Maria Fox, 51, a senior leader in policing from the Midlands overhauled her health with an impressive 50-pound (22.6kg) weight loss within seven months after she was signed off work with chronic fatigue, burnout and acute perimenopausal stress during the pandemic.
Two months ago, I went on holiday to Mallorca and packed six bikinis. It was the first time in my life I’d ever worn a bikini.
If someone had told me 10 years ago that at 51, be showing off a size 10 figure in a bikini on the beach, I’d have thought they were mad. What I’ve achieved is beyond any dream.
I’ve always struggled with my weight, despite being incredibly active throughout my childhood playing hockey, cycling and netball. I was probably a size 12 when I was 14.
My weight went up and down through my 20s, but generally I was a size 14, weighing around 13 and a half stone (85.7kg). I never had any issue with food or eating. I was from a big family with parents who cooked healthy, balanced meals.
It wasn’t really until my forties when I started to pick up on some warning signs. I’d joined the police force when I was 23 but as my career progressed, so did the stress levels.
There was a lot of social drinking at the pub after a shift in my earlier years in the job, and then as I got older I didn’t think twice about opening a bottle of wine with a takeaway when I got home late from work. It was my coping mechanism. When I’d drink, I’d reach for the carbs like crisps, bread and biscuits.
I tried Slimming World, Noom and also a Rosemary Conley diet, but they all revolved around a low-fat diet plan and calorie counting. I’d lose a bit of weight and get down to a size 12, but I’d soon put it back on again. I’d mitigate my love of food with intense exercising like long bike rides and spin classes, which I enjoyed teaching in the evenings.
In 2018, when I was 48, I started experiencing low moods. I saw my GP, but they wouldn’t prescribe me HRT for the menopause due to my history of having a blood clot at 37. So I was advised to find ‘natural’ ways to cope.
I went teetotal for eight months using Annie Grace’s book This Naked Mind and also upped my exercise. I’d teach four or five spin classes each week. But the amount of cardio I was doing didn’t translate into what I was seeing in the mirror.
In May 2020, I was diagnosed with thrombophlebitis (a blood clot) in my leg after a long 20-mile bike ride. Looking back, this was the first physical manifestation that my nervous system was under attack. More pain ensued and I was then told I had DVT in July. Little did I know this was all building up to something bigger.
The next month, I had a big wake-up call. We had come out of lockdown, but I continued working remotely. I was on a virtual meeting with my boss and the rest of the team, but something didn’t feel right and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I caught sight of my Garmin wrist watch. My resting heart beat was showing up as 200 beats per minute – it’s usually 50bpm. I could suddenly feel my heart racing.
I DMed my manager and left the meeting. I closed my laptop and went straight to A&E. I was trying to stay calm – but I couldn’t help but worry about my recent blood clot. ‘Had it moved to my lungs? Or my heart?’ I panicked.
After the doctors ran various tests and I was diagnosed with Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT, a condition when your heart suddenly beats faster than normal). I was already on blood-thinning medication from the earlier DVT diagnosis but now I was being referred for a 72-hour ECG (where sensors measure your heart’s rhythm and electric activity) in a few weeks’ time. It was a lot to take in and it worried me.
When I returned home alone, I felt overwhelmed. Physically and mentally I hit a wall. The fact my hormones were out of balance just exacerbated my situation. I couldn’t cope any more, so my doctor signed me off work so I could recuperate.
I felt completely floored and was breaking down in tears at the tiniest thing, but I also knew at the same time I needed to take control of my health. A calorie-counting weight loss plan was not going to help me long-term, they just made me yo-yo. I needed to shift my mindset and my brain chemistry as well as the weight.
By coincidence, I’d spotted cyclist Chris Froome on TV using a health gadget called Lumen to measure his fitness performance. I was a keen cyclist myself, so I thought I’d give it a try.
I was so fatigued at the beginning of my sick leave, I was sleeping nine-eleven hours per night. But because it was lockdown again I had nothing else to do during the day so I set up my new health programme. Joining an expert community made me accountable. I think I was so fragile at the time, I needed some structure to ground me.
Firstly, I completed three tests – DNA, adrenal glands and gut microbiome. The DNA results proved that due to my genetics, I was prone to stress-related obesity.
The app provided me with a nutrition plan which I stuck to religiously – I never skipped protein as it kept me full, ate lots of greens, but said no to alcohol and refined sugar.
I was eating very low carbs to start off with until my body started to learn how to burn fat, which happened within about four to five weeks. As my body got better at burning fat, I could then up my carbs. My metabolism shift dramatically. It was remarkable.
For breakfast, I swapped cereal for savoury like eggs, avocado or spinach. I’ve since learnt some more health hacks to manage blood sugar levels based on the findings of the ‘Glucose Goddess’ and author Jessie Inchauspe.
Another meal tip is to eat your greens first, protein second and then carbs. Eating in this order helps your body better absorb the glucose into the bloodstream.
A community expert told me I’d been putting my body under too much stress with my high intensity workouts. I wasn’t doing any strength training to balance it out. More frequent low intensity workouts were better for me.
I continued to bike ride and then in mid-January 2021, I introduced three pump sessions a week, lifting weights at home. Suddenly, the weight was quickly shifting. I’d lost a total of 20 pounds (9kg) by January and then nine (4kg) in February alone!
As I got stronger with the weights, I signed up to Kari Pearce’s Power Abs. After 10 mins of ab work over 30 days I completely transformed my mid-section – I had definition in my abs at 50! I felt so proud.
When I had a follow-up ECG to check my heart health in March, the consultant didn’t even recognise me in the waiting room. He congratulated me on completely reversing my condition.
This journey has not been just about weight loss for me. My new regime has completely changed my energy levels, my outlook and my sleep. I returned to work after five and a half months leave and by May 2021, I had lost 50 pounds (three and a half stone or 22.6kg). And one year on, I can confidently say I’m still a size 10, weighing 150 pounds (68kg).
I still eat healthily, don’t drink and take the right supplements to suit me. I started on HRT back in December 2020 which has also made a huge difference.
I’ve been back at work full-time for the last year and rarely suffer from the high levels of stress I experienced pre-burn out.
My advice to others is don’t wait for your health to crash before taking action. Find an activity you enjoy, healthy food you like, and make small changes. Time shouldn’t be an issue – finding 10 minutes for squats or a 20-minute walk isn't difficult.
If I managed to do it when my world was imploding, then anyone can. I’m the healthiest I could possibly be as I approach my 52nd birthday this September and I feel great.
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