A severely overweight, bulimic with dangerously high blood pressure, 38-year- old Paula’s doctor said she was a ‘walking time bomb’ for a heart attack or stroke. So the feisty Scotswoman turned to juicing and got her life back. Words by Tamara Pitelen.
“Even when I was three years old, I thought I was fat,” says Dubai expat Paula Hughes.
“There’s a photo of me and my sister when I was three years old. I was in a blue bikini; she was in a red one. I clearly remember what I was thinking as that picture was being taken. I was thinking that I didn’t want the photo taken because I looked fat in my bikini.
“My sister was a year older but I grew faster so we looked like twins. Then I overtook her so I was always called ‘the big one’. I think you become that self-fulfilling prophecy, you become what people imprint on you.” Growing up in a big Scottish family, Paula says she was always overfed. “You go back for seconds and then you have Gran’s homemade pudding at the end so you stuff your face, clear your plate so you can have pudding. It’s all about food; my family is still all about food. It was all homemade cooking, cakes, biscuits and indulgences that people give you as a child.
“I would eat until I was literally sick. No one ever stepped in to stop me and I was the kind of child that ‘if you give it to me, fine, I’ll eat it till I’m ill’.”
Another trigger for a life as a comfort eater came in the lead up to her parents getting divorced. Paula says if her parents were fighting her mum would say, ‘come on girls, get something from the sweetie tin and go to your rooms.’
“As a result I now associate things that upset me with sweet foods.” A realisation Paula made recently with the help of a psychologist.
Even so, Paula says she always had a predisposition to gravitate towards food and excess.
“I was into food from very young; I always ate more than I should have done. Even with things like a cup of tea, other people would have one sugar; I’d have four or five teaspoons. I think it was a rebellious thing.”
Using food as a weapon soon turned into full-blown eating disorders. “I’ve suffered from bulimia since I was 13 and even thought you have peaks and troughs with it, it’s with you for the rest of your life.
“At 15, I starved myself in protest with my parents and did obsessive aerobics exercise. I lived on water for a week, it took a friend to say to me, ‘your parents haven’t even noticed, just eat for goodness.’ That was quite a momentous time in my childhood but it was connected to change; my parents had divorced.
“Bulimia is a control thing. The only thing you can control is what you eat but to eat a massive amount of food then to purge it is really disgusting when you think about it. It’s easy to use food as a weapon but you only hurt yourself.”
One side effect of the bulimia was her teeth rotting away from the stomach acid. Now, her whole upper row of teeth is veneers. By age 23 Paula weighed 135kgs (21 stone) and her dress size was a UK 24-26.
Over the next 15 years her weight yo- yoed, it peaked at 135 kgs again in her late 20s and for a third time in her early 30s, a year after she first came to Dubai in 2003.
Paula says the pattern was that her weight would increase with life changes, for example, a change in relationship status or moving to a different country. Over the years she tried myriad ways to lose weight.
“The worst was diet pills that had amphetamine. They were horrific. You got them on prescription in the UK. They said, ‘don’t worry about dieting; these pills will increase your metabolism.’ After three days I couldn’t sleep, function or relax, and I didn’t lose any weight.”
Paula also tried the cabbage soup diet, Slimfast, Weight Watchers, to name but a few. “Another one was Obesity Helpline,
which was powdered drinks of milkshakes and soups and a weigh in every week where you had to urinate on a piece of paper to prove you had ketones in your body and hadn’t cheated. I went mental on that. I did lose weight but as soon as you stop, you gain it all back because you haven’t dealt with the root problem; you’re only addressing the outcome.”
It wasn’t until Paula changed focus from purely what was going into her mouth to what was going on in her head that she started making progress.
IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD
“When I started seeing a psychologist I realised my weight isn’t just about what I put in my mouth. I spent about two years in that psychologist’s clinic sobbing my heart out. Every little detail comes out, warts and all and if you don’t let it, there’s no point going.
“I also tried hypnotherapy and regression therapy, which has so many benefits, that’s when I remembered the scene on the beach when I was three and getting my photo taken. I found that photo later and everything clicked into place. So, yes, there have been a few ‘Aha’ moments of self-awareness, especially in the last two years.”
When Paula hit her highest weight in Dubai in 2004, she was having a Redbull for breakfast then drinking diet Coke all day at work.
“Over the years I’ve had at least a litre and a half of diet Coke always on my desk. Then I’d go out in the evening and drink vodka with diet Coke and eat enough high fat, high carb fast food for four people. It was layer upon layer of body abuse. I was a diet Coke addict. Since then I’ve read about aspartame poisoning and toxicity and I look back and think, ‘how am I still alive?’
DO OR DIE
In 2011, came the body blow from her doctor. “She told me, ‘you’re a walking time bomb, you could suffer stroke or heart attack at any time.’
“My blood pressure was 159 over 99. I wasn’t exercising and my diet was high sodium and high fat. My doctor said, ‘you need to go on medication.’ I was 38 and I knew that if I went on medication, I was charting a course for the rest of my life of more medication. I was sobbing in the doctor’s office saying, ‘no, I’m not taking medication,’ she said, ‘you have to, to save your life.’
“Medication is a slippery slope, you take one type and it has a side effect so you need another pill to tackle the side effects of the first pill and before you know it, you’re taking handfuls a day. I don’t want to be like that. Plus, the side effects are things like weight gain, headaches, nausea.
“I’d also just signed up to do a bootcamp course. The doctor said, ‘you can’t do bootcamp with blood pressure like this.’ So she agreed to take the lowest dose of medication and with the incredible support of her friends, Paula started exercising and changing her eating patterns.
“A friend had given me a book on juicing so I made a half-hearted effort. I’d drink a couple of juices a day but still eat take-away at night. I was also doing bootcamp though so I lost about 10 kilos in five months.”
But then another challenge hit. During what should have been a routine vitamin D injection, the needle accidentally hit a nerve leaving Paula paralysed in her left leg and in severe pain.
“I was at home, completely depressed, couldn’t move… I knew I had to heal this nerve and fix myself from the inside out. That was the start of really getting into juicing and natural foods.
I read a book on juicing by Jason Vale that changed everything for me; he talks about what the stuff you’re eating and drinking does to your body and why you’re addicted to it. He also talks about how the food industry does go out of its way to addict you and keep you weak. Then I booked one of his juicing bootcamp retreats in Turkey and that was where I was reborn.
“We’d get up at 6am, do a meditation or yoga session, then do 45 minutes of exercise like bums and tums or stretching, then have a shot of green super juice, then go on a two hour walk, then come back for the first juice, then there would be a lecture, more juicing, more exercise, some relaxation. I was doing five hours of exercise a day. I lost about five kilograms in a week. It was my first time proper detox and day three was horrendous, I spent the day crying and emotional but on day four I bounced out of bed before the alarm and I honestly felt reborn that day.”
DUBAI JUICE LADY
Fast forward a few months and Paula is a juicing convert and 50 kgs lighter than her highest weight. She’s alson off the medication and her blood pressure is normal.
“Juices make me feel wonderful, it’s like they switch off the feelings associated with bulimia. When I go off juicing for a while, the danger sign is when I make a coffee with sugar at work, that’s a sign I’m entering a downward spiral. The combination of caffeine and sugar seem to trigger something.
“Juicing is so easy, it fits into my lifestyle and it’s led to an interest in raw food so juicing has facilitated this wider knowledge of nutrition. Even if you just have one juice a day, it’s an intense nutrient hit. My skin is better and my eyes are clearer. And I can fix all sorts of daily ailments, like water retention. Say you just get off a plane and you’re a bit bloated, a juice with fennel, celery, ginger, and pineapple will sort that out; they’re a magnet for the nasty stuff and they detox your body.
Juicing, says Paula, has given her back her life as well as given her a life purpose. She’s now studying to be a natural juice therapist and wants to make a career out of teaching others about the benefits of juicing.
“I went to Jason Vale’s juicing academy last year and I’m doing his natural juice therapist course, that’s a self-study certification. It’s the only course in the world certified by the Complementary Medical Association. It’s heavy going, lots of biology and anatomy but it’s the key to my dream of going full time with juicing as a career.
Now, Paula wants to lose another seven kilos but she thinks part of that process will involve getting back into a psychologist’s or hypnotherapist’s chair in order to finish dealing with the emotional root causes of her long-term weight issues but she believes that her first-hand experience of the complex causality of severe eating disorders and obesity issues means that she can understand better than anyone the battles of the chronically overweight.
“My plans are to help people empower themselves. I want to teach people they don’t need pharmaceutical medications to live their life. Traditional doctors have a vital role in medical situations but there are so many conditions where a natural approach can be more successful and of course preventing those conditions in the first place is the best outcome.”
FIVE DAY JUICE FAST
Is juicing really so great? The Awakenings team – Asma, Tam and Adrian – gave it the ‘suck it and see test’. Here’s what happened…
Three of us – a male and two females – did Jason’s Vale’s annual Spring Clean five day juice fast, what happened? All three of us lost about 3.5kgs each; all of us were regularly hungry and all of us needed to eat the “if you need it” banana every day. (Yes Jason Vale, we needed it!)
On the upside… obvious benefits besides weight-loss were much improved skin and we’ve all maintained an element of juicing into our lives since then. The two of us who used to drink coffee and black tea have stayed off it since doing the fast – eight weeks at time of writing – and we feel great for that. As of four weeks later, we’d all kept the weight off and Adrian (the male guinea pig) had even lost another two kilos. Six weeks later though, a couple of kilos had crept back.
On the downside… Asma suffered headaches through the fast, felt oddly cold and said her teeth
felt coated. For Tam, a predisposition to candida (thrush) was triggered from all the high-sugar fruit
like pineapple, apples and banana. We suspect they were also the cause of severe tooth problems for Adrian, which saw him spend five days off work and pay a AED 15,000 dental bill when one of his back teeth cracked right down the middle. Did the juice sugars exacerbate an already weakened tooth? We’ll never know but we’re highly suspicious and now focus on vegetable juicing as opposed to fruit juices. In summary… we all have a new love of juicing. It’s easy and quick and an effective way to get a big dose of nutrients into your system quick. We all now include juicing in our daily lives but have tweaked the recipes to suite our individual body types and conditions.
ANSWERING THE JUICE CRITICS
Dubai’s juice lady Paula Hughes addresses some of the most common criticisms of juicing…
1. But you’re losing all the fibre – you should eat the whole apple not only the juice
The fibre from fruit and vegetables that your body needs are the water soluble microfibres that can be absorbed by our bodies. Juice retains these microfibres and those are the ones that you want. Basically the juicer is doing a lot of the work of your digestive system. When you put fruit and vege in the chute, the machine extracts the nutrients and discards the rest. That’s exactly what your digestive system does; extracts the nutrients, the fats, the proteins, etc that it needs to heal and run your body and expels what it doesn’t need through the sphincter. Everything that goes into your stomach is broken down into a liquid. That’s what takes your body so much time and energy. Juicing gives the body more time and energy and nutrients to go off and fix your skin, your nails, your eyes, your hair, or any health issues you may have.
2. What about protein? Do you worry about not getting enough?
No, some of the biggest, most muscular animals on the planet are vegetarians. Plus, it’s not about never eat non-juiced food again. Eat steak or salmon if you want just incorporate juicing as well.
3. Fast weight loss? Isn’t this just a crash diet and the weight will come back?
If you go back to the same diet that got you fat in the first place, then yes, you will gain weight back. If you change your diet and lifestyle permanently, weight-loss is sustainable but the final word is that, like anything, there is no cookie cutter answer for everyone. What works wonderfully for one person won’t work for another, just give it a try and see for yourself.