Crossfit increases your physical prowess across agility, strength, accuracy, balance, clothes shopping… er, what was that last one again?
My name is Kate Pankhurst, and I’m 48. I’ve been an obese child, teenager, young woman and adult. On long cycles, I’ve also been relatively small. The small phases coincided (occasionally) with falling in love, but (more usually) with being in a broken-hearted heap of tears at the exit of some loser boyfriend. I guess that identifies me an emotional eater: Stuffing in the pies while happy, eating nothing at all when miserable. But then it works the other way round for me too, which makes me a confused eater. Either way, for a sedentary magazine designer, I ate too much.
In my time, I’ve grazed through most of the fad diets. I remember wearing cheesecloth tent tops in the 70’s while nibbling through Cambridge Diet choc bars, wearing batwing tents in the 80’s to attend WeightWatchers. The Cabbage Soup diet of the 90’s was so awful, my memory is wiped of fashion.
Needless to say, none of the above worked for long. If I was lucky, I’d go down a dress size and be totally euphoric. Then I’d squeeze every button and seam off the thing, and have to slink back to the shops six months later for my old size. Is there anything more dispiriting for a girl?
One boyfriend declared that he liked stick women with breasts “like two fried eggs on an ironing board” I wonder now, that I didn’t wonder then, what the hell he was doing with a spherical girl built more for comfort than speed! But for better or worse, I took the remarks to heart. Like many big women who’d lost hope of ever changing, I tried to become invisible and gradually disappeared under loose tops and skirts (black of course). I tried to make my huge boobs disappear with M&S “bust minimising” bras. I looked like a Stealth Bomber in lipstick. The boyfriend wasn’t fooled, and he left anyway.
Some time later, I saw a programme on Big Beautiful Women (known as BBW’s) – huge ladies who revel in their voluptuousness, eat with abandon and are worshipped by thin, pale men. It was a revelation! What the hell – I’ve failed miserably as a dieter – I might as well celebrate my body as it is. Out went the tents and out came the cleavage and high heels. I was 5’3” tall and 15 stone 8lbs. Woo hoo! For me it was a happy time, to have some body confidence, even if my body wasn’t regulation model proportions. Little did I know things were about to change radically.
It was summer 2007. Around this time, Andrew started teaching me to swim (as a fat kid, I never learned to swim, rollerskate or ride a bike – too embarrassing). On the way to the pool one day, he asked me what size I was. Straight out, just like that! Hiding my indignation at such a personal question, I confidently replied “ I’m an 18”. Actually I wasn’t so confident – it was a lie. That day I’d bought a size 20 top and loose pants from Evans, the shop of shame once known as Evans Outsizes, which have flowers all over their carrier bags, but no other identifying logo.
Casually, he started talking about Crossfit and the Zone diet. We’d discussed it before, and I found it quite interesting. “If I start doing this Crossfit thing” I said, defending my tenuous allegiance to the BBW movement “I won’t loose my womanliness, will I?”
I got some info on the Zone – and decided it was way too complicated with all the blocks and grams etc. But I did get the message to eat more veg and treat rice and pasta with caution, so I had a vague stab at it. There were less ready meals and jars of sauce in my fridge, and I found myself cooking more.
After a month or two, I emailed Andrew. “I seem to have gone down a dress size and gone up a bra cup size. What are you doing to me!” It was true. That day I bought my first ever ever pair of jeans and a belt. Size 18, so no longer a liar. The belt was huge, and I was on the last hole (waist size 44”) , but it didn’t matter. I was wearing jeans! I wore them to work, and there were compliments. I felt fantastic.
Over time, some equipment started arriving at my flat. An 8k kettlebell and some hand weights. My apartment block has 9 floors, so my first workout was being made to do 5 tricep dips in reception, walk up 9 floors, and then do 5 push-ups. I nearly died of exhaustion. Each day I did a bit more: puffing and blowing like a horse, I swung my kettlebell, did thrusters with hand weights, climbed stairs.
2008 went by in a blur of shopping and recycling! It seemed as soon as I got into one size, I was out of it and down to the next. I was either buying stuff in New Look (jeans only £10!) or taking them to charity shops. My jeans belt seem to have more hanging out the front than was going around me, so I got a new one. I lost 3 stone and 3 sizes. The compliments were coming thick and fast from my work colleagues.
I photographed the i-courses and other Crossfit London events, learning as I watched. My tiny flat now had an Olympic bar and plates, along with a pull-up bar and bands. I went up through the kettlebells to a 16k. I went running. I stomped up and down thousands of stairs.
2009 was harder. I suppose the regular weight loss had become addictive, and I was disappointed to be stuck at size 14. Then it was pointed out to me that stabilising your weight is as important as losing it. Think about it – if you never stabilise, you’re in danger of piling the weight back on, and when you reach the so-called “goal weight”, you need to be able to stay there.
Perseverance paid off, and this year I lost another 2 dress sizes. Hang on, what does that mean exactly? Every woman knows that dress sizes vary from shop to shop. Another stick for women to beat themselves – we all want to be a Ghost size 8, not an M&S size 8 (which is bigger). Well I say to hell with it, go to the shop that encourages you to feel good about yourself. I am currently a New Look size 10 (stretchy) jeans, and an M&S size 8 top. But I’m still about 20lbs overweight, hmm, how does that work? If any of the major retailers would like to address this, please enlighten us.
My mantra for the last couple of years has become
“EAT FROM THE FRIDGE”
This assumes that the fridge is already loaded up with healthy, fresh ingredients: meat, fish, beans, veg, berries, yoghurt, salad, nuts. I avoided the sandwich shop (sandwiches bad, according to the Zone), and has too many other distractions like cakes and chocolate. I bought simple basic foods and cooked them. I made lunchboxes to take to work – I have a little fridge under my desk to keep it all fresh. I discarded ready meals, stopped using jars of cook-in sauce, and ate out or had takeaways only as a rare treat. On the latter, I was suddenly shocked at how salty curries and Chinese food taste. There’s a ton of it in “normal” pre-prepared food, so you’re better off doing it yourself. My life has been taken over by food: thinking, planning, shopping, cooking. Some days, it can be a total pain. But I got used to it, and quite good at it too. Spending a bit more time in the kitchen each evening is worth the half hour of lost sofa time.
I hope this doesn’t sound like one of those stupid (lying) adverts about miracle easy weight loss stories. For me it began easily, and got more difficult, and I’ve still got a long way to go. I’ve discovered through Crossfit that I’m quite strong (I once deadlifted 90k, and am still dining out on the story) but that I’m pretty crap at anything gymnastic. But then Crossfit makes you challenge your weaknesses. My next goal is to be able to do a handstand, a pull-up, an L-sit or two. For a former carb-loading couch potato, how does getting my Crossfit Level 1 sound for a crazy idea!
In two-and-a-half years (I think a sustainable timescale for radical change) I’ve shrunk my waist by 12” and lost a whopping 5 stones in weight. My blood pressure has plummeted from the 150’s to 120/70. I’m faster, fitter, happier – and my buddies are beginning to describe me as “sculpted”.
A quick note to all you BBW’s out there: If you’re happy being big, that’s fine (you are gorgeous, empowered women!) On the other hand, if you suspect you may simply have given up in despair at ever getting slimmer and healthier, then there is something you can do. Give Crossfit and the Zone a try. The Blackboard gym is a welcoming, friendly place, and the workouts are scaled to challenge everyone: big, small and inbetween.
I’ve changed my mind and attitude to my body a few times in my life: from despair to denial to acceptance and finally to reform. This is where I intend to stay.
And despite his protestation, here’s a huge, gushing, love-laden THANK YOU to Andrew. His encouragement and patience is like gold. This man does no less than transform lives.
So go to the “Getting Started” section and sign up now.
I’d love to meet you soon at a Crossfit London UK class.
And just think of all those lovely new clothes that will soon be yours!