Are you overweight? If your life never quite satisfies you – if you don’t feel you’re as confident, productive, motivated or enthused as you could be, try kick-starting the changes you want to make by beginning with your body.

Seven years ago, I was shy, chubby, lacking in confidence, and struggling to think beyond my immediate future: going to Cambridge University. I’d been fatter than my classmates since the age of nine or ten. Finally losing that extra thirty or so pounds I’d been carrying around has had a tremendous impact on my life over the past seven years.

1. Learning to enjoy food

I was a really picky eater as a kid and in my teens. I’d sulk in the treehouse in the garden if my parents tried to make me eat vegetables, and refused anything suspiciously “healthy” on matter of principle – diet sodas, fruit salad instead of ice-cream, anything which didn’t come with chips…

When I finally decided to lose weight, and went on a diet, I had to find new foods which I liked – things which were filling without being fattening. I also started thinking about nutrition: more fruit and veg, more whole grains, less sugar and fat. Nowadays, I’ll try pretty much anything, and some of my favourite foods (crispbreads with cottage cheese, vegetable stir fries, raw carrot sticks) are ones that I’d never have touched a few years ago.

2. Being confident in a group

Whenever I had to be part of a new group I found myself checking if I was the fattest person there. If I was, I would be convinced that everyone else was hyper-aware of this too, and that they were silently despising me.

Chances are that they couldn’t have cared less about my size. But it was only after losing weight that I became confident enough to take the lead in situations where I had to work with strangers. I joined societies at university and set up my own creative writing group. At work, I’ve delivered presentations and training to clients; a few years ago, I’d have been nervous about how I looked, but now I love being in front of an audience.

3. Dressing well and having confidence in my appearance

Throughout my teens, I lived in jogging bottoms and oversized t-shirts, varied with the occasional disastrous purchase in an attempt to follow the latest trends and fit in. (One top in particular led to another girl loudly pointing out my “spare tyre”.) I thought that hiding under baggy clothes would conceal me, but if anything it made me look shapeless and lumpy.

Once I’d started losing weight, I bought my first ever pair of jeans. I tried some fitted t-shirts. Hardly the height of teenage fashion, but my clothes were finally comfortable and flattering.

4. Enjoying regular exercise

“Exercise” used to be a dirty word. I hated every humiliating moment of games lessons at school (the changing rooms, the fitness tests, falling over every single hurdle…) I couldn’t understand why some friends wanted to play sport or go jogging after school.

Once exercise was no longer compulsory, though, I began to find forms of activity which I enjoyed. Cycling, swimming, and walking all featured prominently. It wasn’t until I went to university that I nervously crept into the little college gym and tried out the rowing machines, but from then, I was hooked…

5. Knowing that “I can do it”

As a teenager, I had ambitious plans and projects but never saw them through. I spent a couple of years writing a science-fiction novel (in retrospect, it was too short and rather too influenced by whatever I’d been watching on TV…) I wanted to be “a writer” but spent considerably more time reading about writing than doing it. I started learning Latin, computer programming, and a host of other things, but gave up after a week or two. I began to label myself as someone who “never finishes anything”.

But when I successfully lost two stone, it made me realize that I was capable of sticking to something, and that I could make complete changes in my life. At university, I took a self-development course which helped me to think about my goals and what I wanted out of life. Once I graduated, I moved to London – something I’d not dreamt of doing a few years before.

6. Realizing the value of writing things down

When I was losing weight, I wrote down all my meals and snacks and tracked the calories I’d eaten. I’d never before realized how seeing things in black and white helps keep you accountable.

At university, I kept on top of my academic work by planning out what I had to do at the start of the week, and ticking off pieces of work as they were completed. This kept me considerably better organized – and far less stressed – than many of my peers. I also realized the value of journaling; writing down how I was feeling helped me work through difficult patches, and curbed the urge to use chocolate as a magic cure-all!

7. Sharing what I’ve learnt

Finally, my success in losing weight gave me the confidence to help others – especially when I was able to lose a few pounds whilst a student, and then a few more working full-time.

I follow quite a few health and weight-loss blogs avidly, and am an active member on several forums. It’s always a great feeling when I’m able to give someone a tip or piece of advice that worked for me – especially when they reply to let me know how much it helped.

Photo by Rohit Mattoo

Ali Luke

Ali writes about personal growth and development on her blog, Aliventures. As well as blogging, she writes fiction, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing.

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