Last year, I gave up any form of weird food restriction after a Dieting Decade which saw me trying every single fad going to keep my weight under control. Atkins, Dukan, 5:2, GI - I'd done the lot. And I was heartily sick of it.
I had my 'epiphany' on a Turkish beach, when I suddenly realised that it was all utter bollocks - I didn't have to adhere to some magazine advertising executive's view of female body shape and I could simply be me, as I am, eating normal foods and being my normal shape. The world didn't end and I didn't suddenly die socially - if anything, I became happier, more confident, sexier and sharper-minded. I simply realised that restricting food restricts a woman's ability to perform well in the world and I describe my Road to Damascus moment here: http://becauseicanblog.com/2014/07/24/epiphany/
Since then, I've really noticed how other women seem amazed that I order normal food in restaurants, and don't sit there picking at a protein-based salad (as I used to do). When I offer up the excuse that I walked to work that morning (it takes an hour and twenty minutes) they seem happy that I've 'earned' the right to have a proper meal (ie with carbohydrates). What I'm eating is always commented upon, and I notice more and more that the other women feel the need to 'be good' at the dinner table. And to tell everyone about it.
I went for a dinner last year with a group of friends and sat next to a Serial Restricter. She talked about the calorific value of her food throughout, then told me all the various ways she was going to 'work it off' the next day. When women go out for meals together the topic often turns to weight control, and the more they eat and drink at that meal, the more they tell everyone about all the ways they'll keep the weight off afterwards. I used to do it too. Yawnsville. You can guarantee the guys aren't talking about this shit.
Recently, a friend I hadn't seen for a while turned up for lunch and another female friend immediately 'complimented' her on how 'skinny' she looked. A little piece of me died inside, knowing that this is the first thing we value, or monitor, about each other. Now, I make a point of never commenting on appearance, until I've at least asked about how a friend's life is. And that applies to women and men. If I tell them they look 'well', it's because they truly do look healthy - I'm never going to use it as a codeword for 'slimmer', which is what most women do.
I'll never forget seeing a work colleague take a brownie from someone who'd baked for the office and watching her scrape her teeth down it before discreetly throwing it in the bin. That moment has stuck in my mind as a truly tragic one. This woman was, and is, an amazing person. She is better than brownie-scraping.
But women in groups police each other's weight. Codewords are used to comment on shape and you get used to your body being surreptitiously scanned by other women when you walk into a room. I've worked in female-heavy offices where eating disorders break out because one woman goes on a crash diet. When I taught ballet, a promising young girl of twelve became anorexic because another girl told her she had a 'funny' body.
I think that women owe it to themselves to be strong and healthy-bodied, able to stand, walk and run in the world without fear of a small gust of wind knocking them over. I think we owe it our brains to keep them well-fed, so that we are able to speak confidently, debate loudly and deliver a killer pitch at work. Not to mention show younger women a good example. You can't do any of this well if you're surviving on 500 calories a day.
Ladies, let rip. We don't need to do this. No one is asking us to be control-freak skinny and unhappy except us. And we are agreeing to it because we think that's what the world wants from us. Ask yourself who is going to love you more for being 'skinny' - possibly the magazine advertising executive because he/she is selling you products based on your biggest fear. It won't be anyone else, not even you. Because you'll never be skinny enough.
Don't be scared. Have the brownie, then walk out of the door and take up your space in the world.
You've earned it.