I coasted along, rarely gaining or loosing more than a few kilos and occasionally indulging in grim crash diets to try and silence the “thin is perfection” demons. I obsessed about my flabby tummy. I spent countless hours wishing it away, rubbing old oil lamps in search of a genie and throwing pennies into lucky wells. Strangely none of these things had any effect. I tended towards clothes that would de-emphasize my curves; I can’t remember ever looking in the mirror and feeling truly happy with what I saw.
This pattern continued until after the birth of my second child. I actually didn’t put on much weight while I was pregnant. I spent the whole nine months craving Granny Smith apples, white seedless grapes and spinach. When my son was born I looked at myself in the mirror and for the first time, I truly liked what I saw. I was curvy. I felt womanly. Coincidentally, I was also thoroughly sick of fruits and vegetables. Suddenly having another family member to cater to made me both busy and tired. I thumbed my nose at “healthy options” and opened my arms (not to mention my capacious mouth) to butter, white bread and my good friend Milka Caramel. Nine months after the birth I weighed myself and was surprised to see I was now 18 kilos up on my pre-birth weight (averaged out I’d managed to gain a kilo a month since discovering I was pregnant -- I just hadn’t stopped gaining once I actually had the baby). This is actually not quite as dramatic as it sounds -- I’m six feet tall so 18 kilos just bumped me up from a size 12 to a generous 16. I looked in the mirror again, and you know what? I still liked what I saw. Somehow the trial of labor (second time around) had made me see the beauty in being a woman, the bigger the better.
Nine months after the birth I weighed myself and was surprised to see I was now 18 kilos up on my pre-birth weight. This is actually not quite as dramatic as it sounds -- I’m six feet tall so 18 kilos just bumped me up from a size 12 to a generous 16
Glamorous and rotund?
So happily ever after, right? Not quite. If you jump up two dress sizes your clothes don’t fit. Even if you can (just about) do them up they look lumpy and bumpy and bad. There are a lot of glamorous fat women out there, and I would have been pretty happy to count myself among their number, but for one minor hitch -- there was no way I could afford a new glamorous-fat-person wardrobe. So it was time to diet. But this time it was different, I wasn’t looking for a magical cure to my “fat disease,” I was doing it simply because it made good economic sense. Because I am slightly obsessive and a great lover of lists and charts, I went online and read about every random diet out there: from grapefruits, to Atkins, to the one day biscuit diet. In the end I selected a plan which was an easy fit for my lifestyle -- the Lunch Box Diet (eat a medium calorie breakfast and dinner and lots of colorful vegetables in between), with the slight modification that because chocolate is an integral part of my happiness I was allowed one sweet treat a day.
Next step -- a complimentary exercise plan. Turkey is riddled with free exercise parks. On the surface they seem like a great idea; however, as far as I’m concerned they have a few major flaws. Firstly -- location. In Ankara where I live, everything is up a hill. It might seem like a good start to a workout to steam up a hill, but I lack commitment (not to mention consistency), and it was very unlikely I wouldn’t talk myself out of such a plan by day three. Part B of the location problem is the visibility of the exercise parks -- every one in my near vicinity is positioned next to a major through road. When I exercise I go beyond red, more an explosive shade of purple, apart from around my mouth and nostrils which turn a bleached, glowing white. As you can imagine, it is extremely attractive. I refuse to let my husband see me in such a disheveled state, let alone every man and his uncle on the morning commute. Part C of the location problem is the open-air nature of the parks. Turkey is hot in the summer (about the time I decided my ample curves needed reducing), the thermometer regularly goes well beyond 35 degrees, add this to my facial overheating problems and an ambulance would have to be on continuous standby.
Point two in my problem-with-exercise-parks catalog: where I go, my children come too. It’s hard enough to cook with a small child trying to pull down your comfy no-one-can-see-me sweat pants, let alone workout on some violently swinging piece of machinery. Which brings me to point three: I have no idea how to use any type of gym equipment. The last time they were explained to me was a P.E. class 15 years ago and I was distracted that day. They do have instructions written on them, but my command of the Turkish language is not good enough to understand them. As an alternative I briefly considered enrolling in an exercise class but this idea was met by a whole host of other objections ranging from how exactly I would pay for a class (especially considering I would certainly need to do more than one a week to see any type of benefit), to who would look after the kids while I did said class, and, of course, followed by my ultimate reluctance to demonstrate my extreme unfitness to a group of strangers. With all these limitations firmly in my mind, but still with a belief that exercise would speed the slimming process and get the general unpleasantness of healthy living over with faster, I turned to the wonderful genre of the “workout DVD.”
My first “serious” attempt at loosing weight, and adventure into the wonderful world of exercise-in-your-living-room, was at the age of 12. I hadn’t quite grasped the principles behind the exercise to lose weight theory (I’d tried jogging, once, and neglected to warm up, resulting in muscle spasms and self pity for the following week) and was completely taken in by the Rosemary Conley flat-stomach-in-half-an-hour-by-following-magical-video-instructions television advert. The purchase took a fair amount of saving for -- at that point my pocket money totaled 1.25 pounds and the video was a hefty 10 pounds.
However, I supplemented this regular income by doing chores around the house: cleaning out the guinea pig hutch, taking out the trash, plumping cushions... and various other tasks I was supposed to do anyway but now charged for at a lofty rate of 10 pence a time. Anyway, after weeks of scrimping, saving and scrabbling down the sides of couches for loose change, I was finally in possession of my miracle cure. My tummy would no longer wobble. I would be proud to wear a swimsuit. The in-crowd would embrace me as a prodigal daughter. And all this would be achieved after just one half hour of straining and sweating. I thought it might be tough, but for such great gains I felt I was up to the challenge.
The first surprise when I switched on the video was that there were actually three 30-minute workouts. I was a little discouraged to find my workload had tripled but with my weeks as chore doer and errand goer still fresh in my 12-year-old mind I decided the potential gains still just about outweighed the demands. At approximately 10 minute intervals throughout the workout I ran to the mirror to check my flat stomach progress. It was a surprise each time when there was no discernible difference. It was a shock when the workout finished and Rosemary appeared on the screen to tell me what a great job I’d done and to inform me that if I followed her program five times weekly and ate healthily I’d have a flat stomach in no time. It was a rude awakening to the necessity of reading the teeny tiny writing that scrolls along the bottom of the TV screen when an advert of illusions is on.
A dieting graveyard
Rosemary was consigned to what, over the years, became a dieting graveyard at the bottom of my wardrobe. In later years she was kept company by a calorie counting manual, a half used package of diet pills (I watched a scary documentary and stopped using them), a Velcro waist-slimming belt (it gave my figure an oddly ridged effect under any clothes thinner than a chunky knit jumper), a Cindy Crawford DVD (it was cheap and I think I instinctively knew her and Rosemary would be good friends), a tummy toning machine (which, unfortunately, actually required some effort to use on my part), and some weird buzzing electronic stick on pad doodahs (which required no effort, but didn’t actually have any effect.)
Still, this time I was sure that an exercise DVD was my best plan. Choosing one took some thought. Having been suckered by Rosemary (and a few others) before, I tried to find a dieter whose profile matched my own: had kids, need my body back. So although I thought it would be a lot of fun to learn some kick-ass break dancing moves, I first wanted to be convinced that the instructor on the DVD actually looked like she did from doing exactly those moves and wasn’t secretly working out in the gym. Anyway, eventually I settled on the “Charlie Brooks -- Before and After Workout” (Janine from “Eastenders”), who had had a baby, put on 20 kilos and now wanted to lose weight. Best of all she made a mini before and after documentary, with regular weigh ins and faltering footwork. Fabulous. Then because I love quantifiable results, I made a chart with squares to tick off for each day I stuck to the diet and or did the exercise DVD. To try and curb my OCD tendencies I also decided to only weigh myself once a week.
So I ticked off boxes on my chart, I barred the door, set up a table with a liter glass of cold water and a small towel for all that sweat and did my DVD. It took me precisely three and a half minutes to start hating Janine and her perky trainer. More her untenably cheerful trainer really, Janine herself was usually only slightly less out of breath than me. But I stuck with it. I managed to do it about five times a week only occasionally hampered by my children joining in as their presence meant I couldn’t tell Ms. Bubbly exactly what I thought of her when I got to the sumo squatting section. Twelve weeks later I’d lost all the weight I wanted to. I proved (to myself at least) that sticking to a diet and exercise regime was an excellent way to lose weight (particularly if not complicated by the transient emotions of loathing and self disgust). I even have a pair of size 10 jeans that fit me comfortably, although possibly they are miss-sized, I got them from one of those ware-house clearance stores and the same pattern in a size 12 was uncomfortably tight. Due to economic constraints, I am still wearing the same clothes I wore when I was a student six years ago, before son number one was born. In truth I could probably stand to loose a few more kilos to eradicate the I-had-kids/I-like-candy-too-much flab on my tummy. But I have a pair of up to your nipples, ultra tight lycra knickers to counter that, and frankly, at its present size, my rear end is a work of art peach. I’m not sure the world should be deprived of such a treat.