Madalyn Taylor was 23 when an old back injury resurfaced as she was getting out of her car. The pain was intolerable and meant that for most of 2020, she was bound to her bed.
Beyond a mix of heavy medications, the only way back to independence was through a healthy diet and regular exercise. Now at 25 she has since lost almost 50 kilos, experiences significantly less pain and is at far greater peace with her body.
“I’d always been the chunky kid. I grew up being told by those around me that I needed to lose weight so I put pressure on myself to be funny to get anywhere.”
This story starts when Madalyn was 18 doing what most young adults do at that age – working, studying and enjoying her independence. But she also lived with poor body image and had a troubled relationship with food and her weight.
“It’d been a lifelong battle. I’d always seen myself as the ugly friend or the fat friend,” recalls the now Brisbane-based HR professional.
Working on the supermarket floor one day, Madalyn felt a twinge in her back. “I’d bent over to pick up a box, but I didn’t lift with my legs. I thought nothing of it at the time. I thought it was just a back strain and I got over it, but I’d have little flare-ups over the years.”
Like many busy women, Madalyn ignored the episodes of discomfort, hoping that painkillers would fix the problem, and for a while they did. But she admits self-care wasn’t a priority. “I wasn’t looking after myself. I’d eat fast food. I wasn’t strong. My body was falling apart.”
I still mentally feel like the fat girl. I still go to a shop and gravitate towards the biggest thing I can find because in my head that’s all that fits."
In 2020, things took a turn when Madalyn was getting out of her car and felt a jolt. “It was the simplest thing; I was so embarrassed, but my back hurt so much. I thought I’d take some painkillers and it’d be fine, but it wasn’t fine.”
Madalyn severely injured three discs in her back and was in so much pain, she spent most of 2020 confined to her bed. A mix of strong pain medications and injections gave her relief, but she relied heavily on friends and family to do daily tasks.
“I was capped on light duties at work – nine hours a week, if that. I was lucky I had the leave entitlement. I was depressed and overeating. I wasn’t allowed to drive. I’d take my drugs and zone in and out, and there were days I’d get on the phone and cry.”
It was the simplest thing; I was so embarrassed, but my back hurt so much. I thought I’d take some painkillers and it’d be fine, but it wasn’t fine.”
The turning point came in 2021 when Madalyn noticed a rash on the back her knees, which can happen between folds of skin and if you’re carrying extra weight. “I was really embarrassed by it,” she says. “To me it wasn’t acceptable. I thought ‘look after yourself; pull it together’.”
Desperate, Madalyn made a doctor’s appointment. “We got a health care plan sorted. I got free sessions to see an exercise physiologist and a dietitian.”
Then she started walking.
“My goal was to do a lap around the lake, get in my car and get home.” With the help of a new dog for extra motivation, she was able to do that and then, gradually, more.
By dog walking, watching her food intake and keeping a record of both, Madalyn lost 23 kilos.
Determined to gain even greater control of her pain and health, she joined a gym in April 2022. “I started seeing a personal trainer and doing workouts. Every week I’d learn something new then I’d push myself to do something extra.”
The effort showed.
“At my heaviest I was 156 kilos. Now I’m 105.9.”
Of course, there were ups and downs. “I recognised that diet was going to be my biggest mental hurdle.” Madalyn admits that for a while, she was dangerously restrictive about what she ate. She was also “genuinely scared” about re-injuring her back at the gym. But, Madalyn’s exercise physiologist helped build her confidence.
In the end, it’s about showing up for yourself."
Since investing in her self-care, Madalyn is back to working full-time and exercises daily.
“I get up every morning at 5am and go for a 7km walk, I work, then go to the gym. I still have pain some days, but I can deal with it. And now, people don’t stare at me anymore.”
As for her current body image, Madalyn says: “I still mentally feel like the fat girl. I still go to a shop and gravitate towards the biggest thing I can find because in my head that’s all that fits. I feel a lot better, but mentally it’s a lot to wrap your head around.”
Staying motivated can also be challenging. “I have moments where I feel like giving up. But I’ve set myself a goal to get under 100 kilos and I think about that goal in those moments. In the end, it’s about showing up for yourself.”