The grey skies, cold temperatures and magazine covers make it a difficult time of year.
The whole ‘new year new me’ can be hard to swallow, especially if you’re recovering from an Eating Disorder.
For the past decade, I’ve suffered from a mixture of bulimia/anorexia/body dysmorphia.
To pinpoint the ‘start’ of this is difficult.
I remember the first time I was aware of the way I looked and aware I wanted to lose weight. I was 12.
I yo-yo dieted throughout school, but it wasn’t until I reached 18 the real disordered behaviour began (not quite ready to go into that now). Since then I’ve been in and out of eating disorder therapy.
I do feel like it’s impossible to recover fully from an eating disorder, the voice will always be in the back of my mind: totting up the calories in a slice of bread, pushing me to walk the 2 hours home instead of getting the bus and giving me the urge to ‘get rid’ of whatever I’ve just eaten. However, the voice does get quieter.
I feel like finally, at 28, the voice in my head is a whisper and it’s all down to quitting diets.
At the end of last summer, after another day of beating myself up for eating ‘too much’ and while listening to the intuitive eating podcast ‘Don’t Salt My Game’, I decided enough was enough. I was going to give intuitive eating a go and stop dieting for good!
Now, the idea of not being on a diet, not controlling what I was eating like a drill sergeant and not putting food on the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ list was terrifying. I thought I’d be out of control, I’d eat everything in sight, I’d balloon and I’d detest myself to the point of suicide.
I know it sounds dramatic, especially written there, but this is exactly how I’d felt for nearly 20 years.
So what did happen when I stopped dieting?
My weight didn’t change
Well, I can’t be certain because I stopped weighing myself last summer, but my clothes still fit and my body, depending on the time of the month, looks pretty much the same.
I had the courage to quit the gym
In the past, saying goodbye to a gym membership felt like I was letting myself go and I was a bad person. I would have rather struggled for money and put myself in debt than quit the gym, but I decided I wanted to eat/exercise because it felt good, not because I wanted it to change the way I looked.
I became more social
Eating food can be a great way of bonding with people and socialising. The ‘normal’ part of me loves eating with friends and family but I would try my best to avoid these situations. I’d panic when friends suggested going for food and dread weekends away when I had no control over what was or wasn’t in the fridge. I’d plan to eat the bare minimum or diet the rest of the week. Now I’m the one asking people round for dinner and out for food.
My job got easier
I know, it’s ridiculous, a food journalist with an eating disorder. I was torn for years between doing what I loved (eating and writing about food) and breaking my ‘diet’. I’d plan reviews and events around what I was and wasn’t allowed to eat that week.
I had fewer mood swings and got my energy back
Being hungry is an all-consuming feeling. I’d walk around in a daze, I’d be thinking about food all the time, I’d have no energy and I’d be irritated and snappy. Now my mood swings aren’t as bad and I have more brain power to focus on my work and my writing.
I stopped having the urge to pig out on junk food
Once food stopped being forbidden fruit it was easier to forget about it. I used to live on lettuce and leaves during the week, but once the weekend came round I would be desperate for everything I wasn’t allowed. For me, fast food, chocolate and sweets were like a red flag to a bull.
I stopped craving chocolate
Now I’ve lifted my ban on chocolate I no longer feel like I NEED it. In the past, I would have killed a man for a bar of galaxy. Now, I can take or leave it. I’m not tormented by it anymore, which is a dream (bar) come true.
I learnt to cope in supermarkets
The number of times I’d walk out of the supermarket because I was so overwhelmed by counting the calories in all the food and looking at all the packets. Now Sainsbury’s is much less daunting and ignoring the numbers on the packet is getting easier day by day.
What I’ve learnt from quitting diets:
For me, diets don’t work. They don’t equal happiness, they don’t fix problems and they aren’t an achievement.
I know diet culture is toxic, I know there is no such thing as ‘bad’ or ‘good’ food and I know, if I let it, my body will tell me what it needs the most, but in a world of weight watchers, food shaming and unrealistic beauty ideals this can be a tough thing to remember.
I’d love to say I’ve learnt my lesson. I’d love to say I’m never going to diet again, but when I’m feeling lost and out of control dieting can be an easy (and feel like the most natural) thing for me to do.
I have to wake up every day and actively ‘not diet’ because hunger, calorie counting and restricting food has been my life for so long now.
Having said that though, I’m going to give ‘not dieting’ a bloody good go!