Letter to my larger self!
Rosemary Campbell spent her 20s as a recluse, too scared of her epilepsy and embarrassed by her weight to go out. Here, 7st 1lb* lighter, is what she’d like to tell her younger self – that hope is just around the corner…
It’s 2009, you’re more than 21st and I wish, with all my heart, that I could wrap both my arms around you and give you the enormous hug you so desperately need. You’re 30 but you may as well be 80. Your days are spent eating, reading, taking care of your pets and watching television. You’re too unwell with epilepsy, agoraphobia, depression, acid reflux and back problems to have a job, sustain a relationship, or even go out your own front door. You have your family’s unconditional love and support, but you’re the first to admit that you’re not really living – just existing.
You started battling your weight age 10. Until then, you were a confident, average-size little girl who loved singing, dancing and acting. One day, out of the blue, a teacher saw you in shorts and nicknamed you ‘thunder thighs’, joking that you’d need extra paper to create a self-portrait of your body. The damage to your self-esteem was colossal and from then on, whenever you looked in the mirror, you saw yourself as overweight.
You spent the whole of secondary school alternating between unsustainable crash diets (remember the one where you tried to survive on a banana a day?) and giving in to your hunger pangs with chocolate, cakes and crisps. Diets and weight aside, you were a typical teenage girl who lived for the weekend and loved parties, dancing and dates. You hadn’t lost your love of performing arts, and after work experience on Patrick Kielty’s TV show, you had high hopes of making a career in television production.
Then two life-changing things happened. In October 1997, you were sitting in the kitchen when you suddenly lost consciousness. Diagnosed with epilepsy, you were given strong drugs to prevent further seizures. The side effects were devastating: your hair fell out in clumps and your appetite increased immensely. Then your beloved grandma died, which made you comfort eat to try to ease the pain of her loss. Not everyone at college understood or was supportive: you overheard comments about the number of mince pies you must have eaten over the holidays.
Unfortunately, your epilepsy proved difficult to control. Stress seemed to be a trigger and your doctors suggested that the frantic world of TV production was best avoided. You applied to study communications and marketing at university instead, though when you were due to start, you deferred your place. You felt too ashamed of your size. What if people were rude? What would happen if you had a bad seizure and needed to go to hospital? It was so much safer to wait until you were slim. Unfortunately, that day never came.
You must have tried every crash diet ever invented, plus hypnosis, exercising at home on a cross-trainer, and slimming clubs where you felt told off and humiliated. You’d lose a few pounds, then always gain back every ounce – with interest – as soon as you gave in to your hunger pangs and returned to your daily jam doughnuts and those family-size bags of sweets.
As your weight rose, you feared that people were judging you: you heard a little boy asking his mum why you were fat, and her response was that it was because you ate too much. You started to leave the house less and less frequently. Sometimes, you’d get ready for a night out with friends, but then your heart would pound and you’d feel too terrified to leave. The panic attack would trigger an epileptic seizure, after which you’d feel too unwell to venture out anyway.
From mid-2006 to 2009 you stayed at home permanently. Even after that, you only went out for medical appointments and to visit Mum when she needed a life-saving operation. You missed so much: socialising; family get-togethers; your niece’s and nephew’s sports days and birthdays; holidays. You’d even hide upstairs when visitors came, fearful that they’d make comments about your weight. Mum and Dad were frantic with worry that you were spending your 20s as a recluse. In turn, you worried about how you would look after them properly as they got older – all of you were in poor health.
One day in 2012, you noticed that one of your few remaining friends was looking slim and you asked her what she ate. The answer – big meals and lots of treats – flew in the face of everything you’d learned in your 20-year dieting history. You quickly found the Slimming World website and resolved to give Food Optimising a try at home.
A brave new world
Rosemary, it was one of the best decisions you ever made. Mum had always cooked healthy evening meals, such as chicken with vegetables, and she was enthusiastic about the easy Slimming World recipes you found online. Your biggest problem had always been the chocolates, buns and cakes you ate instead of breakfast and lunch. Now you made sure you had three proper meals a day and snacked on grapes, kiwi fruit or cherries. Yes, it was a huge change and sometimes you gave in to your old cravings. And you were still eating quite a few ready-made sauces, which were high in Syns. Even so, you lost nearly 5st in a year. And then your weight loss stalled.
So you made what turned out to be another brilliant choice. Despite your crippling agoraphobia and your fear of ridicule, you resolved to join your local Slimming World group.
You’d aimed for one of the three daytime sessions, then went into such a panic that you only got there at 7.30pm, when Dad tricked you into ‘keeping him company’ while he drove Mum to the supermarket. You were shocked when he pulled up at the Slimming World venue instead.
It took real courage to walk through those doors for the first time. And instead of the rude comments and harsh judgement you’d feared, you met kindness and empathy. You were too shy to speak in IMAGE Therapy, but you listened to every word Liza, your Consultant, had to say. And then you went home, cleared out the cupboards, planned a menu and did an online supermarket shop.
Within two weeks of joining Liza’s group, you’d already received your half-stone award. You couldn’t believe how quickly you were progressing with this task you’d previously thought was impossible. Spurred on by realising you really could make positive changes, you dragged your cross-trainer (which had been gathering dust for years) back into the kitchen. At first, you were so unfit that you could manage no more than a minute at a time. Yet, filled with a sudden belief and a determination you never knew you possessed, you soldiered on until you could manage five-minute sessions, then 10 minutes, then 20.
Working out on that cross-trainer soon replaced chocolate and cakes as your everyday stress-buster. You were thrilled to have found a way to cope with difficult days that helped clear your head as well as lose weight rather than gain it!
In fact, Slimming World was sorting out more than your weight issues. Liza seemed to know what you needed before you did, and asked if you’d become part of her social team and check in all the members every week. Soon, chatting to everyone at group became second nature.
As the weight came off and your confidence picked up, you realised something. Your epilepsy seemed to have disappeared. You’d been used to having up to six seizures a week and you hadn’t had one since the week you’d joined group. Your reflux and back pain also seemed to have been cured, and your energy levels had picked up immensely. Your doctors were delighted with these improvements and told you that if you managed two years without seizures, you could learn to drive – something you never thought you’d achieve.
You could barely believe it when, on 28 April 2014, you were down to 10st 7lbs. You’d lost more than half your body weight since first finding out about Slimming World. What an amazing achievement for someone who, despite feeling comfortable and safe at Liza’s group, still hardly ever left home without suffering extreme anxiety; someone who had only just started venturing out to pubs and concerts, let alone thinking about dates, boyfriends or getting her own home one day.
In August 2014, you’d reached your target weight of 10st 2lbs, and by the following winter you were confident enough to visit clothes shops in person – although you still tended to pick up size 24s out of habit. When a shop assistant persuaded you to try a size-12 dress and it was too big, you burst into tears. There, twirling before you, was the slim version of Rosemary at last.
At the same time you were training to become a Slimming World Consultant yourself, planning to open your first group in January 2015. The idea was stressful for you – you’d never had a job and hadn’t stood up in front of a big group since you were a teenager. You even lost a bit more weight during the training and had to re-set your target a little lower, to 9st 11lbs. Since you began your slimming journey you’ve lost nearly 12st!
You were shaking like a leaf at the very thought of your first group session. Then, as you stood in front of your members in IMAGE Therapy, you realised that actually, you weren’t nervous at all. You found the bit of you that had once loved performing in public, and you used it to conquer your stage fright. Plus you just couldn’t wait to share the slimming knowledge that had helped set free the Rosemary who’d been hiding indoors for years, wearing size-30 tracksuit bottoms.
Losing weight has not only helped heal your body, it’s building the confidence of the 35-year-old you – and giving you the chance of a career, a future. It’s going to enable you to have a life that’s happier and more fulfilling than you could ever have dreamed. I promise.
Love from Rosemary xx
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose
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