Or should I say, “to start falling in love my body”. It’s a work in progress.
Writing this has story has fallen at a really interesting (and poignant) time for me. It was this time 6 years ago that I found myself in a tricky place. I had a bad relationship with food but, most of all, with my body.
I was 18 and halfway through my second year of A-Levels. The prospect of the summer and starting university only a few months later suddenly seemed very real – and very daunting.
Weirdly, above all the stress that was going on in my life at the time (bitches, boys and booze) the one thing that was affecting me most was my body. I had grown out of love with it. Well, I guess that’s assuming that I’d actually once been in love with it – but I’m not sure that’s really true.
Let’s backtrack a little.
I’d always been a little overweight as a child. And, from what I can remember, I had always been aware of it. I can remember pinching the fat on my legs and wishing so desperately that I could just chop it off. Alas, my own plastic surgery skills were a little lacking at the age of 8. But how scary is that? I can vividly remember feeling that distressed by my own appearance, at 8 years of age.
My family moved a few times during my childhood, and that meant I had to change schools every few years – which wasn’t exactly ideal for a frizzy-haired, slightly overweight, painfully shy, new girl. I was almost the perfect specimen for bullies.
The thoughts I was having about myself and the way I looked were reinforced by comments made by others – so, it all must be true, right?
I must be horrible and disgusting if other kids are telling me I am?
This was my normality.
I was the fat friend. And for a while at least, I accepted that as my fate. I would probably never like the way I looked, but you can live life hating your appearance. Other people must do it. At least, that’s what I thought.
So (with a little back-story), there I was; at college, with a really bad self-image complex.
It was March 2012. I’d spent most of January and February trying to get active and burn off as much of my body fat as I possibly could. I’d do a Zumba class, followed by half an hour on the exercise bike in the garage, then a run around the block. I thought this was the way to get results.
But, it still wasn’t enough. My body wasn’t changing as much as I wanted and I still didn’t like the way I looked. So, I signed up to Weight Watchers, hoping it would fix all my problems. I can tell you now, it didn’t. And I really believe it was one of the most self-destructive decisions I have ever made.
The whole thing started off OK. In fact, I actually learnt a lot about the nutritional value of food and portion control. But that’s about all I have to say in favour of it – particularly for someone of 18 years of age, or for those who sign up at an even younger age.
For those of you not au fait with the diet culture shit storm that’s currently going on, I’m referring to the recent news that Weight Watchers will be offering free memberships to teenagers. Yep, that’s right.
Anyway, I became hooked on what the ‘value’ of the food on my plate was, and in trying to get the number on the scales to go down each and every week. And, weeks when the opposite happened (the pounds went back on), I was mortified and full of self-hate.
Come the summer, I’d managed to lose a couple of stone and people around me were really starting to notice. It felt good that people were commenting on the way I looked, and not for negative reasons any more – if other people thought I looked good, then maybe I was doing something right.
Then, the summer came to an end and it was time for me to head off to uni. I was in catered halls during my first year – and felt surrounded by temptation. It was all too easy to have a full English for breakfast, then pizza and chips for dinner. It was there on a plate for me, literally. And that’s what I did for the first couple of months; I enjoyed the lifestyle of being a fresher.
But, when I went back home for Christmas and stepped on the scales after all those weeks away, I’d put on the ‘Freshers’ Fifteen’. I was disgusted with myself. And, right there and then, I promised myself to undo all the ‘wrongs’ of the first term and would get back to where I’d left off in the summer. But, still in catered halls, this was really quite hard.
Every mealtime, all I could think about was how many ‘points’ each plateful would cost me, and whether anyone would notice if I just had a bowl of lettuce from the salad cart. I started going to the gym near enough every day – running on the treadmill for half an hour, then using whatever combination of machines I thought would burn the most calories.
You see, the mentality I’d taken on when I joined Weight Watchers had such a hold on me that I’d developed a disordered way of living – not only in disordered eating, but I had a disordered view of exercise too, and it was affecting my whole way of life. I weighed and tracked everything I consumed. I was fully obsessed. But I was also miserable.
I had little to no social life. I couldn’t go out to eat because I couldn’t eat anything that I didn’t know the calorific value of. I couldn’t go for a night out because I couldn’t waste my calories on alcohol. And I think this internal battle was truly more of a challenge for me than any assignment or exam I had to complete over those three years.
There’s actually a really specific moment that I remember, a kind of lightbulb moment if you like, when I knew that everything was a bit out of control.
My best friend had come to visit for my 20th birthday. We went out for lunch (which was a pretty traumatic thing for me at that time) and a bit of shopping, then we went back to my house to get ready for a night out. We needed some dinner before the drinking commenced, but I just couldn’t bring myself to eat another meal. Luckily, my friend had the sense to make herself some dinner, but all I ate that night was a handful of carrot sticks and some hummus.
I could actually cry thinking about that night. I had lost so much weight, and not only could I not see that it was going too far, but I wanted it to go further.
There’s so much more I could write about this journey (and I’m sure I probably will), but the important thing is that it obviously does have a happy ending. I’m OK now. Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle with body image and self-love – but not to the extent where I harm my health anymore.
I haven’t stepped on a set of scales in over two and a half months and, for me (someone that stepped on the scales every day without fail), that’s a really bloody big deal.
And, there are a few things that I’ve come to learn, too:
- What I weigh has absolutely no correlation to how awesome I am.
- Aesthetic/appearing ‘fit’ is not the same as actual strength or fitness.
- A healthy looking body does not necessarily mean a healthy frame of mind.
- Diet culture thrives off making you feel like you’re not good enough – but, the truth is, you’re already good enough.
It took me a long time, and there were a lot of bumps in the road, but I’ve now reached a point where my mind and body are pretty much at peace with one another. I’ve still got a long way to go until I think I can say that I truly love the way I look, but I know I’m getting there.
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