For as long as I can remember of my teenage and adult life, I’ve been on some kind of diet. A sad thought, I know – but I’m sure one that many other women can relate to. I’ve always been very aware of my weight and compared myself to other bodies, other women. I forever felt like the ‘big’ one among my friendship group and so from about the age of 13, I had a pretty unhealthy relationship with food – yo-yo dieting without any real thought of the consequences.
And of course, while the weight may have fluctuated by a few pounds here and there, the only thing I really gained was a sense of guilt every time I ate something ‘naughty’. My dream body, or what I thought my dream body was, was impossible to achieve in my eyes – because I loved food too much and I couldn’t possibly sacrifice my beloved cheese and chocolate. Even limiting it proved difficult.
From the ages of 14-20, I had been on Weight Watchers, Atkins, Dukan, LighterLife Fast and tracked my calories incessantly via MyFitnessPal. But nothing worked. I felt wracked with guilt every time I failed yet again and succumbed to the fact that I would remain unhappy with my weight forever more.
In 2014, I was put on antidepressants – largely to reduce the pain of my IBS symptoms which by that point, were plaguing my life on a daily basis and completely controlling my ability to be social, leave the house and be a normal 20-year-old girl. The antidepressants only made the situation worse though and I’d urge anyone to really think about going on these, as I know doctors sometimes issue them out quite quickly. They basically made me exhausted all the time – and when I wasn’t asleep, I was eating. My weight crept up even more and eventually, at my heaviest – I think I was just over 11 stone 6 (74kg/165lbs). It might not sound like masses, but I’m only 5ft 4 and in terms of BMI, I was overweight. Everyone carries weight differently and for some people this might be healthy but for me, it wasn’t.
When you’re stuck in a deep dark place which stems from food, it really is much more troubling than people who have never been in that position can possibly comprehend. We all know that eating healthier on a daily basis and moving more is the key to maintaining a healthy weight. We all know that diets don’t really work. But there’s a vicious circle of trying to shift the weight, punishing yourself for eating foods you enjoy and constantly weighing yourself. I really don’t wish it upon anyone because it can be all-consuming. I eventually became fixated upon slim people and remember once proclaiming that they were so lucky to have a fit and healthy body. ‘Lucky’.
But then everything changed. Pretty much overnight if I remember rightly. It was one morning when I’d been up for almost the entire night in absolute agony with stomach cramps related to my IBS. They were so excruciating that I had been on the phone to NHS 111, crying and having the most hideous panic attack because I truly believed the pain I was in must have meant I was dying. I realised after so many similar incidents that I had to do something about this. I was the only one who could take control back of my body. No-one else, or no dukan diet newsletter was going to incentivise me to change the way I ate. In fact, no picture of any gorgeous woman’s ‘perfect bikini body’ was going to incentivise me either. I wanted to change because I wanted to feel like me again. I didn’t want to be ruled by the food I was eating – both health wise and weight wise.
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Around the same time, I’d had a York Test for IBS, which brings up intolerances which are tested against your blood sample. Mine flagged cows milk and eggs in ‘red’, which meant that when matched with my blood, it had produced anti-bodies to try and defend itself against them. Something obviously wasn’t working there.
So, I got on the phone to their nutritionist and had a bit of a heart-to-heart to be honest, rather than a diet planning session. She explained that if I wanted to see a real change, this would have to be something I’d stick to. Three months as a minimum was what she suggested to see a real difference. And it was her saying this when everything clicked. When you’re at a new job, you don’t expect to have everything sussed in the first month. When you’re at school, you learn your subjects for years at a time before being examined and in a friendship situation, relationships blossom with time, you’re not best friends with someone instantly. Things take time, commitment and in order to really make it work, you need to stick at it.
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And I suppose I realised then that it was no wonder my diets weren’t working. We’re all advertised this ‘miracle results’ but in actuality, they’re quick fixes. Because I was now focusing on getting my insides better, I realised that you have to fix these first before you get the outside results. What you put into your body is what you’re going to get out of it. As cliche as that all sounds. But you can’t expect a car to run if you put in the wrong fuel. You can’t expect your laptop to work if that batteries aren’t charged properly.
So I decided to give up dairy and eggs, as per my intolerance test suggested – for three months to see if I saw a difference. As much as I didn’t want to, I knew something had to give in order for me to feel better in myself. And if it meant no more cheese and chocolate, well I valued my freedom (rather than being bound to the bathroom and feel crap about myself all the time) more than I did those two foods.
I’m not going to say it was mega easy to give up, but it wasn’t as difficult as I thought. I think when you have some aim in mind that isn’t purely aesthetic or what the numbers on the scales say, it’s a lot easier. I discovered Deliciously Ella, and loved her mantra of ‘eating to make your body happy’. It wasn’t a diet, it was a change I was making to make my body happy. And for me, the change in thinking was the push I needed. No longer was I punishing myself by eating ‘healthy’ food, or dreading it – but wanting to find foods I could make myself that I enjoyed eating. And more importantly, made my body feel good afterwards.
Even now, I find that this is something I live by. Because I do still eat dairy-free treats like Oreos and dairy-free chocolate and gelatine free sweets (for some reason, I can’t eat gelatine either) but afterwards, I feel sluggish and sick and a bit crap to be honest. I love the taste, sure, but I don’t feel good after eating them. And it’s not about feeling guilty, I realised often what I perceived as guilt was the sugar rush – and then immediate drop, which leaves you feeling rubbish. I’m not saying I’ll never eat these things again, because I do. But I know not to if I don’t want to feel that way.
When you don’t have something for awhile, your body no longer craves it. And so my mountainous bowls of cheesy pasta, were replaced by tomato and pepper pasta. Or avocado and basil pasta. I recently tried making a dairy-free carbonara (with yeast flakes and cashew, with together have a very creamy taste) and honestly, I just didn’t like it. The creaminess was too much for me and I craved vegetables and tomato based dishes instead. I don’t want to sound all smarmy about it, because I promise I’m not, but I think it’s really interesting to see the things you once crave change. Cravings are superficial, they’re not often what the body needs, but what the tastebuds want.
I didn’t lose weight overnight, but it did come off pretty quickly once I stuck to it – again proving to me that consistency is key. It’s taken me a year to get to the weight I am, which I’m now maintaining. I don’t eat perfectly but the only thing I’m strict about is avoiding dairy and eggs. I have tested it – and eaten something with dairy/eggs and I’ve had massive flare-ups every time, so for me – I feel like I’ve found the cause of the trouble. For others however, it might be completely different. You can read all about my food transformation here.
So here’s what I learned:
- Your body isn’t going to change overnight. You need to be consistent and follow a lifestyle rather than a diet. Changing your lifestyle or your food mantra is far more rewarding. You’ll never have to ‘diet’ again.
- It’s easy to get hung up on calories but in actuality, calories is just ‘energy’ – you really need to focus on the sugar content, as that’s what makes you feel crappy.
- Fats aren’t bad either. Especially good fats. Don’t buy the ‘low-fat’ version because when the fat is taken out, it’s replaced by sugar and chemicals to make it taste better. Mmmm.
- There’s so many clean-eating, foodie Instagram pages and bloggers. I find these to be so helpful when I’m stuck for inspiration for what to cook for dinner, but I don’t absolutely swear by these. I eat clean as much as I can, but I’m not going to feel bad for eating something I want to eat. Some days I’ll have an avocado and tuna salad for lunch, other days I’ll have a fish finger wrap. No-one is perfect.
- Feeling crap about yourself is a horrible vicious cycle to be in and controversially, I think you need a big kick at the beginning rather than gradual changes in order to make an impact. Gradual changes in my opinion, just prolongs the cravings – and prolongs the process of changing your lifestyle. If you really want to make a difference, cut it out at the beginning and re-introduce stuff slowly after a few weeks. If it makes your body feel rubbish, then you know it’s not for you. Or at least you’ll be in control of that food, rather than it over you.
- Everyone has ‘fat days’, don’t think too much into them. I’m now two and a half stone lighter than I was when I started – 8 stone 13. I fit into a size 8-10 and I’m largely pretty happy with my weight. But I still have fat days. I have days when I mope about in the mirror wondering why I’m such a whale. It’s not because I have body dysmorphia or something terribly wrong with me. I’m just a human being. Some days we feel great, others not so much. I think we just have to make sure we’re not saying horrible things internally constantly, because that breaks down self confidence – and we should be building ourselves up!
- Don’t compare yourself to other women. Every body is different and everyone – regardless of whether they’re a Victoria’s Secret supermodel or an average Joe – has body hang-ups. We all think the grass is greener and tell ourselves ‘oh life would be better if I didn’t have this wobbly bit’ or ‘I wish I had her legs’, but chances are – there’s something the woman you’re comparing herself to, doesn’t feel confident about either. Every body is different and every body is beautiful.
- I realised that having a healthy body, which I once deemed those who did as ‘lucky’, is something you had to make sacrifices for. Something you have to work at. It’s not luck. Although yes, admittedly some people have fabulous metabolisms – but they might not feel happy with what they’re eating either.
- Healthy and slim doesn’t always equate. Neither does unhappy and big. All bodies are different – as I said, it’s just making sure you’re giving yourself the right fuel as much as you can. Making sure you come away from mealtimes feeling energised and ready to take on what’s next, rather than sluggish, tired, grumpy and like you need a nap. The only meal that should make you feel that way is Christmas dinner!
And lastly? Does being slim make you happy? The lifelong question – the thing that I always thought would be the answer to my problems. Well, yes and no. I’m happy because I’m healthy and no longer suffering with the hideous symptoms that once controlled my life. I feel more confident because I’m more active, I enjoy exercise and I don’t feel guilty about the food I’m eating. But life is going to throw at you whatever it does anyway, whether you’re a size 6 or 16. Everyone is going through troubles and being slim doesn’t take those away. It’s not going to be the answer to your problems – but if it’s making you unhappy and if you are in a vicious cycle, then changing both the way you think about food – and consume it, can help.
We often focus too much on the food, or our weight – rather than the feeling or the mindset. It’s a lifestyle change that’s going to make you ultimately happy, not a diet.
What’s your opinion? Has changing your lifestyle changed your mindset on anything? Is there anything you disagree with?