There’s no doubt that being overweight is unhealthy.
It can lead to all sorts of disorders, from heart and breathing problems to joint issues to diabetes – there’s nothing good about it and the risks are many.
Any lifestyle magazine will give you tips on losing weight, offer you diets, exercise regimes, health foods – it’s all out there.
So why is it so hard to actually shed those pesky pounds?
The trick is finding the method that works for you – even if it means trying and failing a few times.
As we get older it’s even harder to shift the lard, but it is possible. C4S met three beautiful women in their fifties who each successfully dropped dress sizes – but each in their own way.
Karen Hampton, 52, from Chichester
Method: Weight loss surgery (Roux-en-Y)
Starting weight: 20 stones
Target weight: 12 stones
Current weight: 14 stones
Total weight loss so far: 6 stones
Weight loss surgery, or bariatric surgery, comes in a few different forms. There is a gastric band option, where the stomach is made to feel smaller by wrapping a band around it therefore less food is needed to feel full; there’s sleeve gastrectomy, where some of the stomach is actually removed, so it’s impossible to eat as much as before; and there’s the Roux-en-y gastric bypass option, or stomach stapling, where the top part of the stomach is stapled off from the rest and the remaining pouch is joined to the small intestine. Food ‘bypasses’ most of the stomach and the part of the small intestine that controls appetite and gut hormone production.
Karen Hampton had bypass surgery, but she would not recommend it except in the most serious circumstances.
“It shouldn’t be treated as a quick fix,” she admits. But for Karen it was the only thing that worked.
“I’d tried weight-loss groups, diet pills – the doctor even prescribed some to me – crash diets, the Atkins diet – but I wasn’t very well off at the time and some of these diets are expensive because you need to buy more expensive proteins and so on.
“The weight gain began when I was seven years old and I got a bone disease which meant I had to drink five pints of liquid a day – and I chose milk. At the time I was skinny, played in all the school teams and loved horse riding and swimming – and in fact when I first started putting on weight people said it was a good thing.
“Then I left school, started work and everything stopped. I started drinking, partying, living in the West End and I started to put on weight. At 23 I had my daughter, and went from being overweight to being morbidly obese – more than 20 stones.”
The turning point for Karen came when she took her four-year-old granddaughter to the zoo.
“I couldn’t keep up with her,” she says. “It was a whole day and I remember having to sit down every half hour. My back was breaking and I thought, I’m not going to see this girl grow up if I carry on like this.”
Karen started thinking about health, and to begin with she gave up smoking.
“I put on another two stone,” she said. “Then I started getting this reflux problem, like really bad heartburn, and would wake up feeling sick. My doctor referred me to be treated for that and asked me if I wanted bariatric surgery while they were operating for that.”
Two years later, Karen had dropped six dress sizes and seven and a half stones.
She suddenly began feeling confident in what she wore, and didn’t mind having her photograph taken.
But she has a warning.
“People think it’s an easy way out and it can take the place of losing weight yourself – but it can’t, and in fact I have started putting on weight again,” she says.
“It’s stopped my reflux problem, I have started going to the gym, and I’m off the fags. But it’s not a permanent solution. That has to come from you.”
Bariatric surgery is currently available on the NHS in some areas – but not all. It is only available to people who meet strict weight and lifestyle criteria.
Claire Ronnie, from Amberley
Method: Slimming World*
Starting weight: 16 st 5 lbs
Target weight: 11 st 7 lbs (changed to 11 st)
Current weight: 11 st 9lbs
Weight loss so far: Almost 5 stones
It wasn’t until Claire Ronnie stood on the scales at the weight loss group she happened to go to that she realised she weighed 16 and a half stones.
“It was a massive shock,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it.
“I’d never considered myself huge – as a teenager I was always tall and broad, I had a bit of puppy fat but nothing horrendous. I’d never been on any diets or anything but when I went shopping I did always pick loose-fitting clothes. I was an 18 on top and a 16 on the bottom – but to be honest there wasn’t a lot of room in an 18!”
Suddenly, Claire found herself on a weight-loss programme – and in a year and a half she had lost an incredible five stones.
“It was great because you can eat so much of so many things,” she says. “As much potatoes, pasta, meat, vegetables – as you want. It’s a diet you can have around your family – you can have all the comfort things like carbohydrates, and I was shocked by the amazing things you can have yet it works.
“I missed cakes the most and because I’m so near my target I let myself have one a week now. But things like jacket potatoes – I wouldn’t even think about putting butter on one now.”
Claire’s weakness was sweet things like biscuits, which she would snack on while making dinner for her family. But she got herself organised and made up a batch of soups for the freezer that she began to snack on instead.
“You go along to the group to get weighed and you can see people changing and getting slim and that’s amazing, how it changes people’s lives,” she says. “I can now get into a size 12 and that still gives me a real buzz.
“And now I’m feeling healthier in other ways – I don’t get back problems any more, and I’ve started going to the gym, which I would never have considered doing before.”
Claire also suffers from the lung disease Alpha 1, an enzyme deficiency that causes respiratory problems.
“Losing weight has helped with that too,” she says. “It was one of the most positive things that happened to me in 2017. I feel like a different person. Friends keep saying how they can’t believe how I look – and when I look at old photos I can’t believe it either.”
*Claire’s weight-loss group was Slimming World, a franchised slimming group which meets regularly and can be found in most areas.
Sally Hilton, 57, from Hove
Method: Personal training
Starting weight: 12st 6lbs
Target weight: 9st 10 lbs
Current weight: 11st 10lbs
Total weight loss: 10 pounds
Sally Hilton has been battling weight gain all her life, trying every faddish diet, every kind of weight loss regime she’s ever heard of.
Now, halfway through a 12-week personal training programme that uses HITT (high-intensity interval training), she is convinced she has found the method that suits her.
“Nothing worked before because in the long term it wasn’t sustainable,” she says. “In one diet I could lose a stone in a month, it was successful but then I would move or something would happen in my life – heartbreak, or whatever – and I’d start comfort eating, particularly with sweet things.
“About three years ago I completely gave up cakes and chocolates, any sweet things at all, and now it doesn’t bother me at all.
“I eat really healthily now and my training is changing my body composition.”
HITT is intensive circuit training with a mixture of classes and personal training. It intersperses intense bursts of activity with less intense exercise, or rest, on a rotating basis for a set period of time.
Sally sets a minimum of two one-hour sessions a week and usually manages about four. But it wouldn’t have worked for Sally on its own.
“With a personal trainer I’m not just doing it for myself,” she says. “If you just go to classes it’s easy not to go if you don’t feel like it, but if you have a personal trainer you feel you’re letting them down.
“Also they set you work to do on your own – he’ll ask me to do three sessions before he sees me again and I feel bad if I haven’t done them, so I do. It’s motivating.”
Sally says the programme incorporates a lot of leg work, because that’s where the body’s heavier muscle mass is and therefore requires more energy to get moving – thus burning more calories and increasing her metabolic resting rate.
Her personal trainer also looks at what she eats – and to her surprise, she was told to eat more.
“My daily requirement is 2,000 calories but I was only eating 1,200, which meant my body was going into starvation mode, eating the muscle instead of the fat.”
And she points out that weight training is particularly good for women as they get older, because bone density diminishes with age and weight training helps to maintain bone mass.
Sally’s programme doesn’t focus on weight so much as size – and halfway through, she has lost 10 centimetres from her waist and three from around her arms.
“I can definitely tell that my body’s changing. I knew before I did my measurements that it was starting to work. I haven’t reached my target weight or got back into my clothes yet, but I’m only halfway through.”
So would she recommend this method to everyone?
“I know it works for me – but there are three key things,” she says. “Don’t weigh yourself too often; exercise is key; and give up everything with sugar in it.”