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Friday 17 January 2014

Maria Sofi: "The New Me" - A Weight Loss Journey

Did you read the inspirational stories from Maria Sofi on her journey navigating life as a larger woman?

Here is part one on her life as a plus-size woman, and part two on sex and dating for the plus-size woman.

Maria has come a long, long way since these posts (scroll down for before and after photos). I will let her tell you, in her own words.

"Well, it’s been 18 months since I last wrote a post for Josie’s Juice, and it’s been a very interesting ride since then.

My first post on Josie’s Juice was 21 June 2012, where I talked about being overweight with some background of my childhood and in to early adulthood. The second part was posted on 17 February 2013, a week before my life would be changed forever. This second post concentrated on my adult life as an overweight person, on the dating scene and all the life experiences that come along with it, together with fashion for plus size women and the difficulties we face.

I have found it fascinating to re-read my earlier pieces tonight, as I write this piece, because I feel familiar with the person from those posts, but she is a distant friend.

In a nutshell, the life I had been living since I was 12 or 13, as good as my life was, was not a healthy life. I had learnt bad eating habits and bad lifestyle habits. I had learnt to get instant satisfaction from food and to allow food to give me an emotional reaction.  The more I practiced these bad habits, the more my life became closed off from the world and all the experiences it holds for us to live through.

I had been unhappy for so many years, and I did my best to hide that unhappiness by putting a smile on my face, being helpful, grooming myself well and always being presented well.  I had a large group of diverse friends and lived my life experiences through them, and through television, most of the time. 

When I look back at photographs, especially over the last 10 years, I am sad for the woman I see.

I am now 43, nearly 44. My birthday will be on 25 January. On 24 January last year, my sister gave me my birthday present, after I decided I would be happy to get it a little early. I so expected to see her come back carrying a huge box which would contain a ruby red planetary Mixmaster. I had been dropping hints for months and months. I was so excited. I don’t know why I wanted one, I just did.

She returned carrying a scroll of banana paper, tied with a bright blue ribbon. It wasn’t what I had expected. I remember feeling a little deflated, but then thinking “oooh, it could be a voucher for a day spa”, and I pepped up.

I remember my fingers tugging at the ribbon and it falling away. 

I remember seeing the paper unfurl and seeing the bright blue logo of the place I had been visiting on the internet for about five years, and had always wanted to go to, but never had the money for. 

I remember feeling the wetness of my tears rolling down my cheeks and hearing them drip on to my shirt. 

I remember sliding my right thumb back and forward over the bright blue logo my sister had illegally copied from their website, and during all this, I was thinking “this is the chance to save my life”. 

Now, this is a little weird, but the first words out of my mouth to my sister, who was watching me have a hugely important moment was “this must be what it feels like to have a baby”. 

Where and why that phrase sprung forth I have no idea. But it is very poignant in that, I do not have children, and at 43, I will never experience giving birth. I am sad about that, if I am honest. I think I would have made a great mother, but it wasn’t to be.

However, the hand-made gift voucher I was holding signified ‘a new life’ for me.

The voucher was for a loan of funds for a four week stay at a place called 'The New Me'. It is a specialist weight-loss facility, for people over 100kgs, owned and run by Adro Sarnelli, Australia’s first ever winner of the Australian version of the TV weight loss show, 'The Biggest Loser'.

By 11pm on 24 January, I was booked in for a 4 week stay at this facility. Three days later, I had booked a further 2 weeks, as I thought 4 weeks would not be enough time for me to put all the little pieces of myself, back together again (and to find the pieces I had lost over the years).

On my birthday, 25 January, I went to work and told the boss I needed six weeks off work from 25 February. It was a really bad time to have time off, and for some reason I remember him looking at me and saying “Maria, you know I would never say no if you really need that time off”, and I told him it was extremely important for me, to have the time away.

After sorting out all the logistics, ordering clothing online to take away with me for my stay and having many long nights’ soul searching about what I wanted my life to be after my stay at The New Me, I found myself on a flight to Victoria.

Now, I am going to skip over a huge chunk of my experience at The New Me, from when the plane landed at Melbourne Airport, to when my return flight landed in Sydney. I have to remember this is a blog – not a novel. 

What I will say is this. 

On 25 February, 2013 I weighed in at 156.1 kilograms. I see photographs of myself and I am faced with the image of what people saw. I can see why I struggled walking for any distance; I can see why I regarded steps and hills as my enemies. 

The intensity of my experience at The New Me, I recall vividly. I still feel the pain in my body if I think about my time there, and I feel the emotions I felt there. Those memories are with me every day, keeping me honest with myself. I have flashbacks and I love them. 

It is an extremely raw and exposed place emotionally and psychologically, when you find yourself standing at the base of a hill that you can’t see the top of, in 35 degree heat, clutching your new water bottle, wearing your new sneakers and training gear, and not being able to breathe because you can’t walk more than 10 steps without needing to stop and bend over, trying to suck in oxygen. I don’t know how many times I cried on that hill. I cried and I was alone (there was a trainer in the distance, but far enough away not to see me crying). The other participants were way ahead of me. For over an hour I struggled on that hill – emotionally and physically. I remember at one point picking out a tree to walk to, putting one foot in front of the other and finally reaching it, and then doubling over to see an empty Cadbury chocolate wrapper on the gravel, and asking myself WHY.

WHY did I let myself get so unhealthy? WHY do my legs feel so weak? WHY am I on this stupid hill?

There are so many confronting, unbelievable and hilarious stories I would love to share, and when I remember them I am SO PROUD of myself. I rediscovered I am a strong woman. At my core is a person who hates to fail, who will not give up, who is positive, who is flirtatious and cheeky, who is loyal and supportive, who is positive (and sometimes slightly hot tempered); who makes friends easily. 

The relationships and friendships I built with the guests during my time at The New Me, are always with me. I remember their hands pulling me with them and helping me, I remember their voices yelling my name in encouragement, and I remember the laughter and tears we shared.  We have a unique bond, all very different, but this one common strand binds us together.

It has been about 48 weeks since I tried to climb that hill on my first morning. In my life, I am still on that hill, but I’m not crying anymore, not about my life, or the person I am.   

I have, using the tools I learnt at The New Me from Adro and the amazing trainers, lost 40 kilograms to date, in a healthy way, and this is continuing. More importantly, I have rediscovered the person I knew I was, and have re-engaged the parts of my life and personality that I let slip away. I will not let them disappear again.

I have lost so many centimetres off my body, that I need to buy new clothing every 6-8 weeks (or get my current ones taken in). 

I am most proud of the fact that I feel healthy from the inside – both psychologically and physically. I have a glow when I see myself in the mirror that emanates from the inside out, and I love it. My eyes are clear and glistening, my mouth is always in a smile, and I have so much energy for my days and nights. 

My family have me back. I’m the person they knew from many years ago, who got lost for a while.

In my earlier post I stated that I had not swum at the beach since I was about 15. Well, this year it will be different, and I cannot wait. I will be at the beach with my niece and nephew.  I have never been to the beach with them. They are 10 and 8 respectively. I will be walking on the sand, digging holes, building castles, and swimming. I will teach them to play a game of “warriors” in the sand dunes like I used to do as a child. I cannot wait to run. I will be red-faced, and slightly puffed, and I will love that feeling of being alive, making memories with my niece and nephew, all the while not caring whether people are looking at me or not. The days of worrying about strangers and what they may think or say to me is over. They do not know me.  They do not know my story, and how far I have come. 

And to the young woman a few months ago in the car-park of the gym I frequent, who uttered to her friend “Why does she bother”, I am glad I finally stood up for myself and said “I’m here because I like it, and when you’ve lost 30kgs come talk to me” (or words to that effect). 

I am Maria, version 2.0 – the newly discovered version, who has her off days, but has a whole life to experience in a more healthy way. Bring on the man-dates, bring on the great outfits (lingerie to woohoo), bring on the overseas travel that I can do comfortably now. I cannot wait to see what the future holds... (did I mention ‘bring on the MAN-DATES’?)."

WHAT a story. Maria... you are beyond inspiring. I know you have embraced the new you, and she is amazing, and has a lot of living to do.

Here are some photos of Maria, before and after:

Maria on 25 February, 2013
Maria at Day12 of 42 at 'The New Me'

Maria at Day12 of 42 at 'The New Me'
Maria at Day12 of 42 at 'The New Me'

Maria on 23 September, 2013
Maria on 17 November, 2013

Incredible stuff, Maria. WHAT a transformation.

For more, on 'The New Me' click here.

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