Weight Loss: Yvonne Hogan shares her secret to losing weight

Yvonne Hogan

I knew she was at it as soon as she walked into the restaurant. She looked great. She had that happy, confident and healthy glow, and walked tall with an air of promise and excitement that comes from having a delicious secret.

After we exchanged pleasantries, she got down to business. The questions came thick and fast.

"So, are you still enjoying it just as much after two years?" she asked.

"More," I answered.

"Wow," she said. "I have only been doing it for a couple of months, but I love it. I was afraid the feeling would wear off."

"If anything, it gets better," I told her.

"That's amazing -- how often do you do it?"

"Four times a week."

"For how long?"

"Depends, usually about an hour."

"Morning or evening?"

"Morning -- I am only ever in the mood for it in the morning."

"And do you think you will keep doing it forever?"

"Definitely," I replied. "And so will you. I can tell. You're hooked."

And she is. As am I. My lovely friend and I are addicted to lifting weights. Several mornings a week, we hit the gym and pump iron.

It's hard work, but we do it. Because we are addicted to making ourselves strong.

And if you knew what we knew, you would do it too. Because, for a woman, it is the absolute single best thing you can do for yourself.

If you take weight training seriously, the benefits -- physical, social and metaphysical -- are immeasurable. The fat will melt off you. Your aches and pains will disappear. You will wake up in the morning refreshed and ready.

You will be able to eat a pizza and not wear it the next day. You will learn to view food for what it is -- fuel for your body and not a leisure activity, or a salve for your emotional problems or a reaction to stress.

You will listen to your body and learn which foods suit you and which ones don't. You will be disciplined about your eating, and food will never again be your enemy.

You will find shopping for clothes a pleasure. You won't have to buy a new outfit every time you have to attend a function or an important meeting to make yourself feel better.

You will learn to channel stress and use it as fuel. You will have all the energy you need to mind your children, do your job well, keep your house and look after yourself.

Your personal relationships will become easier to negotiate. You will not allow yourself to be bullied or emotionally blackmailed.

You will be able to politely RSVP 'no thank you' to the unwanted dates, committee meetings and social invitations without a second thought.

You will know your own mind and you will listen to it. You will know what is right for you and what is not. You will see things for what they are and you will be able to make good decisions.

You will be able to say no.

You will learn to recognise and appreciate honesty. You will be able to tell friend from foe.

You will learn to recognise and avoid the emotional vampires and you will make good friends because you will stand tall, confident and happy and you will be a magnet for other positive people.

Life's knocks will, of course, still come, but you will be better able for them because you will be strong. You will be a rock for your friends and family.

You won't procrastinate. You won't run from adversity -- you will face whatever comes your way head on.

But enough rhapsodising about the benefits -- let's get to the brass tacks of what exactly it is that you need to do to get yourself to this state of health, happiness and hopefulness.

And, believe me it's not easy. It's bloody hard.

But before we go into the whole thing, I want to say something very important. This is not another article about weight loss.

Well, it is, and it isn't.

I know that a lot of you reading this will want to lose weight. And a lot of you probably need to. As a nation, we are getting fatter and being overweight isn't good for you. It just isn't.

It isn't good for your health and it is horrible for your confidence. I know because I've been there. So if you are fat and you need to lose weight, stop fooling yourself, do yourself a favour and own it.

Admit it and do something about it, because you deserve to be strong and healthy and happy. Stop making excuses and just do it. Life is short and you don't want to waste any more of it.

I know that admitting you are fat is hard. And with all the mixed messages out there, it is all too easy to stick your head in the sand.

This time two years ago, I was the big girl who enjoyed flirting with denial when the fashion magazines heralded the return of curves and celebrated the fact that designers were finally acknowledging that size 14/16 -- my size -- was the 'normal' size for a 'healthy' woman.

But it was cold comfort, as I knew deep down that it wasn't true. This is not to say that every size 14 woman is overweight -- but for my height and frame, it was overweight.

I was the girl in the slimming club who sat there dispirited as she was told that you can eat whatever you want and still lose weight as long as you count calories, and that you don't need to exercise but if you do, you can eat more random calories.

As I handed over the money and queued up to be weighed like a cow on a production line, I knew that wasn't true either.

I bought the exotic teas and pills and potions, even though I knew what they promised wasn't the truth.

I paid money for all these things because I was buying into the illusion that I was doing something to change my life.

But, like a lot of the weight-loss products out there, I wasn't being completely honest.

I was paying lip service to change but I wasn't doing anything real about it. I couldn't really believe I was fat.

"The sizes in such and such a shop were ridiculous," I would say to my friends. "Those designers are such misogynists; they are really making clothes for 10-year-old boys."

To be honest, it all kind of crept up on me. I had been skinny as a teenager and in my early twenties and then, it seemed, all of a sudden I was a 35-year-old fat woman.

There was no dramatic 'aha' moment that made me want to change. There were the usual unflattering pictures here and there, but sure you could always put that down to the camera.

I was generally discontented, bored and kind of sick of myself. I was going through life like an automaton -- working too much Monday to Friday and then eating and drinking too much at the weekends.

Being fat was a symptom of a more general malaise for me -- I had become passive.

I had fallen into a nasty habit of letting things happen to me and around me, as opposed to taking charge and running things myself.

So after Christmas 2009, I decided that enough was enough. I would no longer half-live my life.

I would take control, starting with my weight. I would give up wine and go to the gym religiously three or four times a week. And I did.

But despite my temperance and three hours of cardio a week, by the end of January I hadn't lost a pound.

I couldn't understand it -- I had made changes and sacrificed. I was following the received wisdom about eating healthy foods and exercising and -- diddly squat.

I had quinoa porridge for breakfast, salads for lunch and pasta or rice for dinner, but I didn't lose a pound.

I went to see Damien Maher, who writes a weekly column for 'Health and Living' magazine.

He was honest and direct from the get go and told me that I was fat and out of shape, but that with hard work and discipline, we could fix it. I believed him.

I did exactly what he said and he was proven right. I wrote a monthly diary, so regular readers of 'Health and Living' magazine will be familiar with the story of how Damien helped me go from a size 14/16 to a size 8/10 and lose three stone of fat.

To synopsise, I cut out all refined carbohydrates, ate protein at every meal, stayed off the alcohol and kept a food diary that Damien would check each week. I worked out four times a week under his guidance and once on my own.

I was so determined to do this that I didn't deviate once. Everything took second place to what I was doing with Damien for that six months. I didn't socialise, I was in bed by 10pm and up by 6am.

Work aside, I had never put such effort into something in my life.

It was hard work, and still is, but the rewards have been endless, and, not to play it down, being lean is the least of it.

Lifting weights reconnects the body and the mind, the physical and the spiritual. No matter what else is going on in your life, that hour in the gym in the morning connects you to yourself.

Maybe it is because you can't do it mindlessly. You have to concentrate and focus all your mental and physical energies in order to lift a heavy weight.

For some reason, this brings great clarity to your thinking. Probably it's all that oxygen in your blood, and you relearn the connection between hard work and reward.

Because in the gym, if you work hard, the rewards come.

You eat well and work out and you look great. You miss one step and you don't. You can't cheat.

And there is nothing like exceeding your own expectations.

Completing that last repetition when you are literally on fire with the pain does something magical to your brain that transfers to your everyday life.

It helps you better deal with work pressure, emotional pain, heartbreak, loss -- and whatever else the world throws at you.

As far as I can see, there are no down sides. Two years on, I still follow the same rules as I did that first six months, but I am more relaxed at the weekends, when I eat pretty much whatever I want -- chocolate, biscuits, cake included.

I never really went back to drinking alcohol because I just didn't miss it. In fact, I find I have a better social life now than I did before. I have made some great new friends in the past two years and the time spent with old friends is based on real conversations and activities and not just a load of polite cocktail talk.

The only time I do miss alcohol is when I am around really boring or really drunk people, so I just tend to avoid that if I can.

Something amazing happens when you get yourself into good physical shape. The synergy that comes from the application of discipline, focus, healthy eating and rigorous exercise releases something, unlocks your potential and you grow and develop in ways that you haven't since you were a teenager.

It is exciting and invigorating and a new lease of life.

It's a new year, so why not do yourself a favour and do a bit of work to lay the foundation for an amazing rest-of-your life?

I'll even make it easy for you and give you a loan of Damien for three weeks. He has compiled three weeks of workouts and nutrition plans to get you started.

And these are hard workouts! I tested them for you over Christmas, so work hard and they will get you results.

Let me know how you get on.

Yvonne Hogan is editor of Weekend magazine

www.befitforlife.ie

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