Whilst I have been trying to sort out my eating I kept thinking there was some magical way that “normal” people ate. I kept trying to understand these people and their eating habits, thinking they knew something I didn’t, found it easy around food and didn’t find themselves obsessed with food and weight. And some people probably do but now I have realised that those people aren’t me! I have come to the conclusion that I have to find a way of eating that works for me, not try to follow another sort of plan suggested by someone else. Writing this down now it seems so obvious but I’ve probably struggled with this more than anything else.
So I haven’t been writing for a few weeks: life has been really busy and food wasn’t a priority (did I really just write that?). I ate when I was hungry, eating what I wanted (usually limited by the food I actually had in my house) and feeling much more relaxed about it all. I haven’t denied myself anything and after all these weeks I have realised that if I am relaxed around food then sometimes I just don’t want those “bad” foods I used to deny myself. For example, we’ve both been really busy at work over the past few weeks and have had more fish & chips suppers than usual. Now I find I don’t really want them: when I can chose I don’t want chips. I can have them if I want but I don’t want them, choosing a meal with vegetables, albeit ready prepared to fit in with our lives at the moment but it’s working for me. I am not slipping into the old diet thinking, ie I had better have them now as I won’t be able to have them once I am back on the diet treadmill, but I am genuinely thinking about what I want, what would feel right in my body, and opting for that, knowing I can go back for chips any time I want. That feels really positive. Perhaps things are working and I just need to keep going?
I haven’t been well over the last few weeks when the two weeks it took me to get over flu was followed by a spell of bad weather that kept me housebound. I realise now that when I was feeling down or unable to do anything I was using food to comfort myself. I felt rough and the answer seemed to be in a bar of chocolate or a bag of crisps. Of course those things didn’t make me feel any better (exactly the opposite) but I fell into an old way of behaving without even thinking about it very much and then felt even worse as a result.
But now I am better and the weather has improved I have automatically started eating the way I was before all this happened. I won’t say that I am there yet but as my health and mood has improved so has my need to comfort or reward myself. I don’t think I am unique in this: bad weather brings out an array of foods that we feel will make us feel warmer, better and there are endless foods suggest to combat the winter ills. What I would like to do in the future is maybe just allow myself to feel ill or fed up rather than resorting to food in the hope of overcoming these feelings.
So the crux of all this is my feelings: I can feel miserable, allow myself to feel it, allow myself to do nothing rather than trying to make myself better as quickly as possible. I can understand that I am simply ill or low without that making me a bad person. I can also understand that any time of eating in a way that I don’t want to is not going to last forever. I suppose what I am saying is that I can care for myself better without relying on food to do that for me.
When I started writing this blog I knew I couldn’t carry on with the endless dieting cycle I had been on for all of my adult life: losing weight, gaining weight, knowing the calorie content of every food in the universe, talking negatively to myself all the time, having a rubbish life. I wanted to do something different: I wanted to feel normal around food, I wanted to not worry about a number on the scales, I wanted food to be nourishment, not the answer to my problems, my friend when I was lonely, something to do when I was bored. I wanted it all to go away.
I have read endlessly about how to give up dieting, how to live with food again and I thought I had come up with the solution. I couldn’t ban foods anymore, I needed to think about what I wanted to eat, I needed to eat slowly, I needed to think about whether I was hungry and what for, I needed to use food for its original purpose and not for everything that was wrong with my life. I understood the logic, I threw out the bathroom scales, I stopped wearing clothes that were too fitted as a tiny feeling that they had tightened would be enough to send me back into a dieting panic. I thought I was doing all the right things, but now I feel I am back at the beginning.
I suppose I thought that I would go through the months I have gone through, thinking about what I am doing, working hard to overcome all these issues, and would emerge as a smaller person, magically transformed into the person I wanted to be, physically at least. But today I had to wear my swimming costume and it took me right back to the world of self doubt and insecurity, with those negative voices screaming abuse in my head. It feels so sad, so demoralising, so unfair.
So I go back to the start, I remember how I want to be, I start all the intial steps all over again, trying to feel positive but feeling scared about my future and uncertain where I shall end up.
So it all felt like it was going ok: I’ve been ill for the past couple of weeks and the last thing I wanted to do (or did) was worry about my weight, what I was eating, how I looked etc. It felt liberating, especially as I didn’t spend all day of the sofa stuffing myself (to be honest for the first week or so I wasn’t very hungry). I have been looking after myself, both physically and emotionally, and was able to bat away the odd negative thought that floated through my mind. It was important I got well so I just focussed on that. Again, unsurprisingly, I haven’t ended up the size of a whale because I wasn’t aware of the calorie content of everything I was eating. I wore comfortable clothes because I didn’t need that constant voice questioning whether my clothes were .0001mm tighter than they were yesterday and yet I looked good, I presented myself well to the world. I wasn’t giving up just because I chose not to wear clothes that restricted me.
But yesterday I had to go back into the real world and catch up on all the things I had postponed because of my illness and one of those things was a fitting for a new bra. Since I’ve not been weighing myself and trying not to think about my weight I have no idea what size I am and I’m not ready to tackle that beast yet. If I have gone up a size then I am concerned my old dialogue of me being a disgusting fattie will return and I’m not ready to fight that at the moment. So I wear my clothes, put on my makeup and am acting like I accept this version as the real me even if sometimes I question myself. I think I am following the guidance that if you keep acting as if something is true then it will become true (could that happen soon, please?).
So back to the cubicle in the large department store. I’d realised all my bras looked a bit old and sad, and I was only really wearing one or two even though I had a drawer full so decided it was time for some new ones, in the right size. The woman who fitted me was half my age and wasn’t very sympathetic to the concerns of the owner of the ageing body. I suppose it was hard to imagine herself as me, standing shivering in my underwear. She was determined that I was a much larger size than normal, despite the bras she produced swimming on me, but I did end up buying one a size up from normal. This would be enough to reduce me to a few weeks of famine in the past but I am trying really hard to push out that negative nagging that is circulating in my head. The main thing is the new bras are comfortable, they make sure my chest stays in roughly the right position and nothing else really matters. It’s not like my chest has increased in size since yesterday so why do I feel better in an old, scabby 34 bra rather than the 36 I’m now wearing?
I haven’t been writing for a while because I’ve been ill: a nasty chest infection keeping me awake at night and on the sofa all day. Happily I am beginning to feel better but it’s interesting that I didn’t think for any length of time whilst I was ill is my eating and my weight.
For the first few days I didn’t really want to eat anything at all but tried to have something to stop the tablets making me ill and then when I felt a bit better and bit hungrier then I just ate what I wanted. I didn’t judge, I didn’t estimate the calorific value or the impact it might have on my thighs I simply found the food I wanted and ate it. I could have eaten more if I wanted (and my previous brain would have said “hang on, you didn’t eat for a few days so you can reward yourself with extra food”) but I ate what I wanted and then stopped. At the time I didn’t have the energy to think about all the stuff I write about here but I do remember briefly thinking that I didn’t care about the size my body ended up at I just needed to eat what I needed, if you understand what I mean? And here I am, nearly recovered, and my body seems to be ok, my mind seems to be ok, I seem to be ok. All this stuff was lurking in the background, waiting to come back in when I allowed it to, but it didn’t seem important at all.
So what does it all mean? Firstly I was distracted: food wasn’t a big thing in my life as I had to focus on my health and getting better. Food simply became fuel: I wasn’t going out for food or even cooking very much but just, mainly, eating nurturing foods that it seemed my body wanted. Secondly I realise that my health is more important than the size of my hips: wanting to feel better took precedence over thinking about how I appeared to the outside world and whether my jeans were tight (they weren’t, mainly because I spent all day in my pyjamas!). At the end of this time it makes me realise how unimportant a lot of this stuff is; of course it matters more when I am going about my normal everyday life, but when my world became a bit smaller I saw it wasn’t a priority. Of course I want to conquer this for ever but if life gets in the way, and teaches me other lessons, then that’s ok too. Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned is that I might get some sort of control over eating, weight, size etc but I will never be a person who is able to forget about it completely. Maybe I will always be a dieter at heart regardless of what I eat, maybe that just who I am in the same way as someone you used to drink too much, and maybe I can live with that.
Mindfulness is a big thing at the moment and I do think eating mindfully has helped me to work on my eating issues. I try to take time to think about what I want to eat, I try to eat slowly (putting the food down between bites) and I try to leave some food on my plate. It all seems to be helping.
But I was thinking last weekend, whilst having drinks with friends, of how much mindless eating I do. I became aware of some eating I did without thinking a while back and stopped most of it. You know the sort of thing: I go to the cinema so I have to having something to eat while I am watching a film – why? I go on a long drive and need to take food/sweets with me – why? I’m always amazed when I watch a tv programme about people who don’t understand why their weight keeps going up and they discover they have eaten whole meals without really being aware of doing it. I hope I don’t do that.
Anyway, back to the drinks. I was aware of how much I like to eat a few snacks when having a glass of wine. My love of crisps is no secret but I think I expect to have something to nibble on whilst I am having a drink. I noticed that some people (with or without any obvious weight issues) did the same whilst some didn’t want anything. Were they saving themselves for the meal we were having later? Did I eat less dinner as a result of having a few (well probably more than a few – that’s the trouble with a large bowlful) snacks beforehand? I suppose it’s something I need to keep an eye on and ask myself whether I am actually hungry (having a glass of wine does tend to increase my hunger). I don’t want to tell myself I can’t enjoy snacks but how do I get this balance right? Do I allow myself a few and eat them slowly, savouring them? Something else to work on.
With all this writing about what I do and don’t eat, why I eat, when I eat and how I feel about eating I have found it easy to forget that the way I appear in the world is much more about the way I feel about myself. In the past a tiny gain in weight was enough to ruin my mood, imagining that I had somehow become a different shape overnight and everyone could see the extra bit of weight on my hips! It sounds ridiculous when I write it down but I know that’s what was going through my head. I’d like to say that giving up the bathroom scales had cured me of this but I think I just put another measure in its place, ie panicking about eating too much like the whole bag of chocolate as I wrote about yesterday.
When I look back on my adult life I can see my weight fluctuating by several stones, me feeling great in tight jeans and a failure in stretchy trousers but when I talk to friends they didn’t notice this; what they did comment on is the way I looked to the world, whether I was happy or sad. I’ve always made an effort with the way I look regardless of my weight: my hair is done, make-up applied and I like to think I coordinate my clothes well but a tiny increase was enough to make me doubt myself, worry about what others were thinking. I’d be very angry if my daughters only judged their worths by the size of their thighs but I can see now that perhaps I passed on a lot of my weight hangups onto them and that’s probably how they do feel. Yes I dressed it up as healthy eating, with the odd random alleged allergy, but the message was probably the same and I can remember telling them occasionally when I felt “fat”. That makes me feel sad. I am worth more than that and they are worth more than that.
I am learning to like myself more. Of course the negative body chatter still goes on when my clothes feel tighter or I’ve eaten more than I eat but I find it easier to shout it down. I might never lose weight, I might end up bigger than I am now but I feel determined that I have better things to do with my life than obsess about what I eat and the size of my stomach!