There are two things about losing weight that many people don't talk about.
They're things that people sort of like to pretend don't exist; that they magically fix themselves, or that they just go away of their own accord, taken away by the fat fairies as they finally fly away as you reach the arbitrary goal weight you set yourself.
I'm talking, of course, about the two headed terror of stretch marks and loose skin.
Yeah. It's gonna be a difficult one this, I'm sorry.
As you might know, I lost 100lbs (about seven stone) between May and November 2011. Here's a comparison.
In case you don't fancy doing the maths, I lost that weight in six months, which means that on average I was losing more than a stone a month. I promise I didn't use any tricks other than following the Slimming World plan to the letter (no faddy pills, supplements or starvation techniques here, thanks), but the fact remains that I lost a shedload of weight in a fairly short amount of time - and as a result...
Well, as a result I sort of resembled the frame of a two man tent with the outer layer of a four man tent draped over the top of it, like the lazy, hypermetropic attempts of a Glastonbury victim who can't shake off the last of the Ket they got given by that bloke in the cider tent. The skin on my stomach hangs off my frame like an old sack full of mayonnaise.
I exaggerate a little of course, but the fact remains that before I essentially declared war on my loose skin at the start of 2013 and started doing a LOT of toning and conditioning exercises, I had a huge amount of loose skin on my stomach and under my arms - signs that my skin simply couldn't keep up with the rate my body had shrank back in 2011 while I was dieting in a pretty hardcore way. I'd put the work in to lose weight, I'd finally got my BMI down to what was considered 'healthy' (just), and I was the lightest and the healthiest I had been for a very long time, but was I happy with how I looked?
In truth, I was gutted. Mortified that I had turned down so many sweets, stared at so many plates of greenery while my friends tucked into fried sausages in batter coated in cheese, wrapped in sugar then caramalised, turned into syrup and mixed with jelly babies and coca-cola (I may be lying here) and cycled so many miles in soaking rain and parching sun - and I still looked, to my mind at least, fat.
I certainly wasn't ready to go anywhere topless, for example (a large reason why I've not been on holiday abroad in ten years, and why I do absolutely everything at the gym except swim), and I still spent my days pulling t-shirts down constantly just in case someone caught sight of my knackered old stomach.
Furthermore, the stretchmarks I'm covered with hadn't vanished like I had deluded myself into thinking they would:- from the age of about 17 I have suffered terribly with the red little buggers, and as I both got taller and put on weight I was powerless to stop them snaking across my body, pretty much from my stomach to my shoulders, then down to just past my elbows - some of them centimetres wide and so deep they left noticable scars on my skin like I'd been hit by a hundred tiny asteroids. If you look at the photos above you can probably see them on my stomach and shoulders - once I started losing weight I told myself that they would at least get better, and that anyway, once I reached my target I wouldn't care so much about them because while I might not have washboard abs, my stomach would at least be the same shape as everybody else's.
Turns out I was wrong.
But here's the thing - I wasn't wrong in the way you might think I am. I was actually wrong about just how great other people look without their clothes on.
I know that's a weird sentence, but hear me out.
It wasn't until I started visiting the gym that I discovered that a lot of guys have imperfections just like me; and they're perfectly happy to wander round a changing room with them all out (in fact, some of them are happy to wander around with everything out:- my first experience of that changing room was walking into it and being greeted by a man in his mid sixties, fresh out of the shower and naked as the day he was born, bent double as he looked for a key he had just dropped), and it made me realise that almost nobody looks as good as you think they do without any clothes on - even the hatefully fantastic people you stare at enviously in the gym for daring to be so perfect probably have their fair share of lumps and wobbles. Almost nobody has absolutely nothing about their body they're not proud of, and while I still think it's admirable to want to get rid of those wibbles and wobbles where possible, realising that having them doesn't make you a disgusting freak of an outcast is a big step, and a very important one too.
So do I still hate my loose bits? Well, yes and no.
I hate them because I still worry about other people seeing them day-to-day: in work it's well known that I spend a lot of time at the gym, and one of my friends is insistent that I must have great abs by now, so the thought of having to admit that actually, even though I spend 7 hours or more in the gym every week and watch what I eat constantly, I still have a bigger, saggier stomach than those people who are complaining that they're getting fat as they get older, drinking and eating whatever the hell they like whenever they like. If you'll excuse my being childish for a second, it just doesn't seem fair, and it upsets me a tiny bit every single day.
However, the fact that I even have this problem means I can't properly hate them. This is a problem I have because I have lost seven stone in weight. I am the healthiest I have ever been right now. I lift weights and do aerobic workouts in the gym that two years ago I wouldn't even have believed my body was capable of doing. I go on twenty mile bike rides when 24 months ago 2 miles was an almost unattainable goal. I'm now of the opinion that when it comes to exercise, I can do anything I want to if I want to do it enough. Doing two classes at the gym used to seem like an impossible feat, but one day I decided I was going to do it - and I did. And the next week, and the next week.
This is so unlike the old me, I can barely remember what it was like being the old me. I hated the old me, so I can't hate the reminders that I'm not him any more. (God that sentence was convoluted. I'm sorry).
Don't get me wrong; I still want rid of my saggy stomach. I still want to tighten up the loose skin under my arms. I still wish I wasn't covered in stretch marks. I'm still going to do everything I can to get rid of all of these things, and as long as I'm still seeing improvements (which I currently am, if extremely slowly), then I'm going to keep doing everything I can to make these problems go away.
The difference is, from now on I'm going to try to see these little things as battlescars. Signs of my previous battles, souvenirs and reminders that I have achieved an awful lot - and while I still have a long way to go (and I might actually never win the war...), I should be damned proud of what I've done.
I'm really sorry if any of the pictures, words or mental imagery used in this post made you queasy, upset or blind. Sue me if you like, I've got no money anyway.