Most of my adult life I have been very good at dieting: I stick with the plan, refusing to let a morsel of forbidden food pass my lips, staying with it until the magical day when I suddenly decide I am ok. It’s not normally been at the target I set myself at the start but I feel good in my clothes (and without them), I feel right, I feel me so I stop. And then, twenty minutes later I am back in the elasticated waist, black “slimming” trousers trying to fool myself that I haven’t rebounded, gone back (or worse) to where I was. It feels like a few days off diet and woosh, it’s all back.
So I know I can’t keep doing this: it’s pointless, painful, pathetic. Such a waste of time, of my life, so I know it’s got to go but I am feeling like I have entered into another cycle. I spend days focusing on eating “normally”, feel good about food (I am in control not the other way around), and then the minute I take my attention off to something more interesting, more worthwhile (my children, my partner, my work) then I panic I am out of control so I need to re-set myself. Is it just the same? I don’t weigh myself, I don’t sit around all day eating chocolate and crisps, but I worry that without the daily scale visit I am spiraling up and up.
Sure I can use my clothes but I am trying not to think about it all the time so that feels counter productive. I need to have trust, I need to think “normal” rather than thinking like a reformed dieter, knowing the calorie content of everything I eat, not listening to my body. But that’s really hard when I have spent years ignoring my inner hunger, not eating when I did need food, eating something I didn’t want because it was “good”. I want to stop thinking about it all the time but I have to think about it to get to that point.
The trouble with dieting is it haunts you and continues to haunt you even when you give it up (or try to give it up). There are constant reminders: the scales in the bathroom daring you to jump on for a moment (what are you afraid of?), the snacks I need to have in the house as I’m not on a diet but they keep calling to me and worst of all the nasty thoughts that keep circulating in my mind that if I don’t watch it I am going to end up in a huge tent of a dress, the kind of woman that gets laughed at in the street with my ever-expanding backside. My logical brain will tell me that even if I ate 24 hours a day it would take ages to get to that stage but every time I feel I take my eye off myself I worry that I am skittering along, out of control, destined to be an awful sight, to be laughed at, mocked. It feels frightening but I know I can’t go back, I can’t live the rest of my life on this hideous merry-go-round, this sad obsession with how I look, what I eat and yet I can’t leave it behind.
I can tell you what I eat every day. I am getting better at identifying hunger but I seem to have forgotten leaving food on my plate. I am trying to make it natural but the old habits seem so deeply carved into me that I have to keep vigilant, keep watching: there’s no-one out of control around here, understand? So I’m trying to eat unconsciously naturally but at the moment I feel in a permanent (well almost permanent) panic about what I am eating, why I am eating it and where I will end up. It feels depressing but I know I have to keep soldering on down this road but it feels lonely and windswept, it feels like there are creatures lurking behind the trees waiting to jump out and frighten me, with my own fears. I am struggling.
So my mind’s been full of food again. Well, only really this evening as I am home alone and seem to have decided eating is something I want to do. And do. And do. Yes I was hungry to start with, but then I seemed to continue. Why? Because I could? There was no-one here to watch, no-one who I thought would be judging? I think I just did it out of habit, a very old habit that seems to have come back because I stopped paying attention, because I stopped thinking about it. I suppose I started to think I could eat normally without having to think about it and maybe I’m just not there yet.
So I ate a bit of breakfast: two small pieces of toast and they were small pieces and later we went out to lunch. My partner was going out this evening so I knew we wouldn’t be eating an evening meal but I wasn’t very hungry. I didn’t eat half the food on my plate and I felt really full. So far, so normal.
But then this evening, after I’d had something to eat when I knew I wasn’t really hungry anymore I continued to eat. I did this sort of stupid mental calculation, something along the lines of “well, you haven’t eaten that much today so maybe you could have/deserve….” and even when I was eating I was thinking about the next thing I could eat, the next thing I deserved. It’s so depressing: I feel good about myself, my life is going well and yet these all habits are still lurking. Still it’s only one evening and it’s just reminded me that I need to be more vigilant, it’s not time to stop thinking about it yet. I shall start again tomorrow.
I look in the mirror quite a lot: when I’m at home I will stop to consider what I see. When I am out I will sneak a quick glance when I get the opportunity. I’m not looking at my face. I like my face, it’s me and I like the way I look to the world. That bit’s ok. No, it’s the rest of me I am looking at.
I will turn sideways to see if my jumper is resting on my hips (then tell myself off for having a big bottom), I will look at my back to see if there are signs of back fat (then move everything around to reduce it), I will look at my trousers and if they seem too short then I will conclude it’s because my hips are getting bigger so they are moving up to compensate. Day after day, constant negativity, constant criticism. It doesn’t matter if people compliment me, tell me I look good, I will still insist on doing myself down.
One problem is not knowing what my body should look like: I’ve been so tied up with dieting for so long, losing and gaining weight, that I have no idea what I would look like. If I stopped dying my hair I can guess it would end up back as a mousy brown with lots of grey, but when I get to the end of this part of my life, when I feel at ease with my body, my weight, my eating, what will my body look like? Of course I’d like to imagine it will be slender, full of vitality, no rolls of fat lingering but maybe this current version of me is the me that I will always be, perhaps I won’t change, but how will I know? I don’t want to keep focusing on weight, on my body, but when will I feel ready to stop looking in the mirror and just know I am there?
One of the (many) problems I have found in trying to eat when I am hungry is to identify real hunger. After so many years of dieting and calorie counting I have found myself mentally working out what I have eaten that day to see whether I can have more food. My body, my physical hunger, doesn’t come into it. It is as far removed from responding to what my body really needs, what physical hunger really feels like as imaginable. It is all in my head rather than anything in my body.
Yesterday I had a “am I hungry?” moment. I had already done my calculations: how long since I last ate, am I “entitled” to food now? I waited, got on with things, waited and eventually my stomach started to rumble. Ah! This was real hunger, not my mental chatter, not my calculations, not boredom, not comfort, this was REAL hunger. So I suppose at the moment I have to wait for a clear signal, I have to ignore my mind, all my old habits, I have to wait. The stomach rumbling is great, something I can identify, but what about when I am getting hungry, when I know I might not to be able to eat later? That feels a bit like trying to identify when I am full when eating: it’s easy to stop when I feel stuffed but I can’t identify what it feels like when I am getting to that point so that if I carry on eating I will start to feel uncomfortable later. So it seems I can identify either end of the scale but I have to keep working on the bits in the middle, the bits that tell me when I am beginning to feel hungry or starting to feel full, when I can anticipate the end rather than wait until I get there. So perhaps I am on the right road? Long way to go….
After yesterday’s negativity I have been trying to get back on track, go back to the relatively good place I was in before I started doubting myself. Today I am at home after a late(ish) night. We went out for dinner, I ate dinner, didn’t finish my pudding, it seemed ok. This morning I ate eggs for breakfast because that is what I thought my body wanted but now, at lunchtime, I am trying to decide if I am hungry again. Yes I could eat something but is it real hunger or is it “I am alone in the house and deserve a treat” hunger, is it “my stomach feels a bit iffy so perhaps I had better eat something” hunger, is is “I’m bored, what can I do?” hunger. How do I know? And why does looking at myself in a mirror, not liking what I see, make me doubt my own internal hunger mechanism? Why is one related to the other? Well it isn’t really, apart from if, like me, you’re a recovering over eater, food obsessive, body conscious person.
So what do I do? Do I go and eat the food I have already mapped out to eat in the cupboard? If I don’t do that I am denying my hunger and go back into the dieting mindset? I know, I’ll wait for twenty minutes and measure my hunger then. In the meantime I shall have a nice glass of water and see what happens.
The most frustrating part of working on myself and the way I feel about my body is that just when I think I am getting somewhere, that I am moving in the right direction then I suddenly swing back the other way and enter another period of self loathing, doubt, the chattering, incessant negative voices won’t go away.
In the last few weeks eating has started to feel more natural, more normal. I knew I wasn’t sorted, I hadn’t reached the end, but I felt like I had made huge strides in the right direction. I would catch myself eating something because I was rewarding myself, or because I was bored, but I just sort of filed it away rather than thought how awful it was etc. It seemed to be happening less and less: food was moving out of its place as the primary focus in my life, I was beginning to feel more relaxed about it.
So what happened? I went out today and was sitting having a cup of coffee with a friend when I caught sight of myself in a mirror. What did I see? Well the mirror was low so I couldn’t see my head so all I saw was fat! My stomach looked huge, I had rolls on my back, I thought I looked hideous. I suddenly felt stupid, that I had been deluding myself, I was just being lazy rather than keeping myself in check. I tried to make sense of the way I felt about myself: my clothes are the same size as when I last weighed myself so why should I suddenly feel I had become some sort of whale?
Sitting here now I feel cross with myself: angry because I kept looking, allowed those negative voices to hold the floor, came home and thought about restricting my eating, thought about how other people must be looking at me and commenting on my weight, all the old negative, horrible stuff that has gone through my head for years. And then I decided to take back control: I sat down to write this to reset my brain, to move on, to keep going and tell those voices to shut the f*** up!