How long will you live? This was the question at the forefront of Dubai-based British expat Charlotte Bruce-Alexander’s mind as she lay sick in bed with COVID-19.
At her heaviest, Charlotte was 126kg – a weight that took a huge toll on her body, and heightened her risk of deadly illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
Having worked hard to lose a whopping 61kg to reach her current weight of 65kg, Charlotte says that falling ill with COVID was a wake-up call about the importance of looking after her health.
“When you have COVID-19, you question your life,” says Charlotte. “Imagine if I hadn’t lost the weight - I’m not sure I’d be here.”
Letting go of excuses
When she was at her heaviest, Charlotte says she used to look for excuses for being overweight. Born with the genetic heart condition Cardiac-valvular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (cvEDS), she says she blamed her health problems (she also suffers from the heart-rate abnormality Postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTS) and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)) for not being able to lose weight.
“They were my excuse and the reason I told myself I was overweight,” she says. “But I ate too much and moved too little, and that’s why I was overweight.”
I blamed my health condition for making me overweight, but the truth is I ate too much and moved too little
Inspired by the birth of her daughter, now aged nine, the 38-year-old mum-of-two set out on a weight loss journey that saw her almost halving her body mass, dropping an incredible 61kg. “I wanted to be able to enjoy everything with her, make memories, have adventures, and at 126kg there were so many things I couldn’t do,” Charlotte told Gulf News. “I wanted to live a long life with her and be a good role model, so at six weeks post pregnancy I started my journey.”
Weight and health
Encouraged to try a macros meal plan by her husband, Charlotte dropped 45kg in the first 18 months of her diet.
But after becoming pregnant with her son she regained 25kg, which she then lost in the year that followed his birth, plus an additional 16kg over the next three years.
Although she dropped from a dress size of UK size 22 to UK size 10, Charlotte says that fitting into smaller clothes are just a side bonus to the real reason people should be losing weight - for their health. It’s even more important for those who have other health conditions, like Charlotte herself. “Statistics on cvEDS give me a median life expectancy of 50 years old and most cvEDS patients experience a heart attack or organ rupture by 40 years old. These are statistics, I don’t waste my life worrying about it… I focus on proving them wrong.”
Having just recovered from a bout of COVID-19, Charlotte credits this weight loss for saving her life.
“I honestly think I’d be dead or in ICU with my heart condition if I was still 126kg.”
I honestly think I’d be dead with my heart condition if I was still 126kg
Burning fat while eating chocolate
Charlotte achieved her dramatic weight loss through the macros diet, which is a more detailed version of calories counting, as it includes the number of grams of each food group – fats protein and carbohydrates – that you are allowed to eat each day.
The number of macros you are allowed to eat varies between people and their activity levels, and it is adjusted every two weeks, says Charlotte.
“A macro diet allows you to eat any food – but you must reach your individual macro goal and calories,” explains Charlotte.
Knowing I could lose weight while eating chocolate or a burger was a game changer for me
“It’s not restrictive and there is nothing that you cannot eat or drink, and for me this was a game changer. Knowing I could have chocolate or a burger if it fitted my macros. It created healthy habits and balance and I didn’t feel shamed into feeling I had to live on salad.”
When she first started out, Charlotte did not do any specific exercise regime, but just attempted to walk around and move more, which gradually progressed to her going to the gym. “Weight loss is 90% diet,” she says, although today her fitness regime includes Less Mills classes and the functional training workout F45.
“Weight loss doesn’t need to be miserable”
Charlotte admits that she does not really like vegetables, and instead takes a vitamin supplement to ensure that she has no deficiencies.
“We need to understand the difference between nutrition and weight loss,” explains Charlotte. “I hate vegetables, so I take a vitamin sachet designed for bariatric and weight-loss patients to nourish my body and prevent deficiencies. I have a handful of hot veggies I like, plus fruit and salad. But I don’t restrict anything from my diet. I can still eat cake, pasta or candy if it fits my macros. Weight loss doesn’t have to be miserable.”
There is no one-diet-fits-all explains Charlotte.
“All diets work – from keto to low carb, vegan or Atkins – because they all work on the basis of creating a calorie deficit. Find a diet that is sustainable for you. I chose macros as it does not restrict anything. Monitoring macros and calorie counting – these are merely tools, just like any other diet, to help you get into a calorie deficit.”
Inspired by motherhood
It was falling pregnant that finally spurred Charlotte’s weight loss journey. ”I changed who I wanted to be from the moment I found out I was pregnant,” says Charlotte. “I wanted the best for my daughter and my weight was stopping me being able to give her that. She deserved a good role model, fun adventures, and a mum who could comfortably do them with her.”
Her sister’s wedding six weeks after the birth of her firstborn was the real turning point, she adds. “I was bridesmaid for my sister. I hated the dress and the way I looked and I was so embarrassed walking down the aisle. I looked at my daughter and I didn’t want her to grow up embarrassed by me. It broke my heart.
“Children can be so cruel and the thought she might be bullied growing up due to my size mortified me. That I wouldn’t want to go to the pool or beach with her as I was uncomfortable and that I would never be the mum doing the ‘mums race’ at sports day ran through my head and just made my heart sink.”
But then she realised she was in control: “I could be a role model, and do fun activities with her. I just needed to commit, be consistent, and accept it wasn’t going to be an easy journey.”
Almost ten years and 61kg less later, she now encourages other who may be overweight and/ or suffering from health problems to do the same: “No one is saying that in certain circumstances weight-loss is not more difficult or that you won’t have to adjust your approach; it’s just not impossible.”
Now fully recovered from COVID-19, Charlotte says that losing weight and becoming healthier is the most important thing anyone can do for themselves and their family: “Your health is your wealth,” she says. “Time with your family, making memories, helping your daughter buy her wedding dress, watching your son await his bride at the altar - these are the reasons to start getting healthier today. Time is not a given to any of us but let it be your purpose.”
- Be honest and accurate about your exercise each day and factor that in.
- Download an app like MyFitness Pal and enter your macro and calorie goals
- Buy food scales and measuring cups to help you track your macros
- Get some low calories and high protein powder – I like 100% whey protein as you can bake with it too
- Have lots of high-protein, low-calorie snacks around
- Exercise, even if it’s just walking - for me I do Les Mills and F45 five times a week now, but started with walking
- Weigh yourself only once a week
- Take photos weekly to track your progress
- Take measurements each week – I measure the upper arm, bust, waist, hips, buttocks, upper thigh
- Ketone sachets can help boost your metabolism
You can follow Charlotte for weight loss inspiration at @farfromfat126 on Instagram