every dollar it cost, she earned. It really was a personal chapter, for her and nobody else. When I first met her, and heard her story, it inspired me to push on. It shows that when it comes to health, you do it of yourself first. Every one else just gets the benefit of a happier healthy you.
"I have a new job, I'm still losing weight. Obviously slower than at bootcamp but day to day life doesn't allow for 8 hrs of exercise. I'm more confident, happier and have a new outlook. I haven't finished yet, there's still a way to go but this time I know I have the tools and determination. There was a lovely full stop to this chapter of the journey. I was a bridesmaid at my dad's wedding. I got to wear a beautiful dress and it was a fantastic way to show my dad what I'd achieved. I know he was proud of me, not for the way I looked, but the fact the smile on my face was a completely genuine one".
The best of health,
Dan Davis is a Nutritional Therapist based in London and Kent in the UK and a member of the SingleMum.com.au Expert Panel. To learn more about Dan, please go to his Biography page here
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