Christchurch author and teacher Tania Roxborogh says be healthy rather than thin

by Nicky Pellegrino / 01 August, 2016
Surgery was only half the answer for writer Tania Roxborogh.
Tania Roxborogh and her exercise partner, Bella: “It was a dreadful time; I was on self-destruct.” Photo/Joseph Johnson
Tania Roxborogh and her exercise partner, Bella: “It was a dreadful time; I was on self-destruct.” Photo/Joseph Johnson


"I couldn’t cross my legs, couldn’t fit in a plane seat, couldn’t walk or tie up my shoelaces, couldn’t sleep. I was really uncomfortable.” This is Christchurch author and teacher Tania Roxborogh on the reality of being obese. She was 116kg when she stopped weighing herself because it seemed as if nothing she did changed the number she saw on the scales. “I was a little, round marshmallow,” she says.

Roxborogh wasn’t always overweight. In fact, throughout university and teacher training she was tiny. “I was so strict with what I ate,” she recalls. “I did lots of fasting – once I went four weeks without solid food. I ran, cycled and swam. I did everything to extremes. It was nuts, but it wasn’t to lose weight; I thought it was good for my body.”

After getting married and starting her career, Roxborogh began to “self-medicate” with food and gained a few kilos. But it wasn’t until her two pregnancies, when she suffered extreme morning sickness and then piled on kilos in her final trimester, that her weight really became a problem. She tried to shift it, even cutting down to part-time work so she could fit in everyday exercise, but the fat wasn’t going anywhere. And that was hard to handle.

“I’d tell myself, ‘If you were any good you’d be able to do this. You’re a successful writer. Why can’t you get your weight under control?’”

In 2004, she opted for bariatric surgery and was ecstatic at the results. “The weight loss happened rapidly; it fell off. Oh my God, I felt on top of the world. The first four years afterwards were wonderful. I looked great and celebrated my 40th birthday in a size-eight dress. I had better energy, was sleeping and wasn’t weighed down by the depression of weight. But when life got difficult, I hit a problem: I couldn’t eat it all away, I didn’t have food to self-medicate.”

Roxborogh believes her mistake was thinking that losing weight would solve everything. Once the fat was gone, she still had the same old problems. She describes herself as a person who was trying to be “CEO of the universe”, in control and solving everyone’s problems. When, inevitably, that didn’t work out, she consoled herself with sugar and alcohol, often vomiting or drinking lots of water to try to wash food through her system.

To her shame, Roxborogh began to put the weight back on. “It was a dreadful time,” she recalls. “I was on self-destruct.”

Fortunately, she encountered a GP with psychiatric training and he helped her towards the understanding that her mental and emotional health needed to be addressed before she could think about her body.

Counselling and therapy helped. Now 50, the author of novels for children and adults as well as several non-fiction titles and textbooks says her focus is on being healthy rather than thin. “I’m a size 16 which is bigger than I want to be, but I’m not restricted from doing anything. I’m healthy, I don’t smoke or drink, my cholesterol and blood sugar are good.”

She is convinced the bariatric surgery saved her life. “Without it, I don’t think I could have got to a place where I could look at the root cause of my trouble. No amount of counselling would have helped me see anything but the weight.”

Staying in shape remains a challenge for Roxborogh, who still has regular counselling. But she is also determined to enjoy eating, rather than viewing every meal as calories and nourishment. As she told one dietitian: “Food is glorious, it’s celebrating. It’s pleasure, it’s not just fuel.”

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