I know I haven’t blogged for a while. Things have been quite busy the last few weeks, what with the end of term and now the summer holidays. But that’s partly just an excuse. There’s been a blog that I’ve been sitting on for a while, but it’s taken me until now to actually dedicate the time to sit down and write it. It’s quite a long story, so I’m going to start from the beginning. There’s not many people who I’m friends with now who have known me for more than a couple of years, so there’s not many people who will have seen this story through from the beginning, but it will have been one that you’ve heard before.
Like most girls, I struggled with my weight throughout my teenage years. Granted, I was pretty cute when I was little:
Seriously, what happened to the curly fair hair? One of the few conversations I can remember from when I was about 11, was with a friend and we were looking forward to growing out of our puppy fat, and wondering how you could tell when it wasn’t puppy fat any more. It only went downhill from there though really. It all came down to the fact that I enjoyed food and didn’t enjoy exercise. I didn’t suffer any traumatic event that led me to over-eat, and I wasn’t particularly bullied. I had some great friends when I was growing up, a lot of whom I’m still in touch with. But nothing really changed, I moved schools a couple of times, and before I knew it, I was 18 and weighed 18 stone. I’d managed to pretty much keep my weight at the same level as my age all the way through my teenage years, since I was about 11.
This is a picture of me at my Sixth Form Prom when I was 18. I find it difficult to reconcile it to how I look now, but there we go. Before I went to university I took a gap year and went to Antigua for 6 months working for St John Ambulance. When I was there I lived with the woman who had been working to start the organization up in that region, and fairly soon after I arrived was told in no uncertain terms that I needed to lose weight, and so I was put on the same diet as she was on. In all fairness, she was right, and I did need to lose weight. But being 18 years old, away from home from the first time and on the other side of the world to anyone I knew, she maybe could have chosen a kinder way of saying it. So, for those 6 months I ate a cheese and ketchup sandwich for lunch, and boiled squash, broccoli and carrot for tea. Saturdays were treats and we would get rice and peas and BBQ chicken from the community barbecue. And occasionally we would have friends over or go out for dinner and I’d get to eat a bit more. Not surprisingly, this did the trick, and I lost 6 stone in the 6 months that I was away.
When I got back my family managed to keep the drama to a minimum, but when I went back to work in the pub, the old farmers didn’t recognise me. For the first time I started enjoying shopping with my friends and felt less out of place when we went out.
That one was taken in Antigua, so you can see how dramatic the difference was. A couple of months after getting back I went off to university in Bangor, with a level of confidence that I hadn’t had before. I wasn’t worried about meeting new people and what they would think about me, although how I thought I looked still hadn’t quite caught up with how I actually did. It caught me by surprise when people found me attractive, and I didn’t really know what to do about it. While most of my friends had been maturing in this way at school, it was brand new territory to me, and I made quite a few mistakes along the way. Fortunately I had a really strong group of friends through all three years at university, and they were so supportive when I made stupid mistakes. They helped me to feel good about myself regardless of what my size was, and I was really happy while I was university. Not surprisingly, the student lifestyle took its toll and my weight started to creep up again, but I didn’t really mind that much.
When I was in my final year at Bangor I started going through the selection process for ordination in the Church in Wales. I went through my provincial panel in the April of 2011, was accepted, and started at St Michael’s Theological College in Cardiff in the September. The problem that I had at college, was that our meals were provided for us. The people who made them were good at their jobs, and made particularly good desserts, so I started getting bigger again. I still didn’t mind though, because while in college I met Steve. We started dating in my second year, when he had begun his curacy, and we got engaged in April 2014.
The day that Steve proposed was a brilliant day. We were staying in Cornwall to celebrate my grandparents diamond wedding anniversary, and on my 25th birthday he took me to Clovelly and proposed in a beautiful little hut on the cliff overlooking the sea. We went back and my family were all there, we had loads of attention and got to retell the story a ridiculous number of times!
But this is where the problem re-emerged again. Looking back at the pictures from our engagement, what I felt was not the happiness that we had on the day, but embarrassment at how big I saw myself. I decided that I wanted to feel slim on my wedding day, and be at a healthy weight to enjoy my marriage, so it was time to do something about it. I had no intention of going back on the eat-nothing-at-all diet like I had done in Antigua, so I signed up for Weight Watchers just a couple of weeks after we got back.
Walking into my first meeting on my own was so nerve-wracking, but I eventually stalked someone else inside, and once I was in, it was fine. I had 3 stone to lose to get to my goal weight, and it seemed to take forever. I’d have weeks where I’d only lose half a pound, or nothing at all, or even gain, which was so off-putting. But then I would have weeks where I’d lose 4lbs, so it made up for it. I finally got to my goal in January 2015 and have been working on maintaining that weight ever since.
What I’ve found probably more difficult than losing weight has been accepting that I have, because, to be honest, I still don’t see it. My parishioners will jokingly tell me not to lose any more or they won’t see me any more, and people who I don’t see very often are still shocked at how different I look, but I don’t see it. There are still areas of my body that I’m not happy with. But I’m now working to get to a place where I can accept that the weight I am is what is healthy for me, and all the things that I think are wrong are just that- just me.
The important thing is that Steve thinks I’m beautiful, the children think I look thin. Although Ryan says he doesn’t really notice the difference, I’m just Rachel. And that is absolutely fine. That’s what I want to be. I need to get into my head that I don’t need to be a size 6 for them to love me because they do anyway. It has nothing to do with what I look like. There would be more of a problem if I stopped baking!
I’ve also been extra aware recently that Katy-Grace is getting closer and closer to being a teenager, and I don’t want to be encouraging her to have an unhealthy attitude to food. I want her to enjoy eating, and not worry about what size she is. Of course, I’d rather none of the children ended up obese, but that’s more for their own health than anything else. I want to show them that it doesn’t matter what you look like, as long as you’re happy and healthy. That for some people that will be at a different size for others. I want to show them that the models they see on the front of magazines aren’t representative of real women, and that they should neither be encouraging the girls they know to be that size, or be tempted to suffer to look that way themselves.
I’m getting married in less than a year. I’m confident now that I will look stunning in my wedding dress. But I’m also confident that even if I didn’t look the way I want to look, that my fiance and my stepchildren would think I looked beautiful anyway. I’m working now on getting fitter (more on that later), but from now on, how I control my eating and my exercise will be entirely based on being healthy, not on being thin. I don’t want to go back to the size I was when I was 18, I’m already back to the weight I was when I was 11, I see no reason to go down any further than that.
(Yes, I am enjoying a massive piece of cake!)