When I was writing before I presented a summary of the things that have worked for me. I didn’t want to put forward a formula: follow this and everything else will fall into place because I know that what works for one person (me) doesn’t necessarily work for another (you). You have to work it out for yourself and I think that means not really having rules, it means winging it, making it up as you go along.
As I see it, and experience it, the problem is with rules, especially diet rules is you are either on it or you’re off it and if you’re off it you’d better make the most of those times because you’ll be back on it before you know and then you won’t be able to eat all those banned, “bad” foods. Take me with alcohol for example: I gave myself a rule that I wouldn’t drink alcohol three nights a week. Now that might seem pretty easy for a lot of people but when you come from a background with a large amount of alcohol floating around and an alcoholic parent this rule was meant to keep me safe, keep me from going the same way. BUT the problem with this rule is that when I had nights that I was “allowed” to drink I made sure I got my quota because I knew the restriction was coming. Am I making sense so far?
And it’s the same with eating: if I knew I was going back on a diet tomorrow, if I had a set of rules to follow, when I decided not to follow the rules I had to eat or drink as much as possible to make up the famine I knew I was going to impose on myself
So now so more rules. On Saturday I had one glass of wine and decided I didn’t want any more. Now I don’t diet, I eat what I like but make a choice whether to eat something or not. I have made my own guidelines but if I don’t stick to them or you decide they’re not for you it doesn’t matter. Not one bit.
It’s all beginning to make sense but even typing that sentence makes me feel nervous as I think it’s an indicator that things are going to go wrong. Like yesterday for example. I have been feeling pretty good about things, that I am getting things sorted mentally, that I am moving away from my obsession with all things to do with my body/weight/eating, I have been feeling better and I was looking forward to an evening at home alone.
Now having brought up a large family and now living with my husband who works part time I don’t get much time totally alone. There always seems to be somewhere to go, someone to see so the idea of a bit of isolation is always something I have cherished. I know I am lucky that I have people and that spending time on my own is a choice not where I ended up but it feels like something special.
And what have I done in the past with this glorious “me” time? Well, you won’t be surprised to know that it usually revolved around food. I would treat myself to my favourite dinner, buy myself a pudding and spend the evening eating whatever I liked. Now I don’t mean that I spent the whole evening simply eating but my idea of self care was food (and sometimes alcohol). That was how I treated myself, made myself feel special, showed myself value, made myself feel good. Except, of course, often it didn’t work like that. I would eat more than normal, feel uncomfortable, go to be feeling disappointed in myself and wake up feeling bloated and guilty. And, as you know, I don’t do those things any more.
So last night when the door closed and I was alone I started feeling really edgy. I had hyped up this time to myself but without the food ritual I felt a bit lost. What could I do? How could I fill my evening? I realised (once again) how big a part food has played in my life and how much space there is now. It was a hot evening so I didn’t want to do anything physical, I wanted to just sit and read, but food kept calling to me, no food in particular but just food in general, I suppose the idea I should be eating, but I resisted. I kept telling myself that this was simply mouth hunger, a habit, something that I could resist because I wasn’t actually hungry and it worked. I ate a salad and an orange, had a small glass of wine and then stopped. I didn’t need anything else and most of all I didn’t need to negative stuff that came with it. It feels like another step forward.
I hardly ever read over anything I have written after I have posted it. I am (normally) harsh enough on myself without further self examination and criticism but then I wonder whether I am repeating myself, contradicting myself, being certain one day, full of doubt the next but then I realised this is just part of me and part of being human.
I have meandered along a road to try to make peace with myself, my body, my eating, my self image. I didn’t start out, find a solution and reach the end. At some stages I was wandering in the same circular thoughts of my own making whilst wondering how I could ever move on, other times I felt certain, things seemed right and I felt better.
I was thinking about all this because I was trying to summarise what I have learned in my own mind, and if I could what advice could I pass onto others. The world is full of dieting advice, most of which I have attempted to follow (unsuccessfully) over the years, so I don’t want to add another voice of “shoulds” and “musts” to that list that feels like you are being told off, you’re not good enough, no matter what you do. You’ve got to work out a way that works for you, that allows you to enjoy food and eating as part of life, that allows you to spend your energy on other things, you’ve got to learn to like and even love yourself and enjoy your life. If enjoying your life means you are constantly eating when you’re not hungry or eating too much then maybe you need to stop and ask yourself why. You need to find out who you are, you need to realise after all these years of dieting that actually you are an ok sort of person. I am using the word “you” but I am not telling other people what to do I am merely listing the things I have done that I think work for me. They might work for you too.
It’s funny (well not that funny) looking back that so much of what I am doing now I knew all along. Well, I knew it but didn’t want to know it. I suppose I was always looking for a way to eat without thinking and staying slim so I ignored all the sense I read and heard because it didn’t fit in with that desire, I didn’t want to do the work.
But now, all these months later, I realise that it isn’t hard, I don’t need to deprive myself but I just have to honest with myself: am I really hungry and if I am what do I want to eat? Eating has been a pastime, a hobby, a way of not living my life and a way of distracting myself because having to lose weight before I could (add any expression here that suits) was a way of excusing myself, of not being aware of how all right I was already, was a way of not living.
But no more. I realise how much of my life has revolved around food because I didn’t want to deal with the real stuff, but take away that obsession with food and all that’s left is the stuff I need to deal with. And do you know what? That feels ok.
It’s all been going so well. I haven’t been eating rubbish, I have been aware of when I am “hungry” for other reasons, stopped myself, I am eating less, feeling better, feeling “normal” around food, so far, so predictable or is it?
Today I caught sight of myself in the hall mirror. Do you ever do that and get a shock? It happens a lot to me in photographs, surprisingly not because of my size but because my face doesn’t look like me. I look old (which I suppose I am) but the photo face isn’t the one I see in the bathroom mirror (except my morning face which really doesn’t count), it doesn’t seem to show the me who I really think I am. Luckily I look better in real life than photographs but still…..
Anyway back to the mirror. I suppose I had been thinking that as I was being so “good” I would be losing weight (and I might be but not as in the old diet days where a week on a diet would see 7lbs disappear). Thankfully I am sensible enough now to just give myself a good talking to: perhaps my body won’t change but, you know what, it does its job, it keeps going and I’m not huge, so maybe I just need to let this go too? Maybe I could stop doubting myself, stop even thinking about those voices that are encouraging to go back to the dark side. I don’t want to and I don’t need to.
I’ve been keeping on with my new way of eating, I’ve realised how little I am really hungry and I’ve stopped all the miscellaneous snacking. Unusually for me I have stopped trying to eat my “old” foods by justifying that I could have them for various old dieting reasons, eg I haven’t eaten much today, I can have them if I want, I won’t be able to have them tomorrow so I can have them now. Everything seems to be fitting into place, starting to feel natural and normal. I went out for breakfast this morning (I haven’t really been eating breakfast) but I told myself that I am not on a diet so the odd breakfast out isn’t going to signal that I am going backwards, quite the opposite. So it all seems good and yet….
One of the main problems I am facing if that I have been rewarding myself with food for so many years that now I have stopped doing it, stopped dreaming about the next time I can have chocolate, crisps, chips, cake, all the foods that I used to “treat” myself with that I don’t know where my joy is coming from. Does that make sense? Sure I love walking by the sea (which I did this morning after my breakfast), love sitting in the sun, love reading BUT there feels like there is a huge diet sized hole in my life. I suppose I have spent so much of my time thinking about food, when and what I am going to eat, studying my body for signs of loss or gain, that now I am not doing those things there is a void and I’m not sure what to fill it with. I don’t feel hungry but I do feel a bit empty and I need to work out how to fill myself up.
I’ve been thinking about what I wrote about my day in the “real” world, a day where I wasn’t in control of where, what and when I could eat. I feel proud of myself because I managed the situation, didn’t think this is a time to eat everything and anything because I could, and slipped straight back into my way of eating afterwards, the way that seems to be working for me, the way that seems sustainable. This, along with identifying mouth hunger, feel like huge strides forward for me. I am beginning to understand, acknowledge and be aware of at the time, how much I was eating for other reasons. I know I can lose weight by restricting myself (I am very good at following rules) but I am working towards food not being a thing in my life, having more importance than it needs to have, and my body just being normal, just what it is, rather than some sort of embarrassment, something that needs to be controlled, hidden, something to be ashamed of.
It all feels good, positive, like it is starting to work BUT (and of course there is a but) I am waiting for the other shoe to fall, waiting for it all to go wrong, waiting to wake up (physically or metaphorically) in a pile of empty crisp bags and chocolate wrappers, unable to control myself around food. I am still vigilant, I don’t trust myself yet, I still think about food too much, I still judge my body and the way I look. I shall keep working, keep writing, keep moving on.