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?
Mindfulness is a big thing at the moment and I do think eating mindfully has helped me to work on my eating issues. I try to take time to think about what I want to eat, I try to eat slowly (putting the food down between bites) and I try to leave some food on my plate. It all seems to be helping.
But I was thinking last weekend, whilst having drinks with friends, of how much mindless eating I do. I became aware of some eating I did without thinking a while back and stopped most of it. You know the sort of thing: I go to the cinema so I have to having something to eat while I am watching a film – why? I go on a long drive and need to take food/sweets with me – why? I’m always amazed when I watch a tv programme about people who don’t understand why their weight keeps going up and they discover they have eaten whole meals without really being aware of doing it. I hope I don’t do that.
Anyway, back to the drinks. I was aware of how much I like to eat a few snacks when having a glass of wine. My love of crisps is no secret but I think I expect to have something to nibble on whilst I am having a drink. I noticed that some people (with or without any obvious weight issues) did the same whilst some didn’t want anything. Were they saving themselves for the meal we were having later? Did I eat less dinner as a result of having a few (well probably more than a few – that’s the trouble with a large bowlful) snacks beforehand? I suppose it’s something I need to keep an eye on and ask myself whether I am actually hungry (having a glass of wine does tend to increase my hunger). I don’t want to tell myself I can’t enjoy snacks but how do I get this balance right? Do I allow myself a few and eat them slowly, savouring them? Something else to work on.
So I’ve had a hungry day. Well not really a hungry day more a hungry evening so, of course, I have been calling myself all sorts of names, looking at myself in the mirror for signs of my increased girth, and generally not being very nice to myself. But ENOUGH! Ok, I heard you.
What started it? Well this morning I had my usual porridge breakfast, went to work, finished at lunchtime and thought about what I would like to eat when driving home. I did actually feel quite hungry and I’ve worked out this is very related to my sleep. I have read endless articles on how not sleeping makes you fat but I don’t know what I can do about it. Last night I lay in bed for well over an hour without a worry in my mind, apart from the worry that I wasn’t sleeping! I did my usual distraction/mindfulness/meditation routines but nothing seemed to work or work quickly because at some stage I did fall asleep until my alarm went off this morning. I think sometimes I worry about having nothing to worry about – yes, you work that one out.
So I came home and had coffee. I needed some chocolate because I was feeling pretty jaded at this stage but, being sensible, shared the bar with my partner, who never says no to something sweet. Then we went out to lunch, a late lunch by this stage. I didn’t finish the food on my plate and then ate a normal size dinner but not much later food was calling. It was beckoning me into the kitchen: first another small bar of chocolate and then some humous and crisps. Why? Sure I was tired and I did feel hungry but I ate without thinking, getting to the end without stopping to think if I’d had enough. I feel good that I put the crisps in the bowl, rather than having the family size bag next to me, but I feel disappointed, I feel it’s a setback and that makes me feel disheartened.
Still it’s done with now, I haven’t exploded and as Scarlett O’Hara would say: Tomorrow is another day.
The voices are back. I was feeling ok, I was getting my head around things. I knew I had put on weight but I was keeping the old feelings of panic under control. I felt like I was moving in the right direction: I was leaving food on my plate, I was eating what I wanted to eat, but I was still eating when I wasn’t particularly hungry to fit it in around my life, having lunch because I knew I wouldn’t have time for a proper dinner so something I still needed to work on. The chocolate stash was no longer calling to me every day but I was working on my crisps things. So far, so good: it felt like I was moving in the right direction but then….
In the old days, the PD (permanent diet) days, I would jump on the scales every day (well sometimes several times a day) to make sure I hadn’t become huge overnight. Every tiny increase would send me into a panic until I justified it, cut back and the scales returned to the previous level, usually the next day, or after a weekend. Now I don’t weigh myself, I haven’t weighed myself for well over a year. I know, well my logical brain knows, that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on this dieting merry-go-round, I know that my body works better when I eat more but all parts of my brain know that I don’t want to be the fat girl, the one who other people look at, marvelling at the size of their bottom while being too polite to say anything. So I have found other ways to keep an eye on my size and yesterday it was the winter coat. The weather has turned colder so the coat came out. Now the coat still fits but it’s much tighter than last winter so bring on a panic and a frantic searching in the mirror for clues that I was becoming larger. Yes I have already said I have put on weight, but I was accepting this (in a panicky way) as a necessary step to becoming a normal eater, ie I had to allow myself to eat what I wanted so I could get to the point that nothing was banned and then I would learn to listen to what my body wanted/needed, eat enough and stop. All seems very sensible. But I don’t want to be fat, large, the big girl and now I feel like I am in freefall.
So I am trying really hard not to return to the old habits, go back to dieting under another name, I am trying to keep calm. Yesterday I heard about someone who has lost weight only eating one meal a day so I thought perhaps I could go back to skipping meals but surely, and I know this, that’s just dieting under another name. So I am trying to tell the voices to be quiet, I am trying to keep going, I am trying to tell myself how well I am doing. All this has pushed food and eating right back to the front of my mind just when I thought I had taken a huge step in the right direction, I thought I was getting there, and now I feel so tempted to just go back to starving myself. How sad.
The trouble is with trying not to think about something is that your mind can’t stop thinking about it. After years and years and years of dieting I want to stop thinking about food (and writing about it too – irony!) but I have to think about it to remind myself not to think about it (still with me?). So I tell myself, on a daily, hourly, moment by moment basis, that my days of dieting are over, that I am going to put food back in its place, a box labelled fuel since you ask, and I am going to be normal around food, weight, diet etc etc. So far, so easy, except of course it isn’t.
But (listen to this quietly) I have been really busy over the past few weeks and I realise I have spent time, sometimes even more than an hour, not thinking about food, not judging myself for what I am about to eat or have just eaten, not knowing the calorie content of every meal. Perhaps I have moved on, slightly? I have a cupboard with chocolate in it and I don’t eat some of that chocolate every day. I am still a bit of a crisp fiend, ie someone who likes crisps (chips to you Americans), but even they don’t feel like a “oh dear, there’s some in the house I must eat them all NOW”. Today we went out to lunch and I ate a normal meal, leaving some food on the plate when I had had enough – miracle. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted but there wasn’t a lot of choice so I picked the thing I liked the sound of most. I ate it, it was ok, but it didn’t feel like I had to finish it, I could have the same meal again tomorrow and the next day etc etc if I wanted to. I didn’t feel I was depriving myself, or doing it because I ought to; I did it because I didn’t want to eat any more. All steps in the right direction. Perhaps I just needed to give myself more time? Perhaps I’m getting somewhere. Fingers crossed!
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.
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.