I wrote most of this as long ago as the summer. It has taken me so long to post because it is something that I have long felt ashamed to admit to. It was only recently when I realised that I had been approaching my weight entirely from the wrong angle that I felt brave enough to post this. So, here we go……
I was contemplating whether I should give this post some clever title based on a profound point of reference. Something like the seminal work by Susie Orbach, “Fat is a feminist issue,” the television drama, “My Mad Fat Diary” or even the Judy Blume book I read in my childhood about a child who is mercilessly bullied for her size, “Blubber.” Yet the more I thought about it, then the only word I really could use, which encapsulated everything that I wanted to express, was that tiny three-letter word, F-A-T, fat. Seemingly insignificant and yet so vastly meaningful. You see despite all the things I have achieved in my life, both personal and professional, I feel that I am an immense failure because I am fat. There I have said it. I have admitted it. Taking ownership of your fatness is the only way to deal with it. It becomes far more liberating than continuing to convince yourself that you can fit into that pair of size 8 jeans.
It is not society condemning me. In fact, I do not think I have ever been called fat by anyone. I was incredibly thin for many years because I did ballet nearly every day of the week after a full day of academia. My fatness has come mainly as a result of a major back operation I had to have ten years ago when my spine was crumbling – again, a result of ballet. Since this life-changing operation, my weight has continued to increase as I am no longer able to go to the gym or carry out any aerobic exercise to burn off the food I eat. I still take a cocktail of medication for the pain. Remarkably, when I look in the mirror, I am always shocked by what I see because inside I do not feel fat. I feel slim. My size makes me feel deeply unhappy. It is not who I feel that I am. I would most definitely trade in my intelligence for the chance of being slim again. I have a garage full of boxes of designer clothes in tiny sizes. I shall probably never wear them again, but I keep them whilst ever the flame of hope burns inside; the flame, which is pretty-much extinguished.
I see women all over Instagram displaying their curves and their rolls and stretch marks and declaring that they have body positivity. I know many overweight people feel happy in their bodies. But for me, there is no positivity about being fat. I have always loved fashion and when you are overweight your clothing choices diminish. As a fat person, you sweat more and develop rashes where various parts of your body rub against each other – it is politely called ‘chub-rub’ on social-media. It is not nice. It is not meant to be. I always think, however erroneously, that people look down on me and possibly think that because I am fat, it therefore follows that I must be stupid, lazy, and greedy; ergo I have no self-control.
A psychologist would probably find me an interesting and complex case. Most of my youth was spent doing ballet and constantly looking in mirrors to see what angle made me look the thinnest. In those days, I thought that I was fat and there was not an ounce on me at all. I can recall being measured and told – “we have nothing to fit you because your waist is so tiny.” Those same emotions and early-life experiences that made me starve myself during my ballet years, have also led me to eat my emotions in later life. I am not someone who can just stop at one nugget of chocolate. I wish I were, but I am not. It did not help that I grew up in an era when there were few fat people on television who were not some sort of comedic or performing act. The Roly-Polys, Bernard Manning, Eddie Large; fat people were to be ridiculed or pitied. Even someone like Mama Cass, who had the most amazing singing voice, was met with comments from those who could not believe that such a beautiful voice came from such a large woman.
Yet sitting up here on flabby island, is not a good place. As you age, doctors begin to look at you with condescension as they talk about blood sugar and cholesterol. Perhaps the only word worse than fat is obese, which doctors will throw at you, as if you are incognisant of the consequences and the need to lose weight for health benefits. Well, if you are not happy, then why don’t you do something about it? Many people claim that the formula to losing weight is incredibly straightforward – you just eat less and exercise more – it is simple, right? If only it were. If it truly was that effortless, then there would be no mega-billion weight management industry. I have tried many different diets to lose weight but unfortunately my self-discipline seems to expire after a few months, and I find myself reverting to my previous habits and returning to my former size soon enough. I know more about nutrition and calories than anyone. I always cook from scratch and as a family we eat well. My problem lies in snacking and in chocolate in particular. My hormones fluctuate a great deal because of my age, and I insist that my husband keeps a secret stash of chocolate for those times when I absolutely must have a bar. I snack emotionally. I snack when I am happy, and I snack when I am sad. I snack when something wonderful happens when I want to celebrate, and I snack when I want to commiserate myself after a difficult episode. I can think up a million reasons to eat that bar of chocolate and yet seemingly I am unable to think of any reasons to stop, without causing myself emotional upset.
People assume that when you are fat, then you must be happy or else you would lose the weight. I cannot speak for others, but that is certainly not the case for me. I desperately want to lose weight and thereby become healthier and restore some of my self-confidence. Everything I have tried so far just does not work in the long run. I regularly read about the latest advice. I have considered everything from 5:2 to Keto to Slimming World to gastric band surgery. Diets start off really well in the beginning, but within a short time I find myself having just that one bit of chocolate which turns into a bar, which turns into a daily occurrence. I have been desperate for a while to find the answer. For a long time, I have known that it is only when I change my mind set that I will succeed and I really did not think it was possible because I am no spring chicken and I have had this mind set for much of my life.
Quite by chance I came across an advertisement on Facebook for something called Slimming-Pod. It claimed that it was the ultimate answer to weight loss because it caused the brain to think differently about weight loss by listening to subliminal messages on a podcast. And before you ask, no, I did not sign up for it. I have wasted far too much money on weight loss products over the years that do not work. However, it started to make me think. I wondered if it was possible to change my thought process and finally put an end to this vicious cycle of extreme dieting followed by relentless gorging. Could I halt my emotional relationship with food and prevent myself from perceiving it as both recompense and comfort? In short, how could I vanquish this demon once and for all?
I spend most of my days reading in some capacity, whether for work or leisure and I relish the challenge afforded by conducting new research. In the past, I have tried hypnotherapy to relieve some anxiety and when I have fully embraced it, the results have been effective. I wondered if techniques employed by psychologists and hypnotherapists would help to reboot my brain. My body may no longer be strong or flexible, but my mind is still, well, just about, in good working order. I did not need to understand why I eat too much because that is evident. The subliminal messages I received during my childhood from my ballet clearly have a lot to answer for. However, that period is now passed. I need to develop a new mind set. One that challenges why I find comfort in sugar. It was only after much self-searching that I discovered that I needed to convince my mind that instead of eating chocolate to comfort myself, I could comfort myself more by not eating the chocolate. I needed to redefine my personal reward system. In short, I had to value my body and completely change my way of thinking. Instead of saying, “I will reward/comfort myself with food.” I needed to say, “I choose to respect myself more and not comfort myself with food.” In a way it is a form of that much bandied around phrase – self-care. I have always been a bit sceptical of this whole self-care explosion but for once, I understood its merits.
Thus, I have read a great deal over the past weeks and something which really struck a chord with me, was an interview on YouTube with lifestyle guru Marissa Peer about why diets never work. She claims it is all down to the language we use and what we tell ourselves. We talk about ‘losing’ weight. We do not talk about ‘gaining’ health benefits or ‘gaining’ increased self-confidence. We are already condemning ourselves to failure from the outset because words shape our reality. Anyone will tell you that the word ‘loss’ has so many negative connotations. We talk about ‘losing’ someone we love. Loss equals sadness and distress. I know as a teacher how important language is in someone’s academic success. We praise children and we realise that self-confidence is a vital factor in achievement. What we tell ourselves is what we become. This is a truth I have known for so long and yet I have never employed it in my own life. In addition, Marissa believes firmly in neuroplasticity; that is that the brain can rewire itself over time and suggests by employing new language and responding in different ways, we can learn how to stop emotional eating. Anxiety can be relieved by breathing and being aware of the language we speak to ourselves as we experience the anxiety. Chewing gum, a hot drink, rubbing our arms and breathing deeply are more beneficial than a bag of crisps or a family size bar of Dairy Milk. When we eat, we need to accept that food is a fuel to the body not an emotional crutch. In short, we need to be more mindful of the reason we are eating each and every time we eat.
This new way of thinking has so far given me success in feeling healthier and above all else, in feeling more in control of my eating. It has certainly left me feeling less deprived than all those expensive soups and shakes or calorie-counting diets I tried before. I am determined that I am not on a diet and I am not ‘losing’ weight. I am merely rethinking my attitude to food, and I am being kinder to my body. Each time I feel the need to eat, I question my intentions. Am I eating to refuel or to fill an emotional void? So far, this method has enabled me to end my dreadful habit of snacking in the evening. Yet this is really only the start of my journey, I know that I have much more to overcome in the next few months and possibly for the rest of my life. It is not possible to retrain a fifty-year-old brain in one day. There will be bumps along the road and these will not mean, as they have done in the past, that this is the journey’s end. It requires perseverance and continual, daily study. There is an additional element to my new rationale. I know that if I have someone to hold me accountable, then I will succeed. That is why I finally decided to come clean and write this piece on my blog. I accept that these are my own unique views and there are many people who will disagree with me. However, now is really the time that I look after myself more and employ the same level of care I use for my children. Fat may have defined me for the past few years, but I am at long last adamant that it will not continue to do so.