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Weight Loss & Fitness After Bowel Cancer
Cancer Treatment Made Me Pile On the Pounds
I had always been a fairly active person and always quite slim. Yet when treatment began, things soon changed.
My bowel surgery meant I couldn’t eat any fibre – I had to avoid fruit and vegetables and eat only starchy foods. Alongside the extremely large dose of steroids I gained a huge amount of weight. Of course, at the time I couldn’t worry about it. I had to put the treatment first.
After cancer, I faced months and years of learning how to deal with horrible side effects. I wasn’t prepared for the lifelong complications that results after treatment for bowel cancer.
Psychologically, when all the NHS appointments stopped I was expecting to feel elated and cured. But I felt
exhausted, angry, depressed, tearful, and generally very low. I was very surprised to hit rock bottom, left to try and pick up the pieces of what on earth had happened.
Having always been a very positive strong person… to feel this low was a very strange place to be in and one that has taken years to dig myself out of.
Three years after cancer and I was still feeling unattractive. I felt I had lost my personality and I also struggled with fatigue.
So I booked a special holiday to Mexico. It would provide the motivation to shift the weight: to fit into a bikini and feel confident again.
And so I commenced the four month journey of fitness and lifestyle changes.
I decided to invest in a Personal Trainer at my local gym. I researched all the trainers and looked for someone that specialised in fat loss. I was looking for a trainer to work me hard and push me when I had nothing else to give. I met Tom and committed to two sessions a week for three months, just in time for the holiday.
The Food Review
Due to my surgery I still have to be cautious with what I eat – it is difficult to make any changes at all. Together, we reviewed what I was eating after completing a food diary for a week. I wasn’t looking for a strict calorie controlled diet. Restricting myself drastically wouldn’t have made me happy – I love my food!
Increasing my protein and cutting out sugary breakfast cereals was the biggest change. I also focused on eating the correct food types at the right time of day i.e. eating carbohydrates mostly after a heavy gym session. I eat a balanced diet six days a week, with one relaxed day to allow my treats (pizza & ice-cream!)
Tom also advised me to introduce mid-morning & mid-afternoon healthy snacks to keep my body fuelled. I used to eat breakfast at six AM and then lunch at 1PM. This was far was too long a gap so by introducing more snacks I am keeping my body fuelled. Technically I now eat more food!
I was always someone that did ten minutes of exercise on six different pieces of equipment and never saw any improvements. So I knew things needed to change.
Tom linked me up with a heart rate strap (Polar) and I trained by my heart rate. In order to burn fat I needed to peak my heart rate and then let it recover & repeat. At the beginning when my fitness was poor, this basically meant I trained hard for one minute and then recovered for one minute. I’d keep on repeating over the hour session. Over time the one minute training increased & the recovery time reduced.
Tom also introduced me to exercises that use my whole body rather than sitting on equipment. I used exercises such as squats, lunges, and running on the spot. We then brought in equipment such as battle ropes and kettle bells.
At first I had my two weekly sessions with Tom and one other gym session by myself. As my fitness improved I tried out some of the classes at the gym: spinning, circuits & body attack. It’s no good doing the same routine day in day out if you are not seeing any changes. The different forms of exercise shocked my body which again helped the weight loss.
How Did I Find It?
If you’re serious about making changes it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, commitment and continuity.
When I started, the first two months were extremely hard, my muscles and bones ached for days. My chemo riddled body struggled but being a determined person I continued. Yes, I was slightly concerned it was going to bring on a terrible bought of fatigue but I kept going and made sure I rested on my recovery days.
Six weeks in, I was enjoying it much more and encouraged by seeing results. The changes were paying off.
Three months in and I had lost a significant amount of weight, and felt loads better. I was awake, stronger, and less wobbly.
The most important thing of all: I felt alive and confident. I went to Mexico and felt the best I had in years -since way before my surgery & chemo. It was the first holiday outing for the scars too! I even continued with the gym workouts whilst on holiday, something I have never done.
After six months & three dress sizes smaller I felt amazing. Having been told by the GP I was likely to have fatigue for life, it has now gone! Occasionally I have a sofa 24 hours but that’s normally my fault for training too hard now.
My fitness is significantly improved too –I am regularly at the gym 5-6 times a week, through choice!
A year on from the start of the fitness journey and now my training has changed. I no longer need to lose weight, I now strength train – lift heavy stuff! Again, this is an area I never thought I would be interested in. Yet seeing changes in the strength of my body is extremely rewarding. After all, after cancer and being given a second opportunity at life, I feel I owe my body a healthy strong lifestyle.
Don’t underestimate how good it feels to finally feel alive, alert and healthy again. Keeping myself healthy and happy is now my life goal. It helps to focus more on myself and less on the negative. And it keeps my mind off things that I can’t change.
Looking back, I feel proud of myself and my body and all it has been through. I would love to encourage others and hope my journey will.
I can look forward now.
Kathryn Dugdale-Evans was diagnosed with bowel cancer nearly five years ago, aged 33. She had bowel surgery resulting in a temporary ileostomy & commenced 7 months of Chemotherapy. Her ileostomy was reversed the following year.
And here are Kathryn's before and after photos. Inspiring much?
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