FIVE years ago Shauna Reid from Dunfermline was twice the woman she is today. At 23 years old, her weight in stones exceeded her age. Reid's body expanded faster than the time it took her to inhale a family-sized block of chocolate and her clothes size had shot off the rails. Depressed and reclusive, it seemed everything in life was going down - except her weight.
Only a superhero could turn Reid's life around. One never came, however, so she created her own. Dietgirl (www.dietgirl.org) is Reid's online alter ego, whose tales from the scales have taken a nation with a growing obsession with blogging by storm. Since her "fat blog" diary hit the screen in 2001, Reid has kept a global fanbase gripped by her epic journey to lose 14 stones (89kg). Now, with just one last stone to shake off, what is the future for the Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl and where would her weight have been now without it?
They say the camera never lies. But, looking through the photo archive on Reid's blog, it's hard to reconcile the Dietgirl of today with the version wearing - what she calls - a "fat suit". Reid grew up in Cowra, a rural town in Australia's New South Wales. In high school, she gained a stone a year. "The more stressed I got, the more withdrawn I became and so I turned to food for comfort. I'd buy chocolate bars and scoff them in secret. Then I'd stuff the wrappers under my mattress and cry myself to sleep."
But it was at university that Reid's weight gain took on a life of its own. In the process of gaining a degree, she also racked up another four and a half stone (29kg). The extra baggage took its toll in more ways than one. "I turned into a complete hermit. I stayed in the house all the time, except to go to work or buy more food. I'd keep the curtains drawn and pretend I wasn't home if people stopped by," she recalls.
By Christmas 2000, Reid's mind and body were being held prisoner by the extra 185lbs (84kg) on her 5ft 8in (1m72cm) frame. Walking to the mailbox sent spasms through her upper body. She would often wake in the night, breathless from the weight of fat bearing down on her. "I had no life and was busting out of the largest clothes I could find. I hated myself," she says. "I couldn't live like that. I knew there was a happy, confident person beneath my fat suit and owed it to myself to give the real me a chance." Within two weeks Reid found herself on the scales at WeightWatchers, for what would be her sixth attempt at this method in 13 years. But this time it was different: she'd discovered an extra weapon to add to her fat-fighting arsenal, and so began her blog: The Amazing Adventures of Diet Girl.
"I didn't want to bore friends over my battle with the bulge. So, I decided to reach out to an anonymous audience for support instead." Within weeks the blog's popularity took off. After a year, all the advice and inspiration Reid needed came from her online community and she stopped going to WeightWatchers.
As the pounds dropped off, Reid's confidence slowly began to grow. By 2003 she was ready to tackle another lifelong dream: to leave Australia and travel the world. She landed in Edinburgh and - now in possession of size-20 figure - met Gareth, her husband-to-be, at a pub quiz. A year and a half after they met, the couple eloped to Las Vegas to get married, and are now settled in Dunfermline.
A recent survey from MSN Spaces shows that more than a quarter of Scotland's internet users are already blogging, and its popularity is set to rise. Diet blogs are a hotspot for born-again slimmers who are disillusioned with the latest sugar-coated fads in magazines. Instead, these online journals rewrite the slimming rulebook from a like-minded, realistic perspective.
What sets the Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl apart is Reid's inspired writing style. Her irresistible humour gives the day-to-day grind of weight-watching a lightness of touch and never fails to hit the spot. Over the years, nothing has escaped the Dietgirl treatment - from the embarrassment of not fitting into a train seat to the shame of secret scoffing. "My biggest responsibility is to be honest and I think that's why my readers keep coming back," says Reid. "I've never done anything radical or extreme. All I do is listen to my body."
But it's not just Dietgirl's readers who gain enthusiasm and inspiration. "I don't know where my weight would be now without the blog and its readers," says Reid, who these days wears a size 14. "I've always found writing therapeutic. If I've had a bad day then I'll type it up. By the time I get to the end I've usually managed to work it through and get my head around it," she says.
"Everyone knows what it takes to lose weight. But unless you question why you turn to food in times of trouble then it's not getting to the root of the problem. To do a blog properly, you have to face up to your problems so you can find a way to remedy them for life.
"It takes an hour to write and post a new entry, then I'll spend about two hours a week replying to e-mails," Reid explains. "The contact I have with my readers has kept my diet on the straight and narrow, because I'm not on my own if I fall off the wagon. The genuine encouragement I'm given is enough to get me back on track."
For years her nearest and dearest were in the dark about her online life. Even her husband didn't have a clue about her project. "I thought it was something to be ashamed of and that only overweight people would get it," she says. "When people found out, the experience was a real turning point. I realised everyone - fat or thin - was really positive about it. I've even caught my colleagues at work reading the blog," she laughs.
These days, many people consider Reid to be the UK's queen of the diet blog. Her access-all-areas taste of the larger life has captured the hearts and minds of slimmers around the world. Last year, when Reid tied the knot, well-wishing readers even sent gifts to show their pride at her sustained weight-loss success.
After five years, the finishing line is finally in sight for Reid, but she says Dietgirl will live on even after the last 11 pounds (5kg) have gone. "I've got an obligation to see this through to the end - not just for me, but for my readers too," she says sincerely. "I'll keep going with the blog, even when I hit my target, because maintaining my weight will be as much of a story as losing it."
Now the phenomenon of Dietgirl is larger than life, Reid is in the process of writing a book which captures the good, the bad and the ugly days of her journey down the scales. "I've nearly lost 13 stone (83kg) - if I can do that then I can do anything," she says. "Over time and with effort, I've learned anything's possible. It's not about crash diets, it's about taking care and having respect for yourself.
"If I could write about that for a living, then I'd do it in a heartbeat."
Blog on: The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl
"'I won't tell you what the scale read,' said the Weight Watchers lady. 'We won't worry about that for now. You made the big step coming here tonight. Let's just take it slowly from here.'
"Why was everyone being so kind? I didn't deserve kindness. All I felt was shame, anger and disgust. I was so huge that she didn't even want to tell me how much I weighed.
"I cried in the car all the way home. I had seen my weight written on that card. Twenty-five stone. I needed to lose more than half of my body to be considered healthy.
"But deep down I know tonight was a turning point. It has to be. I never want to feel this bad again."
"I've now lost three stone. I'm starting to believe I can do this; that I am worth the effort. I know there's a happy, energetic girl lurking under this fat suit and I want to let her out. In my previous attempts, I always had the nagging doubt in the back of my mind that I was doomed to failure. I was waiting for that moment where I'd screw up and find myself back in front of the television with a family-sized block of chocolate."
"Today I am having surgery to have my wisdom teeth removed. Despite having lost seven stone, what if I'm still so fat that there's not enough drugs in the world to knock me out? And even if they can, what if I wake up halfway through and hear them laughing, 'Who's this fat chick under the knife?' This concerns me far more than the prospect of pain and gore."
"I've noted some culinary differences between Australia and Scotland. I bought a sandwich today and it was just oozing with mayonnaise. If things aren't drowned in mayo in Scotland, they'll be accompanied by chips. Sometimes you get both. How am I ever going to lose weight in this country?"
"I've grown to love the scariness of being smaller. I get a kick out of taking risks, not knowing if I'll succeed or fall flat on my face. It's more thrilling to try something new than to stay at home and cry into a pint of ice cream like I used to.
Now I love to do all the little things that used to make me nauseous with fear. I go to rock concerts, I run in the park, I talk to strangers in a bar, and I eat a chocolate bar in public if I feel like it. I even jumped on a plane. Losing weight has been such a gruelling effort that now I am less fazed by life's other challenges. Bring it on, I say!"
Today I ran the 5km Race For Life. I burst into tears as I crossed the finish line. Five kilometres may not sound much, but I remember back in 2001 when walking up the stairs of my flat felt like an impossible task. Today I ran for 35 minutes. It felt so incredible to do something that I thought I never, ever could do. There is no better feeling in the world than to take your mind and body to a place you thought it couldn't go. You should all try it sometime.
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