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.
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.
When I’m feeling unhappy about me (my weight, dress size, my stomach, what people are saying about me) I think that buying some new clothes will help sort it out. Somewhere out there is that fantastic dress that will make me look two sizes smaller, have people asking me if I have lost weight, something magical that will make me feel better about myself. I have this idea in my head as to what I am going to look like and sadly even after finding a dress that matches my dream the results in the mirror don’t match up to my expectations. I didn’t like what I saw beforehand so putting a different wrapping on it isn’t helping.
I read an article the other day about accepting your body: this doesn’t mean loving it but merely realising the usefulness of parts of it and, I suppose, adopting a neutral tone when examining yourself. That would work for me if I couldn’t get to the point of loving myself but even that seems a step too far. Every mirror has to reflect back my flaws, my eyes instantly drawn to the bits of me I don’t like, can’t see the use of, and yet I am so, so sick of living like this with these tedious thoughts never far from my mind. And I hate how these thoughts have such a huge impact on my enjoyment of life. It’s stupid, pointless, ridiculous etc etc and yet I can’t seem to stop.
This morning I decided to try on my jeans: they fitted. They are tight but they were tight last time I wore them. What do the negative voices do? They keep telling me I am getting fatter (I was tempted for a fleeting moment to step on the bathroom scales – what a self-defeating catastrophe that could have been) even though the evidence didn’t back that up. Am I a less valuable human being if the scales reflect a higher number than they used to? The trouble is I think I am and I’ve got to keep working at changing that.
We had a lovely family day yesterday: a birthday meal, plenty to eat and drink, lots of laughter, a really lovely day. I went to bed feeling blessed and happy. And then I had a horrible dream: the only bit of it I remember clearly is being told I had put on a lot of weight. I woke up feeling awful, and then sad that this obsession I have with my body, my eating, my weight, could impact on me so strongly and spoil the end of a lovely weekend.
The primary feeling I had was shame or embarassment. Perhaps the idea that I could enjoy a family day without monitoring all I was eating and drinking was too much for my subconscious, perhaps it was trying to inflict my old ways of thinking back on me? I sat and thought about it, remembering I hadn’t actually eaten that much so why were these negative voices so strong? And even if I had eaten more than normal why did it matter that much? We don’t do this every day, every week or even every month so one day wouldn’t have a huge impact. It just all seems so pointless and negative.
I don’t want the focus of my life to be on this, I want food to be simply fuel but it seems like parts of me are fighting back and I hated the feeling of shame, the idea of someone really hitting me where it hurts: the way I look and the way I feel about the way I look. I imagine every mouthful causing my hips to expand and I am fighting this really hard, talking to myself with the kindess I use with other people, but it is still fighting back. I still look at photos of friends from school to see if they are bigger or smaller than me: what a sad way to judge the world and the people in it. I realise the fight has just begun just when I was hoping it was getting nearer the end!
It almost seems too much to write this down but things seem to be changing. I don’t mean I have reached the end, but I get the idea, a tiny idea, that things might be moving in the right direction. Ok, I still wake up every day thinking about my body, my weight, what I might eat etc but it feels like my perspective has changed, it feels almost like I am watching myself. I have made small changes: leaving a mouthful of food most times when I eat, being aware when I eat when I am bored (my usual reason) without being hard on myself, sort of accepting it as a step along the way.
Of course this all makes me feel nervous: is it real, will it last, can I be getting things right and at the moment I am trying to keep positive, keep working at it, keep making these baby steps. Is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end?