At 26, Karen Gatt weighed almost 300 pounds and was mentally at the breaking point. Barely able to walk to the mailbox, she forced herself to diet and walk around the clothesline in her backyard every day. Now she's lost 150 pounds, kept off the weight for eight years and is teaching others to shed the pounds without pills or other gimmicks with her book “The Clothesline Diet.” An excerpt.
Oh my god, it's almost impossible to begin to tell you how much my life has changed over the past eight years. To go from being a mother of two toddlers who was so obese I could barely squeeze through my front door to “Australia’s favorite diet mum,” as the press have dubbed me, with people all around the world following my weight loss plan is ... unbelievable! I still pinch myself every day.
When I first started on my weight-loss journey, walking around the clothesline in my backyard, I weighed almost 300 pounds. I lost 150 pounds — that’s actually a whole person — on my own by devising a simple diet plan and walking tiny laps of the clothesline in my backyard. No pills, no potions, no gimmicks, no prepackaged meals, no points to count. Trust me, I’d tried all of the fad diets so many times I’d lost count, and none of them worked for me. But this diet did. Why? I think it’s because it’s a real down under diet — it’s simple and straightforward with no bulldust. I’m not a doctor or a dietician, I’m just a mum who spent most of her life struggling to get off the diet roller coaster. I finally did it by following a simple diet I created myself, literally in my own backyard. I’m not an educated person, but I made my dream come true — and if I can do it, anyone can.
In 1999 I hit rock bottom. I weighed nearly 300 pounds and my self-esteem was so low I often wondered if life was worth living. I was disgusted with myself.
Normal day-to-day behavior that thin people take for granted — like talking to friends and going shopping or, for that matter, any activity that made me step outside my home — became a terrifying ordeal. I had quite literally eaten my life away. I could barely walk to the mailbox, let alone play with my two toddler sons or try on a pair of jeans at the local mall. I avoided playing with my kids because I simply couldn’t keep up with them; I’d have to lie down and have a rest afterward. My poor knees felt like they were crumbling under the weight of my enormous body. There were days when I would do a load of laundry and actually feel as if I were having a heart attack from lifting the clothes into the washing machine — and I was only twenty-six years old!
My house had become a physical and mental fortress. It was the only place where I felt safe, away from the stares, whispers, taunts and sheer disgust that overwhelmed me every time I stepped outside the door. I hated having to get ready to go out somewhere — my home offered me protection, and the mere thought of having to face the world sparked an unbearable anxiety for me. What was the point of making an effort to do my hair, or put on some makeup when, in my eyes, I was still the same ugly, overweight Karen no matter what I was wearing.
Most women, as they go to leave the house will have one last look in the mirror to make sure their hair is in place and their lipstick is right. I always had one last look in the mirror, too. But not to admire myself.
I would turn to the mirror and spit at myself in sheer disgust because I hated how I looked and who I had become. I would stand there, staring at myself until the very last dribble of saliva had run down over the reflection of my face while tears rolled down my cheeks. I hated myself so much, and I loathed the way I looked and felt. I had reached the lowest point of my life, and I was drained of all self-esteem. This was my routine every time I left the house.
Video: Reel in your waistline with ‘Clothesline Diet’ (on this page) My wardrobe was a constant source of depression. Sliding back the closet doors to the racks of “fat” clothes would remind me of the life I didn’t have and, worse, the life I did. All of the clothes were the same — straight fitting, size 24 to 26, an array of bright colors and patterns supposedly designed to disguise my weight. The theory was that the bigger the shirts, the more they would hide the rolls of fat bulging beneath, but in reality there were few clothes that could hide my rippling roly-poly shape.
My ultimate nightmare was going out with my husband, Jason, like a normal married couple. Hours before we were due to leave the house, I would begin to worry about what I was going to wear. Popping something on a few minutes before we were due to walk out the door, like slim women can do, just wasn’t an option.
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I tried on each piece of clothing that I peeled off the hanger over and over again, until eventually I’d tortured myself so much and was so frustrated that I would lie on the bed and cry my eyes out. Nothing looked right, or felt right, and in the end I would be so angry with myself for being overweight that I would grab the first thing I saw and put it on, even though I’d tried it on four or five times already.
The tears, the hatred and the anguish didn’t happen once in a while — this was how I lived all the time, every day. This was what my life had become, and all because of my weight.
After the tears I would try to convince myself that I didn’t care what people thought. They would like me for who I was, for my personality. But somewhere in my head, eating away at me constantly, was the truth — I did care what people thought.
The courage to change
All of this changed for me during a Mother’s Day dinner-dance in May 1999. I remember it as if it were yesterday. I really didn’t want to go, but Jason and my children, four-year-old Brendan and three-year-old Ryan, were so looking forward to it.
I dreaded walking into any room full of people and this night was no different. All the mums in the ballroom that night were so beautiful — except me. I felt so embarrassed about the way I looked and, as we walked into the hall to find our table, it felt like every pair of eyes in the room was staring right at me. Here I was wearing something that resembled a tent, plodding across the dance floor like a baby elephant, desperate to get to our table so I could sit down and hide myself. What I would have given for the ground to open up and swallow me right then and there.
Aside from the sheer embarrassment, I was disgusted with myself. Disgusted that I had gotten myself into this situation. Disgusted that I was so big, and angry that I had allowed myself to get this overweight. I couldn’t believe how fat I had become and I had no one to blame but me — nobody else shoved food into my mouth, it was my own fault. Dropping my head as low as I could so as to avoid all of their faces, I sat straight down in my chair. I just wanted to die.
This was supposed to be a night of celebration, so when the band struck up and they invited all of the mothers onto the dance floor with their partners, Jason grabbed my hand and said, “C’mon, Kaz, let’s go.” He was only trying to do the right thing, but I refused. It felt like every eye in the room was on me, the fat girl.
Video: Reel in your waistline with ‘Clothesline Diet’ (on this page) Jason could sense I was upset and kept pushing me to dance, thinking it would cheer me up. Feeling so guilty that I was spoiling his fun, I agreed to get up, and as the band began to play we took to the floor. We lasted half a song before I made the excuse that I needed to use the bathroom and fled from the crowd.
People probably weren’t staring at all, but I felt like the whole world was watching, and I was desperately embarrassed. I just wanted to hide. I felt like I didn’t fit in. I was so uncomfortable dancing in front of people that I had to get away. The restrooms were close to where we were dancing, so I didn’t have to walk past too many people, and once inside, I could hide from prying eyes and my problems would disappear for a moment.
I closed the door of the cubicle and sat on the toilet seat for about fifteen minutes, praying to be taken home. I stayed there for what felt like forever.
I couldn’t believe how fat I had become and I had no one to blame but me.
The other women must have wondered what was going on. There was a huge line but I didn’t care. I wasn’t getting out for anyone. I buried my face in my hands and rocked backward and forward, blocking the world out of my mind to comfort myself before I finally built up enough courage to walk back out.
I didn’t look at any of their faces — I just brushed past them all, went straight back to my chair and sat staring around the room at the other mothers. All the mothers that night looked so happy; they were smiling, laughing, having a great night out with their husbands and families. After all, isn’t that how life is meant to be? They were the center of attention on Mother’s Day. It was their night to celebrate, but I didn’t feel much like celebrating with them.
I spent a lot of that night just looking around the room at all the other women, staring and admiring the clothes they wore, how their hair was done so nicely and how beautiful they all looked. Most of them were older than me, and yet they were living the life I wanted to live. They looked the way I wanted to look. They smiled the way I wanted to smile.
And here I was, twenty-six years old with two beautiful children and a gorgeous husband, wearing a size 26: so fat that I struggled to walk, carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.
As I looked at their faces, something inside of me clicked. From that precise moment I knew I had to change my life. I knew that I deserved to smile and laugh just like them. I wanted to look and feel gorgeous, no matter what I had on. I just wanted to be part of the real world and most of all, I wanted to live a normal life. No more huffing and puffing and no more sadness — I wanted the life I’d never had.
People treated me very differently when I was obese; they’d look at me with pity or laugh at me. I was never treated as an equal and it destroyed me, slowly eating away at my confidence.
Jason and I barely spoke in the car going home that night — my mind was too busy dwelling on the changes I was going to make. So many things were going through my head.
We got into bed and Jason fell asleep straightaway, but not me. I lay there for hours wondering about the future I longed to have. There was something stirring deep down inside me — and it wasn’t food! I knew that when I got out of bed the next morning, the steps I took would be the first toward a new me. My life was going to change — and it did.
Excerpted from “The Clothesline Diet” by Karen Gatt with Sue Smethurst. © 2010 Harlequin.
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