I have spent the last 18 months on a journey to break away from food rules and stop hating my body. In that time I have been a little quiet on the blog front. I wanted to take the pressure of myself, and to be honest I was shit scared and confused for most of it. But now I am finally in a place of feeling liberated around food, happy in my non-perfect body and ready to share my journey to get here.
Although it’s only been a few months since I left WW, my journey to finding freedom from food rules started back in January 2018. Although the promise of New Year is usually the ideal opportunity for a fresh start, I simply couldn’t face another ‘diet’. I was fed up of obsessing about food, my weight, and my body.
I started dieting in my early teens, and spent most of my 20s battling extreme disordered eating. As I turned 30 I sought private counselling, and it took a lot of work to get me to a place where I felt at least some sense of normality around food. But I was still trapped in this exhausting cycle of ‘on-plan’ and ‘off-plan’, and the constant emotional rollercoaster that puts you on. So much of my life, time, energy and money was spent on making my body look a certain way, it was exhausting and demoralising.
I wanted to find peace with food and my body. I was tired of obsessing about it, feeling guilty and resentful, hating my body, punishing it and belittling it. I just wanted some sense of normality where I didn’t feel controlled by food, and my happiness wasn’t tied to a number.
The start of the next chapter.
So as January started and everyone else was hard on the diet wagon, I was trying to work out how to give it up. I continued my role as a WW coach, but I stopped following the plan. I was surprised how hard it was to give it up. I was petrified of ‘losing control’. Surely without some sort of guidelines I would live off cake and pizza? But also because it had become so intrinsic and routine to check the Smart Points values of foods, and keep a mental track of roughly how many points I had eaten.
On reflection, I had been on some sort of diet for all my adult life, so it wasn’t WW I was finding hard to give up; just the habit of dieting all together.
I eased myself in with a sort of intermediate period. I based my meals around the ‘zero smart point food list’ which I knew were all ‘healthy. I would occasionally check in on Smart Point values as a guide, but I would try hard not to obsess if I knew I was over my budget. I managed to stop tracking at the weekends, but still found myself having that urgency to ‘pull it back’ on Monday.
Occasionally I would weigh in. I would try convincing myself that I wasn’t dictated by the number, it was just a curiosity thing. But it was never the right number, and always made me question everything. Even if I remained calm and composed at the time, I would later find myself questioning it, and trying to justify or explain it for days after. And that is when I would find myself being that little bit stricter on the food rules or upping the exercise- slipping slowly back in to those restrictive and punishing ways.
I decided that just working my own rules wasn’t doing it. I needed some sort of guidance. Not a diet, but something to learn from, something to direct me. I decided to do some research, expand my brain, challenge my perspectives and see what else was out there.
One failure after another
The internet can be a dark and scary place, and there is a lot of bad and dangerous nutrition advice out there. I know this as I should know, I have fallen for most of it in the past! I already knew how to spot a diet in disguise, and wasn’t even going to entertain the idea of anything that restricted foods, or in any way dictated what I should or shouldn’t eat. I decided to put food aside for a bit and focus on my body confidence.
I was drawn to the growing social media talk about ‘body positivity’. It seemed a great concept; love yourself regardless to your size, embrace your body and be proud of all its lumps and bumps and jiggly bits (my understanding). It sounded ideal, but at the same time impossible. I had hated my body at nearly every size. I couldn’t imagine ever loving my chunky thighs, or my stretch marks. I looked at these bodi-posi goddesses with admiration, but it just felt like something else I was failing at.
I started exploring other ways to manage my food choices, starting with a brief flirtation with mindful eating. It seemed simple enough: pay attention to what you’re doing whilst you eat, and why you are eating (my understanding). Problem is; my life is chaos, I have a very short attention span, and my brain is constantly switching between 34 different things I have to remember. My meals are often shoved down in short breaks, as I almost always run over sessions times, giving up my free time to help others. Quickly it felt like something else I was failing at. I wanted more structure, more guidance.
Just a few clicks away from reading into mindful eating, I was stumbled along Hunger Directed Eating (HDE). It promised everything I desired; I could have my cake and wear my skinny jeans! Pretty much the title of Josie Spinardi’s ‘bestselling’ book. Halleluiah! I had found the miracle. My Amazon prime never felt more valuable, as even next day delivery wasn’t quick enough for me to get started on this miracle cure.
From the off-set something about it didn’t feel right. I definitely related to what she was saying about the diet-binge-guilt triangle, but something about the practical solutions and suggestions didn’t sit comfortably with me.
I couldn’t put my finger on why, so I decided to give it a try regardless to my doubts. I set about tuning into my hunger and fullness signals, questioning what I was about to eat and how it would feel in my body, empowering myself to not finish everything on my plate, and I tried to stick to my designated ‘eating spot’ (actual advise in the book). Safe to say, it became something else I could fail at. I gave it full and fair chance, but for many reasons, it wasn’t for me. I tried to summarise it here in this blog, but it became an essay in itself. So if you want to read more about my why HDE is not for me, I have dedicated a whole blog to it which I will share later this week.
Light at the end of the tunnel?
2018 turned out to be a very busy year for me. In October 2017 my partner and I picked up the keys to our dream home. The only problem; it needed completely renovating. We planned for it to take 6 months and we would be moving in time for summer. Fast forward to June 2018 ; we were in a building site, with no real sign of finishing, no money, but a lot of stress!
For many people stressful life events can lead to increased disordered eating. As a text book comfort eater I would have bet good money that would be me, but during the house renovation I found my eating behaviours sort of normalised. My binging behaviours reduced massively. I hadn’t given up on all concept of healthy eating; I would often rock up on-site with a slow-cooker filled with something nutritious to fuel the strenuous work. But on the flipside, I didn’t beat myself up when long days of hard labour ended in takeaway and wine. On top of that, my weight seemed to have stabilised.
Maybe my failed efforts were having some influence. Although I hadn’t managed to commit to anything, maybe something was rubbing off and working. Maybe there was hope after all, maybe I could find some sort of balance? Or maybe, in between trying to co-ordinate tradesmen, manage budgets and hours upon hours of manual labour, I didn’t really have much time to worry about food. I feared that once we moved in (if we ever moved in) everything would return to normal.
As well as hours of monotonous and physical work, the renovation brought a new lengthy commute. I’ve always been a fan of podcasts whilst driving, but soon learnt that there are only so many true crime documentaries you can listen to. That’s when I came across : ‘Don’t Salt my Game’ a podcast hosted by Registered Nutritionist Laura Thomas. The blurb promised; conversations with game changers in intuitive eating, Health at Every Size, body-positivity, non-diet nutrition and mental health. Mental health and body-positivity I was familiar with the concept of, the rest seemed like a whole new world of exciting opportunity.
I was instantly intrigued. I started at the beginning, and was fascinated, often listening to two episodes a day, until I had listened to most of the back catalogue. I was definitely intrigued by the concept of Intuitive Eating, but absolutely petrified at the concept of gaining weight. Unlike HDE, intuitive eating makes no promise of skinny jeans, quite the opposite perhaps. On top of this, I had no idea where to start with it. Then towards the end of 2018, Laura started to mention her new book launching in January: Just Eat It. A sort of guide to the principles of intuitive eating.
So in January this year I got Laura’s book, and started my journey with Intuitive Eating. It was petrifying at times, but unbelievably liberating. My weight did go up, and it worried me at times, but the feeling of being normalised around food was more alluring.
For the first time ever in my adult life I had allowed peanut butter and chocolate in my house, and I wasn’t being mentally tortured by it, or at all tempted to binge.
Again, it was too much to summarise here, so I have put together a separate blog about my journey with IE which I hope to share soon.
Stuck between two worlds.
The only problem I was having with intuitive eating was its seeming hatred of ‘diet culture’ and all brands, businesses and individuals who profit from it. This obviously did not sit well with me working for WW, and I felt like a fraud. I was a member of a few IE groups on Facebook and followed a lot of non-diet nutritionist, but I felt like I was lying to people. I was ashamed to admit I worked for WW in fear I would be struck down for fraternising with the enemy. I was stuck between two worlds.
Intuitive Eating was finally giving me freedom from food rules, but it was also telling me that any purposeful attempt at weight loss was counter-intuitive, destructive, not-sustainable and even unhealthy. But here I am; the living embodiment of its possible success. I am the first to admit that losing weight didn’t save me from poor body image, but it did change my life in many positive ways. Maybe I am the statistical anomaly, the very minor exception to the hundreds and thousands of failed dieters, but it’s my reality and it is hard to forget.
Would I have done things differently if given the chance? Yes, very probably. I am open about my history of disordered eating, and eating disorders after weight loss, but a bit of me still believes that if I’d had better support I wouldn’t have reached that place. I also remembered the discomfort of being in a bigger body and I couldn’t imagine being back in that body. Not even if all the stigma and hatred of fat bodies was taken away would I chose that reality again. I am not saying this is everyone’s experience of bigger bodies. I know plenty of woman who proudly and confidently live in fat bodies with, and I have all respect and admiration for them. But for me, the physical experience of it wasn’t enjoyable.
Perhaps it is my own internalised fat phobia still lingering. Perhaps I am remembering my bigger body unfairly. Maybe with some more personal development I will reassess it all, and change my mind. I am always up for an educated discussion, and approach everything with an open mind. I will be the first to put my hand up and admit; I was equally if not more miserable in my thin body too, but that was a mental health problem.
Surely there has to be a middle ground. A place where you withhold the right to change your body if needed, but without sacrificing your mental health?
Eventually I decided to give notice as a WW coach. Mostly as I wanted to expand my own business, but also because I didn’t need to be there anymore. As a coach I often joked with members that they were stuck with me. Because even if I didn’t work for WW I would always need to come to meetings, so I might as well get paid to be there. Well I had proven that wrong. I had found a place of freedom from food rules. But I did need to work out where I sat on the philosophy of purposeful weight loss.
I had run set U free fitness for over four years under the mantra: awesome isn’t measured in pounds. We hadn’t used a set of scales or a tape measure in the studio for years, but I had seen many people change their lives in so many ways. So I knew there was plenty of ways to measure health and success away from scales. I had worked with many ladies in bigger bodies who had absolutely zero health implications; so I fully believed you can be healthy at every size. But I also recognised and respected people’s right to change their bodies, for lots of reasons.
Where I am today.
I felt like the rogue black sheep. I didn’t really belong to any group. The principles of intuitive eating had brought me food freedom and taught me a lot about body respect, but I really do believe everyone should have the right and the choice to manage their food, their body and their health in whatever way they find best; including purposeful weight loss. So I did what any good PhD does; I did my own research on the subject. Well I suppose a literature review.
I read more books about intuitive eating, Health at Every Size, and non-diet nutrition. I looked at the science, I opened my mind and my network, allowing my beliefs and opinions to be challenged. It definitely did open my mind, and changed my opinion on lots of issues around the impact of ‘diet culture’ and fat-phobia, and the correlations between weight and health. It angers me seeing the external circumstances and pressures which have manipulated and bullied so many of us into feeling we ‘need’ to lose weight. I have even come to a place where I can fully accept my body, exactly as it is right now. I haven’t weighed myself in a long time, but I know my body is bigger, thicker and softer than it has been in a long long time… and I love it, and have no desire to change it.
So without doubt, for me, following a lifestyle based around Intuitive Eating has worked. But does that mean it is right for everyone? Well, I did some soul searching, and I came to this simple conclusion:
when it comes to managing food, health and your body; you-do-you!
You found a long term sustainable lifestyle based on WW; rock it lady. You want to eat everything and anything in site and embrace your fat body; yes girl. You want to be a keto-paleo vegan who uses syns to track treats at the weekend; awesome.
I am not here to tell anyone how to manage your food, your health or your body. You are the expert in you. But from my long and complicated history threw; living in a fat body, dieting, disordered eating, eating disorders and pretty much every plan, detox shred and programme there is, I can share a few words of experience.
The first and most valuable piece of advice I can give you is this: never sacrifice your mental health to change your body.
Question your motives for wanting to lose weight or change your body. Diet culture and the idealisation of thin bodies has made many of us (even the most sane and intelligent of women) aspire to something simply not realistic. And it has let us believe that our happy ever after is just one more diet away. Losing that 10lbs (or 20 or even 100) probably won’t bring you all the happiness and joy you believe it will. Your time is precious and thoughts about food and your body shouldn’t occupy more than a very small percentage of your life. So if you find yourself constantly thinking about food, worrying about conforming to the rules of your diet/plan/lifestyle then question if it is really worth it? Work on your happiness right now. Work on learning to respect your body and appreciate it, right now. Then see if that 10lbs seems so critical.
The second most useful thing I have learned is this: if you keep finding yourself ‘off plan’ then it’s probably the wrong plan for you.
It is that simple, you are not a failure, you don’t need more willpower. Even if something worked for you in the past, doesn’t mean it will work for you now. Bodies change all the time, lives change all the time. You are absolutely allowed to rewrite the rules, even better yet; throw out the rule book and explore how you can find freedom from food rules. If you are finding yourself constantly on and off the wagon (and the emotional rollercoaster that sends us on) then maybe it is time to open your mind, and look for other options.
My approach now is to support people in finding non weight-centric methods for managing health and well-being. This involves thinking beyond weight-loss to discover what you really want or need when it comes to managing your health and well-being. Then exploring how you can achieve this without focusing on weight loss and the scales.
I am very much still on my own journey, and learning every day, but I hope I always will be. I am excited about sharing my experience, and what I have learned threw my new Scale Free Weekly Check In. A support group for anyone trying to get their shit together around food, or in need of a body confidence boost. If you are in the Leeds area, why not come join us on Monday nights. Or stay tuned for more updates on my on-going journey.
- Has your approach to managing your health and well-being changed in recent years?
- Have you managed to find freedom from food rules if so what worked for you?
- I love hearing from people on their own journeys to changing their lifestyle, and learning to love their bodies. I love learning from others experiences, so please share in the comments, or find me on facebook or Instagram