Joan McFadden: I stopped exercising - and lost weight

By Joan McFadden

While exercise only made her hungry, one woman found reducing calories was the key to losing weight. Photo / Getty
While exercise only made her hungry, one woman found reducing calories was the key to losing weight. Photo / Getty

When Joan McFadden broke her knee, she had to quit the gym - and then shed more pounds than she ever did on a fitness regime.

I was smug about my weight before I had children. At just 4ft 10in, I was seven-and-a-half stone (about 47.6 kg) when I got married and even after my first daughter, Rosie, was born 24 years ago I was back to pre-baby weight almost immediately.

But when my last child, Connie, was born 17 years ago, I weighed 10 stone (63.5 kg), a stone-and-a-half heavier than my ideal weight. I was exercising plenty, pushing a double buggy three to four miles a day, but I was also eating too much - sneaky cupcakes and always a heaped plate for a Sunday roast.

I hated being big and draped myself in flowing tops to hide my rolls of fat. I tried every diet going and lost three stone (19 kg) with the Atkins diet, which I kept off for three years.

Then I started running 15 miles at the weekend, but that made me so hungry I ate more, so the weight crept on. At 54 my waist had all but disappeared. My GP confirmed that my weight at the time - nearly 12 stone - along with blood pressure, blood sugars and cholesterol were too high.

I read all the guidelines on losing weight and started calorie counting, while upping my exercise. Five-hour weekly sessions in the gym, rowing and cycling, were added to my hour's dog-walking a day and I started dropping the pounds.

But again, exercise made me hungrier, so if I'd burned 500 calories I rewarded myself with 500 calories in food, often chocolate or cake. I ate the same balanced diet as my family, but what was a reasonable portion for my husband Jim and son James, both 6ft 2in, was excessive for me.

Last October when my whippet skidded, knocked me over and I broke my knee, I was told I couldn't do any exercise for at least three months and even walking might take as long as six.

Life looked bleak from the couch - full of painkillers and dragging a heavy splint round on crutches. I had lost 21 pounds, which had taken me to 10 stone five and had depressing visions of putting every ounce back on.

In a panic about gaining weight, I halved my portions, something my mum often suggested, noticing how they have increased since she was young in the 1940s.

Portion distortion is a real thing and researchers have found what we consider a normal portion today can be two thirds more what it was just 20 years ago.

Stocking up on healthy salads and halving portion sizes helped one woman shed weight, despite her lack of exercise. Photo / Getty
Stocking up on healthy salads and halving portion sizes helped one woman shed weight, despite her lack of exercise. Photo / Getty

Within weeks, people began asking if I'd lost more weight. Wearing a splint, I couldn't stand on the scales so it was three months before I weighed myself and discovered I'd lost another stone and a half.

This time, it felt almost effortless. Occasional treats like cheesecake or shortbread were half the amount I would have eaten previously and the weight melted off. I kept - and still keep - my diet simple.

Breakfast is two tablespoons of porridge or one Weetbix. I always have at least five portions of fruit and vegetables, with a piece of fruit mid morning and mid afternoon.

Lunch is salad with a tablespoon of hummus, two slices of smoked salmon or a half-matchbox size piece of gorgonzola along with two oatcakes.

I don't eat bread. I usually have two tablespoons of Greek yoghurt after lunch, often with half a dozen strawberries, raspberries or blueberries.

Dinner is whatever the family are having, so roast chicken, chilli, curry, goulash. But now I have a heaped tablespoon of meat and a level tablespoon of carbs such as potato or brown rice, with plenty of vegetables.

If I feel like a snack in the evening I'll have a small bowl of nuts or cherry tomatoes and tangerines. On Sunday I usually make cake or pudding to have with dinner and I have a slice half the size of everyone else's.

I drink a lot of water but no fruit juice or fizzy drinks, apart from an occasional gin and tonic. I don't know when I last ate chocolate.

My main meal is a third of what I ate previously and I never feel hungry. I'm stunned you can be sedentary and lose so much weight.

But it's no surprise to cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, co-author of a report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine last year that said activity was a key part of staving off diseases such as diabetes or dementia, but its impact on obesity was minimal and reducing excess sugar and carbohydrates was the way to weight loss.

"An obese person does not need to do one iota of exercise to lose weight - they just need to eat less," says Dr Malhotra. "The impression given to the public suggests you can eat what you like as long as you exercise but you cannot out-run a bad diet.

Exercise is also a powerful appetite stimulant and few people will expend enough energy to lose any weight at all just through exercise."

I'm thrilled to be slim again, but the main benefit is how healthy I feel. I've lost three and a half stone (22 kg) and gone from a size 16 to a size 10. Next month, I'm going back to the gym and I'm walking properly again.

Exercise has huge health benefits, but the only way I really lost weight was simply to eat a lot less.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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