(As soon as I typed that title, the Bon Iver song ‘Holocene’ filled my head, and now will for days. Again. But it’s such a gorgeous song, it’s worth it – and if you get the chance to watch the video, please do. Let yourself be taken to Iceland for a little while. )
So I’ve been quiet lately, but that’s because I took a step back to unravel my head to figure out why I was developing a full-blown eating disorder, and how to prevent it. I realised I needed to fix my relationship with food. If you have a good relationship with food, you will be neither overweight nor underweight. Fact. Inescapable fact. I’ve known that for a long time and I reminded myself of it.
So how to fix my relationship with food while still shedding the excess weight that is undeniably not good for my body?
Step 1: be patient
Blake Lively recently did something I admire – she put out there that she’d lost 61lbs in 14 months. I liked her for that. I have previously seen her berate the Yummy Mummy movement that pressured women into getting their bodies back within 6 weeks of birth. I like her for holding out against it. I like her for sticking to her guns and losing the weight over a reasonable timescale. Weirdly 61lbs is what I’d like to lose (it was less when I began this blog, but then I kept on bingeing …). So I’m doing a Blake Lively. I’m planning to give myself 14 months to get back to myself. That’s hard, because I so hate carrying this extra weight that I want it gone NOW, so I want to restrict, and ferociously! But I recognise all that will do is keep me stuck at this weight, or indeed increasing. After all in the last 8 months of restrictive dieting, I’ve lost precisely 0lbs. In fact, I’ve gained. So:
Step 2: make peace with myself
I’m forgiving myself for getting fat. And now I’m going to treat myself with tenderness and care. No more berating myself for being fat, greedy, worthless. No more war on myself. The best thing about this is I now have mental energy to expend on more worthwhile projects than loathing myself.
Step 3: eat for health, not weight
What does that mean in practise? As I found, everything.
In the first place it meant that instead of punishing myself by dieting, I was embracing myself, saying I was worth caring for.
Secondly, It changed the foods I chose to eat.
It works like this – if I’m dieting, it’s quite possible to fit a bar of chocolate into my macroes/carb count/calorie count and still be on track. Hell, I could have a cheat day and fill it with pizza, ice cream and Coke. In fact, lots of diet gurus encourage me to.
But if I’m eating for health rather than weight, suddenly the perspective shifts, massively and profoundly. If I’m eating for health, the only possible response to a bar of chocolate is ‘Why would I put that shit in my body?’
I realised it would also be helpful to
Step 4: Stop weighing myself and instead be guided by how well a food makes me feel
Not weighing myself can be tough – I worry that without the scales to chastise me, I won’t stay on the nutritional straight and narrow. And without the scales to tell me how good I’ve been, how will I know when to celebrate? But I also know that if the scales have bad news for me, that can lead to ‘F**k it! I’ve tried really hard and got nothing back for it, so I’m gonna have that block of Dairy Milk!”; and if they have good news for me, that can lead to ‘I’ve been really good and done really well, and everything’s under control so I’m gonna treat myself to that block of Dairy Milk!’
Aside from that of course, fat loss and weight loss are not the same thing and my scales are not sophisticated enough to tell them apart.
Step 5: Stop binge eating
And then, suddenly at that moment, as so often happens, I stumbled across exactly what I needed – the website Eat Like A Normal Person, written by a former binge-eater, and specifically this page How anti-smoking guru Allen Carr saved me from obesity. I didn’t read the whole site, I just fortuitously stumbled on this, about being in the midst of a binge:
We don’t stop eating, because our body never receives the signal that it has got what it needs, because it has not.
Often, nearing the end of a binge, when I’m already feeling bloated and sick and the sugar high has kicked in and my heart is pounding and the adrenaline’s flashing through my veins and I’m starting to genuinely worry for my heart, I’ve found myself thinking ‘I give up. I’ve eaten everything bingeworthy in the house and I’m still not satisfied’. And that makes me desperately upset, because I know I am going to pay a very high price for what I just did – and yet it never actually hit the target.
Reading that quote made me realise – my body is not recognising all that crap as food, because it is not food; and therefore it is not sending me that ‘stop eating now, it’s all good and thanks for that dose of essential vitamins and minerals. I’m happy, go play now’. I realised that if I can binge it, it’s a non-food. Your body simply won’t let you binge proper food. How much cheese could you actually eat in a sitting?
The only exception to that is nuts – I can eat my way through a 500g bag of nuts and at the end feel bloated, heavy and somehow still not satisfied.
I guess nuts do not have everything in that my body wants. In fact, when I thought about it, very very few foods alone are capable of providing absolutely everything your body would require from a meal. This led me to realise –
Step 6: no mono-meals
If I’m eating nuts, I must eat, say, raisins with them. I mustn’t eat anything alone – every food must have at least one companion. And it works. I automatically reach satiation at a reasonable point of consumption.
Step 7: Kick sugar to the kerb
And between realising that I wasn’t binge-eating sugar because of anything that was in sugar, but precisely because of what was not in sugar; and that if I wanted to treat my body well and eat for my health, there was no way I would put sugar into it : I just stopped eating sugar. Just like that.
So here’s a thing I’ve learnt. Sugar addiction is all in the head and you can give up all kinds of sugar effortlessly and without cravings.
I was reading an interview with Russell Brand – an ex-drug addict – and he said that occasionally, even though his life is immeasurably better now he’s off drugs, occasionally he’ll still envy himself when he was a junkie: because then he had drugs.
I understand that regret, and that is all you will feel when you stop eating sugar. That vague ‘But what will I do now when I want to comfort myself or celebrate?” As I’m learning myself, you will find the ways – but every day that you wake up and don’t have to crawl out of that pit of food hangover+self loathing+despair is consolation enough.
I do very occasionally still eat a few squares of 85% dark chocolate with some almonds – but as there is distinctly no sugar rush to be had from that and that very dark chocolate has nutritional benefit, I’m fine with that. I do now also always keep big, juicy oranges in the house – although I only feel a desire for one every few days.
Step 8: welcome fruit back into my life
Over a decade of low carbing led me to a terror of fruit. And yes, I realise now, how weird it was I’d made a decision I could allow some chocolate into my life but not fruit.
That was partly because if I ate fruit alone, after about 15 minutes I’d get so faint and unable to focus I felt ready to fall over. I don’t know why, I only know it’s so – I know my eldest son responds to fruit the same, and I know we’re not alone.
However, we can both eat a bar of chocolate alone and instead get a sugar rush which gave us energy for a while.
Somehow rather than taking the decision I should therefore eat fruit but only with meals, my rather tortured thinking led me to exclude fruit.
Contributing to that decision was the argument against modern fruit – that it has been bred to be bigger, juicier, sweeter than anything our ancestors ate. It is indeed nature’s candy and far sweeter than nature intended. So I accept that I shouldn’t over eat it, after all sugar is sugar – but fruit undeniably has nutritional benefits, so it stays. And anyway, it is a part of
Step 9: eat as wide a variety of foods as possible
And so I’ve kicked sugar and stopped bingeing. Just like that. It wasn’t difficult, it wasn’t protracted. It didn’t require counselling, it didn’t require a programme and I’m no different from you. I believed I was powerless against it, I believed I was trapped in it. Turns out it wasn’t. I had the keys all along.
I’m still a bit greedy sometimes – but as anyone who has binge-eaten knows, there is a world of difference between going back for seconds and binge eating. I don’t always go back for seconds anyway; partly it’s that I’m having such a fabulous time experimenting with new recipes as part of my intention to eat as wide a variety of foods as possible, that sometimes when a new recipe is freshly out of the oven and turns out to be lipsmackingly, groaningly fabulous I scoff the lot. That’s human.
So I think I have some work to do on the greedy – but as a woman who now no longer smokes, drinks, takes drugs or eats sugar I think I’m gonna be a bit kind to myself about that, and …
Step 10: Never punish myself by restricting if I’ve been greedy
And I trust myself that as I acclimatise to this new world of mine, even the greediness will subside and even though I still have bouts of greediness, my cupboard currently holds every kind of nut – because I love nuts – and raisins, dried apricots and dessicated coconut for cooking; and of course, some very fine 85% dark chocolate. And I am allowed to dip into them for snacks. Occasionally I still over-eat them – and when I do, the very next day I go out and stock back up on them. I absolutely refuse to keep anything out of the house that is pleasurable and nutritionally valuable as if I’m a naughty, greedy child who can’t be trusted around food. It’s important that I learn to have these foods in my life as a matter of course, as a part of my normal daily world. Only then will I stop investing them – as I have, and still to an extent do – with a power and danger they do not inherently possess. I love these foods and they are good for me and so they are now a part of my life and will remain so.
For the record, I am losing weight – but I know that because of the way, and which of, my clothes now fit; and because I move more easily. Occasionally I look at my scales and think ‘weigh yourself’ – but I don’t, because I know that way madness lies.
And I have to tell you this, because I will never forget this moment –
Having realised all the above, I went nervously out and bought myself a bag of extra special, huge, juicy oranges. I brought them wonderingly home. I selected the most beautiful and I peeled it, sliced it into bite-sized pieces and lay them into my loveliest white porcelain dish, as if they were jewels. And they were. They glistened vibrant, bright and delectable. I took them into the sitting room and then, alone and without distraction, I took a fork and one by one ate all of the pieces, my first guilt-free fruit in a decade. And I have to tell you.
It was fucking magnificent.