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Karen Moffat - Half the size but still as Fab

Karen Moffat worked at HKIS for four years: one year as a teacher in the Humanities Department and then for three years as the High School Associate Principal for Academics. She reflects on her life and tells us how she managed to shed half her body weight.

Karen Moffat

If home is where the heart is, then HKIS will always be a home to Karen Moffat, who says the years she spent at HKIS had a strong impact on her.

“I forged some very deep friendships and personal connections with the faculty, parents and students and I still feel a part of the HKIS community in my heart,” she says.

When she left HKIS in 2006, Karen returned to South Island School (SIS) Hong Kong for an 18-month stint as a Deputy Principal. She had worked there previously for 17 years.

Today she is working in Bahrain as the Deputy Director for the British School of Bahrain, which admits students from more than 60 nationalities, the most ‘international’ school she has worked in.

“Bahrain and Hong Kong are two entirely different worlds. Bahrain has about half the land area of Hong Kong, but has a population of just over a million, only half of whom are Bahrainis.”

“Things here are on a much more human scale than Hong Kong, although the pace of life is still busy and there’s always more to do than you have time to do comfortably.”

These past 18 months have been a profoundly transitional journey for Karen, who has nearly lost half her body weight over this period. She says there were a number of factors that converged into the motivational force to help her to lose this amount of weight, but the most significant was having a living example that it was actually possible to do it.

Karen and Linda Anderson, Associate Head of School

“At South Island School, one of the teachers changed shape right before my eyes over a period of several months and that got me thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could do that too. I guess I needed someone to inspire me to believe that I could do it because I had come to accept the slow, gradual accumulation of extra weight over the years. It’s all too easy to justify it to yourself as being ‘just the way you are,’” she says.

Other motivational factors included being healthier and fitter and able to lead a full and active life, with none of the handicaps that are just part of being overweight, like not being able to go into a shop and buy clothes.

“And, by the way, not having to have everything tailor-made is one of the joys of having lost this weight. It makes life so much simpler to be able to walk into a shop and buy something to wear. It sounds like an everyday kind of thing to do, but not when you’re overweight.”

Karen with her personal trainer Nong at the gym

Karen now weighs 70kgs, but she is still working on those last 5kgs. “Not deviating too much from my eating plan, and exercising and swimming for at least an hour five or six times a week, I have been able to maintain a steady weight loss of 10kgs every six weeks.

Her son is getting married in Scotland this August and it is Karen’s intention to have reached her weight goal by then.

Karen’s strategy was not to just lose weight, but also to eat a healthy and balanced diet. “I hadn’t dieted much in the past but I knew that I didn’t want to follow any of the fad diets that come and go.” 

She bought several books about nutrition and read them avidly to really understand the basis of a good diet so she could design one that worked for her.

“I would pretty much prepare all the food I ate at home so that I could control exactly what went into everything. It’s astonishing how much fat and salt there is in processed foods!”

Support and Encouragement

Karen says she was fortunate to have the support and encouragement of her family and close friends who were prepared to put up with her eating different foods and not going with them to eat out. However, her greatest ally and support has been her Thai personal trainer, Nong Pussanut Jienmas

Karen with some familiar HKIS folks at a noodle restaurant in Wong Tai Sin

“She has been with me every step of the way: cajoling, encouraging, pushing and coercing me to reach my targets.”

Karen says Nong is very tough and pushes her to go way past the point at which she would have given up. Her uncompromising carrot-and-stick approach has given Karen the motivation she needed to keep going.

“Knowing that I have to get on the scales and face Nong’s judgment every second day when
I go to the gym, keeps me on the straight and narrow,” says Karen. “She does not take kindly
to being disappointed! Seriously, though, she has been a wonderful mentor and coach and has taught me a lot about good learning and teaching along the way.” 

Karen likens working with Nong to other productive and creative partnerships of “flow” that she was privileged to be part of at HKIS: “Like my collaborations with Linda Anderson, Karen Rohrs, Doreen Liu, David Elliot and Justin Hardman.”

Karen with Justin Hardman and Myron Buck at the
Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston 2009

“...When people are committed to work together cooperatively to reach a common goal and are willing to support each other to overcome the difficulties they encounter with a willing and gracious spirit, there is no limit to what can be achieved.”

Karen’s Fascinating Study

For Karen, losing weight has been a fascinating study in human psychology. She’s found out many things about people and human nature that she would never have known otherwise.

“The most surprising and maybe disappointing thing I’ve discovered is that people really do treat you with more respect and are generally kinder, friendlier and more willing to help you when you are slimmer, than when you are overweight.”

She says people fell into several categories in terms of their reaction to seeing her looking different. “There were people who were genuinely pleased and happy for me, who were very supportive and encouraging.”

At the Bahrain Relay Marathon

“There were others who wanted to know EXACTLY how and what I did to lose the weight and who often asked me to write it down for them.”

“I think most of those people were really hoping that I had some magic formula to impart to them and they were usually disappointed to hear that it involved healthy, balanced eating and lots of exercise over many months.”

Other people asked Karen what surgery and drugs she had taken. “If only it were that easy,” she laughs. “There is also a small group who seem unsettled about the change in my  appearance and who’ve told me, often repeatedly, that they preferred me the way I was.”

Losing so much weight and then seeing people she knew well who had not seen her for a time gave Karen a little taste of what it must be like to be an instant celebrity. “Naturally, people were curious and asked a lot of questions, which is okay, but sometimes it made me feel awkward to have so much emphasis and focus put on my appearance.” 

What about the future?

Losing weight has been a liberating and life-changing experience for Karen, but she has to work hard at maintaining the “new her” and she knows that will be an on-going task.

“I can relax a little sometimes but I know that I will never be able to go back to my old lifestyle and expect to stay slim.”

“I can’t say that I like exercise; but I’ve accepted that it’s just something that I have to do. And, maybe I am learning to enjoy it a little, the fitter I get the easier it becomes,” she says.

Karen can now do things that she never thought she would ever do again – silly things like safely climbing on a chair to change the clock.

Bahrain Relay Marathon - Karen with the British School teachers' team

She even ran a relay marathon as part of the schoolteacher’s team. “And even though I was the oldest team member, I was not the slowest. Actually, I wasn’t even the second slowest! I’m not sure that I’m ready to run a whole marathon, or even that I want to, but I could, with a little training and a great coach.”


Things to Achieve...

“I guess I would much rather be the center of attention for having achieved something more worthwhile than losing weight, like having written a great book that adds to the store of  useful human knowledge. As I get older, and hopefully just a little wiser, I am even more convinced that knowledge is insufficient; that without application and outcome, knowledge is not worth anything...”

“...So, I’m hoping that Justin Hardman and I can find the time to get down to finishing that book we’ve been working on some time now. We need to get it finished and published before  all this new technology we are writing about becomes just business as usual.”

“My passion to know more about educational technology and its potential to greatly improve and transform learning for people, continues to grow the more I know about it, and I’d like to spread that knowledge and help to make a difference to the way teachers teach and learners learn.”

Source:  DragonTales  Volume 13 Summer Edition 2010