Is it real?

I haven’t been writing for the past few weeks as I am trying not to think about this all the time and unfortunately writing about it brings it back to the front of my mind (well, to be honest, it’s there most of the time but I am trying to ignore it). So what have I achieved so far?

1 I have given up dieting. I am never going to diet again. I have wasted too much of my life trying to lose weight on conventional diets, the latest wisdom, without getting anywhere, well ending up bigger than I started. No more!

2 I am eating better, more natural foods, but not denying myself treats. I am working towards finding a way of being relaxed around food, eating, my body, my weight, myself basically.

So far, so positive but one thing I am really struggling with is understanding when I am moderately hungry. I think for so many years I haven’t been at this stage (either stuffed or starving) that I can’t seem to identify when to eat something to stop myself getting really hungry and then having a binge. The steps seem very simple: eat when you’re moderately hungry, eat until you’re fairly satisfied and stop but what happens when you can’t identify this point? I know when I’m famished (normally when I’ve been busy or engrossed in something and my stomach is rumbling loud enough to hear) but normal, everyday hunger? I’m not sure I know what that is. Something like I could eat a bit but not a whole meal. And the calculation is further complicated by mouth hunger (mainly because I am trying to work out if I am hungry or is it just because I am thinking about food) and my past (dieting, eating at set times etc).

Now that’s a bit difficult: I don’t live alone so I can’t always say I’m not eating now as I’m not that hungry as we have dinner, say, at the same time every night. Does my body now get hungry at that time because it knows it’s dinner time? Once I eat dinner I don’t really want anything else though those chattering voices can suggest I might like a bit of chocolate but if I resist then those feelings go away. It’s something I am working on but when I have spent so many years with my eating being governed by external rules it’s not easy to go back to working it out for myself.

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Take a breath

So I wanted to sit down and go over how far I’ve come and what I’ve learned. It’s easy for me to get tied up in what isn’t working and focus on the negatives so I wanted to summarise what I know and see where I am.

1 I can’t diet anymore: diets make me miserable, they make me fat, they cause my stomach problems to get worse, I don’t enjoy my life so I have stopped dieting (go me!).

2 Once I decided to stop dieting (see above) I bought all my “bad” foods into the house and let myself eat them whenever I wanted. I wasn’t dieting anymore, I was working towards being comfortable around food. I put on weight, I worried, I was tempted to ignore the fact I wasn’t dieting anymore (see above) and start a new diet. I was frightened, I felt huge, I felt everyone was talking about me.

3 I persevered, I trusted in what I was trying to do. I started not having to eat the things I had in the house just because they were there. Things like chocolate can stay in the cupboard for weeks, months even, without me having to eat them when I’m not hungry.

4 I started trying to work out when I was really hungry and caught myself on several occasions responding to mouth hunger or probably better named emotional hunger. I realised I ate to reward myself, when I was bored, because I could, because I wasn’t on a diet anymore. I saw I was still using food for something other than hunger but I didn’t seem able to change.

5 I had a lightbulb moment when I realised that just because I could eat something didn’t mean I had to eat it. That probably sounds strange to people who haven’t been trapped in the dieting web. I started questioning my food choices and this sort of led me back to when I started this “journey” (hate that word) asking myself whether I was hungry, what I was hungry for, how much I wanted etc. I started drinking more water again and realised that the opposite of diet isn’t binge, free-for-all: it’s controlled eating, a way with food that works for me.

6 This is something I shall continue to work on for quite some time, if not forever. I’m not comfortable around food and weight (and myself) yet but I feel I am getting there. I reserve the right to panic occasionally (well quite a lot really) but I can see how far I have come and that inspires me to keep going.

I can but do I have to?

I’m trying to get my head around the idea of not being on a diet. As I’ve said before I was always very good at dieting when I was actually on the dieting part: I stuck to the rules, lost weight, and felt good. Then the rules were gone (or at least relaxed) and suddenly I was back where I started from or worse. I suppose this just tells me that when I have rules to follow I find that quite an easy thing to do and I feel that it is what I am struggling with now: there are no rules, I can eat what I like and as a lifelong slimmer I find that hugely frightening.

So I’m trying to make sense of this: I want to eat “normally” but I don’t know that that feels or looks like. I think I have been saying to myself “oh, you’re hungry? Have chocolate, crisps, bread with lots of butter because you can” so that means I am still in my yo-yo dieting mode, eat it now because you will be going on a diet again soon, enjoy it while you can. I am going to take a breath and ask myself if that’s really what I want to eat, go back to thinking about what I am hungry for.

I am also aware of how much of my hunger is mouth hunger and most of that comes from boredom. I sat down last night and we started watching a new box set. It was really great but after two episodes I found myself thinking of food. I knew it wasn’t real hunger, it was more like I need a break so why don’t I eat something? What’s that about? I suppose eating is my go-to activity when I need something to do. But I caught myself, didn’t eat, had a bath and got ready for this morning so I decided my new mantra is going to be:

I can have it but do I really want it?

I’ll see if that helps.

Chatter, chatter

The voices are back. I was feeling ok, I was getting my head around things. I knew I had put on weight but I was keeping the old feelings of panic under control. I felt like I was moving in the right direction: I was leaving food on my plate, I was eating what I wanted to eat, but I was still eating when I wasn’t particularly hungry to fit it in around my life, having lunch because I knew I wouldn’t have time for a proper dinner so something I still needed to work on. The chocolate stash was no longer calling to me every day but I was working on my crisps things. So far, so good: it felt like I was moving in the right direction but then….

In the old days, the PD (permanent diet) days, I would jump on the scales every day (well sometimes several times a day) to make sure I hadn’t become huge overnight. Every tiny increase would send me into a panic until I justified it, cut back and the scales returned to the previous level, usually the next day, or after a weekend. Now I don’t weigh myself, I haven’t weighed myself for well over a year. I know, well my logical brain knows, that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on this dieting merry-go-round, I know that my body works better when I eat more but all parts of my brain know that I don’t want to be the fat girl, the one who other people look at, marvelling at the size of their bottom while being too polite to say anything. So I have found other ways to keep an eye on my size and yesterday it was the winter coat. The weather has turned colder so the coat came out. Now the coat still fits but it’s much tighter than last winter so bring on a panic and a frantic searching in the mirror for clues that I was becoming larger. Yes I have already said I have put on weight, but I was accepting this (in a panicky way) as a necessary step to becoming a normal eater, ie I had to allow myself to eat what I wanted so I could get to the point that nothing was banned and then I would learn to listen to what my body wanted/needed, eat enough and stop. All seems very sensible. But I don’t want to be fat, large, the big girl and now I feel like I am in freefall.

So I am trying really hard not to return to the old habits, go back to dieting under another name, I am trying to keep calm. Yesterday I heard about someone who has lost weight only eating one meal a day so I thought perhaps I could go back to skipping meals but surely, and I know this, that’s just dieting under another name. So I am trying to tell the voices to be quiet, I am trying to keep going, I am trying to tell myself how well I am doing. All this has pushed food and eating right back to the front of my mind just when I thought I had taken a huge step in the right direction, I thought I was getting there, and now I feel so tempted to just go back to starving myself. How sad.

Shhhh, say nothing….

The trouble is with trying not to think about something is that your mind can’t stop thinking about it. After years and years and years of dieting I want to stop thinking about food (and writing about it too – irony!) but I have to think about it to remind myself not to think about it (still with me?). So I tell myself, on a daily, hourly, moment by moment basis, that my days of dieting are over, that I am going to put food back in its place, a box labelled fuel since you ask, and I am going to be normal around food, weight, diet etc etc. So far, so easy, except of course it isn’t.

But (listen to this quietly) I have been really busy over the past few weeks and I realise I have spent time, sometimes even more than an hour, not thinking about food, not judging myself for what I am about to eat or have just eaten, not knowing the calorie content of every meal. Perhaps I have moved on, slightly? I have a cupboard with chocolate in it and I don’t eat some of that chocolate every day. I am still a bit of a crisp fiend, ie someone who likes crisps (chips to you Americans), but even they don’t feel like a “oh dear, there’s some in the house I must eat them all NOW”. Today we went out to lunch and I ate a normal meal, leaving some food on the plate when I had had enough – miracle. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted but there wasn’t a lot of choice so I picked the thing I liked the sound of most. I ate it, it was ok, but it didn’t feel like I had to finish it, I could have the same meal again tomorrow and the next day etc etc if I wanted to. I didn’t feel I was depriving myself, or doing it because I ought to; I did it because I didn’t want to eat any more. All steps in the right direction. Perhaps I just needed to give myself more time? Perhaps I’m getting somewhere. Fingers crossed!

My weight baby

I’ve been feeling a bit silly, being aware that a lot of what I am writing about is a first world problem, something that doesn’t really matter that much in the history of the universe. My own little worry, my own distraction from the things I could be spending my energy and time on, worrying too much about what other people think and what they see on the outside. I suppose I have become my own therapist and told myself to take a good look at myself. This was reinforced last night when I watched a television programme about anorexia: that is a real illness, with often deadly consequences, whereas my issues are that I have become lost and confused in the world of body, food, self image, self love, acceptance. Perhaps I could just say that I am ok the way I am, put all this on the back burner, stop checking the mirror to see if I look “fat” whenever I pass it. Perhaps I could tell myself I have better things to do? Perhaps I could believe what I tell other people and just be nicer to myself?

It’s so easy to write stuff like this but the application is always the problem. An over-tight pair of jeans is enough to send my mind scurrying back to self loathing, criticism, a sly read of the latest diet advice, whilst my logical mind is telling me to calm down, take a breath, be logical. I feel my weight issues are similar to the way I feel about my children: I used to fear that if I couldn’t see them, didn’t know where they were then something awful might happen to them. I feel the same about my weight: stepping on bathroom scales and seeing a lower figure would mean my whole day was bathed in sunshine but should the figure creep up there was no end to the negative talk that echoed around in my head until I could justify the increase to myself: I ate late last night, I went to a party, I felt a bit fed up so indulged etc. I have learned that my children can manage on their own in the world, they know they have a safe place they can always call home and I need to learn that my weight will manage itself if I stop obsessing about it. I need to follow my own advice: keep this in perspective, look at more important things and be kind to myself.

Knowing my own mind

So I know when I eat more than my body needs: I eat mainly when I am bored, especially in the evenings, I eat to reward myself (I deserve it), I eat more than I want to make sure I get my share (the product of growing up in a large family?), I eat when I am sad (sometimes but not always), I eat when I drink (probably to soak up the effects of the alcohol). What I want to do now is to take a moment and work out whether I am eating for these reasons, whether I have just decided I want….., or whether I am genuinely hungry.

I know after all these years that food is my go-to crutch when I need a bit of emotional support. I’ve said before that I have been very good at dieting but non-dieting is much harder. It’s not sitting on the floor eating a whole tub of ice cream or a family pack of biscuits, it’s just a bit more than I need a lot of the time.

So what’s the answer? I think the first step just has to be awareness, without criticism. I don’t need to give myself any more tellings off, I need to be kind to myself, to notice what I am doing without making it into a big deal. This has to be the first stage before I can stop myself, even temporarily, before I make the choice to eat more than my body needs. I need to address my emotional needs and especially my boredom. I know it’s not just about food.