Content note: This blog contains descriptions of extreme eating habits
By the time I was 24 I had been on a diet for ten years. There was the Atkins Diet; the Dukan Diet; Weight Watchers; the three months I only ate cereal; the time I ate Ambrosia rice pudding pots for every meal (coined ‘the white food phase’ by my mum); the time I discovered half a cabbage and three slices of ham was only 150 calories and ate it with a teaspoon of mustard every day for a term at uni; the going out for meals and scouring the menu for what looked like the lowest calorie option, and then ordering it without any sauce or sides just in case; the list goes on and on…
Then there was the flip side . Not eating anything all day then caving in an hour before the shop closed, buying every ready meal and desert I could afford and eating them all in one go; making and eating bowls and bowls of raw cookie dough (seriously the most delicious food stuff on this green earth) until I felt sick; eating whole packets of biscuits and chocolate bars at a time then hiding all the empty wrappers; tallying how many calories I’d allow myself in a week then eating all of them in one session; I could continue…
I still count these latter phases as ‘being on a diet’ because even though my eating habits weren’t getting my any closer to my dream bod, I still felt guilty when I ate, weighed myself often, and thought about food a lot.
The crux of my experience was that my weight and how good/attractive/fun I was were inherently linked, and that as one went up the other went down. At the most extreme I felt that my personality — who I was — was my body and my weight. Essentially, the more I ate, and the more I weighed (and I’m talking four or five pounds here), the more I felt panicked and not good enough.
I know. Completely crazy, right?
At this point I’m just going to throw in that in all those years of dieting was I never overweight, and for almost all of that time my weight was within a 10lb range. Ten years of craziness for 10 pounds!
Those eating habits were so clearly not a healthy attitude to food and looking back on them now I’m struck by how extreme they are. That said, I bet many women can relate to some aspect of them, and I’ve included them here, even though it’s uncomfortable, to show how easily the innocent concept of ‘losing a few pounds’ can spiral into something more sinister.
Anyway, when I was 24 I read How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran and it changed my life. It was like a switch had flipped in my brain and I suddenly and jubilantly realised that my weight didn’t matter. Or, more accurately, my weight didn’t matter to anyone but me, and once I realised that no one else really cared, I stopped caring too.
The line in the book that did it for me (nestled in amongst all the empowerment and feminism which definitely helped) was something like:
I believe I’ve finally nailed a sensible definition of what a good, advisable, ‘normal’ weight is: human shaped. If you look recognisably, straightforwardly human — the kind of reasonable figure a ten year old would draw, if asked to sketch a person in under a minute — then you are fine… so if you can find a frock you look good in and can run up three flights of stairs, you’re not fat.
Goodness knows why this one phrase did it for me after years of mental toil, but it did, and I have pressed this book into the hands of many women (and men) over the years, so if you haven’t read it yet I can 100% recommend you do!
Something about that book made me realise that I’m not going to be any more ‘me’ for losing a stone. If a friend or colleague loses 8lbs I might not even notice, and if I did I would think ‘good for them’ then go on with my day. I would not think: ‘now they’re living their best life, are a fundamentally better and more fulfilled person, and probably loads more fun to be around!’. My feelings for the people I love and value have absolutely no relation to their weight, so why would their feelings for me?!
Honestly, I’m so sad for the years I wasted not having figured out this most basic of logic.
So, to my main point, which is weddings. I’m getting married in June and for the first time in years I have started thinking about my weight again and I don’t like it.
Soon after I got engaged someone said to me, “You’re going to get so THIN!” and I indignantly thought ‘am I?!’ but soon that turned into a doubting ‘should I?’.
That old familiar feeling has been picking away at me. Knowing I’m going to eat something and questioning whether I should really do it, and feeling guilty for letting myself down when I do. By eating normal food that we need to survive. You think a girl would learn. Anyway, here’s why I’ve started having those feelings, and why I’m not standing for them.
First, there’s The Dress. The icon of the wedding.
All the wedding dress shop websites urgently proclaim: “We won’t order a dress any smaller than your current size in case you don’t lose the weight” and “Lose weight for the wedding before you come and see us!” And I tell you what, it got to me. I even joined Slimming World for two miserable weeks before going dress shopping.
But eventually reason prevailed and I realised that it’s one dress and one day . A happy, brilliant day, where more eyes will be on me than normal — but I’m not going to put myself through six months of mental toil about eating for the sake of one dress and one day. After all, no one’s lasting memory when they go home at the end of my wedding is going to be ‘that dress would have looked so much better if she wasn’t carrying those extra five pounds’.
“But what about the photos?” I hear you cry, “They are forever!”.
Tell me, how often do you see the wedding photos of your family and friends? Maybe they have one up in their house, but they probably have lots of others too, and they probably look (almost) as happy and glowing in the photo taken on holiday after two weeks of gorging on paella in Tenerife, so I’m not buying that argument either.
Next, there’s the going over old photos to show at the wedding - a timeline of our time together.
There’s nothing like looking a photos of yourself as a thin tanned 24-year-old to make you question your life choices since then. ‘How was I so thin?’, ‘When did I start getting bags under my eyes?’, ‘Why can’t I look like that now?!’, ‘Maybe I should lose some weight?!’.
Well, here’s the kicker — when I was 24 I looked back at photos of myself at 21 and wished I could still look that good, and when I was 21 I looked back at the photos of when I was 18, and I thought exactly the same thing. And all those times I never stopped and enjoyed how I looked there and then. Well I’m not going to carry on making that mistake. In 15 years time, when I look back at photos of now, I’m going to know that in that moment I felt good as much as I looked good.
Now for my last point. I wasn’t even going to bring men into this because the men that are closest to me have never made me feel anything but great about how I look. But recently I got a comment from a man which definitely has a place in this little rant.
I was telling him about my not-losing-weight-for-the-wedding and he responded with: “Well at least you won’t be committing The Bridal Deception!”. The words alone set alarm bells ringing. ‘The Bridal Deception’, apparently, is the situation whereby a bride looks her absolute best on her wedding day then it’s all downhill from there, and is as a result deceiving their husband about her appearance for the rest of their time together.
One. Are you actually serious?! (caveat: I do think it was a joke, but it wasn’t funny.)
Two. If you’ve been in a relationship for over six months and you haven’t seen your girl hungover looking like a shrivelled-up prawn, unwashed, and wearing pizza-stained joggers then she is a stronger woman than I. And if you still want to marry her after that then no amount of hairspray, shellac, or weight loss is going to convince me that ‘The Bridal Deception’ is a thing.
Even so, it’s that sort of crap, along with all the other things I’ve mentioned that starts picking away at the edges of all that we tell ourselves about our weight not being important, and that’s why I wrote this down.
I’ll let you in on a secret; I wrote this for myself. When I sat down and started this I was a portion of lasagne and a flapjack down, feeling a bit guilty and that really I should be putting more effort in to losing weight for the wedding. Two cathartic hours later I’m absolutely sure I’m fine as I am.