struggling with weight issues can be tough ON ANYBODY: one woman’s journey from bulimia to babe
A few extra pounds of fat spilling over a pair of tight jeans are enough to make any woman feel sad and depressed. Weight is tough to keep in check, particularly in China. For many foreigners, keeping an elegant shape is a near constant battle—the fat gained when moving to another country, all-too-common. And so it proved for Debora, a 29 year-old from Brazil now living in Dongguan who has long had a traumatic relationship with her weight. Arriving in China this January to work for a food supplier for Starbuck’s, Debora soon started piling on the pounds. Staying slim and living healthily in China is not easy and it gets harder when you work inside the food industry. Would it ever be possible for Debora to lose weight and feel better about herself?
“It was always hard for me,” she says. “I started my first diet when I was 12, the scales showed 75 kilograms, and all my classmates laughed at me in physical education class. It’s not that I was skinny before, but it was the first time I noticed I was different to other girls my age.” As a teenager, Debora lived for losing weight: buying fitness magazines, following every miracle diet she could find, and dreaming the boys looked at her the way they looked at the other girls. She couldn’t shed a single pound. “I was always the funny fat friend that people love to have around. But yeah, only ever a friend. No guys were interested in me.”
By the time she reached 16, she weighed 85 kilograms. She wanted to feel thin and sexy, but instead she felt like the ugliest girl in the world; she soon became anorexic. Anorexia is a particularly vicious disease and it can destroy people lives and young girls are particularly susceptible. Graciane Delfim, a Brazilian psychologist working in Dongguan says, “Anorexia is a serious eating disorder that affects men and women of all ages, especially girls during their teen years. The person develops a strong desire to be thin, loses the ability to see their body the way it is, and expresses a mortal fear of gaining weight.” It took its toll on Debora and started to damage her life: “I completely stopped eating but still spent four hours in the gym every day. I was totally insane. People would try to tell me I was going crazy but I felt I was right,” she says.
During those few months she dropped to 55 kilograms, but she still felt fat and guilty when she looked in the mirror. She took to making herself sick so that she would lose weight that way: “For two years I would stuff myself until I was in pain. Later I would go to the bathroom and force my fingers down my throat to violently vomit. They were dark days living as a bulimic and it took me years to get rid of the problem. Now I can see I was very sick.” These two years damaged Debora’s body so much that she has serious stomach problems to this day.
The battle plan
Her move to Dongguan, initially at least, didn’t help. The job involves food training, baking, tasting new products, and when not facing food at the factory, she attends food shows. The opportunity to eat is almost constant. After so many cake, bread, and croissant tasting sessions, as well as trying an array of Chinese cuisine, she had ballooned by 16 kilograms in just five months, reaching 88 kilograms in May. Debora started panicking, scared of going back to her most critical condition when she was 98 kilograms: “I became a giant whale hiding myself between black clothes and ice-cream buckets”. She needed to turn things around. Fortunately, she had a battle plan. Deciding to change her habits completely, the aim was not just to lose weight, but to live a much healthier life. For Debora, the journey started mid-July. “I know that my relationship with food has never been good. Feeling fat can destroy you. It seeps into the soul, causes depression, and changes the way you see the world.” Nevertheless, Debora was determined, “I was going to be 30 this year. It was time to change. Whatever it was going to take, well that was what I was going to do,” she says.
The first step was changing her eating habits. Debora followed a detox diet for the first two weeks of her journey, created by Brazilian nutritionist Francielle Rech. “The idea is to cleanse her body,” said Rech. “Detoxing is a very important process. After those two weeks, her body will accept the fixed diet better and her metabolism will work faster.” Debora was not allowed to eat any kind of protein, such as meat, eggs, or milk. Nothing processed was allowed either, nor caffeine, sweeteners, or gluten. “I had to drink green juice every morning; I didn’t like it at all,” she says. The first month was all about incorporating better eating habits into her routine, normalizing them.
During the second month, Debora started with a personal trainer and a beautician. The idea was that three different professionals would help motivate her, keep her disciplined and, offer support when needed. “Having a full team following my steps has given me a lot more drive”, she says. Ukrainian personal trainer, Alex Liesnoi has been training with Debora three times per week. “After two months training, we can see good improvements. She has been able to do some heavy weight exercises, mixing it with cardio in alternating circles. She never misses our late trainings, no matter how tired she is. The first time we met, I could sense some fear. Now she’s a stronger woman, a fighter who won’t stop until she gets what she wants.”
Brazilian beautician, Rejane Guasso has also been seeing Debora twice a week. The objective is to reduce the fat cells in her body using a range of technologies. “These technologies complement the diet and exercise. They bring great results in modeling shape,” explains Guasso. Debora sees the beauty treatment as an extra boost for her self-esteem: “Spending an hour in the clinic every session made me feel I’m taking care of myself, and doing something good for my body.”
Patience and balance
The three month program finished on October 15, Debora’s 30th birthday: “All the hard work paid off and the whole process has been the perfect birthday present. I am 30 and I feel beautiful,” she says. Adding, “Changing my habits has helped me lose around 10 kilograms. Plus it helped me sleep better and breathe better. I feel less headaches and the pain in my stomach has reduced.” On being asked why she was successful this time, unlike before, she said the key factor was the combination of several different treatments: a nutritionist, beautician, and personal trainer. “Having three professionals following up gave me a lot of confidence to not give up and always remember that health comes first.”
She remembers all the struggles she had over the years: losing weight too fast, but then putting it back on even faster. Always, it was a case of eating too much or not enough. She could never follow a healthy diet, instead taking it too radical extremes. Now she believes the secret is simply a case of finding a balance. “I know I’m not perfect yet. But being extreme never worked for me and I realize that now. I was never patient enough with myself and my body,” she says.
After three months hard work, Debora feels like a new woman and is satisfied with the personal changes in her life, and feels grateful to have started something. She doesn’t want to stop. Three months is only the beginning. A perfect balance of health and happiness can’t be achieved in three months alone, but is the right start. “For the first time in my life, I don’t have an ideal weight goal. My goal now is to keep this rhythm and find the long term balance that I’ve always wished for in my life,” she says. The bulimic teenager lacking in self confidence has all but disappeared, and Debora looks and feels better than ever. And so it seems that with the right attitude and a lot of perseverance anyone can turn their life around.