Yes, be big and beautiful, but I know the cost that comes later

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Consider this a letter from your future self, written with love and empathy, not judgment, but containing important warnings that I hope you will heed, relating to your physical and emotional health.

When I see pictures of you and read what you have to say about body confidence — a big girl in a world where skinny remains the Holy Grail — it is like going back two decades in time and rediscovering my younger, equally feisty self.

I, too, was proud of my curves back then. And don’t misunderstand me. Unlike the vile fat-shamers who have come out of the woodwork to hurl vicious abuse at you, I think your hourglass figure — voluptuous hips and bust with a slender waist — is truly beautiful.

Honey is pictured above. When I see pictures of you and read what you have to say about body confidence — a big girl in a world where skinny remains the Holy Grail — it is like going back two decades in time and rediscovering my younger, equally feisty self, writes journalist Alice Dogruyol

Honey is pictured above. When I see pictures of you and read what you have to say about body confidence — a big girl in a world where skinny remains the Holy Grail — it is like going back two decades in time and rediscovering my younger, equally feisty self, writes journalist Alice Dogruyol

In fact, looking at images of you in bikinis, posted on Instagram, in stark contrast with some of the cruel commenters, I don’t see a ‘little hog’ but a gorgeous, Rubenesque young woman with the confidence to buck trends while flicking two fingers at the haters.

I’ve read that you are a size 18, while at your age I was a slightly slimmer size 16. However, the weight can really creep on as you get older, as happened with me. 

Indeed, even skinny minnies sometimes fall victim to the dreaded middle-age spread. It is also much harder to lose — so, if you carry on as you are, you are likely to get bigger.

I’ve read that you are a size 18, while at your age I was a slightly slimmer size 16. However, the weight can really creep on as you get older, as happened with me, writes Alice Dogruyol, pictured above after losing 5½st

I’ve read that you are a size 18, while at your age I was a slightly slimmer size 16. However, the weight can really creep on as you get older, as happened with me, writes Alice Dogruyol, pictured above after losing 5½st

I agree with you that diets can be toxic but there is also a lot of new scientific advice around that really helped me. Strategies such as intermittent fasting have worked wonders.

At my heaviest, two-and-a-half years ago, I weighed 20st 7lb, was a size 22-24 and had a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 43.5, which put me in the severely obese category.

After I turned 40, tests also revealed that both my cholesterol and my blood sugar were at the very top of the normal range and, without a change in diet and considerable weight loss, would become dangerously high.

This would increase my risk of both heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, the condition linked to a much higher mortality rate from Covid-19. Terrifyingly, about a third of those who have lost their lives to coronavirus were diabetic.

Likewise, blood analysis via a C-reactive protein (CRP) test showed that my inflammation levels were veering too high, greatly increasing my risk of developing coronary artery disease and, in turn, having a heart attack.

It’s all scary stuff to confront for a woman only just into middle age. But the wake-up call that finally triggered my drastic diet overhaul — ditching cakes and biscuits, pizza and pasta — came six months after my 40th birthday.

For as long as I can remember, becoming a mum has been my greatest ambition in life — I suffered three miscarriages in my late 30s — so when a fertility doctor told me my chances of a successful pregnancy would be much improved if I drastically reduced my BMI, at last I sat up and listened.

The thought that being overweight, coupled with my relatively advanced age, might rob me of the chance of having a family provided all the impetus I needed.

The irony of having been told my whole life that I had ‘childbearing hips’ (which, of course, is no predictor of success when it comes to motherhood) was not lost on me.

I’ve since been on a strict diet — cutting out all carbohydrates, sugar and alcohol — and lost 5st 7lb.

I’d like to lose another couple of stone. And while at 13st I’d still be considered heavy by many people’s standards, I think it would be a good weight for my 5ft 9in frame to carry a baby.

Despite the huge incentive I have to succeed, let me tell you, it has not been easy.

It is hard to imagine at your age — in my early 20s I found it easy to shed a few pounds — but as you age and your metabolism slows, losing weight takes serious willpower.

I wish I could go back in time to my early 20s, when the body finds burning fat easier, and adopt the healthy eating habits I have now.

Calorie conflict: Honey, 23, criticised her parents for urging her to lose weight as a child, as the Mail reported, above

Calorie conflict: Honey, 23, criticised her parents for urging her to lose weight as a child, as the Mail reported, above

As it is, I am 43 and have five tiny embryos — my eggs were extracted and fertilised by my partner’s sperm during six procedures last year — stored in liquid nitrogen in a fertility clinic tank, awaiting the optimal time for transfer to my uterus.

Because of my age and the fact that I will still be clinically overweight, I intend to have just a single embryo implanted at a time — a multiple birth would put too much strain on my body — in hope that one or two will grow into babies.

I am painfully aware that, had I not needed to lose so much weight, this whole process could have begun two years ago and my partner and I could have a family by now.

And obesity has also caused physical problems that have not troubled others of my age.

I know that if I don’t get in better shape in my 40s and maintain it, in another 20 years I’ll be in big trouble physically because of the extra strain on everything, from my back and joints to my vital organs.

These health anxieties are a far cry from a decade ago when I was the poster girl for plus-size women, as you are today.

In 2009, I was Marie Claire magazine’s Curvy Girl, giving advice on how to dress for your body shape. While there is a lot more fashion choice now, it still takes more time and effort to perfect your style when you’re plus-size.

After that, I had a regular column in this newspaper called Big Girl In A Skinny World, in which I shared my woes about finding sarongs big enough to cover my girth and the challenge, for big girls like us, of balancing on five-inch stiletto heels.

Little did I know back then, aged 32, that over the next ten years I would gain another six and a half stone.

However, never one to miss an opportunity, I set up a business, Beauty In Curves, selling jeans I designed which secretly sculpt your figure, making you look at least a size smaller.

I think you’ll agree that even women like us, who appreciate the fuller figure, will raise a toast to that, although alcohol is one of the things I cut out when I embarked on my ‘baby diet’ in early 2018.

While I’m happy to be shrinking —I’m now back to a size 18 — I loathe the fat-shamers and would never judge a person for being overweight.

When I look at a fat person, I think: ‘Oh my god, they must have been through some stress or grief in their life to be that big.’ 

I know that like me — and possibly you — they have been using food like a drug, in an attempt to make themselves feel better.

I began using food aged ten, to cope with the death of my beloved maternal grandmother from cancer.

Granny spent much of her time at our family home in South-West London and was my favourite person in the world. We were all distraught when she died. That was the year I discovered comfort eating.

I would creep downstairs at dead of night, while everyone else was fast asleep, and make myself hot buttered toast with honey. It gave me momentary relief from my deep sadness.

Over the years, whenever life’s stresses — exams, relationship break-ups, financial pressures, family woes — reared their heads, I would turn to food as the perfect antidepressant.

Neither my sisters, my mum nor my dad ever had an issue with their weight. So my parents, like yours, were at their wits’ end and tried everything — including enrolling me at Weigh Watchers when I was 14, just as yours did — to support me, often getting it very wrong.

If I went for a second helping of food at dinner, they would say: ‘I don’t think you really need that.’

Mum even bought a little pig with a sensor on it that she attached to the food cupboard so when it was opened the pig would snort, in the hope of shaming me out of snacking.

Plus-size pride: Alice on holiday aged 34.  Over the years, whenever life's stresses — exams, relationship break-ups, financial pressures, family woes — reared their heads, I would turn to food as the perfect antidepressant

Plus-size pride: Alice on holiday aged 34.  Over the years, whenever life’s stresses — exams, relationship break-ups, financial pressures, family woes — reared their heads, I would turn to food as the perfect antidepressant

As you know, these tactics don’t work. In fact, they make things worse — I would never eat just one or two biscuits when I could polish off a whole packet.

I hear that your mum, film writer Jane Goldman, whose gorgeous Jessica Rabbit figure I aspired to in my early 20s, feels guilty about these approaches now.

I don’t know about you but, to avoid confrontation, I began eating secretly, which made my relationship with food even worse.

I only began dealing with the underlying grief and stress that caused me to overeat in my late 30s, with the help of therapist Marisa Peer and by going through the Hoffman Process, a week-long residential course consisting of eight hours of therapy a day.

Until that point, like you, I was too busy leading my life to the full to dwell on my size — in my early 30s I founded my own PR company, as well as selling my personal brand of jeans for curvy women.

I had the time of my life. From white-water rafting down the Zambezi River to living it up with clients in Las Vegas, my weight didn’t get in the way of anything.

After nursing a broken heart when a relationship with a man ended, aged 30, I fell in love again, with a musician who has now been my partner for seven years.

I hope you, too, are enjoying your glorious youth and will one day find someone who loves you for who you are, curves and all.

But please don’t take the risks with your health and fertility I did.

On top of worrying about becoming a mum and what long-term damage I may have done to my joints and organs, I currently spend too much time googling ‘body-lifts’, a procedure which would get rid of the horrible saggy skin that losing so much weight inevitably leaves behind.

At your age, the skin is more elastic — and if you get down to a healthy BMI now, you are unlikely to have all that excess skin.

However, I know we live in an obesogenic environment — temptation lies in wait everywhere.

From the moment you leave the house, I’m sure that you, like me, are confronted with sugary, carby snacks — from Starbucks to Pret and even WH Smith . . . who can resist the £1 chocolate bars there on the counter?

Even now, when I nip into a supermarket to pick up my healthy fruit and vegetables, it’s a struggle running the gauntlet of chocolate- covered peanuts and doughnuts. I know you have suffered at the hands of trolls posting ugly comments under your pictures, then sending you personal messages asking you out.

You point out that these men would be embarrassed to admit publicly to being attracted to you and I think you’re probably right.

When I was about your age, I dated a man for a few weeks who remarked on how big I was — a size 18. He was an actor so body image was important to him and I wasn’t surprised when he dumped me for a much slimmer girl.

But the other men I have dated or been in serious relationships with have loved me and my body.

I have never been insulted by a boyfriend and wouldn’t have tolerated it for a second — and judging by your kick-ass outlook, I very much doubt you would either.

That’s a good thing. But please don’t let your ‘ambassador for plus-size women’ role blind you, as it did me, to the very real health risks you are running.

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