Getting naked

Taking all your clothes off and being stark naked can leave you in a somewhat vulnerable position, right? Nothing to hide what’s underneath. Nothing to mask the bits and bobs and the lumps and bumps you’re less comfortable sharing with the world. It’s one thing being naked and vulnerable in your own company, but when you add someone else into the mix, things can become even more scary.

I’m feeling pretty naked at the moment. For what seems like an eternity, I have masked my inner most thoughts and feelings about myself with my excess weight. I’ve covered them over with a thick woolly jumper of desire to have a perfect body and wrapped them up in a scarf of desperation to be in charge of a life without flexibility, freedom or pleasure.

I remember imagining a life where I could wake up in the morning and not have my first thought of the day thinking how fat I am. I dreamt of being able to walk down the street without fear of someone shouting abuse at me. I imagined a life where I could like what I saw when I looked in the mirror. It seemed like a fantasy life, but one which I believed would be achieved by losing weight.

And then something happened. I lost a lot of weight, and physically; I felt great. I was less scared of people shouting abuse at me, and often the first thing I thought of in the morning was ‘which of my beautiful dresses am I going to wear today’? But something didn’t add up. People were telling me how great I looked, but I just couldn’t believe them. I clearly didn’t see what they saw. They were telling me I shouldn’t lose any more weight. I saw a fat person who still needed to lose 2 stone.

Being thin doesn’t equal happiness. I realised this when I got there. I can now look back at photos of me and realise that I was thin and I looked great (the same photos I looked at the day after they were taken and told myself I needed to lose 2 stone). Why wasn’t I jumping up and down and shouting from the rooftops? Why didn’t my life miraculously become amazing and wonderful and happy when I was thin?

I now realise the answer. I had far too many clothes on. Yes, I had removed possibly the thickest layer, but there were so many more to come off.  I’d been covering over such strong and intense feelings about myself with extra layers; numbing them with junk food, controlling everything I ate and drank, and allowing dieting and weight loss to be the focus of my existence.

For a number of years now, I’ve been peeling off these other layers to try and get to the root of the issue. For such a long time, I believed it was my fat that was the problem. I didn’t get that it was just masking the waterfall of vulnerability and negativity that was thundering through my body and soul.

So this brings me to the here and now. As I am typing this I am feeling incredibly naked; the kind of nakedness I struggle to describe. I am feeling vulnerable by baring my nakedness to the world. I have uncovered the real me, and have found the voice I have been suppressing for so long. I am understanding myself in a way that I have never done before. And I am having to deal with the difficult feelings brought up for me by that thick fat jumper which is slowly making its way back onto my body. But perhaps this is exactly what needs to happen. Perhaps I need to think of that fat jumper as the key to self acceptance before I can take it off again?

It’s hard. It’s hard when the reality hits home that you are there, in the flesh for all and sundry to see the real you. And more importantly, here I am seeing the real me. Realising that no matter what changes externally, unless I deal with the internal chatter in my head, the self acceptance I so desperately need will hide under one of those layers.

So apparently, this is what happens when you let go of your lifelong desperation to want to lose weight, to change your body and to be in control. It’s what happens when you let go of the ‘perfect body and life’ that is nonexistent and so far out of reach. I remember wondering what I would do with my life if I didn’t have to lose weight, or worry about how I looked. I had no idea and that seemed such a scary prospect. It was protecting me from forming meaningful relationships with others for fear of getting hurt. It was filling a void of extreme emptiness and loneliness inside. I was scared of having no focus in life, nothing to be good at, and nothing interesting to talk about if I stopped.

It’s unsurprising then that I hid under so many layers for fear of finding out what’s underneath. It’s a coping mechanism we have been taught for decades. But one that’s not sustainable.

For me there is no more hiding under those layers of endless diets, body shaming and self hatred. No more burying those feelings under bags of maltesers. No more pretending. It just doesn’t work anymore. This is me.

So here I am here getting incredibly naked. In my own company, and in the presence of others in the hope that other people may be inspired to get naked with me.

Sponsored Post Learn from the experts: Create a successful blog with our brand new courseThe WordPress.com Blog

WordPress.com is excited to announce our newest offering: a course just for beginning bloggers where you’ll learn everything you need to know about blogging from the most trusted experts in the industry. We have helped millions of blogs get up and running, we know what works, and we want you to to know everything we know. This course provides all the fundamental skills and inspiration you need to get your blog started, an interactive community forum, and content updated annually.

Is fat just a feminist issue?

I couldn’t believe my ears the other day when one of my male friends told me about a social event he attended recently. He was excited about seeing old colleagues he hadn’t seen for over a year, catching up on the latest gossip and enjoying a beer and a nice dinner. Little did he know that this ‘happy’ reunion would have a detrimental effect on his well-being for the rest of the week.

The last thing he had expected was one of the ladies in the group making a joke of his ‘expanding beer belly’, berating him for gaining weight and this then becoming a topic of conversation for the following 15 minutes; making a joke about something which has been such a painful, daily battle for him recently. He ended up entering into conversation about this and putting a brave face on a somewhat awkward situation. I am fairly certain I would not have had the courage to continue with an evening that started like that. But fortunately, I have never been subjected to any of my ‘friends’ telling me I have gained weight. Is that because I’m a woman?

But what right does anyone have to comment on another person’s weight, regardless of gender? Would this woman have commented in such a jovial, flippant way about the weight gain of a fellow female colleague? I’m not convinced she would.

I’ve observed many men making a mockery of their mate’s weight, and at the time, I’ve always got the sense that they can hack it. But I wonder in reality, how many of them laugh it off in the moment, but are really affected by these comments? How many girls meet up for an evening of fun which starts off with teasing each other about their weight? None that I know, that’s for sure.

I’ve written a letter to educate this lady who commented on my friend’s weight gain, and many others out there. It’s not her fault – this is the society in which we live that fat/weight has become such a regular topic of conversation, in one way or another. If it’s not comparing body fat percentages or BMIs, it’s talking about the latest low fat diet you’ve started, commenting on how much weight so and so has lost, or joking about the ever expanding beer belly of a rotund man.

So here goes;

Dear lady,

Thanks for bringing to attention the weight gain of my friend recently. It’s furnished me the opportunity to share a bit of my knowledge with the world, so for that I am grateful. He, however is hurting from your comments, and so I hope the following may help you understand why. 

Men have feelings too! Contradictory to popular belief, they do. And they also care about how they look and feel about themselves. Men can be just as sensitive to negative comments as women. 

It’s really not cool to comment on other people’s weight. You never know what’s going on for people behind their seemingly happy and positive exterior. Did you know that men can suffer with eating disorders too? 1 in 10 people who are diagnosed with eating disorders are male. And that’s just those that are diagnosed, not taking into account thousands of those that go undiagnosed and don’t get the support they need. http://www.anad.org/get-information/males-eating-disorders/

Did you know that excess stress can have a negative impact on weight? Perhaps the kinder thing to do might be to stop, think, and ask your friend how he is – what’s been happening in the last year? Be a listening ear; try and understand the stresses he has been under which may have contributed to his weight gain, or possibly even weight loss. 

(Oh, and as an aside, just because someone may have lost weight and looks more acceptable to your eye, it doesn’t necessarily mean it was intentional – you have no idea what they are going through and what has led to this weight loss)

Just because the emphasis in the dieting world is placed on females, it doesn’t mean that men don’t feel the pressures of being toned and buff to be accepted and loved. 

The majority of people don’t need to be told they have gained weight. They can feel it from their ‘shrinking’ clothes. The extra pressure on joints. Getting out of breath walking up the stairs. They are likely to have been beating themselves up for being ‘fat and lazy’ and ‘lacking in willpower’ on a daily basis, so they don’t need an additional reminder. 

Finally, I’m wondering if you think my friend is less acceptable to you now he’s got a beer belly? Has this protrusion affected your ability to have a conversation with him? Do you like him any less or think less of him with a bit of extra weight? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, I’d be really interested to know what’s happening in your world that makes you feel the need to comment on other people’s challenges?

I hope this has helped clear a few things up, and thanks again for allowing me to impart some nuggets of wisdom to you and others.

 H

Fat is not just a feminist issue. Men have fat too. They also have feelings. Fat is not funny; it’s real. And it can hurt. A lot.

http://www.helenhendrycoaching.com

Dealing with damp

I remember clearly the day when I realised I needed some help with my incredibly disordered relationship with food and my body. I was working a long weekend – over 10 years ago and could not stop eating the free food that was on offer – It was a compulsion which just overtook me – it was like I had been captured by a powerful external force that just would not allow me to stop, despite a voice inside telling me I had to. This wasn’t a new thing for me, but for some reason, that day I decided I couldn’t put up with this any longer. I needed help. 

After hours, days and weeks of poring the internet and reading anything new I could get my hands on, I realised this was actually a thing. It wasn’t just me having a lack of willpower. It wasn’t me being lazy or fat. This force apparently had a name – binge eating disorder (or disordered eating) and was a pretty new revelation 10 years ago. Prior to that, the only eating disorders around were anorexia and bulimia, and anything other than that didn’t really have a name. 

After some support and encouragement, I decided to pluck up the courage to take myself off to the doctor to ask for some much needed help. I explained my situation, as well as my previous history of dieting – yo-yo-ing between a 4 stone weight bracket for 10 years. The doctor took one look at me and said ‘well you look fine to me’, and sent me on my way telling me he could put me on the list for CBT, but that the waiting list was several months long and that he didn’t hold out much hope. 

I was left a bit flummoxed and upset by this experience. I was made to feel like I was making a big fuss over nothing, and I felt humiliated by his response. It had taken me a lot to go in the first place and he was pretty much laughing in my face. Thankfully, I persevered and at much expense and effort to me, embarked on what I thought would be 6 weeks of ‘quick fix’ counselling which would see me right as rain by the end of it. Little did I know that another 10 years down the line, I would still be searching for the answer. 

I liken this ‘thing’ (disordered eating, distorted body image, chronic dieting, excess fat etc.) to mould on a damp patch. Just when you think you’ve got rid of it, you realise that you haven’t actually dealt with the underlying damp issue and so the mould just keeps on coming back. You can kill it with mould killer all you like and yes it’ll go away for a few days, weeks or months, or maybe even a year or two. But eventually, the specks will start to reappear one by one and you realise that you really need to sort out the underlying damp problem. 

The stimulus for this blog was a channel 4 documentary about young girls with eating disorders and other forms of self harm. I could empathise with much of what they were saying – the severe pain that they were feeling. The control they wanted to have over their bodies, their weight and every piece of food they put in their mouth and feeling like they weren’t good enough until they had the ‘perfect body’. Thankfully, they were being helped. Two of the girls had been hospitalised because of the self harm they were doing with food and with razors and were on the road to recovery. Very sadly, one girl wasn’t helped in time, but she was no longer in pain. Her loved ones are now. 

Just because I ‘looked ok’ to the doctor, and I wasn’t shoving my fingers down my throat, it doesn’t mean it didn’t (and still doesn’t) hurt. It doesn’t necessarily mean it hurts any differently inside than the person who is throwing up, or starving themselves to have control over their body and weight. Yes, the physical impact for such people is much more severe. I thankfully have never been in danger of starvation. But is that what it takes for people who don’t have anorexia or bulimia to get help? Over 10 years later and I’m still hurting. I’m starting to let go of the desire for a ‘perfect body’. I’m beginning to realise that I can be loved without being ‘thin’. But I do sometimes wonder if there will ever be an end to this turmoil? 

After a so far year-long experiment of letting go of dieting (and finally dealing with the damp issue and not the mould), I’m wobbling massively and struggling to find the strength to persevere with this and the weight I have gained. I feel the need to wear a sign saying ‘work in progress’ to explain what’s happening to my body. 

I also desperately want to be properly in control again. I want to feel the buzz of losing weight and everyone telling me how great I’m looking. I want that attention and feel good factor. But that comes at a cost, and one I can’t afford at the moment. I can’t afford for my thoughts and life to become preoccupied again with controlling every morsel of food I eat. Weighing out portions of food, starving myself of essential nutrients to eat as few calories as possible. I simply can’t afford any more mould killer. 

Apparently, the answer to all of this is self love and acceptance. But it’s so hard to love and accept yourself when all you can see is a fat blob when you look at yourself in a photograph. You can’t see the beautiful, wonderfully supportive friend, sister, daughter, grand-daughter and auntie in the photo. You can only see the person that can’t be loved until she’s thin. You don’t see the woman who has been brave enough to dump dieting and to gain some weight. You just see the bloated face, the excess fat around your middle. You don’t see the girl with beautiful blue eyes with a plethora of love for others, and commitment for self-improvement. You can’t show yourself some love and compassion after a wonderful weekend of over-indulgence with one of your best friends and you just want to punish yourself by going back into a food and diet prison to kill a bit of that ‘mould’ for a while. 

One of the big things that is helping me through this is my passion and commitment to helping others with similar issues. Those who are not deemed worthy of medical support because the physical self harm they are doing to their bodies is not severe enough, either through under eating, purging or extreme over eating potentially leading to obesity. But in my opinion, the lasting mental and emotional damage and pain that those somewhere in the middle are going through is just as worthy of love and support. 

I don’t begrudge those with ‘proper’ eating disorders the support they need – far from it. But there is much less understanding of disordered eating which millions of people are suffering with day in day out, and many in silence for most of their lives. There is not an immediate danger to their physical health, but that doesn’t mean they are not in pain. 

I know I can’t single handedly change the world overnight, but I’d like to think that by trying to understand and support myself through this lifelong challenge, I am well-equipped and destined to help others. That is why when I heard about the work of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, I was massively intrigued and knew I had to do the training. I also now realise this was the long awaited permission I needed to not have to live my life in the way I had for the last twenty years. It was the answer to my prayers that would mean I didn’t have to diet for eternity and hate my body every day for the rest of my life. 

I’ve recently spent 4 days in an Ashram in the middle of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. It’s been astonishing that almost everyone I met and told about the training I have been doing has told me how amazing this work is and that they too have a disordered relationship with food. I’ve never witnessed such openness. It’s almost as though by telling people about this course they feel they have permission to open up and share their issues, and it has been an affirmation of the severe need for this kind of work. 

When I’m in charge, eating psychology coaching will be available on the NHS. But until then, don’t suffer in silence. Please reach out to me or someone else if you feel ready to deal with the damp. You are not alone; we’re all in this together. 

Just because

Have you ever felt you’re not good enough just because you’re carrying extra weight? Do you shy away from social situations because you’re embarrassed of your body? What impact has this struggle had on your everyday life, and have you ever thought about why that might be?

There’s certainly been a sense of society dictating to us what we ‘should’ look like – clothes models being unrealistically thin and toned, and ripped men pasted on the side of your bus to work (ps. Photoshop has a huge part to play in this if you hadn’t already worked that one out). Not to mention the latest information on what you should and shouldn’t be eating rammed down your throat, contradicting itself every day and magazines fat shaming celebrities. How much has the media contributed to your self esteem (or lack of)? Every time we get on a tube, or open a newspaper, there’s something there dictating to us, eating away a little more at any ounce of self esteem we may have had, telling us we can’t be accepted until we look a certain way or follow a certain diet (or has that has just been my perception of it? I strongly suspect not).

Thankfully, things are slowly changing, and we are seeing more average sized bodies portrayed in the media. The average women’s clothes size in the UK is now a size 16, and we are starting to see clothes actually being modelled on bodies of this size. Plus sized models are becoming more widely represented, and the new ‘This Girl Can’ campaign to get ladies moving regardless of their body shape and size is fantastic, and really inspirational. But for many people, this is still not enough for them to let go of their anxieties with their body and learn to love and accept what they have. Several decades’ worth of damage needs to be undone so these issues are not going to go away overnight.

This week, I have been reflecting on some of my own inner most thoughts and feelings I’ve had around my weight and body over the last twenty-something years, alongside the conclusions I have only very recently come to.  There’s no logic to some of them whatsoever, but this demonstrates the complexity of issues some people are facing around their body and weight challenges.

If you can relate to anything I say, I hope you’re one step ahead of me and have already had these realisations, but if not, perhaps the following will give you some food for thought…

  1. Just because you have extra weight, it doesn’t mean you have willpower issues and that you have to deny yourself any pleasure in life until you are ‘thin’. It doesn’t mean you are never allowed to eat chocolate and that if you do you’ve failed. You are not a weakling – in fact I believe this challenge with weight and your body is here to teach you something, has made you stronger and led you to where you are now
  2. Just because you have plump thighs, a rounded tummy and an ample bosom it doesn’t mean you’re not worthy of true love, affection and happiness. (After all, aren’t these the traits that many people associate with the feminine and find incredibly attractive?) It doesn’t mean you have to subject yourself to any kind of attention or ‘affection’ that comes your way for fear of not finding any better
  3. Just because you have ‘bingo wings’ it doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion, believe it, and express it. It doesn’t mean you can’t stand up and give a presentation to a room full of other professionals, and be an expert in and passionate about something
  4. Just because your BMI classifies you as ‘obese’, it doesn’t mean you can’t succeed in other areas of your life (e.g. becoming a personal trainer, being an inspiration to others, dancing, singing, getting a good job, being a good friend)
  5. Just because you’re wearing clothes two sizes bigger than a year ago, it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to wear nice clothes and look and feel good in them now. It doesn’t mean you have to wear clothes that are too small for you with your spare tyre hanging over the top of your jeans as a constant reminder that you need to punish yourself for having gained weight. And it certainly doesn’t mean you have to malnourish your body to a point where you are exhausted and fed up (yes, you may look hot in a skimpy dress, but if you have no energy to enjoy it, what’s the point?)
  6. Just because your legs rub together when you walk, it doesn’t mean you can’t go on dates – anyone that’s interested in the size of your thighs should not be interesting to you
  7. Just because the scales say you weigh more than you did a year ago, it doesn’t mean that a number has to rule every moment of your life for the next day/week/month/year/decade. What would it be like to not even look at that number in the first place?
  8. Just because you don’t look like that very slender model you saw on the TV last week, it doesn’t mean you have to starve your body of food and nutrition until you’re so weak and tired you need to binge on the entire contents of your kitchen cupboard, and then punish yourself for failing at your diet. Wouldn’t the world be a boring place if we all looked the same?
  9. Just because you lost 3lbs, it doesn’t mean anyone else is going to love you that little bit more. Chances are, they might not even notice. Your loved ones don’t actually care one iota about how much you weigh
  10. Just because you think you are fat and worthless, it doesn’t mean that everyone you come into contact with thinks the same thing about you and is staring at the excess fat around your stomach
  11. Just because people have shouted abuse at you in the street for being ‘too fat’ a couple of times, it doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to walk proudly with your head held high
  12. Just because you have painful feelings inside, it doesn’t mean you have to suppress those feelings with food until you are numb inside and no longer feel anything. And just because you might have been feeling sad and lonely last night and you did ‘numb out’ with food, it doesn’t mean you have to beat yourself up today. In fact, it means exactly the opposite – you need to allow yourself some understanding, compassion, love and care
  13. Just because you have a challenge with weight and body image, it doesn’t mean that you have to attack your body from the outside, and hope that what’s going on inside will disappear. And just because you may have reached your ‘ideal’ weight, it doesn’t mean that you’ll immediately be happy, and that those painful feelings inside will go away
  14. Just because you’ve been dieting for 20 years, it doesn’t mean if you stop you will completely lose control over your eating and never be able to stop again. In reality, it means that you can start to relax, enjoy food and start to feel truly nourished

And just because you’ve experienced these challenges for most of your life, you definitely don’t have to have to subject yourself to this torturous existence for the rest of it. You can break free!

Did you know…

The best state for the body to be in to lose weight (at its optimum state of digestion and calorie burning) is one of pleasure and relaxation when the parasympathetic nervous system is dominating otherwise known as ‘rest and digest’. And the opposite; sympathetic nervous system dominance (when excess cortisol and insulin are flying round our bodies otherwise known as ‘fight or flight’) means we are likely to gain or maintain weight. So the endless diets we have tried, stressing and hating our bodies into weight loss, and exercising off every single thing we have eaten often has the opposite desired effect because our body and mind are constantly under stress. The stress response is only designed to be in our system for up to four minutes to help us run away from danger. But how many of us are walking round in a constant state of stress from the pressure we put on ourselves from trying to achieve the ‘perfect body’ and have the ‘perfect diet’?

Who actually knows how much we should weigh? Who knows how much each individual is supposed to eat? Ok, yes – there are guidelines (body mass index (which, FYI, doesn’t take into consideration muscle mass), and recommended daily allowance for calorie intake), but I truly believe this is something we need to work out for ourselves by listening to what our body is telling us. We have been so used to ignoring our own signals in our body telling us when we are hungry because we’ve been following a restrictive diet, or we’ve been brainwashed into thinking we should be a size 6 so we ignore our appetite. How many times today have you ignored your body when it’s telling you it needs feeding because you’re trying to be ‘good’? Have a look at this interesting article about different daily diets of people around the world. Proves the point entirely that only they know how much their body needs. I wonder what their attitude towards food is.

So the above is all very well, but I know first hand the health related and physical benefits losing weight can have on your body – you physically feel lighter, can move more easily and have a new found sense of confidence. But are there other areas of your life you can lighten up in first, before attacking your body and hating it into weight loss? Lightening up in life may lead to a more relaxed and ultimately lighter you once you’ve got rid of the anxiety and stress of needing to lose weight.

A few questions to ask yourself…

  • How would you behave if you lost all the weight you wanted to, and what would you do differently? Why not start to behave like that now? Achieve the end result now
  • Where can you add pleasure and relaxation into your life?
  • What might be the things in your life that are causing you day in, day out low level stress? (think dieting, job, relationship, home)

I personally believe these questions are a great place to start before beating yourself up mentally and physically. If diets worked, then why have so many of us being dieting for decades and still not achieved what we wanted? It’s time to start looking a little deeper and at a different approach to weight loss.

Just because I’m telling you all of this stuff, I know it doesn’t mean you’re going to believe it. I know that you have to get to a place where you are ready to start thinking about your own relationship with food and body in a different way. And you have to trust that you will; when and if the time is right.

Let It Go

As I sat eating my penultimate meal of 2014 this lunchtime, I reflected on what a life changing year this one has been.

I ate a truly nourishing meal a pleasurable way. I didn’t starve myself because I’m going to be eating out tonight. I didn’t shove the food down my throat because I can’t bear the thought that food might make me fat again, so I should eat it as quickly as possible. And I didn’t feel guilty about eating. The soft smoothness of avocado, with succulent salmon, freshly steamed vegetables and a portion of buckwheat was a pleasurable, nourishing and relaxed experience. This is exactly what I wanted to eat. I chose it. No-one else was telling me what I ‘should’ be eating, and it felt good!

A year ago I would have unlikely eaten this for lunch on New Year’s Eve. (Or if I had, I would have been in the gym all morning making sure I had enough points to allow myself such a ‘treat’ as well as a night out). No, it would have been a salad with a piece of ham, followed by feeling exhausted, malnourished and hungry.

I also didn’t spend this morning pinching all the fat on my body, wondering if there’s more or less there than this time yesterday. I didn’t weigh myself three times and allow my mood to be dependent on a number, and I didn’t feel angry and upset when looking at my reflection in the mirror.

So what’s changed? I haven’t lost any weight – in fact, I’ve gained weight this year. But there’s been an internal shift. A new found purpose, and a sense of self worth. And I’ve finally let my secret out of the bag. I’ve shared with other people how I’ve been feeling for as long as I can remember, and have realised that this is not just my issue, it’s a shared one.

It’s incredible how much emphasis we place on our external being to shy away from what’s really going on inside.

Some of you may be considering your New Year’s resolutions today… maybe you might be thinking that for the umpteenth time you’re finally going to lose those 10lbs or 2 stone you’ve been trying to lose for years. You really will do it this time. You’re going to hate yourself and punish yourself into doing it, no matter what happens. You’re going to try that new restrictive, miserable, no fun, no pleasure crash diet and you’re going to punish yourself at the gym every day (and then beat yourself up when you can’t keep it up. By the way, did you know that research shows around 99% of people who lose weight on a weight loss diet gain all of it and more back within a year unless there’s some kind of internal emotional shift?)

If you’re thinking of it, please can I urge you to consider not doing that in 2015? Please could I instead urge you to consider having a look a little bit deeper than the superficial fat on your body that no-one other than you notices? Please can I urge you to consider loving and accepting yourself for who you are now, not when you are ‘thin’? Please can I urge you to realise that the world isn’t going to be a better place when you are ‘thin’ and you won’t be more loved when you’ve lost weight? And please can I urge you, in the words of Frozen’s Elsa to Let it go?!

A year ago, I’d had laughed in your face if you had said that to me, so I understand you may be doing the same right now. But trust me, it’s possible. Yes, it’s hard and yes it’s a slow process. But it is absolutely worth doing if you want to be at peace with yourself, and stop hating yourself. Just think about all the energy you have already put into punishing and hating yourself and it hasn’t led you to the goal you wanted. How about using that energy in a positive way to love, nurture and explore yourself which may ultimately lead you to a better place?

Am I completely ‘fixed’? No! Am I some of the way there? Yes! And I am truly grateful for the challenges life has blessed me with to allow me to help others through the pain and turmoil of believing they will be a better person when they are ‘thin’.  If you’d like any more information, or support, please let me know. I’m currently training as an Eating Psychology Coach with the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, and looking for a couple of practice clients to help them help themselves to develop a better relationship with food and their bodies. (Ironically, this course has come about as a result of me training to be a personal trainer; at the beginning of the year, I truly believed I wanted to help people punish their bodies into losing weight through exercise…How times have changed! I still fully believe in the power of exercise and movement to allow people to feel embodied, and will certainly be looking for ways to incorporate this into the Eating Psychology work).

If you’re not yet ready to ‘let it go’, please at the very least make one resolution to be kind to yourself in 2015. Happy New Year!

Autumnal musings

It was perhaps a little naive of me to think that by embarking on my mission to become a personal trainer, it would mean I could exercise all day long, and get myself super fit and thin, while at the same time helping other people to get fit and lose weight. ‘How much more perfect could this be?’ I thought.

Little did I know that this would not happen, and that in fact at the end of it I’d end up feeling even further from this desired outcome than I was at the start.

I don’t suppose many trainee personal trainers put on weight during the course (apart from those that need to, perhaps). But I never was one to be ‘normal’. Yes, that’s right, I have successfully managed to gain weight since starting out on this new adventure. And it’s scary – I’m feeling physically uncomfortable and worried that I’m entering the downward spiral I was in all those years ago when I was slowly gaining a tonne of weight. Every so often my clothes were feeling too tight, and I’d just resign myself to the fact that I had to buy some new ones rather than doing something about it.

But I have to remember I’m doing all of this because I believe there is a better way of life (see dumping dieting). There is a better relationship I can have with my body, and with food. And I’m certainly starting to experience that. I have felt that an entire weight has been lifted from my shoulders, and that I am able to focus on other things in life without food, weight and body image controlling my every move and thought of every day.

The annoying thing is that it’s not as if I’m sitting on my backside stuffing my face full of unhealthy food until I feel sick all day every day.  I’m actually eating wholesome, nourishing, tasty food which I’m choosing to eat and I really like! And I’m doing more exercise that I have for a while. As a result I’m feeling more in control of my eating habits than I ever have before. I even feel safe around a box of chocolates these days. But as my body adjusts to eating the correct amount of food that it needs, I’m not enjoying the repercussions. I just have to have the faith that it’s not going to be permanent, and I have to trust that I am repairing all the damage I have been doing mentally and physically.

In a strange kind of way, I feel like I publicly need to justify what I’m doing, and explain to people what I’m going through in case they’re thinking ‘ooh she’s looking a bit porky at the moment. Such a shame as she’d lost all that weight and was looking great’.  But I know it’s only me I need to tell this to. No-one else probably a) notices or b) cares about how I look. I now realise that I can be loveable whatever size I am, and it doesn’t change who I am.

Unfortunately, that knowledge doesn’t stop me from struggling with the feelings it’s bringing up for me, and battling with the realisation that I can quickly lose weight in the way that I know all too well. It’s so tempting just to get back on a ‘diet’ for a couple of months until I’m physically feeling better about myself. But I know that’s actually only going to make this whole process even longer. I have to remind myself that this is 20 odd years of damage, and it’s not going to change overnight. I have to persevere with what I believe is the best way to live my life. To nourish myself with wholesome foods, and to not feeling guilty about what I eat.  And most importantly to live my life without a black cloud hovering over me.

I’ve very nearly finished my training now… all being well; on 1st October I will be a fully qualified personal trainer. Although it has been a huge personal challenge for me, I have loved every minute of it, mainly because it has forced me to deal with ‘stuff’. I have met so many incredible people who (although they may not know it), have helped and supported me more than I could ever have imagined. They have had faith in me and have not judged me in any way, which has led me to develop a base level of self believe and confidence in what I am doing. They have helped me to realise I am a good teacher, and a good role model. Perhaps more significantly, we have had some very fun times which have distracted me from the ‘stuff’ which all too often occupies my mind.  

I still don’t really know what I’m going to do with the qualification yet, particularly while I’m still sorting out my own relationship with food and with my body. But I’m certain that I want to share my passion for wellbeing with others, and so I will be looking for clients in the not too distant future who are passionate about getting themselves physically and mentally fit.

And being one who doesn’t do things by halves, from October I will also be embarking on another exciting adventure which will see me learn more about the psychology of eating, and learn how to help and support people to develop a healthy relationship with food and their body.

Looking forward to whatever challenges this next phase will throw my way!  

Que Sera Sera

It’s been a little while since I’ve blogged, but I felt the urge to start writing nearly 3 weeks ago, and it’s taken me this long to work out exactly what I’ve wanted to say. I’m still not even sure I’ve got it totally right, but here’s some of what’s been going on for the past month or so…

In addition to holding down a full time job (which currently largely consists of commissioning a brand new piece of music to be performed by a massed ensemble of 600 children at the Royal Albert Hall in November), I am training to be a personal trainer (taking out many of my weekends, and evenings of study), getting myself fitter, volunteering for a charity one evening a week, following a meditation programme, blogging, and trying to solve my unhealthy relationship with food. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, I’ve also decided now is a good time to kick my diet coke habit (which may not sound like a big deal, but embarrassingly has been in the region of about 1-2 litres a day).

Looking at that little list, one might think I might be feeling stressed or overwhelmed by it all. But surprisingly, I’m not. I’m savouring each opportunity as it comes my way, jumping each hurdle (even when it seems impossible) and learning from the opportunities and strength building challenges that are being presented. I’m really beginning to live by the philosophy that everything happens exactly as it’s meant to, and I believe that each and every one of the things I’m doing right now complement each other, and are meant to be happening together. This is leaving me feeling excited and challenged rather than drained of energy, stressed and tearing my hair out, which is how I might have felt in the past with such a long list. It also proves to me that this is right, and exactly what I’m meant to be doing right now.

All of these things are, however, forcing me to address a number of issues which I had not expected I would need to be doing at the moment. This includes the massive subject of questioning the method I used to lose a huge amount of weight, and whether I truly want to support other people to do it in this quick fix way. This was the one thing I thought I had clear in my head and just assumed I was destined for a life of calorie counting, and denying myself of foods I longed to eat. At the time of losing all that weight, I hadn’t realised that it would only be a quick fix because I wasn’t actually dealing with the underlying issues – just the symptoms of it. It’s only now I’ve realised that I can’t continue to live life in this way and I’m learning that there is a more liberating approach to life which is something I am now a strong advocate for. But I am left with huge questions about where the personal trainer qualification will take me, what I will do with it, and how on earth I can help people who are in a similar situation to where I was when I’m only really dealing with the cause of it now. Surely I need to sort myself out before I can be helping others?

Unfortunately, I’m also feeling less happy with my current size and body image while experimenting with a new way of eating (as well as not having exercised very much recently due to a knee problem and a complicated wisdom tooth removal). See my previous post on dumping dieting. I have a very stereotypical image of what I think a personal trainer should look like to be successful, and it’s not me!

On Saturday, I start the next phase of my training, and the first task we are due to be learning is how to carry out fitness testing. Basically, where (amongst many other things), a complete stranger grabs the fat around your stomach and tells you how fat you are according to a chart. It’s incredible how you can go from a day of feeling pretty good about yourself and not really worrying at all, to the next day being scared shitless of entering a class full of budding fitness professionals who you think are judging your every move, and your reasons for being there.

This fitness testing task brings back horrific memories of being at school and making my mum write me a note to excuse me from PE the week we were due to have our fitness tested because I could not bear the public humiliation of being told I was obese in front of a group of teenage girls. I am dreading Saturday, for fear of public humiliation, and being told that I am ‘x’ amount overweight. There will be no notes from home this time though; this is something I have to face head on.

Unlike during my youth, courageousness is something that currently doesn’t seem to be in short supply with me, and I am constantly putting myself into challenging and difficult situations for things that I truly want to do, and more importantly believe is right. After all, you don’t learn or develop if you always stay in your comfort zone. I am not a quitter, and no matter how hard things are for me, I will do them. This is why I am not going to listen to the niggling voices in my head who are telling me to postpone the rest of the course until I’m ‘thin’. I’m not listening to the voices who are telling me to go back to my old dieting habits to lose those last couple of stone to make me ‘happy’. I’ve already put so much of my life on hold until I’m thin, and this is not going to be another thing to add to the list.

If I look back to where my life was over a year ago, I could never have imagined that I would be sat here writing all of the above with a positive mental attitude. A year ago, I decided to take part in the London to Brighton bike ride. Sadly not a hugely rewarding experience due to the ridiculous amount of bike traffic, but it is definitely a day I will remember for other reasons, and one that I can look back on and pinpoint how much things have changed in that year. It’s incredible how much of this has happened because I’ve stepped back, and let life it take its course. I’ve loosened the reins and allowed what was supposed to happen, happen. A valuable lesson! I have previously spent so much of my life trying to control things, and make things happen – constantly searching for the answer, and being frustrated at not finding it.

In the last year I have:

  • moved from my home of 5 years  (with a temporary period of lodging with my brother for 5 months) to a flat I could never have envisaged myself living in, but now love
  • travelled to the other side of the world by myself
  • trusted someone with my heart for the first time, and sadly experienced heartache
  • been on a life changing leadership course
  • qualified as a gym instructor (news flash – I passed!) and am now en route to becoming a personal trainer
  • started on a journey to solve my lifelong unhealthy relationship with food

It’s so interesting to see what can happen when you go with things rather than trying to control and change them. I’ve realised it’s about trusting that decisions you make are the right ones, that everything will work out as they’re meant to, and learning that every cloud really does have a silver lining. Everything that has happened in the last year has been as a consequence of something else, and I would certainly not be doing what I am now if other things hadn’t happened to give me the push I needed.

It’s this relaxed approach I am trying to adopt with my eating to see what will happen if I just let it take its own course and see whether that will affect other areas of my life. And early indications show that it is already having an incredibly positive impact.

The biggest issue here for me is trust – trusting both myself and other people. As a very independent person, and not often relying on other people or other things to help me, this is a challenge for me. Trusting that food is not going to make me as fat as I used to be. Trusting the books I’m reading, and the people who are helping me along the way. Trusting that I will make the right food choices. Trusting that I won’t feel guilty or ashamed about those choices. Trusting that food can be enjoyable; not scary – a pleasure and a treat. Trusting that I can finally let go of what has been holding me back for a long time. And trusting that this will have a positive impact on the whole of my life.

I am genuinely starting to believe that I can break free from this food/body image/diet related prison that I have been captured in for such a long time. I am confident that I can have a life that doesn’t resolve around food, weight and body image. I have faith that there is more to life than this for me, and I am so excited and liberated to already be having glimpses of this life.

The pros of my new relaxed way of eating:

  • I have been more sociable – I’ve allowed myself to go out more, and have not felt stressed and anxious about eating out
  • As I’ve relaxed, my stomach issues have pretty much disappeared
  • I haven’t used food as a comforter – I’ve used it as it’s intended; as nourishment
  • I have been enjoying delicious home cooked meals, and have been exploring foods I haven’t dared touch for as long as I can remember
  • I’ve had more energy, feel more alive, and a lot more chilled out in general
  • For the first time I can remember, I am sleeping all the way through the night without waking up every few hours
  • I haven’t weighed myself for about 2 months

The cons of my new food habits:

  • I think I’m putting on weight (although haven’t weighed myself for a little while now) which is leading me to feel worse about my body image and doubting that I can be successful as a personal trainer
  • I’m totally broke (nice food is expensive!)
  • I genuinely am left feeling confused about how much food, and of what type to eat. I am so used to everything being controlled for me, it feels uncomfortable me now being in control of what I can eat. There are now no rules, and I am totally in charge. I find it hard to believe my body when it’s telling me I’m hungry as I’m used to ignoring my natural hunger indicators (in fact, I’m not sure I definitely know what they are!)

And so, this is where the conflict is still lying for me. Should I just get back on the diet wagon to quickly fix my issue of feeling too fat to become a personal trainer? Or should I continue down the path of something I truly believe in and have faith that it will give me a better quality of life in the long run, even if it is scary and daunting along the way?

I know the answer to this in a flash. I am 100% determined that I am not going back to my old stress-fuelled and anxiety-ridden existence. This does mean that I need to dig deep to find a huge amount of strength and courage to continue with my course and what I believe to be my purpose in life at a time where my self confidence is low. I want to do this to help myself, and to eventually help others break free from this dieting turmoil.

I’m truly intrigued to know what people who have never experienced weight or food issues make of my blog, and the time that I am investing in it. I suspect some people may not be able to relate to it or understand why I am spending so much time doing this. Sometimes I even think to myself that I should get a life, and focus on something else. But the sad fact is, this IS my life, and has been for as long as I can remember. It has had an impact on most waking hour of every day. And so I now feel that I am using my anxious energy and negativity to become truly positive and transformative which not only acts as a therapeutic process for me, but also as a resource and support for others who experience similar issues.

Whatever I end up doing with the PT qualification in the future is neither here nor there at the moment. I need to live life in the present – enjoy the experience, learn from the difficult parts and develop with the challenges it presents. Perhaps this is all part of the plan that was made for me somewhere and by someone, and I just have to go with it, and let life take its course, no matter how challenging it may be.

Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be

Re-writing the Golden Rule

I had rather hoped I had reached a stage in my life where I would no longer be subjected to immature abuse from teenagers when innocently walking down the street. The last time this happened was when I was at my largest size about 12 years ago; an experience that will undoubtedly stay with me forever, and has had an impact on my daily actions ever since.

Sadly, my hopes were dashed this evening as I walked home after a session with my personal trainer. A teenage boy shouted fat related abuse at me as I was strolling home through Greenwich Park on this sunny evening. I then found myself reverting to behaviours I have developed as a result of the abuse I received all those years ago, including blocking my ears with music, walking the most convoluted way home to avoid walking along busy roads, crossing the road to avoid passing people in earshot, covering myself with as many clothes as possible in this hot weather, and carrying my bag in front of my legs as a shield to the outside world.

Part of me was a bit confused – was he really shouting at me? Am I really fat – I mean I know I tell myself that all the time, but is it acutally true? Am I hearing voices? Part of me wanted to go over and kick the s!*% out of him and give him a piece of my mind, and fight back against his hurtful comments. I’d love to see him even attempt what I had just been doing for the last hour! But the sensible part of me couldn’t even be bothered. I’m not going to pretend that I’m not left feeling upset by what happened. But is it weird that I also feel compassion for that boy that he feels the need to abuse other people to look cool in front of his mates? I wonder what’s going on for him right now that resulted in him doing that.

The ironic thing about this evening’s incident is that I had just been having a conversation in my PT session, five minutes earlier about how I’ve not been feeling good about myself recently. As a result, I have been internally shouting abuse at myself for the last few weeks– so what this boy was shouting at me, I had already been repeatedly shouting at myself.

This hasn’t come at a great time for me (if ever there was one!) I am currently on the edge of wavering to pick up the phone to my diet relationship (see previous post) due to the fact that I am physically not feeling good. However, today’s experience whilst leaving me feeling vulnerable has given me even more determination not to do it, and has also given me the motivation to continue with my new ventures, and my liberating way of living my life. I am feeling proud of myself that rather than reaching for the nearest food I can find to comfort (and abuse) myself with, I have instead turned to writing. Something I now look forward to as an outlet for these difficult thoughts and feelings instead of suppressing them with food which has been my natural reaction to such things for as long as I can remember. Food has interestingly been the last thing on my mind this evening.

Coincidentally, (perhaps it’s fate?!) today’s drama links rather nicely into what I had already planned to write about this evening. Perhaps everything happens just as it’s meant to, and this was one of those things out to test my strength today.

I spend a lot of time (to varying degrees) abusing myself with hurtful and nasty comments about my weight and size; making hurtful comments about what I see in photos, physically grabbing parts of my body where there is more fat than I would like, and studying myself in the mirror and reflecting negatively on what I see. I would never dream of doing any of that to people I love and care about, so why am I doing this to myself?

I had a thought provoking conversation with a very good friend of mine a couple of months ago who helped me see that if she (or someone else) did or said the things to me that I do and say to myself, I would be utterly devastated.

So why is it that when I say these things to myself, it’s ok, and I don’t get upset or hurt or angry – it’s just what happens every day, and I take it without question. And yet as soon as it is verbalised by someone else, it is one of the most upsetting and distressing things to experience. Perhaps it is because when you are abusing yourself, there is a small glimmer of hope that what you are saying isn’t true? Yet once it has come from a voice outside your head, it confirms your deepest suspicions (although interestingly this time, I’m left questioning the validity of the comments).

One of my new favourite lines of support when I am offering it to people through my volunteering work is ‘be kind to yourself when you are feeling vulnerable’. We would all be the world’s most well rounded and emotionally sturdy people if we listened to our own advice all of the time, wouldn’t we? But this particular piece of advice is something that I am very keen to promote, and am desperately trying to listen to. So instead of being so affected by external voices, perhaps I should start looking a little closer to home.

Being forgiving, kind, supportive, friendly, understanding, empathetic and comforting are all traits I find myself so freely and naturally giving to other people, and find other people so lovingly giving back. Yet I struggle to be that friend to myself, and find it hard to take that support and kindness from others when I don’t treat myself with the respect I deserve. I am being that immature teenage boy to myself – shouting abuse to make myself feel better. Except it doesn’t work. Not in the short term, or the long term. And while I am able to show compassion towards that boy, unfortunately there’s not enough to go round so I’m the one that loses out.

Sadly, I can’t have any control over the hurtful remarks teenage boys want to make about me, but I can control how I react to the feelings it evokes. And I can also try and control the hurtful and deeply upsetting comments I make to and about myself. I’m wondering if a good place to start is to avoid mirrors and photos for a while until I can learn to love, accept and be grateful for what I have and who I am.

What’s the golden rule – treat others as you would like to be treated? Or for the religious amongst us (perhaps the topic for a whole new blog!)

‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’

I wonder if for me and for many others, it should be reversed?

‘Thou shalt love thyself as thy neighbour’

I would be the world’s worst friend if I treated my friends half as badly as I treat myself. I know it’s much easier said that done (particularly when faced with outside abuse), but it’s about time for some long-needed self-compassion and change all round I think. Another ‘work in progress’.

Kind

Learning about life

After my two week ‘holiday’, I’ve now returned to my desk, and have been quizzed by numerous people as to where I went, whether I had a restful break, and if I’m full of energy raring to be back in the office! Well, they certainly say a change is as good as rest, and I think many were surprised when I told them I’d been on holiday in Vauxhall for two weeks starting my training to become a personal trainer – not quite the Bahamas, but a close second.

As the wear and tear of office life begins to take its toll (physically and mentally!), the last couple of weeks have started to fade to a distant memory, and so I wanted to take some time out to reflect to ensure I don’t lose sight of what I’m working towards outside of the day job! Day to day life can so easily take over as I’m quickly finding out, and sometimes help us to neglect other things that are so important in life.

For two weeks, I travelled to Southbank Club in Vauxhall every day. Finding enough suitable gym clothing to last me for a week at a time was rather a challenge, and I felt particularly scruffy in my trainers and joggers in comparison to the average commuter on the 08.09 to London Waterloo East.

I of course had first day nerves – mainly regarding the first impressions people were going to have of me in this environment. The overriding thought circling round my head was – people are going to take one look at me and think ‘she must be in the wrong class. Look how big she is – there’s no way she could be a personal trainer’. In reality… well – who knows what anyone was actually thinking. But the moment I walked in the room, I felt a sense of acceptance from my fellow class mates. And then a sense of relief once we were asked to share with the group why we were doing the course, and I was given my chance to explain myself as I also learnt about everyone else’s very different motivations for attending.

Being one of five ladies in a class of 24, was rather an intimidating one for me. Having only ever been taught by female fitness instructors until very recently, I hadn’t even considered that there would be a gender imbalance in the class. What I hadn’t realised is that apparently female personal trainers are in demand, which is good news for me!

Having attended a single sex secondary school, I was not used to a learning environment shared with boys – particularly not 19 of them. You could feel the levels of testosterone in the room as many of the boys were sharing stories of their weird and wonderful protein diets, comparing the size of their biceps and competing to see who could lift the heaviest barbell. The advantage of being one of a handful of girls was that we stuck together like glue, and soon became friends without an ounce of competitiveness to be had.

So, after our induction, first thing on Monday morning, we were subjected to an hour’s circuit training class – a task to measure our heart rates during different stages of exercise (and, of course, an opportunity for people to compare their levels of fitness. I was relieved to see that I was by no means flagging behind everyone else, which immediately boosted my confidence!)

The overall aim of the two weeks was twofold – one to learn human anatomy and physiology and to take two theory exams, and the second to learn how to teach people to use the equipment in a gym safely and effectively. The course was intense – 9 – 5 every day, and a real mixture of practical and theory. It really kept us on our toes soaking up new information in every session we attended.

You might know that science was never my strong point at school. I’m sure I must have been taught a lot of what I learnt in the last two weeks in GCSE biology, but quite frankly at the age of 14, I was not in the least bit interested in science or the human body, and struggled to keep up with what was being taught by our ever so patient teachers at the front of the class. I think I’m probably a little late to the party with this, but it is only in these last two weeks that I am beginning to understand just how complex and fascinating the human body is, and thankfully I’m left wanting to know more. It seems that I’ve come full circle with my learning, but the difference is, this time I’ve chosen to learn this stuff which makes a huge difference to my motivation, and resulted in me spending my evenings and weekends poring over my books.

I have spent my life until now taking for granted every breath I take, every muscle I move and every step I take. Now understanding how all of these things work is incredible, and every so often after I’ve taken a breath or moved my arm I think about how that just happened. What an amazing invention the human body is. It has made me realise just how privileged I am to be on this earth, and to have full use of everything in my body. This helps me want to nourish and look after myself, and take care of my body so much more than I ever have done before.

As I mentioned before, as well as the theory sessions, there were practical sessions interspersed each day. I don’t think I’ve ever felt the burn as much as one of our days which consisted of an hour’s body pump class, an hour’s gym session and an hour learning to teach squats and lunges. My knees are still recovering from this particular class – we were made to continue squatting and lunging until all 24 members of the class had the exercises performed to perfection. Certainly one of the more physically challenging days, that’s for sure.

I am excited to go back to classes now and really understand the theory behind why I’m doing what I’m doing, and to improve my own practice to aid me with teaching others. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been to a spinning class or a legs, bums and tums class and had no idea about which muscles I was meant to be working or how fast my heart was supposed to be pumping.

It’s important to be reminded every so often that you have to take the rough with the smooth. I have worked with people I might not ever have had the opportunity to work with, and whilst finding some of the experiences incredibly challenging, I’ve allowed myself to benefit from these encounters and seen them as valuable learning opportunities.

The last two weeks have been a fantastic experience for me and have confirmed that I definitely want to continue down this path. So all that is left of this first phase is to subject the guinea pig that is my poor brother to an hour long gym session where I will be assessed on my teaching skills, and wait to receive the results of my theory exams which will then enable me to move on to the next step of the personal trainer training.

I am left with many feelings and emotions about the future. I am excited about starting the second phase of the training. I have so many creative ideas in my head about where to take things long term. I’m also left with doubts that I will be able to achieve what I want to achieve. And I’m worried that trying to complete these studies at the same time as a full time job is going to be a real challenge for me. But perhaps I just have to take each day at a time and not worry too much about the future. Living life in the present is always a good way to do it, I think. And as I know from previous challenges in my life; when I want something badly enough, I’ll find the energy, time and motivation to do it regardless of the hurdles I’ll have to jump along the way.

Dumping Dieting

I started writing this blog on Monday, without knowing that Tuesday was International ‘No Diet Day’. Great! A day when we are officially allowed to stray from our diets and treat ourselves to a positive body image – how generous! Does this mean though, that today, we’re supposed to go back to grazing on lettuce leaves and hating everything we see in the mirror? What on earth has the world come to that necessitates a ‘no diet day’?  Unfortunately, it’s the diet industry – and the £2million revenue it generates in the UK. Over the last 10 years or so, I’ve fuelled that industry to the tune of around £2,500 on diet club subscriptions alone, let alone diet foods and supplements. But I’ve recently started to question the long term benefits of such diets, and the relationship they teach us to have with food.

My main diet of choice over the years has been Weightwatchers , and I have seen their approach to ‘dieting’ change over the 20 years or so I’ve been following it on and off, and yo-yoing in weight. Now I think they call it a ‘way of living’ and not a diet. But it’s only recently I’ve realised just how artificial ‘diets’ or ‘healthy eating plans’ actually are. To all intents and purposes they are teaching us to ignore the signals our body is giving us. When a baby is hungry, it cries and is then fed until it needs no more. So at what age and why is it that these signals stop working and we start to ignore what our body needs?

Years ago, I read Paul McKenna’s I can make you thin. Just another desperate attempt to try and shed the excess weight I was carrying. What he was saying made complete sense – eat slowly, eat consciously, eat the foods you want to eat, stop when you’re full. What’s hard about that – straight forward, surely? And to begin with it was – I listened to the CD daily, and started to notice a difference in what I was eating. I enjoyed food more, and was listening to the signals my body was giving me again, just like I did when I was a baby. However, things soon started to change as there wasn’t a set formula to what I was eating, and I didn’t feel I was in control. I wasn’t counting points or calories or weighing everything I ate, and I was allowed to make choices in the food I was eating. So, sadly this new way of eating soon spiralled out of control as I started to ignore my inner signals one more time and reverted to my old binging and dieting habits.

One lesson I learnt here – I needed to feel in control. I needed to have rules and regulations. I needed discipline and will power, and I was feeling scared by this freedom I had been given all of a sudden. This was a very strange feeling for me, and one I couldn’t sit with for long. As soon as I stopped listening to my body, the good effects wore off, and straight away I ran back into my Weightwatchers comfort zone. Phew, I was in control once more. I could congratulate myself when I’d had a ‘good’ day. I could be cross with myself when I’d been ‘bad’. But it was all ok, because I was in control.

And so, I successfully lost a lot of weight by being in control and artificially managing my relationship with food, but perhaps to the detriment of other relationships. Being ‘in control’, as I have found out doesn’t necessarily make you much fun to be around, and often meant that I would decline invitations to social gatherings that would involve eating or drinking, in favour of a night at the gym followed by a calorie controlled dinner home alone. Invitations I did accept, would often involve me briefing my host before I went on what I was and wasn’t allowed to eat, or sitting watching others on a night out tuck into a bulging burger while I was sulking with a spindly salad.

While this was what I needed to do at the time as I was so desperately unhappy with my weight, perhaps I missed out on some fun times, all for the sake of being thin.

Thank you to my wonderful friends and family who put up with me watching over them as they lovingly prepared my dinner so I could see exactly what was going in, and add up the points later, or make sure they didn’t put too much oil or butter in. Thank you. And I’m sorry.

Weightwatchers certainly served a purpose for me, and I am living evidence that it works, and it has allowed me to feel happier about myself and my appearance.  But I’m now realising that I wasn’t really in control at all – someone else was controlling what I was eating, and to let the real me be in control would be a frightening and unusual step for me to take.

I had always believed I could never be one of those people that could just eat what they wanted – I maintained for a long time that I would always have to watch what I ate. But a lifetime of counting points, declining dinner invitations, weighing myself twice a day, binging at the weekends and getting ‘back on it’ on Monday doesn’t sound like much fun to me – is this really my purpose in life?

With this question in mind, I have embarked on an experiment to dump diets, and I’m beginning to wonder if I may just have turned a corner with letting go of habits and routines I have loved to hate in favour of a more flexible and liberating way of living.

Dumping dieting is like ending a relationship you’ve been in for years that’s not going anywhere, isn’t good for you anymore, and isn’t sustainable. It had some good times while it lasted, and served a purpose at the time, but deep down your gut is telling you – IT’S JUST NOT RIGHT! Having been in this relationship for an incredibly long time, and food having been my companion, my enemy and my comforter for all those years, it’s so hard to let go and fly solo, and you have to ask yourself the question – is being on your own better than being in a toxic relationship? For me, the answer is always, yes! This has been an incredibly complex break up for me to have with many conflicting emotions.

I have recently started having sessions with a personal trainer, which has been a real turning point for me, both in terms of confidence about my physical fitness, but also in sparking interesting discussions about food and nutrition. One of the first questions I was asked was about the foods that I like to eat. And strangely, that was a very difficult question for me to answer. I started thinking about the foods that I have been eating through my calorie controlled diet for many years.

A typical day for me –

Breakfast: cornflakes with skimmed milk

Snack: cereal bar & low fat crisps

Lunch: salad with a piece of ham (maybe treat myself to some couscous or a pitta if it’s a gym night!) & more low fat crisps

Snack: fruit

Pre-dinner snack: even more low fat crisps (Really?!?!)

Dinner: Tuna, pasta, veg in tomato sauce

Post-dinner snack: Low fat chocolate bar

In addition, there are an extra 49 points to spread over the week, which I usually saved for the weekends, binged on alcohol and chocolate, and then started afresh on Monday. So in my head, the weekends became ‘binge’ days, and weekdays were ‘good’ days. If you caught me on a weekend, you were lucky to experience the relaxed about food, chilled out Helen. Not so lucky if you got me on a weekday.

When you look at that food diary, it doesn’t look like a healthy, balanced diet to me at all, and while it had the desired effect of me losing weight, what was it actually doing to my body? I should point out; that kind of typical diet is not what weightwatchers encouraged at all, but it was how I felt like I wasn’t on a ‘diet’ and that I wasn’t denying myself forbidden foods. One thing they do insist on though is the ‘use it or lose it’ rule. You must eat all of your points otherwise you’ll lose them and in turn you won’t lose weight. So yet again, we’re being encouraged to ignore our bodies – we’re being ordered to eat regardless of the need to do so.

Of the foods I listed above, I can’t honestly say to you that I love any of them. I am now re-learning how to eat. I’m learning about the foods I love, and have a fridge full of fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh meat and fish (previously I would have felt that there were too many points in meat which would mean I wouldn’t be able to have a low fat chocolate bar after dinner!) and cupboards full of nuts, seeds, pasta, quinoa, and even chocolate. I’m learning to be satisfied by delicious, fresh, colourful foods, and really appreciating the smells, textures and tastes of new and adventurous foods I’ve shied away from for so many years. I’m eating mindfully and consciously, rather than sitting in front of the television mindlessly eating my dinner and not even realising that I’m full because I haven’t been paying attention to my stomach.

And as a result, here are 5 things I have done in the last month I’ve not done for a long time (if ever!)

  1. Left food on my plate, and left food in the saucepan for lunch the next day
  2. Made a bar of chocolate last more than one evening
  3. Eaten full fat yoghurt
  4. Cooked food without weighing out the food first
  5. Really thought about the food I wanted to, rather than ‘should’ eat

It feels so empowering – listening to my body, and trusting that I will make the right decisions. The result of which is I’m feeling nourished, and craving less of the sugary foods I have always longed for and binged on when temptation takes over.

I have a couple of books to thank (and my PT for the recommendations) for helping to confirm my suspicions about diets, and for allowing me to get this far. I won’t go into detail here about the content of the books (I wouldn’t do them justice), and some may find them slightly controversial. All I would say is that if you are an eternal dieter like me, read the books, and they will at the very least get you thinking. It has been incredibly enlightening reading for me.

Solving the Paleo Equation – by Matt Stone and Dr Garratt Smith

Diet industry lies that make you gain weight – by Lianda Ludwig

There are also some articles about International diet day here and here if you’re interested!

So, what’s the key to all this – what’s the magic solution? When I find the answer, I will be sure to let you know, but I’m still working it out. I’ve tried most things already – diets, detoxes, cognitive behavioural therapy, hypnotherapy. But sadly there is no miracle pill and no instantaneous cure. It’s trial and error. Trusting your instincts, letting go, chilling out. One thing is for sure, a good place to start is working out why you’re in this toxic relationship in the first place.

For me, it has been so scary to let go of something that has been a focus of my life for as long as I can remember. What will I worry about now – where will I focus my attentions? What will I think about first thing in the morning when I wake up and last thing before I go to bed at night? Perhaps this is evidence that I hadn’t yet been ready to fill this space with something else. And yes, an empty space is a scary and daunting one, but there are so many exciting things other than food it could be filled with, which I am now discovering.

I mentioned earlier the conflicting emotions of dumping diets. While there have been some really positive effects of this new way of thinking about food, it’s not all been easy. It’s very hard to think about what you’ve eaten during a day, and then add up in your head the number of calories or points you have eaten with the knowledge that you’re going over what you should be eating to lose weight (my advice would be, don’t do it!)

A little glimpse of a conversation between two voices inside my head yesterday might help to demonstrate:

A: So how are you going to lose weight with this new way of eating?

B: Well maybe I don’t have to lose weight?

A: Oh, but you do. You’ve always been trying to lose weight. You should have seen yourself in the mirror today – did you see those bulging thighs and, goodness that fat around your midriff? Who on earth is going to want a personal trainer who looks like you?

B: But I’m confident that I’m fit enough to do it, and I’m a good teacher – surely I can motivate and inspire people by what I’ve already achieved?

A: Well… maybe. But didn’t you see people looking at you today and thinking how big you are?

B: Err… no!

A: Right. But I still think you need to get rid of that fat around your belly. So what are you going to do about it?

B: Err… I have absolutely no idea. HELP!

And it’s internal conversations like that that leave me wavering, and wanting to pick up my phone and text my old diet relationship. Since we’ve broken up, we’ve hooked up for a night here and there, which was good at the time, but of course I’ve since regretted. I now need to find the strength and determination for us never to get back together again, not even for a fling. Which will take time, belief, resilience and perseverance.

I’m ready to dump dieting for good, and to focus on other more fruitful and nourishing relationships in my life, which with time may or may not lead to a thinner, happier me. But either way, I think I’m ok with that. I’m by no stretch of the imagination over this break up. This is just the beginning. Watch this space.