24 May, 2024

Maintaining a healthy weight for your height is an essential part of any breast cancer prevention journey. Studies show that there is around a 30% increase in the risk of breast cancer in obese postmenopausal women.

However, anyone who has ever struggled with their weight will know that it is rarely ever as simple as just eating healthier. Unhealthy weight gain can be a symptom of things like a lack of self-esteem or a negative relationship with food.

Breast Cancer UK spoke to Sarah Jane Clark about her journey to overcome unhealthy eating by making sustainable lifestyle changes. After turning her life around, the Swindon-based NHS mental health worker says that she feels better in her 50s than she’d ever felt in her life.

‘The doctor said I wouldn’t live to see 40’

“Nowadays, body image is dealt with a lot more sensitively in our society, but it wasn’t like that when I was younger. A lot of the unhealthy eating habits I had stemmed from my experience during puberty.

“By the age of 11, I had already developed into my adult body. I was much taller and curvier than my peers. This wasn’t helped by the fact that my grandma and mum were both bakers, so there were always sugary treats nearby.

“I tried to overcome the weight gain with fad diets, but they never worked because they weren’t sustainable. I’d then take out my frustration by eating more. Food became an addiction. I’d gotten used to being a heavy person, so being overweight didn’t bother me as much as it did when I was a teenager. The thing that caused me to spring into action was the impact it was having on my health. Especially, when my period stopped at the age of 24.

“I went to go and see a doctor and the first thing they asked me to do was to step on a scale. I knew that I was overweight, but I thought that I was around 15 stone (95kg). It turned out that I actually weighed 22 stone (140kg).

“I instantly turned to the doctor to see what she’d say, and the words that came out of her mouth changed my life. She told me that I was killing myself and that I wouldn’t make it to 40 if I continued on the path I was on.

‘Prevention became my motivation’

“After that, everything became a blur. All I remember hearing was that the longer I stayed at that weight, the more likely it was that I’d develop diseases like breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, or have a stroke. Prevention became my motivation for getting better.

“Every time I tried to lose weight before that it was for all the wrong reasons. It came from wanting to look like other people. This time, it came from wanting to be healthier and reduce my risk of disease.

‘This one little change made such a difference’

“I started with baby steps. Instead of running to the gym or jumping on another fad diet, I went for walks. They were only 30 minutes, and I took them at night because I didn’t want anyone to see me, but it was a start.

“I was exhausted after the first walk, but I kept on going. Gradually, the walks stopped tiring me out, and I felt much fitter. I couldn’t believe this one little change made such a difference in such little time.

“The long-term rewards of being healthy are better than the short-term relief of binge eating. I was hooked! It wasn’t long before I started looking for other parts of my lifestyle that I could change. I swapped out Coca-Cola for water and sugary snacks for fruits, and four years ago, I gave up alcohol.

‘Don’t aim for perfection, aim for consistency’

“I didn’t try to change everything all at once or overhaul my life with an unrealistic New Year’s resolution. I changed one thing at a time. These healthy habits eventually built up into a sustainable lifestyle, and the weight loss came as a byproduct of that.

“Today, I’ve completed over 50 half marathons and four full marathons. But I didn’t start running until I was 40 years old. I also do a lot of strength training now because of its health benefits for women’s muscle mass and bone density as we age.

“My health transformation looks remarkable on paper, but there isn’t anything remarkable about me. I’m just a normal person. I’m not a super athlete like Paula Radcliffe or Kelly Holmes. But I am proof that you can achieve something if you set your mind to something.

“The most important thing is not to try to change everything at once. You get overwhelmed and you have to start all over again. Instead, aim to change one little thing at a time. Don’t aim for perfection; aim for consistency because consistency wins every time.”

Read more about the steps you can take to manage your weight and reduce your risk of breast cancer, check out our weight and breast cancer page.

Follow Sarah Jane’s journey on her Step By Step page on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.

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