Like many women, my attitude to my weight and body shape is fairly complicated. There are many factors influencing it - health, feminism, the desire to be attractive, the desire to eat cake, whether or not I'm about to meet up with someone I haven't seen for a few years - but really it comes down to a constant tension between two polar opposite ethoses which play out in my head thus:
Day One - I pull on my jeans. They feel a bit tight. I reflect regretfully on last night's pizza, half bottle of wine and half tub of Ben & Jerry's. I am seized with a conviction that this is not the way to treat my body. My body is a temple. You are what you eat. The way to happiness (and slimness) is suddenly blindingly apparent. I should cut down on sugar, alcohol and other refined carbs. I should increase the amount of fish, seafood, fruit and vegetables I eat. I should avoid heavily processed, salty food. I should exercise regularly. My energy levels will increase, my skin will glow, my jeans will fit, and I won't get Type 2 diabetes, bowel cancer, breast cancer, Alzheimer's or CHD. What's not to like about that?
Days Two, Three, Four and Five - Wow, this really works; I'm so glad I'm the kind of woman who takes care of herself. What delicious recipes I'm discovering. My stomach is flatter, my skin is clear and my energy levels really are soaring. There can be nothing tastier than fresh grilled fish and a huge salad dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. And that endorphin rush after going for a run or a swim, it's unbeatable.
Day Six - Yuk, it's cold and rainy today. What I need is an afternoon in the comfort of my own warm kitchen. I'll bake cupcakes with my daughter. I'll put a delicious beef and red wine casserole on to simmer, and serve it later with mounds of buttery mashed potato. Syrup sponge and custard would go down a treat after that as well. Yummy. Oh, but hang on a minute. What about the that healthy living malarkey? The reasons for thinking that was a good idea are suddenly obscure. I'm not one of these health food fascists. I am a cook and a foodie. I am a woman with curves. I'm not a whinging calorie counter, I'm a live life to the full kinda gal. And I'm definitely not going to become anaemic through iron deficiency, or get osteoporosis through calcium deficiency. Bring on the pudding!
Days Seven, Eight, Nine and Ten - I'm so glad I'm not one of those women who obsess about their weight all the time. What amazing recipes there are in the world. Hmm, should I make chilli or risotto for dinner tonight? There can be nothing tastier than organic bacon from our local butcher, nestled between two slices of homemade white bread, slathered with butter and a smear of brown sauce. And the endorphin rush of sinking into a hot bubble bath with a good book and a glass of wine, it's unbeatable.
Day Nine - I pull on my jeans. They feel a bit tight...*and repeat, ad infinitum*
The thing is, when a lot of people fall off the healthy eating wagon, they do it consciously. "Oh, I really shouldn't have this slice of chocolate cake, I'm trying to be good. Never mind, salad for supper.", whereas I manage somehow to convince myself that not eating the chocolate cake would be tantamount to denying my whole personality, and so I should eat it with relish, and then enjoy steak frites for dinner into the bargain. Then a few days later, I genuinely feel that fresh fruit is all I want for pudding, I know that anything else will make me sluggish and lethargic all afternoon, and that seems genuinely undesirable.
And this internal debate is inextricably linked with my vision of femininity, how I perceive myself as a woman, and how I want the world to react to me. I have my Gwyneth moments (well, sort of) of feeling I exude a healthy glow, that I am setting a positive example of healthy living to my daughter, that I am enabling myself to get the most out of life by looking after my body. But I also have my Nigella moments (well, sort of) of feeling that I am healthily voluptuous, that I am setting a positive example of joie de vivre for my daughter, that I am enabling myself to get the most out of life by wholeheartedly embracing the sensual pleasure of amazing food.
One of the quotes which I always think of when I reflect on this issue is from Jennifer Weiner's fabulous debut novel Good In Bed, when her heroine Cannie is finally able to accept her body shape:
"I will love myself, and my body, for what it can do- because it is strong enough to lift, to walk, to ride a bicyle up a hill, to embrace the people I love and hold them fully, and to nurture a new life. I will love myself because I am sturdy. Because I did not -will not- break."
Which, funnily enough, seems to work whatever mindset I find myself in that day.
I'm still wishing, however, that I'd bought the sign I saw in a gift shop recently "Never trust a skinny cook'.