At the beginning of February, I made a pledge to change my relationship with food over the course of 2016.
For once I made no plans to lose ten pounds or to build my glutes to bikini model proportions.
Instead, I chose to spend February quietly observing, with as little judgment as possible, my eating habits.
And what I discovered actually shocked me:
I am an emotional binge eater
Which I have never seen myself as before, but I am. I am the Queen of Dairy rolling around in clotted cream.
Most days I will eat somewhere between 2000 and 3000 calories composed mostly of dairy and refined carbohydrates. The days when I am sad or stressed, I’m at 3000 calories and beyond.
One day included: chocolate for breakfast, biscuits for a mid-morning snack, cheese toasty for lunch, two scones complete with clotted cream and jam, an apple (winning), hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and marshmallows, more biscuits, vegetarian curry for dinner, and cake for dessert.
Much of the time I feel nauseous and bloated, and I don’t like what I see in the mirror.
I also noted that the days when I had food prepped, my binging was kept to a minimum.
When did all of this binging start?
Casting my mind back, I can now see that the first time I started emotionally binge-eating was when I began secondary school.
My family didn’t have a lot of money, and our diet was cheap and loaded with Tesco Value branding. My lunch wasn’t disgusting, it was just basic: a marmite sandwich, Tesco Value (as it was back then) crisps and sandwich bar, and an apple.
However, the girls I was friends with in Year 7 told me that they wouldn’t dream of eating “that crap” and shamed me. It was like that moment on the Hogwarts Express when Ron Weasley pulls out his squished homemade sandwiches, and Harry loads up on expensive pumpkin pasties and sweets from the lunch trolley. Except my friends didn’t take pity on me, they laughed.
Initially, I ate my lunch on the toilet. However, after a while, I just started eating the crisps and chocolate bar and throwing away everything else that I deemed to make me look poor or uncool. Because, you know, marmite was for povo people.
I was also picked on a fair bit, so I spent the day being called “Dumbo”, “boffin”, “geek”, “loser”, “bitch”, and “frigid”, my stomach grumbling and complaining, and then I would come home and binge on whatever I could find (usually a loaf of bread), and cry in my room.
It was also at this age that I became aware that girls “should” be concerned about their weight and the size of their thighs.
Good food is boring , unsatisfying and unchanging
As I said, my family didn’t have much money, and as a result our diet was cheap and not-so-cheerful:
The only fruit we had was apples. Breakfast was Weetabix. The main bulk of my lunch was a wholemeal marmite sandwich. Dinner was pasta, rice or jacket potato with either chicken nuggets or mince beef. We had some frozen vegetables. We didn’t really have desserts from what I remember, but we had basic custard creams and digestive biscuits that I would stuff my face with when no one was looking. Sweets/candy and cake were rare and treated as real luxuries, and I didn’t have money to buy my own. When I was hungry I was always told, “Have another slice of bread.”
I was always so jealous of other kids and their tasty lunches filled with different fruits, “exotic” sandwiches, and branded yoghurts.
It will come of no surprise to anyone that when I finally left home at the age of 18, I went completely INSANE when buying my own food. I would sit and eat an entire chocolate gateau for lunch, I bought double chocolate birthday cakes just because, pink wafers were devoured by the pack during essay-writing sessions, and I ate bacon all the time with lashings of cheese on top.
Some days I binged for the simple reason that I could. I revelled in my new-found freedom to eat all of the glorious foods that my parents had restricted and replaced with nothing but boring cardboard. Other days I binged because I was anxious and depressed.
The idea that healthy food can be delicious and even more enjoyable than junk food is something that I still struggle with.
I also cannot portion control myself when I have junk food. “It’s all about moderation,” women frequently advise me on the internet. But I have no off button when it comes to sweets, no matter how hard I try. Even though I know that I can buy more and I won’t be deprived of my favourite treats, I stuff them into my body as though I will never taste them ever again.
Size is a very poor indication of someone’s diet and/or mental health
The only reason that people don’t necessarily know all of this about me is because I am a size 8-10.
From a very early age I was doing copious amounts of ballet, athletics, running, hiking and cycling, which has enabled me to generally avoid most of the physical signs of a terrible diet. Moreover, I gain weight pretty evenly all over my body so, when I do go up a size or two, no one is really any the wiser. The occasional crash diet has also kept any weight gain in check.
Women who know me don’t tend to think of me as having a poor relationship with food because we all have this mentality of:
Thin = good relationship with food
Fat = bad relationship with food
However, this couldn’t be further from the truth, and it’s this mindset that has stopped me from facing the truth about my own eating.
Happy and healthy weight gain is a thing
When I went travelling I gained weight almost immediately.
Before I first stepped onto Copacabana beach in Rio, I had been on a miserable 1000-calories-a-day-diet where I dropped a dress size in a month. However, the minute I clocked the amazing cakes and fruits in the Brazilian breakfast buffets, all of that bullshit went out the window.
Within weeks I had stopped wearing makeup and looking in mirrors, and focussed instead on meeting people and tasting local food. As I climbed to higher altitudes and chillier climates, I packed away my bikini and pulled out my sweaters. It came as a bit of a shock when I put on my bikini a couple of months later and found that I no longer it no longer fit.
It was strange to see my body with a few more bumps and curves, but I didn’t hate it. I actually kinda liked it. Aside from my obsession with dulce de leche, I wasn’t eating junk food and my health wasn’t in any danger. My skin had never been clearer and my mind had never been brighter. I looked better than I had in years as my face began to lose the gaunt haggard look it had acquired since university.
So, what next?
Observing my relationship with food makes it easier to create a long-term solution.
Here are some key things that I am taking away from February of “Getting Back On Track”:
1) I think I am someone who would benefit from a food plan, which will give me more routine and focus.
2) I need to prep my meals at the beginning of the week (especially lunch).
3) I need to do my best to keep junk food out of the house. If I buy treats I cannot buy multipacks. A couple of weeks ago I experimented with a 5 pack of crème eggs, thinking that they were more cost-effective than buying them separately. Only I ate all 5 in a single evening.
And then I ate cheesecake.
And had a hot chocolate with whipped cream.
4) I want to get excited about food. I have historically hated cooking and loathed baking. However, I have been experimenting in the kitchen and it’s actually been, dare I say it, fun. I feel like this is the key to developing a healthier mindset to so-called “healthy” food.
It’s a relief to be open and honest with people, and I hope that having the courage to speak truthfully about my relationship with food will help other women.
We should remember that it isn’t our size or weight that matter, it’s why we are the weight we are that counts. Is it because we’re happy and carefree? Is it because we’re so obsessed with being skinny that we crash diet on a regular basis? Is it because we binge during hard times?
The why is more important than the number.
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