The Wisecrack

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As I gorged on my third mini Mars bar from my kitchen’s treats cupboard, my daughter Melissa cried.

‘Mum, you’re diabetic,’ she pleaded as she watched me down the chocolate bar in one bite. At the age of 13, she’d lost her dad and was terrified for me too.

I tearfully shouted back at her, screaming that I knew I had diabetes. She was right to be scared and angry but I was in so much emotional pain; anything I ate never touched the sides. From 2012 to 2017, I was in the grip of a hateful, never-ending ‘binge, diet, binge’ cycle that I never thought I’d be able to escape.

My Type 2 diabetes was diagnosed three days after my husband Neil died, paralysed by skin cancer. We lost him six weeks after his 44th birthday in May 2012.

With a blood sugar test reading almost three times what it should be, my GP practice nurse was worried about me. But my mind was elsewhere, as I struggled to cope with my grief.

Along with my twin daughters, Melissa and Emily, I had bereavement counselling. We started as a family before Neil died, and continued weekly sessions for a few months, then sporadically for around three years.

Duing that time I was diagnosed with PTSD by a specialist emotional health team, amid recurring flashbacks from witnessing my husband’s agonising decline, and the brutal reality of his body being ravaged by cancer.

Our counsellor told me and the girls that home was a place of safety where we could express our anger and despair. We interpreted this as meaning that we could take it out on each other.

We argued incessantly. While my friend and business partner Carol became my rock outside counselling, I’d still spend most days in tears and the only things that seemed to give me comfort were crisps, chocolate bars and secret visits to the chip shop.

My weight slowly crept up to 17 stone. I’d been a little overweight all my adult life, but my mind wasn’t on my body size as I cared for Neil. He’d had never cared about how big or trim I was, though he was always slim and fit.

I did worry about the example I was setting my daughters. But they had a much more healthy relationship with food than me – more like their dad’s ‘food is fuel’ attitude.

I ended up back in the hospital where Neil had died about a year later, after paramedics came to my house when I’d called NHS 111 to say I felt short of breath. They found that my blood sugar levels were dangerously high. I had a suspected kidney infection which was treated in hospital, but before I left tests showed I also had pneumonia.

With my GP practise nurse’s support, I put my diabetes into remission within three months by eating healthier, cutting processed food and exercising. I began to feel healthier and more ‘me’. People started to compliment me on how much better I was looking and I eventually lost three stone over the next couple of years.

Then, in May 2017, Carol died.

She succumbed to lung cancer six weeks after diagnosis, and eight weeks after the loss of my beloved father-in-law. Trying to hold it together in the aftermath of widowhood and the agony of losing Carol, brought more dark days where only chocolate and junk food gave me comfort.

My weight went back up to 17 stone. I was lethargic and very short-tempered. I was fraught and fragile. My diabetes also returned. I was ashamed of myself and worried my girls might lose me too.

When I had my own endometrial cancer scare last year, the weeks waiting for my results were excruciating. Although I didn’t have cancer, I promised myself I’d get better.

I enrolled with a ‘total body rehabilitation’ specialist called Jim Thorp, from JT Ethos in Sutton Coldfield. I thought he’d lecture me on what to eat and make me run round a gym. Instead, for months, he patiently listened and helped plot a healthier future.

We studied goal-setting, nutrition, the importance of sleep and planning my days – finding more time for me. We worked on meal suggestions together and Jim taught me about proper relaxation, as I was stressed out from the demands of work since Carol died. He was a massive positive influence on my mindset.

At the same time, my closest friend and colleague, Katie, Carol’s sister, had lost two stone on a new diet. With my girls away at university, she moved me into her house and cooked reduced carb recipes for me for a week.

Feeling more confident, I embraced this way of eating. I lost 6.5lbs in the first week and almost five stone in five months. But I only followed principles of the diet rather than counting calories.

My mantra was ‘be kind to me.’ If I had a day when I’d inhaled my body weight in sugar, booze or carbs, I still got up the next day and kept going. I quit comparing myself and my weight to other people’s, and put my long-term health first. I got active – walking, resistance training, swimming, running a Couch to 5k, hiking and even kayaking.

I loved abandoning my old habits. I felt my extra weight was outward evidence of inner trauma. So it needed to go. It was as simple as that. This spurred me on to embrace fitness, even when I fell from my kayak into a canal.

My diabetes was reversed in six months, with a blood sugar reading well within normal range, and I hit nine stone on the scales. I haven’t weighed myself since autumn 2019. After years of yo-yo dieting, it feels like liberation. Avoiding shaming myself was key.

I’d often referred to my eating patterns as ‘disgusting’ or ‘awful’ – I didn’t deserve that, I was coping with extremely tough times in the only way I’ve known.

I’ll never go back. I’ve also embraced intermittent fasting, which to me just means cutting back if I overdo it in a sensible, balanced approach.

I’ve not eaten pasta, rice or mashed potatoes in more than a year and I don’t miss them.

I look at all I’ve been through, and I’m proud of myself. My confidence has returned. People tell me I’m inspirational, but I’ve just had to keep going.

I’m dating again, a lovely kind man who’s there for me. My amazing, compassionate daughters, now 21, also make me proud every day.

I’m still the same person as when I was eight stone heavier, I’m just a lot healthier – and happier – now.