I used to be fat. More accurately, I was obese throughout most of my twenties and thirties. Fortunately, I’m tall. At 171cm (5’7”) I was able to hide my weight with style. The change began when I moved to Sydney from London to live with my then-fiancé-now-husband Justin. I was 32 and about 89kg (196 lbs).
I had been experiencing knee and hip pain while running and went to see his GP. The GP told me that I was carrying too much weight. I was indignant. “How dare he?” I fumed. Because my husband is a wise man, he told me that he thought I was beautiful no matter what the GP said.
Walking the Aventura on the footpath as this day was Operation Pedro in Sydney. Leona Edmiston dress, Geox heels, Tom Ford sunglasses, Yakkay helmet, Linus Eleanor bag, Focus Aventura e-bike.
Unfortunately, I had no framework of how to eat healthily. I found all food advice conflicting and confusing. My habit was to overeat. I never felt “full.” I ate a lot of sweets and pastries. I drank more juice and soft drinks (my favourite was Solo) than I did water. The carbohydrates that I often consumed (white refined flour, shortgrain white /jasmine rice, rice noodles, chips) were high GI, a fast release of energy. Not long after, I would be hungry and low on energy. Time to eat again. The weight gain was inevitable with this pattern.
When we were planning our wedding a year later, my mother told me that “she hated how I looked” and ordered me to lose some weight. This is typical Korean-style-speak from a woman who was also twenty kilos overweight. When she was initially diagnosed with gestational diabetes during her second pregnancy with my brother, the doctor told her that she could “eat whatever she wanted for lunch” and to return for some more testing afterwards. When she returned and the doctor measured her blood sugar/glucose level, he exclaimed, “What did you have for lunch?” She admitted driving to the grocery store and eating a dozen doughnuts. She ate them while sitting in her car. My mother-in-law very graciously called me “big-boned.” I lost 3kg/6.6 lbs before our wedding.
Four years later, when I fell pregnant, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. A dietician came to my house and taught me how to eat. At first, it felt like I could only eat air and water. But with her help and the help of a team of doctors and nurses, I gained valuable knowledge for the rest of my life.
I was initially uncomfortable for the first few days on the Focus Aventura because the handlebars are further forward than the EZee Sprint.
At first, I under-ate carbohydrates to my detriment. I discovered that I needed them to be able to think and function. Consequently, to manage the glucose load, I began injecting insulin four times a day and walking after meals. After dinner, I walked up hills in my neighbourhood to burn the extra glucose that was in my system. My pancreas function was inhibited because of the pregnancy hormones. I suspect that I had already taxed it with my poor eating habits. My specialist explained that the excess glucose in my system (from carbohydrates), if not managed with exercise and insulin, would pass to my daughter. She could be born too large for natural delivery. I could also elevate her risk of developing diabetes in future. Somehow, I could live with destroying my own health by not changing my habits. However, the health of my unborn child propelled me to action.
My first child was delivered via cesarean. She was breech and because of the complications of the severe diabetes, they couldn’t turn her before delivery. I lost 20 kg/44lbs between pregnancies because I understood the long-term consequences of the extra weight I was carrying. I now had an 80% chance of developing diabetes in future if I didn’t change my diet and lifestyle.
I was in better physical shape during the second pregnancy. I injected once before bed and walked to childcare with my daughter in the pram, to work, after meals and home daily. A friend once offered me a lift in her car to my office at Chifley Tower during my second pregnancy. I turned her down. I still remember her quizzical expression as I walked towards the Domain. I gained 13kg/28.6 lbs during the pregnancy and was cautioned throughout. I lost 20 kg/44lbs again after the natural delivery of my son.
I used Weight Watchers both times to lose the weight. When I stepped into the first meeting in 2008, I cried because I felt ashamed for not having enough control to manage my weight. Here was clear evidence that I was fat. When my weight began to drop, I began to understand how to eat better. The only regular exercise I could fit in was walking fast with my daughter in the pram and to the office. I had already started Pilates during maternity leave because my core was weak. I was 88kg/193.6lbs when I started. I began to use Weight Watchers online tools more after the first year. I now had a framework of how to eat and less time to attend meetings.
I changed how we ate dramatically. My husband gained weight after my first year in Sydney because I had no idea of how to eat healthily. He also lost 20kg/44 lbs after our second child was born.
Sadly, Dear Reader, I’m not going to tell you anything new. Here are my tricks and tips for keeping my weight at a healthy BMI.
- I weigh myself daily. It is an effective means to keep track of what I am eating and how I am moving. My clothes are a guide. For example, I know that I can wear certain clothes when I am below a certain weight.
- We eat a lot of vegetables and a lot of certain fruits. Stone fruits, apples, pears, bananas, berries, cherries. A small portion of grapes, half a mango, a slice of watermelon. Some fruits are high GI which we tend to avoid.
- Our preference is for lean proteins: chicken, seafood, fish, tofu. We have lean red meat once a week.
- Good quality carbohydrates – low GI are best as they provide a slower release of energy throughout the day. Whole grains (spelt, buckwheat, barley, teff and chickpea flour is also good), quinoa (a small portion), small potatoes, sweet potatoes, basmati/doongara rice. I try to eat a different carbohydrate at each meal. And less at dinner.
- Legumes several times a week usually at lunch. Dahl is a lifesaver and helps to keep me regular. Drink lots of water afterwards if not accustomed to legumes. Your body will adjust.
- A TREAT once a week. It tastes so delicious because it’s a deliberate choice. Why waste calories on an ordinary biscuit or low quality chocolate when gelato or a visit to the patisserie/bakery is planned for Saturday afternoon?
- In the latter half of my cycle, I crave sweets. Instead of chocolate, I have 3-4 dried dates and a small glass of milk or tea. It reminds me of sticky date pudding.
- If I must have chocolate, I have 2-3 small squares of the best dark chocolate that I can find. I give the rest away or tuck it away for later.
- We eat a substantial breakfast daily which includes protein (eg. eggs, yogurt, cheese, milk) and carbohydrates (eg. whole grain couscous, wholegrain/wholemeal bread, basmati rice, oats).
- I eat a filling lunch with a fistful of carbohydrates and protein and lots of vegetables and legumes. Fruit for morning and afternoon tea. A handful of nuts and sultanas around 5pm.
- Dinner is usually a flavourful salad or soup with lots of herbs, a fistful of protein and a very small portion of carbohydrates or none at all. Occasionally, a small glass of wine. The salad includes at minimum seven vegetables. A little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Or grilled vegetables with a little olive oil.
- My preference is for lunch to be my main meal. If I have eaten enough at lunch, then I am usually not very hungry at dinner. Sometimes, I will skip dinner altogether. Consequently, breakfast is very delicious.
- I never eat and read/watch TV/work/look at my phone. I concentrate on my food and enjoy the conversation. I’m better at noticing when I feel full. If I am still hungry, I will have more vegetables.
- I stay positive. If the meal I am eating is very rich, I enjoy. The rest of the week is for “low-cal gruel” as I like to joke with my husband. And it’s satisfying to see the weight decline day after day.
The body adjusts to what you feed it. If I eat a corn chip or too many biscuits, I develop indigestion. I feel terrible if I eat more than ten chips/french fries. Of course, my metabolism has slowed now that I am in my forties. I can’t exercise away the weight anymore. But I find that eating a piece of fruit mid-morning and mid-afternoon and bicycling everywhere helps to keep my metabolism running.
The frustrating thing about losing weight in one’s thirties and beyond is that it’s mostly about altering one’s food intake and changing one’s habits. Are you hungry? Or are you just bored or thirsty? Is it a habit eating a piece of cake with coffee? Eating chips in front of the television? The extra glass of wine with dinner or while working in the evening?
Consequently, we never keep ice cream in the freezer. We walk or ride to two gelaterias in Surry Hills. We never have biscuits, cookies, chips in the cupboard. I take the attitude of “I am in control of what I eat”. If I am at a conference or meeting and see awful sandwiches (you know the ones), I don’t eat them. Or I might have the vegetarian option which usually includes cheese (protein). I will often leave the bread behind. Usually, I end up with a headache by 5pm but then I’ll have a good dinner and a walk or ride there and the headache disappears. I will ask how meals are prepared in restaurants and ask for alterations. At Asian food courts, I will ask for no oil with my stir fried Hokkien noodles, half the noodles and extra vegetables with seafood please.
Frustratingly, I have found that when I eat after road cycling or mountain biking, I gain weight easily. Usually, this is a sign that I haven’t eaten enough during the ride. To preclude this event, I’ll take a banana along and/or some nuts and dried fruit. To manage my hunger afterwards, I eat an enormous amount of vegetables. For example, with a steak, I’ll have a potato or a sweet potato and several vegetable (green beans, mixed salad, broccoli etc) prepared in several different ways. Instead of cream, I use low-fat natural yogurt or ricotta. Instead of cooking with wine, I’ll use stock cubes. Being ethnically Korean, I love Korean food but I eat a lot of the vegetable side dishes (panchan) that come with the meal instead of too much meat. I eat very little of the rice because it’s high-GI.
I started bicycling again in 2011 upon the advice of my husband. He had already started commuting to work. We bought the Nihola cargo bike and had it shipped from Denmark. I started riding it with the kids and didn’t stop. I discovered safer ways to ride to all parts of Sydney for my daughter’s gymnastics camp, violin lessons, my son’s playgroups. We took our bicycles on a holiday to Bali for the kids birthdays one year. We took the train to Macarthur and rode to Bundanoon back again to Macarthur. We discovered that the country train doorways are not wide enough for our cargo bike. We took the kids and our bicycles on the train to the Blue Mountains and stayed at a nice resort with our pannier bags and battery chargers. We rode to Kiama and to Berry after Christmas with the same. And now, I still bicycle everywhere. To work in the city. To my workshop in Petersham. To meetings around Sydney. For Monday music lessons with my kids at the Conservatorium and in Paddington. Grocery shopping. To the bike shop to pick up a bike. The chemist. The library. We walk to and from school. We don’t own a car which means that it’s not our first choice for transport.
I don’t have extra time to devote to exercise, apart from one hour a week to Pilates which is a 5 minute walk from my front door. The rest is incidental exercise by bicycle to travel to where I want to be. In the winter, I ride an urban bike. In the summer, an e-bike. I wear a dress and heels because it’s what I like to wear to look professional.
Recently, a man asked me, “But surely you don’t wear “high street” clothing. Do you? I said to him, “Of course I do. I have small children to feed and educate. I can’t afford Chanel or Gucci. The trick is that I am the correct weight for my height which is why clothing fits so well now.”
Happy and Safe Bicycling!
P.S. Are you interested in trying an e-bike for free and riding in Gear Up Girl? Come ride with me as Team “Style with Vélo-à-Porter.” For discounted entry please use GUGSTYLE17. Glowworm Electric Bicycles is offering several free-for-hire EZee Sprints for use on the day. Contact Glowworm to reserve yours now!