'After the death of my parents, I comfort ate and drank red wine. Now it's time to future-proof my body.'
IF you’re a woman of a certain age, there’s a list of things you’ve probably done by now.
Drunk too much wine, tried ridiculous dieting fads, watched GMTV so you could exercise with Mr Motivator and dated men who were no good for you. We’ve all done some of those things, right? It’s just a little thing called life, you can’t rewind it, so you learn as you go along.
But there’s one thing that keeps reappearing on my list, one that I can never seem to leave behind – the dreaded ‘I’m going to get in shape and stop eating crap’ regime.
Like many women in my age bracket – 40s to 50s – I’m struggling with my weight, and like most people, it’s not my first rodeo – I’ve been here before. Seven years ago, to be exact, as I approached my 40th birthday I decided to do it -to get healthy ‘once and for all’ and get off the chocolate-laden merry-go-round.
And so I did just that.
I found a brilliant fitness coach, I managed to stay healthy, eat well, have the odd dessert, the occasional glass or two of wine – everything in moderation was working a treat. I was the version of me that I always wanted to be, not thin by any means, but healthy, happy and doing some serious adulting to get my life in order – I was proper fit for the first time and actually enjoying it.
Another thing also happened during that particular fitness campaign – I met an amazing man. I put it down to the fact that I liked who I was inside and out and he seemed to like me too, so all was good in my world.
Fast forward four years, to age 44. I’m still feeling happy and content with life. Like everyone, there are ups and downs along the way, but I have my family, my friends, and a partner I adore. For once everything seems to be slotting nicely into place.
But life has a funny way of reminding you that the challenges are not over, not just yet.
However, nothing could have prepared me for my Dad’s sudden passing on March 28, 2016.
For the first time in my life, I experienced grief at close quarters and it shook me to the core. His death changed me in ways I never thought possible. I no longer felt safe or content; I just felt empty.
So I began to comfort eat.
In a 2017 study, US researchers found that middle-aged and older women who experienced more stress from major life events were more likely to develop obesity than women who did not report any stressful events, so the odds are already stacked against you, if you let them – and at this point, I let them.
We frequently toasted Dad with his favourite tipple, Jameson, made into an Irish coffee for myself, my siblings and Mam whenever we met up or I stayed over at the family home. We comforted ourselves with cake and chocolate, and anything that could distract us, even just for a little bit, from the pain in which we found ourselves and the giant void our larger-than-life Dad had left in the Kane clan.
There’s no denying it, food brings comfort, and certainly during the early days of my grief I think I was trying to ‘eat my feelings’ instead of dealing with them. But grief will get you, no matter how hard you to try to ignore it.
While the phrase ‘be kind to yourself’ is frequently used to those who are experiencing a bereavement, for me it became a doubled-edged sword; while I was being kind to myself, my health was put on the back burner.
Alcohol consumption went up, while physical activity went down and before I knew it, I was back to my old habits. Did I care? No, not really, because I had just lost my Dad and if cake and Irish coffees were helping, even just a little bit, then so be it. A few extra pounds I could carry for the moment; the loss I’ll carry with me forever.
Exactly one year and three months after we lost our Dad – on July 1, 2017 – our Mam, my wonderful Mam, the woman I comforted during the loss of her husband of nearly 50 years, passed away from ovarian cancer.
You foolishly think because you have been here before, you know what to expect – but you’re wrong.
What I’ve learned is that there is no singular roadmap through grief and previous experience doesn’t necessarily prepare anyone for it when it hits again so soon. I was and I am heartbroken at the loss of my two wonderful parents.
My siblings and I light-heartedly joked that we comfort ate so much after Dad that maybe we should go the opposite direction with Mam.
But Mam had a thing for tea and cream eclairs, so that was never going to happen. It would be rude not to honour her with several meet-ups with family and friends, clink our tea-mugs, savour her favourite treat while sharing stories about this remarkable woman we got to call ‘Our Mam’.
Mam was funny, clever, and had an incredible lust for life – she zip-lined in her 70s, for Christ’s sake. She did horse-riding, painting and go-cart track racing… the list goes on and on. A force of a woman like no other I know or ever will.
We’d been on some amazing journeys over the years as well – including weight journeys too. We won some and we lost some – from the dreaded egg and orange diet to slimming clubs and everything in between, my Mam and I tried them.
We did so much together that I found her absence from my life mostly unbearable and unreal at times. You don’t just lose your mother, you lose your best friend as well.
So, heartbroken once again, the Irish coffees are replaced with red wine at the weekend. Not that Mam ever really drank, except perhaps on the odd night out with the ladies’ club.
I clinked a glass or two, or more, in her direction nonetheless over the last two years and with it the comfort eating didn’t so much begin again – as it had never really stopped.
Now, two years after my Mam’s death, I’m a reluctant adult orphan at 47. I miss having my two constant cheerleaders telling me how amazing I am; no matter the circumstances, they were always on my side.
Now I feel I’m hurtling towards 50 neither fit nor in control of my eating habits anymore – and I have no clue where to start.
While the grief ebbs and flows, I feel a need now to get stronger, both physically and mentally, partially because I’m undergoing spinal infusion for a bulging disc in a month’s time and feel quite nervous about the operation and having to recoup for six weeks after.
I’m also back to a size 16 (and even that’s starting to squeeze) and I’ve long since stopped enjoying shopping. My lovely clothes on the opposite side of the wardrobe, my size 14 side, are openly mocking me every time I open the doors.
I’ve grieved, I’ve eaten, I’ve drunk wine. I grieved and still do, but the food no longer makes me feel better; if anything it’s making me feel worse.
It’s time for a change of direction.
I also worry about ovarian cancer and think my chances of beating any disease would be a lot better going forward if I were healthier. I also know at my age, the big M (that’s menopause) is heading my way, so I need to get my ducks in a row – and not with a side of triple-cooked chips.
My amazing partner tells me that weight is only one part of me and doesn’t make me who I am as a person, there is so much more to me than my dress size. In my heart I know that’s true, but I still want to change.
So trust me when I say this ‘new’ journey is not just about losing weight and feeling good again, it’s about gaining some control back, and somewhere in the back of my mind I want to make my Mam and Dad proud.
Always so supportive in everything I did, I know that even in this journey, they would be rooting for me; Dad sipping a Jameson and Mam drinking her tea and happily eating an eclair, preferably from Anne’s Bakery, cheering me on every step of the way.
Some of my Mam’s last words to me were, ‘you’re braver than you think you are’, and she always told us that mother knows best, so while I’m doing it for me, doing it for my health, I’m doing it for them too.
This is not just another fitness diary – this time, it’s personal.
■ Follow my progress in Health & Living on September 23rd: THE DREADED SUGAR DETOX & BEYOND
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