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Interestingly, since starting my blog, I’ve found that my food intake is more controlled and sensible. Perhaps, I’ve finally gained enough confidence to feel I deserve better than the food-based punishments I meted out to myself when feeling low or insecure.
One of the biggest differences is that I stop when I’ve had enough. Sounds like such a mundane little thing, but I’ve been struggling with this concept since I was a teenager.
I was a skinny child. I didn’t even really like food – in fact, I dreaded dinner times because there were so few foods I enjoyed eating. Meal times were often a tussle. Sometimes I’d be left at the table on my own, with my food rapidly cooling and congealing, which made it even more impossible to eat what I hadn’t wanted to eat in the first place.
Something happened when I turned 10 years old. I was suddenly starving ALL the time. I used to take sandwiches in to school – three rounds of sandwiches (yes - 6 slices of bread). Everything started to taste good – especially savoury, salty food like crisps, cheese, cured meats and bread. My body changed shape rapidly – for both hormone-related and cheese-related reasons.
For the first time, I started clearing my plate. This met with approval all round. Because I wasn’t wasting anything.
I have an issue with this idea that if you don’t eat something on your plate then it’s a waste. Obviously, you shouldn’t take more than you’re going to be able to manage. But if, say, a restaurant served you up a large dish of fish and chips, and you were full after eating half of it, IS it a waste if you leave the other half??
Of course not.
The restaurant can’t give your left overs to charity or send it to a famine-stricken country. Stuffing yourself with food you don’t need isn’t helping the plight of the hungry. The price on the bill will be the same if you eat up or eat nothing. No one gains anything at all if you eat every morsel in the interests of value-for-money… well, except you – you gain something. You gain weight.
I know about gaining weight. I know what it feels like, and I know how it makes me feel – and those two things aren’t the same at all.
What it feels like: Your clothes seem to suit you less and less. Buttons and zips are tighter, but you assume your clothes shrunk a little in the wash. You look in the mirror, and your edges and outlines seem blurred – you assume you’re having a bad day. You stop looking in the mirror. You stop letting people take photographs of you. You master the art of stifling your conscience. Time and consequence are put on hold every time you eat something you shouldn’t. You look down at the body you barely recognise, at the rolls of flab, at the lumps and bumps, and though you feel mildly disgusted, it’s like looking at someone else’s body – and you think, “It’s only temporary.”
How it makes you feel: You start feeling invisible. No one wolf whistles or shouts from the windows of a white van anymore. You pretend that’s a relief. You feel vulnerable - the more of you there is, the more exposed you are. You feel ashamed about eating too much and doing no exercise, but you’re trapped in a miserable vicious circle because you can’t POSSIBLY consider exercising (especially swimming – lordy!) until you lose a bit of weight. You feel angry and resentful because people start making assumptions about you, simply due to the way you look. You feel sad because you realise that you don’t enjoy clothes shopping any more. What’s to enjoy? Trying on 20 different outfits and looking like 20 different versions of a fat person?
One day I saw a photograph of myself taken at a graduation ceremony. I’d worn my best clothes – a bias-cut skirt which swished around my calves prettily, a close-fitting top, and a front-tie bolero to mask the little lumpy indent of my skirt waist. When I held the photo up to take a good look, my eyes cast around skittishly, searching for ME. There were only 3 people in the photo but I couldn’t find myself, because that bovine lump, looking completely ridiculous in a skirt as wide as it was long, could not possibly be me.
It was though.
With fascinated horror, I gazed at a face which oddly resembled a plate of oatmeal, with all my familiar facial features assembled in the centre – like a garnish of blueberries. How could that balloon possibly be my face?
Not long after this, I suffered a health set-back which finally pushed me to do something. I couldn’t imagine doing anything sporty. ‘Sporty’ was out of my comfort zone, even when I wasn’t obese.
We took to walking, Hubby and I. Sometimes, after work and a meal, we’d just close our front door behind us and walk around our neighbourhood. We’d try new paths and cut-throughs, we’d look through people’s front windows (most rewarding around dusk!) and talk.
It worked. The weight started to come off, and I began to regain my energy and my self-respect. I fell pregnant with our oldest child, and after giving birth to him, weighed less than I did before. I continued to lose weight then, because feeding my baby became my number 1 priority – which meant I had to eat a whole, clean diet so I could produce good milk.
Then I became pregnant with our daughter. She was ravenous, even in utero, and I actually lost weight, even as my belly grew huge with a baby who’d evidently inherited Dad’s height and appetite. By the time our daughter was a few months old, I was a size 8, and looked nothing like the sad moonfaced girl in the picture.
However, I don’t think I’ll ever lose that feeling of being overweight. Even now, I can feel a phantom outline of myself, several inches wider than my real dimensions. Every time I look in the mirror, I expect to see that moonface. Every time I have a weekend of poor choices and wake up on Monday looking watery and bloated, I panic and wonder whether I am doomed to return to my obese state.
Losing weight is so much more than changing a number on the scales. Being overweight leaves a psychological imprint, much like the varicella virus remaining in your bloodstream forever after a bout of chicken pox. You may think you are cured, but the affliction lies dormant, waiting for a weak moment to reappear.
The kind of exercise I do now works for me because the emphasis is not about how your body looks. The emphasis is to celebrate what your body can do. The specific aim to increase strength and improve endurance actually takes the focus off your weight. I don’t even weigh myself any more. I have no curiosity about the numbers on the scale. I know how I feel, and I’m content with that.
I read about a popular fitness guru who fat-shamed a woman recently, by taking a photo of the unfortunate lady, labelling her hips ‘love-handles’ in big purple writing, and posting the picture on social media, along with an unamusing caption pondering what kind of food she was ordering.
The most shocking thing about this – apart from ALL of it – is that the woman in question was AT THE GYM! On the treadmill. Trying to improve her life.
What I simply don’t understand is why we live in a society where no one can mind their own business. Why do we think it’s ok to judge people we don’t even know? Why do we already set a standard benchmark of the way we think these strangers should look? And then, we become so infected with the tyranny of body-shaming, that we do it to ourselves. In fact, we are usually our own worst detractors.
I saw a photo of a friend on facebook recently. She was on holiday, wearing a bikini, with a huge smile and a cocktail. I started writing a comment – something like “Wow. Wish I could rock a bikini like you do!”
And then I deleted it. It was all kinds of wrong. First of all, why should I highlight what she was wearing and what she looked like? She was obviously happy and enjoying herself. That should have been the focus of any comment. And second of all, why was I being self-deprecating about not being able to wear a bikini?? A voice in my head suddenly said, “Why the heck shouldn’t I wear a bikini? I may have stretch marks from the babies, but SO WHAT??”
I asked myself, “Yeah… why DON’T I wear bikinis?” And I had to confess that I was worried strangers would think I didn’t ‘rock’ my bikini.
Ha. Well, things are changing around here. It might be time to go shopping…