'I never want to look that way again' - Ellen drops 12 dress sizes within a year
Ellen Schoenfelder didn't notice her weight creeping up to a size 22, but when reality slapped her in the face, working out with personal trainer Karl Henry and eating healthier turned her life – and her health – around/
When most people reach a dress size 22, there's often a defining moment that shocks them into a weight-loss regime. The collapsing of a chair, the seat belt that won't fit on the aeroplane. Yet for 30-year-old Ellen Schoenfelder, the lightbulb moment came not in a public, ignominious place, but in the doctor's office.
"I went to the doctor with irregular periods and I had always just assumed it was stress-related," she explains. "My doctor said: 'This is all weight-related. You seriously need to lose weight.' I was oblivious to how much it was all burning me out."
As Ellen readily admits, it was a (very) slow and steady climb towards her heaviest weight of 15st 10lb. "I was never a skinny person and always had a few kilos on me, and over the years, I just got really lazy," she says.
"When I lived in Germany, where I'm from, I was in a gym and that helped keep my weight in check. But I moved to Ireland a few years ago, had a stressful job and didn't look after myself. Bit by bit, the weight went on."
Combating the culture shock of a new job and a new city, Ellen often ate 'whatever was in the fridge' and forewent cooking for herself. That said, her meals weren't anything out of the ordinary for many Irish people. We may think of obese people as eating many huge meals a day, but for Ellen, this wasn't the case.
"I used to eat beans on toast, maybe a white baguette with coleslaw for lunch, and maybe have a bar of chocolate afterwards," she says. "I skipped breakfast most mornings."
And, while many people might take action when they can't fit into their size 16 jeans, Ellen admits that she hadn't noticed that she had, slowly but surely, reached a size 22.
"I'd never been a size 10 and always had to buy clothes in plus-size shops," she recalls. "I noticed once that I was walking upstairs in my apartment and my knees were hurting. I was 29 at the time and I thought, 'this is not the right way to be at this age'."
"I wasn't disgusted with myself or anything, because I've always been a bit bigger and just assumed I was big-boned," she adds. "I had a partner who loved me the way I was, which helped a lot. But far from being unhappy with myself, I was just more oblivious than anything."
In a bid to combat the bulge, Ellen started to walk to and from work in Dublin's city centre, but it wasn't enough.
"After a 30-minute walk into work, I'd be sweating and need a change of clothes. The walking wasn't getting me the results I wanted and I knew I had to do more. I knew I had to seriously change something."
Aware that she'd be less likely to bow out of an appointment with a trainer than motivate herself to go to the gym alone, she began Googling personal trainers.
"I emailed a few, and Karl (Henry) was the first who replied," she remembers. "He was really reassuring. I was a bit anxious going there – there I was, 100kg, and you're meeting this super fit man. But he was very 'we're here to help'. He didn't criticise or judge. I was also happy to see that there were normal people there too, just wearing their tracksuit bottoms and huffing and puffing away.
"The first couple of sessions, I was so sore, it kept me awake at night," she smiles. "I couldn't even walk down the stairs."
The pain and the effort paid off handsomely, however: within a year, Ellen had dropped a staggering 12 dress sizes, and lost 30kg, going from 15st 10lb to 11st.
Pat and Karl Henry kept Ellen's body guessing with a gruelling round of weights and resistance work. And, whenever she was starting to feel comfortable, they would change things up, ramping up the intensity.
"I train religiously on Tuesdays, and we do a different programme with squats, lunges, crunches and weights," explains Ellen. "I do the classes in the gym on the weekend and do some cardio on the weekends. I used to go walking around my neighbourhood, and then I graduated to jogging, then running. I went from walking 3k to running 13k."
Out went the baguettes and the ready-made pizzas, making way instead for a whole new regime of mindful eating and low-GI foodstuffs. Breakfast means porridge, bran oats or eggs, while chicken, salmon, vegetables and salad – and the occasional pasta dish – also feature heavily in Ellen's new plan.
"Nowadays, I prepare my lunch and keep food diaries," says Ellen. "I found it hard in the beginning, but having a routine makes it easier. I even have alarms on my phone telling me when to have my snacks.
"To combat my sweet tooth, I buy protein shakes and protein bars so I can at least have the taste of chocolate a few times a week."
Combating the dreaded sweet tooth aside, Ellen acknowledges that breaking the habits of a lifetime isn't as easy as one might think.
"I surprised myself. I didn't know I had the determination not to eat the wrong kinds of food," she admits. "I used to be a really fussy eater, but once I tried foods like avocados and cottage cheese, I found I really liked them."
Losing weight can be one thing; quite another is keeping it off. Tempting though it may be to get complacent, Ellen won't be one to rest on her laurels.
"I am a little worried about that," she admits. "I can't go on with personal training for the rest of my life, but I'm determined not to look that way again. Even now, when I go on holiday, I get antsy if I can't work out. I look at old pictures of myself and all I can think is 'how could you let this happen?' I let go of my life and my health and I never even realised it was that bad."
For now, however, Ellen is happy to enjoy a novel pastime that's delicious in an entirely different way: shopping for size 10 clothes.
"The first time I took the size 10 top off the rail, I was like, 'are you really going to try this?'," she smiles. "When it actually fit, I couldn't wait to share the news with everyone. I look at pictures now where I'm standing next to my fit, slender friends, and I look like them. Finally, I'm a fit friend!"