Tuesday, 2 Jun 2020

Baroness Warsi drops two stone and beats diabetes

Baroness Warsi drops two stone and beats diabetes for the sake of the NHS – now the Tory grandee begs you to follow her lead to defeat Covid

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi is the first to admit that five months ago she would have been the perfect target for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new crusade to tackle Britain’s battle with the bulge

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi is the first to admit that five months ago she would have been the perfect target for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new crusade to tackle Britain’s battle with the bulge.

Stepping onto the scales last December, the Conservative life peer was horrified to see her weight top 12st 10lb — her heaviest since being pregnant with her daughter 22 years ago.

Just 5ft 2in tall and with a Body Mass Index of 32.5, there was simply no avoiding the fact that the hips don’t lie.

‘That was my ‘now or never’ moment. I thought: ‘This is not what I want to be,’ ‘ says Baroness Warsi, 49, who in 2007 became the House of Lords’ youngest member at 36.

‘I realised that I’d become this pill-popping, overweight, pre-diabetic, menopausal, middle-aged woman with high blood pressure.

‘My husband used to joke that I grunted and groaned every time I walked upstairs with just a basket of washing.

‘Back then, my idea of the perfect holiday was to go to a health spa and not move for three days. Then I thought: ‘I can’t go on like this,’ and set myself the target to be fit by 50.’

Today, looking trim in a size 12 dress, Baroness Warsi is two stone lighter. She is no longer pre-diabetic and has reduced her blood pressure medication. 

Most importantly, she has reversed many of the menopausal symptoms which were making her life a misery.

Fitter now, she says, than she was in her 20s, her BMI has dropped to 27.5 — just above the upper healthy limit of 25. Her resting heart rate has fallen from the high 70s to 61.

She has lost 23cm from her waist alone and her old size 16 clothes now feel baggy. She hopes to reach her target of around 10st by her 50th birthday next March. These days the only grunting her husband hears is when she’s lifting weights.

Stepping onto the scales last December, the Conservative life peer was horrified to see her weight top 12st 10lb — her heaviest since being pregnant with her daughter 22 years ago

If Boris needs a poster girl for his new campaign — or a little inspiration in his own personal fitness drive after his life-and-death struggle with coronavirus — then look no further.

‘I’m not particularly vain and have never been body conscious. I know it’s a bit delusional, but even at my heaviest when I looked in the mirror, I’d think: ‘I look all right,’ ‘ says Baroness Warsi, who last week posted her ten-point tips for success on Twitter.

‘Now, for the first time in my life, my arms actually have definition. In the mirror, I look smaller. It’s me, but it doesn’t feel like my body any more. The other day I asked my husband: ‘Do you like this new body that I’ve got?’. 

He said: ‘This is one of those trick questions men just don’t answer,’ ‘ she laughs.

‘I don’t think he’d ever dare tell me he was not happy with the Old Look Baroness Warsi, but he’s really pleased I’m healthier. He’s always said: ‘To get the best out of life, to live to the max, you have to be healthy, Sayeeda.’

‘My menopausal symptoms are now under control to the point I can live with them. My fitness levels and resting heart rate are good and I just want to make that my life forever.

‘I started the menopause quite young, but I talked about it to my husband and kids so they could understand why ‘Mummy had her angry head on’.’

She puts her success down to healthy, ‘clean eating’ of natural foods cooked from scratch, portion control, the correct balance of protein, fats and carbs, plus a mixture of cardiovascular exercise and weight-training.

‘For me, this isn’t about how I look, it’s about getting fit for old age. I don’t want a future where I’m ill, less mobile, less fulfilled and unable to do the things I want to do,’ she says.

Baroness Warsi’s squash-playing second husband of 11 years, scientist and businessman Iftikhar Azam, 49, has always been slim and fit. He’s been her biggest supporter — encouraging her to aim for improved health, above all else.

During lockdown at their home in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, the couple are cooking together, exercising together, making plans to go inter-railing and ’embarrassing’ their children.

Positively glowing, she reveals with a slight giggle that they are enjoying a ‘second honeymoon’ and dressing up for ‘date nights’, sending pictures to their five children, aged between 29 and 21.

‘People keep telling me: ‘Wow, you look ten years younger,’ and our kids are saying: ‘If mum and dad start looking better than us, it’s going to be embarrassing.’ ‘

Baroness Warsi could not be more relieved that she was already ahead of the curve in tackling her own weight problem when the coronavirus struck.

This week it was reported that a third of all Covid-19 deaths have been among diabetics. The condition, often linked to obesity, is said to double the risk of mortality.

The Prime Minister reportedly blamed his weight for the seriousness of his condition when hospitalised and told senior ministers ‘we need to be more interventionist’ in tackling Britain’s obesity problem.

‘If I hadn’t started this journey back in December, I’d probably be diabetic by now,’ says Baroness Warsi, who is also concerned by the disproportionate numbers from the BAME population who have died with Covid-19.

‘We were all scared when coronavirus came, and my fear would have been much greater if I’d done nothing about it and still been the Sayeeda of December 2019.

‘I felt slightly more reassured, not that anyone can feel confident during Covid, that I was already prepped for it and had tried to do my bit.

‘My 22-year-old daughter, a medical student, keeps saying we all have a responsibility to protect ourselves and the NHS, by making sure we all do all we can to not be too dependent on it.

‘The NHS is a gift, there for us at the point of need, but we all need to ask ourselves, hand on heart, ‘have I done everything I can to not be dependent, to not need this medication?’

‘I can imagine that for anyone who goes into hospital, not just Boris, you realise how close you are to losing so much. It must have had a huge impact on the way he thinks about health and wellbeing, not just for himself, but for the whole population.

‘I’m not a health a fitness guru, nor am I qualified enough to lead a campaign and my daughter keeps saying ‘Please don’t become one of those annoying people who get fit and can’t stop preaching.’

‘This is a very personal journey for me, but if it inspires others then I’m happy to talk about it.’

For Baroness Warsi, it was the sudden onset of the menopause last year rather than coronavirus, which triggered her determination to shape up.

‘I was at the stage of life where I was firing on all cylinders and suddenly I felt like I’d been hit by a bus,’ says the former lawyer, who ten years ago became the first Muslim woman Conservative to hold a cabinet position in David Cameron’s coalition government .

‘I felt completely thrown off balance physically, like I’d stepped off a cliff. I wasn’t sleeping, I was sweating with hot flushes, and having to keep the window open even on freezing cold nights.’

Baroness Warsi went to her GP. Blood tests confirmed she was in the menopause, but also worryingly that she was pre-diabetic.

Already on medication for high blood pressure, she didn’t want to take HRT, so decided the only way to manage the symptoms was to improve her health. But political life, with its long hours, endless meetings and stress plays havoc with the waistline, as does belonging to a large extended family which loves its food.

The second eldest of five daughters born to working-class Pakistani immigrants, one of the great joys in life for the peer is the large family gatherings centred around sharing home-cooked food and Punjabi delicacies.

‘I am not a bad eater or the type who eats burgers, chips and chocolate, and being Muslim, I don’t drink alcohol,’ she says.

‘But in my 30s and 40s I progressively put on a little bit more weight each year. Public life and politics didn’t help. You work odd hours, eat at odd times and it’s not conducive to a healthy lifestyle.’

Baroness Warsi was a young lawyer with her own practice when she was talent-spotted at a Conservative Party Conference, and then selected to stand for election in her home town of Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.

She failed to win the seat in 2005, but joined the shadow cabinet after David Cameron made her a life peer in 2007. Following the 2010 General Election, Baroness Warsi was appointed Cabinet Minister without Portfolio, and from 2012-14 served in the coalition cabinet as Foreign Office minister and minister for faith and communities.

Co-chair of the Conservative Party from 2010 to 2012, she resigned from the cabinet in 2014 over what she saw as the ‘morally indefensible’ position of the UK government during the Gaza conflict in the summer of that year.

‘My typical day would start with coffee and porridge on the go. Mid-morning I’d pop down to the Lords’ tearoom for another coffee with a biscuit. At lunchtime I’d grab a tuna sandwich, then at meetings there’d be more nibbles — so I spent all day grazing.’

Today, she has found a formula which works for her, averaging around 1,300 calories a day. A typical day might start with an omelette and veg, for lunch she has chicken or fish with more vegetables and a few potatoes, and for dinner a prawn stir fry.

If Boris needs a poster girl for his new campaign — or a little inspiration in his own personal fitness drive after his life-and-death struggle with coronavirus — then look no further

‘I found that with a few spices and herbs I could turn healthy food into really tasty, filling meals, which don’t leave me hungry,’ says Baroness Warsi, who also drinks three to four litres of water to keep hydrated as she aims for 12,000 steps a day.

‘There is no rocket science to this. There is no alternative to eating better, eating less, calorie controlling and doing more exercise,’ she says.

‘I’ve always done a little bit of running and Pilates, but I also started weight training for the first time in my life, working with a personal trainer twice a week in the gym, and once a week at home. I just wish it hadn’t taken me 48 years to discover its benefits.

‘I started off with teeny 2kg weights, but now I’m lifting 10kg in each hand.

‘Occasionally, people will say: ‘Is that all you’re leg pressing?’ and I reply: ‘It’s enough for me!’

‘I don’t compare myself to other people, I measure the new me against the old me, not what others in the gym can lift.’

With three young grandchildren, Baroness Warsi cares less about how she looks than keeping up with them as she grows older.

‘I want to be able to go climbing with the grandkids, play football with them and go down zip wires. Life is just more fun when you can do things together,’ she says.

‘I feel I’ll now be able to do all that because it won’t be my body saying ‘No, you can’t.’ ‘

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