Nella Grech is a young Maltese woman who's struggled with weight issues for most of her life. When her parents told her she was about to expect a baby sister, she decided that she needed to make some life changes – so she lost half her bodyweight – 64kg. This is her story.
In the last three years I went from 130kg to 66kg, struggled with an eating disorder and was diagnosed with a string of mental health issues along the way. Yes, it's been a crazy and life-changing time, but now my main aim is to help other Maltese people achieve what I have. I've launched my own Facebook group with recipes and tips, and I've written a book about my journey away from obesity.
How did it all begin? There wasn't really a specific moment where I decided I wanted to lose weight, I'd been obese my entire life so it was always something on my mind. I'd tried and failed countless times to lose significant weight – my yo-yo dieting went on for around ten years. I would lose weight and then gain it all back.
Then in September 2013 my mother told me that she and my dad were pregnant with their fourth child – I was going to have a new little sister. That's when I realised that I wouldn't see this little baby celebrate her tenth birthday if I kept gaining weight the way I had been.
"An Italian family started taking pictures of me - flash and all, not even bothering to hide"
A few days later I was in Austria on holiday with my family, and while I was in a restaurant an Italian family started taking pictures of me - flash and all, not even bothering to hide. I reached my breaking point. I had fallen out with some friends and the bullying I got afterwards by some of them was insane. I wanted to be healthier and also to prove everyone wrong about the fact that I was doomed to be obese my entire life.
At my heaviest I weighed in at a 130kg. That was the 7th October 2013 – the day I started my journey towards reaching my goal weight. Before that I'd been habitually yo-yo dieting for years – following particular diets, either something I'd come up with or a fad diets off the internet. I would lose a small amount of weight – two to ten kilos – and gain it all back again. Then I'd repeat the cycle all over again. Eventually I did relapse into this cycle – I lost 30kg very rapidly because I was only allowing myself 280 calories of food a day. But that all came crashing down when I quickly gained back 8kg. Things had to change.
My social life did suffer when I started to diet seriously – I wouldn't go out or have any cheat meals. There were times were I would stay home for weeks on end, because going out with my friends meant either drinking in Paceville or eating out at a restaurant, and neither were exactly diet friendly. Eventually I learnt how to cope with it more and even allow myself a cheat meal a week so things did become a lot easier.
But things were not always plain sailing – I developed a binge eating disorder. I would completely lose control and binge on food, sometimes going through the amount of calories a normal person would go through in two days in the course of a few minutes or hours. I wouldn't keep track of what I'd eaten, and I would forget the huge amount of food I'd eaten after I binged. I would eat until I felt my stomach was about to rupture, and my binges would always be followed by an immense sense of guilt.
"It's a vicious cycle - you eat, gain weight and get bullied, then because you get bullied you eat more and eventually gain more weight"
Eventually all the bullying I'd been subjected to about my weight led to depression. I mainly suffered with a seasonal type of depression, and I still do. It would flare up at the start of the scholastic year. But in 2015 the depression lasted all year, and it took a lot out of me.
Bullying and finding comfort in food definitely contributed to the reasons I developed my binge eating disorder. I do sometimes blame myself for having a lack of restraint and discipline. I think it was a combination of two things - letting a love for food become an addiction, and finding comfort in something destructive. It's a vicious cycle - you eat, gain weight and get bullied, then because you get bullied you eat more and eventually gain more weight.
But throughout the dark times I did receive a lot of support, especially from members of my family. I wouldn't be where I am today without them – especially my mum. There were always some doubters, but I just had to learn to ignore them.
I finally swapped in my ill-judged dieting habits for something more manageable, more healthy, and generally more sense-making. I made an effort to find the right eating plan, and work on having the willpower and discipline to stick to it until I could eventually reach my goal - or at least not gain my weight back when I stopped following the plan.
With help from my family and professionals I was soon able to slowly regain my life back. I signed up to a gym and started weight lifting along with following a well-thought out meal plan. It wasn't always easy – I wasn't used to meal prepping and spending hours at the gym each day while trying to keep up with every other aspect of my life. But I worked hard and the results paid off. Eventually I reached the goal I'd been working towards for over three years.
"Back when I weighted 130kg, I was honestly treated like I was less than human"
My advice to anyone who wants to lose would be to firstly make sure that they actually are at an unhealthy weight, and not just being influenced by the media/peers. Most importantly – I suggest that people start training as soon as they start losing weight. I didn't, and have faced a lot of trouble with excess skin and lack of toning as a result, which could have been (to a certain extent) avoided.
Also, people looking to get in better shape need to find a diet which works for them - my suggestion would be something high in protein which fills you up and keeps you satisfied. And finally, the biggest truth I can impart is that – it's not easy. There will be times where you will follow your diet, workout and somehow gain weight. It's at these moments when discouragement sets in, and at this precise moment that pushing harder than ever becomes absolutely essential.
Do people perceive and treat me differently now that I've lost the weight? Definitely. I used to get bullied wherever I went and now that has stopped. I get a lot more positive other than negative attention. I am treated like a human being. Back when I weighted 130kg, I was honestly treated like I was less than human – and no one should have to face that.
Nella Grech's e-book Strong Not Skinny is available to purchase online.