I battle with my weight on a daily bases. Every day is a fight to pretend that I don’t like bread, that I don’t want to eat more then a small packet of oatmeal for breakfast. I fight my body everyday, and I ignore it’s cravings, I ignore the fun of a craft burger and I never touch pasta. I battle to get up in the morning and run 6 miles. Every time I run I have to fight.
I get ill frequently, and sometimes I lack energy and I know that maybe if I ate some more carbs, stopped battling my naturally curby body shape then I might have more energy, would be less tired and wouldn't have to leave nights out so soon.
But I battle, because I like being this size, I like it when things start to jut and when I can see the slight outline of a six pack. I like it when my hip bones stick out. But I battle because I hate being this size, I hate the wasted energy, I hate having small boobs, saggy from weight loss when I went from a 34 F to a 34C.
My boyfriend encourages me to eat more, but part me wonders deep down if he would want to be with someone who was a stone heavier. I don’t know what happens if I start eating whatever I want. I don’t know what that is like, not to punish or goad or hate myself for indulging. I don’t know if I could stop. I don’t know if a week of indulgence, or just eating sandwiches would burst a wall down.
I can’t imagine eating a sandwich. I remember eating a kebab in front of some old housemates. They were overwhelmed. "You, eating a kebab?"
You think this is easy? You think I dislike food? You think I want to always choose a salad? You think I don’t want to be like you darling, and order a burger and skinny fries? You think I want to steal food off your plate? To be this size I have to do this. I was 10 stone at 14, and my weight continued to climb. I spent Friday nights eating pints of ice cream and whole pizzas. I hated the way I looked, but it was never enough to stop eating. It was never enough to put down the ice cream. Despite the comments from class mates, despite always being a guys ‘friend’ I was happyish because my mother told me that men eventually like curvy girls.
I read a magazine about the atkins diet, and I decided to try it out. Started each day with yogurt, and ate nothing but prawn stir frys for dinner. I shrank so fast. My mum told me that is was puppy fat, and it would fall off me, but it didn’t. I worked at it. I got controlling. I got small. Then I went to University and everything changed. I started to eat again, but like my adolescent years. I kept up the no carb diet, but when I was a teenager, that didn’t include alcohol, or in fact sugar. Sugar was always my weakness. I barely moved.
I started to drop weight again when I turned 23. I went to the gym, I went running, and bit by bit, inch by inch, I shrank again. I used food as a way to control my life. People told me how great I looked, and I smiled and nodded. I looked great now. I didn't before. I took it too far of course. I got down to 8 stone. I ran everyday. I survived on coffee and pears. I stopped having a period. My body wanted me to be a slightly chubby girl.
I am not skinny. I have fat cells dying to be filled up. I have hips, and thighs.
I am slim.
I have to battle to be this way. Every day I battle. I don’t know what it is not to. I don’t know how other people would react to me if I just let go. If I stopped running and restricting. I am scared of my own body. I am teetering on the edge, and no one can see it except me. I work hard to not get fat, I work hard to not get too skinny. When I was skinny my mother cried, and I was tired, and my sister said I needed help. When I was fat my mother was happy, and boys slept with me, but never stayed. No one asked me out for dinner.
I look at my friends who eat normally, who know my orders off by heart, who know what I will not eat, who know never to invite me over for pasta or pizza or risotto, who know I will not eat pudding. I look at them, and I want to ask them if they hide these secret battles in their heart too.
My cousin is on weight watchers. She is 13. Her parents put her on it. She is being congratulated for losing weight and not eating pudding at family events. She is beaming with pride. I want to tell her how I ate a pizza two weeks ago, and I texted my boyfriend, and he was so pleased for me. I want to tell her tragic that is. How I was preparing for a sold out one women show, and yet the pizza? The pizza was the thing I needed congratulating over. I wanted to tell her my boyfriend had secret discussions with my mother about making sure I ate whilst training for a marathon. How I want to eat normally, just so I will put on weight and show everyone that this is not all in my head, that I can’t eat more without their being consequences. That I do this for you, so you can admire my body from across the room. That I love to look at myself disappear. I want to say fuck you to the people who comment on my eating and tell them that I have a perfectly controlled amount of carbs now, that I don’t touch pasta or rice or bread or potatoes, but it’s not always a bad thing. That I have low blood pressure, and I’m healthy and I can run under a 8 minute mile. That I can not enjoy the little things, because I have my eye on the bigger picture. That I would love to stop fighting, but I can’t because I am afraid you would treat me differently, because in my experience, they did.
An old university friend of mine ran into my sister. He heard I was doing a one woman show. He told her he was not surprised, that I could do anything if I put my mind to it. Like loosing lots of weight. That was the signifier of success for him, the weight loss. The four stone I lost after University. That meant dedication.
Men say they love a girl who eats, who attacks food with gusto. But they don’t. They want a girl who eats pizza with them, but who doesn’t gain weight from it. They want someone who will save all their calories for when they dine together. Then punish themselves silently for it. I would love to live in a world where men, for one day, have the same calorie restrictions as women, have the same pressure, looks, comments, media portrayals, lambasting, scathing thoughts and fears, need to be perfect, and were able to consume fewer calories in general because of their size, yet had a body that cried out hourly for sugar and fat, for the ability to house a baby with a layer of soft blubber.
I am working everyday to accept my body. To ignore it. To regain control of it, and feel like it is not some alien being which only let's me down. I am trying very hard to be healthy, happy and have the ability to not think about food all the time. To not punish myself if I just don't have the energy or time to go to the gym. I am trying, and this website, really really helps.
I have always thought that I had a healthy attitude to food and weight, though I was aware that luck played a part - I grew up on healthy meals, plenty of exercise and a slim frame. Therefore I didn't need to diet, was happy with my body and was a generally well-adjusted individual.
But then I gained some weight. Not a lot, just 8 or 9 pounds, but it did show. My clothes were tight. At this point I realised that I am only happy with my body when it fits into a (literally) narrow ideal.
So of course I dieted. I made sure to eat all the food groups, plenty of fruit and veg, and exercised every day - very strictly for a month, a bit less strictly for the second month, and by then I had almost lost the weight. I congratulated myself and went back to 'normal' life, albeit with less cake.
I still have not really resolved the issue though. I feel sure (most of the time) that I am concerned more with health than beauty, but I know really that beauty plays more of a role than I would like. But how do I work this out, other than trying to think positively about health and not look in the mirror (or the scales) too much?
Further thoughts on these and other beauty issues can be found at my blog, www.beautifulintheory.co.uk, where discussion is always welcome.
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I have never ever in my entire life talked about this before. It is the story of how I managed to avoid an eating disorder by a hair's breadth.
People always assume, even tell me, that I'm either a) the lucky slim girl who can devour a decadent piece of chocolate cake without gaining a single gram, or b) the perfect example of iron willpower and self-control.
None of these reflect reality. The reality is that "self-control" has messed with my mind quite badly.
I had crappy eating habits as a kid and teenager but my body was very forgiving. I used to think my eating was fine and that I obviously could not get fat. We're talking about a daily diet along the lines of 'dry sugary cereal and no milk for breakfast; a tiny, unbalanced school cafeteria lunch; and then starving until Mom serves rolls for dinner'. Not quite as crappy every day, but you get the picture. Lots of sugar. Little protein and vegetables. I was often hungry, tired and cranky but considered it normal. My weight was on the low end of normal. I had no such thing as a regular menstruation. It came whenever it pleased about 6 times per year.
There were also a few times when I was a teenager when I got a "kick" from restricting my eating or from losing a kilo, but I never took it far, being afraid that someone could find out. I'm not sure where it comes from - I've never been impressed by skinny model figures (heck, I don't even read fashion magazines).
Then I started college and took my crappy eating habits with me. Sure, I learnt how to cook and had some decent, healthy meals but still ate a lot of junk in addition to them: Candied nuts and fruit, halva, chocolate, cake, cookies, puddings, tiramisu, a lot of processed stuff. I felt perfectly fine eating all this between and after meals, because 'I cannot get fat. I'm a special case with a badass metabolism'.
Imagine my shock when after the first 3 months of college I weighed myself and realized I had gained 5kg. No shit, Sherlock. Despite looking the same as always (and I scrutinized my figure in the mirror very closely), I was still horrified because the scale said 'You were wrong. You CAN get fat. Did you seriously believe you were somehow special? Well, you are not!'
I told myself that something had to be done. I needed to lose those five kg. In retrospect that made no sense: my weight was perfectly normal. I'm guessing I did that because I felt I had somehow lost control. Losing those 5kg was an attempt to regain power and control. I might have fooled myself with my careless eating, but I was smarter now and would fix things! I did not think of myself as "fat" but I was suddenly terrified of gaining weight, because "if I can't trust myself with food, anything can happen!"
Of course I knew about eating disorders, and I was perfectly sure that such a crazy thing could never happen to me. Why the hell would I want to become like that? No, that could not possibly happen to me. Because I was in power. Because I had control. Something had changed. It was as though a gear in my mind had been shifted from a careless attitude about food to a new, radically different attitude: Now, all of a sudden, food was dangerous. Something to be controlled, regulated, and restricted.
I did not realize that this is an extremely dangerous mindset.
Having researched a lot about weight control I decided to try calorie counting. Arranging my eating in such a way that I ate about 1600 calories daily (weekly average) was a very easy thing to do thanks to an online calorie counting food journal. And sure enough, over the course of 3 months I lost five kg. I was now back at my high school weight. It was a great experience. I felt extremely powerful and in control. Meeting my first boyfriend around the same time and noticing how much he loved my body only added to that thrill and excitement I felt at being so good at losing weight. I got a real kick out of it.
Now I can understand why 'anorexia' means Magersucht in my native language, which literally means 'addiction to being skinny'. The kick that one gets from restricted eating and scale numbers can be addictive, even if you don't actually have the disease (yet).
I was hungry a lot, but thought that was okay. I ignored my body telling me that it was not getting enough nourishment.
There were also a few moments when I ate „too much“, and for the first times in my life I felt awfully and extremely guilty and ashamed about having eaten something. It wasn't just about food: it was as though I had no control over myself. And that was a bad thing, because I was successful in everything else I did. People had high expectations in me. I had to be able to do this! Trying to make up for my „mistakes“, I restriced calories the next day. It was a sort of „punishment“, and perversely it felt right.
Every day I was obsessing about my food intake more. I was adding up the calories, the numbers. All the time.
Sadly, I still had not realized the importance of healthy eating, still not knowing what exactly a balanced meal is.
But I did not yet realize that I was moving very close to „eating disorder“ territory because from what I knew, eating disordered people ate a lot less than I did. They were crazy fanatics, and I was not, right? I was functioning normally, right?
One day I decided I had enough practice in calorie-counting, and now could be trusted to manage without it. After all I'd been successful. One could not count calories for their entire life, right? So I stopped calorie-counting.
Sure enough, over the course of a few months, those five kilograms returned. I was horrified.
And then several small realizations came. The first one was, 'perhaps I have been fooling myself again.'
Perhaps I was never meant to lose those five kilograms. Perhaps my body actually wanted to have them! Perhaps diets really don't work.
As more time passed, more realizations and questions came. For example...
Why and how had some foods become so 'dangerous'?
My boyfriend loves my body. Neither he nor I could notice a visual difference between five more or less kilograms. Was it truly that important?
What did my body really want and need? Had I truly ever listened to it?
Most importantly, I slowly realized that there was something wrong; that obsessing about food and calories is not normal.
Something was messing with my mind! My mind used to be different! What had happened?
It was as though I had lost my 'innocence' when it came to food. I had unjustly declared it a danger, an enemy.
How could I do that? Food is something I need for survival and health, something I should appreciate!
Over the course of 1-2 years I refined my cooking skills and learnt a lot more about how to eat healthy. Little by little I manage to make satisfying, balanced meals, learning what my body really wanted and needed. The following „rules“ have now become habits for me:
Three meals a day, because that's what I grew up with.
If I get very hungry between meals – which is now rare - it means the meal hasn't been substantial enough.
Each meal needs to have a decent protein source and some fat. Each lunch and dinner needs to have some vegetables. That way, 5 daily servings of fruit and veggies are easily achieved, even exceeded.
Meat just 1-3 times weekly. (Not because it's „bad“ but because I want to eat only organic meat, having decided that what's better for the animals is also better for me. I can't afford it more often). And it's okay because I've figured out every other suitable protein source.
No sweet drinks but that's okay because I've never liked them anyway.
When eating grains, use whole grains at least 80% of the time.
Fruit for dessert. An easy „rule“ because I've always loved fruit anyway.
I eat 80% healthy and 20% 'unhealthy' now, and have been for the past 2 years.
It works beautifully. My weight has been very constant in that time. I have accepted the extra five kilograms and feel good and energetic most of the time. I weigh myself about every 3 months or so - and I don't own a scale, lest it mind-fucks me again. My periods are a bit more regular, albeit not monthly ones. But my gyno says I'm fine. And I feel fine, better than ever.
My body is very happy with my new eating habits. It does not become ravenous or cranky anymore as long as I eat those 3 meals in regular 4-6 hour intervals (and that's not so hard to plan).
No food is forbidden. People tell me I have „great self-control“ when I'm not taking a second piece of my grandma's yummy cake, but it has nothing to do with self-control. 'If you only knew', I then think. My body simply doesn't neednor demand any more of the sweet stuff. It knows that it's gonna be fed well, and soon. It knows I won't neglect it. Self control, or the illusion thereof, is something that has mind-fucked me, so I don't want to hear any compliments about it, even though they're well meant.
I've learnt how to be kind to my body, so now my body is being kind to me.
Admittedly I probably won't ever regain my carefree innocence about food. You know what I do with some really delicious sugary treats? I put them in the freezer! As fine as I'm doing now, almost never overeating, I still don't trust myself hundred percent. Calorie numbers and compensation thinking probably won't ever be fully gone from my mind.
And now for the numbers. My weight span during this whole time was between 53/54 and 58/59 kilograms all the time.
Isn't it sad? Such a normal, healthy, perfect number for a woman my age and size! How did such a number – such a small difference – manage to mess with my mind so much?
Looking back it seems outrageous, incredible. Now I can only shake my head about myself.
I still have "kicks" sometimes - for example, in winter 2011/2012 I discovered I'd accidentally lost 2 kg despite an irrational fear of the opposite, but I was a good girl and did not let the "kick" get to me, but gained the 2kg back.
All the time in the past years I have never talked about this. No one has ever suspected that I could have been obsessed about food – how could I possibly let anyone know about my mental struggles with something so basic when I was an image of success in all the other things I did? My parents don't know. My best friend does not know. My boyfriend does not know. I'm someone known for her healthy ego, determination and self-confidence. They would never assume or believe that I could possibly have issues of any kind, however small. I'm practically not allowed to have issues.
I'm still very ashamed about it all – it is like a scar in my mind that has healed well and that I'm trying to hide.