When I first met Abby, I was interviewing her. I’ve employed my own Personal Assistants for years now, I find it’s the best way to have people around me who are just what I’m looking for rather than agency workers who can be hit and miss. As an independent disabled person, that’s really vital to remaining autonomous.
I remember that day really clearly. It was beautifully warm, we sat outside by the water and I was so fucking happy.
My weight loss journey was already in full swing. I’m reluctant to ‘pin point’ where I was with numbers, but seeing as it gives some context, I was wearing a dress size UK12/14 so I’d probably lost about 8st or 50kgs.
Once I’d finished asking Abby about her work history and why she wanted to work with me, we kinda got chatting. I specifically remember saying to her that I was losing weight and wanted someone who was able to cook beautiful food that would help me reach my end goal. She was obviously impressed at what I’d achieved and equally surprised when I said I wasn’t finished. Mostly because she was exactly the same height as me and wore exactly the same dress size. Looking back, I really wish I’d stopped at that point. But hindsight gives 20:20 vision.
When she asked me what I did to lose weight, I explained, with pride, that I just calorie counted, that I ate anything I wanted as long as I was under my calories. I went on to stress the point that I WOULD NEVER GIVE UP CAKE. EVER. … EVER. She laughed, and agreed that sounded wise. But over time, especially as weight gets harder to lose and you read more about food, it becomes harder and harder to justify that slice of cake over other foods.
As you glide and slip into diet culture, you start to lose track of how you felt about things when you started and the balance and health that you crave to begin with is soon lost sight of. I remember reading articles about nutrition, gathering information about what foods you should be eating and what you should be avoiding and before long, food came with a moral code.
When you start putting foods into groups that are good and bad, it seeps into your blood. Into your very being, and before you know it, it’s in your every thought.
‘Maybe just have salad instead of chips, that’s a better, healthier choice’
‘Oh I ate a few chips, I’ve done so badly’
‘I’ve eaten so much, I’ve made such bad choices, I feel awful’
‘I can’t believe I’ve eaten so badly, I hate my self’
‘I am useless, I have no will power’
‘I’m fat and useless’
‘I’m ugly, I hate my body, I hate being me’
‘I don’t deserve to be here, I’m such a bad person’
You might think these are a bit of a stretch, but I can assure you, the more you moralise food, the quicker you end up in this cycle.
It was only two years between telling Abby I’d NEVER give up cake, and me starting a strict Whole30/Paleo lifestyle. (No wheat, no gluten, no grains, no legumes, no dairy, no soya, no sugar, no. fucking. fun.)
In that time, I went from seeing food as an enjoyable part of life that could nourish me and help keep me as well as possible, to having a huge list of ‘bad’ foods that would make me unwell, make me fat and ‘ruin’ my day.
The list of no go foods turn into forbidden treats that are harder and harder to resist, usually leaving people feeling powerless around them, falling head first into whatever it is they’ve been denying themselves and binging. Here starts the cycle of ‘tomorrow is a new day’, ‘the diet starts tomorrow’, ‘I’m back on the wagon’ and of course the ‘last supper’ eating .. ‘well, I’ve ruined today, I may as well eat everything I could possibly want and just be better tomorrow’. For me these cycles started few and far between but eventually came to a head when they were happening almost daily.
Not only that but now the shame associated with eating ANYTHING I considered to be ‘bad’ was horrific. I found my self consumed with anxiety if I ate a meal with garden peas in, and if I ate something ‘worse’ like chocolate, the shame was truly bone crushing. In fact, as time went on, the shame associated with eating AT ALL was huge.
The truly sad thing is that it seeps beyond food. It turns inward, and infects your every thought. Soon who you are as a person is judged by these moral ‘decisions’ you make daily, and every time you slip, how you feel about your self, your self worth, it is rock bottom.
As someone who considers themselves in recovery from an eating disorder, I can assure you that these habits are fucking hard to kick. And what’s even harder is being around other people who are still entrenched in diet culture, moralising food and speaking about them selves in a similarly disparaging way.
Listening to other women talk about them selves, out loud, in such horribly negative ways is truly soul destroying.
I don’t think ANY woman deserves to feel so terribly about her self. I hate that it’s normal. I really hate that it’s okay for a woman to say out loud, when having a second chocolate digestive, that she’s just being horribly greedy and showing her awful lack of will power. Where on earth did this come from?
For me, this is specifically difficult to deal with. Partly because currently I’m only tentatively in recovery, and each day is a battle, hearing my thoughts and assessing them for disordered eating patterns, it’s exhausting. Trust me my brain needs no encouragement to slip back into bad habits, and filtering out the words women often mindlessly spew can be painfully difficult.
But as a broader issue, if we are judging our selves by these widely inappropriate standards, isn’t it reasonable to assume you’re judging ME by them too? So I assume when I eat that second digestive biscuit, you’re thinking that I’m greedy, that I should show some will power, that I’m fat and ugly.
And I think that’s how we’ve all ended up here. That’s how we’ve all ended up in a place where we’re so bloody desperate to be thin, because we believe that the judgement we berate our selves with, is being applied to us by every other woman who lays eyes on us.
I can already hear you, ‘it’s different when it’s my own body’, every woman I’ve ever pulled up on this has uttered that excuse. And when my wife pulled me up on it, it’s exactly what I would say to her. But it isn’t fucking different. It’s just another way that you justify speaking abusively about your self .. and indirectly EVERY OTHER WOMAN with a ‘flawed’ body.
Worse of all, it’s condoned. Magazines, media, social groups, your mother, auntie, sister, daughter, if everyone does it then it’s okay? But it’s used to control you. To keep you under the thumb, to keep you buying into diets, buying into capitalism.
What if we all dropped this righteous ideal, started allowing our selves the foods we crave whilst learning to accept the body we have? Would that in turn help us lift other women up? Would it help us dispel the myth that fat is bad, that weight gain is unhealthy and that bodies have to look a specific way to be accepted?
If you wouldn’t say it to your mother, to your daughter, to your best friend .. don’t say it to your self.