Body & Fitness

How this busy mum lost 30kg in 30 weeks

Bernadette Fisers once weighed 130kg - now she shares her weight-loss secrets with other time-poor women.
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Bernadette Fisers has always been larger than life. In a world of surly, stick-thin supermodels, the coveted Australian make-up artist, who has worked with the likes of Celine Dion and Whitney Houston, naturally stood out.

It wasn’t just her big smile and bubbly sense of humour, it was her body, too.

In January 2016, Bernadette tipped the scales at 130kg. She was noticeably larger – sometimes more than twice the size – of the women she made up each day.

“I spent my day making people look and feel fabulous about themselves, but inside I was hating myself,” she says.

“I wouldn’t look at myself in the mirror and I was really angry at letting myself get that large.”

That was then. Fast forward 18 months and, today, the 52-year-old Melbourne mum is having the last laugh.

Bern, as she is affectionately known, is now the svelte model in the spotlight after shedding a whopping 30 kilos in just 30 weeks, following a simple diet plan she devised herself. And the book she penned explaining how she did it, The Little Book of Big Weightloss (Penguin/Random House), has become an international sensation.

“I saw my doctor about six months after I’d started losing weight and she said, ‘Oh, my God, Bern, whatever you’ve been doing, keep doing it!’”

Bernadette Fisers hadn’t always been a big girl. Growing up in a family of seven children on the outskirts of Melbourne didn’t allow for the purchase of luxuries such as takeaway food.

“We had a tight budget with a big family to feed so Mum made everything from scratch. We never had bought biscuits or cakes or soft drink or anything like that; it was all good, fresh food, nothing was processed.

“And we were sporty kids. With seven of us running around, we didn’t sit still, but we also shared everything,” she says, recalling how her weight started to increase after she got her first job with a local hairdresser and was able to buy herself treats she didn’t have to share with her siblings.

She says her weight went “up, up and up” after she became pregnant.

“Suddenly, I had money that I’d earned myself and I could spend it on whatever I wanted. I’d think, ‘I’ll have that cream cake,’ and I didn’t have to share it with anyone.”

As the talented hair and make-up artist’s career took off, so too did her weight. She paid a price for long days in the salon and on photo shoots not eating properly and picking at food.

By the time she had landed a dream job in Europe working on glamorous fashion shoots for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire, her weight was ballooning.

To her A-list clients, such as Dannii Minogue and Richard Branson, she was the bubbly blonde who always seemed happy, but in truth, she was locked into a depressing cycle of yo-yo dieting.

“Probably the worst habit I picked up in Italy was the ‘coke and smoke’ diet – I lived off cans of Diet Coke and cigarettes,” Bern admits.

“Terrible. Some people have said that they assumed I was happy being large, but I was not.”

Bern’s weight would go up and down until she became pregnant with daughter Lilli, now 11, after which she muses it was “up, up and up”.

She had been feeling increasingly tired and moody, but when she struggled to bend over and do up her shoelaces, she knew it was time to take action. She booked a check-up with her GP, whose dire warning sparked an extraordinary weight-loss journey.

“The doctor said, ‘Bern, you are morbidly obese, you’ve got hypertension, a fatty liver and you’re pre-diabetic.’ It was like, bam!” she says, laughing.

“She told me straight, but it was the wake-up call I needed to take my health seriously.”

The news could have been depressing for someone who works alongside waif-like women every day, but instead, Bern used the situation to her advantage by tapping into the expert knowledge of those around her.

On photo shoots, she would quiz the models about what they ate and why, and how they kept their weight off, and wrote pages of notes with their hints and ideas. Then she would go home and research their suggestions in-depth to figure out what would work for her.

Bernadette taking part in a fundraising walk – walking has become part of her daily routine.

“Many of the girls study nutrition and they have a deep interest in their health, so they were very knowledgeable,” Bern says.

“I did shoots with athletes and trainers, too. Everyone was happy to answer my questions. I wanted to lose my weight as quickly as I could in the healthiest way. I wanted warp-speed weight loss!

“When you’re fat, you want the fat gone, preferably yesterday, and I wanted the fat to stay off, permanently.”

She condensed all she had learnt into a series of simple rules to live by, such as cutting out processed foods and sugar, reducing her intake of carbs and not eating after 7pm. She added a little more physical movement into each day and, within a fortnight, she had noticed a difference.

“My clothes fitted a little better. There was a shift in attitude within myself. I felt calmer, more in control of my world, less moody and I just felt happier within myself,” Bern says.

“I felt like I was on the right track, which was very motivating.

“I’d tried all sorts of diets before and my weight has gone up and down. I knew, this time, I had to throw out all of the rules of the past and just stick with something simple and manageable because I still have to go to work every day and look after my family, so it had to fit with my day-to-day routine. I didn’t go to the gym and exercise furiously every day because I simply didn’t have the time to do that.”

After 30 weeks of following her basic plan, Bern had shed a whopping 30 kilos. She loved it when the other school mums sidled up at pick-up time asking for her tips and she happily shared her advice, often emailing her notes around or sending Lilli to school with sticky notes of information to give to other mothers.

“Every day, someone would say, ‘Bern, you look great – what’s the secret?’ And that felt so great, but I knew if these women were looking for simple answers in a very cluttered world of diet information, then so would many others,” she says.

Bern created a pamphlet to share around, which was so popular that she decided to self-publish it as a mini-book. After the local paper ran an article on her success, the first print run sold out and major publishers from around the world came knocking on her door.

“I became my own guinea pig,” Bernadette says of her diet plan, at home in her kitchen.

The Little Book of Big Weightloss, with its personal, often hilarious, anecdotes and straight-talking format, has been a huge hit and is now being sold in 21 countries. Bern receives emails or Instagram messages every day from women who are using her book as a guide so they can follow in her footsteps.

“There’s a million diet books out there, but there was nothing condensed and to the point that spoke to me. I needed something that was easy and real. No counting calories or anything like that. It had to be a plan I could live with. It’s an honest book – no bulldust!” Bern says, laughing.

While exercise wasn’t a priority – getting her diet right was – Bern found ways of incorporating more activity into her everyday life.

She set herself a target of 10,000 steps per day. When she went to work, she would park further away so she would walk more, or she would head out for a stroll with Lilli on her scooter, or do more at home, such as vacuuming vigorously and cleaning, to boost up her steps.

“It was all about just moving my body more,” Bern explains. “I didn’t put pressure on myself to pop on the lycra and head to the gym for an hour. I just used my time a little better and found incremental ways of incorporating movement into my day.

“If we were going out for breakfast or coffee, I’d walk to the café. And walking to and from school with Lilli. If by the end of the day I hadn’t reached 10,000 steps, I’d walk around the block. I love being outside in nature, I find it very calming. Often, Lilli will come with me and we are all happier and healthier for it.”

How far she has come.

As she slips into a stunning off-the-shoulder top, slim-fitting jeans and heels for our photo shoot, the fruits of Bern’s efforts are clear: the woman who used to refuse to look at herself in the mirror is brimming with confidence and clearly comfortable in front of the camera.

“For a long time, Lilli couldn’t fit her arms around me when she tried to cuddle me,” Bern says.

“Now, her arms go all the way around me and she can squish me. That makes it all worthwhile.”

Bernadette’s top 5 diet rules

1 I don’t eat sugar, even fructose. Why? It can make you fat, it’s that simple.

2 I don’t eat processed foods. Unfortunately, about 80 per cent of supermarket food is processed.

3 I don’t drink fizzy drinks or fruit drinks at all.

4 I don’t buy diet or low-fat foods (they often contain more sugar and salt to compensate for the taste).

5 I seriously cut back on carbs – processed and refined – and I mean seriously!

Words Sue Smethurst. Photography Kristina Soljo. Styling Bianca Lane

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