Elena Goodall weighed 184kg just two years ago, now she’s lost the weight and recently finished Ironman 70.3 Cairns and has a full Ironman in her sights. Trizone caught up with Goodall to hear her story of fast food addiction, and her inspiring journey toward recovery.
“As a kid I was always really into swimming. I was so headstrong I used to look over at the big kids doing laps and want to be with them. I was training twice a day doing competitive swimming,” Goodall told Trizone.
Passionate about sport and very competitive, Elena used to swim in events around Queensland until she finished high school and joined the workforce. “I worked on the dive boats doing really physical work, and I got my coxswain ticket. I was always outside and I loved it. Then I moved to the Whitsundays and worked on a few islands as a water sports attendant doing jetski tours and all that fun stuff,” said Elena.
Financial crisis threatens Goodall’s industry and wellbeing
When 2009 hit, though, the tourism industry skidded to a halt in Queensland and Goodall couldn’t find work. Deflated and disappointed, she relocated back to her home town of Cairns and resigned herself to working indoors at an office job, something she’d never wanted.
“I worked in payroll for Queensland Health. Our office was directly above a chocolate factory and I’d have chocolate, chocolate milk and all that sugary stuff everyday. It was pretty much all I ate,” said Goodall.
The downward spiral begins
Goodall met her partner, now her husband, while back in Cairns. But this milestone wasn’t enough to stop her downward spiral. “I was eating at my desk at lunchtime, and getting snacks from the chocolate factory. I was putting on a lot of weight really quickly,” she remembers.
It’s this early period that Goodall reflects on solemnly; the turning point where everything started spiralling out of her control. “I didn’t want people to stop me eating the food I wanted, I just craved fast food all the time. Cyclone Yasi went through Cairns and my partner lost his job. We moved to Mount Isa and there were so many fast food chains everywhere,” said Elena. “You’d go to the shops and see a pie for $2, and a sandwich for $7. It was just cheaper to eat unhealthy stuff.”
Waves of motivation ruined by fad diets
To those who criticise people with rapid weight gain and food addiction, Goodall is quick to say she did have periods of motivation. “I’d join the gym and buy the shakes. I’d get waves where I’d decide I wanted to get healthy and I’d look for a pill I could take.”
While buried in the midst of her addiction, like so many others, Goodall would turn back to where she found the most comfort. “After a week of motivation, I’d be starving and decide I’d rather be on the couch eating McDonalds, so that’s what I’d do. I had no desire to exercise at all,” she explained.
Trapped in a cycle of deriving comfort from a life-threatening diet of deep fried foods, Goodall was unaware of how desperate her situation had become.
I ate the food because it gave me satisfaction. It made me feel fulfilled.
Health results shock Elena to the core
Genuinely unaware how out of control her addiction had become, Goodall received a frightening wake-up call during a routine visit to the doctor. “He asked me to get on the scales in his room and there was a red error message,” she said. “I was too heavy for the scales. In my head all I could think was ‘I’m not that heavy, what’s the issue?’
He took me into the nurse’s office where there was an industrial scale and it read 184kg.
Elena paused here in our discussion, and the weight of this memory was palpable. “I was in tears,” she continued, “[As] I was just so shocked [because] I didn’t think I’d let it get that bad. [You see] I used to see really big girls and always thought there’s no way I could ever let myself get to that point. [Because] I always thought ‘that poor person, she must be so unhappy!’”
Elena Goodall remembers this doctor’s visit as her rock bottom and the moment she realised her addiction. “The doctor took me to do all the tests for diabetes and everything else. They didn’t come back great; I had really bad type two diabetes and they put me on the registry.”
It wasn’t just diabetes that was threatening Goodall’s life though. “I had such bad sleep apnoea, my oxygen levels in my blood were dropping to really dangerous levels during sleep.”
Gym proves repellant rather than motivating
After developing two life-threatening conditions through her food addiction, Goodall’s doctor broached the subject of surgery. “I was terrified,” said Elena, “I’d never had surgery in my life.”
Harnessing glimpses of determination she’d remembered from her days as a competitive swimmer, Goodall tried everything to avoid going under the knife. “I took the threat of surgery really seriously [and] took up a gym membership again, and tried fad diets to help me loose weight quickly so I could actually exercise. [By then] I was so big, even walking 100m was tiring. It was so hard for me to exercise,”
Despite the struggle, Elena powerfully dragged herself to the gym to start her long journey towards health. Stuck in the lonely, self-esteem rut of addiction, the gym was more repellant than inviting.
“It was so confronting at the gym, it felt like everyone was looking at me. Everyone was skinny in short shorts. I was in baggy clothes with holes in them [and] lasted about a week or two.” Boldly honest, Elena added:
I decided I didn’t have it in me [and] couldn’t do it. [The fact was] I didn’t know what to do [as] I was lost.
Back to the comfort zone
Feeling like she’d failed, and seeing no escape, Elena turned to the only place she found comfort.
I turned back to fast food. Even though I knew it was what got me to that point, I couldn’t stop. It really is like a drug. I knew I shouldn’t be doing it, but I couldn’t help it.
Elena Goodall had hit rock bottom number two, but this time she saw no way out. She was still putting on weight and her addiction was out of control again. Yet amidst it all, Elena remembered there was an exit strategy she’d been offered, and she started researching the gastric sleeve surgery.
“After four months I went back to the doctor. I said I didn’t want to be operated on, but had realised there was nothing else I could do. So I started to get really excited about the stuff I could do after the surgery,” said Elena.
I still see the surgery as something that saved my life.
Having been through the journey of addiction, Elena knows those who haven’t walked in her shoes are always quick to criticise. “A lot of people who have never had weight issues think it’s cheating and it’s the easy way. It’s not. I truly had no other option,” she said earnestly. In November 2015, Elena Goodall underwent gastric sleeve surgery.
A fellow food addict creates the turning point for Elena
While Elena was preparing for her surgery, she met a woman who had undergone the exact same procedure. “She’d had the surgery, but put all the weight back on, and more! She was buying Mcdonalds and putting it in a blender so she could still have it during the four weeks you’re on a liquid diet after the procedure. She was scheduled to get another surgery. I just couldn’t believe what she was doing. Meeting her made something click inside me,” said Elena.
I realised, that is not going to be me.
Knowing it takes four weeks to break a habit, Elena used the four weeks of liquid diet post-surgery to crush her fast food addiction through an intellectual approach. “It used it wean myself off the crap I’d been eating by learning what bad food does to your body,” she added.
Elena pulls herself out of addiction
Like any addict, going cold turkey was tough on both her, and the people around her. “I wasn’t a fun person to be around in those four weeks, but I was just so determined,” remembered Goodall. “When I was really craving something from Maccas, I’d try and have a pumpkin soup I’d made myself so I’d know exactly what was in it.”
Elena Goodall had summoned every inch of her resolve and used her intellect to help change her addiction by learning about food. “I became really aware of processed food and I was just so shocked to see what gets put in food to make it taste better,” she said.
Two months after her surgery, doctors found Elena’s sleep apnea had resolved and her diabetes had disappeared. “The nurse even mentioned how rare it was to see a resting heart so low, as none of their follow up patients are so fit” she said, with a hearty laugh.
The daily battle continues for Elena
The battle is still far from over for Elena, and like any addict it may stay with her forever but she’s learned how to manage it.
Everyday I have a fight in my head. My brain says ‘you need that hot chip. Everyone else is eating them, just have one. Then I convince myself having a few is OK, then I worry I’ll go back to what I was. It’s a constant battle.
Goodall discovers triathlon
Five weeks after surgery, Goodall met up with friends including some who had just finished a training session at the local triathlon club. “They told me about triathlon and I said it was something I’d like to do one day. There was a personal trainer and life coach among them, her name was Vicky. She said ‘you could do a triathlon in five weeks, even two if you really wanted.’”
Hearing one person’s belief in her ability was all it took to kickstart Goodall’s fitness journey to triathlon. “It planted a seed that it could be possible, and it would happen. I met her on a Saturday, and by Monday I started training. We went to an oval and I learned how to run, and we formulated a plan,” remembers Goodall fondly.
Buoyed by a new sense of purpose she hadn’t felt in over a decade, Elena set strict goals for herself. One of the toughest triathlons near Mount Isa is the Julia Creek sprint distance tri, and Goodall set her sights on it. “I focused really heavily on my training, and when race day came, the swim was no problem for me thanks to my background. The bike was tough and I walked a few sections on the run, but I made it to the finish line,” she said.
At this point, most people would stop after having achieved their goal, but Elena’s fierce competitive nature was reawakened and she set more goals. “I finished 16th in my age group, and I decided I wanted a podium finish the next year. Plus, I set my sights on Noosa.”
Laser focus leads to success in Cairns
After running her first 5km non-stop during training, Elena was ready for Noosa. “The buzz was incredible at the event. I ran the whole 10kms and didn’t stop once,” she said.
“I went back to Julia Creek and got my podium finish; [coming] third. I set my goals and I achieve them, there’s no longer any option to fail,” said Goodall fiercely. Feeling lost after the race with no other goal, Goodall decided Ironman 70.3 Cairns was next.
After going through the tumultuous ride of addiction, Goodall is eager to motivate others to get out there and start exercising while ditching the junk. “I blogged from transition. And I wanted to bring people along with me in the hope I can inspire others to get out there and do the same thing,” she said.
“I was most nervous about the swim, I think because I expect myself to do well as it’s my thing. It felt really good getting out of the swim and felt incredibly strong on the bike. And, I struggled a little bit on the run and I had to use the bathrooms a lot – it could have been my nutrition,” said Goodall.
Elena decimated her goal of finishing under the cut-off at Cairns, but she felt more than just achievement.
That feeling of pride in myself and what I’d just achieved – thinking back to where I was two years ago – there’s no way I could have even dreamed of doing something like that. I was just incredibly proud.
What’s next for Goodall
Elena Goodall has achieved every goal she’s set for herself and now armed with new coach, Emma Quinn from T:Zero Multisport, she’s aiming to finish Ironman Busselton under the cut-off time this year. “I want to prove to myself I can do it. Then focus on 70.3 again,” she said.
After her wild ride of addiction and recovery, Elena acknowledges it’s all about timing.
You have to be ready for change. If you’re not ready, you’re not going to change.
“If you’re at that point where you are ready and you’re willing to put in the hard work. I recommend setting goals. Once you’ve achieved those goals, set more big goals – that’s how you progress. If you feel out of control, now’s the time to make a difference as it will become an issue.”
Trizone wishes to congratulate Elena Goodall on her incredible recovery from food addiction, and her courage in sharing her story.
A cyclist, tech geek at heart, a passion for new shiny things and a huge appetite for triathlon. I spend most of my time between managing two of the world's best triathletes and a traditional corporate life.