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.
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.
I’ve carried on watching other people with food and I think it’s teaching me about how I am around eating. I spent the weekend at a conference and during group meals I noticed quite a few things:
1 the overweight people nearly always ate everything on their plates;
2 they seemed to ignore the food whilst they were eating (they weren’t focussing on it, enjoying the flavours etc, but they were talking as they ate);
3 A lot of them had some sort of “healthy” food thing going on. What I mean is they would be very vocal about not eating sugar for example or declaring themselves vegetarian or vegan. It was like some sort of “virtue signalling” regarding food which seemed to be totally against how they were really eating;
4 As a continuation of 3 they would order a so-called healthy option. They wouldn’t allow themselves the chips, creamy sauces, gorgeous puddings but would go for the salad, sorbet, fruit salad but eat it with little enjoyment (or so it appeared) and finish it all off.
All of these things have been me in the past but it’s really interesting to watch them from the outside. I feel pleased I was able to leave food on my plate at every meal we had because I think I realise that this is an important part of learning how to be around food. I don’t need to broadcast my eating rules (I don’t eat bread as I have long-term stomach problems but I SO wish I could). It seems that focussing on your food while you’re eating is a key part of this: looking at it, smelling it and really tasting it rather than just shoving it into your mouth because it’s there.
It feels like many people are like me, lost around portion size. Put a plate of food in front of them and they will eat it all; I wonder how much would have to be on that plate before they stopped eating and would they be full or have eaten so much they feel uncomfortable?
It seems I am not alone!
I was at lunch the other day with people from work. We do this once a week and it’s a good chance to catch up outside the office. Once the food arrived I found myself watching one of the other women (not in a crazy stalker way!) and how she was eating. She’s a really sweet woman but quite overweight. She was obviously hungry and when the food arrived she stopped talking, focused completely on the food and ate everything on her plate really quickly. I think I could have been watching myself. The slimmer women carried on eating, and chatting, and all left food on their plates. They knew when they had eaten enough and they stopped. They ate more slowly and seemed to be tasting the food more. It struck me that was the difference: the speed of eating, the focus, ie they could still socialise whilst eating.
I try really hard to eat less quickly: food for me has so long been tied up with all sorts of emotions that I had to eat as quickly as possible, maybe to get it over with or maybe so I could eat more before I felt full and had to stop. Often I would carry on eating food I wasn’t really enjoying simply because I was “allowed” to eat it. I don’t do that anymore I am pleased to say. I throw food away if I don’t enjoy it, I don’t want to eat stuff if it doesn’t taste right for me at that time. I will take the time to work out what I do want to eat. It’s the same thing as telling someone to eat a salad if they fancy some chips: you’re better off eating what you want than eating what someone else has decided you ought to eat. Isn’t that the only way to get back in touch with your own instincts and needs?
So this week I am going to try hard to eat slowly, putting food down between bites and really registering how the food feels. I have been working towards that but I suppose I stopped thinking about it so much and it’s easy for bad habits to slip back.
So it seems to be going well. Actually it is going well. I am eating what I like after questioning myself: I can have it but do I want it? A lot of the time that makes me stop and think that I am eating for all sorts of reasons other than hunger. Sometimes I eat it anyway and sometimes I don’t. That’s a huge step forward for me.
Thinking about this I have come up with another expression that’s helping: I don’t have to do this but I want to. I started this with exercise: I was giving myself a good talking-to as I was trying to avoid getting started, making excuses, but once I told myself I didn’t have to do it but wanted to do it I felt much more motivated. The same is true for healthy eating: I have a choice. I can eat what I like, when I like, everything in sight, no-one is stopping me but actually I don’t want to do that. I want to eat healthily, I don’t want food to be the main focus in my life, I don’t want to be judging myself on a daily basis on how my clothes fit so I want to eat this way. It’s not a diet, a restriction, an eating plan, it’s my choice, who I am and it’s working for me. If I eat too much one day (for whatever reason) my body doesn’t want so much the next. I feel more relaxed, more focussed, more human?
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.