Since a few months I have started to share some stories about my life long struggle against the kilos. Since I got many reactions by many different people, both men and women, I will elaborate a little on the subject.
When I was younger I was an avid swimmer, training 3-4 times a week and competing on the weekend. I lived at home and my mum cooked healthy meals. I was 73kg at 1.83m. Strong and never skinny but that runs in the famlily: we are big-boned ☺ I had some teenage trouble with the fact that my stomach wasn’t flat but I don’t recall having issues as a teenager. It was in the 90s, well before any social media.
When I quit swimming due to a shoulder injury and moving to Amsterdam to study at the university, things got out of control. Amsterdam is a big city but it can make you feel very lonely. I started eating and battled depression. I ate a lot. In about two years time I gained almost 40kg, maxing at 112kg.
Yes I was and am an emotional eater like many. When I feel down, sometimes even caused by the way I look(ed), I ate because hey, it didn’t matter anyway: I was already fat. It’s a vicious circle of being unhappy with yourself, finding a temporary way out and then being extremely disappointed at yourself again because you let yourself down.
Having cancer didn’t help either. I remember joking to the doctor who just told me I needed chemotherapy that ‘at least one good thing would happen and that was losing weight.’ He looked at me and said no, not anymore. You will probably gain weight. And I did. The worst part being the hormone treatment which despite doing a lot of sports would prevent me from losing weight.
The change came when I accepted who I was (and ended the hormone treatment). It sounds very easy to write down that sentence but it took me 17 years to accept who I was. Even a short while ago, back in 2015, I was fighting myself. The trigger then was working around pro athletes in a Belgian men’s cycling team. Everyone was skinny and that made me stand out like a sore thumb. I also worked the UCI women’s world tour at the same time and just couldn’t look at pictures of myself with riders. Where I worked, there were always people thinner than I was.
But the thing is: there will always be people skinnier than I am. The trick is to accept that that is just fine.
Another major change was the bike. Putting on lycra is a huge hurdle for many people, especially women. Up until October last year I was really reluctant to ride with other people. I would always be slower and fatter than others. Then a pro rider asked me to ride with her. She asked me as a friend and we did a 4h ride. There were pictures made and a friend commented how good I looked. I could also follow her around, a world champion many times over, for 108km. That was a turning point. I could say that I wasn’t fat anymore. And I believed myself when saying it. I could look in the mirror and not look away. I look strong and I became a decent rider on my own level.
The weight loss journey is a tough one. There is so much temptation out there. So much apple pie, ‘kroketten’, Ben and Jerry’s and chocolate to be eaten. And I eat it. But only when I really feel like it and can honestly enjoy it instead of munching away mindlessly. I don’t know how that changed but I don’t feel like eating all the time anymore.
The weight loss journey is also linked to my bike riding. Every success story, every PR on Strava is an extra motivation to keep on riding. I haven’t even lost that many kilos (about 7-8, I estimate) but I became very very strong.
My jeans size went down from 34 to 30. I have had to buy new cycling clothing in smaller sizes three times already and will probably have to again this year. I now admire my legs and the new muscle definition that is so clearly visible. I enjoy riding up the mountains and see on Strava how strong I have become. Less kilos means faster and faster and faster (though it still hurts). And I don’t feel my stomach anymore when in the drops!
I ride the Wahoo Kickr inside when I don’t have time to go out and see how my watts improve and my climbing times up the Watopia Volcano or Box Hill evolve. I adjusted the weight in the settings to 95kg. It’s a constant boost to try harder.
I don’t have the golden rule for you because everyone has their own rule. I started by accepting myself and then I challenged myself to be stronger and faster. I don’t know at which weight I will end up. It doesn’t matter. Thee most important thing is: I make myself smile again when I look in the mirror and can honestly say: I am not fat anymore, I am strong and I look strong and I love it! I am happy and that gives me the biggest smile.