Hiya – Paul here. I’ve got something a little different for you… it’s a guest post from an Ecotricity staff member and is definitely one for our ‘Food‘ section. We think it’s a very moving and inspiring post – we hope you do to. Without further ado – I’ll hand you over to James…
Half the man I used to be. Well, almost
(How turning vegetarian almost saved my life)
I was always a fairly active kid, as most kids are; enjoying running around, kicking the football and the classic game of cherry knocking. Well, up until about the age of 9 or 10.
I started to become fairly overweight for my age and from about the age of 10 onwards I was struggling to find suitable clothes to fit. I don’t know exactly how big I was but I was certainly bigger than the average 10 year old.
I remember my dad came to watch me at primary school playing football and saying; ’Just get stuck in’. It was hard to do so when all the kids your age were much fitter or slimmer. This only impacted my confidence further and made me less willing to participate.
My parents would always feed me healthy, balanced meals and it was only for the amount of snacking that made me gain weight. It got to the point where my parents used to hide food and lock the freezer to prevent me from eating the treats.
Going into my teens, and moving to ‘big school’ was a huge step for any kid, especially when you’re overweight.
At secondary school every child experiences the stages of puberty; body odour, crazy hormones, spots, and crushes on your teacher (no?). Getting spots didn’t help with my appearance and the bullying soon started. Mainly name calling but also physical bullying – things being thrown, tripping up etc. Many nights would be spent crying, and many meetings with the school and my Mum only came to nothing. It’s something I just tended to accept, this was me and there was only so much other’s could do. ‘I’m James & I’m just a fat kid.’
It was then I started to realise that being overweight was an issue and was starting to cause me problems.
I had adopted an approach of “Every kid gets fat and I’ll lose weight at some point” and this massively impacted any motivation or desire to change the way I was.
At about the age of 15 you have to choose what GCSE’s you’d like to take. Things like maths, English and science are standard. I decided to take drama and sport as my two optional ones. I’d always been fairly loud and flamboyant and so drama seemed like a logical option. Sport, not so.
I remember telling my head of year that I wanted to do sport and she was very shocked. It didn’t make me feel too great but wanted to proceed and try and attain certification in it. Turns out no previous sport experience or desire to be sporty impacted this and I dropped it after about 6 months.
I left school at the age of 16 with some GCSE’s, no A-levels and still overweight. I went straight into work and went through a few jobs before joining Ecotricity when I was 18.
By this time I was very overweight for my age – I don’t know exactly what my BMI was, and to be honest, I dread to think. I didn’t do any exercise and my diet consisted mainly of take-aways and fried food and if I wasn’t inside playing computer games I would be out for dinner. Cost me a fortune!
My standard lunch would consist of; A salad bowl (containing; chicken tika, egg mayo, potato salad/coleslaw, and bacon on top), a cheese topped roll with butter, a pasty of some description, a bag of crisps and a slice of chocolate brownie/cake.
My evening meals weren’t much smaller and part time work at Dominos pizza, and a free pizza every shift didn’t help matters! I didn’t eat breakfast and tended to snack between meals.
In 2009 a few Ecotricity colleagues and I decided to start a weight loss challenge for the summer. The idea being that everybody pays a tenner and the person who loses the most weight at the end of the 4 months wins the cash. I started doing this and managed to lose a couple of pounds until I got ill and pulled out. My colleague Dave won, scooping the 50 quid.
I’d been trying so hard to eat healthy food by this stage but it just wasn’t working. I couldn’t resist the temptation for muck. It was here I decided to turn vegetarian.
I figured by cutting out meat in my diet I would have to think about what I was ordering for lunch. This was one of the hardest things I’ve done. To be a meat eater for 21 years and suddenly stop is a huge shock to my routine. I would say I was a meat addict and I’d never chosen or even looked at the vegetarian section of a menu. I had to have meat.
I remember the last thing I ate was a bacon roll from a local bakery. All I remember was how salty it was.
The summer of 2010 was approaching and I really wanted to do the challenge again. The being vegetarian thing was going ok but I was still craving meat. My diet was still pretty poor however, still having pizzas, chips etc.
It was May. Time for 2010’s weight lost challenge labelled: ‘get buff or get out’. This was my time to shine. This was my time to show everyone at work, everyone from school, my friends, my bullies (of which some are now my friends), my family and myself that I can do it. But I wasn’t expecting the results that were to come!
I realised that not eating breakfast was impacting hugely on the size of my lunch and so I started to eat breakfast. Normally a piece of brown toast or a bowl of cereal. Even if I wasn’t hungry, I’d get it in me. It set me up for the day.
I’d take great care in what was in my food, the amount of saturated fat, and the amount of carbs. My diet changed rapidly – a small bowl of cous cous, or a bowl of soup and piece of brown bread for lunch was the norm now. I’d also given up butter / spread by this stage. No sweets, no chewing gum, no fizzy drinks, not even orange squash. No more chicken or bacon for me! Oh, and no more beer on the nights out (but vodka and slim line tonic was fine – doubles OFC)
Dinner was much smaller too, and mum made everything super low in fat and still keeping everything balanced with a good amount of protein in the meal. The company ‘Quorn’ must love me.
It was the start of week 1 and time to weigh in. 20 years old 17st 7lb’s and a 40 inch waist
I paid my tenner and the challenge had started. I decided to hit it hard.
4 nights a week at the gym, one night a week playing football, low fat food, smaller portion sizes and no meat. It was a huge body shock but I saw the results instantly – first week and 3lbs lost.
Second week with the same routine a further couple of pounds lost. I thought it was a fluke and did not expect to lose much more in the next few weeks. Turns out I did
By week 4 I’d lost just over half stone. Week 5 weight in – I’ve lost a stone! Absolutely over the moon with the progress and I made sure I kept at it.
A few more weeks had passed and by week 9 I’d lost two stone. I was in the lead and loving it.
With only a few more weeks left until the challenge was over I wanted to maintain my lead.
By week 14 I had lost 3 stone. I was absolutely over the moon and didn’t expect to lose any more weight. But sure enough – I did.
The challenge was over by now and it was clear I’d won. I was so happy with myself and didn’t even care about the money. I’m not even sure I got it to be honest.
I made the decision to continue with the challenge myself to see how much further I could get. I maintained the weekly weigh-in’s at work and received huge amounts of support from friends and colleagues – they all said how different I started to look. I kept on at the gym, and eating healthy.
As time went on the weight dropped off at a good rate, along with hundreds of pounds worth of clothes being given away. Without a doubt changing my diet impacted this hugely!
I was a vegetarian for several months now and at this stage I didn’t think being vegetarian was going to be a permanent thing, however, I was getting used to it. It was quite fun actually because I’d tasted and experienced new foods I’d never eaten before. My main worry was that vegetarian food was going to be plain and boring – FAR from it!
By week 20 I’d lost my 4th stone – overwhelmed and I couldn’t quite believe it. I was feeling fantastic in myself. I felt more energetic, I was tired when I was supposed to be, and more awake and alert at the right times. I had soon got used to not eating meat, and it had become part of my lifestyle
I continued, and more weight came off – ensuring I kept healthy and balanced and consumed exactly what I needed to.
By week 30 I’d lost another stone! I couldn’t believe this progress but there were concerns. I was worried that the weight I’d been losing will go back on as soon as I stop the diet – I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.
None the less, I kept going and kept working. 7 more weeks had passed and by week 37 I’d lost a total of 6 stone.
I kept going but it was clear that was it. I wasn’t losing any more weight. I’d reached my peak and exceed my own expectations beyond belief.
October 2010 – 21 years old: 11st 7lb’s and a 32 inch waist
My transformation was shocking. I received, compliment after compliment from friends and family. People who hadn’t seen me in a long time didn’t even recognise me and I was overwhelmed with the way I felt and looked. I felt much healthy, much cleaner, much more alert and I genuinely felt like a different person.
It’s now December 2011, a year on and I’ve only gained a couple of pounds – from working out and building muscle. My main concern had not happened – I’d not re-gained the weight I’d lost. New lifestyle, New diet, New me. Oh, and new wardrobe!
Without a doubt, cutting out meat changed, and potentially, saved my life.
I’ve continued my new lifestyle, I still attend the gym, eat healthily and I have personal training every 2 weeks. There is NO WAY I would have ever imagined myself doing this 2 years ago. And likewise, I can’t ever imagine going back to the way I was – burgers, no exercise and an unhealthy lifestyle.
If you thought, like me, that you’ll never be able to do it – then you can. You actually can – because I did.
I’d proved to my family and to my friends that I could do it. But my biggest achievement was proving it to the bullies from school; proving it to those who did not believe in me, proving it to those who called me ‘fat’, who put me down and had no faith in me. To those who left me out of games and activities.
I proved it to myself.
I’ve never really told anyone this, so thanks.
P.S. You may have noticed that I turned 21 during these months. And yes, I treated myself to a cheeky piece of birthday cake 🙂 – you don’t have to cut everything out!