I am not afraid

I’ve realised that for years and years I have been afraid of food. Food would call to me when it was in the fridge, in the cupboard, or somewhere else, hidden, out of sight. I knew it was there, it kept reminding me and it was only a matter of time before I went to the place, took the food out and ate it. It didn’t matter if I was hungry, the only way to get away from thinking about the food, remembering the food, knowing the food was there and that at some stage I would eat the food, was to eat it. Of course, not longer after I had eaten this food I would feel compelled to buy more and go around the loop all over again. The food was in charge and I was just a slave to it. I understood the theory of not banning any sort of food, not being on a diet, but my sad reality was that some sorts of food were dangerous,I couldn’t be trusted around them. They needed to be kept out of my house, my eye sight, my imagination. I couldn’t control myself around these foods.

I was thinking all this today when I was preparing dinner in the kitchen and how much my thinking and actions have changed. These foods are in my kitchen, they are in my cupboards but I no longer feel I have to eat them. The chocolate basket has remained untouched by me for over 4 weeks, the crisps in the cupboard remain clipped from the last time I ate them and I don’t remember when that was. I am in charge.

I went for a drink at a friend’s house the other day and she produced a bowl of crisps to have with our wine. I felt challenged (not afraid but aware of my “crisp” history) but I managed to have a few without feeling the need to eat them all. I enjoyed them but that didn’t make me come home and finish the ones nestling in my cupboard. They were just snacks, something to be eaten with wine, and they had no power over me. Like I said, I am in charge.

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My eating story

I found the following when reading some stuff on my laptop. I felt very moved by what I had written and felt it would be good to share.

There was a time I was happy with my body when I was younger. I had a healthy appetite, ate quite large portions but there wasn’t a lot of snacking or treats. Then, when I became an adult, left school and started work, I gained weight. I was able to decide what I could eat and how much I could eat at the same time as having a sedentary job so my whole way of living changed. I have always wanted my fair share of food: growing up in a large family I needed my share of love and this is how love was displayed. I don’t think I ever considered how much I actually wanted to eat: I ate quickly so I could have more so I could get more love. That feels really sad.

I always paid more attention to negative comments about my appearance than the positive ones. I never felt I mattered or that I was good enough so it was or had become natural for me to obsess on the things that were missing, the things that weren’t right rather than focus on the good bits and let my mind skip over the bits that might not be “perfect”. It was always, and still is, about what I hadn’t done; I feel I am a “Yes, but…” person and that is the opposite of what I want to be and usually claim to be.

I am tall, I am attractive but I have spent too many years focussed on the number on the dial on the scales. An upward shift of even a pound would overwhelm me, giving me a vision of myself as being out of control, destined to become a huge whale of a woman, pointed at and laughed at by everyone. Being mocked brings back so many painful memories for me.

I have spent so many years dieting, losing and gaining weight, wasting time focussing on everything I ate and then giving up, eating anything I wanted. Recently I have become aware that I can’t spend the rest of my life doing this: it makes me unhappy, it makes me focus on something that should be a minor part of my life, it’s boring, I need to spend that energy focussing on something that matters. Need I go on?

Food is too big a part of my life: I eat when I am bored, tired, when I want to reward myself, when I feel stressed. It’s my go-to tranquillizer, it’s my pathetic self obsession that haunts me when I don’t want it to do any more. I have given up dieting, allowed myself to eat what I want but now I am just eating a lot of junk because I can whereas what I really want is to eat like a normal, healthy person, eating food that makes me feel good mentally and physically, food that tastes great so that I can enjoy some of it without having to eat all of it because I know this is a “treat” and they won’t be on the menu for much longer.

Writing this without too much thought makes me aware of how confusing and overwhelming this all feels. It is only food but in my life it is so much more: it is love, it is companionship, it is distraction, it is reward, it is something to do, something to think about. It is a big, huge monster stalking me, overwhelming, stopping me enjoying my life as much as I should. It is all those negative thoughts and looks from my past, it is all the judgements I feel that have been made about me, it is the way I feel about myself, never feeling good enough, never feeling very interesting, never feeling I mattered so I might as well enjoy the food, and plenty of it. I might as well stuff those feelings down my throat with food, but not too much food so I can maintain the illusion that this weight is somehow nothing to do with me, a mysterious unwanted gift not a thing caused by me. What a sad, confused child I sound.

These things I know

I have spent decades trying to find the perfect diet, the one that keeps me slim, keeps me full, lets me eat what I like, have no willpower etc. Do you know what? It doesn’t exist. I have read hundreds of books on the subject, hoping to find one with this miracle diet so that I could get on with the rest of my life, and ignored sensible advice that would mean I might have to monitor what I ate, think about it (at least for a while) and accept the reality of what worked for me. It’s not fair: some people can eat anything and everything and not put on weight, some people haven’t wasted a large part of their lives on this fool’s errand, chasing some non-existent holy grail. Well that has stopped.

Who says I can eat all the food I think I want to eat every day and not gain weight? My partner was complaining yesterday that a single bar of chocolate contained the amount of sugar you should eat in a day but who said you need or have to have chocolate every day? I love champagne but I don’t drink it every night and when I do have some I really savour and enjoy it. Isn’t that the way forward? I might eat the foods that I really enjoy but I don’t have to eat them every day? Then I know I can have them so they’re not banned, “bad” foods with a naughty label but just something I save for a treat, a special occasion, like the champagne chilling nicely in my fridge. I can see it, know I can have it but I am not tempted to open it every time I open the fridge.

As I have said many, many things before the idea is the get a plan that works for me and after my setback over the past few weeks I feel like I really have got my head around that. I ate out last night but didn’t eat the bread or rice as I knew that the meal I had would satisfy me and despite that (and having a few drinks) I didn’t need a snack later, well I did eat an orange but that’s the sort of binge eating I can live with!

It’s in my head

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!

Making my own

I’ve realised the purpose of this blog is to eat without rules: if I want chocolate I’ll eat chocolate, if I want a salad I’ll have one, but I need something now to tide me over. I think it’s too much for me, as an ex-dieter, to go from living and eating by someone else’s rules, to be told what, when and how to eat, to go completely off piste and be able to eat anything I like, as much as I like, as often as I like (I’m feeling quite panicky just typing that!). It feels just like a kid in a sweet shop: allowed to have anything but overwhelmed by choice, greed and the fear this is only temporary and it will be taken away again. So it’s too much of a leap for me: I understand that people should be able to listen to their bodies and eat what their bodies need without guilt but going there straight away is like going from A to Z without looking at anything in the middle.

So I am giving myself a framework (better than rules as I can deviate from it without guilt), something that will help me keep going on my road to “normal” (for me) eating. The thing that I am doing more and more is leaving food on my plate. I have become good at eating more slowly, putting the food down between bites, it’s beginning to feel natural, so natural in fact that I don’t have to always remind myself to do it. So that is a positive.

On the list of things I still have to work at are understanding my own hunger: I think I’ve said before that I can feel “starving” but that “I need to eat something soon to stop me getting to starving” is proving more difficult. I suppose my years of dieting have made the feeling of being famished quite familiar when I was using willpower to push through another set of rules but everyday hunger? Not sure. I eat meals at certain times, usually, but then other days I don’t so it’s hard to pin it down. Yesterday for example I went for breakfast with my son, left food on my plate and didn’t even think about lunch but when I was preparing dinner there was a voice in my head telling me I hadn’t eaten since early morning so I deserved a snack. That tempting voice is still the most dangerous for me: the one that knows exactly what I have eaten and tells me to have more. So I had some chocolate (but split a bar with my partner)and later had crisps (because I could). I managed to escape the post-eating guilt but was left wondering why I did it? Something else to add to the mix?

Wearing myself out

It’s very tiring starting off with this mindful eating. It feels like I am back on the diet treadmill: I wake up in the mornings thinking about what I can eat that day, the feelings of what is good and bad etc. It feels like my mind is crowded with thoughts of food and yet that is exactly what I want to get away from, the constant analysis of everything I eat, how my clothes fit, whether I am moving in the right direction. I know it’s just a stage but it seems to be lasting a long time!

More positively I do feel that things are getting better: yesterday was a busy day and at lunchtime my daughter wanted something to eat. I checked with myself that I wasn’t hungry but knew that I wouldn’t be able to resist a few chips off her plate so I had that instead of a meal. I really enjoyed it but I didn’t eat beyond my enjoyment. Last night we shared a few chocolates as we spent a lovely evening being silly, laughing at a ridiculous joke. I didn’t want the nagging voice in my head but I felt a bit more normal being able to eat a few sweets without finishing the whole bag. Patience, dear, patience.

Step back and recap

I’m feeling a bit more sane about things today! Yesterday was a bad day, a day when I was going to end up as a woman mountain, where I was out of control, well, at least my thinking was out of control. Today I feel better, a bit more normal and a bit more reasonable.

I realised that I was panicking about the whole body/diet thing, that without my daily weighing in (and my mood adjusting accordingly) I felt rudderless. Today I realise that I am doing ok, I am on a road and I will keep going until I get to where I need to be. I need to take a step back from my feelings of being out of control, look at what I was actually doing, remember why I started all this and give myself a good slap (figuratively, of course). So I have summarised my thoughts on all this:

1 I am never going on a diet again, I am not going to starve myself, eat in a strange way, in an attempt to be a size I am not meant to be. All that has stopped;

2 Where I am now I need to be aware of what I am eating and drinking. This creates a bit of a problem because thinking about food is the last thing I want to do because it makes me think I might be hungry and then eat something but at this stage I need to be aware. I am not ready to eat like a “normal” person but I am working towards it;

3 I am fine the way I am: I am perfectly imperfect. I have my own hang-ups and I need to be aware of how much these affect my thinking;

4 I don’t eat huge amounts. When I see diet stories (yes, I still read them, maybe that should stop?) people talk about eating enormous meals, lots of snacks etc but I don’t do that. I normally eat two meals a day, plus a snack or two, one of which is normally fruit. Secret eaters wouldn’t find me very interesting but I do eat when I am bored, become aware of food and I do eat more than I need;

5 I am going to eat less: not in a “on a diet” way but rather just being aware and leaving a mouthful on every plate, re-training my brain that I don’t need to finish it all. I am also going to take a step back when I think I am hungry and tell myself to wait 20 minutes to see if I really need any food. I have done this a few times and end up not eating but I need to persevere. I have put a large question mark on the fridge just to remind myself to stop and think.

I don’t want this to go back into a disordered way of eating but I do need to think about what I am doing and why I am doing it. Time to take stock.