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?
So it all felt like it was going ok: I’ve been ill for the past couple of weeks and the last thing I wanted to do (or did) was worry about my weight, what I was eating, how I looked etc. It felt liberating, especially as I didn’t spend all day of the sofa stuffing myself (to be honest for the first week or so I wasn’t very hungry). I have been looking after myself, both physically and emotionally, and was able to bat away the odd negative thought that floated through my mind. It was important I got well so I just focussed on that. Again, unsurprisingly, I haven’t ended up the size of a whale because I wasn’t aware of the calorie content of everything I was eating. I wore comfortable clothes because I didn’t need that constant voice questioning whether my clothes were .0001mm tighter than they were yesterday and yet I looked good, I presented myself well to the world. I wasn’t giving up just because I chose not to wear clothes that restricted me.
But yesterday I had to go back into the real world and catch up on all the things I had postponed because of my illness and one of those things was a fitting for a new bra. Since I’ve not been weighing myself and trying not to think about my weight I have no idea what size I am and I’m not ready to tackle that beast yet. If I have gone up a size then I am concerned my old dialogue of me being a disgusting fattie will return and I’m not ready to fight that at the moment. So I wear my clothes, put on my makeup and am acting like I accept this version as the real me even if sometimes I question myself. I think I am following the guidance that if you keep acting as if something is true then it will become true (could that happen soon, please?).
So back to the cubicle in the large department store. I’d realised all my bras looked a bit old and sad, and I was only really wearing one or two even though I had a drawer full so decided it was time for some new ones, in the right size. The woman who fitted me was half my age and wasn’t very sympathetic to the concerns of the owner of the ageing body. I suppose it was hard to imagine herself as me, standing shivering in my underwear. She was determined that I was a much larger size than normal, despite the bras she produced swimming on me, but I did end up buying one a size up from normal. This would be enough to reduce me to a few weeks of famine in the past but I am trying really hard to push out that negative nagging that is circulating in my head. The main thing is the new bras are comfortable, they make sure my chest stays in roughly the right position and nothing else really matters. It’s not like my chest has increased in size since yesterday so why do I feel better in an old, scabby 34 bra rather than the 36 I’m now wearing?
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.
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.
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!
So Christmas has been and gone without me expanding to the size of a house. I don’t know if I ate any more than normal but I suppose I’ve been trying to work out what normal is, what it looks like. And further than that I have been trying to work out what my normal is, to understand my eating more.
Lots of experts will tell us that the answer to weight is to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’ve had enough but when you’ve spent more than half your life eating because someone else tells you when to eat, what to eat and how much it’s very difficult to get in touch with what your own hunger feels like. Yes I know when I’m starving if, for example, I’ve been unable to eat something when I became hungry or was distracted until my rumbling stomach reminded me to eat. On those sorts of occasions it’s easy to eat a lot to overcome the feelings and sensible logic says it would be better not to get to this stage, to eat before the feeling became urgent but I find it hard to identify that time. In the same way I find it hard to recognise when I am pleasantly full: I can feel when I am becoming full but what point on the dial is the right point to stop? I suppose it all takes practice.
I have been working on leaving a bit of food every time I eat; maybe just a mouthful or a crust but something that tells me I don’t have to eat everything on my plate. I feel better and more relaxed around food. I have a basket full of chocolate in my cupboard but I realise I don’t have to eat some of it every day. Quite often I feel like a small piece of chocolate after dinner but I don’t feel the need to eat a whole bar or bag which feels like an improvement. Crisps are still a bit of a draw to me but I am working on that too.
Another problem area for me is eating when I’m not really hungry but I know I won’t be able to eat later. It feels like it goes against what I am trying to do with my eating but I am not sure how to get around it. I normally don’t eat as much but I still have a bit of my brain that tells me I can it so I should eat it and that contradicts me trying to identify and respond to my hunger. I think I need to read more around that and develop strategies. Another thing is eating with other people: if you’re out with someone it’s hard to say that you don’t want anything to eat and it could feel like a new dieting thing rather than just responding to your body. Still more to work on.
I am sticking with my mantras:
I can have it but I don’t have to
I don’t have to do it but I want to do it
That’s reinforcing my self control and keeping me in charge of all this. It is all my choice and I am working out the best way for me.
I haven’t been writing for the past few weeks as I am trying not to think about this all the time and unfortunately writing about it brings it back to the front of my mind (well, to be honest, it’s there most of the time but I am trying to ignore it). So what have I achieved so far?
1 I have given up dieting. I am never going to diet again. I have wasted too much of my life trying to lose weight on conventional diets, the latest wisdom, without getting anywhere, well ending up bigger than I started. No more!
2 I am eating better, more natural foods, but not denying myself treats. I am working towards finding a way of being relaxed around food, eating, my body, my weight, myself basically.
So far, so positive but one thing I am really struggling with is understanding when I am moderately hungry. I think for so many years I haven’t been at this stage (either stuffed or starving) that I can’t seem to identify when to eat something to stop myself getting really hungry and then having a binge. The steps seem very simple: eat when you’re moderately hungry, eat until you’re fairly satisfied and stop but what happens when you can’t identify this point? I know when I’m famished (normally when I’ve been busy or engrossed in something and my stomach is rumbling loud enough to hear) but normal, everyday hunger? I’m not sure I know what that is. Something like I could eat a bit but not a whole meal. And the calculation is further complicated by mouth hunger (mainly because I am trying to work out if I am hungry or is it just because I am thinking about food) and my past (dieting, eating at set times etc).
Now that’s a bit difficult: I don’t live alone so I can’t always say I’m not eating now as I’m not that hungry as we have dinner, say, at the same time every night. Does my body now get hungry at that time because it knows it’s dinner time? Once I eat dinner I don’t really want anything else though those chattering voices can suggest I might like a bit of chocolate but if I resist then those feelings go away. It’s something I am working on but when I have spent so many years with my eating being governed by external rules it’s not easy to go back to working it out for myself.