I was always a skinny kid. There wasn’t much of me. I never had any issues with weight (except for maybe being underweight!) and could eat whatever I wanted without concern.
During high school I was very active and played touch football, water polo and surfed. I used to go to the beach with my friends and wear a rash vest and board shorts to cover up as I would get tired of being called ‘Skeletor’ and listening to my friends’ shrieks of, “Oh my god! You’re SO skinny!”. I know! Doesn’t that just sound AWFUL?
But all of that would suddenly change when I turned 17.
I’d been on the pill for a couple of years by that stage to manage my erratic and painful periods. When I had visited the Doctor about this issue, he quickly prescribed me the pill and told me that would solve the problem. Back then, PCOS wasn’t as widely talked about as it is now so he probably never even thought to have me tested. I was happy to take the little pill everyday to control the pain and went about my merry way.
I didn’t realise that the progestogen in the pill can increase your appetite, so was surprised when all of a sudden I started eating more. I gained a little weight, which was welcomed, as people stopped commenting on how skinny I was!
School was becoming stressful, I was having a hard time at home and I started to feel really down. I was also becoming increasingly panicky for no particular reason and was really having difficulty just getting out of bed. I was alienating myself from friends and family and spent my days in my room listening to heavy metal and grunge, as you do in the 90’s (well at least I did!), toying with blades and matches, anything that would take the pain I had on the inside away. I look back on that time now and can’t even imagine what I was thinking. It was all very ‘teenage-angst’ and ‘emo’ (no one said emo back then, it was ‘gothic’… do gothics still exist? I digress…).
My mum started to notice my depressed state and took me to the Doctor. The Doctor prescribed anti-depressants. Just like that. No psychological assessment, no alternative suggestions, just a quick, “Oh, you’re feeling sad? Here take this”. And so I embarked on my 7 year battle with anti-depressants. Quite truthfully, it really was a battle. I hated taking them, they made me feel numb and tired all the time, but I continued to take them as it was the only tool I had to keep panic attacks at bay.
The anti-depressants (coupled with my excessive hunger from the pill) also started my struggle with my weight. In the year that I started taking them I estimate that I put on about 10kg. That’s a massive amount for someone who was so small to begin with but at least I wasn’t getting called ‘Skeletor’ anymore! I had new found curves and I was actually enjoying them.
I left school with no real ambition to do anything, except eat. I was so hungry all the time that I would wake up at midnight and make a sandwich. Peanut butter and honey on white bread was my sandwich of choice. My clothes were getting tighter and I was steadily gaining more and more weight. I didn’t weigh myself in those days as I didn’t really notice how much weight I was gaining. My mum would say, “Gee Amanda! Those jeans look like they are sprayed on they are so tight!” and I’d just look down and shrug. It didn’t bother me. Nothing really bothered me. That’s the joy (or downfall) of anti-depressants.
I took on crappy jobs and partied a lot on the weekends. Actually, not just during the weekends, but during the week too! I was living free and careless! I was young and vibrant! I was probably gaining 1kg a month but hey, at least I had breasts for the first time in my life!
Around this time I decided I no longer needed the anti-depressants as I was feeling pretty good. I also had just met a handsome boy just before I turned 19 (who would become my husband one day, 7 years later, but that’s another story!) and life was great. I was growing into my curves and no longer looked awkwardly chubby.
My new-found love was in the army and we carried on a long distance romance for about a year and a half, with him visiting me and I visiting him every couple of months or so. I started working in a crappy office job that I hated and I could feel the familiar pangs of anxiety start to come back. I was getting panic attacks on the bus travelling to work and would have to turn around and go back home and curl up in bed. I was prescribed with anti-depressants again and went back to the comfort of numbness.
Not long after we met, my husband sustained a knee injury and started the process of being discharged from the Army. In the early months of 2003 he entered the final stages of discharge and was told he had to stay near the base in Darwin at all times. The final stage could take up to 6 months before he was finally discharged so I had a big decision to make. Should I stay in Sydney, in my crappy job, sharing a room with my young cousin because I no longer lived at home and wait for him? Or should I pack up everything and move to sunny Darwin for 6 months? The choice was easy to make.
I spent the 6 months in Darwin. 6 months of eating. 6 months of getting fatter and fatter. 6 months of chain-smoking because I was so bored. 6 months of wearing nothing but sarongs because my clothes no longer fit. I would cry in frustration trying to pull on a pair of shorts, screaming, “Ugh!!! They’ve SHRUNK! GOD DAMNIT!!!”. I simply had no idea how big I was. I finally went shopping to buy some new clothes and picked up my usual size 12 shorts. They wouldn’t go up past my thighs. I went to store after store thinking that maybe they were just a small 12 and I would find another pair that fit. No success. Finally, I tried on a size 14 skirt. It wouldn’t zip up at the side. I was close to tears then. I picked up a size 16, zipped it up successfully, bought the damn thing (so I could stop wearing only sarongs) and vowed I would never buy a size 16 ever again.
I came back from Darwin shortly before my 21st birthday weighing 92kg, probably about 17kg heavier than I was when I left. That’s 17kg in 6 months. People were looking at me like they had seen a ghost. I felt like saying, “Yes! I know! I’m fat now! Get over it!”. Some people even had the audacity to say to me, “Wow, you put on a bit of weight!”. I was devastated. Well, not completely devastated as I was still on anti-depressants. At the time I had resigned to being on them for the rest of my life as I didn’t have the first clue on how to manage my anxiety without them.
Me – my 21st birthday party
Once we found a place to live and had settled back into living in Sydney, I started to tackle my weight problem. I went on every diet imaginable over the next 5 years with varying success / failure. I was looking for the easy way out. The cheat’s method. I was drawn to such claims as, “You won’t even need to exercise!” or “You’ll never feel hungry!”. I seriously tried almost every diet known to man kind. I wish I knew back then how much time I was wasting.
I was now going to the beach with my friends and covering up for another reason. I felt ashamed. I felt ugly. I felt like some sort of animal. I eventually just stopped going to the beach and made up excuses for why I couldn’t go just so my friends wouldn’t know how desperately self-conscious I was.
By the time I turned 22, I had lost a small amount of weight with the myriad of diets I had tried and fluctuated between 83kg – 88kg for the next few years – gaining and quickly losing, regaining and then quickly losing again in a vicious cycle.
In 2006, my husband and I decided we would get married at the end of the following year. This was a huge wake up call. It wasn’t just the fact that I would soon have to fit into a wedding dress and brace myself for wedding photos that we would keep forever, it was the realisation that I had just spent the first part of my 20’s feeling overweight and unhappy with my body. Your 20’s are supposed to be when you feel your best! When you feel fun and flirty, fit and terrific. I felt none of those things.
The year I turned 24 I decided enough was enough with the anti-depressants and ditched them for good. I learnt breathing techniques and other natural methods to manage my anxiety. I was still not happy with my weight but I had gotten to a point when I had stayed at 85kg for a while so was happy that I was not gaining anymore. I think a big reason for that was I stopped the medication.
I did want to lose weight for the wedding at the end of the year so of course I embarked on yet another strict diet. Well, let’s be honest here, I embarked on several strict diets, abandoning one after another when one didn’t work. I started going to the gym for the first time and I enlisted a personal trainer. By the time my wedding came around I was 80kg. I had lost only 5kg in 12 months and even my trainer was baffled. I had done everything right, it seems. I ate little and I exercised a lot. I was disappointed I didn’t lose more but I was happy on the day nonetheless.
The wedding was in November and afterward I went off on my honeymoon and relaxed for 6 days. I was due to be a bridesmaid in February and so I knew I couldn’t relax for too long. When I came back I began a punishing routine of exercise and starvation. I ended up putting on MORE weight. I was frustrated and confused. Little did I know that the body doesn’t take too kindly to being starved and hangs on to as much fat as possible to fuel itself! I wouldn’t learn this for quite some time.
I ended up having to squeeze in to my bridesmaid dress and felt very uncomfortable all day.
After the bridesmaid dress debacle, I dieted and exercised and my weight went up and down. I was frustrated, angry and tired. I would give up when I didn’t notice a difference on the scales and then I would binge eat for a day. For that day I would just eat everything in sight. Then I would punish myself for eating so much with strict diets and exercise and the vicious cycle continued.
For a few months towards the end of the year, I had stuck with a pretty good eating plan and was exercising regularly. I told myself to just stick with it and not give up. For those few months I documented my weight weekly and took my measurements. I ended up losing only 1kg or 2kg.
“Okay”, I thought, “Something is not quite right”. I went to a nutritionist to see if she could help me get to the bottom of what was wrong. The nutritionist asked me to diarise my food intake for 2 weeks and then come back and see her so we could discuss. Once I came back she looked over it and deemed it to be a good plan, one that I should be able to lose weight on. She asked me if I had ever been tested for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome to which I replied no. I’d never even considered myself to be a candidate for PCOS but then again, I had been on the pill for so long I would not have encountered many of the symptoms. She suggested that I go and get tested so I took myself off to the Doctors.
Many tests ensued (including one VERY invasive ultrasound) and it was determined that I had PCOS. I was in shock. I could not believe it. I saw an endocrinologist to find out how to manage the PCOS and lose weight. She recommended I stay on the pill and stick to a low GI eating plan. She prescribed metformin as well but after a few days on it I decided to just go down the diet and exercise route as the tablets were making me feel ill.
A few months later I turned 26 and decided that 2009 was the year that I would successfully lose weight and keep it off for good.
I started on the Tony Ferguson meal replacement program in March 2009 as I had heard it was a good diet for those with insulin resistance (a condition I had alongside the PCOS). I also started attending a couple of gym classes a week. I was 87kg when I started the diet and 82kg when I ended it some 8 or more months later. At least I knew now that the weight loss was slow on account of my PCOS and insulin resistance but that did not curb the frustration I felt. Christmas was nearing and over the holiday period I stacked on 3kg of the 5kg I had lost.
Feeling desperate, I resigned to the fact that I could not continue the excessive yo-yo dieting. I was struggling and needed help. I could no longer do this on my own. I had just turned 27 and did not want to waste the last few years of my 20’s fixated on my weight and little else. Something needed to change.
I contacted an old friend from school who I knew was a personal trainer and told her my story. She suggested we meet up to discuss my goals and my current roadblocks. That conversation totally opened up my eyes to all of the things I had been doing wrong. From my half-hearted attempts at exercise to my penchant for quick fix diets, I was stuck in Plateau Land and now was my time to escape.
She taught me how to eat for weight loss, which meant no more dieting, she taught me the right exercises for my body type and she taught me how to be confident and positive in order to fulfil my weight loss goals.
I’m learning new things everyday and the last 6 months have been the best I have had in a very long time. I went off the pill and almost immediately started losing weight, albeit slowly but at a pace that I now accept. I started training HARD and starting eating normal, healthy and nutritious food again. My PCOS is now under control with diet and exercise. My insulin resistance is no longer an issue and my blood glucose is at a normal, healthy level. I’m currently 78kg which is the lightest I have been in years! I still have some ways to go in achieving my goal of 68kg but I know that I will get there. I can also finally say that I’m happy with who I am and proud of what I have accomplished and overcome. Watch this space; I’m a work in progress.