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.
The trouble with dieting is it haunts you and continues to haunt you even when you give it up (or try to give it up). There are constant reminders: the scales in the bathroom daring you to jump on for a moment (what are you afraid of?), the snacks I need to have in the house as I’m not on a diet but they keep calling to me and worst of all the nasty thoughts that keep circulating in my mind that if I don’t watch it I am going to end up in a huge tent of a dress, the kind of woman that gets laughed at in the street with my ever-expanding backside. My logical brain will tell me that even if I ate 24 hours a day it would take ages to get to that stage but every time I feel I take my eye off myself I worry that I am skittering along, out of control, destined to be an awful sight, to be laughed at, mocked. It feels frightening but I know I can’t go back, I can’t live the rest of my life on this hideous merry-go-round, this sad obsession with how I look, what I eat and yet I can’t leave it behind.
I can tell you what I eat every day. I am getting better at identifying hunger but I seem to have forgotten leaving food on my plate. I am trying to make it natural but the old habits seem so deeply carved into me that I have to keep vigilant, keep watching: there’s no-one out of control around here, understand? So I’m trying to eat unconsciously naturally but at the moment I feel in a permanent (well almost permanent) panic about what I am eating, why I am eating it and where I will end up. It feels depressing but I know I have to keep soldering on down this road but it feels lonely and windswept, it feels like there are creatures lurking behind the trees waiting to jump out and frighten me, with my own fears. I am struggling.
So my mind’s been full of food again. Well, only really this evening as I am home alone and seem to have decided eating is something I want to do. And do. And do. Yes I was hungry to start with, but then I seemed to continue. Why? Because I could? There was no-one here to watch, no-one who I thought would be judging? I think I just did it out of habit, a very old habit that seems to have come back because I stopped paying attention, because I stopped thinking about it. I suppose I started to think I could eat normally without having to think about it and maybe I’m just not there yet.
So I ate a bit of breakfast: two small pieces of toast and they were small pieces and later we went out to lunch. My partner was going out this evening so I knew we wouldn’t be eating an evening meal but I wasn’t very hungry. I didn’t eat half the food on my plate and I felt really full. So far, so normal.
But then this evening, after I’d had something to eat when I knew I wasn’t really hungry anymore I continued to eat. I did this sort of stupid mental calculation, something along the lines of “well, you haven’t eaten that much today so maybe you could have/deserve….” and even when I was eating I was thinking about the next thing I could eat, the next thing I deserved. It’s so depressing: I feel good about myself, my life is going well and yet these all habits are still lurking. Still it’s only one evening and it’s just reminded me that I need to be more vigilant, it’s not time to stop thinking about it yet. I shall start again tomorrow.
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….