I’ve said before that trying to forget about food and writing this blog is a bit difficult as this is about food! Well, about my eating, my giving up dieting, my trying to be normal around food (my normal, of course) so I haven’t written for a few weeks. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about all this stuff but it’s felt less urgent, less intense. I suppose that means that it’s not at the very front of my brain all the time, squashing out other more interesting and more useful things. I am getting on with my life and I think that means I only think about food, dieting, my body etc 80% of the time instead of most of the time. Anyone who has spent years dieting, worrying, dieting again will know this is a real step forward.
I still feel conflicted and have moments of panic but most of the time I feel calm. I feel conflicted because I still want to eat the things that I probably shouldn’t but I don’t want to eat them all the time, I can say no, I can say yes but I still haven’t got rid of the emotional response to the so-called “bad” foods. For instance I shared a child’s pudding with my daughter when we went out the other night (a fantastic, one of the best I’ve ever had, chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream). So I didn’t have a lot and really enjoyed it but the old voices started shouting at me: I shouldn’t have had any, the woman next to me didn’t have a dessert, did I really need it or was I just being greedy? It took away my enjoyment and that’s really sad. I need to keep working at it but I am getting somewhere.
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.
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.
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….
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!