Occupational therapist plans to run half marathon after shedding eight and a half stones
TIPPING the scales at over 19 stone, the last thing Mariska Taylor could ever imagine herself doing was heading out for an invigorating, heart thumping, sweat lashing jog.
Not that she didn’t want to lose weight and get fit. But her half-hearted attempts at shaping up all tended to end the same way – a quick burst of cutting back and then, fed up with dieting, back to all the old habits.
But as she watched her dad slowly recover from a serious stroke, Mariska realised she needed to take her own health matters in hand.
Now she’s preparing to hit the road running in her first half marathon, incredibly as half the woman she once was, and countless times fitter than she’s ever been.
For in less than a couple of years of DIY dieting and exercising – Mariska followed her own weight loss programme of healthy eating and fitness – the NHS occupational therapist has shed an incredible eight and a half stone of excess baggage.
Currently tipping the scales at a super slim ten and a half stones, she’s dramatically slashed her body mass index, the figure which indicates just how heavy a person is for their height, from a “very severely obese” rate of 42, to a normal, healthy figure of 24.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for someone who once found it a challenge to exercise at all. And all the more impressive that she’s done it without spending fortunes on expensive diet products or slimming classes.
“Unfortunately there’s no magic wand,” she laughs. “I wish I could say I’ve found a miracle cure for weight loss, but it really is just a case of hard work and exercise.
“It’s as simple as that.”
The weight had crept on over the years – a perfect storm of large portion sizes and bad choices.
“From a significant age I was quite overweight,” she recalls. “I had a few bad habits, crisps, cakes and chocolate, the usual kinds of things.
“I just ate whatever I felt like I wanted to eat. Sometimes it would be things that were healthy enough, other times they weren’t. But on reflection now, I’d say my diet was high in calories and even simple things like portions were much bigger than they should be.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t like healthy food, but the amount I was eating was just far too high.”
Her attempts at joining slimming giant Weightwatchers ended abruptly when she realised she loathed having to stand on the scales at her weekly meeting. “It was too embarrassing to be weighed in front of the leader,” admits Mariska, 35, of Leith. “I hated it and I hated the meetings where people were talking about weight.
“I was at my largest then and really didn’t like being in that environment.”
And while she knew people who had opted for a gastric band to control their eating, she wanted to find her own diet solution. It was her father’s stroke six years ago that made her think seriously about her own health and how she would cope if she needed the kind of intensive care that he required. “He’s still affected by it and I got to thinking that it could be my fate and I didn’t want that to happen to me.
“I got to the stage of rather than just accepting that I was the size I was, to realising I was quite unhappy and that I should do something about it. I needed to change.”
She spent hours researching healthy eating suggestions on the internet and taught herself how to analyse food labels. “It’s actually really straight forward things, like when something says ‘serves two’ it actually means it’s for two people and you’re not really supposed to eat it all yourself,” she laughs.
“I just tried to eat the right portion size, increased the amount of fruit and vegetables I ate and still allowed myself a few treats so I wasn’t deprived.”
But healthy eating was just half the battle. And Mariska knew she had to up her activity levels to really make a difference. “I started off walking around the area where I live and then joined the gym.”
She hit the treadmill and gradually built up. “It was difficult, I’d never really run before and it takes a while for your body and your mind to get used to it. Getting your head into it is really important, so you’re not thinking ‘if I don’t stop I’ll keel over and die’ and just keep going instead.
“I now do a lot of interval training – high speeds for short periods of time – which actually means that I can then run for a longer time easier.”
The weight dropped off steadily and Mariska found herself starting to believe she could do what she’d never before imagined – run a half marathon.
Next Sunday she’ll be among 23,000 runners taking part in the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow – something that two years ago seemed impossible.
And while she’s nearly half the woman she once was, losing weight has had an impact at work, too, where part of her role as an occupational therapist at a psychiatric hospital in Perth often means asking patients to follow healthy eating plans, something which previously was obvious she was not managing to do herself.
“I feel now that I can be useful to the patients and support them as they lose weight and not feel like I’m being a bit of a hypocrite, telling them what to do but being overweight myself.
“Now, at least, I tell them that it can be done.”