You know how bad you feel when you have a special event, a friend's wedding, a reunion, and you wanted to shift those extra pounds, and you didn't do it? So the day comes and now you've got to try to find something to wear that makes you feel half decent, and you have to figure out how to hold in your stomach. Or after a weekend of over-indulging do you promise yourself that that you'll start being 'good' on Monday? But all you can think about is what to eat and what not to eat, as images of fresh bread or salt and vinegar crisps float into your mind. By Wednesday you're struggling, and succumb to a packet of Malteasers from the vending machine near your work desk, followed by an evening of picking and grazing. Every evening you promise yourself "tomorrow WILL be different".
I was all too familiar with this daily struggle - hovering around the fridge in the evenings, standing over the sink in the kitchen eating, always wanting more to eat. I've been known to wolf down a tub of ice-cream and a few packets of biscuits in one sitting (or standing!) I started dieting when I was 16, counting calories and restricting what I ate. I was happy when I was in control. But when I got upset or anxious, I would eat. This cycle continued throughout my twenties and in college life.
Looking back, I wasn't really living life. Food numbed me as I grazed my way through each day. By focusing on food- what I had eaten, what I would eat next and how - I could distract from feeling bored or anxious. When I ate, I didn't really eat. I hoovered food and I inhaled food, but I didn't really taste it.
My big "Aha" moment came shortly after my daughter, Keela, was born when I was 28 years old. By then I had separated from my husband and was a single mother to a 6-week old colicky baby, and trying to complete my PhD. I was exhausted, and I felt I was between a rock and a hard place. I clearly remember a moment when my daughter was still an infant, and thinking, "This cannot go on. I cannot carry on living like this". I wanted a better life for me and for my daughter. I felt horrified at the thought of my beautiful little girl becoming like me. All little girls want to be like their mother. But this was not what I wanted for my child. I wanted her to be happy in herself and to have a healthy relationship with food.
Looking back I think that by caring for my little daughter, I started caring for myself. I learnt that I didn't really have a weight or food problem- I had a self-care problem that manifested through weight and eating. Now when I stop and ask myself, "What am I really hungry for?" the answer is usually "I feel overwhelmed by work" or "I'm afraid things won't work out". Another diet cannot fix this these concerns and anxieties. Only you can take the reins back.
Now I try to remain mindful of what and when I am eating. Otherwise I can fall back into habits of unconscious eating. I know it can be tedious to focus completely on your eating, especially at first! I still get uneasy when I'm sitting watching TV, and the person beside is munching biscuits or chocolate and I can hear the rustling of the wrapper. My mind start screaming, "give me them. I want them!" Yet I know I don't need them. I remind myself, "I can have some when I'm hungry". When I find myself reaching for food, and I'm not hungry, it's often a sign that something is bothering me, as trivial as sending an email.
While food was my way of disconnecting from reality, of checking out when I was bored, anxious, now I am awake. I focus on being fully alive, present, and engaged, connected in every area of my life. Right now. It takes a degree of bravery and courage to face up to your eating triggers as it means looking them in the eye, instead of looking for refuge in the biscuit tin. But it is liberating. I called my approach Heyday because it's about bringing a joie de vivre to your life.