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Part I: My Truths
1. FREE YOUR MIND AND THE WEIGHT WILL FOLLOW
I want to tell you that no matter how insurmountable your problems may seem, you can change your life for the better. If I can do it, so can you.
In many ways, I feel everything finally came together for me last summer, I went to Washington, D.C., to receive the first Journal of Women's Health award from Bernadine Healy, M.D., the well-respected editor of the Journal and the former head of the National Institutes of Health. When I went to the podium to receive the award, I was truly moved. Here I was, being recognized for what I call my truths: to help others and speak out for those who don't have a voice.
As many people know, I wasn't always so strong or sure of myself and much of that insecurity had to do with my weight. I have had a weight problem practically all my life and I always will. But now, things are different -- and they can be for you, too.
When I look back, I can dearly see the real problem with my weight began at an age when my world should have only revolved around riding my beloved horses. At 12 years of age, the world should be a thrilling and exciting place, filled with endless possibilities. Yet when I was 12, it was starting to crumble like a house of cards. Mum had just left for Argentina. Although I always admired her and never blamed her for following her heart, her absence left a tremendous hole. I ate to compensate for that loss.
For years, I did the craziest things to lose weight, like the fad diets, the vitamin pills, the fasts. By now, everyone has heard about the bizarre meat and oranges diet, the one I lived on for weeks before my wedding to Andrew. On this diet, I could eat all the meat and oranges I wanted, so I'd have my huge steak night after night and think all was right with the world. In hindsight, I can see that going on that diet was the act of a desperate woman, but at the time, the only thing that filled my mind was my wedding and the fact that I'd be walking down the aisle. Although I got great comfort from the thought of Dad being there with me, I was terrified -- the entire world would be watching as Sarah Ferguson become Sarah, wife of Prince Andrew and The Duchess of York. I couldn't hide. I would be on display and I just had to look good.
Little did I know (I was only 26 after all) that the wedding was just the start of life under the microscope. Despite being married to the man I loved, my weight was still an issue and life at the Palace did little to make my world seem more in control. There were endless events and meetings to attend, people to report to. On top of this, my husband was frequently away at sea; Andrew and I were together an average of 42 days out of the entire year. Needless to say, I felt isolated and alone. Food (my favorite snacks were sausage rolls and egg mayonnaise sandwiches) was my one constant comfort.
Being in the public eye, I couldn't simply fill up and then retreat from the world. Others always noticed my weight. The press took great joy in reporting the ups and downs of my size. When I had Beatrice, my weight hit an all-time high; needless to say, after the birth the press was on a roll. "Great Fun Fergie" became "Fat, Appalling Fergie."
The stress was overwhelming. It's terrible when you walk into a room and see people nudge one another, wink and say, "Check out her backside," then give a little laugh. I've always had a rebellious streak so my reaction to this behavior was, "OK, fine, you don't like me like this, well, OK, then, I'll just eat more." And I would eat and eat. On the outside I was defiant and headstrong. On the inside I felt horrible and was terribly judgmental of my body and myself.
I was on this weight roller coaster for years. When my marriage disintegrated, I truly thought I couldn't handle much more: the press was unrelenting, the British establishment was watching my every move and I was heavily in debt. Looking back, I can see I was at the end of my rope. I had finally reached rock bottom.
When Weight Watchers approached me to act as a spokesperson I was surprised. Here I was, a single working mother who certainly had her share of highs and lows, in life as well as with my weight. How could I motivate others to take control of their lives when I was still struggling with mine?
I had been on Weight Watchers before, when I was 19, and lost a good amount of weight. I knew the program was safe, smart and effective. And I believed in it. Truth is a big thing with me. I don't -- won't -- do anything I don't believe in because it would be a lie. So, I thought if I do this, follow the Weight Watchers 1*2*3 Success® Weight Loss Plan, people just might say, "If she can do it, so can I." I said yes. That was two years ago.
What have I discovered about the world and myself in the last two years? I've learned a good deal about good nutrition, eating well, exercising and the importance of having a support network. I get great satisfaction out of helping others, whether it's through my charity work or my role as a spokesperson for Weight Watchers.
I now understand that in the past I derailed because people expected me to be something I was not. They wanted me to be demure and sit quietly and do as I was told. Now I know I can't -- I won't -- be someone I am not. I'm opinionated and spontaneous and, at times, difficult. I'm a redhead with a bit of fire in her. I'm living my life as I see fit, despite what others think or what the press say about me. Today, I'm living my life according to my truth.
2. FOOD IS NOT THE ENEMY
When I did a promotional tour for my cookbook with Weight Watchers, Dining with The Duchess: How to Make Everyday Meals a Special Occasion, I would answer the first question that was on every interviewer's mind before he or she asked it: "I don't cook," I would begin, "but I know what I like, I know what tastes good and I'm a perfectionist when it comes to food." While many may say, "She has it easy, she has a cook," the truth is I still have to sit down with her and plan my family's meals. I also think it's amazing that at almost 40 years of age, I suddenly have found a healthier and more enjoyable way to eat.
Not surprisingly, one of the biggest changes in my life since I've lost weight involves my eating habits. They had to change, otherwise I wouldn't have the stamina to maintain the hectic pace of my schedule and be a good mother to my girls. I realized that in the past I had been eating to fill a painful empty space deep inside me. I did not want to look at my true feelings, so I suppressed the pain by eating.
In the past, I would starve myself, shed a few pounds, then go straight back to my old ways and regain the weight (plus some, more often than not!). Now, I've learned that once you find a sensible eating plan, no food is off limits or "bad." To lose weight, you mustn't be on a diet. You have to develop an eating routine that can become a way of life for your life.
I've found a plan that's safe and sensible and works for me. I like real food -- like the pastas and risottos in my cookbook, as well as cold ham with chutney, baked potatoes with butter, and a glass of wine with dinner. In the past I did what a lot of women who try to lose weight would do: I'd cut back drastically during the week and go mad on the weekends, eating whatever I wanted. I would then get "back on track" and go on a diet on Monday. Somehow, I always felt sad because I thought I had to give up the foods I loved in order to lose weight. Now I've found that's just not the case. I can follow my eating plan anywhere in the world, at restaurants, and with my family and friends. Like any parent, I'll occasionally take my girls out to a fast-food restaurant. We sit on the toadstool chairs and have our fizzy drinks and burgers. I'll take a handful of fries, knowing that I don't have to feel guilty -- and that I can stop at that handful.
Of course, watching portion sizes and making smart choices on a regular basis are also important. I know I can't have a huge plate of creamy risotto every night. It comes back to the control issue: I needed to educate myself and learn what a sensible portion of pasta or just a pat of butter looks like. I also needed to learn when to stop, whether it's after one bite or one cookie. When I'm traveling and just dying for a sweet, I might order it but take just one spoonful -- like the time on a recent flight when the flight attendant on the airline wheeled the cart of butterscotch sundaes down the aisle. I didn't have to totally give in. A few spoonfuls satisfied me.
But like most women, controlling my eating habits isn't always so easy -- or private. For example, sometimes I just say to myself, I'm going all out. For example, one evening I went to a favorite restaurant with a group of friends and decided it was my night off. I had my roll with butter, my favorite risotto and my wine. It's natural and healthy to go off your eating plan once in a while. However, with me, the difference is that the next day, it was written up in the papers, suggesting I shouldn't be a spokesperson for Weight Watchers. Well, the truth is, if they really knew anything about the Program, they'd know that you can eat what you like, as long as you watch your portions and plan a big meal into your whole day.
3. ONE STEP AT A TIME
I was an active child. I rode horses from a young age and was always the first in line to be a part of any game. I still ride today and I love to ski or play a game of squash or tennis.
Because I've always been so active, you'd think that exercising is an integral part of my life. But I'm very much like most women when it comes to working out: It's something I will constantly have to make an effort to do for the rest of my life. Exercise is different from activity. Activity reminds me of children playing: moving, jumping, running or just doing something that is fun and spirited. Exercise, on the other hand, can be a chore. But it is imperative for your well-being.
Through the years, I have learned to change my attitude toward exercise because, ultimately, I know that exercise has helped me lose weight and provides me with the stamina I need for my busy schedule. For instance, when I filmed my television special, Adventures with The Duchess, I had to scuba dive, mountain climb, even swing on a trapeze! Some of the things I did were fun (the trapeze); others were terrifying (like the mountain climbing). Yet I know it would have been impossible for me to do any of these activities if I didn't exercise regularly.
My longtime trainer, Josh Salzmann, has been a big help with my exercise program. We've been working together since the late 1980s and he's the one who encourages me to push harder when I think I've had enough. Josh also knows when to tell me to ease up. I can be very competitive with myself, but Josh reminds me that there are times when I just have to, as he would say, "chill out."
Workout time with Josh is important to me. It's one of the few times I won't allow myself to be interrupted. We have a schedule: Sometimes I ride the exercise bike, other times I use the stair climbing machine. I'll do some strength training and stretches. Our sessions vary because, as Josh has told me, I need to listen to my body and respect its limits from day to day.
When I'm feeling trapped and can't even think about exercising, I remember what Josh always tells me: "If you're really healthy and fit, you'll have a good resistance to illness and a high energy level -- you'll also look your best."
I've also learned it is critical to make your workout appealing and convenient. For instance, I prefer morning workouts at a health club or at my home. I like listening to music when I work out; I'm a big Elton John fan. My favorite part of the routine is when I'm pedaling on my bike, meditating and listening to music; it's one of the few times I get to turn off my mobile phone! The part I hate: push-ups!
4. IT TAKES SUPPORT TO SLIM DOWN
I have discovered that learning about sound nutrition is relatively easy compared to using that information wisely. For me, using my head -- and not my heart -- to make food decisions is always a challenge. One incident that I clearly remember occurred recently after I had started the Program. Things were going swimmingly until I was preparing for a trip to the States. I was feeling anxious and suddenly found myself falling into my old habits, seeking out my trusty "comfort" foods. I also had great difficulty controlling my portions: I would have two croissants or a few more cookies than I really wanted. I didn't know what was wrong, but clearly I felt like I was beginning to spin out of control.
I immediately called my friend Sarah, a fellow Weight Watchers member, and she came over. As we talked, I unearthed the nasty root of my sudden overeating: I was anxious about leaving my girls to travel (this also was shortly after the death of Princess Diana and the girls understandably didn't want me out of their sight). Now I know that this is a trigger for me. I'm aware of it and try to keep it in mind.
Discovering triggers helps you understand yourself better While I have been working on my weight issues, I have discovered other interesting facts about myself -- for instance, I now know I'm a people pleaser. I always want others to like me and think well of me. I remember recently having to make an appearance on an American television program. I wanted to pick up my girls from school before I left, so I took a rather late flight from London to New York the day of the show. I knew it was going to be tight, but I really wanted to spend the time with my girls. Of course, things went wrong. We ended up taking off late because the airplane had a major problem with its navigating system. We sat on the runway for hours and I just kept thinking over and over, "What am I going to do?" I couldn't be late. I was so nervous. I truly did not want to let the host or the audience down. After several minutes of this, I realized I had to calm down, telling myself to relax since there was nothing I would do to change the situation. We eventually took off and I made it to the taping (although it was close!).
When I go to a Weight Watchers meeting, there is always support. We are all there for the same reason: primarily to lose weight, but also to understand how we got ourselves into our predicaments. So if you gain a pound or two, everyone knows what it's like and will try to help you figure out why.
A good support network should be a positive force in your life. At the meetings I've attended, everyone is so up, it just lifts you. It's like a tonic. I love the sense of support and friendship; it leaves you feeling you are not on your own or isolated. This time around, I learned that you don't have to be an island, all alone, when you're on a weight-loss program. Seek out support, be it your spouse, a friend, family member, even your children. Use their shoulders; you'll do the same for them at one time or another. If you find it might be too difficult relying on close friends or family members for your weight support, find a support group that makes you feel comfortable and welcome.
The day I reached my weight goal was one of the proudest of my life. Everyone was so supportive and positive. Like most women, I will always want to lose a few more pounds, but knowing that I reached my goal through my own sheer will and the help of my friends was incredibly satisfying.
5. I CONTROL MY WEIGHT, IT DOESN'T CONTROL ME
Weight is not just a "fat issue." When I talk about weight, I know I'm talking about a major health issue. I also am not afraid to say that dealing with weight is a mood-altering experience. If you gain a pound or simply wake up one morning feeling fat, it can leave you mad, frustrated, difficult, cranky. It affects your marriage and your self-esteem; it causes problems at work. And it can make you feel worthless.
How I feel about my body and my weight can dictate how I feel for the rest of the day. For instance, even if someone says casually, "You look fine," I might reply, "Thank you," but deep down I know I don't feel fine. Maybe I know I've eaten too much and that the new black swimsuit I've bought for a family holiday is a little too snug. I know I have pushed the suit back further and further away in my drawer. Ultimately, I know I can only push the suit so far: Like my weight issue, it's there and eventually I'll have to deal with it.
I also see that I need to keep my stress level down if I am going to stay in control. I use my workouts to keep myself focused and in control. Josh always tells me that fitness is more than muscle: I have to be physically, emotionally and spiritually fit to be well. My workouts are about decompressing; they reduce my stress and clear my head so I can concentrate on the important matters at hand.
So when things get rough and the world seems insane, how do I get back on track and in control? I keep the truth. I think one of the greatest things in life is to be able to gather the courage in yourself, hold your head high and ask yourself, "Am I being true to myself?" When you can answer with a resounding yes, then you've reached your goal and you are a success.