women

It’s the Holy Grail of dieters – not just losing weight, but staying slim. Our columnist Aggie MacKenzie has kept to her goal weight for years, so we asked her and three other successful dieters for their secrets…

“Even now, I’m astounded by my own reflection”

It’s hard to imagine TV’s Aggie MacKenzie, 56, of How Clean Is Your House fame, as anything but the energetic, slim woman we see today. But for years she struggled with her weight. Then she read a book that changed everything…

Description: ‘I was in a panic: where was it all going to end?’

‘I was in a panic: where was it all going to end?’

From about the age of 13, probably coinciding with the onset of puberty, I began to eat compulsively (anorexia was never going to be an issue for me). I remember the sensation of never feeling sated. I used to eat, secretly – usually cakes, biscuits and sweets – unit I felt overfull and almost sick. Soon the overeating became evident through weight gain, and my teenage years were dominated by an awkward relationship with my body. My sister, two years older than me was supper-skinny, and instead of her weekend wages being blown on sweets and chocolate, she would save up and buy the latest skimpy fashions by mail order – something that was well out of my reach. I (reluctantly) shopped for clothes on the basis of, “Is there anything here that I’ll be able to get into?”, usually choosing something a size smaller that I hoped to squeeze into if I stuck to The Diet.

Description: . I used to eat, secretly – usually cakes, biscuits and sweets – unit I felt overfull and almost sick

. I used to eat, secretly – usually cakes, biscuits and sweets – unit I felt overfull and almost sick

Ah, The Diet. My mother tried to help – we did the grapefruit and egg; ate Ayds (weird, expensive 1960s toffees that were supposed to help you lose weight) by the box; bought Energen rolls (polystyrene-like texture, full of air); snacked on Ryvita, especially spread thickly with butter; and finally joined a slimming club. My start weight was 11st 5lb and my target weight 9st 2lb. That was a rocky road: up, down, up, down and up again, seldom managing to eat sensibly. I was often overcome with feelings of self-disgust, failure, frustration and hopelessness.

As I left home to work in London in 1975, some of my size 16 skirts were beginning to feel tight. I was in a panic: where was it all going to end? Would I ever get control over my eating, or would I just continue getting fatter? I joined WeightWatchers and had a modicum of success, but was still stuck in the binge/diet cycle.

My breakthrough came in 1978 when I read a book called Fat Is A Feminist Issue. The author, Susie Orbach, put forward the theory that there could be an unconscious desire to be fat (it can feel safe, be an excuse for failure or a way of desexualizing oneself). Bingeing occurs when one is feeling out of control, unloved or bored, and food is used as a way of blocking the emotion and feeling a void.

Description: Every day I run, practise yoga or cycle in an attempt to keep fit, slim and supple. I also appreciate having access to a wider choice of clothes

Every day I run, practise yoga or cycle in an attempt to keep fit, slim and supple. I also appreciate having access to a wider choice of clothes

The strongest message I took from the book was that no food is taboo; it is all to be savored. But it is important to recognize physical (as opposed to emotional) hunger, then to eat exactly what you want, and to stop when you are full enough, knowing that you can resume eating when you are hungry again. It was as if a light went on in my head. It seemed so obvious, and simple. I tried this method, and it worked for me. It still works for me now – it means I am in control of my food intake, instead of food being in control of me. That’s not to say that over the years I’ve not had lapses; I have a weakness for sweet things and am more than capable of overdoing it, but am usually able to pull back following a bit of overindulgence.

For more that three decades now I have been size 10 and weighing around 9st, yet even now when I check myself in the mirror I am vaguely astounded at the reflection… almost as if it is someone else’s body. Since I turned 50 I have taken to exercise in a more concentrated (almost death-dodging!) way. Every day I run, practise yoga or cycle in an attempt to keep fit, slim and supple. I also appreciate having access to a wider choice of clothes. Food still features heavily in my life: I’ve written a cookbook (not to mention all those In Aggie’s Kitchen columns in GH!), my younger son is training to be a chef and my older son is an accomplished cook. I love sharing recipes, and for me a healthy relationship with food is paramount. My advice to anyone who wants to eat ‘normally’? Get a copy of that book; its message really is something to live your life by.’

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