2011, Magazine: The Oprah Magazine

Letting Go of My Inner Fat Girl


These four women decided enough is enough. After years of struggling with weight issues, they found the courage to make the change, returning their bodies to optimum health. They talk to us about their journey to finding happiness, confidence and regaining their self-esteem.


After years of struggling with their weight, these four women finally found the courage to turn their lives around, making peace with food and returning their bodies to optimum health and well-being. 

(Bronwen de Klerk, 33)
“Fasting and prayer helped me to get in touch with my body and find my life’s purpose.”


After years of chasing after the perfect body, Bronwen de Klerk, has come full-circle, now helping others overcome their eating disorders through a mindful eating programme she’s developed. 


My fight with food started when I was 13. After braving it in a bikini at a communal swimming pool one day, a friend informed me that one of our friends had commented: “Bronwen actually has quite a big bum,” which devastated me!


From that day, I promised myself that I was going to do whatever it took to get the perfect body.


At first, I cut out fat completely and it wasn’t until I started getting white blotches on my skin that somebody said I might have a deficiency. I was then given a diet, which I followed religiously and watched the kilos just melt off, but I started having sugar cravings. I decided to start baking and rationalised that if I ate the cake or biscuit mixture before I baked it, it didn’t count as eating sweets. Soon, my weight started to climb again and I was terrified that people would notice . . . and that’s when I discovered laxatives. One tablet could erase a whole binge session – or so I thought! 


Then, one day I ate so much ice-cream that I actually felt ill and had to physically get sick. I thought this would be a much better way to erase a binge!


This is when things really spiraled out of control. After confiding in my mother, she took me to a dietician, who simply put me on another diet. Diets were easy. I could follow them, but no one seemed to touch on the deeper issues that were causing me to binge and purge. 


Even though I was Bulimic, my weight continued to soar.  At age 19 and weighing 75kg, I came across a life-changing book, called The Diet Alternative by Diane Hampton that spoke about prayer and fasting – and how having two meals a day can help to become stronger in spirit. Somehow, this spoke to me. For the first time, I decided to let go of dieting. I started to put on weight and got all the clichéd ‘fat’ comments aimed at me like ‘vet-gat’, ‘Little Lotta’ and ‘Ten-ton-Tessie.’ Although difficult, I ignored most of these comments and continued to focus on how I was feeling and dealing with the roots of my emotional eating. I did this through reading books on improving my self-esteem, loving yourself and finding your purpose. I also took time out to pray and started developing more spiritually. When I eventually did weigh myself two years later, I had lost about 15 kilograms.  


As I started getting in touch with my inner self, I changed careers, from being a computer programmer to working as a personal trainer, which lead to the discovery of yoga, shiatsu and pilates. I now run my own health and wellness studio in Tamboerskloof, Cape Town and run a course in mindful eating (www.themiddleweigh.co.za). My happiness in life is no longer determined by my weight. 


What worked for Bronwen
Love yourself now. If you are more ‘in love’ with yourself, you are less inclined to damage your body. Do something today to make yourself feel good – don’t wait until you’re thinner. This will take the focus off your weight and body issues. I used to dress in clothing that made me feel good about myself – and I also stopped all negative self-talk.  
Ditch the diet. Let go of the notion of banned foods, as this will only make you want to binge on them later. As you start to get in touch with your body, you can begin to fine-tune the foods which make you feel good and those which don’t. 
Throw out the scale. Your weight will change all the time – it is a fact of life. It has the power to destroy your entire day – if you allow it to. Focus on how you feel inside and when you take care of what’s inside, the outside will take care of itself. 

(Lisle Carolissen, 36)
“I swapped yo-yo dieting for a change in lifestyle and found love in the process.”


Every time Lisle, an IT support specialist from Kenilworth in Cape Town, faced a challenge, her tactic was to comfort eat to ease the stress. After repeating this cycle a few times, she realised that in order to make a permanent change, she would need to adopt a new lifestyle. 


I never had a problem with my weight until university. This is when the late nights and the stress of studying lead to comfort eating at all hours of the day and night. I remember how we as a group would go to the local campus tuck shop and ‘de-stress’ by eating a few chocolate doughnuts. While other students would be going to the gym to unwind, we would be bingeing on junk food!


On another level, I was also struggling to decide upon the direction my life would take – as I had changed my mind so many times with regards to my university courses. I wanted to go into teaching – and applied for an honours course in Environmental and Geographical Science, but unfortunately, I didn’t get into the course. I felt directionless. I then had to change my career path and focused on pursuing a career in Information Technology instead. 


It took me ages to find a permanent job – and I was unemployed for two years, when I was 22 years old, where I gained about 15 kilograms. Although supported by my family and doing odd jobs, I felt hopelessly depressed that I couldn’t find permanent work.  


In 1998, the turning point for me was when I got my first job and my circumstances changed. The job exposed me to the company recreational groups which entailed some outdoor group activities, such as hiking and I found joy in the movement of exercise – and started working out more. I found that the more I exercised, the more healthy food I craved – which helped with weight loss. 


I then changed jobs in 2000 – and with it came new stress… which meant I picked up weight again. Someone made a comment at the new place and asked me if I was pregnant – and this really hurt, although I doubt it was intentional. Feeling unhappy in my body and having to wear a bigger size also contributed to my depression. I quit my healthy habits and my weight climbed to 86 kilograms. I remember weighing myself and feeling terrified about reaching 90 kilograms. I realised I had to do something before I got there!


I started going to gym again and eating healthily. I viewed what I was trying to do as a lifestyle change – and not a diet.


I also learnt what my triggers were for overeating and bingeing on the wrong foods. For me, it was an emotional issue about being unhappy with my life at the time – and not being as independent as I wanted to be. Also, having to deal with unexpected life changes and upheavals, such as the death of my grandmother, who I was very close to, and my eldest sister leaving to work in New Zealand – all made me feel that I had lost my main support system, which affected me a great deal. 


Being content in myself has also given me more confidence – and I am convinced that this also contributed to me finding love and my partner Donovan. It is an ongoing journey about loving the self enough to make a change. There are no quick-fixes. 


What worked for Lisle
Do your research. Be knowledgeable of what you are eating and how it affects your body – because everyone is different. I avoid all carbonated soft drinks such as coke which is high in sugar. Also, I don’t take sugar in my tea and cereal and substitute it with honey instead. I avoid crisps and any form of junk food, but I do allow myself to have a fast food take away once a week if I am really craving it. 
Exercise. This releases the happy hormone serotonin that can help with stress-relief. I suggest finding the exercise form that works for you. Personally, I love hiking and being in the outdoors. Not only does it provide me with physical exercise but I feel a sense of inner peace when surrounded by nature.
Find your happy space and be content with yourself. If you are unhappy, find the root of your sadness and work on that. Get help if you need to. 

(Carol Shaw, 34)
“In yoga and the raw food lifestyle, I have found balance and real joy.”

When Carol fell pregnant at the age of 21,  she realised she had a responsibility to the life inside her to eat healthily. After years of yo-yo dieting, anorexia and bulimia, she finally gave herself permission to eat. 

At eight, I had been nicknamed ‘Carol Barrel’ and ‘Butterball’ by some children at school. I also grew up in a very traditional family and my parents could often be heard saying; “eat all the food on your plate, there are starving children in Ethiopia!” Food was not something to be loved in our household – it was just a means to survival – and often eaten under duress. 

Then, at age 13, weighing 70 kilograms, I found my solution in a lifestyle education class, where we were taught about the dangers of anorexia and bulimia. Instead of putting me off, I happily became an anorexic, bulimic teenager, obsessively living on bags of apples. I was also gymming neurotically and dropped to a dangerous 48 kilograms. 

It was in 1998 that I fell pregnant with my first child. Suddenly I now had a responsibility to bring a life into the world, which meant I had to let go of my restrictive regime – and simply eat. And boy, did I eat! I managed to pile on 40 kilograms and weighed 104 kilograms when Tori  was born. It was the first time since my teenage years that I had to give in to nourishing myself and my baby. 

I joined a slimming club afterwards and managed to lose all the weight I had gained in eight months, following a strict diet. It was fabulous to fit into a size 8, but I was so poorly nourished and at 31, my weight climbed back up again and this time I topped out at 112 kilograms. I had to rock and roll myself out of bed in the morning – it was agony. 

I couldn’t get down the stairs of my house because my lower  back ached so badly, so I decided to try yoga to stretch it out. Little did I realise how powerful yoga is as a life-changing tool. 
Initially terrifying, there were some poses that at my bulk were downright life-threatening. Try doing a plow pose with a pair of double D’s smothering you and the instructor telling you to breathe deeply!


Yoga lead to my food aha! moment in that I began learning about the way the yogis eat and why – and how it improved one’s practice of the modality. It was while searching on the internet for more Sattvic vegan recipes that I came across my first RAW website and it smacked me between the eyes. Since combining yoga and the raw food lifestyle in 2008, I have lost 52 kilograms in nine months, going from a size 18 to a size 8. 

I used to be a caterer making wedding and birthday cakes for a living and sitting on my couch in front of the TV at any opportunity – and now I am studying to be a spiritual nutritional counselor. 

What worked for Carol
Drink more water. I firmly believe in drinking at least 2 litres of water a day. I drink up to 3 or 4 litres on most days. Once you increase your water intake, the weight loss will be far more dramatic – after all, we are 70 percent water! 
Own your process. Take responsibility and don’t give your power away by relying on a practitioner to do the work for you. Practitioners are wonderful sources of information and provide guidelines, but you have to be brave and do it for yourself. 
Watch your programming, look at your eating patterns and see where the triggers are. If you sit down on the couch after dinner to watch TV and crave something sweet to nibble, stop sitting down on the couch after dinner! Rather go for a quick walk instead, you will enjoy the double benefit of not nibbling and getting some exercise. You can also take a good look at why you do that, what is the root of the behaviour and work on changing it.

Author: Charlene Yared-West, Oprah Magazine, March 2011, p66. (Please note that the copy posted above is the unedited version of what was published in the magazine and will differ slightly. To read the edited version of the article, please click on the images for an expanded view.)

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