"You're never too young - or too big - to do something about it."
At 22, Sam Weaver was a new mum and had just gotten married. Her wedding photos depict a smiling bride in a beautiful white gown. But at 144kg, Sam was the heaviest she had ever been. "Everything was perfect," she says. "But I was still really unhappy with myself."
Sam recently put her wedding dress back on, but this time, her three-year-old daughter could fit inside it with her. Now 24, she has lost 65kg in the last two years and weighs less than when she did when she was 14.
"Absolutely everything is easier," she says. "I feel my age. I feel happy. I feel healthy."
Sam struggled with her weight since puberty, but the number on the scales reached a critical juncture when she became pregnant. This was also around the same time that her father was injured when crushed by a chimney in the September 2010 Christchurch earthquake.
Her doctor advised of her increased risk of diseases like diabetes and suggested gastric banding as a solution. But Sam wanted to lose weight the old fashioned way: portion control and exercise.
In her newborn daughter she found the motivation she had previously lacked. "I grew up on a farm with awesome parents," she explains. "I wanted to be that mum, not the one who had to sit on the sidelines." With the support of her husband, Sam felt ready to make the changes necessary to reach her goal weight of 70kg, and joined Weight Watchers.
Sam's perseverance is remarkable when one considers what she overcame to become the "fun mum" she wanted to be for her daughter. Like many New Zealanders, she battles anxiety and depression and says that, before slimming down, she hardly left the house.
When she decided to lose weight, she was faced with the prospect of squeezing her 144kg self into a swimsuit: knee problems meant aqua aerobics was her only exercise option initially.
When she graduated from pool to footpath, Sam's maiden outing around Christchurch's Hagley Park took her two hours. The same trip now takes her 40 minutes, but it wasn't knee pain that made her first steps towards a healthier lifestyle so excruciating. Passers-by abused her for her efforts, and even threw drinks at her. Sam says that what made the ordeal even worse was that she was pushing her baby in a pram at the time.
Fat hatred being one of the last bastions of socially acceptable prejudice, it was not the first time she had been on the receiving end of such behaviour. "Because you're fat, it's okay for you to be treated like crap," she says. "But I didn't lose weight to fit in. I did it so I'd be healthy and happy."
"You've got to realise you're doing it for yourself and that it doesn't matter what other people think."
Despite these experiences, Sam calls exercise "the best antidepressant". She goes for three six to 10 km walks a week and does exercise videos from YouTube at home with her daughter - this is one of her faves. She rarely drives, preferring to walk most places. And these days, she doesn't get strangers commenting on her size.
Sam's eating habits have also radically changed. Historically not a breakfast eater, it is now her biggest meal of the day. She has regular snacks and enjoys transforming old favourite recipes into healthier versions. She explains the key is balance and moderation, because a mentality of deprivation leads to a cycle of binging and starving. "I still eat chocolate every day," she says. "But it's a fun-sized bar, not a whole block."
Since getting down to a size 12, Sam has discovered an enthusiasm for fashion she never knew she had. As a teenager shopping with friends, she would have to buy herself a handbag. Today, she doesn't even need to try clothes on to know they will fit her. "I dress pretty funky now," she says. "I'm making up for lost time."
Sam's new life has not come without cost. Though her social anxiety has diminished, she remains self-conscious about excess skin on her arms and legs - a disheartening side effect of losing almost half her body weight. She says it is a cruel irony that, had she had gastric banding surgery, she would have been more eligible for government-funded skin removal surgery. To go private, she says it would cost her $51,000.
But Sam's weight loss has also opened up opportunities. She recently became a Weight Watchers leader and now supports others whose struggles she can intimately relate to. She says her biggest motto is 'positivity is going to get positive results' and she has a zero tolerance policy for negativity during the meetings she hosts.
Instead, she encourages participants to remember where they've come from, and where they're going. "We need to be kind to ourselves," she says.
Sam's recipe for healthy brownies
400g kidney beans, well-rinsed
3 Tbsp apple puree
½ cup cocoa
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1/3 cup raw sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
40 g dark chocolate chips
Put all ingredients except the chocolate chips into a food processor and blend until extremely smooth. Put mixture into a lightly-oiled baking dish and sprinkle with the chocolate chips. Bake at 180 degree Celsius for 20 minutes. Leave to cool completely before cutting into 24 pieces.
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